Monday

'Fear not,' said the Angel...

It was a beautiful night with a New Moon in South Tawton, Devon, England. And the world was about to change forever…



An angel stood outside the magnificent 15th century granite and thatch, Church House, which has been at the heart of the South Tawton community for more than 500 years.


Okay, she was there a bit earlier than the moon because it's still daylight, but that was a lovely picture to start off with. And, anyway, she was deep in prayer before our story started, wondering exactly what words to use when she spoke to a young lady later that evening. Did you know that the most common phrase in the Bible is 'fear not?' There are 365 mentions of the phrase — one for every day of the year. So, the angel thought to herself, 'let's go with the flow. "Fear not" is as good as it gets.'


Now this was not just any old angel, it was the Archangel Gabriel, the messenger between God and humanity. Wisely, she went up the steps so she could be seen properly and checked her microphone before she delivered her message.


Below her, a young girl called Mary, was sweeping the porch together with two narrators. One was called Beth and the other was wearing reindeer horns. Those narrators got everywhere in those days.

Gabriel told Mary that she was very highly favoured and was going to have God's baby, whom she would call Jesus. Mary wasn't sure about that to start with because she wasn't married, but she was a brave girl and, let's face it, when an angel turns up, you tend to believe it. The 'fear not' bit certainly seemed to have worked.



There were lots of folks in Nazareth that evening so it's surprising they didn't see or hear the angel but God's good at keeping things secret when He needs to. The words 'secret' and 'sacred' come from the same root, which makes a lot of sense.

Ah! Hang on … all the people were there because the Emperor Augustus had turned up out of the blue. That's him in the lych gate in front of the church.


He told all the villagers that they would have to return to their home-towns in order for there to be a census so they could all be taxed correctly.  Emperor Augustus got a big boo and hiss from the crowd.


Mary's betrothed husband Joseph saw an angel too — in fact he saw at least two, one of whom was wearing tinsel — so he knew that it was all okay about Mary being pregnant. He saw some incredibly early Wise Men from the East too but he told them to go home because they'd got the timing wrong. But he said they'd be very welcome later, when the baby was born.


 Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem, where Joseph's family came from for the census. Bethlehem was a long way away, and Mary was pregnant when they had to go, but luckily, there were some friendly shepherds nearby — and some friendly musicians too so people could sing along with the events as they unfolded — and the shepherds thought, 'She'll need a donkey to ride on!'


Incidentally, there's no mention of a donkey in the Nativity story in the Gospel of St. Luke. That bit, and the whole idea of the Nativity scene, complete with cattle and a donkey, was invented by St. Francis of Assisi in the twelfth century. Way-to-go St. Francis! It's been fun ever since.


So some pretty fierce negotiations went on over purchasing the donkey for Mary (the donkey's name is Nazareth which is an amazing coincidence, when you think about it). But the shepherds got a good deal in the end.

But Mary was a bit of a softy so she didn't ride the donkey after all. In fact, she got a nice lady to lead Nazareth all the way to Bethlehem. But there's no truth in the rumour about their driving there in a  Peugeot…

If you look closely, you can see that Mary took her broom with her, which actually turned out to be a very good idea.



After a long, long walk, they arrived in Bethlehem. But it was even fuller of people than South Tawton/Nazareth and they couldn't find anywhere to stay.


Okay, there might have been a Peugeot outside the Inn, but it belonged to the Landlord, not to Mary and Joseph, honest. And although the landlord at the Inn in Bethlehem is usually a bit of a baddie and turns the Holy Couple away, this time, the landlord — whose name was Tony — had a good reason to be full. His Inn was stuffed with Syrian refugees.





Still, he said they could sleep in the stable and gave them the keys. So Mary and Joseph went to the stable, which looked a bit like the altar at St. Andrew's…although that's obviously only a coincidence. And Mary was very grateful that she'd brought her broom because she could make sure the stable was clean and tidy for the baby to be born in.

 It's a good thing that it was a very large stable because lots and lots of people came along to see them and to sing about them. And the whole church sorry! stable was full of Christmas trees from the Christmas tree festival earlier that day so it looked just lovely.


You can't see it very well (because it was too dark for my camera) but the donkey's certainly there too on the right. And here's a bit of an innovation. The baby Jesus was born just as Mary and Joseph got to the altar sorry! STABLE and, instead of a manger, he's sleeping in a state-of-the-art baby stroller. Very sensible too because it's a genuine four-week-old baby in there and if Paul Seaton-Burn, the Rector, had tried to put him in a manger full of straw, you probably wouldn't have heard the congregation singing for the yelling of a baby covered in straw prickles.

Not all babies are as good as the baby Jesus. But then he did have swaddling bands so that would probably have protected him from the tickly straw.


Then lots more angels turned up — and a sheep. Which was fortunate because the shepherds came too, though I don't have a picture of that. And it was the very same shepherds who'd bought Mary the donkey so wasn't it nice that they got to see the baby? The Wise Men came back too with their lovely gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.



And don't forget the Christmas chickens. They're in a cage to the left. But there definitely would have been chickens. And very well-behaved chickens they were too.



So it all ended very happily, and the people sang a few more songs, accompanied by the minstrels, and then there was tea and cake and mulled wine and mince pies in Church House and we all went home happily.


Wednesday

"About as Much Use as a Chocolate Teapot" — Exeter Christmas Market no. 2

So realistic!
Being a chocoholic, I've never quite understood that phrase. It might not do as a teapot but it's still chocolate and that's always useful.

Of course, it's the time of year for chocolate Santas, snowmen and reindeer — although the latter look rather worryingly like ear-amputated leftover chocolate bunny rabbits at Easter with different wrapping. We're fairly used to chocolate in odd shapes and sizes by now.

But a chocolate monkey wrench? A chocolate paintbrush? A chocolate slice of mousetrap cheese? A chocolate salami? Why? Why? Why?

I don't know why, but I know this stall from The Amazing Chocolate Workshop  stopped me in my tracks at Exeter Christmas market. It was almost impossible to believe that they were selling chocolate. Luckily, one of them gave me a morsel to prove it and it was delicious chocolate. Gluten-free, 65% delicious chocolate.

Oh, and if you look carefully at the picture above, you'll see they actually do sell chocolate teapots. Dammit, if I'd just noticed that when I was there, I'd have bought a couple of those. What a fabulous Christmas present!


I'm not sure whether they were doing a roaring trade because the chocolate spanners were stealing the show and there was a part of a few people's psyches going 'you'll hurt your teeth on those.' Quite how that works out when our teeth are quite happy to sink into a chocolate Santa, I don't know, but the brain is weird in its wiring until it's used to stuff.

But I do know that now I've looked at the pictures and had a browse on their website, I want to go back and buy stuff.

Unfortunately, they don't sell online yet, but there's a form on the site that you can fill in and they'll tell you when they do.

But if you're near Exeter and you're looking for a genuinely unusual chocolate Christmas present (and one for you too), you simply have to visit this stall.

Tuesday

Exeter Christmas Market (1)

Exeter Cathedral behind the market.
I only went into Exeter to get a late Advent calendar and some Christmas cards from the cathedral. Shopping per se wasn't on my mind but hanging out in St. Peter's is one of my favourite pastimes and any excuse will do. I've always loved their Christmas cards.

Not this year, however. Three really dull designs and not one Advent calendar left by 3rd December. But there was St. Gabriel's chapel to sit and pray in, as well as the lovely lady chapel and no visit to the cathedral is ever other than a delight.

