2016 Grateful 22

A conversation I had last week …

‘Oh’, says she. ‘Fancy coming shopping? I’ve got to get something to wear for tomorrow night.’
‘Where are you off to?’ I asked.
‘A posh do, at the Marriott.”Fancy’ says I, wondering when she’d moved into the realms of poshness and why I had been left behind.
‘Yes’, she went on. ‘Got a printed invitation in the post last week. Didn’t say much, mind, other than where it was on and what time. Here, have a look.’
‘Nice, very nice’, says I, turning the card over in my hand. ‘Nice typeface. Very chatty. But you’ve read it wrong. It’s not at the posh Marriott hotel; it’s at that laid-back pub around the corner, the Marionette. So wear whatever you’d normally wear out to the pub at the weekend.’
‘But it was a posh invite’, she said, obviously disappointed.
‘Look on the positive side’, says I. ‘At least you got something in the post this week other than a bill. When was the last time that happened and it wasn’t Christmas or your birthday? Isn’t that something to be grateful for?’

littlehtings2Amy Morin wrote in Forbes a coupe of years ago about seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. It

  1. Opens doors to more relationships
  2. Improves physical health
  3. Improves psychological health
  4. Enhances empathy and reduces aggression
  5. Makes you sleep better
  6. Improves self-esteem
  7. Increases mental strength

So there you have it… It was in Forbes and apparently it’s been proven to work. I’m not sure about the science, but I can say from experience that, apart from No. 2, I can buy into the rest.

On being an aunt (4) – 2016 Grateful 23

aunt1Well, the boy has gone. Back home. To his parents. I survived. He survived. He even went shopping (hates it) and bought presents for everyone. He’s not fond of parting with his money but I managed to spend most of it for him and by the end of the week he was volunteering to spend it. That’s progress.  That’s an education that will stand him in good stead down the road 🙂  He really has the makings of a lovely young man.

He said he loves Budapest. Loves the city. Loves the atmosphere. When I asked what the best part was, he said it was making new friends. Knackered though I was, I found the energy to be suitably impressed. It wasn’t the fact that he could do what he liked when he liked (mostly) or eat what he wanted when he wanted (always) or decide what to do each day without having to consider his brother. It was that he made new friends. Perhaps there is hope for the human race yet.

The boy is a game addict. He’s rarely without his phone or his iPad or whatever it is he plays his games on. But this past week, his new friends were into different sorts of games – the ones you play with people, using your imagination. Had I to graph his phone usage in the week he was here, it was trending downwards. That’s good, I think. That’s definitely good.

The place is quieter without him, even though he’s more the speak-when-spoken-to type – unlike his brother who would talk for Ireland. It feels a little empty. And while I enjoyed his visit, I’m glad to have my space back. I need to work. To get back to doing everything I had planned to do last week and didn’t. The bills have to be paid.

AuntI’m getting glowing reports from across the sea. I could well be his favourite aunt right now (but he only has two). He’s even said that he’s coming for the whole summer next year, if I’ll have him.  Now there’s an expectation that needs to be dampened. The thoughts of spending a whole summer in this city is bringing me out in a cold sweat, which in this horrible heat is no mean feat.

But I’m glad he was so impressed with Budapest living. And I’m glad he met some new people and had a chance to be himself, to show some independence, to fly on his own. And I’m grateful for all I’ve learned this week and for the tiny increase in my patience levels. It’s been fun.


Jamie Cullum at Veszprém Fest

2016 Grateful 24: Jamie Cullum

I’ve gotten used to being shortchanged when it comes to entertainment. Gone, I thought, were the days when the fortune I shelled out for a concert ticket would guarantee me at least 90 minutes, if not two hours, of solid entertainment. A bit of banter was something I’d come to expect, that somewhat old-fashioned concept of rapport.

The more gigs I went to, the more disillusioned I became. Sinéad O’Connor’s 60 minutes of sunglasses in Budapest last year left me cold. Stacey Kent’s more recent concert (same city, different venue) would have been more suited to a jazz club than a full-on arena. I think I slept through parts of it. But then along comes Jamie Cullum and gives me a reason to hope.

