There’s a field in North Cornwall that feels like home to me. Where a little piece of my heart is. After a few days here I shake off the city and come back to myself. It doesn’t look like anything special, at first glance, but this field holds so much memory and magic for me. I think it’s where I may have felt the most free. It’s a place that holds the memory of myself as a girl, as the old farmer, long dead now, once called me “bastard gypsy girl with dog running around off lead” (how we laughed ) It holds the memory of the one summer I spent with my sister.
I haven’t got enough memories of my sister. When somebody leaves your life in such a permanent way, you wish so hard for more time, more time and you swear you will spend every minute appreciating everyone you have around you from that moment on, living your life like it could end at any minute. But there can never really be enough time, that’s a lesson that you never learn. The trouble is that you never believe that the people in your life could ever really disappear, until they do.
Kylie was born 7 years after me. We shared a Dad but had different Mums, we were very different but as we grew older, very similar too. She had that look that we all have, all of us siblings. We didn’t grow up together but floated in and out of each other’s lives. Kylie, Tommy and Mandy, being of a similar age, were like a little team. My memories of Kylie are like outlines that I can’t quite colour in but I will try and piece them together to form a picture of who she was to me.
As a young girl she was feisty, tough and brave in a way that I just wasn’t, I like to think that she inspired a bit of strength in me. She was small as a teenager, a tiny, skinny little thing, but you wouldn’t fuck with Kylie. We were both bullied at school and received very different advice from our respective mothers. My mum told me to ignore them and hold my head up high. Kylie was told to go back into school, walk up to the biggest girl in the group and smack her in the face. Kylie didn’t get bullied again.
She was loud and funny and spoke her mind. She was sparkly and bright and came across like she just didn’t give a shit. You wouldn’t want to get in her way when she was mad and she didn’t let people push her around. One day, I got back from somewhere, I don’t know where, I was always somewhere else. I hadn’t seen her for ages and took one look at her and knew something had changed, the spark had left her eyes a little bit and I remember wondering what had happened to Kylie. She looked haunted.
After she got ill, she lost a bit of who she was, through the fear I suppose, through the medication. This pissed her off, occasionally she wouldn’t take her pills and that spark would come back, she’d laugh and say she was “having a day off”. She was creative, she made clothes. She could paint and draw, like our Dad did, like my little sister Mandy still does. She loved music, all kinds of music. I remember us lying in my caravan in Cornwall listening to Joni Mitchell. A night out in Cornwall when we went to some awful holiday park with a comedian, at the end of the night they put some hip hop on and we all ended up dancing on the tables. I remember us screaming on the speedboats and seeing dolphins in Padstow bay. I had a photo of us on that boat, laughing and sunburnt, our long hair tangled together in the wind, but I lost it.
I remember Kylie straightening my hair for me before our Dad’s funeral. Preparing the veg with me that first Christmas, when suddenly we had become the grown-ups. She came to meet me at The Charlotte once, both of us halfway through our nights out, she turned up pissed with no shoes on, I remember carrying her in my arms across dance floor of the club and into the bathroom to check her feet for glass. A friend called me once saying he had run into my sisters in town “causing trouble” and put them in a taxi home. She was wild. I remember her asking me not to leave one night, and me going anyway, wanting to be away. A friend of mine called her Angelina, because she was so beautiful. I’ve lost count of how many male friends and acquaintances said “Wow, your sisters are gorgeous” I would reply “stay away from them, they’re not for you”. In Cornwall, a lifeguard I knew kept asking my permission to pursue her, but she was far too good for him.
I try not to remember too much of the darkness of the day she died, though it’s still so clear in my mind. The older I get, the more I realise how young she was. We’ve all grown up past her now and she will always be 23. I remember her at her funeral, I felt her arm around me while I was crying, telling me that it was alright, that she was ok now and then she was gone and I could see that she was with Mandy. Then she was dancing at the front of the pews while “dream, dream, dream” by The Everly Brothers played, in the centre of the stage, spinning around with her hair flying, her haunted look gone. This memory is as real to me as any of the others.
