Sunday, 26 July 2015

In search of headspace.

Life is a bit full at the moment - and so reflective times have been precious.

Some years ago I saw an interview with Germaine Greer. When asked what her favourite pastime was she replied, 'thinking.'

I get that - thinking is the most wonderful, creative, energising way to spend an hour or two. If only those hours were more easily available.

The problem - for me at least - is that my current thinking is less creative and more like cogitative soup. One thought doesn't lead logically to another, in a way that might disentangle a problem or two. Instead ideas leap on top of each other like mating frogs, without allowing any breathing time.

I tried writing things down. At least the creation of lists gives an appearance of organisation. But when I tried to write my reflections (often a useful way to make sense of muddled feelings) all I could come up with was general angst.

Soon after that, I needed to cut the grass. Hurrah - an hour for thinking, while I trudged up and down the garden with the lawnmower. Surely there would be logical thought in the sanctuary of my garden. I even put a notebook in my pocket, ready to stop and jot down anything inspiring.

So why could I think about nothing more exciting than to wonder why my socks always fall down under my wellies but not in my shoes. Then I contemplated the lack of intelligence of toads: they hop off into the long grass, while if they were truly bright they'd leap over the mown stuff and hide among the weeds. Then I wasted energy on raging about the dog that had jumped over a fence and left poo on my lawn.

I gave up. Decided I needed a shower. Then, when I was at my wettest and soapiest, I had a flash of insight ... if I tackled this task, then that would become easier ... and then everything would unscramble. Hurrah! If only I could remember what that first task was when I got out of the shower ...

I give up. I'll just carry on snatching thinking time when I can. And if anyone knows of a waterproof notebook please let me know.

Sunday, 19 July 2015


Back to my Barcelona thoughts - postponed by last week's news.

Just in case even a mention of the word Barcelona gets you singing, here is the link to accompany you:

Right, now we're all humming, I'll add a word or two about the city.

Another time, I wouldn't choose to go in July. I went with a friend, and we were limited by her leave arrangements. We had a wonderful time - but did have to weave our way through crowds. There were stag and hen parties (why they go all that way, spend all that money, just to get drunk I've no idea. But they were having a good time.) Then millions (or so it felt) taking a break before the mayhem of the school holidays. Several of the major sites had so many visitors they were organising timed entrances with three hours to wait - which is not a problem in such a lovely city, but does give you an idea how many people were there.

I have heard that there are local people who are complaining that the city is drowning in tourists. I can see what they mean - it was hard to find any local people going about local things unless they were dealing with tourists. On the other hand, tourists are now the life-blood of the city.

It's the extraordinary Gaudí architecture that draws people there. And it is wonderful - much of it on such a huge scale that photographs cannot possibly do it justice. So here, to give you a flavour of the city, are a few photographs of chimney stacks.

These two were taken from rooftops:

This was taken from the top deck of a bus:

And here's another rooftop:

Finally, a facade taken looking up from street level - to hint at the breadth of Gaudí's extraordinary vision. Not a straight line in sight!!

It's such an unusal city I can only give you a hint of its complexities. Architecturally it's unlike anywhere else - and a worthy city for the wonderful song!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

A time to reflect.

No pictures from Barcelona - they will have to wait a week.

For a woman I've known since I was a small child died while I was away.  She was very old, and frail, and had made no secret of her wish to put living behind her.

I would love to write about her. But she believed that the internet was the sperm of the devil and if she is looking down (or up) from wherever she is now she would curse me forever. (Actually, I have no belief in an afterlife. But I shall respect her feelings after her death as I did when she was alive.)

Nevertheless, it has rocked me. Her death was expected. Dying is what happens when people are old and frail. It's as much part of life as birth. The whole cycle of existence is predicated on people dying, to make room for all the new people being born. That's how it works.

And yet - in spite of all that common sense - it's hard to adjust to the loss of someone who has been a part of life for so long. One minute she's here and then - poof - no more. A shocking not-being. Just the detritus of her living (she was a frugal woman, I'll tell you that much), and memories.