Even better, a school choir was rehearsing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day which, oddly, I'd never heard before and which took my breath away. You can listen to it here. Particularly apposite with the government's decision to bomb Syria.

And, all around the Cathedral, Exeter's Christmas Market glittered and assailed my senses. That was something else I'd not come across before, simply because we've only been here for three years and I managed to be sick at Christmas time for two of them. But oh, what a delight! I'm used to Birmingham's German Christmas Market but, frankly, this knocked that into a cocked hat.

I'll do a separate blog on a few more stalls including the aptly-named Amazing Chocolate Shop but here are some market photos and a few highlights. If you're anywhere in the area and can get down there, go, go, go!


Yummy non-seafood paella from Jences. Inspired me to go home and make more.
Don't go and look for Jences Paella on the internet however; their website has been compromised and I've just had a fun ten minutes comforting and reassuring my browser. It's nothing actually dangerous but I'm not risking it and I can't find a page for them on Facebook. So, it's the market or nothing for these guys right now which is a shame because the website says 'recipes' in the tabs and I'd sure like some of those.


Bush Farm Bison Centre's website is perfectly safe but ridiculously out-of-date (makes mine look efficient) so I've linked to their Facebook page instead. Not that that has a lot on it either. But they raise organic bison and elk and other tasty stuff and look like a fabulous place to visit. They have annual pow wows as well. The guys on the stall were really friendly and the meat both looked and smelt delicious. Unfortunately, I was already stuffed with paella.


Now this stuff, not even I can eat but it's a terrific idea even if it's not entirely photogenic and it's also a lousy photograph and I've cut someone in half. Devon Reclaimed is a company that beautifully restores all kinds of old, salvaged goods — mostly wooden and electrical stuff — and sells them. As well as the Christmas market, you can find them at Dartmouth Market on Fridays and Taunton Market on Saturdays during the winter months. 


This is just a picture of a sweater shop for Christmas. I didn't go in and I don't want one, thank you. Please, please don't get me a Christmas jumper.


To my shame, I can't remember the name of this stall but it's a lovely angel and what looks like a Santa with a serious hangover.




Friday

Weirdest — and Sweetest — Car Park Ever.




There was a time, and not so long ago either, when, if you were a vegan, you couldn't have the treats that the rest of us take for granted. Maybe that's what made so many vegans so cross with the rest of the world?

It's always interested me why those who care so much for the planet and its creatures are often willing to psychologically attack humans who don't share their beliefs. Obviously, they believe that we are all wrong but there are good ways and means of educating us and blaming and shaming isn't one of them.

I once had a former student tell me I was the personification of evil and she was recycling all my books because she had found out that I ate meat. She added that she would have burnt them but she was a good woman and wasn't going to add that pollution to the planet.


She may well have been a good woman although I'm always suspicious of those who actually tell me that, just as I'm suspicious of those who say 'I'm coming from the heart' which is so often egoic passive aggression for 'and you're not.'

I know she's right in a way — at least in that it would be better for the world if we ate much more vegetarian food and much less meat and I hope I'll get there in my own time. But not when I'm exposed to hatred. She was full of the Biblical commandment 'thou shalt not kill,' but what she didn't realise was that the Hebrew commandment is actually  'thou shalt not commit murder' — it's nearly always mistranslated — and to the mystic that includes psychological murder: the attacking and shaming of another.

And the world is changing. I am delighted to see that. Chocola Tree in Sedona is a herald of the (I'm sure gratefully received) New Age belief that it's okay to have yummy stuff including chocolate if you're vegan and wear purple clothes with too many buttons. Or even if you're not.

It's a fascinating rabbit-warren of a shop with fabulous ginger, lemon and honey lemonade, fresh juices and a delicious menu that's all vegan, gluten-free, organic or locally-sourced, GM-free — and it has a whole counter of chocolate. Have a look at their fabulous range of treats here. They made my mouth water.

Lion, who's an archetypical bloke and into his Sunday roast and sausages wasn't all that keen but I know that if I lived in Sedona, this would be my (alternative) coffee shop of choice.

Chocola Tree is  the kind of thing that's going to inspire people to change — it is filled with good feelings, good food and friendly staff.

They also have a very amusing, weird and loving car park. Here are some of the signs in it.








And finally, they sell tee-shirts with lovely life-affirming messages such as this:



You change the world with love, not hatred. You promote peace by being peace. Chocola Tree rocks!

Sedona 2015. No. 2. Horsin' Around on the Trail Ride

Riding Lady and John Wayne on the trail

The first thing I want to do every time I go to the States is go riding. There's something really special about riding Western-style that suits me. When I lived in Montana I had a friend who let me exercise his quarter horses anytime I wanted… Ah, bliss.

I've ridden regularly since I was nine years old so, when we headed for Sedona, I wanted to go riding but I didn't want just to trail along nose-to-tail on a bored horse with more than a dozen other people who'd rarely ridden before.

Here, I'd better specify for American readers that I'm referring to what you call 'horse-back riding.' Just 'riding' doesn't cut it over there and for some reason, even with the 'horse' bit added, you guys want to know which part of the horse you need to get onto. But I digress.

I went onto Trip Advisor's Sedona section and asked if anyone knew of anywhere which could help and got a bit of a flea in my ear from one contributor who wanted to know what was wrong with a nose-to-tail ride. Nothing; it just wasn't what I wanted.

The simple answer was 'no' because of all the insurance issues. I once read that riding a horse was statistically more dangerous than riding a motorbike and having fallen off more than seven times — the old statutory 'this is what makes you a horsewoman' amount — I rather concur. But I'm still addicted.
Riding Spuds the Quarter Horse in Montana in 1999.

The next step was to ask around on social media if anyone knew of someone with a horse in Sedona. I thought I'd hit gold almost at once with an offer to take me riding from a lady who worked at a stables who said it would be great to have someone to ride with for fun. But she didn't follow through. So, once we were there, I was looking to find a good ride.

…Which fell into my lap. 

I'll be writing more later on how we got to Sedona and where we were staying but, suffice it to say for the moment, we were staying in a friend's timeshare and, of course, the company running it was anxious to get fresh blood round the table for the big sell. They asked what Lion and I were interested in, we said 'horse riding' and they offered us a ride at a local stables for $73 total as opposed to $95 each if we would turn up for the presentation.

And that's a whole story in itself…

However, we said yes and were booked on a ride with Horsin' Around Adventures at Oak Creek, just down the road, the following Monday. Now I've looked through their website I know I'd have chosen them for myself, particularly for the aspect they offer of Premium Rides which are tailored for the rider's experience. So much for there not being any non nose-to-tail riding, Trip Advisor folk!

However, we were on a simple trail ride together as Lion's not anything like as experienced as I am and I thought it would be a good start as well as a great experience to ride together.

Luckily for us, after a few days of cold and wet, the Monday dawned brightly and we showed up at the Javelina Leap vineyard in Page Spring wine country, Oak Creek, about three miles from our apartment, to be picked up in a van and taken up the dust track to where the horses waited. It's not a very prepossessing area where they are; brown dirt corrals with horses already saddled and waiting. Obviously they don't live there but are brought along according to who has booked.

There were six of us on this ride and Lion was the only man. We were asked our level of experience and allotted a suitable horse. I got Lady, a palomino paint, about 15 hands tall which is a perfect size for me and who was said to be Troy, our driver's favourite of the horses and Lion, who's not anything like as experienced as I am, was given a big gentle bay, John Wayne.

