30. September 2019 · Comments Off on Reeling into Autumn · Categories: Uncategorized

You can interpret this in any way you like.

But inspired yesterday by field upon field of great rolling cotton reels of straw, so sodden with rain that they are near immovable, I thought, yes, this is where we are at!

Credit: Sandy Main

Rolling towards a political change so profound, so unknown, so alarming (it’s called Brexit, just in case the metaphor has escaped) that like animals caught in the headlights of a car, we are frozen in time as the hours tick by. Tomorrow is October 1st, and then, just thirty days to sort out what can only be described as a sodding mess.

Being a naturally fairly optimistic person, though far too prone to getting caught up in the drama of my emotions, I know on a deep level that what will be will be… that the roller-coaster of human evolution we are currently riding is but a micro-blip in the history of the cosmos.

And yet…

People are suffering. Families are suffering (even Boris Johnson’s own, not that he seems to care…). Everyone feels battered, bruised, confused. Fear translating into anger, courtesy of mainstream British media, is palpable. Life goes on, but under a shadow that is all too reminiscent of the run-up to Germany’s Third Reich.

When Hitler took over as Chancellor in 1933, he spent the first six months doing very little but stroke his dog and his ego. Oh, and order trusted colleagues to concentrate their efforts over that period on destroying democracy, so that he could then move mountains and reshape the world in his image as Dictator.

Sounds familiar? It ought to.

What can we do? Scream. Demonstrate if needs be. Vote if given the chance at the right time. Or simply reel into Autumn in the old ways: making jam (we may have to), treading grapes (ditto), layering up for colder weather (being promised the worst winter for 30 years! well thanks wearther-people!), sharpening axes (for cutting logs not going to war with one another ), putting gardens to sleep until Spring.

Spring 2020. Can you imagine where we will be by then? I can’t and I am not trying, not going there… Instead I choose to work on be-friending and bettering my Self and the small part of heaven in which we live – and if we all did the same, the world would surely be a very different place.

Today it is golden. I woke as usual, surprised and delighted to be gifted another day. After a friend died in her sleep a few months ago, without any warning and nothing obviously wrong, I no longer take waking for granted.

Nor anything else for that matter.

 

06. August 2019 · Comments Off on Braveheart · Categories: Uncategorized

It was Braveheart who first began to lay eggs all over the garden. The others then began to follow her lead, and soon it became a daily routine: trying to find their new nesting places…

If you scroll back down to my previous blog, you will see a photograph of me mowing our labyrinth, with three hens keeping me company. I don’t know where the other two were at the time, but roundabout for sure. Until that time I had never known that chickens were such social creatures.

Last night, settling down for Sunday night curry, Akii came in looking upset (probably fearful of my response) and said, “It’s Bravey… she’s been hit by a car.”

He always called her Bravey, considering Braveheart a bit of a mouthful, which it most certainly is, but that is what I called her the day she led the others out of their crate of arrival, and for me at least it stuck.

I blame Liona. It was she who announced at a PW meet one first Saturday of the month that she had to find homes for 1,500 hens, to save them from certain death, most probably towards being turned into pet food or simply incinerated.

Liona, who manages The Egg Shed on a farm just outside Dunkeld, explained that at 18 months chickens are regarded as not commercially viable as eggshells begin to thin and weaken. So they had to go. Shocking or what…

Me being me, up shot my arm and I offered to take seven. On reflection, however, we decided on five, and then realised we would need to house them. Fortunately Liona knew a woman on the way to Pitlochry who had a coop, and another of her many friends brought it over on his truck. Finally neighbour Raymond came down with a cage that fit one end of the coop as if made to measure.

We then explored the agricultural store Davisons in Blairgowrie, which we had never even previously properly registered let alone gone into, and found not only the hen food and nest box hay we needed, but all sorts of amazing products for farm animals in general. Talk about eye-opening.

When Liona brought the crate, with two older birds and three younger, it was Braveheart – with lovely copper-coloured feathers – who led the way out, into the cage and then up the ladder into the coop itself. The next morning she was first out, and stayed pretty much the leader thereafter.

Always at my feet, taking the lead…

There was a pretty speckled hen that my grandson in Toronto named Hennypenny. A flurried mix of cream and copper who became Ginger Rogers. And two whites, one of whom  Akii named yuki, meaning snow in Japanese, and the other who was more flesh than feather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Lee came to stay in early Spring, he swiftly fell in love too… especially with Yuki!  My son, the hen whisperer…

It seems that older hens moult around 18 months, and chage (for Baldie) was a pitiful and to be honest rather unappealing sight, running around like a badly plucked bird escaped from a butcher. “She’ll be fine in a couple of months”, Liona assured, and indeed, by the end of May, Baldie no longer in any way resembled her name, and so became Snowy.

Initially we kept the ‘garden’ out of bounds, and still with so much land to wander, they would collect at the gate… Who was it who tested their wings to fly over first? Bravey, of course.

This tied in all too neatly with yuki charging under a car and turning into a bloody snowstorm. She is buried beneath a beautiful white azalea, being relocated due to the commencement of building work.

Next to go – commit a form of naive trusting suicide – was Hennypenny. Our road, the A923, is increasingly busy and despite it being a 40mph speed limit, drivers just put their foot down once out of the village. I have never knowingly let alone deliberately struck a bird or hedgehog or rabbit in all my years of driving, yet some unconscious men – mostly men – seem to enjoy taking lives on their machismo-driven ego trips.

My uncle Charles was a New Man decades before the phrase was even coined. He could spot a caterpillar – a ladybird even – on the road as he was driving, and would stop and get out to lift it to safety. Admittedly people did drive a lot more slowly in those far off distant days called the 1950s.

When I worked in the garden, they all followed in my wake, or even led the way ahead, pecking, scratching, investigating, chuntering amongst themselves, and pretty much eating everything…

Why did we not fence the birds in? Because in my own naive imaginings, free range meant free range, and with over an acre to wander around and forage, I could never understand why they were drawn to the road so often. Over the months though I have come to acknowledge hens as far brighter than ever imagined, but with great curiosity and an even greater generosity of affection.

Even now, sole survivors, Snowy and Ginger Rogers, now aged two, are standing in the doorway of this study where I am writing and regarding me quizzically. They could be asking where their friend is… they could equally be empathising with my sorrow.

I am shocked at how upset I am at Braveheart’s demise. I think I have cried more for her than for any of my relatives – mother, sister, aunt… Why, how could this be so? Millions of chickens are killed and eaten, chopped up and pulverised and every day, and yet here I am, devastated at the loss of one little bird.

From the back, Chage (still with naked patches), Yuki, Ginger Rogers and Braveheart. Hennypenny? Behind me…

But I loved her, you see. I had grown to love them all, but Bravey had a special place in my own heart. She followed me around. She would nuzzle my ankles, cluck-cluck-clucking in that soft throaty way that happy hens do. She grew to like being stroked – none of them would allow any form of touching in the beginning; they would cower, as if afraid.

Reading this back I can’t believe I have blogged about hens. But then what the hell… they make me smile, they make me laugh. When I drew an Angel Card back in the New Year, it read JOY. This was something I sorely needed in my life at the time, and here it still is, just about.

When after several days of finding no eggs in the coop’s nesting boxes, Akii began searching the garden, he found 15 eggs under bracken down by the burn… Not knowing how long they had been there, we gave them back to Nature, and are now more savvy about hens and their habits in general. We are left with the two older birds for now; I guess experience and innate chicken wisdom do count towards survival. 

