Who am I?

Who am I?

Of course everything has changed. How could it not. Most of my body has been replaced since that last post (in 2010). There are themes, perhaps, such as the continuing affection for taking pictures of London plane trees and the designs of Kate Davies. I made her Carbeth Cardigan to wear at my wedding. Knitting still happens, a lot.

Yes, being married, that’s a change. The power of a performative speech act is immeasurable. I am so grateful to have Dave in my life. At the party to celebrate our marriage it was my son Joseph who put into words some of what Dave means to me, to us, and the powerful force for change he has been and continues to be. Someday, technology permitting, I’ll put up the video of that speech.

I love my boys men so very much.

Why start blogging again? An interesting question, to me at least.

When I started in 2003 I was very ill and had been off work for a number of months with deep depression. When a friend called up to find out how I was I remember telling her that I didn’t exist. She tactfully avoided asking who, then, was talking to her on the phone. I tactfully avoided telling her that I wished profoundly not to exist, in so far as I could be said still to do so.

In retrospect blogging probably marked a turning point, a reaching out from a safe space of anonymity for some form of contact, a desire to communicate. I felt that whoever “I” had been, a structure envisaged as some kind of edifice constructed from components a bit like Lego bricks, had been smashed apart. It was, therefore, logically the case that “recovery” consisted in collecting the bits and reassembling them, possibly in a different configuration less susceptible to damage.

About two years later the rationale of the re-fortification project began to be challenged by a chance encounter with the meditation techniques taught by Alistair Appleton in a week-long course on Holy Isle.


Other courses and retreats followed.  My personal practice was, at best, intermittent, but occasionally replenished. It became clearer over time that the blocks were in fact stumbling blocks and that the real material behind the frangible armour I’d erected to “protect” it was supple, elastic, resilient. Neuroplasticity became my salvational doctrine of choice.

I’ve recently reconnected with my meditation practice in a very profound way after another Mindsprings retreat with Alistair, also on Holy Isle, concentrating on cultivating bodhicitta. Alistair’s teacher is Reggie Ray of Dharma Ocean who is teaching in the lineage of his teacher, Chogyam Trungpa. The practices are, of course, extremely powerful, but it was this in combination with the method of the practice that I found transformative – the use of awareness of the body as a meditation tool really allowed me to calm the thinking mind and access some profound non-cognitive insights. And this combined with Alistair’s own teaching and deep knowledge of psychology and neurobiology also made those insights and experiences make sense to the “show me your evidence” thinking mind, which no doubt helped in the digestive process.

The big take-home grand prize was the dawning awareness that I wasn’t on the retreat for me… I no longer feel irreparably damaged or flawed, traumatised or fucked up or whatever it was. My life is my life but the past no longer has the imprisoning power it used to. It just is.

In the womb of the island turned toward the light.

In this interview with Reggie Ray I was intrigued by the following observation about depression:

“[Chogyam Trungpa said] depression is the most dignified and realistic of all the samsaric states… depression still is happening within an ego framework… but as he put it himself depression is the closest thing to actual enlightenment that we can experience without actually crossing over. And what he meant by that was that in depression, real depression and deep depression, you see that the usual way in which you spend your time and the usual kind of pursuits that everyone engages in are fundamentally meaningless, meaningless in the sense that they don’t deliver what we’re hoping they will deliver, that’s not what they’re about, and you’re left feeling that there’s no point even being alive. … Enlightened people within the Buddhist framework see the same thing but they don’t have the same response and what makes depression depression is that there is still some feeling that it should be otherwise.”

So in a way it’s a bit of a circle. From disintegration (a very painful experience) to dismantling (which might well be painful, but in a different way). Trying to catch sight of where and how the L/ego blocks of the thinking mind are arranged and through that perhaps allowing that inner material, so long circumscribed by cramping carapace, to expand into the world, the universe, of which it is composed.

A process of ecdysis, perhaps, with the practice and teacher and friends the support against re-hardening.

Holy Island class and teacher of 05 mini reunion. Thinking of you @bwmaness 💚

Thank you so much Alistair, Kirsty and Laurence, thank you.

Difficult shit

After my most recent retreat a lot of us found it useful to “buddy up” as a way of helping each other maintain our practice beyond the extraordinary space of the group and the place and into the quotidian. I’ve found myself emailing my buddy with rather verbose accounts of this and that, some of which I’ll post here.

