Monday, 25 July 2011

Auras Actually

‘Could you do us three thousand words on “wellness”?’ said the voice on the phone.
    In an attempt to cure my migraines, I’d tried just about every therapy you could think of. I was becoming something of an expert and made a living writing about complementary health for encyclopaedias and part-works (books issued in magazine-like instalments).
    I thought I knew it all. I ate properly and exercised. I relaxed with yoga. I didn’t smoke. I drank alcohol in moderation. I’d spent three years with a counsellor and hypnotherapist sorting out emotions from the past and learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions (like anger) in the present – something no one had ever taught me before. Frog and I were aware that we still had lots to learn about living together but at least we didn’t get stuck in those terrible arguments when all we wanted to do was grab the other one by the throat and strangle them – not quite so often anyway.
    It was six months since we’d lost our baby. I’d spent several months crying and then another few months where I’d been taken over by fantasies and veered off in strange directions (another story) but now I was OK again.
    I was slightly daunted however by the assignment. The subject was vaguer than I was used to. I decided to start thinking about it by dividing wellness into four categories – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I then listed under each category what you could do for yourself and what therapies you could use. All well and good until I got to the last category: the spiritual. I realised, to my horror, that while I knew lots about spiritual paths and practices I used absolutely none of them in my daily life. My life appeared to be devoid of a spiritual dimension.
    I did nothing about the insight of course and carried on as normal.
    Six months later, as I have described in ‘The Fool’ (February), a friend introduced me to Cheryl. Cheryl was sketching aura-portraits and, rather nervously, I agreed to let her do one for me.
    The aura, I knew, was the energy field around the body, visible to some people. Some scientific research had been done into the phenomenon but on the whole it was lumped in with telepathy, mediumship, fortune-telling, and all the rest of that psychic nonsense. Not that that was what I thought about auras. I’d seen, heard and felt some strange things myself - but I didn’t know what to make of them.
    ‘You get headaches,’ said Cheryl, picking up a black crayon and smudging it over one side of the head of the human-figure outline on her paper.
    I nodded. I wasn’t that impressed. Most people got headaches.
    Then she began smudging black all over the figure’s solar plexus.
    ‘You’ve got a serious blockage here,’ she said. ‘You must do something about it or you’ll be ill.’
    I gulped. ‘What can I do?’
    ‘Do you meditate?’ she asked.
    I shook my head.
    Around the top half of the figure she coloured a purple hoop, but around the bottom she did a brown one.

    She pointed to the brown.
    ‘See this,’ she said. ‘This is not good. Your spirituality is not connected to the rest of your life.’   
    By now I was riveted. She spoke with total certainty. I just knew that she could help me.
    ‘How do I connect it?’ I asked.
    Cheryl thought for a while.
    ‘Giving,’ she said.
    As I have described, that was the beginning of my crash-course in spiritual practice.
    A year later Cheryl did me another aura-portrait. It was beautiful. Instead of being restricted to a small area around the body, the colours stretched to the edge of the page. All my favourites were there – pink, purple, emerald green, turquoise. There were still black patches but they had moved. The brown had vanished.

    A year after that I wasn’t seeing Cheryl quite so often any more but she agreed to take part in a ‘Day of Healing’ - therapy taster sessions – that a group of us was organising in the village and where I was doing my tarot-reading.
    I was meditating every day now and in my meditations I had the sensation that two angels were standing behind me with their hands on my shoulders. They gave me a lot of comfort, and strength.
    ‘Can I do you an aura-portrait as a warm-up,’ Cheryl asked me, ‘while we wait for people to arrive?’
    This time, there were no blockages. Golden-yellow ringed the aura and flared from the figure's back like wings.
    ‘There’s an angel behind you,’ said Cheryl.

Cheryl unfortunately burnt out (so there's no point ringing the telephone numbers on the aura-portraits). She became very successful very quickly. Everyone wanted her to sort their lives out. People were ringing her day and night. She married, moved away and found a job with the Post Office.

And, yes, I found the aura file eventually, not where I had expected it but under 'C' for Cheryl in the box of material I used when I wrote an autobiography a few years ago.

