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If you have five mins:
A blog for her friends to check that she's still alive, when she's been missing for a while, and what she's whinging about now.
Monday, July 11, 2005
Wandering and Dreaming...
I was going to tell you of Branny's initiation; and the final days of Pixie and Dirk being in Britain. I haven't yet mentioned Yoko Ono and a beautiful garden; Barrow Hill and the Maiden; Glastonbury Festival; the conference; London bombs; two REM concerts; nor my MA. I'll tell you of them in a minute, perhaps in ink polaroids as the mood takes me. First I want to tell you of last night's dream.
I dreamt that Kate and I were about to buy a cup of tea on the HP. Kate questioned this logic, asking why we can't just pay for them outright. I responded that I couldn't, because I'd just bought a field of amethyst. I turned then to show her and the dream went into glorious technicolour, like Dorothy opening the door on Oz. As far as the eye could see, there were slabs laid in perfect symmetry, with equal spaces between them. If they were supposed to be amethyst, then they were the wrong colour. They were a milky green, almost blue; their colour gave them gentle depths, which swam like something serenely alive. It was awesome. Then I awoke. In waking retrospect, I wonder if it was a field of Flourite.
I mentioned two REM concerts, that I've been to in the past few days. The first of these has been reviewed for Bob's Between Planets. Here's the link to save the retelling here. That was July 6th, the birthday of the beautiful Georgia Langley. *runs to hug Georgia*
The other was today, July 10th, birthday of another great Cancerian in my life, Eric. *gives Eric the little nod of respect - not too much, in case he gets ideas - that silently says, "Did you do that or was it me?"* So yes, I celebrated both birthdays having absolutely amazing days... without the birthday people. Though I did 'phone Georgia, while the concert was on, and let her listen live to two songs. I couldn't cant at her, because it was too loud for me to hear; and it's taken me until today to phone her properly. At this rate, Eric will get his birthday phone call around the 14th.
As REM were playing in Cardiff today, Kate and I got up relatively early (for a Sunday) to make a day of it. I love daytrips where the journeys are great in themselves and both of these were. Us singing and bopping around to the like of the Kaiser Chiefs, Killers, White Stripes, The Strokes etc, through that pretty countryside, with the sun blazing. (By the time we reached there, the temperature was 25 and rose to 30 during the day. I have no idea what those temperatures mean, because I think in the one that goes up to the 80s and 90s. It was bloody hot though and I regretted the jeans.) Kate drove, because Steve (mechanic) told me emphatically several times that I can't drive Rebecca. Normally he says things like, 'You'll be ok, just take it steady and I'll pick it up Friday night.' This time it was DO NOT drive that car. Honestly, Jo, you can literally move that back wheel a foot! Don't drive the car. Ok.
We meandered around Cardiff the leisurely way (ie stopping at every other bench/cafe for a fag break), which was great, because while the pair of us had been there loads of times for concerts, neither one of us had seen the rest of the city. Cardiff feels like Wolverhampton. You know how, regardless of what you can see, each place has it's own 'feel'? This is the first place I've been to where a) the place in question feels the same as another place; and b) that place is my 'hood.
We got into the Millennium Stadium ten minutes before the rest of the audience, because Kate is a member of the fan-club and got us wristbands. It was fascinating to watch the interactions thereon. Though all of them wore nun smiles, canting to fellow fans as if they were all friends together, the competitiveness for the best views was fierce. Once held, their positions were not to be lost, even if it was more sensible for a little shuffle around. Pairs would create a pincer movement, in an attempt to squeeze an interloper out from where a friend could be standing. The person who had, minutes before, offered you an Opal Fruit, would now be 'accidentally' elbowing you in the face.
Kate was at the very front, leaning on the barrier, and I was just behind her. As the stage was only about 20 foot away, we were close enough to see and hear every tiny gesture by or amongst bandmembers; and be seen and heard ourselves. Kate spotted a member of the crew, whom she'd canted with in Birmingham, and managed to talk him into giving us both backstage passes.
