Wednesday

The Four Faces of Jesus

This is an article outlining one chapter of my book 'The Metaphysical Jesus.' Hopefully I'll find a publisher for this one in the next year.

The Four Faces of Jesus

Copyright Maggy Whitehouse 2005 (author of The Book of Deborah and Into the Kingdom).

One of the great theological debates about the New Testament is ‘why four gospels?’ We know that many more were written, including the famous Nag Hammadi scripts with writings by the disciples Philip and Thomas and even one accredited to Mary Magdalene. These were Gnostic gospels which had a very different ‘take’ on the world – believing in the idea of ‘external evil’ as opposed to the ‘all creation is good’ teachings of Genesis and of Jesus’ time.

However, there were other non-Gnostic gospels that were also rejected including The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of the Egyptians and the Gospel of the Hebrews.

It is very unlikely that the four Gospels selected for the New Testament were picked at random. There had to be a rhyme and reason – and something that would be useful for us to understand today.

An important clue can be found in the Jewish mystical tradition. Nowadays, we’ve all heard of Madonna’s studies into Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism. But Madonna’s Kabbalah is a 16th century re-write of a very old tradition which, in Jesus’ time, was known as Merkabah.
Merkabah means ‘chariot’ and the name comes from the book of Ezekiel. The tradition itself dates back to Abraham.

One of the beliefs in the Merkabah tradition was that we humans exist at four levels – physical, psychological (or soul), spiritual and Divine. Each of those levels is represented by an element – Earth, Water, Air and Fire – and we draw on all of them at different times according to how we are feeling.

If the Gospel writers knew of the Merkabah tradition, then choosing four Gospels could be a way in which Jesus’ story could be told at these four different levels – literally, allegorically, spiritually and mystically.

For those who were happy with the overview of the story, then all the Gospels could be woven together in one narrative – as in a Nativity play with both the shepherds and the Magi appearing in the same story or in a Passion Play with Jesus saying ‘My God, why has Thou forsaken me?’ and ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do,’ in the same scene.
But for those who were looking for a deeper significance, or who were familiar with the esoteric tradition of the time, the four Gospels would provide a feast of different interpretations – and a much deeper knowledge of our own selves at the same time.

As metaphors for human development, Matthew represents the physical Jesus, Mark the psychological (soul) Jesus, Luke the spiritual Jesus and John the Divine Jesus.

Matthew represents the Earth world of ‘reality.’ Matthew writes of earthly power, tribe and leadership, including the importance of the right ‘bloodline’ in the family. He also highlights the physical concerns and challenges of everyday life on earth and refers to Jesus’ physical kingship as Messiah. Jesus’ birth is told with the emphasis is on Joseph’s genealogy and Joseph’s views, on the visit of the wise men with their physical gifts and King Herod’s fears over the birth of a physical King of the Jews and the consequent slaughter.

Here, the temptations before Jesus in the desert are all physical: turn stones into food, put his life in danger to prove that God would save him and the offer of the kingship of the world.
Mark represents the psychological world – the soul’s world. This element of Water demonstrates how fluid our thoughts and feelings are.

It is at this soul level that we can choose whether or not to be separate from animals (the ‘wild beasts’ in Mark’s Temptation story) in that we can become aware of free will. It is through the soul that we decide to act for good or for evil. Jesus’ temptation in Mark is a choice between his baser self and a higher level of consciousness where he may be in touch with angels.

Luke writes of the Spiritual world represented by the element of Air.

Luke is a very feminine account of Jesus’ life that strongly features his mother and his female friends. It contains nineteen stories about women as compared to four or five in all the other Gospels. Doing so emphasises that this is the Spiritual perception of life – women’s place in the physical and tribal worlds were deemed unimportant in the Jewish, Roman and Greek worlds of Jesus’ time but, at the spiritual level, the feminine in Judaism was deeply respected.

The Shekinah or Daughter of the Voice was the name given to the feminine aspect of God and it was believed to be present in all married women. In fact, without a wife to light the candles, a Jewish man could not perform the sacred Sabbath Eve service in his home on a Friday night. (In the Midrash – a commentary on the first five books of the Bible – it says that when Isaac married Rebekah ‘The light came back into Abraham’s tent for the first time since Sarah died.’

Luke’s Gospel focuses on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth; on how Mary feels; how she wraps her baby in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger.

The emphasis is on family, marriage, communication and it works in tandem with Matthew’s tribal aspects, balancing masculine with feminine. For Jesus’ temptation in the desert, it offers the same challenges as in Matthew, but in a different order which is very relevant. Jesus is told to command stone to be turned into bread; given the opportunity to rule the world and ordered to challenge God to save him by throwing himself off the Temple in Jerusalem.

In Matthew, he replies with answers from the written (physical) law and in Luke he takes a different stance, replying with God’s own authority at the Spiritual level.

John’s Gospel does not tell of any temptation; at the level of development he is writing about, humanity would have transcended worldly needs. This Gospel is the Divine World represented by the element of Fire. It tells of direct experience of God. There are no parables, similes or allegories: it is Jesus telling us straight.

The Passion

For Matthew and Mark the crucifixion is full of anguish. Luke and John are focused on the mystery and the importance of a Divinely inspired right of passage.

The Synoptic Gospels write that the ‘veil of the Temple was rent’ when Jesus died. In an ordinary death, Jewish mystics taught that the veils of the two lower worlds (Matthew and Mark) are opened to let the soul though to the spiritual world. In the case of a Messiah, all three lower veils (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are opened to give direct access to the Divine.

In Matthew, the earth quakes, the rocks are rent and bodies rise from the graves; in Mark, darkness comes down during the crucifixion and in Luke the Sun is darkened.

In John there is no physical reaction to Christ’s death but there is immediate emphasis that the next day is the Sabbath – the holy day of the Jews – and that Jesus’ body must be taken down because that is a day of Divine contemplation and sacred rest.

In the lower worlds of his body and psyche, as represented in Matthew and Mark, Jesus is depicted as crying out at his betrayal – his physical and psychological bodies reacting as any ordinary man would. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

In Luke, Jesus is able to see his crucifixion as impersonal. There is no judgement of it or other people’s behaviour. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do …, into thy hands I commend my spirit.

In John, the crucifixion is represented simply as a necessary evil on the way to new life. Without Jesus’ acceptance and acknowledgement of death, resurrection cannot occur. Jesus gives completion to his mother by giving her into John’s care and gives himself willingly to death purely as the next stage of his development as a Divine being. It is finished.

Looking at the Gospels at these four levels teaches me that I react to life at different levels myself and that comfort and happiness come from focus on the spiritual and Divine thoughts, not the daily grind of pattern and habit. The four levels of passion are also useful as tools for forgiveness. They teach me that as long as I focus on the physical or emotional pain, the harder the process is.

To see the wider picture and to realise that other people probably had no idea of the level of pain they were causing with their actions is the greatest step to healing as it takes the issue out of the personal. Finally, to accept that the task is all done and dusted – whatever happened is over and in the past and it is my choice whether to call it up again and again or to let it go, once and for all – simply to die to the problem. To die to the problem means that resurrection to a new life truly will happen – even if it’s only in my mind.

Saturday

A Life of Miracles (2)

This is the 'set-up' chapter of the fictional book based on my life in Montana and Spain and bringing Didi home...I always wanted to write about a character 'Watlington P Risborough' having been amused so many times by the signpost on the M40 to London which points the way to Watlington and Princes Risborough but doesn't have the space...

Frankly Speaking Chapter Two
copyright Maggy Whitehouse 2002


It is night time and I am sitting by the French windows overlooking the lower village, the mountains and, far below, the sea. Frankly is asleep on her rug at my feet, her nose whiffling as she chases rabbits in a dream. We are surrounded by lighted candles to enhance the dim bulbs of the wooden four-branch chandelier hanging over the dining table.

I have a book in my hands but I am not reading, rather sitting in a quiet dream, assimilating my day and tracing very slight echoes of fear and loneliness which keep approaching but are, so far, being rebuffed by an unusual feeling of peace.You see, nobody in the world except the owner of this little whitewashed house knows exactly where I am. Not Alex, not my mother, not my friends.

Nobody has the telephone number and, unless I call out, there will be no calls in. I was going to keep in touch with a few people via email but Shimon’s phone is old-fashioned bakelite and the plug cannot be removed. I don’t have a mobile and, even if I did, it wouldn’t work here in the Alpacharras.

Even the BBC World Service is having trouble reaching me and that’s via my short wave radio. I gather that there is trouble in the Middle East again and that some African president is holding a peace conference without inviting anyone who dislikes him but neither of these is relevant to me.

There is no one to tell me anything; what I should do, what I should feel, who I should be. I am alone.

I have achieved a lot today. I have braved the shop next door and bought fish, chicken, rice and vegetables. I had to wait for maybe 20 minutes before I was served, not because the queue was so very long but because from the moment that shop opens until the time it closes, it is filled with gossiping women.

Everyone was talking at the tops of their voices and my slightly apologetic presence was not regarded as even vaguely important. As the voices soared and fell it reconfirmed that my phlegmatic English psyche just can’t compute the idea of such enthusiasm or rancour being voiced over the price of fish. It is all a plot. Something drastic is being planned.

The village shop is, without doubt, a hotbed of vice. Even now, at 9pm, the urgent tones of the protagonists are echoing out through the chains that fall over the shop door to keep the flies out - and in through my bathroom window.

If I looked out, I would see the shadows of a vast Mafia of women (or is it a Mafia of vast women?) perched on every available protuberance - both of the shop’s and theirs - gesticulating, nodding and generally explaining to each other either 1) What’s wrong with the world, 2) That they had always said that that was what was bound to happen - and, most importantly, 3) How best to change their everyday language each morning so that any visiting foreigners never get the hang of it.

For this is not Spanish. The Los Poopians speak their own particular dialect. I had to buy my purchases today by pointing and smiling for my Spanish phrase book and its companion CD are virtually useless and my attempts to voice what I have learnt so far met with blank incomprehension all round.Perhaps it’s not a dialect. In fact, I think it’s a secret code. Something like adding an extra ‘g’ to every third syllable on alternate Thursdays. The Enigma Code machines of World War Two are probably secreted at the back of the village church and people go and swot up on the latest enhancement to the language after service on Sundays.

The shop itself is a tardis – seeming far bigger inside than out and it has quite enough variety of food for anyone to live on – but no fresh milk nor eggs. Shimon told me that you buy those, together with goat’s cheese from individuals in the village. I shall look forward to that. The idea of bringing home a jug of fresh, warm goat’s milk is wonderfully appealing.

Only one of my purchases has proved to be a total waste of time – but it could have been a lot worse. On one dim shelf I saw a pile of small packages called ‘nouget’. Assuming that it was nougat, I added one to my pile of purchases but when I brought it home and looked more closely an explicit picture of a skeleton chasing rats put that faint hope to rest. It is obviously rat poison.
That could have been nasty.

I have explored the house, with its cool lower floor with two extra bedrooms, the double door that goes out onto another little courtyard lower down on Calle La Era and its tiled, plaster-covered floor. The walls are pock-marked and brittle with what must have been a cowboy plastering job or, maybe, it’s just too damp down there for the work to hold. Whatever, the cause, it has rearranged itself all over the floor. I swept it all up but, five hours later, more has fallen. I think I will leave the lower floor be and live upstairs as much as I can.

