Monday 25 March 2013

The F word

More than one f word is obnoxious. 

There’s the infamous f which ends in k… originally an offensive expletive of great emphasis and passion.  Now, depending on the social circle, not so much...

There’s the pejorative use of fat… foolish… funky… feeble… fickle… flaky… even funny can be high-jacked on occasion as an insult.  There’s a forlorn feeling in other f words too, like: forgetful, frail, frosty, frigid, foppish, frantic, fake, frustrated, furious, fumbling, furry and fragmented.  Even failure starts with an f.  And freak, well, that’s just awful.

Is there a connection between troublesome f words and the negative connotations of feminism?  After all women’s problem – whatever name you give it – is that, the world over, they simply do not have the same power or freedom as men.  The revolution, that was, is far from won, and the need for greater equality and participation very real.  The theoretical thinkers who have analysed language at great length (I won’t call them French Feminists as it’s proved to be a contentious label) did much to illustrate the patriarchal bias in the way we speak and therefore the way we think.  Even the word female is a mere prefix stuck to a male.  

Nevertheless, the f word most preoccupying me at the moment, is faith: faith in others and faith in oneself.  Five little letters which together are greater than the sum of their parts.  An important f word…  On which we can all get wobbly, sometimes for good reason, but life is always better when we find a way to get past the hurt of disappointed faith and reboot.  This is particularly important when it comes to self-faith – the quiet trust in one’s own value and potential. 

Reminding ourselves of our intrinsic worth - and, by inference, the value of every human being, every life - is not just a good way to keep up morale or kick-start a challenging day, it’s also the link to the other f word, the big-brother Faith. 

It’s not surprising I should be thinking about God.  We are approaching Easter, the season when Christians are supposed to think about Jesus Christ, about what we believe in, and the Hope our Faith affords.  We are called in this season to rediscover and renew our relationship with God, our awareness of, and faith in, His presence. 

The period of Lent, leading up to Easter, is about mental and spiritual preparation, about creating space in our busy lives to focus.  I didn’t give up anything for Lent this year, but I have kept up my New Year resolution to read something reflective most days and it has actually helped me to feel more peaceful and centred.   Recently I read: “do you believe God loves you?”  Or more to the point, “do you believe He loves you enough?”  
Good question really.  Because if brutally honest I’m inclined to think, however subconsciously, that He’s often slacking – answering other people’s prayers and not paying me enough attention. 
But sounds awful put like that, doesn’t it?  For as soon as the complaint is out of my mouth the flipside is immediately obvious: that it’s probably me not paying Him enough attention.  I mean, if I phoned a friend dozens, let alone hundreds, of times and they didn’t return my calls, you’d give up on them right (stalker types and neurotics aside)?  Yet He hangs around and patiently waits for us to tune in.  And then when we do pick up the phone, metaphorically, He is all ready to listen and love, without resentment or judgement.  If you do have Faith, in a God, in the God, in a Higher Being or perhaps a less defined Higher Purpose, it’s pretty cool to feel the love, the interest, is unconditional.  It is a true Blessing… when we trust it, when we have faith in our Faith.

[Have you noticed there are lots of brilliant b words too?  Maybe another time…]

Anyway, feeling sluggish yesterday after a late night at a party, unusually I went to Mass for Palm Sunday in the evening.  When coming home on the bus I was carrying a palm tied in the shape of a cross.  It wasn’t until a girl asked “have you just been to Mass, may I ask where?” that I realised what a potent symbol I was carrying.  I don’t think I ‘hide my light under a bushel’ if engaged in conversation about God or spirituality.  In fact I’ve been told I’m in the habit of switching my conversation (and writing) from the sacred to the profane with some regularity.  Yet I don’t automatically presume people share my spiritual beliefs or wish to talk about God.  This girl’s question, however, made me think I should perhaps be more conscious of occasions when I can ‘bear witness’.

So that got me thinking: bear witness to what exactly?  How does my knowledge and faith in Jesus affect my life or the way I conduct myself?

