88. A Tale of Two Tails     

Some of you might have followed the escapades of our youngest cat, Titan, in previous blogs. Here he is. All sweetness and light, isn’t he?

Titan rat

Except he isn’t. Don’t be fooled by that cute, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth look. Make no mistake, this weeny little cat is a lean, mean, killing machine who has excelled himself recently. No doubt the neighbours are delighted that the mice/rat/vole population has been decimated since he joined our happy tribe, but we’re not. Well I’m not. I’m a bit squeamish about catching and rounding up his unwilling houseguests (despite having kept pet rats in the past), so we have an agreement that Stephen catches the wildlife, while I sort out the sick. Let’s just say it works for us.

The hunting seems to go in phases, where we have a few weeks of no bodies or little brown animals scampering around, then suddenly we’re inundated. This week has been particularly challenging as on Wednesday we noticed a particular smell in the kitchen. There’s a really good reason for the expression, “I smell a rat”, as anyone who’s kept rats will agree. Apparently they don’t have bladders, consequently leaving a trail of urine wherever they go. As pets they are funny, yes, clever, yes, entertaining, yes, and very smelly, also a yes, no matter how much you clean them out. Trust me, we’ve had six.

A few years ago we had a similar situation when a rat managed to get behind the washing machine/dishwasher/sink unit and after several days of rat hunting and half-destroying the kitchen, we managed to rescue it. To counter any such repetition of events we stuffed towels into likely gaps, which seemed to work really well, if looking a bit weird. Then recently we had a bit of a redecorate and very stupidly decided we might be safe enough now to take the towels away as they didn’t look that great, TBH. Anyway, back to Wednesday evening, when we realised we’d made a very silly decision as there was clearly a rat camping out behind the units again. Aaargh. It really wasn’t the time to start heaving everything around, so we went to bed hoping Mr/Ms Rat would make an escape bid during the night.

Clearly by the next morning it hadn’t, as judged by the increasing ratty aroma. Sigh. We were off to London for a book launch later that day, but felt the need to try to rescue the poor thing before we left. Plus we didn’t want it starving to death behind the units as that would have smelt even worse. That’s happened behind a bookcase in the not too distant past. Yuk. Moving on.

We set about heaving the dishwasher and washing machine out. And then taking the kickboards off.

Here’s the evidence

Kitchen 1

Kitchen 2

We’re not normally this messy, promise. This is what happens when you have to take all the contents out of the cupboards to check it hasn’t climbed in there through the holes where the pipes go. Then just as we were completely unprepared, a baby rat belted out from behind the washing machine, round the front of it and back under the sink unit. Nooo! We spent a good while trying to get behind there without completely destroying the kitchen in the process, and eventually had to give up as we had to leave for our train. At least leaving all the units out gave us a bit of hope it would escape on its own. Our lovely neighbour Rose comes to feed the cats if we’re away, so I had to leave a note explaining why the kitchen looked a lot worse than usual. I’m hoping she believed me…

Friday whizzed by in a tired blur as we got back really really late from the book launch and we couldn’t bring ourselves to start banging around again at the end of another long day, so with heavy hearts and a bombsite of a kitchen we headed for bed.

Guess how this morning turned out? Yes! More head scratching and prodding of units to rescue the rat, which was starting to feel like part of the family by now. Hopefully a live one. You might wonder why we assumed it was still there. The big clue was in the ginger ninja waiting patiently by the washing machine (no, not to do his washing – it wasn’t his day). It’s usually pretty obvious where Titan has left his guest as he hangs around whichever piece of furniture it’s hiding behind until he can’t literally can’t keep his eyes open. You know cats sleep 80% of the day? Not when they’re staking out their prey. We had one baggy-eyed cat this morning. Ha!

So there was a lot more banging around and sliding of things down tiny spaces to try and scare/coerce/prise our little rodent out, but eventually through extreme boredom combined with no outcome we decided to abandon our search and go shopping, just for a change of scenery. And then when we got back and saw just how the kitchen looked, we decided we were fed up of living in such a tip and that by now the rat would surely have either died or escaped. At which point Stephen noticed that Titan was staking out a new area. Hurrah!! It was alive! This should be a doddle after the shenanigans in the kitchen. So hoping it’s the same rat and not a new one. Hmm. Gentle investigation revealed a little furry face poking out from underneath the book case in the hall, so we lined up the rat-catching pint glass at one end, blocked the other end with a cushion and gently tried to encourage him out.

Here’s the pic (you can’t see the cushion)

Bookcase1

At which point he scarpered through the TINY gap between cushion and wall, then legged it across the hall to hide behind our very heavy sheesham sideboard (which we’re trying to sell BTW just in case anyone out there is interested). So we gently heaved that out to discover – no rat. And that door is CLOSED.

