This is a series of 26 articles about various things that interest me. Many of them contain solid advice based on my experience, some are more fanciful and others are told in story form. My favourite, if you’re interested, is C, but they’re all worth a read.
Oh, and if you want to listen to my voice reading them, then head on over to the podcast Sklugoo Speaks, where Sklugoo, a small, green meditating frog, uses my voice as a channel for his wisdom. And yeah, I know that you think that frogs can’t do that.
Victoria wasn’t really looking out of the window when she saw the naked man in her back garden, she was looking at a reflection of it on the mirror she was using to apply mascara. Her eyes were focused on the tiny brush stroking languidly over her eyelashes and so she only got a quick flash of a well-built shape, just beyond the conifer at the bottom of her garden. He was watching her.
Of course, by the time she had turned away from the mirror to look directly into the garden, he was gone.
You’re hallucinating again, she told herself firmly and turned back to the mirror. With the unhurried strokes of a patient woman, she continued to darken her eyelashes.
Wishful thinking, Victoria. Get a grip.
Still, she wasn’t sure. Wishful thinking was one thing, but an actual naked man was a whole other kettle of boiling water. She let her mind run over the memory of his body. His outline had been pure Greek God, naturally. She wouldn’t want any other vision in her mind. And his skin had seemed to glow, whether with health or with the sun she wasn’t sure. Certainly it had been sunny enough lately for him to have picked up a tan if he’d been sunbathing, sprawled out on the patch of lush grass at the bottom of her garden, legs slightly akimbo, one hand shading his eyes and the other flung out carelessly towards the house as if in invita …
Victoria pulled the mascara brush away from her face and shook her head to clear the vision. Cool yourself, honeychile, she chided herself; it’s hot enough in this room without raising any more heat.
She stood and let her gaze sweep around. Four solid walls with a built in wardrobe, dressing table and bed. And then the other dimension: a panel window that looked out over the garden. Radiant flower-beds and lush greenery: life captured and suffused with dappled sunshine that played tag with the riotous colours of summer. A mad rush of paint on a genius’ canvas. A feast of sensory perfection. A pair of liquid brown eyes gazing at her from between the azaleas. Victoria swept her mascaraed eyelashes down. Nope, not going to go there.
She’d been having a little therapy. It was one of the conditions.
The counsellor, with his twinkling eyes and smooth voice had told her to move away from her self-imposed limitations; to let her mind sweep over possibilities; and to learn to trust in in her latent goodness. He was chock full of stuff like that. But still, she liked him enough to listen to the drone of his voice. She didn’t tell him everything. How could she? But she told him enough for him to smile benignly, nod and make little jottings in his notepad. Mostly harmless, she thought. Mostly.
Still, he’d given her clues. He’d directed her where to look in her childhood for the seeds of … whatever it was that now swirled around her mind like an invisible vine. She was aware that she still had the curiosity of a child inside the layers of skin that had somehow draped themselves over her delicate bones, pinning her down to earth; no more to fly. She kept her curiosity hidden now; inside a sealed casket within a locked box beneath the floorboards of a secret room.
But, like any child, she always wanted to know. What’s in there; who lives inside; where does he come from, what does he do; why that shape; how does it feel; and when, when, when will it be my turn? As a toddler she’d caught glimpses of her parents behind doors left carelessly open and the things she’d seen, but never understood were, back then, like strands of spider’s web tickling inside her forehead, but now they howled like haunted wolves in the spaces between her ears as she sat and nodded and smiled silently at the counsellor over tea and sweet biscuits.
The biscuits were nice, even if they were always gone too quickly.
