Woo Woo Woman & the Magic Mala

Living, Loving and Free, Loving my Fifties, memories, My thoughts, Recipes for life, Uncategorized, Woo Woo
Magic Mala

As you get older I think there is a natural draw towards the spiritual, the inner world, to other dimensions and the practice of mindfulness or ,the “woo woo” as my friend J calls it. I like the thought of being a woo woo woman, because although the term is supposedly quite derogatory, there is a playfulness to the words that reflects my way of thinking.

There is a little woo woo in everything I do these days, from reading my daily horoscope, to meditation practice and the odd casting of a spell. Crystals, aromatherapy and Ayurveda form a large part of my self care, wellness routine, which brings a little magic to everything I do. I have found that a little piece of rose quartz stuffed in the turkey with the sage and onion, does wonders for general Christmas cheer and a good dollop of rescue remedy, is a must for the mulled wine.

How absolutely wonderful the internet is for all these things and how lucky we are, that we are growing older (or should that be bolder?) in an age when all this information and inspiration is at our fingertips. Traditionally women passed down the art of healing, cooking, their wisdom and their stories to the next generation, these traditions were lost for many years, but I feel that the internet has given them a new voice. A big beautiful voice, for all to hear.

The knowledge of yoga, mediation and mantra were largely practiced within a select group of (predominantly male) yogis, monks and religious practitioners, kept away from the untrained minds of the masses. Religious texts, sutras and deeper philosophical debate were closely guarded. At a recent talk I went to, by the artist Rebecca Duckett-Wilkinson on her exhibition Forbidden Fruit, I was fascinated to learn that the Linnaeus sexual classification system of plants, meant that for a long time botany was considered to be a far to “risque” subject for the frail sensibilities of young women. Feminist then went on to use the language of botany to teach sex education and equality of the sexes, pretty racy stuff at the time, but somehow unbelievable to think of now.

My years of nomadic life have meant that most of my books have been given away, lost or are sitting in a box in someones house, waiting for me to find a place for them. I miss those familiar pages with their markings and notes, but it has forced me to learn a new way of learning and it has been nothing short of miraculous. Websites, blogs, Instagram, books – all available in the blink of an eye. If knowledge is power then we are surely at our most powerful.

My favourite woo woo tool is my mala ( prayer beads, misbaha, rosary, japa mala – every religion seems to have a variation). I used to say that precious moments were like beads, to be strung together to form a beautiful necklace of your life and that is what my mala is for me. It is supposed to be 108 beads but mine in a 109 due to a miscalculation during my latest restringing, I like to think of that extra bead and the biggest blessing of all.

I know that we are coming up to the holiday season and we are all supposed to be filled with joy and love but, if you are anything like me and find the whole thing a little more stressing than blessing, a mala might be just the present to give yourself. So here goes on the how, when and why of my mala:-

Mantra Mala – my mantra is the Green Tara Mantra “Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha”. There are those who believe that a mantra should be kept private, but I think that is utter hogwash. I use my mantra to focus and quiet my mind, with simple repetition, whenever I have a moment or feel the need. Green Tara has so a lot of meaning for me and the mantra came to me in many different ways- I found Deva Premal’s beautiful video on YouTube, a friend told me about how it had helped her get out of a difficult time in her life and my doctor told me to repeat it to aid my healing. If it resonates with you then please take it as a gift from me and if it doesn’t , but you would like one of your own, listen carefully and yours will come to you.

Love Mala – if you are having one of those days when everyone is pissing you off and driving you totally nuts, grab a glass of wine ( whiskey, chocolate, coffee …whatever your thing is, unless your thing is a shotgun in which case skip this part) and your mala. Start by saying “I send my love to…” then with each bead name someone and send them all your love. Start with an easy one like your child (someone else’s will also do, if yours is pissing you off) or your dog and then work your way from there. Keep going until you get to the people that are currently pissing you off, then keep going further until you get to the people that have really upset you, the ones you feel that you that you cannot forgive. At this point I usually find myself saying “I send my love to XXXX. Ha -bet you weren’t expecting that you shit bucket !” and it really does feel good. Finally work your way back to the ones you are filled with love for and let the love just pour out of you, travelling out of you all through the cosmos until it reaches them. I have often gone round the mala twice or more with this and afterwards I am always smiling and feeling blessed.

Magic Moments Mala – now I know that there is a lot of bollocks around saying “if your past calls don’t answer, it has nothing new to say”, “You can’t change the past so look to the future” yadda, yadda, yadda. I am 51, so unless I live to 102 ( which is highly unlikely), I have more past than I have future and it has been an amazing ride so far. When my present seems unbearable and my future bleak (or in my worst moments when I can see no future at all), that is when I do the Magic Moments Mala. With each bead I go to a beautiful moment in my life and I allow it to shine like the bead in my hand, filling me with its perfection. Some of these are really just moments, a smile, a kiss, a stallion rearing, a dolphin in the red sea. With each one I find myself rising up, swimming to the surface until I am finally floating on a clear blue sea, looking at the infinite sky above me. As I come to the last few beads and my spirits are lifted, I find myself in the moment that I am in and I then, I let myself take a sneak peak at the wonderful moments yet to come. It really is magic for the soul.

As we come up to the new year (and a new decade) I hope you find your woo woo and remember, the mala is a circle and it will never run out of beads.

All my love,

Txx


The vocabulary of ages.

Barefoot, Wild & Free, Life Lessons, Living, Loving and Free, My thoughts, The stories of my life, Wisewoman
Words of Love

There are many things that I love about growing older, my sense of self, not needing the validation of others and the new opportunities that the world brings all the time. Then there are the things that are not so great, the things that have become commonplace that were once so rare. It is strange how your vocabulary changes over the the years of your life and how your hopes, fears and desires change with it.

We start with very few words – papa,mummy, no, ball – these were my daughters but I think it is much the same for most of us. These words seem sufficient to get us through those early days. Then, when we first go out in the world, the words are school, friends, play, teacher ( when was the last time I used that one ?) and the ones that are a little more scary. Do you remember when quicksand was one of the scariest words in your vocabulary ? I read a funny thing on Facebook recently “Growing up, I always thought that quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be.” John Mulaney, New in Town, how true this is ! At 8 years old I was petrified of quicksand closely followed by spontaneous combustion, quicksand left me relatively unscathed in my life, but 40 years later, during my menopause, spontaneous combustion became a very real fear again. The word “death” really held little fear but the word funeral was filled with morbid wonder.

