Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Sunday 20 July 2014

Singing the Praises of Acupuncture

I decided to begin going to an acupuncturist when we moved up here.  Or rather, I had decided I’d do it in Cambridge and then we decided to move!  You see, medically speaking, I am not only a conundrum wrapped in an enigma that is coddled in a riddle, but I am simply too complicated for doctors to sort out.  It’s not a good place to be, I’ll admit, knowing that doctors are playing whack-a-mole with a list of ever-increasing symptoms but not getting to the root cause of any of them.  One doctor, a supposedly learned fellow, actually scratched his head in puzzlement at me and suggested the only thing he could think of, which was akin to using a hammer Mjolnir to crack a walnut (and he was the best the NHS had to offer!).  Some doctors suggested my genetic, physical complaint was merely a ‘lifestyle issue’ and one GP didn’t even know what it was.  Given this lacksadaisical and somewhat random approach (one GP was great) that most GPs and consultants had, I decided to eschew doctors and began to do research into slightly more crunchy-granola territory, though obviously still keeping to things that have clinical trials and published research to back them up (not like, say, homeopathy).  Acupuncture seemed to have a lot of positive scientific and anecdotal reviews and since booking myself in to see my acupuncturist I haven’t looked back.

I did a lot of research (I used the BAcC website) before settling on someone I thought had the qualifications and the drive to make change happen.  I must admit, while I was aware that acupuncture gets rave reviews from people who’ve had it done, at the back of my mind I was immensely sceptical about the treatment’s efficacy.  I told my acupuncturist that I was there because this was the Last Chance Saloon and that the medical establishment, such as it is, had all but washed its hands of me unless I wanted to be well and truly Mjolnir’d.  We went through my complete medical history, including odd questions that I would ordinarily have thought would make no real sense to anyone, I had my pulses taken and my tongue inspected and then began treatment.  My acupuncturist is actually, it turns out, very good.  Within 24 hours of being (painlessly) needled, I notice huge effects on a whole gaggle of problems that had been weighing me down for years.

Knowing that my acupuncturist is really open to learning new things, I did some research and found a really high-quality, randomised double-blind study done in Sweden on the use of acupuncture, which would address a good deal of my problems.  I showed my acupuncturist the protocols and we’re now giving them a go, with the hope that I’ll be able to repeat the high success rate of the Swedish study.  Already, I see huge improvements in my quality of life and, unlike the medicines that I keep getting schilled at the GP, these don’t have endless side-effects or limitations.  Am I cured?  No, but I am certainly a whole heck of a lot better than I was.  This is a process and it takes time, something that our ailing (and about-to-be-privatised, thanks to this lovely government of ours) NHS can’t or won’t admit or make concessions to remedy.

What is the problem with modern (Western) medicine?   If your medical file is beginning to resemble War and Peace, ten minutes in a GP’s surgery isn’t going to cut it and being handed a prescription for a never-ending supply of medication that never helps isn’t either.  I want answers and medical help to get well again.  Western medicine as a whole, fails to address the fact that a person is a holistic being and that illnesses take time to resolve.  It fails to recognise that one event (a traumatic injury, an illness etc) can affect the whole way that your body, a structure that has thousands of different parts all working in concert with one another, works.  Knock one thing out and you begin to notice everything around it struggling to compensate, which then gives you symptoms of something else.  The Chinese have known this for thousands of years and in hospitals there, you will receive treatment both using Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine as well.  In certain places, such as the US, ‘functional medicine’ seems to be bridging the gap between the two, by using Western doctors who also accept that symptoms of B, C, D and E can be a result of something happening to system A.

To play the devil’s advocate in the matter, even if the symptom changes that I have noticed are nothing but the result of placebo (and some of them have been so physically extreme and unexpected that I cannot imagine how I could ‘placebo’ them into being), it has worked – because things are better than when I started the appointments.  After all, if I am feeling better and my body is acting better, then isn’t that a good thing?  It might not be for you, indeed, there are things that acupuncture isn’t as adept at (don’t look at its Wiki page, as it is so very poorly written and curated), but any acupuncturist worth their salt will tell you on first meeting what they can and can’t treat.  Do give it a go, though, because if you have chronic pain or migraines or horrible PMS or IBS, this might be the thing to change all of that for you.  After all, isn’t anything worth giving a go if it makes you feel better?

Sunday 13 July 2014


Just after we moved to Northumberland the first time, back in 2004, there was a big to-do about mining in the area.  Coal has been, and to some extent still is, a big part of the North East’s economic landscape and there were companies wishing to exploit open-cast mining in the area.  So the council gave them the go-ahead to mine the area for a set amount of time on the proviso that they had to do something to pay the community back for the inconvenience, and so the idea of Northumberlandia was born.  All of the soil that was excavated to mine the coal was put to one side and is now one of the most beautiful earthworkings I’ve ever seen: a woman, the largest sculpture of a woman in the world, that people can now walk around and enjoy.