Heck; is that the time already? Victoria slammed the shaft of the mascara brush into the little tube, screwed it shut and tossed it into her makeup bag. On with the show. Pausing only to grab her dressing-gown, wrap it around herself and belt it tightly, she headed for the door. Almost forgetting, she half-raised her hand to slap it against the closed door; ready to signal to the nurse in the corridor to open up, then remembering, she let her hand drop to the door knob. No more of that. Not now. Not ever if I can help myself. She gripped it and twisted. Pulled the door towards her. Opened it wider to let the light flood through. Slipped through the gap and stood on the threshold for a moment, taking in the scent of freedom, the sensation of being without bounds, the delicious experience of living a life without locks. Then she headed towards her kitchen, and breakfast.
I don’t like writing about people unless they’re made-up or I have a problem with them.
If the people I set out to write about are just ordinary people that I know and all that they’ve done are ordinary things then I get bored even before I start to write. I like to read about interesting people doing interesting things and so if the people in my story aren’t like that then I don’t even want to start.
Reality gets in the way of imagination and so, while it’s possible to make fictional people do anything that I want them to, the same thing isn’t possible with real people. For instance, let’s say that I knew someone called Joe (I didn’t) who threw water on the girls to make them giggle and squeal, then I’d be thinking, as I was writing, about why (fictional) Joe wanted to do that. I’d be giving him a background, a thought-process and an end-game (where he wanted to end up vis-a-vis the girls). If, on the other hand, I was writing about a real Joe, then I wouldn’t be able to do any of the above. For a start, I wouldn’t be able to tell what (real) Joe was thinking and, for a finish, the real events of the scene would intrude into my idea of what I wanted the (fictional) Joe to do. And it’s even worse if (real) Joe didn’t do anything interesting at all.
Fictional people can be anything I want them to be and so, when you think about it, it’s natural that I’d want to write about them. Even when I’m writing about real people doing interesting things I still don’t have the freedom to move away from the script of reality. I mean, sure, I can vary the way that I tell the (real) story – that’s, after all, what Creative Non-fiction is all about – but I can’t alter the facts of the matter. If I did – it just wouldn’t be true anymore. It’d just be fiction.
Okay, okay – I hear you. You have a couple of questions in your mind. First up comes: what’s the point, closely followed by: what’s this got to do with how to journey well? Okay, confession time: the answers your questions can be derived from: I was going to tell you a true story about a train journey, but it was boring. My story might well have illustrated how to journey well, but you would have been asleep by the end of it. The only interesting thing in the story was a mouse in a shoe. So, yeah – I’m not going to do that to you.
But, hey – at least you’ve learnt a little about me and the way that I think about stories and people, right? So it can’t be all that bad!
Still, let me leave you with a few parting words of wisdom about journeying well: make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothes and, before you set off, get yourself a decent haircut. Both these things will help you immensely; believe me.
It’s one thing to have a good day, or even a good week, but it’s quite another thing to have a good life. To do that, we have to learn to get our happiness and then keep a tight hold on it throughout the inevitable challenges that come our way.
Imagine you have a really nice bike. It can be a mountain bike or one with tassels on the handlebars and a really useful wicker basket attached to the front or it can even be one with a motor that goes vroom-vroom when you twist the grip. Whichever way around – imagine that bike and the pleasure you get from riding it around your neighbourhood. Now imagine that someone nicks it. One day, you go to the place where you’ve stored it and it’s gone. Not so happy now, are we?
The Buddhists call it (the thing that makes you unhappy when you lose stuff) attachment. They say that when you get attached to stuff then you’re basically setting yourself up for a fall. They also say that if you have a more easy going attitude towards ownership then you don’t get so sad when it’s taken away from you.
It’s not just bikes that can get taken away – it’s everything. There’s not a single thing you have now that it isn’t possible to lose. Just think about that. Basically, that means that we have a huge potential to be unhappy.
Don’t worry, though – there’s a solution. No, it doesn’t involve giving everything away (although, actually, that’s not such a bad idea). The solution is better than that because you still get to keep your bike. Cool, huh! All it involves is a simple change of attitude towards stuff. And – bonus – it involves being happy!
So here it is – the secret to keeping well is: * d r u m r o l l * be happy.
What? You need more detail? Well, alright. Try this: be happy with what you have.