I have dusted and swept the little bedroom with its curtain-covered wardrobe space half-filled with Shimon’s clothes and now completely filled with mine. The floor is of red tiling throughout and it needs re-colouring and polishing but it is now, at least, clean.

The books, which cover one entire wall, will have to wait another day. They are all brittle from damp and heat and you can scrape grey dust from the spines. I thought that Shimon came here twice a year but if so, he obviously doesn’t do housework.The brown wooden beams across the six foot by four foot skylight above are encrusted with spiders’ webs, their occupants, both alive and dead and the empty carcasses of their prey.

The skylight is above the stairs and I can’t reach the beams even with a broom so there is nothing I can do.

The fridge freezer has been scrubbed and the few dead contents within exhumed and fumigated. There was some margarine, the remnants of something which had once been a head of garlic and an opened packet of long-life milk all of which had evolved into new and repulsive life forms but had fortunately not yet developed the power of movement. The fridge itself stank as they will if kept closed.

I have done some washing (by hand) and hung my travelling clothes out on an airer on the roof. There are steps by the front door up onto a perfectly barren square of whitewashed concrete with walls of barely a foot high around it. The view is magnificent down to the sea and across the roofs of about fifty other houses below me. The houses behind me, higher up the hillside can probably watch me as I can watch others.

If it gets too hot inside, perhaps I can bring a mattress up and sleep here under the great black canopy of night and it’s familiar Western stars.

I know how to use the calor gas-powered immersion heater and cooker – and I know that we are dangerously low on gas and that the shop does not sell it. I know that the water comes on, briefly, only twice a day and that I am going to have to live with the constant companionship of flies.

I know that there is no television, let alone satellite or cable and that there is no one to entertain me but myself. No one to comfort me either should I weep or grieve.However, the telephone is there and I can activate half of England in a network of communications from one single phone call to my mother if and when I want to.

But for the moment, it is enough to sit in the candlelight with a stomach full of home-made fish and lentil stew and a half-drunk glass of rough Spanish wine sitting on the floor beside me. I have gathered kindling from the fields to make a fire in the open hearth if I want one and there are enough logs under the awning below the steps to the roof to last for most the winter. There are no sounds apart from the echo of the voices of the women in the shop and the soft sound of Frankly’s breathing and there is nothing to do but immerse myself in one of Shimon’s old and fragile books.

I once heard someone say that pain and grief were caused by too much past and that fear was caused by too much future. My past and future are dormant and all I have is now. It is enough.


Of course the following morning I am miserable as hell and howl all over Frankly and the World Service. Fortunately the morning’s serialisation is Juliet Stevenson reading Madame Bovary and I am so irritated both by her voice and Emma Bovary’s insipidness that the grief turns to anger and I stomp furiously out of the house for the morning walk rather than winging and wining my way up to the top of the hill.

I hate Alex and all that he stands for. I hate his lies and betrayal and his sanctimonious words that it is ‘all for the best.’ I will be better off without him but I don’t need him to tell me that.

Today I turn left out of the village, still on a mule path, but a more arid one with less vegetation. The steep climb up means that I am soon looking down on Los Poops and I cannot help noticing that there is a gathering of people around one particular house. As I watch, a coffin is brought out and a small cortege begins to make its way up the street. I know that the graveyard is just around the corner – so I hurry ahead to avoid getting caught up in the way. I can always loop around the hill and return to the village from the other direction. As I walk, I can see two police cars winding their way up to the village.

Shimon told me something about some ex-police commissioner living here. Perhaps he is the one who has died and old colleagues are coming to mourn him.

The graveyard is a neat affair, firmly fenced off from the rest of its surroundings and with a high wall cut into the hillside for mini-crypts holding the bodies of about half the residents. Some more ordinary graves are scattered around too, each one looking fresh with flowers. They are plastic but it’s the thought that counts.

I chivvy Frankly on swiftly and she grumbles to herself, complaining about the heat and the lack of grass to eat for her digestion. Moments later she is distracted by being bounced on by what looks like a half-grown grey and black husky. It bounces on me too so I am hardly surprised to hear a voice call: ‘Tigger!’ from the other side of a grove of long-leaved trees.

What does surprise me is that it is obviously an Englishwoman’s voice and its owner confirms that with her fair colouring and faded 1980s Laura Ashley dress.

My first delight at seeing a fellow countrywoman is tempered with some deep, long forgotten instinct that tugs at me as she approaches with a ‘Cooeee!’ and a friendly wave. It is like the first day at school or at a new job when you know deep inside that the first kind soul who wants to make friends with you is going to be the one person you never want to see again.

I have three alternatives: pretend to be a deaf mute, jump over the edge of the path and run as fast as I can or swallow hard and take my medicine.I school my face into a polite and welcoming smile.

‘Good morning. You must be Anna,’ says the woman in very precise tones, holding out her had to be shaken.

Her grasp is claw-like but I’m aware that I am already paranoid. How does she know who I am? What does she know about me? However, I won’t need to ask any questions; all I have to do is listen.

‘Shimon let me know that you were coming,’ she says gaily. ‘You’ve been living in Colorado and you’re bringing your sweet little dog back to England on the Pet Travel Scheme.

‘I’m so sorry I wasn’t here yesterday to welcome you. I wasn’t sure which day you were coming. Shimon is so naughty; he really doesn’t keep in touch as much as he should.

‘Let me introduce myself. I’m Stella Collins and I live in the big house over on the top up there.’ She waves her hand airily at the village but as I am in the process of being bounced on again by Tigger who nearly winds me with a two-pawed attack on my stomach, I am more concerned about being half knocked backwards against a tree.

‘Careful Tigger,’ says Stella absently. ‘Silly boy! He’s such an enthusiastic dog. I can’t bear these repressed little animals that don’t express themselves, can you?’

‘Ah,’ I say wisely, getting my breath back.Stella is a striking-looking woman in her sixties with a deeply lined face and a wide mouth. Her hair is naturally blond turning grey and, from the tightness of the dress, her figure has obviously seen better days.We walk on together and it is clear that Frankly and I have been adopted. Frankly is currently being bounced on and bearing it with a stoicism bordering on saintliness.

I foolishly try to distract Tigger and get a terribly friendly little bite on my hand.

Meanwhile, Stella is twittering on and asking questions. I am prepared to be determinedly reticent about the reason why I am in Los Poops but Stella is so pleased to have an audience that she never creates a space for a question to be answered and, instead, regales me with details of village life and its occupants. Within the space of ten minutes I go from being paralysingly ignorant of Los Poops and its inhabitants to having rather more information than I really wanted to know.

In a nutshell:David and Stella moved to Los Poops six years ago when they both took early retirement from their publishing business. They own two houses, one of which they rent out to visitors. Two of their dogs have been poisoned by the villagers.

‘It’s the hunters that do it,’ she says cheerfully as I look at Frankly in horror. ‘If the dogs take any of the game they’re systematically poisoned. Often, they just put down rat poison everywhere.’

Tigger bounces on me again from behind without any attempt of restraint from his Mistress and I wonder whether it’s just Stella’s dogs that get poisoned. I know already just how easy it is to get rat poison.

Also living here are Rani and Sylvia who have an open marriage. They lived on a commune somewhere once and Sylvia has a tendency to take lovers much younger than her.

‘Except there aren’t any young men left in the village any more,’ says Stella, not noticing my slightly bemused expression at being told the intimate personal lives of total strangers. ‘They’ve all gone to look for the bright lights in Malaga. So she has to look further afield now.’

There’s Katherine too, who takes care of the Posada since George and Emily his wife moved down to the coast. George comes up three days a week and, now that Katherine’s husband has gone to Madrid and (there is a slightly deprecating laugh there that I don’t understand), there is talk about that. I suspect that there isn’t much talk that doesn’t originate with Stella.

The rest of the Britons are visitors – and five or six are present in the village at the moment. I haven’t seen them? Oh, they’re out and about. I’ll bump into them soon enough. Sarah hasn’t been here for about six months now and her house desperately needs a new roof. She really ought to attend to it. As for Shimon, well it must be a year since he turned up and that was with really the most unsuitable girlfriend.

Stella has a long and elegant neck but unfortunately it is not long enough for me to tie a knot in it on behalf of all these people who might actually have a life.

‘And the Risboroughs,’ she says, with what I know will become a very irritating little laugh.

‘Well, they’re American of course. Such a silly idea to buy a house here. They thought they were going to be living in England and decided on a holiday home in Los Poops. My dear, they completely gutted it and put all sorts of unsuitable things in. But he got transferred back to the States so it’s all wasted. She never liked it here anyway. He’s visiting at the moment to put the house is up for sale but it’s far too grand for anyone round here to be able to afford it now.’

I am getting dizzy from all this unwanted information but there are some things that I do need to know so, as Stella draws breath I ask about the water situation. Is this rationing going to last?

She doesn’t know but there’s a long diatribe about how inconvenient it all is and how inefficient the Spanish authorities are.

Where do I buy calor gas? Oh, there’s a man who delivers once a month.

When would that be? Oh, sometime soon but he’s not very reliable. Great.

‘So who died?’ I ask, wondering if Stella knows as much about the indigenous Los Poopians as she does the immigrants.

‘Paco the builder,’ she says. ‘No loss. A wife beater. Oh, my dear, everyone knows it. Sanchia was perpetually covered in bruises. Heart attack I expect.’

‘I wondered if he had been in the police.’‘The police? Why?’‘Because of the police who were driving up the hill to be a part of the funeral.’

‘What?’ Stella’s nose goes pinched when she is excited. It gets two white marks on the side of the nostrils. She is avid for more details and tries to insist that we return to look at the funeral to see exactly who these policemen are.

With some difficulty, I decline but only escape after agreeing to go round for a drink with her and David tonight at seven. At least I haven’t been deemed worthy enough to be asked for supper.

Tigger is called and cajoled into turning back and Frankly stands, looking at me doubtfully. I stroke her soft ears and make the clicking sound that means ‘come on’ and she looks pleased.

Frankly at ten years old is unimpressed with puppies, particularly those that bounce. She is even more unimpressed by unfairly curtailed walks, no matter how hot it is.

We wander on, noting how the landscape is softer and greener where the crumpled hills meet - evidence of hidden streams which must flow in the spring. I am trying to work out how to circle the village without walking too far but my attention is caught by what looks like a ruin just a little further on below us. It’s just a house without a roof but it is surrounded by little walled gardens which show how much it was once loved.

There are pink and yellow climbing roses and what looks like lilies as well as fruit trees and a vine which has over run everything.

I find myself working my way down across the parched earth and between almond trees to take a closer look but before I am near enough for my footsteps to be heard, a figure appears from behind the house. It is a man, silver-grey haired, not very tall but definitely not a local Spaniard by his colouring and the quality of his clothes. He is in jeans but they are very smart jeans – probably designer label – and they are topped by a businessman’s crisp blue and white striped shirt.

I can see his face now; not handsome, not ugly, probably late forties or early fifties - and it seems blurred in a strange sort of way. It is not until he raises a hand to his eyes that I realise that he has been crying.

I stop dead. Whoever he may be, he does not want a stranger to see him like that.

There is a clump of bushes to my right so I move swiftly behind them and duck down to hide. Frankly, however, trots happily on down the hill.

