Yogi Cameron Diet Day 6

Weight: 64 kg. I am kind of amazed I am still the same weight after my blow out yesterday.

Breakfast: berry smoothie with soy milk

Lunch: Chinese stir fried vegetables

Dinner: Chinese stir fried vegetables.

One glass red wine

Exercise: dog walking one hour. Did not manage yoga today

Meditation: 15 minutes

Felt very tired today after yesterday. This seems to be part of my chronic fatigue. I do something one day and am exhausted the next. Mood was medium. I forced myself to do housework and go to the shop. Pleased with the results. Not pleased with my lack of productivity. Felt I ate very healthily today so pleased about that. Proud that I am keeping up caffeine free. Had leg cramps from caffeine withdrawal and a mild headache. I am hoping I feel better when it ends. Trying to heal.

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Yogi Cameron The One Plan Day 3

Weight: 64.5 kg. No weight loss

Breakfast: scrambled eggs, green tea

Lunch: ratatouille, rice, green tea, red wine

Dinner: dates

Snack: corn bread. Extra virgin olive oil

Meditation: 15 minutes.

Mindfulness: I can statements. Love and compassion to all beings.

Exercise: dog walking 30 mins

Social interaction: talking with husband until he left at 3 for a conference

I had a day of rest today as it is Sunday. I didn’t feel very good. Felt very tired. Mood medium. I was annoyed at myself for eating corn bread. I am not supposed to be eating any bread at all. The only thing I am proud of is avoiding coffee. I am still eating too much though I have reduced my portions. I will concentrate on avoiding caffeine as I can’t give up too many things at once. I spent the morning lounging and watching political programmes on TV. Then I watched a film. I feel myself slipping into old habits so I must try harder. I am more aware of my thoughts and trying to catch them before they turn negative. I felt myself sliding into hopelessness again that I do not have a proper purpose. Try not to have wine tomorrow. Keep trying. I was pleased I didn’t have processed food. I didn’t eat late. I think eggs are not really allowed on the ayurvedic diet but  think they are healthy.

Yogi Cameron The One Plan Day 2

Weight: 64.5 kg. I have lost no weight. Aaargh. Hey it’s only one day.

Dog walking: 30 mins

Meditation: 15 mins. Concentrating on the breath and observing thoughts.

Mindfulness: I can statements. I can write.

Yoga: 30 mins

Jogging: 20 mins

Breakfast: strawberries, banana, green tea

Lunch: aloo gobi curry, nectarine, green tea

Dinner: ratatouille and beans. Baked potato. Red wine.

Snack: almond milk hot chocolate.

Mood: up and down but ok

Social interaction: some at village dog show, husband in the evening

Pretty pleased at the amount of exercise I achieved today. Felt good in the morning. Energy dipped in the afternoon as did mood. Got some writing on the novel achieved though not very much.

The big news was giving up coffee. I had green tea instead. Big achievement. I did not get a headache. Felt naughty about the red wine but it is Saturday night.

I reread some of the One Plan. I love the idea he talks about as emerging as a masterpiece. Yes I would like that.

Feel I kept to eating healthy foods. I am still probably eating too much but I had no processed food. It is time consuming to cook everything from scratch but I really enjoy it. In a better world I would have a house full of children to cook for. I always make too much of everything. Sigh.

I had some negative thoughts impinging but I managed to come back to the present moment. The rainy weather does not help. I enjoyed watching my garden birds on the bird feeder.

A good day. Onwards.

 

Yogi Cameron The One Plan Reboot Day 1

I have started the One Plan before but I gave up after a few weeks. I can’t now remember why. I am going to give it another go. The One Plan is a book by Yogi Cameron who is a holistic therapist. It promises to change your life in a year with a week by week plan. I have been feeling so ill, tired and hopeless recently that I really need something. I have decided to persevere this time and not give up like I usually do.

The One Plan applies the principles of yoga and ayurveda to the realm of the body, mind and spirit.

Week One is about remembering not to eat late at night and to practise non-violence on yourself and others. This means verbal as well as physical.

