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AofA People: Diane Kutz


12 Minute Read

Diane Kutz who is in her 60th year supports others along their life paths – from helping to write a CV after redundancy to sound healing for emotional trauma – and follows a shamanic spiritual pathway. Here she gives a wonderfully personal account of her life now.

What is your name?

The name I go by these days is Diane Kutz. I was born with a different surname, and when I married I took my husband’s name. When we split up I changed again. And there are times when I wonder about changing it again. My first name, Diane, is not something I consider changing. I love being connected to the Roman goddess Diana – or Artemis in the Greek pantheon. A powerful woman of the moon. I resonate and vibrate with the moon. Sometimes in the night she calls me awake and I get up to go to marvel at her silvery beauty.

How old are you?

I am in my 60th year.

Where do you live?

Currently, I am located on the South Coast of England. Having moved back to the town where I grew up, after over 30 years of living in other places – South Yorkshire, NE Scotland and South London.

What do you do? 

I do many things. I breathe in life. I play with my grandbabies. I hug people. I support those going through change and transition. I sing, I dance, I play music, I create, I laugh, I cry, I love. I play my part in this wondrous Uni-verse, the great One Song. I identify as belonging to many groups, many communities. These include, being part of a family, a resident of a town, connected with others with similar interests in spirituality (personally I follow a Shamanic path).

This brings me on to my work. I help others along their life paths. This support can take many forms, from practical assistance helping someone going through redundancy to write their CV, to helping them to heal emotional trauma using sound. It is such a privilege and a joy to watch people rediscover their core, their strength. I love to walk alongside people. We might engage in conversation using words, music, art, or whatever. All of which is designed to assist them in moving through things, or being with Life situations, (re)connecting them with their deepest selves, helping them to (re)discover their own strengths and resilience.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

Difficult to say. This is the only age that I know. It is the present moment, and it is my moment, my life. This is my 6th decade in this lifetime. It is exciting and amazing. I feel privileged to still be around, something that has been denied to many others who I have met in the past 59 years.

I guess you could say that it is the perfect age for me, inevitably, because it is where I am.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Ha! Lines on my face, thinner skin and a thicker waistline. And on a more serious note, I have more life experience. Although I had experienced some things by age 25. I had got married, lost children through miscarriage, given birth to a child, and had a mortgage. Now I have a grown-up son with a wife and children of his own.

I have witnessed much – joy, grief, hurt, laughter, good times, bad times, all these and much more that make up a lifetime. These things I have witnessed in myself and in others.

I have a confidence now that I did not have when I was younger. This confidence is in my abilities. That it is OK to be me, fully. For example, I always had strong intuition and the ability to connect with others (in this realm and in other realms). However, previously I would not always trust these abilities. Now I know it is OK to do so. I have given myself permission to trust.

What about sex?

Since splitting up with my son’s father, I spent some time exploring me – not just sexually, but finding out about who I am, what I like and just generally more about life. I moved to London and met a number of guys who I had fun with. I learned a lot about what I want in a partner. One thing I am now very clear about is that if I am involved romantically with a guy, that the physical and sexual sides of that relationship are important to me. One thing about getting older is that I know what works for me. So, I can express more easily what I want and need sexually, and in other ways. And I am open to learning more about me, and about any future partner I may have.

And relationships?

Interesting that the question of sex was before relationships. I have many relationships with people – friendships. And I guess you mean romantic-type ‘relationships’?

I know that I enjoy being in these relationships with guys. I say guys, but I am definitely into monogamy, so only one guy at a time. An open relationship would definitely not be for me. In the past 20 years (since the end of my marriage) I have had a number of relationships. However, none have lasted more than several months. I feel I am now open to being involved longer-term with someone. Though to me it is much more about the quality of a relationship, not how long it might last. After all, there are no guarantees as to how long a relationship might last, nor how long any of us will be treading the earth plane.

What I am looking for is someone who I like, respect and can have fun with. A couple of the guys I have been involved with are still my friends and I love that I we can still be friends. This is something that has changed as I have got older. Another thing in relationships is that I have attracted people who I get along with, no real stressy arguments, not the angst-ridden relationships of youth. Something much more balanced, where it is about enjoying each other’s company, respecting each other for what the other one brings to the connection, mutual enjoyment. An ease of just being together

How free do you feel?

I feel very free to be me, to express myself in whatever ways I choose. In a way, I feel less free about other things.

A few years ago, I considered moving abroad, but now I want to be around for my parents, my son and his family. I don’t want to be too far away from my grandchildren, as although technology is a marvel (another change from my younger days) and we can talk and see each other via the internet, there is just no substitute for cuddling little people and playing together. I am looking forward to when they are big enough to play puddle-jumping, messy art, and other fun things. Not things to be done at a distance. And doing these things are freedoms in themselves, being able to reconnect with the inner child. I am definitely looking forward to some marvellous fun.

What are you proud of?

Not giving up. Like most people I know, I have had tough times over the years. Some things have happened that led to despair. At one time, I went through a depression, which was not a great place to be. Now I know I am strong enough to be with the tough times, and that these times give me lessons. In learning lessons, I have more to offer others, different ways to help support people on their paths.

I am also a very proud mum and grandma. To have had the privilege of watching a person grow from a bump in the tum to being a lovely human being is amazing. And now I am looking forward to seeing how my grandbabies grow. I wonder who they will become? What gifts they bring to this World?

What keeps you inspired?

People, nature, books, the world around me. When I think about the world and the cosmos, I am awestruck at the beauty, and the passion. I am inspired by the compassion of others. There is so much to be explored, both on inner as well as outer journeys.

When are you happiest?

Generally, I am a happy person. For sure, there are times when I might feel low, or whatever. But mostly I am happy. My happiness is not dependent on external factors. I guess that has been one of the learnings in this lifetime. That if we hook our happiness to someone or something else, then it can always be taken away. Whereas, finding happiness within, means that the seed of happiness is always accessible to me.

I have already mentioned my grandbabies, and for sure, being with them and their parents brings me great joy and happiness. Other things bring happiness too, such as walking in nature. I am fortunate to live a ten minute walk from the sea and only a short drive from the New Forest.

And where does your creativity go?

Into making music / sound, painting, cooking, writing, and much else. One thing I love to do is design and run workshops. My most recent creation being a workshop called, Weaving the Threads of Your Life Story, which I will be running later this year, having piloted it successfully last year. It is an exploration of our life to date, and a novel way into accessing how we are with that life.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Life is to be lived, to be savoured, to learn. We are all here to learn, through a physical existence, about emotions – using the visceral experience of physicality to understand emotions and feelings. Ultimately, we are here to be expressions of love.