Jamie Cullum

I bought his Twentysomething CD back in 2003 and was impressed. I’d not heard much of him since but the name stuck in my head. That’s not to say though that he wasn’t busy doing all that had to be done to earn himself the accolade of ‘most successful UK jazz artist ever’ with sales of 10 million albums under his belt. It’s hard to label him – jazz, pop, rock, he does it all. He collaborated with Clint Eastwood on the music for Gran Torino. He was the first DJ to play Gregory Porter (who was on stage in Veszprém two days before Jaime) on radio. His radio show on BBC2 has been licensed all over the world.

Veszprém Fest 2016 poster


For a young lad who used to play weddings and bar mitzvahs in the UK (he put himself through college on the proceeds), he’s come a long way. Perhaps it was at these gigs that he learned how to engage his audience. And that, ladies and gentlemen, he does brilliantly.

Jamie Cullum at Veszprém Fest

I watched in last night in Veszprém and for nearly two hours marvelled at the dexterity with which he put us, the audience, through our paces. The guy is a genius. It was his first time playing in Hungary and apparently the gig was streaming live on the Net. He was posing for photos with young ones at the edge of the stage. He came down into the audience and sang to and danced with fans. He conducted us thousands to the point where he had us alternately whispering and screaming as he played along.

There was a young lad beside us who had waited 10 years to see Jamie perform live and he wasn’t disappointed. His appeal spans generations and without exception, everyone from 12 to 70 was on their feet by the end.

Jamie Cullum at Veszprém Fest

The gig wasn’t a sell-out. It was to have played in the Castle but we were rained out and moved inside to the Aréna where both side sections were curtained off. The night before, Lisa Stansfield had packed the house. She, too, had been moved, but because she’d sold out the Castle and ticket demand was huge. But I can testify, first-hand, that those there last night got the far better deal.

Jamie Cullum at Veszprém Fest.

Some might remember his tour in 2003 when Amy Winehouse opened for him each night (or for when he opened for Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden). Others might remember his first TV appearance on the Parkinson Show. More again might know him for his recording of the lead single from the film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. [And I quite fancied a likeness between himself and Mark Darcy (aka Colin Firth). In fact, I was quite taken with how he could easily be the cheeky younger brother.]

He’s also sung Frankie the Frog in the movie Meet The Robinsons and is responsible for the sound track for Grace is Gone (remember, the John Cusack film?). And of course, there’s his collaboration with Clint Eastwood on Gran Torino – a classic. He has duetted with Stevie Wonder, performed a private gig for the Queen, and headlined at Glastonbury. There’s little the man hasn’t done, and few awards, if any, that he hasn’t won. He’s also a keen photographer and a magazine publisher. [Note to self: get a copy of The 88 – billed as a heavyweight journal that is  ‘an occasional magazine for the adventurous thinker’.]

Jamie Cullum at Veszprém FestThroughout the gig, he moved from one number to the next with an alacrity born of practice, segueing through genres with jazz, pop, hip-hop, electronic, and rap. I recognised some of the standards with his version of Singing in the Rain the best I’ve ever heard, and all the more endearing because we’d been rained out and he’d just moved the party.

And for those still wondering what he was all about, he introduced When I get famous, a poignant song about a short lad of slight frame who couldn’t get any girl to go out with him back when he was in school. Not that, he said, it was in any way autobiographical [he’s now married to the gorgeous Sophie Dahl].

I loved loved loved his song on These are the days and wondered why I thought he was strictly a covers guy. I’ve spent years thinking he was a cover guy. How wrong was I. Jamie, I’m sorry, but anyone how knows me knows that I’m musically illiterate.Jamie Cullum at Veszprém Fest

As he played High and dry, you could have heard a feather fall. It was this he conducted the audience in – it had to be one of the best finales I’ve seen ever. When he left the stage with his band, the audience kept up the humming … and humming… and humming. And then he came back, on his own, and sang for us as if each of us was alone with him the room. Just him and his piano and the wonderful theme tune from Gran Torino.  When he was done, he got up, thanked us get again for a great night, said his goodbyes, and left.

And the crowd stood silently and respected this. No more calls for encores. No more entreaties to come back. Just a quiet acceptance that each of us had been privy to something very special. And for that I’m truly grateful.

