Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Let the sun shine...

It's that time again.  The time where I begin to feel just a tinsy-winsy bit uncomfortable anticipating the early start on Saturday.  But this unfeasibly early start is for jolly good reason.  Lest I forget I am in training.  I keep reminding myself, via other people.  So, in response to the stock line 'Anything planned this weekend...?', I pause momentarily, suspended in the perilsome prospect of riding an incredibly long way on my bicycle.  I hover, which always generates more interest than is probably advisable, and make the announcement.  Delicately, drawing as little attention as possible to the fact that I am getting up on Saturday morning, to put my bike into my car, and drive somewhere in the middle of nowhere to undertake a gruelling circuit of the North and South Downs in an event invented by bike-mad fools (with possibly rather too much testosterone and most definitely something to prove) called (and the clue's in the name) 'The Long One'.  

Thing is, the weather has not been friendly.  This is not what I, or anyone else, forecast mid June to look like.  Granted, it has got warmer.  And more humid.  But sunshine remains at a serious premium.  And this concerns me.  Muchly.  I am, and I'm not afraid to announce it, a fair weather cyclist.  Things go an awful lot better when the sun comes out.  The hills look less horrific, and the flats seem faster.  The food stops (also known as feeding stations, which always brings a grin to my face) come round quicker, and the whole thing seems strangely less arduous, bordering on enjoyable (whilst still most challenging).  This wannabe sportive rider is built for endurance, but endures so much better under favourable conditions.

So, in the immortal words of Labrinth (and many others, before and since)...  Let the sun shine, let the sun shine!  And may the spin classes attended in a last minute panic, pay off.  

I'll be wearing my new socks with pride, regardless.  

Sponsor me now and make my hill climbing fractionally easier, knowing that my pain really is for worthwhile gain.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Swings and Roundabouts

I have come to the conclusion that working for myself suits me very well indeed.  A big component of the immense pleasure I derive from the work I feel so privileged to do is the fact that I have control of my own diary.  My working hours are flexible.  No two weeks look exactly the same.  

In relation to this reality, there have been many occasions on which I've found it necessary to educate the unfamiliar with the mechanics of therapy-ing...  I work with clients.  Adults and young people.  Mostly they attend their appointments alone.  Sometimes there are three chairs in the room.  Occasionally, there are more of us.  A great many of my clients work.  Most of them have fixed hours.  I seek to offer them appointments around their immovable commitments.  I offer them my own commitment.  In turn, I ask them to make a commitment.  There are only so many hours in a day.  And of these, there are only a number that I like to work.  These are those when I feel alert, sparkly, and therefore more likely to be (potentially) helpful.

So, we try and find a time that sits well with both our diaries.  Most of the time it works.  Except for when it doesn't.  Life happens.  I am a realist.  I have ideals, and I appreciate notice.  But I understand...  And this is where it gets tricky, in my explanations to the uninitiated.  Charging for missed appointments must have been the lecture I missed.  The seminar topic for which I never got the handout.  

I'm getting better.  Experience counts for a great deal here in the big wide world.  I understand, but this is my vocation and my profession.  I love what I do, but it's not a hobby.

So yes, I do have a cancellation policy.          

Friday, 21 June 2013

The pleasure principle

I don't drink, but I do celebrate.  With ice cream.  From time to time.  It's something of a not-so-guilty-pleasure.  But not just any old ice cream.  It has to be gelato.  Today there was little excuse needed.  There was, and is, much to celebrate.  The sunshine had emerged, against all the odds.  The working week was officially over (though in my case, not quite finished) and it being the longest day of 2013, summer is deemed to have arrived.  I ordered mine without compunction.  Lunch seemed but a distant memory, and I had a busy evening planned...

the art of moderation...

