Tag Archives: fun

Fashion and fun

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As I mulled over the ins and outs and ups and downs of buying a grey T-shirt – I’m short of cool T-shirts as my clothes are still packed up in my old school trunk, (few people know what these are nowadays) where they’ve been since we moved to the forest. We’re building onto the little cabin we inherited when we moved here, and I’m still, as it were, existing on the iron rations I put into a small suit case when we came here. Somehow I hadn’t envisaged managing without my extensive wardrobe for months.

There’s a word for Foodies like me – is there also one for clothes maniacs… clothies? If there is, that’s me. But my frivolous machinations ground to a halt when I stumbled on an article about the latest exhibition of Diana’s clothes.  Everyone knows who Diana is, don’t they? The ingenuous teenager who married her Prince, and discovered on their honeymoon that he was still in touch with his long- term married mistress? The anorexic skinny beauty who blossomed into a glorious woman, who wore heavenly clothes throughout the various stages of her life? She’d have been fifty-six  this year.

The exhibition seems to chronicle the trajectory of the Princess’s life, from the ingenue soft blouses and dresses worn by the young bride, through to some of the ravishing evening dresses she began wearing as she gained her confidence. Then come the dresses which showed off her figure and astonishing beauty… and with the clothes, all those photos showing her a step away from Prince Charles, with symbolic distance between them, as they arrived together with her wearing these beautiful clothes.

She found her confidence when she embarked on her affair with her riding instructor, Guards officer James Hewitt, the man who’s since earned the well-deserved name of ‘Love-rat’. He wrote several books, and made millions out of publishing her letters and detailing their affair, which began when a miserable Diana had discovered that Charles had re-newed his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

The legions of Diana’s admirers (I was one of them) were furious that, as the Guardian once put it: ‘an older woman with no dress sense and birds-nest hair had trounced the people’s fairy-tale Princess? Who did she think she was?’

The story goes that some of her infuriated supporters even pelted the hapless Camilla with bread rolls when she went shopping in her local Wiltshire supermarket. Which reminded me of a previous Charles and his mistress, the much more attractive Charles the second. His witty lover, Nell Gwyn, was subjected to much the same abuse, only verbal as her carriage passed. The angry citizens thought this was the carriage of Charles’ French Catholic mistress. Nell pulled down her carriage window, and smiling at the hostile faces confronting her, uttered the immortal words: “Good people, I am the Protestant whore.” Which dispersed the crowds.

There’s no record of Camilla’s reaction to the bread rolls – in fact, throughout the years, she always remained silent.

But back to our muttons–or moutons in French. The dresses chart Diana’s life, but don’t, I think, include the famous little black dress she wore the night Charles admitted adultery on television. The tall, slim ravishing blonde with legs to die for, stole his thunder effortlessly in the sensational black dress, which she had had in her wardrobe for two years and never worn before.

All her dresses had built-in bras, so no bra straps showing – and they were also designed so there was never the dreaded ‘visible panty line (VPL). Disappointingly to me, the red jacket and purple skirt she wore when sitting in front of the Taj Mahal, alone and making a statement, is not in the exhibition. Red and purple – who else would wear such a brilliant combination?

That was one of the things I missed after Diana’s tragic and devastating death, the fun of filling my eyes with her gorgeous outfits. And then the jewels –  costume brooches worn in unexpected places, dancing with a priceless emerald necklace turned into an American Indian type head-band worn across her forehead, faux pearls slung backwards and knotted over a plunging backless velvet dress…

Diana’s successor, the ex- Kate Middleton, or Katherine as she is known to her family, often seems a careful, rather dull dresser, except on grand occasions when she looks wonderful.  So I’ve become an afficionado of other less well known royals on the world stage, though apparently doted on in their own countries.

The most flamboyant is Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, former business woman and daughter of a minister in one of  Argentina’s murderous and tyrannical regimes. She overcame this hurdle to marrying the heir to the Dutch throne, and has now evolved an interesting style of dressing. I marvel at her huge hats, ponchos, and daring colour combinations.

The Belgian Queen Mathilde, born a noblewoman in Belgium and formerly speech therapist and psychologist, is another blonde beauty with a great sense of style, and great legs too. She wears bright colours and elegant matching hats… the Royal way of dressing Queen Elizabeth has pioneered and perfected. Queen Letizia, the ex-television anchor and newsreader on Spanish TV, who also captured a Crown Prince, has a severe, solemn beauty. Her exquisite clothes have the same rather austere, elegant quality, but I don’t feel the joyfulness of Diana’s style – which for me was the benchmark of fun and fashion.

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, the former Australian PR consultant, who spent three years learning Danish before marrying her Prince, is an attractive brunette like Kate, and they look like sisters when seen together. She always looks stylish, poised, and wears interesting clothes. But somehow with all these lovely Royals, there’s none of the excitement and joie de vivre that Diana projected in her gorgeous clothes. Queen Maxima comes the nearest to projecting that excitement while doing her round of good works and international visits like all the rest of them – shaking hands with popes, presidents, sovereigns and sheiks.

Needless to say, all these women sport magnificent jewels and glittering tiaras when required. I doubt that the latest fashionista to loom on our horizon owns a tiara – but then again – her extraordinary husband may have bought one to demonstrate that he can mix it with the best of them! If so, it’s hidden away at the back of a wardrobe in Trump Tower – or more likely stashed away at the bank.

When Melania Trump appeared at her husband’s inauguration in that delicious, pale blue outfit, I thought, aha, another glorious clothes horse in the mould of a previous beautiful First Lady. But we see so very little of her. When we do, her clothes are gorgeous… yet there’s so much controversy swirling around her, that rather like Carla Bruni, President Zarkozy’s beautiful model wife, it’s hard to enjoy the spectacle whole-heartedly.

