Autobiographical: My childhood garden

Children in a garden

I don’t remember much about Evelyn and Alan, my paternal grandparents, because Dad moved away. They lived in Darlington, Yorkshire, or “God’s Country”, as people call it. My earliest memory of them is in their back garden. There were stripey deckchairs. Grandad was wearing a woolley tank top over a shirt and Grandma, a blouse and billowing skirt. 

Grandma gave me a plum to eat from their plum tree. I remember it was rough on my tongue and I didn’t like it, so I spat it out. I remember Grandma laughing as I spat it into her hand. 

My parents back garden was equally idyllic. I was gifted with a swing, a slide and when the preschool playgroup I attended closed for summer, we borrowed their wooden climbing fort. I loved climbing and clambering over that climbing frame, King of the Castle.

There were rules in the garden. You could not play ball games because it damaged the flowers and plants, but mum gave up because my brother, James, was going to be the next Gary Linekar. 

James was in a Sunday League football team called The Saints, and he was the captain. Dad used to call him Number one son, because apparently they do that in China. Dad would produce a newsletter each week with the league scores and other news for the lads and dads. He wrote it by hand, because we didn’t have a computer at home- it was the 1980s. 

When The Saints used to play, I had the responsibility of handing out the oranges at half time, and the mums shared the burden of washing the kits. I used to go and play by myself while his matches were on, and I think James was embarrassed by me because I didn’t stand and watch, but football has never been my thing. 

We had rhubarb in the garden and my sister wouldn’t eat mum’s rhubarb crumble because our Aunt’s dog Nelson had weed on it once, according to James. Mum didn’t tolerate that, and Caroline was back on rhubarb with the rest of us at the dinner table. 

James refused to eat carrots, he can see in the dark just like Jamie and his magic torch, an old TV show. Caroline my sister refused to eat tomatoes. I wouldn’t eat my greens for an embarrassingly long time, although studies later revealed that green pigments in vegetables taste bitter to small children, so I felt vindicated. 

Once, James pulled a face as he was eating mums rhubarb, and she flipped 

“Don’t start all that nonsense again, I’ve spent hours in that kitchen” but mum had used salt instead of sugar in the crumble. We gave her stick for years about that, because it was the only time she put a foot wrong in the kitchen.

Ofcourse, sugar and salt look the same but they’re very different in character, something I wish I would remember more often in life, that looks can be deceiving. 

My other grandma was a widow, her name was Constance, or Connie England. What a name. My grandad Walter passed away before I was born, and he had his own plumbing business. My mum grew up in Cheshire then moved to Warwickshire, where we live now. Grandma lived in a small cottage in Lichfield near Cannock Chase, with roses around the door, in Staffordshire where they make the finest porcelain in the UK.

I remember visiting her and all the flowers were in bloom and bees were buzzing all around her back door. I closed my eyes and leapt through the bees and flowers and she greeted me with a big kiss and hug. She was making preserves from the gooseberry and blackberry bushes in her garden, and our favourite, Almond Cake.

Grandma didn’t use the front door because it went straight onto the street. She kept a draught excluder across the base of the front door, a stuffed blue snake that she wouldn’t let me play with even though it was fluffy.

The other rule in mum and dad’s garden was don’t eat the apples off the apple tree because they were rotten. Dad told me he once bit into one and bit through a worm. When I had a cat he used to scale that tree although he once got his collar caught on a branch and nearly choked. Luckily our neighbour spotted him and got him down safely.

Relaxation: Easter weekend yoga in the sun

This is a repost of my Easter blog.

This afternoon’s yoga session is a relaxing one with some tried and tested postures. The sun came out this afternoon and I’m enjoying the light through the window.

Start with a back stretch

This is an important way to start your session, like a warm up.

Side plank
A new variation on Downward Dog that I am trying to master
Chair
Flamingo

Happy Easter.

Recipe: easy vegan miso soup

I made a DIY miso soup today that’s ok by vegans.

Ingredients: frozen vegetables (peas, sweetcorn), vegetable stock cube, water, chilli flakes, ginger, soy sauce, rice noodles soy sauce, lemon.

Boil your water, add a vegetable stock cube, some peas or frozen veg (Tofu if you have it), half a teaspoon of chilli flakes, half a teaspoon of ginger, a couple of splashes of soy sauce and let simmer for 5-10 minutes for the vegetables.