Our guide for the one-and-a-half-hour ride was Clarissa and she made a point of saying that it was fine to hold back and trot at the back of the ride if any of us wanted to. Oh hooray! I double-checked with her about doing it repeatedly and she said, 'Absolutely. We like riders to do that; it keeps the horses interested.'

Isn't it odd how your body has memories? It's fifteen years since I rode Western-style (good grief! Really?) but the second I swung my leg across Lady's back and settled my feet in the stirrups, I got Western-saddle-left-leg-syndrome. I'd completely forgotten that I used to get that! However, a firm but friendly talking-to the left leg, pointing out that I am two stone lighter and a lot fitter now and there was no need for that and, happily, it agreed and gave up the memory.

No one else wanted to hold back so I slipped to the back fairly early on. Lady strenuously objected to standing still and waiting when I first suggested it to her. But once she'd realised that I meant what I was telling her and that I knew how to ride her she submitted willingly enough. And when she realised what I was up to, she decided this was a great idea and was even willing to walk away from the others to get a longer run-up for some good canters. So it was a great ride for me; just perfect for getting back into the Western saddle. And it was a great ride for the others too, happy to get to know their horses and potter along at a walk. Win-win.

The trail wasn't beautiful by Sedona standards. It was out of the area where there red rocks rise and we didn't take a long enough ride to go down to Oak Creek itself. But it was November and the countryside was fairly bleak (although the rains were beginning to bring the desert into a rather reluctant bloom). You can see from the picture at the top what the terrain was like and, on our particular day, there wasn't any wildlife to be seen. But it was still great fun.

I intended to go back, for a longer ride all on my own but events overtook us and there was so much else to do that it didn't happen. But I'd go back there like a shot. Yes please.






Thursday

Sedona 2015. no.1 Sedona itself.

The Bell rock formation, Sedona.
I was going to start by telling you how we got here but that would be daft. What you most want is to see lovely pictures and read fun stuff. So, the story of our November 2015 trip to Sedona simply has to begin with those.

I'll sneak the 'Getting There' blog in second or third having, hopefully, lured you in with the sheer beauty of the place.

VisitSedona.com waxes lyrical about the area in a way that will make the average undemonstrative Brit (my husband) reach for the vomit bucket. It says, 'Sedona exists at an impossible intersection of soul-nourishing wilderness and pampered luxury … start with scenery that makes your heart leap. Sedona nestles among a geological wonderland. Multi-hued formations jut upwards from the high desert floor, creating a vivid, mesmerising setting that changes hourly with the light.'

The annoying thing is that (apart from the pampered luxury bit, which depends entirely where you are staying) they are right. It's bloody beautiful to say the least and despite being deluged with New-Age-Atlantean-Ascended-Masters-wanky-bollocks about healing energy vortexes — they don't call them vortices for some reason — it has got amazing, genuine healing vortexes. I'm not what you'd call especially psychically sensitive but I can spot a powerful place when one hits me, especially if it stops me in my tracks when I'm least expecting it.

The wonderful orange tors are coloured by hematite (iron oxide) — or in my husband's terminology 'rust.'

Yep, that's it. Sedona is rusty. That's what makes it beautiful.

It's at the base of what's called the Mogollom Rim, an escarpment running through the middle of Arizona.  There are three types of rock: sandstone, basalt and limestone and the tors are formed as the softer sandstone erodes away. There are hundreds of walks where your eyes will just gorge themselves on geological gloriousness and it truly is worth taking each morning morning and afternoon just for the changes in the colours.

A friend on Facebook commented that she'd been to Sedona before it became a tourist trap, implying that it was better then. Well, the town itself may indeed be one of those and it's certainly got more than its share of therapy centres, shops loaded with dream-catchers, crystals, more-or-less genuine Indian jewellery and more gluten-free cafes that you could shake a smudge stick at … and its teeming with long-haired folk wearing purple embroidered clothes with too many buttons but, frankly, I'd say the whole area is absolutely brilliant. I'll tell you about the fudge shop later.



Wednesday

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

A couple of years ago I took a comedy course with a company called Mirth Control in Bath. It was the
With Arthur Smith at a Mirth Control gig in Bath.
best of times and the worst of times because I was learning the art of comedy with some fabulous people while awaiting a diagnosis on the life-enhancing dis-ease.

The guy who runs Mirth Control is called Geoff Whiting. He's both a comedian and a comedy agent and he puts out a weekly form on the internet for any comedian telling them what gigs he's offering at what price, when and where. That's any comedian — not just comedians for whom Mirth Control is the agent.

These gigs vary from open mic (no fee) to headlining (varying amounts according to what the market will bear) and they also include car shares wherever possible — a car share for an aspiring comedian is very important if we are to get to as many gigs as we want to while we learn the craft. Comedians travel up and down and across the UK all the time chasing their comedic destiny.

Geoff also offers gigs abroad in Europe. At the moment he's under attack from some comedians for not offering 'enough' for a gig in France. Here's the offer:

You know something, as a semi-pro comedian, I'd jump at that offer. The only reason I haven't bid for it is because I'm performing at someone's private party on Friday 19th — for a very good fee, thank you very much. The reason why I've got that very good fee is because I asked a comedian friend, Paul, how much I should charge and then checked that amount with Geoff.

Geoff is not my agent. But since I did the Mirth Control course I've been in touch with him several times — to ask him what he thought of my YouTube video, to explain why I wasn't bidding for gigs (when I was ill) and telling him about my month in Edinburgh and, just a few months ago, asking him if it was okay for me to start bidding for paid gigs through Mirth Control.

Every single time Geoff has read my email properly and replied in detail. Every single time he has been friendly, honest and supportive. He's never been paid a penny for helping me in my comedy career but he has done so without a moment's hesitation. When it came to the private gig on 19th June I knew I could ask him whether I was worth the amount that Paul had suggested and he said 'yes.'

I am a niche comedian — there aren't many kick-ass vicars on the circuit — so if someone wants my kind of comedy, I'm pretty much the only one who can provide it. On the other hand, there are many, many pubs and clubs where I'd go down like a lead balloon. So there's no use in my going 'I can command a LOT of money so I'm not going to do any gigs where I might have to buy my own lunch.' Heck, I have to buy my own lunch most days so doing it in France would not give me a moment's trouble.

So what's my point here? It's simply to say this to the comedians who are bitching at Geoff Whiting on Twitter: 'You think it's underpaid? Then don't apply for the gig!' That's all. It's not a sin to offer a gig that doesn't pay a lot of money when you are offering travel to France and Cannes and Monaco for free! It's a dream gig for someone who's moving from open mic to paid work.

It's also worth pointing out that Geoff is not Simon Cowell. He doesn't live in a mansion; he doesn't drive an expensive car; he doesn't sit in his office gloating over the money his comedians bring in. He's a decent bloke who just loves comedy. And in a genre which is currently hugely over-subscribed with aspirants, he's offering what the market can bear. He can only pay us what the venue will pay him.

I've only organised a few public events in my life but I know it's like herding cats and I know that getting decent money out of a venue/people who want entertainment supplied can be like getting blood out of a stone. Anyone who does that kind of thing as a living gets my vote. And anyone who complains about the service he offers should walk a mile in his shoes to see if they could do any better before they say a word of condemnation.

Up to the date of writing, Geoff Whiting has never offered me a paid gig. But he has offered me his time and his advice — and I am grateful.


Friday

Crucifixion.

Many years ago, my friend Rachel who's a Greek/Theology scholar amongst other things (including keeping bees which I think I admire even more) said this:

"It's not the crucifixion and the suffering that are the key, it's the death. Once you agree to die then resurrection is a done deal."

