The weekend of May 30-31, the Coronovirus lockdown was partially lifted by the Scottish government. After months of being confined to home, however large or small, Scots could theoretically go out and about, and while the large majority stayed put, thinking of others as much as themselves and so doing their best to keep us all safe, a significant few thought Buggar this for a laugh, we’re off!

And – with no pubs, cinemas or shopping malls open –  off they drove, to Loch Lomond (from Glasgow way), Loch Tay and Loch Tummel, beaches along the Fifeshire coastline and any other scenically endowed stretch of water they could find on the touristic maps of mainstream and social media.

Looking northwards, across to Forneth House

One of these was Loch Clunie, a centrally placed jewel in a necklace of five freshwater lochs (lakes) strung along the Lunan Burn in the Lunan Valley, which connects Dunkeld and Blairgowrie, in Perthshire. It is a designated area of natural beauty, the main reason a proposed wind farm at Dulater was turned down at the highest level just last year. 

Craiglush is just that: lush; Loch of the Lowes has protected species (famed osprey).

Butterstone seems to have fiercely defended fishing rights; you only ever see rowing boats out in all weathers.

Beyond Clunie, there is Marlee, with soft fruit and Christmas trees farmed on the south side, and the northern shore now cut off from public access by wire (2019) and (significantly more recently) large boulders placed in unofficial and official laybys.

There is a sixth expanse of water, Rae Loch, just before Ardblair Castle on the A923 just before Blairgowrie, but this is not counted as part of the chain. Why? 

Because in any rainfall, water overspills onto the roadway and flood signs lying along the sides of the road are lifted into place again. The reason? It is near clogged with rushes, and surrounded by swamp. This protects from intrusion, while driving motorists, cyclists and even walkers up the wall (not that there is one of course). And as long as the wrangling goes on between officialdom, and nature reservists who claim beavers have the right to do their thing, like chewing down trees and building dams, and rare species of flora require protection ahead of human wants and needs, nothing will change. It is quite simply allowed to be.

And then there is Clunie, right there in the middle and as popular now as it has been for centuries. *As Kenneth McAlpine united  the Picts qnd Scots in 843, he chose Dunkeld as his capital and Clunie for the site of his summer hunting palace.

Late 19th century photograph, taken when the ‘castle’ was still visible and largely intact

Locals say that summer time has always been a bit of a noisy smoke-driven litter-strewn nightmare, with people from the cities and roundabout – tinkers, travellers and, since the 1970s, EU workers from the berry fields roundabout – coming for picnics and camping for as long as can be remembered.

Camping as it ought to be, in tune with nature, offending no-one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A wonderful way to learn about Clunie’s history and wildlife                                                            

Responsible camping: A big family party who brought not only dogs but their own toilet 

But the weekend that restrictions were lifted in Phase 1 of exit from lockdown, Clunie made the news. Not only were there 60+ cars parked everywhere – on lanes, in fields, on verges – but some 400 people – mostly from Dundee and Glasgow – partied by night and day. It came to a head at 3am on Sunday morning when the estate manager for Forneth House – his family unable to sleep and anxious – confronted three drunken individuals on the lochside, and was stabbed.

The owners of Forneth House flew in the following day from the Netherlands to check on their property and the wellbeing of employees and establish exactly what happened. 


It took days for local groups to clear the litter and debris left behind. It seems commonplace these days after music festivals and other weekend events, to just leave tents and equipment, or even dump it all in water. And as for the human waste…

Much aroused and worried, there came the call for a meeting to discuss the situation with a local councillor. And so within days some 30 individuals, including landowners and representatives from the various local groups who do their best to use the loch responsibly, met online by zoom.

The main problem, everyone felt, was that the loch’s shoreline is ‘owned’ by five different people: the owners of Forneth House (who demand privacy); a man who lives in Cornwall and is said to have bought a stretch of land at a public auction for £4,000; an area of what is called common grazing land but most probably does have an owner recorded way back in the mists of time; a 40 yard stretch of ‘beach’ supposedly used by a local family as their landing stage; and the rest all part of the Snaigow Estate, owned by Edward Cadogan, Lord Chelsea. It is Snaigow that ‘owns’ Loch Clunie’s waters, and this includes its famed island, an ancient crannog with historic links to Dunkeld.