But then I reflect. These adjustment times are necessary. However much this was expected, it is right that I take time to hold her in mind - she was part of me for so long I can't just close a door on her. I must let her linger in my thinking - in an absorbing, almost obsessive way - until this feeling of dislocation passes and I can rethink my world without her.

Somewhere, as she slipped away, a baby was born. His or her family will be equally obsessed - babies take up far more thinking space than one can possibly envisage. Family stories are founded here. For babies, too, need to be held in mind - the prerequisite for the love they need to flourish. Gradually the obsessions lessen and family life takes shape.

And so, at the end - as at the beginning - of life, when we are unable to care for, or even think about, ourselves, we need others to do it for us.

In the meantime, S, I shall miss you.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Nepal - a thank you.

I can't begin to describe how it has felt being on the receiving end of so much support following my decision to visit Nepal in the autumn.

There have been comments here, and on Facebook and Twitter, that anyone can see. But that is the tip of the iceberg (forgive the cliche) - it's private messages from people I've never met that are particularly touching. People who have neighbours who are Gurkhas, returning to the country to find out if their families are alive and their homes still standing. People with sons and daughters who were in the country at the time and have listened to terrifying tales every since they came home - the guilt of survivors. People who have asked what I need to take with me - offers of help to buy goodies.

It's been humbling. I feel as if I'm carrying many hopes and expectations with me - and yet you know I can promise nothing in return and that doesn't seem to trouble you. I carry your love as well as my own with me on this journey.

I have no idea what I shall find there - apart from a generous and resourceful people who are busy putting their lives back together again.

I can only tell you that I will write about it. I can't promise an ebook (I'll take that decision when I get home), but there will certainly be plenty of blogging (though maybe unreliable blogging, as internet connections might be interesting). There will be photographs - though I'll keep images of devastation to a minimum.

Ps - not blog next Monday. I'll be in Barcelona ... cue Freddie Mercury impressions ...

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Nepal - I'm going back.

Firstly, many thanks to everyone who commented on my quandary about returning to Nepal . If you missed it, you can find it here.

I don't suppose any of you will be surprised to know that I'm going - though not until September.

Why? Because I have friends in Nepal who want me to. They don't share my concern that visitors might exploit their poverty, or see their destitution as some sort of tourist attraction. Such first world angst means nothing to them - they simply want visitors, in any shape or form, to help give their tourist industry the kick-start it so badly needs.

I'm not clear, yet, what I'll do while I'm there - Tika will take care of the details. (Oh, where would I be without Tika!!)

The biggest decision will be whether to visit a project supporting those affected by the earthquake. My instinct - at this point - is to play that by ear. I'll only go if I can be useful - and I do, given my working history, have the skills to help traumatised children. I'll not engage directly in any therapeutic play with them - such interventions need the context of a relationship with someone who can be alongside them for weeks or months and not a fleeting visitor, but I can talk with those helping such children and pass on some of the ideas and techniques that I used in the past.

(Having said that, I shall - of course - have balloons in my pocket. Sometimes having fun is just the best thing that could happen, even if it is all over in half an hour.)

I do hope to visit some of the beautiful places that have nourished me in the past - I know elephants still tramp through the jungle in Chitwan and all the temples in Lumbini are undamaged. No trip to Nepal would be complete without a beer by the Lakeside in Pokhara or stroll around the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu.

And the rest of the time - I shall wait for the Nepali to tell me what they need. This may or may not reflect the appeals from Aid Agencies - but I feel strongly that we infantalise local people if we make assumptions about what they need and what help we should provide.

So there we are. I have accepted an invitation to visit. There can, surely, be no better reason for going.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Setting a bad example to the children?

Thank you for your lovely thoughtful comments on my returning-to-Nepal quandary, outlined in my last post. While I'm thinking about that - here is another, far less serious, dilemma.