Take the pan off the heat and add one nest per person of rice noodles. Return to the heat and allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Squeeze over lemon to taste and serve.

DIY vegan miso soup
Vegan miso soup

Book review: The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, Michael Singer

A book about meditation gave me a lot to reflect on this Easter weekend. First of all, ask yourself “who am I?” These and other soul searching questions are the theme of Michael Singer’s “The Untethered Soul”, a book that offers meditations on existence and consciousness.

So what are our souls tethered to anyway?

Are you your name? Are you someone’s partner? These are labels. Are you your life story? Those are experiences. So who are you? When you sleep, who dreams? What does it mean to dream? Who sees your dreams when you dream?

So far, so Hamlet.

With meditation you can learn how to observe your thoughts, the emotions and you realise emotions come and go. Singer says let them. Let go of experiences. Who is experiencing the experience? *You*, the experiencer.

Contemplate the source of your consciousness. When you contemplate the nature of self, it is meditation. You become aware of who you are. 

Energy

Have you ever been dumped? The energy of the dumped is lethargy and depression. Then imagine the phone rings and the ex apologises. You might experience a burst of energy, and smile. 

Depressed people have blocked energy. So how do you unblock the energy? In Yoga it’s called Chakras. In Chinese medicine it’s called Chi. Spiritual energy is what you experience when love enters your heart. To be receptive to spiritual energy, don’t close off your heart.

Healing old wounds

A closed heart is usually based on past experiences. A Samskara is a term in yoga that sounds like ‘scar’. A Samskara is a blocked energy pattern, an experience that keeps circling around itself. The heart holds Samskaras, and if it builds up, forms a depression.

Singer uses the metaphor of the thorn, get to the root, pull out the thorn instead of adjusting your life to make allowances for your thorns i.e. avoiding emotional pain. Don’t resist the painful energy, relax into pain and let it go. It’s easier to let go of pain if you accept it than try and resist it.

Every time you relax and release, a piece of the pain leaves forever, yet every time you resist and close, your psyche builds up pain like a dam.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

I did this with some thoughts I kept putting out of my mind and let myself experience those painful thoughts, and my chest became hot, my heart felt a burn. It’s called the “fire of yoga” and pain is the price of freedom. Face your emotional pain and it will free you. Do not try to change your life to avoid emotional pain or this inner work because it is spiritual growth. 

One decision

Singer says you have one decision to make in life. Do you want to be happy? Or not? If the answer is yes, then say “yes” regardless of what happens in your life. Your happiness is under your control. 

Not “as long as this doesn’t happen or that doesn’t happen.” If you decide “yes”, then you’ll become enlightened. You have to mean it when you say you’ll choose to be happy no matter what life brings. It could be an awakening.

Big issues

Later chapters Singer talks about Death and God. Death is there for perspective, to remind us of what is important in life, that our time is limited, and we should be grateful to death for this gift.

Singer’s concept of God is less Old Testament and more Book of John and Luke; God is love. God isn’t vengeful. He looks at all people the same way we look at different flowers and can appreciate the beauty in each one.

Love

Singer believes God (however you understand Him) loves us and you can tap into that energy anytime you decide to be happy no matter what life throws at you.

Make that decision, and untether yourself from the pain of hurts and injuries by accepting them, and being aware that you are not your emotions, you are not what happens to you, because really, you are the “experiencer” of your emotions and life.

It is this mental distancing from the immediate impact of life as an *experiencer of life* that can give you the space to experience inner peace.

I enjoy the physical exercise of Yoga because it takes me out of my cerebral mode for a while. Now I will take a new appreciation for the cerebral space and distance from the existential pain of life that Yoga gifts me.

Chocolate Easter Eggs are quite good at making me happy too.

Happy Easter.

Book review: Off the Record, Jonathan Pie and Andrew Doyle

Off the Record, by Tom Walker and Andrew Doyle

Tom Walker and Andrew Doyle, wrote this book off the back of success with the Jonathan Pie character. He’s the journalist you see reporting from location on a story to the news desk back in the studio, but his schtick is his “off-camera” rants that are more illuminating than the news, and funny because they’re illicit, while most newsreaders have to play by the 1984-esqe-editorial-guideline-rulebook. And, you know, he has some balls.