After the meeting was over, I could not sleep, and sat up wondering why I felt so disconcerted. And then I woke up, realised …

All those involved had been talking about how they used the loch. Yet the most important voice was absent. The voice of Clunie Loch itself. Who spoke on its behalf? No-one. So I walked our labyrinth, asked if this lovely place that I have been visiting since 1951 and now regard as a close friend and neighbour, would like to have a word, say its piece. And so it spoke:

I listened to you all the other evening. I heard you talking of proprietorial ownership of land – my ever-changing ‘owned’ shoreline. I heard you talking about how much you enjoyed using me. Using me for fishing, row-boating, paddling and swimming, as your ancestors have done for centuries. But more recently, for paddle-boarding, something you call wild swimming, yoga, canoeing and kayaking. In the main, quiet and gentle pursuits and ones I can happily live with.

 Do you ever wonder how I feel about it, though? Naturally my water is in constant flow, moving from where the Lunan burn enters to where it leaves under the bridge to continue on to Marlee, so in this respect I am constantly changing and evolving. But at heart I am the whole environment, living in a harmonious whole as One.

 I am the trees that thrive near good water. So why do some of you – some, not all – tear me apart, rip me down, saw and cut into me; don’t you know that my green wood of a sap-full summer fails to burn?

 I am the shrubs and trees and flowers that both protect and feed off me. And yet you have no respect, leaving not only unwanted goods but your urine and excrement to despoil me, in terms of my own wellbeing, and that of other more considerate visitors.

 I am the fish and diverse water creatures that naturally plumb my depths for nutrients, but are forced to dive dive dive by jetskiis and motorboats. There are not many of these noisy polluting monsters, but the few that tear me up cause havoc and great distress.

 I am the birds that live on and with me – swans, ducks and all the other water fowl that enjoy my peace and quiet. Imagine our terror when invaded; think about how long it takes it regain our trusting equilibrium.

 I am the birds that fly above me. But not when our flight paths or circling food forays or nests are threatened. Then we think to move away, seek wilder safer places elsewhere. This is when I forsee degradation and loss and even death on our imminent horizon.

 I am the awesome creatures that come to drink at night. Voles, beavers, deer…

And in my quiet waters – my usually cold, mostly dark, occasionally desperate waters – where lily stems writhe, seeking a grip on thrashing limbs, and algae will bloom to negative effect to all (except the algae) if conditions prevail – I hold my peace.I can sense the respect of those who show consideration, who are quietened and even healed by my own undemanding meditative existence. They leave more contemplative, more at one with themselves and nature at large.

Credit: Kelly McIntyre

 

But then there are others who arrive in a state of unconsciousness and leave no better improved. They light fires, smoking out wildlife and leaving me burned and hurt. They throw empty cans into me and leave smashed glass for wild creatures to tread on. Thoughtlessly, they use, dump and move on. A great time, I hear them shout, wholly ignorant of the cost.

So what can I do? How can I keep my environmental health and ravishing natural beauty intact?

 If you cannot live in harmony with me, respect my existence as much as I want to respect your own, then please, I beg of you, just stay away.

 

Credit: Kelly McIntyre

 * From MEMORIAL INSCRIPTIONS AT CLUNIE CHURCH with historical notes by Elma Rodger Wood. Published by the Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Sociey, 1996, 2006. Master sheets and photographs are now held in the Dunkeld Cathedral archives. 

I look up into the sky and it is the purest azure blue. It is also empty. Not empty of birds and cloud, but planes, and the vapour trails so beloved of conspiracy theorists.

These strange shape-shifting time-shifting days, such people – and I know a fair number – have other things on crazed over-active imaginative but otherwise perfectly reasonable and accurate minds.

What is actually going on behind the scenes of pandemic and economic collapse, they ask.

Who is making all the money, stashing all the cash in off-shore accounts, while poorly paid medics and other so-called front-line workers (to use the military terminology beloved of certain politicians and media oligarchs) work all hours of the night and day to save our lives?

Who is really in charge?

And what kind of world is being created for our children and future generations?

Just one click: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1974389855

But let me get back to birds – fly into the realms of be-feathered fancy and distraction. Because what can any of us do, we sigh, especially being in lockdown. Or shall we be suspicious of that too? Have ‘they’ got the masses (that’s theoretically you, and me, by the way) exactly where they want us: out of the way, too scared to put unmasked faces out of the door for fear… We are being educated to be afraid, and so we mostly are: anxious, distressed, fear-full.