Friday, 22 July 2011

A room of one's own

Continuing with the narcissistic theme (and because I still can’t find my blinking aura file), I thought I’d show you a couple of pictures of the house.
    When Frog went self-employed eighteen years ago, his tools and equipment already filled a garage, a shed, the driveway, a bedroom and half the sitting-room. Now we had the contents of his workshop at the university to accommodate as well. I meanwhile was also self-employed and used one of the bedrooms in our two-and-a-half-bedroomed bungalow as my study. The dog’s bed took up most of our tiny galley kitchen. Things were becoming a tad cramped.
    We didn’t want to move as we had good neighbours and were well dug into the village so instead we turned to our friend Miles, a designer and builder ( ).
    ‘I’d like a tower to work in and a big kitchen,’ I said.
    ‘I’d like a cave,’ said Frog, ‘to use as a music studio.’
    Well, thanks to Miles and his wild (sometimes too wild) imagination, that’s just about what we got.
    Our bungalow now has four levels.
    Frog has a semi-underground room with sound-proofing in the ceiling and non-right-angled corners (better for sound-recording). He keeps the blinds closed and the window shut. Here it is.

    And I have a room carved out of the loft:

Here is my sewing corner in the room, and the glass walls looking into the conservatory that connects the old and the new parts of the house:

and here are my lovely Velux windows:

Because I'm not very clever with photographs, I've managed to make the room look dark, but that's just what it isn't.
    (And, as you can see, I'm not so minimalist after all, in a space that's all mine. . .)

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A week in the life

I am exhausted. Nikki the dogminder has gone to a Brandon Flowers concert at the Eden Project so I don’t get my day off. I nearly step on a fat brown grass snake on the path through the field. What does this mean? I should have connections with snakes - I am born in a Chinese year of the snake and my name may mean snake – but I haven’t found them yet. As I write this, I think ‘a snake in the grass’. ‘A lurking danger’ says the dictionary.

Migraine. I wake in the night with delirious thoughts pumping through my brain like blood. I don’t have any control over them and they don’t feel like mine. The words ‘the Devil’s heart’ arrive and then ‘the Dragon’s heart’. I roll over and write them down on the scrap-paper I keep on my bedside table.

Feel less yukky but still weak. Nikki picks up Ellie. I plant out the last of my parsnips and cover them with chicken wire to protect them from the rabbits. Felicity the cat used to keep their numbers down, leaving a headless baby rabbit on my bedside rug most days through the summer. What will happen now she’s gone?

I yield to temptation and stop off at Long Tall Sally on my way to the library in Exeter. I find a black and white African-print top that I think I can adapt to fit. It’s in the sale (and an extra 30 per cent off the sale price) so worth a try. Frog and I spend all evening unpicking it.

Ellie disappears while we’re out walking. I hear distant barking so guess where she’s gone. As expected, she’s licking noses through a neighbours’ gate with their five-month-old Rhodesian ridgeback. I feel mean dragging her away but they did have a long play together on Wednesday while I drank tea with Claire.

I feel crushed as usual at the start of the week by the reality of life. But is it really reality or just someone else’s idea of what reality really is? Does it matter that I don’t have a job, don’t earn money, don’t know what to say when people ask me what I ‘do’?

I want to write a blog post about auras but I’ve been looking for my file of aura portraits for several months. Where has it gone?  I decide to write this one instead as it’s been brewing since the weekend. I censored it because I thought, are people really interested in the minutiae of my life? Wouldn’t it be better to write something serious and informative? I want to include my first attempt at a photographic self-portrait as well. But is that narcissistic?

Where are my feet? Where is the dog? I need more practice.
(The black bag in my hand contains dog-treats, not what you're thinking it does.)

Monday, 18 July 2011

I like Eggheads

Here is a silly poem I wrote a few years ago after Frog and I had been disagreeing about what to watch on television. (In case you don't watch television, 'Eggheads' and 'The Simpsons' are television programmes, one a quiz and the other a cartoon.)

I like Eggheads
And you like The Simpsons

I like chilli
And you like custard

I like Tolkien
And you like Pratchett

I like silence
And you like noise

I like giving things away
And you like collecting them

I like lists
And you like chasing a whim

I like taking my time
And you like pressure

I like mornings
And you like night

I like walks
And you like shopping

I like polo necks
And you like scarves

I like Handel
And you like Hendrix

I like water
And you like tea

And that is why, you see,
That I like you
And you like me.

