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A Brief History of my Xmas Cards


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Cards mean a lot to me. Birthday cards and Xmas cards particularly. I love both giving and receiving them. For me, it’s an opportunity to write personal messages, or long drawled out, hieroglyphic-looking paeans to family or friends.

Yes, it’s not the cards per se. It’s the messages, the hand-written words of appreciation and love. The chance to reflect on a year spent with this person and to acknowledge those little adventures in friendship, vulnerability, travel, laughter.

Since the demise of the letter and the upsurge of the email and text, it feels to me all the more important to send cards. My French friends, Les Pougnets, are bemused, nay bewildered by the British dedication to the card. They don’t have the same tradition. However, last year they sent me a couple themselves. You see I’m converting them.

Xmas cards, it turns out, were invented in 1843 by two men – Sir Henry Cole and John Horsley – who were trying to popularize the use of the Post Office. They designed a card, sold it and encouraged people to post them. As printing methods improved, costs went down and more people were able to afford to buy and post them.

The first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. In late Victorian times, robins and snow scenes became popular. In those times the postmen were nicknamed Robin Postmen because of the red uniforms they wore. Snow scenes were popular because they reminded the public of the very bad winter in 1836.

Hmmm, well I was always a bit of an Xmas rebel. I didn’t do Xmas every year with my family. I just found it all a bit stifling and repetitive. Not really fun. My mum used to go on Caribbean cruises, my sister and her family would go skiing, Marlon and I would seek out other friends who wanted to celebrate with us. I was a single mum and I sought out other mums with kids. It felt freer that way. I wasn’t the 2.4 family and back in the 90s, that mattered more.

But Marlon – he’s 32 now – and I always made our own cards. It was our individualized offering to our world. Just as I don’t buy many off-the-peg clothes, I tend to do the DIY charity or vintage thang or have them made, I didn’t want to do the classic box of cards buying. I certainly did not want robins and nativity scenes. I was predictably anti-religious.

In fact, I remember a friend whom I played tennis with in the 80s telling me in a confessional kind of way that she really didn’t think that she could let herself stray from the traditional Christian iconography as far as her Xmas cards were concerned. I was shocked by her card modesty. Especially as she played in some well-known rock ‘n roll bands.

How conservative could you get! I laughed when she told me in such a coy tone. But then again, her family did found the Salvation Army.

And so they started with Marlon’s drawings. At six in 1992, he drew a classic paunchy Santa but by seven, he was doing funnier cards. Ones that portrays the sledge without the reindeer. The reindeer wanted the year off, he wrote winsomely.

And then there’s a funny Xmas cityscape with Santa disappearing down chimneys and one of my favourites with Santa nailed to the cross. Black humour. Teenagedom is obviously approaching.

And then in the noughties, the photos started. Marlon doing his tinsel-bedecked Eminem impression – to be honest, I think the tinsel was under coercion from me!!! And then I start appearing in the shots as Marlon is obviously more reluctant. There’s a punk-inspired one of me roaring at Xmas with a question mark on my head!!! Kind of Young Ones, a bit late.

And then the ‘arty’ shots, me popping my head around a corner, Marlon wearing a white mask, me and an Xmas tree with lights around my neck, a tumble of kitchen implements in the background. This was our Kitchen Sink drama, evidently.

There’s a distorted angel digitally enhanced. A blackened tree with baubles looking distinctly dystopian. The vibe seemed to be experimental, dark, brooding.

Phew, then we lighten up with photoshop and we are given Santa’s white beards and hats in a sudden turn for the comedic.

More recently, Marlon, of course, has moved out. And I am left doing the Xmas card myself. Keeping up this Rouse tradition. There was the lyrical black and white shot of my mother at 86 taken by Marlon, of course.

And finally a kitsch shot of my partner, Asanga and I at Portmeirion. I look as though the pot of flowers is a headdress. It keeps up the tradition!! Do you have one?

AofA People: Debra Sofia Magdalene, Spiritual Entrepreneur


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Debra Sofia Magdalene, considers herself timeless but came into this body in 1961, she’s a spiritual entrepreneur and a digital nomad. She’s been home-free since 2011.

What’s your name?

At birth, I was given the name Mary Deborah Philomena plus my family surname on my birth certificate but always known as Deborah. I took on my husband’s surname when we married and after a numerology reading in the nineties, I changed the spelling of my name to Debra and took on two initials of N G to bring in different energies. When we divorced, I didn’t want to return to my maiden name as it didn’t resonate. In 2011, I was moving into a new chapter of my life and needed a new passport. I set the intention for my new name to come to me. Debra Magdalene came in whilst I was visiting a dear friend who’s a numerologist, followed two weeks later with my middle name of Sofia. When my friend checked out the numbers, she confirmed that it brought in energies that would support me – so I am now known as Debra Sofia Magdalene and changed my name by deed poll.

My son asked why I had taken the name of a prostitute. It was then I received an insight that I’d been given the name ‘Magdalene’ to raise awareness that Mary Magdalene was a spiritual teacher in her own right. Your name carries a sound frequency to the Universe that holds codes for the experiences you have. When you change your name, you change the game you’re playing here on earth. My life is very different since I changed my name. I was able to let go of addictions to food, sugar and alcohol which I’d struggled letting go of previously.

[It’s interesting that at birth my first name was ‘Mary’ and now my last name is ‘Magdalene’. I call my blue Honda Jazz ‘Mary’ and the first two initials of the registration plate are ‘MM’. I knew she was mine as soon as I saw her!]

What is your age?

I consider myself to be timeless – I came into this current body in 1961. I no longer define my age in terms of numbers. I actually feel younger now than three decades ago. Age is a state of mind and a state of being. Time is an illusion so why limit ourselves?

Where do you live?

I’ve been home-free since the summer of 2011 when I sold my house and gave away most of my furniture and possessions so that I was free to travel and follow my soul’s calling.   I’m now a digital nomad and can work from anywhere in the world as long as I have a good internet connection. I live in other people’s houses looking after their homes, pets, plants, businesses. I choose which assignments I take on and check in with my intuition as to where to go. It’s rare I have gaps between gigs. I had a cancellation earlier this year when a client had an injury so was unable to travel so I took the opportunity to work on an organic farm (WOOFING) in exchange for food and accommodation. I was in heaven and loved every minute. I also gained valuable experience of planting and harvesting crops and looking after livestock (donkey, pony, sheep, pigs).

What do you do?

As a spiritual entrepreneur, I have a portfolio of services which create multiple streams of income. I love to collaborate on joint ventures and make new connections.

  • Essential Oil Queen at Magdalene Wellness: I teach you how to use essential oils as safe, natural alternatives for health, replacing chemicals in the home, detoxifying and cleansing the body, using for emotional release, using for spiritual purposes, using to replace chemicals in the home, using to make healthy raw chocolate and in the kitchen etc. I have a team which is growing internationally and I mentor you for free if you want to create an additional income through teaching people about essential oils. mydoterra.com/magdalenewellness and https://www.facebook.com/magdalenewellness
  • An awakener of souls: I help you to see your own light and to move out of lower vibration emotions to the liberation of unconditional love for self and others. I do this through 1:1 coaching, events and retreats. https://www.facebook.com/pg/magdalenespiritualjourneys
  • Therapies and Healing: I have trained in several healing modalities, from spiritual healing, shamanic healing and energy healing and have developed my own intuitive healing combining knowledge and wisdom gained from my life’s journey. I offer AromaTouch sessions using therapeutic essential oil plant essences and Sacred Anointings which clear trapped energy from this and previous lifetimes to free the soul.
  • HUGS House and Pet-sitting Service: I started this business on 1 January 2017 when my last relationship ended and love the flexibility that it offers me to travel and take on gigs in parts of the world which I want to visit. Last year I spent five wonderful weeks in Turkey with a fellow house-sitter and dear friend looking after 5 dogs, 6 cats and 20 chickens in a mountain home in Turkey. https://www.facebook.com/HUGShouseandpetsittingservice
  • HUGS House & Pet-Sitting Service Agency: My business has been such a success that I now have a team of people I trust who I can match to sits in different parts of the country that I’m unable to do personally. This enables us to provide a service not just in the UK but overseas too. I love how it’s growing organically and how delighted clients are when they see how lovingly their furry friends are cared for. I love animals and enjoy a deep connection with every one of them. We can learn so much from the animal kingdom.
  • Bed & Breakfast Business Relief Manager: This year I’ve been running B&B businesses in Glastonbury when owners go on holiday. I have made beautiful connections with people from many different countries who have become dear friends.
  • I’m an event manager and promote spiritual teachers whose work I have personally experienced and happy to recommend. In alignment with my purpose of raising consciousness, I ran spiritual events in Manchester, UK for 10 years. I’m also invited to speak at events and organise retreats for other teachers.

