Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Tarts or balls? A tale of two recipes

So, Adrian is off on his travels again (Belgium, Prague, London, St Albans), leaving James and I to our own devices.  This has, so far, involved finishing off The Walking Dead (we have agreed that maybe we need some lighter viewing having fought our blood-splattered way through a whole series in a few days) and eating Pecan and Chocolate tart. 
James made the latter as the last hurrah for his Duke of Edinburgh award and it is disgracefully good.  Okay, so the shop didn’t have pecans so he made do with walnuts and mixed chopped nuts but still…
Oh. You want the recipe?  Fair enough.   Here goes…

Pecan(ish) and Chocolate Tart

Rub together 120g chilled cubed butter with 165g plain flour and 25g ground almonds.  Stir in 55g castor sugar and then break a medium egg into the mix.  Work gently into a soft dough and tip onto a lightly floured surface and flatten (my grandmother would, of course, have washed her hands in cold water first, and used a slab of marble to keep it all cold).  Wrap in cling film and chill for three hours. 
Roll out pasty to about 3mm and line a greased 25cm tart tin.  Back into the fridge with the little bugger.  And we wonder why we all buy ready-made pastry?  

Now melt 80g dark chocolate and 45g of cubed butter in a bain marie (you know, a bowl suspended over a saucepan of simmering water).  In a separate saucepan combine 160g of granulated sugar and 235ml of golden syrup – stir like fury so it doesn’t catch until it is all melted.  Beat together three medium eggs and whisk into the chocolate/butter mixture until smooth.  Now fold in the hot syrup mixture, whisking all the while.

Add in a teaspoon of vanilla extract and 235g of nuts (ideally pecans but your choice – I’d probably eschew the mixed nuts but the walnuts are damn fine). 

Preheat oven to 180 degrees and put baking tray in for about five minutes to get hot.  Now place pastry case on the baking tray and pour over the nut and goo filling.  Bake for about 40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is set.  Cool and eat.

Now then.  Yes, it tastes delicious but, for the love of all that’s sacred, will you just LOOK at those ingredients.  It’s sugar on sugar on sugar.  The nuts are a saving grace (the protein will slow down the sugar rush) but even so…  It has made my teeth sing and my pulse race and I've got the start of a killer headache.  

So, let’s find an alternative.  Something that is still really yummy but will actually help your body rather than sledgehammer it.  So I asked Gertrud for the recipe for the energy powerballs she serves as snacks at Yobaba Lounge (report coming soon on Queen of Retreats) and here it is…

Gertrud’s recipe for peanut butter, banana and honey powerballs

1 cup ground almonds
1 cup ground walnuts or hazelnuts
2 heaped tblsp crunchy plain peanut butter
1 heaped tblsp creamy honey (ideally not runny)
2 dried bananas, finely chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
Juice of half a small lemon
zest of half an orange (optional)
1/2 tblsp coconut oil (optional)
Sesame seeds

Mix together all of the ingredients (apart from the sesame seeds).  Don't be shy, get in there with your hands. Make sure the honey, peanut butter and coconut oil are well mixed in. The mixture should not be too wet or sticky, but hold together when you press it into form.  If it's too wet, just add ground almonds.  Form into balls (should get 20-30), roll in the sesame seeds. Put in the fridge for half an hour.

Inspiration: Instead of the 1 cup of ground walnuts or hazelnuts, you can add a mixture of milled seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seed). To mill the seeds, add them to your high speed blender, and shortly blast them at top speed. You can do the same with nuts if you don't have any ground. Add other dried fruits and flavours - Morello cherries with raw cacao works a treat!

So, there you have it.  Tart or ball?  Up to you.  Because there are always choices in life, huh? 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Bridget's exercises for better sight, without glasses

Anyhow, a few of you wanted to hear about Bridget’s eye exercises.  They reminded me of my mother, actually, as Mum used to try all these natural methods for improving eyesight.  She’d walk around wearing pin-hole glasses (she bought me a pair too but they just gave me headaches) and she spent hours staring at a Tibetan eye chart (she bought me one of those too but I admit I got bored and stopped staring.)

And then I got to thinking about how my brother used to stare at the sun every day, at sunrise, because he said it would improve his eyesight.  My family, eh? 