As she has a Virgo moon, she'll probably correct the sentence as I'm paraphrasing :-) but can you get the point?

I always got it intellectually but this time (with a few hiccups and still some moments of backsliding) I'm beginning to get it in my soul.

It's been somewhat of a journey because there's so much hanging on the cross to let go of, and I've just had a brilliant session with my friend and healer, Deb Rowley, which has helped, yet again. If you don't know Deb and need some help, find her here. She is the real deal.

We all get crucified — whether it's divorce, bereavement, loss of job or a health crisis or something completely different. Some of us jump off and just move on. The problem comes when we hold on to the cross for dear life because somehow that pain has become part of our identity. Possibly we get more attention and love because of the suffering or maybe we just get used to the pain.

Caroline Myss calls it 'Woundology' and she tells a story about a woman who always had to say that she couldn't do this or that because it would conflict with her incest survivors' support group. The need was to tell everyone how much she needed that group and that she was a survivor of incest. BUT the group obviously hadn't helped her move past the horrific reality of incest because she still needed to point out her 'wound' when it wasn't relevant to the conversation. She could easily have said, 'No, I can't do that date' without the additional information.

Wounds re-invent themselves too. Whatever weakened your psyche in childhood will return again and again. My classic and all-embracing wound was called 'nothing I do works' and came along because no matter what I did, I couldn't heal my mother and I wanted to, desperately.

She gave me a clue (which I missed - duh!) when I did a talk for a society of which she was a member years ago. It was a talk on healing and afterwards someone said to her, in my hearing, 'you must be very proud of your daughter' and she replied, 'yes, the only person she can't heal is me.'

Which, come to think of it as I am now, was probably a bit of a barb too!

Anyway, it repeated and repeated in a subtle way even though I've had an amazing life, travelled round China, worked in radio and TV, written more than a dozen books, been ordained, become a professional stand-up comedian etc. etc. But there have been times when it counted when something that really should have worked simply didn't. Lots of times. That was where what Eckhart Tolle would call 'the pain body' said, 'let's make sure Maggy gets taken down a peg or two.'

So what a classic opportunity for this demon (and it is an inner demon) to come up when I was diagnosed with lymphoma: 'Gosh, look, Maggy. All your holistic and spiritual lifestyle, your teaching, your books and your ordination has led to is this, therefore, you must be the biggest fraud on the planet.' Tie that to my learned 'wound' that chemotherapy had killed Henry and we can really get some humiliation going for Maggy, can't we just?

But humiliation and humility are, oddly enough, uncomfortable bedfellows. Embrace the latter and you get off the cross. Hold the former and you'll hang there, dying but not dead, for as long as it takes.

I have a friend on Facebook (not you Mel!) who is still hanging on the cross of her lost baby. Now that's a terrible, terrible, genuine wound and at the moment she needs to reinforce it with every post. But it's more than five years ago and she's re-inflicting it on herself with every sad reference. She's crucifying herself because she daren't let go.

I think I've posted before that my ex-husband left me once but through my hurt pride I made him leave me a thousand times in my thoughts.

So my job here, is to get off the cross of not managing to heal myself holistically when so many others have; to get off the cross of chemo having killed Henry, and to get off the cross of the obsession that the doctors around him were culpable in not seeing that in time. That was then, this is now. Chemo saved my life so I can never again agree with anyone else's wounds that it's wrong or evil. I can't even blame big pharma any more - both of which are big crosses to get off, dammit!

But get off them I must. I have to say, every time, 'I don't know.' I don't know. I only know what worked for me. And I'm glad and grateful that it did. That's my resurrection.

I'm also sure that's what Jesus came to show us: not that we should be 'Christians' and worship him, but that we must follow his example so that when we are being strung up for no discernible reason whatsoever, we can have the humility to say 'so be it' and to forgive (which means 'to give up that which went before' - not to condone).

We can't get off immediately - of course we must grieve and work through the pain and the problem - and yes that can take a year or two, maybe even three. And there will probably be times forever when the original pain still kicks us. But if the wound needs to be re-expressed in virtually every conversation after a couple of years, then there simply has to be part of us holding on to the problem. Yes, you can join a campaign to make sure 'it' never happens again. But do that from a place of healing, not a place of woundology. It's much, much more powerful that way too.

That, for me, is the whole big picture behind Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection. As Dolly Parton said, 'get off the cross; somebody could use the lumber.'




Thursday

Loving The Little Life

Walking on the Moor in 2013, taken by Nixie James-Scott.

I've struggled a little with this entry because it's about a time when I really was down, both emotionally and physically. I could tell you loads of stuff about the negative effects of chemo on my body; I could relate more stories of nurses and the hospital which might not be entirely positive … but I simply didn't want to so I avoided writing.

And it's a relief to realise that's okay. I thought I had a kind of duty to plough through the whole sorry story but I don't. If I have any duty at all it is to enjoy today.

Biggle on the Moor today.
Today, Lion the beagles and I went to Scorhill Stone Circle on Dartmoor. It was the first time I'd been there since September and it was one of my dreams once I got better and could walk again. The picture at the top shows Biggle and me walking in the autumn of 2013 near the stone circle and the second picture was taken today, in virtually the same place, looking in a different direction, on my return to this wonderful part of Dartmoor.

I managed to get pretty happy during the painful and difficult times but it did take work. A friend recently wrote to me that I could have asked to take the easy route when I asked God to clear me out and I guess that's true. But what would I have learnt? If I'd just had the miracle that I wanted I would have learnt about miracles, for sure, but how would that have made me of any use, any help to anyone else who didn't get the miracle they wanted? How much more powerful is it to say, 'I have been there. It was a long journey for me and a lot of it was very painful. Is there any way that my experience can help you?'

There were certainly many days where I was horribly upset — and in distressing amounts of pain. I'd been told that the first round of chemo would make a fairly dramatic difference — that is, a dramatic improvement. In my case it was dramatically worse which was very frightening and scared the consultant too. But that was probably a combination of my long-term lack of belief in the process and the fact that I was taking supplements which, according to some research it took me a long time to find, could and maybe did antidote the medicine in a rather painful way.

Now, as you probably know, I'm a fan of eating very healthily (but with treats) and of supplements and it's absolutely rubbish to say you can get all you need from your food if you are unwell (a VEGA test just last week showed me exactly how deficient I am in some minerals and vitamin despite taking extra - that's because of the damage to my body). But oh, please, one day, will doctors take this stuff seriously and do some research? Some vitamins are excellent for helping you through chemo. Selenium isn't. Or at least it wasn't in my case. I did ask my consultant to check for me but he didn't/couldn't/didn't see the point/whatever.

However, that's water under the bridge. Session two worked a little better and session three did show improvement. I could walk a little again, the lungs were clearing (my goodness, I was weak though!) and it all progressed steadily although I nearly always tried to do too much, go too fast and walk too far, which threw me back until I learnt the lesson.

I began to write again; started a novel about travel. Being sick and tied to the timings of district nurses, even if I had the strength to go out, I was becoming very isolated. I thought that writing about travel would lift me and inspire me but it did the opposite. It was only when I realised that I wasn't making peace with now and stopped writing about desires that I couldn't believe in that the darkness started to lift.

I had to learn to be content with the 'little life.' Sitting watching a movie on TV all afternoon because I didn't have the energy for a 'good' book. For a while that offended my arrogant 'I'm better than this' sensibilities until I realised that it had to be done — and I saw some excellent movies as well as some pretty daft ones.