Sideboard

So where the hell was he now? With three cats prowling around you’d think one of them would have noticed Rattius legging it across the lounge, although TBH Titan by this stage was looking like he’d had a night on the razz. The lounge is pretty naked at the moment (post decorating) and the only POSSIBLE place if he managed to squeeze through that tiny gap in the door, was the one remaining bookcase in there. So out that came. Sorry, no pic. And there he was! Hiding in the hollow corner underneath it. Yay! Stephen rushed off to get The Glass while I kept watch. At which point Rattius belted out towards the back wall and along behind the sofa. No! It wasn’t me! Not my fault! Stephen reappeared with The Glass and, not best pleased,  cautiously investigated the back corner of the lounge which includes a desk and a whole load of stuff, whereupon Rattius decided to make a break for freedom and headed out to the conservatory, hotly pursued by Titan who’d sleepily clocked that something was going down.

You’re probably bore shitless by now, but it has taken up a LOT of my time this week so I just had to inflict it on you. With Titan bundled safely behind the conservatory door and the two Oldies on the decking – they don’t move for anything except food these days – we opened the door to the outside and The Prisoner leapt to freedom, trampling right over Rowan’s tail in the process. She was like, ‘Oh there’s something walking over my tail. Oh. It’s a rat. Can I be bothered anymore? Nah.’ Well praise be for that. Rio made a very half-hearted attempt to follow behind, but fortunately I managed to distract him. And so Rattius is gone. And we’re exhausted. And the place is a tip. But he’s free, and I really hope he survives and stays that way.

And one final thing. Did I tell you I have a new book out? Yep. Follow the link at the top of the bar on the right and you can read aaaaallll about it. Ideal summer reading and a lot of fun with a bit of darkness thrown in. Enjoy.

Wishing you all good health and happiness

Margaret xx

 

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87. I Can’t Do This Alone

I’m relieved that I’ve managed to come screaming in with a blog just before the end of April, as it was getting a bit embarrassing. There’s not much point keeping a blog if I don’t, er, write in it, is there? A bit like having an empty journal by the side of your bed that you’re absolutely, definitely going to write in tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.

As per the excuses in Blog #86, it’s not that there hasn’t been anything to report, it’s more that there’s been so much happening that I haven’t had the time to think about writing here. And one of those things is that I have finally finished and published my second book. Well praise be for that, as it was taking up every waking moment and even my totally wonderful support team were probably getting a bit jaded. In the Acknowledgements I say that writing a book is never a solo journey, and I don’t think it can be. Artists of all kinds need muses and sounding boards, and in my own case that means friends who thought they were just friends, and family who were quite happily chuntering around being just family, may quite possibly have found themselves as characters in It Could Only Happen At Sea. Sorry peeps, occupational hazard apparently if there’s a writer in your midst.

I guess seasoned writers out there are having a ‘der, obviously?’ moment, in contrast to me. I’m having a massive light-bulb moment, which has got me thinking about the way we’re all interconnected, a theme found in Buddhism in general and Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing in particular. Because if I’m not completely me without them being in my life, then presumably it works the other way too and they aren’t 100% them without me being in their lives (even if they might like to be), so on some energetic level we are all connected however difficult we might find it sometimes. More of this in a moment. Clearly this isn’t spiritual rocket science, but the whole process of writing my book and getting myself into the heads of the characters has brought me to thinking about it on a deeply personal level. Because it’s not just friends that we’re part of, is it? We’re also part of the driver that cuts us up in traffic, or any other person who causes us to have an extremely uncharitable thought. Or somebody out in the wider world who is doing really bad things. Those people who quite possibly represent the shadow side of ourselves we’re ashamed of and don’t want to acknowledge. How does that work then? That troubled me a lot.

And in the way that the Universe provides what’s needed just when it’s needed, the daily newsletter from the wonderful Pam Grout popped into my inbox. She was writing about the Hawaiian forgiveness practice of Ho’oponopono, something I’d heard about vaguely and added to the ‘must look into this’ category, so this was clearly the moment to be looking into it. Rather than make a total fist of summarising it and probably writing a massively long blog as a result (which I’m trying not to do), I suggest you follow this link by Dr Joe Vitale and read about the inspiring Dr Ihaleakala. What I will say though, is that as a result of reading it and buying the book and the t-shirt, I’m trying very hard to practice taking responsibility for myself in the context of being connected to, and part of, everyone else. Oooh. Tough call. I love to have food for thought and this is a whacking great feast.

