Twit-ter

Following the death of David Bowie earlier this week, an atrocious Tweet not only made the headlines, but made my blood boil. Normally, I wouldn’t use my personal FB feed to lash out (the action is, I hope, fairly unlike me). However, I was so utterly outraged, I felt compelled to reply. Since my post, I have had time to think. And though I don’t regret my challenge, I have spent a while contemplating what could possibly have prompted the Tweet in the first place.

David Bowie touched and influenced generations. For many, his was the voice of their youth. For others, his was the LP discovered amongst a parents’ or grandparents’ collection which, years later, still resonated. He was brave, and he was individual. A man not frightened to experiment, David’s determination to evolve meant he remained current. As we grew older, so did he; as our professional directions changed, so did his. David Bowie’s music became the soundtrack to our individual life movies. Perhaps we might be forgiven, therefore, for assuming he’d be there to play out our final credits.

I was never lucky enough to meet David Bowie, and I would never claim to be a dedicated fan. But I did weep when I heard the news of his death, and across the world, more ardent fans are still weeping. And whilst the vast majority of them were never known by Bowie personally, surely the joy he brought to their lives makes him a friend, of sorts, to them?

I wondered if the Tweeter, experiencing a heightened level of emotion prompted by their grief, had simply knee-jerked. Yet, the Tweet was almost possessive, as though the writer believed that only certain individuals had the right to ‘own’ Bowie’s death. Firstly, only David could do that. And secondly, though we’re all guilty of it – chastising our grief because we believe someone is more worthy – we are still prone to believe that levels of grief are validated by levels of association.

But death and grief aren’t as simple as all that. And every tear shed by David’s fans is every bit as valid as any shed by his family. Because every tear is real.

I have been knocked sideways by death twice in recent years. And both times, the outpouring from others, both known and unknown to me, has been immense. However, the difference between my and my Tweeter’s reaction to it is this. Firstly, rather than protest that my grief was more valid than another’s, the thought that I was not alone in my sorrow came as a great comfort; grief can be a very lonely place. And secondly, my love and adoration for those whom I’d lost was utterly validated by the views, memories and experiences expressed by others.

I’m not going to brood on the Tweet any longer – I have a book to write – but I will finish by saying that, contrary to the misguided views of one, I’m sure David’s close friends and family are hugely grateful for every kind word and emotion expressed by every one of his fans…

…And I’m sure, as he swaps stories with Syd Barrett and they contemplate, that perhaps from where they’re now sitting, the Star isn’t so black, or that side of the Moon isn’t so Dark, David is very grateful too!

With love to the most beautiful of Goblin Kings. Xxx

Happy New Year?

The start of a new year is, for many, a time of great significance. An opportunity to wipe the slate clean, to live a more healthy life, or to wave a not-so-fond farewell to a previous year, the chiming of the midnight hour on 31st December offers as much hope as the most joyful of dawn choruses.

Yet for some the New Year offers no respite from the one preceding it. And for a few, all it has to offer is greater challenges and increased worry. As the year turned, my mind was full of these people and how I might be worrying if I walked in their shoes. And looking back upon times in my own life that had been very bleak, I concluded that I had spent a great deal of that time worrying, and yet that doing so hadn’t changed a thing.

I once believed I was a creature of habit. That’s not to say that I didn’t like to travel, or to try different cuisines, or to experience different cultures. But I liked the things I called ‘my foundations’ to remain the same. Remove one of these, I thought, and I go a bit wobbly. Thinking about the challenging periods in my life, however, it dawns on me that I am not so rigid as I had once believed; that my foundations stem from me rather than something or someone else. And that rather than resisting, I have withstood the greatest of life’s storms by being flexible, and sometimes, by even letting go.

There are things in life we can effect; our diet, our lifestyle choices, our relationships. And yes, if any of these are areas of concern, we have the right and the ability to do something about them. But things like death and illness we cannot control. And though we all tend to narrow our focus in times of difficulty and to concentrate on the clouds, how much more positive would we feel, I wonder, if we held on to the notion that somewhere just behind them the sun still shone? I try not to worry about the time I’ve wasted worrying… But I do wonder, during past moments at Christmas, when my eyes fell upon the empty dining chair and I wished my dad was still alive, what hilarity I might have missed going on just behind me.