Then we come to adolescence – periods, Tampax, boyfriend, angry and that constant refrain “no body understands me”. All these words, all these ways of communication and yet feeling increasingly alienated and misunderstood. Exams, parties, alcohol, fun, being “in”, sex,contraception, pregnancy – all jostling for place and often contradicting themselves.

In my twenties my words were boyfriend, diet, fun, work and travel. I spent the majority of my early twenties bouncing between men, countries and jobs, but ended them with a wedding in Kathmandu and a beautiful baby. My daughter gave true meaning to the words love and fear. The overwhelming love that came with her was wondrous and magnificent, but at the same time, I got to know fear for the first time in my life. What if something happened to her ? What if something happened to me and I could not take care of her ? The world became a wonderful yet terrifying place and I began, for the first time in my life, to worry about my own mortality.

My thirties were filled with the words of domesticity – nappies, washing, toddler group, Calpol, parents and then school, teachers, cooking, home, money, bills, marriage, wife, mother.

My forties began with the word “divorce”. That is a painful word – it mean the loss of a dream, a broken promise, a overwhelming sense of loss, a loss of self and it was not a word that I wanted to give to my daughter or my husband. For me, I felt that something was breaking and the only way I could stop it from smashing beyond repair was to walk away. Then came the word “single” and a vocabulary that I hadn’t used since my late teens, only this time with a multitude of new confusions – “drunk texting” was one that luckily wasn’t in by early vocabulary, but soon became part of the new (strangely you can always tell when I send a drunk text because my dyslexia magically disappears with whiskey and the spelling and grammar is perfect, its just the content that is utter bollocks).

A word that crept in just before my forties ended was menopause, the word itself was quite familiar to me but the narrative surrounding it was actually quite disturbing. I found a text message that I sent when I first started going through “the change”( horrid expression). “Menopause a brief synopsis ….night sweats(check), lethargy & a feeling of extreme tiredness (check), mood swings and feeling tearful (double check), facial hair growth (oooh yes, could perhaps join the circus?) . What is apparently yet to come,pardon the pun because apparently that s never going to happen, virginal dryness is going to turn my once wet jungle into a Saharan desert, death zone and anyway I am not even going to want sex as my libido with also drop dead. . No laughing or coughing unless I want to piss yourself , which I guess at least provides some moisture in the area. There is a plus side however, the menopause has been used as a successful defense in several homicide cases. Please take the time today to be thankful for your penis, which it seems will stomp merrily on until you are in your in your dotage or your grave ( Google death erection, angel lust , terminal erection) . Barren, broke & bonkincapable Txx “* ( I do write very long text messages, even when I am sober, and I would like to take this opportunity to send my eternal love and gratitude to the recipient of these messages, for his unfailingly dark humour and blissful lack of sympathy or judgement).

The future was looking bleak and I didn’t like the vocabulary that I was reading and hearing. I started speaking to friends and the story I was getting from the real people I knew, was very different and a whole lot more positive. The women I knew were happier and more confident than ever before, they were embracing their softer, saggier selves and loving the freedom that came with getting older. Sure there were physical symptoms but hey, we woman have dealt with our ever changing bodies for all of our lives.

Here is what I do for anyone that might find it useful:-

Night sweats – drink coconut water, barley water, chin chow ( glass jelly drink), cool water and keep some next to your bed. Cool rosewater spritzer on the base of your back, face and wrist. Sleep naked or in a silk.

Lethargy, tiredness, mood swings, tearfulness – do yoga when and where you need it, put a mat in your room and just stand on it when you wake up. Do more when you want to, but just standing is fine. Don’t buy a package of ten classes, 20 minutes away with a bunch of happy, unsweaty, downward dog goddesses in designer yoga gear, this will only add to you stress but if you have a great group then definitely go. Meditate, walk in nature or do anything that shuts out the noise for a while. Take a supplement that works for you – in Europe I take CBD oil which I found did wonders for me, its definitely a buzz word in the wellness vocabulary and I think rightly so. I feel more relaxed and able to cope with things when I take it, I suffer from less joint pain and generally feel happier, There is research to show that it helps to balance hormones but I am just speaking from personal experience. I cant get it when I am in Asia so I take a Kacip Fatima infusion and more recently Ashwagandha (which is generally for male libido but makes me feel great). Just shop around till to find one that gels with you and your lifestyle. Also sing, dance, smile and remember its your hormones that are going bat shit crazy not you !

Vaginal dryness and loss of libido – Oil, use it liberally – in your food, in your hair, on your skin, in the bath, on your bits, on his bits just use it everywhere. I find even a few days without oil and I notice my skin drying up, my mood becomes low and my joints begin to creak. Coconut oil, olive oil, essential oils, massage oil, avocado oil, hemp oil, there are so many good ones out there just take your pick. Rule of thumb for me is that if I am not happy to put it in my mouth then it does not go in my vagina. If you can get our hands on Cannabis based sexual lubricants then I urge you to do so, as far as I am concerned its sex and drugs in a bottle and the best thing to happen to vaginas in decades. Don’t just use it for sex, a quick squirt before nipping to the shops will transform the most mundane of shopping trips. I personally did not suffer from loss of libido but there were times when I felt extremely undesirable (feeling fat, sweaty and depressed are not the greatest things to get you in the mood)and therefore didn’t feel like having sex which I confused with loss of libido. Don’t fall for the bullshit that is there in the media, you are still a sexual being if that is what you want to be. You know what turns you on better than anyone, so do the things that make you feel sexy, do those things and do them often.

Hair growth, laughing, coughing and homicide – a pair of tweezers have a permanent place in my handbag for those erroneous hairs that appear from nowhere. When I laugh or cough I Kegel, if that doesn’t work there are lots of pads on the market. Keep a couple handy and use them when you need to – just make sure that you keep laughing. All these things have kept me from committing homicide, which has to be a good thing and I can honestly say that my body and I are getting on better than ever before.

