Yes to everything: Thailand


, , , , , , ,


Yes to everything: Thailand Part one, (very rough chapter for book)

The flight to Bangkok (from Chennai) was at 10pm.  Unlike the UK, it goes from ‘Security,’ to ‘Boarding,’ with no ‘Go to gate.’  I got in a panic at the last minute, thinking we were late, but there was a big queue at the gate for Bangkok.  We met a group of young Indian men who were going there for a long weekend, like people from the UK would to Paris.

One of the young Indian men sat next to me on the plane, it was his first flight, he was next to the window, me in the middle and my husband at the aisle.  He took a selfie with us.

From the window I watched the lights of Chennai, so pretty.  I only realised how higgledy piggledy Chennai was when we saw the lights of Bangkok, laid in straight lines and orderly patterns.

It was the most cramped flight we’d been on, ever.  My husband couldn’t sit with his legs straight, there wasn’t enough room for his knees.

There was a bit of turbulence during the flight and on landing there was a short runway and some G force on landing.  ‘Very exciting for you,’ I said to the man.  He said, ‘Yes and very nice to meet people like you two.’

Thinking about being more mindful in the moment.  On the plane I pushed past a man to get out of his way and let him on, actually that was more rude, as he wasn’t ready, he was still putting up his bags.  I should have just waited, and moved when he was ready.

The chain on my Om pendant is a bit small, I knew it was but didn’t say anything at the time.  This can be rectified.

I got up to go to the loo, and sat straight down, even though my legs were still fidgetty.  ‘Do you want to get out again?’  My husband asked.  ‘Thank you,’  I said and got up and walked the length of the plane, feeling the slight turbulence through the thick springy soles of my flip flops, walking steadily, balancing between the rows.  Rectified.

Next time, pause.  Pause before taking action.  Any action?  Is this possible?  Pause before every action.  Be aware during every action.  Would time expand to allow this?  Would the pauses increase in length as we used them, or to allow us to use them, or in response to us using them?  Like a more positive version of how everything slows down in a car accident?  Try it, Rachel.  Try it, and report back.  Our actions are important.

Being in polite countries, Thailand, Japan, should be good for that; using a soft no, not criticising, always smiling, not raising one’s voice.

We arrived at 3am.  We got confused and thought we had to fill out forms to get a visa, this was so hard on no sleep; we had to change cash, change more cash; we panicked about not having enough as there were no ATMs in that bit and you couldn’t pay on a card.  We got passport photos done, the passport photos were actually good, for passport photos and for no sleep; the first thing that struck me was my green eyes and steady gaze.

In the queue I went out to the loo and ended up, stupidly, waiting for ages; a loo had become free but a Thai woman had been in and recoiled.  I checked, it was a bit blocked, but really, ‘I’m from India,’ I wanted to say, ‘That doesn’t bother me,’ but I went along with everyone and waited; luckily I didn’t miss our turn in the queue.  We queued for ages before finding out we didn’t need the visa forms after all.

I kept thinking we were in Japan; I was a country ahead.  At check in I’d had to show them my onward flight to Tokyo, in a panic as my battery was low and I wasn’t on the internet, having forgotten to download it, forgetting in my panic I could have accessed my emails easily on my husband’s phone.  (For Tokyo I downloaded everything, screenshotted it all so I could just get to it with a couple of clicks and slide to all, flight details, onward flights, bank balance as proof of funds, AND had everything printed out.)

We needed to pass the time before the earliest we could arrive at the guesthouse, which was seven am.  We sat at a little cafe and had green tea, chocolate brownie and bananas, then we got a taxi to the guesthouse.

The roads were quiet, no beeping.  There were more cars and less bikes, and a lot more people on the bikes were wearing helmets.  There were amazing buildings, like the best new buildings in London, skyscrapers and even a Gherkin.  Big brand names on the skyscrapers, Samsung.

Police stopped a driver who had stopped on a zebra crossing, unthinkable in India!  Big wide roads, toll roads.  In India on the way to the airport there was a toll road, the toll booth man wasn’t looking so our driver just drove off!  I don’t think that would be done in Thailand.

Washing hung up on balconies but on hangars, so it took up less space rather than spread out how we do in the UK.  Washing obviously dries easier in Thailand.  There was no rubbish.  Later, I saw some rubbish bags, put outside shops to be collected, it was still very early.  Everything looked so clean, seemed so ordered, and so quiet.  Clearly money was spent on infrastructure.

It wasn’t as much of an assault on the senses as India, things matched, buildings were coordinated, there wasn’t as much colour.

I could see why people who have been to India could feel superior/could be annoying- but I’m not any better than anyone else, anyone* can buy a plane ticket and go- and have the experience, but it is a different experience to for example, Thailand.

*health and plane fare permitting

Our guesthouse was in the old town, quiet.  There were washing machines on the street, that you could put coins in and use!  I met a man with tattoos, my uncovered tattoos an icebreaker, and it felt safer talking to strange men in Thailand.  I felt hyper and friendly to all.  There was a little cafe as part of another hostel that was open.  She was very friendly and served us jam and toast and coffee.  It was sort of self service, with a kettle and toasters on a shelf, although she brought us pretty little china plates and packets of jam.

We sat on a narrow long bench like table facing the front window.  I greeted a man outside on the street with a lighter, and asked him for a light in sign language/English, and had a cigarette.  I felt tired and spaced out.  I needed the loo and to lie down.  We clock watched, waiting for seven am.

At seven am we rang the bell, we actually rang a medium sized bell hanging to the side of the door, as instructed by a sign on the gate, ‘Ring bell, then wait.’  Another sign said, ‘No Thais please.’  (I don’t know why.)  After a few minutes a Thai woman came out, in night clothes crumpled from sleep.

The guesthouse had dark brown wooden floors, full wooden bookcases like an old study and rich dark wooden staircases.  Our room had pale wooden floorboards, a metal four poster bed but without the curtains.  Mosquito mesh windows looked out onto the garden thick with plants, a wooden fence and beyond the quiet street.

We got into bed and slept.  A bed, any bed, feels so good under those circumstances.  A loo, a place of your own to rest and shower.  It didn’t matter too much that it was a rather thin and uncomfortable mattress, and didn’t matter at all that it was a shared bathroom.

It rained, we listened to it while we were cosy in bed.

When we woke up we went to an easy Westerner cafe, full of tourists, with a pool table.  It was expensive but so nice.  Soft flat big noodles sexy in the mouth.  Hummus and tahini drizzled in olive oil.  Puffed up pitta bread.  Pretty coloured pickles.  The hummus was creamy and delicious.  The pink pickle and olive oil made beautiful swirls on the plate like a work of art.

There were big screens showing people doing amazing stunts, at the edge of buildings on skateboards, parkour, rock climbing, gymnasts, extreme yoga, and foot stamping Zumba music.  I could have watched that all day.  Are those people magic pixies put there for entertainment, or perhaps they are a metaphor re what a person can do?

We went to a department store and bought an adaptor, always one of the first priorities after arriving somewhere new.  The streets seemed so quiet, we wondered, was Monday a holiday?  (It seemed to be the quiet day in Thailand)

I went out by myself.  There were layers and many wires at junctions, birds nests of wires like in India.

Crossing the road, although much easier than Chennai, zebra crossings work, not same as UK but much better than India, I was still a little hesitant, I thought, can I cross with you, will you help, a woman appeared and I crossed with her.

The wonders of the 7/11!!!  Everything, vests and t-shirts in black or white packaged like baby gros.  I bought razors and talc.  Everything wrapped in plastic, even shampoo and lighters.

I went out in a black cotton dress, sleeveless, just above the knee, my hair long and loose, bare shouldered, no stares, free, light, bare legged, feeling the breeze.

I’d gotten so used to covering up in India that it just seemed normal.  Feeling the sun on my bare shoulders and the air on my legs was light and lovely.

People’s Instagram pictures of themselves in very short dresses with low cut tops, seeing thighs and cleavage had started to look weird.

There was a little shop nearby, I bought any drink out of the fridge, it turned out to be a Red Bull which I didn’t realise until later.

In the little courtyard garden of the guesthouse, a huge aloe vera plant on roof terrace hanging down, in Pondicherry we’d seen aloe vera plants in pots on doorsteps, what looked like bamboo, little pots with plants hanging down from the terrace roof, wooden framed with plants growing through and around, metal table and chairs.  A bird, a lizard, a squirrel smaller than UK ones with big fluffy tail and a white belly like a stoat or a weasel.

I sat at the metal outdoor table with my water, notebook, Red Bull, cigarettes, writing, writing, writing.  This is what I do now.  This is me 24/7.  There’s no distinction between work me and me me, I work just as hard, hard enough to deserve success, after all, I do this all the time, noticing, observing, noting, then typing up most days for a couple of hours.  Not Red Bull, ahhh!!!!  But when in Rome…

‘I love it here,’ I said to my husband.  ‘What’s not to love?’  He said.

We went to a Thai place for dinner and ate peanuts, tofu, broccoli.  I had a beer and afterwards we went for a walk, just like we were on holiday.

I would recommend anyone travelling to India for a year to take a few weeks out and go to Thailand for the food and vitamins especially if you are vegan.

It was like visiting the R&R planet on Startrek, my husband’s reference, I am more familiar with the relaxation spaceship of Battlestar Gallactica.

Walking around in the evening we saw a rubbish truck and workers in hi vis with gloves, sacks, and raffia baskets sorting through the waste and recycling.  At our guesthouse they had big green bins like in UK, I’d asked which bin for which, the man at he guesthouse said to put all in one, presumably the rubbish collection staff sort it, not householders.

We walked down the Khosan road, once the hippie backpacker area, now barely a hippie in sight.  Bars opposite each other played very loud competing music, the whole place was crazy busy.

Most exciting for me, I saw a Boots!  I didn’t really need anything, I just wandered around looking and enjoying the air con.

We sat at a small table on the street outside a bar and had an orange juice.  People watching.  In an environment like that it’s so easy to remember to be in the world but not of the world; no interest in it, no competing, no envy.  But it was kind of nice to know that all that is there to drop into, the Boots, the hair and nail salon next door to the bar, if I wish.

A nice looking black and white cat came over, it went over to my husband’s side under the table.  ‘Stroke it for me,’ I said.  He whipped his hand back fast.  ‘Good job I’ve got quick reactions,’ he said as it tried to scratch him.

We walked down a road with a line of trees beautifully lit up with matching gold lights.  It was so beautiful, the whole road lit up and all coordinated.  The road itself clean.  It was only lit up that one night, there’s a photograph of us under the lights.