He sees her just as she sees him and stops with one front paw slightly raised. The man looks curiously at her for a moment and then hastily wipes his eyes with the back of his hand before he looks around to see if the owner is present. Seeing no one, he drops into a crouching position and stretches out his hand. This is the kind of behaviour that Frankly usually ignores but today she trots on, cautiously, until she is close enough for him to reach out to stroke her.

Man and dog regard each other with close attention for some moments and come to a mutual understanding as to the necessity of Frankly’s ears being stroked.

‘Hey fella,’ says the man, identifying himself as the American Mr Risborough. ‘How are you doing?’

He has obviously owned dogs because he knows just how to scratch her ears properly and Frankly knows that she has found a friend. She sits down and puts her head on one side while raising a paw with which to entreat him to continue.

‘So where are you from?’ says the man looking at the tag on her collar which still has our Colorado address. This evidently surprises him (as it would) but it obviously distresses him slightly too.

‘What are you doing here?’ he says putting his head right down to Frankly’s. ‘Why aren’t you at home?’ Then he pushes back the silvery hair which is falling over his forehead and sits down with his back to me, on a piece of broken wall, still stroking Frankly’s ears. I think he is crying again.

Now what do I do? I can’t just stand up and walk down. I could edge away back to the path while his back is turned and pretend that I just came round the corner but if he is crying he won’t want anyone to see.

‘Coo-eee Aaaaannnna!’Oh bugger, it’s that interfering old bat. She is not in sight yet but her voice has had an electrifying effect on the man. He virtually dives back into the ruins, leaving Frankly on her own. At least that problem is solved.

I turn, reluctantly back up the hill, trusting Frankly to follow me, just as Stella comes trotting into view.

‘Oh there you are!’ she trills. ‘Oh my! Such a shock! The police! Paco was murdered!’

We walk back together into the village. I am a realist and I know that no one could ever escape a woman such as Stella when she is so big with news. Just my luck to move into a village which has a murder within 48 hours. So much for peace and quiet.

Apparently, the funeral has been stopped and the coffin taken down to Motril, the nearest coastal town, for a post mortem.‘So they don’t know that he was murdered; they just suspect it.’

‘There must be a very good reason for their suspecting it,’ says Stella grimly. ‘The doctor certified natural causes on the death certificate so someone must have reported something suspicious. Obviously Sanchia would be top of the list – it must be poisoning. But isn’t here; she’s been visiting her mother this week.’

But I find out fairly swiftly that even if they don’t suspect Sanchia, they do appear to suspect me!

Two short, grey, middle-aged policemen turn up at my door hour after I have escaped Stella and got home.

Frankly roars at them like the good guard dog she is but I can do nothing but let them in politely – and the questions begin.

But of course they speak no English and I speak virtually no Spanish. For all I know, they could be asking me if I dance the can-can.‘No hablo Espanol, Senor,’ I say, smiling apologetically making a hopeless gesture with my hands but they don’t appear to believe me. I can catch the words ‘Halevi’ and ‘casa’ and several others which sound familiar but it is a hopeless task.

Then I spot the word ‘nouget’ and my eyes stray to the pack of rat poison on top of the fridge.

The great detective with the moustache follows my gaze and almost leaps to impound the clue
before I can move. He is standing with the unopened packet jabbering away to his companion excitedly. Then they both start looking through the rubbish in the pedal bin.

‘Hang on a minute!’ I say angrily but I am of no account. I am told firmly to sit down and be silent (and you can understand those words in any language) while they examine the contents of my store cupboard and the rest of the kitchen. This is surreal. Am I supposed to have poisoned a man I have never even met with an unopened pack of rat poison?

Dear God, don’t let them arrest me and take me away. I suppose they would have to find me an interpreter but what would happen to Frankly in the meantime?

One of the officers turns back to me and speaks with gestures and I work out that he is going to try and find someone who speaks both Spanish and English. At least, I hope that’s what he said. Otherwise it could have been ‘I’m going to fetch the handcuffs and you’re nicked Madam.’

The other officer and I are left, looking slightly awkward. He has a gun in a holster and he puts his hand on it warningly. Of course, I had already considered wrestling him to the ground and making my escape but I think I’ll put my faith in the power of the spoken word.

It is a surprise to see who the first officer brings: it is the American man I saw at the ruined cottage. His face is set and he is speaking in accented but what appears to be fluent Spanish as he comes in through the door.

Frankly, who has been ignoring everything pointedly and hiding under the table, immediately comes forward squeaking a welcome and the man’s face softens at once. He leans down to pet her before he turns to greet me. He is wearing cowboy boots and the jeans are definitely Armani.

‘How do you do Ma’am,’ he says in a soft cowboy drawl. ‘My name is Watlington P. Risborough. I have a house here in Los Poops and these gentlemen from La Guardia have asked me if I could translate some questions for you.’

I bow my head in assent, watching him carefully. He is a strange mixture of two men in one; an urban cowboy if you like with soft skin but a creased face which has known severe weather. The eyes are set wide and are of a deep, velvet brown and the chin is small but this is not a weak man’s face. I would prefer this man to be on my side in a fight.

‘Would you and the other gentlemen like some tea or coffee?’ I ask.

‘Real coffee?’ he says hopefully.‘Ground coffee – from Colorado,’ I say.

‘That would be great.’ It has worked; we are on the same side. He turns and asks the two policemen what they would like to drink but this is obviously not the way they want to play it and a curt ‘no’ is followed by a stream of questions or instructions.

‘May I?’ I gesture towards the kitchen. Mr Risborough (I can’t call him Watlington P, I simply can’t! My lips twitch at the thought) asks the Guardia if I may make coffee and they assent gruffly. This is not turning out to be quite the keen interrogation they had planned.

Everyone watches me as I light the gas cooker with a match and put the kettle on. I take a small packet of Oreos out of the cupboard and put some on a plate and then turn to my questioner with a query on my face. He is looking at me keenly and one side of his mouth turns up in a smile as he takes a biscuit.

‘The police are investigating the death of a villager, Paco Ramon,’ he says. ‘They believe that he was killed by rat poison and they have heard that you were seen buying rat poison at the shop yesterday.’

That bloody mafia of women!

‘Yes, they have already found the stuff I bought,’ I say. ‘I bought it by accident because I thought it was nougat. I gather that they think that I may have killed a man I have never met, 24 hours after arriving in a country I’d never visited before, using a pack of poison that hasn’t been opened.’

‘Ah,’ says Risborough (Watlington P.) taking another biscuit. ‘Well, they have to look into every circumstance, Ma’am.’

The kettle has boiled and I am making coffee in a cafetiere. ‘Milk and sugar?’ I say.

‘Just black. Thanks.’

The two policemen break into a torrent of words but I have a feeling that Risborough, (Watlington P) is on my side and he calmly gestures to the table where we sit to drink our coffee.

‘They would like to know your name, where you have come from and why you are here in this house,’ he says. ‘And come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind knowing myself.’

I look up at those disconcertingly warm eyes which I know have recently been filled with tears and wonder who he is and what he means. This is not a man who would easily cry nor flirt unnecessarily.

‘You have a real cute dog,’ he adds with a smile.Frankly, the little trollop, is all over him, in bliss from prolonged ear scratching.

‘My name is Anna Marks,’ I say. ‘I am English but I have been living in Colorado, USA. I am here because I don’t want my dog to go into quarantine before I return to the UK so I am registering her as a European dog so that I can take her into the UK on the Pet Travel Scheme. Shimon Halevi, the house’s owner is an old friend of mine and he has lent me his house to stay in.’

‘No, that won’t do,’ says Risborough. ‘They won’t buy any of that. Except the name, of course.’

‘What?’

‘La Guardia need things simple. That is just way too complicated for them. Can I tell them that you are Halevi’s girlfriend come out here before him to clear the place up? They’ll understand that and it will help. Halevi’s real respected around here.’

‘But it’s not true!’

‘Ma’am, that is of no relevance whatsoever when it comes to Spanish law!’ His face is set but there is a twinkle in those brown eyes and I can’t help but twinkle back.

‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Tell them what you think will work. Just save me from the hangman.’

‘Oh it wouldn’t be as bad as that,’ he assures me. ‘Just a few years in prison with time off for good behaviour. Nobody holds much of a brief for Paco around here.’

Then turns to the police and speaks in swift, impressive Spanish. The conversation goes back and forwards for a few minutes and I can see that he is winning them over. Risborough (Watlington P) seems to have a knack of winning people over. I feel myself backing off mentally. The charm offensive is not going to work on me!

Frankly, on the other hand, is trying to climb up on his lap, boss-eyed with bliss from his talented ear-scratching.

‘No,’ he says firmly putting his hand on her head. Frankly obeys instantly and sits, leaning against his leg. I am outraged. She would never obey me like that.

After some more discussion during which both the policemen get quite agitated and there is sufficient hand-waving for me to fear for the crockery in the wooden rack over the sink, the two officals nod to me and turn to leave.

‘Is that it?’ I say. ‘Do they still suspect me? What’s going on?’

Risborough (W.P.) waits until they have left before answering. Then he leans back in his chair as if he owns the place and smiles.

‘Nope,’ he says. ‘They never really did. They just hoped that they would be able to pin it on a stranger. Only natural.’

‘Why? Who do they suspect?’ It is a silly question – I don’t know anyone in the village so the answer won’t make sense.

‘Every single one of the women,’ he says. ‘Is there any more coffee?’

‘What?’

‘Coffee. Is there any more?’Now he is teasing me and I feel irritation rise. For God’s sake, I don’t need a week like this last one has been cumulating with police coming round to arrest me and now some smart-arse American playing games.

‘Ah,’ says Watlington P. Risborough (God how those initials annoy me. Trust some stupid American to have pretentious name like that). ‘You’re mad at me. I’m sorry. I should be more thoughtful. I don’t know who you are or why you’re here – apart from what you’ve told me – and I’m treating you like some kind of friend. I’m sorry.’

Well that one’s a facer! Silently I pour him some more coffee and take my feelings out on Frankly by grimacing furiously at her. She totally ignores me. Watlington P. Pretentious’s right hand is still caressing her head.

‘Thanks,’ he says, drinking the coffee and taking his time. He must be a Mid-Westerner; no East or West coast American would take so long about anything.

‘What seems to have happened is this. Every single Spanish-born woman in the village bought rat poison yesterday. Every single woman called in on Paco sometime yesterday and now every single woman only has an empty packet left and a completely spurious story about what they used it for.’

‘What?’ I sit down, amazed. ‘You mean every woman is under suspicion?’

‘Yep – that is, nope. The police know perfectly well that somebody killed Paco. He was a bad lot and his wife had trouble with him. He would beat up on other guys too. I guess he drank and they say he took cocaine too…’

Cocaine? Conspiracy? Murder? What kind of hell-hole have I come to?

‘But they’re not going to be able to prove a thing. There are just too many suspects. The women have obviously conspired together to get rid of him while his wife was out of town. Maybe she knows about it; maybe not. One thing’s for sure: nobody’s going to say a thing.

‘I think they’re going to call off the post mortem and let it stand as natural causes. Not a lot else they can do.’

‘Oh my God!’ I remember yesterday and the women in the shop. Were they planning this then? Was my joking thought about their plotting real?