The funny thing is that now I’m at the end of the book, I see the real journey is only just beginning. Because in the process of writing it, rather than playfully introducing characters and trying to spin a good yarn, it turned out that I was unwittingly delving into some very dark and difficult ‘stuff’ from my own life. Writing about it was incredibly cathartic (where have I heard that before? – oh yeah, the blog!) and I came to see that in the spirit of Ho’oponopono I owe myself and the other person involved a big chunk of love and forgiveness, where previously all I found was sadness, blame, anger and a certain amount of embarrassment for getting into such a situation. It is an interesting journey to be sure and not at all what I expected when I set out to write contemporary fiction. I hope you enjoy reading it, should you feel so inclined.

Wishing you good health

Margaret xx

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86. Still working on it

So, it’s the usual excuses, blah,blah,blah been meaning to write a blog for ages but life got in the way and all that stuff. In fact there have been many thoughts jostling for attention and wanting to get themselves into a blog, but getting around to organising them at a sensible time (as in, not in the ridiculously early hours) has been a touch difficult. However, in the spirit of Paul Loomans (see Blog #85) and his intuitive to-do lists, and also best-selling author Hugh Howey (write when the passion strikes you) I did actually get up at silly o’clock to write this. I read the last blog just to catch up on anything relevant and realised with great delight that I’ve totally embraced Paul’s wise words and they are effecting tiny but very important changes. I also chuckled greatly at the resolution to write shorter blogs more frequently. Er-hem. Moving on….

Something that has arisen pretty frequently throughout the blogs is the issue of being a control freak. Going through the whole cancer experience brought home pretty forcibly that the only thing I really have any control over is my own attitude. Fast forward five years (yes, I can’t believe it either) and I think I’m finally starting to get it. I’ve realised that in my case it’s like a defense mechanism – a worry that if things don’t go according to plan I need to have a back-up plan B – and through the years it’s got completely out of control. In the last few days we’ve been juggling various diverse arrangements involving several different parties, often with only a short space of time between each of them and there was a very real risk of them clashing at certain points. Like the guy who’s coming to look at the piano we’re selling would be falling over the friend fitting the hall carpet. The kind of thing you quite possibly wouldn’t even worry about but which could potentially keep me awake at night. Obviously we didn’t plan it that way, but that was the way it was turning out. I was talking it through with Stephen when I realised that for about the umpteenth time this week I was working through a whole load of potential scenarios in my mind, which was a) pointless and b) exhausting. So I stopped. I stopped creating a whole drama out of something that might never happen. And you know what? It worked, and the drama didn’t materialise. The universe had it sorted and all I had to do was get out of the way. That’s definitely progress.

And I also realised that control-freakiness and lack of patience are sort of the same thing. I’m incredibly impatient and excited about getting my next book out (thankfully nothing to do with cancer), but there are several factors beyond my control which are causing some delay, so I just have to accept that it will be ready when it’s ready and not before. I’ve discovered that knowing that but still being impatient and truly living it with genuine acceptance are completely different things, and I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m slowing growing towards the latter, which is a lot less vexatious to the spirit. My lovely mum would be so proud because she always said I was at the back of the queue when patience was handed out.

I’m also peaceful about the fact that although I got up early to write in the tranquility of pre-dawn, it has taken me over an hour to write just about 600 words (most of which aren’t the ones that were rocketing around in my head) due to three cats alternating fighting or pestering for food as they’re not used to me being up so early. But then that’s achieved one of the objectives set out in Blog #85 which was to write shorter blogs. So in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Wishing you a peaceful and stress-free weekend

Margaret xx

 

 

 

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85 New Year, New Pic, New Blog    

It was nice to have a different kind of day from the one we expected – courtesy of the weather gods.

The UK has been lashed by rain and storms since before Christmas, but there came a point about 10.30 this morning, New Year’s Day, when the cabin fever was stronger than (my) dislike of getting wet. Sure I must have been a cat in a former life. Garbed in waterproofs, gloves and scarves, we set out for the stunningly beautiful tree-fringed beach at Highcliffe (as above) with the general expectation that we’d get a good soaking, but what the hell – we were desperate to get out. The air smelt beautifully fresh, and as we got closer to the beach the rain turned into a gentle drizzle which then disappeared completely. By the time we got there the sun was out and we felt completely overdressed and very hot. Ha! When will I learn? Well, I think I am, funnily enough.

I’m working my way through a fabulous book called Time Surfing: The Zen Approach to Keeping Time on Your Side by a Zen monk called Paul Loomans – he’s pure genius and the cartoon pictures are gorgeous. (You can find it on the book blog here) I started absorbing books on Buddhism in general and mindfulness in particular to help me stay sane during chemo and the ensuing stem cell transplant in 2013, and I’m still going strong, mainly because I’m so not nearly there yet. It is still such a challenge to stay in the moment and not allow my thoughts to go wandering off every which way so I’m always up for new ideas to help me.

