Sunday, April 29, 2007


David and I have just returned yesterday from a weeks holiday in Torquay. David’s Brother in Law owns a house there, which he kindly allowed us to use for free. The driving down went OK, we stopped overnight 2/3rds of the way, which broke up some of the monotony of motorway driving.

Torquay is styling itself these days as The English Riviera. It certainly possesses some, but not all, of the characteristics of a Mediterranean resort. The impression it leaves is of a re-branding project that is not yet completed. With the accelerating pace of global warming the style of weather might arrive before the architectural ambiance is finished being constructed. Houses, in price and quality, are already escalating in anticipation.

As a town, it still reveals its working class origins through its shopping areas. Even the main streets and malls are bog standard and quite ordinary. Esplanades of 'kiss me quick' shops and award winning chip shops are mixed in with Weatherspoons and Pizza Express. Quite a few converted banks, chapels and merchants offices have become designer wine bars. From which, in the height of summer, the noisy money of men and women will spill out and vomit onto the paving of its rejuvenated streets. Yet there are also quite a large number of quiet retired people living here, with surplus income to spare. We counted at least four Chinese Herbalists/Acupuncture Clinics, which must be something of a record. The divide between the style of the Have’s and the ChavNots is very noticeable.

We largely took a leaf out of Gilbert and Georges book, and ate out for breakfast and lunch whenever possible. The Veggie Breakfasts, these days, are quite a standard mix of fried egg, tomatoes, hash browns, mushrooms and baked beans. They were, like the Cafe Latte’s, variable in quality and execution, depending on the cafe, though we found our favorite, called Fresh, with our first breakfast . Say what you like about the national cafe chains they have raised the quality threshold. So the best coffee in town was still to be found at Cafe Nero or Costa. Torquay, thankfully, has no Starbucks, Hurrah !! There is only so much frothy milk with a vague hint of having once been placed near a coffee bean, that I can stomach.

Abandoning the car, to be parked for the week on one of Torquay’s numerous
severely inclined streets, we took a bus to Brixham. Brixham is still a working port, with one of the largest remaining fishing fleets in the country. Though these days, that can’t amount to much of a claim to fame. It does have its own practical worldly charm, and an appearance of not tolerating any pretentious none sense, its a port and small tourist attraction, OK ! In feel it is very like Whitby, with its high cliffs, tight little bay and steeply rising terraces. House prices to buy or rent are lower, the shopping area is slightly grubby and run down in places. So far, no one is rushing to gentrify or push it up market, its too earthy for that. Though the yachting set park there boats here, they choose to live elsewhere.

We also took a sea cruise to Dartmouth. A very beautiful place, hidden almost secretively in a high sided river estuary. With the Royal Naval College looking down and the Royal Yacht Club moorings at Kingsmear, we were in a different social climate altogether. Expensive shops, cafes and well maintained old properties, some selling for prices in the millions, indicate that the heart and wallet of The English Riviera is really cloistered here. It feels so conservative, safe and protected from Gerry U Boats and the liberal ravages of urban Britain. A place at peace with itself, harmonious, with a degree of homogeneous integrity, based as it is on the triple buttresses of yachting, class and money. We left having really enjoyed our visit, but knowing living there would be an entirely different experience. Still, it felt somehow comforting to know a place like Dartmouth still exists.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

REVIEW - The Propeller Theatre Company

This week I went to see the Propeller Theatre Company twice, once with David to see Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, and then with Paco to see Twelfth Night. Both were excellent, but the latter was a quite awesome experience. Very physical in style, blending wit and poignancy with great ease. All the cast play musical instruments and at times become part of the stage set, seemlessly blending action, song and baudy humour into an energetic and life enhancing performance. If they are coming your way, please go and see them. You' d be a hard hearted person if you were not rewarded with two hours of real delight and pleasure.


No1 - The ups and downs of working in Cremation Grounds.

We talk sometimes within Buddhism, of ‘going into the cremation ground’. In India this was, and still is, a spiritual practice; to literally go to the cremation area surrounding your town or city, and contemplate the stages of decomposition of a corpse. In 21st Century Europe, cremation, along with most aspects concomitant with death, are removed from daily view or access. Working in the Crematorium, obviously, brings me into regular contact with the bereaved, with death and the process of cremation. Since December, when I went full-time, I’ve found it has demanded more of me emotionally than I ever anticipated, disturbing the murkier sediments of my dream life, and unsettling my usually buoyant and stable equilibrium.

In India, you would go to the cremation ground only for brief intense periods. It required the development of some degree of mature spiritual practice and warm, positive regard towards ones self. You’d also be able to walk away from it should it become too much to handle, or simply back off in order to gain renewed perspective or reflect on your experience in less intense surroundings. Now, what I do is a job, I’m paid to do this, this is, after all, a slightly different set up. Nonetheless, I do try to make some kind of practice from it. I attempt to remain aware as my moods change, hour-by-hour, minute- by- minute, as they shift from ease - to tenseness, from noticing the nature and form of my distress - to feeling myself emotionally drifting into alienated autopilot. I cannot walk away from a cremation oven and the body burning within, just because the blackening skull and eye sockets of the deceased stare forbiddingly back at me, every time I turn the peephole to check on a cremations progress. I have to stay with it, and with everything that results from it. Lately, there has been some disharmony between the Staff and our Managers, and I have, in addition, been struggling with my own irascible internal conflicts. There have been times when the job has felt like it really was too much, that I was on the very edge of what I could cope with physically, mentally and spiritually.