The short answer is “probably not enough”.  By which I mean, it is too easy to compartmentalise one’s life such that Faith exists in one realm, and most other activities in another.  I suspect that is a common phenomena, so no wonder we sometimes feel schizophrenic.  For surely, to be most healthy or helpful, our spiritual life should be integrated with other dimensions – like good food and exercise, not just a Sunday add on.  So maybe that’s the feature of Faith I’ll try to concentrate on this Easter, as I head north to visit friends who are currently surrounded by blankets of snow. 

(BTW if God is responsible for the change of seasons then I’m afraid his UK satellite is off.  Or he’s had a fierce argument with Mother Nature who’s walked off the job.  For Spring is currently AWOL!  Sorry, that’s just my profane streak.)

The other f word which is prescient in the Easter season is of course forgiveness.  Forgiveness and Faith are tied inexorably together.  Yet the key message in Christ’s death and resurrection is the one we all struggle to comprehend and action.  Forgiveness is tricky.  It is tested in our relationship of faith in others, our faith in ourselves, and our Faith in God.  And that’s why Jesus came to give us the ultimate example – the standard we’ll never reach but which we’ll be all the better for trying to emulate.  

It’s a big call.  It’s a life long mission.  So when those f words get too heavy enjoy these… for God gave them all: feisty, fit, fair, fine, finest, fortune, faithful, favourite, fancy, familiar, fertile, fervent, flexible, flirtatious, flamboyant, floral, fluorescent, fond, forthcoming, fragrant, fruity, friendly, fresh, full, frank, fun, free and fantastic.   

Happy Easter!  Find family and friends and fabulous fare and have a festive and fruitful time!




Friday 15 March 2013

The Mulberry Bush


Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush,
So early in the morning.

Brings back memories of childhood, doesn’t it?  It’s a misnomer though, as mulberries don’t grow on a bush.  They grow on a tree.

This was brought to mind recently when I was sitting in a waiting room at Moorfields Eye Hospital.  I was chatting with a nice man and woman I’d never met before, about an idea I’ve been canvassing: which five fruits or vegetables would they bring with them onto a desert island if they were the only food to be had for many years; other than fish or animals caught in the wild.  A spin on the desert-island-discs theme, this gentleman was the first person to add avocado to the list.  Very sensible idea.  (In case you’re wondering, everyone wants grapes, olives or tomatoes so it’s after that things get interesting.)

In the course of this conversation I was surprised to discover neither the lady or the man, coming from different parts of England, had ever tasted a mulberry.  The lady had once seen a white one, which did not compute at all with my senses, for I know too well the deep purple, almost black, richness of a corrugated and plump mulberry as if it were an extension to my hand.

In an instant, vivid images of my childhood flooded back.  Eight Mullins kids running around the back-yard under a sprinkler, variously wrestling and throwing rocks at the black magpies which didn’t hesitate to swoop on us if they felt we were getting too close to the gum trees where their young were nesting. 

Clearly it’s hot in Australia. There were less water-shortages then so sprinklers were allowed, and it was a few years before we were to enjoy the advantages of an in-ground swimming pool and, much to our friend’s delight, a tennis court.  In these early years, the days of innocence and chaos, when our determined mother would leave oranges and cordial on the back verandah and then lock the back door so we couldn’t get in… the only way, I now understand, she had any hope of making dinner so it’d be ready for her hungry brood and our father when he came home from the hospital after rounds… we played for hours in the waning sunlight without a care in the world. 

Of course we often ran to the back door pleading for sympathy and to complain about one or other sibbling for “hitting me”, “teasing me” or some other exaggerated complaint.  But the stoic mother of eight, despite her mild exterior, was no push-over.  She needed that kid free hour for her own sanity, so she did not open that door until Mrs Gillies arrived to help bath us.  That’s right, how do you bath eight grubby kids in a reasonable time-frame and be sure not to miss one out?  You need help.  And Mrs Gillies, like the big magpies that hung over our large yard, didn’t hesitate to pick us up by the ears and drag us into the bath kicking and screaming if necessary.  Once in there the water-splashing was lots of fun of course, but I suspect we’d never have got clean if Mum or Mrs Gillies hadn’t been there to apply soap. 