I think that that corridor, tucked away in the innards of the Millennium stadium, and our walk down towards a VIP Room and the REM aftershow party, will stay with me always. It was surreal. Kate looked at me and I looked at her halfway down, and she murmured, 'Tell me that this is really happening.' 'It is.' I don't think that my mind had even registered as far as 'by the way, you'll be having drinks with Michael Stipe in a few minutes', except in the vaguest understanding. It had happened too quickly. Instead, I was enjoying the down the rabbithole sensation of it all; partly drifting onto the realization of how big this is going to be for Kate; partly pondering in astonishment, glee and thankfulness, that me and Kate don't half find ourselves in some bizarre situations.
It has a dreamlike quality. A security guard holding open a door with VIP Lounge written on it and some of our 10-20 strong group of seemingly random people with passes going on through. Me, in a bikini top and my jeans rolled up to my knees with my unshaved legs exposed; glistening, drenched with sweat after the hottest day in the history of the world in Cardiff, followed by six and a half hours standing in a mosh. Recalling all Georgia and Andrea have told me about gentile, Southern gentlemen... The ghost of nerves across Kate's face as I say, 'I'm just popping at the loo'; momentarily, both of us almost like children looking for an adult to tell us what's best to do. If we miss them being in the loo... if we meet them smelling so offensively... and Kate has no lipstick. After drinking a couple of pints of water, and not having been to the loo in over six hours, I'm mildly surprised to find that I don't piss my own version of Niagara Falls into the toilet. I must have sweated it all away in that searing heat out there.
We wash (but no deodorant nor perfume...), then walk from the toilet to the VIP Lounge next door, entering the room as if we always belonged there. The pair of us oozing confidence, taking a glass each of red wine and talking to strangers. It was good to be sitting down, on those large settees; and we seemed more self-possessed and comfortable than 90% of the people in there. We made some friends. Then the news came, about a hour on, that REM were unable to attend. They were dispersing to three different locations, after all, this should have been the end of their tour, but for the Hyde Park concert cancelled on Saturday because of the London bombings. Now there's a week twiggling their thumbs, until they play again on the 16th.
Kate admits her disappointment, but is still in awe that it nearly happened at all. I'm still in that state of half glee, half gratitude, generally with no focus, that I'm me; and we get to live these moments. So we walk back, through the quieter streets of Cardiff, still hot, though it's gone 1am; back to the car park by Bute Park, where I rub sycamore leaves on my feet and in my pits, so I can travel home shoeless without Kate wanting to throw up at the smell of me. Singing and dancing, laughing and canting in the car all the way home, with the night sky so clear that you could see the Great Bear accompanying us all the way.
I mentioned the London bombings above. That was Thursday. The first thing that anyone should know about my Thursday is that I'd only had about three hours sleep. Leaving Nottingham the night before, we'd hit roadworks. Not just a hole with some cones around and we're off; I'm talking about roadworks stretching the entire length of an A-road, while 30,000 people are leaving a concert. It was 1am before we'd even left the county and gone 3am before I went abed. At 6am, Kate woke me with a cuppa. She'd managed to pass through the room where I was sleeping, then boil a kettle in the next room without waking me, bless her. She went back to bed, while I caught a train to Stoke. We had our annual conference there - the most high-profile event in the Aimhigher West Midlands calendar, full of directors, partners, heads and other influential people. And me, surviving on Yaruba, coffee and willpower.