Meanwhile, back to Bridget.  ‘It’s a real pity that we wear glasses or contact lenses,’ she said.  ‘Putting glass in front of your eyes disturbs the light rays coming into your eyes.  We are all depleting ourselves of sunlight and yet the whole body is affected by the amount of you light you get into the body – both through the skin and through the eyes.  We need to use our eyes more intelligently.’

She went on to talk about how, when we develop our sight, we open ourselves to another level of creation.  ‘We talk about God being light, so by bathing in sunlight we are sitting in God. We can create consciousness through light.’ 

She also talked about how, in Russia, they are experimenting with getting certain sensitive people to develop the ability to see with their eyes shut.  Intriguing, huh? 

But that’s probably beyond what will interest most of you?  So let’s cut to the chase.  These are the things she reckons will help you see without glasses.

Eyes deteriorate because our bloodstream is toxic so you probably need to cleanse your body.  Dump the coffee and alcohol and meat and heavy dairy. 

Sunrise and sunset are healers to the eyes:  look at the sunrise for a few seconds to begin with, and add a few seconds each day (yup, just like my brother).  Obviously you don’t do this with the full sun.  

Splash your eyes with water during the day.

Don't wear sunglasses. 

Shift your perspective.  Look at your thumb – focus on the thumb print.  Then switch your gaze to somewhere in the middle distance and then the far distance.  Move between the two (this was one of my Mum’s exercises too).   If you’re outside, you can do this by looking at the veins on a leaf, the petal on a flower – and then switch to a distant vista.

Next up, eye rotations (another one of Mum’s) –  imagine you are following a clock so start at…well, wherever you like really – for some reason I always start at quarter to…and then go round.  Then after a few cycles turn back time by going the other way.

Palming.  Anyone who’s done a yoga class will be familiar with this.  You rub the palms of your hands together really fast until you build up warmth through friction.  Then place them over your eyes and open your eyes.

Last up…one my mother didn’t do.  Get a bowl of cold water that’s deep enough to dunk your whole face.  Breathe in and down you go, with eyes open.  Now, staying under the water, use the yoga lock, uddiyana bandha, contracting and releasing your abdominal muscles for as long as you can.  Bridget does it 100 times.  You might manage three!   If you don’t know how to do uddiyana bandha this link gives pretty good instructions.  I wrote about it somewhere else on the blog but can’t for the life of me find it. 

Why does this work?  Does it work?  I have absolutely no idea.  But I guess it’s worth a try.  If nothing else, uddiyana bandha is a great exercise (and supposedly trims the abdominal area, so even if you don’t get to chuck out your glasses, you could get a flatter tum). 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Zombie weight-lifting

I’m wrecked again.  A bit of a car crash.  Limping on one foot.  Typing one handed.  Sitting is sort of painful.  My ears are kinda ringing.  But hey, in the scheme of things, it could be worse.  A lot worse.  
Let's look on the bright side.  Because, as I said to James when he was whining recently, things can always be worse.  I mean, we could be living in a prison surrounded by zombies, with nutjob psychos attacking us from the outside and some asswipe virus attacking us from the inside, and our own fears and anxieties attacking us from within our own minds, couldn't we?  Oh wait...

There are benefits though. I mean, to being pretty helpless (not living in the zombie apocalypse).  Kate came over on a mercy mission to sew on some badges for James (yeah, can’t sew - which, actually is really handy, so to speak, as there is little I loathe more than sewing).  Rachel drove to pick up Adrian from the station (ditto).  It’s like care in the community:  if it goes on like this, I’ll get meals on wheels, a stairlift, a Winceyette nightie and a disability allowance.  Wishful thinking, huh?

But really, it hasn’t been that bad, sitting in front of the fire, eating knock-down sushi from the Co-op, piling ginger on blobs of rice and balancing dollops of wasabi on top – one-handedly.  And yes (how did you guess?) watching back to back episodes of The Walking Dead with James– both eyedly.  Yeah, I get the irony.  All too well.

James thought it was pretty funny.  'You'd be stuffed if we really did have the zombie apocalypse now, Mum,' he said, poking the fire with a poker whose end had turned literally red-hot.  'I mean, what you gonna do?  Drag yourself away?'  I raised an eyebrow (those are still working pretty well).  'Yeah, thanks, Coral.' 