Her Uncle Graeme told a story about Kylie as he stood up the front of the Crematorium with his hand on her coffin and I will tell it again now, what I remember of it. Tommy, Kylie and Mandy were at his home and one of their many Welsh summers, hanging out in the barn on their land, drinking and playing music with friends. As it got later, his wife, Pat, went out to tell them to turn the noise down or come to bed, Kylie stepped forward, fearless as ever and said “look, you’re old and past it and we’re young and we want to have fun, so fuck off”. Everyone at the service laughed and felt lighter because that was just Kylie. That’s how I’ll remember her, young, defiant and free.
I turned 39 recently, it’s such a blah age that I hadn’t really given it all that much thought. I am always a bit disassociated with my age as I don’t feel like it reflects how I feel or the stage I am at in my life but I’m not sure if that’s how everyone feels as they get older. I certainly feel much younger than I thought that I would feel at almost 40.
Since turning 39 though, I have noticed a big difference in how people respond to me when they find out. There have been a few situations recently where for some reason the subject of age has come up, when I reveal my age, the general reaction is shock, which I suppose I can take as a compliment but then there is a definite change in the way they regard me. I feel like I start being looked at differently because I am not where society thinks I should be: I am not in a senior position, I am not married and of course, I have not had children and being 39, I am veering towards being someone whose ovaries have packed up. The initial “wow, you seem so much younger” is quickly replaced by an unvoiced “what’s wrong with you?”.
Of course, I may well be projecting all of this but it’s coming from somewhere, my conditioning, the pressures I feel around me, even some of my friends. As soon as someone knows my age they will undoubtedly ask in the next few moments “but don’t you want kids?” “when are you going to get married?” “you’d better get a wriggle on, times ticking!” like it’s not fucking 2017, bitch please.
When did it become ok to quiz me on this stuff? for all anyone knows I could have been trying for years and torn up about it. I could have just had a miscarriage. I could have any of the many hormonal problems that affect millions of women, causing infertility and chronic pain. I could have made the choice that the world is too fucked up right now to bring another life into. I could be prioritising my career (Though this one is blatantly not true). I may not have a maternal bone in my body. I could simply have decided that I like my life the way it is. All of the above, none of the above. None of anyone's business.
I’ve been a feminist ever since I understood what it meant and I would say that most women I know are too but I still feel a little judged because I have not yet fulfilled my traditional female role. In 2017, in the West, and by women. I find it surprising and I don’t think it’s ok or appropriate to casually ask a woman about her choices, and ask why not? Ask when?
I’ve always felt so unsure about my choices but I feel like there is so much pressure and judgement and ideas of “shoulds” coming from all angles that I find it difficult to reveal what my own desires are. It’s hard to know what’s left when all that is stripped away.
And I feel like if I do decide to take a different journey, will I ever hear the end of these questions, this judgement and pity, that I am pretty sure that a man in the same situation does not have to deal with.
That right there is some sexism, and that shit ain’t right.
OK, so I’ve been meaning to start writing again for some time and I’ve been meaning to start running so I thought I would record my couch to 5K journey in an attempt to motivate myself to do both. I have two very contrasting ideas about running, the 1st is the very romanticised idea about losing myself in the feeling of freedom as I run through bucolic surroundings, whilst still looking glamorous, healthy and getting super fit. The other is the reality of all my previous running attempts (ok, realistically, probably 3 running attempts) which end up in me feeling like I am going to die whilst every muscle in my body screams at me that this is the worst possible thing that I could be doing to myself.
Couch to 5k is recommended to me – this app aims to help you to go from sitting on your arse to running 5k (3 miles) in 2 months. You run 3 times a week for 20–40 mins. It starts you off walking for 1.5 minutes and running for 1 minute and gradually picks up the pace over the 10 week programme. You need a smart phone and some headphones and a voice prompts you when to jog and when to run. One of the positives for me, is that when you are almost dying, you know it’s only a matter of time before that little voice says “now let’s walk” again.
At the end of my 1st week of couch to 5k and the 1st run felt like my earlier attempts and seconds after hearing the too cheerful voice tell me “lets jog!” I admit thinking to myself “well I probably won’t do this again”. I’m pleased and surprised to say that the 2nd run felt a little more like my romantised idea and I was actually looking forward to running again. Don’t get me wrong, it still hurt but I kind of liked it, a little bit. It wasn’t hell and that felt pretty amazing.