Ellie and mayweed

Friday, 15 July 2011

A proper gardener

I had a migraine yesterday so was lying outside under a sun umbrella. When I turned over I saw this corner of the house.
    ‘That looks like something created by a proper gardener,’ I thought.
    At the back are tomato and cucumber plants donated by gardening friends. (Thank you, Alan. Thank you, Pat.)
    The ‘trellis’ is what Frog calls racking. He rescued it from the university (where he works) when they were refurbishing a lab and chucking it out.
    In the front are my new parsley plants and an olive tree bought by Frog.
    Also my brand new watering can which I actually bought myself - with a voucher that came in a free local paper. It sprinkles, unlike my old one which has had its spout nibbled by Dog. (The old one was given to me by my sister Emma many years ago. I still use it – just not for sprinkling.)
    This south-westerly wall is baking hot after a day of sunshine, with the bricks acting like a giant storage heater and keeping the plants warm all night. It works better than the southerly wall round the corner (where I have some chilli plants, also donated).

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


I wrote this eight years ago about something that happened fifteen years ago. For the full story, see ‘Mother’s Day’ (April).

You weren’t very pretty
when you came out –
all wrinkled and red.
They dressed you in a bonnet and shawl
and  put you in a crib
then showed you to us both
even though you were dead.
Frog cried buckets
so I stayed brave.
Frog’s brave now
but I can’t cry any more.
I’m the one who’s dead,
while you sail on
and spring comes to Devon.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Wildflowers in the garden

Deep down Frog and I are the same, but on the surface we differ in just about everything.
    In the house for instance I am a minimalist whereas Frog’s possessions accrue in awful dusty heaps and spread like cancer.
    ‘I just take a long time to put things away,’ says Frog when I bark my shins yet again and swear.
    ‘Yes,’ I mutter darkly. ‘Like twenty years.’
    In the garden however, our roles are reversed. Frog has a collection of machines of destruction – chainsaw, mower, hedgetrimmers, strimmer – which he longs to use ‘to keep the garden tidy’. I on the other hand, so long as we have somewhere to sit out, I can grow some vegetables, and we can see our views, would rather leave it to nature.
    Mostly we manage to compromise, and here are some of the wildflowers that have escaped Frog’s flails, some self-seeded and some planted by me.
    I don’t want to get on my soapbox here, but why grow foreign plants which need cosseting and could be invasive (such as the dreaded Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed, Himalayan balsam and a pond weed whose name I’ve forgotten) when we have so many lovely native plants? Or am I being racist?

Hedge woundwort, which has seeded itself in the paving slabs next to some Greek oregano (which has itself spread from a flowerbed). What a lovely colour combination. I like this plant, even though it doesn’t smell pleasant, as it feels friendly. Another of the ‘worts’, used for staunching wounds, as you might expect. Its leaves yield a yellow dye, so one of my books says.

Bindweed, crawling all over the shrubs. I’m conducting an experiment: will it take over, or will it reach sensible proportions and then stop?

Tiny self-heal, in the lawn, used in the past for sore throats, headaches, chest ailments, internal bleeding, piles and fevers, to close wounds and as a general strengthener. Wow. Did it work? I’ve no idea.

Feverfew, which I think I planted once and which has now spread itself into the strangest places. Here it is in a dark corner of the carport. A herbalist once prescribed a tincture of feverfew for me to take when I had migraines but it didn’t work. I read somewhere that I should be eating a leaf a day as a preventative. I tried one once and it was disgusting.

Meadow cranesbill, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the wild. Presumably it’s one of those plants that used to grow with crops in fields but because of herbicides does no more. I sowed some in the garden and it lives very happily in the flowerbeds, spreading but not taking over.

Toadflax, also planted by me. It’s supposed to be a pest in gardens, but I’ve never found it so. I love the name. ‘Flax’ I can understand because of the shape of the leaves, but ‘toad’? I must check out my mother’s copy of Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica. Maybe that would tell me.

Comfrey, of course, beloved by organic gardeners, planted by me and now all over the place. Frog razed these clumps to the ground two weeks ago (me hurriedly gathering up the stuff and filling one and a half compost bins) and look at them now. As well as composting comfrey, I use it as a mulch on my veg bed. Does this work, do you know? Are the nutrients released this way?

Monday, 11 July 2011

Paying attention

One of the blogs I follow is called ‘a small stone’ ( ). In it the writer records one tiny observation for each day ‘like a stone picked up on a long walk and carried home in your pocket’. What a lovely idea.
    She says that she uses the blog to help her pay attention and she hopes it will do the same for us, the readers of her blog.
    Indeed it does.
    I made two observations this morning.