Anyhow.  There came a point when I thought, actually this can’t go on.  It’s self-indulgent.  So… I went back to the gym.  Because I remembered Mangalo at Yobaba Lounge (report coming soon on Queen of Retreats) saying that you don’t even need to be able to stand to do yoga - you can do it sitting in a chair; hell, you can even do it lying on the floor.  And so, going on that logic, I figured I could still do the gym, even if I can’t run, walk, climb or cycle.  Right?  Right.

And I remembered my friend John who had Motor Neurone Disease.  Right at the end, when he couldn’t even breathe on his own, he took up meditation, started doing self-healing.  His wife rolled her eyes but he shrugged (well, he would have done if he could) and laughed (ditto) and said ‘Well, can you think of a better time to start?’ And, really, there's no answer to that, is there?  

So I figured the least I could do was to lift some weights while I was waiting.  So... Sitting.  Benching.  Lying.  And it was going so well…I mean, it’s amazing what you can do with half a body (and a long gone mind).  Until I picked up a 20kg weight and…er…dropped it on the one still functioning foot.  Seriously, you have to laugh.  You really do.  Well, I did.  In fact, I still am.  What a bloody idiot, huh?  

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Live for your lovers by loving your liver - liver flushing for life-lorn lovers (or vice versa)

Funny how things come along in bunches, eh?  Lately it’s been all about livers.  Bunches of livers flocking around me, all wailing and wincing.  What an image, huh?  Can livers flock? Can they bunch? Can they wail and wince?

A few years back, my GP raised her eyebrows and said my liver was unhappy.  Mild understatement really.  Bottom line?  I was drinking too much alcohol.  Now, nobody likes to be told what to do, right?  And our psyches have a curious kickback mechanism that makes it tempting to say, ‘Sod that and sod you:  if I want to kill myself slowly with liver disease, that’s my choice.’  And of course it is.  Though you have to wonder, why are we so self-destructive?  Why do we hate our bodies so much?

But, that aside, it’s a bit selfish, huh?  Because, of course, our choices affect other people, people who love us.  And they have no choice in the matter, do they?  Unless it’s to stop loving and that’s easier said than done. 

Anyhow.  Livers are awesome!  They deal with everything that you bung in your body and that you absorb into your body from the environment.  They clear the blood of poisonous substances (everything from alcohol to pesticides) that would otherwise build up in the bloodsteam.  They absorb these toxins, altering their chemical structure, making them water soluble and then excreting them into the bile.  The bile then carries them away from the liver to the intestines whence they are excreted.  Clever liver. 

The other amazing thing about livers is that they are so damn forgiving.  Bless their hearts (can a liver have a heart?), no matter how cruel we are, they will keep try, try, trying.  And the good news is that they will regenerate, if you give them the chance.  But you need to love them and be kind...just a bit.

In my book The Detox Plan (yes, oh yes, available in Kindle version for a couple of quid) I outline a whole four week liver detox plan.   It’s slow, safe and has amazing results.  But really, you don’t need all that gumph.  It’s pretty simple.  First and foremost, cut out alcohol.  All alcohol.  If you can’t, then it’s fair to say, you’re alcoholic and will need help. 

Second up, adopt a clean diet (so, no processed foods, no deep-fried foods, no sugar).  A healthy liver can handle fat, no problem (and there’s nothing wrong with ‘good’ fat) but, if your liver is under strain, then be very careful.  Rich, fried and fatty foods are not kind to livers.  Think superfood salads, vitamin-packed soups, green juices, grains and pulses, nuts and seeds.

Once you’ve eased your body into this cleaner way of living for a week, you can launch into a serious liver flush for the second week.  The liver flush comes originally from Polarity Therapy – I first discovered it at Fiona Arrigo’s Stop the World detox retreat, over 25 years ago.  It helps to clear the liver, gall-bladder, kidneys and intestinal tract, and can help restore a correct biochemical balance in the body.  It revolves around a breakfast shake that tastes mega weird but you swiftly get used to it.  It may sound counter-intuitive to dose a fatty liver with oil but, trust me, it works.  The only proviso is that, if you have gallstones or a history of them (or any serious health issue, come to that), you will need to take professional advice (this is my disclaimer, okay?).  The drink encourages the expulsion of stones and, if they are too big, they can become trapped in the bile duct.  Result?  Agony.  Been there, chewed the duvet, don't advise it.

Anyhow, that warning aside…let's go...