 

 

25. April 2019 · Comments Off on Walking the walk · Categories: Uncategorized

 

Over the Spring holiday weekend, I mowed the labyrinth for the first time this year. I use a small hand-held machine because the cutting blades of electric machines are too wide. Yes, I could have made my life much easier if I had designed the path to be wider, but this is how it turned out, and so be it.

I first walked a labyrinth in a gymnasium in Yokohama, in or around 2003. Having been invited to one of the city’s international schools to give a mini-workshop to some 40 teachers on Proprioceptive Writing, I was curious to learn that I could take a meditational walk, and made my way to where it was sited: a huge canvas, painted with an 11-circuit design that filled the whole floor space, and lit around the edge with candles. An exact replica of the labyrinth on the floor of the cathedral in Chartres, France, translated…

Just follow the path to the centre, and then follow it back, I was instructed by the labyrinth’s guardian of that time; there are no tricks, you can’t get lost, it’s not a maze.

To say the experience blew me away is no exaggeration. Emotions flared… a problem dissolved…clarity crystalised. Over the next year or so, I became a bit of a labyrinth groupie, following it around Kanto to wherever it was laid to walk. Every time, I learned something new, had questions answered, was shaken by revelations and shocks even. (It’s all those right-brain turns in the ancient design!)

Once I travelled hours out of central Tokyo in a typhoon to a university, where the labyrinth was being made available for students to experience. By the time I got there I was furious to find any number of young people walking the walk. How dare they be here, I can remember thinking; this is my labyrinth. That was a huge lesson for me, and one that made the journey especially worthwhile.

Living by the ocean, I began creating labyrinths on the beach, for others to walk and experience their own realisations and awakenings, or simply de-stress. Initially – as part of a local arts festival – all I could manage to draw out and dig was a very basic design.

The first labyrinth I ever made, a simple 5-circuit on Isshiki-kaigan, but still it drew curious crowds, with many willing to give it a whirl…

 

Our neighbour Sonia, with husband Yuta and Julia (then three, now 16) on the sidelines. Always hugely supportive… and totally committed to digging and walking…

 

 

In the main, Japanese were far more open than non-Japanese. You might think it the other way around, but no…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we moved to Zushi from Hayama, I became more ambitious, with 7-circuit designs. I would go down early, with lengths of bamboo and string, mark it out for others to come and help dig it out. It became part of the ritual to wait and see the tide take it away…

Tibetan monks create intricate designs (mandela) with coloured sand as gifts to Buddha, then blow them away or casually swipe them with a toe. As tides carry away labyrinths, obliterating their transitory existence, there is a similar sense of unconditionally releasing creation to the universe…

One year,  I became so disorientated having walked in circles marking one out early morning, that I fell off my bike on the way home for breakfast, narrowly escaped ending up under a dump truck, and cracking my elbow.

It didn’t stop me though…

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were always walkers…even after I had                         long gone home. 

Moving to Scotland simply provided a new opportunity. The triangle of land to one side of the cottage offered the perfect space for a turf labyrinth so I set about marking it out. Akii was doubtful. He could not see what I could see: the potential. But slowly as it took shape, I erected archways and found a garden bench and chairs and table to paint indigo blue, he became more and more enthusiastic. 

 

Of course it took a few seasons to mature, the herbs planted around the outer circle to take root and spread. We are still working on it even now… 

 

When our brave and loyal cat, Tora, for Tiger, died, we buried her in the heart of the walkway, marked with a large stone from the side of the burn.

Liam rolled it  into the centre… He helped us with the garden until last year when he moved on to manage a local estate. Way to go, Liam!

 

 

When Tora’s labyrinth was eventually opened in 2014, everyone agreed that it looked lovely and completely at home. Friends and neighbours came to walk, a few bottles were cracked open, books consulted and questions answered and then some walked again…

A couple wondered what was the point. (What was the point of anything, then?) One went home. (What was the psychological stumbling block?) Whatever the reaction, there is always something to learn, if willing… Life can be very mysterious, if you allow it to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember a man walking on Hayama-kaigan in 2005 while his wife raged at the entrance, furious to be left alone but not wanting to go herself. Baka, she kept yelling at him, Baka! Fool. The next day she came alone and walked quietly and then left without saying a word. I have always wondered what was going on there, but not my business; these days I try to allow and accept rather than dictate and query. I think the labyrinth’s most powerful message to me was to stop being so controlling; I had no idea.

So, the Burnside Labyrinth is back in business again for the summer. With the information provided printed here to maybe help lure you here one day… whatever the season. 

 

 

WELCOME TO THE BURNSIDE (TORA’S) LABYRINTH

Q: WHAT IS THE LABYRINTH? A: The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool. It is created here – in turf – as a meditational pathway, a symbolic pilgrimage.

Q: IS THE LABYRINTH THE SAME AS A MAZE? A: No, being left-brained, a maze is designed to trick and tease the mind. By contrast, the labyrinth will lead you easily and safely to the centre and back again, while stimulating right-brain thought processes to creative and problem-solving effect.

Q: IS THE LABYRINTH A SO-CALLED NEW AGE CONCEPT? A: The oldest labyrinth found to date, dated 2,500BC, is on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. They can be found also in India, Russia, Scandinavia, throughout Europe and the UK, cut into turf, or created with earth, stone or mosaic. The universal spiralling design is integral to many early cultures, including native American Indian, African, Mayan, Greek and Celtic. Replicated in woven baskets, textiles and ceramics, it can be found more naturally in shells, spiders’ webs, and the umbilical cord that connects us to our mother at birth.

Q: WHAT IS THE LABYRINTH FOR? A: As a piece of sacred geometry, the design seems to fulfil some deep spiritual, emotional and physical need. When it became too dangerous for Christians to pilgrimage to the Middle East in the Middle Ages, cathedrals in Europe were ordered to create symbolic pilgrimage routes on the floors of their naves. The classic 11-circuit labyrinth in Chartre Cathedral, France, has more recently been replicated on the floor of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, USA, where is a craftsman is now kept busy in the basement creating the same design on canvas, so that labyrinths can be transported to churches, schools, hospitals prisons – wherever there is a need for reflection, healing and transformation. Labyrinths carved into wood are used by the visually-impaired who can trace the route with their fingers to relaxing holistic effect.

Q: IS THERE A RIGHT WAY TO WALK? A: There is no right – or wrong – way. Everyone has their own journey, as in life. You may walk and think, So what? You may find it reduces stress. There may be revelations – with feelings of happiness, discontent, impatience – questions, or solutions to problems/ enquiries. Walk at your own speed, with an open mind, an open heart. When you reach the centre, pause. You are (symbolically) at the centre of the universe, the world, your Self. Acknowledge your arrival, your state of Being. Stand or sit while. Then return. If you meet anyone on the path, simply step aside. You can NOT fall off! Enter and return by the same route. Try not break the circle.

Q: CAN I WALK MORE THAN ONCE? A: As often as you like. Simply take time in-between to consider feelings and reactions. Come back whenever you want or need.

Q; WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THE LABYRINTH? A: There are many books and over two million websites. Search “labyrinth” and see what turns up. Recommended: www.labyrinthsociety.org www.lessons4living.com/labyrinth.htm www.angelfire.com/tn/SacredLabyrinth http://www.pinterest.com/angelajeffs/labyrinths/

NEGOTIATING THE LABYRINTH IS LIKE TAKING A THOUGHTFUL WALK. THERE ARE FOUR STAGES:

THE THRESHOLD… or entrance of the labyrinth, where the details of everyday life are shed and the mind becomes receptive

JOURNEYING IN… finding out how the mind focuses as the body moves forward towards the labyrinth’s centre

THE RESTING PLACE… arriving at the centre, then pausing to await inspiration

JOURNEYING OUT… discovering a rebirth and preparing to re-enter the outside world with a new sense of purpose. As you exit, maybe turn and say thank you?

