Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A United (Cold) Front

Today is Christmas Eve eve and it seems the festive season is well and truly upon us again. And that means the end of yet another year. I swear someone keeps pressing fast forward...

December always seems to be a time for reflections, reconnections and wrapping things up (quite literally). Last week I finally got around to responding to 2 emails from people I'd met travelling many years ago, one dated August 2008 and the other November 2006!!! Hmm, I guess 3 years is a rather excessive response time.

This week I've received 1 e-newsletter and 3 e-cards, including a photo of my nephews stood by their first ever Christmas tree grinning from ear to ear, and another of a greyhound in a Santa hat signed from my 'fairy dogfather' - bless.

Courses have come to an end, goodbyes have been expressed to people going off on their travels and loose ends are being securely tied up. I'm not usually one to make New Year's resolutions (for fear I won't be able to stick to them perhaps), but I am intrigued to see what the year has in store. I'm hoping that 2010 will be a good year, not just for myself but for all those around me. I hope that our burdens will become lighter, for we are all suffering in one way or another.

A very Merry Christmas to you all and a peaceful and joyous New Year.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Facebook Forever!

Things seem to have got a bit surreal for the Seaside Scribbler. Earlier this week I found myself having a conversation over a hot chocolate with a Christian friend. There we were talking about life, death and the Universe, as you do, and the subject of the afterlife came up. She asked me what I believe happens to us when we die. I find this sort of question somewhat uncomfortable and, after squirming a little in my seat, told her I believe some part of us lives on, although I'm not sure exactly what: some part of our soul or spirit maybe. Two of my friends died in a car accident two and a half years ago and I can't quite bring myself to believe they're completely and utterly gone so, yes, I do believe that some part of them is still out there somewhere.

I asked her the same question and she duly replied "I believe there's a heaven and a hell and if you're accepted into heaven then you live for eternity in the presence of God". I asked her if she believes her conscious mind will live on and be reincarnated into a different body. She said she doesn't believe in reincarnation but thinks we will be given a new body. I was rather confused by this apparent contradiction but let it go.

A few days later I was checking Facebook for the first time in weeks and, you know that little panel on the right where it kindly offers suggestions for who you might want to become friends with? Well, who should pop up, but one of the aforementioned late friends. I know I said his spirit is still out there somewhere, but in Facebook? Come on, what did he do to deserve that? Or maybe this is his idea of heaven, leaving his mark on the online networking world and making sure no-one forgets what he looked like.

Which leads to an interesting question: how does Facebook deal with death? It can tell me all it likes that we have 6 mutual friends but I know my friend request will never be accepted. So his funny frowning face will continue to follow me as I go about my Facebook business, eternally trapped in the social media heaven and/or hell in which he now finds himself. Maybe I'll send him a hug.

P.S. Woah, now I'm totally freaked out. I just finished writing this post, then decided to Google "How does Facebook deal with death?" and came across this article from The Guardian. It refers to an example of a profile which reads "Andrew has no recent activity" because he died last year. Yes, the friend was called Andrew and, yes, he died a year before the article was written. Nuff said.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Apple Wednesday

It's finally happened. I'm officially an iPhone widow! After 2 years of patiently waiting for Apple to release O2's greedy claws from their exclusive contract, The Partner has finally got his hands on the sleek black accessory of his dreams. You'd think there would be days, weeks, even months of planning how, when and where he was going to get hold of this gadget of beauty. But, no. We were wandering into town on Saturday, when he casually announced "I just want to pop into that Orange shop on the way". Sure thing, I said, little realising that half an hour later he would be walking out of the shop, having signed on the dotted line, with an actual iPhone in his hand!

One of The Partner's friends called while we were "doing the deed" and, on hearing what we were up to, immediately hotfooted it to the Orange shop so he could paw over the gadget of delight himself. I'd always thought The Friend's eyes were brown but on that day they had a definite tinge of green to them.

For the last few days it seems every conversation has featured the words "wifi", "app", "iPhone" and "my baby". This latter term used to be reserved solely for me but it seems I have been replaced. In fact, yesterday, during a viewing of Inglourious Basterds (fantastic film) at The Friend's house, The Partner had a near panic attack when he momentarily misplaced his baby. The relief on discovering said baby in his pocket was audible, if not deafening, and he spent the entire rest of the film with one arm round my shoulders and the other carefully protecting the sacred pocket.