You know, I'm really proud of myself for Thursday. The feedback from people who can tell it as it is suggests that the day progressed like a swan; full of grace and impressive from the outside, but underneath the water, the little legs are going like the clabbers. The feedback from other delegates, who perhaps have to be a little more diplomatic in their dialogue with us, is gushing. I dealt with such a lot - from fielding messages about unaccounted for loved ones down in London (and clearing the decks of duties for the person who had a whole community, family and friends, to account for, as she hailed from Aldgate, where one of the bombs went off); to a fishbone stuck in a throat; to creating a selection of credible questions to be asked of a student panel (one of the main focal points of the day), because I'd left the ones written by the regional director in the office; to dealing with the reception and registration of a huge number of the delegates alone, because my colleague had disappeared, and getting them through professionally and quickly, so that I'm certain that none, if any, actually knew that I couldn't hear a word any of them said to me, because I'm deaf in one ear and they were all talking at onceto successfully blagging my way through the working of a lap-top and projector (though I hadn't encountered either before), because the workshop leader looked to be on the point of nervous collapse; to covering any number of potentially big fuck-ups on the day... and there were a lot.
If someone is afretting, I become calm. For most of Thursday, I was in a dead calm, which gives you a barometer for the sheer level of utter panic going on amongst some of my colleagues. The others just faded into the background and were practically delegates. I want to record this here, because for the consistently smooth passage of that conference on the day, despite all that happened, I take the credit. I'm proud of how brightly I shone that day and one day I may need to remind myself of this. I record it here because it probably wasn't evident to the rest of my colleagues who, if they witnessed any of it at all, would have seen bite-sized pieces of it each; but mostly, they would have entered serene waters all unknowing of the rapids that had been there only minutes before. I could ensure that it's known in the office, but others need the glory more than me. I wear my own crown, one which I'm going to do my damnedest to keep from blinding me in spotlights. There is one person who deserves the largest share of that credit. I've already had a quiet word with Viv, ensuring that she knows how invaluable she was, but carefully worded so she wouldn't (in theory) know the rest of the picture.
We knew there about the bombings in London. There was a television on in the bar area showing Sky News all day. You'd be amazed at how many delegates had someone in London, be it family, friend or close work colleague. I'd creep into the back of workshops and whisper to the delegate to step outside, then pass on the messages - such and such is safe; such and such needs you to call them urgently, they're stranded; the Summer School has 30 children to return to the Midlands tomorrow, but they've closed down the entire London transport system, what do we do?
What struck me was how remarkably unfazed everyone was. People went on to workshops and lectures, fully participating, like London gets bombed every day with *insert name of spouse, family member, friend or colleague* down there. Only two people had stronger reactions - one from Aldgate, who looked shocked to the core, but was already rallying by the time I discerned the rant, '*****'s supposed to be helping with this, but she's just come and gone straight in there to watch the telly and make phone-calls on her mobile phone', but actually heard, through the filter of my mind, 'The wench from London, who's normally highly efficient and professional, has chosen telly and phones over the conference. I wonder where in London she's from...' Her expression, when I found her, was stricken, but she wasn't crying. She was trembling, but she had dialled a number on her mobile. I reassured her that I'd cover everything work-wise; she should sort out her people then, when it was time for the waiting game, she should join me. She did. Then I listened as she told me about them all, and their status on the missing/ok stakes, and who was contacting whom. Within half an hour, that dark, British sense of humour was peeping out with her. She's too down-to-earth to have wobbled far off her centre; her panic manifested as practicalities and what can I do about this... I suppose that I was part-colleague, part-friend, and covertly part-dark priestess for all the time we talked, but fundamentally, all I was, was there.
The other was already so stressed that there was no discernable difference, saving the focus, when her brother phoned to say that her Dad had caught a train to King's Cross. That was a relatively quick panic. Within the hour, he'd checked in. In the meantime, I calmed and reassured, preparing to cover her role in the conference too, though ultimately that wasn't needful. It was after she'd gone away relieved that Val Yates, sitting across on one of the bar settees, caught my eye as she watched me. "You are a really calming influence, you know. You have a really serene aura about you." Right then, I silently agreed with her; then meandered away to the next bit of fire-fighting musing on the fact that, in some specific incidents from the past, if I'd been half so calm as I was that day, then things would have been much better in the end. I forgave myself the learning that necessitated those mistakes; then let them go.
