Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A massage

Oil and candle

I'm always slightly on edge, like an actor waiting in the wings, prior to giving a massage and I think this is good. It keeps me focussed. This one, an evening session, has the advantage of familiarity; the client, P, an accountant in her 50s, has been coming to see me for several years and has almost become a friend. As she undresses she tells me how she is - basically well, but stressed and tense from the workday.

She lies on her front on the couch, covered from the neck downwards with towels. The room is lit by the subdued glow from a reading lamp in the corner, supplemented by several candles. I start the music: a CD of a solo harpist, just loud enough to be comfortably audible. Placing my hands lightly on her head, I shut my eyes momentarily and take a deep breath. I remove the towel covering her back and place it on the radiator, then pour a little oil into my palms; the heady, familiar scent of sandalwood, geranium and orange flower wafts upwards.

My hands slowly travel the length of P's spine, one on each side of the vertebral ridge, spreading the oil onto the skin. These large, circular effleurage strokes loop round the lower back, over to the sides of the body, up along the ribcage and back to the shoulders. More oil is needed - skin can be thirstier in cold weather. Throughout the session I shall be looking for any reactions, tensions, changes in facial expression. If it all comes together, a massage can become a communion, a meditation in movement and connection and touch, smooth and flowing.

The notes from the harp seem to float in the air, and the candles flicker. Then, a hitch - the CD player jams and whirrs. No more music. Damn. This was not meant to happen. Rather than switching on the light and attempting to fix the problem, I make a quick decision to carry on in silence. Background music is generally an ally, helping with the letting go process, but a successful session does not depend on it.

P carries a good deal of tension in her neck and upper back, particularly in the area between the shoulder blades, so I spend some time here kneading and using firm pressure on the tight muscles and knots. Then I work my way down to the the lower back. Placing one hand on top of the other on the sacrum, I circle them very gently in a small clockwise movement, gradually enlarging the stroke to sweep out across the right, then the left hip and buttock. As I massage each area of the body I remove the towel, replacing it once I have finished, then uncovering the next section. I move to P's legs: the calves, thighs and feet.

She rolls over onto her back at my request. We take a minute to rearrange the towels, and I slip a small pillow under the knees and another beneath her head. I work on her neck and shoulders, lifting the head and turning it to the right, then the left, supporting it with one hand and using the other to massage. The arms follow, one at a time, working upwards from the hand to the shoulder, then back again down to the fingertips. It seems to be easier to let go of tension in the supine position, and after a while P's stomach rumbles once or twice - generally a good indication of relaxation.

I lift the towel off her chest and abdomen, and standing behind her head reach forward to the left side of her body at the waist and pull alternate hands smoothly one at a time to the centre of her stomach then up between the breasts to the shoulders. I then do the same thing again from the right side. The tension lines in her face have smoothed out, her eyes are closed and her breathing is slow and regular

By the final ten minutes of the session P is covered in warm towels, and is almost asleep. The room is very still. I sweep my hands several times over her covered body from the crown of the head to the hands, and then repeat the movement, this time finishing at the toes. After the last sweep I hold her feet for a few minutes to bring her awareness back to her connection with the ground. I pour her a glass of water and slip out of the room to wash my hands, allowing some privacy while she returns from wherever she has been during this last hour or so.

As I dry my hands I look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I never for a moment thought I would be able to do this kind of work and it sometimes almost frightens me that seemingly I can.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Yellow 2

They were a bunch of 99p supermarket daffodils, added to the shopping basket as an afterthought at the checkout desk.

Bought in bud, they exploded into flower overnight, and these past few days they have filled the room with sunshine, even when it has been cold and grey outside. Nonetheless in my busy week - well busy in my head, I seemed to accomplish practically nothing - I had to keep reminding myself to stop and look at them, to take time and just enjoy the flowers for a minute or two. They would not be there for ever. Sure enough, yesterday their water turned cloudy and they faded and shrivelled.

This week's flowers are carnations. Pinky-white petals with a deep crimson rim and fleck. Unusual, beautiful. I would like to be less scattered in the next seven days, more able to be present and to appreciate ...