I know, as a Buddhist, this job creates slightly different difficulties and emotional challenges, than it would have for my fellow Chapel Attendants/Cremation Technicians. This week I’ve been reflecting that working in a ‘cremation ground’ does require some degree of spiritual perspective and resilience, and you have to feel free to step away from it. If I struggle, then how do my fellow workers, who don’t have this perspective cope? Well lets just say each has developed his or her own way of handling it, that in some way deadens or damps down the emotional impact.

It has become clear this week that, as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I am only just keeping ahead in negotiating the turbulence emerging from my psyche. How much longer before I get thrown overboard? I don’t believe physically, mentally or spiritually it would be beneficial to commit to being here in the longer term. My body and mind are already echoing my unconscious rebellion and desire for spiritual sustenance.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


David and I were in the centre of Cambridge, walking past Kings Parade, heading in the general direction of Heffers. Hoping, above all, to have a quiet coffee in Cafe Nero, undisturbed by the rabble and squeals of undisciplined babies. On our way we passed a huddle of retired Cambridge types, casually attired, talking loudly and animatedly,in over cultivated vowel sounds. One braying laugh was broken by a sentence ' You know Charles - small man. grey hair, into semiotics'. Only in Cambridge could you hear such talk.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


So, this was the week of my first Acupuncture session. After a series of questions about the qualities of my ailments and frequent measuring of the various pulse points in my wrist, he finally got around to puncturing me with a few pesky little needles, first into the flesh of my back, and then into my feet. Apparently, I have an imbalance in my system, the left hand pulse not being in balance with the right. As most of my complaints occupy the left side of my body, this does have a certain sense of being true. He also said that this, and a tendency in my body to overheat, were symptoms indicative of an internal conflict. I thought 'tell me about it', since teenage I’ve felt internally at war or in a constant turmoil, restless and frustrated with myself and reality. I've been feeling particularly tense recently. It's like not really wanting to hold a hot potato, metaphorically being tossed and passed from hand to hand, hoping it will become cool. So, there is a lot of heated internal debate going on in this area. My Buddhist practice has barely scratched the surface of it. I've learnt how to contain it, remain aware, but still not really grasp what the central issue is. The Acupuncturist asked provocatively ‘did I think I was risk averse’, to which I sheepishly replied ‘perhaps’, which was really a feeble face saving way of saying ‘yes, I am, and I'm not proud of it’.

Afterwards my back felt easier. That night I slept fitfully with restless legs, twitchy unsettling pulses of energy throbbed from my back and tingling in my left foot. The next morning I felt a bit weary, and the day at work was a struggle. By the evening I was so tired I went to bed early at 8.45pm and slept through till 6.30am. My lower back usually feels solid and rigid, it now feels looser, but tender like a fresh bruise. I still have a painful left shoulder and arm. He said for this first session he'd focus on generally re-balancing energies before going into such specific areas of discomfort.

Yesterday, having slept so well that I could launch a boat, my current predicament became all too unbearable tangible. How much I’ve tolerated, if not hated, what I’m doing at the Crematorium. How I’ve downgraded my own desires, and conformed to practical financial necessity, once again. If I am afraid to take a risk, what sort of a risk would that be! Painful life patterns,jagged and deeply etched, were prominently sticking out of a very turbulent ocean. How I move out of this into something that has more a taste of freedom I am, as ever, at a loss to know.

Last weekend, I had a delightful day out with my good friend Eugen. He’s soon to return to Germany to live in Berlin, I’ll miss him greatly, mostly for his sense of fun and the penetrating nature of conversations we invariable have. He is quite delightful and stimulating company. I drove both of us over to the Suffolk Coast,we visited Shingle Street, a beautifully bleak shingle beach, where I’ve previously done solitary retreats. Eugen and I have been there before, amazed, as ever, at such immense amounts of shingle piled in a long heap, it is quite astonishing to see.

I visited Shingle Street quite frequently when I lived in Ipswich, so I know it rarely remains as it was when I last visited. The force of storms and tides constantly adjusts its form and character, the size and shape of its banks and gullies. It's always familar but never the same, a bit like the nature of one's Self.

The day was gloriously sunny and backed by the clearest of blue skies,the wind strong and forceful. We later moved up the coast to Aldeburgh, and sheltered in the lee of a stranded boat and sun bathed for a while. Then we had two attempts at buying chips, joining the huge Sunday queues of tourists. Eventually we did get some and ate them on the beach, whilst gulls circled ravenously overhead. I suggest someone should do a case study on the cholesterol levels of seagulls living on the Suffolk Heritage Coastline. I think they might be quite high!!

Musically, triggered by the Grinderman CD, I’m enjoying re-listening to ‘The Birthday Party’ again. Punchy, with incredible feral energy they were, intriguingly, very tightly arranged, whilt also appearing so anarchic and vicious. Its like being in the same room as a frightened schizoid cat, inhuman screams and the sense of mauled flesh being ripped to shreads, YEH! VIVID!!!