My work is called The Heart of Joy. This is about the expression of Five Fields of Being. Everything that I do, is related to one, or more, of the Five Fields. One of the things that has changed as I have got older, is that I now understand the work that I am here to do. I just need to get on and do more of it!!

And dying?

A gentle breathing out for the final time. It will happen to us all. I know how I would like to go, I do not fear dying, though there are some ways of dying that hold no appeal for me. I also believe that this physical existence is a temporary home for our true and deepest selves, our soul, spirit or whatever you want to call it. We are born and we take our first breath. Then we die for the first time, as we breathe out that initial in-breath. Life is then a constant breathing in of life and breathing out of death. This continues until we take our final breath, and breathe out, never more to breathe in again in this lifetime.

I have attended a workshop, twice, called, Dying to Live. It is an extraordinary workshop and helped me to understand a number of things. One of these was how to be with someone who is dying. I will always be grateful for this understanding, as it meant I was able to be around a very dear friend of mine who died two years ago. I had the privilege of being with him just a few hours before he passed into spirit – a beautiful gift for which I will always be grateful.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, definitely. I dream about the world that I would like my grandbabies to grow up in. I dream about how I can help to make things better, about what is my part to play in the world. I dream about my work and what I can do next to help others.

What was the most outrageous action of yours?

I am unsure how to answer this question. In my younger days, at school, I was unpleasant to some other children. Looking back, I can see that my actions were nasty and even bullying. However, I was just a child myself, and I did not understand how my actions may have impacted others. I do hope that people have not suffered because of some of the things I did when I was young.

The most outrageous thing I did at work was when I left my first job in a life assurance company. It was a very conservative organisation. On my last day, I wore bright red jeans, and a mesh blouse that was completely see-though, apart from two large patch pockets that were strategically placed, and no bra. It was hilarious, as I got somewhat tipsy at lunchtime and then went round the office embarrassing people by sitting on their desks and talking with them. Many guys had no idea where to look.

As I grew older, I became outraged at things, rather than being outrageous myself. One time, when I was living in South Yorkshire, there was a discussion in the media about whether or not peace studies should be taught in primary schools. People were writing to the newspapers about how this was terrible, and how young children were unaware of wars. I was furious. I wrote to the local paper. I told the story of how when my son was two years old, and the Falklands’ War was happening, he came to me one day and said, “When I grow up, Margaret Thatcher is going to make me go into the army. I’m going to go to the Falklands and be killed.” Him saying that, really got me thinking about the world and what was happening. And so much for some adults thinking that infants are ‘unaware’ of war.

In 1980s Britain I supported anti-apartheid, the fight against the poll tax, the miners strike, CND (campaign for nuclear disarmament) and many other ‘causes’. Marching, talking about things with others, and so on. These days, I tend to do things differently. I work with energies, spirit, whatever you want to call it. I engage in sending healing energies. Knowing that whatever we do as individuals affects the wider world. Just like dropping pebbles into a pond and watching the ripples move across the whole pond from one tiny stone. Kindness and compassion are now watchwords for me. This does not mean that I am always kind and compassionate, but that I strive to be that way. I am still a work in progress.

And I am still open to taking outrageous actions when the need or desire arises.

You can find me on the web at www.theheartofjoy.com This is a site that is developing, as I develop my own understanding of the work I am on the Earth to do, in this lifetime.

AofA People: Gillian Haqqani – Jeweller


3 Minute Read

What is your name?

Gillian Haqqani

Briefly sum up who you are and what motivates you

Who am I? That’s a hard one. Factually I’m a twice-married once divorced and now happily separated mum, granny, and former teacher, now a small business owner. What motivates me? I’ve always been very self-motivated, and I’ve always wanted to do things to the best of my ability. My immediate family also motivate me and nothing is better than getting a “Wow! That’s Awesome Granny ”. In tough times my family keeps me going.

If you have a job, what you do for a living?

I’m a former primary school assistant head and the most of my career my responsibilities were for children with special need or disability (SEND) as well as for Child Protection and Children in Care. I’m now retired and so have more time to focus on my jewellery business.

How long have you been doing this?

Just over two years.

What you find most satisfying about your job?

I love the feedback I get from customers whether that’s in real life or online and I particularly love it when I have returning customers. I also enjoy the whole creative process especially when I’m working on a new design and there is some problem solving involved to get the reality to match what I’ve got in my mind. Learning new skills whether that be in the making of my jewellery – which is something rather different as I use paper and origami to create my pieces, or in developing my business IT skills.

Is your work primarily a means to an end i.e. money, or the motivating force of your life?

I’m lucky enough to have my teachers pension as my main source of income but the money I make from my jewellery really helps in terms of getting some of the wants. I really love making my jewellery and tried to be the best I can be and it is also very much a form of emotional therapy for me. Building up my business and all the positives that come from that have really helped me to rebuild my confidence and self-belief.

If you don’t work for a living, can you say why?

Unfortunately, about five years ago I developed severe arthritis in my neck and after some other chronic diseases decided to come along and join the party, last year (2017) I had to reluctantly admit that it was becoming too difficult for me to carry on working. The plus side is that I can now focus more on my jewellery business.

When you are eight, what did you want to be when you grow up?

Very boring, but the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be was a teacher.

Did you get there – and if not, are you happy/sad that you didn’t?

Yes and I’m so glad I did.

What is your dream job?

My last job. I loved the job, the school, and the pupils. It made having to give up even more heart-breaking.

If UK – based, are you glad, indifferent or disappointed that the official pension age is rising

Disappointed, I’m lucky in that I do have a decent teachers pension and I also receive some disability benefits. However, as I still have a mortgage to pay until I’m 64 money is tight and as I’m 57 at the moments having to wait another 10 years to receive my state pension seems an awfully long time.

Me, Myself and Lyme


8 Minute Read

Earlier this year I launched my second novel, Anatomised, which explores the impact of Lyme disease. There’d been a nine-year hiatus since the publication of my debut novel: A Portrait of the Arsonist as a Young Man. Convention says the second book can be harder to write than the first as the author sometimes hits a creative brick wall, so a time-lapse between the two isn’t unusual. A decade, however, can start to look more like retirement than a creative break.