Appreciating my chosen cone, connected to a very young part of myself it occurred to me...  Pleasure is important.  I have attracted a variety of strange looks, including suspicion, when asking a new client what it is that they enjoy doing.  I am well experienced in this line of inquiry.  It appears to be a difficult question to answer.  This doesn't deter me.  I thrive in the quest for hard to find answers.  Knowing what it is that's important to us, what it is that we enjoy, and how to have fun, are all vital pieces to the jigsaw most of us are looking to play.  

Making time for the things we enjoy doing is a whole different issue.  And one that, quite often requires mastery through practice.  For some of us, it is our routines that set us free.  Paradoxically, scheduling somehow makes time.  And so we move closer to the balance for which we aspire.        

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


No - not the Shopping Centre in Essex.  It's quite some time since I stood at the barre dressed in a turquoise leotard for my ballet lessons.  I was a student who whilst attentive, lacked promise (in large part due to the fact that I was, even then, rather tall).  I have however never stopped enjoying ballet.  I found myself struggling to stand after the English National Ballet's epic performance of Swan Lake at the Albert Hall.  Performed in-the-round with no less than sixty swans (and at times more than 120 dancers on stage), it was the most extraordinary evening.  The largest production of its kind, and certainly London's dance event of the summer, I had been looking forward to it since excitedly booking tickets with a girlfriend on a dreary March morning.  

With the dry ice smoke covering the sizeable stage the lines between observation and involvement were less straightforward as you felt invited into the scene which was unfolding amongst us with such graceful intensity.  By the time we paused for the first of two intervals, I was completely spellbound.  At points during the Act III pas de deux I struggled to catch my breath.

Fate shone upon us as brightly as the sensational lighting, as we got to see Tamara Rojo partner the astonishing visitor Matthew Golding to perform as the Swan Queen.  Having become Artistic Director of the Ballet last year, she excelled any expectations we might have brought with us to SW7.  A magical reminder of the rich pickings available here on my doorstep.  


Sunday, 16 June 2013

From one chocolate factory to another

My cultural intake this week has exceeded my usual allowance, which has been fabulous.  From Graham Greene, to Roald Dahl, and the Menier Chocolate Factory to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.  On successive evenings I was lucky enough to take a seat and enjoy a fantastic performance.  Two very different but equally enjoyable feasts for the eyes, ears and one's adventurous imagination.  

What the shows had in common was brilliant choreography.  There was little work to be done by the audience, who were transported wherever it was that we needed to be, to appreciate what was on offer.  Travels with my Aunt exceeded expectations and comprised astonishing performances, only enhanced by the proximity with the stage.  I was captivated from the opening lines - and successfully transported from Southwood to Istanbul on the Orient Express, and later to Buenos Aires, before quickly moving onto Paraguay.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory did not disappoint.  I quite enjoy a musical spectacle, and this hit the spot.  I found myself easily drawn into the world of make believe, and Willy Wonka's promised land (complete with the almost irresistible chocolate waterfall).  It was none too difficult to temporarily leave London and enter into a world of endless possibility which (according to the song) has to be believed to be seen.

I also let go of expectations from the movie I grew up with (and it's subsequent re-make) to fully appreciate the up to the moment production which the audience intimated was relevant to all.  In front of me sat at least 3 generations all of whom were spell bound.  The Oompa Loompas were marvellous, the set was magnificent - Wonka's factory did not disappoint. 

Dahl's observation of nature / nurture, and the influences on young minds is stunning material for psychological appraisal.  It is a marvelous observation of the perils of adolescence which seems pertinent some 50 years after it was written.  

Mrs Gloop is chronically codependent and in complete denial as to her obese son's disordered eating, and is what might be described as a feeder.  Meanwhile the spineless Mr Salt is a classic enabler of his narcissistic daughter, lacking any boundaries, compensating by pandering to her ever whim, no matter how ridiculous.  And the loathsome Mr B seems intent on making as much money as possible pimping out his precocious daughter, oblivious to the consequences of her swollen ego which seems to have outgrown her petite gum chewing frame.  Mike Teavee whom we see terrorise his valium swallowing mother, bears close resemblance to many a stroppy teenager immersed in a virtual world of violent video games.  Verruca's relationship with her pathetic father is an attachment case study waiting to be written and Charlie emerges as something of a humble hero - the perfectly behaved budding inventor who has no shortage of imagination and never ceases to hope for the best.  