No matter your taste in music, if you get the chance to see Jamie Cullum live, take it.

Jamie Cullum at Veszprém Fest


2016 Grateful 25

I can’t explain my faith. I have no particular need to. I know it works for me and that’s what matters. I’m not much for organised religion even though I go to mass most Sundays and have daily conversations with my God. While there’s a lot about the Roman Catholic Church that I don’t like, it’s the faith I was born into and it’s too much trouble to change. Anyway, religions are man-made institutions, riddled with their associated foibles and prejudices. If there’s a perfect one out there, I’d be surprised. But at their core is the simple ethos: be kind, be true, be honest, be faithful. Not all that difficult really and yet the faithful manage to screw it up on a regular basis. I remember a quotation by Kofi Annan that I read on the walls of a church in Malta:

The problem is not the Koran, nor the Torah, nor yet the Gospel. The problem is never the faith – it is the faithful, and how they behave towards each other.

It’s no wonder that the world wonders where God has gone.

That said, from the outside looking in, Catholicism has to seem a little mad. Our churches are full of gilded statues while our people in many parts of the world are starving. Churches in Liverpool and Birmingham we built on the back of tithes from Irish workers whose kids went without food so that the priest could have shoes and the people could have a place to workship. In America, too. Catholic immigrants built the great churches and tithed and lived in fear of the almighty.

IMG_6050 (800x600)A stranger walking in to a Catholic church might wonder what the chap on the cross is doing. They might also have a hard time understanding the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation or buying into either. And as for confession… that for many looking in that seems like a free pass to do what you will when you want.

For me, though, the most wondrous part of all that is Catholic are the Marian Apparitions.  They’re spread around the world – four in France, one in Ireland, two in Belgium – seventeen in all said to be approved by the Holy See (this varies mind you… man-made institution with man-made reporting and all that). The first was Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531. The most recent was in   Kibeho, Rwanda in 1981.

Fátima has been on my list of places to visit for years. The multiple apparitions here puts it high on the Roman Catholic Pilgrimage Trail.  In 1916, three children – Lucia Dos Santos aged 9, and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, aged 8 and 6 – saw an angel who appeared to them three times, paving the way for Our Lady. The stories of Fátima sound fantastical but the miracles accredited to those who believe and pray to Our Lady are legendary.  I was amused to read the that

railing a little at the idea of someone telling me what’s worthy of belief.

Francisco died on 4 April 1919, Jacinta died on 20 February 1920, and Lucia lived till she was 97, dying on 13 February 2005. Now there’s a woman I’d have liked to have met.  All three are buried in the Basilica.

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IMG_6027 (600x800)I didn’t expect Fátima to be so… well… new.  I know my dates and I know that’s irrational. It is massive. The square is bigger than St Peter’s Square in Rome. If there were 200 people there the day we visited, that was it. We were lost in a place built for hundreds of thousands. On 13 May and 13 October, it is said that a million people come to pay homage.  The Basilica and its colonnades are fabulous   The new church, finished in 2005, can hold 9000 people and is said to be the largest in Portugal. IMG_6030 (800x600)

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IMG_6039 (600x800)Pilgrims walk (?) on their knees to the Church of the Apparition where rosary is regularly said. They then do three circuits, again on their knees, all the while saying the rosary. Those in the know had come prepared with their knee pads. I had a badly bruised knee from a spill I’d taken a week previously and with no pads just managed the one turn. But, of course, I hadn’t done my homework and didn’t realise till an hour into it all that there’s a procedure. If you go as a pilgrim, bear right to the Nativity and IMG_6035 (800x600)pick up your brochure there. It’ll tell you the rest and give you the prayers to be said and tell you where to say them. If you go as a tourist, enjoy.

I’m not sure what I had expected. I’m very glad I went, if for no other reason than lighting the myriad IMG_6029 (600x800)candles I’d promised to light for various people around the world (you know who you are).

There is a quietness about it all, a sense of reverence, an almost tangible belief in something greater than human form. Was I expecting an apparition? No. Do I believe that it all happened 100 years or so ago? Yes.  Do I expect anyone else to believe? It doesn’t matter. As I said, my faith is enough for me.  And that simple realisation, I’m truly grateful.