Although an iPhone widow I may be, it's somehow hard not to be impressed by the myriad features, functions and apps that this baby can handle. My grandparents' heads will surely explode if we try to demonstrate these over Christmas lunch. I can just imagine the confusion - "why on earth would you want to use your phone as a lightsaber?" So, a widow I may feel, but my eyes seem to be turning a little green with envy too, and only one question now remains: When will the baby, I mean the iPhone, be available on Vodafone?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Watch The Birdie!

I've been struggling to decide what to write about this week, hence the slight delay. I could write about the painful experience of making myself go to my drawing class on Thursday, only to find halfway through that my inner critic had firmly taken over my brain, shouting obscenities about how rubbish I am and that I'll never be able to draw: I came home in tears. I could write about the led primary class that our yoga teacher gave on Sunday morning, complete with Q&A session about the traditional method of Mysore style Ashtanga, which was very inspiring and really got me thinking about trust, surrender, dedication and our intrinsic search for meaning in our lives.

I could write about all the bad news I've heard this week: people suffering from emphysema, lung cancer, a brain tumour; relationships on the rocks; people in pieces. Or about my job interview. Or about another song I wrote. Or I could write about a weekend away at my grandparents' which left me full of nostalgia, sadness and talk of wills.

But I won't. Instead I'm going to write about birds. Starlings to be precise. Over the West Pier in Brighton. If you've never seen this incredible spectacle, I urge you to take a walk along he promenade at dusk and just take a moment to observe what I can only describe as a stunning natural phenomenon. It really is a sight for sore eyes. Hundreds of tiny winged wonders dancing through the sky as a single, magical entity. They appear to glide effortlessly on the breeze, almost disappearing from view, then suddenly swoop off at top speed in a dark black cloud, as if someone's tugging an invisible string to which they're all attached. It rather reminds me of that scene in Finding Nemo when Nemo and Dory meet the shoal of fish. Any moment I expected the starlings to suddenly form themselves into an arrow or a grumpy face.

And it's not just me who finds this winter murmuration (ooh hark at me) so breathtaking. Hoards of people gather along the seafront to witness this acrobatic display and even the pigeons and seagulls know it's something of a special occasion and seem to want in on the action.

So, another busy week in the life of the Seaside Scribbler then, but the avian beauties win the vote hands (or should that be wings?) down. These birdies really are worth watching....

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Remember My Name

Oh ye gads (as they say in Oz)! I've just realised I completely omitted to title my last 2 blog posts, which is very sloppy work indeed and simply won't do. So I've gone back and given them shiny new titles - hope you like them. Now what to call this one....

I don't mean to turn this into a blog about dancing but I do feel compelled to write about last night's class. It was just Janine this time as Avis was away ("working" or some such excuse) and, to quote the Blockbuster Video jingle, Wow what a difference! Her teaching style is so much better, although I can't quite put my finger on why. I think it all comes down to confidence and good time management. Avis seems to want to put music to every warm-up exercise, which involves teaching us the move, practising it, then doing it with the music (just for warm-ups!), and she also says things like "Is that kind of ok with everyone? Have you sort of got that?" after every move. So the warm-ups take about 45 minutes leaving us only 15 minutes actual dance time.

However, Janine seemed much more confident in her approach and got us doing completely different exercises, more in tune with what I consider the classic image of a dance class, i.e. leaping and jumping across the room in pairs as if we were in Fame! One such exercise involved us imagining we were in a low tunnel, so we had to move across the floor in as many ways as we could think of without standing up. I felt like a swimmer, a gymnast and a slug all rolled into one. We also had more time to build on our little sequence, involving us all coming together in a big circle and doing some hokey cokeyesque moves, plus a great hip sliding floor move at the end which is definitely straight out of Fame.