We had breakfast at a Thai place by the canal, muesli and fresh fruit and yoghurt, perfect proportions of all, with lovely fruit.  It was cheap, and next to a laundry.  I arranged my laundry, we greeted each other then the laundry woman got restaurant staff to translate.  Everything was so fun and friendly.  ‘It’s like every encounter is a joy.’  I said.

We got a rickshaws to the station, to pick up our train tickets.  The rickshaws were completely different, bright pink with fancy metal work and grand looking reclining padded seats, no luggage space behind the seats, not functional like Indian ones.

The front of the bun shop at the station was decorated with ‘love messages,’ ‘from your roti.’  We ate at a noodle place opposite the station.  I had iced yoghurt drink, very cold and absolutely delicious.  A man complimented me on my tattoos, he was either one of the staff, or a friend of the staff.  He gave me some fruits, lychees, or like lychees if not.  He said, say this to your husband and told me a Thai phrase.  I repeated it back, then told it to my husband, and everyone fell about laughing.

That’s another difference between India and Thailand, in Thailand one can potentially have more of a laugh.  Thai people generally are playful, and Indian people sometimes struggle with the British sense of humour, tending to take things literally, meaning that several of our jokes have fallen very flat.

We met M, my stepdaughter, at the airport, she’d flown direct from London by herself.  We took her out for dinner at the nice Western restaurant we’d gone to when we arrived; had cocktails and took her to the Khosan road.  As well as the signs for cocktails and cheap buckets there was one saying ‘We don’t check ID,’ which made us all laugh.  The competing music was on again.  Little street stalls sold interesting things including scorpions, I think roasted to eat, although I didn’t stop to look closely.  In the middle of all this, ‘What’s going on’ was playing.

The next day we took M to Wat Po by rickshaw, that was the main thing she wanted to do, go in a rickshaw, and we chose Wat Po.  Although we’d decided we were over tourist stuff in India, seeing the enormous Reclining Golden Buddha was a wonderful experience.  I had to go round again, I didn’t feel that I had absorbed the sight.  I still don’t, maybe its just not possible.

That evening, we got the night train South to Surat Thani, that is where you get the ferry onto the island of Ko Phangan.

Travel update

I am in Japan, by myself!  I left my guesthouse in Thailand at 11am on Sunday and arrived at my guesthouse in Tokyo at 12.30pm on Tuesday.  I have been getting dinner, coffee, exploring on foot, been to a gallery, been speaking, getting more coffee, and writing in communal area.  Here are some pics of my hostel, I have a little curtained capsule in a twelve bed mixed dorm.


Writing update

Trust the process, the things I notice, the conversations I find interesting, are the things to write about, even if some seem more or less interesting; everyone likes different things, some the food, some the spiritual bits.

Thank you very much for reading.


Throwback Thursday

Everyday Gratitude  (first published August 2014)

Yesterday* was a good day. The weather was nice which helped of course. Today it is raining and it is already an effort to recall the feelings I had yesterday. We had returned from holiday the day before, the kids (my step children) had gone home and my husband was back at work. I had an entire day with which to do whatever I wanted.

We are often told to think of people in poor countries and feel grateful for what we have. I agree, but I don’t need to think so far afield to feel grateful. I think of myself even ten years ago, I didn’t have all that I have now. Twenty years ago I was sometimes short of money for food and bills; I didn’t have a reliable car or money for weekends away. I am also sure that the childhood me would have been happy with the life I have now: I have all the freedom I want, true love and two cats!

I did three loads of laundry, and enjoyed it. I remembered how lucky I was to have a working washing machine at home. In the past I have had to use a launderette or wash everything by hand in the bath, neither of which I enjoyed.

I went shopping and got food to make a healthy home cooked meal full of vegetables for dinner, having eaten out a lot on holiday. The fact that we ate out so much is also a cause for gratitude. I went to the pool for a swim. In my purse I have a swim card, paid for on a monthly direct debit, which entitles me to go swimming as often as I like. This makes me very happy. I did all this in a reliable car, which is booked in for an MOT next week, and although I am financially aware of this expense coming up, it doesn’t fill me with worry or fear.

I wrote and posted a blog. I sat in the garden with the hot sun on my back and read a good book. I did a bit of housework and prepared dinner and I didn’t mind doing any of it. I was grateful for the house and the food, happy that all I have to do is this little bit of action (cleaning, food preparation) and in return I get a nice home of my own and a filling, healthy dinner.

Of course, a major contributor to my happiness was the absence of any problems: nothing wrong with the house or the car, nothing wrong with my health, no emotional problems. Also, I wasn’t lacking anything. I had everything I needed. It hasn’t always been like that. There have been times when I have been short of healthy food or clothes or moisturiser, things that notice.

Everyone laughs at how much I take on holiday. But I have noticed recently, what a pleasure packing is, because I have lots of clothes I like, that I actually like wearing, are practical and that I feel good in. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes, but I seem to have everything I need at the moment. So when my jeans got sandy at the beach, I had another pair. When it rained and those got wet, I had a clean dry pair to put on. And when it got cold I had plenty of warm tops and jumpers. On the last day, just when I was down to the dregs of my suitcase and wondering what to put on, I suddenly realised I had more stuff that I had hung up in the wardrobe, and found a nice, comfortable outfit for travelling home in.

I didn’t write anything down while I was on holiday, so it was in the peace and quiet of yesterday that everything began coming back to me. My stepdaughter saying to me, you’re so good with little kids, I remember when I first met you, you used to play games with me all the time.

Getting up at 5am to go and watch the sun rising over the sea, just me and the kids. Remembering the obvious: the things you give attention to, grow. God and religiosity is closer and stronger the more I pray. OCD recedes if I ignore its ridiculous compulsions. Prayer and healing is easier if done often. Although I might want to brush my teeth and wash my face or even make a cup of tea first, prayer should really come before twitter or facebook in the morning. If I feel dizzy when I do healing standing up, I can sit down instead (I cannot believe it took me this long to think of this). For all of it, I say thank you.

*It has taken me a few days to edit and tidy

Chennai Part 4


, , , , , ,


I fell in love with you and I cried:  Chennai Part 4 (Draft chapter for book)

The taxi driver stopped at a garage that was open, he got fuel and we went to the loo.  When we got to Chennai diversion signs were up, our driver followed them and ended up at the beach, where buses and cars and scooters and people walking had all descended.  There were men waving flags and some of the vehicles had flags on them; we realised it was to do with The Minister.  People ahead of us were just parking up and leaving their cars, so it got more and more congested.  We had seen police everywhere on the way home, but not a single one trying to organise the traffic jam.

We were obviously in a taxi, and conspicuous as foreigners.  Not only that, there were only a very few women and children amongst a big crowd of men.  I was nervous, but the atmosphere of the crowd was fine, and aside from the usual few glances at me as a Western woman, we had no extra attention.  We realised the road was a dead end and our driver did an almost impossible u turn and we made our way slowly out of the jammed up area.

While we were in the traffic jam I saw on the beach the signs, ‘Live and let live’, ‘Pigeon feeding station,’ ‘Donation station.’  It warmed my heart to see.  I thought about how some people in the UK despise pigeons, and even grey squirrels who I used to love feeding in the UK.  My friend’s husband used to shoot them in his garden, not even to eat, just piling up the corpses at the bottom of the garden.

Roads were closed and the driver pulled up to ask someone where to go.  Everywhere was shuttered and closed, no one was around.  I saw a lone flower garland hanging up still and realised we were on the corner near where we went for dinner; everything looked so different with all the shops shuttered up.

An Indian man who had just got out of a taxi told us to walk, he explained that the Minister’s funeral procession would be coming down the road, and that the only way to get to where we wanted to go was walking.  It wasn’t that far, so we thanked and paid our driver, put on our backpacks, picked up our bags and walked back to Broadlands.

The manager at Broadlands hugged me and kissed me on both cheeks like a father.  It was about five o’clock.  He told us to go up and have a sleep and that when we woke up at six thirty, seven, everything would be open again.

We were in the same room as before but people had been in it since us, there was a folding camp bed put up, and glitter on the sheets.  It hadn’t been cleaned, probably due to the events of the previous day, perhaps the cleaning staff hadn’t come in.  ‘I’m going to assume they (the people) were clean,’ I said, but the truth was, I didn’t really care, I was just so glad to be back.

We woke up later when it was dark and went downstairs.  Nothing was open.  We saw the Italian woman, she said that the evening before, The Minister’s death was announced then everything shut in ten minutes.  She’d only had biscuits and bananas.  One of the staff who worked at the hotel appeared, he apologised for our room not being cleaned.  He went out to see if there was any food places open.  He came back once saying that everything in one direction was closed, then set out again, we and the Italian woman gave him money just in case.

We thought there would be somewhere, Y had told us you can always get food, as there are lots of bachelors in Chennai and they often eat parcel meals (takeaway) from the restaurants.  About forty-five minutes later the man returned, with little plastic bags of sambar (curry) and orange sauce and parota bread.  We ate on the little table in our room.  The little plastic bags that the sambar was in were tied with a twist of fine twine that wasn’t even knotted, just wound around neatly and expertly.  The parota was thick and filling and the sambar was hot.  It felt so good to eat hot food after an evening and a day of crisps, biscuits and nuts.

The mosque sounded very loud again the first morning, then on the days after we slept through it or half slept through it like we had before.
As usual in India, the caw caw of crows was a near constant noise.  One morning very early the crows were especially loud.  I mentioned it to my husband.  He said, ‘There was one on the ground below the window making loads of noise, and another sitting right on the shutter not making a sound; I said to it, ‘What’s the other one’s problem?!’’

Also as usual, there were barking dogs, a pack of dogs seemed to live on the waste ground below our window.  Sometimes the barking and howling of the dogs was so much it made us laugh, like when we were at Osho’s (guesthouse in Kerala) and a dog over the road would start up the most ridiculous sounding howling just as we were going to bed.   ‘Dogs in the UK don’t have the freedom just to howl and express themselves like that,’ my husband said.

We saw an Indian squirrel climbing on the outside of the window mesh, all four feet clinging on, upside down and doing acrobatics as if it were in the circus.

On Friday the mosque car park was filled with lots and lots of scooters, a handful of cars and on the waste ground beside the mosque, some rickshaws.  There were people praying in the outside part of the mosque, there were so many people that they couldn’t all fit inside.

The mosque car park was a beautifully clean paved area.  One day when it was quiet I saw a man and a little boy arrive on a scooter.  They fed the pigeons, who arrived and left in great beautiful clouds.  When they had finished the man put the boy on the scooter, patted him on head, threw the empty food cup over the wall into the street, and left.

