Thursday, 24 December 2009

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The 12-year old who silenced the Powers that Be for 5 minutes...

This could be the most important, amazing and moving message at Christmas you've ever seen. Trust me. Please do pass it on, the link is below. I have no other words nor would ever attempt to add any, as I bow before the words of a child mature beyond her years and wise beyond her age.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A season of giving more than receiving

As I sit in my car and turn the radio up to volume 9 to kill those stray draggles of guilty emotion after my husband brought home a broken Christmas tree and I over-reacted - I am reminded that this is the season of thinking of others (!) Please look at the video above and join in the Annual Basket Brigade to remind ourselves that helping someone else can transform a life, especially the lives of those who have gotten into the rut of feeling that they deserve nothing (and thus have nothing to give). Being on the receiving end of unconditional generosity or love is inspiring and enabling. Hmmm. Must remember to apply that to my marriage...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Head up

I knew I'd hit a wall when I woke up this Monday morning with stomach cramps. Stomach cramps are what happen when all is not well. And they only serve to make things worse: it's hard to be bursting with remedial energy when your abdomen hurts. Or to hit the gym and kick in the adrenalin and feel-good hormones.

As I suspected, when I sat down at my laptop at 6am to continue with the (tight) schedule to complete my book - where every day counts - I felt that familiar sag. Disintegration of the will. Motivational droop. That stretched-across-the-ground-feeling I used to get when teachers at school burdened us with a particularly tiresome and timeconsuming assignment - you yawn to yourself inside, and wish you were elsewhere.

After regular 5am wakeups eagerly brushing the sleep from my eyes in front of a sparkling computer, the weedling thought that I'd prefer to be back under the covers in oblivion only jabbed to smart my annoyance further. The screen glowered. I shut it almost with a snap.

To be honest, my Sony Vaio's got a big part in this. My husband and I had been competing to work on the machine for the whole weekend (early wake-ups and late nights, that is.) Needless to say, it's the wrong type of marital stimulation. He lugged home a castoff CPU from work on Friday (victim of financial layoffs - the box, not he thank God), all excited to assemble it privately upstairs - only to find it was still password locked and inaccessible. Then we had a row. After which, we grudgingly had to communicate to try and schedule who would work on "my" laptop, and when (it had been a birthday present, but becomes "ours" when things swing that way). The rest of the weekend was spent in grunts. Actually the argument was all about perception: how I perceive him to be unfriendly and moody, when he is sure that he's not. Considering he's not friendly or fun or light-hearted at these times, I'm not sure where perception ends and reality begins.

I'd hoped that driving my son to a birthday party might ring a change: empty road, invigoratingly loud music, whoosh of freedom and all that...but the spanking Jaguar in front with the personalised number-plate "P E 5 I M S T" didn't help. Considering those cost at least 20,000 pounds (on top of the car, of course!) I wondered if the guy was taking the proverbial, if you know what I mean. Normally I would have chuckled and saved up the gem to tell my husband. Instead I predicted his grunt - and wrote on Twitter instead.

On the way back, I fixed the damp shine on the roads with moroseness as the evening shrouded the air, winter's 5pm. The tyres spluttered through the dirt-laden London rain, the dull leftover dribbles of Sunday and a stray Tesco bag wretched and ragged on a naked branch at the corner of my vision as I waited with resigned frustration at a red light that seemed to be fixed at red forever. Christ. Not even my favourite musical porn, Enrique Iglesias, lifted my sodden mood. The ballad surges irritated me and I clicked to off.

However the way to force through the blockages (mental, physical, you name it) is to create a surge. I've got to fall in love with my book again, with the process of tapping it into existence even when words don't come easy. And fall in love with my husband again even when words don't come easy. And fall in love with life again even if I don't have a Jag with a personalised number plate telling the world to fuck off (sorry!) - or maybe fall in love with life specifically because I don't.

Then again, at least I'm not Tiger Woods. Or anyone else: things could be worse.

No, head up! Forge on. Credit crunch, marital crunch, lack of inspiration, you name it. It's the ability to break through the barriers of pain, fear, uncertainty or even plain boredom that is the mark of success. Maybe I'll have a Jag one day. It'll have a plate stating: O P 7 I M S T.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Talent will be Rewarded!

I can't resist this - talking of talent and reward, just take a look at this amazing 6-YEAR OLD boy...and the outcome is a real treat at the end. Enjoy!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Out 2010

Image: Suat Eman /

This is the book I am going to be marketing on behalf of my guru and in-house motivational psychologist, Natasha Reddy. She says it's probably not the final version of colours - but you get the drift.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Put a penny in the pot

A fellow Mum at school - a muslim lady - was telling me how her children have 3 jars at home between which to divide pocket money - one for buying, one for saving and one for giving to charity (the muslim concept of 'Zakat'). Which reminded me how important it is in life not to forget others. After all, people are just people all around the world.

Incidentally, to let a thread of higher purpose permeate all that we do is also the direct route to success and wealth (so take the tip: become less materialistic and more spiritual if you are seeking out the pot of gold!) Why am I sure of this? I seem to be meeting a lot of incredibly successful people recently. And all of them have the spark of ambition to create some lasting good in the world. Wow - how far I'm drifting down the river from my position as "reluctantly frustrated stay-at-home mum!" And... is the frustration and feeling of inertia gone? You bet! Believe it!

So, on the subject of thinking of others, let me introduce you to Arvind Devalia: born in Kenya, living in London, Indian heritage, citizen of the world. Arvind says: "I am committed to a life of contribution, connection and celebration. And I am convinced that ultimately we all want to do the same".

Before anyone starts to scoff, sit up and listen, and ask yourself if you can measure up:- whereas others might hesitate, Arvind makes things happen: raising thousands of dollars for a charity school in South India (Nirvana School); writing and publishing a book in just 4 weeks; being part of an internet startup which raised millions of pounds of funding; taking part in the London Marathon, where he walked the entire route in over 7 hours rather than letting down his chosen charity.

Arvind feels he has a charge to help alleviate world poverty by raising money for micro-finance website Kiva. You can read more about Arvind’s bold aim to alleviate world poverty and how to join the “Blog with Heart Challenge” here.

Arvind has specially created some resources for any blogger who wants to join in:-

1. A resource page for bloggers with lots of ready made posts you can use in any way you like

2. A videos page with a heap of videos about Kiva and their download links.

In addition a team as been created on Kiva for the London Bloggers Meetup group called, unsurprisingly LBM. If you would like to join this team and see the difference the LBM community as a whole can make, please let me know in a comment together with your email, and I’ll organise an invitation for you to join.

Alternatively, please support this campaign by joining Kiva directly, by creating your own team and of course by publishing Arvind’s campaign on your blogs or webpages. Thank you.

So, if I adopt my fellow school mum's principle of jars, well perhaps today I've put a little penny in one by penning this posting. And sometimes a little coin can spread a lot of happiness.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Product placement and our children

Today I'm going to proselytise a bit. Who wants their children not to be encouraged to eat junk food? Hands up!...Then, please read on: the following is an email sent by myself (and others) to our government. And I attach the reply: if you share my opinion, I suggest you might copy the body of the letter and send it to Mr.Green's email address as below (let's hope his name augurs well!) - with fingers crossed as to the power of public opinion. Do exercise your duty as a parent in this regard.

I suppose the alternative is not letting children watch television: already seriously curtailed in our house! (But still. At some point we have to reach outside our own little worlds to take greater responsibility.) And don't log out, U.S. readers, thinking that this is only relevant to my side of the pond - you might be interested in some of the information below...

Dear Sir,
Please do not allow product placement in British made television programmes. The proposals to allow product placement in UK-made television programmes will lead to children being exposed to more marketing for unhealthy food products. While I welcome commitments that product placement will not be allowed in children's programming, research by consumer group Which? in 2008 showed that 16 of the 20 programmes on the commercial channels most popular with children were not classified as "children's programming" and therefore, under your proposals, would be able to contain product placement of unhealthy foods.

In the US, where product placement is permitted, Coca-Cola is the brand paying for the most product placement. Yet research from the US has suggested that sugary drinks such as Coca-Cola may be the biggest driver of the obesity epidemic. Product placement on UK-produced television programmes could lead to a similar situation in the UK, contributing to the already worrying increase in childhood obesity rates.
I am particularly concerned that product placement breaches the principle that advertising should be clearly recognised as such, and distinguishable from editorial content. It is important that people know when they are being advertised to, and parents are able to recognise advertising and protect their children from it. With product placement, marketing goes on behind parents' backs.

I know that I am not alone in these concerns: a recent survey of 1,349 UK adults by Redshift Research found that 91% did not think it is right to influence children with product placement.

Please help us to protect our children from covert marketing for unhealthy food , and not undermine our effort to give our children healthy diets by allowing junk food companies to target them with their brand of 'secret selling'.

Yours sincerely

Reply from:

Thank you for your recent e-mail about the Government’s consultation on television product placement. This is an important issue on which the Government is keen to hear peoples’ views, and we are grateful to you for taking the trouble to write. Our consultation closes on 8 January 2010 and we plan to make an announcement as soon as possible after that.We will give careful consideration to your comments before we do so.

Yours sincerely
Chris Green
Public Engagement & Recognition Unit
Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Sugar-coated dreams

I went to a seminar the other evening where a bastion of our business establishment was speaking. People came up with the usual questions: "how can I be a successful entrepreneur?"; "what's your advice about investing in property?"; "do you think we're out of the recession yet?"; "what is the best piece of business advice you've ever been given?" - and the less usual: "how can I resolve the fact that I've under-priced my product?"; "I'm setting up a company at 50..."; "I sell solar panels but all my retail partners have pulled out"...