For us, here in the lush countryside of Perthshire where the air is clear and roads have lain silent for two and a half months, life is not so changed. We find ourselves immensely fortunate to no longer live in a city, or to have to share living space with others. The very thought of a single mum with two small children isolated on the tenth floor of a converted office block somewhere in England – the government’s solution to the housing problem – is, as they say up here, beyond my ken.

Time has changed though. Those days when it was sliced up into even quite large segments – but still called a schedule – are long gone. Now it is elastic, and stretches… Stretches in all directions, somehow – imaginatively, creatively, philosophically – while staying anchored in the same spot.

I have remained in my seat, in my lovely working space with the best feng shui this side of Asia, seeing a book to bed. True I have to trek back and forth across the garden, and in all weathers too, including hail in late April. But while giving my eyes a rest from the computer screen, I have seen branches break into green, wild cherry blossom flurry free on windy days, and now, the lawn – more moss than grass – spattering yellow, white and blue, with dandelions, daisies, buttercups and speedwell.

And the book? A piece of fiction – a fable – inspired by something that happened here, and which I started writing in Japan, it was completed in 2018 and then tinkered with through last year, so has some provenance. Why I did not push for publication for Christmas 2019 is a bit of a mystery to me. After all I had found the illustrator for the cover in October, and she had pulled out all the stops to get it done. Why had I not matched her enthusiastic response and energetic  professionalism?

The answer I realize now is that I was not well. I was angry, despairing, being dragged down. So much so that we had no Christmas, or New Year; I just did not have the energy, could not be bothered. It was the build – the dragging build – that did it. An extension to the cottage that was supposed (on the basis of a handshake) to take three months maximum, but which was still not finished in February.

It was then I took matters into my own hands and in a state of desperate ignorance hired a team of cowboys to slate the roof. (Yes, we had been left to live through a Scottish winter without a roof or functioning electrics.) The day they left, it felt like a mountain being lifted from my shoulders. It has taken rather longer to smile again, especially since I have had come to see and accept that a botch job was done and it will have to be done again, but back in February life was slowly returning to that state of mind and being we called normal.

Then came the virus.

Now we have another normal. Staying local. Social distancing. Washing hands. Wearing masks. Shopping for needs, not wants.

What will the normal be next week? No idea. There is no normal any more; we need to learn to live in new and different ways, many of which may prove to be initially challenging but – let’s choose to believe – ultimately for the individual and collective planetary good. Those unconscious beings who insist to returning to their old ways may, I’m afraid,  suffer alarming consequences.

My normal last week was an interview with the local paper about the book, published on May 1st. The photo-journalist and I sat outside in the sunshine, several metres apart, and Akii made us mint tea, which he left under a tree for us to help ourselves in our own time. A rather lovely afternoon if the truth be told.

My normal today? After an early shop to beat the queues, package up some books for posting out for promo purposes. Oh, and that drawing of a cat in a frame that I’d like to go to my daughter in Toronto. Also dig up some compost for putting in plants rooted over the winter. And stake an apple tree shaken free in a recent gale. Small things, but harmless and all useful in their own sweet ways. I get up, I do things, this and that, and then it’s time to go to bed.

And so it is. Good night. (With gratitude for today.)

Good morning. (With gratitude for another day.)

I am often asked where my ideas come from, and never more so than with any piece of fiction. What follows are five entries on Facebook that I posted late April into May as leads-ins to publication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY…
No.1. A visual image seeded long ago
This scroll of a pair of mandarin ducks hung in my study in Japan for as long as I can remember. I have no memory of where it came from; was it a gift, did I buy it?
It has hung here in the o-shotei (my work space/study/studio ) since we came to Scotland in late 2012. And I would have liked to photograph it in situ, just across from my desk, but sadly a dark day, with rain clouds gathering to the west. So I hung it outside, and realise that since its job is done – the story told and book on its way – it can maybe find a new home. Right now, mission accomplished, it is blowing in the breeze, almost as if readying for take off. Interesting how these things happen.

