The Man in the Darkness ~ meet the Shadow Muse

The man in the darkness ~ meet the Shadow Muse

I’ve long been a little baffled by the concept of The Muse. I hear other writers and artists talk about this being and become more confused than ever. For some, The Muse is an actual real (often living) person who inspires them. Great poets had their muses, often unobtainable distant beauties. Yeats had Maud Gonne as his Muse, Dante had Beatrice.

Some of these are people they know closely, wives, lovers, parents, friends, who are Watson to their Holmes, nudging them ever closer towards greatness of expression.

Others refer to their Muse as some sort of archetype, a being who lives in the world of the psyche and the unconscious, whispering inspiration and delivering ideas and brilliance to the grateful writer(artist, poet, whatever).

The Muse, however you view one, appears in the works of people who aspire to be creative. Study a poet, for example, for a while and you begin to see the Muse often more clearly than you see the persona of the poet.

For a long time, as well as being baffled by the whole thing, I felt sure I had no such thing, either living, archetypal, human, literary or whatever. There’s no gentle but firm hand that nudges me towards writing, softly dictating the words for me to transcribe. There’s no demi-god I appeal to when ideas are scanty. There’s no literary giant who encourages me by their achievements to keep going with mine.

No Muse for me, I thought, and felt ever so slightly inferior. Not that I’d really want to have one, I thought. Capricious things, from all accounts. No sirree, thank you Ma’am. You can keep your Muses.

Except today I realised I do have Muses. A large number of them, actually, coalescing into a small army of warriors of the psyche. They populate the hidden corners of my mind, skulking in the memories I’d rather not share with anyone else. They wait. They’re not like the Muses others talk about. They choose their moments to show up, never mine. And they’re always the worst moments, when I am least able to deal with what they bring me.

I suspect they do this on purpose. Wrong-footed by shock, I look and keep on looking at what they bring me. Can this truly be mine, these images and ideas, these dark and dangerous imaginings? Yes, they can indeed be mine. They can be no one else’s.

Fermented from wrongs, real and imagined, personal and global, the Muses bring me a heady brew, steam curling from it in violet wreaths of ghostly breath.

The man in the darkness… who stands just outside of time, outside of my line of vision and hearing. I hear his footsteps, see sometimes the words he has left in the dust on my mantle-piece. His is the face I can never see, for it is made like a police photo-fit of all those who have damaged me in my life. I call him a man but he’s sexless really, like a dark angel beyond androgeny. He’s the bogeyman adults never quite admit to being scared of; he’s the lover who wronged us all. He’s the boy who broke my clay wolf in the second week of my first term at school. He’s the boss who made my life a misery for years with snide gibes and deliberate lack of support. He’s the ordinand who attempted to perform an exorcism on me, trapped on a bunk-bed with no help within calling distance.

He’s that dark space at the centre of my soul I refuse to look at because the velvety black void tempts me to throw myself in and drown in it.

He’s the ambassador for my Shadow and he brings me the gifts of the Shadow-world. It’s no good wishing he’d bring flowers. Or chocolates for that matter. These are gifts that last longer, touch deeper, cut to the bone if truth be told.

And they are my gifts. Would you like to share them?

What goes around, comes around ~ compost, Karma and kindness

Greenman by candlelight

What goes around, comes around ~ compost, Karma and kindness

One of the hardest things about moving house is leaving behind a garden you have nurtured and cherished. I used to be a gardener. I am still one inside, but after our last move, from one garden that was far too big (an acre, if you’re curious) to one that was far too small, I lost heart. I found I just couldn’t do it any more. The garden was tiny and the soil exhausted and slightly toxic from overuse in the past of both weed-killer and chemical fertilizers. Turn a spade and nothing wriggled. We tended it but for me it was without enthusiasm.

But diligently we filled our two remaining composters, with teabags, veg peelings and the like. Our garden in Kegworth, we’d had a row of six Daleks and when we left, I gave 4 of them away to a freecycler who also filled some sacks with the beautiful well-rotted compost those Daleks had contained. This year, the composter in use was a glorious mass of wriggly soil workers: hundreds upon hundreds of worms.

So of course, the move became more than speculation, became a reality and it dawned on me that for the umpteenth time, I’d be leaving behind perfect compost. We dug that batch into the veg patch. If nothing else we’d restored that small patch of earth to something like a fertile, healthy soil.

Moving house is up there in the top ten stresses. I’d fretted myself almost into a breakdown by the time moving day came, paralysed by sheer anxiety into a state resembling a rabbit in the headlights. No amount of reassurance made a difference. I’ve been ambivalent about this move for lots of reasons; I suspect some of it is based on deep distrust of the bureaucracy the church can be infamous for, and also because it meant that a certain level of independence would be lost. But sometimes you just have to go where the Wind blows you, and in the end, I let go and just allowed myself to be borne away on that Wind.