Charlie and his family are eternal optimists: Dreams can come true.  Dreams can be surpassed.  His grandfather is a pathological liar, his grandmother an alcoholic gambler. His father is hopelessly unemployed and depressed, whilst his exhausted and anxious mother has no choice but to work shifts.  But theirs is an enduring hope.  Wonka is a victim of his own success.  We see him as lonely, and alone.  Surrounded rather than comforted by his loyal sages, the Oompa Loompas who see beyond people's behaviour.  

Sadly, the elevators at Covent Garden Station lacked any magic, and shortly after theatre kick-out boasted impressive queues which meant that descending the 193 steps (equivalent to a 15 storey building, as the rolling announcement proclaimed) was the more straightforward option.  

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Deferring to medical opinion

I hadn't been prompted to think about it for a while. Too long, perhaps. My understanding of the nature of the disease whose effects I have witnessed all too closely. Addiction for me, is a disease. And it's sufferers and those around them get to experience dis-ease. 

I subscribe fully to the outline presented in 'The Doctor's Opinion', and have found no better explanation than that which Silkworth proposes:  it makes a lot of sense and carries with it significant currency having helped countless previously hopeless feeling individuals gain a solid understanding of the nature of their cunning opponent. 

We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.

Frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices. The message which can interest and hold these alcoholic people must have depth and weight. In nearly all cases, their ideals must be grounded in a power greater than themselves, if they are to re-create their lives...

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery.

On the other hand—and strange as this may seem to those who do not understand—once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules.

It is a chronic and progressive condition that affects every aspect of an afflicted being's functioning. The biological aspects of the illness explain the dangerous phenomenon of craving which, if not kept in check, all too often precedes devastating relapse. In this respect, the disease whilst treatable is not curable. Those in recovery from its effects, must work to manage their reprieve, one day at a time.

Recovery involves something beyond physical health, as emotional and psychological well being in those who suffer from addictions and other compulsive behaviours is contingent upon the maintenance of a fit spiritual condition. I believe this is the only defence against the self absorption which often lies beneath many an addictive personality. Breaking free of the conjoined shackles of self absorption and self loathing are both of equal and urgent import to those who seek any meaningful or lasting serenity. 

It is a baffling and insidious illness. It presents countless challenges for those engaged and invested in its treatment, and contradictions that baffle and perplex even the brightest among us. And that's why I won't be hanging up my boots anytime soon. 

Sunday, 9 June 2013


So, the good news is that Charlotte's recent scan showed everything to be stable. I didn't need a scan to tell me that about my best friend who has only ever been stable, from my somewhat more fluctuating perspective. But it is the very best thing she could have been told by the wonderful oncologists who have taken care of her since last January. 

The thing is, nothing is certain. No guarantees are on offer. In many ways, the place Charlotte finds herself to be now hasn't shifted all that much. It seems symptomatic of life. Many of us live with all sorts of unknowns. We live alongside uncertainty. Not knowing is, it seems, part of life. 

"Uncertainty is the only certainty there is,
And knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security."
John Allen Paulos

Charlotte is, for now, in the clear. The signs all look good but we cannot be sure. The very best science has to offer, and the finest machines, with the highest resolutions currently available cannot offer any guarantee. 

Worse still they cannot even determine definitively whether or not some of the shadows that concerned them previously were in fact cancer's fingerprints. The only thing to do is wait and see. And waiting too, much as it pains me to acknowledge it, is part and parcel of life. I long to press fast forward, but would do so (were it a possibility) at my peril. If I move into then, I will miss not only the journey from now until then, but also part of what it is to be fully here, in the present, in the now.

