Rub Me The Right Way

I love massage – receiving though, I’m definitely not a giver – and I’ll try any way I can to get one; gifts for my birthday, Valentine’s, even Easter. On holiday I’ll ask if there’s a local spa and make sure I have a massage early on in the holiday so that I can usually wangle another at the end.

The worst best massage I’ve ever had was at Cheddar Gorge. Not that they’ve opened a Champneys at the foot of the rock-face but the holiday park we stayed at, with static caravans and ten-pin bowls with pins still on strings had a lovely little spa.

The lady was older – where do massage therapists go after the age of thirty? Do they only have a short life-span due to the onerous work or do they get snapped up by building sites for their meaty forearms and broad hand-span? She also, she told me, taught massage and beauty therapy at a local college. I’m in for a treat, I thought, and I was. Truly professional, firm hands that knew what they were doing and how hard to do it. I felt wonderful – relaxed, pampered, and at one with the world. Until I got back to our static where I started to feel decidedly dodgy; nauseous, drained and heady.  I drank litres of water to flush my system that day and still don’t know whether to curse her for releasing all my long-held toxins or worship her for her skills.

One way to enhance the massage experience is to have one with someone at the same time, not for reasons of shared experience and chakra synchronisation. No, it’s because it’s funny to see someone else get pummelled. In Thailand, my husband and I went to a massage station on the beach where a number of therapists worked on tourists and locals alike. He opted for the full-back massage while I went for head, neck and shoulders. At one point, halfway through my invigorating yet relaxing session, I turned to check how he was getting on. He was lying on his front with a tiny but cruel Thai lady sitting on his back. She had his feet hooked under her armpits and was pulling his arms backwards out of their sockets. His face was a picture and one I only just managed to capture seeing as I was so relaxed I could barely reach for my phone.

I had some experience of massage therapy in SE Asia. Ten years earlier, backpacking in Bali, I’d had a cheap massage or two, so long as that day’s dinner was noodles with no flavouring and I was prepared to recycle my own urine. This was the low end of the therapy market, wandering toothless septuagenarians with a bottle of something unidentifiable as lubricant. One day, one such lady entered the pool area of the bungalow shacks where I was staying and began offering her services to those gathered. As each person knocked her back, she shuffled to the next undeterred. Finally, a newbie agreed to pay her a few baht and she set to work, generously applying a first coat of ‘lube’. I don’t know if she had allergies or the start of a cold but I do know she paused briefly to blow her nose on one hand before putting it straight back on that poor boy’s back. There was a collective gasp around the pool, exchanged looks of ‘she didn’t…did she?’ but no one said a word. In our defence, the moment had passed and the less he knew the easier it would be for him to sleep at night.

My most recent massage was in a local department store and a very lovely Clarins spa, but even here they managed to surprise me. As I undressed and hopped on the bed I realised it was heated. Usually, 2 bed-sheet sized towels and 25 degree heating are warm enough for me but throw in a super-heated bed and I’m ready to expire. She turned it off straight away but the heat merely seeped form the bed into me and back again. I spent 40 minutes throwing off towels and being covered up again.

Now I’ve discovered the ‘at home’ option – it’s free, it’s time-unlimited and it comes with an entertaining line of chatter, singing and ‘what’s this?’ as various objects are rubbed up and down my back. My nine-year-old delights in the potions side of things and my six-year-old is the implements guy – body buffers, cotton wool pads, Beanie Boos and even staplers have made their way up and down my spine.

And all the better for it, it is too!

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Not Our Language Too

BREXIT – the defining question of our age that has us examining our navels at all times of the day or night and not coming up with many right answers – now has me questioning myself at the deepest level. Something I knew to be true now appears not to be…

How to pronounce Brexit!

There’s me merrily going along with my Breck-sit pronunciation, not dreaming for a minute there was any other way to go about it, when I started noticing all the tv and radio presenters are saying Bregg-zit.

Now, I don’t know what a Bregg is, and I want to imagine its zits even less, but seriously…? STOP! It’s bad enough as it is without murdering our language along with our international relations.

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No plastics here.

We went to Holland and entered a world so different from our own. Yes, it’s flat. But that’s not the only striking thing about it.

We had a choice of passing by Antwerp – a whole world of pain a year earlier (but surely they’d have finished the road building by now) – or going ‘the pretty route’. This involved driving across great expanses of water in south-western Holland to our destination.