I’ve just about emerged from walls of boxes now. Apart from my study most of the boxes are unpacked and the house feels like home. It doesn’t quite smell like home yet but I am working on that. The acid test is when my mum arrives next week and walks in the front door and takes a big sniff. I’ll let you know what she says.

In the first few days, I worked solidly at unpacking but one evening my other half told me something that was a pleasant surprise. There’s an area behind the garage that’s what you might call a ‘service area’ with a compost bin and such like behind a trellis fence. It turns out that there’s a compost heap too. It’s about twelve feet long and about five deep, and 3 feet high. There must be a good metric tonne of well rotted compost here. I suspect that this is about the same as all the compost I’ve left behind in the last twenty years.

There are also a dozen or so apple trees. In the last gardens I have planted dozens of trees (literally) and I don’t think when it comes to apples, I’ve ever stayed long enough to ever taste a single one. We once grew asparagus from seed; by the time we left that garden, it was getting close to being ready to crop. We never got to eat any.

Many years ago, when we had our first garden, a friend asked me why I was bothering to plant things when we knew we’d only be there for three years. At the time I answered somewhat acerbically that what was the point in doing anything when we’re only on this planet for perhaps eighty or so years. The thing is, planting trees that one will never live to see in their prime is a selfless act. One is planting for a future generation, never for oneself. If no one did it, imagine the world in fifty years time.

So seeing both copious compost and abundant apples in my new garden was a reminder that sometimes things do catch up with us. The good we do, and the bad. When you sow kindness, it’s because it’s the right thing to do, and not because you hope that kindness will be repaid one day. It won’t be. Kindness is a gift, once given, and given with no thought of return, which benefits the receiver first. But the giver benefits too, from simply doing a kind thing. Yet at times I wonder if there is some rough balance that means you tend to get back what you have freely given. I don’t believe in the so-called Law of Attraction at all, yet I do believe in grace. You don’t have to deserve it, yet perhaps when we have chosen to do good and be kind, grace finds it easier to find us. Maybe you just notice it more.

I tend to (wrongly) associate the word Karma with the negative, of punishment rather than a redressing of balance, but the principle still seems to be there. The evil we do does come back to roost, in the end. Our problems come when we wish to see the evil of others catch them up when and where we can see if and feel that justice has been done. I’m guilty of this at times, of wanting those who have chosen to hurt me to get their come-uppance and for me to know about it. That’s something I have to let go of. It’s not up to me.

There’s lots of work to do, to make my new home more home-like and to nurture and cherish the new garden, and find a job and so on. But now I am here, I’ve generally slept better (that’s another post!) and feel better. I’ve begun to understand where some of the extreme anxiety had been coming from (again, another post). But the Wind has blown me here, and here I have landed. Time to see what else the Wind may bring.

Mind-worms ~ The Spotters’ Guide

Mind-worms ~ The Spotters’ Guide

We all know what ear-worms are: that annoying phenomenon when a song or jingle lodges in your consciousness and keeps on playing over and over and over again until you want to scream. You can’t turn it off and if you liked the song to start with after half an hour of it morphing into an ear-worm, you hate it.

Let me introduce you to the ear-worm’s frightening big brother: the Mind-worm.

A Mind-worm is an intrusive, unwelcome thought, image or idea that pops up into your head one day and stays there, raising its ugly head every time there’s an opportunity to do so. They’re a feature of some forms of mental distress and they can be devastating. Most of us get the odd one now and then but not to the extent someone in the throes of a mental breakdown can get.

I’ll give you an example of a recent one that burrowed into my brain a few months ago. I’d been doing a tour of Norwich with a group of French students and we’d got to the castle. For a lot of my tours, the only thing the kids find of interest is the gruesome stuff so I did my spiel about the hangings off the bridge in the days when the castle was the prison, and seeing the group engaged I continued. “Of course, our method of execution was much slower than your Guillotine, at least until we mastered the drop technique where the victim’s neck was broken instantaneously. During the trial and error time where they tried to get the ratio between rope length and body weight right, there was one occasion here where the hanged man lost his head…..But the Guillotine was quick and they had a basket for the head to fall into….whoosh, thwop, thunk!” They all winced and laughed. I finished the talk and we went on….but as I stepped out, I had a sudden and all encompassing vision of putting my own head on a curved recess, then hearing the swoosh of a descending blade…. then total and utter darkness and silence. I staggered a little as I walked, returning to the sunlit city shaking and instantly about to burst into tears. For the next couple of hours, it kept coming back, not even when my mind was idling along, but when I was talking with people or trying to give a talk. I don’t know how I got through, to be honest. For the next few days, it came again and again, and even writing about it makes it closer.