Nothing new under the sun, really. And the answers given to most of these questions were also pretty much what you'd expect: nothing new under the sun. Including the one about solar panels (tip: we're in the UK. Along the lines of : certain 'trendy' trends just don't work as expected!...)

Until I asked a question which would seem to be a pretty bog-standard-business-school-essential-information-gathering-cum-personal-curiosity-one: "Have you had mentors in your career?"

The answer was surprising. When starting out, he'd has his Uncle who'd had a shop. And other people he'd looked up to. But the people he most looked up to were those who had "contentment" and they, he said, are people "you in the audience will have never heard of", nor will ever hear of. People, therefore, who are contented in their everyday lives despite not having achieved either fame or fortune. He envied them, said the moghul businessman. He said: "I've amassed more money than anyone can spend in a lifetime...than even my wife [audience chuckles!] or family can spend." Then he talked about it being "a disease", not being able to stop, never being contented. So, his greatest 'mentors' are those who have the luxury of contentment in life. Who are able to reach a point where they are contented. Contented with life and what they have - but most probably and most importantly, also with what they don't have.

Forget all the business talk. As this multi-millionaire success story told us: "It's not Rocket Science!" Almost every answer he gave to every business question was based on pure common sense. They should have called the seminar: "Business Success De-mystified!"

But the one thing I came away with was his answer to MY question. That's what I learned that evening. Don't wish for what others have, unless you are fully aware of what's involved. Unless you are fully aware of the consequences. Of the road you'll have to travel to move in the same, or a similar, direction. And sometimes, even if you do end up getting there: you may not be happy. Even if you're the type of person who can't but help taking the journey in the first place, because you're born with the urge to travel (by the way, entrepreneurs are born, not made, and if you don't get it, you aren't one - apparently. Lord Alan Sugar was showing the Mayor of Hackney around his local school at the age of 11...)

Oh. Did I forget to mention? The name of the seminar was: "In Conversation with Lord Alan Sugar..."

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Self-promotion - and a bit of life...

I'd like today to give you folks an excerpt from my forthcoming book, "THINK SLIM - 52 steps to losing weight and feeling great! (...The no-diet weight-loss revolution!)" (hopefully out by the beginning of 2010, website too). Before you sigh (because you have no need to lose those pounds) or you're a bloke and think this kind of thing is purely for women, do me a favour and read on! I don't do things conventionally - most entrepreneurial-minded people don' may - no, WILL! - be surprised.

Anyway, THIS is what I am getting up a 5am for every day...for those with goals, remember that "Your Actions are your Goals and Your Goals are your Actions" (note I'm trademarking that one!)

Here we go:
You have only one life. Sounds clich├ęd, doesn’t it? But we forget, in our Western world of abundance, that many people who share our universe don’t have life. They don’t have life expectancy, they don’t have quality of life, they don’t have the basics to live a life of dignity or even to survive. Here we are, fretting about physical confidence, body weight, fitness... while some people don’t have the luxury of worrying about their physical confidence! It’s barely enough for them to get through the day alive with a belly full. Others spend their so-called lives suffering horrendous physical and emotional restrictions. Their only aspiration would be to be free from pain or suffering, let alone to lose weight! And, what to tell the mother whose children are slowly starving to death? Shouldn’t we be rather ashamed that our material excesses have brought us to this excess of paranoia?
In this context, worrying about one’s physical appearance is totally trite, when in this world there are those who have real cause for anxiety: not being able to see fully, move fully, speak fully, or being fully healthy; or the life and death of their loved ones. Some people are just grateful to have life at all. Others are put through such horrendous emotional suffering by losing loved-ones or seeing loved-ones suffer. We all know of people becoming painfully thin after bereavement. Who’d envy them their body shape now?

So why am I writing this book, you may ask? Well, partly because this irony hasn’t escaped me, and I’d like to show that there’s a healthier and more balanced way of approaching the problem of overweight and obesity in the West today. And because I understand that the more happy and balanced we are as individuals -the more liberated of insecurity and self-obsession we are - the freer we are as a society to look outside our little world and help others.

This book simply puts forward techniques you can use to help yourself to make the most of yourself physically, and thereby increase your self-confidence – hopefully boosting your mood and general happiness at the same time! But, there should be a warning attached to any book which promises that weight reduction will automatically guarantee happiness. I am sure that we have all realised by now that thinness does not equal happiness, and richness doesn’t equal happiness either, and if you don’t believe me just take a look at some of the super-rich and super-thin celebrities out there who despite having the trappings of an ‘enviable’ life appear to be suffering from a lack of the basics which truly do make for a happy life: a harmonious family, close friends who love you for what you are, a peaceful life without interference, the ability to get on and make decisions without being constantly judged – and that's just for starters! Now, that’s not to say that this is the case with every rich and thin celebrity, as there are some very well-balanced famous people out there (and I take my hat off to them!) – however, it cannot be denied that some celebrities renowned for their wealth and physical beauty still find it necessary to resort to drugs and drink: not the behaviour of someone who’s balanced and content.

We all need to take a few moments out of our busy schedule each day to reflect on how our limited perspectives on life can be so restrictive, misery-making – and, indeed, dangerous. Why, just this week I read about a bride-to-be who died of heart failure: after being on a restrictive diet of under 600 calories a day to lose weight for her wedding. That’s a real lesson in perspective.

So, just get on and LIVE LIFE and appreciate what you have got and what gives richness to your life, rather than what you haven’t got! Instead of feeling that you can never measure up, remember that other people have their own problems too, and that’s everyone, rich or poor, skinny or not so skinny (why do you think papers sell well when they dissect the life problems of celebrities, reminding ordinary people that they’re not so different to us after all?) Until you are happy in yourself and with your own life, then losing weight will never make a difference. You’ll just be a miserable thin person instead of a miserable plumper person!

If you exude happiness from every pore and sing along to your everyday tasks, you will find you don’t need that chocolate fix anymore, and along the way you’ll find that you become as fit as you’ve ever wanted to! Sing along to the washing-up, whistle to work, chat happily to your friends and neighbours, and live life with enthusiasm: you’ll be so busy being active you’ll find you don’t need that glass or wine, choc bar or cookie to perk you up. Just being busy you can burn up energy to become fitter too!

Why don’t you imagine yourself, right now, being the happy, confident and energetic person we all have the potential to be? If your problems seem too great, remember that they’re nothing compared to the mother whose young and only son is dying from a rare form of juvenile cancer (and that’s another true story, and someone I know). You can picture yourself and your good fortune every day in your mind, and if you find this hard just try picturing yourself living in Afghanistan or Gaza or any of the world’s other trouble spots instead – and you’ll realise just how much you DO have. We in the Western world are overcome with bounty and opportunity: why would you need a chocolate bar on top of all that to make you cheerful?

(Note! Slimy sticky and oily calories do NOT make us cheerful, happier, or blow our problems out the window. All they do is increase the size of our problems – by increasing the size of our hips and thighs and tummies, and clogging our brains and our ability to feel happy and carefree, as well as clogging our arteries at the same time!)

Key Points to Remember:
Live with a sense of perspective. Our problems are minute compared to those of many. Instead of dwelling on your worries and bad fortune, be aware of your good fortune every day, give thanks for it and be grateful. Vow to give back to the world the happiness and joy it has given you – whenever and however that may have been, and even if you don’t quite feel it now. Remember that appearance is important superficially, but self-esteem is deeper. Being thin or being rich will never make anyone happy if that’s all you aim for in life. Stop to smell the roses and remember you are healthy and wealthy already in so many ways. As a general rule, Happy people are slimmer, but slimmer people are not necessarily happier!

So be happy: and you’ll be slimmer on it!


P.S. On the subject of perspective, here's a girl I went to school with. Actually, watch this one too: check out the video, especially: WATCH IT! Your problems will fade into irrelevance, I guarantee you... and you'll also realise that YOU have so much potential to realise: which no doubt you may not be fully, what are you waiting for?!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tomorrow - again

Well, the immune systems of my family and myself having survived the onslaught which is India for over two weeks, have succumbed almost immediately once on British soil. We are all laid low with cold-like viruses, rasping, hacking, trumpeting and passing out on pillows piled high. My husband - who never misses work - stayed in bed today. My son - who never misses school - ditto. My daughter went: but is suffering a delayed reaction this evening. I - stoic mother, with that get-up-and-go-even-if-you're-ready-to-drop which women seem to be born with, am getting on with the washing and tidying and unpacking, but manage a couple of naps regardless and dreamt of doctors telling us we're to be isolated as we've all got swine 'flu (we haven't).
So my posting on Indian entrepreneurship's again relegated to tomorrow. And I'm off to hit the sack, leaving you with my favourite Will Shakespeare of all time, Macbeth's 'tomorrow' soliloquy (and a thanks to all of you who support my creative endeavours day after day: I'm reminding myself not to forget to thank people in my life...):

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

P.S. Don't get me wrong, I don't do brooding nihilism. However I spend so much time labouring on self-worth and achievement, and when you're just struck down with what is essentially an elaborate version of the common cold you realise how easy it is to retreat into what Maslow, in his hierarchy of needs theory, called “pre-potency”: meaning that you are not going to be motivated by any higher-level needs (like ambition, self-esteem, etc) until your lower-level ones have been satisfied: like hunger, basic comfort, freedom from illness or exhaustion, and so on. I'm feeling struck down with feeling, basically, rather grotty and under-par. So I'm going to bed to try to redress the balance! (by the way check out Herzberg in the link for all those managers out there, if any of you reading my blog are such). Good night!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Excuses, excuses

It's the longest ever since I've posted - the longest since I started this blog.