Now that I’m traveling, I do interviews with people online or in person and upload them to my Mastery Path youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/user/MasteryPath

  • Silver Tent Radio Host: I’m a Silver Grove member of The Silver Tent – an online community of wise, wonderful women 50+. I interview people who have positive messages to share to help raise consciousness. After the interviews have gone out in audio format through the mixcloud platform, I upload the video to my Mastery Path youtube channel and share across social media platforms. https://www.mixcloud.com/debra-sofia-magdalene/
  • I’m Director of Hugs and have a Facebook group for Global Hugs Ambassadors – the mission is about helping the excluded to feel included and to share unconditional love through offering hugs. Hugs are healing and beneficial in so many ways. Do join us.   https://www.facebook.com/groups/globalhugsambassadors

The things I’ve mentioned are some of the things I do. I do so much more than that.

I’m an Alchemist!

What it’s like to be your age?

Age is irrelevant to me. I feel that I’m in the prime of my life and feel very grateful to be in this physical body at this exciting time on planet earth when we’re going through a mass awakening. I have a lot of energy and stamina, I take my doTERRA high quality supplements every day (this is my health insurance), I do regular cleanses and detoxes (this is an act of self-love to care for my physical body), I eat healthily, I love to be out in nature and connecting with the land. I feel so blessed.

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

When I was 25 I was married, in a high-powered job with big house, company car, good income, no children, had a small network of friends.

I’m now happily and amicably divorced, I have a son and daughter who have children of their own and I love being a grandma.

I have a global network, more skills, more knowledge and more wisdom.

I don’t need anything external to be happy – I have everything I need within me.

What about sex?

I love sex and have a high libido. However I don’t sleep around and I am extremely careful about whom I let into my energy field. My rule is: ‘Don’t have sex with anyone who you don’t want to be like’ – their energy stays with you. To me, sex is a sacred experience. Ancient cultures and mystery schools recognised the power of sex magick for creation and manifestation and this knowledge was suppressed by religions for the purpose of power and control. It took a lot of work on myself to undo this deep-seated conditioning and to find my own truth.

And relationships? 

When my husband left me for another woman, I went on a healing journey to dissolve feelings of unworthiness and rejection. I knew I needed to be in a higher vibrational state before entering into another relationship, otherwise I would attract a partner who was in the same low vibrational state that I was in (processing grief, sadness etc). When I felt ready, I made out a list of what I wanted in a partner and after dating several men, realised that I was being judgemental as they didn’t match up to my list. So I asked the Universe to send me the man I would have the most growth with. He showed up soon after and I had to smile at the cosmic joke because he was the opposite to everything I had on my list! From day one, I suggested that our relationship be one where we chose to be together rather than stay out of any sense of obligation. We agreed to follow our hearts and to make every day a choice. During our relationship, there were several times when it didn’t feel right for me. So we’d change our status to friends and take a period out for reflection. When it felt right, we’d come back together and our relationship would be elevated to a new level. He brought balance to my life and I did to his. On our ninth anniversary of getting together, we evaluated where we were and agreed that the relationship had run its course in its present format. We changed our status from partners to best friends and remain so to this day. We still have a deep love for each other, enjoy each other’s company and he’s still a part of my extended family.

In terms of other relationships, I have a huge network of friends and a close inner circle. Most importantly, I have the best relationship with myself that I’ve ever had – I’ve learned to love myself unconditionally.

How free do you feel?

I’m a free spirit and always will be. The nomadic lifestyle that I’ve consciously created for myself allows me to follow my heart and go wherever I feel drawn. I’ve reclaimed my sovereignty and can easily disengage from the matrix. I am whole, I am sovereign, I am free!

What are you proud of? 

I’m proud of who I have become – the journey back to wholeness, the journey back to my heart and to unconditional love. Work on myself is a constant process – I use others as a reflection to gain insights and do not get caught up in drama playing out around me. I am able to take a higher perspective and keep centred in the midst of chaos.

I am proud of getting to the root cause of my unworthiness belief which had come from indoctrination from the Catholic religion. After repeating “Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed” at every mass I was forced to attend, it took a lot of unravelling. I had this insight whilst in Peru and made a point of attending Catholic mass and affirming “Lord I am worthy to receive you and I invite you to share consciousness so that we may have a beautiful union”. It was liberating.

I’m proud that I was able to access hidden parts of myself when travelling.

I was attacked by a pack of wild dogs whilst walking alone in the mountains in Bolivia. I accessed my inner warrior, became Alpha dog and they backed off after seeing my fierceness.

I connected with wild dogs when living in the mountains of the Sacred Valley and they walked by my side. When some locals got out of a passing Tuk Tuk – the dogs went to attack them and the locals fled. The dogs then returned to me and we continued walking up the mountain. Experiences like this have given me confirmation that I am truly standing in my personal power and able to master my energy.

I have had so many incredible experiences in my life and I am grateful for every one of them.

What keeps you inspired?

I am inspired by so many things. Observing the fractals in nature; watching a drop of rain on a leaf; being with my grandchildren and other children; having beautiful exchanges with animals; working on the land; being still and meditating; watching inspiring movies; listening to music which touches my soul; poetry, reading, learning and expanding my knowledge and skills … so many things.

When are you happiest?

Happiness is a choice in every moment. Many years ago, I developed a talk called ‘7 Steps to Happiness’ and love to teach others how to be happy.

These are a few of my favourite things: When I’m out in nature; when I’m with my children and grandchildren; when we have extended family gatherings; when I’m meditating; when I’m travelling; when I’m connecting with people; when I’m being of service and see how others are benefitting; when I’m eating raw chocolate; when I’m swimming in the ocean; when I feel the sun upon my body; making footsteps in virgin snow; playing and connecting with animals …

Even when I’m experiencing a dark night of the soul, at a deeper level I’m happy that I’m learning such valuable lessons and receiving insights which will elevate me even higher. You can’t experience the highs without experiencing the lows. For example, when my marriage broke up, I wasn’t expecting it and although I was experiencing deep grief, I also knew that my husband was doing me a big favour and that he was setting me free. We had a soul contract for this to happen and it was a catalyst to my awakening. I reframed him leaving me for a younger woman and gave it the meaning: “He’s set me free and I can now become the person I’m destined to be”.

This was enormously empowering and helped me through that deeply emotional time.

And where does your creativity go?

Business: I’m an entrepreneur and see opportunities everywhere. I love to create opportunities for myself and others which are mutually beneficial and to connect people within my huge network.

Painting: When I was in the Amazon Rainforest living with the Shipibo Tribe in 2013, I started to paint with acrylics for the first time ever. I’ve since enjoyed experimenting with different medium and allowing my intuition to lead me artistically.