 

STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY…
No.2. Clipped and pinned
It seems I got the arrival date of the scroll wrong. It came as part of a Christmas package, to be described tomorrow.
Today I’m going to take you back to the time I subscribed to the weekly airmail version of The Guardian Newspaper. Being far from home, it was a regular treat and I always read it from headline to yes, even the last word on the last sports page.
In one issue, sometime after the year 2000 and our move to Zushi, I cut out a tiny three-line report that a lone male Mandarin duck had been spotted on a reservoir near Bridgenorth, in Shropshire. Being the county of my ancestral heritage, and knowing the area well, I suppose it resonated; I certainly knew next to nothing about Mandarins.
On a visit back here to see my mother and aunt prior to 2007, the incident occurred locally that sparked the idea for my story, and the subject of that clipping was most probably why ducks became Mandarins in my mindset.
The clipping, which resided for many years on my pinboard in Zushi, disappeared in the move in 2012. But I remember it well.
PS This film was shot in 2010 in Rotterdam, which – another piece of engaging synchronicity – is (in my story) en route…

 

STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY
No.3. One Mandarin after another
I was Akii who gave me the scroll, and various other duck-related memorambilia, for Christmas four years ago. I had published HOUSEHOLD STORIES/Kateo Monogatari, and was set on my next project, but flagging.
“They are to encourage you,” he explained, as I opened one after another small packages, gleaned from e-Bay and all over.
And so they did. For a while at least.

 

STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY.
No.4. Knit and stitch, write on
The winter of 2018 was hard. My hands were so cold some days I could not write. Then Cassie came to my rescue.
Passionate about colour, Cassandra is a textile artist living in Brighton (https://cassandrawhitfield.com/) When I first arrived in London in 1962, I and her mother, Judy Whitfield (and two others) shared a flat in NW2, so I have known Cass since she was a baby.
Knowing she was making mittens from recycled fabrics and adding personal notes with applique and stitches, I commissioned a pair to help my Mandarins move forward, and within days, they arrived.
Looking at them now, I am delighted not only by the birds, but the symbols she used, both of which synchronistically appear on the cover of my book. They were on a list I sent the illustrator, Meilo So, who lives on Yell, Shetland.

 

STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY… No. 5. Moving in the right direction
It was a friend of a friend who put me straight.
“Your ducks”, she said, pointing to three vintage ceramic mallards hung above my door, “are flying in the wrong direction.”
Sally Lemsford was looking around my study after staying the night after a conference in Aberdeen.
“Aren’t they supposed to be flying home to China? Well, they are heading West.”
She was right. As soon as she had left, for the long drive back down south, I took them down and hung them on the wall opposite. Finally, they were heading East.
The very next day I found the Chinese illustrator I had been searching for, and arranged to meet in Aberdeen.
Soon enough, the story was told. The cover illustrated. Production completed.
And so, after five stories, FIVE OF A FEATHER – a fable.

Heading East, flying free in elastic time…

16. March 2020 · Comments Off on J.du Pre, Gen, Gwen, Bridget and me · Categories: Uncategorized

What does multiple sclerosis and the cello have in common for me? Quite a lot actually, though maybe indirectly.

I began thinking – putting this and that together – last week, after seeing The Cellist, a new work by Cathy Marston, based on the life of Jacqueline du Pre, for the Royal Ballet. It was streamed live from the Royal Opera House, and I had driven to Aberfeldy’s community cinema The Birks, to see it especially. (In rehearsal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6DS-SOVGiI&t=12s)

Why? Because my mother, Gwendoline Loader (nee Price), played the cello, and very well I have been told. She learned in Birmingham, to which she had moved from Wales to study fashion illustration at Birmingham Art School in the late 1920s. A few years later she joined the Rudolf Steiner community at Sunfield, a pioneering residential home for children with special needs, at Clent Grove, near Bromsgrove. It was here that her love for the cello was born. (Me too!)

My mother took me to Sunfield for my seventh birthday. I remember walking through long corridors of sweet-smelling wooden wardrobes containing rainbows of silk clothing (much of which she has sewn during her seven year stay) for performances of Eurythmy. 