Anatomised was definitely much harder to write than my first book, though my problem wasn’t in the fresh-ideas department. On the contrary, I was brimming with material and raring to go – until I was bitten by a tick and everything in my life unravelled. I found myself trapped in a black-windowed, monolithic building on the corner of Survival Street at the intersection of Life and Death. The terrifying symptoms of Lyme disease were initially mistaken for many other life-changing conditions, misdiagnosed as two strokes, a possible brain tumour and multiple sclerosis. Meanwhile, the raging infection was undiagnosed and untreated. It was therefore given time to take hold, spread, cross my blood-brain barrier and even destroy parts of my brain. As my own lights dimmed, the devastation of Lyme disease lit up the MRI scanner.

Within months I lost my livelihood (fiction mentor and creative writing tutor at two universities). I lost the ability to walk, to stand, to read, to write, to even think straight. There seemed little hope of me writing anything more than my own obituary. I was forty-four, had been riding the crest of a wave, and then I was sucked under, lost to a freakish riptide.

As a novelist and historian, I’m often asked about autofiction; the place where autobiography and imagination overlap. Anatomised is fiction, but it has facts at its heart. It tells the story of a middle-aged couple whose lives are turned upside-down by a mysterious illness that threatens to crush their dreams. It explores dark subject matter, but the main protagonist is a stand-up comedian so there are lots of lighter moments as it moves between harrowing, humorous and heart-breaking.

Just before I got sick, I was poised to write a romantic tragi-comedy set on an idyllic holiday island. It was to be pure, if dark, escapism; a beach read; a philosophical “Mama Mia”; a masterpiece. In my wildest dreams it would top the Times bestseller list, be optioned, turned into an award-winning film, a standout musical, a Chekhovian play, a Netflix TV series, and I would make a fortune that King Midas would be proud of! But soon after my long brush with death, after discovering the huge and rapidly growing numbers of patients experiencing Lyme disease around the world (a majority of whom had no voice), I parked the rom-com, re-set my moral compass, shifted my creative focus, and prepared to set off in a new direction. But first I had to get better.

It took over two years to be diagnosed and treated for Lyme, and then several more years to make a gradual, if incomplete recovery. Miraculously, I started to form coherent ideas and words. Sentences flourished, paragraphs piled up. It was as if I’d risen from a tomb, like a Lyme Lazarus, and I’d come back to the living with an important story to tell. The question was: should this tale be factual or fictional, memoir or novel?

Writing a semi-autobiographical novel allowed me to safely revisit the past; to explore exactly what went wrong, and still goes wrong for Lyme patients, from shambolic diagnostic processes to denial of treatment. Mistakes were made through ignorance, accident or inexperience, at other times through old-fashioned obstinacy and obstructionism. Sadly, similar errors and misjudgments are still being made with Lyme patients across the globe – every day. Anatomised writes some of these wrongs and wrongdoers, setting the record straight in the hope things will change for the better, because they must.

The process of reliving trauma in such detail was overwhelming and exhausting, but it also provided purpose and motivation; a reason to drag my ravaged, aging body out of bed. After a Eureka moment, when I suddenly understood how the story would end, I knew I was on the right track. Ironically, although I was reinventing the past, I never looked back.

Could I have written this story as straightforward memoir? In theory yes, in practice no. The truth is Anatomised did begin as non-fiction. I initially wrote 30,000 words as memoir but I gave up. The life I’d left on the page felt dead and flat, like the tragic two-dimensional outline of a Hiroshima Shadow left on the walls of buildings decimated by the atomic bomb. I pressed delete and wrote another 15,000 words of creative non-fiction, first from the viewpoint of my wife and then a close friend. There was life in this reawakened memoir and moving silhouettes, but still there was no depth of field. Facts remained facts, cold and cadaver-like. When I sat down to write, I sank further into the quicksand of the past, experiencing what I now believe to have been post-traumatic stress disorder. Lyme almost killed me, and now I was destroying myself all over again.

On the verge of giving up on writing (if I’m honest, on life itself), I stumbled across the names of Jack and Alice Mann that I had jotted randomly in a notebook, intended as material for a totally different story. Searching for safe emotional distance, I started to write in the third-person, viewing the rollercoaster ride from their shoulders. The fictional floodgates opened. Creative lightning lit up my sky. I wrote feverishly and unfettered for a year. My imagination muscles were flexed, my fingertips burned. Never in a million years would I wish Lyme disease on another person, yet I had to give it to Jack. I watched the comedy of the Manns’ lives unravel into tragedy as if my own survival depended on it; not so much a thinly-veiled autobiography as a heavily-draped curtain on a stage (quite fitting for a forlorn stand-up). Even though Jack and Alice were imaginary, I felt a colossal guilt and apologised to them daily in my head. I still do.

It isn’t rocket science: writing is good for a person. It is self-coaching, self-counselling, self-soothing. It is selfish in its taking from the world, like a sponge sucking water, but it is selfless too in its wringing out and pouring back. Sometimes it’s even mixing metaphors, because writing is gardening for the soul. It is weeding bad things out and planting new things in. But each writer must find their own allotment, the form and shape that best expresses their voice and vision; what they feel or think most profoundly and honestly about the world they live in. For me, fiction rather than memoir is the place I most effectively hunt down truths about what it is to be a human being. Fiction allows a writer to move ideas beyond the realm of “what happened” into the exciting realm of “what ifs”. Ostensibly, Anatomised is about Lyme disease. Arguably, it could have been written as a memoir entitled: “Me, Myself and Lyme”. In novel format, I wanted to confront Lyme, but also to escape it. I needed to surprise myself as a writer, and therefore the reader. Even though dark places exist within, behind and between the pages of Anatomised, readers aren’t absolutely sure what is real and what isn’t, and that’s how it should be. A story reflects its own truth.

All writing has the potential to be liberating. You may not write the wrongs that make the whole world sing, but the process can be psychologically curative; a meditative medicine for the mind. It can provide consolation, comfort and sometimes liberation. It’s true, you can’t cure Lyme disease or other chronic illnesses or traumas with words alone, but you can share your story. You can use what’s broken to reach out and illuminate the darkness. As Leonard Cohen wrote: “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

I remember the first story I had published. I’d just thrown away a perfectly successful career as a medieval historian in the pursuit of an impossible dream to become a fiction-writer. When one of my short stories won an international literary prize, my love-affair with writing fiction rather than fact took root. It began to pave the road to creative writing, lecturing posts, the publication of my debut novel, a collection of short stories, editing anthologies and interviewing famous novelists at literary events, including Nobel Laureate, Kazuo Ishiguro. I wrote that first short story under a pseudonym Cassi Hart, an anagram of “catharsis”. Fifteen years on, now in my fifties, the Muse of Catharsis has left her mark on me and on the skin of my pages, like coolness from the softest of calamine kisses. And her kiss doesn’t age.