We chose the pretty route and headed north. Okay, so it was still flat with wind-whipped farms but looking over to the left – what’s that? And that over there? And that? Huge industrial buildings next to long chains of silos, hundreds of feet high; stacks of metal chimneys rising out of concrete blocks; angled office blocks jutting out of the ground; steaming stacks and smoking chimneys (to make biofuel – surely it shouldn’t be that polluting to make); and pylons, pylons everywhere, holding steel-cabled hands across the landscape in a permanently frozen auld lang syne.

The first stretch of water approached. I prepared myself, Saga Noren-like, to cross a bridge where you couldn’t see one end from the other. I channelled my inner difficult self.

We went into a tunnel.

A spotlessly clean, not a leaf to be seen, swept with a toothbrush, tunnel. Then we emerged and looked at the sides of the four-lane dual carriageway. Spotless again. the farmyards, the industrial plants – all swept and organised. No broken pallets lying around, no tyres, no scrap metal. Anything that was ‘spare’ was organised spare.

The next day we drove to Kinderdijk – through more of the same – and found 19 perfectly preserved windmills between 300-400 years old, with a backdrop of pylons and a side of heavy industry. There was even a block of offices for a shipping company built in the shape of a ship.

After the windmills we had a cup of coffee in the cafe and watched the world go by; including a Dutch woman who saw a piece of litter on the side of the bank – and picked it up. She then looked around for any more and finding two other pieces picked them both up too.

Ah, we thought. That’s why it’s so clean; it’s ingrained. A nation who care passionately about their country so much as to pick up an dispose of other people’s litter as a matter of course. That’s why the hedges are clipped perfectly on all the houses and the hedgerows picked clean.

National pride. And, even though that area was a bit bleak in places, it still had soul, and souls who care for it.


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Hard Core

100 years on and I’m happy to cook his dinner. I’m also very happy he does the bins. I have my jobs, he has his.

However, I’m not happy about Lady Doritos, female oppression or that the average age for a young boy to watch hard-core pornography is 11 years. Or the fact that in any place I ever worked there were at least half a dozen men who would say what I’d just said in a meeting and be taken seriously for it.

I hate that the BBC – a publicly funded institution – pays its women less than its men.

I like that we have a queen on the throne, and not that chuffed the next three monarchs will be men. I like that we have a female prime minister, and female Scottish and N.I. first ministers. I hate that Hillary didn’t get the job, not for her politics, but because there will have been at least some who didn’t vote for her ‘because she was a woman’.

Being male, female, white, non-white, disabled, able-bodied, L, G, B, T or Q, short, tall, fat or thin are all red herrings when it comes to judging what someone is like, what they are capable of. The core of a person is what matters, the tough immovable centre that’s in us all; but it takes time to listen, skill to ask the right questions, and the opportunity to look someone in the eye and connect.

The biggest difference in the next 100 years will be the way humans interact with each other and with growing distance and greater speed comes separation and misunderstanding. Take a moment to relate to someone else, and share something about you they didn’t know.

Small actions, big victories.



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(When all else fails) Fly The Plane Yourself

Not the best metaphor given my fear of flying and self-medication on even the shortest of journeys but sometimes you have to break down the cockpit door and wrest control from the pilot, even it if earns you a syringe-full of something mellow and a long stay in the clink.

What am I talking about? Self-publishing, of course.

The jumbo jet that is the publishing industry only flies in one direction, and that may not to the desired destination of the passengers. Apparently, according to ‘some bloke’ my husband met down the pub who works in that field, it departs Oxford or Cambridge some time in your late twenties, early thirties, before a short layover at the University of East Anglia if you fancy a Masters in creative writing. It then cruises along, far above everyone else’s heads, emitting inoffensive literary works featuring at least some author memoir material thinly disguised as fiction. Very occasionally, it can be coaxed into taking on a passenger or two from Luton, but they have to sit in the back and not ask for peanuts.

As for those on the check-in desk, they’re nice people. They smile, respond politely and keep the queue moving, making sure the unworthy travellers are kept away from the plane, but they’re drowning under the volume of hopeful passengers trying to get a ticket. I’ve been trying to get on board for a few years now but I’m terribly English and polite about it. The sign says queue here and wait for the next available agent, so that’s what I do. But there are 500 people behind me and about 2000 ignoring the queuing system altogether.

So my choices were to go home and stay there, or learn to fly myself.

I chose to learn to fly and selected the easiest to fly aircraft I could find – the Kindle HopeItsNotTooLateHundred. The instruction manual couldn’t have been simpler to follow, the simulator was a breeze and soon I was ready to fly.

How much did I pay for my ticket? Not a penny.

Was self-check-in an option? You betcha.

What’s the destination? Mm, harder to tell. I did touchdown in CreateSpace for a paperback version to sleep with under my pillow because, well, you know…   I think it’s going to take a while to get truly airborne but there’s no turbulence, no one complaining about your knees in their back, or shoving theirs in yours, and it feels good to have the controls.