‘The apparel oft proclaims the man,’ Polonius advised his son Laertes, and like everything in Shakespeare’s famous speech, it still rings true. So how does my grey T-shirt stand up to all these gorgeous outfits worn by glamorous women?

I want to wear it with grey trousers brought from Marks and Sparks in Plymouth, Devon, over ten years ago when flares had come back briefly, and with flat, grey lace-ups which assist my broken leg to walk – a special offer from a mail order catalogue – two pairs for fifteen dollars – how could I go past them? I’ll wear a grey, black and red scarf to brighten up the grey – I’ve had it for twenty years – it was a Christmas present from a Dutch friend who told me she’d found it on a second- hand stall at the local market. And of course – red dangly earrings – all so appropriate in a remote forest far from the fashion centres of the world. But as you can see, I never give up!!!

Food for threadbare gourmets

Caught on the hop when invited to an impromptu lunch tomorrow by a bachelor neighbour. Can I bring something I foolishly asked? Yes, something sweet, was the prompt reply. We don’t want to go into town to shop for another few days and I haven’t bothered to keep all my stocks of goodies since we are staying of sweet stuff, and I only cook the barest minimum since my game leg finds it hard to stand.

I finally remembered my emergency store –  tiny pastry tartlets in a sealed pack, and lemon curd in the fridge. I usually serve them with crème fraiche, and am leary of whipped cream separating. So will just have to bite the bullet and whip the cream with icing sugar which helps it to stay stiff. I simply use two tablespoons to a cup of cream… so much for giving up sugar!

Food for thought

Lift up the self by the Self.

And don’t let the self droop down

For the Self is the self’s only friend

And the self is the Self’s only foe.

Bhagavad Gita   Chapter 6, verse  5

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Ode to friendship

Wherever I look there are the tokens, and maybe calling them tokens is a misuse of the word.

On the bookcase is a round blue stone, and written on it are the words: ‘ In the bonds of love we meet,’ which are lines from the NZ national Anthem. It was a birthday present from Friend, which is what I Ching calls a person who is in a ‘familial or love relationship’.

In a fat white jug with all my pens is a sandalwood fan, sitting there at the ready to be used when needed… my Friend brought it to choir practice on a baking hot evening nearly twenty years ago – the sort of evening when we all melted in the airless church hall as we practised our Hallelujahs, or softer Bach anthems. On this day, she produced the fan to keep me cool.

By the bedside is a long thin delicate bamboo stick with a hand at the end with claws on it – a Chinese back scratcher – in constant use by my love. This is the relic of a Christmas lunch thirty years ago. A gang of us used to meet for Christmas lunch in the park, taking over the beautiful little band rotunda, and bringing lace table-cloths, silver candlesticks, champagne and the works.

We started a ritual of bringing presents for everyone, and they could cost no more than two dollars… a tiny amount even in NZ currency. All year we subconsciously looked for some delicious little token, and this was Friend’s gift one year, practical and treasured ever since.

In hospital, an hour and half drive from her home, she and her husband visited me, bringing gifts … a sheepskin to lie on and ease my discomfort, a bag full of miniature bottles of wine – a glass and half to each one – for me to sip with my fairly dreary suppers… an orchid so beautiful that everyone who came by, stopped to admire – it made me many friends… lanolin to rub on my face so my skin wouldn’t dry out in hospital warmth, fluffy red, possum-wool slippers with non-stick soles for my cold feet, vitamin C capsules to aid my healing, and most delicious of all… I had said I wished I had asked my love to try and find my magnifying mirror as I was beginning to look like Freida Kahlo, so a splendid magnifying mirror on a stand came with all the other goodies.

We have been together at births and funerals, personal growth courses, anniversaries and jolly parties. Best of all have been the long, happy lunches, and the times she and Friend Two have come to stay, armed with bottles of wine donated by helpful husbands. We’ve listened to the latest visiting guru, and then celebrated with riotous dinners, visited massage ladies and spiritual channellers, sat with an aura soma intuitive for a reading, and travelled long distances just to go and commune with a lady who told fortunes reading tea-leaves, or for lunch at a good winery.

During one famous lunch I happened to mention I’d seen some enormous candlesticks I’d love to get, but feared they might be a bit over the top. We had hardly downed our rose than we all set off to inspect the said candlesticks. The three of us emerged from the store with two pairs each… one to keep as gilt, the other to hand over to Friend Two, an artist, who was going to paint them to look aged and antique and precious. Friend moaned, “K – will kill me for bringing more candlesticks into the house”, but it did not deter her.

Friend has given me Reiki massages, and I have given her the same. After a severe operation I came to give her one, and after sitting with her for three hours while she slept deeply, I crept away. On Christmas morning we gathered for white-bait fritter brunch at her lovely house, and on birthdays, we three nearly always managed to meet.

Now, I sit on the sofa, and lean against a deep red taffeta cushion with a large rosette made of dozens of exquisite, hand-stitched, tiny rosettes, made for me by Friend Two. I look up at the beautiful picture she painted for me, and still revel in the painted candle sticks. We laugh because I haven’t bought a lipstick in years- instead she gives me all her mistakes, and they work for me. Guests for lunch exclaim over the beautiful French plates they’re eating from, a gift that both Friends had brought on one of their visits. The memories of their generosity, creativeness, fun and love are all around me.

I have other friends who are precious too… true friendship is never exclusive, but always inclusive.  Somewhere I have read, and forgive me, the lovely person who wrote this – I don’t know who you are… but they wrote: :’ A friend is what the heart needs all the time. True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils. Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island… to find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing.’

In a very difficult life I have had many friends. I also read once that most people only have five close friends… I have many more than that, and they are treasured and beloved. One friend has been my treasured and loyal, loving friend since our school days. Another, just as treasured, just as loyal and loving and supportive, has been there since we were young officers of twenty-one. (She sent me a precious seven-leaved clover she had found, for luck, when I was in hospital.) The roll call of a life-time’s well-loved names is one of my greatest treasures.