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2016 Grateful 26

I’ve been to funerals of people I’ve never met. I’ve never said hello to the body in the coffin, shook their hand, or passed the time of day with them. That’s a peculiarity about Ireland – we go to funerals for the living rather than for the dead.

Weddings, though, they’re another story.

Not since my early days in Los Angeles in 1990 have I been to a wedding where I didn’t know either the bride or the groom. Back then, in the company of the ubiquitous J-NP, I remember the bridesmaids being all in black and the best man opening a book in the grounds of the church on how long the marriage would last. Mad, I thought.

20160702_181741_resized (600x800)This weekend, in Portugal, I was at a wedding and the only one I knew other than himself was the father of the bride. When we got the invitation last year, I was a tad dubious and wondered at the sense of two Irish people having af full-blown wedding in Portugal. Mad, I thought.

But had we not been invited, I doubt we’d ever have chosen to come to Ericeira and that would have been sad.

Quite a number of us gathered in  local bar down by the waterfront on Thursday night to get acquainted. We met again on Saturday at the town’s big hotel to get the bus the wedding village – Gradil. We were a little ahead of schedule or rather the schedule has slipped due to a series of unfortunate mishaps that involved suits, security tags, and flowers. Good fodder for the wedding speeches.

20160702_150154_resized (800x600)20160702_162751_resized (600x800)The church itself was stunning – absolutely stunning. They’d managed to find an Irish priest who works in a few of the local villages so it all had an at-home feel to it. On our way in, we were given lovely wooden fans, in case the heat got to be too much. And it was here that the attention to detail first became obvious. So much thought and preparation had gone in to it all – and from another country. Simply amazing.  The bride looked stunning and the groom did her proud.  It was all so beautifully done.

A string quartet supplied the music including everything from Leonard Cohen to my favourite wedding piece – Panis Angelicus – to Cold Play. All a tad surreal. The style was impressive, with the men being particularly well turned out and if anything, even more stylish than the women. We left the church to be greeted by a jazz band who played us through the village to the venue – Quinta de Sant’Ana. A working vineyard, it packs quite a history.

Back in the 1800s, King Dom Luís gave the Quinta to actress Rosa Damasceno. He had a theatre built especially for her. Centuries later, Baron Gusta von Fürstenberg took up residence. He lived there with his wife Paula and their seven children until the revolution in 1974 spurred their return to  Germany. A loyal family friend, Joaquim Val Morais, saved the place and in the early 1990s, the baron’s daughter Ann and her husband James came home. They too, have seven children – all boys.


20160702_184137_resized (800x600)20160702_165344_resized (600x800)20160702_191232_resized (800x600)20160702_211102_resized (800x600)It is a spectacular place. We sipped champagne, drank wine, feasted on fish and cheeses, all the while listening to the jazz band. We savoured a wine-tasting of the vineyard’s wines in the cellar.  We mixed, we mingled, and we oohed and aahed, enjoying the other-worldliness of it all.  We breakfasted in the theatre, the table seating  cleverly arranged by vintage. [I never did check if by 2005 we were the oldest in the room.] How remiss of me. The menu was a lavish four-course affair with a goats cheese starter, followed by sea bass, followed by rack of lamb and then dessert. Each course out did the one before it. 20160702_211013_resized (800x600)Downstairs, the courtyard was set up with cheeses and fruit platters and the vineyard’s own wines. Music, dancing, fireworks, complemented by pleasant conversation, lots of laughs, and some excellent speeches made for a fabulous evening that went on till the early hours of the morning.

Yes, I’d thought them mad when I heard that the wedding would be in Portugal. But as I said, had we not been invited, I’d never have discovered this part of the world with its friendly villages, beautiful wines, delicious food, and wonderful hospitality. If you have a special occasion coming up,  Quinta de Sant’Ana is worth checking out.

The next afternoon, it was over to the Villa Jessie, some 3km outside of Ericeira for a bbq. [Another place to consider for a special occasion.] More fine wines, excellent meats, and plenty of craic ensued. Both times we got the first bus home. Both times we partied till we dropped. We no longer have the staying power we had at 30-something, but thankfully, the desire to try is still there.