I am going to blog about my progress through the days. I hope it is helpful to people. I am going to keep broadly to the plan but also mix in other ideas from Buddhism and health sites. I will be broadly vegan with a few animal products from time to time. I allergic to milk and gluten intolerant.

Day 1

Wake 8 am

Weight: 64.5 kg. Heaviest I have been for a long time.

Exercise: dog walking

Meditation: 15 minutes Concentrating on the breath. Observing my thoughts.

Yoga: 30 minutes.

Mindfulness: mantra of I can statements. I can write. I can write my novel. Visualise myself as a famous novelist.

Breakfast: smoothie consisting of almond milk, peanut butter, strawberries, banana, flax seeds, chia seeds, cocoa powder, avocado, cod liver oil. All whizzed up in the blender. Coffee.

Hypnosis tape.

Lunch: 1 pm salad. Yogi Cameron does not approve of salads but it is what I have in my organic veg box so it’s what I’m eating. Lettuce, cucumber, brazil nuts, tomato, avocado, French dressing with garlic and mustard. Green tea.

Dinner: 4 pm three quinoa rice cakes with marmite and peanut butter

One glass of red wine.

Social interaction: virtually none. Greeting neighbours while dog walking. Husband is at the gym until late. Not in yet.

I am pleased with myself today. I am easing in. I had a sense of well being. I had a slight headache in the afternoon. I am still drinking coffee which I will have to stop but I only had one. I didn’t eat any processed food and I didn’t eat late. I did lots of reading and I wrote this blog. I looked at some social media which I am trying to cut down. I have realised a lot of my problems stem from negative self thoughts. I need to do more tomorrow. I kept grabbing at the thoughts to make them go away. I have just recovered from a cold so feel slightly woozy though the nostrils are a lot less blocked than usual. I also have negative self thoughts against other people. This is something I need to work very hard on to eradicate. I need to meditate on forgiveness. I had one glass of wine which will need to come down.

A good day.

 

The Summer is Over – Notes from The Old Chapel

“The summer is over and we are not yet saved.” Jeanette Winterson

Autumn has arrived in rural Norfolk. As I write the constant rain is hammering on the conservatory roof. The summer has been wetter than usual – a gloom settling over England more deep than usual. I think it’s God’s punishment for Brexit. I can count the sunny days on the fingers of one hand. Thankfully we went on holiday to Italy and saw some real sunshine. If God is an Englishman, as the Victorians used to say, then he sure has a dry sense of humour.

Autumn is giving its bounty though. The hedgerows are full of blackberries and the garden is brimming with small, sour apples. There is a dead mouse under the sun lounger I am trying not to think about. The weeds are rampant. I have pulled some at the front but the borders remain neglected due to the rain. The swanky new bird feeder is attracted tits of all kinds and a nervous robin. He alights on the meal worms, pecks nervously and skitters away at the first sound.  The skies are grey and blank.

There is a slight chill creeping in to the early mornings and evenings but the main day is still warm. I am putting off putting on the exceedingly expensive oil heating. I have a vague dread of the cold of the winter. I keep dreaming of warm climates with lush vegetation. Norfolk has its charms though. The skies are big and the garden is wonderful. In its shelter one feels safe and hidden. The front of the house is marred by the main road. My dog takes it into his head he has to bark at every large vehicle passing. I have tried to train him out of it with limited success.

The rain will make me productive. I can’t work in the garden so I can write.

And write and write…

Taking Control of My Mental Health

I have had delicate mental health for a while. I have taken lots of self help steps to try to make myself better with some success but somehow I always relapse.

This year I have suffered with sinusitis and chronic tiredness which has made me depressed.  I don’t know what comes first, the illness or the depression or that they both feed on each other in some horrific symbiotic relationship. At points all I could do was lie on the sofa and drink wine. I was spiralling downwards.

I decided I was sick of all this and took charge of myself. First the sinusitis had to go. The doctor had given me a steroid nasal spray which did nothing. She said it would take twelve months to work. So basically it didn’t work.  I read up online and came across someone saying dairy caused their sinusitis. This felt right to me. I gave up dairy, bread and eggs two weeks ago. The results were quite something. My sinusitis got better almost immediately. Two weeks later I would say it is almost gone completely though not quite. The eczema on my finger has also cleared up. I think I have been allergic to milk and not realised it. I also felt that my digestion was better and I didn’t feel bloated. I had more energy.