At night the flats on the other side of the mosque car park had their lights on and curtains open; the colour of their walls lit up, one green, one mauve, with the silhouettes of house plants making shadows on the walls.

The mosquito mesh on the windows was bent and folded, gently undulating like a sheet of fine wire mesh.  When the light caught it it looked like taffeta, the colour of burnished gold.

Sitting on the bed in my favourite indoors outfit, I caught myself in the mirror: black scoop neck t-shirt, black and grey sarong, colourful tattoos on both arms.  The t- shirt had tiny holes in it.  The sarong was a bit bobbly close up.  Everything was soft and thin and comfortable.


The quest for fresh vegetables led us to a Chinese restaurant where we ate vegetables and noodles, big florets of broccoli and chunky carrots, in a thick and glutinous msg sauce.  We sat beside a fish tank full of big fish swimming sadly back and forth.

I brought up some of the things I had been thinking and feeling in Pondicherry.  We agreed that being happy can’t be the aim, it’s a pleasure seeking and a Four Winds pain-pleasure trap.  That kind of bliss cannot be sustained and anyway it would be boring, people need challenges.  We agreed that the spiritual journey is a red herring and that the ‘goal’ has to be to feel overally neutral:

Observe yourself and how you are and what you do like a character in a film.  E.g. do you react impulsively?  Drop down and forget all this for an evening and reflect afterwards, how did I do?  That’s the work.  The trick is to try and maintain the clear awareness even when the key breaks in the lock or the Uber is late.  If not you’d have nothing to do.

Most people are locked into feeding the pleasure centres; the ‘reward of nothingness’ wouldn’t appeal to them as worth it for a lifetime of searching.  Anyway, most people aren’t actually actively looking for enlightenment.

But if you are prepared to accept this peaceful serenity, this above-ness from the senses, so that food isn’t really much of a thing anymore; this distance, beyond love, beyond joy…  If you are prepared to accept that, then maybe the reward will be to understand everything.  That’s what makes renouncing worldly pleasures, or rather, drifting away from them and letting them fall away, (like when following Buddhism) worthwhile.


The Broadlands manager told us that a film crew was coming to film at the guesthouse; apparently the film had a famous film star.  It took a whole day to set up with all kinds of props including chicken coops being brought in.  In the UK they would have closed the hotel or at least closed off part of it.  There, we were shown different routes to and fro our room, via different staircases and courtyards.  When they were shooting in the central courtyard below our room, we just had to peek out.  ‘Shooting,’ they’d say, or not.  One could be annoyed but aren’t.
Sometimes we had to walk through their chill out area, in between the plastic chairs arranged in a circle for lunch.  Huge pots of food were carried in at lunchtime, the pots of food, filled with all different kinds of curries, laid out on trestle tables.

We went down separately to use the internet, the famous actor sat on the sofa going through his lines next to husband then next to me, he turned the fan on to keep cool.

At the end of the filming day they all gathered for a group photograph and there was lots of clapping.  I had a cigarette and hung about outside soaking up the atmosphere and watching them pack up.

The Italian woman had complained about the film shoot and told us it would start at six am and go on all night, with flashing lights and loud music.  We weren’t concerned; there’s nothing we could do about it and it’s not as if we had anything to get up for or do, we could always sleep during the day.  I sympathised with her for getting woken by building work above her though; they were doing some pre season alterations, and she was woken at six am.  She asked for a day’s refund but I don’t think she had any luck.  The film shoot was over in one day though in the end, it wasn’t noisy and it didn’t start early.

I can see how one could get really stressed, being woken up, building work, dogs, mosque, crows; plus re coping with things being different, food, people, and each other, but we’re ok.  I do have the odd thing (hand cream).

There’s things I could get annoyed about of course, if I had a mind to:  Many rooms only having one plug socket available so that we have to take turns charging our phones and tablets.  The traffic, the pollution, the rubbish.  The food all coming at different times.  The complicated menus with strict times, this 12-2, this 3-6, this all day, this 12.30-9.30.  The occasional restaurant bureaucracy, ‘Can I have a cup of tea or coffee?’  ‘No, only after 4pm,’  ‘Can I have tea or coffee with my breakfast?’  ‘No, juice first, then afterwards we’ll take your order for coffee or tea.’

Not being understood, not understanding things.  Some things remaining a complete mystery, others tantalising only half explained… Missing friendships.  The poverty.  Being sometimes viewed as a walking ATM machine; even after giving the hotel cleaner so much stuff (he’d asked us to give him anything we were shedding), he still came and asked us for money.  How sometimes it seems as if almost every conversation invariably turns to money or trying to sell us something.  It’s the natural consequence of the actual or perceived disparity of wealth between us as Westerners and people we meet.

But the secret is to accept it all, and not to judge.  If my few days in Norwich Travel Lodge in the winter taught me anything, it’s that the UK isn’t perfect.  The level of homelessness in affluent Norwich city centre was shocking.  And if things are different to what I’m used to, of course that’s to be expected, and that is my issue.  And there’s so much beauty all around me that my attention is taken up with that.

I went out feeding cows again, early evening seemed to be the time when more cows were around.  A man gave me advice in sign language, don’t bend down, due to the horns? throw on ground, or put on hand and put hand out.  I misinterpreted his facial expression as gruffness at first.  People sometimes watched and even stared but did not seem unfriendly.

We drank chai tea at a little stall in the backstreets on the corner of Big Street.  The first time we sat outside on little stools and smoked cigarettes, the second time we were seated inside amongst the flies and heat.

We saw Indian men feeding street dogs in the evening.  Even a very humble looking shop had put out puri on the pavement for the crows.

In the street parallel to Broadlands the houses were painted pretty colours.  Just around the corner, at the end of an ordinary street, was an incredibly beautiful temple.

I wished I could show my Grandma the clothes, or describe them to her.  She was a dress maker and interested in clothes until the end of her life.  In Chennai I saw flouncy dresses, just below the knee, slightly shorter than I’d seen before, with scalloped hem, and lacy lemon or white flowers at the hem and on the bodice.  Saree prints in a bold block print making a three dimensional pattern, others in bold flowers, and lots of yellow and orange sarees which matched the colours of the Tamil Nadu rickshaws.  In restaurants we saw whole families colour coordinated and wondered if it happens naturally or if the woman picks out the family’s clothes?  I’ve maybe seen three outfits ever that I didn’t think worked perfectly.

There were lots of sweet shops and stalls in Chennai, although we managed to resist and just admire them from a distance…

We’d found a little tea shop at the side of the road that did the best coffee, sweet and milky, as well as nice little samosas and melt-in-the-mouth homemade biscuits in jars; it became our favourite place for those last few days in Chennai.

We’d got our photocopying and printing of tickets and so on done at a little copy shop, got glasses for my husband, ticking jobs off the list, and were feeling pleased with ourselves and went to the tea shop afterwards.

We bought cigarettes and offered them to the staff and fellow customer; cigarettes can be a good icebreaker when you don’t share a language.  We sat and watched the traffic and the people crossing the road.  The smell of traffic fumes, rubbish and occasionally animal or human waste.

We watched two people lifting a big drum onto a scooter.  It was common to see scooters loaded with sacks of onions, even sacks of cement, or a family of four riding all together.  That is the mode of transport that the family has, they don’t have a car, so scooters are used for everything.

A truck went past laden, absolutely laden with plastic pots, urn shaped but big like garden pots.  Instead of being terracotta colour to pretend to be made from clay or green to blend into the garden like they would be in the UK, these were shocking pink, bright leaf green and bright unsubtle primary colours; as if they were saying, were plastic, we’re plastic and we’re proud to be plastic.  Not for the first time, we wished we could say to India, don’t do it, don’t let the plastic in, don’t fall in love with and get taken over by plastic.  In India not everywhere has formal rubbish disposal and recycling systems in place; the plastic drinking water bottles alone present a huge problem.

A girl, a young woman, came skipping down the road.  We made eye contact and she came over and said, ‘Hi,’ skipped off, then came over again, pointed to her cheek and said, ‘Kiss.’  I couldn’t kiss her, I’m British and can’t easily kiss total strangers, but I offered her my hand and we shook hands.  She went skipping off again, almost dancing across the road.  She dropped her scarf in the road, and picked it up scarily in front of a rickshaw.


When we checked out of Broadlands the manager shook hands with Anthony and hugged me.  ‘I love Anthony,’ he said, ‘He has a good heart.’

In the taxi on the way to the airport, the driver said, ‘Look, look,’ said something and pointed.  We couldn’t understand him, then just at the last moment, my husband realised, ‘Parrots!’  About fifty small parrots were sat on the electricity wires across the road.  ‘That is their house,’ the driver said.  ‘1,000 parrots live there.  At 6pm every day you see them.’  It was around 4.30pm.  We were a bit sad that we hadn’t known about this before, but happy that we had heard it then and seen some of the parrots.

I kept thinking we were going back there, to Broadlands, to Chennai, when we went to Thailand, and had to remind myself that was over and we were going to Kolkatta when we go back to India.  I know we were only there for eight days in total but…  If it weren’t for the pollution, which the Tarot man in Thailand said wasn’t good for me, although I don’t need him to tell me I don’t suppose, I’d like to live there, at least for part of the year.  What would I do?  Write, feed cows, put up posters at the bins re tip food waste onto the floor don’t put in plastic bags (the cows eat the plastic bags and can get sick and die); get involved with some kind of rubbish clearing/recycling initiative (my husband’s idea).  Learn Tamil, teach English in return.  (But Tamil seems so hard! I feel like Hindi would be easier so maybe pick somewhere where the main language is Hindi…)  But that’s all dreams, I haven’t seen hardly any of India yet, I may yet fall in love again many times over during the rest of our travels.


Photos of Chennai by Anthony Hill Instagram travelswithanthony

Travel update

In our third week and third place in Koh Phangan, Thailand.  We are in the vegan/yoga area.  It’s absolute paradise but we are looking forward to getting moving on proper travelling again.  In a few days I go to Tokyo, my husband goes to Cambodia and we meet up back in India on October 1st.

Writing update

Did this this week, worked on it every day except Saturday.  Also scheduled five weeks’ of Throwback Thursday posts which is harder than it looks sometimes with patchy internet.  Next up, Thailand.

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week

Throwback Thursday


, , , , ,

‘It’s not about clothes, except that it could be, if I find that helpful.  We do, as human beings in society have to wear clothes, so why not occasionally wear something that makes me feel great and supports my emergence.’