I had to learn to be content with a round of the garden as my walk and watching the early evening sunsets in the winter and looking up at the stars in the evening. I'd always done both as part of my daily routine but now it was the total of my daily routine. I had to learn to rest and rest and rest again.

I was so happy when the phone went and it was a friend with details of their life; their world, because I could share in their larger life and absorb myself in it. I was so very happy that Facebook existed because it took me into the lives of my friends on there and gave me many conversations about life, the universe and everything other than illness. I will always defend Facebook to the hilt because on the worst days it was my lifeline.

I had to learn to let go of envy of others who could go to the shops even and to appreciate every morning of waking up simply because I had woken up again. Glad because of our lovely (but increasingly dirty) home because Lion was there and the beagles were there. I learnt to celebrate every single night that we managed to sleep together all night because I hadn't had to stay up half the night (steroids are bastards for keeping you agitated and awake) or hadn't been in too much pain to settle with him.

I had to learn to accept that the house was filthy because Lion was doing so much he didn't have time to clean too and I didn't have the strength.

I had to learn to love liquid morphine for the relief it brought me and the blessed sleep. And then I had to learn to love coming off it!

I had to learn that I couldn't do any weeding or I'd be in bed for two days. I learnt that I'd actually be grateful for doing weeding (which I've never liked).

I had to learn to fight only the battles I could win … which meant just the one … getting slowly better.

I can't tell you what a joy it was in February when I was able (with sit-downs every five minutes to rest) to make just one batch of orange marmalade. I felt like I'd scaled Mount Everest!

But mostly, as I began getting better, it was just peaceful to get to the next stage. No jumping for joy because it was just the next stage and there were so many 'two steps forward and one step back' times.

One of the most wonderful moments was seeing a different doctor at the hospital who said, as soon as he greeted me, 'I want you to know that I've been through this; I've had chemotherapy. I have an idea how you may be feeling. Please tell me of any and all concerns you might have. I will understand them.' And when I told him I was scared because I'd become more breathless as soon as I'd had the drain taken out of my lung, he said, with a smile, 'Of course you are more breathless. The psyche's a bastard like that, isn't it?'

How could he have made me feel so very much better if he had had the miracle that he also must have desired? I'd give him a medal if I could. His name is Dr. Veale from Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in Exeter.

But enough of all that. Today I went walking on the moor. And I only puffed like an out-of-condition person, which I still am. And that can be remedied.



Monday

Creating What We Fear

Thalia, the Muse of Comedy
by José Luis Munoz.
The Theory of Absolutely Everything is that we are not only connected to God (whatever our perception of God may be) but we also are God. That's the whole message of mystical Christianity — that Jesus came to show us who we are not who he was, exclusively.

So that makes us creators. And the oft-quoted Law of Attraction tries to make that clear.

But what often isn't clear is how our underlying fears; our inner demons — the ones we chew over or return to repeatedly — are creating too.

And together with that is the conditioning we learnt in childhood of what we deserved and what we didn't and all the pain that we may have held in from those days in either to support our parents or through fear of their reactions. All those are creators too.

I only told my mother a few weeks ago about some bad times I had at school. She had no idea as I'd never told her. I didn't tell because she was unwell and unhappy when I was young and I didn't feel I could burden her. So I took it into me instead. We do that kind of thing … and we get used to doing it so we repeat the pattern.

From the woe and despondency being expressed on my Facebook timeline over the last few days, it appears that's exactly what happened with the UK General Election last week. So many people were afraid that the Conservatives would get into power that that's exactly what occurred.

I can't point the finger; I created my greatest fear: chemotherapy.

Mind you, I did at least realise that and, given that it was the only thing that could save my life at the time, it was something that was fairly easy to come to terms with.

By the way, being of a hopefully spiritual disposition, I did get my fair share of 'dying is healing too' from people who actually thought it was a helpful thing to say. I know that it is ultimately true but it can also be one of those pseudo-spiritual cruelties —incredibly tactless and even disempowering if you're working on trying to live.

It is interesting, though, that if you walk up to your fears, they often dissipate on the way and I'm sure that when it's my time to die, I'll be okay with that. But it isn't. So there.

My making peace with what I'd created didn't mean that when it came to the day of the first treatment it was going to be easy. I was calm and peaceful the night before; calm and peaceful on the morning. But as the actual moment became immanent, I did feel panicky.

You can be as wise and logical as you like but the inner part of you that is still a child will have its say and my inner child's heart broke as she watched Henry die from chemotherapy all those years ago. She was going to need to have to have her hand held big-time particularly because having my hand held wasn't something I experienced much when I was young.

I'd done my groundwork. Firstly I'd made sure that the consultant knew exactly where I was with this and that I might need some extra TLC. This is not to say that anyone else having chemotherapy isn't afraid, by the way — I doubt anyone goes into it without a few qualms. But this was deep stuff for me.

I'd done inner work with my spiritual psychotherapist on healing the wounds and that showed me that my body was okay with what was going to happen and would be able to handle it; I believed that it would have the desired effect and, on the day, I had my dear friend Karen with me to sit with me and help me through it. She was the one to hold the little girl's hand: to be the Mummy that I probably never had and to say, "I know it's horrid but you are such a wonderful girl and I am here. We're in this together." I am perpetually grateful to her for that.

So, of course, the nurses on the day ward were incredibly behind time and, given that Karen had to leave at 2pm to collect her daughter from school, she couldn't stay as long during the actual treatment as we both would have liked. See, my inner demons created that with the subconscious fears so I would end up being alone as has been the pattern of much of my life. Again, I could see that, which was a relief but it didn't make it easy.

If you're now going 'this is just wanky bollox, you're not that powerful' then fair enough. You're creating your life too and it's different from mine. Just cut me the slack of the benefit of the doubt if you would...

I blessed the medicine (loads of different drips and injections) with holy water beforehand … nowadays nurses aren't allowed to make faces or object to anything weird you want to do but they did decide to leave the stuff with me and go away while I did it which was slightly amusing.

Then there's the list of warnings before you start, which are bound to make you feel great (not). I'd had the three-page printed 'side effects' tome before, of course. Isn't it extraordinary that your consultant nowadays prints it off and hands it to you to read later rather than talking it through with you? Mind you, there's not enough time in the day for him/her to go through all of that stuff with you and, in some way I think that's probably good. Maybe you don't need to know it all for fear of anticipating it. But if you do end up reading it at home and it frightens you, that's not going to help either.

Given that it contains details of many different ways the treatment can kill you, maim you and cause further cancers, I am glad I didn't read it until it was all over. I was lucky; I had homeopathy, healing, herbal medicines and acupuncture to help my body cope with it all.

The warnings on the day though are mostly sensible: If you feel this, or that, tell us immediately. Basically, if you feel it and you don't tell them you're screwed … from permanent nerve damage to death. Don't ever forget that chemotherapy is poison; it's only purpose is to poison the cancer before it kills you.

But also on the day came 'don't eat uncooked eggs or cheeses with mould in them.'

This was a month before Christmas when I had promised, promised myself the treat of having some home-made Christmas cake. And what goes into home-made royal icing? Raw white of egg.
So my response to that, I'm afraid, was 'we use our own chickens' eggs and that rule can get stuffed.'

During the first administration of the drugs, the nurse sits with you and asks how you feel physically (but not psychologically) about every minute until they are well under way. I was doing okay on both fronts on the first four. But then Karen had to go.

I told her I'd be fine and I truly believed it. But ten minutes after she left I started to get pains in my sternum.