All of the landscape has been planted with a plethora of wild grasses and wildflowers, which in the heady month of June – when these photos were taken – were in full bloom.

If you look at Northumberlandia from the air, you can see that she’s a maze of pathways, tump-like breasts and long, curving thighs.  But she is beautiful and not just as a sculpture, but as a walk; a piece of art that can be physically accessed and circumnavigated.

The views from the walk are pretty good and will be stunning at all times of the year, I imagine.

At the side of her, strategically-placed lakes provide interest and a vibrant natural habitat for various creatures.

Whilst everywhere there are wildflowers, full of bees and insects.

This is June for me, full of grasses and wild blooms.

As we ascended the hills, we got a better glimpse of her emerging.  It’s true, even at the top you don’t ever see her true shape, but you can see odd parts coming together.  This is the underside of her nose and her mouth.

We couldn’t help but giggle at the signage!

I could write a blog post about every variety of grass and wildflower we saw while we were there, there were that many.  I have spent a good deal of time revelling in this wilderness because I am aware that soon winter will soon be on its way and these plump-leaved, fragile annuals will be replaced by rye grass and thistles until next year.

At the very top, this points you to something… we’re not sure what.  Look up?  I know I’d rather look at the views all around…

They are amazing!  Despite the remnants of the mining operations (remember, most of the soil was used to create Northumberlandia) the view is spectacular.  Those old hills in the distance?  They’re the Cheviots, some of the oldest hills in the country.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Breathing Free

I have started to practise mindfulness (or mindful awareness) in my day-to-day living, to help combat stress and to put my worries into some kind of perspective (there’s a great Guardian article here).  Mindfulness is the practise of removing yourself from your thoughts and their hundred-mile-an-hour carousel, taking a step back and focusing on your breathing.  By focusing on nothing but that which is happening in this very moment, you are able to gain perspective over negative thoughts and worries because all of our worries stem from either the past or the future, never the present.  Due to its effects on the parasympathetic nervous system, it has been proven to help people with anxiety, stress, depression and a plethora of other conditions, whilst also reducing high blood pressure and slowing heart rate, too.  It is technically a meditation of sorts, however whereas meditation takes a while not only to master but to actually perform, mindfulness is an act that you repeat at regular intervals throughout the day and mostly takes no more than 30 seconds.  I found an app to give me the kind of guidance I need and it reminds me at set intervals throughout the day to take a pause and re-focus myself.  It has not only been enlightening, but I think it has been helpful, particularly during the stress of the move.  I really highly recommend giving it a go.

Another great de-stresser for me is to go to the beach.  I haven’t been quite as much recently as I’d been hoping, due either to bad weather or having to wait in for deliveries, but this morning I knew I had to make the most of a little bit of quiet time I had, and so I grabbed my camera and jumped into the car.  By 8:30 I was breathing salty sea air and enjoying the sun’s full and unbridled presence.  For a while now, I have been looking at ways of documenting the seasons in the land around us.  Thinking about this as I walked, I decided that I would take photos and make a little book with them, writing down all the things that I notice each time have changed and keeping track of the flora and fauna through the year.

There were quite a few dog-walkers this morning and it was busier than usual, yet there was plenty of space for me to wander off to enjoy the quiet roar of the waves alone.  It was surprisingly warm as, even in Summer, breezes from the North Sea can be chilly.  I was certainly the only person without her shoes on, splashing about in the shallow pools left by the outgoing tide, inspecting the flotsam and jetsam that lines the shore.  At regular intervals I stopped to face the sea and pause, taking deep lungfulls of the salty, ozone-scented air and simply enjoy being truly present at that moment.  Needless to say, I made a promise to myself that this would be a more regular occurrence, as it is possibly one of the best ways to relax both mind and body.

Friday 20 December 2013

Golden Hour Silhouettes

I try to get outside to walk regularly.  Not only for health reasons (did you know that going on a moderate walk for 30 minutes lowers your insulin levels and evens out blood-sugar for hours afterwards?) but for general sanity and wellbeing.  There is nothing like it in the world.  I get time to think, or simply get in some camera-and-me time.  I love it.  Yesterday I went rather late, about 3pm and knew that I had less than an hour to go for my walk and back as the sun sets just before 4pm.  It turns out, I went at just the right time.  Had I gone an hour earlier, I would’ve missed the spectacular golden hour, the egret flying over my head, the little rabbits leaping in the undergrowth by my side, the squirrels (three of them!) in the hawthorn bush eating berries and the herons.

