Life Un-Looked For

Serendipitous:

“occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way”

Synonyms – chance; accident; more lucky; fortuitous; unexpected;

unanticipated; unforseen; un-looked for; coincidental.

I recently had an encounter on an airplane which the other person later referred to as serendipity. More about that in a moment. For now, let’s lose ourselves in the idea of serendipity. The word itself is fun to say. Try it. Serendipity. There is something enjoyable about the way the end of the word – dipity- clicks together, just like there is something enjoyable about serendipitous moments.

The meaning of the word developed within a Persian fairy tale: The Three Princes of Serendip. Serendip is the ancient Persian name for Ceylon – modern day Sri Lanka. The three princes were brothers, wise heroes who “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”.

Serendipity therefore involves two components for discovery – “accident” and “sagacity”.

Accident refers to the unplanned, the chance, the external elements, the parts we can’t control, life un-looked for.

Sagacity refers to the sage within us, the deep insight, wisdom, astuteness, the internal elements, our engagement with the moment which adds depth to an event otherwise insignificant.

So, is there serendipity in your life? Accidents and Sagacity? Was my encounter with a stranger on a plane journey serendipitous?

Due to factors out of both of our control, such as randomly allocated seat numbers, other strangers wanting to swap seats and even me making a last minute change of a flight, I ended up being sat with the same person on two separate flights. We kept pretty good company, laughing and tangentially talking our way through the flights. To borrow a term from Fight Club, my ‘single-serving’ plane seat neighbour quickly became a friendly confidante, someone to get to know. It met the definition for serendipitous: “discovered by chance” and “happy” and “beneficial”. It was indeed a fortuitous chance encounter; life un-looked for.

Or, was it actually life being looked-for? Perhaps we were both looking for a chatty travel partner that day, so were astute to the opportunity when ‘chance’ presented itself. Accidents and chance encounters could easily pass us by, and remain simple random acts of coincidence until we engage with them sagaciously; staying astute to the moment and see it for what it may be – serendipity.

To notice these moments we must have space in our lives. Space to notice, time to engage, and indeed space for fate to enter. My previous twelves months have involved very little time for chance, instead involving over-planning, a demanding scheduling, coordinated multiple Outlook calendars, too-tight deadlines, pedantic word counts, early nights, intense structure, order, just holding it together, spontaneity smothered. Is this sounding familiar to you?

So, 2019 – time to create space, play more, plan less, spontaneous more, open up and allow accidents and sagaciousness in; let’s follow in the footsteps of the Princes of Serendip.

Time for life un-looked for.

unfamiliar textures

Unfamiliar textures

Underfoot and disappearing

Fingers dig deeper;

Holding hope in

Unfamiliar textures

A friend and I climb a travelator to a rooftop lookout, exploring and encouraged by views of snow-capped mountain peaks, familiar peaks, their beauty always eases me and awes me.

I run towards the lookout, along a thin ledge I’ve walked so many times before. I used to know this ground. Half way there I look down. The sandy, snowy ledge has dropped away ahead of me. I cant go forward. I swivel. The sandy snowy ledge has dropped away behind me. I cant go backwards.

A chunk of the wall I lean into falls away; I look down to watch it plummet.

Don’t look down

Look up

Look up

My arms have never been my strongest asset. I’ve relied on my legs to stand me up, not my arms to pull me. Now the ledge and the wall I cling to make their texture known – firm, but yet it’s sand; crumbling: impermanence surrounds me.

I look up

My fingers find ledges which all need testing, a small curve on an overhang above me seems to block me from the flat mountain top, keeping me from solid ground. I can see that is where I need to be, above me, if I can lurch my entire body up and over the overhang.

I will need to rely on my arms

I will have one chance at it

I will need to not look down

Crumbling sand will need to hold me

These unfamiliar textures. Distrust sits in my stomach. Safety is so close. I don’t have long to think. More sand falls to the sea. Up and over is the only option. Others are busy, distracted. I have only me.

My biceps must propel me; upwards; against gravity

I’m paralysed

I take a breath

I must trust in me

Up and over

Where Are You Really From?

dinnington 4

“Are you trying to find yourself?” said the Somewhat Distinguished Englishman sipping his pint at the other end of the bar.