Wow, the patterns are really sparking for me right now!  (At the time of scheduling this three weeks ago)  I said this same thing just a few days ago, then went shopping.  India for me involved dressing like a nun, Haad Rin, Ko Phangan, not so much…

I don’t use the words ‘higher self’ any more though.  As Diane says in Bojack Horseman, ‘I’m not sure that there is a deep down, there’s just what you do.’  I wrote that down the other day too.

P.S. Watch Bojack Horseman

Create the Conditions (first published August 2014) 

Gong therapy is my favourite discovery of the past year.  Its proper name is gong meditation or sound healing.  You just lie down and listen to sounds being played on huge gongs and on didgeridoos, on singing bowls and shakers.  You don’t have to do anything.  You can’t help but listen.  It doesn’t really matter what happens to your thoughts.  The sounds go through you anyway, working their magic no matter what you do.  And did I mention you are lying down?  It’s like meditation for lazy people.  Except, the effects can be intense.  I first tried it a festival a year ago.  This year, I did it again:

That feeling of ‘what’s next’, of striving, isn’t about what I am doing at work, or whether I should change jobs, or about where I live and whether or not to move to a different area.  I just thought it was about that because that’s what I see immediately around me when I look at my life.

What it actually is about is my higher self or the real me emerging.  Maybe my higher self is just next year’s me… maybe at last year’s festival today’s me was looking on, watching me do gong therapy for the first time.

That sense of pregnancy, of emergence, is my higher self waiting to emerge.  How do I get it to emerge?  DO NOTHING.  Just don’t do anything that hinders the emergence of my higher self.  Avoid worry, fear, anxiety and over thinking.  As I went through each of these, I felt and was feeling them too.

The sound was evoking those states.  I felt my chest crushed with fear, my heart palpating with anxiety.  A bit later, when I realised I was thinking thinking thinking; a shaker sounded like waves breaking on a stony beach, a singing bowl rang out, and I came back to where I was, to my new found awareness:

My higher self is just waiting to emerge, all I have to do is CREATE THE CONDITIONS.

The man leading the gong meditation talked about the higher self and about rising like a phoenix.  As I lay there I imagined… lose two stone, buy an elegant white dress.  It’s not about clothes, except that it could be, if I find that helpful.  We do, as human beings in society have to wear clothes, so why not occasionally wear something that makes me feel great and supports my emergence.

Stumbling out of the meditation tent afterwards, wobbly and shaky, I found a quiet place to sit and with a hot chocolate beside me, I wrote down everything I could remember.



, , , ,


Pondicherry DRAFT chapter for book

I dislike long bus journeys, I much prefer trains for the long distances.  The experience of having to ask the bus driver from Goa to Hampi to stop for me to have a pee is not one I want to repeat, but there wasn’t a train to Pondicherry so we had no choice.  The journey was three to four hours so not huge.  I felt anxious, but when the bus arrived and we got on, I relaxed.  It was very comfortable; blue luxurious seats, magazine racks on the seat in front like on an airplane and free small bottles of water.  The seats were comfortable and I sat next to the window.  I do love travelling, just moving and looking out of the window.  The trees had the brightest red-orange blossom.  We actually did stop for a food and loo break; there was a stray dog in the car park and a little stall, I bought biscuits and fed the dog.

Our guesthouse was down a run down looking alleyway, and didn’t look as nice as the pictures on the internet.  It had almost art deco style small chrome and coloured glass screens at the balcony, which reminded me of the coloured glass at the first place in Chennai.  Just beyond our room was an invisible step in the marble that we had to be mindful of, and beyond that another little balcony that looked out onto the alleyway.


The ‘spiritual journey’ can be lonely sometimes.  I wrote in my notebook:  I feel far away… maybe that’s part of it, necessary, and that I’ll come back, naturally.  I could force it, like I forced the grounding last time; through fear or guilt, but no, wait it out.  Who would notice, anyway?

My husband is used to me being quiet or chatty, and doesn’t get unsettled if I am off by myself either emotionally or spiritually.
I thought about D, completely devoted to the pursuit of self realisation, seemingly sure of his path, with a guru and long periods spent in ashrams, and C, a Christian with faith in God.

Should I be doing more?  I wondered.  Should I be more focussed on ‘the quest’ or associated practices, do something more ‘formal’ rather than this strange and ever changing way of mine?  But at the same time, feeling spiritual and sensory overload.

Maybe it’s all part of the same thing for me.  I knew there was a reason I’m walking round wearing a huge Om, it’s to remind me, not for others, about the different levels of consciousness, or rather the different places that our consciousness resides in.

Maybe I experience ‘the absolute state’ via experiencing the world through the five senses?  I can’t do any more, but maybe I don’t need to do any more.

‘Every enlightenment has its own melody,’ as R from Switzerland said.

It doesn’t feel like anything, not bliss or joy, although that comes on the way, it’s a clear minded observance, awareness (Osho emphasised being in a state of awareness), above pleasure and pain (the Worldly Winds described in Buddhism).

The hot windowless room of the guesthouse in Pondicherry was not conducive to writing, or maybe it was my emotional/spiritual state.  Plus we didn’t feel that well.  We’d been eating at different places in Chennai and had also been quite casual about drinking the water off the table even at new places, saying no to the bottles often offered to foreigners and drinking the free water* everywhere like locals.  Maybe we’d been too cavalier.  One of the catchphrases of the Pondicherry trip was coming out of the toilet and saying, ‘Well that wasn’t normal!’

Or maybe I just needed a break.  I am not that good at taking breaks though.  I didn’t do much actual writing except making notes, but I did stay up late reading blogs.  WordPress was especially inspiring and I was almost overloaded with things to think about.

I read a blog about family influences, about the process of working out the influences that have come from our parents, and which to keep and which to strip away.  I read a blog about not having any friends, and had a dream where I realised, ‘No one likes me.’ ‘No one likes me, and that’s okay.’  Really feeling, accepting and at peace with this realisation.  (Which isn’t actually true) ‘The most terrifying thing of all is to accept oneself completely.’  (Jung).  The next day I woke up and discovered that it was friendship day.

Those first couple of days in Pondicherry I was reflective, almost over inspired.  Engaging with other bloggers in the comments sections helped me, as it often does, to clarify my own thoughts:

I still over pressurise myself now re writing vs experiencing and going to see stuff vs just being.  But my focus now is, what benefits me, what strengthens my centre, what do I really want above all else and nothing else is going to distract me?  (For me, finish the fxxxing book, and self realisation, which may be the same thing?)  Which means I am unfit and look a mess and haven’t learnt any other language (other than a few words), but all of that is a price so very, very worth paying.

… the spiritual journey thing can become a kind of trap; it makes you think you should get somewhere, that where you are isn’t okay or enough.  Realising that you are already there, and that there’s nothing to find, that it isn’t all high bliss and blazing lights, (although that can come on the way, it’s not the aim I don’t think, although people are so focussed on chasing happiness and pleasure) it’s a calm clear awareness, an observy kind of state.  The hard bit is carrying it through into daily life, when things irritate, or the body is sick etc. 

I agree with Osho saying, ‘Don’t seek don’t knock, just be still and it will come,’ and Krishnamurty who said it’s all about getting to know yourself, and Buddhism, which says there’s nothing to find re sense of self, re who you really are, and with Bojack Horseman’s Diane who says, ‘I don’t think there is any deep down, there’s just what you do.’  Here’s to another day of observing and trying to iron out the kinks, after a day of calm observing mixed with mindless eating of cakes!

Where am I at?  Just stop trying.  Remember that you are both already there…  All you have to do is realise it.  Don’t get distracted re new development activities.  E.g. working out which traits inherited from parents and which deliberately abandoned, which opposing ones adopted, which to keep, even though that would be a great exercise.  Or reflecting on friendships and the ‘well of loneliness’… (also like re the book, I don’t get distracted by submitting articles or trying to get freelance work, that can be done later.  I don’t even read at the moment, although I have many things I would read if I did, I have a reading list.  (Okay I have names of books and authors scribbled randomly within the pages of my notebook))

Just stop trying.

It doesn’t feel like anything (sometimes).  But sometimes it does:  An orange cat sitting on a wall in a warm dusty alleyway, or the light glittering on the raindrops on the shutters of my room.

It doesn’t feel the same as four years ago when I was meditating and reading and seeking.  It’s in daily life now as opposed to a separate spiritual practice.  Now it’s all integrated and more stable.  All that seeking was to get here, and now we’re here (for now).

What does it look like?  Peaceful, stable, with moments of illumination.  Interspersed with dark nights of the soul, keeping the faith, and all turning out okay.  Guilt, and permission to be happy.  That’s my desert-without-water.

It means living in the moment, fully, then letting go (Thank you to Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha for this).  Act silly, make a joke, snuggle up with my husband.  Eat something nice.

Use all experiences to reinforce my centre.  Do not allow others to destabilise it.

In quiet moments I sat on the invisible step and looked through the railings into the alleyway below.  I thought how I had travelled there, how I had the room, money, a plan for what I was doing next.  I thought about creating a little pocket of safety.  I thought about should it be more edgy, is it too easy?  I thought about how even people in more edgy environments would still have little pockets of stillness like this, a place to sit and at least eat safely, a place to sleep.  (I’m always comparing myself unfavourably to others; hard core backpackers, war correspondents.  I know, weird huh?)  I thought that if I have that, a safe place to sleep, and somewhere to sit and have a quiet moment, I am okay.

The other catchphrase of the Pondicherry spell was in restaurants after eating, ‘Well it wasn’t brilliant food was it?’  A lot of the food was fusion or Indian food with a European twist and we didn’t enjoy it that much.  We got excited about a shop almost next door to the guesthouse that sold dried fruit and nuts, soya milk and health food type items.  I drank almost a whole big carton of soya milk in one go.  One day I bought hummus, crisps and fancy lemonade for lunch.  Everything was expensive, and none of it tasted particularly nice.

Meeting the Yoga teacher in Chennai, who was so surprised that I did yoga; meeting the Italian man who asked us if we were right-wing (we’re not, if I have to say it); and the covering up, and wearing of ill-fitting or unflattering clothes that weren’t always my style in India, triggered yet another minor identity crisis.  I read somewhere that style was about saying who you are without words.  Really?  Maybe?  Yet at the same time, I can feel myself dissolving under these sartorial experiments.  Playing with sense of self, identity…  Being here, that is the work.

We saw Indian women tourists in Pondicherry in short dresses and shorts, albeit near the beach, but I decided to relax my self-imposed modest dress code a little while we were there.  My husband supports me whatever I do, but I know that he thinks I am overly covered up sometimes.