When Charlotte told me, I was thrilled. So thrilled in fact that I wanted to stay with it a while longer before committing my reflections to a blog post.  I breathed in, slowly and deeply. All, right here, right now, is well. Breathing out, I said to myself, all will be well. It will be what it will be. And we shall cope.  

I think it's all about making a choice. Choosing to get outside of the dimly lit waiting room. The world is out there. Bright and colourful. Life is going to happen anyway, it's up to us, as to when we start to live it fully.  Charlotte and her approach in the ongoing battle against the evil alien remind me of this when I most need reminding.   

"Life is change,
Change is stability."
Zen saying

Friday, 7 June 2013

Polyamory: Opening the door on relationships

Polyamory ˌpä-lē-ˈa-mə-rē 
(from Greek πολύ [poly], meaning "many" or "several", and Latin amor, "love") 
is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

This week I have been thinking seriously, rather than seriously thinking about polyamory.  Necessarily so.  Friday represented a deadline which could not be missed.  I commenced my reading without much difficulty some time ago.  I took various resources away with me to Somerset, and started thinking about the philosophy and practicalities of relationships that don't fall within the traditional monogamous constellations we might (unless and until educated otherwise) are the only way in which to (try and) relate romantically and/or sexually.  

Society likes monogamy.  It's been given the seal of approval.  It's sanctioned, encouraged and some might say enforced.  It sits comfortably within our cultural norms which are, I am becoming increasingly aware, excruciatingly heteronormative.  We jump from one side of a binary to the other, without any consideration as to the space in between, or beyond.  It's black, or white.  Simples.

"Unquestioned answers are more dangerous than unanswered questions."

And yet, we're so terribly bad at monogamy.  Part of this might be explained in part by the overwhelmingly convincing evidence that we are not biologically determined to stick with a mate until death do us part.  It is more likely that we choose this and must then work hard to achieve it.  Relationships require work, some more than others but this seems to be something that the Hollywood guff we are fed omit to mention sustaining not only the myth of 'The One' but hopelessly setting us up on a mission it may well be impossible to accomplish.

The simple fact (if there is any such thing when it comes to relationships, and more particularly matters of the heart) is that we have many needs, perhaps too many, to realistically expect one other to meet.  This is something I find myself talking about fairly regularly when working in the context of couples and relationships.    No one can get it all right, all of the time.  Once partners accept the reality that neither will they single-handedly meet every one of their partner's needs, nor will their partner meet all of theirs, the relationship has a fighting chance of surviving their respective disappointment.  

Which is not to say that poly is the way forward.  Poly is a consciously chosen lifestyle.  Responsible, ethical non-monogamy demands rigorous honesty - both with oneself, and others.  It is the road less travelled for good reason.  And it remains a hidden path.  Those who tread it must do so carefully, and often cautiously.  We are, it seems, some way behind in appreciating that not only is this a valuable option but that it is viable, and some would say, vital.

"Do not go where the path may lead, 
go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is plenty to be learnt from our poly friends.  Especially in the arena of open communication and honest negotiation of what's ok, what's not ok, and what might one day be ok, in the presence of certain circumstances.  The 'yes, no, maybe' questionnaire is something any one thinking about their sexuality might do well to consider either in the context of a specific relationship or outside of it.  

I admire the ethos.  Love as infinite.  But I see too the many, deep, potholes along the way.  Whilst we may not be hard-wired towards monogamy, I am not sure there are many for whom jealousy, insecurity and possessiveness might not be part of the territory when it comes to attachments within meaningful relationships.  The ideals of 'compersion' and 'frubbling' seem rather saintly aspirations, let alone achievements. But then there are many experiences I hear reported in the course of my work about which I trust my clients' expertise implicitly and may never directly encounter (or have desire to do so).  