Now, one of my fellow parents on the school run mentioned a while ago that he (in this case, a father being the stay-at-home half) wondered why people read blogs. "They must be pretty bored or have plenty of time to waste!", he quipped.
I replied to him, to the implicit question contained in his question (the subject of the conversation being my blog) - for me, it's not about boredom ("and I cannot speak for my readers" I added, diplomatically!). Myself, I'm aware that it's human nature to read and be interested in lives, stories, emotions, information. And has been since the storytellers of the street squares and tents of yore started to ply their trade (even then there was an element of commercialism about it - pennies in a hat, or a bowl of rice). And, writing a blog, for me, is about discipline. About plying my trade as a wordsmith every day, or at least regularly. Don't believe that there's an inborn skill in existance that doesn't need nurturing and won't require practise to maintain a certain standard, and then, to increase proficiency. There isn't.

So, I am pretty ashamed that I haven't posted for, what, 3 weeks? Well, folks, I have once excuse, paltry as it may be. I've been in India for just over two of those weeks. But, then again, only 10 of those days were involved in travelling or living without internet access (but, not without a notebook, note). I could offer up the feeble excuse that I find it easier to type my thoughts than write freehand, true as it may be - but then that's like saying Tiger Woods would only ever practise in perfect conditions (not that I'm comparing my skills to his - god forbid. God forbid! Genius sadly escapes me.)

I have to add here, on the self-flagellation session I've embarked upon, that my five-year-old did take his violin to India. And practised more than I wrote. He only missed a week and that was due to the impracticality of taking a minature musical instrument (one-tenth of a fully-sized violin, for those curious) to an indian country village: which bar the randomly-strung bare bulbs and a couple of butane-gas-bottle-powered-stoves, is still stuck in the middle ages. A home-built-raftered-barn, 100 years old, with one side reserved for the water buffalos and wandering chicks, rogue dogs and meandering cats, and opposite, space for my husband's extended family (the farmers whose house this is) and us to sleep on charpoys - stretcher type beds. Or sit on the bare stone, and eat in a circle. Hand-milled rice. Curry fashioned from beans harvested from their fields. Oven-baked gritty flat breads hardened 'mongst the flickering flames of a chimney. Peanut and chili seasoning (ground in an immense granite hand-hewn mortar, larger than my son, as large as a small well, with a wooden mortar of a couple of metres long). And, the family's only meat meal in six months: an unfortunate rooster from their yard, conveniently killed just down the road by Muslims in the Halal fashion, "so as to pass the blame on, so Hinduism remains unsullied" my husband remarked, with ironic crook of the mouth.

Anyway. I wanted to write a post on what entrepreneurial lessons one can learn from the sullied, chaotic and quite exhausting mess that is India (we all need a holiday now, the whole household is sick with colds and fever on our return!) - the India of the supposedly 'developing' cities, I must add, as the villages I mention were a refreshing and inspiring break for all of us, especially memorable my son sitting on the floor with a slate and chalk, taking part in a lesson in the open-air country school. To my credit, I've already written it - scribbling a lone page of notebook on our very last night in India. In a tiny sand-beige airless apartment in Bangalore, to which my in-laws have happily migrated, leaving their large million-dollar mansion in Sydney (you could take them from their birthplace, 30 years ago, but not their birthplace from the hearts and souls of my in-laws, as it's turned out) and where they live in a space proportionate to their former entrance hall, in absolute frugality - and peace.

But that post will be for next time - for tommorow. For now, I reflect on what home means. And for me, to some extent, it means the freedom to sit at my desk at my pre-determined hours (I'm a creature of habit, when it comes to production) with my favourite mug of steaming soy milk and raw cocoa, and write. And look at my wallpaper which has trees stretching out to infinity. And wonder why I prefer it to the dust-stained real-life trees of India. Maybe I'm not that different at all from my in-laws, in some ways.

And, Oh, P.S. To all those experiencing marital disharmony. If you get on with your parents-in-law, if you have that warm glow of affection for the family of your spouse: it could very well save your marriage. Good night!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Invitation

Peoples, I am busy. Very busy. Writing a book - or rather editing it, hoping for publication some time in the near future (no, not a novel! Yes, 'self-help', as it were - no, not 'as it were', it IS self-help. So there you go.) I will flog it to y'all when it's physically manifest in the universe (grin, meaning, made of proper bound printed paper and not pixels). No I haven't got a book deal. Yet!

Here's a poem, in the meantime - not mine, I hasten to admit, though I might try my hand next time:

The Invitation
(What follows was written by a Native American poet named Orion Mountain Dreamer)

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living
I want to know what you ache for,
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dreams,
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own,
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic,
or to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you’re telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself,
if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul;
if you can be faithless - and therefore be trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it's not pretty, every day,
and if you can source your life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,
and still stand on the edge of a lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair,
weary and bruised to the bone,
and do what needs to be done to feed your children.

It doesn’t interest me who you are,
how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the Fire with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself,
and truly like the company you keep in empty moments.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

can you afford it?

I haven't been posting as much lately. Instead, I've been having a standoff with my husband; trying (and often failing) to get to the gym; carting my children back and forth; finishing a book by Anthony Robbins (which, if you read one book this year, read it!: written in the '80s, it still has the power to transform); and attending 'webinars' by Rachel Elnaugh, an entrepreneur and ex-Dragon's Den judge - who now has all sorts of lovely motivational and coaching stuff as one of the many strings to her bow.

I'd like to share with you a great comment from last week's webinar, a conversation with Nick Williams and Marie-Claire Carlyle (two equally fascinating and enlightened entrepreneurs/business gurus worth looking up. P.S. only thing, Marie Claire: your webpage title sounds a bit like a bra' ad...sorry!). During the discussion they touched on why the phrase 'I can't afford it' is (and I quote Rachel) "perhaps the most negative mantra you can possibly have around keeps you stuck in a holding pattern of scarcity, lack and limitation".

To me this was something which really struck a chord. Because I had been telling myself the exact same thing for a while now. And the phrase is bandied back and forth so much in our family kitchen I'm almost surprised it's not written up on the blackboard! But if you've got ambition and a tad of self-awareness in life (got the first, trying to develop the second!) naturally this kind of self-limiting statement starts to grate. And you need to overturn it.

The irony in our family is that we'd found ourselves in this rather tight financial reality simply because, a year and a half ago, we decided to shoot for the stars and make a dream reality: by moving to a rather dilapidated home with a large garden. And, we actually couldn't afford it! Not by any permutation of accounts prepared by my husband, our resident accountant. But, we'd fallen in love with this snapshot of rural England, an oasis in what is basically still London town. A garden with more mature trees than you can shake a stick at. Purple buddhleia, the 'butterfly' flower, curling round and coexisting with ancient clematis. An old stone well hidden behind a mound of ivy (and still hidden, as far as the children are concerned!) Blackcurrent, redcurrent and gooseberry bushes, bitter bramley and sweet, perfumed pink apples. Lots of grass to run around on and kick footballs. Space for barbeques. Heaven.

But, inside the house, there were holes in the walls, a 1930's, hideous old-folks' home-gone-wrong-decor/layout, and a kitchen barely suitable for cooking in. This all said to me: "It has potential!" (If I've got one skill in life, as an architect's daughter, I can see potential. Where's there's potential, the nasty outer wrappings don't matter).

Now, we "couldn't (really) afford" this house. But we WANTED it. So desperately. So much that we somehow begged, borrowed, sorted through financing options, and squeezed ourselves into the deal. With the result that we really couldn't afford the removal van to move us to the new house! I spent three weeks, with the children at their grandparents', carting boxes back and forth from seven a.m. until three (a.m.). Alone.

Still on the subject of the house, whether or not the price was right (it was a deal at the time of contract, but that was the height of the housing bubble...) our quality of life has been immeasurably improved as a result of shoe-horning ourselves into this move we wouldn't accept we couldn't afford. Despite my fight with the grim interior!. And, even as we agreed we had no money for furniture (we'd inherited much from the old gentleman who sold the house to us - much in the same vein as the rest of the decor), I wouldn't admit defeat: I'm rather wired like that. I resolved to improve our lot with what we'd got. One half-term, armed with paint-stripper, new season paint colours and textures, varnishes and a lot of inspiration, I transformed grotty 1930's art-deco and dingy cracked 1960's pieces into items which any interior designer would be proud of. And all practically for free. The result gave me far more satisfaction than being flush and going to BoConcept with a budget (well, almost!). The satifaction of taking action, mainly. Because if you take action, results are sure to follow. And from not being able to afford furniture, visitors now ask me where I got my sideboard and coffee table.

There are endless permutations to what you can get out of twisting the "I cannot afford it" situation to your advantage. Here's another. Recently I discovered a truly fabulous painter. Whose paintings I coveted, every last one of them. With no budget, I was so determined to buy a particular inspiring picture I'd fallen in love with, that I asked if - as a stranger, over the internet - possibly, I might pay in installments. This type of 'lateral thinking' - creative solutions as a result of pure stubborness ("if I can't, then I'll find a way"!) - is a great exercise in how to achieve what initially may seem impossible in a given situation and in life in general. Rarely is there a problem which cannot be solved by some form of creativity, or by taking small steps to 'bite' off chunks of the problem bit by bit with a view to resolving it entirely in the future. Sarah, the painter, said "yes"! And I'm going to enjoy saving up for it so much, knowing I own a little more each month... and I'm going to treasure it especially when, eventually, this seascape graces my wall and the power of the waves remind me of the inherent power in life and nature. And how we, as human beings, can harnass latent power to improve our lives too.