Breakfast - Liver flush drink. Combine three to four tablespoons of virgin cold-pressed olive oil or almond oil with twice the amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Add three to six cloves of garlic and fresh ginger to taste.  Blend until frothy and drink immediately.  Tip: glug, don’t sip. 

Have it in place of breakfast for a full seven days. 

I also prepare a herbal tea, from equal amounts of licorice root, fennel, peppermint and fenugreek.  Add fresh ginger, lemon juice and honey to taste and drink after the liver flush to take away the greasy feeling.  You can also drink this freely through the day. 

Mid-morning- alkaline juice – cabbage/kale/spinach, lettuce, carrots and beetroot.   Or try a turmeric smoothie - turmeric is a mega liver healer.

Lunch – alkaline vegetables, either fresh in a big salad or lightly steamed with ginger.  Add a little dressing (olive, almond, sesame or argan oil with lemon, garlic, onion). Got dandelions in your garden?  Bung 'em in - they're supreme liver pals.

Mid-afternoon – as mid-morning

Dinner – make it light.  Either salad (as for lunch), soup or just some fruit (apple, pear, grapes, melon, papaya) with a portion of seeds.

That's it.  Simple, huh? 

Third week and beyond - Drop the liver flush drink.  Widen your diet but keep off all alcohol, rich, fried and junk/convenience foods.  Your palate should have adapted to cleaner eating so it should be easy now to avoid the crap.  Does this mean you can’t eat yummy food?  Far from it!  Check out my Pinterest board for tons of delicious and healthy recipe ideas.  And my Detox Plan board for more detoxing and liver support ideas.  

PS - the emotion connected with the liver is anger.  

PPS - apologies for the title of this post - I got a bit carried away  - doubtless channelling Jimmy Osmond. Remember?  If you don't, you really are blessed.  If you do, my apologies for probably raising your anger levels.  :-)


Poor Asbo.

He is blind.  So blind.  He turns his head, bewildered, staring around with blank eyes.

He is lost.  Almost always so very lost.
He eats.  He sleeps.  He pisses and shits.
He barks for no reason, none that can be discerned anyhow.

If you were feeling fanciful, you might say he howls into the void.

He licks the sofa.  Repeatedly.  For hours.  Mindless activity? Meditation?  Dementia?

If someone shows him affection, he wags his tail.  Or he bites them.  It depends.

I sit outside.  It's a rare sunny autumn day.  Pretty beautiful actually.  Asbo is trying to find his way back inside.  He bats his paw ahead of him, trying the air, feeling for the edge.  He takes a step and tries again.  And again.  He's going the wrong way.  Again.

He looks okay from a distance.  He's in pretty good shape really, considering.  It's only when you get up close you see the dead eyes.

He drives me crazy.  He irritates the fuck out of me.

Well, of course he does.

I am Asbo.  *smile*

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Life according to Bridget - life lessons from a nearly ninety year old yogi

Age.  Ageing.  It’s a bugger, huh?  So many people I know just accept it as inevitable that, once they hit fifty, it’s pretty much all over save the hovering up after the party.  There seems to be this inbuilt sense of inevitability about it all.  That that’s it really…one’s body is going to collapse, one’s mind is going to wander (rather than wonder), and that, if one hasn’t achieved one’s goals by now, there’s not much point in even trying.

And you know what?  It drives me nuts.   I mean, if you really want to retire into your slippers then that’s fine.  Your choice.  But is it inevitable?  Fuck no!

Bridget demonstrating eye washing
One of the things I love about travelling is that I get to meet interesting people and often very inspiring people.  Everyone at Yobaba Lounge fell into that category but, in particular, I was entranced by Bridget.  Bridget is 89.  Now, she didn’t tell me that – she isn’t one of those people who goes round going, ‘I’m [insert venerable age here] you know…’  Why DO people start doing that once they hit a certain age?  Some of them do it as if they're faintly surprised they made it this far. Others seem to trot it out as an excuse.

Anyhow.  I was feeling a bit washed up myself, truth to tell.  But Bridget gave me a big fat wakeup call.  She’s nearly forty years older than me and yet…she beats the socks off me at yoga, her eyesight is keener, she’s leaner, her mind is quicker and her knowledge wider. 
And it occurred to me that we could all take a few tips from the way Bridget lives.  Now, bear in mind this is all just based on what I observed in the week I spent with her and I am probably taking huge liberties…but still…

Life according to Bridget…as I observed it. 