Now I was pretty sure this wasn't a heart attack but of course I had to report it. And to be honest I was more annoyed than afraid when they went into panic mode — which they had to do — with stopping everything, getting the emergency team, the ECG and a load of other stuff.

I said to my inner demons, 'shut it — this is fake' and I held my little girl's hand and said, 'don't worry; this is all okay; it's just the drugs starting to work.' And I was right.

But after that, apart from blood pressure and temperature checks every hour, no one spoke another word to me. The job had been done and the nurses were doing other things. Fair enough but it was still lonely and I was still slightly afraid.

So, during the long afternoon, while the drugs dripped in, I watched comedy on YouTube. I watched Rhod Gilbert ranting for a couple of hours and then listened to I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again and finished up with some Michael McIntyre. And I began to laugh and laugh. I had to do it quietly because even though you are curtained off and in a separate area from the rest of the patients on your first time in case of problems, it might not have been tactful.

But my inner demons weren't quite done with me yet. At the end of the day, I was the last in the ward and all the nurses were sitting in a far corner, discussing The X Factor. A different nurse from the one who'd administered the drugs took the drip out and said, 'That's it. You can go,' and I was left completely alone to pack up my things, call Lion to fetch me — it would take him a good half hour to get there and I'd had no indication of when I might be finished.

That was a moment of feeling completely abandoned and unloved. I wanted a 'how are you feeling' or a 'well done' or just some acknowledgment of my having been brave or something seemingly daft like that.

But it's not daft. That's exactly what people need; all people who've just been through an initiation like that. All people, not just people who'd had a specific problem, like me.

What was quite clear was that the message had not got through that I might have a psychological problem or that I might not be strong enough with the breathing problems to be able to get from the ward to the car park (I'd had Lion and Karen when I came in). I'd told them myself when I first got there (untrusting - moi?) but either different nurses were on duty or they'd forgotten (now see how powerful my demons were?!)

I walked out of the ward very slowly and carefully completely unacknowledged by that circle of nurses — not even a goodbye —and sat outside in the pathetic fallacy (literary term but so apposite!) of slight drizzle and a chill wind waiting for Lion to come.

Which he did. And enveloped me in his arms and took me home for a long, hot bath, a special supper and a shoulder to cry on.

Still work to do then, sigh. But then the inner work never ends.

Thursday

Love and Support.

Lion and me on a pilgrimage in Japan
It's important to write that I'm okay at the moment — in fact I'm waiting to hear if I'm in remission or not. The dis-ease has retreated massively, if it hasn't gone completely, so, apart from the incredible journey of my body repairing itself after being systematically poisoned for six months, all is well. This blog is currently covering what happened towards the end of last year.

You may have noticed that there's been very little mention of my family — and very little about my friends. That's because, as Aslan said, 'I tell no one any story but his own' and revealing stuff about people I care about without their permission is off limits really. I do have a family and friends, honest!

What I will say about my family is that despite my 'weirdness' in their eyes (you should have heard the deafening silence round the lunch table when I told them I was being ordained!), they were totally supportive of my 'weird' decisions all along. And what I will say about my brother is that the moment I called, he came.

I knew I needed him in the heart of the night in hospital. I didn't know why I needed him — we've never sat in each other's pockets — but I knew that I did. And he came, and he helped immensely.

And what can I say about Lion? My dearest husband has been the rock that his birth-name of Peter describes. Every time I let go of control, he stepped up to the mark.

Control? Yes, even with all the juicing, the good food (even the raw food), I did nearly everything because I wanted to do it right. But that was part of the lesson, wasn't it? I probably ended up beating myself up to get it 'right' and beating yourself up is always counter-productive. But as soon as I couldn't garden, he did the gardening. As soon as I couldn't do the shopping, he did the shopping. As soon as I couldn't walk the dogs in the afternoons, he walked the dogs in the afternoons. As soon as I couldn't get out of bed, he did everything that was required of anyone who could get out of bed.

He's always been supportive; always been proud of the work that I do; always wanted to drive me to gigs but this was a different kind of support. He never once complained when I couldn't even cuddle because of the pain. He never once complained of all the nights I spent in the spare room. He never complained about doing the washing and the cooking and the cleaning. He got pissed off at the situation, of course, but he took it out on the brambles in the garden, never once on me. Sometimes I shudder to think what it might have been like had I still been married to the previous incumbent … but God is good and that never could have happened.

Lion was always there to listen; to hold me (carefully) when I cried and to keep the beloved dogs that I frequently couldn't handle away from me. He didn't talk much to other people; he's not built that way. He just did his thing and played a lot of Call of Duty. They used to call it the strong, silent type. Now, they'd probably give it a syndrome. Never once did he fail to kiss me when we parted or when we returned. Today, when I got in the car to drive myself to acupuncture, he ran all the way to the car for a kiss because I hadn't found him for our farewell kiss before I left (In my defence I couldn't find him and I was going to be late).

I know I did all that for Henry; it's what you do a/ for someone you love and b/ to cope. But as lymphoma is a dis-ease of the very part of the body that's supposed to look after you, it was very important for me to learn to be looked after just as much as it was important to teach my body that I would look after it too.

When I was young someone once said to me 'you're too ****** independent. You're too ****** efficient.' I had to be both because of my childhood and it was hard to be criticised for it. But your greatest strength is your greatest weakness too.

I remember an old boyfriend stepping in when a drunk man started being rude to a girl in our group at a party. He told the man where to go. The man had been just as rude to me earlier and when I asked him afterwards why he didn't step in to help me then, he said, 'You can defend yourself.'

Another time, a drunken guy at dinner said that all female journalists (I was the only female journalist there) were whores. Nothing was said by any of the people you'd have expected to support me in my defence. But when he threw a sausage at another female member of the party, he was politely escorted out of the house.

I'm not whinging here … I'm looking at my old pattern of feeling undefended. I could find dozen examples but I won't because that pattern is over. The dis-ease has sorted it. And it sorted it through Lion, my loving friends and family … and through the district nurses who came every single day for more than two months and through the doctors and the nurses at the hospital and the treatment that I had hated and feared and resisted and learnt to call a (very exacting) friend.

It sorted it through a fund set up to support people with blood cancer who provided someone to help us through the challenge of earning no money and needing to claim employment support allowance and all the shenanigans behind that.

It came through kicking out the independence and efficiency that I thought was the only way to survive. In fact, letting everyone else take the strain was the only way I could survive.

I can now be supported — and defended if necessary. So that's another step achieved. And by George, when someone now comes to me for help and/or advice (and strangely people do — and now more than ever before) then again and again I can speak from experience and understanding, those all-important words, "I have been there."

Thank you, lymphoma.


On God

Would a loving parent ever give a child a story to read that didn't have a wonderfully happy ending?
No. Never. But they might add, "Whatever you do, don't stop reading at the scary parts!"

Mike Dooley, Notes from the Universe.

Wednesday

Grace in Unexpected Places.

Our two beautiful beagles.
'If Mum's not home, we'll wait for her on her meditation chair.'
It was a strange sensation lying in hospital with lungs full of fluid and, never having spent a night in hospital before in my life —let alone in the emergency unit — seeing for the very first time what life 'inside' was like. I had no idea how it would be but the first night was pretty surreal. I couldn't breathe without oxygen. I couldn't lie down because then I really, really couldn't breathe and I couldn't sleep sitting up. Some people can sleep on aeroplanes and trains but I'm not one of them. All night there were new admissions going on and other people, far sicker than I were crying out with pain. I prayed for us all and felt a total hypocrite because I didn't know where God was any more.