The way it works is this: if you have feet then be happy, if you have wheels then be happy, if you have a motor then be happy, if you have a rocket then be happy, if you have the Starship Enterprise then be happy, if you have the universe then be happy and if you’ve got to the end of this article, then be happy.
Annabella’s in hospital. She was feeling very sorry for herself but she’s a bit better now, thank you very much. She had an operation that hadn’t hurt at the time, but was now making her head hurt like buggery. It’s terrible that things like that happen to people, but what can you do? Sends her good wishes? Ha – the only thing that’s going to help poor Annabella right now is a morphine drip and complete bed rest.
She fell down and hit her head on something very sharp, you see. By fell down I mean that she fell down the front of a building from second floor balcony. And by hit her head, I mean that the railing went into her cheek and out of her posterior fontenelle and on the way through it shoved aside some very important soft stuff. But look on the bright side, it didn’t rip her head right off her neck, and she doesn’t seem any worse off from the experience. Apart from having a nagging headache that even the morphine can’t touch. Oh, and she also feels like crying most of the time.
Pulling her off the railing would have been a tad dangerous, what with it going through her brain and all of that, so they didn’t do that. The medics shot her full of happy juice, strapped her to a cunningly slanted board that kept her stable while the firemen sawed off the piece of railing that had impaled her skull. They did a really good job of it actually.
Then, at the hospital, came the tricky bit. The best brain surgeon in the hospital – a nice old gentleman call Mr Walsh – came in on his day off and got the railing out. At the most prosaic level it involved pulling the thumb out of the pie without too much of the plum-filling coming out too. On a more eloquent level, it was a, rather delicate, fifteen hour operation that involved periods where Annabella had to be fully awake and chatting to the surgeon as they were sliding the metal shaft carefully out to make sure that the mechanics of it didn’t destroy more brain tissue than it already had.
Then there came the recovery. Annabella’s cool with it all actually. She’d always believed in insurance and so had got herself a really good health care policy that paid for the best treatment and rehabilitation money could buy. Plus, I sent her a super-nice card that said ‘Get Well Soon’ on the front in a pretty nice font. The flowers (on the card) were really nice too. Cost me a couple of quid that card did so I hope she appreciated it.
I hope she gets well soon. I’m missing her cooking. Beans on toast is fine but it loses its xxx after a while. Similarly jacket potatoes, no matter how much butter you put on them.
Right, got to go now, there’s a really good documentary on BBC Two that starts … now actua
Daphne doesn’t dance. She never danced when she was little, nor as a teenager, a young woman, an older woman and she’ll never dance now that she’s full of rheumatics. There’s a certain style to Daphne, but it’s nothing to do with the way that she moves, it’s more about how she holds herself still when all else rushes around her. Or so it seems to her. She thinks of herself as the sun. Or the Queen of Sheba. Or, on her darker days, a little old lady sat on a chair in a care home.
It’s not a particularly comfy chair, but it suits Daphne’s nature. She’s never been a particularly comfortable person. Not within herself, nor to be around. The other residents of the care home tolerate her more than they like her. She’s a bit sharp with them at times. And the rest of the time, she’s ‘bloody rude’, as Ethyl declared one rainy evening when she and Daphne disagreed over whether they should watch Love Boat (Ethyl’s choice) or a boring documentary about some dusty hell-hole or other (not Daphne’s description).
One day, Daphne died. And she went to heaven. When she got to the pearly gates, St. Peter said ‘there’ll be dancing tonight, you up for it?’
Of course, Daphne knew it was a trick question. Quick as a flash she said ‘yes, of course, St Peter. I’d love to go to a dance tonight.’ She knew that if St. Peter invited you to go to a dance before he let you into heaven then you blooming well better put a good face on it and agree. In fact, she’d decided to say yes to anything anyone asked her to do in heaven on the principle that there are lots of good people there and so they wouldn’t steer her wrong.
