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I am watching the aging process progress at a rapid rate for Pickle. He is sixteen, an octogenarian Jack Russell. Sometimes he stands looking bewildered and we wonder what is going on in his head. He is deaf enough to ignore the postie, the slam of the front door and fireworks. His sight is obscured by terrier whiskers and cataracts. He bumps into furniture, the glass partition at the vets, and occasional lamp posts. He is on his ‘last legs’. All four are stiff. He falls up steps and is grateful to be carried up full flights of stairs. I notice with anticipation the collection of memorial thank you cards on display at the vets for the animals who have recently expired. For me the death of a pet is painful because I load them with so much love. Each pet becomes a recipient of my boundless affection. In return they are loyal, generous, reciprocate in their own way, and accept the weight of my emotional projections. It is precisely because there is only body language between us that their death is for me so hard to bear. I can’t explain the process to them, we can only feel. For now, Pickle’s shiny black nose twitches at the smellorama of our daily outings, and he lifts his muzzle with joy to take the air on bright days.

Now the leaves have laid the trees bare, the southern skyline pokes through. Sunrise is late enough that I catch the light spreading like honey over the towers of docklands. Walking later, the afternoon sun makes long shadows lean across the Downs. Parallel tracks are etched into the grass. Small dog with short legs stands on her long shadow limbs. Grass is enhanced with brighter green. A gold medallion appears at sunset to cast a spell on the grime of the metropolis. I scurry home to make turmeric latte. It is another yellow orb, this time held in a mug to comfort me in the early dark.

This particular piece of luck talked to me at the car boot. I paid £2, erring on the side of caution. I feel very lucky. I try to keep this luck in mind, and to be thankful for it. Displays of gratitude can make me feel uncomfortable, like saying ‘grace’. I love the American tradition of ‘thanksgiving’ meals, but they are bound in a complex heritage of oppression and religion. But more and more I feel the need to offer my thanks to the foods and other things that nourish me. I need to say thank you in a simple private way. Martin Prechtel encourages us to “feed the holy”, to make offerings and give thanks to nature, to the elements, to the ancestors, to all that is greater than us. I increasingly feel nurtured by the unseen, and I light a stick of incense to offer thanks and well-wishing to all who support and guide me as a personal daily ritual. In San Francisco’s Café Gratitude, each dish on the menu was served with a different earnest affirmation. “You are beautiful”, drawled the server with each coconut pie. It antagonised the cynical and made me blush. However, an authentic cultivation of gratefulness expands my sense of connection with all that is. The challenge is to walk the line between grateful and smug. “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude” (A A Milne). I am following Piglet’s example and making more room to saying thank you.

We are sorting through the sum of a lifetime’s accumulation. There are boxes of papers, books, CD’s. Moths have beaten us to the clothes, which are relegated to bin bags. Four decades of creative output – drawings paintings, writing and recordings of songs are jumbled in piles amongst old water bills, every birthday card I ever sent to them, and scraps of paper with scribbled song lyrics. If there is a scheme or order to things it has been obscured by descending chaos and dust. Things that were acquired lightly have been weighted through being kept for years. I struggle to declutter my own things that hold most emotional importance for me; but with someone else’s collected works it’s easier to see where the bonds of lost dreams, unfinished projects, regret and significant memories have made things difficult to let go. This inevitable clearing can happen either voluntarily, or as this process is, by necessity. Lifting each cardboard box full of potential, I vow to resolve my unfinished business and label things better. One painting remains tall among the redundant furniture.  It is a prophesy, a portrayal of a guitar long before its painter became a musician. Sadly, it’s too big for their new living quarters. It is a vibrant portrait of the artist daubed with oils in 1985 when the possibilities of the future seemed infinite.

The Old River Lea is tidal. Beyond Stratford further downstream it joins the River Thames. Before they dammed the river as part of the London Olympic park developments, bream used to swim up here to spawn every spring. History intersects with Hackney via old pathways and water ways. Roman fragments have been found in the neighbourhood over the centuries. Hackney Marshes – land reclaimed in the 1940’s is bisected by an ancient thoroughfare – the ‘black path’. The ‘Middlesex Filter Beds’ were made to clear the water of cholera as part of the ambitious plan to pump and pipe water around the city. Despite knowing this and passing a London ‘mile stone’ at the boundary of South Millfields, it still feels incongruent to find what looks like a piece of archaeology. It is made of stoneware, a handle decorated in blue and white glaze. Is this the remaining piece of an eighteenth century picnic mug? Did it travel to what was a delightful country spot in a Hackney carriage? What will they find here in the future – micro shards of a plastic lighter worn smooth by tumbling water over grit and stones? Maybe the pair of spectacles Terry dropped here eleven years ago will be preserved in the mud for future treasure seekers.