One of my earliest memories is sitting in that deep yellow bath, my little knees up near my chest, with two sisters and one brother.  That’s right, four of us at once, for we were still small enough to sit facing across the bath.  We were each covered head to toe with purple mulberry juice.  It was our favourite pass-time, in fact, climbing that big old mulberry tree.  Positioned in the back left corner of the yard, adjacent to the fence delineating our yard from our neighbours, ‘the Desnicks’, a family with even more kids and infamously naughty… the mulberry tree’s branches were strong and kid friendly.  Some beams hung low to the ground, so it was easy to get right inside and climb up through the middle to reach the stash of juicy goodies at the top when lower stocks ran out.  Endlessly we munched on those mulberries, the rich purple juice running down our faces as we grabbed the next lot to throw at each other as if it were the most normal thing in the world.  

I loved that mulberry tree.  And as the lady and man at Moorfields Hospital mentioned the fruit I haven’t now eaten for decades, the smell, texture and richly-coloured stains on freckly Celtic skin came back to me like it was yesterday.   Our mulberry tree was a magical stash of entertainment and nourishment, particularly comforting when despite repeated efforts Mum still wouldn’t open that damn back door so I could complain about my brothers.  (Well, usually Damian, the sibbling who remains the biggest stirrer in the family... and, I’m happy to say, also very loving and full of life.)

Mum did open the sacred back door prematurely when Alison got bitten by an ugly red-back spider… and Sean (still in nappies) got stuck two metres in the air on barbed-wire as we tried (unsuccessfully) to pass him over the fence in an attempt to make The Great Escape… for I guess Mum sensed in our chorus of yells something more serious.  Indeed, looking back, I imagine our dear Mum developed a good ‘scream radar detector’ for how else could she have navigated the chaos to identify the genuinely needy from the melodramatic?  And of course she relied often, as you would, upon the threat of “wait ‘til your father gets home…” which usually sent us scurrying off the verandah and back into the depths of our huge yard in hopes of not being discovered.  Ever.  Or until depths of hunger banished fears of punishment.

Innocent days.  Innocent mad days.  As they should be. 

As we hope children still get to enjoy… despite the lure of more insular and lethargic options such as computer games and TV. 

It’s funny though, for remembering that mulberry tree now, I don’t ever recall opening the gate in subsequent years to pop behind the fence to pick mulberries to eat while lounging around the pool with our teenage friends.  The tree was still there.  Wasn’t it?  So why had it lost its amazing allure?

I feel sad to think we grew up that quickly.  So soon too worried about how we looked in our bikinis to risk being smothered in purple juice. 

There was no malice in it, of course, just dismissal… the way a doll or a football is suddenly left alone in the corner… not so much unloved as ignored or forgotten. 

As I sit now in London, hungering for the arrival of spring, I feel a mad urge to taste mulberries again.  To remind myself what all the fuss was about.  I know it won’t be the same.  But for a moment I want to feel again that total abandonment to the senses.  I want to climb up into the middle of a tall tree without a fear in the world – as if the tree, the yard, the air, the fruit, the birds, are a private and rich domain, the beginning and end of the universe as I know it. 

In the meantime I’m going to close my eyes and sing… here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush


Tuesday 12 March 2013

Here's The Thing

You may not know it, but I’ve been holding back.

Since I started writing my blog last May I have been wanting to tell you about the two books I wrote while living in my beloved Italy from 2008 to 2011.   Yet it seemed premature, like I hadn’t yet earned the right to harness your interest.

However I’m putting it out there now.  The reason I’m writing a blog is threefold:

1)     I love to write.

2)     The discipline of writing and posting quickly is akin to writing aerobics.

3)      I want to build a potential audience for my books so when I finally get face-to-face with a literary agent or publisher I can say “I have had xxxxxxx readers visit my blog”. 