In fact, it wasn’t a trick question at all. St. Peter was, in all earnest, trying to drum up support for a new initiative he’d launched called How to Dance Well. He’d reasoned that, rather than leave it to the amateurs down on earth to tell people how to get down and get with it, he’d give them the skinny himself, being, as he was, rather a hipster. He’d found that the best way to pass the centuries along was to try new things. You see, like Daphne, he’d never been one to shake his groove thang either.
So, to cut a long story in half, he let Daphne into heaven, assigned an angel to show her where she’d been bunked and then went to his own digs to get himself ready; which is to say that he kitted himself out in something very similar to the outfit he’d once seen John Travolta wear in a film called Saturday Night Fever.
Cometh the night and they were all there standing around the dance floor. Girls on one side and boys on the other, as was once customary on earth and is now expected in heaven by them as what thought they knew what god and all his angels expected of them.
God, typically, wasn’t there. But that’s old news. I’ll tell you about it some other time.
St. Peter was the first to make his move. He’d already had a word with the DJ to get him to play music suitable for the kind of lively tripping of the light fantastic he expected, and he wasn’t disappointed when the strains of something funky began to flow from the speakers. St. Peter jigged forward, the side to side movement of his hips synched nicely to the throbbing beat and fingers pointing first one way then another. He was the very epitome of a dancing queen.
As soon as he reached the very centre of the floor, he came to a stop and did something no-one, least of all Daphne, who was watching from the side of the dance floor in her best glad rags, expected. He sat down on the floor.
‘This,’ he boomed out, his voice raised effortlessly over the music, ‘is how to dance.’
Well, you could have heard a pin drop if the disco beat hadn’t still been pounding out of the speakers.
Luckily, the DJ was a fast thinker and he killed the track immediately. No-one dropped a pin, but Daphne’s jaw did go rather slack until one of the angels standing beside her reached out a finger and pushed her teeth together with an audible clack.
St. Peter was not one to repeat himself, but, for the benefit of those at the back, he did so anyway. ‘This is how to dance when dancing is, as it should be, an expression of your inner being. At heart, we are peace. At our core, we are silence. We express the joy we feel, when we are living our truth, as love. Love, not of movement and sound, but of profound stillness.’ His eyes then turned to Daphne, whose lower jaw instantly began to sag again. ‘Daphne, you have been an shining example of how to dance well. I’m proud of what you’ve achieved in your time on earth. Of course, we’ll have to give you some guidance on how to avoid being rude to people who want to watch the other channel, but we have a seminar every Thursday at eight that’ll cover that off nicely.’
On hearing that, Daphne beamed, the music started up again and they all had a good boogie along to an ABBA medley that seemed to go on all night, and yeah verily a good time was had by all.
Beverly wouldn’t have been nowhere near tempted to head for the butterfly if she’d known what was going to happen. If she’d had any idea, she would have stayed indoors where it was safe rather than slowly opening the patio door so that she could run barefoot towards the shrubbery at the bottom left of the garden. She wouldn’t have waved to the bumblebees as she passed them, smelled the flowers that she trailed her hand through in passing, and wouldn’t have come to the fence on which the most beautiful, butterfly was trembling, and over which the man was watching her.
She didn’t see him at first, intent as she was on the butterfly, but as soon as she did, she knew that he was a stranger and she remembered the words her mother had drilled into her: stranger danger!
‘Hiya, what’s your name? Mine’s Chris,’ said the stranger as soon as he’d seen that she’d noticed him.
‘Ag, no.’ Beverly’s eyes had become panic-wide and the word danger was blaring so loud inside her mind that it left no room for anything other than monosyllables to make it to her mouth.
The man could see whites all around her blue irises. A pretty effect, he mentally noted, but she’s a fawn about to run. Slow her down. Gain her trust. Say something funny. He smiled and opened his mouth to speak but before he could do so, he heard a voice behind him.
‘Chris, what’re you doing up there? Come in the house and help me move these boxes upstairs.’