Then I came across Paul’s book, and he’s genuinely helped me make a breakthrough. He makes it SO simple (the sign of a good teacher methinks) and suddenly I can see really clearly exactly what is happening when I’m off extrapolating out into the future, worrying about what might/might not happen and what I should/shouldn’t do about it. It’s exhausting and it’s also a complete waste of time as me worrying or not worrying doesn’t change the outcome. In fact in the course of worrying or being all control-freaky I’m also probably missing the good things that are happening. And funnily enough this relates completely to something as simple as our walk to the beach. After the usual agonising decisions about how many layers of what kind of clothing to take/wear (me, not Stephen, obvs) I suddenly realised what I was doing and shouted STOP very loudly to myself inside my head. And having stopped the internal commotion, I pulled on my boots, grabbed a warm, waterproof coat, stuffed gloves into my pocket and I was ready. Just like that. And then we were out, and the rain stopped and we saw a rainbow and the sea smelt amazing and the sun came out to welcome us into the first day of 2018. And I absolutely know I enjoyed it more, because in line with his teaching, I was just enjoying this moment and this moment and this moment as they followed on one from another, and in each moment there was something precious. I came back from the walk some time later tired, but more refreshed by the experience than ever before.

There’s such richness in his simplicity, and the proof of the (Christmas) pudding came when I realised I’m taking his advice to heart without really trying. His teaching extends very helpfully to areas such as procrastination, which I am definitely guilty of. His approach is novel. Instead of telling you to set a time and GET ON WITH IT he suggests you have a good look at what’s stopping you and possibly even befriend it. Yes. Because apart from the usual ‘because I don’t want to’ there’s always something else. In the UK we have until the 31st January to get our tax returns in. Along with many, many other people, despite having had a whole year to get it done, I too will be scrabbling to get it submitted before the deadline. But now, having investigated my reluctance – I mean who likes doing tax returns (apart from accountants obvs)? – I realise it’s because I need to get some facts together first. Once I’ve got the info I can do the form. And yes, I hate doing forms, but there’s a tax advice line I can call if I need to, so I’m really not on my own.

And the other truly magnificent part of the teaching is to ditch the To-Do list. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! He is totally in my camp when he says that a list just increases the pressure and emphasizes all the things you have yet to do. Countless supportive and well-meaning folk have tried to get me to keep To-Do lists and I just end up not looking at them or losing them, such is my level of disinterest. Yes, of course you need to write down something that’s important and Must Not Be Forgotten, holiday packing lists are an obvious one, but he suggests ways of developing your intuition so that you naturally work your way through what needs to be done at the time it needs doing. Ah-hem, obviously didn’t quite manage that with the tax return.

So this particular blog is the result of me practising what Paul Loomans teaches. I realised a long while back that there were bigger gaps between blogs than I would have liked. Although I’m thankfully no longer in treatment, there are people who follow the blog that are, and it’s nice to keep in touch. Historically I’ve always written long blogs which take a lot more time and much more thought to string together, so I quite often missed the boat and didn’t end up writing about something that’s important to me because I was waiting for enough time to write a few thousand words.

Solution: write shorter blogs. Yay! This is the first of many :-)

I’ve wanted to replace the picture on the header for a long time, but wanted it to coincide with something special. I’d say that our lovely and unexpectedly sunny walk to the beach counts as something special, coming as it did on New Year’s Day. I took the pic towards the end of our walk when it was getting seriously warm inside my snuggly waterproof coat. Job done on that one then.

And finally, having missed out on posting at Christmas (onslaught of Norovirus, sorry), New Year’s Eve (erm, procrastination?), what could be better than posting a new blog on New Year’s Day? Sorry for the long delay folks, but I really think I’m getting it cracked, thanks to Paul Loomans. Go and look at his book, you won’t regret it.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2018.

Margaret

P.S. Many thanks to Herman Oldenburger for bringing this TED talk by Tim Urban to my attention. If you don’t know what procrastination is, watch this :-)

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84. Yellow Cars

Hope you like the picture of the Harvest Moon. We went down to our local beach specially to watch it rise, and discovered that the best viewing point was inside one of our favourite watering holes right by the water. Funny that. It would have been churlish not to order anything, so in common with several other people there for the same reason, we enjoyed a glass of wine and some chips as that beautiful moon rose in front of us. At one point I belted out to take this picture as the moon finally came out from behind the clouds, and was closely followed by an older lady also bearing her phone. She told me that as a retired midwife this was the first time she’d actually been able to enjoy watching the Harvest Moon rise as usually she was rushed off her feet on the labour ward. The atmosphere in the restaurant was amazing, and it was lovely to be with like-minded people when we least expected it.