Ellie and I were walking through a wood when a herd of Guernsey cows and calves thundered past at speed on a narrow track, led by one quad bike and followed by another. We were both fascinated.

As we drove home, a lorry came in the opposite direction. On the passenger seat, next to the male driver, was a life-size cut-out of a blonde bimbo dressed in shocking pink.

    Roselle, in her blog ‘Qualia and other wildlife’ ( ), points out that ‘things are things-in-themselves and can also be signposts to other more subtle realities’. In other words, we see what we need to see. Like dreams, the things we notice are actually glimpses into what is happening in our subconscious, glimpses of what is in the process of emerging from the compost heap of the subconscious and becoming conscious. They are omens.
    Recording observations, like recording dreams, like any writing in fact, makes the subtle concrete. It clears blockages in the subconscious/conscious interface and moves along the psychic processes. That’s why we do it, I suppose.
   Goodness knows though, on the evidence of the above, where my processes are heading.

Sunday, 10 July 2011


I’ve at last discovered how to take close-up pictures with my camera, or rather I’ve discovered that there is a special setting for close-ups, so can share another of my passions with you. My camera was thrown out by my brother because it had stopped working but retrieved and made to work again by Frog. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an instruction book and, because I’d never had a digital camera before, I had no idea what the camera could do. Frog has now printed out some instructions for me from the internet.
    I hated biology at my secondary school. The teacher was cruel to us, there were cages of locusts in the lab – climbing all over the glass making scratchy noises - and we had to do horrible things like cutting up dead frogs. One project however, keeping a wildflower diary, enthused me. What’s more, the mother of a friend in the village who was in my class at school, was a wildflower expert.
    Miranda’s mother took us all over the North Downs, where we lived, helping us identify plants and taking us to the secret places where the rare plants like orchids grew. The North Downs are particularly rich in wildflowers because the thin chalky soil is not much good for farming so the hills are left – as beechwood and as closely cropped sheep pasture. Sometimes I headed out alone, coming back with armfuls of wildflowers to press or draw. (I would NEVER pick a wildflower today.*)
    Then, in the summer, I went with my family on holiday to the Norfolk Broads and was able to take a canoe on my own up hidden creeks and discover a whole new world of wildflowers. I felt like an Amazon explorer, imagining that I was seeing things that no other human had seen, going to places untouched by human hand and identifying plants for the very first time.
    The next year they awarded two special prizes at the school – for wildflower diaries. Miranda got first prize and I got second. Exactly as it should have been (although I was pretty peeved at the time).
    The M25 goes through the North Downs now and wildflowers are endangered all over, with some already extinct (I think).** I find this frightening.
    In Devon however we are lucky enough still to have some room for wildflowers, and here are some of them, photographed over the last few days around where I live and by the sea twenty or so miles away. (As you will see, I still have a lot to learn about the best way to capture them on camera.)

Lady's bedstraw. This sweet-smelling plant was used to stuff mattresses.

St John's wort, still used to treat depression.
Any plant with 'wort' in its name - and there are many - was once used medicinally.

We used to call this 'eggs and bacon' in Kent because of the brown markings (bacon) on the yellow petals (eggs). In Kent, with the dry climate and nibbling sheep, it grows about a tenth of the size it does here in lush Devon. Its official name is 'birdsfoot trefoil'. 'Birdsfoot' because its pods splay out like birds' feet and 'trefoil' because it has three-lobed leaves like clover, to which it is related.

This spooky plant was growing in deep shade. I think it's a broomrape, rare parasitic plants, possibly 'red broomrape' which, according to my beloved Oxford Book of Wildflowers (given to me by my parents on my eleventh birthday), grows by the sea in the south, (parasitic) on wild thyme - which is an example of how specific are the needs of some plants.

This tall, triffid-like plant has the splendid name 'hemp agrimony'. My book says it likes damp woods, marshes and riversides but I've only ever seen it by the sea, in Devon and Brittany. Another of my books says that recent research has shown that it might be useful in the treatment of cancer and AIDS.

The lovely star-like lesser stitchwort.
Apparently it used to be chewed to relieve muscular pain and 'stitches'.
Alternatively you could stew it in wine and powdered acorns (yummy).
In Devon they used to say that if you pick stitchwort you risk being led astray by pixies.

Must stop now and go and plant out my leeks and parsnips. And no I don't weed unless I really have to (and then usually only bindweed and couch grass, and I do apologise to the plant and explain what I'm doing before I start).