OPTIONAL: THE STONES ON THE TABLE: CHOOSE ONE (THAT ATTRACTS ATTENTION, CALLS TO YOU) AND CARRY IT WITH YOU TO THE CENTRE, REPRESENTING SOMETHING YOU WANT TO GET RID OF OR LEAVE BEHIND (ANGER, RESENTMENT, FEAR). LEAVE IT IN THE CENTRE AND RETURN. EQUALLY THERE MAY BE SOMETHING YOU WANT TO BRING BACK INTO DAILY LIFE (ACCEPTANCE, COURAGE, PURPOSE).


 

25. February 2019 · Comments Off on When PW becomes part of your life · Categories: Proprioceptive Writing, Uncategorized

Proprioceptive Writing became part of my life in Japan in 2005. Having started classes that included right-brain exercises to trick students into opening up creatively when they thought they could not, felt blocked or quite the opposite, overwhelmed emotionally, I searched for a technique that I could incorporate into classes to help place this journey safely in their own hands, literally.

WRITING THE MIND ALIVE- The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice, is available online: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Alive-Linda-Trichter-Metcalf/dp/0345438582

 

Finding the book Writing the Mind Alive proved miraculous, and it has been a part of my writing programme, Drawing on the Writer Within, ever since. Every class concludes with a WRITE, and here in Scotland I also offer a PW session locally on the first Saturday of the month.

A WRITE is the piece of meditative writing produced in 25 minutes, to Baroque music and in candlelight, and which uses the question What do I mean by… to dig ever deeper into the words being written on the page.

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A candle, for illumination  (because it’s the loveliest meditative light), three sheets of plain paper, and something to write with; most use pencil. Baroque music is the same beat as the human heart, so helps calm and let go…If you become unaware of it, you can be said to be in the zone…

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Introducing PW: one of the earliest courses at RBR (Right Brain Research) in central Tokyo in 2005… 

PW (as called for short) dates from the 1970s, and is going stronger than ever in the USA, where it is based at The Proprioceptive Writing Center, 1001 53rd Street, Oakland, CA 94608), but taught and facilitated all over the USA.

Some students find PW too personally intrusive and resist. Some can get angry, aggressive even, flounce out of the room, cast blame… The large majority, however, acknowledge that it helps towards authenticity, increased self-awareness, happiness and success. And a few take to it like ducks to water, making the practice part of their every day. I remember Helen in Tokyo, for example, doing several hundred.

Brendon, who learned PW as part of the two-day first-level DOTWW course he did in Zushi, in 2010. He now lives in Ireland. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lauren, who went on to do all four 8-class courses of DOTWW and has at the very least, 32 WRITES to her name. She still lives in Tokyo.

 

 

 

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Heera, at work on our dining table at what I thought to be the last PW workshop in Japan; it was in Zushi in autumn 2012… She is now returned to Cumbria in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for Gordon, here in Scotland, he just passed the 500 mark.

Gordon grew up in Glasgow, where he learned three survival techniques: Learn to fight; learn to climb a tree; and learn to light a fire so you can, in retaliatory fashion, burn down someone’s house. (He laughs at this, but back then it was not funny. The area where he grew up was as tough as they come.)

At our last PW session – he was one of two who travelled a fair distance and braved ice and snow – Gordon had done 461 WRITES, and has them now sitting in piles around his flat under headings like Family, Career, Recreation, Spirituality, Health and Happiness.

 

The first PW session in Clunie Hall after our move to Scotland in late 2012. Those who came had mostly completed level one of DOTWW over eight weeks at the Birnam Arts Institute in early 2013. Others were simply curious. 

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After a PW workshop in Tokyo, 2014, organised by graduate DOTWW students: L to R: Robyn, Efrot, Kathryn, Etsuko, Angela, Jacinta, Petya, Ruthie, Sarah and Yumiko.

“And your father?” I asked, remembering this particular difficulty. (His father had died when he was ten.)

“Done. Finished. I remember you saying that at some point we would get bored of writing the same old stuff, and simply accept that journeys are different. He had his. I have mine. )

WRITES are now part of Gordon’s daily routine. He gets up at 6.30 every morning and nowadays spends 45 minutes at the kitchen table. He still starts with three sheets of paper, but does now often reach for more. He has worn out three CDs of music, and burned any number of candles. But it’s not an addiction, he says.

It’s a ritual that takes him into a quiet place, from where his WRITE flows. He goes so quickly and easily into the zone of listening instead of thinking these days that he doesn’t even hear the music. But he knows it’s doing its job.

“I look back and can see clearly how the last 18 months have transformed my life. PW is now simply a part of each and every day.”

Gordon and Marion on February 2, 2018, after their PW session. All the snow had gone, melted perhaps by happy smiles in tandem with winter sunshine? Asked why she comes on a regular basis, Marion replied: “Because I always learn something new about myself.”

He moved town, has a new home, and work is blossoming. A good part of his week is now spent taking plants into care homes for the residents to nurture and enjoy. He also accompanies dementia patients into woodland and forest. Families report they come back so much happier, so much calmer.

For myself, nowadays, PW is the practice I turn to when disturbed or lack clarity. When I first read Writing the Mind Alive, I found it totally inspiring. While not an officially accredited teacher of PW, I know Linda and Toby have always been aware I am using their teachings. Indeed I did an online course with Toby from Japan quite early on to make sure I was on the right track. While not believing any methodology of doing anything is set in stone, I have never deviated from the prescribed elements of ritual. Why? Because they work.

Of course, as I wrote at the beginning, no practice works for everyone. It can only work with people on their different levels of need and understanding in any particular timeline. But on a basic level, as psychotherapist Susan Gutwill wrote in her praise of the book when first published in 2002: “Proprioceptive Writing has helped me write, think, feel and most important, live more fully in the world and in myself.”

 

 

 

01. November 2018 · Comments Off on Re(a)d as a seasonal pointer · Categories: Uncategorized

RE(A)D AS A SEASONAL POINTER

The summer slipped away last month, with no apology for brevity and intensity, and suddenly the autumn equinox was upon us.

It was the day I drove to Aberfeldy, for a shiatsu with Netherlands-born Anneke who has the most wondrously sensitive healing hands (http://www.hielanhands.co.uk/therapist.php?show=14). It was also the day after Day 1 of my writing course, so I was both tired and inspired: I love the work, and this time especially interesting as an equal number of men and women and, in the main, slightly older than usual.

Add to this fact that it was the most beautiful day – clear and sunny, bright and breezy – and to say I felt high after the treatment (as in an uplifted altered state kind of way) is an understatement.

Before leaving home, I had taken a few photographs around the house: colour-changing leaves, ripening berries, blushing fruit. Also one of something – a pot stand – hanging in our kitchen, which is what no doubt inspired the rest of the day…

My grandmother Irene’s favourite clock. For decades time stood still. When passed to me, I found a key through a friend whose husband tinkered in his spare time, and now rewind it every 24 hours for perfect timekeeping. 

Trees planted four years ago are now bearing fruit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transitioning – falling leaves

 

Hedgerows laced with rosehips

Later, taking back roads to avoid traffic and the dreaded A9, I found myself stopping and starting, stopping and starting, drawn by an endless range of hues, tints and shades..