These are the people who have never judged me, but who have seen me and accepted me, in spite of what they saw !!!!. Aristotle said that friendship is a slow ripening fruit… for me friendship has been one of the most precious fruits of my life. And now blogging has added another dimension of friendship bringing fruits and gifts I couldn’t have imagined.

Some of these friends have not been around for a while, and I know are coping with illness, looking after sick mothers, or a handicapped child, or are just travelling or having fun;  but the knowledge of their friendship, the connection of spirit across the globe, the meetings of minds through our blogs and comments, from friends both absent and present, are treasured. Greetings to all these true friends.

PS This brief TV clip is about my son and his step-daughter. It’s about courage.

: http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2017/01/teen-left-tetraplegic-after-horse-accident-determined-to-walk-again.html

Food for threadbare gourmets

I un-freezed too many things, not thinking straight. And then I cooked a lovely risotto, forgetting I had the other food waiting to be cooked. The fish wouldn’t last, so I quickly fried it in butter and put it in the fridge. I wondered what to do with cold fish the next day…

So I cooked some tomatoes in butter, stripping off their skins when cooked, so they melded with the cream I poured over them, (Friend calls me the Queen of Cream) and let them blend together. Then added the cold fish, and gently reheated it, sprinkled lots of dill in … and it was delicious with new potatoes and green beans.

Food for thought

Be careful of reading health books. You may die of a misprint.

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 (born the year when Halley’s Comet neared earth, died the year it returned)

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Dancing to the music of time

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I climbed up the rusty fire escape smothered in trails of blue flowering morning glory and stepped onto the veranda of a very big two- storied, shabby white house built on the side of a volcano. The morning glory swung from trees, twisted up the fire escape, and swathed both house and garden in carpets of greenery and purple trumpet shaped flowers. With pillars, porticoes, verandas and banisters all festooned in drooping creeper, it looked like a romantic, deserted Southern mansion.

Once on the veranda I peered through the windows, and beckoned to my slightly reluctant partner in crime to join me. It was obviously the home of students or alternative life stylers on this floor, the only unusual thing about their chaotic living arrangements being the live rabbits who were hopping about the grubby carpets. Downstairs a motor bike gang who seemed to have wrecked the place, had their bikes parked inside the entrance hall.

Reader – to quote Charlotte Bronte – we bought the house. It took time to track down the owner and persuade him to sell, but we did. The room where the rabbits had bred was forever known as the rabbit room during our years in the house. The occupants moved out, but that was all. It was up to us to break down partitions, rip up revolting carpets, clean, scrub, paint and restore – including dozens of missing banisters – used no doubt for firewood. The bikies had left behind more than indescribable squalor but awful energy as well. But for the first time since its original owner the house had become a family home again, not a collection of shabby flats.

The house had been built in 1875 by a French architect for himself, described on the title as Jean le Bailly Hervei, gentleman. The first thing we did was to rip out a partition and remove a door and two huge cupboards. This revealed Jean’s conception of a huge central hall, twelve feet high, thirty feet long and ten feet wide, stretching down the centre of the house, and looking out over the harbour and then to distant hills beyond. When I stood at the huge French doors and watched the flaming sunsets or the black clouds scudding in from the hills so that I knew what the weather would be like in half an hour, I felt close to Jean le Bailly Hervei.

He designed this splendid roomy house with every French window and door opening towards the sun and these magnificent views, and each room led off from the airy hall on both the top and the bottom floors. The floor of the top hall I painted a rich pumpkin colour which picked up the shades of pumpkin and rose and purple and cream in a long Kelim rug which fitted the space. The bottom hall which matched the top, I painted white, including the floor, and blue and white curtains and matching table cloth over a round table obliterated traces of the former tenants and their bikes. My son painted his bedroom floor lime green to go with his colour scheme.

The children and the little frolicking dogs brought life and fun into the house, and music rang through all the spacious rooms – the children played the piano and their flute and clarinet – me – the stereo –  mostly Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, Beatles, Joan Baez and Cat Stevens.

One day while clearing the garden of morning glory, I found a three foot high, concrete garden gnome hidden under the greenery. We dragged him inside, and since we had friends staying and my birthday feast that night, I invited the gnome to dinner too. He presided in a chair at the head of the table and we had lots of laughter at his expense.

When we moved on, children gone, the psychiatrist who bought the house from us, an hour after it went on the market, asked me six months later at a party, what we had done to remove the brutal vibrations of drugs, alcohol, violence and fear which we had inherited. I was fascinated that a conventional medicine man should acknowledge that old energy, and that he had thought about it.

We brought colour and energy into the house, I said, along with all the books and precious things we’d loved and collected, including tapestry and patchwork cushions and crocheted bedspreads I’d made. We had bowls of pot-pourri and flowers, and often used candle- light. But the two things that must have made the real difference, I told him, were that we all meditated, and there was always music being played. I think more than anything, it was the meditation and the music, I said.

These memories came back to me today when I was reading that world-renowned neuro-scientist Oliver Sacks says that music affects the brain more than any other discipline. It is, he says, the only discipline that actually changes the physical appearance of the brain. We are designed for music, for ‘its complex sonic pattern woven in time, its logic, its momentum, and its unbreakable sequences’

In Australia in a school where they have a Music Excellence programme the students spend many hours playing rehearsing and having music lessons. At prize-givings, eighty percent of the top students receiving awards for academic excellence were also music students.

They mostly spend more than ten hours a week involved in their music and have almost no behaviour problems or any upsetting emotional or social issues even though they come from both rich and poor homes, single parent homes and every the other variation on backgrounds which could spell problems for children.

Do we know whether the music acts as a stress release, or whether it builds such emotional equilibrium and peace of mind that its practitioners can weather all sorts of stresses without problems? Maybe it doesn’t matter. What does matter to us is that we recognise the value of music, and allow ourselves to receive and enjoy its healing and strengthening properties. Some research has shown that people who learn a musical instrument are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s.