My mother, wearing the taffeta dress she made for professional appearances. Because Michael Wilson – the founder of Sunfield (and my godfather) –  was set on creating an orchestra, she and other musically-inclined souls were sent from Sunfield to Birmingham to study cello with the conductor Johan Hoch. Her comrades swiftly hit the dust but Hoch kept my mother on, in large part because of what Michael described as “a good bowing arm”.Travelling to Birmingham, she regularly played with its municipal symphony orchestra. The city’s philharmonic was not founded until 1941, and by that time she was busy with me.

Hilly sent me this just the other day. David and my mother were enabled to reconnect in later years, and died within a week of one another, in 2007.

At Sunfield, she created music with any number of professional instrumentalists, many of whom were Jewish refugees from Germany, but including her dear friend David Clement, a biodynamic farmer who also played the cello. They played together in recitals, to accompany Eurythmy and any number of other theatre and dance productions.

*Eurythmy is an expressive movement art originated by Rudolf Steiner in conjunction with Marie von Sivers in the early 20th century. Primarily a performance art, it is also used in education, especially in Waldorf schools, and – as part of anthroposophic medicine – for claimed therapeutic purposes. The word eurythmy stems from Greek roots meaning beautiful or harmonious rhythm. (Wikipedia) *

David’s cousin, Hilly Clement, and I are in constant touch, because she has been archiving materials relating to Sunfield’s early days in the 1930s, and in searching through my mother’s papers and photographs, I have found numerous items of great interest, now passed on. Only last week, she mailed a photo that her daughter had scanned for me; this week I must send the recent photo I just found showing all staff and children standing in front of the main building, my mother included. Things keep turning up all the time…

Nowadays I find myself wondering why my mother laid her cello aside once she was married and had me and my sister Bridget Bateman (nee Loader). I remember there was a piano in the front room in Coventry that she played sometimes, and tried – unsuccessfully – to get us to study. I have no memory at all though, of where the cello was kept.

All I do know is that after her removal to a care home in 2005, we found it in a cupboard here, pretty much in pieces. I was still living in Japan, so when Bridget took it to Coventry for repair, felt only relief. But then the following year she told me she had given it away, to the city’s youth orchestra, and while acknowledging this as ‘a good thing to do’, found myself increasingly upset not to have been consulted.

Just a few months after our mother died in July 2007, Bridget chose (on some subconscious level) to join her. At which point, enquiries were made as to the cello’s fate, only to learn that due to a surfeit of string instruments, it was stored away, stored in yet another cupboard, and had never been played. And so it came home…

Soon after moving here from Japan, I found a teacher in Grantully who was prepared to help me get started. But after only a few lessons, I had to admit defeat. The pinkie of my left hand had been dislocated as a nine-year-old – bashed by a boy in the school playground – and in stretching to reach and cover the strings, it swelled and became arthritic. I had left it too late.

So here it stands, in prime condition and much admired. At least eighty years old, but with its original provenance sadly lost. In being repaired, not only did its bow go missing – nicked we reckoned, as a beauty and valuable – but any paperwork inside the cello, was removed and never replaced. So now I have no idea where it was made, or by whom.

I fell I love with the cello, not because I had grown up hearing my mother play, but listening to Jacqueline du Pre on the radio. I loved not only the rich and evocative sounds she created, but her youthful energy and passionate love of her instrument. To say that it was a tragedy to be cut off in her prime by MS (multiple sclerosis) is an understatement. Thankfully we have sound recordings and even film clips to keep us in touch with of her joyous gift.

To see on YouTube her playing the first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, conducted by her then husband Daniel Barenboim, takes me back to the days when we had only sound at our fingertips. (Charismatic, free, in love with life: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH0jUQTCCQI)

My mother is at the foot of the drape on the right, wearing white. Was this in Birmingham? On the back of the photograph is printed: A.H.LEALND, Photographer, Fleet Chambers, 5 Fleet Street, Coventry Phone 4392 Reference No. 340. So a bit of a mystery as to where or when. 

To more recently see this life choreographed onstage, takes me back to the days when I studied Martha Graham’s dance form (called Laban, but nowadays referred to as Graham Technique) leaping and stretching as lightly and flexibly as did the members of the Royal Ballet: the girls lifted and swirling like feathers, the boys leaping with jock-strapped alacrity. Interesting to see – for the first time? – female principal dancer (Lauren Cutherbertson) ‘manipulating’ the male dancer (Marcelinno Sambe). In classical ballet the male supports the female; in this case J.de.Pre supported the male dancer dancing the role of her beloved cello.