1. Sharpen up your eyesight – naturally.  ‘Glasses give you arthritis of the eyes,’ she said.  She is writing a book on how to heal your eyes and it includes some unusual practices.  If anyone is interested, I could do a blog post purely on this.

2. Ditch the alcohol.  ‘It’s a deadly poison,’ she said.  ‘Not only does it alter your blood sugar but it alters the alignment of your inner bodies.’  And she reckons we should ditch coffee too.  ‘Caffeine paralyses the bladder,’ she said. ‘Plus, without it you feel far more awake, more alive – providing you breathe and do yoga.’

3. Practise yoga.  Bridget has taught kundalini yoga for years and it shows.  She’s supple as heck.

4. Meditate.  It’s a no brainer.  

5. Eat clean.  Vegetarian, ideally vegan.  Enjoy your food.  Eat mindfully.  Don’t stuff yourself and don’t eat too late. 

6. Be open-minded and open to new experiences, in body, mind and soul.  Have some fun.  Don't wear dreary clothes.  Sunbathe naked.  Chant to the full moon.  

7. Then again, stick to your principles.   Don't be a pushover.   Campaign for change if you feel passionately about something.  

8. Be a bit of a rebel.  

9. Be passionate about things you love.  Be passionate, full stop.  In all ways.  

10. Contemplate the stars.  ‘When we contemplate the stars, we become less materialistic.  We live in a very physical world but what we see is an illusion.  We need to wake up.’

Friday, 17 October 2014

Holes - meditations on change and pain

You know what?  Right now I can barely type.  My arms feel as if they belong to someone else entirely.  Why?  Well, Nick, the instructor at my little local gym, had devised me a new set of programmes and today was my first upper body session.  I’m using mainly free weights now although he snuck in a killer series on the TRX.  Ouch.  Ouch. Ouch.
Anyhow, it’s all good.  No, I’m not a masochist, well, not more than anyone else really, but if you want to progress, you have to mix things up.  If you carry on doing the same thing, year in, year out, nothing changes. 

My routine was fine, nothing wrong with it, and it was keeping me at a base level of fitness.  But I wanted even firmer, leaner arms; I wanted a stronger back and abs.  So, then, I had to move out of my comfort zone into something…more challenging. 

Of course, this goes for anything in life really, not just fitness.  But change can be frightening.  It’s easy doing what we’ve always done, isn’t it?  Sure you can coast and, if you’re happy where you are, doing what you’re doing, then that’s all fine and dandy.  But if you’re not…well… You have to try something different.

And that reminded me of a poem Mangalo read out at the end of a yoga class at Yobaba Lounge.  I hadn’t heard it before and it made me smile.  It’s very simple (as the best things usually are) and it’s uncomfortably true. 

So, for all who find themselves in holes…here it is. 

There’s a hole in my sidewalk by Portia Nelson

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.”

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Mapping the Kabbalistic Tree of Life onto houses, as you do...

For the last ten years or so I have had this recurring dream.  I am in a large house.  It usually starts off being The Old Rectory, the first house we lived in when we moved from London, but then I realise there are parts of it I didn’t know were there.  I walk through whole wings, endless bedrooms, hidden corridors, dusty echoing spaces.  Firstly I feel overwhelmed.  How can I cope with all this?  And then comes a feeling of mounting dread.  There is some evil hidden away here, something that mustn’t be awoken.  The feeling intensifies and it becomes a nightmare – the kind that has one waking with a gasp, heart pounding, scrabbling for the light.

As I walked into Yobaba Lounge I felt a jolt.  This place.  What was it?  Then Gertrud gave me a tour of the whole house and I realised.  This was the place in my dream.  Or very close.  The house is vast, so vast Gertrud isn’t quite sure how many rooms there actually are.  ‘I think there were fifty originally,’ she says.  ‘But now, since we took out partitions and so on?  Who knows?’  Many have been beautifully restored but even more are still slumbering.  Some rooms you can’t even access – they are blocked up.  How weird is that? 

Now I’m fascinated by houses, by homes.  So much so that I wrote five books about them (well, six if you include the illustrated version of Spirit of the Home).  I firmly believe homes have personalities just as distinct as people’s.  Even new homes, brand new places, can’t help but be influenced by the land on which they are built; by their proximity to other places; by the layout of their rooms; by the direction in which they face.  The Chinese knew this and developed the art and science of feng shui to explain it.  The Indians knew it and developed Vastu Shastra for the same reasons.  I could go on, with examples from all the indigenous traditions of the world, but you get the picture.