I started hypnotherapy. I have had two sesssions and have received an audio file that I am to play at night. I did not feel instantly better as some people report but I am perservering. It is like a guided meditation focusing on positive thoughts. I have been eating healthily, avoiding alcohol and doing yoga, meditation, jogging and walking. I do feel somewhat better. The hypnotherapy is deadly expensive so I am holding off for a while for the next session.

I scoured the local mental health services and self referred for a well being course. I have four sessions of CBT therapy for depression. It doesn’t start until October. It’s in a group so I am not sure   if it will be effective but I am giving it a try.

I have also decided to take control of my life in other ways. I have signed up for an MSc in Psychology at the Open University and I have signed up  to learn hypnotherapy. So that’s two part time courses. I am paying for them with a student loan from the government. I still neeed some kind of job to pay my way. This is proving tricky. I need to get on it though. I am winding down my business as it makes virtually no money.

I am not cured yet by any means but I feel that I am more in control of events. I have got better before and then slid back down. I must not let that happen again. I know a lot of it is negative thoughts. It’s like there’s a tape in my head that puts me down. My awareness of it is the first step to getting rid of it. I am hoping the outside agencies will help me.

I am toying with asking for antidepressants though I have always resisted this. I am still not sure. I also think about having private therapy though the cost is horrendous.

I have realised that I will never be able to go back to what passes for a normal life. I can’t just have a quiet drink without it turning into an enormous session. I can’t just eat what I like because certain foods just don’t agree with me and I get fat and sluggish. Every day I will have to take time for self care. I am treating myself as a project like an elderly, delicate maiden aunt who needs lots doing for her. I am being gentle with myself. I am turning off the critical voice. Every day it will be an effort but I am going to do it. I have made the first steps.

And I will finish my novel.

Namaste.

Extract from my novel Syria Ch 4

 

I woke the next morning late. I scrabbled for my mobile phone to see the time. Damn. I had slept in. I had missed two lectures and a tutorial. It wouldn’t matter. Nobody would really miss me. I could make it up later. The bed was warm and cosy and I wanted to stay there longer. For me I felt amazingly relaxed. I didn’t feel the need to do anything. Just be. It was glorious. Must be all that curry. I wasn’t really hungover which was all to the good. I was serene. I finally got how cats feel. They wake up, they stretch, they go back to sleep. Nothing is a big deal. There is no urgency. My mind wandered to Taj. He felt right. My old voice still warned me that no good would come of it, but there was a new Molly waking. A Molly who wasn’t afraid to try new things, to think differently, to live…

I got up and hauled my laptop into the bed with me. I fired it up and put Islam into Google. I was fascinated. Of course I had known Muslims at school but I had never really thought about it seriously before. They kept to themselves and we kept to ourselves. I started with Wikipedia. It made Islam sound amazing. It was a magical world where angels appeared. The centre of Islam was the family. Women were revered as mothers. The whole mind set seemed completely different to the one I was used to. Magic was everywhere. Spirituality was everywhere. It was all about worshipping God. Everything was an act of worship. It all sounded rather wonderful. I read on and on, finding other sites. Some were more critical, especially about the treatment of women but this seemed to be mostly in Saudi Arabia. Then there was the war in Syria and wars popping up all over the place. There seemed a problem with different factions of Islam and some extremists. It all sounded so different from the world I had grown up in. Religion had been a mystery to me. We had never gone to Church. Dad had always scoffed like he did at everything. Here were rules to live your life by, a good life and at the end the reward of Paradise. I felt beguiled by it all. It was a strange, magical otherworld which had been right under my nose all this time.

I spent the whole day in bed, reading about Islam, sleeping, eating and drinking tea. I felt like a light had come on in my head. I felt different. I clicked on to Amazon and ordered a copy of the Koran. I wanted to know more.

I finally managed a shower, enjoying the pressure of the jet on my skin. I scrubbed myself fiercely. I felt like I was washing all the alcohol out of me and sloughing away all my old life.