Writing: When I was living in Cusco, I started to write a book called ‘Life Lessons from Mosquitos’ inspired by a big healing I had with a mosquito I the Amazon when I merged consciousness with it. It’s still work in progress and I’ll complete it when I feel the impetus to pick it up again.

Poetry: After merging my consciousness with a huge rock in the mountains above Cusco, I have developed an ability to tap into the consciousness of standing stones and trees, in particular Yew Trees. I receive poems from these wise beings and will publish them when I get around to it.

Photography: I love taking photos and capturing magic moments, nature, insects, flowers, animals, family etc.

Music: I’m from a musical family and in addition to singing in a choir, I played piano, violin, guitar and oboe as a teenager – none of them very well. I love music and have a wide taste, from mantras to rock music.

Dance: I love to express myself freely through dancing and find that it transports me to other dimensions. Unlike my earlier years when I needed a few drinks to lose my inhibitions on the dance floor, I have dropped ego which kept me from doing spontaneous things and feel free to express myself in any moment no matter where I am or who I’m with. It’s a liberating feeling.

What’s your philosophy of living?

When we are born, we forget who we are and our journey is simply to remember our Divinity. We are here to experience and grow the collective consciousness.

There is no right or wrong at a Higher level. That comes from duality thinking which comes from the illusion of separation. When we remember that we are not separate but part of all that is, we move from ‘I’ to ‘We’ – all part of the One.

Live in the moment of now – it’s all we have and it’s where we create from.

I always trust my intuition and follow my heart – it’s my inner guidance system.

Be loving, be compassionate, be accepting of others, be grateful.

Don’t take like seriously – lighten up, have fun and do what brings you the most joy.

Ultimately, love is all there is.

And dying?

Being in the physical vessel of the body is a temporary experience in which the soul can experience and expand. When I was in the Amazon Rainforest, I experienced a shamanic death and a life review which gave me deep insights. We never die – our consciousness lives on eternally. We create our own heaven and hell on earth. We are not our physical bodies.

I have had the privilege of being present at the passing of three people. First time was when I was living in the mountains of Quillabamba in Peru on a coffee plantation where I was nursing Rosa who was coming to end of life. Her passing was very peaceful and her daughter Gladys (a doctor) was present too. Initially, the Gladys attempted resuscitation which failed and I gently reminded her that it was Rosa’s time to go. After a cup of tea, we cleaned Rosa’s body and dressed her in her wedding dress which she would be buried in. This was a rite of passage for me and prepared me for my own mother’s passing last year.

I’ve given sacred anointings using a special oil blend to people who have been dying and they have found great comfort and deep peace. One lady told me that whilst I was doing the anointing, all her past memories came flooding back to her and that she now felt ready to go. The essential oils are working emotionally, physically, spiritually and multi-dimensionally. It was an honour for me to be of service in this way.

Are you still dreaming?

Always. We create through our thoughts and our imagination. Life is exciting!

What was a recent outrageous action of yours? 

I received a parking ticket which I felt was unjust and after having a rant on Facebook, a You tube video posted on my timeline from a friend sent me down the rabbit hole as I researched the legal system. I discovered that there’s two systems operating – the Legal system which is based on maritime law, and the Lawful system based on the law of the land dating back to the Magna Carta (some of which still applies today). I went through a process of reclaiming my sovereignty in respect of not being bullied by an unlawful system which uses fear to control the population. I refuse to be bullied by organisations and corrupt systems which rely on ignorance and fear of the masses to line their pockets. You could say that I’m a peaceful non-conformist.

Find out more about Debra:

www.facebook.com/debrasofiamagdalene

https://www.linkedin.com/in/debrasofiamagdalene/

Death & Gratitude


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The lighting of candles plays a significant part in my daily life. Each morning I stumble out of bed and fire up a tea-light. I’ve been doing it for so long that it has become a reflex, though none-the-less potent because of that. I have places in each room where candles sit and get lit. I am prone to making altars, if indeed this is what they are, wherever I go. Even an airport hotel on the way to somewhere else gets a little nod from this habit of mine.

Everyday, I light many candles. I go through a lot of tea lights, and make a quarterly trip to Ikea to bring them home a thousand at a time. As I write this from Bed-World (which is sometimes the whole world), a little flame illuminates stones in a glass pot, the face of Buddha in wood, two pictures of the sea, two of Leonard Cohen, and a drawing of Leonard The Dog by a friend.

I am talking about my relationship with burning candles because I want to speak about death and gratitude. These little flames infuse both. I’m always offering up candles. This one is for Catherine’s mother. I don’t know Catherine’s mother, but she’s dying and Catherine is walking with her mother until she has to let her go. So I send some light to them. I often have multiple prayers burning brightly – in amongst my stones and pictures.

I will remember the summer of 2018, not only for the extreme and unusual heat but for the death and gratitude that marked it.

My friend Jayne took her life in July. She was utterly defeated by her depression. She tried so hard to fix herself and get rid of what felt ‘other’, spending months on a psychiatric ward and trying every combination of drug protocol. For a couple of months, during this hospitalization, I was in almost daily contact with her. We had long text conversations and some calls where she was desperate. I was one of the people Jayne didn’t need to explain depression to – and that has value when you’re in the belly of the beast. I’m no expert on anyone’s depression except for my own, and I couldn’t tell her if hers would go or stay. I could only tell her about my own experience of falling into the Fields of Kindness when everything else had failed. If I could have carried her there, I would have.

When all else failed for Jayne, she took herself into the woods and after building a nest under some foliage, she took an overdose of drugs.

You might say, where’s the gratitude in that story?

Jayne’s death ripped a jagged hole into the fabric of her family. Her mother, her sisters and her partner are ravaged by losing her. And… and, yet there is peace and simplicity too. The way Jayne chose and actioned her own death touched me beyond any easy description. I could feel a gentleness and grace in how she laid herself down in that cradle, the earth. I could feel simplicity in her decision and I trusted it. I’m grateful for that. I am grateful for Jayne’s precious life, that she was in this world and I was blessed to know her. I am grateful to have known her in her joy, and, yes, I am grateful to have known her in her hell on earth.

Many candles have been lit and burned down to nothing, for Jayne, and all of us that loved her. During our hot, hot summer, a schnauzer called Dennis also died. I didn’t know him personally. He lived in North Devon with his people, and yet he touched so many, so far and so wide.

I belong to two communities on Facebook, over and above the community of my personal friends. One is my Leonard Cohen family and the other is Schnauzer World. Both are exquisite. When I say exquisite, I mean open-hearted, generous, hilarious, inclusive and above all else, kind. Dennis was our hero in Schnauzer World. He made it to eighteen years, and all of us Schnauzer people were cheering him on. When he started to have seizures, we sent him enough love to change the world. Then there was the CBD oil intervention. He rallied beautifully for a while, and, then he was done. After all, in dog years he was a hundred and twenty-six. He died while on a camping trip in the glory of nature, with the kind earth beneath and his dog brothers and human family by his side.

I grant you it’s easier to see the gratitude in this story. A whole childhood, beloved, adored and then slipping back into the mystery in an actual field of kindness. But, for me, with my bedroom altar crowded with candles for Jayne and for Dennis, I was filled with gratitude for all of it. Death is in everything, and when we’re done, we’re done, if it be at a hundred and twenty-six, forty-eight, or barely born at all.

I have always felt death as a friend. Even way back, in the violent self-destruction of my little history, buried in the chaos was my kinship with death. The manner of a death can be horrifying, but I believe the doorway of death is a separate thing.