Night is followed by day. Winter is followed by spring. So is it really so foolish to hope that every tear is followed by laughter? Pondering my previous years, it seems that it’s the challenges that have given me strength, the sadness that’s made the happiness real, and the grief that’s opened my heart to greater love.

I enter 2016 calmly and with serenity. Perhaps, then, it’s easy for me to look on the brighter side of life. But I do remember a time when the New Year began very differently. And thinking back, I wonder, when my head was down and my eyes were focussed on the shit at my feet, how many rainbows faded over my head?

My lovely dad ended our wedding speech with the following quotation. At the time I believed his reference was purely materialistic. With a few more years under my belt however, I believe something else entirely:-

“Remember, to be upset about what you don’t have,
is to waste your time with what you have.”

Happy New Year, everyone.

Big Love. Xxx

Mind Games

The mind is a wonderfully powerful tool. In moments of extreme danger, it is the driving force behind self-preservation. In moments of desperation, it administers that metaphorical kick propelling us out of the darkness. Yet the mind is also a wonderfully wicked entity. It inspires us to follow our dreams, then fills us with doubt when we try; it urges us to strive for happiness, all the while flooding us with the guilt of the unworthy. On my faltering spiritual journey, the one common denominator to all the books I have read on the subject of inner-peace is the power of the mind. And if there is one piece of recurring advice on how to tame that mind, it’s meditation.

Sitting quietly for half an hour, calming your breath and focussing on the positives, appears, on paper, to be a simple ask. Yet my attempts at home have been so unsuccessful, that I have finally signed up to a local course in the vain hope that numbers will provide the safety my mind obviously requires.

The setting is a small Buddhist Centre not far from Matlock; the Monk presiding over us appears very sincere. Therefore, though the basic concepts of Buddhism are used as meditation focus points, being such positives as happiness and inner peace, I feel happy that I am being introduced to a new way of thinking, rather than groomed for a new religion (which, incidentally, I do not desire).

My fellow students and I arrive at the Centre at the same time every Friday. We swop details of our respective weeks, sip water, and wait for the allotted time before politely filing into the meditation suite. The room itself is warm and peaceful. The chairs are comfortable. And our numbers are small enough to ensure that no student is sitting too close to another. For the next hour and a half, in these perfect surroundings, the ability to meditate seems almost within my grasp. But as my breathing slows and my eye-lids fall, something within my brain senses that it finally has my undivided attention. And rather than paradise, I, instead, invariably find my mind trawling the aisles at Tesco…

I am a day dreamer and a worrier. I can spend hours fretting over non-existent scenarios, or feeling guilty about the unhappiness of another even though I am not the cause. I am not a glass half-empty person – I have a great deal in my life to celebrate and be thankful for – but I do allow my mind to spend far too long in the doldrums. However, the popularity of the spiritual books I have read suggests that I am not alone, and that many of us are seeking minds that are half-full. And if the books’ authors – some of whom I admire – have used daily meditation to find a level of inner peace that is obvious in the words they write, then that’s all the inspiration I need to keep trying.

That, as humans, we tend to veer towards the negative, to spend hours brooding over another’s harsh words rather than be thankful that we do not carry their burdens, seems indicative of our species. Very recently, I heard resentment described as ‘meditating on anger’ – put like that, it made me realise how easy we do find mediation. Unfortunately, just on the wrong things.

I will continue with my meditation course, and I will keep practising at home, too. And one day, I hope to report that I have wrestled my greatest adversary – my mind – to the floor.

In the meantime, I offer my sincerest apologies to my fellow meditation students. I hope that they are having far more success ‘closing out external distractions,’ than I, and that their experience has not been spoilt by the gurgles of my empty stomach, as my mind finds the Tesco biscuit aisle… and offers my stomach a Twix!

Ignorance is bliss?

Social media is a wonderful thing. It allows us to bridge the distance between ourselves and those we love, and can be interesting, positive, and extremely humorous. I regularly check-in during the course of a normal day, and comment on or share posts. And I always try to react to a birthday reminder – after all, friends and family are very important and they should certainly feel that way on special occasions.

