The conditions for unconditional love


I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately. My sister is getting married this weekend, and I am going to be her witness, and sign my name on a document officially declaring her and Arek husband and wife (or the other way round, as the case may be). And this makes me feel happy and grateful and proud and a little in awe. But, my own role in this event aside, my bearing witness, both officially and unofficially, to what is truly and unequivocally an excellent thing, I cannot help but question the purpose of such declarations. Weddings, marriages, and their necessity in connection to love.

My sister and I are not wedding people. In fact, the mere mention of the topic as it relates to our own lives is likely to cause, in both of us, an almost phobic reaction. In addition to this, we share a – partly justifiable – mistrust of marriage itself, as exemplified by our parents and society at large. The phonecall in which she announced to me the fact of her engagement could be described, without exaggeration, as one of the happiest and most awkward conversations two people have ever had. We have never talked about weddings; we have never fantasised, as other girls, of dresses and engagement rings. This was a foreign land, full of dragons and booby traps, and we circumnavigated these terrors as best we could, to arrive, clumsily, at a mutual conclusion of joy. We weren’t trying to be obscure, or unconventional; we just don’t have the vocabulary for this sort of thing. None of us really do.

And yet we try. We try, with words, to explain why people get married, to define a marriage, to express love. To capture its essence, to measure it, quantify it, evaluate it – demystify it, perhaps, to make it more manageable, more attainable. We are, as a society, entirely preoccupied with love, endlessly producing quotes, metaphors, clichés and contradictions. They’re in our art and our literature, our everyday conversations, our highbrow theories and our pop songs. And, regardless of whether we subscribe to fairytale endings or take the cynical view and reject love and marriage outright, in our moments of elation and of pain we all drunkenly sing along.

And if you turn to Eastern philosophies in search of a more sober perspective, as I have, it gets even more confusing. The teachings of Buddhism encourage loving kindness and compassion, yet discourage attachment, while Buddhist monks are happy to bless a union that is basically a marriage by another name. The Buddha is quoted as having said: “He who loves fifty people has fifty woes; he who loves no one has no woes.” And I don’t understand whether this is a warning or simply a statement of fact; whether those woes are to be avoided, or accepted – welcomed, even – as a part of love.

It is then suggested that we should love, but love all creatures equally. And I don’t think that’s possible, sustainable or even desirable. I can see the virtue in approaching each person and each situation with love; it takes practice, but it can be done, and I call that kindness. But to enact love, to love, as a verb, is a different thing entirely and I, for one, cannot produce that level of emotion for everyone I meet.

And further: love, in its truest, purest form, should be unconditional. And sometimes it is. But the reason it became love, the reason it grew into love is because certain conditions were in place when it began. Conditions as in circumstances rather than terms, but conditions, nonetheless. Does this negate its unconditional nature, retroactively, once it reaches that stage? Perhaps I’m taking things too literally, and this is just another case of our vocabulary letting us down, but it seems to me that for all their dogma, these philosophies are placing conditions on who and how I love.

But love is not possession: this one I can live with. Yet I have lain in a man’s arms and felt, with my whole, entire self: “I am yours. You are mine.” And it has nothing to do with ownership, but with the fact that something in the way this universe moves has brought us together and that’s exactly where we should be. A place where all the definitions of love cease to matter. But when I try to explain it, these are the words that come out. They’re the only words I have.

But what does all of this say about marriage? Does a wedding validate a love? Is placing a ring on someone’s finger a declaration of ownership? Is it, as Beyonce suggests in the eloquent lyric “If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it”, all about staking a claim? I think in many cases, in many marriages, it is. I may find the notion of ownership incompatible with my understanding of love, but to many people, the idea of belonging to someone, of someone belonging to them, is an arrival, a homecoming – it’s where they want to be. Just like I want to be in that place of stillness and certainty that I have found lying next to a man I love, and most marriages are lands I never want to visit.

But there are other marriages. Ones where love needs no validation. Where commitment transcends the signing of papers, if papers have been signed at all. It depends on where you place yourself in this equation. You can stand next to someone, or you can follow them, or you can lead the way. You can stand next to someone and place a ring on your own finger, not a promise to anyone else, but a symbol for yourself, for how you feel. You can get married, or you can marry; you can be a passive or an active part of the grammar that makes up your relationship. You can have a marriage where nobody belongs to anybody else but perhaps, if you’re lucky, you belong together. And you can hold their hand, but loosely; if they want to go away, they will, no matter how tightly you grip.

Words, grammar, syntax. Xs and Ys and the mathematical formulas that bring them together. The laws of physics, the laws of nature. Symbols and signatures, rings and vows and altars. Faith, fate, god and endless theories. We summon all these things to try and explain the inexplicable, to express something that defies expression, as elusive as it is ever-present, as abstract as it is tangible, as extraordinary as it is commonplace; something that slips through your fingers like your lover’s hand when you squeeze too tight, but will happily settle in your open palm if you know enough to hold it out, and wait. And it’s the human condition that we keep trying, that we will always keep trying, because if there ever comes a day when we stop trying, it will mean we have captured something that shouldn’t be caught, demystified the mystery that keeps our lives in motion. And that, I think, will be the day that everything stops. That will be the day when saying the words “I love you” will express exactly what we mean, and I cannot think of anything sadder than that.

There is no such thing as a universal marriage, just as there’s no universal definition of love. Those are choices we make, each of us, for ourselves, and saying you don’t believe in marriage is not an ideology, it’s a cop out. Love no one. Have no woes.

I still think my sister is very brave, and there’ll be dragons to slay (or approach with love, and convert to household pets), but I’m not worried. I have every reason to believe that she and Arek will have one of those other marriages, the ones that don’t make me want to run away screaming. I think they have it already. Because neither of them is getting married: both are marrying the person they love. Because, at times when I’ve lost my faith, I’ve looked to them and seen that they have built their life in that same place of stillness and certainty, and though they may wander off sometimes, they always know how to get back. Because they’ve shown me that big love doesn’t necessarily equal big drama, and when you’re faced with it, you might no longer need to put it into words.

But words are sometimes all we have, and mine are all I have to give. So this is dedicated to them: in hope, in admiration, and in love. Not equal, but as unconditional as it comes.


Taken from This Reluctant Yogi: everyday adventures in the yoga world. View it on Amazon, or join my readers’ list and get an e-book copy for free.

I am the storm.


Ever since I self-published my first book, 100 days of solitude, I’ve been standing at a precipice, high over the world, scuffing at the edge with the toes of my shoes, and watching dust rise up and stones tumble down the slope. One, maybe two at a time. I watch them roll down, gaining momentum sometimes, sometimes dislodging a small rock on the way and taking it down with them. I watch them hit the bottom, the impact they make: another cloud of dust rising and settling again. Again, I nudge, pulling another stone from the soil; I get down on my knees, freeing one more with my hands and setting it loose down the mountainside. I watch. I wait. I start again.