I don’t buy any of the afterlife theories. I think we are gone, and that gone-ness, the no-thing-ness of it all, calls me like a siren. I don’t think we are reincarnated over and over until we learn everything (perish the thought) and I don’t believe there will be a line-up of all our dead, welcoming us through the gates to heaven. All that is too complicated for me. I am hoping for the radical simplicity of Nothing.

A few days after Dennis died, one of our group snapped a picture of a cloud in our bright blue sky. It was very distinctly a Schnauzer flying. That I believe in. Sometimes, as the autumn notes come in and our heatwave summer feels like a bit of a dream, just as I drift off to sleep at night, I see Jayne dancing like she did at my fiftieth birthday party.

I cannot face into any death without the taste of gratitude filling my mouth and throat. To finish as I started, with the candle rituals – every Sunday I light a tapered candle, sometimes but not always, blue, and say: thank you, Life, for another week.

AofA People: Debra Watson – Performer, Tutor, Poet


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Debra Watson, 53, is a wildly exciting woman. She runs a participative theatre, art and media charity. She’s a performer who’s interested in intimate methodologies. She’s a tutor. She does sensual poetry performances as part of The Crimson Word, The Bloody Poets and the Poetry Brothel London.

Her next performance is this Thursday where she will be performing FemmeDom, tickets are only on sale beforehand from Eventbrite.

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Up in leafy Muswell Hill. It’s very suburban and also very green and pretty. I moved here when my son started high school. I love North London because of the proximity to the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. It’s a life-saver in the summer!

WHAT IS YOUR AGE?

53

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

It’s great! I’ve had a fantastic last two years creatively. I am full of ideas and have some great people around me to work with. I worry as I am not sure how much longer I can go at this pace. I had to take a month off for health reasons in mid-October.

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

Debra Watson by Steve Gregson

I am a lot more at peace with the fact that I am odd. My 25th birthday was amazing. I was working on a hit show at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. My sister brought my nephew and niece backstage and brought a cake. I was semi-famous. That year, we were invited to perform at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and then for a run at the Tricycle Theatre in London. Yet somehow, though my work now is much more marginal, I have much more confidence in my process and output, than I had then.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

Ah. I have discovered that sex is not as difficult to get as I thought it would be for someone my age. I enjoy it immensely when I have it. I don’t currently have any long-term sexual partners. I’d prefer that to a series of one-off encounters. I’m super into intimacy. I’ve discovered I’m not really that promiscuous anymore. I long for depth and the scariness that comes with allowing someone to know you. You can discover a lot about yourself. I am surprised at how sexual I still am. This year, I’ve performed intimate poetry in a few different sex-clubs. It’s been an eye-opener. I clearly have a lot to learn and explore. I feel lucky to still feel sexual desire and to be desired. I know that for many women and men, sex becomes irrelevant to them as they age. It’s a genetic thing, I think. My mum was the same.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

I am separated from, but immensely close to, my ex-husband (whom I met when I was 25!), I work with him sometimes. He is my best friend. I can’t imagine a life without him. We co-parent. He wipes away my tears when my lovers break my heart. I have been experimenting (badly) with polyamory. It has been chaotic. I don’t enjoy relationship chaos. I like being treated well, with consideration and sensitivity. I can’t bear being blindsided by stupidity.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

In what way? Personally, there are things I feel free about, but to be honest, I think I would feel freer if I had more liquidity. I am not free enough to travel as much as I would like, or to give up working for money or to just pack up my flat and go full Nomad. There are many ways in which I feel constricted. Not free at all.

Debra Watson by Lilith Costela

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

I am super proud of my creative output in the past three years. On my 50th birthday, I did a ‘dress tease’ for my friends and it started off a creative process that has been wonderful for me. In my late 40s, I started writing poetry again and this has led to an interest in performing intimate poetry. In the last two years, I have been performing with The Poetry Brothel London, The Bloody Poets and this year, have started a new intimate, immersive poetry collective The Crimson Word, with my friend Winter James. We are set up to do events, pop-ups, and parties; but we keep changing our mind and expanding the horizons of the company. The Bloody Poets was started in London by Mad Pirvan and Belen Berlin in 2017. Mad moved to London a year ago and runs the event once a quarter. It’s been very experimental and probably the closest I have come to re-picking up the thread of exploring experimental performance work I was doing in the early 80s and 90s.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

I can be a lone wolf, but I really enjoy working in collectives. I get tremendous inspiration from other artists and tend to enjoy having events and themes to write to. My work is very, very personal, but having a group and compatriots that are also focussed on work and creativity has been crucial for me in developing in ways I haven’t expected. Social media is fun too. I’ve found that Instagram is an amazing tool for reaching new audiences. That being said, I need downtime and alone time to process, research and write.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

When I am creating. Even though it can be fraught, I love the creative process. The starting with a blank page, or one phrase, or one image and then building that up ‘into’ something. I am often not at all sure that I am going to pull off an idea. It is fabulous when/if things come together. I also get very, very happy when people pay me well and when they tell me that my work has moved them or impacted them in some way or another. Sometimes, especially after the very intimate 1-2-1 readings, people have an after-glow. They say: ‘It’s better than sex’. I used to be very shy about approaching performers and acting all fangirlish. No more. I realise how important it can be, in those dark and lonely hours when you think all your work is shit and that you’ve never have done nor will do anything well, to remember a kind word or a moment of sincere praise.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

I perform, I write, I make costumes. A lot of my work is concerned with intimacy/intimate performance. It’s so intense and unpredictable. I also run a participative theatre, art, and media charity, so I also tutor and facilitate creativity. Part of my life is me being a big show off and another part is engaging very sensitively with other people to get them to tell their own stories.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

Go towards what terrifies you.

AND DYING?

I recently had a health scare. I am not out the woods yet. I am still in terrible pain on alternate days, but they don’t think I am dying. Before the diagnosis, I had a very serious discussion with my ex. I felt 100% that if it turned out to be critical, I would take this as an opportunity to step off the planet. I am not too keen on living for long. The world seems to be going to shit. I think I have had a good run of it, I think there is more fun to be had, but if it all had to end, I hope to face it graciously. Secretly, I am envious of people who die suddenly and quickly. It’s horrid for those left behind but I am not, and never have been, a fan of chronic pain and slow decay.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

Yes. And there’s still so much I feel I need and want to do.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

I tend to do all my outrageous acts in performance. The Crimson Word is just about to launch the first of a series of ‘Suprasensual Poeticals’ at a private members club in Hackney. It’s a continuation of work we have been exploring over the summer. Our theme is ‘Venus in Furs’ after the 1870 novella written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. It explores themes of female domination and male submission. So, I am going to be exploring FemmeDom in performance. I hope it will be fun! It’s a small audience in a beautiful room in a private members club. No tickets will be available on the door. Only sales in advance from here.

Doing a Poetry Residential at Ty Newydd in North Wales


5 Minute Read

There’s something about starting a new pursuit and passion when you’re older. It’s stimulating in a different way. I began writing poetry when I was 55 ten years ago. Partly, because it was non-commercial. I knew I’d never earn any money from it – so it could be purely words and me. Unlike the world of freelance journalism that I’d inhabited for the previous 25 years, which was getting more and more like a hamster wheel.

I sought a certain sort of freedom of literary expression for its own sake. And I found it at City Lit and City University in evening classes with all sorts of contemporary poets from Roddy Lumsden to Annie Freud to John Stammers. The latter had an invitation-only group, which I eventually was able to join and Wednesday afternoons became the highlight of my week. They still are.

Last year, I published my first pamphlet Tantric Goddess at the age of 64 on Eyewear. There was a flurry of readings including a Tantra evening at Book and Kitchen – this wonderful little independent bookshop in W11, which has now sadly shut down – with friend and writer, Monique Roffey. I read from my pamphlet and Mon read from her recent erotic novel The Tryst, then we did a Q & A afterward on tantra workshops. We loved it, there was such an easy, intimate flow to the evening.