 

Harvest Moon

I’ve honestly been thinking about writing another blog for ages and ages. July to October is an embarrassing amount of time to leave it, but so much has been happening on both a global and personal level, that every time I sat down to write it felt like I was already out of date. Summer was amazing, not because of the weather (which, being in England, is always ‘interesting’ whatever the time of year), but because we got to spend precious time with family. It can feel like a bit of an outpost down here, so we’re always delighted when relatives make the big trek South to see us, as opposed to us venturing to the frozen wastes of the North and East. And the lovely thing about their visits is that we see our beautiful area through new eyes. Trips to well-known haunts that we thought we knew inside out suddenly become more interesting and extra-special when viewed through a visitor’s eyes, and I came over all extra grateful that we live here. We take visits to the beach completely for granted because it is an easy stroll both from home and the office, but it was another experience entirely when seen through the eyes of my great-niece Ivy, aged one year and four months at the time of her visit. Suddenly we became one of those extended families on the beach, and instead of running in the opposite direction to retreat to a quieter spot (I know… grumpy!), I loved every moment of watching her play with the sand, shriek at the coldness and shock of the sea, and smear ice-cream all over her face. I had such a massive dose of gratitude that it kept me high for days. Which is really handy as I’ve been working on the gratitude thing a lot more recently.

I realised that in a period when world events are so cataclysmic that it’s hard to know what to think, let alone say, the only way I personally can cope is by paying attention to the GOOD stuff that is also going on so that I am nurtured at a very deep soul level. It’s said that good news is no news because of course there’s no drama, so if television, newspapers and the internet are to be believed we could end up thinking everything is going down the pan. Not true. If we go looking for it we will find it, just like me seeing the beach through the eyes of a toddler for the first time. (I’m sure all the grandparents out there are well used to this, but forgive me, as a novice great-aunt, I’m new at this next generation thing, and I’m loving it.)

So how does all this fit in with the yellow car in the blog title? Interesting you should ask that. I’ve been working my way through Pam Grout’s amazing book E-squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality to help myself stay on the more positive side. Yes, I know I’m usually Ms Bright-side, but the next visit to my consultant is coming up and for some bizarre reason I start to get all jumpy the closer it gets – for No Reason At All. I know I’m fine, and I’m sure he’ll see from the blood tests that I’m fine and totally agree with me, but I’m sure in common with many other cancer survivors there’s always that teeny niggly little worry.

So back to the book – incidentally her Thank and Grow Rich is also excellent. Love the title riff on Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Clever. The whole point of it is to demonstrate very graphically that what you put your attention on is what you get back and she does so with some really easy and fun experiments. Yes, I know this idea isn’t new, and I’ve read literally a whole library of books on the subject, but I love her approach. The second experiment is a particular favourite and it’s become a bit of a family thing now. For just 48 hours you need to concentrate on noticing something that you have chosen in advance. Something that isn’t run-of-the-mill, so no cheating with things like buses or grass or airplanes or black cars. Nope. It has to be a little bit more unusual than that so I chose yellow cars because I didn’t think there were many around. Do you have ANY idea how many there are?! Loads and loads and loads, and that’s not counting our local taxi company which happens to use yellow cars. That would be cheating. What’s happened is that Stephen and I are now incapable of passing a yellow car without commenting on it, even in the presence of others (embarrassing) – and then we have to go on and explain it, which actually opens up some interesting conversations. The really funny thing is that we had my son Ben in the car a while ago. Unbeknown to me, he had also read the experiments and chosen a GREEN car. So we’re merrily driving through Christchurch pointing out all the yellow and green cars like a couple of toddlers. Yay. Bring it on. Do it yourself and feel the power. What you look for is what you find. And in these very difficult and challenging times, I’m determined to keep looking for those yellow cars.

Wishing you good health

Margaret xx

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83. Soaring with the eagles

I must admit I’ve always had a bit of a problem staying grounded. My over-active mind and imagination have taken me to all kinds of weird and wonderful places in the past, as well as some that were definitely not quite so wonderful. You know that awful ‘What if?’ feeling? The extrapolating out a situation until it has assumed massive proportions in your mind – and it hasn’t even happened yet? Yep. My speciality. Got the gold award on that one.

When one of my boys was young and off sick from school, we were driving down the road for a doctor’s appointment and I slowed down just a tiny bit to concentrate on what he was saying from his perch on the back seat. That split second gained by slowing down saved us from what would probably have been a fatal accident. Just as we were approaching a T-junction from the left, a driver lost control of his car and shot across the junction right in our path, coming to rest with the front half of the car smashed into a wall running alongside the road. As it was, I only just managed to stop in time. Seconds earlier and we would have been buried in that wall instead.