I put my empty cider glass down and tap my finger on the piece of paper on the bar mat, directing his gaze towards it.

“No, I am trying to find anything connected to these people.”

The Friendly Barmaid re-joins us, “she is tracing her family tree. Do you know the Bennetts?”

To my surprise Somewhat Distinguished starts to nod slowly… “yeah, horse traders I think”.

The barmaid and I exchange glances, raising our eyebrows. Somewhat Distinguished has just confirmed what was said to me by one of the other village residents mere moments before I went into the pub. There is only 65 residents in this hamlet, and I’m very quickly meeting them.

Wandering down the main street (lane) I had come across a 92 year old man wearing a high vis shirt and stuck in some brambles. I stopped to help him pull the thorny branches off the calf of his trousers, then mentioned my search for the Bennett family. High Vis Mike said that my ancestors from nearly 200 years ago had remained living in this area and were well known horse traders, transporting horses from Wales to this tiny village in Somerset, England – Dinnington. They would break in the horses then sell them for a tidy sum. He pointed to a house ahead of us, saying they had previously lived there, and gossipingly told me the current occupier is a drunk, so “be careful”. I could barely believe it! I had stopped in the village with a few names, dates of birth and a date of marriage. Now I was standing here looking at my ancestors’ family home, every crumbling gorgeous stone of it!

High Vis Mike then complained about the increase in traffic in the village, saying “you used to be able to walk the cows down here no problem” and wished me well, before going back to trawling through the bushes along the side of the country lane. I left him to it and wandered into the pub.

The Friendly Barmaid had listened attentively as I relayed my story of family and meeting High Vis Mike. She tells me that High Vis Mike owns half of the land the town sits on, and probably owns the house he said the Bennetts had lived in. Well, there you go! High Vis Mike kept that quiet.

So, after mentioning that the Bennetts were horse traders, Somewhat Distinguished Englishman pondered some more, adding that recently two men in the pub were talking about the old Bennett family. He then added:

“Yeah, the Bennetts lived in my house apparently, long before I brought it.”

Oh! Somewhat Distinguished is High Vis Mike’s accused drunk neighbour. Of course. The current town gossip starts drawing me in as much as the search for long lost family. I venture on, with:

“Oh, was one of the men talking about the Bennetts named Mike by any chance?”

Somewhat Distinguished remains quiet. Almost as quiet at Introvert Beer Drinker sitting beside him.

“Oh no, Mike doesn’t come in here”, contribution from Friendly Barmaid.

“Oh, right.”

I break the silence by returning the conversation to the Bennetts,”so, wow, you are possibly living in my ancestors house!”

My raised eyebrows and excitement isn’t really mirrored by Somewhat Distinguished. I’d like him to invite me into his house, to sit in the living room and connect with the two hundred year old energy of my kin. I sense that kind of offer won’t be forthcoming. It’s probably for the best, me being a single traveller this weekend and not knowing a thing about Somewhat Distinguished.

Other people trickle into the bar and I return my attention to my surroundings, the Dinnington Docks pub, 350 years old, serving up local and international beers, cider of course, and good pub grub. As Friendly Barmaid had said, my ancestors would have drunk in this pub. I look down at the barstool, knowing it can’t tell me much past twenty years ago. I look up at the wooden beams along the ceiling, wonder about the centuries of secrets they hold in their grain…Bennett secrets? I do like to daydream.

Friendly Barmaid and Introvert Beer Drinker had suggested visiting the local church for family information. A good idea. I’m tempted to stay for more cider and see what further stories unfold. However it feels like we’ve reached the end of the Dinnington Docks chapter for now. I’m sure there is more to know of the local relationships with High Vis Mike, but I head to the church.

The headstones in the church yard are too old to read, mottled stone of wind-worn letters and dates of birth erased. The church doors are locked yet I wander through the grounds. It sparks my romantic side, imagining Edward Bennett and Anna Pitcher being bonded within the strong stone walls, amongst the soft greens of the surrounding hills on 22nd January 1857. Anna had lived in nearby Seavington St Marys, a few miles away. I choose to believe that their romance required long walks along country lanes for late night rendezvous, rather than being a family-land-business-female-ownership transaction. Like I said, I do like to daydream. I even imagined marrying there. It felt like my church somehow, familiar.