 

 

A fallen gate with its own story

In the community owned store in Strathtay, the volunteer on duty told me that when she and her family went on trips to town and country, they always chose a theme to photograph. “It could be concrete, or steps, or triangles, or a colour. It makes us really look and see.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy and use this historic postbox while you can. Post offices are closing all over Scotland!

 

At the back of the shop, brightly painted garage doors with knobs on…

At the front, baskets of apples donated by locals glutted out with fruit. And yes, there were fresh veg inside…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did, avoiding several young ones scampering from one side of the road to the other. Have their parents taught them nothing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So many beautiful houses along the route… here Virginia creeper creeps ever onwards. And who is in the tower? Another story here…

 

 

In Grantully, a sculptural wild cat keeps an eye on passing traffic… 

 

 

…while the Highland Chocolatier offers love in every shape and form. Irresistible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now of course, on Samhain/All Hallows Eve/Halloween, the landscape is much changed towards winter and warming autumnal shades almost gone.

Only the pot is still red, and a few other things…

(Read more about Sunfield [read the caption below] in my book Chasing Shooting Stars (2013), available on Amazon.com)

I made this in 1948, when I was seven. My parents took my sister and I on a regular basis to the place where I was born: Sunfield, a residential home run according to the principles of Rudolf Steiner, at Clent Grove, near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire. It was as sustainable as possible, with a biodynamic farm, theatre, weaving sheds and a pottery. Why did I choose red? No idea, but maybe to reflect left-wing leanings, even from such an early age… Always concerned with fairness and justice.

31. July 2018 · Comments Off on Midsummer synchronicities · Categories: Uncategorized

Is it my imagination, or is my life turning full circle? Is the universe conspiring with my soul to tie up a thousand and one loose ends in readiness for moving on? And where do Ibiza potatoes fit into the scheme of things?

Silage being cut in the far meadow on June 21st

With a predicted long hot summer snapping at our heels, it seemed a meeting in London’s Notting Hill (http://www.lifelines-uk.org.uk/) provided a good excuse for extending it into a midsummer break.

My now Canadian daughter and grandson were here for the solstice. On the afternoon of the 21st, they paddled around Clunie Loch with Piotr Gudan who just a few weeks before, had been addressing the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh about the need to conserve this country’s unique environment through responsible tourism rather than slapdash and ruinous development. (https://www.outdoorexplore.org.uk/lochsriverssea)

Buffy, Piotr and Max paddling off to outdoor explore; note the lifejackets!

Seems we had to have a man in charge back then also: my father. If he had known I took the leaky boat out alone, he would have been very cross; no health and safety measures back then, so I guess he had a point!

As I watched them dip and splash off into the distance, I remembered how on my first visit to Forneth House in 1951 (my aunt had just married the laird), I had explored the loch by rowboat. I was eleven, my grandson Max (67 years later) just one year older. At that time there was no-one to tell me about the local wildlife, and the remarkable history of the area. Thankyou Piotr for two and a half hours of informative fun; apparently it was a high spot.

The next day, the three of us travelled to Edinburgh, while Akii stayed home to cat sit. I took the train onwards to Kings Cross (four and half hours of scenic bliss) while Buffy and Max signed into the Haymarket Hub Hotel; they had an early flight back to Toronto the next morning.

London is always a shock of the system these days. Funny to think I lived and raised my family there for 20 years and took so much for granted. Now it seems crowded, fast and very young. Maybe it always was, but then such things are always relative.

Very conscious of a new knee and far-too-large-a wheelie case (note: must buy something that is inbetween a weekender and six-week round-the-worlder) I arrived in Brixton and exited the station into chaos. In the 1960s and 70s, the population was largely Caribbean (where the Windrush generation had settled). Now it’s mixed beyond measure, and so loud. Very friendly though, and everywhere so helpful. Towards the end of my trip, I counted up half a dozen young-ish men who had carried my case up stairs at different points north and south of the river, each one saying “If I hadn’t, my mother would never have forgiven me.” (Still trying to work this out…)

Jack has spent the last couple of years collating memorambilia to donate to various organisations and institutions. Much her mother’s ‘stuff’ is now lodged with the Fife Archives in Kirkaldy. The Issey Miyake outfit (with provenance), made from fabric that she painted and helped design in the 1960s, was bought at auction by the Manchester City Galley. Such clearances have allowed her and Tony to move into a minimalist phase of lifestyle that is both easy to care for and live in (and refreshing for someone who lives amid clutter!)

I stayed three comfortable and relaxed nights with Tony (https://tonyrickaby.co.uk/) and Jack (http://jacqui-mclennan.com/) in the terrace house they have lived for over 40 years. I have known Jack since 1960, when she was a student at Coventry Art School, along with Roger Jeffs (who I subsequently married) and John Bowstead (who initially married Jack but [after she moved in with one of his students, Tony] I later lived with for near on a decade.)

Time for Jack and I to share memories and fill in the gaps in timelines … (and another trio for Sunday breakfast, with their friend Judy!)

It was a tangled web we wove in our youth, but amazingly we are all still in touch, and remain very fond. Jack and I spent many hours trying to fill in the gaps in our memories. For example, who was the Canadian student, a painter called Gary-something, whom they brought along to my 21st birthday party in Cheylesmore, Coventry, in May 1961? Gary Nairn, Jack recalled.

On the Sunday, after breakfast at Borough market, Tony drove me to Battersea, where I visited a friend from my Queen’s Park days. Maggie was one of several women I knew there, who all – including me – married their lodgers. Now nearing 80, she has Alzheimer’s, and Andy (20 years younger) is her self-appointed carer. While not remembering exactly who I was, she took my hand when we walked to the bus stop three hours later, so allowing me to believe there was a recognition on some level.

When I went to Japan in 1986, Maggie was my most loyal correspondent. I still have all her letters, those being the not-so-long-ago days when people still put pen to paper. She wrote in a tiny but beautifully clear hand, describing her day-to-day in minute detail… It’s a cruel condition that disallows such activities and memories…

On the fourth day I crossed London to Euston to take the train to Coventry. This is where I grew up (in what was then more a bomb site than a city), and after completing the required probationary year as an accredited teacher, was so relieved to leave in 1962. More recently though it won the bid for City of Culture in 2021 (https://coventry2021.co.uk/) so there is a quite a buzz.

I took a taxi to St James church in Styvechale. This in itself was a huge time-slip, passing Cheylesmore’s Quinton Pool, which in my childhood was a puddle around which rubbish was tipped. Now it’s a place of beauty, with waterbirds, and fringed with mature willows. I was driven past roads where primary school friends had once lived… past the end of the road to the croft where I grew up… past John’s own childhood home…

No-one is there of course; rituals are for the living, not the dead…

At the church, closed but basking in sunlight, I spent some time at the stone – a piece of granite, chosen by my mother to cover my father’s ashes after his death in 1962. Now she is there too, together with my sister; both died in 2007 within months of one another. I had carried a miniature rose bush from Euston, along with my case and shoulder bag, but decided to plant it in the garden of remembrance rather than close by the stone; no room among the leaf litter.

Place names so often take me back…

Then a bus to Pool Meadow, where the bus station always was, and still is, if much improved. There was even a very welcome gelateria outside one entrance! (It was so hot.) Waiting for the bus to Stratford-upon-Avon, another passed by heading for Nuneaton via Bulkington. This is where Roger grew up, with memories of his mother saving scrupulously all rubber bands and bits of string, and his father in the garden, teaching me about fruit and veg.

The route to Stratford was disappointing. I had hoped the bus would follow the route to school I took morning and evening, along the Warwick Road (past King Henry V111 grammar school where John, Mike and Rick went), past the stables where I learned to ride, past the convent where my sister was sent to school, past Canley Woods (birthday picnics) and on through Kenilworth, and so to Warwick. Instead it seemed mostly to hurtle along a motorway.