After the initial euphoria of week 1, I went on holiday for 2 weeks. I optimistically packed my running shoes and shorts, my motivational music (Enter the WuTang: 36 Chambers) and fully intended to run 3 times a week whilst in Cornwall. I did my first run fairly early on in the holiday, on a beautiful beach on a sunny day I ran close to the shore as the sea sparkled, the seagulls swooped and the dulcet tones of ODB filled my ears, thinking to myself “I love running, I love my new life!” and feeling pretty smug.
The 2nd run took place just a few days later, through the fields I was camping in and down a gorgeous country road with a sea view. By this time I could really feel my stamina had built up and I was able to run for much longer. When the little voice interrupted WuTang to say “now walk”, I felt I wasn’t ready to walk and actually CARRIED ON RUNNING. This was an amazing breakthrough for me. I returned to the campsite buzzing, feeling like I’d really achieved something and convinced that running was now a part of my life.
I haven’t run since.
Ever since I began my Yoga training, it's been a dream to work with groups of women. I’ve attended a few women's gatherings and have felt the magic that happens when women come together, to take time out, share and celebrate. I feel very grateful and happy to have been invited to teach on a recent Women's retreat day by my old friend and founder of Muddy Boots Forest School, Emily Crofton.
Emily had also felt the call to work with groups of women and had plans to create a space for some of the mothers of the forest school children to take a day for themselves out in nature. I was very excited to be involved and set to work in planning my sessions, creating sequences using asanas that stimulate the sacral chakra, our creative and emotional centre and also stimulate the endocrine system to balance hormones and lots of hip opening, to release tension and emotions. I teamed up with another old friend, Sash of Sound Seva, a Sound Healer who works with gongs, singing bowls and many other instruments, and she provided a beautiful soundscape to the yoga sessions and Gong Baths that enabled the women to reach a deeper level of relaxation.
The day took place on the Cancer New Moon, a gorgeous sunny day in the Leicestershire countryside. As well as the yoga and sounds there was a women's circle, where we set our new moon intentions, foraging and making balms and massage oils, an amazing and delicious shared lunch with healthy treats from Holyoaks Handmade and craft sessions where we made dream catchers and flower mandalas.
The whole day was so well thought out and beautifully put together by Emily, using permaculture design principles, she has designed the day based on the moon cycle and the love she put into it really came through. As we sat by the fire, everyone looked so relaxed and happy, you could feel the special magic of women gathering in nature, something almost primal and timeless. I felt so lucky to be involved and to see my dream of running women's yoga sessions come into fruition, just a few days after the summer solstice.
A big thank you to all the women involved in the day, watch this space for the next one!
Spring is springing out there and I can feel a tangible difference around me, it's making me so happy to go out without a coat and to see my garden coming back to life after the long winter. The changing of the seasons is a very powerful time to start making some changes within yourself, shaking off the old and calling in the new.
Practically, it's the perfect time to clean out old clothes, take all your clutter to a charity shop and create a clear space in your home. When you clear out, you create space in your life for more to come in. It's the same when you clean out energetically. Spring is also a great time to do an energetic clear out and cut the ties with any old emotional baggage that's been holding you back.
This week I'll be teaching a beautiful sequence based on the classic yoga asana, tree pose, called the Tree of Transformation, it's a great sequence to use to let go of any stale energy that has built up over the winter, step into your power and recharge and feel ready to move through the next phase of the year so you can move forward with a spring in your step.
Just for today, I will not anger.
Just for today, I will not worry.
Just for today, I will be grateful.
Just for today, I will do my work honestly.
Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing.
If you are thinking of starting yoga, don't worry, it's not all yoga pants and sticking your legs behind you head! You probably have some idea of what it is, the type of person who may go to a yoga class, what you should wear, what you should look like and maybe you are worried or nervous that it's not for you. I really believe that yoga is for EVERY body, that means whoever you are and whatever body you are in.
You may feel intimidated about coming to a class for the first time, so here are a few pointers to give you an overview:
You don't need to be able to touch your toes! We all have different levels of flexibility and you will find that yours changes from day to day, class to class.
There is no need to "keep up", you will find that everyone in a class are at very different levels and a lot of the practice is about accepting where you are, today.
You won't need to invest in a whole new wardrobe - loose, comfortable clothing is fine.
You don't have to have a certain look or body type - Whatever your size or shape, yoga can help you build strength and flexibility.
Yoga is good for the mind, as well as the body - This practice will enable you to slow down and really come into the present moment. Over time, yoga will benefit your mind and help you relax.