These past few months my vocabulary has grown to include words like cancer, chemotherapy and many other words, that I would have been happy never to have had to learn. As hard as these words have been they are not mine to own, they belong to my father and the other people that I have seen on my visits to hospital and the cancer centre. It is their grace, optimism and courage that has helped me to truly understand the words “gratitude, hope and care”. The power of words is immeasurable and whatever your words are at this moment in your life, just make sure that your vocabulary is that of kindness, gratitude and love, for yourself and those around you.

My vocabulary for all ages is one of LOVE and I send it to you always.

Txx

The romantic life of a literary whore.

Barefoot Traveller, Barefoot, Wild & Free, Life Lessons, Life travels, Living, Loving and Free, Love Books, Loving my Fifties, memories, Storyteller, The stories of my life, Wisewoman
To all the books I have ever loved.

I have been to bed with so many over the years, thick ones, thin ones, ones that made me weep, ones that made me sigh, old ones, bad ones, good ones and the best ones of all, the ones that entered me so deeply that they are now part of my very soul. Attending the Georgetown Literary Festival this weekend has made me think of my longest love affair of all, my romance with books.

It was complete, total and utter boredom while staying on a houseboat on the Dal Lake, in Kashmir when I was eleven, that led me to read my first book, a Chinese folktale called Madam White Snake. I consider it my first because I read it just for the pleasure, a concept entirely alien to me up until that point. My parents were thrilled, as I had been extremely surly for most of the trip and been very vocally lamenting that being in the lacy white houseboat, on the lake surrounded by the snow capped Himalayas was akin to being trapped on Alcatraz, but with no possible hope of escape. We had seen the movie just before leaving for India and I was a very dramatic child.

Having devoured Madame White Snake in one huge famished mouthful, I was hungry for more. Leading to my second problem, what could I feast on next, given the limitations of my current situation ? I took what I could find, a Wilbur Smith from my father, Jackie Collins’ Lovehead from my mother and a musty copy of Kipling’s Jungle Book from a bookshelf in the Taj Hotel in Agra. So, as you can see, my life as a Literary whore got off to a roaring start.

A few years ago I picked up a copy of India Knight’s “Dirty Bits for Girls” and there was my sex education in concise snippets, neatly contained within two covers, such a joy. My grandmothers house was where the erotic treasures were most abundant, easily located on the overloaded bookshelves as they were always neatly covered in brown paper tapped down with yellowing sellotape (funnily enough, until I just typed this I never thought to question why this was). Coming from a chaotic, well read, literary family (my uncle was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature several years ago) meant that there was never a shortage of books. Unfolding family dramas, births, deaths and parties meant that nobody paid much heed to what I was reading, leaving me free to roam the shelves. At thirteen, I spent an entire weekend perched on the top branches of my grandmothers Frangipani tree reading “My secret garden” by Nancy Friday, an anthology of women’s sexual fantasies. There was much that perturbed me about many of the fantasies so at Christmas dinner I broached the subject “did you know that some people wee on each other for sex ?” I said to no one in particular. “Really, do you have to be so disgusting ?” was all my mother said and my uncle sternly told me that I better return his book before I left. For a while after Nancy Friday I confined myself to the safety Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers.

Although I read pretty much everything and anything, it was romance novels that I loved the most. Oh those bodice ripping saga’s, with their lurid covers of long haired muscle men in billowing, ripped shirts entwined with longer haired women in bosom clinging, thigh showing dresses, usually set against a backdrop of stormy seas. Johanna Lindsay was the queen of the genre and I devoured her novels curled up in my bed on rainy afternoons when I should have been studying for O’levels. While my friends dreamed of pop stars and princes, I dreamt of aristocratic pirates and roughly hewn ranchers. It is little wonder that I never had a boyfriend at school, there are very few adolescent boys who fitted the bill of my imagined romantic hero.

I moved to Cambridge just before my seventeenth birthday and enrolled in what was known as a “crammer”, a college for people who, for one reason or another, needed to study outside of the mainstream school system. I was one of those people (read – to much Johanna Lindsey and too few O’levels). As Madame White Snake was the start of my life as a reader, Brookside College was the start of my education, as it was the first time since primary school, when I was a willing participant in my studies.

The first thing I did was sign up for English Literature classes (something that I had never had the opportunity to take). The second was to dispatch myself of my rather cumbersome lack of actual sexual experience, it was time to move off the page and into the bed. I took too both literature and sex like a proverbial duck to water. That year was one of the happiest of my life. After several months, I broke up with my first boyfriend while reading Hamlet and wandered barefoot by the freezing, foggy Ca. Wearing a sheer white dress, I enacted a grief induced insanity that I felt that I ought to feel (my childhood penchant for drama had not entirely left me). This lasted for several days until my feet became raw with chilblains and I became bored with my own lack of insanity. So, leaving the banks of the Cam and taking myself off to Heffers bookstore, I spent my entire terms book allowance on a pile of romantic novels. I piled them into the wicker basket on my red bicycle and rode back to my digs. My feet were in agony, the chilblains turning my toes into red raw sausages and I found the only relief I could get was to keep them cold. I pushed my bed to the sash window, stuck my feet outside, filled in the gaps with an old duvet and picked up the first book. By four o’clock that morning I was totally, completely and utterly in love and till this day the mere mention of his name still brings a flutter of excitement to my stomach. Jilly Cooper has my eternal love and gratitude for bringing Rupert Campbell Black to life, in her wonderful book Riders. I spent that whole night in bed with him and for the next few days I rushed home from classes, skipped outings to the pub, ate only when necessary just to curl into bed with him.

The three hour train journey home for the weekend passed in the flash as I sat in the smoking carriage, wrapped tightly in my blanket coat, clutching Rupert to my chest. That evening at dinner I could talk of nothing else, leading my rather bemused father (who was expecting me to be morose after by recent break up) to ask “so when will we get to meet this fabulous Rupert, is he coming down this weekend?”. It took him some time to fully comprehend that he lived entirely in the pages of a book and in my heart.