‘But one of them must have done it! One of them must be a murderer.’ Or maybe all of them are! This is like Murder on the Orient Express.

‘Yep, but there’s nothing the police can do but arrest the lot of them and that wouldn’t stand for a moment.. I guess they hoped that it would turn out to be you. Why did you buy that poison again? You said you’d only been here a day.’

‘It was a mistake. I misread the label. I was going to take it back today.’

‘Well I wouldn’t do that!’

‘Er, no. Perhaps not.’We sit together in silence for a minute. I really don’t know what to think about anything. I just wish that my Alex were here so that I could talk it over with him. He would find it funny. The real Alex that is, the one who….No! Stop it. He doesn’t exist any more.

The hand which had been stroking Frankly is now resting on my fingers. It is quite an elegant hand with well-cut fingernails and dark hairs on the back of the wrist and a small gold signet ring on the fourth finger.

‘Are you okay?’

‘No, not really.’ I hang my head and pull my hand away.

‘Anything I can do?’

‘No. No, thank you.’

‘Well, if you ever need to talk something over, I’d be glad to listen.’

‘No, it’s okay, thank you.’ I am quite sharp now. I wish he would leave me alone. The whole day has been ruined and I need to have some time to myself.

‘Right.’ Watlington P. Stupid Name stands up. ‘Well…I’m er…leaving tomorrow for a couple of weeks but I’ll be back here at the beginning of next month. Will you still be here? If so, would you have dinner with me?’

‘I don’t know. I mean, yes, I’ll probably be here but…’ I look away.

‘I’m not asking you to sleep with me Anna; just dinner.’

My jaw drops. Our eyes meet. He is still talking. ‘I’m married. I’m not trying anything on you. But I’m out here in Spain quite a lot at the moment and I just think it would be nice to have some female company sometimes. Especially somebody who knows the US, particularly Colorado. I have a place there.’

He would. Probably a whole ranch. Those boots must have cost $500. But now I feel a fool.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I guess I’m just a bit fraught. Life has been a bit challenging lately.’

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘I understand. Well, I’d love to listen sometime. Really I would.I’ll see you around.’ If he had a Stetson, he would be doffing it now.

‘Thanks,’ I get up, but he is already half-way to the door. In the movies, the hero always looks back at the heroine at the last minute and says something incredibly cool like ‘my friends call me Sundance.’

Oh, by the way,’ he says, looking back. ‘My friends call me Jack.’

The heroine would just say ‘’Bye Jack.’ I sit down, miss and fall off the chair.

Just like cowboys do, he walks back, asks if I’m okay, helps me up, ignores my giggles and smiles.

‘Why Jack?’ I say once I have recovered a modicum of equanimity.

‘Well I reckon Watlington’s a bit of a mouthful.’ He looks slightly sheepish. Interesting. Most Americans with ridiculous names are proud of them.

'There’s the ‘P’’.

‘Ah. Yes. No, that won’t work either,’ he says.

‘Go on. What does the ‘P’ stand for.’ I can’t resist this.

‘Perivale,’ he says and my face creases up involuntarily.

‘Your parents really didn’t like you did they?’ I say.

‘Well…Nope, it’s not that. It’s just the way things are done in my family.’

‘Then you must come from a very good family,’ I say, somewhat shakily, realising that I’ve been hideously rude.

‘Well, I guess,’ he says. ‘If anything good ever came from Nebraska.’

Then he grins because he is amused by my trying not to laugh.

‘It’s even worse than that,’ he says. ‘It’s not just Watlington Perivale Risborough, it’s Watlington Perivale Risborough III.’

We are both laughing. ‘Oh I am sorry!’ I say with my face splitting in two. ‘That really is tough.’

‘Yep,’ he says. ‘So it’s just Jack. I’ll see you.’ And he is gone.

The Buffalo Ghost of Livingston

On Buffalos, (mostly dead)
copyright Maggy Whitehouse 2000

A buffalo haunts the lobby of the Murray Hotel in Livingston. The ghost is rarely seen of course but everyone knows that it exists. A buffalo in a hotel is one of the better kind of ghosts without a doubt because there can be so much enjoyable speculation about how it got there and why it would bother to become a ghost about it. What is more, no one can claim that the spectral departed is a relative of theirs (even in Montana) and no one has ever claimed that it spoke to them or that they believed it to be a member of the hotel staff until it laughed hollowly and vanished through the wall.

On a particularly dark night you could be forgiven for thinking that you had seen the ghost - and that it actually was playing silly buggers with the wall - for the simple reason that the walls of the hotel lobby are covered with the stuffed busts of animals including one of a massive buffalo. No one will confirm or deny whether that particular buffalo is the originator of the ghost story but the less imaginative will, of course, claim authoritatively that there is no ghost and the story was just invented by the over-inebriated imagination of a few local cowboys.

Others say that it’s not surprising that the spirit of the buffalo haunts the lobby if half of it’s physical remains have been stapled to the wall. One wonders at that point whether it is the other half of the buffalo which does the haunting or whether it is just the front bit wafting out of its immaculately stuffed remains when it feels particularly bored. However, two things militate against the original theory behind this. The first is that it is definitely a whole buffalo that does the haunting and the second is that it does it exclusively in the lift.

In most buildings, fitting a buffalo into a lift would appear to be a pretty tall order and this particular lift is no exception. In fact attempting to stuff a buffalo into this elevator would account very easily for the demise of the animal, not to mention of the lift itself. It is a small lift - a very small lift - and it has those old-fashioned hand-pulled metal doors which contract and expand and which would be completely incapable of closing over a buffalo’s behind. But the dear departed of this planet are not limited by physical laws and it would appear that the buffalo fits whatever part of its non-anatomy is required into the lift together with the passengers and lets the rest of it ride up and down through the ceilings and floors as required.

‘So what does the buffalo do in the lift?’ I enquire of everyone I can find but there is no answer.

‘Does it breathe on you?’ Nobody knows.

‘Do you have to stand in the middle of it with your head peeking out over its back?’ Not a word.

‘Does it fart?’ And everyone quietly changes the subject.

Perhaps the whole truth of the matter is that no one has actually seen the buffalo but everyone has smelt it.

All over Montana and the surrounding states there are ‘Buffalo Jumps.’ These are not Western gymkhanas but ancient sites where the local Indian tribes used to chase buffalo over cliffs. In the days before the Indians had horses it was pretty difficult to get enough of the migrating buffalo to get them through the winter and even if you did shoot a dozen or so they were spread all over the plains and hard to drag back home.

So the Indians developed a system for herding the buffalo towards a particular spot. They would do it very quietly so the buffalo did not really notice what was going on until the last few hundred yards when the Indians ran at them in a kind of half circle to stampede them towards the edge of a precipice. If they were lucky, the buffalo got up enough speed not to be able to stop and a good proportion of them went over. Then, all the carcasses were in one place and the tribe could do all the work of skinning, chopping and carrying in one go.

The first buffalo jump that Jonathon and I ever came across was just over the Montana-Canada border. It’s called ‘Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump’ and it has a jolly decent museum all about the life of the plains Indians which kept us amused for hours.

The name? It’s quite simple. Apparently one of that particular tribe of Indians decided that he was tired of watching the buffalo jump from the top of the cliff and wondered what the spectacle would look like from underneath....I gather that he only did it the once.

With the inescapable logic of the Canadians who have bi-lingual signs everywhere, this national monument is also known as ‘Le Precipice à Bison Head-Smashed-In.’

My Websites

I have FOUR websites:

www.spiritualfunerals.com. This is, not surprisingly, about about offering spiritual funerals.

www.treeofsapphires.com This is about the Judaic mysticism of 2000 years ago. It's now known as Kabbalah and the popular kind is a 16th century re-working of the original, which was called Merkabah or 'Chariot Riders.'
I study and teach the original.
The main difference is that the old tradition believes, as it says in the Book of Genesis, that when God created the world, He created it good. And that evil is a result of the misuse of free will by humanity.
The new tradition believes that when God created the world he made a mistake and that evil entered as an external force.

www.tetheredcamel.com - Tethered Camel Ltd. is the publishing company that I run with my husband Peter Dickinson and our friend Jon Taylor.

www.pureprosperity.com - a guide to living abundantly. I do a monthly FREE prosperity email course so if you're interested, email me on mw@pureprosperity.com

The Bite of Bozeman

Every year, Bozeman, Montana holds the 'Taste of Bozeman' Festival. Restaurants serve meals all down the High Street. For cafes, like ours, it's the 'Bite of Bozeman' where we can offer snacks to people passing by to the other events that make this festival a highlight of the summer.

Before my ex and I were slung out of Montana by the US Embassy (God bless it), we had entered for the Bite of Bozeman. Now, back there alone, I had to try and handle it myself. The miracle in this story was the kindness of my friends...

The Bite of Bozeman
copyright Maggy Whitehouse 2000

God, do I wish that I had never entered us in the Bite of Bozeman. The ‘bite’ for us is the continued rejection of the visa and the closing date for applications was when I still had some hope that Jonathon was coming out.

Call it an affirmation of faith if you like - because I knew perfectly well that I couldn’t handle it myself.

And guess what? I have to handle it myself.

There are two mandatory meetings that restaurant and cafe owners have to go to as part of the entry procedure. To my intense irritation, at the first one we are given glossy sleeve-envelopes and sheets of paper that need to be folded into them so we do all the organisers’ finicky work for them while we listen to Emily’s instructions for the day.

I am feeling irritated. Not only because I am a fish out of water here but that I stick out like a sore thumb if I open my mouth. At least this keeps me quiet. And I don’t understand any of it, really. Health restrictions: what you can do; how you can do it; the health inspection before we start...all this floats in one ear and out the other as I try to quell the deep inner prompting to say ‘I quit’ and walk out.

The actual event is ‘The Taste of Bozeman’. An evening where all the restaurants put tables and chairs out on the street and serve set menus to the crowd of people who have pre-booked. The ‘Bite’ is for cafes who serve food to passers-by who have come for the street musicians and for the general atmosphere. We will be doing wraps, organic juices, brownies and pretzels.

Except that I’ve never made a wrap in my life and we don’t have a juicer for the organic juices since quitting the Juice Bar at Montana Harvest. Life has such jolly surprises in store for us when we plan ahead. ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,’ says the Jewish proverb.

The wraps seemed like a good idea in the days when Jasmine actually worked for a living instead of doing the absolute minimum and slagging the cafe off whenever she could. Ah, the joys of staff! I’m sure I did exactly the same at her age, but it doesn’t help me appreciate her any the more.

And Charles is away that week. The right-hand-man is not going to be here with the comforting back-up. Aaaaaagh!

As the day of the Taste of Bozeman draws ever nearer I find myself quailing. What should be helpful - an assessment from lovely cuddly Al from Unity Church that I’ll probably sell a thousand wraps on the night - only adds to the panic. I can’t make a thousand wraps! I can’t make one.

But I make 250. We are so under-staffed now that it really is down to me. Robin has promised to come and help on the night (and her bruises are down enough to be covered with make-up so she won’t frighten the horses). Victoria, Al’s estranged wife, who’s worked in the cafe business has also offered to help. Sara, the unpredictable, is meant to be looking after the cafe end of things as we stand outside; clearing up and doing more baking of brownies and pretzels if necessary. That’s if her blood sugar can make it.