A year later, I felt like I needed to get out of the almost comfort – despite the ruthless taking apart of each other’s poems – zone of The Group and float my poetry evolution elsewhere. I had just discovered – how had I not known – that Ty Newydd, the National Writing Centre for Wales is actually three miles away from my partner’s farmhouse. I saw they had a masterclass – surely mistress class by now – with the former national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, at 81, a grande dame of the art and Robert Minhinnick, another revered Welsh poet and eco-activist. We had to send off poems and be invited. Phew, I got in. Apparently, they chose 16 out of 30 applicants.

The week before I was feeling a little anxious. How would my London/Yorkshire attitude go down? I also knew I wanted to be committed to this course. No staying up late with other poets, I was going to be devoted to the workshop itself.

I drove into the village of Llanystumdwy, along the river Dwyfor and found the long driveway to Ty Newydd. It is a grand old house – where the former Prime Minister, David Lloyd George had lived – and painted in white and blue with a long, narrow library designed by marvelous architect and eccentric Clough Williams-Ellis, the man responsible for the wonderland of ‘fallen buildings’ that is Portmeirion down the road.

My room, well, our room – I’d yet to meet my roommate – was right at the top of the house. Oh, yes, the long-forgotten joys of the single bed. Eventually Thirza – I learned later that this was a self-appropriated name – turned up and so began our week of negotiating this space. Actually, she was very well-behaved, although definitely a late night poet. On the last night, she outdid herself and didn’t get to bed until 3:30am.

 

I managed to resist. I told you I was going to be a good girl. At last. Thirza, who is older than me, obviously wasn’t rebellious enough in her youth and middling years! She was lovely, by the way, kind, supportive and didn’t complain about my snoring.

The first night was meeting each other and eating delicious food, a good portent for the week. We also got to interview each other in the library and then introduce the group to our partner. An exercise in listening and remembering. And absolutely no run of the mill – where do you come from type questions – for Thirza. She recounted her love of gardening, Italian and her strange obsession with the dishwasher.

The next morning –the workshop ran from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning, which seemed short but turned out to be intense – we started for real. With Robert. Who is an elegiac poet of distinction but in person quite dramatic and direct. And funny. Oh, I have to say there was only one other person on the course from London. This was heaven in so many ways. There were poets from up north and many from Wales. There was that song with us all the time.

Robert had brought an envelope of abstract nouns that he’d prepared earlier. We got one each, looked it and started writing with his prompts. Unlocking the muse suggestions. What does this word taste like? Where is it? What does it feel like? I got jealousy – a shameful feeling with which I am very familiar. We wrote for 15 minutes and then read out to each other what we’d written. The first public declarations. The others had to guess what our word was. Well, they got that mine wasn’t pleasant. One of my lines was – ‘You are a twisted priest’. Robert liked that. Other abstract nouns were dread, fear, joy, wonder, mystery and we began to form an impression of each other as poets.

It was fun. The afternoon was with both tutors and eight of us brought along poems without our names on them. We handed them out and critiqued them publicly. And then wrote little advisory or appreciative notes on them. The first one was called Goldfinches and very accomplished – about the First World War and vividly expressed. I’d put one in called Identity, which was about race, my son and partly about Grenfell. Funnily enough, it hadn’t gone down well with my group in London but it did go down well in this group. I got a lot of positive feedback and some questions. One was about my usage of bastard mango, ie was it gratuitous or actually the name of a mango. It was, I’m glad to say, the actual name of a mango. I found it very useful although the shape of the table meant that we couldn’t really have flowing conversations. And 16 turned out to be a challenging number of people for optimum inclusion.

Later on, we divided into much smaller groups of four to look at each other’s poems. Ones that we’d brought with us. My group retired to that fabulous library with the view over to Cardigan Bay and we were serious about our endeavor.

Incidentally, ‘serious’ is one of Gillian’s favourite words and now at the ripe old of 65, I can finally appreciate it. And sink into it.

We were Alison Lock – a poet and short story writer from Huddersfield, Julia Usman – a poet from Swaledale who travels to Dubai a lot to visit her husband, and Trish Reith – a poet who lives in Biggar, Scotland. It was delightful to find four women who liked talking about poems and poetry as much as I do. There were occasions when we almost had a chat but Trish kept us in line. Poetry, first.

The reason we liked our fours – the others in the group agreed – was that we could share equally. We spent an hour each day with our four poems. Someone would read one, the others would comment, then the poet in question would respond to the comments. We all found it incredibly instructive. And we discussed questions like – how do we bring political events into poetry. Make them personal in some way, I think we agreed.

Later in the week, we dubbed ourselves The Crones. Part of AoA’s vision is to reclaim words like crone and old, in order to make us feel more relaxed about ageing and less in the eternal pursuit of youth. I could immediately see a Crone Tour on the cards.

And it was Halloween while we were there. In fact, Trish had a poem called Mission Time, which was about the original pagan festival, Samhain. And it just so happened that the Crones were the cooking crew that night ie we chopped vegetables for the Lobscouse, a tasty stew that I’d never heard of but apparently fed to sailors in Northern Europe for years – so we performed Mission Time as Crone-witches. It seemed to go down a storm. As did the Lobscouse and the wine.

There were readings in the library in the evenings – initially Gillian and Robert. Gillian read a few from her vast selection, while Robert tried a new long poem about his mother on us. He’s written about his mother before – she’s diagnosed as schizophrenic – but not a suite of poems like this, they will be set to music, they was a triumph. On Wednesday, we were treated to the poems and personal stories of Kim Moore whose collection The Art of Falling has won prizes and many plaudits, there’s a moving 17 poem sequence in it where she describes an abusive relationship she was in. ‘And in that year, my body was a pillar of smoke’. From Barrow, she’s got a new collection that features poems about sexism as she’s also doing a PHD on the subject. She read a couple of poems from this new collection All The Men I Never Married – they are lyrical, incisive, brave.

The week unfolded and I found I enjoyed the workshop mornings where Gillian or Robert would offer poem prompts – like think of an object which has a memory, where is it etc. Mine was the kitchen sink in my childhood home in Yorkshire and turned into a poem where I remember my father washing me in this very sink. It was, I said, a look back in sweetness to that time, rather than when I was a bit older and life with him was a lot more difficult. There was something about the challenge of this deadline that I relished. And their lyrical nudges. Gillian would say – make sure it includes a hallelujah line. Robert would say – make sure it’s powerful. And then there was the important advice – don’t have a summing up line at the end. I liked it when Gillian suggested we look up and over our shoulder for that last line.

On the final day, we were to assemble – Jude Brigley, Anne Phillips and Rufus Mufasa were the fine editorial team – an anthology of our work, the Secrets of Cwtch Dan Star (the cupboard under the stairs) inspired by Rufus’ intoxicating poem that combines Welsh and English.

That evening, we all did a five minute reading in the library. My roommate and I were the hosts with the hopefully entertaining and serious introductions. It was our pleasure to acknowledge this work and these poets. We had a ball. Of course, I wore one of my minor feather headdresses…

https://www.tynewydd.wales/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Fear to Here


7 Minute Read

The Buddhists say two things are certain in life:

We’re all going to die.

We don’t know when.

I shared this with a friend once, as he was leaving my house; it was one of the last things I said to him. He died suddenly shortly after. Like me, he was somewhat death-phobic, and ‘talking death’ was our shared guilty pleasure. My last view of him was him laughing at the absurdity of this truth.

Dark humour aside, death is inevitable for every one of us. Today’s living are tomorrow’s dead. No exceptions. No matter how much wealth you pile around yourself, you still can’t escape death, as Steve Jobs proved. Maybe it’s no coincidence that ‘hated’ is actually an anagram of ‘death’.