Other Mind-worms I’ve had have been less vivid to express: a creeping sense of total looming personal disaster, surety that people I thought love me, actually hate me. I’m not going to detail them all. They all contain the element of it being beyond my control, beyond my power to eliminate them.

I did a kind of poll on Twitter and asked how others deal with them. Kev @Atomic_Honey said he used a mantra, about being Swiss cheese and it passing through him. Marc said he uses white noise to block them out. Universally, this is a feared and loathed experience of all who’ve ever suffered with them. Often they are what people find the hardest to deal with of all the symptoms of mental and emotional distress.

I’ve been thinking about how I deal with them. Initially I recoil, in horror and repulsion. This can go on for a long while. The Mind-worm usually retaliates by becoming more intense and more scary. This can be especially awful at night. If it pops up at a time when the world is sleeping, it’s much harder to deal with. Then I found that if I let it just do its thing, and not try to suppress it, I found something interesting. The intensity burns out quite quickly. In the case of my guillotine vision, the effects on me lessened, until I could see what was at the core of the vision and its message.

I’ve always said I didn’t fear death itself but more the process of getting there. Turns out I was wrong. I’m scared witless of both. My own existential doubts mean that instead of being able to imagine anything after that moment of personal extinction, all I could imagine is blackness and eternal silence.

Most of my Mind-worms are about fear. Deep down, hidden fears. Fear of being unloved, misunderstood, reviled. Fear of final, personal extinction, fear of all my beliefs being so much moonshine and lullabies for children to sing against the Dark. Fear.

Now fear is an odd thing. It has much to tell us about ourselves and sometimes about the world, but we’re all so bloody busy trying to be brave and fearless that we become incapable of listening to our fear and addressing some of the deep down issues.

Time to make time for my Mind-worms.

So what now? ~ every ending is a new beginning, isn’t it?


So what now? ~ every ending is a new beginning, isn’t it?


Yesterday I taught my last ever lesson in my current job. It’s not even current, so I must get used to that first. I’ve known this was coming, since last summer when a little voice in my head said, “This is the last proper summer school you’ll teach.” I tried to dismiss it but it turned out to be true.

I’m not sure how I feel, to be honest. There’s an undercurrent of relief; there have been aggravations galore I shan’t go into here in detail. But after five and a half years, I wish it were ending better. It feels like a damp squib, this tiny slice of previous glories. The first summer school I taught at we had probably about three hundred students over the July and August, sneaking into September. This year we had just thirteen students over three weeks. Three were Spanish and the rest were Chinese, who had three hours of morning teaching five days a week, and three hours of afternoon teaching four days a week. I did all their tours too. It wasn’t easy. So much of English history and culture is a total blank to Chinese people. And since the kids were all aged about 14, their interest in either culture or history was limited. I felt much of the time I was talking to myself.

So I came home yesterday afternoon and felt flat and a bit underwhelmed.

I’m moving in a few weeks time to somewhere inland, too far to drive back for the money I get offered, even allowing for the fact that I’ve heard only of a possible week of work next March. So time to draw a final line under it and start again with something else, something new.

But what? I’ve tried looking ahead and I can see only a blank, a void. This worries me, though from past experience it tends to mean that the future is still shaping itself, and elements are coming together but not yet enough to see a coherent whole.

I’m looking forward to having a nice view from my study window and a bigger house in what looks like being a lovely place. But work? I can’t see what I’m going to be doing.

My own plans include releasing a new novel at the end of September. Two good friends with eagle eyes are proofreading for me at the moment, my dear friend Andrew has done me a fabulous cover.


It’s a novel I am deeply proud of (not that I am not proud of the others at all, but this one is….. well, it’s different) and one I hope that people will like. I’m not sure what genre it fits into. The cover suggests a mystery or even a horror/ghost story, and while there are certainly elements in it of those genres, it’s not really either. It’s not a romance, though for some there may seem to be elements of it there(at least on the very surface). The only description I can give is of a psychological drama. For those who have read Away With The Fairies, the sequel of this new novel, The Bet, also has Isobel in it, but The Bet can stand alone. (It has two sequels, just so’s you know) Here’s the current blurb/synopsis:


The Bet

by Vivienne Tuffnell




Jenny likes a challenge and Antony is the biggest challenge of her life….



Boys like you get preyed upon,” Antony’s father tells him in a rare moment of honesty and openness, but Richard can have no idea just how vulnerable his eighteen-year-old son truly is. From a family where nothing is quite as it seems and where secrecy is the norm, Antony seems fair game to the predatory Jenny. Her relentless pursuit of him originates in a mean-spirited bet made with her colleague Judy, Antony’s former history teacher, who has challenged Jenny to track him down and seduce him.


Jenny is totally unprepared for Antony’s refusal to sleep with her or to have any sort of relationship other than friendship. She’s never met anyone quite like him before and her obsession deepens the more he rejects her. She’s no idea what he’s already been through and as far as she’s concerned it’s irrelevant.