On the day, TJ is an angel, preparing everything I could possibly need and putting it out so that as long as one person steams the wraps I have the minimum work to do in filling them. In between serving customers and making soup, he shows me the quickest and most efficient way of wrapping the chicken salad mixture and the humus and vegetable mixture, and I consider nominating him for a sainthood.

Robin steams the wraps, keeping her barely-healed and heavily made-up face carefully to one side so she doesn't hurt her tender skin, and I fill them. We get a good rhythm going and talk confidently of the pleasure we will get in selling every one.

‘You know, TJ,’ I say meditatively. ‘Charles and I were talking about you last week and one of us thinks that you’re incredibly cute.’

TJ stops and thinks with his bristly bear’s head on one side.

‘Which one?’ he says suspiciously.

‘Yes, it’s tough’ I say. ‘Because I’m not going to tell you. So it’s either the guy who is close-ish to your age but who dresses up in frocks for his amusement or the woman who’s seriously old enough to be your mother. Be afraid, TJ. Be very afraid.’

TJ wanders off, shaking his head perplexed and slightly worried. It is a difficult choice for a 19-year-old.

So, the wraps are nearly done; but the preparation of the table outside is not and there’s a list of health department regulations as long as my arm which don’t even appear to be written in English.

‘Something will turn up,’ I mutter to myself with gritted teeth. And it does - in the person of Al. He’s not meant to be here but he arrives with Victoria, picks up the regulation sheets and simply gets on with the job. It is like a visitation from an angel and I shed a couple of tears of sheer gratitude. The miracle of the loaves and fishes must have been a bit like this.

Al: Have you got more than one ice box?

Me: No

Al: I’ll find something.

And he does.

Al: Have you got containers for all the wraps?

Me: No.

Al: I’ll find something.

And he does.

Al: Have you got enough containers for all the drinks?

Me: No.

Al: I’ll find something.

And he does.

He works so hard and does it all so well that the health inspector when she comes has nothing to say but ‘well done.’ Then she goes and stands in the walk-in fridge for 15 minutes. Ostensibly this is to check that the temperature in there is correct - but it can’t be. There is a thermometer in the fridge that shows the temperature. All health inspectors are mad.

I go in to fetch something and she is just standing there deep in thought. Maybe she is meditating? I apologise because opening the door will make the temperature go up and she sighs a little and says it just means another couple of minutes.

I mean to check at the end of the evening whether she is still there...but I forget.

So, everything is ready. There are ten minutes to go. The rain clouds that have been gathering steadily are obviously an illusion; it never has rained for the Bite of Bozeman and it never will.

And then the skies open. Floods - and I mean floods - of water descend. Al races out to cover the table and all the prepared goods with polythene (where did he find that? I certainly don’t have any). The water starts running down the road in rivulets, and then it has covered the street entirely so that you can’t even see the curb.

In the midst of the huge disappointment and irritation I go out to see what is happening to the restaurants who were planning to serve food in the street. It is chaos. Barbecue fires are out and smoking; tables and chairs are being washed away by the water; people are cowering under show awnings or simply running away.

It takes the organiser 20 minutes to get down this end of Main Street to tell us that the event is cancelled. Yes, we had noticed.

I wonder whether to tell the Health Inspector that she can come out of the fridge, but decide not.

But, as we have mentioned before, Robin is a Scorpio. The words ‘let’s give up and go home’ do not exist in her vocabulary.

‘Open the cafe!’ she shouts and, sure enough as we open the doors and float the portable sign outside, twelve soaking wet and disreputable people stagger in.

‘Brew tea’, says Al.

‘Not coffee?’ I ask, perplexed.

‘No, tea. Tea doesn’t spoil the appetite,’ says Al wisely. He welcomes all the people, takes down the chairs which had been stacked on the tables when we closed and we serve them tea and brownies. And then wraps and pretzels as they are joined by 20 other refugees from the cold.

Frank Sinatra warbles happily through the speakers, the customers begin to steam and to giggle and Al and Victoria carry all the food and drinks from outside back into the cafe.

The rain stops.

‘Can you cope?’ Robin asks Victoria and Al. They haven’t a clue how any of the cafe equipment works.

‘Yes of course,’ they say.

I look puzzled.

‘Come on,’ says Robin. ‘We’re going to take a table down into the centre of town and sell wraps.’

‘Who to?’ I ask.

‘People will come now,’ says Robin. ‘And all the restaurants are shut.’

So, we hurry down the pavement and watch the water subsiding slowly as we pick an over-turned table out of the gutter and set it up two blocks into town. Then we take it in turns to carry the food and drinks down the road and, within seconds, we are selling.

I can’t believe it but, of course, Montanans are used to far worse weather than this. In the distance great streaks of lightning slash the sky and there are still drops falling here and there but the people of Bozeman are reappearing in waterproofs. And they are hungry!

We sell, and sell and sell. Both of us are frozen solid because we were dressed only in flimsy tee-shirts (the temperature was 85 degrees until the rain fell. Now it is perhaps 50 degrees). Robin is anxious that some of her make-up has run to reveal the Yogi Bear circle of pink around her mouth. Actually it has a bit but I can’t spare her. ‘You look fine’ I say. ‘Don’t worry.’

But she does. After all, she is an actress and what she calls the moment of utmost humiliation arrives. Someone important who saw her in the play at the Blue Lamp and whom she wanted to impress. He comes up and buys a pretzel and looks at her curiously.

‘Weren’t you Maggie in ‘Hearts of Glass?’ he asks and she has to admit she was. Poor Robin. Her hair is bedraggled and wet; her face in the gloaming is somewhat strange with different colours showing through; her whole upper torso is mottled with cold and goose-bumps.

But she does not run away; she faces it with laughter and tells the truth. That she has had jaw surgery and followed it up with a face lift; that she’s bloody cold but that I am her friend and helped her and now she is only too delighted to help me. I can see in the man’s face that although he doesn’t admire her features any more, he does admire her strength and spirit - and I tell her so when he has gone.

Nevertheless, she needs to go and make some repairs back at the cafe and, for half an hour it is just me on the sodden streets, selling wraps and pretzels and brownies. It’s fun and I dance to keep warm and shout like a fish-wife street-seller: ‘The last chocolate on Main street! Don’t let me eat it all myself!’

After two hours the rush is over. We are not sold out but we have done very well and earned more in the evening than the cafe did all day. Sara is back in the cafe and clearing up, having telephoned Victoria twice to say that she is not coming in. I don’t know what Victoria said to her, but here she is. And she is not in a bad mood.

We help her for a while and then she says to go home; she is much happier clearing up on her own, so we can leave.Didi is ecstatic, having been left for far too long and she needs a walk. The rain has started again and it is still incredibly damp. In the distance I can hear the sound of the street musicians still playing and I have a strange contentment. We did the impossible tonight and although I could not do it, I had found friends who could - and you can’t really ask for more than that.

The Bravest Man in Montana

Charles is gay. And he enjoys dressing up in women's clothing. In Montana, that's brave.

I knew nothing of this, only that Charlie had arrived in my life like a miracle to manage the cafe for me when I was in Montana on my own. My (now ex) husband was the one with the retail experience and my visa didn't allow me to work in my own cafe...so I needed help. Charles was at the end of some official sick benefit but was now perfectly well. The American rules and regulations however didn't allow him to work for anyone for money. So he ran the cafe for free...

Thank you Charlie. Like Robin, you were a miracle.

The Bravest Man in Montana
Copyright Maggy Whitehouse 2000

Charles is standing in front of me asking which dress I think he should wear for the review he is hosting. One of them is spangly royal blue with sequins and the other a deep, rich gold. They are of very simple design - flattering to the woman of fuller figure - and he made them himself.

We decide upon the gold one. It seems to add that particular je ne sais qoi.

Then it is the matter of which wig. The blonde, the red or the black. Each is tried on for my opinion.

It is like working with my computer: ‘Please insert disc and close gate....No disc in drive A’ I have no suitable disc for this. My ego is frantically searching for a familiar, similar situation in which to file what my eyes report seeing.

‘Well?’ says Charles.

‘It’s hard to judge,’ I say tactfully. ‘Without your make-up on anything other than black looks rather funny.’

Charles gives me a big grin. ‘The beard doesn’t help, does it?’ he says.

‘Not really.’ We both giggle together. Charles’s beard, like his own hair is a rich natural black. It is wonderfully trimmed and shaped but it does not do much for the wigs.

‘I think I prefer the black anyway,’ he says. And he is right. The long, straight tresses do suit him, beard and all. Charles would make a very pretty woman.

But the boobs. Oh boy, the boobs. Charles has two sets of boobs: one is a simple padded bra manufactured for cross-dressers - and the other is one he made himself. The professional bra is good, he says, but there is no weight. I handle the vast expanse of nylon which is broad and deep and at least a DDD cup.

‘It’s a bit outside my scope!’ I say pointing to my own ‘B’ cups and laughing.

‘Well I’ve got to dress up to my size,’ says virtually circular Charles. ‘They suit me this big. The problem is that they ride up and they just don’t move properly. Yours move properly when you walk.’

‘So I should hope!’

'Honey,' he says. 'This is a town of cowboys and film stars. The only women round here who wouldn't have me run out of town have boobs of solid silicone.'

So, he shows me the second pair of boobs. These are just boobs which he fits into a separate bra. They are the perfect weight and they have wonderful movement and they are encased in nylon stockings with a beautifully made nipple to show slightly through the clothing. I take them in my hands and scrunch them slightly, just about to make a comment on never having handled a woman’s breasts before. Then I fall about laughing. The boobs are made of bird seed.

Charles joins in. ‘I know it’s ludicrous,’ he says. ‘But it works!’ Behind him the zebra finches and canaries in his aviary cheep indignantly.

‘Charles,’ I say. ‘Thank you for this experience. I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying myself.’ And I mean it. This is pure joy in its own funny way. And nothing I ever thought could or would happen to me in Montana.

Robin's Facelift

Robin was (and I hope still is) the most beautiful and loving of actresses. She's a Texan who returned home soon after I left Montana. I completely lost touch with her after that, which I regret. I owe her a lot. She saved my life when I was alone in Bozeman, trying to sell the cafe and get Didi home. During that time, Robin had a face-lift and came to stay with me in order to recover. This is my diary of the day she came.

Robin’s Facelift.
Copyright Maggy Whitehouse 2000.


It is four o’clock and Jennifer has just knocked on the back door.

‘Try not to react,’ she says, warningly. ‘She looks a terrible mess.’

And then the sweet little space alien hovers into view. Robin’s face is a jigsaw puzzle of purple, blue, red and bright, bright pink. Her eyes blink out of clown make-up and the lasered area around her mouth looks like the jowls of a Walt Disney character. Wrapped round her head and under her chin is elastic lint to support the jaw - like Marley’s ghost.

Strangely enough, she looks very pretty. Odd but lovely. Like a pixie. And her ‘please don’t criticise me’ expression only helps with the elfin look.

I laugh. But I am not laughing at her.

‘You look beautiful,’ I say. ‘I’m not joking. You look like a lovely space alien. You should patent it for the next Star Wars movie.’

Robin smiles a little (she cannot laugh because of the pain). She cannot speak much either. Nor eat. It will be soup and purees for days.