The sun was starting to dip behind the hills. Maybe I’ll come back to Dinnington Docks for the Sunday Roast, see if I can “find myself” with a scampi and chips.

 

dinnington 2

Movement

sloth

I’m not clear what to write about. The fragmentation is real.

To not know what to write about is a tragedy for a writer, really.

 

So, I tell myself: Just write. Just keep walking. Just move. Just write.

 

Write about the year gone or the possible year ahead.

Write about the contradictions.

Write about the sudden urge to return home;

and the confusion which comes along with that.

Write about missing those afar;

and connecting with those you love nearby.

Write about all the weddings of the year:

and all the love and faith

Write about being cut open, cut out, sofa-bound and drug-induced.

Write about the care of a friend who cleaned every fork in sight for days.

Write about the heart-hope;

and the hopelessness.

Write about loss.

Write about clear blue seas;

and Greek cheese

Write about celebrations and making it to 40!

Write about eating watermelon on deckchairs with sand between your toes

Write about sunshine;

and tossing footballs in the sea

Write about snack beers and rude cocktail names.

Write about returning home;

and leaving again.

Write about the people you wish you could take with you.

Write about having two homes

Write about knowing where you need to be;

and feeling fragmented anyway.

Write about knowing;

and not knowing.

Write about all those books you’ll never read

Write about the ones you did.

Write about your friends who lost loved ones this year.

Write about your friends who bravely face dementia;

and creating new memories together anyway

Write about friends.

Write about puppy sitting

and paddle boarding

and entrepreneuring

and shamanism

and hot tubs

Write about badminton

and pickled eggs

and fermented foods

and limoncello

Oh, and definitely write about the whiskey!

Write about your friends afar:

exploring, moving houses, raising kids

Write about hugs

and dancing:

Yes, really, write about dancing;

especially the robot dance

Write about songs sent between friends late at night to sooth the soul

Write about the soul;

and all its twisting and turning and reaching and stillness

Really, write about stillness;

and movement

Write about walking

Yes, write about walking: and where it may well lead

Write about 2018 being the Year of Walking.

Write about your friend’s shoes left in a bag on your living room floor

Write about shoes

Write about those walking boots left in a loft bedroom above the kitchen with the aga in the farmhouse all those years ago;

Write about believing you’d return to them

Write about moving on;

and then circling back on yourself: a grief repeated

Write about counselling

Go on, I dare you: write about counselling

Write about family

Write about the patterns which we learn to live by.

Write about brothers and mothers and fathers: while you wonder what they’re up to today.

Write about buying those expensive pyjamas from Fat Face just because they have sloths on them and your brother used to call you Sloth.

Write about siblings.

Oh yes and definitely write about all the cousins!

Write about those handwritten letters from that aunt who you need to reply to

Write about Autumn.

Really, its all about autumn.

Write about that favourite tree, that one in the centre of that large roundabout on the A36

Write about roundabouts;

and why there are so many in England

Write about England

Write about saying hi to strangers because you live in a small town

Write about the cobbler who fixes your shoes for free

Don’t however write about Brexit

or Russia

or Trump

or North Korea

Write about the alternatives to such

Write about creating change

Write about Choose Love

Write about your urge to do more:

and wasting time on Facebook

Write about the end of the day when your head hits the pillow and you hope you’ve done a job good enough.

Write about pillows; how good are they?!

Write about if you use the word duvet or doona

Write about how it doesn’t really matter:

and then write about how it does

Write about cultural differences

Write about being more polite

Write about tangents

 

Basically write about anything

Just Write.

 

Just Write

and walk

and dance

and sing

and poet

 

Just keep moving

Love and Horror in the Office

sky

(Trigger warning: contains child-abuse)

Jaws drop, heads lower, expletives bounce off the personality-free walls of the Local Authority office. Not a single Social Worker in the room can believe what they are hearing, and behind the curse words are distressed hearts. You see, trauma travels between and within us.