On Monday I flew into my English class 20 minutes late, flushed from my mad dash from the station, flinging my bag on an empty chair and begging forgiveness from Rory, my tutor. My copy of Riders fell out of my bag at Rory’s feet, he picked it up and opened it where I had last folded the page corner. He read a quote and asked me to name the character, I responded correctly, he then moved on at random throwing quickfire quotes at me, each time I answered correctly enjoying myself more and more. He finally closed the book, replaced it on the top of my bag and said “now, if you can show one tenth of the knowledge and enthusiasm that you have for Jilly Cooper to George Eliot, you would probably get an A in your A’levels.”

“Maybe if George Eliot was one tenth as good a writer as Jilly Cooper and Phillip Wakem was one tenth as exciting as Rupert Campbell Black, then I might be able to feel one tenth of the enthusiasm for the stupid book and boring Maggie” I whinged.

“Perhaps you should take it up with the Cambridge Examination Board but in the meantime please turn to chapter 6 and lets try to make some use of the time we have left of this lesson”. I adored him.

Many years later, I was sitting with my friend Helen in a wine bar in Parsons Green drinking a glass of Zinfandel Rose (terribly chic in the 80’s) when I saw Jilly Cooper walk in with some friends. I had just returned from Singapore, heartbroken from a break up and had rekindled my love affair with Rupert, this time in the pages of Rivals. I nudged Helen and jerked my head in the direction of Jilly Cooper, “you should get her to sign your book” she suggested. I got out my battered copy but just couldn’t bring myself to go up to her.

“Please, please, please Helen”

“No”

“Please, please, please”

Repeat this several times, until Helen finally gives in and takes it to the table. I sit mortified, blushing the shade of my wine until she returns. “God I hate you. She said what a wonderfully battered and well thumbed copy it was, then asked me what my name was so she could write an inscription. She thought I was a bloody idiot when I said it was Hell…Tara, but you can just write Tara for short “.

I haven’t seen that book for 20 years, it is in a packing case in my father-in-laws house in Kathmandu, but I am getting way ahead of myself and the story.

When I finished Riders, I went back to Australia for Christmas. Fell in love again and returned to Cambridge broken hearted in the middle of a terrible winter. I was immersed in Brideshead Revisited (E.M Forsters epic and a very popular television series at the time) when I met Sebastian. I was at Crusts cocktail bar, drowning my sorrows in a Slow Comfortable Screw Against The Wall (do they even make them anymore?) when he came up to me and asked me where I got my tan. The next chapter in the romantic life of a literary whore takes me from Dostoevsky to D.H. Lawrence and from the grey skies of Cambridge to the blue of the Indian Ocean.

For now I will say goodnight, as I have a big one waiting for me in bed.

All love,

Txx

Swimming Underwater with my eyes open.

Barefoot Traveller, Life Lessons, living free, My thoughts, Storyteller, The stories of my life, Wisewoman
Swimming underwater 1 by Tara G

When I was a young girl, I was lucky enough to have a pool at the bottom of my garden. The garden sloped down a hill in levels and the pool was at the bottom, as far from the house as you could get. Afternoons in the tropics, when the heat weighs heavily in the air, is a time when the adult world goes to sleep and everything becomes quiet and still. It was the time that the garden and pool became my own world,a secret kingdom, a lost jungle, a desert island, a place of wonder and solitude. I would wander about my kingdom with my dogs listlessly trailing behind me, eager for me to find a place to play where they could retreat to the shade. They were happiest when I opted not to climb trees or make potions in my Wendy house, but headed down the roughly hewn steps to the pool. They would lie on the shady deck, trailing a paw in the pool while I slipped into the water, which I remember as being icy cold, and began my latest adventure searching for lost treasure or being a pirate queen. I had, in fact still have, the buoyancy of a cork and could float for hours on my back looking up at the sky through the tall rambutan trees. My ears underwater, muffling the sounds of the world and transporting me to wherever I wanted to go.

I would swim for hours, my main joy was to swim underwater, holding my breath until my lungs felt like they were going to burst. My eyes open and my hair swirling about my face like a crazy octopus. The world of a child is a lurid one – all senses at their optimum, clear vision, keen hearing, taste buds buzzing and nostrils sensitive to every whiff. Your senses developing at a huge rate while your brain is inundated with information to translate it all, to make sense of the world and what you are feeling, hearing, tasting, smelling, seeing. Then there are the senses that cannot be made “sense” of , the children that you play with that only you can see, the danger you smell emanating from the jovial uncle at a party, the sorrow you feel under the Frangipani tree at your grandmothers house, the comfort you get from a battered old toy or blanket, that seems so familiar and solid like a memory from another life. These senses only stay on the surface until the world manages to knock some sense into you, where they go after that will determine a lot of how you live as an adult, when your sense of limitless wonder is replaced by the prevailing, limiting “common sense”. Underwater, these sensory overloads disappear, your vision becomes blurred, your hearing muffled, nothing to taste and nothing to smell cocooned in the element that you came from, in a world still within the grasp of your memory.

When the rain comes on a tropical afternoon, it turns the world to water, the heavens literally do open and fill the world like a celestial waterfall. Amah’s warn you not to go outside with stories ranging from water logged demons to snakes capable of swallowing you whole in a single gulp. Windows are closed, chick blinds tied down and electrical equipment switched off for fear of lighting strikes. I was strictly forbidden to play outside during these thunderstorms, which of course made them all the more alluring. I would creep out of my room in my pants ( putting on a swimming costume would be a sure way to get caught later) and slip out into the watery world. I would slide down the bank of the hill on my bum in orange gushing water, landing in a muddy, grassy lump at the bottom. When I slipped into the water of the pool it was warmer than it ever was in the sunshine, it became infinite, the sides, bottom and surface all blurred by the plump drops falling from the grey blue sky. I was invisible in that rain, free do do what I wanted, away from the eyes of the world away from everything. Quiet, content and soaked to the core.