Music is supposed to teach basic skills such as concentration, counting, listening, and cooperation, help with understanding of language, improve memory, and help learning in all other areas. But actually, it doesn’t matter what the benefits are, it’s the sheer joy of music that enriches our lives. Perhaps it should be compulsory in schools, and be ranked along with writing and arithmetic as one of the necessities of life.

And what I find amazing is that music healed a house. Once it had dissolved the top layers of fear and anger and violence, it seemed to penetrate to other layers of energy and atmosphere… reaching through levels of sadness and regret and loss, until finally the sweetness of the music uncovered all the layers of time, and we reached the gentleness and joy of Jean the Bailly Hervei .

It was a voyage of discovery travelling back into the past and becoming aware of the lives of so many who had lived there before us. Music gathered together threads of sweet feelings from the past, and stitched them into the tapestry of life that we were adding our colours to. And it was the invisible vibrations of music which conducted us gently through those layers of time and feeling so we were able to hand on to the next owners the intangible beauty of a well-loved house. .

Food for threadbare gourmets

For these hot, dry, sunny days of Indian summer, sitting on the veranda, cicadas clattering, I like to make a spinach and salmon quiche which is good hot or cold. After lining a quiche dish or similar with thin short crust pastry – though I have used filo too, I simply pour the filling in and bake in a moderate oven for 40 minutes or until gently firm. For the filling I use 150 gm of chopped smoked salmon, a packet of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry, 300 to 400mls of thick cream, three large eggs, salt and pepper. Mix everything together, adding the spinach and salmon last, and either a little grated nutmeg or a little parmesan cheese if you fancy, and pour into the partly cooked pastry case. Good with salad of course…

Food for thought

I think the sages are the growing tip of the secret impulse of evolution… I think they embody the very drive of the Kosmos towards greater depths and expanding consciousness. I think they are riding the edge of a light beam, racing towards a rendezvous with God.

From ‘ A Brief History of Everything’, by Ken Wilber, Influential American writer and philosopher.

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The eternal search – for the perfect coffee

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I lost my wallet the other day. Going to pay for the dry cleaning, I found my big red Guy Laroche wallet given to me by my generous daughter had disappeared. Panic. The last place I’d had it was at the garden centre a mile away. And since I’d paid for the plants, the wallet must still be sitting in the trolley. More panic.

I ran through the things that mattered in my mind… credit cards … but ‘they’ wouldn’t know my pin number. Pain to have to cancel… forget them for now. Money? Who cared. But oh, my photographs of the grandchildren and moments caught in time that I wanted to remember… they were irreplaceable… and the two little love letters with terrible spelling and seven year old scrawls from them … one which I had found written in the diary they always used to keep when they came to stay with me… on this occasion they had decided that they would stay permanently and be home-schooled by me:

‘Five time a week I have fun. It can be so wonderful. I will like to say that I am writing this because it came from my hart and I kodn’t get it out of my hed….I hope that we can stay heer for homeschool it will be so fun and it will asol be fun because I love my granny so much it can be fun every day but I love staying heer and I like feeding the eels’… how could I replace a letter like that? My heart curled over at the thought of such a loss…

What else?  Oh … my collection of coffee cards. Each one stamped for every coffee I’d had, and nearly ready for a free coffee. The restaurant down by the river, the cafe in the garden where they make pottery, the lovely place where they also make hand-made chocolates, my stopping off place in town…

Zipping up my stiff upper lip I hurried back to the garden centre, and there was the red wallet, waiting for me at the office. (gardeners are good  people!) “It was my coffee cards I was worried about,” I explained when I picked it up, and everyone laughed because they knew how I felt.

I have travelled the length and breadth of one country, which shall remain nameless for fear of hurting millions of people’s feelings, looking for a decent cup of coffee. I finally found one in a far-flung cathedral crypt cafe.  I will drive for miles for the sake of that elusive perfect cup.

I know as soon as it’s put in front of me if it’s going to be a good one. The cream will be thick and won’t just dwindle into a thin froth when stirred. It will be smooth and not too creamy and not too strong. The most memorable coffee I’ve ever had was in an Italian restaurant in Melbourne.

Creating this ambrosia obviously came naturally to the maker… and in that search for the perfect cup, I’ve discovered that the maker actually matters. Yes, I know the machine has to be properly cleaned so the coffee doesn’t taste bitter, and the milk the right temperature, but there’s more to it than that. And the deciding factor in the quality of a cup of coffee for me, seems to be the person.

Everyone makes the coffee the same way on the same sort of machines I’m assured, but it doesn’t work out like that. Every barista is different and so is their coffee. A grumpy barista does not produce a good cup of coffee. A good cup of coffee is hand-crafted and a work of love, so I know if it’s going to be delicious by the quality of the barista’s smile. A nice person makes great coffee! They even do lovely patterns in the froth, like a Christmas tree at Christmas time, or a flower or smiley face at other times!

And what despair and thwarted desire when I arrive at a favourite coffee place to find a new member of staff, or the nice coffee person has taken off overseas, and we have to start all over again, with a learner driver as it were!  Or the tantalising times when the best coffee maker is busy cutting cake or sorting spoons, and not at her post, and I have to make do with a cup which I know won’t be as good as hers.  C’est la vie, but coffee is so much more than beans, milk and water!

And when the perfect coffee arrives, what sybaritic pleasure – the delicate sinking of the spoon into the froth, and a gentle stirring. Sometimes a fragrant teaspoon of coffee crystals for the sheer pleasure of stirring and dissolving them in the glorious liquid. And then a sip, and a contented settling into satisfaction as I slowly savour one of civilisation’s minor works of art.

Sadly the second cup never reaches the same level of pleasure as the first. And I’ve even read that scientific research has proved this to be true. No wonder it matters that that first cup is as good as it can get!