Thursday, March 23, 2006


I have words
words to fill in forms
and to speak to officials
on the telephone

words to buy groceries
and words
to talk to my neighbours

but sometimes
the route between
my heart and
my words
is blocked by
rocks of fear
and incomprehension

and my heart
which if it were
given the vocabulary
would realise its love
for you
reaches in vain
to touch you
by other means.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Busker

Going up

The young man with the guitar busking in one of the underground corridors at Monument tube station really was a bit of a star, with his powerful bluesy voice. A strange pitch to choose, though, on a Saturday afternoon, with a few passers by and without the weekday throng of commuters. There were a small number of coins in his guitar case, enough maybe to buy him a pint of beer or some groceries.

The natural echo in the corridor amplified and rounded out the sound of his singing and the guitar riffs, inducing a pleasurable shiver down the spine. I wanted to give him some money, but I was in my habitual public transport mode - head down, staring straight ahead, closed off, just keep moving, don't connect with anyone whatever you do - and I didn't stop. I walked past him down the passage, then round a corner, his music accompanying my progress. I was halfway up the stairs leading to the exit when I suddenly came to a halt mid-stride. I knew I had to go back.

I retraced my steps. He had stopped playing and was retuning his guitar. There was no-one else around.

I tossed some coins into the case.

"That was terrific," I said.

He looked at me shyly, then at the ground, then back at me and said, "Thank you, thank you very much."

We smiled uncertainly at each other for a second or two, then I went on my way. I felt ridiculously elated at having broken down one of my own barriers.

I want to practise this kind of thing more often. Taking small risks, and bigger ones too.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Vernal equinox haiku

This soft grey morning
I awaken to birdsong
heralding the Spring.

I lie, half-asleep,
absorbing new life as the
clear notes flow through me.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Moving thoughts

Click to enlarge

I have been reluctant to blog about my anticipated move - it has felt too much like tempting providence. However, I need to make it more real to myself, and that means writing. Fear of making changes, of taking risks, has already kicked in, but that's never a good reason for continuing an unsatisfactory status quo.

My main reasons for moving are:

  • Living Space: I need more, particularly for the massage work. I can't afford to buy bigger in London.
  • Stagnation: Time for a change. Fourteen years in the capital is way long enough.

I hope also that I will be happier, healthier, more creative, more environmentally active, more involved in the community, less stressed, more fulfilled, find it easier to lead a balanced life, meet more like-minded people, etc. etc. But I am not leaving myself behind in London. On the contrary I will probably continue on occasion to worry, get stressed, feel like a fish out of water, have anxiety attacks, be slothful and isolate. Overly high expectations don't help.

With that last point clearly understood - and you will have gathered I'm talking to myself here - I am starting to look forward to this new beginning, in spite of my significant apprehensions. Apart from anything else it will be wonderful to have more room and, above all, a garden, yes a garden!

Here's a link to the town, or rather city, in question. My new home as of next year, if all goes according to plan. It is a proper working community, not just a tourist attraction - picturesque though it is in parts - and unlike a good many similar places it hasn't already been overrun by alternative practitioners. There are enough businesses to provide other work, at least at the outset, and the local economy seems healthy enough. For off-duty times, it is in a beautiful part of the country with many wonderful walks, a couple of old friends live nearby, and rather surprisingly the town still has a cinema. Communications are good: it is on a railway line that is unlikely to be axed and it is bicycle-friendly. If I start to pine for big city life, Birmingham is about an hour away and Cardiff a little further.

It also lies close to the boundary between Wales and England, and I have always felt at home in the energy of border areas - I like marshlands for the same reason- neither totally one thing nor the other, but an unsettling yet intriguing mixture of both.

In the last few days I have started going through drawers and cupboards and throwing things out I won't be needing to take with me. The challenge in the next few months will be to embrace the process of transition, to keep the momentum going, to plan ahead but not project, to look forward but also to live fully in the present. No-one is going with me so there will be no-one to chivvy if I don't meet deadlines, or to jog my memory about what I need to do. It's down to me - which is why putting it out there on the blog may be a valuable tool.