We hug and I show her the bedroom where I have put lilies and books for when she cannot sleep in the night. After living in a trailer for a month this is paradise to her although it looks very little to me.

Jennifer is gone swiftly to return to the claims of her five children and Robin and I sit and look at each other.

‘Oh Maggy, it was so awful,’ she says and begins to cry. She is in such pain and can only take a certain amount of painkillers. Obviously not enough.

I dose her with arnica and Didi climbs up on the sofa and leans against her. Robin holds her in her arms, glad for the physical comfort after four days of such agony. Is this the time to mention that if Didi wants stroking she will paw at her face? Probably not.

The surgery took five and a half hours. FIVE AND A HALF HOURS! You can get a heart transplant in that time. You can get a new liver; have your hip replaced; have three or four hysterectomies. You can die.

So, this poor, sweet woman has risked death, disfigurement and spent $9,000 for vanity.
‘You have to suffer to be beautiful’ the Little Mermaid is told in Hans Anderson’s fairytale. Obviously.

I stare doubtfully at my 43-year-old face in the bathroom mirror while I am heating up some smooth chicken soup. It’s a good face for 43. The neck’s getting a bit scraggy and the freezing Montana winter has not helped what is generally a good complexion. But would I spend five and a half hours in surgery to perfect it. Would I spend $100 let alone $9,000. Would I hell!

But this is not to judge. Robin is an actress. She needs a beautiful face. She had the money from selling her business and she was told that 45-50 was the perfect time for a face-lift because the skin still has elasticity and won’t look like it’s been stretched.

What would I do with $9,000? Oh, how many things! Or, right now, would I just throw it into the cafe to cover the debts and give myself breathing space? On second thoughts, perhaps Robin is the most sensible of the two of us.

She drinks her soup through a straw but with obvious relish. The acute sickness she suffered after the anaesthetic has both starved and dehydrated her but even so, she will not rest. Once she has eaten (drunk) enough to feed a gnat, she starts unpacking her bags - two of them; huge. I would need less to circumnavigate the world. One is almost completely filled with beauty and health requirements including a huge package of special lotions she must use on her face, particularly on the lasered part. And which she had to pay for separately. Then she does some washing, impervious to suggestions that she should not.

I run her a bath, puree some fruit and intend to leave her to it. But Robin is a Scorpio and happy to carry on a conversation with the bathroom door open while sitting, stark naked, on the loo and complaining about what the anaesthetic has done to her internal system.

‘Did you have your nose done?’ I ask curiously. This was not on the long list of corrective measures considered at length and run by me for my completely unknowledgeable opinion.
‘Well, you know, I think I did,’ she says with great interest. ‘I didn’t ask for it but it does look different doesn’t it?’

It does. It is now a cute little snub job where it was once somewhat more assertive. I’m not sure what I think but Robin is thrilled. She stares at it in the bathroom mirror and eagerly takes the hand mirror that I offer so that she can see her profile.

I hesitate because if the surgeon has done something she does not like and did not ask for he will have deep and intense litigation on his hands. Robin is an American as well as a Scorpio. She considers the nose as long and hard as the nose itself is not.

‘I like it,’ she says firmly. ‘It’s the nose I used to have?’

‘Sorry?’ I’m not quite up to speed on the regular rearrangement of the noses of beautiful women.

‘I used to have this nose,’ Robin says again. ‘Then I got mugged. I had to have it done then because it was broken but the surgeon gave me another nose and I never liked it.’

My mind boggles at the idea of the surgeon searching boxes for new noses, but I say nothing.
This is not ideal as Robin wants and needs assurance that I think the new nose is lovely too.
Well, I do. It looks like a very pleasant nose.

‘Does it work?’ I ask to fill in any gaps of enthusiasm that I have not encompassed.

It works. It is a good nose; a lovely nose. It must be admired for the rest of the evening and referred to as often as possible. In the end I just say ‘Nice nose’ every time she speaks and this seems to do the trick.

For all the pain and the time-consuming lathering on of potions, Robin is still not ready for bed by 11pm. I retire, exhausted, taking Didi with me as she may get up and try to get into Robin’s bed in the night if I don’t. The beagle is very pleased to have a bed to sleep on and a human being to steam against. She sighs happily, settles down and begins to snore.

Montana Cowboys

This is a 100% true story of a Sunday in Montana before we moved out there.

Manhattan Cowboys
Copyright Maggy Whitehouse 2000.
Sunday May 10th 1997

(In Montana on my own, doing final negotiations to buy the cafe. I’ve booked a ride at a nearby ranch).

I always smile when I drive through Manhattan, Montana. Three bars, a grain silo and a railway line - a far cry from its namesake to the East. Today, I think I’ll have breakfast there as it’s on the way to the stables. I park by the railroad and, as it is getting hotter by the minute, I take off my cord shirt and put it in the boot. Then I shut the boot. With the key in it. And I have locked the car doors.

It is one of those moments when you just don’t believe it.

There was a pub right behind me called the Broken Arrow so I went in and asked the barmaid if she knew of anyone who could get into a car (Preferably legally!) She directed me to the police station, just a block away.

There was no one at the police station but four cowboys were ambling past so I asked them if they could help.

'You're not from round here, are you?' they say.

They were not exactly sober as they had been on a stag night and hadn’t yet stopped but they were charming and offered to break the car window for me (!) and then took me back into the bar and got the barmaid to phone the policeman for me. They said he could get into cars and he’d come round.

No he wouldn’t. Of all the people I’ve met in Montana, the policeman was the only one who didn’t want to help. He was fairly curt (after all, it was Sunday morning) but he did give me a number of a local man who had a garage and who could get into cars.

'You're not from round here, are you?' he says.

The cowboys were outraged that the policeman wouldn’t come and help and offered to start a fight or a riot so that he’d get called out anyway. I said that was thoughtful but in sorting that out, he probably wouldn’t have time to deal with the car. They said that was probably right, but it was a shame and introduced me to the bridegroom saying (unnecessarily) ‘he’s getting married.’ I didn’t know what to say but for some reason I said, kindly, ‘never mind,’ and everyone thought that was brilliant. If they’d had any money they’d probably have bought me a beer.

They told me how they’d been drinking all night and I told them that in England it wasn’t unknown to put the poor bridegroom on a train to the other end of the country or to tie him, naked, to a lamp post. They thought both of these were excellent ideas. Only two problems. They’d never manage to get the train to stop so they could throw him on (no station in Manhattan) and they don’t have any lamp posts.

I called the guy from the garage and his kid answered and said he was in the shower. I almost said I’d call back but something in me just said out loud ‘this is an emergency, please call him.’ And the kid did. I was very apologetic but he was great and said he’d be round in five minutes. All this time I am sitting at the bar with the guys around me being so sweet and helpful (in a sweet, unhelpful sort of way) and the barmaid dialling the numbers for me on the phone on the wall at the back of the bar and then handing the phone across the counter so it’s at the end of its curly cord and she has to duck underneath it all the time.

I went out and Randy arrived very swiftly with his car-breaking equipment. A load of wedges to get down inside the window seals and coathanger-type things to hook the locks. But he can’t do it, try as he may. He suggests I phone Hertz at the airport and ask if they’ve got a spare key. They might bring it out. I said I doubted the latter and was there a taxi in Manhattan?

‘No,’ he says. ‘But someone might drive you there I would.’ I can hardly believe the people out here. So, I go back into the pub and look up the Hertz number in the phone book and the cowboys talk about getting in through the sunroof. There isn’t one, I say. Well we can make one, they say. As I’m waiting for the man at Hertz to try and work out what to do I watch, aghast, as the barmaid pours a hefty shot of tomato juice into a pint of beer. And then another. ‘Good for hangovers,’ she says when I query this. ‘And those guys have real hangovers.’

‘But they haven’t stopped drinking yet,’ I say.

‘You get the hangover in the morning whether you’ve stopped or not,’ she says with a smile and opens another can of tomato juice.

The Hertz man says, no, they don’t have spare keys and I’ll have to call a locksmith. He gives me a number and I order an orange juice and go out to tell Randy that no, Hertz can’t do anything and that I really appreciate his time and kindness and what do I owe him? And he won’t take a dime. Not a dime. He just smiles at me and touches his cap and wishes me luck and a better day, and gets into the truck to go back and finish mowing his lawn.

I go back into the pub and the cowboys are discussing taking up piracy on the Yellowstone River to get themselves a little extra cash. They ask my opinion and I tell them that I think it’s an excellent idea and that I’ll come and watch them do it when I come and live here in the autumn.

They are thrilled and excited at the idea that I’m coming to live here and, as I dial up the locksmith’s number, Lee, the most charmingly drunk, comes over and shakes my hand for the second time and offers me one of his horses to get to wherever I’m going. I could bring it back tomorrow, he says.

I try to answer him and talk to the locksmith at the same time, just as someone turns up the juke-box so loud that you can hardly hear yourself think, and totally confuse some very pleasant lady who’s never been a locksmith in her life, nor been married to one and can’t for the life of her think why Hertz should have given me her number. She hopes that my day will get better.

And the barmaid dances back and forward under the wire until I accidentally let go of the phone and it shoots back across the counter, missing her by inches as she carries two more beers and ricochets up the wall.

I drink my orange juice and ask her for the phone book again. She says, really nicely, that she’ll get it in a minute, but the waitress hasn’t turned up and she’s got to take some orders for lunch.

The guys start talking to me about horses and what I was planning to do today so I tell them and they say that I shouldn’t ride up at Gallatin River Ranch right now as it’s rattlesnake season. I say that it doesn’t really look as if I’m going to ride there anyway, thanks all the same, and realise that I had better call the Ranch to cancel. Thank God local calls in America are free.

One of the guys actually turns out to be the owner of the 320 Ranch (another place where you can get great riding). He’s called not Mark but Marce or something similar and he’s really pretty sober and he says he’s sorry that they’re not riding there yet, and yes, Willie is a great wrangler, and he hopes to see us there in the autumn.

Then the barmaid brings me a portable phone with a big smile and I consider recommending her for a sainthood. There are three locksmiths in Bozeman (at least 20 minutes away) and they all say they can open car doors. I pick the one I like best and dial the number. As it rings, someone turns up the juke box again so I go out and talk to him on the pub doorstep. His name is Dave and he says he’ll come immediately. For $60. Pretty much the cost of a three hour range at GRR. Okay. He’s actually quite pleased to come as he was going to have to paint the guttering otherwise. He’ll be here in 20 minutes.

So I call the Gallatin River Ranch and tell them what’s happened and cancel the riding and Ron, who was there yesterday afternoon, says to come in anyway when I’ve got into the car and maybe they can take me out later, so I say thanks, and okay.

It’s time for another orange juice and a spirited discussion with the guys about why I won’t have a beer. I order a cheeseburger which arrives swiftly and is delicious. Their plans for piracy are beginning to form nicely. I tell Marce that the 320 is a good place and the others chorus ‘he thinks it’s shit’ and he goes all pink.

‘If you’re the boss, it’s probably your job to think it’s shit,’ I say and everyone drinks to that. Lee tells them that I’m a rare kind of woman.

I choose my moment, when they are all fiercely debating who’s boat they’re going to steal to start their career of piracy (Joe’s is nicely painted but it won’t deal with the rapids and Chris’s is a wreck. Perhaps they’ll steal the cop’s. It would serve him right) and slip outside to wait for the locksmith.