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

One of my favourite coffee places serves gingerbread with their coffee. I love it. To make it myself, I use two eggs, a cup of sugar, a cup of milk and a cup of golden syrup (the cup rinsed out with oil before measuring the syrup). Beat them together. Melt 225g butter. Mix two cups SR flour, two teasp or more of ground ginger, a teasp each of mixed spice and of cinnamon, and a teasp of baking soda into the egg mixture and then stir in the melted butter.

Pour into a loaf tin with the base lined with baking paper. Bake at 180 degrees for an hour. If you’re using a fan-bake oven test after 45 minutes. Let it cool in the tin for 30 minutes before turning out. You can ice it, but I like it cut into slices and spread with a little butter.

Food for Thought

“The artist’s task is to save the soul of mankind; and anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. If artists cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found.”
Terence McKenna  (1946 –  2000) was an American philosopher, ethnobotanist, lecturer, writer and author of several books.. He was also the creator of a mathematical theory of time based on patterns found in the I Ching which he termed novelty theory.[1]

 

 

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A Winding Path or the Dance of Life?

100_0221I’m an unashamed veteran of every whacky new age activity that has ever been available. Some of them are reputable, and some have a reputation for what is known as new age mush – a description which is usually wholly accurate!

The first steps along this eccentric path were taken at a little village fete just outside Stratford- on -Avon. I was detailed, as they say in the army, to look after the guests of honour, actor Sir John Mills and his daughter Juliet – I can’t remember why at this distance, and when I had done my duty I wandered off in my dark green uniform to the fortune- telling tent. The gypsy had a crystal ball, and I didn’t think she needed one to tell that I was in the army. But what she said was that my hands were the hands of a writer and I would spend my whole life writing. As a twenty- one year old lieutenant this was a surprise and seemed unlikely to me – like reaching for the moon.

The next significant step along the road less-travelled was when a friend told me that her stepmother could read tea-leaves! This seemed so really off the planet, that I really wanted to experience it, and it so happened that her stepmother was going to be changing planes at Heathrow, on the way from Bonn where her father was stationed,  to Ireland where their family home had been burned down by the IRA.

We met the stepmother, and rushed off to get cups of tea. But at places like air-ports you don’t have tea-pots. You have huge urns with made-up tea. We explained to the waitress that we really needed tea-leaves and she obligingly scraped the bottom of the urn and tipped a handful of leaves plus some tea into three cups for us. We had a very successful tea-leaf session, and as time went by I saw the various events she’d foretold, unfold.

At the Derby a couple of years later, my first husband mischievously asked an ancient gypsy crone who was going to win the Derby? She went into a trance and kept muttering mysteriously:“Where d’you come from, where d’you come from?” which we dismissed as gibberish. We came from Larkhill actually, and twenty minutes later an outsider, Larkspur, won the Derby.

Marriage, babies, career, all these kept me distracted from esoteric pursuits until the children had left home. And then I became involved in helping to set up a group who ran self-transformation courses ranging from a week to six months. I did every one. It took about seven years of my life. And along the way I began dabbling and experimenting with every other form of New Age activity that offered itself – and have done ever since.

They ranged in alphabetical order from acupuncture, aromatherapy and aura- soma to breath-work, body talk, body harmony and Bowen work. There was chiropractise, channelling, chakra cleansing, cranial osteopathy, flotation tanks and Feldenkrais.  There was holotropic breathing, homeopathy and hypnotherapy, kinesiology, massage, minimum movement, sitting in a pyramid to ease the pain of a chronic illness, psycho-therapy and breath-work to cure it, re-birthing, Reiki, Shiatsu, Tai chi…. I know this isn’t all…. I’m sure there’s more!  There was The Journey, The Enneagram, NSA,( Neuro Spinal Adjustment ) Spiritual Geometry, various Indian groups teaching breath and meditation, and yoga of course.

Then there were the courses with people like Zondra Ray and Jean Houston and Denise Linn,  lectures from Dipak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Stuart Wilde, the Dalai Lama. The books – beginning with Sir George Trevelyan’s ‘A Vision of the Aquarian Age’ and the New Age bible, Marilyn Fergusson’s  ‘ The Aquarian Conspiracy ‘, going on with  Barbara Anne Brennan and Caroline Myss,  Marianne Williamson and Jean Shinoda Bolen’s ‘The Goddesses in Everywoman’. There was ‘The Feminine Face of God’ and Eckhart Tolle and ‘Conversations with God’ and our philosopher and guide to the consciousness evolution, Ken Wilbur, among a host of others we read.

There were years with Self-transformation, years learning about herbs and nutrition, and others. There were Shiatsu courses, Reiki courses, re-incarnation courses, counselling courses; the cleanses and the retreats; meditation, Tibetan chanting, circle dancing – the thing I loved best of all – then there were diets, the Pritikin, the Zone, the Blood Type diet, the Sandra Cabot Liver Cleanse… we were suckers for them all. And the fun fringe, the palmistry, the crystals, the tarot cards, the angel cards, the I Ching – hmm, not so much fun – very severe and serious.

You’ll be surprised to learn that I haven’t done colonic irrigation, Rolfing, sweat lodges or vision quests. I’ve listened to various gurus including the startlingly beautiful Gurumayi.  But I never wanted a guru. So I gave Rajneesh and Sai Baba and Da Free John in his various guises a wide berth.

None of this came cheaply… In the thirty years since I began this career of New Age dissipation I’ve sold old silver, precious rugs, loved china to finance my expensive hobby… I’m an object of ridicule to some members of my family, though not to those closest to me,  I’m glad to say. They also dabble sometimes. Not my husband, who calls me, with some justification, a New Age Nutter.

The others wonder why on earth I do all this… surely one course is enough to discover the secret of life, sort out old personality quirks, learn who and what you are? Why would you want to meditate when you can take Mogadon? And why on earth would I want to buy vitamins and herbs when I could have Prozac and statins, blood pressure pills and flu injections for free! The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I have none of the health problems the others have, and when I had to have a medical this morning for a new driving license the doctor said I was amazing.