We did get to Warwick, but via Leamington Spa, looking very spruced up and smart: the Jephson Gardens, where my parents took us every summer to see the illuminations, preceded by an iced bun at the tearoom, and the bridge over the River Avon were so much smaller than remembered, but then they would be, wouldn’t they.

Crossing the bridge over the same river into Warwick again transported me into the past, and one that I could remember rather more clearly. So much of my early days are blurred beyond belief, with huge gaps in recollection.

There was the castle. There was my school (http://www.kingshighwarwick.co.uk/).

And not so much time after, there was Sarah. Crossing the road from her car (four door, with a clutch!) as I waited on the steps of the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre.

Sarah was one of my best friends at school. Others thought her whacky, eccentric… to me she was heroic, brave and subversive. She pinned up copies of Old Masters over sports fixtures, stayed behind after hours to take up floorboards and crawl under the hall floor to rescue a cat that our headmistress, Miss Hare, had decreed would find its own way out or meet a deserving natural end. Being a rather shy and fearful child, which is probably why I liked acting, putting on masks to hide insecurities, I thought her wonderful. And still do…(https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/jun/09/charity-writers-room-of-ones-own-woolf)

Her parents and my own were also very much known to one another. While her mother was a sculptor, her father, Hugh Hosking, was head of Coventry Art School. Not only did he give my own mother a job at Hillcrest, a facility in a different part of the city, teaching fashion and dressmaking, but he was also in charge when Jack, John and Roger (and Gary Nairn) were students, seeing them off to the Slade and Royal College of Art in London with some old-school bemusement, scepticism even; were they really all so good? It was the time when Pop Art ruled rather than classicism.

It was Hugh Hosking who, having seen me onstage in various school plays, told my parents that they ought to send me to stage school. Sarah remembers me in ‘Matilda” as being “utterly charming”. Maybe he saw me instead in ‘The Winter’s Tale’? I rather hope so. As a seventeen-year-old, the role of Paulina would have been far more challenging.

Sarah and I each remembered meeting one another just once since 1957. I recalled visiting her in a cottage with a lot of cats (she still lives in a cottage with lots of cats, but in a different part of the country), with a pale callow youth lingering behind her chair. “Aha,” she guffahed, “that must have been when I was thinking to marry a curate.” (She never did, never married anyone.)

She then asked if I remembered bumping into her on north London’s Kilburn High Road in the 1970s. She was doing a course with the Arts Council. I was a young mum but also working for an American syndication company, Transworld Feature Syndicate inc. of NY, in Holborn: “You were wearing a long dark brown PVC mac, tightly cinched at the waist. “(Good to know that after two babies I still had a waist!)

Her studies at the Arts Council stood her in good stead when she set up a charity to help older women writers. (She’s had quite a career: academic, author, property developer and now philanthropist.) While I was in Japan, she was giving time, space and money to over 100 women to work on the widest array of literary projects imaginable. So impressive. (https://hoskinghouses.co.uk/wp/)

Walking back from dinner in town – a splendid vegan restaurant that looked after us very well, she being a well-known local figure – we passed the cottage where the current tenant (a poet) was watering the garden…. We then strolled down a path into the dusk, past Sarah’s chickens, to the River Slough, where a small rowboat was moored: another facility to be enjoyed by scribers seeking inspiration or simply relaxation.

Elemental dear Sarah…

Sitting out in Sarah’s lovely tangled garden as the moon rose above the roof of 22 Duck Lane, with dog Daisy at our feet, the cats strolling around, and more than a hint of Shakespearean magic in the air, I thought it the perfect end to an extraordinary day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travelling to Somerset the next day was a doddle until the train got to Westbury, where it decided to go into meltdown. Yes, the track and points ahead had so expanded in the heat that we could go no further. Staff were apologetic and after much hand-wringing got taxis organized for the nine of us bound for the stop ahead: Castle Carey. Here poor Sandy had been waiting for me for over an hour…

I stayed four nights with her and John (a demographer about to leave for India) in their beautiful home – a sixteen-century manor house with five acres in the Vale of Avalon – purchased a decade before with the proceeds of the sale of a terrace house in Shepherd’s Bush, West London.

Another haven of calm and peacefulness… I feel truly blessed to have have such good friends in                     such lovely places…

My time there culminated with a lunch party for nine at which I found myself sitting next to Delia da Silva whose husband Peter Allen was chief technician at the RCA at the same time Jack had been there studying textiles and print. The poor man had just been told he could no longer drive, as his eyesight failing, so that burden also falling onto his already stressed-out wife.

It was a jolly bunch in the main. Swiss-Peruvian jeweller Solange Zamora I had met before, at the dinner party she had thrown a few nights earlier in her garden, with a distant view of Glastonbury Tor in moonlight under a starry sky.

Another local, American artist Candace Bahouth, was sharing an exhibition in Bath with the designer Kaffe Fassett. When Sandy and I knew him in the mid-1970s, working together on the book Wild Knitting, he was a knitwear and (like Candace) tapestry designer. (Sandy subsequently edited his most famous knitwear book.) Now he has a 101 creative fingers in as many creative pies, with a multitude of makers to support and implement his interests and talents. By contrast Candace works mostly alone, showing in this instance some of her marvellous mirrors with intricate mosaic surrounds. (mosaicbahouth.com)

Frances and Jamie Howard have a bookshop in Glastonbury. (Sandy and I had popped into The Gothic Image the previous day while shopping, but she had been elsewhere.) He organises tours of ancient sacred sites, largely in Scotland, so providing us with the possibility of much to talk about. But they all knew one another very well, and were much enjoying catching up. I was the outsider, and quite tired after a morning of helping prep the occasion. But it was fine; I was quite happy to sit back and speak only when spoken to.

No wailing women here, only Delia, Sandy and Solange, happily at lunch…

 

Fifty six years ago… I wonder whatever happened to Trevor, whose body stocking and fig leaf fitted him rather better than my own fitted me…

It was on hearing the word Coventry at some point that Delia sat up and announced: “Oh yes, I was in the Coventry Mystery Plays in 1962, when the new cathedral was inaugurated. I played one of the wailing women.”

“Good heavens,” I replied, “I was in it to, I played Eve, (in a pale pink body-stocking loaned from the RSC’s wardrobe in Stratford).”

We could not remember one another (in the cast of hundreds), but she easily recalled the name of the director, Neil Stair (whose surname was another I had forgotten), while I have always been able to summon up that of his partner Rex Chell. What an amazing coincidence, she remarked, quite astonished. To which I stayed quiet, believing there is no such thing as coincidence, only synchronicity.

Much more truly amazing was the river view from the apartment in Canary Wharf, back in London, where I spent my last night.

Another dear Sarah, waiting for the phone to ring to get her own new knee…

Sarah – another Sarah, known since our babies were small in Kilburn, and who had also married a lodger – had only recently sold her house in Queen’s Park and now divides her time between the Isle of Dogs and a casita and orange grove in Spain. Adrian was back there while she waited for a knee replacement operation in London. (We are all at an age when our bodies are complaining, even giving up on us…) Obviously in a lot of pain, the misery of which I could remember all too well, time was passing slowly…

There’s a knack to knowing the right time to leave any party…

I’m not surprised however they felt no need for a TV! There was a fairground at Greenwich, and watching the river traffic kept us amused until late… tourist boats bustling to and fro, commuters heading home on river busses, a beautifully restored barge, and after dusk, a convoy of corporate party boats, with video screens, pulsing lights and synchronized reggae beats, accompanied by screams of laughter and (presumably) enjoyment. We were even able to swiftly report a fire – billows of dense black smoke – on the south side, and hear engines racing to the rescue; the remembrance of Grenfell Tower was too painful to do otherwise.