I was going to finish here, but I have two questions:

- Is being in the right location important for growth and fulfilment?

- Or is it all an inside job and do we have actually have the potential for contentment wherever we are?

For what it's worth, and paradoxically, I think the answer to both is Yes.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Purple Hibiscus

Purple hibiscus

Every Sunday before lunch, in between telling Sisi to put a little more palm oil in soup, a little less curry in the coconut rice, and while Papa took his siesta, Mama plaited my hair. She would sit in an armchair near the kitchen door and I on the floor with my head cradled between her thighs. Although the kitchen was airy, with the windows always open, my hair would still manage to absorb the spices, and afterward, when I brought the end of a braid to my nose, I would smell egusi soup, utazi, curry.

Extract from Chapter 1, Purple Hibiscus

I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie a few weeks ago in three days flat, and was left in a state of entrancement and shock at the end. Told in the first person by a teenage girl growing up in Nigeria at the end of the 20th century, it is the story on the one hand of a young girl moving into adolescence and of a family torn apart by personal and cultural pressures; but equally it reflects the turbulence of political life in Nigeria at that time. It is an extraordinary first novel.

It broadened my horizons and touched me deeply. Have a look at the online reviews at the title link above - which include several by Nigerian readers - then read the book.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Runner

No longer
on the edges
of the physical

she runs
feet striking
the pavement

cloudy breath
on a cold morning
lungs absorbing
into the blood
pounding heart

under her skin,
to working muscles
by fibrous, ropey
are the bones

bones gaining

giving her form
giving her substance

a life on earth.

Soft focus

Out of focus

Thursday, March 09, 2006



I'm halfway through. As is usual when you temp, it's a matter of having to absorb and retain information, think on your feet, look calm (ha!), stay unflustered. I am actually in an almost permanent state of fluster, but mostly I can hide it.

This time I've been parachuted into an organisation in the middle of a merger with another company. Working for one of the directors, it just doesn't stop - trying to juggle ten different tasks at once, snatched lunches, permanently ringing telephones, last minute panics, frayed nerves all around. It soon dawned on me that I'm not going to get away with much less than regular 10+ hour days, (more if you count travelling time), so I've cancelled all my evening engagements, put the blinkers on and got stuck in.

At the end of all this the bank balance will be healthier than it was, but I am very tired. Yet again, I have been reminded of some simple life lessons for such times:

- Be ruthlessly efficient about self-care. Eat healthily, morning meditation, in bed by 10.00 pm (I wake early when I'm under pressure so if I'm to get enough sleep I can't sit up and watch TV).

- Don't leave a sinkful of dirty dishes. Do them before leaving for work. Make the bed. Vacuum occasionally. Just focus on the basic necessities, the rest can wait.

- At work, first things first, i.e. prioritise. Just do the one item that's in front of me. Then move onto the next task. One at a time. Don't project, don't look ahead. Stay focussed. If possible, do the things requiring most brain power early in the day.

- This too shall pass.

There are other, more philosophical conclusions as well, but these will be for another post. Gotta go to work.

Monday, March 06, 2006


London Bridge

9.00 am, Saturday. London Bridge, looking west. Very cold, clear and still. The City was as peaceful as it ever gets; not much traffic, a few fellow-pedestrians and the occasional jogger. Definitely a day for walking, and I was glad I had allowed enough time to get off the Tube a few stops short of my destination and complete the remainder of the journey on foot .....

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Just taking it one step at a time ..

Path by the railway
Click to enlarge

A view of the local common. In the top right-hand corner of the photograph you can just make out the catkins I wrote about a few weeks ago.


The next couple of weeks, starting tomorrow morning and until mid-month, are likely to be busy both during the week (working, no internet access) and at weekends (attending a course this coming weekend and next).

Sleeping, seeing a friend or two, eating, shopping, laundry, housework, and blogging, including reading other people's blogs, will need to be fitted in and, much as it pains me to do so, I will be disciplining myself not to put the last one at the top of my priority list. I hope to put up some posts fairly regularly, though possibly with a higher ratio of pictures to words than normal. Unless I get a bout of insomnia that is .....