Whilst love and possibility may indeed be infinite, time is not.  I need no reminders of this particular truth.  Time management is a challenge for most relationships.  It may not be a case of the more the merrier, unless partners feel that they are spending quality, meaningful time with one another.  Planning would seem crucial to the success of a poly set-up, no matter how many parties are involved.  There remain 24 hours in a day, and most people need to sleep for at least a few of those.  

So, distinguished by swinging and 1960s style free love, by the fact that poly is about more than sex, this is certainly not a quick fix or solution to a monogamous relationship in which parties feel dissatisfied.  There may be very good reasons to explore opening up a relationship, but there are likely to be as many reasons not to.  My research to date has been introductory at best.  The subject is vast, and there being no 'typical' poly configuration means that I may well be thinking about this for some time to come.  The point is that I am open to thinking about the numerous possibilities with my clients, whom should know that I sit very comfortably on the fence, upon a well-padded cushion of useful information much of which has come directly from 'the horse's mouth'.  In climbing up here I needed to let go of many of the assumptions and definitions I wasn't aware I had accrued until they became impossibly cumbersome and exposed themselves as the unhelpful social constructs cultivated by and perpetuated within the systems I inhabit.  

My one remaining bias is in the name...


Monday, 3 June 2013

Medal winning performances

I once worked for a man whose motto I have never forgotten. He still uses it when speaking in public to the many different audiences he addresses, and feels particularly relevant for me this week.

'Aspire and achieve against all odds'. It's a brilliant mission, and one I know at least two people were living up to this weekend. 

Charlotte has, I think, no idea how much of an inspiration she is to me, and I guess countless others. Those she teaches, formally and informally. Those she has ridden alongside (or, probably more often, in front of) over the years. The crews she formerly trained with as a rower, and the many others she has come into contact with personally, professionally, and within the plentiful spaces for serious amateur sports people in between. 

It seemed fitting that we were both up early for our respective challenges on Sunday. Our debuts and new found passions for which we've been training - she perhaps with a little more structure. Bags were packed, different gear but similar attention to detail, I'm guessing.

It's all about planning and preparation, after all...

The organisers of the ride I took part had mastered both. The meticulous organisation made for a great day out in the very attractive Sussex countryside, scrambling the North and South Downs. I ventured to pastures previously unknown...  Charlotte was doing similar. Her first ever Aquathlon. By her own admission she hadn't publicised this too widely. She wasn't sure what to expect. She needn't have worried. Naturally, she did brilliantly. 

I kept going around the seventy five miles as best I could. I developed something of a mantra, which I repeated countless times as I navigated and negotiated the course. 'Light legs - Strong legs'.  The shock to the system at the outset of the course, as I encountered a fiendishly steep incline sharply climbing 400ft around 10 miles in, somewhere near Billingshurst, served a purpose reminding me to unite and engage mind, body and breath. This was handy later on. There followed several stretches on the circuit that really were a case of mind over matter (and carbs!). 

I was grateful for the invaluable education I had received the previous day after our Lido swim, as I was introduced to Charlotte approved fuel. I felt quite the pro as I set off with bulging jersey pockets. This self image didn't last long and I was quickly humbled by the cadence others managed to sustain seemingly effortlessly.  Whilst impressed, I was never disheartened and therein lies the moral of the story - I was there with a single purpose - to rise to the challenge; to see it through - to come and conquer.

And that's precisely what happened...  I was delighted to smash my previous Personal Best achieved at the Breast Cancer Care RibbonRide a few weeks ago - and yesterday sailed past 60 miles at least half an hour faster than my last attempt.  My timing chip recorded 06:42:15, of which I spent 05:48 in the saddle.  I am still feeling chuffed.  More important still, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There was, it seemed, a common purpose amongst participants. There was a sense of camaraderie that bred a great atmosphere which, combined with ideal weather conditions, counted for a lot. 

So, medals for both of us - Charlotte and I. Charlotte is (officially) a swimmer (complete with half of the Speedo concept store) and I am improving my bicycle handling, incrementally.