Some years ago we lived in a little house with parking spaces in a courtyard at the front. It was a lovely little house, with lovely neighbours ...

... Except for the couple who lived at the end of the row. Well, they didn't actually live there. They visited some weekends, but much of the time the house stayed empty. Even so they seemed to think that they owned their parking spaces - so if they should turn up and find anyone with visitors had allowed them to park in their space they had a hissy fit.

To be fair, they had a hissy fit at everything. A child in the front garden with a ball was enough to screw their faces up till they looked like dogs' bottoms.

We never knew their names. We knew them as 'the Miseries.' Even when they were here, surrounded by these wonderful Wiltshire Downs, they grumbled. I'm afraid we laughed at them behind their backs, they made themselves look so ridiculous. 

There was a little passageway beside their garden - leading to the back of the row of houses. There was nothing but a little wire fence between the gardens, so it was easy to see the rather bland, pristine arrangement of their little plot.

Now one year we had a surfeit of sunflower seeds ... I can't remember why ... nor whose idea it was to plant them in the Miseries' garden ... though it was easy enough to slink round there at sundown. The planting involved a lot of rather childish giggling and possibly wasn't a great example to my children (who must have been in their early teens at the time). Or was it? Surely it's okay to respond to people who are terminally grumpy by planting sunflowers in their garden?

So - it is vandalism? Or a justifiable response to people who had a serious deficit in the humour department?

Sunday, 7 June 2015

When it is okay to go back to Nepal?

Here's the dilemma ...

I'll not repeat myself - you know my thoughts about the earthquake in Nepal. But what can we do - from the comfort of our sofas - to help?

We can give aid, of course - and millions have. The international agencies are all there, with their relief supplies and expertise. And they are needed - families are still living in tents and the monsoon looms. Yet the Nepali don't want to rely on handouts to sustain them for a generation or three. They are an independent people who need to reboot their own economy. Once that is up and running many of those currently rebuilding the schools and temples can go home.

Much of the Nepalese economy relies on tourists. Tourists bring money enabling people to sustain their lives for themselves. And for tourism to reclaim its place in the economy the walkers and climbers and temple-visitors and those who, like me, just love the place, must go back.

For those wondering - the sun still rises over Everest. It stains the snow pink and slides warm fingers into the dark Himalayan valleys. The air at daybreak is sweet and clear. Everest base camp is still closed, but Annapurna is waiting. Machhapuchhare (the Fish Tail Mountain) stands guard over Pokhara.

Buddhas still watch from their stupas. Kali enfolds the faithful in her many arms. Prayer wheels rattle on their axes. Monks wander in their flowing robes. Children always ready to play.

The monsoon will make things more difficult - and Nepal does not expect visitors when torrential rain brings floods and landslides. But by the autumn the sun will shine again - and the hotels and restaurants will be waiting.

But ... is it really that easy? Temples have crumbled. Some families will still be in tents. This was a poor country before the earthquake - many will be destitute now. Might tourists be seen as 'cashing in' on their trauma?

I have a problem with 'poverty porn.' I flinch at such a pejorative term, but I am deeply discomforted by those who visit developing countries and gawp at the poor. I've seen tourists taking photographs of women washing themselves at communal taps, ignoring the reality that these women would choose privacy if they could. Others smile at barefooted children, as if they are cute, as if the lack of shoes might be appealing and not evidence that the family cannot afford shoes. Destitution should never be a tourist attraction.

It will be impossible to visit Nepal and turn blind eyes to the destruction of the earthquake. Some people have lost everything. I cannot build their homes. I'm not qualified to teach the children nor administer medical help. I will not take their photographs, but if I do nothing is that no more than passing by on the other side?

I have friends in Nepal. I know they need visitors. But do I go soon, and remind you what a wonderful place this is, tempt anyone with time to buy a flight to Kathmandu and discover the place for themselves? Or do I wait until the tents are back in storage and families all have somewhere dry to live?