On each of those fronts the blog is on track.  I’m a little behind however in that:

1)     I need to get my manuscript out to more agents…

2)     …and I want the blog readership to peak by the anniversary of starting.

That’s where I need you.  If you like reading my little stories then please introduce your favourite posts to someone new so that I can be sure to reach 10,000 visitors by May. 

You can give out the long link:   Or the quick snappy one which my great friend, Felice Arena, a successful children’s author and performer in his own right, kindly set up for me: 

The figure is random… one day I’d like to be able to say 100,000… but as a kick-start 10,000 just sounds better than 7,000, doesn’t it?

And as I’m gearing up now to get my first manuscript onto more desks… it buoys me to know I have my blog project in the background, keeping my wheels turning as a writer and my potential audience growing.

My books, by the way, are travel stories – the story and sequel of my first year landing and living on my own in the paradise we know as Tuscany and Umbria without friends or language.  Like many memoires they contain a healing journey, adventure and romance.  Mine also contain a spiritual journey and a thread of my favourite hobby, Renaissance Art. 

And that’s the challenge, to find an agent and publisher who will allow me to express my own voice in its truest form – who believes there are readers out there for stories which flip back and forward between humorous Bridget Jones episodes and more thoughtful, intellectual considerations.  I think it’s more true to life.  It’s certainly true to me.  And I know lots of women with the capacity for both.  So if you agree, watch this space…

The first book’s (working) title is Wild Woman Don’t Get the Blues, referencing an old jazz song I love and suggesting the pursuit of personal fulfilment, liberty and maybe a little wildness is the best way to avoid staying down after life has put you through the wringer.

So, thankyou for visiting There’s Always A Story! 

I don’t know how I found readers in countries as diverse as the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, China, Philippines, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, and sometimes even Africa or Borneo… but, with future help from a social media advisor, and possibly some blogging partnerships, I hope soon to bring you more…



Saturday 9 March 2013

A Special Birthday

Some birthdays are special.  The number itself need not be all defining, what’s important is that some occasions mark a turning point, a ‘coming of age’, a reminder that it isn’t the “years in your life” but the “life in your years” that count.

I’ve recently had such a birthday.  And I’m happy to say I felt content to reflect that, with respect to my life, that’s very much been the case.

I may not have achieved (yet) everything I would like.   But if I had wouldn’t I be dead?

I may not always feel I’m where I most want to be (even should be).  But doesn’t it keep you young to hunger after the next goal?

Whatever I may be lacking… my life has been rich with curiosity, learning, adventure, travel, friendship, love, talent, challenges, accomplishment, entertainment and self-development... and there seems little sign of that changing.  So my special birthday was a day to feel satisfied, to feel good to be alive.

Of course I’d like to take ten years off; while still knowing what I know now.  Most of the time I think, speak and behave as if I really am ten years younger than my damned birth-certificate attests.  And most of the time people believe it to be true.  But actually that’s how I felt at the last significant birthday, so no doubt I’ll still feel that way when I’m 100.  

The point is that age means very different things to different people, and I have never been defined or limited by it and I have no intention of letting that change.  I only need think about my mother who is more healthy, independent and vibrant than most of the people in her decade.   I know it’s her attitude to life, as well as good health and personal strength, which allow her to thrive as she does, despite the endurance of difficulties and heartaches, and I thank God for her example (and genes).   

In the end it comes down to being open and happy.  If you wake up every morning with a default to be happy and interested, to thank God, Fate or Mother Nature (or whomever or whatever you believe in) then even after unhappy or horrible chapters, challenges and disappointments, you will find your way back to that place.  Life is a gift - too brutally torn from many too early - so ultimately it’s churlish not to take the time to remind ourselves of this fact and to re-appraise, re-focus and re-celebrate all there is in our lives to celebrate. 