I want an avalanche. I want a landslide. I want that magical, inexplicable something that brings my book crashing into the world with a great, rumbling roar. I don’t want it to be a wave, gently lapping at the shore and pulling back again, to disappear into the ocean. I want it to be a tsunami, a great sweeping mass of words and thoughts and joy, rushing into the lives of thousands. Millions. I’m done being waves and pebbles. I’m done being quiet and small. I want the magic. I want that something, that moment when my book goes from selling a thousand copies to selling a million. Because that’s all it is: a moment. A click that sets it all in motion. That’s all it takes: some magic, and a click.

Perhaps literary agents and publishers have the big, industrial machines that tear chunks out of mountainsides and cause landslides that bury the villages below. Perhaps they have massive ships that cut through the ocean, dislodging the seas, turning waves into tsunamis and drowning coastal towns in their authors’ words. Perhaps they do, and it’s not sinister; it’s just the way it is. But I have no such equipment. I am just a girl chiselling away with my hands, but my words are just as big as theirs, and there’s another way.

The world is changing, and we can make our own magic. We can make our own destiny. We always could, but perhaps we have turned a corner and we can see it, now. Perhaps the dust from their big, industrial works is beginning to settle, and we can see it. Perhaps we’re done being told what we can’t do. Perhaps we’re done waiting. Perhaps we’re done being lodged in the ground, calling out for someone to come along and kick us free. Perhaps we’re done being rolling stones in other people’s landslides. There are mountains enough for all of us, infinite oceans of possibility. We can be our own landslides. We can make our own waves.

These thoughts had been building up for a while, but it was my friend Leo who gave me the word that brought them all together. We were having coffee, and I was trying to explain the magic moment, the click. “Avalanche,” he said, and I saw it. I’d known it from before when, in another magical moment, I suddenly understood, on a level entirely separate from intellect and real-world odds, that this book would go far. I’d known it, but I had no visual, and then Leo said that word, and it all came together and I saw it: the avalanche, the landslide, the tsunami. Sweeping into the world, graceful and magnificent; a natural phenomenon, but not a disaster, because it’s words I’m sending into people’s lives, stories to make them better. Because, as pretentious as it may sound, I really do believe that books can change our lives. And this is a book that’s all about changing, and finding your own path, and finding joy. This particular book has already changed my life. And it deserves its own landslide.

In real-world terms: the landslide, for a writer, translates into lots of sales. Money. But it’s not about that. It’s about having the means to carry on doing what you love, and, for me, this book is the way. Because another thing I believe – another one of my pretensions, if you like – is that we all have a purpose in this life, a gift, a thing we are uniquely qualified to do. And this is mine: writing. It’s what I do, and I do it well. And I deserve the chance to carry on doing it; to try. We all do – whatever our thing might be. And the real-world odds can go fuck themselves. There is another world, where anything is possible. And it is just as real as we make it.

There is nothing noble in stoically accepting the odds, nothing admirable in admitting defeat before you’ve even begun. This gift, this purpose: it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It needs to be defended. Suffering for the sake of suffering is such a wasteful way to live. But if the thing that you love doing can fund doing what you love, isn’t that the perfect way for the world to go around?

I am done with odds. I am done being pebbles and waves. I am done being the tortured artist selling drinks and dreaming of words. I have written a book, and I’m standing up for it. And for anyone who’s ever done a thing that meant something to them, for anyone who wants to, for all the pebbles and the waves, the quiet and the small, slowly gathering their strength against the odds to crash into the world. We can be the avalanche; we can be the tsunami. All it takes is some magic, and a click.

Fate whispers to the warrior
“you cannot withstand the storm”
and the warrior whispers back
“I AM THE STORM”.


You can click here to view 100 days of solitude on Amazon and perhaps add another rolling stone to my avalanche, if you like.

Not taking it personally


This is another philosophical post. And the question I’m pondering this morning is: what the fuck? In fact, for the sake of clarity, let me be more specific: what the actual fucking fuck, please?

I don’t believe in bad luck. I don’t believe in the world turning against you; the universe (or whatever you want to call it) is neither good nor bad, and it certainly isn’t out to get you. I have no tolerance for “poor me”, in myself or others. But I don’t believe in coincidence, either. I don’t deny there’s an element of random in the events of our lives, but still, somewhere, on some level, there’s a connection to be made, an understanding to be gained. The law of attraction is real, and what you perceive as your reality is constantly readjusting itself to match your thoughts and your beliefs. What you dwell on, you get more of; what you put in is what you get back. Your attitude shapes your experience.
    Which brings me right back to the profound philosophical conundrum of what the fuck. Because not taking it personally is all good and wise but this, in list form, is my one-thing-after-the-other in the space of three short weeks:

    Multiple powercuts (island-wide)
    Telephone pole going down in my actual back yard (personal, plus collateral damage)
    Total failure of septic tank (personal)
    Sudden death of washing machine (personal)
    Unprecedented acute asthma attack (as personal as it gets)

That’s quite a lot of things, but wait. I’m not done. I thought I was done and yesterday I gave myself a stern talking to, performed a ritualistic sage-burning tour of the house, and declared whatever the fuck that was over. And then I changed into yoga gear, pulled my bedroom door shut so the cats wouldn’t climb onto my bed, and rolled my mat out in preparation for a long overdue, restorative yoga session. I remembered I’d left the light on in the bedroom; I tried to go back in, and slammed straight into the door. I tried again. I turned the handle and pushed. The handle turned, but nothing happened: the door remained totally unmoved. I threw myself against it half-heartedly a couple of times, but all I got out of it was a dull thud and a sore shoulder. I was locked out.
    And – praise my attitude – I laughed. I thought you are fucking kidding me, but I laughed, and then I went out in leggings, vest top and bare feet (all my things were in the inaccessible bedroom) and knocked on my neighbour’s door.
    ‘Please help me,’ I said. ‘I have no shoes.’
    ‘What happened?’ Manolis asked at the bedroom door.
    ‘Nothing. I just shut it.’
    He jiggled the handle; he twisted and turned it. He pushed and pulled and tapped and frowned a lot, while I stood beside him and laughed at every failed attempt.
    ‘I don’t understand,’ he said. ‘From one moment to the next?’
    ‘From one moment to the next.’
    He went away and came back with tools. He picked and poked at the handle, took out a screw, twisted it back in, as tight as it would go. Nothing.
    ‘It’s having none of it,’ he said, scratching his head. ‘It makes no sense.’
    I laughed again, and brought out the electric drill. A hole in the door and a lot of fidgeting with three separate screwdrivers, and the catch finally released, throwing Manolis halfway across the room. I applauded as he straightened up, apologising for having entered my bedroom.
    ‘You are a hero,’ I told him. So many people have deserved that title lately; too many people have had to come to my rescue.
    Manolis smiled. ‘Just don’t tell your mother we put a hole in the door.’
    I wedged it open as Manolis gathered his tools. ‘It still makes no sense,’ he said in parting.
    I shrugged and laughed, and my open bedroom door was a happy ending.