It’s 4pm on a Thursday and two Duty Social Workers are in the midst of a search for a foster carer for an eight year old girl who needs to come into care that same day. A Safeguarding Manager across the aisle is on her mobile to the Safeguarding Social Worker out at the girl’s house. Other workers at rows of desks carry on their phone calls or writing reports. It could just been seen as a ‘typical day in the office’.

The dropping jaws and pierced hearts are in response to overhearing the Manager’s conversation, a one-sided debate which implies that the police want to take a different legal route to get this girl into foster care, one other than immediate removal.

The lowered heads are silent statements of “what more evidence do they need?!” The referral was harrowing, inhumane, heart-breaking. An eight year old girl locked in her bedroom, made to toilet in a litter tray, forced to scrub it clean, every door inside her house locked and alarmed, light-globes removed, punishments of endurance. Dark, horrific prison; a faeces smelling bedroom and urine stained little girl, quiet yet articulate, with too-thin legs. This: her family home, her only experience of what life is.

Every worker in the room had felt their skin crawl, their stomach churn, and there was multiple responses of “I’ll take her home”, the urge to wrap her up in a comforter on a safe sofa immediate around the office.

And yet, questions by the police as to whether to issue emergency protection orders the same day?! They have their legal logic. Still. Jaws dropped, expletives bounced.

The Duty Social Workers continue their phone calls to carers to see who could take her in tonight. Their day had already included placing two babies, and a so-far fruitless search for another eight year old who needed to move placements. The list of twenty or so other children in need of care, but not so urgent, sits untouched. The babies were safely en route to their temporary homes, and the focus shifts to the search for the girl. The Manager is heard supporting the field Social Worker to challenge police view, with clear questions of whether back up is needed in the field, are the family looking like they will “kick off”? The office inhales and holds its breath.

The Duty Social Workers simultaneously listen to the Manager’s conversation so they stay updated, while needing to block out conversations so they can focus on finding a safe bed. Emotional and strategic multi-tasking at its best. They begin the child-carer matching-tetris game…considering carer experience, location, other children in the house and their needs. They attempt to unwrap practical barriers and pull out their best negotiating voices. Another worker begins an out-of-county search as Plan B. Nobody wants this girl to move too far around the country, but available carers are thin on the ground.

The Placements Manager is asking for updates every half hour, as he will need to give approval to fund an independent fostering placement if no Local Authority carers can take her. One of the Duty Social Workers feels the heat of her other cases breathing heavily down the back of her neck, solicitor emails with updated court deadlines fly into her email inbox and she turns off her email notifications to lighten her own breath.

The office chocolate tin is quickly emptying.

If you walked into that office, all you would see is ordinarily-looking adults sat at computers, typing away or on the phone, the occasional blue or bright pink hair in the sea of auburn, brown and blonde. If you could mute the room like a television you could be fooled into thinking that these folk were pen-pushing, paper-shuffling, risk-avoidant, pension-waiting, Local Authority clock-watchers, abundant cogs in a paper-chain of red tape.

But they are far from that.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, if you lift the volume, these people are agents of love in a world of horror; people who face others’ pain daily and come back for more, their motivation strengthened by the simple fact that they may be able to do something to help girls like that, anything at all. Like, by working with the police to remove the girl to a safe place, or by calling every possible foster carer until a warm safe home is found.

This time, the Duty Social Workers get lucky, the third local foster carer called can take her, at least for a week while a longer term option is found, and extended family members considered. The police issue the emergency order, and the girl is driven to a foster carer’s house later that evening. She is somewhere tonight where they will offer her a night light if she wants it, clean sheets as a basic, and the chance at recovery.

The office exhales, and heads lower this time in relief.

This little girl is somewhere safe tonight.

Your Happy Place

flowers

“Take a deep breath and go to your happy place” he said in a voice with more gruffness than the words suggest, while placing an oxygen mask over my nose and mouth. My darting eyes caught sight of the thick black tattoo along his inner forearm, and as I attempted to focus on the lines of the tattoo to make out the meaning, my inner mind’s eye tried to focus on my future happy place of the Greek Islands…. azure sea dreams floated by. The anaesthetic must have kicked in, as the azure mixed with the tattoo and then my happy place morphed into oblivion.