Seeing everything in their spindly, winter form, silhouetted against the softest ice-cream sky is something very special indeed.  It was quiet, so still and soft and gentle.  Ducks on the little lake were beginning to fold their beaks under their wings, raise their legs and go to sleep, just like their bigger swan cousins.  I saw virtually no one on the walk and when at its quietest, it was almost silent, save for the odd bird call.  A strong smell of woodsmoke permeated the air at certain points and it was delightful in its wintriness.  I longed, with a yearning and an ache that never seems to go, for a home with a wood-burning stove, that is in the middle of the countryside, a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the cities.  I thought of 2013 drawing to a close, and what I had learnt this year and how many unexpected things had happened.  So unexpected that they seem almost comedic, though at the time they were far from funny.  I also learnt how suddenly ill health can creep up on you, and how you can draw on a reserve of inner strength when you are scared witless.  I learnt that I was grateful beyond belief for Mr VP’s presence when I was at my most unwell, and Mum’s presence just a phonecall away.  I let myself think of 2014 unfurling before me, and how I think I know what will happen or what I want to happen, but in reality none of it will be as I expect.  The future is a scary thing, is it not?  Yet it happens, because time waits for no man.  By the end, I felt some kind of solitude because the act of walking had allowed me the space to think and work through problems in a way that sitting indoors cannot.  It was a glorious way to spend the last hour of sunlight.

There is an air of excitement going on around here as Christmas approaches.  It feels a bit like the last day of school used to, full of fun and merriment, even though I do not feel in the least bit Christmassy myself.  Talking to my hairdresser the other day (I got a new ‘do – and it made me feel a million dollars!), she said she felt most Christmassy when she was rushing around looking for presents last-minute, and I think I agree.  I used to know that Christmas had arrived when the Fenwicks Christmas Window was unveiled, whereas this year I decided to be super-organised and have had all of my present shopping done and mostly wrapped since the beginning of November.  Now that Mr VP is off work for the rest of the year (!), we’ll maybe venture in amongst the crowds for a bit of window-shopping and the odd eggnog latté (another thing I’ve missed!) before settling down to enjoy Christmas as a family.  I can’t wait.

Have a lovely weekend, whatever you’re doing and wherever you are.

Monday 26 August 2013

My August Forest

This is from my first proper walk since the operation.  How glad I was to get out and be somewhere I really do love being.  How can I want to spend time anywhere else when there are places like this around?  Golden paths surrounded by such glorious greenery.  Completely different to the woodlands I usually go to in Lincolnshire.

The day we walked around it, the weather was very changeable.  It would go from bright sunshine to dark clouds in a matter of seconds and then back again.  Odd sprinkles of rain came and went but we didn’t feel them through the thick lime canopy.

Spiders’ webs were everywhere, like a granny’s antimacassar covering branch and stem alike.  The sun lit the silvery threads from beneath, allowing us to see what usually we cannot.

Most of the woodlands were still a verdant, lush green colour and the hawthorn above was as fresh that day as it was when it first opened those leaves some four months ago.

This was the view we had when we stopped for coffee.  Not quite Simonside or The Cheviots, but it’ll do.  It was amusing to watch the sheep in the distance rolling over and scratching their faces.  The coffee was good and the company even better.

When the grey skies disappeared, there came moments of such dappled wonder.  It was really beautiful.  We held hands and talked, we stopped to laugh at some little thing, before moving on again.  We went at a snail’s pace because doing anything even vaguely energetic left  me sore and tired.  Walking slowly allowed us to see even more.

In nature, placement is never accidental.  I see things and wonder why they are as they are, but I always have a feeling that things are where they should be.

The leaves are starting to show their age now, and though still green, they are beginning to show the merest hints of yellowing.  Like the back of a sun-lover’s hand, these sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) leaves are showing little age spots which weren’t there earlier (they’re caused by tar spot fungus).  Time is moving on; in the leaves and the soft, green things.  Things which will soon be yellowed and ochre-tinged.

Isn’t it all just so beautiful?  Everything is so green and rich and vibrant.

Look at the beautiful, startlingly-bright Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) in their autumn glory!  This is one big indication of the passage of time and a sign I used to watch and wait for in the woodlands around Northumberland.  I think they’re early this year.

These long, leggy trees are very photogenic.  Dappled sunlight, soft ochre leaves on the floor and odd clumps of ivy creeping along the ground.

And a crown of trees.  Sitting amidst its friends.

Elegant and tall.  A tree of perfect poise and grace.

A tree I couldn’t overlook if I tried.

Golden shafts of light fall through birch and lime.

And are caught by odd leaves, here and there.