So apart from good health, what else did I get out of all this seeking and experimenting? Lots of good friends, on the same path, for one. I have several friends who’ve been on nearly every course with me for the last thirty years. These friendships go deep. And as we’ve let go lots of old tensions, energy blocks and limiting beliefs, life has become easier, more fulfilling. Troubles come, as they do to everyone on earth, but we see them now as flags waving to show us something we haven’t mastered yet. Like many when I first began, it was like rowing across a river, and looking back to the other side, realising there was no way back, no way to go back to thinking the way I had. That from now on, life would be different.

I sometimes think all these activities, books, fads, are like tourist souvenir booths at places like NASA. They keep us amused and busy. The courses are like a conducted tour of the space programme, showing us how things work.  But none of these things take us into space. They can show us what it’s like, but to explore space, we have to do it ourselves. And all the crystals and courses and mushy wallpaper music make outsiders assume that this is all the New Age is about. When really, it’s a rocket taking off to explore and experience the furthest reaches of consciousness. Going, in that old cliché, where no man has gone before – except the mystics. But travellers in these realms feel that this is the next big step for all mankind.

And there are now millions of people all over the world on this journey – ripe and ready – they only needed a nudge, unlike all our exploring. They are, in the words of Arjuna Ardagh, ‘No longer willing to separate spiritual experience from the fabric of our everyday existence. Our most mundane circumstances are the very context in which realisation lives and breathes. An unattended life segregates realisation into a small box called “spirituality.” A well- attended life can make a trip to the grocery store a sacred pilgrimage.’

So did we need to do all that stuff?  Maybe not, but we enjoyed it, learned to love the present, and love creation and all that is, had many moments of insight and bliss, discovered a lot about ourselves and others, and became happier, more relaxed parents, partners and people. If life is a dance, that was our dance. And the more I experience the cosmos, the more I realise it is all a dance, a dance of galaxies and grains of sand, a dance of asteroids and atoms, a dance of energy and ecstasy, a dance of light and love, a dance of you and me.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Family coming for lunch in this freezing weather, so a good hot pudding seems to be called for… blackberry and apple crumble. I’ll be using a tin of boysenberries or fresh frozen if I have any in the deep freeze, with stewed apple, gently mixed together. The crumble is rich – eight ounces of flour, two of ground almonds, six ounces of brown sugar and four of butter. Rub the butter into the flour, add the sugar and almonds, and at this stage I often add the grated rind of a lemon. This mixture keeps in the fridge for a couple of days until I want to use it. Put the fruit in an ovenproof dish, cover with the crumble and bake in a hot oven for forty minutes. Serve with cream or crème fraiche.

( Boysenberries are a cross between a raspberry, a blackberry and a loganberry. They were first bred in California by a man called Mr Boysen..)

Food for Thought

Will the old dinosaur minds draw us all into their conflicts, destroying life as we know it in the process, or will the emerging translucent view midwife us into another way of loving? In the translucent vision of the world there is no other, no enemy. It is a political view that encompasses the well-being of all sentient beings, not just of one group or another. Either we all win or we all lose.

Arjuna Ardagh  – teacher  and writer of ‘The Translucent Revolution,’ a book which has become the equivalent of Marilyn Fergusson’s ‘The Aquarian Conspiracy’ for the 21 century.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cricketers, bridge-players and great white hunters

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These I have loved, to quote Rupert Brooke. I think I’m a serial monogamist – but didn’t dare put that in the title and invite a torrent of prurient spam into the file! Neither did I dare put ‘men’ in the title – that would have meant more Viagra ads.

I started young and can date the first love of my life back to age nine. Stuck in a London flat with two new parents, waiting to move north, bored with playing in the park and endless games of ludo, these two strange adults took us to the cinema one afternoon. ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ no less. My heart did a tumble – Leslie Howard alias Sir Percy Blakeney, standing, quizzing glass raised in one hand, one long leg in pantaloons and buckled shoe resting on a chair, lace cravat tumbling from his neck, and laughingly baiting his pursuers with his little ditty: “ They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell, that damned elusive Pimpernel?” Oh, his gaiety, his nonchalance, his recklessness…

My heart was his. I sought out Baroness Orxy’s Scarlet Pimpernel books and they sustained me for some years, until the glowing image dissolved when I found ‘Jane Eyre’. Mr Rochester!  He truly enslaved me. I read the book over and over, memorising every scene in which my (rather doubtful) hero figured. I found him terrifying and mesmerising. I used to terrify my dormitory at school too, sitting on the end of the bed in the dark, reciting the latest instalment of Charlotte Bronte’s homage to plain women and masterful men.

Mr Rochester’s black beauty faded on board ship to Malaya, when I discovered that Cupid really could throw darts. I was fourteen the night we boarded at Southampton, and my father suggested that he and I take a stroll around the decks to watch the bustle of embarkation. As we passed an open window where a posse of young naval officers were making merry, one of them glanced out of the window. A pair of deep blue eyes looked straight into mine, and for the rest of the five week voyage I thought of nothing else. I craned to see the possessor of these magnetic blue eyes whenever we were all in the dining room, and pined between meals.

I rejoiced when we were delayed in the Suez Canal for a few extra days after a crashed oil tanker blocked our passage. I glowed when I found him playing tennis at Mount Lavinia in Columbo while we had afternoon tea. I never spoke to him. I cried for days when we landed in Singapore and he sailed on to Hong Kong, immaculate and oblivious in his white tropical uniform. I think my parents must have gone mad with irritation, never knowing when I was going to dissolve into what they probably thought were hormonal tears. My secret was locked in my non-existent bosom. I never even knew his name.