Social media is also a great tool for connecting with like-minded people. From visual art to nail art, music to home décor, the shared interests list is as endless as it is eclectic. As an animal lover, I have used social media to share many a tale and photograph featuring our lovely black lab, Archie. I have also been able to follow businesses specialising in quality doggy products (barksand bunnies.com – the brainchild of my beautiful cousin, Amy – to name but one), and to support and sponsor the plight of animals who aren’t as fortunate as our ‘Belly-Rub,’ four-legged family member.

However, there are times I wished I hadn’t pressed that ‘like’ button, and evenings when, scrolling through my newsfeed, I come across a post so horrific that I’m unable shake it for days. It’s during these moments that I wonder if perhaps I should refine my ‘follows,’ and stick to people and things that make me smile.

A few years ago, during an idyllic holiday in the Indian Ocean, Mr Mac and I were able to place a very large tick next to a shared bucket list item, and to swim with whale sharks. The added bonus of experiencing the episode with my parents made it even more precious. For creatures so large with mouths so immense, the father and son pair where more gentle than I could ever have imagined, avoiding the spectators hanging perilously (and possibly, stupidly) close to where they swam, with slow, gentle movements… Last month, a FB post reported on a Chinese fish market trapping whale sharks in nets and dragging them for miles before barbarically cutting them into pieces on the jetty whilst they were still alive. I wept.

Like the slaughter of big game in Africa, the dog-meat trade in Thailand, and the suffering of abused and abandoned animals closer to home, I often find my heart heavy with the madness and sadness of it all. I simply don’t understand how human kind has become so nonchalant towards the lives of the other creatures with whom it shares the planet, or so immune to their obvious suffering. One thing, however, is for certain. Each terrible picture and unimaginable event will provoke instant outcry. And I would always like to count myself amongst those making the noise.

Organisations like PETA, Greenpeace, Change.org, Soi Dog Foundation exist for a damn good reason. They exist to tackle the issues that need to tackled, but that many of us feel unable to. I’m sure every one of those organisations is extremely grateful for the coverage and exposure social media gives their causes, and for the people, like me, who choose to follow and to support them.

So, although I might briefly consider a little FB housekeeping in an attempt to restrict my newsfeed to ‘sugar and spice,’ an ‘unlike’ isn’t going to make the issue disappear. And next time I swim with a whale shark or cuddle my dog, I’d rather return their gentle gaze with the steady reassurance of someone who cares, than look away with the guilt of someone who doesn’t.

And let’s be honest, when it comes to FB, even friends and family post difficult stuff sometimes!

The boy and his guitar

Takes his place beneath the lamp light, solo shadow at his feet,
Wipes the moisture from his brow, clears his throat, clears his mind.
Growing thunder, heavy footsteps, match his heart with every beat,
Living now and in this moment for a past not left behind.
Pedals metal, crowd goes crazy, gives them something to believe,
Playful fingers answer those who swore he’d never get this far.
Asks you take him as time made him, wears his life upon his sleeve
No DAT magic, smoke and mirrors, just a man and his guitar.

Takes his place beneath the lamplight, solo shadow on the wall,
Wipes the lager from his mouth, closes eyes, closes mind.
Empty faces, stage-ledge addicts, wait to witness his first fall,
Coiling critics, poison pen friend, crystal ball what they will find.
Strikes her boldly, crowd falls silent, pin-fall jaw-drops to the floor,
Smiles as modesty will let him, at the him who raised the bar.
Brings in both his XY factor, always opened his own doors,
3 6 5 reality sound-check for the kid and his guitar.

Takes his place beside the lamplight, solo shadow by his side,
Wipes the salt stream from his face, opens pages, opens heart.
Notepad screaming, non-judge black lines, only place he can confide,
Past laid episodes in verses, white noise holding them apart.
Elusive finger tipping future strokes the tethers to his past,
Determined notes reply like beacons, bright horizon, northern star.
One more sofa, one more tube night, one more city dawning fast,
One day everyone will know him, the boy and his guitar.