In other news, my best achievement of the week, or rather month - I wrote a song! Yes, my first ever actual song. I'm so chuffed. I borrowed a friend's keyboard and to my great surprise I discovered I've actually retained some of the Grade 2 piano skills I learnt 20 years ago. Clever little brain. Yesterday I had a meeting with a guy I'm doing a skill swap with to work out what our 4 sessions of vocal and songwriting coaching should cover. So watch this space (or should that be listen to this space?) Anyway I'm dead excited. Yay!

P.S. Did you see what I did there with the title? It's a lyric from the Fame theme tune you see, but it's also a reference to forgetting to title my posts. See? Clever, huh?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Sponge Me To Hell

My last 7 days seem to have been rather action-packed: from cuddling a newborn baby; watching horror films on Hallowe'en (Dario Argento's 1977 masterpiece Suspiria & Sam Raimi's 2009 hilarious Drag Me To Hell); and venturing to the seafront, fully waterproofed, to frolic in a storm; to learning a new dance move (the Dame Judi); being deafened by bangers at Lewes Bonfire; and signing on.

Yes, that's right, signing on. I've finally succumbed to sponging off the government. I did attempt to do this back in February, but received some very confusing communications and mixed messages. The claim was denied but I never really knew if this was because I'd left my job voluntarily, was living with a partner or hadn't paid enough NI contributions (what, after 10 years of working my butt off in an office? Come on!) Anyway, for whatever reason, I wasn't given any help and felt somewhat let down by the system I'd been pouring money into for years. There was also a sense of relief, though, in not having to spend time and energy every fortnight trying to prove I was looking for a job I didn't want.

However, now that I've tried again (well, 9 months is rather a long time to be "between jobs"), I've been pleasantly surprised. Not only has my claim for Jobseeker's Allowance gone through this time, but the friendly advisor I spoke to actually considered my desire to become a freelance writer/copyeditor/proofreader a valid career path. This means I can now spend my time and energy looking for work that I do want and get paid (a bit) for it in the process. Result!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Two Wrongies Can Make A Right

Last night I started a Contemporary Dance course run by Evolution Arts. The course is led by dance duo Avis Cockbill and Janine Fletcher aka The Two Wrongies - the double act who dare to do the dirty! I've just checked out their website and there are some hilarious videos of them in action.

Avis was doing it alone last night, as Janine was involved in some sort of contemporary dance/parcour performance - ooh, hark at her! I have to say that Avis did very well on her own, injecting a great deal of humour into the class and making me feel pretty relaxed really - no mean feat considering the rather intimidating dance studio we were in, complete with mirrored wall at one end. She started off the class with some simple warm ups and stretching exercises, but in true dance fashion these were all performed rythmically to music. We learnt a whole sequence of standing and lying warm ups, which we will apparently perform at the beginning of each class and which will be built upon as the weeks progress. In fact I already felt like I was dancing.

Halfway through the rather hurried hour we moved on to the actual dance part itself and managed to learn a little choreographed sequence consisting mainly of jumps and hops with a rather awkward looking (well in my case anyway) floor sequence thrown in at the end. Two of the moves were affectionately nicknamed "The Dick Van Dyke" (a little side kick in the air) and "The Brucie" (a standing stance with one fist forward and one back). So when we performed the dance to music with Avis calling out the moves, it went something like this: "Right, left, right, Dick. Left, right, left, Dick. Brucie. Brucie. Brucie Brucie Brucie". Hilarious!

And that's just what you need on an autumnal Wednesday night - a pair of legwarmers, some funky music and a room full of people doing Bruce Forsyth impressions. Good game, good game!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Resistance Is Futile

Ah, resistance. Don't you just love it? You know, when that annoying little inner critic screams at you that you're no good, you can't do it and you may as well just give up? I experienced this twice last week and am still suffering the consequences.

On Saturday I went to a yoga workshop in Brighton taught by a world-renowned yoga teacher, Bhavani Maki. She was giving 5 masterclasses over the weekend and I chose to attend just one of them, entitled "Becoming Grounded - Standing and Balancing Poses". Now, I've been practicing Mysore style Ashtanga yoga 5 mornings a week for 5 months now and, although I still consider myself a beginner, I do feel I've developed a certain amount of strength and flexibility in my practice. So I was looking forward to a nice 3-hour workshop concentrating on some of the standing postures and developing my practice in a new way.