The key is often how we conceptualise obstacles to ourselves: how we represent problems. As Rachel says, if we think we "can't afford" something, we are telling ourselves that we are not capable of finding a solution. That we are unable (un-able, un-deserving) to afford it. If we tell ourselves that there might be ways and means to enable what we want, we unlock great reserves of creativity. We unlock the subconscious to work with our rational mind to help 'dream up' ways of achieving our dreams. We're telling ourselves we're capable and competant enough to overcome the odds.

Never forget the power of words. Language is important. How we talk to ourselves is important. So, I won't tell myself again "I cannot afford it". But, instead, "How can I afford it?" It's a much more productive, and positive, way of looking at financial obstacles - or any other problems.

Similarly, after writing (and telling myself) for the past few weeks that: "My husband and I aren't marriage is crumbling!" I realised that perhaps he wasn't talking to me because I wasn't talking to him - and that our relationship was "crumbling" as a result! So I talked to him, overcoming my pride, my stubborness, and my pre-conceptions. And, hey ho, things have been resolved! We still have incompatibilities, but it's better to think: "We have incompatibilities. How could we harnass these to make life easier? and how can we overcome these to make life less difficult?" than: "We have incompatibilites. We're doomed!"

...Sometimes in life it's not about what we cannot afford to have or do. It's about what we can't afford NOT to have or do... let's make it happen!

Monday, 21 September 2009

castle in the sky

I went to a children's birthday party the other day. At this house. Suffice to say, it's not mine. (I could say: "in my dreams"...)

People talk about dreams in the abstract, far away in the distance of another reality- or unreality. But this house was - is - the embodiment of someone's dream. The couple who built it, had also built another one - and at some point, prior to finishing it, came upon major financial problems, and ground to a halt. A big halt. It was all documented on "Grand Designs", a popular TV reality show we have here in the UK which - yes! - documents the architecture of dreams. Literally. People who build their dream properties from scratch. Who watch, day after day, as the fabric of imagination takes shape in bricks and mortar (or vast expanses of glass, metal, cement, wood). Very addictive.

Well, this couple (in Clapham, London) had built their house around a protected tree: an innovative solution to wanting more space but being unable to chop it down and extend into the garden. All very interesting. But, what is more interesting to me is that once obviously wasn't enough, problems and all. Sometime later, they built a second ground-breaking house (the one I was honoured enough to visit. They're not there, by the way. It's rented out.) It had become a habit, dreaming. And then making dreams reality.

Now, I hear you - "this is a different planet!", you scream, "not my little life, of mortgage payments, credit crunch misery!", etc. "These people could afford it! This is the world of people who have serious cash!" But: listen up! We can all dream, can't we? 'Cos only by dreaming do we give ourselves the first lift up the ladder to making imagintion reality - one day, somewhere, somehow. If you believe all is possible, I'm not saying you'll make it possible - but you'll certainly lay the groundwork to bring it nearer. Hard work, self-confidence, and a mad, mad belief in turning straw into gold, then have to be added to the pot. Stir, keep on working hard, don't lose sight of your goals, and sometimes - just sometimes - you'll achieve what you thought was impossible.

Dreaming and persisting are all we have, those of us with ambition (and if you don't, I envy you - truly! - you're at peace, are you not?). To dream is easy enough. To persist is harder. Even when your purse-strings are long, to undertake major innovative projects still requires balls. So there you go. It's just all about the varying degrees involved. But the two key ingredients, the dreaming and the persistence? - the substance of those doesn't change, whatever your starting line.

Myself, I persist in dreaming, in laughing, in seeing the silver lining. Even when, at home, my once-perfect marriage flounders into dull silences and shoulders turned as we pass in darkened corridors, wordless. Live on mumbled acknowledgements or falsely upbeat matter-of-fact discussions involving kids, logistics, dates. Disinterest numbs the air. Two parallel but diverging lives, bound by the glue of two little children who love their parents equally. Yet I persist in believing it's all for the best, persist in finding light where there's shadow. I can't allow myself to give up. Things will get better. And so I walk round smiling, outside and inside. Because I know there are plenty of dreams left to make me smile.

And, I persist in stirring up those bubbles of social enthusiasm, even when friends slowly return to work (the kids are at that age now) and the school run gradually becomes vacant of familiar faces. And when long-lost souls from recent reunions seep back into their lives over the ether, reminding me the past is the past and the present's entirely separate. Again, when my chosen vocation accessorizes one silver laptop and a cup of green tea as companions over hours of the day. But I won't be reduced to feeling lonely! Oh no, siree!! It's all temporary. I'm working towards my dream...the parties will return, summer will swing back round, there'll be fun and laughter and new faces to discover. Believe. I do.

Life isn't instant. It's blocks upon blocks upon blocks, and sometimes you lose sight of the shape you're creating for the piles of rubble (emotional, psychological, you name it) you're surrounded with. True both when you construct a real house, and true too when you're building castles in the air. Often, you cannot see the stars for the clouds. But you still know they're there.

You just have to keep building and keep believing. The journey's no fun, sometimes. There'll be obstacles and tears and late nights and despair.

Welcome, my friend. Keep on dreaming. Keep on believing.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

The loneliest occupation in the world, I think, is being a writer. It's all about delayed gratification (a phrase and concept I relish, but the reality's tougher to enjoy). You're a virtual recluse, alone in front of a desk as the autumnal slate gray sky glowers menacingly outside,and the taupe computer screen glows dully inside, numbing the vision. And you write. And write. Tap, tap, the soundtrack to those moments, hours, days of your life. There's no excitement, bar what you put down on the page. There's no social activity. Your words are your friends, and if there are characters, you almost grow into them - they're your only companions. And all this, hoping to get a kick ONE DAY - cradling that book with your name emblazoned on it, something in black and white (or black and red) for posterity.

It's better, I presume, if you've got a deal in hand (where holding that book with your name's an undisputed truth - but the how you're going to fulfil all those expectations, and within what time frame, becomes your bugbear intead... life's never perfect!). If, on the other hand, there's no contract on the table, you just write. You tap. Sometimes disconsolately. The words and images regurgitated out with hard, long retches. Sometimes you tap in the equivalent of furious scribble, like a bitch on heat, desperate to reach satisfaction and an eventual birth. For your sake, and for the sake of hope. Tapping out your dreams. And all the time suspecting that those hours of solitude (and days, and late evenings, and time stolen from family, and curt brush-offs to children's insistent queries - and associated guilt, the bindweed of who works from home); and the multitude of stifled yawns, of stiff backs, of tea breaks and cereal bowls balanced by the keyboard - may, quite possibly, may, come to nothing. A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury...signifying nothing. Quote, unquote. Or perhaps, it's the detail that counts. All words pre-exist, most plots are re-hashes, most advice has been given before. You're almost like a window cleaner at times, trying to polish the surface of language to convince your audience they're seeing the view for the first time.

It's even worse if you are writing not a novel (that one's sitting dusty in the drawer waiting to be remembered, revamped, resuscitated, and have the breath of faith blown into it...), but a non-fiction work dealing with, how to put it?, how to eliminate compulsive behaviour through the power of the mind (yes, I'm also training to be an NLP practitioner - check it out). It means you can't even go for a slice of chocolate bar at the kitchen counter out of pure boredom. Because that's called 'displacment activity' - otherwise known as procrastinating (do you write - yawn?! or eat? or lie down and sleep?!) And if you're a writer, and you procrastinate, so will your career. (But I still desire that cocoa kick to offset the solitude, the backache and the nagging voices telling me I'll never make it).

Friday, 4 September 2009

no words

There's a lady I know - a fellow Mum. Her son is dying.

Just a few months ago, he was in my son's class. One of the eldest, but also the brightest, head and shoulders above the rest in reading and maths. Reluctantly, the school transferred him up a form, to the year above, mid-term. His mother thought his headaches were part due to the change in pace, but he was happier and more fulfilled. A grand future ahead.

The tumour, in that precious brain, is deep. Too deep for successful operation, or further chemo. A young brain remembers.

Pray for a miracle, you think: beg the gods, whoever they might be, whichever faith... what does it matter when the desperation and despair is beyond belief? The instinct of a parent goes beyond rational thought. I'd lay down my life, my everything, to save a child. Wouldn't you?

I don't pray, normally. But for this Mum, her husband, this child, his sister, their friends and relatives, I'm praying. Hoping for a miracle. Because I don't know, don't dare to imagine, what I'd do with myself in such a position. "It doesn't bear thinking about", said my mother. Actually, it does. You don't just walk your thoughts away from tragedy, glad not to be involved personally. Or I don't, I find it somehow cold. Ancient peoples didn't have the head-in-the-sand, dismissive attitude to death we - in our materialistic, headonistic, society - more often than not show today. It's selfish to believe that another's tragedy shouldn't touch us. It should. Part of what being human means.

Nevertheless, I too am a tad superstitious. For example, I'm not one of those people who vehermently wish to win the lottery, to be on the end of fate's outstretched hand. After all, it can go both ways: there can be random acts of generosity by the Universe's roll of dice but also the shadow and taint of tragedy, waiting to fall on...?. It harks back centuries to be wary about wishing too much for anything you don't create yourself.