Anatomised took four years to complete and, despite good reviews, it probably won’t appear on many shopping lists let alone a bestseller list! That’s a shame, as some of its profit will go to international Lyme charities that offer patients a lifeline. It may have been the hardest story I’ve ever had to write but the process soothed my soul, it made me wiser. It probably saved my life, and who knows…maybe it could help save others?

So, as we grow older and wiser, here’s to writing wrongs, flexing imagination muscles, soothing souls, and hunting down the truth of our lives; in fiction, in fact.

Article Copyright: A F McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is an award-winning author. His traumatic experience of Lyme disease has formed the basis of his new novel Anatomised

Website – www.afmcguinness.com

Buy the book here.

AofA People: Clare-Louise Battersby – Photographer, Graphic Designer and Web Designer


4 Minute Read

What is your name?
Clare-Louise Battersby 

Briefly sum up who you are and what motivates you 

I am a once divorced, now happily married, bipolar, 40 something, creative type with a soupçon of tech geek thrown in for good measure. 
If you have a job, what do you do for a living? 

Freelance Photographer, Graphic Designer, and Web Designer. I also do two days a week, as and when I can, in a small independent wine and spirit shop as I have a lot of wine knowledge and I like being involved in the local community in Hampton Village. I do a few hours a week as a PA for a Business Psychologist as she helps keep me sane and I also volunteer in a small locally run charity bookshop for a few hours every other week. 

How long have you been doing this? 

I’ve been a creative type for as long as I can remember, to the point where back in my day, in a school in Dorset they didn’t really know what to do with me. Photography started out as a hobby and is now an all-consuming passion for both work and play. I had a strong Marketing & PR Career – Corporate side – until my 30s then swapped to Creative Agencies and finally I realised I wanted to ‘create’ myself rather than guiding someone else to do it. 

What do you find most satisfying about your job? 

Creative autonomy and making people feel something. There is no better natural high than someone explaining to you how one of your photographs made them feel. 

Is your work primarily a means to an end ie money or the motivating force of your life? 

It used to be a means to an end and also a bit of an identity crisis. I did the ‘business side’ because I was impressionable and led to believe that was how you measured success. Now I know doing what you love is far more important than a job title, car or salary. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful husband who supports me in all my endeavours and believes in my photography. 

If you don’t work for a living, can you say why? 

I have only once in my life not worked and that was when in the space of three months I had to give up my own Marketing & PR Agency, was getting divorced and my Uncle sadly jumped in front of a train at Clapham Junction. I was diagnosed with Non-epileptic fits (trauma based) and was unable to easily and confidently walk up / down stairs or do simple things without the potential of a frightening dissociative episode. It took me more than two and a half years, a lot of demon facing, soul-searching and ‘sitting’ with myself to move past it. Fortunately, while I remember that person sadly but fondly, I no longer recognise her in my current version of me!! 
  
When you were 8, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

An Archaeologist / Geologist. Although, according to my Mum, when I was 12 I asked her what you needed to ‘solicit’. She replied “A good body and a pair of French knickers”. Obviously, I meant ’solicitor’.  

Did you get there  – and if not, are you happy/sad that you didn’t? 

I am happier now than I have ever been in my life. Bipolar is a constant battle and can often creep up on you, even when you are doing everything right. But I have the management techniques, support and family support to, in the main, deal with it as best as I can.
(I’m very happy to say I have never had to solicit) 

What is your dream job

Full-time Photographer working on my own projects rather than the gigs you have to do to pay the way. I really do love it all though, to be honest.  

If UK-based, are you glad, indifferent or disappointed that the official pension age is rising?
I recently read an article about Joel Meyerowitz who is in his 80s. Most famous for his NY street photography and being the only photojournalist allowed access to Ground Zero after 9/11. He said he is doing his best work now! He also said when he started photographing he was working at an Ad Agency in NY and it became a ‘hunger unlike any he had ever known’. I’ve sort of paraphrased this above but I relate hard and hope I am still doing photography to the end of my days!!
I was also brought up to believe in finding work no matter what. If I need money I go and see the old fashioned way if people need anything doing. I’m not proud and I’ll sweep floors if I have to earn a bit extra. Fortunately, I’m not really in that position anymore.

Getting my Painting into the RA Summer Exhibition!


9 Minute Read

‘I am a fan of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. As a younger man, I thought it a bit jumble sale-like. It’s not, and the mix of a piece by a premier league contemporary artist hanging next to a piece by a ‘Sunday painter’ is one of its great appeals…I submitted two pieces to the 2017 exhibition. Neither was selected. I submitted two pieces to the 2018 exhibition. One WAS selected’   Bob Deakin

I went to art school in the late 1970s. One year at Winchester and three years at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham. I remember prospectuses for courses typically described them using the word; peripatetic. I applied – and was accepted – having no idea what this meant. Only quite recently did I appreciate it means something like walk around or roaming.

With some help from staff about where I could find things that interested me, my experience at Art School had some fascinating experiences and some exciting consequences. It provided very little in the way of technical training. I did learn how to take and print photographs because I wanted to incorporate these into what I was making. Things like life drawing were not done; it was not hip.

The place of contemporary art in the world then was very different to how it is now. I recall the Tate’s purchase of Carl Andre’s bricks being front cover news on the Red Tops. And not in a good way. It was reported as a scandalous waste of money. I recall being called upon to justify it by aunts and uncles at a family gathering. I doubt I made a good job of this. Thankfully my parents were very supportive, including never asking ‘what’s it about?’ type questions when they visited my degree show. My work then included some visual punning so they would have ‘got it’ anyway.

Towards the end of my degree course, I applied for a place on post-graduate courses. I got as far as interview for two. Both suggested I go away for one year, continue making work, get some experience and apply again in 12 months’ time. I went away. I got a job. One that had nothing to do with my art education, but was fun, paid cash on a Friday afternoon and didn’t require me to think of work if I wasn’t AT work. I often spent much of the cash I received on a Friday afternoon on the same Friday evening.