But wait, not yet: it still isn’t over. As I smoked a cigarette and snorted intermittently at the ridiculous events of the last hour, I noticed that my dehumidifier, which had been humming away contentedly, keeping the house relatively warm, had stopped. This isn’t unusual: it’s on a setting where it turns itself off when it detects a certain level of humidity in the air that it deems acceptably low, and starts up again when it rises – same as a radiator with a thermostat. So I don’t know what made me pay attention this time; I don’t know what made me get up and go over there and check. The hum and pause of the dehumidifier is the background noise of my daily life. But I checked, and I saw that its power light had blinked off. Baffled, I pulled the plug out of the socket – and nearly dropped it in shock: it had actually melted. The air instantly filled with the unmistakable, acrid smell of burning plastic and imminent electrical fire. I stared at the mangled thing in my hand, blinked, and laughed. But there was a bitter edge to it this time, I admit; this time, for all of my unfaltering positivity, it started to feel like one-thing-too-many.

But was it? Was it the last thing? Is whatever the fuck that was over, or should I brace myself for more? And if I brace myself, if I anticipate it, will I be inviting it? Will I be shaping my reality to accommodate more of the same? I live my life expecting good things to happen, but it’s been one-thing-after-the-other, and I’m not sure what sense I’m supposed to make of this, what I’m supposed to understand. I can keep laughing my way through it, keep focusing on the positives – powercuts don’t last too long; telephone pole replaced and vertical; septic tank drained; brand new washing machine; asthma attack a one-off; hero-neighbour and a wide open door; plug pulled out just in time – but perhaps there’s a place where it all connects. Perhaps there’s something I’m missing. For every single thing there’s been redemption, a hero, a solution, a way out or back in. Yes. A happy ending, every time. But still, seriously, what the actual fucking fuck? I’m close to the end of my philosophical tether, and I wouldn’t mind some guidance, please.

So I’m making this post interactive, and opening the conundrum up to general debate: what the fuck? Go.

Fuck you, I’ll be happy anyway

Certain fundamental things that we’d come to rely on – the safety nets of our “civilised” societies – are coming apart, and it now seems that anything can happen, and it can happen to us. The paradigms are shifting and the safety nets are full of holes: anything can happen. And where does that leave us?

There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.

(Some thoughts on happiness)

These are strange days we’re living in, and the general consensus is that everything’s going to shit – to put it philosophically. And, if you’re anything like me, you’re looking around and seeing a world that you don’t quite recognise, a world that makes increasingly less sense. Most of our countries are in crisis. Certain fundamental things that we’d come to rely on – the safety nets of our “civilised” societies – are coming apart, and it now seems that anything can happen, and it can happen to us. “They won’t do it,” I said about Brexit, but they did. “They won’t do it,” I said about Trump, but they did. The paradigms are shifting and the safety nets are full of holes: anything can happen. And where does that leave us?

It leaves exactly where we’ve always been: responsible for our own sanity, our own attitudes, our own happiness. In charge of who we want to be in this world, and what we choose to put into it. There’s enough misery around; enough fear, despair and negativity. We are inundated with it, daily, on the news, on the social media, on the streets. And forgive me if I’m wrong, forgive me if I’m insensitive or naive, but I just cannot see how adding more negativity to the mix, how perpetuating it will make the situation any better. When we can choose, instead, to be as happy as possible despite it, when we can be aware of the shit that’s going down but still find happiness and positivity where they can be found. Because they can be found. It really is a choice that we make, for ourselves and those around us. Because happiness is cumulative and it spreads. And that’s a small way to make this crazy world a slightly better place. Where anything can happen.

So when everything around me is falling apart, when people are crying and dying and blaming each other and living in constant fear of darker tomorrows and I post photos of sunsets and horizons and mountaintops and talk about happiness, I’m not showing off; I’m not being insensitive or oblivious. I’m trying to remind myself and anyone who sees my posts that happiness still exists in these things. That peace can be found, even if momentarily. I’m scared too, but then I look at the place where the mountains meet the sky and for a moment everything is OK. And those moments add up, and they become an antidote to the fear and the despair – if we let them. So I’ll keep looking at mountains for as long as there are mountains to look at, and I’ll keep talking about happiness for as long as I still have a voice. Because yes, I know everything’s going to shit, but fuck you, I’ll be happy anyway. How about you?


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I’m scared, but not of your dog

Are you scared? Would you readily admit you’re scared? Openly? Or hesitatingly, in a quiet voice, half-hoping no one heard? Would you confide in someone, eyes down and face turned away, your mouth forming the words – I’m scared?
    I don’t. I don’t say it. I don’t let the words take shape, because once they do they come alive. I muzzle them, I muffle them, I drown them out with other words like faith, because faith smoothes the edges of fear enough so it doesn’t take that shape that keeps me up at night. But I’m awake at night anyway, because I’m scared.
    The fear is Britain-shaped. It’s a fear-shaped Britain. It traces the borders of an island kingdom that was once my home. Borders that were, then, nothing but lines on a map, the broken lines of a gentle guide, with spaces in between so you could come and go; borders that are now lines drawn against me, telling me that my place is not within. Wherever my place is, elsewhere, it’s not within. The broken lines that now mean “cut here”.
    A cut, that’s what is feels like. Being cut away, cut off, cut loose.

My friends in London, on the inside, when they ask, they say When are you coming home? I’ve been away because the guidelines said I could, the gentle borders told me I could come and go. But now there’s hardness and what scares me is I don’t know what I will find when I return. What boundary lines, what barbed wires, what broken things. Like Odysseus returning to Ithaca: that island doesn’t know me. Like Odysseus washing up finally on the shores of home, without a trace of triumph, no fanfare, no confetti, no loving wife to make the shape of welcome with her open arms. Only a loyal dog to wag his tired tail in recognition. But what dog will greet me upon my return? If it’s the British bulldog, that’s a guard dog, not a pet. It’s not the bouncy puppy that you adopted as your own, the one you fed treats all these years and trusted not to bear its teeth, the one that grew to know you. It’s a snarling beast grown fat on hatred and fear, whipped into a frenzy and straining against the boundaries that it was reared to protect, and it’s been groomed to go for the heart. It will rip your throat out but first it will break your heart.
    Home is where the heart is, but where is the heart in all of this? Broken, like the lines we’ve crossed. The lines that once connected the dots; the lines that now divide. Cut here.

And me and you are all of us who are scared, we’re just dots. Cast adrift, unable to connect and make a shape. What shape would we make if we connected? Would it look like Britain, or would it form another picture entirely? How hard would its edges be, how flexible its boundaries? Would it be a shape that soothes or feeds the fear? Would it contain us? Would it define us? Would it set us free?