In the evening I made stew for Dad and me and we sat and watched TV together. Stew was one of the few things I knew how to make. Mum had taught me before she passed. I suppose it was Irish stew that she had learned from her mother. It was simple and bland but comforting. The cubes of meat were chewy. For once Dad was half sober and we managed to get through the evening without arguing.

We ate with the bowls on our laps in front of the ever-present TV. Dad was addicted to it. That’s why I spend so much time in my bedroom, to avoid it. Tonight I humoured him. We watched a chat show and then a documentary. Later on there was an action film. Dad made a running commentary all the way through everything, mostly critical. I felt a new, fuzzy warm feeling enveloping me. Everything would be ok. That’s what it seemed to say.

When it was time to go to bed I got down on my knees at the side and prayed. I didn’t know how to pray as a Muslim but I just prayed anyway.

‘Dear Allah. Keep me safe. God bless Dad and Miles. God bless Taj. God bless Mum. Amen.’

‘God is great,’ I finished with, having read this expression on the internet. It probably wasn’t a Muslim prayer but it would have to do. I wondered if it was true if Mum was in Heaven like it said on the internet. I hoped so. I looked up and asked Allah to keep her safe.

‘Mum are you there? Are you ok? I hope you made it to Heaven.’

Mum had died years before and my memories of her were getting thin. I remembered warmth and laughter, pennies for sweets and heavy perfume.

It comforted me to think of her up there with Allah instead of scattered to the wind. It was all lovely. Hopeful. I had made a new discovery and it was all down to Taj. I felt warmer when I thought of him.

I felt cosy and loved and slept soundly. I dreamed of the Paradise I had read about that day. I imagined fountains and rivers, children playing with garlands of flowers, green grass, eternal sunshine, lions and lambs playing together. There was a total sense of peace. I loved it. Then I dreamed that Taj and I were together there too with two children, little dark haired boys. I was smiling in the dream, smiling like I never smiled, beaming with happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ch3 Syria My new novel Edited version

So a week had passed since my embarrassment with Taj. I had put it out of my head and concentrated on my work. I was so bored with coding, but I had to do it. Some days I enjoyed it: the challenge of solving the problem, of figuring it all out. There was a kind of beauty in it. But not today. Today I just wasn’t in the mood. I had been working in the computer lab all day and there was a dull thud in my forehead. I exited to the coffee bar. It wasn’t actually raining for once but the wind was bitter. I felt like it was trying to blow me over deliberately. I sat down at one of the tables with my usual hot chocolate. So good. There was no one I knew today. I played on my phone to avoid feeling awkward. I flipped through Twitter without interest. Someone had left a boy band or something. Everyone was tweeting about it. Big deal. I couldn’t get interested. Why were people so lame? So involved with rubbish. My mind wandered back to the program I had been trying to write all day. I dismissed it. I hadn’t seen Abbie since last Friday. She was lying low, not even responding to my texts. I had let her be. It was probably some guy as usual. I closed my eyes and tried to visualise a better future where I was rich and successful and lived in an apartment overlooking the Thames with long windows that let in natural light. Yes that would be wonderful.

‘Penny for them,’ a voice said.

I snapped open my eyes and there he was. Taj. Taj from last week whom I had deliberately not being thinking about.

‘I was just resting my eyes. I’m tired,’ I said.

‘Shame. I was going to invite you out,’ he said.

I eyed him nervously.

‘I’m afraid I’m not available,’ I said with as much coldness as I could manage.

Taj laughed. He seemed amused, unconcerned. It irritated me.

Then all of a sudden he grabbed my hand and dragged me upright.

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘You only live once.’

Somehow we were outside in the street and then we were in his car again.

‘This car is so pretentious,’ I said.

‘You are so spikey. Don’t you like money?’ he said.

I considered the question. Did I like money? I wasn’t sure.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, looking at him with a sense of helplessness.

‘You are a funny girl Molly,’ he said.

I sighed. I had been told this before. I had no idea in what way I was funny. I glared and hunched deeper into the collar of my jacket.

