Cake, Celts and Cosiness

Aloha! How are you doing today?

I’m having a Housey Day and it’s quietly wonderful. There’s a 3 Ingredient Cake slowly baking in the oven, although I didn’t have chocolate milk…so I improvised with cocoa powder and stem ginger, ‘cos it was there…seems okay so far…

I’ve spent the morning doing a bit of House Elfery and tiddling about with ideas that have been on a back burner for a while, like learning to design Celtic motifs and use a woodburning tool on leather. I’m generally feeling very lucky to be healthy, loved and in my warm home, doing things I enjoy.

Sometimes you need a day to gather your thoughts and slip down a couple of gears, I think….to allow some space for little seeds of inspiration to germinate. And have a little sleep.

Did you see this tree this week? Stunning. I wonder which was there first, the temple or the tree? Follow the link to Japanese tree porn at the bottom of the article if you like the gingko tree. Magical.

I hope you’re at peace with your world. Time to check on the cake…



The Why of Aikido


I’ve been taking aikido classes for a few years now, and one of the things that interests me is how people respond to this.

“Oh, what’s that?”

“Is that like judo?”

“I used to do karate.”

What people never, ever ask me is why I go. Perhaps they make assumptions about learning self defence or keeping fit, or assume that I just enjoy it (sometimes I do love it, and sometimes I struggle with it). Or maybe they don’t ask the question because their exposure to martial arts is limited and they’re worried they won’t understand the answer. Or maybe they think it looks cool and people generally like to look cool.

So today’s post is about what I get from the mat, for anyone who is curious or toying with the idea of trying it out.

Patience. When I went for my first lessons I went home and cried afterwards. Not because people were being mean to me, or because I was taking a beating. Just out of pure frustration; aikido is subtle, multi-layered, and can’t be mastered in a hurry. In aikido, there are no short cuts, and most people develop in bursts between (sometimes agonising) periods of incomprehension. You’ll be patient, or you’ll give up. Aikido is a very good exercise in Not Giving Up.

Posture. As time goes by, I wear the deepening imprint of my teachers’ words. “Sink. Settle. Relax. Be soft. Be ready. Keep your energy in your centre.”  Somebody who recently came to watch a tai chi class observed that sinking is the opposite of conventional wisdom. “We’re supposed to stand up tall with our shoulders back and our head up, right?” Right; and aligned posture is a good thing. However, it’s pretty damn easy to knock someone off balance physically or emotionally when their energy is up in their shoulders and their head. I frequently marvel at how different I feel making the drinks or going up and down stairs at work now, compared to five years ago. Posture affects everything. It matters.


Leading and blending. The philosophy of aikido is to seek a win-win; take what you’re given, add to it and direct it. This is a philosophy, as well as a way of dealing with a physical attack. Aikido is a mindset.

Fear. I was afraid to try. I’d had numerous bad experiences at school where language, conventions and subject matter were foreign to me and sporting prowess was king (I am not sporty). I’d been made to feel small for a long time so taking part in activity that involves a fair amount of Japanese, where most of the class are high grades and men, strangers, and bigger than me and where there is a realistic possibility that I might get hurt was very, very unattractive. But my rule is, if it scares me, I have to find a way to do it. I won’t let my worst enemy live between my ears. And as it turns out, I am a perfectly adequate human being, capable of learning a martial art and getting along with people. Hooray!

Dealing with threat. The first rule of aikido is Stay Safe, which begins with awareness and observation. If trouble comes your way, don’t be there. If you have to be there, time on the mat helps to practise the possibilities available to you. Practising techniques trains my brain to watch what is happening and move my body in response, rather than freezing like a rabbit in the headlights. Providing I can remember what I’m doing, of course 😉

Finding out what I am, and learning how I learn. Don’t talk to me in degrees and angles. Give me images of hosepipes, turntables, little birds, roller coasters, glasses of milk and crocodiles and I’m there. I’m understanding the architecture and traits of my body, movement and reactions. I am training both sides of my body and brain. As a dinky person, some techniques seem practically useless to me, yet others bring a 6’4″ hulk of a man to his knees so fast, you’re left wondering what happened (and so is he). Know what you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

Aikido is beautiful. Go and see for yourself.

Friendship. I went to aikido for mental discipline and self defence. There I found the most eclectic, lively and warm group of people there from all walks of life, with different religions, occupations and demeanours. Class kicks the winter blues in the butt, learning and laughing and getting things wrong together. Which leads me on to…

Love, and I’ve never been happier. Now, I’m not saying you can be assured of romantic attachment with an aikido club, but you never can tell… 🙂

So if there’s a bit of you that thinks “Hmmm, maybe that would be fun”, you owe it to yourself to find out if you like it. And of course, be patient…






Hanging around cemeteries (and no cider in sight).