I had a dream last night: my children in a car, careering away along a country road with no-one else inside, me peddling furiously alongside on a bicycle, screaming, a sense of horrible dread and powerlessness. Luckily, as often occurs in my nightmares, in my semi-conscious state, I was then able to direct the dream (like a movie) and have a team of police in a helicopter winch down to enter and stop the car (and I made the country road straight and empty, and the children asleep so as not to alarm them).

My son's classmate's mother doesn't have that choice and there is no dream to wake up from.

There's nothing I can say to my fellow Mum except: "I'm sorry. I'll pray for you". Not even - "be strong" (how can you?) And realise, deep within oneself, once again, that it's our duty to ourselves and to our children to make the most of our time on this planet: both ours, and theirs. And to teach them that nothing else is as precious as health, energy and life itself. Let's make the most of it.

Get involved in fundraising here and set up your own mini charity here

Monday, 31 August 2009

Old friends

A couple - good friends - came for a barbeque. It was high time - my five-year-old had been a babe of six months, when we last sat and broke bread together at our place (another house: one of the myriad addresses in the nomadic existence we'd had since settling down in this country half a decade ago). But though the location has changed, this long-standing friendship, thankfully, has not.

There's no substitute for the glow of close company, forged over years - the type of bond which doesn't break, even with a four-and-a-half-year gap between physically meeting (and often many many months inbetween, twixt emailing or 'phoning). And so we sit, indulging in a dance of catch-up: news versus reminiscing. An easy balance of old experience and new.

Wine flows, happiness and laughter and shared jokes trip off the tongue. There's a slightly charred smell of cooking, over the sweet perfume of fallen apples littering the grass around the tree. This could never be less than an all-day thing. From late lunch, talk about life, business and ambitions wrapped in snippets of children's play (ours - they have none - yet). Sitting at the green wrought-iron table in the shade with flashes of footballs kicked past, little voices calling: the younger generations thus occupied, we had our discussions in peace as third helpings were devoured and bottles of beer, sparkling with cool condensation, popped. Elbows propped. Bliss.

When we got married - during our actual wedding reception - this couple sat outside the venue on a Caribben garden wall, for hours during a similarly stretched-out afternoon. They missed the revelry - engaged in a fierce summit-meeting about their future and their relationship. Whether our wedding had sparked this tete-a-tete, we never knew, and never asked, just chided them (gently, and with good humour) for being absent for the toasts and, especially, the cake piled high with flowers and soaked in rum! So many years later, as our marriage (as do all, I suspect) grinds with painful effort over rocky terrain, their union (undefined by vows and paperwork) is as solid (and as joyful) as a honeymoon. And their co-founded business is going from strength to strength.

My friends started a venture from nothing - and this, even, after suffering huge losses, financial and emotional. His inheritance, sole legacy of a father's early death, was gobbled up by an unwise investment involved with dodgy real-estate deals in Asia, spectural scammers who disappeared into the burble of low-life India leaving lives ruined and purses void. The fact that my husband's family was (unwittingly) involved in various introductions could have left our friends sour, but instead they soldiered on and six months later put everything they had into a new hope for the future. An all-or-nothing calculated gamble, for him, a second start-up, with the currency of the serial entrepreneur: brash hope. Which paid off. And it's prospering.

She's thirty-eight now, and it's her brainchild, her baby, she who had the light-bulb moment in the first place. Now, thoughts of international expansion, of franchising, of uber-branding. But other thoughts, too: of a real family, flesh-and-blood, the pattering of little feet. In a way, she envies (or at least, aspires to) what I have (a ready-made family now, no more pregnancies or nappies or potty-training. Two well-adjusted, bright children at school).

And I, more than in a way, envy (or at least, aspire to) what she has: a business of her own, a commercial legacy and a success in entrepreneurship.

Well, I've been doing a spot of reading - Anthony Robbins, whom I won't start to hype, just check it out yourselves. I'm going to work with what I have, just as my friends did. That doesn't, of course, mean you cannot shoot for the stars, or have huge dreams. It just means that the building must fit its foundations as well as the time and materials available. To dream, you must first be realistic and draw up your drafts and plans. As the daughter of an architect, it's a discipline which I should (repeat, should) be familiar with... by now.

Our friends left late. Lunch morphed into afternoon snacks, morphed into dinner. Still-warm late summer breeze morphed into a slight dampness, overcome gradually by strings of chill wind signalling cardigans and wraps and eventually a decamping onto the couch to watch sport and continue fragmented discussions. Light excitement and close engagement and animated chat, evolved into heavy warm contentment and the satisfied silences preceeding the end of an enjoyable day of friendship reunited.
By the time the hubble of voices departed through the front door, kisses and promises stamped, it was past the kids' bathtime and dark outside.

Interaction with friends at this stage in life oft includes the realisation that we can all wish for aspects of each others' lives. This of course is an opportunity to bring into focus what we've achieved already individually. And to understand that with the differing experiences gained, we're in the position to support each other in calibrating our aims further over the years or months to come. True partnership works this way. Having gone through university together, these friends and I happily share a real desire to help one another with the 'assignment' of life, shared technology projects for grumpy tutors fortunately being long gone!

Somehow, I suspect, there won't be a four-and-a-half-year gap until the next time we meet. We're back in each others' lives again, and ready to exchange. Mutual exchange. Support. Friendship. True friendship.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

marital (dis)harmony

This is yesterday. Go out to romantic dinner with husband. Or, rather, intention was just dinner - but restaurant (river view at sunset) fits the romantic bill. Stunning menu. Nice atmosphere. Me, all glammed up.

I brush down my floaty silk skirt, in which I feel free and gorgeous. It's got a print with orange and brown and electric blue, exotic and flattering - and the colours of sunset: beyond the expanses of glass the river is still and the sunset sky, actually, that same electric blue, merging into an orange tinge beyond the blackening silhouetted bridge. It's the time of day where, magically, the fading screen of natural daylight meets the new manmade glow of lamps and bulbs - and everything is clear and defined but yet strangely hazy, in waiting. There's a promise held in the air of darkness beyond the wondrous setting, sun going down. A ethereality. Beloved of photographers, this magical light, brief moment in time. And of me. My favourite time of day. A time for lovers, when heart strings pull and the silky strings of jazz are at their most apt. Not for us, though. We're married. I feel an uncomfortable nostalgia, brush it off.

But, life is good: oh yes. The oysters are unsurpassable: melt-in-the-mouth, with that lingering taste of freshness and ocean. I have to wait between mouthfuls to fully stretch out the indulgence. Wine's cradling me already in its basking chill-out haze.

We're making nice conversation. Not the heady romantic stuff (we're well past that) but reasonable exchanges, after all, what do you expect after 6 years of marriage? The mains arrive, service is courteous and perfectly timed. My black olive bread, of burgandy hue, explodes with mediterranean earthiness. The seabass falls neatly into flaky chunks beneath the crispy, shiny parchment of skin. Complements the creamy mussels sauce - oh, what a surprise! - and the waxy asparagus which snaps satisfyingly between my teeth. Heaven. I'm in heaven. Nice food, nice atmosphere. Just my thing.

And then. We start a conversation about, of all things, Facebook. Let me fill you in. Until recently, I didn't 'do' Facebook. Then I waved my prejudices (about time-wasting etc.) to see a dear friend's new baby pics - and, of course I had to join! I discovered, that used in moderation, Facebook is...well, Great!

I'm on the subject merely to state that two 'famous' bloggers, with books published and all (bestsellers to boot) are now my 'friends' on Facebook. I tell my husband how, in a way, that's kinda amazing. The fact that this era of networking and contact is so, well, facilitating (for someone growing up with royal mail and an egg timer attached to the telephone, paid per unit into a money box!). I mean, I can ask advice at the drop of a hat from people I admire and respect! (even if I rather do less fancy a digital scribble on their Facebook 'walls', each one to his own use of technology!). I'm gushing with the positivity of the evening and how in fact, it's rather nice to see what friends are up to all around the world, and not just at Christmas and birth/marriage/death occasions. To note NOT that someone you know's in the process of drinking Colombian coffee (!) - but, maybe, taken a trip, rather, or been to an interesting place recently. It brings, in a small way, distant and well-missed friends a tad closer. (I waste no more time than a few minutes every few days - which, considering I've only just signed up, is the rate at which friends are 'adding' me. Admittedly the photos are all one-way: I don't and won't post photos on Facebook, bar one profile one. But my friends do, and it's interesting.) So, well, it's all an example of me having made an incorrect value judgement, which again, is a learning opportunity in life. Positive, all positive.

But, on the other side of the conversation, my husband's not positive at all. He's goading me, challenging me. Why I change my loudly-voiced opinions so easily. Why a Christmas card or a phone call isn't enough. "If you really cared about your friends you'd phone them up" sort of thing. Why it's a waste of time to read what people are having for breakfast, etc. What they're doing in the minutiae of their everyday lives being irrelevant.

I'm trying to explain, I don't read the trivial stuff. And how I used to think that way but have seen a different angle. And that anyway, naturally and of course, it's not a necessity. But, it's NICE! It gives me an idea, an insight, a feeling of warmth even, to glean the smallest snapshot of the lives of people I care about or am interested in, or even curious about. Saves you wondering, as in: "I wonder what dear so-and-so is doing these days in Japan/I wonder what dear another-friend is up to in Dubai/I wonder how ex-good-pal's business is going/I wonder what became of fun-acquaintance-who-emails-every-18-months". It's not necessary, in the way that eating oysters isn't necessary. BUT, it's nice. I mean, life isn't all about what's necessary. Christ.