On the back north I say beside a woman travelling to Inverness with her husband. They were potato farmers on Ibiza.

“Is Ibiza big enough for potato farming?” I asked in a state ignorance, prejudiced by media reports of hen parties, stag dos, and partying as if there is no tomorrow.

“Oh yes,” I was told. “The mahem is pretty localized. Of course the island is more built up than it used to be, but there are still pockets of agriculture. Like the Jersey potato, the Ibiza potato is much prized.”

(Ibiza, pronounced by British tourists as Ibitha, was originally Catalan Eivissa, from the Arabic yabisa, from the Latin erebus, from Phoenician and meaning ‘dedicated to the gods’.)

It was amazing, we agreed, that earlier that morning she and her husband had been mucking out and feeding the animals before heading for the airport for the flight to Edinburgh. How small the world was. How crazy – how rooted in fantasy – the concept of Brexit; what was the UK thinking? How breathtaking it was for them to see such open vistas, such expansive landscapes. How beautiful was Scotland.

I had a lot to think about when I finally arrived home, having dedicated my journeying and safe return to the gods.

I am still thinking about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

09. July 2018 · Comments Off on Incidental wisps of summer · Categories: Uncategorized

The Egyptian born and raised Italian-American writer and academic Andre Aciman, once wrote: “Rituals are the buildings blocks of life, my way of cobbling an entire summer together from incidental wisps.”

 What follows could be described as incidental wisps of my own as this summer cobbles itself together in unexpected but welcome fashion.

EARLY SUMMER: LETTING GO

I took John’s advice (from my previous blog). Crossed the new bridge that Akii had built (an old ladder laid to rest). Sat under the newly planted willow by the burn side on an upturned log. Invited my mother and sister to join me, moved mind, body and spirit into spi-ritual mode.

I touched my face with sage, placed sprigs between my toes.The sun shone thin but clear. A breeze blew, gentle and comforting. Water ran over pebbles and around rocks, creating music of a kind.

I told my dears how much I missed them (in a way). Asked their forgiveness for not being kinder and more supportive throughout their troubled lives. Prayed for us all to move on, leaving behind all blame and resentment, relinquishing my sadness and guilt.

I waited, breathing in the aroma of the herbs as I dabbled my toes in the water. Then, throwing the sage into the burn, to be carried away on the current, their voices came on the wind.

NO NEED, I heard.

BE LOVED.

LET US GO.

So I did. Let them go to continue their journeying in other worldly states, while I more freely and lightly continue my own in this…

Later I walked the labyrinth in beautiful evening light, stopping occasionally to pick up branches and twigs blown from overhanging trees during the gale of the night before. And what did I hear? CLEARING THE PATH. To what I am now wondering… To editing my new book, for sure. But maybe the new and unexpected? After months of slow recovery, you have no idea how good such words sound.

 

03. May 2018 · Comments Off on The spiral staircase · Categories: Uncategorized

This famed spiral staircase, designed by Gustave Eiffel, now restored to its   full breathtaking beauty. St Pancras Rennaisance Hotel/ Railway Station,                          London

Not my own title, I must quickly admit. Rather lifted with respect from Karen Armstrong’s second book, which memoirs her journey from seeking God via the Catholic church (which broke her as a novitiate nun) to writing her way back to health, a belief in God and the freely unstructured rewards of an active spiritual life. These in turn became the underpinnings of her career.

I first read The Spiral Staircase in Japan. Thinking my copy had got lost in the move to Scotland, I was surprised and delighted to be handed it back by a new friend made here in 2014, to whom I had apparently lent it. Liz had subsequently become ill and disappeared from my life until this month, when she resurfaced, much better, and with a pile of books and DVDs to be returned with thanks.

She had found this title especially very moving, the symbolism of T.S. Elliot’s poem, Ash Wednesday, published as a foreword, offering great comfort. So I have taken a second look at Karen Armstrong’s memoir, and found an interesting connection. A message, if you like.

The concluding paragraph of my last blog (www.angelajeffs.co.uk) reads as follows: Basically, I’m ready to go… but not necessarily eastwards, rather onward and upwards. Or even sideways, preferably putting one word in front of another towards completion. Then – my latest manuscript having been drafted in 2012   – I can really move on.

But could I? How? And then I made the connection. Or rather a connection that seemed helpful.

Eliot’s poem is both clever and moving, spiralling upwards from one state of mind (depressed, stuck) to another (purposeful, hopeful). But he had stairs. He was climbing a spiral staircase: a symbolic spiral staircase that enables the reader, without really realising it, to move around and around ever upwards into the light of recovery mode.

In my last home in Japan I had stairs with sharp turns, up and down. The photograph on page 65 of Household Stories/Katei        Monogatari, print to order from     Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk

In my last home in Japan I had stairs with sharp turns, up and down. They kept me fit and lively, helped sharpen my mind, kept me on my toes. Here I have none. The croft is single storey, which I thought a good thing initially, but now I am wondering…

I have the labyrinth – that’s a spiral like no other – but being described in turf, it’s on the flat.

Now I know why having to negotiate stairs in the outside world – shops, restaurants, anywhere with flights of stairs to negotiate – I am so troubled. My new knee especially does not like them; it’s unpractised.

So yes, I need to do something about this, on both a physical and creative level. And quickly. With another birthday looming, there’s no time to waste.

I have become unpractised in my spiritual journey. I read articles written for Jacinta’s website (www.embracetransition.com) between 2011 and 2016, and am astonished at the speed at which I was travelling, not only going forwards, but upwards -spiralling skywards –  and downwards, ever deeper. What happened? Why did I stop?

No point in blaming our home for not having stairs. Time to get fit some other way…

I think the health of my physical body suddenly took precedence. As mobility decreased, my focus shifted. My concerns were more mundane and everyday: at the most basic level, getting from point A to B without falling over. But however careful I tried to be, I still found balance immensely challenging.

I fell three weeks before surgery in December last year. Then I fell again six weeks after. My confidence fell to an all time low: I was less my Self than I had been in many years.

Time then to reclaim my Self, which has been relegated to misery and fear. Time to stand up for my Self, dust it down and give it a good polish, so that I can see clearly again.

Needing some tools (other than a good clean cloth and some muscle power) I messaged John Black, who facilitates Celtic medicine, makes Celtae drums and manages a Sacred Stone retreat in Portugal. With John’s work is nature based, could he, would he suggest any shamanic rituals I could practise towards making apology.

My feet had become bad towards the end of April, making walking very painful, excruciating even. Having been making such great progress with my knee, this really brought me down again. Was I never even going to get back to normal, normal meaning being able to work in the garden, walk down the road to see neighbours, complete my exercise programme, etc.

What it raised from the past was memories of my mother’s own problems with her feet. I remembered pushing her hard in Japan to walk ever farther because I so wanted her to see everything, while knowing at the time that she was in agony. She tried to please me, but I gave little to nothing back. Some 80th birthday present! Where was my sympathy, let alone empathy?

It was the same with my sister. How did I respond to her severe disability, her life severely challenged from the age of 16 by rheumatoid arthritis, and wheelchair-bound for years at a time? I was irritated. Why could I not have had a normal sister? The childishness, even nastiness of this does not escape me. Simply makes me feel terrible, sad, and very very sorry indeed.

The beauty and power of water: A wonderful         photograph from 1950s Japan...