But oh my God! This was the most intense yoga I had ever done and right from the beginning those whiny inner voices were shouting "I can't do this", "You're going to make me hurt myself", "I'm doing it wrong and you haven't even noticed". Of course I was blaming the teacher entirely; her unending enthusiasm and playful energy coupled with annoying Americanisms ("awesome", "that's great guys") just didn't cut the mustard for me or my foul mood that day. After my thighs and hips had been crying out in pain for what seemed like an eternity, and tears had begun to roll down my face, I decided enough was enough and walked out. Yes, I actually walked out. I don't think I've ever done that before but boy did it feel good!

I found out later that The Partner, who has been a practising Ashtangi for over 3 years now, also found the workshop incredibly demanding. That didn't stop him from attending all 5 of the masterclasses though - what a fool! My thighs and buttocks are still feeling the effects from Saturday so I can't imagine how his are feeling.

Wind the clock back 2 days and you find me in my Learning To Draw evening class. And oh yes, the resistance bears its ugly head again. But this time I give it what for and actually win the battle. So I'm sitting there, charcoal in hand, trying to draw the objects I've composed through my (rather shoddy home-made) viewfinder. And for the life of me I just can't get it right. The proportions are all wrong, nothing seems to fit together properly and I just can't bloody draw! I'm screaming inside and really want to just throw the paper out the window and storm out. But somehow I manage to keep going. By some miracle I manage to bring my focus back to the lesson in hand - seeing the shapes of the negative spaces around the objects. And hey presto, it actually worked! Part of my brain was still going "look at that, it's pathetic, it doesn't look anything like it's supposed to, you're no good at this" but its self-assuredness was lessening as it knew it was gradually being proved wrong.

And, ok, so I'm still sulking over the art class and my thighs are still killing me, but wow what a good lesson I've learnt: resistance really is futile - just give up or get over it!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

More Tea Vicar?

Last week, The Partner was chatting to his friend on the phone. They were obviously trying to make an arrangement for something, as he kept asking me when we were free (yes, I am the walking diary). A date was agreed and they hung up. The Friend and his wife had invited us over for tea on Sunday. How lovely.

Now you might think being invited round for tea would be a fairly casual affair; sitting around drinking tea, maybe eating a slice of cake or two. But not so with this particular friend. The next day I discovered a hand delivered, beautifully designed invitation to High Tea on our doorstep. And as if that wasn't enough, with it came a very descriptive menu full of wonderfully exotic teas, like Silver Needle White Tea, Monkey Picked Green Tea and Pu Erh Tea, which apparently gets better with age like vintage wines. We were asked to mark our first and second choices on the menu and post it back to The Friend in time for Sunday. I asked The Partner if this was a joke and was told it most certainly was not and I should regard the event with the utmost sincerity.

The day of the High Tea arrived and we were greeted at The Friend's house by a simply breathtaking sight: a large table laid with the most exquisite art deco tea set you can imagine, complete with vintage lace napkins and delicate 1930s butter knives and cake forks. Antique cake stands and serving platters were adorned with cucumber sandwiches, mini onion tartlets, fresh fruit scones and even a fruit cake made by The Friend himself (a rare feat according to his wife's aunt apparently: "Fancy that! A man who can make a fruit cake!") On a sideboard near the table stood a proud display of beautifully ornate teapots and an array of different teas in packets, each with comprehensive instructions on the optimum brewing times and even temperatures. Instructions which were, of course, meticulously followed by The Friend and his new little helper, The Partner, now affectionately known as Chai Wala (or Tea Boy to be perfectly English).

Well, what a delightful afternoon we had, sipping our way through cup after cup of delicious tea and daintily nibbling on the delicious homemade treats. Now that's what I call a real High Tea. The only thing is, the next time someone invites me round for a cuppa they'll have some rather high (tea) standards to live up to. Simply spiffing dahling!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Sorting My Life Out

I've just spent the weekend on a Life Coaching workshop at Evolution in Brighton. It was a very interesting weekend that allowed me to take a closer look at myself and to re-evaluate my life and the direction it seems to be moving in. There were only 4 of us in the group (although there are usually 6-8 participants) who happened to be all female, so there was a very open, supportive atmosphere over the weekend - not that men aren't open or supportive, you understand, but I expect the energy would have been quite different if any had attended.