That island doesn’t know me, but I thought I knew. I thought I knew my place and that puppy that I trusted not to hurt me when I held my hand out for its paw. What good is faith when it turns against you, snarling, and rips your home to shreds? But no, fuck you: you might turn me out, but you won’t turn me faithless. I’m scared, but not of your dog. I won’t drift away, unconnected, to elsewhere, to anywhere but within, just because of the lines you’ve crossed. I know I can find my island again. I can find my way back. And I don’t need no fanfare, no confetti, no recognition, no brass band to welcome me home; I just need you not to break it while I’m away, and the space to come and go.

Draw your lines where they matter. Give that dog another bone to chew on. And fucking say it, that you’re scared, let your mouth form the words, let them come to life and dance – I’m scared – but don’t let the fear shape you. Don’t let that be the shape that defines us all. Connect the fucking dots.


Divided Kingdom: how Brexit made me an immigrant / free e-book

Four essays on the result of the UK referendum on EU membership and its implications for UK citizens and EU nationals alike, from the point of view of a UK resident turned immigrant overnight. The e-book is available to everyone for free; just send me an email and let me know whether you’d like a pdf or mobi version (for Kindle), or get in touch through my facebook page. Also available on Amazon.

Divided Kingdom: how Brexit made me an immigrant

I am not an immigrant tonight. Tonight, I am a resident of the United Kingdom. But tomorrow: what?

We are privileged, and we cannot conceive of a world where our right to live the lives we’ve built, where we’ve built them, could be challenged or taken away. But that is the world we live in, and it happens every day. Those refugees washing up on our borders and terrifying us: what do we think happened to them? They had lives, too, that they took for granted, in places they called home. They had rights that were snatched away. And here they are now, at our borders: unwanted, and wanting nothing but to be where they feel that they belong. These things happen, all over this world we live in, but not here. Not to us.

But times change and rights are revoked, and it’s happening: here, now, to us. We are exiled in the land of limbo, with the lives we’ve built in bundles on our backs, travelling in a direction entirely uncharted and we don’t know, when we reach the borders, what we will find.

It doesn’t serve us right and it isn’t fair and we don’t deserve it, but it’s humbling and perhaps a little humility is something we need. Along with the shock and the hurt and the indignation that we’re feeling, justifiably, and the strength we’ll need to muster to see us through. Along with the hope that we’ll need to summon, because it’s only hopeful voices, now, that have a chance of breaking through boundaries, of crossing the borders and being heard. That is our task, now; that is our responsibility: to find that hopeful voice, and let it be heard. Dignified but humble; understanding, at last, that we are not immune. That we are not too privileged to find ourselves outside; to be turned from us to them.


Divided Kingdom: how Brexit made me an immigrant / free e-book

Four essays on the result of the UK referendum on EU membership and its implications for UK citizens and EU nationals alike, from the point of view of a UK resident turned immigrant overnight. The e-book is available to everyone for free; just send me an email and let me know whether you’d like a pdf or mobi version (for Kindle), or get in touch through my facebook page. Also available on Amazon.

24: All Mod Cons vs The Elements


This is an ode to off-season island living. This could well be a warning to anyone contemplating such a thing. This might be a test, in the tradition of Hercules’ Labours, though I wasn’t aware that there was anything to prove.

An epic battle took place in Sifnos this week, a battle of almost Homeric proportions. It was All Mod Cons versus The Elements. Electricity, Plumbing and Telecoms testing their strength against Earth, Wind and Water (with Fire sadly absent, as my chimney doesn’t work), and one semi-reclusive writer in the middle, mostly unwashed, trying to either make sense or art out of it. It was a lesson.

It began last Wednesday, in the bathroom. Our lovely, modern wet room type of a bathroom, where the shower area is only delineated by the curtain hanging around it, and sloping tiles lead the water into the drain. Wonderful in summer. Not so much in winter, when cold ceramic tiles, two external walls and a draughty window make my ninety-second showers even less of a pleasure than they sound. (Ninety seconds, incidentally, is precisely all the hot water I get. At ninety-one it turns instantly cold.) On this occasion, however, around midway through the experience, I enjoyed the very pleasant sensation of warm, soapy water pooling around my feet. It took a few seconds for logic to break through the pleasure response in my brain and nudge me with the terrifying implications: warm water pooling around my feet. As in: not draining. I splashed around in total panic, washed the shampoo out of my hair, turned the tap off and watched miserably as the water spread out and my wet room lived up to its name as never before. I mopped it up as best I could, delighted at all the extra humidity I’d invited into my home on this already wet day, and pushed aside thoughts of over-full septic tanks as the water, slowly, showed signs of draining away. I practised the ancient art of Not Thinking About It, and carried on with my day.

On Thursday morning, the fun happened when I flushed the toilet. The water poured into the bowl, and rose and rose and rose, and I watched in utter horror and prayed in my head to the island gods and the fairies of rural septic tanks and even muttered some words out loud because there was no one there to judge me except the cats, and they judge me anyway, and I mentally ran through all the times I’d broken the cardinal rule of Greek island living (“Never flush paper down the toilet”, and variations thereof) and concluded indignantly that it really wasn’t that many, I mean come on, this isn’t my fault! and I held my breath as the rising water reached the brim, and stopped. One of the cats, who’d been watching this scene unfold from the bathroom rug, padded up to the toilet bowl, put his paws up on the seat and inspected the contents with mild interest. He gave me a look that clearly conveyed the sentiment you’re screwed, and stalked off to play with an almond.
    I called Antonis the plumber. I was surprised when he picked up; I’ve been borderline stalking him for the last few weeks, and I’m sure, by now, the sight of my number flashing upon his screen fills him with dread. The poor, kind man, upon hearing that I couldn’t use my fireplace because the chimney had totally failed at its job of drawing the smoke out, had offered to order and install a spinny gadget thingy that would assist it with said task, and prevent my death from CO2 poisoning. So far, so good, except no: so far, close to six weeks later, no gadget thingy had materialised, on account of a satanic combination of bad weather (cancelled boats), port strikes (cancelled boats), the Christmas holidays (nobody cares about your chimney gadget), and a fairly typical lack of urgency, overall. Basically, not so good. Hence the stalking.
    ‘It’s me again!’ I announced brightly. ‘But it’s not about the thingy this time!’
    ‘Right,’ he said, with understandable reservation.
    ‘I think my septic tank wants something,’ I continued.
    To his credit, Antonis appeared totally unfazed by this slightly unconventional request for his services. ‘Like what?’
    ‘Like maybe, I think, to overflow?’ I described the situation, and added my tentative diagnosis that the septic tank and its “absorption field” (I looked it up) had become oversaturated as a result of heavy rainfall. Whereupon Antonis emitted a most worrying array of sounds – grunts, gasps and muttered curses – mumbled something about pumping it out as a matter of the utmost urgency, and then cheerfully bade me farewell with no indication as to when this very urgent activity might take place. I was left holding the phone and repeating mantras of patience, and letting go of the need to control. Three cats gathered around my feet in a semi-circle and judged me quietly. I threatened to withhold their food if they didn’t improve their attitude, but I didn’t mean it.