On the way home, I had a few telephone conversations or exchanges of texts, mostly with some of my dear American friends. They'd known I'd been galavanting the night before, but didn't know where. They just needed to know I was safe. I was on three stations during that journey, Stoke, Wolverhampton and Dudley Port. In each of them, there was a noticeable police presense, two officers on each platform; and railway workers, three at each station, each of them with hand-held equipment that I didn't recognize. I wondered if they were for searches of some description.
I was so exhausted once I reached Dudley. I drove to Kate's, had a brew with her and watched BBC News (more measured and less sensationalist than Sky. I saw a snippet from the American CNN too; that made my jaw drop. Their reporting made it all look like a trailer from a film, complete with a spikey, terror-enducing soundtrack. I half-expected their reporter to finish his ricochette voiceover with 'starring Brad Pitt and Angelica Jolie...' This wasn't one of those moments where the enormity, horror and reality of a situation hits, because I could relax, concentrate and see it on the news. I'd already had that, when the London woman, waiting to tick off half of her community from the list of the unaccounted for, had spelled it all out for me. She could envisage only too clearly consequences and complications which simply wouldn't have occurred to me, 140 miles away from London, who still gets excited at the notion of riding on the tube. Plus we'd had most of these images all day on the telly at the conference.
Someone on it said that Londoners were shocked, but unsurprised. I'd extend that to the British full-stop. It was predictable. We've all talked about it as something that's going to happen one day; not in paranoia, but in the resigned, 'this is just the way it is' tones of a nation that's been bombed like this since 1972. It's now Monday and the only people for whom we could justifiably say that the world has stopped, or altered course, or otherwise registered as anything other than a slightly faster heartbeat and sadness, are those still missing and those missing them.
One of these is Liz Daplyn, the 26/27 year old friend of my friend, Ian Anscombe. There was still no word when I last spoke to him and he's starting to get really concerned now. The fat lady hasn't yet sung; she may be lying in a hospital somewhere not knowing who she is or unable to communicate this. Or the Dark Lady could already have her. The not knowing, for Ian and her loved ones, is excruciating, but there's always hope. She's mentioned on the list of 25 people still missing. Ian contacted me to see if I would raise the Grove over it. I have done so and sent energy into the search myself; he's since sent Cerr a photograph to help them focus on her. I just wish I could magic her safe and sound or, at least, located. I wish that for them all.
Birmingham city centre was evacuated on Saturday night. The country is officially on high alert, however 'business as usual' our population is.
Eventually I've come to the politics. The bombings being predictable and us being generally unfazed about it doesn't make it any more acceptable. You have to add disclaimers like that, because so many people see only in black and white or else unquestioningly accept nonsensical equations handed to them by politicians and the media. The example which springs to mind is the giant leap from 'you don't support the war on Iraq' to 'you support Saddam Hussein', which I had to deal with several trillion times a couple of years back. Even now, I'm still hazy on the workings out leading from one to the other, but I'm certain on the point that it bypasses the infinite number of other stances on this issue.
Duncan McFarlane pretty much speaks for me too. If a dam is breaking, it's much better to look at why and repairing the damage, than keep firing at the cracks.
Talking about Ian Anscombe, he and I met in London on June 17th, so we could go and watch Yoko Ono at the Queen Elizabeth Concert Hall (I may have the name wrong). It seems so strange, looking on a calendar, that this was less than a month ago. I feel like a different person and that weekend was when the shift finally made it over to the positive. I remember being a stressed thing that left work that Friday noon to drive down to Hillingdon. A week before, Viv had sent me home from work, because I twice nearly fainted and I'm not the fainting type. The office was cool, I'd eaten and I'd had enough water that day. But I was going under with burn out and stress. The only major difference between that day and going to London a week later was that I was being gentle with myself now. I'd withdrawn permission for me to brutalize my own mind.