It was only after the emergency services had taken statements, carted the occupants from the other car off to hospital and let the witnesses go that I fell apart, thinking how close we had both come to death. Thankfully the people from the other car were safe, although I think the driver had some kind of blackout, which is what had caused the accident. But the ‘what if?’ thoughts kept coming and I couldn’t get the crash out of my mind, especially in those dark hours at 3 in the morning when all the bad thoughts and worries come flooding in. Being an astrologer I looked at the chart of the event to try and calm my mind and was amazed to see Venus in a good position for me on that day. What!? Why? The crash had been giving me nightmares, not sweet dreams. It was only when I talked to the lovely Komilla Sutton about it that things made sense – as things usually do when I talk to her, TBH.

“Margaret,” she said. “The fact that Venus is involved indicates it was a good outcome. You didn’t die, you weren’t even hurt. You are fine. The focus is on the good that happened, not the bad that didn’t.”

Ah. Yes. True. And that seemingly simple exchange, which must have happened about twenty years ago, dramatically changed my thinking from that point on.

So when cancer came knocking at the door in 2012/13 I didn’t exactly welcome it inside and offer tea and cake, but after the initial shock wore off I did look to see if it had brought a guest – and yes, it had. It brought the gift of writing the blog, and with that writing came the chance to explore my deepest thoughts and especially the darkest fears. And those deepest thoughts showed that I needed something to focus on – on a moment-by-moment basis – to get me through the whole horrible experience of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, as the big picture was too overwhelming to even consider in its entirety.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I absolutely do not espouse the idea of always looking on the bright side. I think it is really damaging to paper over difficult emotions with a ‘sky is blue, the sun is shining’ kind of philosophy, which is why all the way through the cancer episode I told it like it was, and I hope I still do. Even if nobody reads the blogs, just writing about pain or fear helps immensely, because if I leave those feelings inside they will fester, and festering is most definitely damaging. Given that I’m thankfully in remission you must be wondering why I’m writing about all this just now. Trust me, there really is a point to this blog, and it has wings. Lots of them, actually, and not just in the title.

So, enter the lovely Thich Nhat Hanh. I’m currently reading Old Path White Clouds, which is the life story of the Buddha, written by Thay, and it is astonishingly beautiful and very, very simple. Whenever we are faced with something difficult the temptation is for our minds to wiz off all over the place, and the point of mindfulness is to slow it down and take life moment by moment, at which level it is easier to cope. And by slowing down and staying undistracted instead of planning everything out and worrying about ‘what if?’ I’ve noticed that you actually open up and become aware of a whole lot more. It’s an ongoing challenge, make no mistake, but my goodness does it bring some rewards, especially to a (recovering) control freak like me. Here’s a case in point.

A couple of weekends ago we had planned to go across to Eastbourne for a meeting with our buyer at the wholesaler that handles the books for The Wessex Astrologer. We were expecting to visit some friends at the same time, one of whom has horses. Very unusually we booked – and paid for (eek!) – a hotel in advance, as it was a lot cheaper doing it that way. After all, what could possibly go wrong? Hahaha. You can almost hear the gods laughing. The first thing that happened was that on the Monday before our trip I discovered my meeting was cancelled, which also affected what we were planning with the horses the following day. Awww. My heart sank, as I was SO looking forward to messing around in a field with them. And we couldn’t cancel the hotel. Well we could but we wouldn’t get a refund, so a bit of a no-brainer really. Presumably, and trying to stay in the moment as decreed by TNH, we decided that Other Things would come out of this so we just needed to deal with what was, i.e. a booked hotel room a 2 and a half hour drive away. I got another business appointment to make the trip worthwhile, and we decided to alter the journey to take in Brighton on the way up to our friends in Horsham the following day. Job done.

Now I know quite a few people who live in Brighton so I need to be careful about saying this, but, um, it has changed one helluva lot since I was last there in about 1988. Obvs. I’m sure it is still lovely, but what with very dense crowds of visitors and a lack of reasonably priced parking, we decided to visit by train some other time and head very slowly towards Horsham instead. The only problem with this plan was that we still had about three hours to kill by the time we were about 10 minutes away. Aaargh.

By this point it was all becoming a bit hilarious, because everything we tried to do just didn’t work out in one way or another. It was all still up for grabs. Having given up on Brighton, where we’d expected to have lunch, we happened upon an award-winning vineyard en route (yes – we have them in England!), and went searching for a bit of grub, but they were more about expensive tours and wine tasting than actual sustenance. So after an exceedingly rapid look around we continued our crawl towards Horsham. Next up was a National Trust property – they are a good bet as their tea rooms are usually a delight. We drove in hoping that we could nip in for a sandwich without having to pay the entrance fee. Nope. We only found this out after getting stuck in the one way system that was their car park, due to a massive wedding that was being held there. You honestly couldn’t make it up. With fixed grins on our faces we eventually got out of the car park and back on the main road, planning to go into Horsham itself to use up a few hours if nothing else popped up.