The following day was the sixth of January: Epiphany. A massive religious and national holiday. The Festival of Lights except, when I woke up and reached for the switch by my bed, there was none. No light, no heat, no internet. No coffee. I threw some water on my face and some layers on over my pyjamas, and took to the streets. I banged on Manolis’ door but there was no response, so I continued down to Vangelia’s.
    ‘Do you have light?’ I greeted her at her kitchen door.
    ‘No light,’ she confirmed. ‘No one has light.’ She rattled off a list of names from the village who also shared this predicament while clearing a space for me at the kitchen table, randomly pushing objects aside. ‘Come in. Sit.’
    I did as I was told. ‘Coffee? I have a little gas stove. I made mine already, look.’ She swirled her coffee around in her mug, to demonstrate.
    ‘Oh god, yes please!’ I almost cried with gratitude as the Greek coffee began to bubble up in the pot, releasing its life-saving aroma into the dark kitchen. Vangelia mumbled highlights of neighbourhood news, health complaints, laments about the weather, her pension and the sorry state of our electricity transformers, even managing a bit of product placement inspired by the latest offers in her son’s shop, flitting from one subject to another as she flitted about the room, from stove to fridge to various cupboards, to produce the usual array of sweet and savoury offerings that she piled up high in front of me, and which included, on this occasion: four giants chunks of vassilopita cake, an industrial-sized tub brimming with savoury biscuits and rusks, several traditional Christmas melomakarona biscuits, homemade goat’s cheese, and a tin of condensed milk. ‘Eat,’ she said.
    ‘Thank you,’ I said meekly, almost completely obscured by this tower of treats.
    Our Powercut Party was gradually joined by most of the remaining residents of the village who, one by one, drifted to Vangelia’s kitchen and stuck their heads round the door; they asked the same question, ‘Do you have light?’, and received the same response, to the word. Chairs and stools were pulled up, more coffee brewed, more space cleared and more food items added to the table. Neighbourhood gossip flowed freely in that crazy lyrical Sifnos dialect that I am slowly coming to understand. I sat back on my corner of the divan, sipping my second coffee and smoking cigarette after cigarette, and let the banter wash over me, smiling at intervals, and joining in with the laughter, the head-shaking and the tutting where appropriate, but I said very little. This was my place: in the corner, on the margins of this community, accepted and given refuge from the dark and fattened up with treats, and added to the list of names who had no light, but quiet, unobtrusive; like a stray cat that you’ve let in from the cold and that you’ve grown to love, reluctantly, despite its wet paws and vagabond ways, but isn’t quite your pet. It could take off again, on any day, just like it came. But, unlike the cats: grateful. For the privilege of this corner, for the warmth that didn’t come from Vangelia’s stone-cold three-bar electric heater, still plugged in and waiting for the power to return. I had no tokens of gossip to give them, these people who’ve widened their circle to make room for me, nothing to elicit those rounds of raucous laughter and enthusiastic head-shaking that everyone else brought to the table. I raised a few smiles by pointing out the irony of this day being the Festival of Lights; I tried to make myself useful by calling DEI, the electricity company, to check on the progress of the repairs and, later, by bringing Vangelia a small jar of St. John’s Wart oil that I thought might help with a burn on her hand. But Vangelia outdid me, with her casual kindness, by sending me home, once the power had been restored, with a bagful of cake and biscuits and a tupperware box stuffed full of slabs of home-baked lasagne.

Home. Where, after I plugged all my heating appliances back in and turned on several lights, just because I could, I beheld The Leaning Tower of Sifnos. This local landmark was, in fact, a telephone pole installed in my field and connecting me and several neighbours to the telecoms network by means of half a dozen cables stretching out in various directions. And which had enjoyed a fairly upright position in this life until this morning, when the storm that had knocked our power out had apparently taken a swipe at this guy as well, and he was now dangling over my vegetable patch. This was not a sight that gladdened my heart. I contemplated life without the internet, and then seriously considered hanging myself from one of the looser telephone cables, tantalisingly within arm’s reach.
    But I still have things to live for, so I decided, instead, to take positive action. I tried several numbers for OTE, the Greek telecoms company. One was disconnected; another just rang and rang. All the others featured a stern, recorded message insisting that I call 13888, the general fault-reporting helpline. I gave in, bracing myself for the hilarity that was certain to ensue. I wasn’t disappointed. After patiently listening to all the recorded options, none of which included “telephone pole leaning precariously over your rocket bed”, I selected “fault on the line you are calling from” and was subjected to an automated check that established my line was, in fact, faultless. I was instructed to hold for an actual person who would deal with this baffling paradox.
    ‘Good morning,’ she said. ‘What can I help you with?’ She didn’t sound too enthusiastic, understandably, perhaps, given that 1) she had drawn the short straw and was on shift on a national holiday and 2) she had me pegged as a troublemaker, calling to be judgmental about a telephone line that was clearly operational.
    ‘Good morning,’ I replied. ‘Chronia polla!’ (“Many years”: all-purpose wish for national, religious and personal celebrations.) I explained that I was trying to get hold of someone in Sifnos, but had been directed to this helpline.
    ‘OK,’ she said drily, not keen on encouraging me.
    ‘It’s just that I’ve got one your telephone poles on my property, and we’ve had bad weather so now it’s tipped over to the side and I’m worried it’s going to go down and take the telecoms of the entire village with it.’ I delivered this in one breath, and added ‘So I thought I should report it’.
    A pause. ‘Indeed. What is the address?’
    ‘There is no address,’ I said apologetically. ‘I’m in Sifnos.’
    It was as if I hadn’t spoken. ‘But what is the address of your property where the pole is located?’ Slowly, Athenian to resident of Sifnos – wherever the fuck that was – who was obviously a bit rural and struggled to grasp basic concepts of civilised society.
    ‘Overgrown field, Eleimonas, Sifnos,’ I supplied, deadpan, as Sifnos Chick took over to stand up for all of us rurals who existed outside the tidy realm of street addresses and postcodes. It did not go down well.
    ‘Um,’ said the lady.
    ‘Haha,’ I relented, glaring at Sifnos Chick to silence her. ‘I’m sorry. I was trying to be funny. There really is no address. I’m in a small village.’
    OTE Lady recovered somewhat; enough to ask whether the pole was visible from the street. Desperately trying to snatch some order out of this chaos.
    ‘Well.’ Awkward! ‘There is no street, as such.’ I was a little worried for her then, that this might be the final stroke that would tip her over, much like the telephone pole that I was still no closer to setting upright. We both sighed.
    ‘Look,’ I said reasonably, ‘I’m sure if you pass this on to someone on the island, they’ll know where to find me.’
    ‘Yes,’ she agreed, sounding marginally less deranged. ‘I have logged the issue in our system. We will be in touch.’
    I thanked her, and wished her chronia polla again, out loud, and then I wished her well, silently, in my head, because it wasn’t her fault that islands and villages exist alongside cities, or that each of us exists within the specific context that we understand. City Girl reminded me of the days, not long ago, when the absence of a postcode meant you were nowhere at all, and I nodded as somewhere outside my window a telephone pole swayed gently in the wind.