Star

Cold city skies, growing shadows,
Waiting numb and silent by your side.
Hands entwined, and red eyes out of focus
As you try to swim against the ebbing tide.
Did I say all the things that I might hope too?
Was your fight as bloody-minded as it seemed?
Is it too late to wish I hadn’t loved you –
Letting go is more painful than I dreamed.

Can’t believe that I’m watching as you’re leaving;
I can’t stop you even though you want to stay.
Grip your fingers, and whisper to closed eyelids.
Wipe your skin, wipe my hopeless tears away

Would I love you half as much twice as longer?
Would the star you always were still light that way?
Hearts cry out with every breath that’s getting shorter,
Rewind time, look ahead… why today.
Who will occupy the space that filled so many?
No fit feet for shoes that trod the path once yours.
Empty bed, empty head, feeling nothing.
How can life continue on outside these doors?

Can’t believe that I watched as you were leaving.
Couldn’t stop you despite all I had to say.
Stroke your face; pray that somehow you still hear me,
In that somewhere that has stolen you away.

Leaving different, leaving older, leaving something
Of the optimistic me inside that room.
Walk an automatic path back to our past life,
Empty house echoes silence like a tomb.
Picture photographic walls just remind me
Of the memories too painful to recall.
Touch your clothes; pray I’ll wake when this is over.
Face in hands. Huddle by the wall.

Can’t believe that you knew that I was watching.
Can’t imagine how it felt to just let go.
Loosened fingers, stilled your tired heart from fighting.
One last breath, one last you.
Stop the show.

Lost, when you need it most…

My fourth book, the title of which I have known for a long time, is a work in progress. What started as an innocent adventure aimed at a younger audience has slowly morphed into a novel better suited to adults. This was never my intention. Yet this book was always on my life’s agenda.

My faith and spirituality have always been of great importance. And, while I become increasingly dubious about organised religion, having very recently experienced Catholic priests at opposite ends of the suitability scale (priests whose individual delivery and attitude, whilst professing to represent the same denomination, could respectively attract or repel a congregation with one sentence), I still firmly embrace the sentiment of guidance from a higher power. However, I have recently had my faith and my beliefs in my higher power tested. And that has left me feeling very odd.

I had always considered myself an eternal optimist with a deep-routed instinct to gallop in to any tough situation, sun-guns blazing, and dismiss the threatening clouds with instinctive accuracy. It went against every ounce of my being to watch suffering of any kind. My life was all about putting it right, and, until recently, I believed I could. Upon reflection, perhaps my optimism was more blinkered hope. Still, I feel very let down by what transpired. But let down by whom?

I am not the only person to have scrutinised their beliefs after a period of difficulty. And I am not the only faithful who has questioned their faith. Yet, as I weather this period of suspended animation, my heart experiencing a whole lot of alien stuff it doesn’t like, I am beginning to suspect two things. The first, that questioning faith is possibly what having faith is all about. And the second, (and probably the more important), that although I’m currently not quite sure what I have faith in, still I feel a great deal better with faith in my life than I do otherwise.

The last few weeks have been spent privately processing. In matters of the heart – the matters that affect me the most – I process very slowly (this model certainly doesn’t come with a Pentium inside!) And, the more I process, the more it dawns on me that perhaps, rather than my faith, it is by myself that I feel let down. Not for the optimism – more than one kind person has suggested that this probably made a huge difference elsewhere. And not for the desire to put things right – that’s the Good Samaritan in us all. But for the simple belief that, through my own actions, I had the ability to change the course of another’s destiny. (Even as I type this blog I further realise how ridiculous a notion this sounds!) All the prayers, the healing, and all the hope in the world could not promote me to my higher power’s league. After all, if I was meant to play god, I wouldn’t be down here…

There is a great book available to us all. It has helped and is still helping millions of people across the world. Although it is affectionately referred to by the fellowship as, ‘The Big Book,” its title is ‘Alcoholics Anonymous.’ I began reading the book as an act of support to a friend in recovery, but I have realised that its content is having a profound effect on my current struggle with my faith. I am not going to go into the book in any great detail here, (although I would highly recommend that everyone read it – it’s guidance is life changing), but I would like to cite, ‘The Serenity Prayer,’ used to close every AA meeting, and placed at the very heart of AA, as a tool to help anyone currently questioning themselves, their lives, or their faith.