Back to Thay for a minute. One of the lovely bits I’ve just been reading in Old Path, White Clouds is where Siddhartha (who becomes known as the Buddha) comes out of his latest meditation under the tree (he’s been doing this for a long, long time), and realises that in his journeys ever deeper he has seen how we are all connected at the most miniscule level. I’m not going to paraphrase as Thay has such a beautiful way with words:

The monk Gautama (Siddhartha) went from meditating on his body to meditating on his feelings, and from meditating on his feelings to meditating on his perceptions, including all the thoughts which rose and fell in his own mind. He saw the oneness of body and mind, that each and every cell of the body contained all the wisdom of the universe. He saw that he needed only to look deeply into a speck of dust to see the true face of the entire universe, that the speck of dust was itself the universe and if it did not exist, the universe could not exist either.

 So by looking at something so small, you actually get to see the bigger picture and all the dots (specks of dust) join together and it all makes sense. And going back to our increasingly ridiculous, but very mindful and in-the-moment journey, imagine my delight when we rounded a bend and I saw the sign for Hilliers Nursery, my dear mum’s very favourite place when we lived in Reading, which isn’t a million miles from Horsham.

“Hah! This will be good! This is it!”

Stephen, bless him, went with the flow and we pulled into the garden centre hoping for a life-enhancing cup of tea and possibly a piece of gluten-free (him), sugar-free (me) piece of cake. See why we never eat out? Anyway, long story short and all that, we had tea and a GF sandwich (no suitable cake) and went off for a very slow wander round the garden centre, which turned out to be huge, with lots of very long rows of plants. It was at the end of one particular row I realised something else lurked through the archway. All I could make out from my level (due to a mass of lovely plants around the archway) was ‘rds of Pr’, which to me meant only one thing.

“Oh my God, they’ve got birds of prey here!” I squeaked at Stephen who had his nose buried in some exotic plant. “Didn’t get the horses but maybe we can see the birds”. A quick chat with the lady on Reception revealed that for the princely sum of £6.00 we could basically spend the next day with over 80 birds of prey and take part in flying demonstrations too.

Oh my word.

With arrangements for the next day made, we (or at least me – not too sure Stephen was quite as excited) skipped off to meet our friends at the appointed time.

I expect you know what comes next but I’m telling you anyway. We had a lovely time with our friends and pitched up at Huxley’s Birds of Prey at 12.00 sharp the next morning. It was really quiet so we could spend as long as we wanted with the birds, and talk extensively to the people who look after them. Here’s one of the eagles.

Eagle

The flying display started at 2.30, and as I’d earlier done my shameless “Me! Please, please can I?” act with the owner to snag a place flying the hawks, when that bit came I was chosen and I loved every second. Okay, the hawks were only flying very short distances between volunteers whose gloves were loaded with scraps of meat, but it was amazing being so close to them. The birds very obviously have a close relationship with their handlers – despite what I’ve been told by other falconers – and it was about to get a whole lot better. When the birds are released to fly (on an individual basis) wherever they want, they have a GPS tracker attached to their legs, which I would imagine beats scanning the sky wondering where the hell your bird is. The owner, Julian, gave us a running commentary of where the birds were and how high they were flying. Periodically they would fly back over the centre and literally screech low across the show ring like a fighter jet before swooping off into the clouds again, obviously having the time of their lives. This was fascinating, but then Debbie came out to fly her falcon Kyrie. This is him.

Kyrie

When Kyrie was just 6 months old, and without wearing a GPS tracker, he disappeared for 12 days. He was finally found on the far side of the Isle of Wight, a distance of some 50 miles, proudly standing on a pigeon he’d caught. “Hey mum, look at me!” The GPS tracker is an absolute godsend because as well as tracking the birds it records just the incredible things they get up to. As we watched him wheeling way up high over the show ring, Debbie told us that Kyrie is their highest flying bird, having reached a height of over 2000 feet, and he has been recorded hurtling back down to earth at a speed of 280 miles an hour. I was transfixed at the way he sailed upwards, then circled, with almost no effort. It was so clear that he was playing, having fun. Enjoying just being out in the fresh air, and not planning on coming in any time soon. It made me think of the birds back at home in a whole new light, and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull made manifest.

Then I pulled myself up short, thinking the romance of all of this was getting slightly out of hand. But I just had to ask the burning question that was in my mind to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. I asked Debbie why the birds rise up with the thermals, achieving such amazing height and circle and swoop idly, with all the time in the world.

Her face took on a dreamy, distant look as her eyes combed the skies for her falcon, then she turned back to me.

“Because they can.”

And you know, I can’t stop thinking about that little sentence. Because they can. We all can. We can stop the monkey-mind, and in that space and calmness, we too can soar with the eagles.