In my early twenties I spent a year travelling and working in dive bases around the world with my boyfriend B, a PADI diving instructor. We started in the Maldives, then to Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef, after that to the south of Italy and finally to Mombasa in Kenya and Pemba Island, Tanzania. Doing up to three dives a day, meant that I felt like I spent more time below the water than above. With the addition of a mask, swimming underwater with my eyes open took on a new clarity that I did not have as a child in the back garden. It was the world above water that was beginning to blur, I was confused by my relationship with the man I was with, struggling to maintain friendships with anyone other than him, as our constant moving and his jealousy made it impossible for me to make or keep friends. I was suffocated by his so called love for me but unable to break away, not that I even thought I wanted to at the time. Underwater everything changed, I was mesmerised by the world that being with him allowed me to be part of. The waters we dived were pristine, often diving on sites where no one had ever dived before. Manta rays, parrot fish, grouper, Napoleon wrasse, clown fish, dolphins, majestic corals, jewel like reef fish all passed before my eyes in a world of beauty without measure, infinite, clear and silent. He would take my hand and we would glide above the reef, connected to each other, the ocean and to everything in the universe beyond.

Would I change that time with the clarity of hindsight ? I don’t think I would, because to change one thing would be to change it all and the experiences that I had then, were of a world that has all but disappeared now.

At forty my eyesight started to deteriorate and I now have a pair of reading glasses perched on the top of by head at all times. My other senses are also not as acute as they once were, taste buds and smell diminished by my ongoing battle with cigarettes. My hearing distorted by the constant worry and throughts that I hear from inside myself. For the last decade, I lost my connection with the sea and to a large extent with myself and spent much of it lost, wandering the world with no sense of connection or permanence. But there was a time, just after my fortieth birthday when I had one of those experiences when everything in the world came together for one glorious moment. When the universe shows you how glorious it can be, it was just a moment but perhaps perfection is always just that. I lay in a pool staring up at an ink blue sky dotted with a million stars, the night was hot and the water cool against my naked body. I swam underwater in the dark knowing that everyone I loved was safe and that when I got out of the water there was someone I adored waiting for me with a scratchy towel and a warm embrace. In the years that followed I often returned to that pool, both physically and then later, when the pool was no more, in my mind.

Recently, as I have entered my fifties, I have noticed a change, a change in my senses. In my sense of self, in my sense of place in the world and in a deeper sense of understanding. I am beginning to get back the senses that I had as a child, the senses that the world tried so hard to replace with “common sense”. I am no longer ashamed of my sensitivity, I take heed when I smell danger emanating from a person and listen when my heart talks to me urgently in the night. Maybe one of the joys of growing older is that I am no longer ashamed of those child like feelings of wonder and fascination. I no longer care what others think of me, I am more present and I look forward to the day when I will come out of the water and see the person I adore, who never judges or condemns. I want to live again with all my senses, I want to be alive, connected and at one with the universe.

I want to always swim underwater with my eyes wide open and never let common sense be the sense that rules my life. Only then will I know the infinite sense of wonder that lies within me. It wont happen over night, but it has definitely begun and for that I am grateful.

All love

Txx

Old movies, lobsters and me.

Life Lessons, Life travels, memories, Old Movies
Old Movies

“When your past calls don’t answer it has nothing new to say.” Unknown

There is a lot of emphasis these days in living in the “now”, on being present, but what do you do when the present overwhelms you ? What do you do when you cannot cope with your “now”? My present situation did just that to me the other day, it overwhelmed me and almost swallowed me whole. I had take a break from it, even if it was just for a while.

Like Bridget Jones with a broken heart, I got a bottle of wine, a tub of ice cream and put on a favorite movie. The opening sequence of Love Actually at Heathrow airport came on “I think that you will find that love actually is all around”. I was already transported into the familiar and comforting story. I have seen this movie at least 20 times, alone, with friends, often with my daughter, when I have been sad, happy, lonely, in love, broken hearted. The film never changes, it is always the same story, familiar, comforting and full of hope. It is this comfort that gives me strength when the world around me becomes a scary place.

If there was one sentence that could sum up my childhood, it is this “could try harder”. It certainly was on every report card that I ever had and there seemed to be this general expectation that I had some enormous potential, that I was never quite as good as I could be. “If you just lost some weight, you would be so much prettier and happier”. “If you just applied yourself to your school work you could do so much better at your studies” “If you spent more time in the practice ring you could be a great rider”.” If you spent more time doing lengths instead of just lying on you back and floating around the pool, you could enter the competitions at the swimming club”.

The thing that everyone failed to see, was that I was really quite happy being just the way I was. In a world of tiny, skinny girls I was a Ruben. I remember a friend of my parents, told me at 14 that I had better watch out as nobody would want to go out with me if I was fat (he was one of those “dirty uncle” types, who said this while focusing his eyes lingeringly on my fat breasts). “I am actually voluptuous. Look it up in the dictionary if you don’t know what it means” I answered, as I was a very precocious child. I was absolutely fine with getting a C grade, which was a pass, in exams as that meant that the time I saved on studying for a higher grade would be time spent devouring books by Barbara Cartland, Jackie Collins and Lawrence Durrell. I loved riding and swimming but felt no inclination to prove myself in competition, why did I have to beat other people in order to show how much I enjoyed doing something ? I was a constant source of exasperation to most of the adults in my life and I can see why. Contentment was not, and still isn’t, seen as a virtue.

My father was (and to a large extent still is ) quite oblivious to my faults and seemed to think that I was pretty okay just as I was. We had a scare with my fathers health a few days ago and when I called him, he mentioned his own death for the first time ever, it terrified me. Luckily it turned out to be a mix up with his test results, but it made me think of all the times in my life that I have been made strong by my fathers approval and encouragement. Then there was the one memorable time that it got out of control and caused me excruciating embarrassment.

I was 18 years old and working at my fathers ferry company in the Maldives. I was at home one evening when my father called from his office “I just got a radio message from Marco out in Halavelli, apparently there is some fashion guy coming in on the ferry now and going to dinner at Pierre’s place . Marco thought you might be interested”.

“What is his name ?” I asked.

“Think he is called Johnny”.

I said that there was no one I could think of that was called Johnny, could he please radio Marco and ask him who exactly it was? The Maldives, although beautiful beyond belief, had little in the way of excitement and this promised to provide a little much needed entertainment.