Nothing I'd believed to be true had turned out to be so. Nothing. I was out of options. Even out of faith. Where was that loving God that I'd felt was beside me during all my comedy and my happy life? The one who had supported me through all my inner exploration of my psyche and soul — and all the healing work I'd done these last few years? How had it come to this? I'm sure these are questions that millions have asked in far, far worse situations. I'm just grateful (in a strange way) that I got to understand first-hand how that feels. It's not nice.

(If you know me well, you might be asking 'where was Lion?' He was home, taking care of the beagles and coping as best he could. He would have visited, of course, but I was in too much pain for a cuddle and being very practical, I couldn't see how it could help to have him sitting awkwardly there when we could talk on the phone — that probably sounds really daft but our marriage works very well for us!).

The lung consultant came along the next day, once I'd been moved to a 'not in imminent danger of dying' ward and told me that I had to have a tap put into my side so that one lung, at least, could be drained daily until I started the treatment that would solve the problem. It was to be a tube that hung out of my side, like a colostomy tube and would mean a daily visit from a district nurse to drain a litre or so of fluid per day. So be it. But, he said, it had to be done by a surgeon and it could not be done for three more days at the earliest.

Three more nights of sitting up all night in a hospital bed and not sleeping. That was hard. That was horribly hard. I gave up.

But by the Grace of that non-existent God, I gave up in the right way. I just surrendered. That's not me being incredibly spiritual; it was me out of options. I finally stopped trying to control the situation, let go and let God. In times of crisis, I have the ability to stop thinking completely. It's only happened a couple of times in my life (apart from the seconds or perhaps minutes in meditation) but it's a profound thing.

And then I lay down. And kept breathing. I can't tell you how impossible that was. It was even medically impossible. I'd not been able to lie down in two whole days for danger of suffocation. Even sitting up, I was on oxygen. But somehow, amazingly, I could do it. I wasn't even amazed because I wasn't thinking. I totally failed to realise until afterwards that the oxygen pipe had fallen away from my nose.

It was incredibly peaceful lying there half-realising that something miraculous was happening and I think I rather prosaically just dozed off. That was, until I realised that there was a tall angel in pale green standing by the bed. It was one of those incredibly ugly men who are utterly beautiful, if you know what I mean. None of his face should have worked but all of it did.

He spoke in a Spanish accent (probably because he was Spanish…) and said, 'Hello, my name is Juan. I'm a surgeon. I have a cancellation in half an hour's time. Would you like it?'

And so, instead of languishing for four days in that hospital bed, I was back home that night with nearly two litres drained from one lung and a pipe bandaged to my side. A whole new world of medical procedures, district nurses and living with a plastic tube as a part of my body had opened up. I didn't like it, and it hurt like hell, but it wasn't my job to like it. It was my job to experience it and learn what I could from it.

And I believed.

Down into the Dark Days.

Comedy evening at Naked Dragon, Chertsey.
After Edinburgh, I was on a roll. I felt really happy and confident and after two years of eating astonishingly healthy food, healing, counselling, homeopathy, journeying, Shamanistic work etc. etc. I was feeling on top form. In fact three of my therapists were entirely confident that the root cause of the lymphoma had gone and it was only a matter of time before my body reflected that.

I had another VEGA test on my immune system in September and it was still doing incredibly well. Cathy, the tester, said, 'all the anger has gone from your eyes,' which was another lovely sign.

So I was happy. I thoroughly enjoyed doing an hour's comedy for Naked Dragon in Chertsey and did a pretty stonkingly-good talk at the Meta-Health conference in Birmingham about the dis-ease and what I'd learnt from it. And driving up to Brum from Devon, I asked God to tell me just how well I was … and a car pulled out in front of me with the registration number MW 999 WEL.

Being so confident and all that, I took it to mean 99.9% well, given that there was a stud in the right place. But it was obviously one of God's little jokes (for which He/She/It will receive a right slapping when I do get up there) as only eight weeks later, Lion was calling 999 because I could barely breathe.

I was doing a Soul Wisdom workshop when it started: I woke up with a pain in my right ribs, thought I'd pulled a muscle and got on with it. But within three days it was obvious that I had shingles — and very bad shingles at that.

I was basically paralysed by the pain for eight weeks during which I couldn't exercise or do very much else than lie in bed (If I laid on the shingles side it hurt much less) or shuffle miserably around the house. Loads of painkillers prescribed by the doctor: none worked. My body, for some strange reason, has always refused to believe in painkillers. Sigh. Sleep at night was very difficult indeed which really, really didn't help. I don't think Lion and I slept together one night during that time because I was lying awake in the spare room, listening to inspirational talks or videos because I couldn't sleep.

So there I was, trying to work out what that was all about and how I'd attracted such pain after such a happy summer and becoming horribly aware that my immune system was going down further everyday  and that I was getting depressed and upset no matter how hard I tried…

And then, as it began to recede, I found I was getting breathless when I walked which I knew must be the lymphoma but before I could get that investigated I woke up in the night barely able to breathe at all. So, hospital it was, by ambulance which was really quite exciting in a not-nice kind of way (I'd never spent even one night in hospital before in my life).

Suffice it to say, that after all the shenanigans required and a little miracle story that I'll tell you later, I knew that I'd been presented with the thing I said I would never do; of which I was most terrified … the very thing that had killed my first husband. Yep, my old adversary, chemotherapy. Right now, that was the only thing that was going to save my life.

And yet, when it came to it, it was okay. Yes, I was still terrified but I'd realised not only that I was learning very important stuff about suffering — because I'd always been so healthy, I'd had no idea at all what other people had to go through — and that that this was all about walking up to the greatest terror and healing it. Chemo-phobia had lurked in my psyche for 25 years, conveniently hidden as a  'virtuous holistic belief.' I believed that I'd never need it because I'd Do All The Right Things and could heal myself.

Well, Maggy, you couldn't. Nothing you did, worked. Nothing. Not one of the holistic practices; not even the diet. Louise Hay did it; Wayne Dyer did it; Brandon Bays did it. You didn't so let's get through the shame of that and come out the other side. Your so-very-holistic view was strongly tinged with arrogance. Here is your next lesson: humility.

And I was so lucky; you see non-Hodgkins lymphoma is one of very few cancers where chemo is actually very effective indeed. Eighty-five per cent effective. No, it doesn't 'cure' but it will take what is there in the body away. The rest is up to you.

The doctor from the haematology department who talked with me as I lay in the hospital bed having literally litres of fluid drained from one pleural cavity was lovely. He had clear dark eyes and he said, simply, 'it's okay, you're going to be fine.'

And I believed him.