He’s kind and tells me I haven’t done anything that anyone else doesn’t do and gets out all his coathangers and starts work. 'It won’t take long,' he says. 'You're not from round here, are you?'ay.

Three quarters of an hour later, I ask him if he’s got any optimism left, and he says ‘enough,’ and I really admire him for that. We have a brief discussion on how inconvenient it is that they make cars so burglar-proof nowadays and I go for a walk.

A lovely old mixed-breed dog comes up to me and starts licking my hand and his owner, who is sitting at the edge of the green area by the railroad greets me and we start talking. She owns a gallery here and is considering what flowers to hang outside it. ‘What do you think?’ she says and I say ‘bright pink and bright yellow’ and she says Wow! That was just what she thought too.

'You're not from round here, are you?' she says. She’s from Nebraska originally and says the winters here are better than there and that the cold is good dry cold and it simply isn’t a problem and I’m not to worry about it. She also loves the idea of an English teashop. Really loves it.

‘You mean somewhere we could take our kids in nice clothes where they’d learn proper games and good manners?’ she says. ‘Somewhere we can go and feel special and have a good time on a Sunday afternoon. Oh that sounds great. I can’t wait to tell all my friends. When are you opening?’

I walk on and think to myself about the riding, because it’s now past one o’clock and I really have to accept one hundred per cent that I am not going riding. I may never get back into the car.

As I stand still for a moment, I am suddenly engulfed by people who are pouring out of a tiny church. They are all filled with sunshine and the joys of life - and they carry me along with them, chattering as if I were a part of their group. Of course, as soon as I can manage to get a word in edgways, I stick out like a sore thumb.

'You're not from round here, are you?' they say.

I explain (again) and say that I've got a problem with the car.

'A problem?' says their leader, a black lady who could could fill a tent in all directions and who surges with every movement. Her good-natured face lights up. 'Well, we'll just pray the situation up Honey! Don't you worry about a thing!'

And so, I am surged back to the car, where Dave is still trying hard. He looks up and nodds to the 20-odd people gathering around him. 'Morning folks,' he says and gets on with the job.

The congregation leader bursts into a song of praise with all the others following her. One verse of power roars into the air and, at the end, to the sound of the rest of the congregation humming (I kid you not) she instructs the Lord on what he has to do to aid this plucky little traveller from so far away. Open wide that door! Open the way forwards! Release her from her bondage! We know you can Lord, we know you will Lord! Open that door.

Click.

The door is opened. Not as wide as my mouth however, my jaw has pretty much hit the floor.

Dave is thrilled, the congregation is thrilled; I’m thrilled and we open up the trunk and there is the key, just lying there. Not in my shirt pocket, but just lying there.

Dave and I say goodbye (and he forgets to check the rental document, which he’s meant to do to make sure that I’m not a car thief) and he drives off wishing me a wonderful day, and I shake hands with every one of the congregation before going back into the pub to tell them that all is well.

They give me a round of applause and the cowboys all shake my hand and make me promise to come and be honorary female on their pirate ship when I come back.

Thursday

Barracuda

Posted by PicasaHere is the picture I took of the eight-foot barracuda I met at the Australian Barrier Reef.
Okay, it doesn't look much, but, believe me, you had to be there and mostly naked....
If you want to read more about The Fish, Bill Bryson's book 'Down Under' has the story of his/her anti-human behaviour.

Wednesday

A Life of Miracles.

So there I was, reviewing books for Saga Radio and looking for an interviewee for the holistic health magazine I edit - which is called Tree of Life - and two publishers wanted me to review books by women who'd followed holistic principles to heal their lives after losing their husbands.
Not losing their husbands as in 'there we were at Sainsbury's and somewhere by the broad beans he just disappeared' sort of thing, but as in helicopter crashes and in wars.
I was cross. Why was I cross? Because years ago, my first husband died a year after we got married. (well yes, okay, I was more than cross at the time - but bear with me, I'm doing a stream of consciousness here...)
Holistic health and spirituality really helped me to heal my life after Henry's death - to the extent that I became a published holistic health author, ran the BBC's holistic health site, started my own magazine, started a publishing company, married again etc. etc. etc.
As I was already an author (first book is China by Rail, now, sadly, out of print) I asked my agent if there was any mileage in a book about my experiences - A Life of Miracles I was going to call it, because that's really what I've had. Miracles such as being saved from an eight foot barracuda at one end of the scale and being able to marry in a cathedral in the Seychelles at 10 days' notice at the other. With a few adventures thrown in....For example, I spent six years travelling round China on steam trains in the 1980s in the days before they even had Coca-Cola - effectively it was an expensive diet once a year with a lot of amazing experiences thrown in, including falling in love with a Chinese security guard (the only guy over 5'6") and having a secret affair with him on trains and in hotels.
Anyway, I digess. My agent told me not to be so arrogant; no one was interested in my life and to get a proper job.
Oddly enough it was another seven years before I fired her....
So, what I'm going to do here, is write that book in small sections. Why? Because I'll enjoy it and because one day, I might just find some other people who enjoy it too.

Well here we go...

A Life of Miracles
(copyright Maggy Whitehouse 2005)

Chapter One. The Great Escapes

He was a pop star. Not a rock star; I was never that cool. A pop star who had about five or six hits and was slightly sad and smouldery, and very, very pretty.

It started, as they do, as an ordinary school-girl crush with dreams of meeting him one day and being wafted away to paradise. I don’t think I fantasised about actual sex or, if I did, I can’t remember it, which doesn’t inspire me to think it can have been very good as virtual sex goes.

I was desperately in love though, as only a 16-year-old can be. I even telephoned him. At least I think it was him. His initials and surname were in the London phone book for the area where Jackie magazine said he came from. It did cross my teenage-addled brain that it was a bit daft to have your name in the telephone book when you were famous but it was a very old phone book and anyway, it was fate...

Nobody answered and there was no answer phone. I called three times but then gave up. My knees had turned to jelly each time.

I was going to invite him for Christmas because an interview he gave to Jackie said he was feeling particularly lonely and unloved and wasn’t looking forward to Christmas on his own.

No, I hadn’t mentioned to my parents that I was trying to invite a total stranger with long hair, smouldering eyes and probably a rather large fan-base for Christmas.

Later he told me he probably would have come. He could remember that year and he was pretty miserable at the time. But, of course, that was with hindsight and by then he knew that I wasn’t a complete dog nor totally desperate.

We met when he was making a come-back 12 years later. By then I was an assistant producer on the BBC's original lunch-time chat show, Pebble Mill at One (it closed down three months after I joined but no one seemed to register that particular co-incidence). It wasn’t my day for working on the show but, when I realised that he was appearing I asked the music team if I could look after him for the day. No one else wanted to – they were all in their 20s and more interested in real rock stars.

His record company representative arrived first and I chatted to her about how excited I felt to meet my teenage heart-throb.

‘You were wasting your time,’ she said. ‘He’s gay.’

Oh my wounded heart! Yes, of course there had been some deep residue of hope that he and I would somehow connect and this would be the reason that I had never found the love of my life…

But, I’m made of resolute stuff and, at least, knowing that I couldn’t pull him if I tried did make me relaxed when he arrived instead of jumping like a rabbit in headlights.

He was so nice! We got on like a house on fire. And he was still devastatingly attractive to my eyes. We laughed and he was rueful when I told him how much I’d adored him, rather embarrassed about how old he was now. His sexual orientation wasn’t mentioned.

After the appearance on Pebble Mill, he was off to BRMB Radio down the road for an interview. He had a man to drive him (the boyfriend?) but I took my lunch-hour to drive ahead of them to show them the way around the treacherous Birmingham ring road. Once we were there, he jumped out of the car, took my hand and kissed it and thanked me fulsomely.

Then he sent me a thank you note with his phone number on it.

Later he sent me a Christmas card.

No I didn’t call. There was no point. I fancied him rotten but he was gay and I already had a surfeit of handsome gay friends somewhat closer to home.

Two years later, I was working on a soon-to-be-failed (and deservedly so) Central TV daytime chat show called Gas Street. It ran twice a week at lunchtimes and was hosted by Suzi Quatro and Vince Hill. The idea was that they would co-host both shows but that was the first recipe for disaster. The lack of sexual tension would have been awe-inspiring if it hadn’t been so embarrassing. Suzi was a powerful woman and Vince a thoroughly nice guy without a clue who came across on TV as a wimp. Both of them were singers; neither of them (in my humble opinion) appeared to be able to sing a note; Suzi shouted and Vince droned.

We segregated them in the same way that you would put a tiger and a Labrador puppy in different cages and both shows staggered embarrassingly through one whole season where all the production staff lied about what they did for a living and kept their CVs rigorously up-to-date.

Our producer had a crush on Suzi and a big downer on Vince. Suzi was allowed to sing on her show but Vince wasn’t and, as Suzi could actually do a half-way decent interview and Vince, without guidance, was helpless as a rabbit in the headlights of a car, that was additionally cruel.

So, we started bringing in outside singers. And guess who was doing another come-back.

I booked him quite happily, thinking it would be nice to see him again.

The record representative (a different one) arrived first. I told her all about my teenage crush and how devastated I’d been to discover he was gay.

‘He’s not gay,’ she said. ‘He’s just got engaged.’

My pop star remembered me and kissed me and we smiled at each other all the way through rehearsals. Afterwards, I sat in his dressing room and we ate some sandwiches together. He enquired about my life and I congratulated him on his engagement.

He fixed me with his big brown eyes and said: ‘Well, you wouldn’t have me, would you?’

‘You didn’t ask me…’

‘Well you didn’t exactly come on to me did you? I thought if I gave you my phone number you’d call me if you were interested. I sent it twice if you remember…’

The terrible thing was, he meant it.

Fifteen years later, after my second husband left me, I was sitting on a tube train on the way into work at the BBC and I spotted his name in the Metro. He was doing a gig at the Jazz Club in Camden the following night.

I went. On my own. I didn’t know if he was married; divorced or what. It just seemed like a ray of light in a rather dark time.

It was hours before he came on stage – it was yet another come-back and he was headlining. My heart was pounding.

He walked down the stairs to the stage; still gorgeous and still smouldering. Our eyes met. He looked slightly puzzled but looked again and smiled. Inside my head, the Voice said: ‘Alcoholic.’ I don’t know if it was true or not but it was a warning. I know the Voice; I’ve had it on and off since I was nine and disobeyed it at my peril.

I turned and walked out of the club and out of the fantasy forever.

Why was that a miracle? Because we were kept apart. God knows how much damage we might
have done to each other.

I’d done the wine-soaked man before. Briefly. I turned up at a friend’s Christmas party one year with a TV chef in tow. He liked me because I’d cooked him beans on toast instead of trying to impress him and we went out for about four months. The staff at Pebble Mill at One – and it’s unlamented follow-up show Pamela Armstrong – were nearly all female and, if necessary, the male bosses weren’t above using us as enticements for people they wanted to attract onto programmes but who thought that Birmingham was the end of the Earth. They wanted the TV chef to do a live strand; the TV chef obviously liked me; therefore I was instructed to look after the TV chef. So I did. Rather too well as it happened.