And I will close by saying, that the other book I earlier mentioned, my fourth novel, the one that has always been on my agenda, will get finished. And when it does, I pray it will bring hope to those who read it.

And I also pray that its author will have rediscovered her faith.

And will allow her heart to believe the things her soul suspects to be true.

Big love, everyone. Xxx

‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference.’

The Spectator

She wore them like the best of costumes – the painted nails and blushered cheeks.
And those that came, and saw,
Imagined her strength, and commended her determination.
Yet through love, and no fault of their own, their mistake compounded her solitude.
How could an hour with brush and pallet,
Illustrate the truth of the heart behind that glistening smile?

And I – whose rainbow wishes and flowing cup,
And tool-box of sibling fixes
– I am all out of happy endings.
And my wand is as useless as the frustration that yearns to put things right.

Will the curtain not fall?
Will the act not conclude; allow its reluctant lead to take her final bow?

… And am I thinking only of myself, when I resolve
That this is one scene I never wish to see her perform again…

This One’s For You

At 6:20 last Wednesday evening, my wonderful brother-in-law, Nick ‘Ringo’ Southall, lost his battle with lung cancer. I consider it a great privilege to have been at the hospital at the time, and to have been able to say all those things that we all might wish too, faced with such dreadful circumstances. Had I not been present, I know I would still be struggling to believe it. Death and Nick never really went hand-in-hand; he was always too full of life.

Many of you know that I am a budding author. What many of you might not know, however, is that it was only through Nick’s persistence and help over a weekend visit, that I began my blog and launched my professional self onto social media. “Here’s the deal, La. You’re a writer – a blog seems like a natural fit to me.” It was also Nick who picked me up – like he did so many people – when I had my novel appraised by another author and the feedback was mediocre. “…That must be a bit gutting for you, but fuck em, always remember that EMI knocked The Beatles.”

I clearly remember the first time I spoke to Nick about my book. We were at an after-show in the bar of Wembley’s Hilton. The place was packed with the kind of muso’s and wanker hanger-on’s synonymous with such a gig. Despite working on the tour, I felt uncomfortable. In those situations, I always did. Nick took the seat next to me, and I began telling him about my book. In spite of the other drinkers – ones I thought Nick might consider far more fascinating – Nick stayed by my side, asking questions and being genuinely intrigued. I had only previously experienced that level of interest from my mum and Mr Mac, and it was totally unexpected. Not that I craved it, but Nick made my barmy day-dreaming, and my ambition, feel valid.

That was the man. That was Nick. Tributes to him on social media are still pouring in. Having spoken to dear friends of both Nibs and Nick over the previous few months and again at the hospital last week, the same sentiment, the same lasting impression, is repeated over. Nick made time for everyone. He was interested in, and remembered, what was important. His opinions were formed on knowledge and research, and not on hearsay. He was a man of great moral integrity, with the compassion to still accept that everyone makes mistakes and deserves another chance. Political, religious, and musical differences were only ever seen as an excuse to debate, never to dismiss. And he never judged anyone on anything but his own experience of them… Like so many others, I have been on the receiving end of the strength and kindness underpinning Nick’s personality. Like so many others, it’s that strength and kindness that I’m going to miss so much.

We will celebrate Nick’s life at some point over the course of the next few weeks, and I expect the venue to be packed to the rafters. But as we enter, one by one, and look around us, we might all be surprised by the eclectic mix of individuals who have come to say good-bye – and perhaps under different circumstances, to some extent, we might all be guilty of judging one another on face value.

But one of the greatest sayings I have ever heard – a compass I believe Nick steered his life by – is ‘to not look for the differences, but the similarities.’ So, I hope, on that day of celebration, when the one thing similar to us all is our love of Nick, we look a little deeper, and discover what it was about each of us that Nick loved enough to call us ‘friend.’

And at the end of the day, I hope we take that ethos home.

And out of great love and respect for Nick, we spend the rest of our forevers spreading that amazing ‘Ringo Resolve’ across the rest of the world.