The next morning, the Saturday, an electricity pole went down and plunged the entire island into cold, damp darkness. I was amused and also patently not amused when I was thus informed by the dude on phone duty at the local DEI office. The “click and nothingness” exercise felt too much like Groundhog Day on this second day running. I wasn’t up for another full-on Powercut Party, so I gatecrashed Manolis’ morning coffee, instead. He is a private man, quietly content in his own company, but he received me very graciously and provided only the essentials: a large cup of Greek coffee and an ashtray. He muttered something about biscuits, almost as awkward about the formalities of impromptu visitor hospitality as I am, but I shook my head, held up my cigarette and touched the brim of my cup. ‘This is exactly what I need.’
    He smiled. ‘Yes,’ he agreed, lighting his own cigarette and taking a sip of his coffee. ‘This is all we need.’
    We sat in companionable silence, only a little brittle, and broken, occasionally, by references to topics of mutual interest, such as the weather and our joint-custody cats. Who, we observed philosophically, were not at all bothered by the lack of electrical current flowing into our homes. We let that sink in for a while and made a comment about the things we take for granted, as we warmed our hands on our coffee cups. Manolis reminisced about the days when domestic power was only supplied for a couple of hours each day and before, when there was no power at all. But once you have a thing, you forget about not having it. You forget how not to have it, and what to do with yourself when it’s taken away.
    By midday, power had gradually been restored to most villages, but not yet to Polyna’s and the neighbouring village of Kastro, which are closer to the fallen pole and more remote than the rest of us. At Polyna’s house, the electric garage gate was holding the car hostage inside and it was hours before they managed to manually override it and escape. They picked me up in town, Polyna, Nefeli and Yiannis, and we drove to Kamares in shell-shocked silence, still reeling from our sojourn into the chaos and wilderness that was an entire morning without electricity. At Katerina’s cafe, we were given restoring hugs and steaming cups of coffee, and we all huddled around the radiator in our usual corner, and exchanged tales of horror of all the necessities we had been denied, like internet access and hot water for showering, and hair straighteners. Later, we had a big, banquet-style lunch in honour of Yiannis’ nameday, followed by more coffee and chocolate and a game of cards, and the morning’s trauma was consigned to history, the heroic tale of how we survived that morning when the power went down, to be retold with an air of stoicism, while fridges buzzed and radiators burned hot and our mobiles pinged with facebook notifications.

I think I’ll have to draw this story to a close manually, because once you start along the path of things being imperfect, there is no shortage of examples, just as there are infinite moments of perfection scattered in between, and lessons that both perfect and imperfect might teach us, in themselves or in their juxtaposition. Once you get started, the battles and the trials and the labours never end, and this particular tale spun off, from where I left it above, into three full days, Sunday to Tuesday, of total plumbing breakdown. Three days when the oversaturated earth could take not a single drop of water more, and every tentative attempt to run a tap, fuelled by denial and hope, resulted in raw sewage bubbling up through the bathroom drain. Three days when I couldn’t wash myself or my clothes or my dishes, couldn’t flush the toilet, couldn’t pour the pasta water into the sink, and developed a fear of consuming liquids for the inevitable consequence of them coming out. There were terrible moments involving a child’s pink plastic potty, and al fresco peeing in a snowstorm with an audience of over-excited cats, and dignity was just a word I’d once heard mentioned in passing. Three days of increasingly desperate phonecalls to Antonis, and being confined to the house waiting for him to turn up, and not feeling brave like Hercules at all, only filthy and tired and helpless, and wanting nothing more than the things I took for granted to be granted once again. But in between, reassuringly, moments when I glimpsed the funny side, when I declared myself a veteran of island living, having proven my worth, and deserving at least of a medal, if not a small statue somewhere, in a village square; when I turned this trial into a tale and made people laugh, people living in other contexts, within the safety of postcodes and apartment blocks, where they could flush their toilets with wild abandon and not a trace of fear. Moments when I remembered how much there could be to be afraid of, and that a fear of flushing toilets actually features quite low on the list, and that the balance of have and have not is blatantly tipped in my favour, even on days when I have to pee outside; and Powercut Parties, and coffee and cake and kindness and community and cats, and that wonderful ability of humans to forget and carry on and turn their trials into epic tales of how, once again, they survived.
    And when Antonis finally turned up, like a Sifnos Superhero, armed with the unlikely magic of pumping shit out of a septic tank, everything was instantly right with the world, all bright and sparkly and rainbow tinted, and I skipped around, trying to be helpful, as he did unspeakable things with a pump, a hosepipe and my mop, and I used the word “perfect” far too many times – but how can it not be perfect when a man with a pump can literally take all your troubles away? We sat down after, in the kitchen, and I gave him coffee and a bouquet of fresh rocket to take home, and I made him laugh with the story of OTE Lady and the Leaning Tower of Nowhere (an anecdote already, though the tower still leans over the gaping hole of my septic tank), and then we talked about my book and how many copies I’d have to sell in order to winter-proof my house. We didn’t speak of the spinny gadget; that was a battle for another day.
    When he left, refusing to discuss payment, I ran to the bathroom and peed to my heart’s content, and then I flushed and watched as the water poured into the bowl and disappeared down the drain with a happy gurgle, and I remembered to relish this moment, the only time in my life when flushing gave me such joy, because the next time I did it, I would take it entirely for granted. Which is exactly how it should be, in this perfect world of All Mod Cons, and if we went around being grateful for electricity and plumbing and upright telephone poles all the time, we wouldn’t get much else done. But there is room for appreciating them, sometimes, granted though they are, like when I finally had a shower that evening, and I appreciated the hell out of it. Except I was so busy being grateful for hot water and the coldness of the tiles beneath my feet that I forgot about the ninety second rule, and my gratitude session was brought to an abrupt and freezing end. And as I shivered and rubbed myself dry under the judgemental gaze of two cats (who were obviously tasked with monitoring my bathroom activities), I thought about my week of trials, those seven days of tests I wasn’t sure I’d passed, or what passing them meant, or what even counted as passing; and how, apart from giving me a few stories to tell, the events of those seven days had changed absolutely nothing at all, and I was exactly where I had been a week ago, showering and flushing toilets and turning lights on and off, with the fridge buzzing and the radiators burning and facebook informing me that someone’s baby had worn a hat. And it occurred to me, in a moment that’s becoming history even as I write about it, that perhaps the lesson is that, for all of the tests that we pass or we fail, there has never been anything to prove.


This piece was published in my book For Now: Notes on living a deliberate life, which is available to buy on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle, and free to read on Kindle Unlimited.