Gone.

Outer world gone.

Inner world gone.

Pains gone.

Not nirvana.

Not anything.

…..

I wouldn’t call it ‘waking’, coming out of anaesthetic. It’s more like…’remaining’ yet with your eyes slowly opening. Then closing. Then opening. The white ceiling blurs, the oblivion sits within you still, body thick and motionless. You know you are awake, while images do not make complete sense and the people are all the same yet different. This feels far from my happy place. Yet also, feels like nothing.

‘Waking’ to the sight of the tattooed anaesthetist in a white formal dinner suit significantly added to my disorientation; dapper. What has happened in the last few hours? I glance down to see if my outfit has changed so dramatically, am slightly surprised to see no ball gown. I respond positively when he asks me if I feel ok before he exits swiftly. I had been last on their ‘standard procedure’ list this evening, and he clearly has some place to be.

My eyes drop and lift repeatedly, heavy. Words from the nurses float about me, gossip of Yeovil and their thoughts of the anaesthetist’s wardrobe change. They confirm during a handover that my procedure went according to plan, ‘textbook’.

Relief amongst disorientation.

Wherever I am now, I’m better.

Fears of irreparable insides subside.

The familiar face of Katie, my prep and recovery nurse, smiles down at me, enquires how I am. I manage a warbling “good” and a grateful “no” when she asks about feeling nauseous. “I can’t see the outline of anything”, I manage. She re-assures, “that’s just the anaesthetic, it will pass”.

Her reassurance has been unwavering since I met her six hours earlier. The word trust floats through my mucky mind, behind closed eyes, along with words like droopy, drugs, dapper and ….blah. Perhaps its the drugs influence, yet I start to feel strong feelings of universal love for reassuring nurse Katie, twinned with a fuzzy insight that its probably a good thing my mouth is compromised and cannot instigate words, saving me from embarrassing confessions of inappropriate love.

Take a breath and go to your happy place…

Is my happy place a sun-drenched Mediterranean island where skies are clearly defined and love is freely confessed? A place where reassurance is a constant kindness and the egg and cress sandwiches are organic and cut into small triangles, made with care by another?

Some time later the sweetest of sweet student nurses, Isaac, gently removes the final drip line from my hand and confirms the discharge plan. He wisely advises me to accept the kindness of others. I exhale, handing my recovery-drug-filled bag to my ever-kind-patient-pal-Roz, her hand out-stretched to carry whatever needs carrying. We leave this mixed up happy place, and head towards my happier place, home. The Greek islands are not too far away.

Take a breath, and go to your happy place. It could be anywhere…

Devotion

Nan

I am her kin and her descendent, her daughter’s daughter and no less.

She followed him to the grave, she did. Six weeks gone, she knew he’d be pacing the heavens, his transparent fingers pining for her, still living. I wonder if he tried to hold her hand while she lay in that bed, impatient to keep the love story going on the other side, frustrated in death that his hand held no power, plummeting straight through her. He must have roamed those corridors all forty two days, devoted and unseen.

Yet, she was always going to go in her own time, in her own way, choose her own last breath. She was in no hurry; she knew he’d still be there, pacing, loving; an impatient love he had, her’s so measured. His devotion fed her calmness, created it perhaps. She took her time to say goodbyes, such grace, such slender gentle hands which never lost the kindness or the colour, right up til final breath.

I am her kin and her descendent, her daughter’s daughter and no less. Though, some days I lose my grace, some days my tenderness. Some days I wander hallways and feel impatient and unseen. I understand his pacing, his insecurity, his loss; understand his grasping for you, craving for the calm you breathe. He couldn’t bear to lose you, so he gnashed his false teeth silently and held on tight to air; he waited faithfully.

I am her kin and her descendant, her daughter’s daughter and no less. Whether by design or divinity, its definitely not sheer luck. My slender hands are a given, are with me everywhere. The remainder I keep on seeking – the kindness and the grace, the calm and the devotion, and all the tenderness. My colour shifts with every mood, by subtle measurements. Yet I will let my body curve into another, allow love lines to form, leaning back to back or spooning, holding hands while we are living, devotion til my final breath.