There are dozens of Jonathan Pie videos on social media, check them out, the most successful of all was his 4-million-views-and-counting lambasting of Hilary Clinton supporters after Trump was elected. He isn’t a Trump fan, he referrs to him as “toddler-in-Chief” owing to his emotional outbursts on Twitter, where Pie also draws a large crowd.

Social media viral sensation

In self-effacing style he recommends you go and read a proper book as this one is only good for reading on the bog. Yes there are knob and turd jokes, and that’s just the politicians, but between the jokes there’s an education like a stealth fart in the background of the Labour Party, the hereditary ruling laws in North Korea and why Donald Trump is after your pussy.

Pie and Doyle do not hold back with their visceral denouements of the policies of Iraq War poster boy and Catholic in disguise, Tony Blair, milk snatchy iron fisted Margaret Thatcher, and Hitler, who was a bit of a shit by all accounts. President Trump tops the bill ofcourse, Top Trumps of a Pontoon game of cards, the American Presidents always steal our thunder, don’t they.

Giving it both barrels

An old school leftie, Pie is a dream come true if you like straight-talking news analysis with a few swear words and Viz jokes sprinkled liberally to highlight salient points. If you buy the audio book, Tom Walker does his best ‘now I’m speaking in a newsreader voice’ à la Alan Partridge, or half the people on terrestrial news, which is why it’s great when he changes gear and says it as it is. From a lefties perspective which is the only perspective you need to care about if you have a social conscience. If you don’t, then you should read this book then gift it to someone more intelligent than you, or shove it up your arse, is what I think he would say.

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale

My advice to anyone looking to read this book, is don’t. I wanted to because I understand it is a seminal feminist text written to describe a dystopian future where women are stripped of their rights, and assigned roles of baby breeder (red gown), Aunt, Martha, Wife, or sex worker.

This is a dark nasty vision of the future where our heroine, the narrator, lives in a home where her sole purpose is to breed with the man of the house, under supervision by his childless wife.

Shall I go on?

This book plunged the darkest depths of female character traits, and the men don’t get off lightly either. Our heroine’s bedroom used to house the last girl, who hung herself in there. 

Again, shall I go on?

I don’t know who would enjoy this book or who I would recommend it to, but maybe that’s not the point. I remember the most depressing thing about reading George Orwell’s 1984 when I was just 18 and full of beans, was how close to reality it comes.

We all live in front of screens, we are all monitored; CCTV is rife in the UK for example, and the editorial code for much of the press has an agenda. It is the closeness to reality that makes it so haunting, and with The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s similar because our world is in living memory to our narrator, and we’ve all seen how swiftly governments can bring about new laws to control movement and liberties given our experiences during Coronavirus.

Shall I go on?

I couldn’t wait to finish this book because it is so dark. I had an off day where I felt miserable because I started my period, and then the book was sort of comforting because I thought, at least my life isn’t that bad.

Shall I go on?

I know they made a TV drama out of this novel, and fair play, I loved Elisabeth Moss in MadMen, especially because I used to work in advertising. But this book is just too dark and depressing for me. I think that’s the whole point in all honesty, but for me, it’s not entertainment.

Edit: Believe it or not, a few weeks later I wrote another review based on reflections and the passage of time. Here it is.

Book review: As lockdown in the UK lifts I read about Malcolm X and Paul the Apostle in prison

Lockdown has felt like prison at times

I’m currently 9 hours into Malcolm X autobiography voiced expertly by Laurence Fishburne. Chapter 11 is illuminating. Simply named, Saviour, MalcolmX describes his conversion from a life of crime and hustling in the Big Apple, to his conversion to The Nation of Islam while serving a 10 year prison sentence. Two keys opened this door for him, his unwavering support from his blood family brothers and sisters who are already converts, and his passionate love of reading in an effort to articulate his views in an adult and intelligent manner to those who seek to repress him. 