*Since writing this, I’ve done some research. It is actually illegal to uproot any wild plant without the landowner’s permission, or to pick, uproot or destroy any of the plants on the endangered list.
** One in five native plants (about 345 out of 1,756 in 2008) is either ‘critically endangered’, ‘endangered’ or ‘vulnerable to extinction’ according to internationally recognised criteria.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


A Frog masterpiece.
Yes, I know, it's got meat and cheese on it and I'm supposed to be a vegan
- but I'm a very bad vegan, I hate labels, and if food is cooked for me I make an exception.

A particularly beautiful musk mallow - dark pink rather than light pink.

Meadowsweet and weeping willow.
Meadowsweet can smell rather sickly but at the moment it smells of vanilla-honey.
(How do you describe smells?)

This old bath was full of tadpoles a few weeks ago.
Unfortunately I couldn't check what happened to them because cows, calves and a bull took up residence in the field.
I hope they didn't drink them. (I mean, I hope the cattle didn't drink the tadpoles, not the other way round.)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Still crazy after all these years*

I follow four blogs at the moment (details in my profile) and each of them teaches me something different – about how to be and about how to write. ‘Reading the Signs’ ( ) is my most recent discovery. The writer suffers from ME and the blog is an extraordinarily honest account of her pain.
    I wasn’t brought up to feel pain. I was brought up to ‘get on with things’, to ‘stop making a fuss’ and to smile. The trouble is though, if you stop feeling pain, you stop feeling anything. And, for someone who wants to write - or live, that is poison.
    My pain is my numbness. Every three weeks I have a migraine and that, I believe, is my accumulated psychic pain looking for a way out.
    There, I’ve said it. I’ve admitted to feeling pain. And you’re the first to hear it.

*This is a Paul Simon song title. I hope he doesn't mind me using it.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


I love wacky ideas: the gods were visitors from another planet; the Earth is controlled by reptiles who feed on our fear; the pyramids, Avebury and Stonehenge were built by Atlantean refugees. I hate to think that we have the world sewn up. Does it matter if ideas are true or not? Actually, I don’t know what true means. To my mind, if something works or makes me feel better then it’s true. Truth isn’t fixed. All you can say is – this is true, for me, at this moment. To say more is to head towards the realms of arrogance and bigotry.
    All of which is a preamble for talking about leys.
    It was Alfred Watkins, in his classic 1921 book The Old Straight Track, who first pointed out that prehistoric and natural features seem to be arranged in straight lines. He thought that these lines might be ancient paths or direction-finding devices and called them leys (pronounced ‘lays’) after the place-name element (also spelt lay, lee, lea or leigh) which has never been properly explained. Conventional archaeology scoffs at his ideas but computer analysis has discovered that ancient sites in the UK are in fact aligned much more often than chance alone would allow.   
    A more recent idea about leys, first suggested by John Michell in his 1969 book The View over Atlantis, is that they are ‘energy’ lines, part of a worldwide system perhaps inherited from Atlantis. In acupuncture, energy is believed to circulate around the human body along ‘meridians’. Leys are the meridians of our planet. Prehistoric people put their stones and so on along these lines to enhance both the energy of the Earth and their own when worshipping at their sites (or whatever they did at them).
    If you want to check leys out on maps for yourself you can include long-standing crossroads and churches or other historic buildings (often built on older sites), ancient tracks and ponds (possibly dug by prehistoric people to enhance leys) as well as obvious prehistoric features such as standing stones and barrows. When out walking in the countryside look also for sudden vistas, markstones hidden in undergrowth, or hills with notches in them. 
    The beautiful Scots pine is native to Scotland but you can see clumps on the tops of hills all over the UK. Watkins suggested that these trees (or rather their ancestors) were deliberately planted by prehistoric people to mark leys.
    On one of my walks I pass a Scots pine and on a hill in the distance is another. It wasn’t until this winter, however, with the ground icy-hard, that I ventured into the middle of the neighbouring field and was able to align the two trees and stand in the line myself. I looked behind me and there was the ancient farmhouse of some neighbours, directly in line with the two trees. A thrill went through me. And it still does, every time I stand in that line.
    Earth energy, imagination or just a lovely view?
    Who cares.

I took the above photograph when I was up there this morning. The second pine is on top of the conical hill in the distance just to the right of the first. (You can't see it in the picture, but you can when you're there.)