Pretty soon, for both of them it becomes a much more serious matter than a mere bet and the consequences are unimaginable for either of them.

 Anyway, I’m aiming to get this out around the 28th of September, if t

he move goes smoothly and I’m able to get all the other things done that need doing. In the meantime, if anyone would like to contribute a guest post (I have one awaiting the autumn from a regular commenter Jonathan), I’d be very happy to host it. I’m finding it hard to string words together right now.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, my friends. I’ll try and get myself back to my twice a week blogging as soon as life settles a bit.



Tales of the Wellspring 3 ~ inspirations

Tales of the Wellspring 3 ~ inspirations

for part one visit Tales of the Wellspring 1

for part two visit Tales of the Wellspring 2

Once or twice in my life I have made a decision while under the influence of alcohol. Most of us have, if we’re honest about it and if we’re lucky nothing very untoward has come of it. The most life changing decision I almost made was on the strength of exhaustion, the exhilaration of moving to a new and very rural area, a childhood dream and several pints of Scrumpy Jack cider. Thankfully, I said I would sleep on it and come and view the horse the next day. Good sense kicked in with a mild hangover and though the horse was beautiful as a de-horned unicorn she had not been broken in and on the strength of the fact that I’ve never owned a horse before, let alone broken one in to bit, bridle and saddle, I said no.

I am relieved now that I didn’t go through with the purchase as I suspect it would have led to much heartache later. I’d also learned my lesson from something that had occurred in a pub about six years previously, though in that case it was the result of a pint and a half of Guinness and some persuasive friends.

It was a bit more than that really. My husband had been accepted for ordination training a few months previously, to commence to following autumn, and life was in a kind of free fall. We were gearing up to moving from Middlesbrough to Nottingham, selling our home and renting another and at this time our daughter was about 18 months old. There were so many uncertainties my head spins now to even think about it. We belonged to a Fellowship of Vocation group that supported those considering or entering ministry and it was after such a meeting that we decided to capitalise on having a babysitter and when the core of the group decamped to the pub afterwards, we joined them.

David, the group leader, was a Taizé fanatic and he set himself to convincing us to come that year. Taizé is a religious community in the far south of France famed for its music and its silence. Young people from all over the world visit for a kind of retreat. My objections were simple: we had virtually no money and we had a baby. Money? Ha, as we were at that time under a key age, we were able to pay the bare minimum, David told us. And there were lots of activities for children and so on.

So I said yes.

When the time came, I regretted the decision immensely. We were in the throes of selling our house and I was reluctant to go away at a crucial time. But we’d paid our initial deposit for coaches etc so we went. Let me tell you something: travelling from the North East of England to the South of France on a coach with a hyperactive two year old who doesn’t sleep was possibly one of the most challenging experiences. It took a full 24 hours and the last 12, driving across France was horrific. It got hotter and hotter. By the time we got there, the temperature was in the 80s.

I had had no sleep whatsoever and I don’t like heat anyway. Since I speak French, I sorted out where we were to be billeted and we trudged half a mile up the road to the farmhouse where those infirm or with tiny children were put. We found out later a minibus would have ferried us there but no one  thought to tell us. The old farmhouse was lovely, but in a state of some disrepair and the girl who was there to welcome us was Hungarian and spoke only basic English. She showed us to our room, which turned out to have a stone flagged floor and one single bed. At this point, I sat down on the bed and burst into tears.

We have a problem,” said the girl and left us alone.

Ten minutes later she came back with a very nice nun who spoke good English and found us first a room with two beds, and then a travel cot for the baby.

I didn’t like Taizé; it was full of too many people, and too much noise and bustle and confusion. I felt miserable and confused myself and I wanted to go home, desperately. I liked the Church, with its icons and its flickering candles but I didn’t like the service I went to the first evening. Hypnotic repetitions of simple songs wound my nerves up to breaking point and I could see everyone else falling under the sway of it, becoming entranced and I felt angry and excluded. I tried to get into the spirit of it but couldn’t. Total fail. We also had to share child care because it turned out at just short of 2 years old our daughter was considered too young to be in any of the kid’s activities without one of us being present. So we had to turn and turn about participating in services and study groups.

We’d been there about three days, and I had become resigned to being there and was just keeping my head down and trying to get as much out of it as I could. I felt a massive sense of disappointment; it was just not what I had hoped it would be for me. I blamed myself, because I’ve always been useless at anything with groups. Then my husband said, have you found the Chapel of the Wellspring yet?