With love, Big-Bro. Xxx

Politics; a load of (big) pants?

‘And so it was, on that bright May morning, that the people of Rivenshire set out to cast their votes. And, understanding that to abstain was to forgo their right to comment or to moan, their numbers totalled that of Rivenshire’s voting population.

As the setting sun bathed the land in hope, the queen announced that, of the three candidates on offer – Slippery Stan, Ted the Bigot, and Mike the Magnificent – the peoples had chosen the latter as their leader.

And, as a Keeper of Promises, and a Protector of Human Dignity, Mike the Magnificent toiled to ensure that the peoples of Rivenshire, his adopted kin, lived happily ever after.’

Sound familiar? Well, yes. If you enjoy a good film, that is.

May 7th looms. It feels incredible that we are already facing another general election. Whether it’s being a mum or whether it’s getting older, the last four years have certainly passed quicker than the four that preceded them. And though I have achieved a great deal in that time, it’s still not nearly enough. I feel the same way about our present government. Yes, the economy is improved, but I was hoping for a great deal more. And what concerns me, as we approach late spring, is that I’m not sure who is capable of giving it to me.

On that May day, those of us who understand the importance of casting a vote, will run the rosette-brigade gauntlet and place an obligatory ‘X’ beside the name that resonates with us the most. In previous years, my X has been so determined as to leave a scar on the wooden plinth beneath the paper on which it has been etched. But this year I fear the line may be rather faint… and slightly wobbly. My problem is that none of the choices resonate. Not even if I listen really hard.

There are certainly one or two parties whose names (much like Voldamort) I will not utter. That they remain popular is an unfortunate indication of the society in which we live, and the ‘island’ mentality that clings to a past which never truly existed. But the other parties? The three mains? The coalition has damaged reputations on both sides. And as for the third? Well, there’s a point in Dirty Dancing when one male character suggests that his chances of success may have been better with the other sibling…

My issue is that I don’t look at any of the three main leaders and think, ‘you’d get me.’ It’s not about private/comprehensive education. It’s not about race, creed or colour. I absolutely abhor the term ‘ordinary people’ – there is no such thing, and I don’t understand how ‘hard working’ people can be segmented according to their salary. You either work hard or you don’t. You either pay taxes, or you don’t. I have no problem with being represented by an MP with a regional accent different to my own – comradeship was never built on the past similarities, but on visions for the future. And just because you grew up on the same street, doesn’t mean you’ve walked the same path… What I’m seeking is simply someone I can believe in and someone who is believable.

The day Barack Obama became President of the USA was an historical one. I was lucky enough to attend his first public UK address since his inauguration, at London’s G20 summit. He made me feel like I was the only person in the room, and more importantly, that he ‘got me’. What we have in common, if anything at all, I have no idea. But what we don’t share in upbringing, in background, in education, in location, makes not a jot of difference. Whether it was his unthreatening power, his empathy, or the ease of his delivery, I can’t really say. But whatever it was about his particular brand that day, I bought into it. And more so than I ever did to that of the man grinning gormlessly by his side.

Of course, Mr Obama is now facing criticism from many of those who voted for him. And I’m not surprised. Living up to everyone’s Presidential expectations is impossible. But he still got the country excited. And his inauguration heralded the possibility of a new beginning. He didn’t quite swoop in, his cloak extended behind him, or don a metal suit, or wear a mask, but, like the very best super heroes, he did get people behind him. And millions still are. When I look at what’s on offer for us, however, I can’t help but to feel it’s just the start of more of the same. Our very own Groundhog Day. I’ll leave the casting to you…

I will vote, of course, on May 7th. And I will pray that the issues most important to me – Health and Education – are placed as high upon the “requires ministration” post-election list, as the welfare of the amazing individuals who work in each discipline.

But, after placing my X, I might move my little pencil to the bottom of the list, and under shield of covering hand I might add another name – my own believable hero.

And as I watch the votes roll in that night, with my brimming wine glass, my cake-guilt, and my ‘Mr Darcy’ by my side, I might smile.

And I might imagine that in a backroom somewhere, a perplexed politician is wondering what on earth Brigitte Jones ‘gets’ that he doesn’t.