“I was right it is Johnny, Johnny Veracity”

OMG wasn’t an expression at the time, but you can imagine my excitement ! I spent a lot of my time devouring the pages of the few, old Vogue magazines that managed to find their way to the atolls. Gianni Versace here in Male, it was just unbelievable. It took quite a bit of convincing to get my dad to meet me at Pierre’s, but he eventually agreed. I took a frantic shower, emptied my dire wardrobe out, put on some of my extremely valuable Chanel frosted pink lipstick and dashed out the door.

Pierre greeted us, he kissed me on both cheeks (something that generally would have made me swoon but had no effect this evening) and said we should go to eat somewhere else as he had a huge group of arsehole celebrities causing a fuss and eating all his lobster. Pierre was weirdly protective of his lobsters and generally reluctant to serve them to anyone, which was rather odd for the owner of a seafood restaurant. However, he did serve the best spaghetti gamberoni that I have ever tasted and with his sparkling blue eyes, it was never really his lobster that interested me.

“We aren’t here to eat, apparently this guy Johnny more exciting than us” laughed my father.

We went through to the terrace and there they were, Vogue come to life. At the head of the table was the great man himself, to his left Donatella and to his right Naomi Campbell (my dyslexia could have caused me to mix this up). Christy Turlington and Linda Evangalista sat further down the table with various other models, cameramen and make up people. It was the most glamorous scene one could imagine, I nearly fainted on the spot. Before I could catch my breath, my father walked straight up to the table and said in a loud voice “Is this him ? I am better dressed that he is”, with which he turned in disgust and walked out. Mortification does not begin to describe how I felt.

A few weeks later, when I had just begun to forgive my father, we were sitting at Pierre’s and I was complaining about not being able to buy anything to wear in the Maldives except for sarongs and dubious t-shirts.

“Well you should have asked that Johnny fellow to knock something up for you when he was here” was my father’s response. Pierre thought this was hilarious and said he would have liked to knock out Gianni, as he had quibbled about the bill and tried to get a discount for the lobster that they couldn’t eat. He hadn’t made in a good impression on this island where celebrity was barely tolerated, let alone admired. Pierre decided to take the lobster off the menu that day and only ever served it to people he liked after that.

“Gianni Versace is probably the most famous fashion designer on the planet, not some back street tailor who is going to “knock out” an outfit for your saddo daughter. Do you know that those super models that were with him get paid enormous amounts of money ? One of them said that she won’t get out of bed for less that $10,000 a day, which is more than I get in a year ” I huffed.

“Well if you want to be a supermodel, you should do it, but is seems a pretty pointless occupation to me”. You gotta love my dad, then strangle him !

I am not one of those people who thinks that there is nothing good produced today, quite the opposite in fact. I love contemporary music, movies and art. I am not nostalgic about the past, but I do not believe that there is nothing to be gained by going back once in a while. Memories, like old movies, can transport you to a place of comfort and familiarity. Give you a sense of perspective and hope, that there will be happy times again. I may be over 50 but my father still thinks that I can do anything. I definitely “could try harder” but on the whole, am more content with floating than swimming lengths. I am still more voluptuous than perhaps I should be (I like to think of it as being built for comfort not speed) and it never did stop me from getting a boyfriend.

If you can’t find your dance today, then go back and dance for a while in the past. Sometimes you just need to be the star of your own old movie.

All love

Txx

Polpo, my Italian love affair.

Barefoot in the kitchen, cooking with love, Life Lessons, Life travels, Recipes for life
pulpo morto

For the past week, I have been living in a flat in Mijas, a small white village in Andalusia over looking the Mediterranean sea. This morning I walked to the little covered market on the edge of town and bought a beautiful fresh Dorada. As I walked back with my fish, I began to think of the spring of 1990, just after my 22nd birthday. That spring, I was in a small coastal town in Italy between Rome and Naples. Living with an Italian man, who I shall refer to as “B” ( for bastard, as it turned out) in this post. B and I met in the Maldives, at the time I was reeling from the shock that the love of my life had married a woman that I couldn’t stand, (although, in retrospect, I can’t imagine that it would have been much better if I had liked her). I took my broken heart to B’s bed and dealt with it the way I knew best, finding someone new to fill the aching void in my heart.

A few months later, B fell out with the owner of the resort where he was working, he said the owner was not happy with me living on the island. We went to Italy and spent the winter near Venice, living in his dead grandmothers flat, while he tried to patch up his relationship with his family. It was a disaster, for him really, not so much for me. I had been incredibly nervous about meeting his family, he had portrayed them as very traditional, closed minded and totally against his relationship with me (according to B, everyone was against me, except him, which will be a familiar scenario to anyone who has ever been unfortunate enough to be in a relationship with a narcissist).

Anyway, we arrived during the weekly episode of Magnum PI and his mother was not happy when B suggested that she might like to turn the television off, to say hello (he had been gone for 4 years). Sensing her annoyance, I declared that Magnum was my absolute favorite, especially if it was accompanied by a large scotch, like the one she had in her hand. We sat in happy silence with our glasses, while B caught up with his father and sister. I felt that things had got off to a good start until we sat down to dinner, which was rabbit stew. Growing up in Singapore where rabbits fell firmly in the category of pets, the idea of eating one was like tucking into the family dog. I sat through the entire meal repeating “it tastes like chicken, so it is chicken”. When B left the table, to go and get something from our luggage, his father looked me squarely in the face and spoke in Italian, asking B’s sister to translate. “My father says that you are make a very big mistake with my brother, he says that you should leave him now, or soon because he is the most bad person ever, is my English good ?”. This was my first meal in Italy and it was a shock, a bad one.

B’s family had a factory that made bread sticks, all sorts of bread sticks except the long thin ones, that I had previously thought were the only kind. B left for work at five every morning and returned in time for lunch, just before two. On the first day that B went to work, his mother came to my flat mid morning, struggling under the weight of a large cardboard box. She heaved the box onto the kitchen table, opened the cupboard under the sink and proceeded to move the contents of the box into a space she created behind the cleaning materials. Three cartons of cigarettes and 8 bottles of Ballentine’s whiskey. She reached down to the now nearly empty box for its last item, a brown paper bag containing two enormous pastries from the cake shop downstairs, that had also once to belonged to B’s dead grandmother. Finally she took two very delicate glasses down from the shelf, poured out a hefty measure of scotch into each glass, lit a cigarette and sat down with a contented sigh. Second major shock since arriving, but a good one.