But this conversation ain't going nowhere. I'm trying to explain, maybe getting a little defensive. My other half's provoking, prodding, questioning, provoking, prodding, questioning. This isn't what I signed up for at a 'nice' dinner, I'm thinking. I say so. He says, he's just challenging me. I say, I'm trying to explain but he's not listening. And why challenge me? there's no competition here, we're meant to be enjoying our night out! It doesn't help, things are escalating. I'm trying my utmost to concentrate on the melting flavours of my fish - "be aware. Be present. Live the moment"...

Then: "You need to GROW UP"...I, umm, WHAT? I can't believe he's just said that! Out at dinner with his wife! I thought, I was having a nice conversation and suddenly...this is how it all twists? I can hear the evening deflating, like those old movies when the projector suddenly winds down and dies - eeeuuurrr splutter!!. And the bright picture suddenly crumples and fades away with a whine of the soundtrack. CRASH.

"You know, there are plenty of guys who'd be only too happy to come to dinner with me and not ruin it by telling me 'to grow up' - quite unprovokedly - halfway through..."

(oops. wrong thing to say, probably. like a red flag to a bull)

..."No, I just meant, that, in that case, why do YOU, my HUSBAND of all people, have to ruin a perfectly lovely evening by being so...patronising. I mean, insulting! I just find that, well, incredibly insulting. It shows a lack of respect for your wife."

Nope. He's now caught the plenty-of-guys thread and bashing it for all it's worth. But I didn't mean...

"Look, I NEVER said that I actually wanted to go to dinner with 'other' guys...but why do you have to ruin it when you're the actual person it's meant to be"

I tail off. Anyway the waitress is embarrassed, probably followed the whole thing, asking us if we want dessert. "No thankyou, we've had enough." (too right we have). Horrible stony silence ensues, we both look away. Down, at the river, up, whatever. Big, big wall in the way.

"I'm going." announces my husband. He gets up. I barely saw him pay the bill, too busy looking inside the crevice under my (quite sexy) top, way beneath the skin, inside my chest, in the centre of human emotion where a choking boulder's blinding me to what was a beautiful evening. All I can see now is this heaviness, in front of my eyes, in front of my thoughts. Like, how have things ended up like this? and how long have they really been like this?

I sit, alone, looking out at the river. Fixedly. Diluting the inevitable streak of pain into the orange glow of the lamps, washing it out into the inky dark. Listening to my breathing, inside, and calming my thoughts. There's a couple on the next table, and I can't help but hear. I'm staring past them, no change of expression, but can't help eavesdropping. Perhaps they heard us argue too, clash and repel like magnets, perhaps she feels some empathy. I dunno. I do, when their words drift past me.

"So what do we do now?" she asks. "You've just got your ideas" he says, low. "If that's what you think...but, I try my best. I really do. It seems it's not good enough."
"You don't understand", she says, monotone. "It never changes. We just don't seem to be able to connect, communicate, about this."
"So, what do we do?" (again) "Tell me, what do we do then?"
"I don't know. I really don't."
I sigh, internally. Get up, slowly, 'cos I'm aware that people must wonder why I'm still sitting there, alone.

Outside, my husband's in the car, headlamps on, engine running. Gagging to get out of there but going nowhere without his wife. That's life, buddy.
I get in.
We go home. We don't talk.
What an evening.

But - tommorow's another day. Never forget. No man's an island - even if you feel like it, bundled up on the very edge of the bed. Tommorow's another day. Marriage is hard. What did I do wrong? What do I not understand about the person I thought I understood so well? and why does he seem not to understand me any more? Is this what marriage is always about? (my parents still don't really have compatibility or understanding after more than 35 years of marriage). Does it get better when it just seems to have gotten worse? And, did I wake up one day on the wrong side of the tracks, suddenly? These are my jumbled thoughts as I drop into sleep.

Next morning, I wake up hearing the front door click shut, remember last night, shrug it off, and begin my day unburdened. Later on, we don't talk about it. Today is another day. You just have to remember why you're there, and repair the chips.

(But I still think telling your wife "to grow up" is wrong. I mean, isn't it?!)

P.S. Just saw a very interesting movie: "The Darjeeling Limited", about a brothers' spiritual journey. Quite arty, and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

High maintenance

So, I got back home to the big smoke. Leaving the little ones frolicking on the beach for a few more days @ Grandparents. And when I returned to an unkempt and overgrown and over-dusty and full-of-washing-to-be-done-home, it struck me. This is what occurs when you go away and/or take your foot off the pedal. Maintenance is the key. Meaning, a steady commitment applied on a continuous basis.

Y'know those nice tidy mansions with their perfect lawns and flower beds always in bloom? No cobwebs under the eaves or weeds between the paving stones? (it took only the two weeks for these to take up residence chez moi). Don't be deceived. They take, 'scuse the expression, a shitload of work. A SHITLOAD of gardeners, patio clearers with power washers, cleaners and window polishers. Nothing which looks polished or well-maintained gets or stays that way without constant polishing and maintenance. Not your house, or your car, or, indeed, yourself.

We women know that to look our best takes an ongoing routine of nutrition, exercise, manicures, pedicures, creams, hairdressers, wardrobe and make-up. If you let it slip, it'll show. Forget the just jumped out of bed and look fantastic thang. Save that for the 16-year olds. In fact, post-30, might as well include the guys in this. Because I've seen quite a few examples recently of how men age. Not well, generally, unless they make the effort to catch up with their wives' examples.

And, it's the same with the inner life. Thoughts, state-of-mind, confidence, self-worth; and their progeny: development, learning, improvement, fulfilment, success. It's got to be a daily exercise, castles forged from a daily brick day after day after day. Weeks, months, years. My son has taken less than a year, at age 5, to learn to read at the speed and with the vocabulary of an adult, to learn to read music as well, and to play the violin and recorder to the standard where he can perform tunes, reasonably complicated ones with all sorts of notes and up to 6 or 7 lines long. I know, however, how much effort was involved. A commitment to keeping the practice going almost every day, wherever. There's not been a holiday away where the violin and the reading books haven't come too. And before you brand me a 'pushy parent': it's his choice (if there's not self-motivation, it'll never work. Resentment isn't fertile ground for laying down knowledge or applying oneself to understand new and challenging skills). My son wants to 'be the best' so he can buy himself a Eurofighter jet when he grows up!!!

So, as I slowly but surely realise that there's no lounging to be done in this temporarily child-free house (despite the temptation!), it strikes me again, as it does again and again in life. It's the accumulated effort, applied on a daily basis, that'll put you in a position to win the race; plus, of course, the vision of what you want eventually to achieve. It may be a long way off, but, as Lao Tse (NOT Confucius, despite popular belief) said, a journey of a thousand miles (or even a hundred metres) starts with a single step. I'm sure Usain Bolt, world Champion Record-breaking runner, would agree.

Friday, 14 August 2009

a (flat) learning curve

Right. This is just a "testing...testing...1,2,3" kinda post, so please refer below for the interesting stuff. I'm learning how to tag/link whatever you call it. Having been too lazy (or distracted, or otherwise engaged) so far to find out where/what to do.

Here goes. Let's try. For a wonderful painter, try clicking here

For a wonderful photographer, try clicking on this one

My god. Is that all?! I didn't realise there were icons to do this stuff (I was obviously traumatised by my meagre computing past: check this posting

And, just to reward myself, a piece of chocolate cake

...bloody hell. Way too simple! there was a real gap between how complicated I thought this would be when I decided to find a moment to learn, and how primary-school simple it is. Hyperlinks! Bah!
..Right. Next I'm going to learn HTML. That's what I thought it was all about. That's a start to the website I want to eventually set up. (And the book I'm planning on writing). Where's the challenge otherwise if all you do is click on an icon?!

...[even if it DID take me 4 whole months to find it: i.e. look up beyond my words to the formatting possibilities on the frame. Equals: Deep and narrow concentration span - or just plain blind?]

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Beach

The sand's soft, the sea clear. Where water meets sky, barely-there horizon, darker blue-gray, delineating the shimmering silver. Sunny. A stretch of coastline, golden croissant, encrusted with the colour and energy of holiday fun. Barbecue wafts across. Teenagers spray sand. A toddler, tiny hippo, padding. Red inflatable maneouvres diagonally, past muslim family, mums splashing fully garmented. My kids line up another shade and shape of fresh seaweed, no smell, newly collected, emerald green. It's hot. It's calm. I sigh and stretch. Happiness.

Surprise? We're in England! Could be anywhere bar the little beach huts in a row, some with striped curtains, and - yes, that obese couple over there with the footie shirts on, matching the (too round) hippo toddler with a aertex tee proclaiming: "Rooney...ROONEY" (no, geezer. Not with that unhealthy physical start in life, sorry). But there's no 'English tourist abroad' misbehaviour here. It's all lovely, well-behaved, pleasant, everyone's having fun. It's a nice England, this stretch of little cheap paradise, boutique seaside town, without the brash corn of Tracey Emin's Margate - thank God. Perhaps this country would need a prescription of sun and sea more often, to forget the governmental screw-ups, knife crime, unemployment and endemic drinking culture. Because I'm enjoying this moment, not feeling like I want to emigrate (as I often do) and even thinking - "yes! you've got it all here, on this beach,on this...what is it you call it in 2009?: 'STAYCATION'!!...and we didn't even have to spend the money! Hurray!"