In fact, reading is arguably Malcolm Xs others saviour as he devotes all his time in prison to reading books of black history, the stories white washed from his education. He reads up on slavery, the exploitation of Africa and China by white mans methods of plunder and power. By following Elijah Mohammed and writing letters to him, he comes to understand white people as white devils. Having read the first half of the autobiography and seeing how white people treated Malcolm X and his family, I cannot be offended as a white person. I believe Elijah Mohammed and the Nation of Islam would have been high comfort to Malcolm X after all he had experienced, and his faith remains with him after leaving prison after 7 years.

I listen to an App called Live Lent, that offers Bible readings each day of Lent, a Christian time of fasting before Easter Sunday, when Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion. I am exploring Christianity and curious to learn more about it.

Today’s story is of Paul the Apostle who is imprisoned for teaching the word of God. He appeals to be set free. Amazing Grace is a hymn by the reformed slave trader John Newton , and today’s reflection is on how people are lost and found.

Clearly Malcolm X found his faith in prison, at his lowest ebb. Paul is also imprisoned and appeals to King Agrippa for his freedom. He admits he was opposed to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. He says “I put many of the Lords people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them”. 

Then he tells the story of what happened on the road to Damascus. He has a vision of Jesus, a bright light brighter than the sun at about noon, and he tells King Agrippa. “We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice say to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Paul asked who the voice was and the reply came “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” replied the Lord. The voice then implores Paul to spread the word of God and “I am sending you to open their eyes and turn from darkness to light…. so that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” 

Paul is accused of being out of his mind because the story sounds so far fetched. Paul stands firm. His faith is certain and he says “I pray to God that not only you, but all who are listening to me today, become what I am, except for these chains”.

Both Malcolm X and Paul the Apostle find their faithin prison, and stand firm in their beliefs. Both behaved badly and then atone for their sins, both suffer persecution and both are imprisoned and find freedom through their faith, even though their faiths are on the face of it, entirely different, I see a lot of common ground between these two men. 

We’ve been in lockdown for a while now, and reading books and blogs is one pleasure I am thoroughly grateful for, because of escapism from being indoors. While most of us aren’t in the unenviable position of being in prison, it’s only today, 29 March 2021 that some sanctions are lifted in the UK, so now we can go outside more often and two households of us to 6 people combined, can meet up outdoors. I think we’re all grateful for the chance to regain some of the freedoms we took for granted before, even if you aren’t religious.

Easter is about life rising from the dead. Malcolm X’s nickname was Satan in prison for his bad ways and lack of religion, and he completely turns it around to earn the respect of his peers through good behaviour and a conversion to the Nation of Islam. Equally Paul goes from persecuter to persecuted and in doing so, deepens his faith and becomes evangelical.

Both of these men were found at their most lost.

Autobiographical: We all need clothes, but what does the supply chain look like?

Multiple fashion retailers were challenged this week owing to concerns that they were sourcing cotton from companies directly benefiting from the forced labour of the Uyghur region of China.

Uyghur Muslims are being forced into labour camps to produce, among other things, cotton. A coalition of hundreds of companies want to put a stop to it. I think we can all agree that the clothes we wear shouldn’t be contributing to human rights abuses and genocide. 

Remember last year when Leicester went into a lockdown because Coronavirus was so rife? It turns out factory workers were producing clothes in cramped and unsafe conditions, without social distancing for example and Coronavirus broke out. These supply chains were linked to Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing. They also underpaid their workers, below the minimum wage.

Making good choices

Governments are placing sanctions on China but we all have a responsibility to wear ethical clothes and avoid waste. Some things I am trying are :

  • Donate to and buy from charity, or second hand retailers
  • Take your clothes for repair and or tailoring when you need to
  • Keep hold of clothes you don’t wear in case you decide you like them again later
  • Buy less and buy better quality

The environmental impact

Dodgy supply chains aside, fashion industry has a huge impact on the environment and is reportedly the second largest polluter in the world, according to research by sustainyourstyle.org. 

Synthetic fibres such as polyester are plastic fibres and non biodegradable, and can take up to 200 years to decompose. These fibres are in 72% of our clothing. 

I am trying to do the right thing with what I wear. As vegetarian there are products I no longer wear for example, but we all have a responsibility to minimise the impact on the planet and the people who produce the clothes we wear.

Book review: Russell Brand, Revelation

When I saw Russell Brand do stand up in 2008, he invited the audience backstage for an orgy. In 2017, he said he wants to make his daughter laugh. Russell has grown up.