Happy soaring.

Margaret

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82. Unleashing the Writer Within

It’s coming up to four years since my stem cell transplant, and these kind of anniversaries are always very thought-provoking. There’s the ‘Wow, aren’t I lucky to be here?’ thoughts, and quite a lot of reminiscing, and a feeling of being disconnected from my pre-chemo life too. Going through that kind of experience tends to do things to one’s outlook on life.

But the ‘thing’ I marvel at the most is that I have also been writing more or less consistently for those four years. In fact it’s about six months more than that as I started blogging way back at the beginning, in 2013, and if I hadn’t have been diagnosed with lymphoma (and one of my lovely authors hadn’t suggested it), I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have started writing at all. The catharsis has been incredible, and the very act of pouring my heart and soul (and medical procedures) into a blog very definitely helped in my recovery. In fact I would go as far as to suggest it to anyone who is going through hard times, as it’s an excellent way to process one’s thoughts. For me, in particular, the blog format worked because when I tried writing my thoughts in a day book (bought for that reason) way back at the beginning, they were dark and negative and angry and I felt as though they were festering quietly when I wasn’t writing, a bit like characters in a Discworld novel. Not healthy at all.

Everything changed when I started writing with the intention of other people reading my words. Reframing a truly horrible experience (oooh, say, a bone marrow biopsy for starters) into something that is more palatable did me masses of good, and very much brought out my previously unused dark sense of humour. I say that because I’m pretty sure my sense of humour was a lot different before I was ill – definitely closer to the light side. Which is a bit weird when you think about it, but then as I just said, being diagnosed with cancer does something to your head, and that’s even before the chemo. Which is another thing, actually. Although the long hours on the drip were indeed horrible they were also good thinking time, as were the twenty-three days in isolation after the transplant. Nothing like a lot of silence to focus the mind. Which is how I got involved in mindfulness, I guess but that’s not what this blog is about. So moving on, I do feel pretty lucky really, that all of this unleashed the writer within. And from where I’m sitting (at my laptop obvs) there’s no way she’s goin’ back inside. Ever.

Just as a quick aside as people do ask from time to time, I’m delighted to say that at my recent appointment with Joe everything was good and the blood tests were fine. Phew. Let off the hook for another six months then.

Anyway, back to my increasing love affair with words. Considering my day job is publishing books, you’d think I have an understanding of the deeper workings of a writer’s mind, but looking back to those days before I was ill I realise I was nowhere close. It always amuses me when I’m introduced to people and the inevitable work question pops up. As soon as they discover what I do for a living my new acquaintance very often launches into a little monologue about how much they want to write and how they never have the time, but they really do feel there’s a book in there, and in fact other people have told them they really should write, but how do they go about writing it? Pre-cancer, I used to just encourage them to write when they felt ready and a whole lot of similar platitudes because my role was to be on the receiving end of the finished manuscript, rather than the actual getting-the-words-on-the-page part of the action.

But now I have an entirely different view. The reason for the ridiculously long gap between blogs (sorry about that) is that I’ve been finishing my second book, which I am delighted to say has nothing to do with cancer or writing a blog. I can’t say much more at the moment as I’m still sorting out a publisher, but what I can say, hand on heart, is that the book virtually wrote itself and I really didn’t have much choice in the matter; every moment when I wasn’t writing I was counting the minutes until I would be again, which felt way weirder than feeling the need to write a blog. Almost every day I was awake early, typing away before work and up at the crack of dawn at weekends, because the characters were literally bursting out of my head, demanding to be heard. This was a whole new ball game compared to the blogs, which do still well up in my head and demand to be written too (like this one), but in a completely different way. And they are one helluva lot shorter for one thing – we’re talking a couple of hours – whereas obviously writing a whole book takes a lot more time and stamina and definitely the total love and support of one’s family. Stephen has been incredible, managing to be shopper and chief-cook-and-bottle-washer as well as my creative muse, as the need arose. In the light of this amazing experience, my authors – and actually anyone who has managed to write an entire book – have gone up massively in my estimation.

And so my advice to would-be writers has changed.

If you feel you will explode if you can’t get the words out, you’re ready to write.

If you’re asking, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ so you can get back to writing, you’re ready to write.

If you don’t want to walk, cook, do the shopping, or in fact just about anything else because it will take you away from the words, you’re ready to write.

Going back to the catharsis of writing, I know that some of you have followed the progress of my lovely brother and his family as they supported my sister-in-law through the horrific experience of early onset Alzheimers Disease. After years of total dedication to her care, which cost every ounce of their energy and love, they have now in a sense been set free, as has she. If you want to read a stunning blog that will rip your heart out, go to Otherkosh.blogspot.co.uk. Have the tissues ready.

With warm wishes for your good health,

Margaret

 

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