As a passionate death conversationalist, my mantra is ‘get curious about death before death gets curious about you’ and it’s my mission to get people talking openly about this, the most feared ‘deadline’ we will ever have to face.

When I tell people that I host a monthly Death Cafe, it amuses me how many look confused and immediately respond with ‘DEAF Cafe?’… usually several times before they allow the dreaded D word to permeate their thinking.

It’s a party pooper to mention the dreaded D-word at all. A close friend told me that nobody could clear a party as fast as me when I started talking death. I used to have a list of ‘death friendly’ questions starting with – would you rather die at sunset or sunrise? Eyes would roll and friends would mock, but I noticed how quickly they joined in after the eye rolls had stopped. That was many moons ago, and now everyone and his dog seems to be writing a dying blog. It seems I have been upgraded to a legitimate weirdo.

So how did this obsession start? Sadly, I suffered from debilitating death anxiety for the first half of my life. I have no memories of it not being there.

My much-loved granddad died when I was ten – my mother went into an all-consuming depression to the accompaniment of Edith Piaf, and my grandma never uttered my granddad’s name again. Death seemed to be an open secret. Everyone felt its dank presence but didn’t mention it. Curtains were drawn, and people spoke in whispers, or not at all. At least they didn’t mark the houses of the deceased with big black crosses, but somehow it felt like they did. As a child, I would pass these houses of contamination, these containers of the dead and the bereaved, and the sense of isolation and abandonment felt overwhelming.

By the time I was 13, my fear was turning into an obsession. I found myself turning to the In Memoriam column in the newspaper every day, I was reading books about the Holocaust, and had saved up my pocket money to buy an Ouija board which only served to terrify me further. I quickly discovered the power of uninvited fear to hijack life. I was too busy living my future death over and over to be fully present within my own life.

‘If you can’t accept death, how can you accept life?’

In desperation, in my 20s I took my phobia to a succession of doctors, where I quickly learnt that doctors were equally scared of death. After all, they are trained to SAVE lives and let’s face it, from that perspective, death is a pretty epic failure. So off they sent me for anaemia tests, with the unspoken admonition that people who smoke deserve to die. One had a breakdown himself shortly after returning me to my black hole of death anxiety.

They just didn’t get that it was an existential thing, not a hypochondriac thing, although I believe now the two are intimately related.  Put simply, I was terrified at the thought of disappearing from existence and always had been. I was but a tiny speck of flesh dust, destined to be hoovered up by a big black hole, never to reappear. I tormented myself nightly with that particular thought for most of my childhood.

Nope – iron pills and giving up smoking were definitely not going to fix this.

It seemed to me, you either look death squarely in the eye, or bury it in a deep dark grave, and maybe if you bury it for long enough, dementia might eventually take over, so you don’t have to consciously face the fact of your death at all before you die. A small perk in a nightmare world.

By 30, my phobia had reached a peak. Depression and anxiety came in crashing waves, as I went through phases of believing I was about to die imminently. The thought of death had become unliveable. Luckily, at this lowest of lows, I met someone who changed my life forever –  a wonderful holistically-minded NHS GP. She was the first one to really hear me, although mostly I was weeping in front of her. I learnt that the most radical act of healing one can do for another, is to simply be present and listen from the heart.

I began my long journey back into life and continued to read everything I could find on death and dying.

Carlos Castenada encouraged me to ‘keep death at my shoulder’.

St Francis referred to death as ‘brother death’ and instructed me to ‘befriend death’.

Easier said than done when you’re death phobic! But, over time, slowly something changed. I began to question that consciousness ended with death.

So fast forward 30 years and my path of enquiry is still ongoing, and my fear can be better described as awe or reverence of a great mystery. I spent some years volunteering with suicidal people, and then the dying, and I am now a trained End of life Doula (someone who supports the frail, demented and dying).

I host a monthly Death Cafe, a relaxed space where people meet to talk death over tea and cake. I think of these spaces as Temples of Truth. At a Death cafe, you never have to say ‘Please leave your bullshit at the door’. It just happens all by itself.

When we meet as strangers we don’t have to worry about upsetting or protecting others. There’s an energetic release that happens, often accompanied by much laughter.  Anonymity gives us permission to share openly and honestly. It reminds me of when women started talking openly about sex in the 80s. Exhilarating.

Looking back today, I see clearly that talking about death has enriched my life, in ways I never could have anticipated in those days when my fear was completely all-consuming.

Death reminds me that one day in the not too far off future, all those I care about, will no longer be around, and to enjoy and appreciate them now. Or maybe I will be ahead of them on that one-way escalator. Either way, the goal is not to waste time on resentments and petty grudges.

Death has taught me to be myself more fully. How incredible to be this one in 7 billion unique idiosyncratic Caroline character. I love that ALL of us are totally irreplaceable.

When I walk through graveyards, and I pass the headstones with their names erased by time, I find myself mentally saluting, and whispering ‘well done, you got in and you got out! You completed the story of you…. as I will too.

Sometimes when I set out on a journey, I say to myself –

Wherever I am going, I may not return.

Today may be my last day.

This hour may be my last hour.

Sounds morbid, but I see it as a mental extreme sport really, playing with that edge;  and just as those who do extreme sports say it makes them feel more alive, so it is for me.  When I allow death to takes its place at my shoulder, I too feel more alive. When I keep it within the light of my consciousness, it cannot fester unattended underground.

Life is change, so maybe death is simply another change, a beckoning and unavoidable mystery, to be revered more than feared.

Perhaps there really is ‘nothing to fear but fear itself’.

When death finally comes to claim my bones, I hope I will be able to meet it in such a way that my death will shine a light for those behind me on the escalator, in that, I will have met it with my eyes, mind and heart wide open.

The fact that 108 billion people have successfully died before me, cheers me up in this endeavour. If they managed it, then so can I.

One Woman Who Made Her Travel Dreams Come True


7 Minute Read

During my teenage years, growing up Melbourne, Australia during the 1970s, travel was never far from my mind.

With a father who had experienced the romance of ship travel in the Orient and my mother who was immigrant from a Second World War London, wanderlust was in my heart just waiting to blossom.

It was to come many years later – following a fulfilling motherhood to two beautiful daughters and working out of necessity.

With my passion for tarot having its roots in medieval Europe, I had always thought that would draw me first.  But strangely enough, it was Asia, short holidays in Vietnam and India that ignited my yearning for more adventure. To do things differently in the footsteps of many of the ancient wise ones.

A chance meeting with a young Scottish couple travelling in Vietnam planted the seed of change in my heart. They were travelling for a year! So many questions flooded my mind on meeting them. How can you afford that? Where did you start? What a great idea! Imagine that, stepping onto a plane or ship or train and knowing you are not coming back for a whole year! A vision of Paddington Bear with only a tiny suitcase sprang to mind and I knew their dream had to be mine.

So at age 52,  after much shedding – cars, furniture, full-time jobs; my partner and I handed the keys of our tiny apartment to his son. We decided it was cheaper to travel for a year staying in hostels and homestays than to live in Melbourne.

Following the sun was the trick to only needing carry-on luggage. Starting in a Melbourne autumn, we set off for spring in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We were also determined to live like locals.

We adhered to only three rules; number one was to stay at least a month in each country to allow the culture to truly seep in. Rule number two was no purchasing of clothes unless one garment was given away to a recipient who needed it. If we bought a coat, we would then leave it for somebody who could use it.  Number three was we would only travel with what we could carry. In 2011, it was just 7kg of luggage.

That year saw us tango dancing in Argentina, climbing the Andes in Peru, discovering caves in Turkey and sailing the waters of Ulysiss. After a month overlooking the fiords of the tiny village Perast in Montenegro, we set off for our final six months. We travelled to the village of Rajbag in Southern India, where I studied reiki and reflexology.