Revelation

Revelation, Russell Brand’s latest audiobook is certainly not stand up, it addresses issues as deep and wide ranging as the ancient texts of Yoga, his commitment to a life of service via his 12 Steps programme treatment for addiction, and what he has learnt from both gurus and friends such as Ekart Tollé, Jordan Peterson, Gabor Mate, and his ever faithful familiar, Morrissey the cat.

Russell Brand had survived heroin addiction, a rise to fame and then vilification in the British press, the countless women he shagged, a Hollywood marriage and lifestyle, a divorce and abrupt return to London life and now he can look back from the comfort of a farm between two villages on the Thames, with a beautiful wife, daughters, and a dog. Does he still want to get high?

Well, his original proposal for the book was going to take him into tribal territory in the Amazon where he wanted to drink some kind of rite of passage drink that I think is like Peyote. Thankfully he didn’t because of Coronavirus, but I like to think he saw sense probably reflecting on how far he has come. 

Some points to reflect on include Russell’s explanation of the divine and spiritual as accessible to all, and that it is arguably our responsibility to access this part of life for a better society, chiefly because once you come at people from a place of love and compassion, as faith teaches us, then the world begins to improve. Capitalism has no such value belief system at its core, and this is where we as a society are failing our neediest and most vulnerable. 

Russell does his part and then some, as he shares stories of his years of 12 Step volunteering for recovery groups and meetings. This is a man who always reminded me of the wildness of my youth and my musician boyfriend from then, who used to joke that if I ever met Russell, he’d leave a light on for me. 

There is so much more to this audio experience, Russell has a great voice and is a pleasure to listen to. His use of language is always a pleasure, he has verbal dexterity denouncing the ‘dream capture claptrap of the new age’ and other nice turns of phrase.

He is concerned with God, and how the systems that run society need overhaul. ‘‘The solutions are not delivered by the systems that benefit from our current stagnation’ a transcendent solution is necessary’’ and I am inclined to agree .

‘’Yoga, meditation, chanting and plant medicine are effective ways of transcending the nausea and disappointment of the post secular material world.’’ As a Yoga practitioner, I loved hearing his thoughts, because I’m relatively new on my yogic path to Russell who is very well schooled on the practice.

A great listen, but not an easy listen. Engage your mind, be open minded and listen without prejudice. The serial shaggar grew up and he is still speaking truth to power, so my advice is, listen.

Autobiographical: The Subtle Art of Giving to Charity

How to decide on the causes to donate to

After reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, by Mark Manson, I’m choosing what causes to give a fuck about.

Charitable giving

I know people aren’t supposed to talk about their charity work, it can come across as crass. Hear me out. I donate to a few charities with direct debit payments, but this feels passive and it is beginning to get out of hand, as I keep signing up to more of them.

Not only that, more correspondence come in the post and email and it’s difficult to ignore. I know a pensioner took her own life in the UK in recent years, because her charitable direct debits got out of hand. There are many vulnerable people in society. I have limited bandwidth or money to support and engage as fully as I would like with all good causes.

So, how do you decide who to give to and how?

Voluntary work is one way to give to a good cause, and that is fine if you have enough income and time- many don’t. My way of solving this puzzle for myself, I believe it’s time for me to focus on causes close to my heart, afterall, giving is from a place of love.

My charity donations focus on- 

-children and young people

-poverty alleviation 

-environment

-animal welfare

Animal welfare

I support animal rights and welfare with the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the cosmetics I buy, it’s a way of life. In fact, a direct debit would be less effective if it was merely paying lip service.

Environment

I support the environment by picking up litter when I see it, driving only when absolutely necessary, recycling, noticing and being mindful of packaging, shopping locally, avoiding food waste and waste of other things, such as clothes and shoes.

Young people

With children and young people, I used to be a tutor for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and these days I like spending time with my nephews and hearing about their life and how they’re developing. I donate to charities that alleviate suffering.

Actions speak louder than words

In fact, Direct Debits are all well and good, but practical action wherever possible is an alternative, and living your personal values. There are people with much more money than you or me. I try and give in deed and action, and for the right reasons. I’d love to give the kind of money those wealthy philanthropists do, but there’s more than one way to give.