Interesting also to see Barenboim not being allowed to get away lightly with his disloyalty to his wife once she became ill and no longer fed ambition and ego. It reminded me of how Bridget’s husband, Geoffrey, also cleared off once her own rheumatoid arthritis began to impinge upon and affect his own life.

Falling on ice on ice when she was 16, Bridie hurt her knees which swelled and failed to recover. Rheumatoid arthritis was diagnosed and she spent much of her life in and out of hospital having joints replaced. No that it stopped her doing anything – singing, volunteering with Arthritis Care, painting… But the toll on her body was too much, and at age 64, after an elbow operation that failed to heal, she died of sepsis. Her courage was exceptional, as the 250 people who attended her funeral in September 2007 bore witness.  

The same cannot be said of Richard Darbourne, my cousin Genevieve’s partner, who stayed with her until the very end in January 2017. An excellent man, also a writer, and with whom I remain in contact.

Gen and I were lost to one another for many years. Her mother, Betty Elwell (nee Loader) – my father’s youngest sister – had died in childbirth, so explaining why her second daughter was christened in her name: Elizabeth. Their father, John, bereft and lost, soon remarried, and his new wife wanted nothing to do with Betty’s family.

I knew I had these two first cousins, but there was never any contact and I had no idea where they were. Until 1999, that is, when I decided to try and find Gen. I was preparing for a journey into ancestral roots in South America, and wondered if she would be interested. I found her very quickly, in fact, and she too was thrilled to be reconnected, mailing a photo to Chile that I could add to all the others I was leaving in our grandfather’s grave in Uruguay. (Read Chasing Shooting Stars, 2013, for the full story.)

Towards the end we would walk with her to have coffee and watch the world go by, times she relished with great courage and good humour.

Richard, Gen and Akii. Happy but bitter-sweet times…

 

 

 

Visiting her in South London on my return, I found her chair-bound with MS. She had told me of her situation, but still it was a shock. Even more shocking to hear that Elizabeth had also suffered the condition, but in a different form. On her way to being a professional violinist, Liz had woken one morning to find her bowing arm strangely unfeeling… and that was the end of any career in music. She died in the 1990s, but not of MS, but breast cancer.

I have vivid memories of when Gen was well enough to scoot up and down Bromley’s Hilly Fields in her wheelchair, us chasing after. Akii and I also met up with her younger son Jonny in Japan, where he was travelling with a visiting UK youth orchestra; he plays the viola and has an exceptional tenor voice, so continuing the musical tradition in the family. Genevieve’s funeral was beautiful and extraordinarily supportive for all who attended, with largely anthroposophically-inclined words, secular music, and standing room only.

Looking back to family folklore, I wonder if Barney – my father’s younger brother – also had MS. The story was that having stood in the sea for two days at Dunkirk, waiting to be rescued, his legs had never been the same again. Again, there was little to no contact and now I shall never know.

My father, Samuel Robert (Bob) Loader, with his two younger siblings, Barney and Betty, in Liverpool in the 1920s.

I am the only immediate survivor of my family on both sides, the Loaders and the Prices, and I cannot help wondering why they have been so beset with physical and mental problems. An exceptionally heavy karmic burden…  I am next in line, which I suspect is one reason why it’s so important to me to record what I can while I can. To help continue trying to make sense of it all, and maybe – maybe – help reduce that oppressively heavy load next time around.

This is why I made the journey to South America in 1999 and spent much of the next decade writing Chasing Shooting Stars: to try and bring everyone together in peace, forgiveness, wellness and love: (https://www.amazon.com/Chasing-Shooting-Stars-South-American/dp/1477413715)

 

PS We are living through troubled times, my friends. Let us not allow fear to rule and sweep us away into panic. Remember: Fear defeats more people than any one other thing in the world. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

27. November 2019 · Comments Off on Re-clearing the burn · Categories: Uncategorized

The land on which our home stands is, as I write later, triangular in shape: bordered by the road on this side, a fence on the second, and our burn on the third.

It’s nearly that time again. To sweep the last of leaves, cut back roses and brambles, de-clutter borders and gutters, prune the redcurrants, clear the burn.