I am a walking invitation to chat in my eccentric pink fluffy hat and “doggy in the buggy” (as children observe). Dogs and prams are both permissive signals. While the destination-focused-commuters, purposefully-cycling-freelancers, and earphones-in-runners move at speed, parents and people with dogs move in eddies in a different current. Loretta stops cycling to talk to me, enjoying the vision of dogs and human as we leave crows loitering behind us. Her face stretches then folds into a deep smile. We share a borderless conversation animated by spreading arms, “I love nature”. She bumps her heart and all that could separate us brings us together, “we are one”. She tells me about meditating in this green expanse, of her older husband, dogs, foxes, yoga. She feels British “inside out”, forgets her native words, tells her un-believing Lithuanian sister that she dreams in English. This spontaneous connection unfolds my heart, stretches my mouth into a wide smile. “God is talking”, she says, pointing at the sun which touches her cheek in spontaneous blessing.

When I feed the crows, a magpie sometimes comes to grab a seed or two. This magpie has pluck to stealth dive the feeding ground of a murder of crows. Crow and magpie are different species, but share the genus corvidae. Perhaps this is why the crows turn a blind beady eye. Magpie is an opportunist.  I hear cackling as magpies throw their weight around in the garden pecking order. Bullying apart, I enjoy magpie’s brash attitude. I recognise the magpie in myself – eager for the shiny, gathering resources. I pluck my spiritual teachings from diverse traditions. I experiment with practices from different sources, use what works for me. My shrines are scattered with small things made, found, bought, given or inherited that inspire me. An image of Mother Meera sits under a Buddhist prayer box. The breasted woman made of shells I made as a child, gave to my mother then inherited back is there with a small stone from Mount Kailash. Feathers found, connect to significant shamanic creatures. A one-eyed ‘Incredible’ found on the beach celebrates the ‘seer’ in me, playful plastic fox is a reminder too. There is a stone gilded with ‘love’ and affirmations to feather my nest with positive intentions.

According to the optician my sight is becoming more myopic. It seems to be a normal part of aging. My eye balls are becoming more ovoid. To write this I am wearing spectacles. I also wear other glasses to see longer distances. I start the day putting drops in my eyes. Changes in the eyes are markers of increasing years. I have faced an acute life threatening illness, but this gradual spectrum of chronic change is part of the daily reminder that my life is finite. My mind does its best to sideline this information. I enjoy my visit to the friendly opticians. I admire the cyber-punk contents of the optometrist’s case. I submit to the cleverness of science in the face of my own fallibility. The house is scattered with previous generations of glasses to be worn because the most recent appear to elude me. While this process of deterioration is going on, there is a parallel process of learning to see more. I notice things, I spot details of body language, I witness, I observe patterns. This seeing is growing in me. I am receiving more information in sensory ways, allowing my vision to become more than the pictures projected on the back of my eyes.
www.eyelondonopticians.co.uk

‘Tell Me Who I Am’ is a fascinating documentary film made about an extraordinary set of circumstances. Alex and Marcus are twins, now in their 50’s. We see them beautifully illuminated in the studio as they tell their stories. “I don’t know who I am”, begins Alex. Like psychologists observing through a two-way mirror, we are invited into their worlds, their twin perspectives. Despite being identical twins, their experiences are not mirrored. We learn more about their responses through their body language – as they each return to glasses of water, sit forward or back on their chairs, and spread fingers across their faces when overcome with dismay. “The major thing about being a twin; you’re never alone,” says Marcus. The narrative is driven by compelling interviews, but flushed out with haunting images and atmospheric details through reconstruction.“ Alex lost his memory by accident, and I lost my memory voluntarily,” says Marcus. We observe as they open Pandora’s box and out pour secrets, truths, guilt, grief and shame. The whole tale spins on an axis of “blinding trust.” We become voyeurs in the deconstruction of an internalised history. As memory, relationships, family dynamics and identity disintegrate, what remains?  It asks whether our memory and history forms the bones of who we are? The connection between the brothers is under scrutiny. Through them this is a compelling examination of responses to trauma, and the expression of emotion.
www.imdb.com/title/tt10915286/

In the winter, under pressure, feelig the undertow of the future it’s easy to forget to play. I swap my fun for serious, suppress the silly. Rubbing my feet brings me back. Playing a tune, letting my hips move, opening my jaw to let a laugh spring out gives me back the present. “What’s in the veg box this week?” I ask. “One organic cat,” I reply. She knows how to play. She loves to stretch out, to follow her pleasure. Shelly plays mouse. Box plays house. I follow Ginger Girl’s trigger happy paws. I marvel at the simple fun to be had with cat in pursuit of pretend mouse.