Then along came ‘Gone with the Wind. My father, knowing nothing of my amorous past, assumed I would come home crazy about Clark Gable, and decided to put a spoke in Mr Gables ‘s wheels before I left, by telling me to watch how his ears waggled when he spoke ( they did!) This malicious dart fell harmlessly by the way. There was my new/old love, Ashley Wilkes, with his brooding blue eyes, his noble brow, his elegance and his honour! I watched ‘Gone With The Wind eleven times before I was over Leslie Howard. My father was disgusted that I would love such a wet!

But time has revealed that not only was he a talented stage actor, playwright and producer, but also a patriotic man who left comfortable Hollywood to return to war-time England, and who died when the Luftwaffe shot down his plane on a flight outside the war zone. He was reputed to have been on an intelligence mission. He also had a reputation for womanising (who doesn’t?). He himself said he: “didn’t chase women… but couldn’t always be bothered to run away”.

By the time I’d worked through the eleven viewings of ‘Gone With The Wind’ in various parts of the world, some years had passed, and I then became pre-occupied with flesh and blood. But come re-marriage, contentment and a deeper appreciation of the beauty of men, I became a serial lover again.

My first new love was the noted Pakistani cricketer, Sarfraz Nawaz, who discovered ‘reverse swing’, and taught it to Imran Khan and other Pakistani cricketing greats. But I loved Sarfraz before he achieved greatness ( you could almost say I discovered him!) and having seen him by chance on TV while my new husband was watching a test match, I demanded to be taken to the cricket to see him live.

This was the early to mid-seventies when great – or rather infamous events were a-foot in Washington, and a tall gentleman with a twinkle in his eye shot to fame, as they say. Archibald Cox. Some may remember him. I loved him for his rumpled suits, fine intelligence and un-assailable integrity. My exasperated husband triumphantly waved a wire photo he’d found in the office, hoping to break his spell. But I thought Archibald Cox lolling in his  chair with his long legs propped on his desk, and the leather soles of his shoes facing the camera – sporting two large holes – was irresistible.

If I had loathed Nixon before, my hatred knew no bounds when he famously sacked my man, and I never saw him again. So that left me with Andrew Young, (another groan from husband) Ambassador to the UN. I looked at a recent photo of this interesting man, and it just didn’t do justice to his youthful fire and fierce good looks. But even he couldn’t compete with that spectacular entrance of Omar Sharif emerging from the desert on his camel, jingling and shimmering and enigmatic in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

When he re-appeared as Dr Zhivago that was it! My husband was as usual, chagrined, and assured me that all this gorgeous man ever did was to play bridge… he was brilliant apparently  and wrote books and newspaper columns about a subject that is a closed book to me.

This was disappointing, so for a few years I transferred my affections to Robert Redford as the handsome, eccentric and very decent great white hunter Denis Finch Hatton in ‘Out of Africa’… he had a lot in common with Sir Percy Blakeney and Ashley Wilkes.

But like all my other loves, Robert Redford is aging, and is not the glorious young man he once was. So in my twilight years, my loves have been fewer, and indeed, I thought my love life was over, until we went on a cruise a few years ago. Reader – to quote Charlotte Bronte – I, like every the woman on our dining table, fell hopelessly in love with our handsome young Indian waiter.

All the husbands ground their teeth, knowing they couldn’t compete with this charming clever and exquisite young man. He dispensed sour green apples to a woman he’d noticed hovering on the edge of sea- sickness, cherished an autistic teenage girl, attended to each of us as though we were each the only woman in his life, and in my eyes, at least, achieved perfection when I discovered that he was deeply spiritual. He was a devout Hindu, a vegetarian and a man who saw all religions as having the same value. In other words – a good man.

Well, he sailed away of course, and I now face the unpalatable truth that men my own age are not figures of romance. But I don’t want to become a cougar … a term I’m told which describes older women who pursue younger men. So I will just have to fall back on the sweet memories of my youth… though you never know… they say the party isn’t over till the fat lady sings…  I mean the slightly over-weight lady… oh – that could be me!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The most useful thing I learned when I was in the army was how to keep peeled potatoes fresh. Sitting in the cook house at night as a recruit peeling hundred of potatoes for all the hundreds of women the next day, I had to put a knob of clean coal in the water to keep the potatoes fresh and the water clear. The tragedy of my life is that I haven’t seen coal for years, so can’t use this pearl of wisdom myself…

Food for Thought

While we wonder what will happen next in North Korea, I found this, written nearly two hundred years ago, and it seems that nothing has changed since then.  “What experience and history teach us is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. 1779 – 1831 Influential German philosopher.

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A Soldier’s Life is Terrible Hard -Part 11

By popular demand, another instalment of a soldier’s life!!

After my somewhat chequered career as a recruit I set off for officer cadet school with the rest of my intake – all eleven of us who had surfaced from the forty other applicants.

I learned later that it was no coincidence that the Colonel happened to come past the transport as we left, looking keenly at me! Oblivious to the impact I had had on various unfortunates at the depot, I discovered that officer cadet school was just like going back to boarding school, only better – I got paid!. As the youngest, and just out of school, I probably found it easier than the rest who had enjoyed their freedom. But to me, regular study periods, meals in the dining room, putting on uniform every day, was just more of the same.

Cadet school was set in a camp left behind by the Canadians after D –Day. Our nearest neighbours were the TB patients in the next door sanatorium. No potential there for hobnobbing with the opposite sex. The camp was surrounded by silver birch woods, which stretched for miles to the nearest village, and on still June nights I would wake to hear nightingales singing in the moonlight.

The only difference to boarding school was the hours spent on the huge parade square being drilled by a tiny sergeant major, less than five feet tall, whose mighty voice echoed not just around the parade square but on and beyond to the main Portsmouth road. As the eleven of us wheeled and drilled, and right formed, and fell into line, came to a halt, and about turned, a line of lorry drivers would pull up on the side of the road to watch us for their amusement, while they ate their sandwiches.