Simple answer, no. I’d not even known it was there. I went and looked at it next time it was my turn to be baby-free. It looked…..intriguing. It looked like a cross between a B&Q summer-house and an Orthodox church. A rough wooden roof over decking but an onion dome on the very top. I stood for a moment looking at it. Inside, candles flickered by icons and in the middle was a trough of water. I went in and sat down. There were only benches or prayer stools and it was simply nice to be out of the glare of the sun. The little structure was filled with the fragrance of cedar-wood and of the branches of box that were stapled to the frame (I still don’t know why) and the sweeter smell of candles. The birdsong outside was muted and after a few seconds I could hear only a trickle of water. Below this structure was a real spring and the water was channelled from below into the stone trough at the heart of the little chapel. The heat of the day was so intense that the slow trickle of water from deep in the earth kept the trough filled but it rarely overflowed. After I had sat there for a while, I could smell the water: cool, and fresh, filtered through layers of ancient rock and earth. I went and knelt by the stone basin that held it and touched it. The refreshment went somehow beyond the coolness of water on a hot day; the water felt newborn and ancient at the same time. I did not drink, but I did touch my face with the water.

From that point on this place became my touchstone for getting to grips with whatever was raging inside me. I would come in and sit in silence and after a short while what had bothered me had melted away. There was a power there I cannot describe, and even writing about it now, I feel the silence and hear and smell the water. Before we left to go home, I bought a pendant with a simple representation of the wellspring, two lines of waving blue and it came with a tiny card that has sat on or near my desk in the 20 or so years since then.

It has the same quote from the Book of Proverbs in five languages, reflecting the multi-lingual nature of Taizé:

More than all else keep watch over your heart since here are the wellsprings of life.” Pr.4 v 23 

I’ve wished every day since we left that I had that Chapel of the Wellspring somewhere that I could visit every day; wanted to live in a home where the garden held a spring I could meditate by and be healed constantly of the pain life can bring me. It’s taken me those intervening twenty years to start to understand that in reality, I do.

Feeling what I feel, knowing what I feel ~ giving myself permission to experience my own emotions

Feeling what I feel, knowing what I feel ~ giving myself permission to experience my own emotions

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? There’s surely nothing more personal than one’s own feelings. But sometimes it gets too hard to even allow them to rise to the surface long enough to be identified.

A great cauldron of seething emotions bubbling away, a gumbo of pain, with things bobbing to the surface briefly in a haze of steam, I stir frantically to make those weird shaped blobs vanish, homogenise the broth, make it acceptable, make it like every other soup poured from a can. Make it what people expect and want from soup. Whenever something surfaces, I don’t want to look them squarely in the eye, because it hurts. That vat of soup is me, and what went into it is me, and what bobs up, unappetising and decidedly gruesome is me. Those ugly lumps are me. I don’t like it. Pop it in the blender, whizzle it up and serve it with a splash of cream and a twist of black pepper. Can’t serve peasant stew at a dinner table, people might choke on the bits. They might chew on the gristle and leave it shamingly on their side plate. They might even question the integrity of the chef.

A large dark shape erupts from the simmering, shimmering surface of the broth: FEAR. It’s dark and ill-defined. I can’t see the edges properly, or what it’s made of but I can see a thousand wild, dead eyes gazing blankly at me, and teeth. It looks like a teratoma , a monster from the medical text books. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. It’s part of me, but you could never dress this up with baby bonnets and shawls. I stir, my spoon a weapon and I thrust the mass of strangeness down and hope no one saw it. If they know that’s what’s in my soup, no one will ever want to taste it.

The steam clears again and another shape rises to the surface, glistening with oil but fiery red. ANGER. It looks like the world’s hottest chilli pepper, lethal with heat and ready to burn your tongue and whole digestive tract. No, no, no. I don’t want people to know this is an ingredient. It’s vicious. It burns everything it touches. Down it goes, holding it down with the spoon hoping the heat of the cooking with destroy it. How did I ever think to let such a thing in?

A sad blob like a dead octopus washed up on a winter beach heaves into view: LONELINESS. Stringy and slimy, with tentacles that sucker onto anything even if the damn thing is dead, this is far from tasty fare and hideous to look at. Down it goes; I hit it with the spoon and feel the rubbery surface more resilient than I thought. It won’t break up even when I bash at it, so I stir rapidly to keep it submerged.

In the centre of the soup, all my stirring has created a whirlpool and I can see a great empty void where the ingredients swirl way. It’s SADNESS and it’s creating a horrible vacuum that pulls everything into it. I stop stirring and watch with relief as the surface settles to a rolling boil.

I stand and I watch, letting the spoon fall from my hands and I salt the stew with my own tears, letting each acid drop fall into the mix.

I wish I could say it worked magic. But it does season the brew. It might taste good if you ever had the courage to try it. Just don’t look at what it’s made of. You’d never be able to swallow if you did.

(just for reference, I’ve been using a meditation cd from for emotional healing. Jackie has a wonderful voice that makes me feel calm and safe. Check her out.)