My father was struck by an illness from which he died. I supported my mother through the initial months of her grieving. I got a dilapidated flat near to the Oval cricket ground. I fixed it up using skills I’d peripatetically acquired at art school and also learned from my DIY enthusiast father. Would he be pleased? I think so.

My fixing-up skills helped with my appointment to the job of Display Carpenter at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge. It was an exceptional job. I loved it and I learned so much in my time there. It was also where I met Rachel. We fell in love and were together for 27 years. We have two children. We separated in 2009.

Rebuilding my life as a single man was a challenge. It was sometimes delightful, sometimes not. I started going to art galleries again. When I did I appreciated how much I had completely suspended this driving interest.

I experienced visual art differently from how I had as a student. I didn’t feel compelled to understand it as I once had. My responses were more; ‘Do I like this?’ ‘How did the artist do that?’. ‘I can see the artist’s hand in this’.

Sometimes I’d be looking at the work of a contemporary, practising artist, sometimes a Michelangelo or a Leonardo. At moments during my visits I cause concern to gallery attendants. I have no intention of touching but I like to be inches from the surface to see the evidence of the MAKING of this thing.

The single-man Bob started to think about acquiring some of the technical skills his art school education didn’t provide. I signed up for evening classes. I did lots of life drawing, also etching, silk-screen printing and recently portrait painting.

On a 1 week and then a 2-week summer school course, I experience rigorous training in drawing. At times I imagine my experiences to be like those of an apprentice to a Renaissance artist in 15th century Italy. I doubt there was much peripatetic about their learning. There was nothing peripatetic about mine on these two courses.

At a portrait painting evening class in 2017, I set myself the task of producing 12 portraits within the 2.5-hour class. I think I got 7 or 8 done. If you knew how possible it is for me to labour obsessively over getting things ’right’ you’d appreciate the potential liberation associated with this intention.

This is one of my paintings from that evening: I thought it to be of little merit. The tutor and some other students thought different. I took it home and it grew on me. People who know me well have made comments about it that I recognise are deep-rooted aspects of me.

I am a fan of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. As a younger man, I thought it a bit jumble sale-like. It’s not, and the mix of a piece by a premier league contemporary artist hanging next to a piece by a ‘Sunday painter’ is one of its great appeals.

I submitted two pieces to the 2017 exhibition. Neither was selected. I submitted two pieces to the 2018 exhibition. One WAS selected – the image above. (I’m excited and emotional just typing this.)

One of the privileges of exhibitors is the invite to Varnishing Day. Here’s my story of that joyful day:

Exhibitors meet in the RA courtyard for the procession to St James’s Church.

On the walk, I strike up a conversation with Eleanor, also a first-time exhibitor. We discover that we both studied at the Art Academy on Borough High Street, me evening classes, she a five-year part-time course. We had both been taught by Carl Randall. Carl was responsible for suggesting to me that my piece in this year’s exhibition had some merit.

The church is gorgeous, the service lovely. I am struck by how the voices of the small 8 piece choir fill the space of the church. I think there must be more than two hundred of us in the congregation. I picture the 200+ beating hearts and creative brains. I am aware of mine being one of these.

I walk back to the RA with Eleanor. We express our mounting excitement about seeing our respective works in the galleries. I don’t remember when I last felt like this. I am at a loss to describe the feeling; this is a first-time experience.

Back at the RA now, and at the entrance to the galleries, we are given the ‘List of Works’ book and a glass of sparkling wine. None of us knows where we’ve been hung. I look me up; I’m in room IV. Eleanor is in another room and we part saying we’ll catch up later.

I walk straight to Room IV and see my painting across the room from the door. I’m in a great place. I take photos as I walk towards it. These are blurred. Is this due to my excitement? I take more, this time closer and in focus.

This is such a thrill.

Looking up to the right from mine I think I recognise the work of an artist. I look it up in the List of Works. It is the work of my art-school tutor Gerard Hemsworth.

I haven’t exhibited anything since my degree show in 1979 when Gerard was my tutor. Our paintings are hung about 2.0 metres apart. First I’ve met Eleanor with whom I have Carl in common, now I’m this close to Gerard, who was influential in my art education and for whom I’ve the greatest respect. I’ve seen his work at previous Summer Exhibitions.

I share this 2.0-metre proximity with other exhibitors, including Una Stubbs. Her painting and mine are 1.5 metres apart.

I walk to some other rooms but am compelled to return to mine to witness my painting seen by others. I am delighted to see that Gerard is there. He’s barely changed in the nearly 40 years since I last saw him. I say ‘Hello Gerard’. There’s the briefest moment of hesitation on his part until he smiles and we both do the ‘nice to see you, which room are you in?’ type exchange. I (like to) think he is as amused as I by the proximity of our work. We chat for some time.

I walk around once more. Then return to my painting. A painting very near mine is by a young artist. He’s maybe 11 years old and his mum is with him, taking photographs. I congratulate him on the inclusion of his work in the show. We both say it’s our first. I tell him he will surely have more.

A man in a flat cap joins our conversation. I ask him in which room his work is hung. He introduces himself as Humphrey Ocean, committee member of this year’s exhibition and hanger of Room IV.

He tells me he liked my painting from the first time he saw it and thinks it sits very well with those paintings he’s hung close to it. He tells me it also looks like the portrait of another exhibitor in Room IV. He subsequently introduces me to others as ‘my new friend Bob’, and tells me that Gerard was also his tutor back in the day.

 I am stopped in the courtyard on my way out. He introduces himself (I forget his name) as the creator of another piece in room IV. I recall the piece. He saw Humphrey and I talking, he knew which piece I’d painted. He said he liked it.

Humphrey has two paintings in this room. Gary Hume is hung here too. Looking at the List of Works this evening as I write this, I note that Lisa Milroy, David Batchelor, Jock McFadyen, Harry Hill and Basil Beattie, with Una Stubbs and others whose names I don’t recognise, are hung in this room. How remarkable that I’m showing alongside them. And Gerard.

I had the greatest of days today at the Summer Exhibition Varnishing Day. I’m thinking it was meant to be.

The RA Summer Show is on until 19th August.

More info here.

AofA People: Sue Clark


1 Minute Read

Sue Clark is retired and enjoys writing fiction.

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Oxfordshire

AGE?

71

TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

Mostly good. I’ve just enjoyed two major positive milestones: my first grandchild and my first novel being published. But the joints still ache and the wrinkles still multiply.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?