The workshop was a mixture of writing exercises, visual exercises, role play and meditation via individual, partner and group work so it was very varied and interesting. We also read some Angel Cards and Medicine Cards based on Native American wisdom - just for a bit of fun really, but I like stuff like that. At one point we had to think of a persona that embodies who we want to be or a type of personality that we can emanate to help us get through things in a different way. We had to walk like that person, then teach our partner how to walk like them too. I chose beautiful singer/songwriter Carrie Tree so I was floating around the room, very calmly and rhythmically, with confidence and grace, softly smiling with my head held high - aah!

Although much of the content and many of the exercises were very similar to what I'd been dealing with all through The Artist's Way, it was good to re-visit those issues and reaffirm where I'm at now. We also looked at some confidence boosting techniques and our coach, Christine Brown, recommended a book called Confidence Booster Workout by Martin Perry, which I intend to buy as it's full of interesting exercises and has lots of brightly coloured pages (that's the real reason)!

Chris also runs weekly courses, 1-to-1 sessions and a Saturday morning group in Life Coaching. See her website at Inner Balance or the Evolution website for more info.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Wild Hearts & Sweet Dreams

My partner and I went to the Wild Heart Gathering last weekend, an intimate camp-out in the heart of Sussex, where we took part in singing workshops, 5 Rhythms, Enlightenment Intensives, ritual storytelling, listening to talks by very inspiring people and watching some great live music, such as Avalon Roots.

The event is described as neither a festival nor a retreat and the emphasis is on a coming together and sense of community. There were a lot of raw food practitioners there and a strong shamanistic/Celtic influence, with the founders of Spirit Horse leading many of the workshops as well as the closing ceremony on the Sunday, the main focal event of the gathering.

The site is beautiful, with enchanted woods, a lake to swim in and a cosy barn hosting the main events. My favourite bit was sitting in the sauna - a proper wooden sauna I might add - before running down the hill to jump in the freezing cold lake, having a tranquil swim whilst being serenaded with sweet guitar music, and then doing it all over again!

Oh and if you're wondering what the "sweet dreams" refers to, a few days ago I apparently woke up in the middle of the night, said "cupcake" out loud and then went back to sleep again. Bizarre!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Faces, Places, Bits 'n' Pieces

I thought I'd tell you a nice summery story today, seeing as we're all desperately trying to avoid the inevitable onset of autumn. A couple of weeks ago I was on the beach with my partner - I know, actually sunbathing on the beach only a couple of weeks ago, can you believe it? Being a South African who's only used to dazzlingly white, babysoft sandy beaches, he usually rents one of those green foam mattresses when we go to Brighton beach (well, Hove actually), while I bravely endure the painful bed of pebbles like a true Brit.

The way the mattress system works is that there's a pile of them on every beach, along with deckchairs, parasols and the elusive sunloungers. You help yourself to what you fancy, then a little while later a friendly man comes along and asks for your money. But the amazing thing is, no matter how many times we've done this, whether on a quiet Wednesday afternoon in spring or on a manically busy weekend at the height of summer, this man (yes, always the same one) never fails to approach us for the money and has never asked us twice. Not once. Ever.

We've often wondered how on earth he keeps track of the hoards of people who constantly borrow his beachware throughout the day. So, finally, we asked him. And his answer was "Faces, places, bits 'n' pieces". Basically, he has a photographic memory and uses visual cues to remember who is sitting where on the beach, e.g. the tattooed man with the white baseball cap, the couple with the orange baby buggy, etc. But what if they move, we asked? Well, he assigns several cues to each person based on their location, appearance and who they're with. Fascinating, eh!

And guess what cue he assigned to us? That's easy, he said, how could he forget the man lying on the nice comfortable mattress while his poor girlfriend suffered on the stones beside him?! Ha!

Monday, 14 September 2009

I'm Officially Published!

Well, ok, it's not an actual article (yet), but The Guardian Weekend Magazine did print my letter on Saturday 12th September. You can read the letter here.