Oh ye of little faith ~ Doubting Thomasina faces immense changes

Oh ye of little faith ~ Doubting Thomasina faces immense changes.

My favourite of Jesus’s main men was Thomas. He and I have a lot in common.

Doubt, for one thing.

I have shockingly little faith, really. I can’t get on board this “The Universe will provide” kind of stuff. The Universe is probably sublimely unaware of my sorry existence. More than that, the concept that somehow the very fabric of space and time will shift to bring me what I want is outrageous. As for God, well, I have trouble accepting that he/she loves me, let alone cares what happens to me. That’s my problem, probably not God’s. It’s lack of self-worth, in all likelihood, and a very clear understanding of just how very small I am in the grand scheme of things.

Thomas and I need evidence. He needed to touch Jesus to accept he was truly there, alive and yet pierced with wounds that were mortal and dreadful. I need to feel as though, small cog in a grand old Galaxy as I am, I actually have a place, that I am not one of those odd bits of metal that you find,and stick in a drawer somewhere because you daren’t throw it away in case it is something crucial for something. It’s a mark of this aspect of my psyche that means I collect these stray bits and pieces, and store them just in case. My plan is one day to gather them and turn them into a work of art.

So I live in a state of constant existential conflict: the need to believe I have a place, at odds with the fear that I probably do not.

I think Thomas and I would have been good pals. I’d like to find a icon of him, or a statue, to position at the entrance to my new house.

Oh sorry, that’s the news. I’m moving. Not till September probably, but after a couple of weeks of uncertainty about whether saying yes to the change was a good idea, it appears that the die is cast. Thunderbirds are GO!

This is not just moving house, which is hellish enough. The distance from our current location means my teaching job will end. I’m ambivalent about my job anyway, for various reasons, but generally the actual teaching and tour-guiding I enjoyed a lot. It gave me a slightly greater sense of self-worth and a small addition to the family finances. And after the massively reduced summer school in August, there will be no more work till March 2013.

After almost six years working as a scientist in a secular job, my husband is returning to full-time ministry and we as a family are returning to living in a rectory. When we left our last one, in October 2006, I had found a measure of peace with the pressures and aggravations of that life. If you have read my novel Away With The Fairies, the scenes from Isobel and Mickey’s rectory life are no exaggerations. I chose not to include any of the more extreme scenarios we experienced of being spied upon, pestered, phoned in the middle of the night, or any of the breathtaking liberties people took assuming that we were public property and our home equally public. It had taken me since my husband was first ordained in 1994 to learn to cope with it. Ironic that just at that point, the diocese we lived in made decisions that made it impossible conscience-wise for my husband to continue working there and we left. We carved out a new life, here on the coast, and despite the fears of being both homeless and penniless, we achieved a great deal. House, jobs, and a totally new way of life for me.

I’m six years older now. Six years older. That makes it that bit harder for me to find employment. I’m flexible and adaptable, maybe more so than people half my age. But my age is something that goes against me because of simple, unconscious prejudice. I don’t want to do nothing outside the home. I NEED to work. Not merely for the money but for the other benefits of bringing new experience to my life, of meeting other people, of exploring the world outside my window. My travel job will continue, as that is not location dependent, I am thankful for that. But it is intermittent and sporadic and I cannot make any financial decisions based upon it.

During the five and a half years we’ve lived in this house, I’ve found it desperately hard to write. Non fiction has come much more easily than fiction. The room I have as a study is a small, rather cramped room that doubles as a guest room. I cannot look out of the window as I work. The new house is much larger and lighter and I am hoping that my writing mojo will come home properly. It only visits for short spells, like a fickle lover. In all honesty, now would be a wonderful time for the wild magic of a book going viral to occur for me. It would give me some sense of a future for me. The last two months, I have seen exciting growth and a significant rise in sales of my books that gives me hope that I might just make it as a writer. But even successful writers need their day-jobs, for more than just the money.

Now when it comes to belief, I do not believe in anything to do with the law of attraction. It’s a nonsense. My thoughts do not create reality; my wishes and desires do not draw their fulfilment to me. Thinking positively is a good idea, because it makes you look for opportunities and helps you stay cheerful and optimistic, but it does not make things happen. That’s both illogical and egotistical.

Right now, when I try and look into the future, I can’t see anything. Perhaps blind panic is obscuring my inner vision. Perhaps, as the future is not fixed, things are still in motion. Perhaps, and this scares me most, I don’t have a future at all.

That’s where Thomas comes back to comfort me. I’ve stood in this position a good few times, standing on the edge of a dark abyss where nothing is settled or certain, and things could go horribly wrong. I stood there almost six years ago today, when it became clear to us that our position was untenable and we’d have to make a leap of faith into the unknown, and just hope that it would work out.