So I went for a walk by myself wearing my lungi dress- above the knee, with side slits- without loose black trousers underneath and without a scarf over my shoulders.  I had got so used to walking around with trousers and a scarf that I felt half-naked and vulnerable.  I walked down the road and to the park, feeling a little self-conscious.  I saw no one dressed in as little as me, then at the park, although there were people around and it was daytime and there was a policeman outside the gate, I still felt uncomfortable.  This could have just been me, I get anxious, you could say I have anxiety except I haven’t been diagnosed or labelled; anyway I get paranoid the drop of a hat.  I didn’t stay long, came home, put some trousers on and grabbed my scarf.

We went to the beach at Pondicherry which was completely different to Chennai beach.  It was very clean, no rubbish, bins everywhere, and a new looking wide pedestrianised boulevard.  There was a beautiful statue of Gandhi.  There were lots of Indian tourists, well off looking; we saw lots of expensive looking gold sarees.  We sat on a low wall between the boulevard and the beach.  We saw a little Indian owl like in Panaji.  I drank takeaway coffee that tasted bitter.  I foolishly said hi to some kids selling plastic tat and then they wouldn’t leave us alone until we got up to leave.


(My favourite shop window in Pondicherry, or possibly, ever!)

We went to a big weekly street market.  The length of a big main street was lined with stalls selling leather belts, parts for cars, all kinds of everyday household items and products and clothes including God dresses, gold gowns and dresses that looked like little girls’ princess dresses in adult sizes.  In the street I saw a woman wearing a floor length fairy tale gown of red and white net with red velvet applique flowers.

Plastic animal face masks were sold on stalls and in bunches like balloons by street sellers.  The smell of coffee, citrus fruit, and occasionally toilet smells.

It was the first time I had seen women’s underwear since leaving the UK.  First plain white then padded bras in bright colours with polka dots and slinky night dresses.

My husband bought pants (underpants), they had a pocket in them!  The man explained that that, plus the top pocket in the short-sleeved shirts that India men wear, was where Indian men kept their money and their phones, as they wear lungis that are essentially a piece of material and so has no pockets.  D told us that some Indian women sew a tiny pouch into the tucked in end of their saree and that is where they keep their money.  The man on the stall explained how money was safer in the pants pocket as it could fall out of the top shirt one when you bend over to pray.  Later my husband tried on his pants and put his mobile phone in the pocket.  It did indeed seem safe and ideal.  He even thought about keeping the passports there!


Pondicherry streets were a mixture.  Down one side pretty coloured buildings with intricate lattice iron work, on the other side grey and dusty concrete, people living in very basic pavement dwellings.  Metal grills like big drain covers propped to make ramps at kerbs and pavements, outside shops and restaurants, like in Chennai.  Chalk rangoli patterns decorated the pavements outside shops, like in Kanyakumari.

We didn’t go to the temple that the Italian man we’d met at Broadlands in Chennai had recommended.  We went to a different one, that Y had suggested.  We didn’t feel like going to more than one, involving as it did a trip in a taxi.

If we go everywhere people recommend we won’t have any space to just be spontaneous and discover things for ourselves.  We both really enjoy just discovering the local area, getting to know the shopkeepers a little, the guesthouse staff, and just being there in the immediate surroundings and the place that we are staying in.

We went to the temple at Chidambaram.  Chidambaram is where the God Lord Shiva is represented as Cosmos.  That, plus the fact that Y had recommended it, was why I chose it.  The temple that the Italian man had recommended, Tiruvanramalay, is dedicated to Shiva as Fire.  Kanchipuram, not far from Chennai, is for Shiva as Earth.

The driver stayed with us and took us around.  This was good in that it meant we didn’t accidentally walk in a wrong area or the wrong way, but bad in that he whisked us around so fast we could barely take anything in.  He’d been there maybe thirty times before, he said.  He didn’t have enough English to explain things so we didn’t know what we were looking at.

We were called over by two monks who gave us a blessing and asked us to write our names in the visitors book, then asked us for money.  We gave money, we would have done anyway, for our visit.  The monks blessed only us, and asked only us to write our names, even though our driver was the only one who was a Hindu, which I felt a bit uncomfortable with.

The temple was made of several buildings, each one incredible to look at, and beautifully coloured.  I could stand and look at one area for hours and still not take it in; sensory overload, again.


We came outside and sat in the shade on the stone floor of the grounds.  I went for a little walk across the courtyard by myself.  People and cows were asleep under the cool stone walkways.  I stood and soaked up the sight of blue sky above a row of gold minarets, and below, a beautiful white cow statue.  Those two sights alone filled me to the brim with beauty.

The evening before the temple trip an important political figure died in a Chennai hospital, he was a much loved ex Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.  In India each state has its own political parties and Chief Minister.  We had been out for a very late lunch/early tea, we’d eaten light as we’d intended to eat again later.  On our way back we saw that the street was almost dark and the metal shutters of shops and restaurants were half closed or closed.  We thought at first there was a power cut.  In Chennai the power had been scheduled to be off from nine am to five pm for maintenance.

We got back to the guesthouse, several men were gathered in the lobby.  The guesthouse staff explained what had happened and advised us to go out and buy bread, as there would be nothing open that evening or the next day.  We went back out and joined many others in a shopping rush.  The restaurants were already closed, but from street stalls and shops we bought nuts, biscuits, crisps, bananas and water.  Within an hour everything had closed.

Literally overnight there appeared framed photographs on tables, with flower garlands and coconut shells, like little shrines.  Huge billboard posters of the Minister’s face and shoulders, some with huge real flower garlands hung around his neck.  A level of adoration UK politicians could only dream of.

In the morning we checked out of the guesthouse as planned, intending to go to the temple and then get our bus back to Chennai.  We got a message confirming that the temple trip was still going ahead, but in the car on the way to the temple we got a message saying that the bus to Chennai had been cancelled as part of the closures.  We asked the driver if he’d take us to Chennai, he said it was too dangerous, that later would be better.  His manager said he could arrange for us to be taken back by another driver later on, but we’d still have a few hours to kill in Pondicherry.

When we got back to Pondicherry we met some Westerners that were trying to get back to Chennai, they decided to get a rickshaw to a halfway point and stay there the night, they said that people had thrown stones at taxis in Chennai (for being disrespectful by working).  We didn’t want to stay in Pondicherry,  which we hadn’t liked much for a fifth night and were eager to get back to Chennai, which we loved.  Everything was closed, there was nowhere even to go to the loo.  We asked the guesthouse if we could rent a room for just a couple of hours but they said they would charge a whole day.  We weren’t prepared to do that, the room wasn’t very nice and it had been at the top end of our budget anyway.

We sat on a big concrete step at the side of the road around the corner from the guesthouse, with our bags of snacks and our backpacks and wondered what to do.  Just then a taxi pulled up on the opposite side of the road.  We asked the driver if he’d take us to Chennai.  We told him what we had heard and asked him if it were safe.  He asked us which area we were going to, he called a guesthouse in that area and then said yes, it was okay to go.

*usually comes from big bottles like gym water bottles, or is carefully boiled tap water.  But if it isn’t a regular place you visit you don’t always know if it is okay for you.

Next up, Chennai Part Four, then Thailand.

Travel update


Koh Phangan, Thailand.  We moved from Haad Rin, party bit, North to Thong Sala which is more of a proper town and our place is right on the beach and very quiet.  Tomorrow we move further North to the yoga and vegan area.  About a week later I will travel to Bangkok and then to Tokyo.  My husband is going to Cambodia, and we are meeting again in Kolkatta, India on 1st October.

In a bar the other night I caught the end of an advert for India.  ‘Find the incredible you…  Incredible India.’  Amen.  See you soon, India.

Writing update

This week I worked on this piece, everyday except Saturday, day off, and Tuesday, when we went to Koh Samui to extend our visas.  I have more to add in from notes and notebook that I didn’t have time to put in this week, that can be added in later for the book.  These drafts on the blog are a great way of me testing things out and your feedback is much appreciated!!  It shows me what is working well and what needs fuller explanation or description.  Dear Indian readers please forgive me if I make mistakes, and feel free to correct me.

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week



Throwback Thursday


, , , ,

‘I spent whole days with frizzy hair and no makeup and I felt just fine.’  Just wait til you go to India!  Sad to have missed the Harlequin Fayre experience this year.  Re female company:  As I schedule this I am looking forward to a woman friend from the UK arriving soon and when this posts I will soon be off to Japan visit a woman friend!

How to be a healer (first published in August 2014)

My last post was all about my need for solitude and yet I spent last weekend in the bosom of a crowd of people with barely five minutes alone.  I had a really, really good time.

My friend brought us all together.  She has three children, 11, 13 and 18, and an event shelter.  All three children invited friends, my friend invited her friends and so there we all were, four days camping in a field together, 17 of us ranging in age from 11 to 54, half of us strangers before the weekend.

The weekend relaxed all my inhibitions or maybe I had to relax all my inhibitions in order to embrace the experience of the weekend, I am not sure which came first.

Being with so many young people brought me to realise and accept where I am, i.e. no longer what anyone would call young.  At the same time I realised that in some ways I am still the same, my brain hasn’t changed that much, it’s just that I lived through it.

In having lived through it perhaps older people send the message to the young that they can live through it too.  We didn’t sit giving advice, but just being a person who is older and who has survived, maybe gives a reassuring vibe.  These realisations enhanced and strengthened my sense of self.

I had a role, something like: cook, feeder, mum, healer.  I felt held in place, but I didn’t once feel like I was putting on an act, making up a role or being anything other than totally myself.

As a healer, the whole weekend was profoundly instructive.  Healers need to learn how to heal themselves as well as learning how to heal others.  I drove straight from work and was totally and utterly relaxed within a few hours.  I lost track of time on day one.  Being outdoors in the fresh air for four days felt good.  I spent whole days with frizzy hair and no makeup and I felt just fine.

I healed myself of regrets and envy and of getting older.  I saw myself concretely reflected by a big group, as having a place, a role and a value.  I enjoyed having the company of women.

One of the women taught me a kidney cleansing healing (place left hand on top of head, right hand on kidney and feel the kidney spin, she didn’t know that my husband has had some kidney problems).  She told me about bringing up phlegm and that it is okay to vomit during healing (useful as the next day someone I gave healing to was sick during it).