I’ve decided the whole of 2013 is a year to re-affirm my love of life, and happily I have the excuse/plan to meet friends in different places around the world this year to celebrate my special birthday on an ongoing basis.  It’s a good way, I figure, to avoid getting hung up on the ‘number’ going up…

As I said to my little sister on the eve of my birthday, having just had my hair done so waves of red were sparkling in the light, “I may not have a lot of money at the moment… I may be (essentially) single… but I’m talented and hot.  So all good really.”  

Well, seriously, if you can’t have everything… which one does have to remind oneself sometimes… then, seriously, would you rather be rich and not hot?! 

Riches, or preferably an artistic comeback, could come in time…

But if you date, and hang out with, the wide range of people I do, then keeping yourself fit and well-tuned is important.  And anyway, an essential part of being an artist or performer is about striving to be your best.

So, I started my special day chatting to my beloved mother in Australia and listening to my beautiful five year old niece, Frankie Jean, and her brother Harry, giggling and singing Happy Birthday on the telephone.  As FJ and I share our birthday and a wealth of important moments, this was deeply touching.  Next I had coffee and cheeky cake with my agent and friend, Tim, in a Jamie Oliver cafe.  “I feel conscious you’re in a new country and away from your family today” he said, “and I’m sorry we can’t go out to dinner… but you’re on stage tonight, which is where you belong, you were born to perform”.  Lovely.  Very happy with that. 

I then rehearsed most of the day, with only one friend in the cast knowing it was my birthday.  Adam also took me out for tea and presents before we started work which was unexpected and gorgeous.  Then my friend Jane sent a bottle of Mo√ęt & Chandon backstage thirty minutes before curtain, so I ‘fessed up’ to the rest of the cast:  “no, I am not a diva, don’t be jealous, it’s my birthday!”    

I then forgot about it until we took our final bows and my friends in the audience started to whistle.  I moved out of the dressing room as quickly as possible and arrived in the bar to find a dozen friends (who’d all somehow found each other in the crowd, irrespective of the fact that some of them had never met) and I was surrounded by hugs, laughter, flowers, presents and champagne.  I felt loved and encouraged – like I was in the right place at the right time, however much I may not have expected that to be a fringe theatre in London.

I was on a high so we partied long and hard that night.  I came home to messages, cards and some delightful surprise deliveries; the flowering lilies and roses have my apartment still smelling like a florist.  I then went away for a weekend with the girls where we laughed and told silly stories and laughed again.  I had the most romantic 'first time' story... and the most envy provoking 'younger lover' story... but not, as it happens, the most scandalous stories.  (But hush, what goes on tour stays on tour!)     
I also have quite a few 'birthday dinners' and 'weekends away' still in the diary, to celebrate with different people in the UK, before catching up with other mates in the spring and summer for further adventures.  Just some of those destinations include, Shropshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, France, Ireland, Spain, Italy (of course) and, hopefully, New York or some other mid-globe, exotic location which is neither too far from Australia or London!

The plan is simply to keep the positive momentum going, professionally and personally.  This is the year I will get some projects close to my heart advanced.  It will be the year, I hope, that quite a few threads I’m working on will come together.  It is a chapter to be embraced, for one thing experience and maturity gives you is the right to be liberated from the things which don’t enhance your life. 

Years ago an acting colleague told me Ann-Margret once said to him: "a woman should wear her experience around her neck like a string of pearls”.  Ok, I’m not a twin-set-and-pearls gal in the literal sense, my style is too ebullient, but I like the principal.  I have a most beautiful cousin, inside and out, and if anyone I’ve met exhibits that kind of elegance, it’s her.  She has enough grace to be a Princess or First Lady.  Right now she is fighting a serious battle for her health, and I pray her quiet strength and integrity will carry her through unscathed. 

For none of us know what’s around the corner.  So young or old, single or married, rich or poor, we must use and develop what we have, and be responsive and generous around the opportunities, kindness and love we meet on the way.  

For one thing age has taught me is that life is not a dress rehearsal.  And if you want "life in your years" you cannot tip-toe around the edges.  You have to grab it with both hands and all the passion, honesty and resilience you can muster.

As for my birthday, friends, loved ones, wherever you are in the world, grazie e tanti auguri!