I’m fascinated by cemeteries, but not in a morbid way. I actually don’t like to think too much about what lies beneath the soil, but I do appreciate the peace and the wildlife and the history and people’s stories. We once lived next to a little churchyard in a hamlet in Leicestershire (my mum never tired of telling people it was Dead Quiet) and one of the headstones recorded the demise of a man who “fell off a pile of beans”. Another headstone in a cemetery near us records the sad death of a two-year-old by the accidental discharge of a firearm.


Check out the tones and detail in this ageing stonework. Isn’t it exquisite? Ann Wallis was in the ground by the time she got to my age. Looks like the second Mrs Wallis had a better innings; I wonder what Ann would have made of sharing her plot. What was she like? Did many people attend her funeral? They’d have worn clothes we only associate with period dramas now. Afterwards, did they drink in a pub we’d recognise?


I doubt I’ll end up in the ground, but if I did I’d like a plot like this one. Covered in life and wildflowers with a cheeky reclining cherub keeping an eye on me. Stick a hedgehog shelter and a bug house on it while you’re at it. I’m cool with that.


Abundant life. I adore the happy faces of daisies.

Bill Bryson’s exploration of the history of British cemeteries is well worth a read in this great book. Fascinating, I’ve been to the Glasgow Necropolis a couple of times. Magnificent. And when I get around to Highgate, you’ll most definitely be hearing about it…

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

– Mary Oliver

Brixworth. Not a lot like Brixton.

We had a particularly warm and balmy Friday afternoon recently, and I found myself passing Brixworth Country Park (next to a big puddle known as Pitsford Reservoir). I owed myself an Artist Date so I dropped in for a peaceful couple of hours with the bunnies, bugs and birds.


Brixworth is the newest of our local country parks, developed with funding from the Millennium Commission and priding itself on accessibiltiy to all. This makes it unchallenging territory for seasoned walkers but pretty awesome for little ‘uns and people with mobility problems. It also has a quaint preoccupation with gnomes.


I was really struck by this wonderful quote. It might well make it into a frame before long. How easily we become jaded, mundane and blind to the world.


I kinda wished I’d been part of this endeavour 🙂


Every school should have one.


The view to the water.


As evening approached…


How about this magnificent fella? Master of all he surveys…and a fish almost as big as he is.

The Artist’s Way

Hey! How’s it going? This week I’ve pulled my copy of The Artist’s Way from our groaning shelf of unread books (well-intentioned book-buying is a thing round here). It feels like the right time, and we were blessed with a perfect sunny afternoon for me to soak up its wisdom in the garden.


I’m not sure what I expected from this read – I just feel ready to grow out of my creative comfort zone – but I have to say that I’m feeling pretty excited to embark on three months’ travel through unfamiliar territory. Today I wrote my first Morning Pages (the first “tool” is to write three stream-of-consciousness pages each morning in order to clear the mind, learn to disregard our inner censor and crystallise mental blocks and patterns of thought). Was it easy? Yes, actually, although I was surprised that it took me a little over 20 minutes. My hand had trouble keeping pace with my head.  I actually enjoyed it. It felt like very real time spent with myself, and I can now see why the trip might take some ugly turns later. Honestly is not always comfortable.


Ten days into my morning pages, it seems very odd if I miss or delay them. It’s become part of my morning routine, along with nei gung (which I practice as soon as I get up because I know damn well that tiredness or the day’s events will blow me off course if I leave it until later). I get a bit annoyed with myself if I dilly-dally and find my writing time shortened, and the act of depositing my scurrying thoughts onto the page does seem to leave me more clear-headed and cheerful as I embark on my day. Yes. I like the morning pages.


The morning pages are here to stay. It’s a bit like emptying the vacuum cleaner each morning. Instead of the same dusty old thoughts circulating round and round, dump ’em and make room for new ones. And…it’s very difficult to keep writing about the same gripes or anxieties without doing something about them…




Do you need to stop?

I’m a busy bunny, and I enjoy being that way. I think a lot. I do a lot. But now and again, things start to spin out of control and I start to wonder if I need to camp out on the moors for a year or two (I was voted student most likely to become a Himalayan goat-herder, after all). My yang, you might say, is on a military offensive and my creativity is the casualty. I’m too busy doing to think or be.

I need to S.T.O.P. Slow down. Take stock. Organise myself. Pay attention to the present. And put the lid on that popcorn brain.

Nowadays, meditation and flute practise put the brakes on for me. (I get myself to a Buddhist meditation class regularly so I can’t cheat myself of sufficient time to slow down.) And having a little conversation with Wunderlist about what reeeeeaaally needs to be done. Ever get the feeling you’re doing four times as much as you really have to?

How about you? Do you have a reboot strategy?