This one had more than a personality; it had the resonance of a temple.  And, as I lay on the hammock, idly gazing back at the house, something struck me.  The main part with its three pillars mapped out the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.  Ten windows for ten sephiroth.  Except…it didn’t quite fit.  But then…doh…the bottom sephirah is Malkuth, the Kingdom, the realm of Earth.  So, go figure, Malkuth is the Earth, the ground on which the chateau sits.  And then it all fitted perfectly.  It links neatly with tantric yoga too – with its triangles pointing up (Shiva) and down (Shakti).  And I spun it round, so it became three-dimensional and then it became a Merkaba, a divine space-time ship.   Oh, I do so love this kind of playful mind game. 
This illustration of the Tree of Life shows it pretty clearly.  So, Malkuth (Malchut, the bottom red sphere) is in the Earth.  Da'at is the 'hidden' sephirah, known as 'Knowledge' - it corresponds with the Abyss that separates the lower spheres from the supernal triangle.

It’s pretty common to look at a house with an eye to the chakras (so downstairs rooms are lively and earthy and need equally punchy earthy colours – vibrant reds and sociable oranges and energising yellows).  As you move up to the next floor, more soothing balancing colours come in – blues or greens for sleeping.  And up the top, should one have space, is the ideal place for meditation rooms (in shades of violet, indigo or pure white).   So, no wonder that Gertrud and Mangalo had placed the yoga shala up at the top of the house – in Kether, the crown chakra – and no wonder it was such a peaceful space, conducive to deep states of meditation.

Does any of this matter?  No, not really.  Does it have a practical application?  Well, only in as far as one could work with the energy of the house, by boosting the energy of certain spaces.  But mainly, it’s just cosmic play. 

And, oh…my dream house?  I found out what had been hiding in the dark corners.  Am I brave enough to tell you?  I’m not sure. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

You can't tell the universe to piss off, can you?

Where were we?  Oh yes.  Sitting alone in Jane’s flat, talking to Prue.  Well, you know, for all I like my own company, sometimes I do get a bit lonely. And that week was very very strange. Okay, let's be honest, I was pretty low.  But you can't give up, right?  You can't just throw in the towel and...give up. Surely, I thought, there is some kind of balance?  Some way of living that lies between monastic solitude and…babble?  

And then an email pinged in.  Would I like to go to a yoga retreat in southern France?  I idly clicked on the website and…wow!  It looked stunning.  Stylish yet in an insouciant, easygoing way. and meditation and raw vegan food and sunshine and hammocks and snugly throws and fires and lakes and big baths and and and...
But…but…but… it was only a few weeks away and the calendar was, to my memory, busy, busy, busy.  Not with my stuff, I hasten to add, but Adrian’s.  And we make a point of always having one or other of us at home with James.  So I flicked through the pages of my diary and…well, well, well… that week was totally, perfectly, bizarrely clear.  But…but…but…I couldn’t afford the flight.  Except…oh my, I was being offered £50 towards travel and…would you believe it, there was a flight from Bristol for…yup… £50. 

Now, whether you believe in synchronicity or not; in Fate or not; in pure damn luck or not…there it was.  And, really, you can't tell the universe to piss off, can you?  It would be rude.  So I said Yes.  Of course I did.  But, by the time I got to Bristol airport I was wondering…why?  Why do I keep travelling?  Am I just running away?  Is it just distraction?  Of course.  In part.  But then again, I try to keep myself open to life, to new experiences, to different places and times and people.  It’s too easy to hide away.  In the mean time. 
So I flew to Toulouse. For, after all, there was nothing to lose.  And there, at the airport, was a woman with a sign.  
And we drove, fast, far, free…and then we arrived at a small bastide town, plunged down a narrow alleyway and parked by a big high wall by a river.  And Gertrud opened a door in the wall and I walked through…into another world, something rather magical.  Like Alice tumbling down her rabbit hole.  Like Tom waking into his midnight garden. Like Lucy plunging through the fur coats in the wardrobe...

I'll be writing up my full report on Yobaba Lounge for Queen of Retreats know, sometimes it's hard to put things into words so I'm loosening up here.  