Lee will be here in a week or so – his annual pre-year-end flying visit – and this time last year he rather enjoyed wading the waterway, dredging out weed and cutting back be-brackened sedges and willowed banks. Freezing, of course, but good wellies and several pairs of socks helped keep chilblains at bay.

Looking back through old writings, I found what follows: personal clearances of five years ago. Interesting to read, and with little I would change, a good re-discovery in its own write. Also, may I say, a healthy antidote to all the shameful shennigans going on politically right now.

 

Since I first cleared the burn in 2014, and found the spring that former tenants used for water before mains were laid in the 1960s, it has become quite a ritual for Lee and Akii to clear it late in the year.

CLEARING THE BURN 

I had no idea when I set out to clear the burn – the Scottish word (from the Gaelic) for stream – on a cold frosty day in mid-November that it would take me on such a journey.

This burn is our boundary on the long side of a triangular piece of land that my aunt gifted to my mother back in the late 1960s. Sourcing from high above on moorland, where the only obvious sounds are wind and rain, deer in rutting season, and the calls of curlew and buzzard, it winds its way down following the contours of the landscape to emerge from under the road that links Blairgowrie and Dunkeld.

In the good old bad old days it flooded on a regular basis when the natural course could not handle heavy downpours and snow melt. Water swelled and gushed over the road (and into Burnside House, the other side of the A923) before new tenants created a bank in Spring to keep excess in check), finding a route along the dyke (dry stone wall) between us and the road and regularly swept my mother’s gravel away from where we also now park our car.

Water, it seems, will always find a way…

Now there is a bright blue plastic pipe laid under the road that avoids such dramas. And this is where where I begin my work, in several pairs of socks against the cold and Wellington boots to keep them – and me – dry, armed with secators, saw and garden fork to do the jobs in hand.

My intention: to clear the water of fallen dead wood that acts as accidental dams and so catches falling leaves; also cutting back dead bracken that crackles like brown newspaper and equally lifeless but seed-laden willow herb, so that in Spring, the flow will be free and the ground to either side open to new growth.

But as I stand in presence and watched the clear cold spring water gushing pristine and perfect into the muddying pool at my feet, I am momentarily transported: to a wood paneled room in Worcestershire where in the May of 1941 I emerged from my mother into a less than peaceful and far from perfect world.

Interesting, I think. But then happily put aside all attempt to understand what is happening and begin to clear the way ahead …

Gardening of any kind is a very right-brain activity. Go outside to pull the odd weed (any plant in the wrong place at the wrong time) and surprise, surprise: an hour passes without any consideration of time. Here too, I soon become as much found as lost in mesmorising activity: throwing up silt to form a bank against the annual drowning of century-old redcurrant bush roots; pulling down brambles and nettles; heaping compost and combustibles.

Yet as I twist and turn, I’m aware that the burn – finding its way through ancient root systems of willows – is mirroring my early years of postwar struggles. As a family we coped, we got through, but personally I found them far from easy. And I am aware that every time I’m ripped by briars or tripped by a stone, the pain I feel and voice is as old as ever.

After the burn widens into a long shallow pool, shaded by ancient willows (my childhood?) it suddenly twists and falls into turbulence. (At age eleven – and much to everyone’s surprise, because I was considered ‘bright’, I failed my 11+ exam for grammar school. Too much pressure, but this was not considered a good enough reason. Life was never the same…)

So I move into a narrow choppy stretch, with many hurdles – stepping stones to take feet across to the meadow and orchard on the far side but after the autumnal leaf fall blocking the natural current. After a relatively dry summer the course had been dry for months; now it races joyfully, babbling, gurgling, singing…

Scots complain about the weather, but I think we are fortunate to have cold, fresh, clean water so easily available. There are many countries now, suffering drought and fires that I’m sure would agree.

As undergrowth begins to dip down and slow the water’s pace, a longish calm stretch: at college maybe, when I had some control over my life. It’s cold though, even through my boots, and I feel hungry, just as I had done when away from home and had to survive on a meagre grant.

Back among trees and the ground proves more and more uneven. Several times I stumble. Back home for a year as promised but endless arguments about my lifestyle, my choices. Then another water fall and this time so do I… pregnant in London; my father’s death; struggling to get back on my feet, find a safe route ahead.