I practiced healing on four people and I learned how to end it (say, ‘blessings to (person’s name)’, the answer comes back, ‘they are blessed’, or, ‘you haven’t finished yet’, in which case, do a bit more, on shoulders, sending it everywhere, or go over the chakras again).  I learned how to do grounding (after doing all the chakras, place a hand on the ground beside their feet and another hand of the back of their neck and feel them being ‘earthed’).  I learned how to have a conversation with myself and with the other person to ensure I wasn’t pushing them toward a spiritual emergence that they were not ready for (it’s easy to feel evangelical when I have found such personal happiness and want others to share it, especially as I have seen them be sad and think that I can see an opportunity for them to be happier, but people must do things their own way.  I thought all this and I said it aloud too).  I learned to think about and focus a bit more on the third eye, or brow chakra, as this person was in the middle of thinking ahead and planning for a big decision and event; afterwards she said she had seen an eye, and lots of light.

Healing at a festival was great because I felt super relaxed and in great condition and there was probably lots of positive and healing energy around, from the other people and from the healing area.  I went to gong therapy (more next time).  I did a bit of drinking, being silly and tipsy in the rain with lots of fun and laughter.  I was in my element, happy, relaxed, having a good time.

Standing quietly listening to a band in the music tent, thinking over my last big problem, a fairly mild but definitely present OCD.  The conclusion to this music induced thinking session: 1) Resist the compulsions, 2) Relax, 3) If I can’t do it on my own, get help (from husband, a book, or a service).

Since I’ve got home I have gone up to bed first and left my husband to switch everything off.  He realises what I am doing and has been supportive in a gently humorous way, perfectly pitched to help me.

It was profoundly healing to be liked and accepted by lots of people and to feel the same about all of them.  I made sure I said thank you to my friend.  I told her how grateful I was to her for bringing us all together and for allowing me to share her life, because that’s what we do, we share our lives with each other, because you can’t create everything yourself.

Chennai Part Three


, , , , ,


I fell in love with you and I cried (Chennai part three draft chapter for book)

On our first day in Chennai we had noticed how pushy the rickshaw drivers were.  Crossing the busy roads was hard enough and made harder by rickshaws slowing down for us and offering us a ride.  Although our guesthouse was in a quiet street, this joined the main street and on the corner there were always lots of rickshaw drivers who seemed insulted by us not using them.  After a few days we stopped and talked, they said, ‘Every day you walk past us, every day you don’t use us.’  We explained that we were usually only going a little way up the road to eat, and that we had to get at least some exercise.  They seemed satisfied then, and we agreed that we’d use them if we were going further afield.  Out onto the main road turning left, past the big white mosque then just a short walk on broken pavements or in the road and we reached the juice bar and the place we went to for breakfast.

As always we had quickly created a little world of familiarity.  Twenty four hours in we had eaten at the same place for breakfast twice, eaten dinner at the restaurant where they stared at us twice, and visited the juice bar twice.  My favourite juice bar drink was called Mayflower, made of kiwi and lime.  In restaurants I ordered sathakudi juice because I had never heard of it before, it’s also called sweet lime juice.

For breakfast I had Pongal, again because I had never heard of it before, an almost-impossible to finish dish that felt like eating the creamiest mashed potato, although it is actually made from rice.  I told Y about it and said I thought it would be the ultimate heartbreak comfort food, he laughed and said at his work they call it the sleeping pill, as it makes the students sleepy.  For dinner we ate Sambar idli as an extra, ‘famous’ at the restaurant, and Sambar vada, lovely comfort food that even came in dear little mini versions.  I also ate tomato oothapam which looked kind of like a pizza.  There seemed to be lots of coffee, and some places only did coffee, no tea.

Where we were in Chennai, as compared to where we were in Varkala, some things were not quite so easy, we couldn’t just take our devices and chargers to the nice tourist restaurant, plug them in over dinner and use the fast internet to catch up on social media and download something to watch; the local places did not have WiFi or charging points.

One day, late afternoon-early evening we walked to Chennai beach (pictured), this involved turning right onto the main road, in the same direction as the restaurant where we ate dinner, walking along a very busy main road with no pavements, negotiating our way through rickshaws, scooters and other pedestrians.  Past street stalls of food and plastic tat, and glass fronted air-conditioned shops selling the most beautiful gowns and long embroidered men’s jackets, in my fantasies we’d dress like that.  At the crossroads we turned left, instead of crossing over to the restaurant or turning ‘right at the flower garlands,’ which led to the market.

We passed more shops and restaurants, cows eating out of garbage, banana street sellers, then onto a main road with wide pavements.  We passed people living on the pavements with shelters, cooking equipment and even a chicken.  We walked through a subway and came out onto another main road, crossed over and arrived at the beach.

When we see something for the first time, we see it through the filters of our own experience, comparing it to our own familiar versions.
Chennai beach was nothing like any beach we had seen before.  It was huge; long, wide and flat, it is the longest natural urban beach in the country according to Wikipedia.  There were numerous closed up little stalls about the size of a packing crate, covered in tarps.  I thought maybe it was because it was out of season, but Y told us afterwards that it was only open properly in the evening; we were there too early.

There were a couple of plastic roofed stalls with a few chairs and tables selling snacks and drinks with a few customers, and only a few other people around.  We were the only foreigners.  In the distance near the promenade wall was an encampment.  A man went past us on a horse, he made the horse go fast past us as if showing off.  Along the main drag of stalls were two men with balloons-on-a-board-with-guns stalls set up.  ‘Give me a break, give me a break,’ the man kept saying to us as we went past.  My husband almost had a go, then stopped, suddenly realising he didn’t want to potentially be centre of attention.  Something about the atmosphere made us uneasy.

A boy was selling strange ginger coffee from a flask; it was very milky and tasted of ginger but only faintly of coffee.  We were on our way back to the road when a child ran out from the encampment towards us.  Close up they were absolutely filthy, impossible to tell if they was a boy or a girl.  They started tugging at my arm.  A man from one of the stalls threw a stone in the child’s direction and they ran off.  A moment later another smaller child came running but by then we were almost at the road.

On the way home I bought some bananas from a woman with a stall at the side of the road.  I said thank you in Tamil, wrongly and she corrected me (Tamil is hard!) and fed the bananas to the cows eating out of garbage.  It’s something good you can do that’s less complicated, many things are complicated but this isn’t.

The night before we had gone to the market for the first time.  Stalls on either side of a narrow street sold tomatoes, piled high and such shiny bright red, almost irresistible.  Other stalls sold bananas, onions, or different kinds of fruit and veg.  I saw long green vegetables that I’d never seen before that looked at first glance like enormous runner beans.  Some stalls sold only coriander, walking past the smell was wonderful.  Other people sold fruit and veg off blankets on the ground.  In the midst of it all was a little temple with statues of the God with animals in bright colours, and a little shrine with candles.

I am not that confident in markets in UK, I never know how much to ask for, but here I just handed over a 10 rupee note and pointed to the tomatoes.  I got a big amount, I ate a couple, and bought a bunch of bananas from another stall.  Then we went down the backstreets and fed tomatoes and bananas to the cows.  I did this a few evenings while we were in Chennai, it was one of my favourite things to do.  Helping people a little by buying things off them, and feeding the cows, some of whom are painfully thin, and all of them at risk of obstruction, illness and death from eating plastic bags that food is thrown away in.  The feeling of standing amongst garbage, feeling a cow eating softly out of my hand was spiritual, bittersweet.

I hadn’t been able to find a hand cream to replace my beloved Hemp hand cream and so when someone told me that there was a Body Shop in Kochi I was very excited.  My husband looked up the locations on maps and rang them all up but they were out of stock.  We tried again in Chennai, this involved a trip to the mall near where Y lived so we arranged to go there and then meet up.  We got an Uber there as it was cheap and comfortable for a longer journey.

We drove through an area like nothing I’d ever seen, shops like old-fashioned British front room shops but smaller and more like warehouses; like loads and loads of mini individual scrapyards, chock-a-block to the roof, with tyres and all kinds of auto parts.  I guessed that people fixed their own scooters or rickshaws, or had a mate who did.  My husband had read that Chennai was called the Detroit of India; driving through this area I could see why.  Later we hit the main road and saw lots of bright lights, including a framework of coloured lights making a Ganesha; the sights from the window a mix of old and new, rich and poor.

We got dropped off at the Mall and found the Body Shop.  I was so excited that I accidentally knocked over several of the hand creams that were standing on their ends, and one went down the back of the display, causing the shop staff and the security guard to drop everything and try and rescue it.  I apologised profusely of course and seemed to be forgiven.

They only had one tube and that was a tiny handbag sized cream as if I were being told, Okay, if you really think you have to have it, have it, but you really need to get with the programme of using local stuff.  We ate really bad mall food- microwaved insipid versions of familiar Indian dishes- and watched people be in the mall, shopping and eating crap, just like in the West.

We got a rickshaw from the mall to Y’s house.  We’d been unable to negotiate reasonable prices with the rickshaws in Chennai, even when Y told us, ‘Pay this to this, tops, and that’s being generous.’  He was shocked when we told him how much we’d paid to get to his.

Y lived in the top apartment of his landlord’s apartment block, and we sat up on Y’s roof space with his landlord and family enjoying the lovely evening breeze and the views of Chennai.  I spoke a lot to the daughter who was nearing the end of High School.  She laughed when I told her my dress was made out of a lungi.  I talked about psychology, not a huge profession in India, and occupational therapy, also fairly small with posts often staffed by Europeans…  About Indian squirrels and how I think they look more like chipmunks, and we all talked about Alvin and the Chipmunks, a surprising point of familiarity for all of us.

Indians walk side by side fearlessly even when there’s no pavement and Y was the same, walking and talking with us from his to the restaurant.  Re crossing the roads Y said: ‘In Delhi you put your hand up.  In Hyderabad you make eye contact with the driver.  In Chennai you just walk out and the driver will make the adjustment.’  I was still terrified though.

After dinner we went back to his.  Y called Broadlands for us as they normally have a ten pm curfew.  He spoke with them in Tamil then told us they’d said, ‘It’s okay to come back late, Rachel and Anthony can come back anytime.’

Being at Broadlands provided our first real taste of backpacker sociability.  Downstairs outside the office and backing onto a little courtyard there was a seating area where the WiFi worked, with an old sofa, two metal folding chairs and a low wall that doubled as a seat.  This area was an informal meeting hub, most times there was either someone there or someone came along at some point.  C from Detroit said ‘I’m not normally very sociable but every time I sit here, I end up chatting to someone… its nice.’

C had been in India for six months and had travelled all over setting up links with crafts people wanting to export to the US.  C was a Christian and had a beautifully warm and positive attitude towards both his fellow human beings and the way the universe worked; believing in opportunities and in going with the flow.  We shared our stories; C on his ex wife: ‘She had her own problems, but I thought if I could only love her hard enough…’ and we made a strong connection.