Yes I know it's only 3 lines long, but they do edit them you know. The full letter (which was obviously a bit wordy/irrelevant/downright boring) went something like this:

I enjoyed reading about Jon Ronson's ordeal at the Beano offices until I got to his sexist comment about the "Beano boy". What about the Beano girls? I used to read The Beano religiously every week, even joined the Fan Club, and as far as I can tell I'm definitely female. Incidentally, my Granny also makes a version of Marmite toast (Family, p.7), but the buttered and Marmited slices are cooked in her Aga for a crispy, healthy and vegetarian (no beef dripping in sight) yummy treat. Oh and thanks to Robert Griffin for sending in the photo of a sunset lit promenade shelter in Hove - the very one at which my fiance recently proposed to me and which we've aptly named Betrothal Bench!

So, it may only be a small hurdle I've crossed but I am officially published and it feels great! Well, you've got to start somewhere....

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Fighting Grime

This week I have been trying to rid The Eagle's Nest of a nasty little invasion of multicellular filaments of microscopic fungi. Or mould as it's more commonly known. This hadn't really been a problem until recently when an otherwise unnoticed little black spot in the bathroom started getting noticeably bigger, spreading its spores along the bath sealant and even turning a perfectly decent bar of soap (Faith in Nature no less) into a purple and black striped alienlike monstrosity. Apparently, when mould spores begin to grow they digest the material they're growing on for survival. Well that's all very well for the spores but what about our poor bar of soap which is supposed to be cleaning our skin? Yeuch!

Our landlord advised me to buy a bottle of Dettol to kill the mould spores (cheers mate), but rather than spend £3.50 on a bottle of chemicals, I decided instead to investigate more environmentally friendly ways of dealing with the problem. I discovered that clove oil is meant to be one of the best natural solutions, so I can now be found most days with an (expensive) bottle of essential oil in one hand and an old toothbrush/scourer/brillo pad in the other, scrubbing away to my heart's content.

Is it working? Well, I think the black spot's getting smaller, although it is quite hard to tell...... maybe I'll be reaching for that bottle of chemicals after all.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Starting at the Beginning

Welcome to my first blog post and what a journey it's been getting here. 7 months ago I decided to leave my 7-and-a-half-year office admin job in order to do some soul searching and to try and answer that question that's been haunting me (or should I say that I've been avoiding?) all my life: what do I really want to do? What am I passionate about? What vocation would I find truly fulfilling?

I felt pressured into answering these questions and needed to have some sort of response prepared so that when people asked me if I'd made any progress sorting out my life I could avoid those pathetic and wishy washy "I don't really knows". So I decided I would become a writer. Ah yes, simple. Just like that. Or not. You see, if there's one thing I've learnt from studying The Artist's Way it's that the mind doesn't work like that. Or at least mine doesn't. As soon as the idea was formed, my mind turned into this jeering, sniggering evil little being, poking fun at the rest of me and saying "Yeah right, you're going to be a writer are you? Snigger. Snort. Well, we'll just see about that won't we?"

The Artist's Way is a fantastically inspiring book by Julia Cameron designed to help you discover or recover your creativity in whatever form that may be. It's written as a 12-week course with exercises and tasks to follow. And follow them I did. I read every single word in the book, undertook every task and digested every piece of advice. So I was very confused, not to mention disappointed, when I got to the end of the course and felt no different to when I'd begun. I thought I would see massive changes in myself, I thought my creativity would blossom and, most of all, I thought I would instantly become a writer. But you see it just doesn't work like that.

2 months after finishing the course I'm now beginning to see the benefits of it and experience the subtle changes within myself and my thought processes which the book has instilled in me. It's all very well reading other people's advice, but until you actually experience it for yourself it's pretty much meaningless. I'm now halfway through another book, Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which a dear friend gave me for my birthday. I'm only halfway through it because that was all I needed to give me the inspiration and the urge to start writing.

So here I am, 7 months after convincing everyone, including myself, of my exciting new career, actually starting to do some of the things I first intended. You just can't rush these things you know! And one of those things was starting my own blog. And here it is, my first blog post. My first victory. Thanks for reading it. All I had to do was take a leap and the net would appear. I must remember that in future...