The church bells are ringing

Christmas Eve, Sifnos, December 2014

From 100 days of solitude, Day 101 (24 December 2014)

It is the day before Christmas. And quite a few creatures are stirring, actually, though mostly outside of the house. Slow, black beetles and skittery spiders and bees buzzing around the rosemary bush and a bright green lizard disappearing between the stones in the wall. Boy Cat rolling around contentedly is his favourite deck chair, and the Black Cat That Coughs leaping through the grass, chasing a pale yellow butterfly that she will never catch. Flies zooming in through the open windows, and out again, back to the light. There is a lot of light.

Christmas Eve in Sifnos and the town is all astir, despite the warnings and the scenes of mass exodus at the port. This is not a town of ghosts. Everyone who’s still here is here, it seems, picking up last minute supplies for dinner, and their pensions, and presents from the two or three shops that are open, with stars and snowflakes drawn in glitter across their windows. A lady in the supermarket is looking for fresh mushrooms, which cannot be had; the butcher’s is busy, the meat cleaver falling loudly, crunching bones. Cars crawl down the road, blocking it frequently as they stop to exchange words with other cars, or motorbikes, or people on foot. Everyone is going somewhere, but slowly, their mellowness in contrast to the jagged, manic edges of every other Christmas Eve I’ve known. I wouldn’t know, but for the decorations.

There is no Christmas Village in the square, but the village knows it’s Christmas, and tinsel twinkles everywhere as it catches the sun, sending strange reflections across the whitewashed walls. A nativity scene, lifesize, has appeared in the yard of an unoccupied building, and classical music drifts out the café up the road. Golden baubles hang in windows and over doors, dangle from pergolas and awnings, and dance in the breeze. The village knows it’s Christmas, despite the brightness that causes everyone to raise their hands up and shade their eyes, and the warmth that has them all loosening their scarves and wiping their brows. On every step and every doorway there is someone lounging in the sun, with sleeves rolled up to expose their arms to the heat. I take off layer after layer and end up sitting on a high wall in my vest, with a bundle of clothes rolled up beside me, looking over the edge of the land towards Paros, where our bigger island neighbours are getting ready for Christmas, like we are, but with bigger roads and bigger shops. I feel like waving, but I don’t. I’m getting enough curious looks as it is, sitting here in a pink vest and leopard-print leggings, and staring at the sea.

My festive attire.

On the way back a transition, through the outskirts of town where houses and shops give way to fields and orchards, past the gas station, quiet, with long flags hanging limp from long poles, and those funny little bundles that are curled up cats, on ledges and rooftops, following me with their eyes, and several dogs, chained and free, yelping excitedly when I get too close, and then onto the ring road, private, sloping upwards just for me. I walk in the middle, along the white dividing line, trusting in the absence of cars and half-blinded by the sun, until I reach the top and the mouth of the grassy path carved by the stream that will bring me home. There I stop, and listen, and look: Christmas Eve in Sifnos. Mountaintops and sky. Bells, intermittent, as the animals shuffle from one patch of grass to the next. Little birds twittering in the bushes, an eagle flying silently overhead. A flock of doves, mostly white, cooing as they alight, in perfect synchronicity, on a telephone wire. A cock crowing insistently on a distant farm over the hill. In the valley below, the echo of a dull, rhythmic tapping, manmade. Fields of the greenest green dotted with yellow and purple flowers. A secret garden of citrus trees that I’ve never noticed before, walled in amidst the olive groves. A single tree on a hilltop outlined against the milky blue horizon. A stone dove house on the edge of a cliff, semi-derelict, triangle openings and flapping wings. And everywhere around mountaintops and sky. So much sky, for such a small piece of land.

Christmas Eve, and now the church bells are ringing, summoning the faithful inside to sing the psalms of Christmas in yellow flickering candlelight, as the day grows dark outside. Boy Cat is still in his deck chair; he stirs as I pass him, and gives me a look that is almost trust. I turn the lights on, all of them; the house seems darker, somehow, at this time, just before sunset, than it does in the blackness of night. I will do some yoga now, and cook dinner, and wait for the church bells to ring again. I will not heed their call, but I will listen. They make a lovely sound.

Christmas Eve, undecorated. Of all the good decisions I’ve made or stumbled into, this is one of the best. Christmas Eve in Sifnos, with nothing much to distinguish it from any other day, and this is the one I’ll remember. Of all the Christmas Eves I’ve spent in decorated houses, houses much brighter than this, with presents and carols and tables laden with food, wearing the spiky garland of stress that we wrap around each other for the holidays, like fairy lights tangled up in the branches of the tree – this is the one. The only time I heard the church bells ringing; the only time that sound has reached my faithless ears, free from the noise of every other Christmas Eve I’ve known. I wouldn’t know, but for the silence. This is the one that means something to me.

It is the night before Christmas. And whatever it means to you, wherever you are, whether you’re where you want to be or somewhere else, make it a happy one. The church bells are ringing. You might not hear them through the noise, but they make a lovely sound. You wouldn’t know. But listen.


This is Day 101 from 100 days of solitude, one of four “bonus” days exclusive to the Kindle edition. 100 days of solitude is currently on a Kindle Monthly Deal and only 99p throughout December.

The nativity scene in Apollonia, Sifnos, this year.

Let the darkness have this day


December 21, 2015

Today is one of those days, and that says absolutely nothing about what kind of day it is.
    On the outside: it’s the 21st of December; a Monday. It’s cold, drizzly and dark. It’s just gone 4 pm and the sun, such as it was, is long gone. The world has turned away from it, too fast. It’s the Winter Solstice: the shortest day, the longest night of the year. The world has spun into darkness.
 such   But flip this thing around, and there are only longer, brighter days ahead. Get through this day, the darkest, because tomorrow, bang in the middle of winter, is when summer begins. Is there consolation in that? Is there comfort? Is it enough to get you through?

I wrote about the Winter Solstice last year. It was one year ago today, and it was Day 99 of 100 days that I spent living alone on a small island in Greece, that I called 100 days of solitude. 100 todays: 100 days of finding something to write about, each day; of finding something, in every day, worth writing about. Of making every day count, for today, as I counted up to a hundred. Of never wishing a day away, as we tend to, when we have one of those days.
    Like today. Today is one of those days. The darkness outside matches the inside and it’s too dense for my little sparkles of happiness to penetrate; like damp matches, they give a spark and fizzle out, almost straight away. They give out a sharp, sour smell, of hope that’s failed to ignite. It’s no consolation. It’s the shortest day of the year, and the darkness wants it for itself.