We met a young French couple, a man and a woman, she spoke to my husband about her experience of Kolkatta; seeing lots of people sleeping on the streets had upset her.  She’d expected to find backpackers to socialise with but found that there weren’t many around and those that were weren’t that friendly, mirroring our experiences in Goa and Hampi.

The man talked to me about clothes, about Western versus Indian dress. I told him I covered up.  ‘But is it for you or for them?’ he asked.  It’s a hard question to answer, both, I suppose, it makes it easier for me, by making it easier for them.

We met D, an American who had lived and worked for nine years in China before coming to India.  He had just spent nine months in an Ashram in Varanasi learning Sanskrit.  ‘It’s not like you can order a cup of tea in it, it’s not used like that, it’s to better understand the mantras, when the meaning is known they are easier to remember.’

My husband asked him in a quiet moment, why are you here (in India). D said, ‘I don’t always answer this but you seem pretty cool so I will.  I’m after self realisation and I’m not leaving until I get it.’

There was an Italian man next door who had been in India for twenty years, he said he was unwell, he was very thin, so he was going home for health tests under the free health service.  He had spent time in an Ashram, he spoke about his master and said, ‘You must go there.’

We met a South African man just once briefly while we were waiting for our cab to the bus to Pondicherry.  He had lived here for fifteen years.  He asked us straight away, ‘Has India changed you?’

‘It was what we had to do to get here that changed us,’ I said.  ‘Leaving everything, dismantling our lives there.’  Or I could have said, Everything changes us, all the time.

On the other side of us was an Italian woman, a yoga teacher.  We got off to a slow start.  She told me not to smoke outside my room on the step because the smoke got into her room, which was fair enough and I stopped.  After a few days she did chat to us a bit, but didn’t have anything good to say about where we’d been- Kerala- ‘That’s where everyone goes’- or where we were going- Pondicherry- ‘Full of Westerners, it’s not really India.’  When we came down with our backpacks to go to Pondicherry and she saw our yoga mats she said, ‘Do you do yoga?’ sounding really surprised.

‘People underestimate us, maybe I shouldn’t mind, but I do.’  My husband said.  Sometimes we feel more vulnerable than others.  We talked about it later.  Re people we meet who trigger stuff for us- firstly note that our perceptions can be at odds with their intentions, just as can happen vice versa.  From the start I said to myself she could be getting divorced, or anything.  We really know nothing about people we meet, but the fact that emotions are brought up is helpful for growth and can be explored.  If I feel people underestimate me or think I’m boring or whatever is it because I think those things about myself.  Through meeting those people these feelings are made solid for me to address and to learn from.  Other people help us deal with our own stuff in more ways than one.

Travel update

We are still in Koh Phangan, Thailand, same place as last week.  We have a friend from the UK with us now and tomorrow we all move to a different part of the island, nearer a proper town, less partyish, and right on the beach.

Writing update

After working hard whilst I was on my own for four days, I then gave myself four days off.  I worked on this week’s section on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  My realisation/motto this week has been:  Don’t overload the branches, sections, paragraphs, sentences.

This has meant I have sloughed off bits to be written about later.  Which has also helped with time management.  I have also given just brief outlines of some aspects, particularly people, that I will go into in greater detail for the book.  Time management, again.

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week

Throwback Thursday


, , , , , ,

What strikes me the most when reading these old posts is that I was trying to do too much; working full time in a demanding job, swimming several times a week, writing, spiritual seeking/meditation etc, trying to keep in touch with friends and family, and enjoying and being present for the relationship of my life with the love of my life.

Yes, creative people need time alone.  Yes, I had been used to solitude as a child and as a single parent with those lonely evenings and weekends.  Yes it was an adjustment living with someone.  But I think it would have been easier if I hadn’t been rushing around doing so much, if I had made some space and learned to prioritise the most important things and let go of the rest. 

I still have those tendencies (to overdo the busy-ness), but I am more aware of them.  Right now we are living and travelling together, and are with each other most of the time.   I can write when my husband is there, and I don’t worry about doing much else.

The possibility of ease (first published August 2014)

When the going’s good I find it almost impossible to imagine feeling down, low in energy or less than totally happy and supremely grateful for my life.  When things occasionally dip a little, I find it so hard to get out of and such a puzzle to work out how it happened.  That’s because I am a thinker, an over thinker, and it is not easy to think yourself out of a slump.  Easier to think yourself into more and more happiness, if one is already happy, like a snowball of prayer and gratitude and bliss…  When actually down, thinking is not the answer.  Waiting, or waiting with faith, is.  After a few days it comes to me: what it is that’s the matter, what I did or didn’t do to get me to this place.  Sometimes it’s PMT, sometimes I’m just tired.  This time, it was neglecting my need to be alone sometimes.

I prayed for my house to be filled with Love and I realised, it’s me who can fill it, God gives me the support and motivation to do so, but it’s me who actually does it.  When there’s any friction, it’s all the more noticeable because it’s such a happy house usually.  On the other side of friction there is learning, closeness and new insights.  But in the middle of friction is such confusion and muddy thinking that I couldn’t even write anything for a few weeks.  Now, however, I am bursting, I had to take the morning off work just to write down all the thoughts that were pouring out of me and to organise all the little scraps of paper with notes and ideas on.  But in the middle of friction, everything bad is magnified.  It is easy to become irritated and irritable, even whilst wondering fearfully about what is actually happening, where all the bliss went…

One day after work I stopped at the supermarket and instead of rushing home I paused in the car park for five minutes.  It was close to sunset and the sky was shot with yellow and gold, the clouds luminous at their edges.  The air was cool and warm at the same time.  I had bought myself a little tub of fresh olives and I leant against the car, eating them carefully so as not to spill any oil on myself, whilst looking at the big, open Norfolk sky and feeling the air on my skin.

I have just finished reading Whit by Iain Banks.  It is about a religious cult that tries to operate in the spaces, to be creative in all that they do, in order to be closer to God.  So they travel the most complicated or unusual way rather than just hopping on a train, because in those interstitial places, is where God is found.

In the supermarket car park that evening, I realised: Be Creative.  It doesn’t have to be at home.  I have Saturdays or Sundays most weeks to myself anyway, I also swim two or three times a week, I drive an hour each way to work five days a week, composing my thoughts, my writing.  Sometimes I pull over and write things down in my notebook.  I realise driving is not quite the same as being alone not having to do anything.  Reading Iain Banks, I realised I’ve always enjoyed interstitial time.  Like when I pull up at the pool and instead of going straight in I read for a while or just listen to something I’m enjoying on the radio.  Or when I pull over and park up for a nap during a long journey (or let’s face it, not that long, it’s just me, creating a little pocket of space, although the talcum powder footprints on the passenger door hint at something more exciting than just curling up on the back seat and dozing to The Archers).  Often it has revolved around food, especially ‘naughty’ food that I am happier not admitting to eating.  Smokers do it with cigarettes, I suppose, that little bit of semi forbidden or secret time.

Sometimes I’m a bit slow when it comes to realising things about myself.  In the middle of the friction time, I was chatting to a work colleague I hardly know, in a rare moment of sharing and we were both saying about how we struggle to get any time alone in the house, as our partners are usually home before us.  She told me the story of how the other day she had hoped and looked forward to an hour and a half at home, but what with being delayed at work, a phone call from her mum, and new neighbours deciding to pop round and introduce themselves, this time dwindled as she counted it down in her head until she was left with just five minutes.  I understood completely.  I said, but I feel so bad, I so longed for my man to come to live with me and now he’s here I’m talking about wanting time on my own.  She replied smartly, but you must do it, because otherwise you will get irritated.

But it still wasn’t until the olives in the car park a week or so later that I realised what had been the cause of my uncharacteristic irritation.
I will endeavour to make the most of the little spaces of time alone I get in the house, to use them for writing or reading or napping or whatever I want to, and appreciate them!  But I must also accept that they are rarer and learn to be flexible and to create little pockets of alone time outside of the house: really feel it when I go swimming, for example.  Go upstairs and nap or write even when I am not alone in the house.  Create a pocket of independence and stillness whatever and wherever.  It doesn’t take much.  An afternoon alone in the house to write once a week.  Ten minutes alone with a tub of olives and a pretty sky.  And then I am back, full of love.

Chennai, part two


, , , , ,

2018-08-18 01.26.05.jpg

I fell in love with you and I cried:  Chennai, part two

(Draft chapter cont’d, with extra bits for the blog)

When we arrived in Chennai, I said out loud to my husband, ‘I’ll finish ‘Kochi,’ then I’ll just do a bit for Chennai; there probably won’t be much to write about, it’s a city and I’ve probably used up all my noticing everything energy on Kochi.’  ‘Ha ha ha,’ said the forces of the universe.

We stayed one night in the first guesthouse then moved to Broadlands which had been recommended by Y who lives in Chennai (who we met at Osho’s guesthouse when we first arrived in Varkala).  The guesthouse, set on a dusty side street off the main Triplicane High Road, didn’t look like much from the outside except for its quirky welcome sign (see Instagram travelswithanthony for Broadlands pics).

Stepping inside though, was like stepping inside an old French chateau; the guesthouse has around thirty to forty rooms, built around a central courtyard with a square balcony, with stone floors and dusty hallways, and winding stone staircases leading to tucked away rooms and a roof terrace.  The rough- surfaced old walls were painted faded old white, the paintwork of the banisters of the balcony and the many doors leading off it old baby blue gloss, (the same colour as my Goa birthday ring).

In the courtyard below there were plants in big old white painted stone plant pots and a big green tree, full of crows, its branches growing up above the banisters.  On the dusty stone walkway of the balcony there was an orange cat; one of the guests was taking care of her.  ‘She’s sick, and pregnant, she needs to drink, she’s dehydrated,’ the guest said.

Our room was big and spacious with white washed walls, blue doors and concrete floor.  The high ceiling had wood beams painted baby pink, and lots of cobwebs.  There were three big windows in the room and one in the bathroom, all fitted with mosquito mesh and blue shutters.

From the windows in the room we could see the big white mosque next door, the flock of pigeons on the waste ground between us and the mosque, the neat paved grounds and car park of the mosque, houses and flats in blue, green and peach, and a red flowered green tree.

From the window in the bathroom, white buildings with a glimpse of bright yellow house in-between.  The balconies at the corner of one of the white buildings made gaps like two windows; through the top one I could see the yellow building, through the bottom a green one.  I looked again another day, the green had changed colour.  I was momentarily confused, that scene had been so strong, had I misremembered?  No, there was a sheet or a towel on the balcony!