Patience and a little more tact.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

Closeness is more important.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

Friendships are vital. Not just sharing with old friends but making new, young ones and spending time with them.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

Free to use my time more as I wish but not free in that family responsibilities remain, even with a grownup family.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

That my children are sociable, kind, funny and independent of thought. And that my comic novel Note to Boy is to be published by Unbound.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

Life is inspiring every day. I find a lively sense of humour keeps me going through any dark times.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

Eating and drinking with family and friends, walking in the countryside.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

Into reading and writing and dreaming.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

Stop faffing and get on with it.

AND DYING?

I’m happy to make room for the next generations. Only let it be pain-free.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

Of course. With one book on its way to publication, I’m writing my next.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

Being brave enough to send my book – my baby – out into the cruel world.

Note to Boy is fundraising on Unbound. You can contribute here. https://unbound.com/books/note-to-boy/

Interview with Emma Meadows from the UK’s first woman-only Festival – WomanFest!!!


9 Minute Read

Please Introduce Yourself

My name is Emma Meadows and I am 46 years of age.  I am a Shamanic Womb Wyse Practitioner, Healer and Teacher and I work closely with women both individually and in groups. I heal, teach and facilitate women to enable and empower them to self heal and reconnect with the truth of who they are, in deep relationship with their personal Womb Wisdom and Spiritual Allies.  The combination of these energies makes for a potent mix of uncovered ancient wisdom within us – which we can all tap into – and the strong powerful awareness of who we are in ourselves as women as we step forward together in these changing times to bring our gifts and knowledge to the world today.

Largely inspired by my own Womb Wyse journey, involving life, death and all the in-betweens – my training and experiences have lead me to work in various ways over 20 years with Womb Wysdom, including Shamanism, Healing and Teaching,Art, Tantra, Fertility, Birth and Death, Writing, Voice and Visualisations. I have worked with many women supporting them in various ways, eg; fertility, to regain Womb Power following a hysterectomy as well as Soul Retrieval, Healing Womb trauma and harnessing Womb Energies, developing and strengthening these for personal empowerment, spirituality and deepening self-knowledge.

It was through my work as Shamanic Womb Healer and Teacher that I came to be involved with WomanFest and as part of the Core Team I am really excited to be holding the Women’s Circle for the four days.   The festival is being held this summer in Frome, 16th-19th August and tickets can be purchased via the website www.womanfest.co.uk or our Facebook page. There are still some concessions left at £165…a bargain!

How did WomanFest come about?

From the desire to gather together as women in a safe held space where we can celebrate our all our juicy ‘womaness’ in many varied, colourful, wonderful, beautiful, magical, gentle, loud, wild, crazy, innovative, creative, sexy ways!  Women have always gathered together in love and friendship, to share their wisdom, visions and experiences and pass knowledge from generation to generation.  Through hundreds and thousands of years of oppression, suppression and patriarchal control still we have found ways to come together and now the veils of this oppression are lifting and women are stepping into a new paradigm together in love and sisterhood in a way that hasn’t been seen before, bringing our deep knowing and wisdom carried through our DNA into these times we find ourselves in.

Why do you think now is the right time?

This is why it is the perfect time for WomanFest!  We are standing together again visible, stepping into our power, pushing boundaries, declaring what is and isn’t ok for us, hearing our voices, speaking our truths in new ways to meet these times we are in. We come with all that we bring from our ancient ancestors, our mothers, our grandmothers, their mothers and grandmothers, aunts, great aunts and so it goes on back through the ages, as sure as it runs through our veins today.  We are the elders of tomorrow and this festival gives us space to show this and to shine in our power and wisdom.

Traditionally mothers were honoured and celebrated for bringing human life into the world, There was no greater doing than birthing new life.  Wombs and Vulvas were known to be magical places of sacred depths, the great universal mystery held in every woman.  Older women, the elders of the community were honoured for their teachings, their healing knowledge, plant spirit wisdom, blood wisdom, the magical universal ways and they had many stories and ceremonies to share, passing these teachings to the community and younger generations.

In our society today, we have lost much of this way of living, in particular through organised political and religious structures. We have forgotten how to celebrate and honour all ages of life, all forms of wisdom and as a result, we are significantly dominated and subsequently disempowered by corporates and systemic constructs which serve only themselves.  The way of women is to serve life in all its forms, the all and the everything in love, compassion and cooperation – WomanFest gives us the freedom, time and shared space to do this.  Here we will be opening ourselves up to each other again, serving each other with our offerings while receiving from each other in sweet gratitude, bringing what we know deep within ourselves as women, to the world today.  For some women, this will be the first time they have shared their gifts with others and we celebrate this, we welcome this, we are encouraging this – we have so much beauty to enrich each other with!

At WomanFest, everyone can safely offer a workshop or a song or a prayer in a safe space in which it will be received with love, joy, thanks and open hearts.  WomanFest is a space where we can share our gifts, strengths and talents while opening up to new experiences, learning from each other and having an amazing time enjoying ourselves in our womanliness!

What is the vision for WomanFest?  

We are so strong when we are united in love and a shared vision of healing the world with love and ceremony- we are leading the way and WomanFest gives us an awesome platform for all that juiciness to come together and grow, be nurtured, gain strength and momentum for us to remember who we are and stand true in ourselves and with each other.  In this way we are beginning to dispel beliefs that we may have been raised with such as we must compete and compare ourselves with each other, that we are bitchy and catty with each other, that after having children we are not so employable, that when we reach ‘a certain age’ (whatever that is!) we have nothing more to offer society, that old people – our elders – should be separated from the whole community and place in homes away from those who are dear to them and places that are familiar to them.  We want to dismantle these structures and co-create new ways to be together rooted in old traditional ways such as our gatherings.

When we take each other’s hand and share our gifts, we enter into the space of lovingly giving and receiving and this is what Radical Participation is all about in WomanFest, that we are all coming and co-creating this gathering together – we are sharing our gifts and receiving each others’ in mutual love and support! Wow, that’s radical!  So everyone buys a ticket or volunteers and shares their gifts in Workshops, Ceremony, the Arts, Spirituality, Healing, Stallholding, Music, this is a Festival of Co-Creation!  In this way it is clear to see how older women are so vital in this process – we have so much to offer and share with our younger (and older!) sisters, it is an intergenerational Festival where we can share the gifts of our experiences and heart knowledge gained over the years, our sacred stories, prayers and songs and the footsteps of our ancestral pathways, journeys that have brought us to where we are today.  Just as our ancestors would have done we now have the opportunity to pass our knowledge onto younger generations.