My meditation today (7.30pm) was spectacularly unsuccessful. I’m sitting there in the dark corner of the room thinking about anything my poor mind can come up with to try to exert control and keep awareness at bay and I’m saying “thought” so regularly that at one stage I realise I’m just repeating it over and over like it’s a mutant mantra even when there are no thoughts to label.

Then elder son knocks on the door (which is open anyway), glances around the room and disappears. I can see him out of my peripheral vision (eyes downcast a few feet in front of me as prescribed). I assume he’s seen me and retired, embarrassed by my hippy behaviour. I label this thought as “ thought”. Along with all the subsequent speculation about what it was he might have wanted.

A few minutes later younger son shouts from his room next door “Mother” (for this is the affectionate name by which I am known) “do you have a something-or-other [insert incomprehensible computer terminology here] cable?” “She’s not in” shouts elder son from his room at the other end of the house. Hmm. So he didn’t actually notice me. (“Thought”)

Younger son bounces in and stands in the doorway. “What the hell is he doing?” I think, carefully labelling the thinking as “thought”. As if in reply the phone next to me makes its text noise, younger son leaps in the air, shrieks and runs from the room. “Oh my god how embarrassing” I hear him say to elder son, “she is in, she’s sitting”.

When I am eventually released from the torment of not-meditating by the timer I go to ask younger son what he wanted. “You almost gave me a heart attack” he says “stuck there in the corner looking like you were having a difficult shit”. “But that was me, touching nirvana” I reply. “Well,” he says, “that’s what most men feel like after a difficult shit.” Sigh.

Lost and Stranded

A knock on the door, the postman bearing a parcel – “Degradamailer” said the pine green plastic package, “The Biothene mailer starts to degrade upon exposure to sunlight and heat”. It’s reusable, too. Presumably before it degrades.

Inside, neatly fitted into the perfectly-sized ziplock bag, was my carefully selected wool from Blacker Yarns which, after much hemming and hawing, I’d chosen (mostly from the current Christmas special offer section – check it out!) to make Kate Davies’s sublime Tortoise and Hare sweater. Shetland Katmogit, Shetland White, Border Leicester (all undyed) and Corriedale dyed olive green. I sat crooning over the sweater-to-be-in-a-bag for some considerable time.

tortoise and hare (in ball)

Placing it carefully on the side of my desk I turned to the keyboard to find, winking from the screen, the news that Kate’s just released another pattern. Caller Herrin’. And then I found (via Ravelry) this post from someone who’s already made it. Seascapes, soundscapes, landscapes, knitscapes, inscapes. Virtual Yarns. I am lost (in the delightful sense of having been found).

I’ve made five hats and a hooded scarf in the last four weeks and still have Christmas knitting to go. But soon, soon I shall be stranded (in, of course, the delightful sense of colour-work knitting).

A short message from my sponsee

Samaritans have been nominated to be the official charity partner for The Football League in 2011.  This opportunity is worth a fantastic £500,000 for Samaritans! 

It is a public vote, so anyone can vote, and it’s quick and easy – please vote for Samaritans now, and encourage everyone you know to vote by following the link below.

Individuals are allowed to vote more than once, – after voting just click the refresh button on your computer.


You may ask ‘why the Samaritans?’:

1) We are the only support available in the UK 24/7, 365 days a year for those going through crisis, whether due to redundancy, debt, bereavement or any other source of distress.

2) The current economic situation means thousands more people are feeling the stress of unemployment, money worries and increased pressure.  Support now is more important than ever.

3) Samaritans helps people in your local community, people from your town, village or city. With 201 branches nationwide, a vote for Samaritans means the money you raise will help those local to you who are desperate for support.

4) A partnership with the Football League helps forge links locally with all Samaritans branches

5) Samaritans is run by 18,500 volunteers and Samaritans turnover is relatively small.  Less than 2% of our income is government funded so we need your support today.

The voting closes on 8th December.

Your vote could help Samaritans win £500,000 and deliver our life saving messages to people at risk across the UK.  

Thank you

PS Arsenal isn’t in the league, it’s in the Premiership so there’s nothing in this for the boys, in case you were wondering.

Sloe gin – part two

So, having acquired some sloes, the next thing to do is get gin. If you see some cheap in the supermarket it’s probably best to check on the volume required before purchasing two one litre bottles rather than the two 0.75cl bottles required for the quantity of sloes in the freezer. When you get home and discover the mistake, console yourself with memories of the deliciousness of G&T and recall how distant those memories are. Tell yourself you have several years of G&Tlessness to make up for.