A magical woodland.  Bright and light and airy.

A last photo; turning back.  The path that took us home.

Sunday 14 July 2013

On the Way to the Sea, At the Sea

25th May 2013.

The view from a layby, on the way to Alnmouth.  A tree in a growing arable field that was inordinately photogenic.  Oil-seed rape in the fields in the distance.  Blue skies.  Green and yellow fields.  Darker green tree.  Best of all?  The view when we got to Alnmouth.  Sea, seaweed, the salty North Sea air, reflections and remembrances.  In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse (from this poem, bien sur)  Is there ever enough time, I wondered.  Time to go back and to change, time to watch and live and learn a lifetime’s questions and answers and possibilities?  On that beach, I felt that there was possibility and goodness and hope.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

The Midsummer Garden at Night

When visiting Glastonbury, as we try to do at least twice a year, we endeavour to make it to one of the Chalice Well’s Full-Moon Evenings.  As well as providing refreshments and music, the staff of the Well fill the garden with candles (no easy feat as it is a large garden) and visitors are encouraged to walk around and breathe in the atmosphere of magic that swirls around the garden as dusk and then night falls upon it.

Ever since the first time I went to one of these full-moon evenings, I have occasionally recreated it in either our own garden or my mother’s.  Last night, it seemed to be the perfect night – relatively cool after the day’s extreme heat – to hold another candle evening.

It began early, with the sun still well above the horizon.  Being surrounded by the big, blousy roses and the cool, slightly-damp grass underfoot, all of us set about filling candle bags with tea-lights and lighting incense.  This rose is Winchester Cathedral and hasn’t flowered this prolifically in the four years since it was planted.  I think it’s finally settled into its new home.  The smells emanating from all of the roses was heady, carried on the soft summer evening breeze.

It was the perfect time to capture beautiful photos of the plants in the garden, however humble.  From glorious calendulas in the vegetable patch to perfectly cultivated pink peonies.

Another favourite flower of mine.  Along with the lupins, foxgloves were the other flowers that first grew in our garden.  I love their icecream-colours and the chickens loved eating their leaves (whole!) even though they contain a potent toxin.  The chickens were fine, though!

Daisies look even better in the fading light.  The song of the blackbirds, the caw of the crows and the twitter of goldfinches filled the air.  I wandered with camera in hand, barefoot, enjoying every scent, every sensation and every moment.

Pinks!  Some of the most delicate and fragranced flowers in the garden.  Just look at their pretty stamens, which curl so elegantly!  How can I get so excited about a flower?  Quite easily, quite easily indeed.  Their scent and their beautiful flowers is enough to get very excited about.

Their presence in the garden marks the season and whispers ‘summer is here, enjoy it while you can!‘.

I was thinking I’d like to embroider some verbena flowers.  Each flower seems to tessellate and fit perfectly next to each other and the salmon-pink colour is one of my favourite annual planting colour-schemes of all time.

Strangely enough, though we had no music playing, I had this song stuck in my head.

Peonies!  They only seem to smell in the evenings.  I unashamedly put my whole face into this one and inhaled long and hard.  They are around for such little time so I try to make the most of every moment that they’re there.

Rosa mundi, the apothecary’s rose, has such unique versicolour flowers and a heady scent that it makes up for it only flowering once.  When it does flower, it is one of the brightest and most interesting roses in the garden, though, like some R. Gallicas, it is prone to mildew.

I took a lot of photos like this one at around the same time two years ago.  It was no less magical now than it was then.

Every available flat surface held either a candle in a jar or a candle bag (our candles come, in large quantities, from Ikea).

We sat around the table talking, laughing and having a very cordial evening.

The sky was clear blue except for the odd contrail.

The sun had, by this time, dipped below the horizon and the lamps began to burn brightly.  It turned otherwise-normal looking parts of the garden into an otherworldly floral kingdom.

No part of the garden escaped illumination.  Not even the greenhouse…

From beanpole to bird-bath, lights twinkled.

Even the chard in the vegetable patch was permitted its own light by which to shine.

As the sun crept ever further away, so the garden became all the more magical.

It got better and better.  After we had enjoyed the night outside and were planning to begin putting things away, we noticed a rustling of leaves and we knew it could be only one thing: a frog.  Shortly after, he came hopping out of his day-resting place and hopped to the other side of the garden.  Then another!  In what remaining light there was, we could also make out two decent-sized bats flying at incredible speed and accuracy around the garden (and our heads!).  Magical.

I was very aware of how special this evening was to all of us and how grateful I was to be able to enjoy it.  Whatever comes next is a process, a transitory step on a long path, but it is moments like these when, for the briefest moment you are innocently happy, that mark the progression on this long path that we are all on.

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