I saw Indian squirrels for the first time since Panaji, before that I’d only seen them in Hampi, running about on the abandoned sheds of the waste ground outside our window.

At night with the light off, when we opened the double blue doors to the bathroom and put the bathroom light on, the bathroom glowed blue like a portal.

In the morning we were woken at 04:45 by the call to prayer.  We were so close to the mosque that it felt almost painful on my ears.  I went back to sleep, and despite the early morning wake up we have both loved it each time we’ve stayed near a mosque; there’s something timeless and quite magical about hearing the call to prayer.

The next day I sat on the blue painted wooden threshold between the space outside our room and the balcony walkway.  I was writing or should have been writing and having a few moments to myself.  Instead of writing I was trying to find a title for my book, the kind of thing writers can waste hours on.  Going over and over, searching, trying to come up with something, even though I knew that wasn’t how it was going to happen, that a title needs to just come.

At least I’ve set my intention, put it out there that I want to find one, I thought.  I wondered if there was an Indian word, like Namaste (‘Namaste India’), but something less well known, that I could use…  I could ask Y, I thought.  (Y was coming round in the evening to take us to a temple.)

In the courtyard below were three women, part of the house keeping staff of the hotel, standing together in a group.  They were wearing everyday cotton sarees; everyday for them but beautiful to me, like so many things in India.  One red with purple swirls of colour; one an orangey pink with black print; one pale blue almost matching the gloss work with a printed pattern of creamy yellow buttermilk and orange pink leggings which matched the orange-pink saree of the other woman.

The woman with the red-purple saree was wearing a big gold nose stud which flashed like a light.  She was standing with the sun on it in just the right place.  I was sitting in just the right place to see it, and looking at just the right moment.

The three women standing in a circle, or a triangle, in the courtyard and the nose stud shining in the sun was like a scene from a film; easily as beautiful as if they had been dressed in Indian wedding finery and as special to me as the orange cat from the night before.

I forgot to ask Y, but he gave me a title anyway.

I got ready for going to the temple and had a little time to spare, (interstitial time*).  My husband was downstairs using the WiFi and talking to C from Detroit who was staying across the walkway from us.  Y was on his way.

It was raining, we had been surprised by the rain in Chennai, apparently it doesn’t always rain at this time.  The mosque and its lights were white in the dark and the mosque’s pool of water glittered.  I moved the cane chairs with their cushions and our clothes hanging on them back from the windows with their open shutters and sat down, my feet propped up on the other chair.  I had only the low light on so as not to attract mosquitos.

In front of me was a little red table.  Spread out to cover the bed were my lungis, purple and gold and green and gold.  The light from the mosque shone on the rainwater on the blue painted shutters, they looked as if they had been sprinkled in blue glitter.  A fork of lightning flashed in the sky in the gap in between the shutters, one open, one closed.  As the wind blew the shutters the light danced over the raindrops and they glittered even more.

Is it okay to just to be happy?  And what do you have to do to get there?  A lot, because of how things are set up in life.  I thought of the John Lennon quote:  His teacher asked him, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’  ‘Happy.’ he said.  ‘She told me that I didn’t understand the question.  I told her she didn’t understand life.’

(Here, I got a notification that I had to resign into the WiFi. I went on WordPress for a break and saw, ‘For my life to have any meaning, I have to live it for myself.’  That’s the meaning of life, to live it.  To live it for yourself, via escaping conditioning, family, everything that gets in the (your) way)

Y arrived and the three of us got a rickshaw to a completely different part of town.  The area around the temple was busy and colourful with stalls selling, ‘Everything to do with visiting the temple,’ Y explained.  God clothes, which I had previously thought were children’s clothes, fresh flower garlands; the smell of the blossom sweet and strong, the same as the blossom I had put in my hair at the temple in Kanyakumari), ‘And of course food,’ for afterwards.

We walked (clockwise) around the outside areas (non-Hindus are not allowed inside).  The rain had pooled in puddles on the stone floor under our bare feet.  The outside of the temple was decorated with beautiful coloured mouldings.  Coloured electric lights, like fairy lights, were placed around, decorating a statue of Ganesha, a juxtaposition of old and new.

There was a stable full of well fed, happy looking cows, some milk white, the others different shades of browns.  Keeping cows at the temple was a mixture of cow rescue and to use the milk.

Y told us Hindu stories (I couldn’t find the one he told us, but here’s another)  and pointed out religious devotional writing on the stone walls.  ‘It’s all like love poetry,’ Y said, ‘Like, ‘‘I fell in love with you and I cried.’’

I felt myself well up.  Even though Y is one of us, we’ve said anything to each other (I’m beginning to believe you find your people via travel, or on the internet?), and the other person there with us was my husband, I choked back the emotion and changed the subject back to the cows.  But when Y said I could go see them, that made me all the more emotional, thinking of how gentle they are, of the street cows left to eat out of garbage, the horrors of the dairy industry.

At the temple there are poojas six times a day; we saw the last one of the day, which is longer and bigger as it is the closing ceremony of the day.  Everyone stood outside the main temple and looked in.  The crowd began to chant, a low, repetitive singing that wrapped itself around us.  Clouds of incense filled the temple and the courtyard where we stood.  The main statue of the God was being bathed in milk.  Lots and lots of milk, poured over like a fountain or a waterfall.  Y told us it’s not just milk that is used, it’s fruit salad, all kinds of offerings…  I was bordering on being overwhelmed.  Nothing can beat this, experiencing a Hindu temple with a Hindu and a good friend.

In another temple room, the God’s wife was dressed up in a gold and green silk dress.  The dresses are changed during every pooja; people bring the dresses, hence the stalls outside.  At the end the God’s feet were carried on a small chariot from his temple to hers, where they spend the night, symbolising the God spending the night with his wife.  ‘Even the gods need sex,’ Y said.

I had wondered what happens to all the milk.  Afterwards, walking away I saw cats.  ‘There’s lots of cats,’ I said.  ‘There’s a lot of milk!’  Y said.  People take some of it, some of it runs off, the cats drink it.  Rivers of milk, for cats.  There were cats on a wall just outside the temple, just beyond the wall was a little house.  I could see into their downstairs room, there were lots of orange and orange and white cats inside, like a cat cafe.

Later I admitted to having a moment.  I told Y about the poetry, about the title for my book, that ‘I fell in love with you and I cried,’ could be my title, although I forgot to tell him the bit about asking him for it.

I told Y about the women in the courtyard, the beautiful scene, the nose stud.  He told me that in Kanyakumari (my favourite place in India, so far) there is a statue of the Goddess Kanyakumari, apparently the nose stud of the statue shone so bright sailors thought it was a lighthouse and ended up getting caught on the rocks.

(I’d always thought a lighthouse was to warn sailors of rocks, to tell them where not to go, rather than somewhere for them to head to.  Discombobulated that I could have totally misunderstood something so everyday I looked it up on Wikipedia.  Yes lighthouses were originally built to guide ships in to a safe harbour.  Later in more modern times they became warnings re where not to go.  Here is a link to the page and another to a surprising interesting biography about a famous lighthouse designer and builder, a great story about getting gifted opportunities and making the most of them.)

Back at the guesthouse the three of us chatted, swapping ‘spiritual’ experiences we’d had since the last time we’d last seen each other.  Y told us about returning to Chennai the day after we’d met and spent our evening together, he’d had to get a fifteen hour bus ride back to Chennai then go into work to prepare for teaching.

At work he had loads to do- photocopying and getting ready- and only half an hour in which to do it.  He felt spaced out, paranoid, thinking he looked stoned; but everyone was smiling at him and offering to help.  Y realised he hadn’t eaten for fifteen hours.  He asked for some water, one of his students poured some Red Bull into a glass; it looked like a potion.

He thought of what R (who we met at Osho’s guesthouse at the same time) had said about drinking the potion when you are born, the potion that causes us to forget who we are.  ‘Don’t drink all of it, then you’ll remember,’ R had told us.  Y remembered this, and only drank some of it.

Y felt a force of energy crackle all the way up one side and pass all the way though his head and body.  Time altered.  He felt full of energy.  He did all the work, that he had so much of and so little time to do, the work that he’d had only half an hour for but that should have taken even more.  He looked at clock, only ten minutes had passed.

Chennai…  Pondicherry…  Chennai…  Thailand… to be continued…

Travel update 

For pics see my husband’s Instagram travelswithanthony

We are in Thailand, Koh Phangan, same place as last week; my stepdaughter came out to Thailand for a holiday with us.  Thailand is clean, orderly, great food, beach, sea…  Did I mention the food?  Noodles, tofu, fresh vegetables!  Heaven.  But I am still looking forward to getting back to India.

My husband left on Wednesday with my stepdaughter to get the ferry to the mainland, stay the night in the town there before getting the all day train to Bangkok on Thursday.  They will spend one night in Bangkok, then on Friday my step daughter flies home, and at around same time our friend arrives from the UK.  My husband and our friend will stay the night and the next day in Bangkok before getting night train here on Saturday.  They will arrive here around lunchtime on Sunday.  So I have four nights on my own.

First night, couldn’t sleep, and stricken with anxiety especially after we had a spider a couple of days ago.  (My brain fuzzed this out so it looked like fluff, and my husband dealt with it while I cowered crouched on top of the toilet in case it ran into the bathroom).  (My strategy while he is away is to stay outside the room as long as possible then keep the lights off in evening and at night so if there is anything I won’t see it.  I trust that we will keep out of each other’s way.)

The next morning, I pulled myself together, tidied up and put all our stuff away, and arranged for the room to be cleaned, especially dusted.  I went for a swim, a walk on the beach, and wrote.  Kind of like a retreat, in the midst of an idyllic holiday resort that’s gearing up for the Full Moon Party…  Be flexible Rachel, it’s all experience…

Writing update

WordPress, as well as daily life, and discussions with my husband, has been inspirational recently and I hope to get onto that over the next few weeks.  Thank you to Des and Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha for almost giving me more than I can process.

I’m seeing patterns in my writing, which I’m seeing as helpful re writing and as validation re being on the right path.

Sat- day off, (over did it Fri, lack of sleep, travel, etc).  Sun- typed over breakfast and after lunch while the others were doing other stuff, just typing from notebook, organising, moving bits, reading notebook.  Mon- no, busy/out.  Tue- some typing up from notebook.  Wed, Thu, working on this.  I got it done on Thursday evening, so proud of myself!

*Whit by Iain Banks  Talks about interstitial time, religion, cults, and (healing hands) healing.  I recommend it!

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week