Then, the universe brought us an amazing opportunity and without much hesitation, we accepted an offer to set up and run a small guest house in Vietnam. The connection from years earlier came via email.  Were we still interested in managing a guest house?  Yes yes yes!  Was the resounding reply.

Southern India turned into our planning time for our new venture. Each day as the sun rose, we walked the two kilometres to the beach, past bird wetlands and sari-clad beautiful women on their way to work. With our toes planted in the sand, our days were spent putting our dream onto paper. Drawing plans, writing menus, our vision included becoming a part of a fishing village where we could give back to their community.  Offering homely comfy accommodation with the opportunity for guests to be a part of a real village. Our Vietnamese vision sprang to life as we filled our tummies with curry and mango from the local Rajbag beach vendors.

We had never seen Bai Xep, Quy Nhon, the location for our new home. That first day, we wandered through the tiny village, little smiling faces peeped out around doorways, dogs barking, women mending fishing nets looked up at us shyly. My heart skipped beats and I knew this was going to be an amazing place to be!  For the next three years, our new home became the home-away-from-home for many weary travellers.

Tears, laughter, frustration, lack of language, determination, and much love came together to realise our guesthouse Haven. From our initial kernel, came the passions of many others who made us their family for a short time. Some of them have in turn gone on to run their own guest houses which employ local people and give back to their communities.

Our life in Bai Xep was not without its hardships. Most days presented unforeseen problems. The electricity was constantly being cut. We would wake to no power, which would sometimes take days to return. We cooked with gas or on small charcoal BBQs, but as the sun rises early and sets at 6pm we were often without lighting to cook by! We managed this by wearing miners’ torches strapped to our foreheads and having candlelit dinners. With twelve hungry guests, every night – not cooking was not an option!

Language was our biggest hurdle. Not only was there no English spoken in the village but many people could not read or write. Education that we take for granted is precious to these small villages.We had two large tanks for the water, which was piped from the mountain. The tanks regularly ran dry so we would take bike trips up to the water source. Usually to find our supply had been cut and taken to another business! We put the pipe in – which brought running water to our village; before that, they only had the well. Water was pumped and carried to their humble houses.

 

I had thought I would get around my lack of Vietnamese by writing in Vietnamese from translator apps. To get around this problem, we bought fruit and vegetable posters and had them up on our kitchen walls. Our kitchen looked like a kindergarten, but we got the job done. I could point at what we needed and slowly my Vietnamese vocabulary increased.

As the universe does, it brought us an unexpected twist. We learned sadly that the land we leased was to be sold. We could take the risk that the new owners would lease to us, or try to sell our business. We chose to put the business up for sale. Feeling strongly that if it was meant to be – another opportunity would arise.

Chance played her part again. An English guest told us the story of her parents who lived in rural France. Something just clicked for us and we started to think about the possibility of a different life in a rural Europe.

Just two months later – after a flying visit to family in the UK, we were sitting sipping wine in Montmorillon France.  We had been brought here for lunch having never heard of it. Dining on delicious crepes beside the river, we both felt the magic and knew this would be our next home.

So the wheel turned again, finally, in medieval Europe my passion for the tarot and history could bloom again.

Montmorillon, Cite De L’Ecrit, a town of books is our home now. Our rambling old 17th-century house on the river Gartempe will never be perfect. Its joy comes from living at one with the birds and the river. Our gites providing a comfy immersion in rural France, the world now comes to us!

Moving to France has created another first for me. The publishing of my first novel, Bonne Chance and Butterflies. A novel – it tells the story of woman’s courage as she makes a profound change in her life. Her incredible journey of self-discovery emerges in my magical town Montmorillon.

So, take a chance, move into the unknown, experience other cultures, listen to your heart.

When you open your heart to chance and change – the universe answers.

Rosie’s accommodation in Montmorillon can be accessed here – Riverside Studio and Charming Montmorillon Maison, both are self-catering accommodation.

And to her book Bonne Chance and Butterflies on Amazon.

Goodbye my Lovely Friend – Nigel Castle


5 Minute Read

There comes a point in life and I’m sure it’s different for everyone when one becomes aware of one’s mortality. I can’t pinpoint when, exactly, it was for me but one day I became scared of climbing up or down steep staircases, thinking I might fall. I stopped driving about 10 years ago when my little Fiat 500 was taken back by the leasing company and, since then, when I get in the passenger seat of a car, I’m aware that my heart beats a bit faster than usual. I avoid looking out from tall buildings. These may all be totally unrelated or, as I suspect, they’re just my brain sending out a warning signal that life is full of dangers that I’m not quite as resilient as I was in my youth and that death may come upon me suddenly.

I have also spent the past year becoming more interested in death and specifically, how I’d like to die and my funeral. A lot of this has come from putting together the film Death Dinner which Rose Rouse and I created last year with the help of an Arts Council grant.

Death Dinner explores the arena of death in conversation with ten characters who are connected to the death industry. There is a marvellously gothic mortician, an end-of-life-doula, a death rituals’ academic, a soul midwife, a photographer of Afro-Caribbean funerals and more. It all took place over an abundant feast in the Dissenter’s Chapel at Kensal Green Cemetery. Prior to making the film, I hadn’t really given death much thought, but the dialogue over dinner made me realize that there are many different sorts of funerals and ceremonial aspects, as well as various ways of body disposal.

Recently, I attended a Thanksgiving for the Life of Nigel Castle, held at the Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel in the heart of Hampstead. Nigel was someone who had been in and out of my life for the past decade, thanks to an introduction made by his closest friend, Rob Norris.

A keen gardener, skilled healer, acupuncturist, osteopath, masseur plus being a good musician, Nigel was multi-talented. At various times, he had tended to my garden, worked his magic on my back and danced with me and others at 5 Rhythms, another passion of his. My children, now grown up, remember us all sitting in a circle and singing together while Nigel and Rob played guitars. He was a familiar face around Maida Vale and Queens Park, driving around in his beaten up Volvo. I never knew how he kept that car on the road but somehow he did. Nigel was always around and then, one day, I found out, via Rob, that he had lymphoma and two months later he was gone. He was 67. I never got a chance to say goodbye but there were plenty of people that did. Nigel was much loved by everyone that met him.

If funerals could come with ratings, then Nigel’s would have been a five star one. I’m by no means an expert on what constitutes a good or bad funeral, but Nigel went out in a way that will leave a lasting memory for me and, I’m sure, for many others.

Rob Norris

The service itself lasted two hours. And, let’s face it, it’s hard enough to find a table in a restaurant that will let you sit there for two hours, much less a chapel. The service presided over by Anja Saunders, Nigel’s old friend and an Interfaith Minister, wove together music, poetry, tributes, recollections and finally Nigel’s own voice. At various points during this unconventional and beautiful service, we danced around the beautiful wicker casket to Dance me to the End of Love by Leonard Cohen, and then we were invited to come up and weave flowers into it or write tributes to Nigel on small, brown labels which would be buried with him.

There were tears and laughter as friends and family recounted their memories of Nigel. A pianist had written a song for him. A guitarist wrote another one. His friends from 5 Rhythms read out a series of poems. Rob and I particularly liked White Owl Flies in and out of the Field by Mary Oliver, which seemed to sum up Nigel perfectly.

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings—five feet apart—
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow—
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows—
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us—
as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

The length of the service felt like we were all able to collectively grieve, and by the end, I felt my spirits lighten as we all said goodbye to him. It was an amazing tribute to a wonderful person and I couldn’t help thinking that the world would be a richer place if everyone chose such an intimate departure ceremony.