No miracle intervened to stop me from going out with him but even a hopeless co-dependent like me could realise that the kind of boyfriend who rang you up at midnight and was so miserable at you that you got into the car and drove two hours to comfort him – only to find that he was fast asleep in bed and didn’t hear the doorbell, wasn’t a good long-term prospect. And we may have liked each other but it wasn’t a grande passione. Even his exes did a double-take when they saw me; I wasn’t blonde; I wasn’t tall; I wasn’t even slender. Obviously I was an aberration.

The other Great Escape miracle was with a TV journalist. I interviewed him on my radio show on BBC Radio WM when he wrote a book about his travels and there was a fair amount of mutual twinkling over the microphones. Two days later, a beautifully handwritten note arrived with a distinct carrot dangling. You couldn’t check marital status on the Internet in those days but there was no telephone number. ‘Don’t answer,’ said The Voice very clearly and I’m sure I sensed several heavy sighs as I answered the note in similar style - and an assignation was made entirely by post.

The morning of our date, I got into work to a message from a news journalist at Radio WM with raised eyebrows who told me that for some unknown reason, this TV journalist had telephoned the newsroom and asked them to tell their lunchtime presenter that he had been sent, on short notice, to a story in the Philippines.

It was true; he had. Proof was fairly simple to observe on the news.

A year passed with no contact and then we met again on Pebble Mill at One. A further assignation was made – with exactly the same result; the only difference being two days’ notice and Hong Kong. Again, there was plenty of proof.

I happened to be transiting in Hong Kong on my way back from China three months later and, somewhat to our mutual surprise, we managed to meet, in his hotel. I was nervous – you never really want to go on a first date with a yellowing black eye from when your train from Shanghai hit a water buffalo – but he was a delight. He just had to finish off an article before we could go out for dinner. I still have the photograph he took of me, sitting (fully clothed and untouched) on his bed smiling up at him, with the regretful caption. He sent it from Antigua – because he was posted abroad again in a phone call he took right in front of me, that very night.

Two years later, I had been married and widowed - and was flying via Hong Kong from Australia with a 24-hour transit. Lost and lonely, I contacted him to see if we could meet. He said ‘yes of course.’

My flight was diverted via Bangkok.

I got the message. Finally.

Of course, it’s quite possible in both cases that the men concerned were being saved from me.

The eight-foot barracuda off the Australian Barrier Reef, however, didn’t need any help.

My husband, Henry, died in 1990 and I ran away to Australia for six weeks while I tried to face up to it. My friends Peter Seccombe and Sarah Douglas were on a year’s Sabbatical travelling the world and we arranged for me to fly out to spend two weeks with them and then to go on and stay with an old friend from Pebble Mill who had emigrated to Sydney.

My flight took me into Cairns in the Northern Territory and I arrived two days before Sarah and Pete could get there – in the days before mobile phones and the Internet liaising on an exact date with travellers was a pretty tough call. That first night I went tentatively down to the hotel bar; I was very aware of being not normal; grief had set me somehow about half an inch out of my skin and everything looked and felt wrong wherever I was. I had a constant feeling that if I stepped out in front of a bus and it didn’t stop, I wouldn’t have minded. I certainly wasn’t paying very much attention to life.

I bought a glass of wine and sat down with a book to pass the time until I could go out to eat. A few minutes later, a young, dark haired Australian man with an attractive grin threw himself into the empty chair next to me.

‘Me and my mates at the bar have got a bet on,’ he said. I looked up with what I hoped was quelling politeness.

‘Yep,’ he said. ‘I bet ‘em ten bucks you can’t be as mean as you look.’

We had supper together. It was the best chat-up line I’d ever heard and it was better than sitting alone in misery and losing the poor man his bet. Most of the evening was spent in spirited discussions on whether or not it would do me good to sleep with another man so soon after Henry’s death. The motion was not passed and we parted amicably apart from his sad reflection that he’d have to give that ten bucks back after all…

It was Niall’s suggestion that I went out to the Barrier Reef the next day. I was planning to wait until Sarah and Pete arrived but he said it was worth going plenty of times and there are only so many circuits you can make of a town when you’re miserable.

The ship that took us out was crowded with Japanese tourists so I could hide quite neatly in the crowd. I did listen to the announcements on where to swim and where not to go.

‘Just avoid the deep water,’ said the announcer. ‘You’re perfectly safe in the shallows and we keep an eye out for you. No one’s ever been hurt in the shallows but you must stay there because there are sharks in the deep water and two divers were killed by an eight-foot barracuda only about six weeks ago. That guy wasn’t within 50 miles of here but it’s best to be sure.’

Into the water we all went and I floundered around for a while, hating it. My mind wasn’t relaxed enough to deal with all the shouting, giggling and photograph-taking all around me.
What did I do? Yes, of course I swam round the boat. I had completely forgotten what the announcer said.

The barracuda was right there; lurking. It was enormous, with great black portholes down its side and teeth that made me shiver. It was side on when I first saw it but it flipped in less than a second to face-on.

It is true that time slows down in a crisis. I remember the fear – and I also remember thinking very clearly ‘I want to live.’

The Voice cut in very clearly ‘Swim forwards and make as much noise as you can. When you get near, hit it on the nose.’

I obeyed.

It flipped away.

I lay there and watched it; it watched me. Being a journalist – and afraid that no one would believe me – I took a photograph with my underwater camera. The Voice sighed.

‘Get out of the water?’ it suggested.

The barracuda stayed stationary. I swam backwards; never knew I could do that. When my legs touched the side of the ship I turned and swam round it as fast as I could.

Out of the water, I vomited with fear and shook like a leaf.

I didn’t tell anyone on the ship; I was too scared of being told off and there was no one else who was about to be as stupid as I had been. But as I sat, wrapped in my towel, shivering, I knew: I wanted to live. Henry’s death was not the end of me and I would survive.

I have the murky, slightly out-of-focus photograph of that barracuda on the desktop of my computer to look at whenever I’m feeling small or scared. It helps.

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So where does this Voice come from? Probably my Higher Self, which is imbued with a lot more sense than the lower effort. I’ve never named it; it’s not a guide. I know that loads of spiritual people have very impressive guides with important-sounding names but, when I first started training as a healer, I tried to get a name for mine, I got ‘Cynth’ and wasn’t impressed.
For a while, she started sending me hyacinth smells which confused me until she said ‘Higher – Cynth’ which earned her a sharp kick in the mythical ribs. I may not be cool but I’m not that desperate.

She shows up now and then, suitably attired as a red-haired pre-Raphaelite in a medieval-style green dress – for form’s sake – but we both know it’s a hum and she’s a fishwife from Hull.

She isn’t The Voice.

Judaic mystical tradition says that miracles are perfectly normal events from a higher overview; they are just higher worlds merging into lower ones. A good example would be a human being lifting a spider out of a bath. The spider doesn’t know what the heck happened; just that it’s now sitting outside on a leaf. It can’t conceive that a creature with a slightly wider range of vision and a bit more height decided against washing it down the plug hole.

So, when miracles happen to us, it’s probably just some discarnate or out-of-dimension being doing something that is perfectly simple from their point of view.

Why don’t they do it more often? Apparently they do it almost all the time. Guardian angels are working flat out, especially for teenagers just after they’ve passed their driving tests.

But they don’t interfere with our free will. They warn and advise. And we ignore them. At our peril.

There’s the now legendary story about the Sikh who should have been on the Lockerbie flight that was blown up in …. He had never had a drink in his life but some one (some angel) persuaded him to have a Guinness in the airport bar and he was so squiffy he missed the flight calls.

Even if it’s not true, there are many such stories that are. People who don’t get the warning; the rescue; the miracle get another kind of miracle – they are the ones who are chosen to have the experience of dying. We’re so afraid of dying that we never manage to see it like that.

Bereavement is horrible – but more is done to change the world by those whose loved-ones have died than by the rest of humanity put together.

Everyone at a funeral has the opportunity to review their life and make decisions faced with the reality that it could have been them. I remember ten people at Henry’s funeral who told me they were going to change their lives because of this. Nine of them forgot.
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Nothing remotely interesting other than rock-pools, puppies and daydreams happened to me until I was nine. And then there was just one breathtaking moment in Church on a Sunday morning that I still don’t speak about (I’d have been ridiculed to death if I’d said anything for at least 30 years). Suffice it to say, I don’t hold with the idea of angels being fluffy, friendly things; to me, they are fierce and awe-inspiring beings that brook no denial, knock you flying with their intensity and don’t sugar-coat their messages.

Yes, I am doing what It told me I had to do; but I probably won’t manage it all in one lifetime.

There was another hiatus (apart from beagles, unsuitable boyfriends and my adored childhood best friend Joanna) until The Voice turned up in my late 20s. I think it had realised that I was in danger of getting seriously lost - married men, overwork, habitually single, slightly crazy, classic Bridget Jones stuff except, of course she hadn't been invented then.
At that time, I wasn’t in any state to listen so The Voice had to turn up in the form of a human being.

I was breakfast presenter at BBC Radio WM and my heart had just been broken by an Antarctic Base Commander. His name was David Rootes and we’d met just a few weeks before he set off for a six month tour of duty on Signy Island. I fell hook line and sinker and pledged myself to wait the six months. Of course it was all very romantic with letters via HMS Endeavour when possible and no other contact and I was able to project a thousand romantic projections onto him. I would send him my love on the constellation Orion as that was the only one that we could both recognise that was visible on both sides of the world. (Do you think that I might just be demonstrating slight signs of commitment phobia here?)

When he got back we met up and began where we’d left off and I carefully didn’t notice that we had nothing in common. Even worse, I played it cool when he talked about wanting marriage and kids.

He got engaged to his lodger instead – and she was the one who told me. He refused to take my calls. I rang his Mum who was delighted to hear from me; hoped we were coming for lunch and flatly refused to believe me.

She rang back later somewhat defensive and said ‘well it was never serious between you was it?’

Obviously not.

My producer, Tim Manning, rang up while I was on the radio the next day, horribly alerted by my selection of music for that morning. Any sane person listening would have put their head in an oven at the paeans of misery that echoed all over the Midlands.

In a desperate attempt to cheer me up, Tim fixed up for me to interview an amiable lunatic who kept live tigers in his back yard in Coventry and shoved a newly-published book on astrology into my hands suggesting I interviewed the author, Cordelia Mansall to find out about my future.
I rang her and she politely declined to travel up from London but agreed to do a telephone interview. She asked for my birth details so she could take a quick look at my chart although she emphasised that astrology did not predict futures – and rang me back later that day to say she was coming up: ‘I have to talk to you. Is there anywhere we can go after the show?’

It was a Jupiter transit that did it, apparently. I had to take action on something within the next two days or I’d miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

The next morning, I spent a couple of hours playing with the tigers and I even rode on the back of one of them – so I couldn’t have been so miserable as to have a death-wish, at least.

That afternoon, Pebble Mill at One offered attachments for TV Assistant Producers and I applied – and got the job.

And my Dad asked me if I’d like to travel to China with him that summer.

That was the one.

Without that, I’d never have met Meng; never have written a book; never have made a TV documentary; never been a TV presenter; never have healed the relationship with my Dad; never have married Henry; never have thrown conventional Christianity out of the window; never have become a Kabbalist, never have met Peter; never have lived the fabulous life of adventure I call my own.

Thank you, Cordelia, because without you, I would have said ‘no.’
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