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Prue and I in London being a bit Myers-Briggs about it all

I didn’t tell you about my silent retreat in London, did I?  Jane was going away and so I said I’d cat-sit (a feral cat decided, about a year ago, that Jane needed taking in hand and so moved herself in).  She’s called Prue (short for Dear Prudence Xanthe Antigone Isis Zampa-Narford). She is, quite possibly, the plainest cat in the world, with unfortunate markings that give her a faintly Hitler-esque air.  I click my heels when I see her which makes Jane roll her eyebrows (of course she thinks DP is the most beautiful cat in the world.  Truly love IS blind.)

Usually when I go to London it’s full-on busy.  I will often have a pile of work commitments and I catch up with old friends. Then I will take myself off to see movies or exhibitions or just wander around the streets at night, remembering the old days. 

This time I spent the week entirely alone.  I didn’t speak to a soul.  And, sometimes, maybe, you need to do that.  Well, I do.  Everyone’s different, of course but I go a bit nuts if I don’t have time alone.  Blame it on being an INFP or an INFJ – I wobble between the two.
The Myers-Briggs personality type indicator was something I came across years ago, when I was studying Jung.  Jung reckoned there were four principal functions by which we experience the world – sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. And that we expressed those in either an introverted or an extroverted way.  

I wrote about this a bit in Spirit of the Home (as one’s dominant function will show very clearly in the way one chooses and designs, or not, one’s home).  Two Jungian scholars, Katharine Cook Briggs, and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, took Jung’s ideas and developed them into an indicator.  Is it useful to know?  Well, I guess it’s handy if you want to understand what makes someone else tick – and if I were an employer I reckon I’d use it to suss out the best person for a particular job.  But, for oneself?  I dunno.  I guess I just like taking tests (yes, I’ll waste time on those crappy memes about which colour or animal you are, or which Disney princess you’d be.  Just kidding on the last one!  What?  Oh, okay.  Mulan). 

Anyhow.  Apparently I’m an introverted intuitive who feels (rather than thinks). My type/s need time out.  Yes, I can turn on the glitz, I can do my party turn when the situation demands.  But I don’t seek out sociability for the sake of it.  I easily become claustrophobic with people and I easily become bored.  But I'm one of the good guys...yeah, really.  

So.  A week of silence.  A week of doing…nothing.  It would make a lot of people shudder, I know.  Because lots of us get freaked by silence and tremble at being alone.  But I figure aloneness is important.  If you can’t cope with being by yourself, how can you ever hope to be with others?  So many people avoid their own company: they keep busy, they keep talking to fill the silence.  They distract themselves with shopping or television, the Internet, whatever.  They numb themselves with narcotics.  Oops, there goes the J bit (I’m such a judger, huh?). 

Anyhow.  There we were, Prue and I in London.  Lying on the grass.  Musing in the candlelight. Lolling in the bath (not together, I hasten to add).  Watching worlds inside rain drops.  Starfishing on Jane’s delicious memory foam mattress.

I did try to write a bit but Prue wasn’t impressed with that. So I let it be.

See what I mean about the moustache?

Prue?  Oh, she’s an ISFJ.  What about you? 

There are loads of free tests based on the M-B out there.  This time round I used this site:

Friday, 3 October 2014

Mike June and Jess Klein play live at the Exmoor Beastro - I listen.

Back in the day, I used to go to several gigs a week but now I’m lucky if I get to see one a year.  Jane whisks me off, of course, from time to time but she tends to favour big stadiums or vast Mancunian fields.  And, really, I much prefer smaller, more intimate venues.  Like the Exmoor Beastro, in fact. 

The Beastro is a cafĂ©/restaurant/whatever in Dulverton.  The owners are passionate, nay – evangelical - about good food and drink, and champion artisanal producers.  It’s getting a bit of a name for itself on Exmoor – not just because the food is fabulous but because the whole atmosphere is so damn good - easygoing, laid-back, supremely friendly.  Adrian loves it, and is frequently tugged inside by co-owner Alex to try some new beer or dip or whatever.  

Anyhow, a couple of days ago, Adrian came back and said, ‘The Beastro have got some singer-songwriter performing.  Sounds like your kind of thing.’  And, although the night was sold-out, Alex said they could squeeze me in and so off I went.