Next, sort out some containers. It might be a good plan to have some general idea of the volume occupied by both sloes and gin, ie at least a nascent sense that it’s considerably greater than that occupied by the gin alone. About double, in fact. However, once grasped, this concept should be coupled with a knowledge of the volume of the selected container. Should you choose, to take an entirely random example, to save plastic milk bottles for your project, it would be as well to realise they are 2l bottles not 1l bottles before every spare inch of kitchen is filled with ginormous washed-out plastic containers which wobble and crash to the floor with hollow thumps at the slightest move.

Finally – the assemblage of the constituent parts into the aforementioned container/s. Even the most sloe-witted of fabricators will, by this point, have finalised the proportions of sloe : sugar : gin. In this case it required taking a single 2l plastic milk bottle, half filling it with sloes (quickly, if frozen, you don’t want condensation to dilute your nectar-to-be), glugging in a litre bottle of gin and adding about two wine-glasses full of sugar. However the latter part of the operation should not be attempted with the use of an old envelope roughly rolled into a sort-of funnel. The sugar escapes through the edge of the sort-of and ends up on the floor where the delighted dog licks it up and ruins her teeth. Just saying.

It is at this point that you might realise there are sloes left over and it would be a shame to waste them. But their small quantity is entirely lost in the bottom of one of the many other 2l plastic milk bottles and all the devil-may-care insouciance of rustic approximate measurements flies out of the window. Frantic weighing and internetting and measuring are advisable before the sloes thaw into a swampy mush but you might end up with a small amount (say about a quarter of a litre of gin) in the bottom of the huge container which you decide you can give your father for his birthday which happens to fall just when the stuff will be first drinkable. Result! you might think, and make a mental note to find a suitable container (not plastic, about a quarter of a litre in capacity) into which to strain it since a lumpy purple liquid at the bottom of a large plastic bottle might not get top marks for presentation. Oh, and you might try to remember to get hold of a funnel.

Sloe gin (gestating)

Taking to gin

While in Dartmoor this summer the secret of pain-free sloe gin was bestowed on me.

As a child I sat for hours at the kitchen table armed with a pin, an empty bowl to my left and a bowl full of sloes to my right. I was told each sloe needed to be pricked eight times before being placed in the receiving bowl, thus allowing the optimum flavour and the delicious, rich, velvety but bitter juices to bleed out into the sugared spirit bath as the mixture steeped in the dark of the cupboard under the stairs.

Being both methodical and of an earnest disposition I would prick each sloe the required eight times ensuring as far as possible that the punctures were exactly evenly distributed across the oval surface because, I reasoned to myself (privately), the more evenly spread the piercing the greater the volume and efficiency of seepage of the juice. Being merely sad and not utterly dorky I did not hasten to attempt a mathematical or experimental proof of this theory. But the conviction remained that this was the best way to do it.

What it meant, of course, was hours and hours and hours of tedious fiddly work and a fair amount of blood added to the mix. Whilst extremely fond of sloe gin if there’s repetitive fiddly stuff to be done I’d much rather it was knitting. So it was with great delight that I was told there was a top secret method which did not require the use of a pin and took minutes rather than hours.

Intrigued and excited I demanded to know what it was. They wouldn’t tell me. It was, they reemphasised, a top secret. They taunted me with clues – no, not knives, not forks, no piercing involved at all. What about crushing? hitting them with a rolling pin? A food processor? No, they said, no crushing was involved. In fact, they said, they didn’t have to touch the sloes at all. I retreated into a sulk at the sheer improbability of it all and they relented. The secret, apparently known to everyone where sloes grow except me, is to stick them in the freezer for a few days where the experience will split their skins expertly and painlessly.

sloe gin phase 1

Thus it was that, while on a school trip with 2ndSpawn today, the sight of a huge blackthorn bush had me swiftly overseeing a gang of croppers who willingly sacrificed their lunch break to fill various plastic bags with the small purple globes of gorgeousness. While I sat in a pool of beautiful autumn sunlight, supervising, one of the children told me how she makes sloe gin each year with her father and mother for them to drink at Christmas. Lovely to hear the tradition continues even though she doesn’t undergo ordeal by pin since they are already initiates in the top-secret freezer method.

sloe gin phase 2

Turned out when we got home and weighed the haul there was exactly 1kg of fruit which will probably be enough for a couple of pints of gin. But a quick search on the internet for recipes had me stumbling back, blinded by information. Almonds? Vanilla essence? Vodka?? And what’s all this about early straining? No no no. It’ll be the family standard method and none of this newfangled nonsense. Apart from the freezer, of course.