I still caught myself red-handed afretting on things or prodding mental wounds on the journey down. I made it down to Hillingdon quite quickly and caught the tube to meet Ian and our friend, Pete Ramsdale, at, I think, Charing Cross. We had coffee and cake, then Pete left us, while Ian and I aimlessly explored London. We found a Corpus Christi Roman Catholic church that was... just there. It was somewhere in the vicinity of Covent Garden, though that doesn't mean much when put beside me and Ian on an epic meander. It was a peaceful, undoubtably lovely place. Whether exposure to the DiVinci Code or my own Paganism is to blame, we spotted a LOT of overtly Pagan symbolism in there, including, inexplicably, a framed picture of Pan on the wall. We blessed ourselves in the holy water, which presumably makes us Catholic now.
Meandering on, we found ourselves in Trafalgar Square and climbed up onto a ledge on Nelson's Column. It was so hot. Really baking us, when I spotted a sign over the road. Ice cream. I was actually pointing it out so we might go that way next, but Ian, bless him, climbed down and ran over to get us a carton each. Nice! After scoffing that, we climbed a lion. Well, more to the point, Ian climbed the lion, then pulled me up after him, because the thing is slippery and much bigger than I am. We must have sat on our lion for an hour or more, playing at Narnia, talking crap or seriousness, cogitating how long we would have to sit on there before everyone who we knew in the entire world would walk by below. It was on that lion when, in retrospect, I crossed that line between resolutely coating everything with a determination to look to the positive to actually living my life in a positive world. I wasn't looking that closely at the time. I just know that I was happy and we were both blissfully content up there. We also knew that a week later, we would be at the Glastonbury Festival. We noted the time, 7.05pm, that's when, whatever we were doing at the festival, we'd look at each other and send a nod back to ourselves on the lion.
(I did remember this. For much of the festival, my phone was switched off. Apart from friends, this is my only source of GMT time, and festivals enduce a sense of the meaningless of time anyway. I was with Loz, and some others, when it occurred to me that it was Friday night. I had no idea what the time was. It could have been anywhere between mid-afternoon or sunset. So I dug into my bag to find my phone, switched it on and looked at the time. It was 7.05pm. I was gob-smacked, but there was no-one with me who'd get the coincidence of that - unless I'd just been whacked in the face by the 'hello' sent by me and Ian the previous week. I phoned Ian straight away, but his phone was off then. When he rang back, I couldn't hear a word he was saying over Elvis Costello. LOL)
We moved with glacial slowness down Whitehall - me discovering some anti-racism wristband, which are £20 in Wolverhampton and £1.99 in London (?); and Ian checking on his cat, Charlie, who's been ill, then negotiating with Kate whether we could stay at her house that night - then down to the Thames. On a previous visit, Ian had found a beautiful garden. A bit of investigating later, we found ourselves sitting on a bench in Embankment Gardens, looking across at the tallest trees I have ever seen in my life. However, I was a little concerned that time was getting on and we had yet to find the place where Yoko was performing.
It was close by, but she started promptly and had no support acts, therefore she was already 20 minutes underway by the time an elderly lady shone a torch to find our seats. To be fair, I was there because Yoko is in Ian's personal pantheon. I bought him his ticket as his birthday present and neither of us knew what to expect. It helped that I'd seen a video of her performance art from the '60s earlier this year; instead of viewing her as a singer, I saw what she was doing as art. Once I'd made that shift in my perception, her performance that night was compelling. I can't say I understood it, but I'm glad I went there. She does something with voice and ambience that takes you somewhere. I know you could say that about any singer with a song. It's different, but I haven't the vocabulary to explain why.
It did spark inspiration for a story in my head though. Next day, I was scribbling away totally lost in it. Kate and Ian haven't seen me like that for a while, oblivious to the world because I'm writing. It felt really good.