‘Are you going on your own?’ said Adrian. 
‘Sure,’ I said.  Because, really, it never bothers me.  I spent years doing it in London when I used to review theatre and bands and films and stuff.  It was all well and good when one had tickets to the National Theatre or the Marquee or whatever – but when you were being dispatched to listen to some band in a room above a back street boozer at the end of the Central Line, one’s friends seemed to…well…vanish. 

The courtyard had been turned into a sort of Arabesque tent for the night – with twinkling lights and heat blasting out from the wood-fired oven.  It all looked...quite magical.  

The music was great too.  Mike June.  Unaffected troubadour.  Jess Klein.  Fabulous voice, the kind that rummages around in your solar plexus.  Great sound system too (Alex used to work in the music business – he knows his stuff).  But hey, my reviewing days are gone.  Have a listen for yourself.

There was great food too.  Ribs for the meat-eaters, and a superfood salad for me.  Fresh crunchy bread with home-made hummus.  Olives and pickles.  All in all, a damn fine evening .  Musicians are having a tough time of it nowadays (maybe even tougher than journalists) so it's good to support live music.  And it's good to buy a CD too.  So I did.  

The Beastro promise lots more live gigs so keep an ear out. You can find them on Facebook here.  

What next?  Well, Jack Savoretti would be good.  Thea Gilmore wouldn't be bad.  Or maybe this guy...who I heard playing in a Polish garden.  

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

James James Morrison Morrison - on children parenting feckless adults

It’s official.  My son is now the responsible adult in our relationship.  J
It’s been coming for a while, quite a long while really. In fact, way back when he was a child, that A.A.Milne poem always had a resonance...You know the one...

"James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three..."

‘You’re just not aware, Mother,’ he said, with a furrow of the brow, when we somewhere or other.  I laughed. I love it when he calls me ‘Mother’ in that fake disapproving way. 
‘You haven’t got a clue, have you?’ he went on.
‘Nope. Absolutely none whatsoever,’ I said with a grin.  ‘Though,’ I added.  ‘Be fair.  If I need to step up to the mark, I will.’
‘Fair play,’ he said.

But then, the other night, Kate and I set off for our walk in the woods.  It’s supposed to be a power walk; we’re supposed to march and sweat as a warm-up for our kettlebell session in the garden.  But, as we walked towards the steps, we looked at one another and Kate said, ‘Let’s leave the walking poles, huh?  I haven’t seen you for ages.  Let’s just walk.’

So we just walked.  Well, okay, I hauled her up the Chimney, so it was more of a climb.  And we broke out onto the hillfort and I introduced her to my tree and she told me about her tree (as you do) and we meandered along through the woods, past the camp and onto the Middle Path and then, when we came down to the river, Kate looked at me and I looked back at Kate and she said.  ‘This is just too nice.  Sod kettlebells.  Why don’t we just carry on walking?’ 

So we cut down to Marsh Bridge, over the bridge with the Maltese crosses, and climbed up and up towards the Trig Point.  And dusk started falling, and the pheasants got themselves all in a panic, stupid birds.  And an owl hooted.  And the hedgerows rustled.  And the moon rose up.  Just a sliver, a meagre slice.
I love walking at night.  The darkness is soft and soothing.  There’s not so much to see but plenty to hear and scent and feel.  So, by the time we got back to the house, I was feeling pretty good. 

Until we met James, standing at the door, hands on hips.
‘Where have you been?’ 
‘Er…in the woods.’
‘It’s dark!  You’ve been gone for hours. Dad has gone out to find you.’
‘Why didn’t you take your phone?  You could have been lying with a broken leg in a ditch.’
‘But, but…I was with Kate.  I wasn’t going to be eaten by wild dogs.’ 

But he wasn’t having it, not at all.  Kate and I looked at one another; we shuffled from foot to foot.  We giggled a bit like naughty schoolgirls and James stomped off in disgust as I lit up the candles and incense. 

But, as we sat and sipped our herbal tea, I thought about it.  Of course I had been perfectly safe but he had been worried.  And that wasn't fair or right.  I went into the breakfast room, where he was doing his homework.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.  ‘It was thoughtless.  I should have taken my phone and I should have called.’
He nodded. ‘It’s what you always say to me.’
‘This is true.’

And we had a hug and he looked mollified and went back to his work.  Though I swear I heard him muttering under his breath.  ‘Mothers.’