Celtic John replied: In making any apology, it is always our own feelings of guilt and shame we are dealing with. No-one is perfect; nobody can always say and do the right thing. Also, karmically speaking, maybe what we have said and done is actually the right thing, enabling the situation to move on. What I find best is to sit
next to water – water is the cleanser. Bless your Self with natural water, allow your feelings to express themselves. Take sage with you. Breathe this in too, allowing whatever words that come from the depths of your being to rise to your lips… Feel the forgiveness for your Self, and send it to whoever it is, or whatever the situation is that you are apologising to. The best ritual arises from within; it’s not fixed but flows free from the heart. Hope this helps. 

Leila, who is a herbalist in Kirkmichael and studying to be a shaman, also offered advice in the form of two useful online links (I have no problem in asking for help): http://www.shamanic.net/on-forgiveness/
If you feel that you need a guiding hand then you may be interested to contact Brian Anderson in Methven: http://www.oakenleaf.co.uk/

I feel blessed to once again have so much wisdom made available, and now sense many kindly hands leading me forward. I shall start this weekend. Limp down to the burn. And sit on the bridge that Akii built. (Not bad for a Tokyo city boy who with woodworking skills limited to what he learned in school over 50 years ago, has never made anything practical in his life.) Then with a bunch of freshly picked sage in hand, I shall dangle my feet in the cooling water and wait for whatever bubbles up.

12. April 2018 · Comments Off on A long hard winter · Categories: Uncategorized

Mid-March: Akii grimaced this morning, as he read that it was 4 degrees celsius in Tokyo, and not a petal of pink in sight. Tourists are pouring in from the world over for hanami (cherry blossom viewing time) and shivering from head to foot, poor things. They had packed for Spring, and Japan is not the only place where this lovely season is far behind.

February into March the snow just came coming… Being in a valley we are protected to some degree; not so far away roads were impassable and neighbours and friends snowed in for days. And not only in Scotland!

This time last year our land was awash with golden daffodils. This year the buds are just above ground, and the snowdrops still hard to tell from the white stuff that until just a day or so ago continued to fall from ominous clouds from the east. Weather people say the jet stream is returning to flow from the West, and they ought to know. Note that I use the word ‘ought’ rather than ‘should’; the latter is a word I am attempting to banish from my vocabulary. There are no ‘shoulds’…

Thanks to Barbara Bayer, who posted this beautiful shot of a famed shidare-zakura (weeping cherry) from where she lives north of Tokyo. The sakura map that appears on Japanese TV throughout the cherry season, shows buds opening in Tohoku, northern Honshu. But this fine specimen is at its peak of perfection, with petals just beginning to fall… Japan’s best-loved symbol of impermanence.

Mid-April: Not that much has changed, except that Japan is now awash in pink. Here the snowdrops are fading but still looking fresh in hidden pockets of garden. As for daffoldils, they are about to pop. But when?

Time to move on from weather, because Nature does its thing in its own good time. Let’s look to the positive in this moment.

I’m feeling better. Stronger. More grounded. This after a fall in late February that left me looking like a zombie from The Living Dead.

I am shocked by how much my confidence has been rocked by this most recent fall. Whatever next, I wonder, which makes me tentative as never before.

What happened? I was trying to get back to normal, whatever ‘normal’ is, or was back then, recovering from the knee surgery in mid-December last year. Hard to remember now, and why bother, except to clarify. I know I was reaching to water an indoor plant and lost my balance, twisting as I fell to save the knee, and so crashing into the hearth, fire-irons and wood-burning stove. I found some blood on the corner of the wall the other day, so am guessing I hit that too.

What else? After two spouse visas of two and a half years each, Akii being granted residency in the UK, six weeks after putting in his application to the Home Office. (He was told it might take six months!)

Once again it was stressful beyond belief, for him that is. I had reached a point of accepting that if denied – and he would have just four weeks to leave – we would return to Japan. He would go first and I stay to sort out and pack up, the opposite of how we left Japan. Judging by my reaction when the letter arrived, there had been a part of me hoping that it would be bad news … though not for him, because he loves being here: no stress, he claims. Now we have choices, I wrote on Facebook. But the truth is I’m not good with choices; it’s why I hate shopping. Having the choice to go back to Japan is different from having to. What a surprise to learn after so long that I prefer things to be more cut and dried.

What was the plan if we had no choice but to return to Japan? Maybe to live in Wakayama Prefecture, where there is an Ueda-family house we could potentially move into on Koyasan, a sacred mountain with some 60 Buddhist temples. Akii get a job as a tour guide; his English is certainly good enough after five years in the UK, with life in Scotland enriching his language skills with words like burn, and bonnie, and cringe-worthy colloquialisms like lang may your lum reek, literally meaning ‘long may your chimney smoke, but the best way to wish fellow Scots a long and happy life. I say ‘fellow’, because as Abby (who grew up locally but now lives and works near Aberdeen) commented on Facebook: “This is fantastic news? You must be all so relieved. Akii: our new and permanent resident Scot!”

Me in Japan? Do what I do here, but in a renewed mindset. Beyond that, maybe simply be.

Anyway, here we are, with no plans beyond today:

The burn running with snow melt to sweep away winter detrius, and our septic tank appearing to begin naturally unblocking. (Crossed fingers on this one.)

Healing. My knee, that is, so feeling more grounded, and more mobile.

Rowan (from Edinburgh), Kelly (Essendy), Jane (Spittlefield), Fiona (Glasgow) and Marion (Meigle) met to write their minds alive (Proprioceptive Writing) on February 3.

With March 3 cancelled due to snow, three chose to meet on Easter Saturday, with Anneke travelling from Grantully, Wendy from Balbeggie and Gordon, Crieff. All three found their WRITES covered very similar areas of interest and concern.

My published book and monthly writing meets are moving along nicely. As for my new book, it’s in its own blocked pipeline: first draft done but progress halted by I know not what! But I know that I shall get back to it when the time is right, which will also come in its own good time. In the meantime, I busy about with this and that, trying not to fret.

Basically, I’m ready to go… but not necessarily eastwards, rather onward and upwards. Or even sideways, preferably putting one word in front of another towards completion. Then – this manuscript having been drafted in 2012 – I can really move on.

01. February 2018 · Comments Off on GOOD LUCK! · Categories: Uncategorized

 

They are an odd collection. An accumulation of small objects grouped together in no particular order on the base of my Muji lamp to the right of my computer. This in turn stands on the old headmaster’s desk (rescued from a private school being demolished in London’s NW2 in the 1970s) that I write on.

Some of the objects are relatively new. A few have been here quite a while, having made the journey from Japan to Scotland in 2013.

All, I suppose, are associated with luck. The good kind of luck, not the bad, which I would not wish on anyone.

It’s a phrase we use without too much thought, a kind of useful tool to help others on their way, in the everyday, in life itself: Good luck!

Every culture has its own form of similar encouragement. In France, a near literal interpretation: Bonne chance.

In Spanish-speaking countries, Bueno suerte.

In Swahili, Bahati njema.

In Japan, it’s more complicated. (Most things are.) Never use the phrase Kouhn wo oinori shimasu face-to-face, and only when addressing a stranger or acquaintance; it’s too polite for common usage. People would laugh, I’m told.

Address a friend about to take an exam, Gambatte kudasai. If calling to a parent off to start a new job, Gambaryro! Neither imply luck of any kind, but rather are an encouragement to endure difficulty. Typical Asian pragmatism.