After months of wondering, I’m truly grateful that we were invited to this part of the world to celebrate what will undoubtedly be a long and happy marriage. It did my heart good to see such unbridled enthusiasm for life, to meet so many young people with plans and the passion to realise them, and to meet so many not-so-young with stories to tell and an unflappable zest for life. It’s gone a long way in restoring my faith in the power of family and confirmed, yet again, that life is definitely for living. A massive thank you, Mr McD. Le mile buíochas.

More on the Grateful series.

2016 Grateful 27

Brexit. Bremain. The votes were cast. The public spoke and yet the furor continues. The recriminations. The blame. The castigations. I don’t hold a UK passport so I find myself strangely removed from it all. Yes, I had hoped for a remain vote. No matter how bad the EU is, working to fix it is more the answer than worrying away at a thread that could eventually see it unravel. IMHO. Someone somewhere once said that “many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.”  I’m not as politically aware as I could be and would have made more of an effort to update myself had I had to vote. For me it was enough to see who was supporting Brexit.

Still, an innate curiosity has me still reading the articles and the comments that form the post-referendum deluge. And two in particular struck a note – a shorter comment on democracy from a Facebook thread that was not sourced. It got me wondering about democracy and margins and majorities:

Two thoughts about the Brexit vote:
Firstly: No one thought it could happen. why didn’t anyone think it could happen? Because the analysis listened to the experts who listened only to themselves. Welcome to the echo-chamber. Never hear anything beyond what is already being said. Maybe even only listening to confirmation-bias. Serious questions needs to be asked as to polling, and as to analysis. Everyone is “shocked” because no one bothered to ask anyone outside of London what they think.
Secondly: Democracy. Ah, what a wonderful system. The people has spoken. Either you support democracy, or you do not. If you are a “stay” voter, and feel disgruntled by it, take heart: democracy won! The people have spoken. But this brings in another question: is a rural country bumpkin’s opinion on the matter as valid as someone with an honours in PPE? Democracy: the notion that one person’s ignorance carries as much weight as another person’s knowledge. Welcome to the great failure of democracy. Wonderful when your guy wins, quite sucky when he loses, huh?

And a longer comment that I lifted from Facebook – it had previously been lifted from a comment thread Again, no source…

“If Boris Johnson looked downbeat yesterday, that is because he realises that he has lost.
Perhaps many Brexiters do not realise it yet, but they have actually lost, and it is all down to one man: David Cameron.
With one fell swoop yesterday at 9:15 am, Cameron effectively annulled the referendum result, and simultaneously destroyed the political careers of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and leading Brexiters who cost him so much anguish, not to mention his premiership.
Throughout the campaign, Cameron had repeatedly said that a vote for leave would lead to triggering Article 50 straight away. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the image was clear: he would be giving that notice under Article 50 the morning after a vote to leave. Whether that was scaremongering or not is a bit moot now but, in the midst of the sentimental nautical references of his speech yesterday, he quietly abandoned that position and handed the responsibility over to his successor.
And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.
The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction.
The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50?
Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders?
Boris Johnson knew this yesterday, when he emerged subdued from his home and was even more subdued at the press conference. He has been out-maneouvered and check-mated.
If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over – Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this. When he acts like the dumb blond it is just that: an act.
The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice.
When Boris Johnson said there was no need to trigger Article 50 straight away, what he really meant to say was “never”. When Michael Gove went on and on about “informal negotiations” … why? why not the formal ones straight away? … he also meant not triggering the formal departure. They both know what a formal demarche would mean: an irreversible step that neither of them is prepared to take.
All that remains is for someone to have the guts to stand up and say that Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction, that cannot be borne. And David Cameron has put the onus of making that statement on the heads of the people who led the Brexit campaign”

What happened, happened. But all is not lost. In a week that has caused many to stop and think a little harder than usual, I’m grateful for the reminder: Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. And that I can attribute to Einstein 🙂






2016 Grateful 28

Apart from the obvious environmental repercussions, the stress that can accompany airline travel makes me wonder why I persist. Not every flight is stressful but say, on average, 3/10 do mad things to my blood pressure and 1/10 makes me seriously consider never flying again.