Is the burn throwing up my past, or am I imposing my past on the waterway? Either way, does it matter? I’m aware of the connections surfacing in sequence, but as revelations rather than thoughts in my head; this makes me trust the experience rather than laugh it off as an imaginative creation too far.

I use mossy green rocks to help me along; they are soft and gentle to the touch, yet I’m aware of their underlying strength. Yet the burn itself is mysteriously complex in its mini twists and turns and richly evocative of my years bringing up family.

It culminates in a brackish frothing pool where leaves have blocked the course – a relationship that was unhealthy from the start, just as I was: cervical cancer followed by a period of emotional turbulence leading to a breakdown.

At this point, the burn dives underground… under a ground-level stone bridge built centuries before to allow horse-drawn carts (and later tractors) cross from one field into another. My mother rented the one to the right to a local farmer for growing raspberries – my children adored playing here on rare visits – but after he gave up, it went wild and is now is now a copse sycamores and ash. Forty years on my son plays lumberjack and is just as happy.

No sooner have I dug in the fork and unplugged the mess than the water plunges down out of sight with a roar of relief.

Just as I plunged out of sight – or rather soared eastwards to Hong Kong and Japan – in 1986. I was far from roaring, however. Simply breathing relief to have survived.

Again the water emerges clear and healthy, falling into a pool of sand and stone. But the way ahead is hard, hidden beneath tangles of vegetation that I found hard to make sense of, find direction, hack my way through. So it was with a new country, a new culture, a whole new world.

Last winter, my son and I found a spring emerging from the slope of the copse, and the remains of the well, used by the tenants of our cottage until the 1950s. Again I uncover it, clear it, but this time redefine and redesign it. Just as I did with my self in Japan and my journeying in Asia and South America over the next decades.

There are amazing trees along this next long stretch – mystical Rowans, Holly, Elders and Sloe, their branches tufted and twisted with grey lichen. They feel as old as Japan, as old as my revealed ancestry and just as profound. And their roots hold and carry the water like a row of linked open welcoming hands.

I hack and throw, dig and throw, keep on moving forward, determined to keep going and not give in to the stumbling blocks that are still so often – but purposely – placed in my way to make me stronger, the person I was born to be, who I really am.

At one point two trees converge and the burn has to give way to this natural mossy bridge, making its way magically under and between roots. There is a circle of tiny fungi and I remember my mother calling me out into the garden as a child and pointing them out as fairy rings. She – a woman who found it hard to ground herself in the here and now – believed in fairies. I believe in my self.

So lovely in Spring, when the edges are scattered with primroses, cowslips, celandines, forget-me-knots, ramsom (wild garlic) and shoots of newly spiralling bracken …

And I am right here. Grounded. Up to my calves in water, true, but still grounded.

At one point, there is a muddied crossing place, with delicate hoof marks in mud indicating deer path, used throughout the year for foraging food in winter and leading young in spring and summer.

I think of all the people who have crossed my path over the years… so many ships that passed in the night, just as deer pass unseen in the darkness. But then there are others who stay close – the roe who keeps her annual babe hidden all day but brings it out on summer evenings to drink, the pheasant who comes to our door every morning to be fed, and the many other game birds who seek sanctuary from the guns and other dangers of the outside world.

I stand in the burn. To my far right, the part of the field the children next door use as a play ground. There is even a swing on an ancient cherry tree.

To my left, the ground rises – an ancient midden that still offers the dangers of broken glass and rusted cans, but also treasures, such as old bottles and ceramics. I have planted bamboo there, with dreams of one day walking through our own forest.

Ahead, however, the course of the burn is a disturbed mess; the children (as children do) have deliberately built dams, made bridges, generally created their own sense of disorder.

Is my life ahead a disturbed mess? In moving here, have I deliberately built dams, made bridges, generally created my own sense of disorder?

I look back along the road once again travelled and the way is clear. Meridians have been stimulated. Channels cleared. Energy flows…

What lies ahead is unknown. But right now I’m in a good place.

This is where my clearings began, where Michael, Vicky, Hamish and Atholl have made their home just across the road, under which the burn runs from their side to our own. Last year the ancient willows that lined the waterway were cut back, but quickly began sending out vigorous new shoots. Snowdrops from January. Daffodils everywhere from late March onwards. So much to look forward to…

 

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.