B’s mother came every morning for the four months that we stayed in Venice. She chatted away in Italian and just generally kept me company. She never tried to teach me Italian and made no attempt to speak English. She didn’t teach me how to cook, but contentedly helped me clean vegetables and brought me bits and pieces from the market. I never mentioned our mornings to B or anyone else, there seemed no need. When the inevitable bust up came between B and his father, we left late at night and drove south. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye, I know there was no need.

We arrived in the small coastal town of Gaeta in the afternoon and moved into a beautiful flat overlooking the sea. B began work in the local dive base that evening and I was basically left to my own devices from then on. Without B’s mother, I had to do all the shopping myself which proved to be an adventure. B came home at 2 everyday, we would have lunch, have sex, then sleep or go to the beach, if I could convince him to take me. Like most diving instructors I know, B never swam for pleasure and resented having to give up his siesta to do so. I loved the beach and was suffocating with my own company, I needed it. B never liked me to talk to anyone “you have me, you don’t need anyone else”, at the time, I thought I was happy with just him. Any loneliness was surely just my own fault ?

After a few weeks in Gaeta B said “I am not complaining, but why are you only cooking chicken everyday ?” I burst into tears immediately. There was a butcher near the flat, he was the most horrible man in the world. Butchers in Italy (at the time) did not display any meat in their shops, it was all kept in the back. Everyday I went to the butcher and I did what I called my “chicken dance” – I clucked and flapped my wings and pointed enthusiastically to my legs or thighs while the butcher stared at me with a sneering, lecherous contempt. He would then go to the back of the shop and bring me the requisite parts. I could never bring myself to point to my breast which he openly looked at, expecting that I would get to them once I had eaten enough legs, thighs and wings. I explained all this to B and still sobbing, told him that I had no idea how to act out rump steak or pork chop. He burst out laughing, took me to bed and said “so we eat chicken mio amore”. I was lucky that he was so understanding, wasn’t I ?

I woke up the next morning burning with a unspecified fury, I was going out of my mind with boredom and loneliness. I was in a country with the most fantastic food, but couldn’t get it and I had no one to turn to for help. I picked up my shopping basket and walked out of the flat, past the horrible butcher and up the hill to the old part of town, where B had told me not to go, hinting at sinister mafioso waiting to do me untold harm. I finally came upon a vegetable shop bursting at the seams with all sorts of wonders. I went in and pointed to a pile of chard, the woman smiled at me and started chatting animatedly in Italian. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders helplessly. “You are English ?” she asked. I said that I was. “Perhaps Asian as well ?” , yes from Singapore I beamed. It felt so good to be known. She drew up a stool and asked me to sit down while she popped out for a second. She soon returned with an old black and white photo of a roguishly handsome man in army clothes, standing beneath swaying coconut trees. It was her father and she told me her story of a glorious childhood in the tropics, something that she had not spoken of in years, as nobody here was really interested in things that happened outside of the town. I soon found myself telling Maria about my problems with loneliness, isolation and the mortifying chicken dance. When I left, it was with a basket full of vegetables, a huge bunch of complimentary herbs, directions to a butcher who was not a “stronzo” and the name of Maria’s cousin, Giulia’s, restaurant in town.

I went straight to the butchers but was dismayed to find the same empty display cabinets, I reluctantly prepared to do my chicken dance. The young butcher’s face went from smiling to sheer horror at my first cluck. He rushed out from behind the counter, took hold of my flapping wings and pressed three sheets of paper into my hand. They were pictures of a cow, a pig and a lamb, segmented into all the various cuts, with the names of the dishes to correspond with each . After much discussion, with whatever words we could cobble together, we decided on fillet steak to start with, but I knew I would soon be ready to tackle osso buco, there was no stopping me now.

The next day B took me to Giulia’s restaurant where I was greeted with open arms, as Maria promised I would be. Giulia would not allow us to look at the menu, she just produced one delectable dish after another. The crowning glory of that meal, was the risotto al nero di seppia (squid ink rice) which was so exotic and exciting to me. The restaurant was full with loud, happy customers, everyone was so nice to us and B was at his most charming. I was over the moon as I felt that my Italian culinary adventure had really begun. “Make the most of every minute” my inner voice told me, B was already complaining about his boss and I knew we would be moving on before long.

I visited my friend Maria in the vegetable shop, every few days. Each time she would give me something new to try with instructions and the herbs to go with it, melanzzane, courgette flowers and fungi all found their way into my basket. My butcher and I worked our way around the carcasses of the big three (I never cooked chicken again in Gaeta and still won’t eat chicken breast).

Finally, the day came when I was ready for the last frontier, the fish market. It was a long walk from the flat, but I had grown bold by now and set off early one morning when B was taking a day trip with his dive group. The fish market was buzzing and I was extremely self conscious as the fishermen called to me, “veni qui bella, tutto e fresco”, why did all the fishermen in this town look like Adonis pirates? After much blushing on my part, I chose the oldest, safest looking one who I assumed was far to old to try to ravish me over the shinny mackerel (this makes me laugh to think of, he was probably younger that I am now and no doubt fully conversant in the ravishing of young ladies). Till this day, I have no idea why I decided on octopus, but I did. I was soon walking away from the stall with a little plastic bag, containing a large tentacled creature. I hadn’t gotten very far when I felt something move up my hand, I looked down, there was a tentacle creeping out of the bag and wrapping itself around my wrist. I don’t think I have ever screamed so loudly since that day, not even during child birth. I threw the bag in the air, I wanted to run but was suddenly surrounded by every Adonis in the fish market. I tried to explain the problem and was greeted by great shouts of laughter and a gathering crowd, “Bellissima, il polpo e molto fresco!”