To help keep this little plane in the air, click here 









































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Can you hear that?

I have a thing about ambient noise and modern life. I’m not a hippie-type but I do wonder if it’s possible to achieve inner peace without silence yet we’re surrounded by noise all the time. Right now, I can hear the hiss of pipes, the hum of the boiler, the gurgling dishwasher, the drone of an occasional car and the kids playing in the garden.
Okay, the kids were my choice but the rest of it comes from modern living and wanting all the conveniences of hot water, heating and transport, not to mention release from the drudgery of washing up.
I bought a house a few years ago and although I knew it was close to a motorway – very convenient for getting to work – I didn’t realise I’d be able to hear it from my garden on my days off. It was a faint but persistent drone and I steeled myself against getting het up about it – preferable to moving.
When I next moved, it was to the coast, two roads back from the beach road and at least a mile north of a four-lane A-road but when the prevailing winds blew in from the south-west, so did the noise of the cars.
Now, I live in a major town with the buses and the lorries, the shouty teenagers and rolling drunks, and the silencer-less motorbike that seems to circle the ring road endlessly. I prefer these differing sounds to a motorway drone, there’s a lyricism to it I enjoy, but where can I go for silence?
The parks and the woods are all near roads, as is the path along the river sandwiched between another A road and a railway line.
The beaches are so popular, even in winter, there’s no escaping the dogwalkers, cyclists, joggers, mums with pre-schoolers and the occasional nutter.
Even on holiday, now we go in school holidays, there are the ever-present hordes
of other families.
So last time, we booked the most remote secluded place we could find. A real retreat, an escape from it all. Three miles from the nearest village, fifteen miles from anything approaching a town; a lighthouse cottage in a row of six being refurbished, the only one to be finished so no other guests around, sitting on a headland surrounded by sea. A stunning location to escape the fatigues of modern life.
Only, what’s that I could hear? The waves crashing on the rocks below? The screech of gulls?
No, it was a definite hum coming from outside.
In the garden, I followed the source of the noise – the working lighthouse just outside the boundary was making a low vibrating whirr.
Obviously, I don’t want them to turn out the light but, please, for once, could we just keep the noise down?
PS. We prayed there would be no fog…





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Dogs or Cats?

I seems to me that everything in life at the moment boils down to the single question: dogs or cats?

It is a question which has separated mankind for, one presumes, centuries, if not millennia.

Very occasionally, I would meet the odd person (and they really were considered odd) who had a dog and a cat but I think the last one died out around the time of the second Iraq war.

Now, we are forced to live in such a binary world: dogs or cats? Trump or Clinton? Brexiteer or Remainer? Moslem or Non-Moslem?

What happened to being on a continuum? I’m okay with chocolate but I can take or leave ice cream?

Not any more. You WILL choose between opposing camps. You will not respect the rights and views of the other side, or indeed of the majority. It’s not enough to say, ‘I would have voted Clinton but I respect that Trump has been democratically elected and has the right to rule’. Or, heaven forbid, ‘I voted Remain but I’m okay with Brexit’.

Somewhere along the line, in the last ten years or so, the liberals stopped being liberal and only respected your right to have an opinion as long as it matched their own. Free speech is now such a narrow field I’m surprised anyone bothers with it any more.

The only community bucking the trend is the lesbian and gay one who are becoming more inclusive. Bisexual long since joined the party, then Trans and now Questioning. Can I join under the Q banner if I’m questioning everything I’ve ever been taught about democracy and free speech?

What if I’m questioning all sorts of things I thought I knew about life: weren’t things supposed to be incrementally improving for everyone in the world at any given point in time? Haven’t we never had it so good? Won’t this generation live longer than the last? Why are all the teenagers so tall? And the cancer rates so high?

Back in the 80’s, Charles Handy promised me a portfolio career, matrix management and more leisure time than I knew what to do with.

The reality is I’m working harder than ever for less money, have a mortgage bigger than a mill around my neck and wouldn’t know a day off it tripped me up and made me spend the day in an (underfunded) A&E department.

It seem to me to come down to one, final, binary question: what kind of future do we want for ourselves and our children – better or worse than the one before?

Of course the answer is better. So we need to respect the rights of others to hold views different from our own, stop all the hate, and face the future with a positive attitude and a tolerant heart.

Starting now.

PS. The answer is dogs. No question. (I know – but sometimes you sit at the end of the continuum…)

PPS. About the teenagers – maybe it’s the hormones in food, d’uh. (Probably applies for the cancer question too…)


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