Afterwards, I spoke to Anja to thank her for the way she managed to oversee the service and its host of participants in such an effortless manner. She was so fittingly graceful in the way she provided just the right amount of space and time between tributes for us to absorb what Nigel had meant to those he loved and just how much of an impact he had had on so many people. At the end, she encouraged us all to breathe and we did…

The Culture Interview – Laura Benson, lead actress in the award-winning and challenging new film Touch Me Not.


9 Minute Read

Laura Benson is a British actress based in Paris – she was in Dangerous Liaisons – who plays a lead role in the controversial and challenging new film Touch Me Not (which also features Seani Love, a sex worker who appeared in the AofA Tantra Hot Tub Salon which was FB Live). Touch Me Not follows three characters, one of which is called Laura, a 50 something woman, who is in out of touch with her sexuality and takes some radical steps to address this situation. The film coasts a fluid line between reality and fiction. It won the Golden Bear earlier in the year in Berlin and is the London Film Festival on Oct 16 and 17th plus a special screening at the ICA on Oct 23rd.

How were you cast in Touch Me Not?

Through a casting agent, who works with the French co-producer. They were casting in several countries. I was asked to send something that I had shot recently. The film I had just done wasn’t out yet and I didn’t have anything recent in stock. So they sent me five pages about the subject of the film and I was asked to do an exercise: a video diary for my lover. I thought about it for a week and then did it and sent it, like a bottle in the ocean. The next week I was asked if I could go to Bucharest to meet the director. I obviously agreed. We had a four-hour meeting. I had understood what she wanted from this meeting.  It wasn’t going to be a chit-chat… she wanted to feel who was in front of her and what I was made of.  So my challenge was to go and not contain myself and be as free as possible.

What were your initial thoughts about playing this character, Laura who has difficulty with sex and intimacy?

What I had read gave little insight into her feelings and her struggle.  She seemed cold and terribly cut of from herself…  dead in a way.  I didn’t know how I was going to bring her to life.

Were you excited by the original script in that you were playing a woman in her 50s who is the main character in this revealing/naked about vulnerability way? It’s unusual to get this opportunity, isn’t it?

I would say that what is unusual is to have a lovely part to explore (which has nothing to do with the age) and to work with an inspiring director that you get on with and understand in a way as well as on a project you like. All those ingredients are not always present all at once!  I never actually considered that I had the main character and her vulnerability appeared during the process.  I didn’t know before we started working that this would emerge.  And yes yes, it was a lovely opportunity, which came out of the blue! I feel very lucky. I think that Laura could be 40, 45, 50, 55…

Obviously, it was a wonderful opportunity to have an interesting important part to play, considering that most important characters in film are under-45! A casting agent friend of mine told me that in France when they suggest actors over 50, the producers and TV say ‘no, menopaused’! But I do more theatre than film, and a female actor’s age doesn’t have the same significance on stage, because there aren’t close-ups — the body and how you move and your energy are more important than the reality of your age. I’ve seen some Comedia dell Arte where the character is 20 and the actor behind the mask 80. So to answer your question, I didn’t realize really how lucky I was.

What were you challenged by in the process as an actress where it sounds like you had to get in touch with your own vulnerabilities?

For me, the challenge wasn’t as much about being in touch with my vulnerabilities than it was about dealing with my fear of the unknown, my lack of confidence and my doubts.

And how did the improvisation go? Do you enjoy this way of working?

The script was just a starting point, like a trampoline that we could bounce off.  A kind of skeleton, if you like. It acted as a kind of safety net. There was very little dialogue.  A great deal of the material, the nature of the interaction, came from what was happening on set and how it was happening. Doing a scene when you have no idea where it is going to go, and more to the point – if it is going to go anywhere at all can be very uncomfortable. I would say that ‘exploring a situation’ rather than ‘acting a prewritten scène’ is a lovely way of working when you have a director that you can understand (and can understand you) and with whom you share the same vocabulary. There is a certain amount of preparation needed in that kind of approach. Adina has her way of working that takes you into a profound process, so you’re not lost and you are pretty charged. What was nice about the relationship on set, was that she was as worried and excited as us.  So we all worked together (technicians included because for the camera and sound people, it wasn’t easy either) to do the best we could. The work was about being in the present moment, being spontaneous and authentic.

What did you discover personally?

I discovered how little I knew! How much there is to experiment with!  I think the most surprising thing I discovered was when I was filming myself on a day off.  It was a way of staying involved in the process and not losing touch with the film.  It was something that spontaneously came to me when I woke up that morning. I put my body in the window frame (the window was very big) and I pushed and pushed against the structure. The architecture became my prison.  And since I had voluntarily put myself in that space – that I wasn’t a victim – my frustration and anger transformed into pleasure. Close to a sexual pleasure. It was very empowering.  When Seani Love talks about ‘conscious kink changing the world’, I understand how some sexual activities can release and transform very powerful negative energies. And that changed my outlook on BDSM.

What kind of dialogue about sex and intimacy was going on between you and the director, Adina Pintilie? This is also included in the film?

We spoke about many many things; I don’t remember it being focused on sex.  But the conversations, when we weren’t talking about work, were generally intimate I think they contributed to creating a particular dynamic based on trust.

Did it make a difference having a female director?

I have often worked with women.  Doing this film with a man would no doubt have been very different…  but how, I cannot exactly say.

Do you think it is valid not to explore why the character Laura has ended up with such difficulty in her sex and intimacy life? Anger with her father is intimated but not explored.

I think that Adina is more interested in looking at someone’s attempt and struggle to change than explaining where the problem comes from.  As far as I am concerned, we don’t need to know where Laura’s problem comes from – what is important is that she can move towards going beyond it.  A young couple at a film festival said that it was the only ‘positive’ and ‘uplifting’ film they had seen in the film festival.

What was your interaction with Seani Love like? He was in our AoA FB Live Hot Tub event on Tantra, we loved him. He’s playing himself in the film? A sex worker, who deals with intimacy issues.

Seani’s work is really interesting and I would say that the interaction we had is what you see in the film. We didn’t meet and talk before, my only interaction with him is when we were on set filming. I didn’t even see his face before he came into my sitting room!

Were there moments when you had to say ‘No’ to the director?

No.  Adina was very respectful of limits even though wanting everything!  She never – or rarely – asked for anything precise. So the limits were where you yourself put them. I asked her at the beginning of the film, when we were preparing the escort scenes : ‘Are you expecting me to sleep with them?’ She said: ‘you do what you want’.  Things were generally not decided before.  It was more organic than that.

The film’s reviews have been very mixed, I read the Guardian one by Peter Bradshaw and laughed. I wondered if this is because these reviewers have difficulty themselves with intimacy issues?

I think the reactions correspond to the anger someone can feel when they are going out to have fun and escape reality, then find out that someone is forcing them to have a therapy session and that they weren’t asked if they wanted, let alone warned that they were going to have one (whether they like it or not).

What kind of conversations has come out of it for you?

People have shared some lovely things.  One young man said that he spent his first night with his girlfriend just after they had both seen the film and that it totally changed his way of relating with her and changed both of their approaches to their intimacy. I am surprised because a lot of people have thanked me and given me hugs. I recently spoke to a woman who said she was happy to meet me because she had been worried about me during the film. I think it is a film that is a relief for a lot of people who have suffered feelings of inadequacy. In Kiev, a young woman had been thrown out of a café three weeks earlier because she suffered from cerebral palsy.  She was so pleased to see the film. It gave her courage and hope.

What did you enjoy about making this kind of film? And the responses?

I enjoyed the complicity with Adina, the challenge and adventure and am relieved that I managed to overcome any fears and doubts, or at least deal with them. I am pleased to have managed to be spontaneous. So I guess that I have grown up a bit!

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