I am her kin and her descendant, her daughter’s daughter and no less.

2016 took many…

wales.png

2016 took many.

 

What if I die here tonight.

On this sofa, curled up warm, fire on, Wales guidebook on the table, next to an unanswered handwritten letter, one mug, one plate, one mince pie gone from inside torn up Christmas paper. Shoes scattered, luggage ignored, phone with pending messages laying where it fell.

 

What if I die here tonight.

To be found in two days time, cold despite the room hot from electric flames, mince pies tasting of osmosis decay, letter still unanswered, Wales still unexplored, a phone with distress inside, new messages now unanswered.

 

What if I die here tonight.

What would I leave behind and what would i never get to do?

 

I’d never get to love more. And well, that would be the biggest shame of it all.

 

So…I’m not going to die tonight…well, I’m not you know…and neither are you. It’s just not our time yet. {Touches wood and hurls hope and gratitude towards the heavens} So, more love it is! More passion too! Let’s answer the handwritten letters, call and visit those friends and family and that divine lover, eat all the mince pies, drink from all the mugs and keep loving as much and as more as we possibly can.

 

Yes, 2016 sadly took many. Yet it did not take me, and it most certainly did not take you!

 

Happy New Year – 2017 Year of Passion xx

Crumbling Sintra

“I am as ornate as I am strong” – say all the doors and door handles and walls; twelfth century paint peeling off fraught wrought iron lion door knockers.

Mmmmmm this place is so lush and beautiful.

Can you see the art of it?

Doors crumble while tourist buses rumble on.

With warm crisp summer mountain air every dislodged footfall has history which we dream through. The cacophonic tourists are tossed around by tourismo-machismo men, launched into tiny tuktuks, climbing up steep hills to magnificent monasteries, adding to the art of it.

Foreigners keep the place alive, while those local souls departed an age ago remain nestled in the tunnels of the chapel, chilling the spines of curious tourists stumbling upon them, who quickly back away without turning when the cool of their death wakes them in the face; they know better than to meddle. Instead they retreat to the beauty of the outside, of greens, of turrets, of tiles, of waterfalls gliding over Moorish blue, the humans eyes wide with the love of the lush, welcoming warmth back to their sides.

Sintra, you’re beautiful.

The souls of many to here have climbed.

sintra

Sintra, Portugal

Passionfruit and Demons

me

“Go underground, sit silently with our passions and demons”, said the Facebook post by Wanderlust. “Turn inward” it suggested, as it romanticised this, the shortest day of the year, Winter Solstice. It made me stop with those words. Our passions and demons. My passions and demons. Your passions and demons.

Passions and demons.

It’s uncanny because three nights ago I tried to sit quietly with my demons to better understand them…and ended up writing about passion. About passionfruit.

With it being three nights shy of winter solstice it was a bleak evening, with a deep black darkness smothering the hills and valleys around here, and the grimness had been seeping under my skin slowly but surely. There was a half moon, perfectly formed and perfectly fuzzy, hiding half of itself behind a thin layer of demons, the remainder barely visible through the cloud.

A friend had suggested earlier that evening (or afternoon, its hard to tell), that the solstice is the time to delve into the shadow self, see what meaning and guidance it can deliver before a re-birth of light. So I thought ok, I’ll try this. C’mon demons, let’s play! C’mon shadow self, I thought, I want to know you, I want to hear your insight, I want to see how my demons can guide me. Then surely we can all return to the light for another year please, brighter and wiser like the good pagans we are.

I listened hard to the silence for a message. I sat in the quiet, sank into the emptiness. Yet the darkness gave me little. The silence even less. Except a total awareness of how deep the dark could be, and stronger motivation to seek out light!

I started writing. I wrote about passionfruit tart, and home, and Ed Sheeran, and fairy lights and eating take away food. I wrote about sofa-beds and facials and singing loudly while driving and leaving the toilet seat up. I wrote about passion, and passionfruit, and passionfruit tart.

There were no demons to be seen. Not on that night anyway. Unless my demon is the darkness itself, and passion is my release from it. Release through passion and passionfruit tart.

My passion-fruited demons.

Happy Winter Solstice x