‘Hey, sweetie. He pushed himself away from the fence and, still holding on with both hands, turned. ‘I’m just meeting our neighbours; come say hi.’
The woman smiled and walked towards the fence with an expectant look on her face. She knew, from experience, that moving into a new neighbourhood was tough and so they both tried to get to know the people in the houses around them as quick as possible.
Chris let of the fence with one hand and held it out to his wife, who took it and jumped lightly up to join him on the bench he was stood on. They both then peered over the fence that let on to the neighbour’s garden.
But, in the few seconds that had elapsed, the woman in the cornflower-blue dress was gone and the only things they could see moving were a butterfly heading for the azaleas and the curtain behind the closed patio door swaying as if a breeze were playing across it inside their neighbour’s house.
Behind that curtain, sat Beverly, head down, rigid with fright. Her play date with the butterfly was over. She squeezed her eyes shut, but not in time to stop a single tear from escaping and plopping onto her cornflower-blue dress.
According to those venerable people who make dictionaries in Oxford, England, ululation means to ‘howl or wail as an expression of strong emotion, typically grief’. Apparently, it’s done at weddings, funerals and half-time skits at the Super Bowl (hi, Shakira).
All that said – it ain’t an easy thing to do. Leastwise, not for me.
I guess it’s all to do with my upbringing. I just wasn’t raised to make that kind of sound. Not under any circumstances. Heck, even my habit of singing all the time wasn’t seen as being entirely cool. And everybody used to sing. Apart from my Uncle Alan, who was more of a sitting-watching-TV kind of a guy. Oh, and my dad, who’s a firm believer in working as an expression of his inner being. Hmm. Actually, when I think about it – none of the generation up from me did any singing. And none of them ululated either.
If I’d have grown up ululating, then I could probably do it now. As it is, I feel kinda embarrassed to try. Even if I could get my vocal gear to oscillate properly, I still feel very odd doing it. Okay let me try now and then I’ll tell you how it feels.
Actually, that wasn’t too difficult. If must be something that comes with practice. Today is the first day that I’ve ever tried ululating, and this is the fourth time I’ve tried it today. Impressed? Well, you should be.
Here’s the thing, though – I didn’t feel any kind of emotion when I ululated just then. And, as far as I’m aware, the people that ululate do it as an expression of grief (when they do it at a funeral) or joy (when they do it at a wedding) but me, doing this in a cupboard under the stairs, whilst looking forward to dinner, doesn’t count as either of these.
Maybe I ought to wait for a funeral to unleash my vocal performance. Let’s have a think – I wonder who’s going to pop their clogs first. Urgh, no – that feels wrong. Not that idea of me ululating at a funeral, but the thought of planning-out who’s going to die. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m superstitious or something, but I’m a little afraid of naming someone and then having them drop dead within the week. Okay, let’s not go there then.
So, what about weddings? I can just imagine me standing up in the church, just after the groom has kissed the bride for the very first time (’cause the first time happens at weddings, right?), and letting rip with my newfound skill of ululation.
I mean, what would people think!
I reckon, therefore, that I have to do one of the following to be able to get good at ululation:
get to know people from the kind of culture that ululate a lot
throw off my inhibitions and just go for it
only ululate in the cupboard under the stairs (or in the shower)
practice the kind of ululation that only mice can hear.
Other than that, I’m a bit stuck really as to how to ululate well. Sure, I’ve become four times as good as I was before just by practicing a bit, but I don’t feel like I’m going to be breaking any Olympic records in ululation any time soon. Maybe I just have to accept that I’m not an ululating kind of a guy and move on.
Then again – never say never. Who knows – I might just meet someone tomorrow who changes my life. Possibly maybe.
Well, anyway – let’s see.
And so, that’s all I got for you on the subject of how to ululate well. Hope it helps.
Any-which-way-around, tune in next time for another fascinating post on how to do stuff well and (perhaps) change your life in the process. And, erm, thanks for reading. Bye!