We caught the tube from Westminster to Hillingdon, then I put my foot down to get us home at as reasonable a time as I could. En route, we put the world to rights; and talked about spirituality. Ian said that my outlook on life sounds very Buddhist. He said a lot of other things too, which helped put some things in context. Then we were at Kate's, unknowing that the next two days were going to be so amazing.
I won't repeat it, here's how I told the Grove:
**What's everyone doing this year for the Solstice? :-)**
I'm going to have a thoroughly amazing day, in the sunshine and a wood. Around
sunset, I'm going to lead my two friends into a chasm and spot the ledge we need
to be on at the top of it. I'll then climb up the face of it in order to show
them that it's easy. Both of them will follow me, then we'll walk along the
single-file, overgrown track to find a huge tree stump.
We'll sit on it, facing perfectly to the West. Only then will one of these
people remind us that he has vertigo. Pride will swell in the other two,
because he climbed that chasm and he's sitting now with it underneath him. My
friend will ask him, 'Are you ok with this?' He'll respond, 'Yes, but if Jo
would stop dangling her legs over the side, I'll feel a lot happier.' I'll
point out that there's a tree root protruding and my foot against it, then, when
he's stopped looking, carry on as normal.
The sunset will be stunning, with our view covering three counties and as soon
as the sunset goes down, fireworks will flood the horizon in five different
directions. I'll begin celebrating my solstice a day early. Then, around
midnight, we'll leave our perch and, surprisingly, it'll be the other two (inc
the one with vertigo) who advocate part climbing, part sliding and part falling
down the side of the chasm (I'd prefer to see if there's a path just up here...
it's fine, I have great night vision...).
We'll descend, me last, topless and with a short skirt now riding up around my
waist, not entirely graceful in the darkness! LOL Then we'll reach the bottom
and they, with torches, will meander on ahead. I'll go very, very slowly,
because I can never see anything at night when I'm blinded by torchlight.
Through the trees, harking once something which might have been a badger, might
have been a bird. Then I'll turn a corner and watch my friends standing
canting. They'll turn, see me and both simultaneously gasp. I'll ask if
they're canting or waiting for directions. Kate will breathe, 'Tell me you just
saw what I just saw.' Ian will respond, 'It depends on what you just saw.'
'I'll tell you when we get back to the car.'
I'll lead the way through the moonlit woods, the torches turned off behind me;
down Barrow Hill and onto Vicarage Road. At the car, Kate will say, 'Ok, what
did you see?' 'A woman in white...' 'Me too!' But they saw slightly
differently. Kate saw a dress like Alice in Wonderland, complete with Alice
band, all pure white. Ian saw white robes. An inner light. It came from
me, walked four feet or so in front of me towards them, then sank back into me.
Then I walked towards them as myself and said, 'Are you canting or waiting for
And I'll think back to Beltane and me, lost, in Wareham Forest,
'It was Beltane and I figured that this was all part of the Great Universal
Game. Very early on, I was looking up and saw torchlight up a ridge and what
sounded like Kate and Pete. I got my torch out and flashed them. One figure
waited at the top, while the other came down the track. In the torchlight, I
could make out Kate's orange blanket/coat, then, as I watched, the apparition
changed and became a Maiden, all in white, complete with white cloak. She went
behind a tree and never came out again. The torchlight had gone from the top as
well. Later, Kate and Pete told me that they'd never gone away from the fire
And decide that the Maiden is definitely after me. *grin*
Then we'll sit on a wall, in the moonlight, talking about our holiday next week.
(PS I'll start it a day early too. HAPPY SOLSTICE ALL!)
The Glastonbury Festival... it was unadulterated amazingness. *grin*
Yes, there are stories, moments... maybe another day.
And finally, on Friday 8th July 2005, I received word that I've not only passed my Masters degree in History, but with a higher grade B. A-E are passes.