Reasons to be cheerful!

Mood boosters from the New Scientist:

  • Write a diary. Simply writing about a positive experience has been shown to increase people’s life satisfaction, with the benefits lingering for two weeks after the task (Journal of Clinical Psychology, vol 62, p 1291). A further study found that a group of subjects who wrote about their emotions for just 2 minutes a day, over two days, reported fewer physical health complaints four weeks down the line (British Journal of Health Psychology, vol 13, p 9).
  • Dispute negative thinking. This is a technique borrowed from cognitive behavioural therapy, in which you catch negative thoughts as they arise and ask: “Is there really reason to think like this? Can I reframe this in a more positive way?”
  • Meditate. Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues have shown that meditation can relax both your body and your mind, with many beneficial effects for well-being and happiness (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 95, p 1045). It’s not easy, however, and you may need some training before you get going.
  • Nurture meaningful relationships with family and friends. More than simply improving your well-being, it might just save your life. “Social resources and ties to groups are one of the key buffers protecting us against unhappiness,” says Fredrickson. A recent meta-analysis of 148 studies on links between the quantity and quality of social relationships and mortality suggests that being socially isolated is about as bad for your health as smoking or drinking excessively, and worse than being obese (PLoS Medicine, vol 7, p e10000316).
  • Beware consumerism. Buying more possessions won’t make you as happy as spending money on social activities or new and exciting experiences (The Journal of Positive Psychology, vol 4, p 511).
  • I’d add knitting and dogs.

    So much fab, so little time

    There has been so much to marvel at, a surf and foam and froth and bubble and deep rolling waves of turquoise-tinged depths shot through with slanting columns of sun’s gold.

    A prelude to a “what I’ve been doing recently which explains mostly off-lineness” post. Which may well lack links and illustrations initially since it’s being constructed on the phone on a train heading to what is the last scheduled highpoint of this long and glittering summer of peaks. (There are now links and illustrations because of course it didn’t get finished while away.)

    Perhaps first was You, Me, BumBum Train to which the wonderful C (of seed swaps and piranha-populated garden centres and cuttings and wisdom) produced tickets. I’m not sure whether the prohibition on saying what it’s “about” is still in force so I shall merely say that it was a unique experience, exhilarating and challenging and thought-provoking in equal measure.

    Then there was Latitude with the brother of my sons and my heart, A, and the chaos-promoting provocateurs Hg and the flock of murderbirds. So much to see and hear and do.

    wisdom and truth

    Three highlights. The sight of b2 dancing on A’s shoulders listening to and, more importantly, seeing, Vampire Weekend, his face split in a grin so wide I wonder his cheeks didn’t crack. The opportunity to ponder how much letting go is an expansion and enrichment prompted by the evening-to-early-morning antics of b1 with A&J. And watching a giant bubble of rainbow iridescence drift through a deep blue sky, split into smaller bubbles and eventually burst to a spray of drops showering other upturned faces as the incomparable Mumford & Sons sang one of their heartbreaking, electrically life-infused songs.


    Cold is the water
    It freezes your already cold mind
    Already cold, cold mind
    And death is at your doorstep
    And it will steal your innocence
    But it will not steal your substance

    But you are not alone in this
    And you are not alone in this
    As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
    Hold your hand

    And you are the mother
    The mother of your baby child
    The one to whom you gave life
    And you have your choices
    And these are what make man great
    His ladder to the stars

    But you are not alone in this
    And you are not alone in this
    As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
    Hold your hand

    And I will tell the night
    Whisper, “Lose your sight”
    But I can’t move the mountains for you.

    And turning to A to see my tears in his.

    high up

    Then, after seven years or so of delighting in the online presence of the Thinkery‘s thinker I got to meet “Dr Krista” (for thus she is known in these parts, because of the scarf of course) in person. A triumphant vindication of the ability of the internet to connect one with the profoundly simpatico and for that virtual friendship to be confirmed and enriched by an encounter IRL. She took me to bits of London I’ve never seen before


    I took her to other bits I had (but hadn’t noticed)

    if you ever need the fur removed from a cherry

    and, best of all, my father took us both to Oxford to see bits neither of us had

    overcome by beauty

    That is not my father recovering from the strain. Just in case anyone was wondering. It might, however, be Christ Church Cathedral prompting Stendhal syndrome.