The English word luck is defined as fortune, good or bad. Not physical fortune (ie a pile of gold coins), but one rooted in the metaphysical. It’s connected to fate, destiny. We reach out into the unknown and, touching wood (something I do near instinctively), pray for the best. (I’m trying to keep hope out of my vocabulary, having a dubious and even negative context.)

I will never know who FS was, initials carved into the desk long before it came to me. I used their ‘appearance’ as the basis of a short horror story back in October last year, a project set for members of The Clunie Roses, a private writing group on Facebook founded after my last course. 

I asked my Japanese husband if he believed in luck and he said no.

Why?

“Because it’s silly.”

But Japan is a very superstitious country…

“Yes, but only because we learn to be, from education, from our family…”

His mother, aunt, uncle, grandmother were all superstitious, he said, wasting so much time and money on palm-readings, clairvoyants, talismans and charms.

“They relied on them in life. None of them took responsibility for their own good fortune, made something of their lives. They were all disappointed.”

An extreme? Maybe. But with a good point. That maybe we need to make our own good luck, rather than expecting it to manifest via unknown, unseen forces.

Or maybe there is a balance to be found: that middle-ground again.

It has taken a while to find my own. I grew up with a mother who was so other-worldy that she found it hard to ground herself in reality. My father was the opposite: by staying in the safe zone of practicality, he missed out on swathes of possibility. Yet he was the one who wanted to take advantage of the government’s £10 passage scheme to Australia in the 1950s; she was the one who said no, fearful of risk and losing the little security they had. They were a complicated couple.

When my father wanted to cut down a rowan tree, planted as a sapling in the back garden, my mother went berserk. Rowans protected against witchcraft and enchantment, she insisted. Cutting one down would be bad luck.

I wonder if she also knew (on some level) that in Nordic mythology, it was the tree from which the first woman was created. (https://treesforlife.org.uk/forest/mythology-folklore/rowan2/)

Siding with my father through childhood, as daughters often do, I put aside such thoughts and raised my own children not to be superstitious. Or so my own daughter told me the night I flew to Buenos Aires from Toronto in 1999. It was Halloween, which Canada (having jumped on America’s pumpkin train) celebrates big time.

I was freaked, spooked, not liking flying very much anyway, and embarking on a trip that was as much about chasing my grandfather’s ghost as being rooted in any sensible rhyme or reason. I write about this experience in Chasing Shooting Stars (Amazon.co.uk), published in 2013.

But back to my desk, which has always served me well. I wonder if the initials carved into it have made their creative mark over the years? Or is it simply that I have always tried to put the desk to good use. Respected it. Loved it. Good energy is – and creates – good energy.

As for the objects, let me remind myself of how they came to be here, where they came from, how they help, if that is what they do – or I choose to believe they do.

The black ammonite – the fossilized spiral shell of an extinct sea creature – has (by far) the longest history… Azzah gave it to me years ago, after one of her visits to our house in Zushi.

(You can read about her in Chasing Shooting Stars, and Household Stories/Katei Monogatari (www.amazon.co.uk) published late last year via Amazon’s print-to-order self-publishing facility, Create Space. If in the USA, order from www.amazon.com; if in Japan, www.amazon.co.jp

If there are other links being used, it would be good to hear of them – Europe, the Antipodes, etc.)

Quite often when beginning to write, I hold this cool object in the palm of my hand to bring me, what? Luck, I suppose. As in a positive connection of some kind that will encourage my words forward…

Often I add the grey stone bearing the image of a raven, sent me to me by my Aunt Jo for Christmas one year. It was such an unlikely gift for a pragmatist; she despised superstition and dismissed mysticism as fanciful. (The exact opposite to her sister, my mother.) The following year she sent a similar stone bearing an insect. How I wish I knew her mindset at that time.

There is a smooth crystal that I think James gave me. An equally smooth blue stone heart from Julia, with a small blemish that sparkles. (Julia often brought me bits and pieces she picked up around the house, on the beach.)

Where the pale pink and pale blue stones came from I have no idea. Very un-me. And yet, here they sit, claiming their space.

There is a piece of stucco, picked up from a pathway winding its way around the Temple of the Sun just outside Mexico City. I would never have pulled away a piece from the actual structure, but it was just lying there… inviting me, I like to think: (http://guanajuatomexicocity.com/mexico-city/Pyramid-sun-teotihuacan.html)

The tiny flying duck is from a broken brooch. (I have three 1930s ceramics on the wall above the doorway, all broken, all glued back toegther.)

The pill box and ceramic Mandarin duck were gifted by Akii at Christmas 2016. He gave me a whole box of things, all related, and as he he explained), to help inspire me to return to the story I had drafted before leaving Japan.

In late 2017, Cassie made me these fingerless gloves, all from recycled materials, and on request, added a heart, a CND peace sign (down near the wrists) and towards my fingertips, these mandarin duck heads. She said the birds on my hands would encourage my fingers to fly forward in my story-telling… 

The most recent token is a small metal hand holding what I assume to be a crystal ball. I was in Dunkeld last autumn, parked, when a woman rapped on the window. She was in her sixties, with wiry hair and a weather-beaten face. I don’t know why I knew instinctively she was Roma, which she was, and proud to be.

She knew a few things. That I had a daughter across the water. That my son had been ill as a child. That I had lived in the ‘Orient’. That I had never really every had a proper job (that’s very true!) but made my own way.

“You have had a great life”, she said. “You have been brave, made many changes, been very lucky. I see even greater years ahead, lady, so keep challenging…” And so saying, she placed the hand in my own.

My belief in talismans and omens as such, is not to be tested too deeply.  But I do believe in signs, in part because twenty-six years in Japan did leave me more open to possibility than I had been in the UK. Actually I think I was open, very open, but often found it difficult to defend myself against my father’s scepticism and dismissal of anything that could not be proven by science.

Rooted in Shinto-ism – Japan’s animist nature-based religion – its culture and people are deeply superstitious. Most shrines and Buddhist temple have a kiosk or shop selling good luck charms and talismans, and the largest and most popular are hugely affluent as a result. I know, because my husband used to have a major shrine as a customer, and reports vast sums being processed, especially at New Year – priests running to and from bearing sacks of cash.

New Year (O-shogatsu) is when you buy arrows to symbolize shooting into the future for good fortune. You tie white papers inscribed with wishes and hopes onto the branches of trees or specially erected frames. You draw numbered sticks to discover how the year ahead is going to pan out. And you throw in a few fervent prayers, just in case…

So deep is the Japanese belief in the occult, that there blessing ceremonies for just about everything, from babies to new cars. And if you don’t believe me, just watch this:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf6B-_tp6gM

All this I saw as fun rather than to be taken too seriously. In the main it did no harm, except empty personal coffers. But there is always a dark side: for many people, it was serious and tended to affect future actions, reactions, hopes and fears.

Reading my pack of Angel Cards at the turn of the year, the word OBEDIENCE challenged my natural inclination to break rules and ignore advice. In this situation, however, it was just what I needed.

On December 11, 2017, my left knee joint was replaced at Perth Royal Infirmary, and while the operation itself successful, there were subsequent complications that that left me weak as a newborn…

So (once allowed home just ahead of Christmas) I needed to obey the instructions of the nursing staff: eat, drink, rest, medicate. I needed to do the physio exercises that would get me back on my feet. I needed to unscramble my brain, affected by a whole battery of drugs. Most of all I needed to listen to my own body, and rebalance in sensible fashion.

I returned home on December 20, and pretty much stayed quiet until the new year…

This has taken awhile, and why I am late in wishing you a happy new year, and – of course – the very best of luck…

But now here I am. At my lucky desk. With my lucky charms needing a dust but at the ready to do their job.

When I get started, that is.