I’m forty six. I’ve leapt into the unknown more times than many in my life so far. And so far, it has worked out.

Thomas demanded evidence. When I demand evidence, I am directed to look at the past and review it. Each and every time I’ve made that leap, I have survived. In some cases, I have even thrived and made huge strides forwards as a person. I know the next few months are going to be so stressful I’d like to go to sleep and wake up in mid September with it all over bar the shouting. But Thomas tells me that if I cannot believe in the future, I can believe in the past and let that be my guide.

Oh and if you’re a praying kind of person, I’d appreciate a few on my behalf. Thank you.

Monday Meditation ~ Vanilla, for innocent sensuality


Vanilla ~ for innocent sensuality


Did you know that true vanilla is the second most expensive spice, the most expensive being saffron? Obtained from the cured and processed seed pod of a tropical orchid, true vanilla is one of the most widely used and well loved of flavourings.

It’s also well used in aromatherapy because of its varied and powerful benefits:

It’s a powerful antidepressant, has anti-oxidant effects and is used to promote relaxation, better sleep and is also said to be an aphrodisiac.

Vanilla gets a bad press, really, and despite being a popular flavouring is often regarded as bland and boring. It’s also used (somewhat ironically given its anecdotal evidence as an aphrodisiac) as a synonym for unadventurous sexual activity.

Perhaps it is because of the ubiquitous nature of vanilla products that we have lost our true appreciation of this wonderful spice. Most of us grew up with vanilla essence being used in home baking, but sadly most vanilla essence bought in supermarkets does not come from the vanilla orchid. Artificial vanilla is made from vanillin, a by-product of the paper industry, and while the signature sweet ice cream scent is present, vanillin is only one of the 171 separate aromatic compounds present in true vanilla. There is no substitute for the rich, complex aroma of true vanilla so for this meditation I strongly suggest you use either a fresh vanilla pod, a high quality extract or essential oil. The essential oil is not too expensive when bought pre-diluted in jojoba oil.

For this meditation you may also like to use a recording of waves on the seashore for background and to add to the ambience. You can use the oil on a smelling strip, or if it is diluted, on pulse points. If you have an extract, you can add a few drops to hot water, or to the reservoir of an oil burner. You can even put a drop or two onto a cold light bulb and then turn it on; as the bulb warms the scent will fill the room. Once you have arranged how you diffuse the fragrance, take a few slow deep breaths, and settle into your chair. Let the scent fill you and feel its calming arms holding you.




You are standing on a quiet beach, with a warm wind flowing off the sea ruffling your hair and caressing your skin. The sky is blue, and almost cloudless, except for a few fluffy white cotton puffs high above. Look at your feet, buried slightly in the softest pale golden sand imaginable. Move your feet a little, as if treading a deep pile carpet and enjoy the sensation of the sand massaging your soles. The sound of the sea is soothing, and you can see the little waves breaking on the shore, so go closer. The water sparkles as if there are diamonds in it, and beneath the foam you can see the sand beneath shining golden, studded here and there with smooth pebbles that look like jewels with their brilliant colours. Take a few steps into the water. It’s cool but not cold and it feels intensely refreshing and exhilarating. Feel the waves touching your ankles as they break on the shoreline, and start walking slowly. The rounded pebbles embedded in the wet sand give the most wonderful massaging effect as you walk upon them; there are no sharp or rough ones. The sun on the sea lights up the water, making it a pure crystalline shade of turquoise, through which you can see to the sea floor. Strands of seaweed float with little fishes and other small creatures darting among them. Above you, seagulls soar high and let out the occasional cry.

Enjoy walking in the waves for as long as you want. When you start to feel tired, leave the water and walk a little inland. The beach is bordered by dunes of marram grass and wild-flowers, and where the grasses start to grow there is a little hollow that shelters you from the wind. You will see there is a brightly coloured beach towel laid out, and a huge beach umbrella in rainbow colours. Go and lie down on the beach towel. It’s very soft and feels brand new and plush. The velvety fabric is lovely to touch and there’s even a little pillow to rest your head on.

It’s warm in this hollow, and the sun on your skin is like a blessing, but don’t worry about burning. Here you cannot get sunburned, but if you feel too warm, move into the shade cast by the beach umbrella. Feel the delightful warmth of the day ease any aches and pains and let the tensions of being an adult seep away into the sand.

Near you in a brightly coloured heap are beach toys: buckets and spades, in lots of shapes and sizes, and moulds for making shapes, and little flags. There’s even a bucket filled with shells and stones of every size and colour that someone has collected specially for you. There’s a big bottle of sea water to wet the sand if you wish.

It may be many years since you last made a sandcastle, or this may be the very first time you have ever had the chance, but the sand and the toys draw you to start playing. It feels strange at first but after a few minutes it feels like second nature to scoop up bucketfuls of the sand, pack it tight and turn out castles. Enjoy decorating your castles with the shells and stones and flags. Let yourself be a child again.