WomanFest is open to women of all ages, from those young women who have come through the sacred passage of their first moon cycle to the elders who have passed the sacred passage of their last moon cycle and those years beyond the gateway!  We are all bringing something to WomanFest as we Co-Create a new way for ourselves as women in this world.

What will be happening at the festival?

We have got So much going on at WomanFest! Music of many flavours, Shamanic Ceremonies, Yoga (clothed and Naked), Kundalini Meditations, Dance workshops, Movement workshops, Goddess workshops, Bodywork – sensuality and Sexuality Workshops, Art, Crafts, Writing and Song.  All these take place in a variety of tents -the Women’s Circle Tent, The Women Rising tent, the Embodiment Tent, the Creativity and Expression Tents. There is also a Woods Tipi to rest and relax if the mood takes you.  We have wonderful stalls for women to sell their offerings.  There will be the Awesome Cunty Cabaret – a sizzling sensation of music, theatrics and Radical Participation performances.

I heard that there will be yoni steaming? 

I will be holding the Women’s Circle throughout WomanFest where, amongst other things, we will enjoy the Shamanic Ceremonies – one of which I am co-holding –  the Jade Egg workshop, Gong Healings, Womb Wyse Stories and the Sex Magic Ceremony.   WomanFest women will also enjoy a Yoni Massage Demo in the Women Rising tent and Yoni Steaming in the Woods Tipi.  Yoni steaming being an ancient practise of healing and cleansing the vagina and womb using a blend of herbs infused in hot water.  The steam from this infusion can amongst other things, release toxins, calm and/or relieve menstrual pains, support a healthy moon cycle, tone the vaginal and uterine muscles as well as bring deep relaxation, improve general circulation and bring about a greater sense of wellbeing.

Why is it important on a wider societal level?

I feel there has never been a better time for WomanFest – We are living in changing times, all around us we are now seeing women gather together and claim their power both individually and collectively. The Feminine Energy is rising and we are standing together in juicy strength and potency. We are standing in our true power, reclaiming our voices and most importantly, we are gathering in love, because in the end that is all there can be to co-create the new ways. In love, we can co-create new ways that no longer tolerate separation, division and pain. It is our time to lay down the swords of defence, attack and intolerances and pick up the flag of compassion, kindness, tolerance, understanding and love.  In this way, as older women leading the way and as younger women coming with fresh eyes we hold the threads of our ancestors and gather together to weave a new cloth for the times we live in and for the generations to come and this, I believe, is the essence and magic of WomanFest.

An All-Woman Radical Participation Festival, Frome, Somerset
Hurry! Tickets selling fast.  Click here to buy.
16-18th August 2018

On Being Naked Across The Years


1 Minute Read

I first experienced being naked in public in my twenties, when I went to the Greek island of Ios with a girlfriend. We took a day trip to a naked beach on the other side of the island, reached only by a boat that left in the morning and came back in the evening.

I’ll never forget lying on the pure white sand, my naked body exposed to all and it feeling very daring and radical. As I recall, there were just a few others on the beach, including a group of Italians I befriended (and later ended up visiting) and a Dutchman with whom I had a brief liaison.

While I lay there half asleep he had dropped water on my feet, introducing himself by saying, “It’s raining.” Looking up I saw a gorgeous, tanned man crouched down in front of me. The rest then followed the typical 18-30 holiday trajectory – boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy disappears never to be heard from again.

It was another twenty years before I took my clothes off in public again, this time at a sauna club in Kentish Town. I’d gone there with a boyfriend on his birthday as something fun to do and indeed it was, moving around from sauna to steam room then jacuzzi, wearing nothing more than a towel wrapped around my waist as we travelled from room to room. Feeling the steam soaking into my skin without a swimsuit sticking to it was divine. Following that first time, I went back often on my own, liking the attention I received from men, as much as being divested of my clothes for a few short hours.

After that, I became more interested in naturism in general so in 2005, when I was invited to the largest naturist village in the world, Cap D’Agde, by a group of very liberally-minded friends, I jumped at the opportunity.

Situated in the Languedoc region of France, not too far from picturesque Carcassonne and Montpellier, Cap D’Agde is a walled town, created in the 1970s. Although nowhere near as beautiful as the neighbouring towns, it does have the advantage of being the only place in the world where nudity is mandatory. The town holds up to 25,000 naturists in the high season who stay in one of the many campsites, hotels or apartments in the village. I was in my mid-40s, up for fun, adventure and generally bungee jumping my way through life. But all that aside, what I remember most – was just how wonderful it felt to be naked twenty-four hours a day.

I’d spent the vast majority of my life covered up and embarrassed about my body, having been overweight throughout my teens and twenties. It took having two kids and a succession of personal trainers with whom I exchanged PR skills for weekly workouts to get myself into shape. Still, it’s one thing to feel confident about one’s body and another to wander around the supermarket with one’s breasts exposed (and, yes, the frozen section is really cold).

Since first going to Cap D’Agde, I’ve been back four times, usually taking friends with me. Most have been naturist virgins. Mike was one. A big, tall Yorkshireman, I don’t think he truly believed that he was going to be walking around starkers until we entered the village and he spotted the street signs proclaiming that clothes weren’t allowed! It took him about 30 seconds to get used to being naked in public and once that short initial shock had passed, he was in his element. On leaving the village, he said it was the most fun on holiday he had ever had.

Being naked in a town full of naked people or in any other naturist place is fascinating. We may all be human but every one of us has our own distinctive shape. There is no such thing as perfection. While there will always be lithe young women and muscular men to admire – for the most part, everyone has lumps and bumps. What unites us all in these types of naturist venues is an acceptance of our naked selves and a pleasure in going through our daily life without having to worry about what we’re going to wear. Packing for a week away with just a carry-on. No problem!

Then there’s the fun in doing all the everyday activities ‘butt’ naked. Shopping for clothes, for instance, which seems counterintuitive but is actually hilarious as it consists of putting items on. Eating breakfast while sitting on a sun deck that overlooks other people also having their croissant while naked is a treat. Sex on a beach is, well, sexy – although one needs to watch out for the sand ending up in intimate areas. And there’s no better place for watching the world go by than at an outdoor, naturist cafe.