Then I start thinking that I can't, shouldn't, be 40 and broke. Of course, my husband doesn't come into this: as a woman, I hate - no, detest - no, cannot ABIDE! -not having my own money. Of course, I did have it once. Got injected straight into bricks and mortar. For all practical purse-string-opening-purposes, however, it's gone.(Anyway, I want it back. To do what I'd like with. Splash around, if I wish. And a career of my own, to boot.)

Meanwhile, to my left, my daughter's lugging a bucket almost the size of her, with a uniquely determined set face and little muscles tensed. She manages it. And I smile to myself.

Then I start running over all my business ideas. One website one and one product lightbulb. Or two, if you're thinking future range expansion (I dream deep and wide). I'm staring at the line between sky and sea in the afternoon shimmer and distressing the cogs in my head, turning them this way and that. Doing all the psycho-speak to myself, the neuro-linguistic-programming [look it up folks if you dunno, it can change your outlook] on my own doubts, cropping up here and there across the sea of thoughts and obstructing like those mossy sea-walls break up the bay.

I'm a woman. On the beach. On holiday. Even if only 10 minutes from my parent's house, you can still classify it as that, here, today. In the balmy sunshine. With the kids playing and waves lapping.

But as soon as I chill out into the relaxed zone, I'm in this mental 'office', plotting, thinking, planning. Hmmmm......, if I were rich, successful and on a beach in Bali, with a cocktail in hand, what would I be thinking?.. Would I zone out THEN??....there's the rub.

I'd like to have the chance to find out...

"Mummmy! The tide's coming in!!"

Thursday, 6 August 2009

I'm in a meeting, dear

Hello, umm, I'm in a meeting.
Actually, I've got a few minutes. What is it?
Ok, I'm listening.
You always get frustrated when you stay at your parents' place.
Well just enjoy the free childcare!
OK, ok, I know that's not the issue.
Life can't be one big excitement, ya know.
Well just enjoy the sunshine and fresh air then.
Yes I know that's not the issue. But even so.
Listen, you're always creatively frustrated.
I mean, you've even got a blog telling the world.
No, I don't read it.
Yes I am a little tired of you banging on about this.
Well you DID ask, so I'm telling you.
Whadd'ya mean you've got no-one else to moan to? You write a blog!
Yes you ARE the archetypal frustated stay-at-home mum.
Well get off your arse and do something then!
I know you're trying. Well you've gotta be patient.
I know staying with your parents for two weeks makes you feel like a teenager.
Such a bad thing? I wouldn't say! There are several benefits to being 16 I can think of!
OK, I won't joke. It was a bloke thing.
Listen, I've got a meeting to attend.
OK so take action then instead of blabbering on.
What? your ex-boyfriend, the one you hated so much, is a global executive?
And on facebook in a brand new Ferrari?
And you used to do his homework for him?
Yes I can kinda understand you're pissed off but you're a woman you know.
I mean, having kids and looking after them is the most important job in the world.
Ok, Ok I won't go there. I know it is and it isn't, if you say so.
Yes I know the kids are your greatest achievement but you need more in life. IF YOU SAY SO!!! get on with it then!
OK,sorry, I am listening, I always do. Yes I know it's all part of the process, if you will.
Oh, about that ex-boyfriend again, well really I'm not that interested, you know.
Yes, I do feel better if you say he was a supreme tosser, if you say so.
So,Ok, you feel you're far superior. How do I know? You told me he's a tosser! I know. But that's all in the past.
Well, just because he's got a brand new Ferrari and you haven't doesn't mean he's acheived more than you.
Material things aren't everything. I know you agree fully. Yes it is irrational. You should just ignore it.
I mean, he might sleep in it and not have a flat! You said he's that kind of poser!
Yes, maybe it was a test drive, if that'll make you happy.
Yes I know we should never measure success by material wealth.
It just pissed you off, well don't let it.
Oh because he couldn't even spell.
Well let it go.
Listen I've a meeting to attend to.
I'm a bit fed up of your frustrated stay-at-home mum scenario.
OK I'll remember that.
OK it's all a challenge in life.
Yes it's right to aim high. And take action.
Well I've got to take action. My meeting?
OK. Forget about your parents bickering.
Yes we do bicker too. It's normal.
No, not in front of the kids.
Listen - I've GOT to go.
Forget about the Ferrari.
Bye. Bye. Bye.

(thanks and acknoweldgements to Millennium Housewife (see blogs) for the format inspiration...I've got to learn how to hyper-link, dammit!)

Sunday, 2 August 2009

plum jam

Back again in the bloom-adorned haven of Grandparents' Kentish garden - and, thank God, finally an English summer day to be proud of, despite all the cardigans and wellington boots I'd packed for the kids. Clever Granny (my mother, she of computer programming and near-photographic memory and 8 languagues) has taken my 5-year-old to the local Airforce museum where this weekend a special display of military vehicles and aircraft is being held. As usual, he is no doubt astounding all within earshot by cataloguing the specs of his favourites: amongst others, Mig, F-22, Nighthawk, Jaguar, even the first world war Sopwith Camel, he knows them all: at another Aircraft Museum (in Brussels) with over 100 planes, he walked around recognising most of the aircraft by sight before we'd even approached the information boards. "Such a leedle boy, mais quelle information!" gasped one of the staff. A discussion with an elderly British tourist didn't fail to dent his confidence: "Well, I mistook the Blenheim for the Lancaster, but now I know the Lancaster's got 4 engines instead of 2", mused my boy.

Later on, Clever Granny and her charge return. He's all excited about having sat in a cockpit and a simulator (and probably a combination of the two, what would I know?) and the difference between joy stick and fly-by-wire (?). He runs off to draw and document everything he's seen.

My 3-year-old daughter is busy with Grumpy Grandpa (who is NEVER grumpy with his granddaughter, who thinks he's a King) setting up a shop, painting abstract pictures and putting on dance shows. Grumpy Grandpa and little Miss (little Miss Prima Donna, beautiful, stubborn, get-away-with-everything-cute and get-my-own-way-by-any-means miss) are a match made in baby-sitting heaven. They both give each other the full attention they each crave with no-one to curtail or nag: she's his little Princess and he's the bees knees, happily reciprocatingly bolstering up egos all day long. Result: you can leave them contentedly playing for hours.

My husband sits on the periphery of all this activity, like a spare wheel, and with my second-hand cold virus, reading the Sports section of the paper. I bring him a coffee, thinking guiltily that he looks rather redundant and deciding, on a whim, that a bit of wifely attention might help. He lifts up an empty mug with murky residue sat beside him on the carpet. "Did you ask if I wanted one?" he enquires. "I just made one in the kitchen for myself. Didn't you see?"

I give him the mug, saucer and piece of fruit cake anyway. With a nod like, well whatever, eat/Drink it, it can't harm you (AT LEAST I BROUGHT YOU SOMETHING).

Lunch over, the kids are still busy, involved with Grandparents and drawings. My husband's standing alone in the garden with a teacup, looking thoughtful and dishevelled. He enjoys being at my parents' house for the pure relaxation it entails, usually watching sport, reading or sleeping while everyone else's occupied with other stuff. No nagging either, for once.

I walk up to him. I too feel more relaxed here. At home we meet early morning and late evening, too tired to talk except about the kids or work. Weekends back in city life are marred by chores and errands. Married life suffers. Parallel lives, work and kids, are our standard. Seem to be our fate. I know that we're both philosophical about reality, but the partnership, as it once was, no doubt suffers (I don't even, you see, dare say "romance"...)

I reach up and give my husband a cheeky kiss on the cheek. He looks at me without changing expression. A statue. I want to show him the plum trees down the end of the garden, which feed Clever Granny's super plum jam production. My husband likes the concept of grow-your-own. And he loves the plum jam. So: "Come!" I say, and link my arm into his reluctant one. "Come for a walk down the garden with me!"

My husband doesn't move. He looks at me, unimpressed. "Why?" "What?" he asks, rather in a monotone. I am unaffected. "Come! Let me take you for a little walk down the garden path!" I joke, jolly, with cheeky undertones. He looks at me. He's unimpressed. Or by the undertone. I think: "That's marriage for you." (And not too bothered. Used to it. I gave up living my life for others long ago).

He comes nevertheless, meekly or else resignedly, to look at the plum trees.
"I've seen them already" he says...."But what a lot of plums!" he adds, as an afterthought, impressed nonetheless.

"Look at how the plums are this beautiful matte lilac and when you rub them they turn shiny and dark purple?" I spout, fascinated. The miracle of nature never ceases to amaze me.

"I know", he says.

There's such a difference in enthusiasm between the children and their father. I wonder if it's age, or marriage, that does it. I shrug it off. As I've said, parallel lives. Parallel lives. I make myself happy in life. Make myself happy.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

World and oyster

So, we all trooped off to Brussels for a week to visit my Godmother (anyone who wants full explanation of the background to this perculiarly-English-unrelated-relation, just ask. It's 22:05 and I'm recovering from a cold virus - and feeling lazy).

My Godmother's a legend. In short:

She's visited almost 200 countries. No cheating - no counting principalities, islands owned by mainlands, transiting through airports at midnight - like I do when I tot up my lot. No, she's ravaged across maps, in-depth. Criss-crossed dictatorships. Fine-tooth-combed through the world, on horseback, shambolic buses, on foot. Dives, digs, guest-houses, family-run inns, student hostels, castles in Romania and yurts on the Steppes have all seen her whet their thresholds over the many years - and still do. She wrangled a visit to Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia before his deposition: as a private guest, walking past live cheetahs flanking the entrance. Went to the island of Zanzibar, when it was by special dispensation only. Tibet? Bhutan? Central African Republic? Laos? Kyrgystan? the Pantanal? (several times) Sudan? Libya? Kamchatsk? (look it up!) Tick, tick, tick, tick, etc. And etc. Etc. Etc. etc.