    It was in fact the summer of American Academics – Krista introduced me to the fascinating and delightful J who, I only later discovered, after not unearthing the fact despite 12 or so straight hours of gabbing, is the blogger I know as Momo. (See above re comment about bloggers IRL.) And the conductor of the Household Opera was in London too, wearing a handknit of such surpassing gorgeousness the pattern had immediately to be purchased and added to the lengthening queue of objects awaiting cooler, knitting-friendly, weather. Here are the three of us – K and A and I – on a London jaunt: two academics and an amateur (and it was too hot to keep the Pas de Valse on, if I’d thought I should have requested it. Bother.)

    two academics and an amateur

    Both Krista and Amanda have written about their UK tours – K here and A here, far more interestingly than I could. Particularly, of course, the parts of their trips for which – shock! horror! – I was not actually present. Suffice it to say we had a serendipitous city Sunday of varied delights.

    Then, at a brisk pace, the bs and I were off to catch up with more bloggers under the guise of having a beach holiday.  One, Lucy, I have known since the age of 10, so this hardly counted as a first IRL experience although since her move to France we’ve actually seen each other seldom.

    How heroic is it possible for one person (or rather two, since Tom was also central to the arrangements) to be? I merely announced the intention to camp and was, forthwith, presented with a shortlist of possible campsites. I chose. The one that it’s not possible to book in advance. So L&T arose at some ungodly hour on the day of our arrival, drove the considerable distance to the municipal site in question, prowled its purleius, located a group looking likely to leave the otherwise entirely chocka site, waited until they had fully departed and flung a pop-up tent onto the pitch in the apparently recognised and respected form of bagsie. Not content with this they then drove to the port to pick us up. Came back to the campsite. Helped put up the (ridiculously enormous) tent. Fed us. Watered us. Produced vital and enormous lengths of electrical cabling. Provided Molly as a Maizy substitute (she couldn’t come, I already missed her.) They only departed when it was too dark to do anything other than sleep.


    What an idyllic holiday. The golden-sanded barely inhabited bay of a beach two minutes in one direction, chilled local cider two minutes in the other. And moules and gallettes and crêpes. We swam in the sea. We burnt in the sun. We ate – abundantly and deliciously. We chilled when and where  and how ever we felt like. We laughed. We slept. We did it all again. It was absolutely perfect.

    hows that for a beach

    And we got to hang out with Lucy and Molly for a whole day. Which she (the former) may well have recalled here, under St Michel (the îlot just visible in the picture above and accessible only by a causeway exposed at low tide) which made me gasp and smile in recognition. We, the adults, so entranced and excited by the real. live. hermit. crabs. in teeny tiny shells!! and the boys, busy with some complex digging-and-damming engineering project, casting a polite but cursory glance over our outstretched sandy palms and attempting, and failing, concomitant interest.

    We also got to do our washing in a proper machine see Lucy and Tom in their natural habitat and meet Gillian too! and Porridge, who confusingly goes by another name when not bounding the blogosphere. Both were even more delightful IRL, should such a thing be possible. We ate and drank (of course). And walked in the Breton not-rain which closely resembles British rain, stopping to shelter under a tree only when it was deemed to be raining, a meteorological condition which would be known elsewhere as a monsoon. But cold. We learnt that in Brezhoneg the sky is not just “grey” but can be described by a plethora of words covering, well, the colours of rain-bearing and rain-producing clouds. In addition there is, apparently, no word for “blue”, the nearest being a form of “green”. Fortunately back at the beach the rain held off until the exact moment we had the inner tent spread out on the ground when striking camp, at which moment the heavens opened several sluice-gates over our pitch.

    Once back, while the boys went off for yet another holiday I went to Dartmoor with friends. Walking, mirth, stones, myth, talking, wool.

    Finally now the run down towards the new school term – uniform, shoes, stationary, a certain amount of nagging about homework and revision. The weather is glowering and chilly. I wonder whether the 100 or so tomatoes on the plant by the back door will actually ever ripen. Leaves are flung off the trees. Cycling into the headwind feels like late autumn, not mid August. And so the wheel turns.