Aside from getting an all over tan, there are other positive benefits of holidaying naked. If you’ve grown up surrounded by images of beautiful people as most of us have, then it can be hard to accept one’s body for what it is, with all its blemishes, cellulite and loose bits of skin. In Cap D’Agde, where the average age is somewhere around the mid-40s and above, one comes to view bodies as fascinating rather than judging them on their individual parts.

Above all, being naked is actually good for your health. ‘Spending time in the nude is a great way to get in touch with your body,’ says Dr. Jenn Mann, relationship expert. ‘Being in the nude reduces shame. You can work on self-acceptance and that can be very healing.’

If you’d like to find out more about naturism and places within the UK and abroad check out British Naturism’s website.

I’ve Fallen in Love with the River


1 Minute Read

It’s often said that we live parallel lives in cities. The other day, I was invited to a pub on a familiar junction in London that I must have passed for 30 years yet never noticed. I was meeting some musicians who found the essence of Macedonian mojo in Peckham Rye but were decamping for the season lest it is sullied by the gridlock and the ceaseless barney.

My daily commute in London was getting to be of that ilk and unreliable too, a weary outwitting of arthritic infrastructure with no access to flotation tank and Dead Sea mud. The creaking bureaucracy overarching my profession of 16 years, that had started out years ago with local JP in the shires popping in for an informed chat and a friendly trawl through the books, had become a behemoth survived by brilliant colleagues and wonderful, woefully marginalized, troubled but soulful clients, but unsustainable.

After those 16 years, my knees were buckling under the legal bundles for constant benefit tribunals, last-ditch stays of eviction belatedly on the team radar, and the pavement pounding to beat the traffic and the tardy buses. I used to go to the river to watch the timeless flow, as referred to oddly enough by HG Wells in the epigraph to a novel titled by my family’s surname. Towards the end of Tono-Bungay, about a wonder tonic whose development is as restorative as the finished product, Wells writes of a trudge through the city ‘…But after that one is in a world of accident and nature…. beyond all law, order and precedence… conferences of brown-sailed barges’. His point there I think is that traditional graft, natures’ anarchy and certain stillness revolve around the river. Not a million miles away from the green utopia he envisaged in ‘News From Nowhere’. Wells saw these urban overloads coming down the pike and he noted where the Lighter Men were, unloading vessels so they could travel safely.

During this testing period, I recalled a couple of idyllic days spent making an EP with an old musician friend some distance up the Thames. Yards away a hippie maker of bamboo sax ligatures was testing his products before an audience of newly-hatched goslings and their mum. The shifted, earthed quality of what we put into these tracks as the studio floor juddered intermittently with the current. The lack of dead-eared deadlined din and hum. The industrious and at-ease-with-it who wave as they pass and the zoned out competitive rowers, waterproof as if allergic, who don’t. The wind in my face as I took the tiller of Russ’ boat for 500 yards or so and felt the benign might of the current and the foliage gently waving and swaying from the bank, the sense of being half a mile from Tesco’s yet in another, ancient world at peace with itself, calling to me. Nearly buying a craft from the Cossack heritage masseur to Dame Maggie Smith and Kylie Minogue whose close circles thereby mutter reverently of the life-affirming qualities of Rickmansworth. A glass of wine swirling with some gentle pitch and yaw is akin to a massage I think.

So a mutual old friend of Russ’ is moving to mountainous Italy with his GF and their watery den the Jam Pony is up for sale. My Mum left me part of her bequest and I hovered between her semi-detached sensibleness and her bursts of derring-do, such as flying a glider at 70 and her discreet heroism in the blitz when being the distant relative of one of the Lightermen (they who still unload river traffic from Tilbury that’s too bulky and disperse the loads was considered a walk on the wild side). As I was leaving Streatham for somewhere Thames Water were digging up some tunnelling rumoured to have been deployed for shelters then. And in a manner of speaking, it’s the water again.

So I fall in love with a little stretch of river and she, 55 foot of blue-twinset liveried doughtiness with a hint of the racy, the Jam Pony. A bit the worse for wear but soon with immaculate internal snagging. The engine has the timbre of a fine lady baritone in a barbershop quartet with sympathetic bass undertones. Another name perhaps?

A former co-worker of mine came to mind, and she has consented, but the word is that its bad luck to reassign a vessel when you first take it on. That current means risky business in the wintertime. The Swans, who had made war with me over my lunch when I worked in the canal side country town a few years ago -I’m reliably informed they are cousins- came to be fed through the window. Terms established for the inevitable payola, I went to my local bank and perspired a little as the payment went through to the broker who has a legitimate business rather than a sandwich-fleecing operation. The quietest of red-letter day moments on a busy urban afternoon, as if the river had invisibly manifested as clearing, windy, cool (to quote the usual reading on my parents’ barometer, eventually the case).

I find that I am part of a team. Not as of a corporate training day. As you arrive it’s game on over tea and digestives in a converted Sea Scout hut as mission control. Ropes, timber for decking, scaffolding poles to lash the boat to the riverside even as the bank itself shifts and expands with the challenging winter tides. . Sourcing a dinghy for getting to and fro as there is no direct road access.

It’s a bit choppy but you’re assured these things won’t sink though you might fall in once or twice, so here’s where to get your gear. You’re embedded through this into the friendly passing noddery of the river network that gets things done and organises its parallels to what you begin to see have been and are the much choppier waters of the school run, the mall, the traffic snarls and the glassy commuter glares at uncommitted fouling of personal space. The swans nod at me now as I drive past them in the dinghy like 50s pinstriped commuters, but there by regal charter, making it clear you are on trial initiation.

What the river also does is flow together bits of your life you had left half-done and re-locate those ships that pass in the night. The person making many of these fix-up calls for my boat, with me by his side, who for many years was the first responder to traffic accidents, overdoses and climatically and unassumingly, a gun massacre by a secure hospital escapee for life-saving at which my fixer got an MBE. Though gratefully received, it’s in a drawer now, on land, maybe 15 miles from the scene, and it secured no decent pension rights or security of tenure.

Yet in a roundabout way, it did start their river journey. We also realise that we were vocationally in parallel in the shires in the swan-baited years when hostel residents overdosed, I made the call in the depths of the night and this geezers’ ambulance crew raised Lazarus umpteen times. In a parallel process, we found that the concrete and the clay beneath our feet started to feel that crucial bit less exalted with less challenged, more effusively humdrum missions. In time, tuning into the river and its denizens of all species the and the well of experience finds its wellies, its shed full of useful odds and sods, and time to ponder amid the multi-species waterside welcoming ways and means committee.

 

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