There’s the queuing system – or the lack of it – or worse still, the complete disregard for it. I’ve travelled on planes to and from Hungary for too long now to still let this bother me. I have schooled myself to tolerate those who blatantly ignore the fact that others (perhaps in their stupidity) have been standing in line for 30 minutes waiting to board the plane, and just cut in, impervious to the looks of incredulation that turn to muted anger and often end up in loud declamations of ‘The nerve of some people!’ All ignored with an aplomb that varies by nation.

On a recent flight to Georgia, however, it bordered on the ridiculous. The flight leaves at 23.55 pm on a Friday night. Ours was one of two flights still to depart. The airport was empty. People lolled around in seeming indifference. All very
relaxed. And then came the boarding call. We were on time and wondering where everyone was. It seemed like we would have the plane to ourselves – or as good as. And then they came, in their droves, pushing their way to the front without so much as a by your leave. The priority doors opened and we went outside. For a brief moment, I was first and then the group broke around me, pressed to the cordon, like horses in a starting box waiting for the starter’s cry: And they’re off. The attendant knew enough to stand back quickly lest he get caught in the stampede.

I check baggage allowances. I’ve fallen victim too often to the vagaries of airport personnel. I make sure I’m on target. One piece. 15.6 kg max. And if I need more, I pay for it. When the minimum luggage allowance is ignored on some flights and strictly enforced on others, I wonder how many prozac prescriptions could be laid at the door of the likes of WizzAir. Some had three and four bags and not an eyelid was batted. One girl had to have help carrying one of hers, it was that heavy.

air rageI pay for an aisle seat with extra leg room. I pay money. Good money. And when I’m asked to move because the airline sold the window seat in the emergency row to someone who didn’t meet their criteria to sit in that seat … my blood pressure rockets. Why should poor planning on their part constitute inconvenience on mine?
The return flight was worse. Kutaisi airport has been open just six years and has yet to master the basic pleasantries of airline travel.

  • If a flight is delayed two hours, tell the people why. Consider doing the same even if it’s only delayed an hour.
  • If you don’t accept pdf boarding passes, tell your passengers that they have to queue up at check-in even if they are not checking in bags.
  • If you have people being battered and pummeled in the queue, stick in a few ropes.  Ropes work.

It was bedlam. Bedlam. Absolutely NO regard at all for common courtesy. It was every man or woman for themself. Anger that has been a stranger for years returned with a vengence. I could have swung for the woman behind me – and the one to the side of me – and the one in front of me.

Queuing for security, you had to completely finish and go through the metal detector before I could even approach the desk. So we had two queues – the queue for security and the queue for the queue for security. Madness. [Aside: the new system at Dublin airport, with its four bucket stations is great.]

air rage 2On the plane, the same havoc ensued. Some with seats up front, boarded through the rear cabin door, causing major traffic jams. I put this down to them being infrequent flyers. Bags were being piled in the overhead bins anywhich way. Again, perhaps they knew no better. Annoying but it can happen. What cannot be excused is the complete ignorance and lack of common courtesy shown when attempting to retrieve bags from the overhead bins. They simply would not move so I could reach over. All they had to do was to step back into their seat for less than 10 seconds – but no. They stared blankly ahead in muted defiance to the point where exasperation gave way and I screamed: ‘You are the rudest women I have met in years.’ Not loud loud, but with enough projection to blow them back a few paces and let me in to get my bag.

That return flight to Georgia ranks right up there on my WORST ever flight with WizzAir, knocking a trip to Venice some years ago from the top stop.

So what’s to be grateful about, you wonder? Well the flight was going to Kutaisi, Georgia. An absolutely stunning place, with lovely people (who have yet to be corrupted by air travel or perhaps have mastered the niceties thereof), fabulous food, and a wealth of new experiences. More on all that this week.




2016 Grateful 29

Life goes in cycles. There was a time when being at my desk at 6am after a 20-mile commute was nothing out of the ordinary. There was another time I could arrive at work at 9am having been out till the early hours of the morning with no more than three hours sleep and still function. There was even a time when I could do this two or three days straight. But all that’s history.

exhausted pigeonThese days, I work better at night. I was finding it difficult to drag myself out of bed in the morning and even after 12 or 14 hours of sleep would lag in the afternoon. I was beyond tired. It was the sort of exhaustion that comes not from too little sleep but from something physiological.