Thus it felt all the more humiliating, when dreaming about the un-read pages of the timid love letter stuffed hastily into my battledress top to read in our break, that I missed a step, failed to hear the word of command and carried on marching in the opposite direction when the rest had about turned. Love letters – or what passed for them – were a fairly scarce commodity at cadet school, as we might as well have been in a nunnery, we saw so few men or even boys.

The highlights of each term were the invitations to the house of an elderly couple who invited batches of Sandhurst cadets and us girls to hear talks on Moral Re-Armament. Their house just missed being stately, their servants were helpful, their food was heavenly, the worthy talks were utterly boring to frivolous young women, but the chaps might be interesting, we hoped. They never were, but hope always sprang eternal.

Apart from the daily morning parades, and the hours spent perfecting our drill and learning to shout commands that one day would be directed at our platoons as we took them on parade, we spent a great deal of time in lectures on arcane subjects like pay scales, army regulations, map-reading and leadership.

No rifle drill for us, but instead lectures from a series of university lecturers on constitutional history, current affairs, scientific trends and something called Clear Thinking, which involved logic, and fallacies and syllogisms – all considered necessary for a well-educated officer back in 1957!

Constitutional history was taught by the scion of a famous German intellectual family who’d escaped Hitler before the war, but the name of this gentleman was so long that generations of philistine and irreverent cadets just called him ‘Footy’, which he pretended not to know. He also pretended not to know that we never listened to a word he told us about constitutional history and the balance of power between the Commons and the House of Lords, but sat instead endlessly practising our signatures, or planning what to wear on our next trip to London.

Scientific Trends was taught by another mid-European lecturer, only unlike Footy who’d grown up in England, this very gentle man had a very thick accent and a deadly monotone. He showed films to illustrate the scientific trends, and as his lectures were conducted in the cadet sitting room, where there was a film screen, we just curled up in an arm chair in the dark with a bar of chocolate, and usually dozed off.

The rest of the syllabus was devoted to giving us an understanding of life, and the background many of our future charges came from, so we visited a Lyons Swiss roll factory to see what life on a conveyor belt was like, attended a Petty Sessions where we saw sad souls parade before the magistrates, and I felt like a voyeur, and worst of all, went to the Old Bailey. The day we were there we watched a murderer condemned to death, after a crime passionel. His voice after sentence had been passed was like the rustling of dry leaves.

The most challenging part of officer training was the two days I spent in the cook house, discovering how hard life really was. My worst crime was to leave the potatoes so long in the potato peeling machine that they came out the size of marshmallows. The kindly cooks who actually had to deal with this catastrophe, covered up for me, and my copybook was not as blotted as it might have been.

A handful of lectures on strategy and army organisation at Sandhurst were memorable for the lunch breaks when we mingled with the Sandhurst cadets. My most lasting memory is going for a punt on the lake, and it sinking, and my partner in this exploit – John Blashford-Snell, who has since become a famous explorer who did the first descent of the Blue Nile, explored the whole Congo River, and the Amazon, shooting many rapids unscathed – had to wade ignominiously back to shore, towing me sitting on the end of the leaky vessel.

The one thing I did master while at cadet school were the steps to the Charleston, then back in fashion. I perfected the knock knees, pigeon toes and tight sideways kick by holding onto the back of my chair in the lecture room as we waited for the next lecturer to arrive. I practised my dancing until I was foot perfect, and by the time we Passed- Out was acknowledged as top of the class by my peers in this  useful social accomplishment.

At the end of this gruelling training, interspersed with dances, parties and uniformed guest nights – when we practised the solemn ritual of Passing the Port – you Never lift the decanter from the table and only slide it in the coaster from right to left so it goes around in a circle, using Only the right hand – five of us emerged as second lieutenants. And now reality hit us.

Second lieutenants, we discovered, were despised by all, except new recruits. Everyone knew we hadn’t the faintest idea of what we had to do, from the regimental sergeant major down to the newest corporal. We were saluted, and called ma’am, but we knew that behind this ritual was the thinly concealed contempt of ‘old hands’.  Wet behind the ears, my father would have called us.

Many of the old hands had been through the war, like my motherly platoon sergeant who told me they knew D-Day must be in the offing, when they had to give up all the sheets from their beds, so that the huge new detachments of American soldiers  arriving nearby could have the sheets on their beds! And in the end, it was my platoon sergeant and the company sergeant major who taught me what I needed to know. Which seemed to be mostly to do what they told me!

Their commands varied from: “Here’s the pay books to sign, ma’am”, to: “Time to inspect the recruits, ma’am”, to: “Time to have your tea ma’am”. My requests varied from: “What shall I do now, Sergeant Major?” to: “D’you know where Private Smith is ?  She hasn’t made the tea yet.” A soldier’s life is terrible hard…

And as I re-assured my second, and non-military husband who feared that I was the Commanding Officer of our new establishment, he didn’t have to worry – the CO Thinks he runs the place – but it’s the regimental sergeant major who always does. He was very satisfied to be the regimental sergeant major.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

‘Sumer is a-cumen in’ slowly, while the asparagus is a-cumen in quite fast. I love it as a meal in itself. Melted butter of course, is the classic accompaniment to it, but I also love this delicate and delicious Japanese style sauce.

You need one teasp of dried mustard, one teasp of hot water, one egg yolk, one tblesp of dark soy sauce, a teasp of finely chopped fresh ginger (you could use dried) and a quarter of a teasp of salt. Mix the mustard and hot water to a thick paste, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Arrange the blanched asparagus on a platter and pour the sauce over. Serve within three hours. I like it lukewarm.

Food for Thought

There is so much in the world for us all if we only have eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it to ourselves.

Lucy Maud Montgomery 1874 – 1942   Canadian writer whose evergreen Anne of Green Gables series of books have enchanted generations of children since they were first published in 1908`

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