As an English-French interpreter sometimes sent on conference work overseas (French Africa, when it still existed), she got a taste for voyage in places like Isfahan (Iran) - where she'd end up after veering 'off-route' on the free days following contract end, exchanging the allocated first-class-return for econo trips around the mulberry bush instead. Travelling then remained her only passion after divorce and childlessness, and finally took over full-time from employment when she retired early twenty years ago from her post as a top interpreter for the European Commission.

Places I've never heard of. Places you cannot go now. Places she'd first visited in the 50s, and RE-visits to get the updated version (!). And so on. And so forth. She's just as likely to be traversing the Mongolian steppes on horseback, hiking through the desert, research volunteering in the deepest Amazonian rainforest, birdwatching, as leaping out a Zodiac inflatable in the Antarctic. Birdwatching, you ask? Well, recently, her love is combining birding with travelling. How about having seen every rare bird in the world (and being able to name and spot most of the less rare ones)? Hand in hand with having been to all their habitats, and traversed their migration paths, naturally.

We were visiting, last week, on one of the two, or perhaps three, weeks max you'll find my Godmother at home (per year). Sponsored by a large golden handshake from the European Commission, the money's had to stretch a good twenty years so far and will have to stretch, if she has her way, a good ten years more. No five-starring it. No Hiltons. Which is what she doesn't want, in any case. Is that the way to really - REALLY - get under the skin of a country, a city, a culture, a way of life?

If you mention a city, she'll tell you exactly what to go and see, and where, as well as all the surrounding localities and places to visit. Mention a country, you'll get a verbal "Lonely Planet!" rundown. Never forgets a name, a place, a sight. Mind like a map. Physically, on a walk, I can still barely keep up. On the level of I.Q, I suspect I lag way behind.

Oh, I forgot to mention. My Godmother's 76 (SEVENTY SIX. Soixante Seize. Sessanta Sei. Sessenta Seis. Sechs und Siebsich. Jesus!).

It's not only what she's done and how. It's the never-ending flow of stories (all true and most matter-of-fact) which just make you secretly kick yourself and promise to grow balls like her. Every time.

The occasion in Peru where a small mountain bus was held up by the 'Shining Path' Guerillas because of the couple of foreigners on board. "Young man!" said my Godmother, in immaculate Spanish, to the spotty 17-year old brandishing an AK-47 in everyone's faces as they stood around the now immobile means of transport, in the middle of nowhere. "I could be your Grandmother. So make it sharp, you're not going to leave us here for hours with no food or drink, are you?!" And his boss meekly trooped down the hillside to a local farmhouse, arriving back with Coca Cola and snacks, which they all sat down to share.

The time in God-knows-where on a flight from Outer Mongolia or something, in an old Russian aircraft which ran out of fuel at some godforsaken military airfield. She was shaking the drunk Russian control-tower operator awake, in her 'limited Russian', as he lay slumped at his screen, surrounded with vodka bottles (now I'm exaggerating the number of bottles, the rest is true).

And in India, after a week's fruitless buzzing around a protected forest reserve to catch a glimpse of that shangri-la of endangered species, a tiger in the wild, she strolled out after breakfast on the last day, across the barrier fences, alone. And felt a presence. Turning, saw a tiger but a few meters away. The tiger stared. My Godmother stared back, motionless. And the tiger turned tail and walked off. No, my Godmother wasn't at all alarmed: she knows tigers only attack from behind, as tribespeople she's encountered in her travels have made clear, wearing painted masks on the back of their heads to guard against attack. (In the guestroom at her house was the photo she took, tiger looking on. In a cheap frame, above the children's beds. They were delighted.)

Back at home in Europe, whilst staying with her last week, we talked one day about things closer to home (for homebodies like the rest of us, that is). How Europe has changed over the years. "Is there any crime here in Brussels?" I ask. "Oh!" she answered, smiling. "Just a few days ago, in the centre of town down an underpass, a thug tried to mug me - grab my handbag", she answered. "And what happened?" I asked. "Oh, I elbowed him in the face and he burst into tears!", she said, matter-of-factly. "He told me - 'You aren't meant to do that! It's not allowed!' - And I said to him, 'I suppose you're allowed to steal my handbag, then, young man?! Off with you!'." ... "How old was he?", I asked, not in the least bit surprised, knowing my Godmother well. "Oh, about 25 or so!" she replied. We laughed, heartily. And I wished again, secretly, for Balls like hers. That's my Godmother, alright, at 76 and counting. (She's off again next week, on a trip from here to there...from there to here...lost count. Lost track.)

So, folks, this is why I'm not complaining that I've got laryngitis, feel below par, and have a million things to do since my return two days ago (and imminent departure again tommorow night to the kids' Grandparents in Kent for a couple of weeks). Nope. I steadfastly drank good quality red wine every day of my break in Brussels, took the kids to their aircraft and safari museums, the sights, the mussels-and-chips restaurants, the chocolate shops, all despite feeling more than a little rough (not Swine Flu, no worries!). I've a lot to live up to. Life, for a start! - as my Godmother would put it. She's determined to see every last unique or undiscovered corner of this world before she dies or it fades into anonymity, whichever occurs first. Me? I'm not gonna complain about a little bit of 'flu. As I just said, I've a lot to live up to.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

the shadows of self-doubt

The school holidays are upon us, rain has - according to England's natural 'sod's law of weather' - taken the place of sun and I've not posted for, gulp!, two weeks. But because I believe that someone out there might, from time to time, take a butcher's at my blog ["butcher's hook"= look, cockney rhyming slang for those not in the know] and perhaps even appreciate my writing, I'm compelled to make sure I don't leave you dry in the mouth and unfulfilled. (As if!)

...and there you have it: "As if!". In two words, the very English tinge of self-deprecation. Self-doubt, even. Ahhh... the British! - that art of auto-irony, sarcasm, jest poison-tipped with truth: who really wants to admit openly their self-image is flawed? Self-deprecation is like masturbation: relieves the frustration, but in secret. Hmmm. I rather like that simile. Or is it a metaphor?

So: I like to hope that my words are worth something. I want to view myself as someone who writes and even has a mini-market for it (in the absence of a book deal or the talent to write a bestseller). But, folks, I dunno. When the weather starts to waver and the year grows longer in the tooth, and I've still not achieved even close to my potential and my dreams...well, I slack off writing my blog and buy handbags instead. And eat far too much ludicrously expensive chocolate. And don't have enough sex. Or rather don't have sex at all. And curl up into a little, hibernating, ball inside, waiting for autumn and blustery winds.

How we view ourselves affects our confidence, our life journey, if and how we fulfil our dreams - or don't. How we view ourselves...secretly, deep inside, the ego's reflection on that mirror in your head, mate. You know: that person you've lived your whole life with and the tiny voice you wordlessly chat to, late at night?

No, folks, think about it, I'm not nuts. Admit it: what you know you shouldn't do, but do anyway. The person you'd love to be but aren't quite (or quite yet). It's all a dichotomy between reality and perception. Forget reality shows, this is the real deal. This is Your Life - and mine. And his, and hers. The movie inside your head. Inside my head. All of us. Who you want to be. Who you really are. Mind the gap.

Me? I'm someone who loves to throw parties. Who sees myself as wildly social (but can be self-absorbed and selfish and curt with those who love me best). Who'd like to be as perenially elegant as my late Grandmother, but doesn't always make the cut and secretly loves slobbing around in those old pyjamas. Who sees myself as a bit of a 'creative', but a frustrated one, hence this blog. Who'd love to have watertight integrity, but sometimes tells white lies, most dangerously to myself. Who hides new clothes from my husband under the bed and pretends I didn't spend the money. Who spools a mini-movie in my head of great success... BUT! STOP! Help! (I think), Wannabe Alert!

Granted, my mood does sway with the weather. Maybe it's a primordial thing. And the 'holiday' season's taken on the veneer of end-of-summer at the sea, when the full-blown self-content summer warmth's already a memory and the winds start to foretell the autumn chill-to-be. Nights are becoming longer, even now. Barbecues more risky. The decay of heat makes me introspective and unnerved. I feel my life slipping by with the march of the seasons, another summer passing. And I'm still not living the person I picture myself to be, in my inner eye. Mid-life crisis?

A treasured old flame recently wrote: "I've often agonised about losing my true, self. But it's at times like this that true friends can help to point out the continuity, and thereby motivating and worth doing. So, thank you." But, really, all an old friend can do is placate that secret voice. No-one can really reassure anyone, deep inside, unless they are capable of reassuring themselves.

All we can do, folks, is to keep on comparing that inner movie-reel with reality. And do our best, with the tools we have, to make a change. Not hibernate. Not curl up inside. Not agonise and ask anyone else for reassurance. But face up to the discrepancies, ask some raw and pertinent questions and strike out to take action.

Not living the life you want? Not being true to yourself? Somehow, you can change all that. And only you. That's why I've decided to re-ignite that feeling of summer, that feeling of power, and make daily changes to move towards what I dream of becoming, what I want for myself. This lifetime. Not the one in my head.

As I wrote to my friend: "YOU know who you are. Bugger the rest."

Out of hibernation, whatever the weather!