Western medicine told me that I was depressed. The answer to my ailment was a course of antidepressants. But I’ve had depression. I know what it’s like. I know my symptoms and the warning signs. I know my body. And no matter how many times I told the various doctors that I was NOT depressed, their questions were all geared towards telling me I was in denial.

Do I have friends? Yes. Do I have an active social life? Yes. Do I have a good support system? Yes. Do I have financial troubles? No. Am I worried about my job? No. Am I concerned about my relationship? No.

Yes, I have a lot of work on these days and it is the lot of a freelancer to take the work when it comes in because you never know when it will disappear. Yes, I’m travelling a fair bit, but then that’s nothing new. Yes, if I chose, I could be out seven nights a week, but I’m not.

And still the prescription is antidepressants. Has this become the default treatment for everything?

A Hare Krishna friend of mine [and I only state his religion because his beliefs go a long way towards explaining the serenity that surrounds him], suggested I go see an Ayurvedic guy here in the city. He said he’d know what was wrong and he’d be able to fix it. He himself had been suffering from chronic knee pain and was now pain free and nimble.

At a loss of what else to do, I went. Yer man felt my pulse, thought a little, waited a while and then listed every symptom I’ve presented to regular doctors in the last six months, culminating with exhaustion. He told me my body was toxic. And if I cleaned it, all would be well.

I’m a borderline Kapha apparently. And too much Kapha makes me  sleep excessively.  I needed to change my diet. He also recommended weekly treatments for ten weeks to right me.

I can eat chicken, fish, and turkey. I can have goat’s cheese and rice milk. I can have vegetables except courgettes, cucumbers, avocado and sweet potatoes. No tomatoes. No heavy fruit. No salads. Nothing cold or raw. Nothing from the fridge.

I also have to take a horrible green powder mixed with honey to fight the fluid retention, a nasty dry powder to lower cholesterol, and a vile concoction for something I can’t quite remember.

My first two treatments were 45-minute massages followed by 15-minute saunas. Invigorate the toxins and then sweat them out – that was the plan. My third session lasted two hours – a Ruksha Udvartana (a dry powder massage) followed by the 15-minute sauna and a very vigorous head massage. All the masseurs are from Kerala in India and the ones I’ve met come from long lines of Ayurvedic practitioners. They seem to know what they’re doing and have a certainty about them that I found lacking in regular doctors who seem to favour consultations and second opinions. [And given our propensity to sue, I can’t say I blame them.]

Three weeks into it all, sticking to the diet as much as I can given prior commitments and travel, I’ve rediscovered plain, old tiredness. I’d forgotten what is was like to be tired from lack of sleep. It’s so much more pleasant. Now when I lag during the day, it’s because I had four hours sleep the night before. My body is detoxifying. My humour is improving. And the fluid retention has abated. I’m losing weight. My skin is so much fresher. And I’ve regained my ability to focus. 

On some surface level, I always knew that my diet affected my body, my mind, and my emotions, but the want was greater than the need. I never really bought in to the connection. But bottom line is that there is no getting away from the fact that we are what we eat. And how I eat is my choice, therefore how I feel is my choice. I alone am responsible. Sometimes we need to question our prescriptions and not blindly take what’s offered. We need to consider the diagnosis and whether it sits right with us. I’m looking forward to having my cholesterol checked again at the end of this period and justifying my refusal to take statins when it has returned to normal … the natural way.

For these realisations  I am grateful. For the massive improvement in energy levels, I am grateful. And for life sending me the right person at the right time to prompt this course of action, I am grateful, too.







2016 Grateful 32: Stephanie Barron

I’m not stupid. I mightn’t have the greatest mind God ever created, but I’m not stupid. I might do stupid things occasionally, and even say stupid stuff, but I’m not stupid. What I am is gullible. Read more

2016 Grateful 33: Luke McCallin

I’ve long since wondered at the difference between jealousy and envy. I can feel it, but I find it difficult to describe. I’ve read that envy is a two-person situation, for example, you have something I lack; and jealousy is a three-person thing, whereby I’m afraid you will steal someone (or something) from me. Read more