“But I don’t want it fresh, I want it dead ! I want it morto !” I sobbed . Without further ado, the octopus was taken out of my bag by the biggest, burliest fisherman in the crowd, slapped hard on the corner of a table several times and deposited back in my bag, Lots more laughter and shouts of “polpo morto” followed me. I never told B about the incident, or that, from that day forward, every time I went to the fish market I was greeted with great grins and calls of “bellissima veni qui, tutto e morto !”. I loved the fact that the octopus had given me my own “in joke”, it made me feel like I was part of things and I wasn’t so lonely anymore.

I was at Guilia restaurant with B one evening when the most beautiful of my fishermen came in to deliver some fish, he saw me and came over, kissed me on both cheeks with his usual greeting “bellissima”. We left Gaeta, for Africa, soon afterwards. I got engaged to B, then left him on the day that my mother announced she was going to get wedding invitations printed. I am glad that I found the courage to leave B, but I am happier still that I have never left the love I have, for the food that I learnt so much about in Italy.

All love

Txx

Penis Soup.

cooking with love, Life Lessons, Life travels

Many years ago, long before email and WhatsApp, my friend Sarah sent a letter to me at boarding school, with an article that she had cut out from the New Straits Times newspaper in Singapore. Cold and lonely on the Salisbury plain, her letters, full of gossip and news were a lifeline to me. The article she had enclosed was the story of Mr Lim, a vendor in a hawker center in Singapore that made penis soup. My Lim had been selling his penis soup for over 20 years and it was famed for its aphrodisiac qualities, known by his many happy customers, to increase both virility as well as fertility, while not stinting on flavour. The problem arose (pardon the pun) when the Singapore tourist board decided that Mr Lim had to take down his sign, as they felt it was inappropriate and liable to scare away the very tourists that they were trying to entice into the hawker centers of the island. Culinary tourism was a major attraction on the island and street vendors were being housed in large, modern hawker centers, offering a dizzying array of food born from the melting pot of immigrants who had made the country their home. Mr Lim’s sign was deemed not seemly in this modern, new world where western sensibilities were the norm. Mr Lim was happy to take down his sign, as he, like most Singaporeans at the time, was a patriotic chap and was keen to do his bit towards the progress of his beloved country. Of course this did leave him with a dilemma , what should he put on his sign ? There had been no resolution by the time the article went to print , just a photo of Mr Lim looking perplexed.

The world has changed so much since then, but are we any closer to solving the problem ? If it is penis soup, but you can’t call it penis soup … what soup is it ? I for one would rather know, as I want to be fully aware and committed before I put any penis in my mouth !

I arrived back in Spain three days ago, after an absence of over six years. I walked into a local tapas bar, took a table in the shade and ordered a beer. One of the many wonderful things about Spain is that it is perfectly acceptable to order a beer simply because you are thirsty, without having to worry about the appropriateness of the time or the venue. The waiter presumed that I spoke Spanish, which to my delight, I found I could still do. He also presumed that I was foreign, which of course I am, and had absolutely no interest in where I was from. This is another thing that I love, on the whole the Spanish, especially here in the south, are not interested in where you come from or where you are going. That for me is a total relief, as I will go to enormous lengths to avoid answering questions of that nature. The warmth of the morning sun began to permeate into me and as the ice cold beer slipped down my throat, I felt the tensions and uncertainties of the previous few weeks slip away. I was enveloped with a sense of peace and total well being. Did I dare think that I was finally home ?

Back to the question, where do I come from ? This question is closely related to, and often followed by, what do you do for a living? Where do you live ? What kind of soup are you ? All of which I find virtually impossible to answer, but will try. My mother is an Indian whose grandparents left Kerala, in the South of India, for Malaysia where my mother was born. My fathers grandparents , from the Isle of Sky, made a new life in South Africa where he was born. Both my parents left their homes and met in Singapore, where I was then born. Due to a set of incredibly complex set of circumstances ( including but not limited to apartheid, crown protectorates, emigration and ancestry) we are all British citizens. I grew up in Singapore, spent my summers just outside the cathedral city of Winchester, with extended stays in Japan, Australia, Thailand and various other corners of the globe . At 16 I went to a girls boarding school on the Salisbury plain (waiting for letters from home) and when I left it started to get complicated. I had a rather inconvenient habit of falling in love, passionately and without any boundaries (or boarders, as it happens). So I followed my heart around the world and since I had no personal or professional ambitions, I just fell into whatever life came my way. A tour rep and then a dive master in the Maldives, a safari manager in Mombasa, a boat driver in Italy, a stage manager for a record company in Malaysia, a secretary in London and those were all before I turned 24 and fell in love with a man from the Himalayas. We got married, had an amazing daughter, opened a bar in Kathmandu and then a shop in Hampshire, before moving to London where I did immigration work for a lawyer from Sierra Leone. One day, I got a parking ticket in a residents bay , an invitation for a play date for my daughter that was for two weeks away and realised that I hadn’t sat down for a meal with my husband in two weeks. I came home, cooked, stuck a pin in a map of Europe and announced to my husband that we were moving to Andalucia. When he asked where the hell that was, I just showed him the map with the pin in it. Perhaps our marriage was already over, I don’t really know, but within a year of being in Spain we separated. The years passed – I turned 40, bought a house, fell in love again, got into financial trouble, fell into debt , fell apart and then, did what I do best …I ran away.

For six years I have been a gypsy, a nomad, desperately trying to move onward. So desperate for forward motion that I didn’t realise, I had wandered into quicksand, getting more stuck with every move I made. So I have come back to the last place that I stood on solid ground, realising that sometimes you have to go back in order to go forward.

So Mr Lim, here I am 35 years after your penis soup, standing a little perplexed with a sign in my hand. My soup is a complicated one, certainly not to everyone’s taste but I know that I can only try to keep doing what I do and be fully aware and committed to this wonderful, crazy complex life that is just what it is …..penis soup.

All love,

Txx

p.s I have been watching a series on Netflix called “Street Food” and it is quite simply one of the best things I have watched on television in years. It is truly inspiring and humbling . It has taken me for a walk through the streets of my past, reminded me again of the true nature of cooking and given me a kick in the arse, when I needed one. There are a few “Mr Lim’s” there and some of the most incredible women in the world. I hope that I can be the kind of person that could hold my head high in their company and that they would be happy to cook for xx