It was one year ago today, on the penultimate day of a solitude very loosely defined, that I met a new friend. We don’t meet a lot of new friends in our late thirties; it seems that, sometime in our twenties, we shed the ability to open up enough spaces in ourselves to properly let new people in. We don’t give them enough space to settle, which is what friends do: they settle inside you, and claim a corner for themselves so that they can be with you, always, no matter where you are.
    I didn’t know he was a friend at the time although, as I left the café where we met and drank coffee and chain-smoked for much longer than I’d planned, with a present from him in my bag and my pockets full of all the excuses I hadn’t needed to pull out, I did have a feeling, a sense of something good that had just begun. And today, on the Winter Solstice, he wrote to remind me that it was a year ago that we first met.
    And I cried. Partly with gratitude, for this friend who’s now far away but still close. Partly with melancholy, for that day, one year ago, when the warm, bright lights of the café cut through the darkness inside; for the fact that, today, there’s no light bright enough to do that, and I don’t even know why. Partly because the weight of this day is pressing down onto my chest, and something needs to give.
    I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the Winter Solstice; because we are not separate, and there are things that happen on the outside, and we take them in. And maybe it’s just one of those days, when damp matches are all you’ve got. And at some point you need to learn to save your matches for when they’re dry, instead of striking out, desperately, for even the smallest hint of a spark. Not all days are meant to be lit up. And good things, sometimes, begin in darkness, on the darkest day of the year.

So let the darkness have this day; let it have its little party in my soul. Let today count, for that, for itself, for being a day of darkness. Let today be one of those days. Because tomorrow, when it comes, will be today again. Let that be all the consolation we’ll ever need.
    And flip this thing around: one of those days means absolutely nothing. Every day is today, and there’s no telling what kind of day it will be. Let that be all we need to get us through.


Taken from collected: essays and stories on life, death and donkeys. Available on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.

Life is life


From 100 days of solitude, Day 89 (December 2014)

Today I’m contemplating the meaning of life as exemplified by the profound lyrics of Opus’ eighties hit Life is Life. Which posits, very succinctly: life is life, nana-nanana. And that’s something worth reflecting upon.
    It’s December and that means, among other things, that it’s the month of reflection. It’s a time to reflect upon the year that’s gone by, our achievements and our failures. It’s a time to collect all our latent desires and the dreams that we put aside, once again, so that we can build our expectations high and precarious and dump them in the lap of the year that’s about to begin, as a welcome present, along with our resolutions. And then put our party shoes on and go watch the fireworks. Because that’s where December really keeps its sting: right at the end. As if Christmas and all that reflecting weren’t enough, it then hits you with New Year’s Eve. The climactic, ceremonious transition between one year and the next, the old and the new, all that you did wrong and all that you’ll do differently. The day that sets the tone for all the days to come, until December comes round again. You’ve gotta make it count.

This may well be the Dippy Hippie talking, but I’ll let her have her say: I believe that there are forces in the world, outside of ourselves but also connected, and that they’re conscious, if not exactly sentient. I believe there is such a thing as destiny and that it can be altered, and that all the answers we need exist somewhere, if we take the time to look, if we figure out the right questions to ask. The problem with this theory is that the number of places to look can be overwhelming, and we mostly tend to go no further than our own heads, ask ourselves the same questions and come up against the same walls.
    What I like to do sometimes, when I tire of running circles in my head, is ask the universe (or whatever you want to call those forces) for a hint, and I’ve decided, for the sake of convenience, that the universe can speak to me through my iPod. I don’t know why I attribute such powers to an electronic device, but, as the Greek proverb suggests, the human soul is an abyss, and if we can make anything out in that darkness, pull any strands of sense out of it, then it’s good enough. Some things you just don’t question. So my iPod is a modern day oracle, like the famed Pythia of Delphi minus the hallucinogenic drugs. I set it to shuffle, ask the question, skip three songs, and let song number four be my answer.
    It doesn’t always work. Sometimes the iPod oracle makes as much as sense as Pythia herself, and I have no priests at hand to interpret its gibberish. But there are times when it is scarily accurate, like when I was contemplating a relationship that had demonstrated no signs of life for months, and had taken to lurching around like a zombie, oozing unspeakable substances and groaning horribly every time I looked its way: the answer was a very straightforward I Know It’s Over (The Smiths), accompanied, I swear, by a very impatient roll of the eyes. The universe is honest, but it isn’t your grandma; it isn’t known for being kind. On another occasion, the universe amused itself by declaring The answer is blowing in the wind (Bob Dylan), proving, conclusively, not only that it is, in fact, sentient, but also that it has a sense of humour. I interpreted this to mean fuck off with your questions and just get on with it, which, as it turned out, was the correct course of action.
    In this case, what I was struggling with was a general sense of what’s it all about?, prompted, perhaps, by December – not the end of the year, but the end of one hundred days and the questions this raised about the days that will follow. If I was looking for certainty, some solid footing, some kind of grip, the universe was not going to play along: it gave me Life is Life. I looked at the song title on my screen. I heard the opening notes. I thought: you are fucking kidding me, you arsehole. The universe winked. I laughed. Life is life, said the song. Nana-nanana.
    It’s an interesting fact that there are people in this world – not one, but several – who have taken the time to make videos of “Life is Life, With Lyrics”. There are a few of them on youtube. It fascinates me, the motivation behind making them and, even more so, watching them. Who are these viewers? What are they looking for? I imagine them sitting in front of these videos, attentive, focused on the words, and nodding in understanding, at last, as LIFE IS LIFE NANANANANA scrolls across their screens. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to believe that this is actually what the song says; I can’t think of another explanation. These lyrics might be profound, but they are not complicated.
    It might sound stupid, looking for answers in songs. But my electronic oracle is no different to the little superstitions we live by, the if this happens, then, the stepping over the pavement cracks and the red top you always wear when your team is playing. It’s no different to believing in New Year’s Eve, and that what happens on that night and on the first day of the year has any bearing upon the 364 days that follow. I could argue against time as a construct, but our calendar is definitely a made-up thing.

I’m skipping New Year’s Eve this year, as well as Christmas. I will resist the urge to stay up until midnight to count the new year in. If I’m up, which is likely, I won’t look at the time. I’ll pay it no attention; I will reflect on nothing and make no resolutions. I will let one day drift into the next, seamlessly, as if that’s all they are: one day, and then another. And I could argue with days as well, as an arbitrary unit for measuring time, but I’m not looking to change the world. We have to make a few things up, create some shapes we recognise, to make some sense of the abyss. I’m not looking to change the world; just my own experience of it, if I can.
    And life is life might well be the answer, as stupid as it may sound. It’s no more stupid than ascribing meaning to a made-up calendar and some fireworks shot up into the sky. Those lyrics aren’t complicated, but they may just be profound. The universe can be an arsehole, but it’s rarely wrong. Life is life: simple. Fuck off with your questions. Get on with it. You’ll never make sense of the abyss, but you can learn to live with it, with all your little superstitions, and that’ll be enough. And if you spend some time in there, it’s like any darkened room, and your eyes will adjust, and you might see some shapes you recognise. And you can get some fireworks and set them off any night of the year, and light the place up. And in those flashes of light, you might get the answers you are looking for, and they might be garbled up gibberish, like Pythia’s prophesies, or they might appear like words scrolling across your screen, LIFE IS LIFE NANANANANA. And you will nod in understanding, at last. And get on with it, and make every day count.


This is Day 89 from 100 days of solitude. Click here to view the book on Amazon. It’s on a Kindle Monthly Deal and only 99p throughout December.