Just as you are putting the finishing touches to your castles, you sense someone is approaching and you look up. Coming up the beach is someone you love very much and they are carrying something. Go to meet them. Whoever your visitor is, here they are very welcome and they are bringing you a small gift.

Your visitor holds out to you an ice cream cone filled with the best vanilla ice cream in the world. You can smell the aroma from a few feet away and you accept their gift with joy. A few drops of ice cream are already spilling down the side of the cone; in this sunshine, it will melt fast so do not delay your enjoyment of this sweet treat. Walk with your visitor along the seashore as you both eat your ice creams. You can talk if you like but if you prefer to, you can enjoy the beach and the ice cream in silence.

When you crunch the last of the cone, it’s time to say goodbye to the beach and to your visitor. You can come back any time you choose but for now it is time to go back to your normal reality.

Let the beach fade away as you return, but let the relaxation remain with you, and any insights you may have gained. You are back.

Be sure to eat and drink something before resuming normal activity and also make some notes of what you saw and experiences.



Desert Journey

Desert Journey

In the wild places, life loses its confusion

And shines instead with the brilliant clarity

Of fresh-hewn crystal, sparkling with light

And edges so sharp they would draw blood.

The final tent is lost in a shimmer of heat,

Long miles behind me in the sand;

I cannot see my destination

Though mirages try to distort my vision

And lure me from my straight path.

I lay the compass on the baking ground

Follow where the arrow points me

Even though I can see nothing ahead

But sand, sand and yet more sand.

It will be cold tonight, surely,

The ice glittering in the moonlight

Mirroring the hard stars in velvet sky

Singing with high voices like distant angels.

Tomorrow, the sky will be too bright

But I will remember the stars

With their haunting piercing songs

I shall walk to that rhythm

Till I reach the other side.

“The Secret Garden” and the way children’s literature can shape our hearts and minds.

The Secret Garden” and the way children’s literature can shape our hearts and minds.

When I reach a low point I find concentrating extremely hard, so the kind of reading I normally do is beyond me. I recently bought Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, finally accepting that the promised copy from a former friend was never coming my way, and the book sits reproachfully in the to-be-read pile, glaring at me. I have a mountain of books, both real and digital waiting to be read, and in some cases reviewed, and yet, I can’t read.

I’ve downloaded a number of classics to my Kindle recently, books I have loved in the past and wish to have digital copies of for when I am travelling. The other night, flicking through the list of books I know I need to read, I found myself opening children’s classic “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett and read almost halfway in a short time. I read it first when I was about 8 or 9, and many times later. I read it to my daughter when she was little.

It sounds a total cliché but it was like meeting an old friend I’ve not seen for years. For those of you who have not read it, the book tells the tale of Mary Lennox, orphaned when a cholera epidemic kills her parents in India and she is shipped home to live in the home of her reclusive uncle on the edge of the North York moors. Mary is an angry, independent and unhappy child, used to being waited on by native servants and getting her own way in everything, and arriving in the cold, blunt North of England is a massive culture shock. Turned out to “play” outside in the extensive gardens Mary slowly comes alive and is enthralled by the idea of one of the walled gardens being shut up and locked for ten years. The huge manor house is full of secrets and mysteries, and Mary sets out to solve several of them, most importantly to find her way into the “secret” garden her uncle had locked when his beloved wife died. The lonely, somewhat unattractive child finds herself fascinated by the idea of growing things, as the spring starts working its magic on the land and she asks her uncle whether she may have a “bit of earth”:

““Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?”

In her eagerness she did not realise how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr Craven looked quite startled.

Earth!” he repeated. “What do you mean?”

To plant seeds in- to make things grow- to see them come alive,” Mary faltered.”

I think this book may be responsible for my love of gardens and of nature and of that feeling of nature holding wonderful mysteries, a kind of magic. Rereading the story woke me up to something, the power of words. The whole book is written in lovely evocative lyrical language, such that both a child of nine can relish and an adult too.

It inspired me to ask my father for my own patch of garden and to learn as much as I could about the natural world. I spend my pocket money on books of trees and flowers and wild animals, and I went shopping with my father to choose seeds each year, to plant in our walled garden. I spoke to robins (I still do), and would spend hours sitting watching the hares boxing in the spring.

I still crave a truly secret garden of my own. One where I am not overlooked by others, and where I can tend the earth in my own way, without reference to what others think a garden should look like. Honeysuckle trailing up trees, roses filling the air with sweetness, daisies starry-white in shaggy grass, all slightly dishevelled and un-manicured but rioting with colour and vibrant life. Where bird and animals can come and feel safe and at ease with humans.

I guess I want my own Eden.