Tuesday

The Book of Job

The view over the gate from our beautiful home — as far as I could walk for several months.
I haven't posted about the life-enhancing dis-ease for a very long time now. More than six months in
fact. Wow. I've posted a lot about life and travel but it's all been stuff from the past, which I enjoyed doing very much.
And, to be honest, I've been more concerned about getting back to writing for a living.
But a friend recently nudged me about writing about dis-ease again and now I'm stronger, I think that maybe I will.
You see, dear reader, it's been a pretty tough six months. And no, that hasn't been reflected on my Facebook page because I do still believe that I want to speak only of that which is good in my life — because where you focus is where your energy is. My very dearest friends have all known what has been going on but when it comes to getting down and dirty in the really gritty stuff, I'm very Scorpio. I'll tell you how I survived it, what I learnt from it and the deep joys I found even in the very worst of it, but I won't splurge pages about suffering. Even the 'new and improved me' that is beginning to shine out of six months of pain and revelation isn't that kind of communicator.
Suffice to say, I got very ill — dangerously ill as in pretty close to dying when the lymphoma took its chance from a dip in my immune system and leapt — and it's been a long, painful (and yes, fascinating in retrospect) haul out of it. Am I out for good? I don't know. But I've got my sparkle back.
If you're one of my good friends who didn't know, then please forgive me for not including you in.  A lot of that had a lot to do with how little energy I had and is nothing to do with my love for you.
If you have read this far and simply don't know what I'm talking about and want to find out about the beginning of this story, then please click here.
I now, finally, understand that incredibly powerful phrase from the third chapter of the Book of Job: "For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me."
It's basic law of attraction really but at a pretty profound level. You can positive think and speak as much as you like but if there's a deep-down hatred, resentment or fear that still surfaces in your 'woundology' then guess what, if you've chosen to ask God to clear you out (which this daft cow did), then the last and most important cleansing is your experience of the very thing you fear. You have to find life and love and joy in the darkest of your imagined hells and, if you won't go there voluntarily, trust me, a dis-ease will do it for you.
Dammit.
And I thought I was doing so well!


Friday

The second worst chat-up line in the world.

We didn't do a lot in Cooktown while we waited for the tyres to be shipped up to us from Cairns
because back in 1989 there wasn't a lot to do. In Cairns, they had described the people of Cooktown as 'ornery' which didn't mean awkward but seemed to mean, hem, parochial and with rather closely-related families. I have no evidence of that being true at all.
At the mouth of the Endeavour River, it was the gateway to Australia's gold-mining region and now it's thriving with a bitumen road from Cairns but, when we were there, the road was rough and the greatest prosperity seemed to come from the shrimp boats.

It's a tropical town and the hostel where we stayed had its fair share of giant cockroaches and cane toads so we spent much of the time resting and reading in the local pub where we ate crocodile (which tasted like slightly tough fishy chicken) and kangaroo (which tasted like slightly rabbity chicken).  To our great surprise, after 24 hours, they started giving us drinks on the house.

Now, Australians and Northern Queenslanders in particular, are very friendly but this is not normal so, for fairly obvious reasons, we queried it. Turned out they had a lingerie show in four days' time and given that Sarah and I were the slimmest girls currently in town, they were hoping they'd be able to persuade us to take part as models...

They were certainly confused about our status: one man and two sheilas. Were we both with him? It had to be so because there seemed no other explanation. But if one of us were available, which was it? Bets were on at the bar.

Pete gave it away when he stopped a bonzer bloke from chatting Sarah up but let a guy get me a drink so after that I was fair game. I hate to think what the local girls thought but in the days of the unsealed road there weren't that many female strangers in town and new blood is always popular.

The chat-up line I remember doesn't seem that bad but wait for it... The guy had a couple of gold teeth and several days' beard before it was fashionable. He sat on a chair backwards and said, 'You wanna come out to my shrimp boat? You can use the shower.'

It was dark; his shrimp boat was moored in the estuary and the only way to get to it would be to swim in the crocodile-infested river.

I don't think you have to work very hard to anticipate my (very polite) reply.

We didn't stay for the lingerie show (shame! I hear you cry) and when the tyres arrived we headed south again, our time in Queensland nearly over. I do wish now that we had gone further north into the Northern Territories but I will always remember with great love my time in Queensland and the men who, if they didn't manage to date me, certainly made me laugh.

NB The worst chat-up line in the world is on this posting: http://www.totallylookedafter.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/to-end-of-world.html


Wednesday

Cape Tribulation

Sarah and Pete at Cape Tribulation. Paradise ... but there's danger lurking!
Sarah and Pete arrived in Cairns the next day with a sturdy 4x4 to take us north into the Daintree National Forest, Cape Tribulation and beyond to Cooktown. The name of the Cape is, perhaps, a suitable warning. It's where Captain Cook's ship, Endeavour, hit the reef and, as he said, 'the start of all their troubles' (mostly sickness from there on).
Australia is full of things that really, really want to attack you and quite frequently kill you. There are the legendary spiders for a start — the funnel-web, the redback, the mouse spider, fiddlebacks, tarantulas and even the trapdoor spider whose bite can give you lethargy and nausea if nothing worse.
There are taipan snakes, brown snakes, the, the box jelly-fish (those will kill you, soon as look at you at certain times of year), death adders, cone shells, the blue-ringed octopus and sundry other fearsome beasts.  The sand flies on the beaches aren't much fun either.
And that's not even mentioning the saltwater crocodiles — or the sharks.
On the yuck-but-harmless side, the cockroaches are enormous.
In addition, there are bugs, cane toads (enormous and scary but harmless to us if you don't count falling over in shock when you see one) and ... and plants that will attack you too.
I went horse riding in the dappled, steamy forest and encountered the Wait-a-While or Layer plant — a kind of vine with thorns that will happily catch on your clothing or snag your skin so it bleeds as you pass (very ouch when encountered with bare arms while cantering!).
Everywhere we went, there were warning signs; every beach cautioned us against the saltwater crocs. We didn't see one; I think they were more scared of me than I was of them.
It was wonderful to be with dear friends. As another friend, who has just lost his wife, wrote recently, the loneliness of bereavement is both hard to describe and devastatingly debilitating at times.
No, Sarah and Pete could not replace Henry, but they were a constant presence and, together, we were exploring, travelling and, as a threesome had that precious resource of one of us being in the back seat of the car to have some alone time.
There were still many nights when I cried myself to sleep but, in Queensland, there was always a tomorrow of something new; something to experience, to appreciate or even to be slightly scared of.
We drove north and took the ferry across the Daintree river into the park, a lush and sensual tumbling of trees and plants, streams and creeks, calling birds and frogs and a soft, humid sheen that lifted the temperature into the high 80s.
At Port Douglas, with its lovely hotels (we stayed in a hostel but had access to a wonderful swimming pool), Pete and I went out to the Barrier Reef again.
i was scared. Even getting into the water was hard but there was a hand to hold mine — and it did help that it was a comforting male hand – and he waited in the water with me until I was ready and willing to put my face below the slightly choppy waves.
Together we swam in a paradise of beauty over the reef surrounded by yellow butterfly fish, purple and green parrot fish, clown fish, angel fish, bright blue damsel and surgeon fish, stripy trigger fish and the great grey hump-crowned wrasse.
Not one sign of anything scary, just beauty and life-force.
Swimming in coral is never quite as bright as you will see it on the TV — they are using lights with which to film — but it is still a rainbow of colours. You're not supposed to feed the fish (and we didn't) but I remembered taking bread out into the waters of the Seychelles with Henry and how eagerly the fish had taken it from our hands, their mouths hard and blunt against our skin.
Back on the road north, we were on an un-tarmaced surface from Port Douglas north to Cooktown. Several times, we took detours down mud tracks and gravelled surfaces, fording rivers, watching turtles 'plop' into waters to escape us, gazing up through the canopy of glittering green at flashes of colour of unidentified tropical birds.
On one road we even cut back the branches of a fallen tree and forded a river up to the base of the doors before being stopped by a rock fall. All silly, pointless adventures (but with pemmican obviously!) but great fun.
Then, blessedly, just outside Cooktown and on the 'main' road, we got a puncture and discovered that the spare, too was flat. All we had to do was limp a few hundred yards into the main street and call the car hire company.
Who promised to send two new tyres by sea which would take only three days.
Hello Cooktown. What do you have to offer?