His grin broadened, annoying me even more. He was laughing at me.

We pulled up in Rusholme outside one of the many Indian restaurants. This was a little, unprepossessing one I hadn’t noticed before. It didn’t have a neon sign or a waiter outside trying to entice you in. I had been for curries many times in Rusholme. They were cheap and it wasn’t far from my home. Usually I came with Miles or very occasionally my Dad. I hadn’t been to this one before.

We went in and the waiter rushed up to Taj. He behaved like Taj was some visiting foreign prince. I was surprised. We sat in a booth. It felt private. The waiter fussed with some menus but Taj waved them away. He spoke in a language I didn’t understand and the waiter disappeared smiling obsequiously.

Taj smiled at me broadly across the table.

‘Have you just ordered for me?’ I said.

His smile managed to widen even further and he sat further back in his chair and poured us both some water.

‘You have. That’s so rude. How do you know what I like?’

‘You’ll love it. Believe me,’ he said.

I pouted and took a sip of water.

‘Do you want a drink?’ he said.

‘Do you?’ I said.

‘I don’t really drink. So I’ll just stick to the water. We are having lassi as well. Do you know what that is?’ he said.

‘I know what it is. I have been for curries before. I only live down the road. And yes. I do want a drink. Beer. Indian beer,’ I said.

Taj’s smile slipped slightly and he gestured to the waiter.

’Why aren’t you having a drink?’ I asked.

‘I don’t really drink. Not that I don’t weaken occasionally. It’s because I’m a Muslim,’ he said.

The perma-smile faded again and he leaned towards me, looking intently into my eyes, as if trying to figure out what I was thinking.

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘how interesting.’

Taj smiled again with relief.

The food and beer appeared preventing conversation for the moment. There was an awful lot of food. I knew some of the dishes but not all. As I served myself Taj talked me through the dishes, explaining the ingredients and spices used. I was yet again surprised, this time that he knew so much about the food. The beer numbed my nerves and I started to relax and enjoy myself.

‘So tell me about Islam. What else do you do apart from not drink?’ I asked.

I thought of my own alcoholic father and all the trouble and pain it had caused. Not drinking seemed like a pretty sensible lifestyle choice to me though I was amazed anyone could keep it up.

‘Are you really interested?’ Taj said.

‘Yes of course.’

‘Well, it’s hard to explain. My mum is a lot better at this stuff than me. You should talk to her. We go to the mosque, learn the Koran, we pray a lot, we give to the poor. We are supposed to go to Mecca once in our lifetime. We try to live a good life. That’s all.’

‘Sounds good,’ I said, genuinely taken with how good it did sound. Pure. So unlike my life and the life of all my friends. Were we living a good life? Weren’t we just lost in hedonism and dreams of riches. It occurred to me then that Taj seemed quite rich.

‘But you seem well off. I mean the car and everything. So how does that square with the whole good life thing?’

Taj looked down as if he didn’t know how to answer. Then he managed.

‘Well it’s not incompatible. I mean you can do more good as a rich man than a poor one. You can help people. My Dad helps loads of people in the community and back in Pakistan.

Having money doesn’t make you a bad person.’

I took in this novel information with interest. All my life I had been taught to despise rich people, to think of them as the enemy. Class War. Yet what Taj said made sense to me. How could you help anyone if you couldn’t even help yourself? I thought of my schoolmates of old, my father, my neighbours. None of them had really done any good to any one. They just struggled to look after themselves and mostly failed. There was something wrong somewhere.

‘So what does your Dad do? How has he made all this money?’ I said.

Taj’s eyes twinkled with delight.

‘He owns restaurants. He owns this one. Lots of others. He came to this country with nothing and started work as a waiter. He saved and worked his way up. He bought his first restaurant and built from there. He worked very hard. He still does.’

My eyes widened. I didn’t know any successful people. It was a humbling story. My family had lived here for generations and achieved precisely nothing. Why were we so feckless?

It explained the behaviour of the waiter. The staff were still nervously looking over at us, checking we were all right every few minutes, refilling my glass and generally fussing. I wasn’t used to it. I was used to being ignored.

Taj leaned across the table and took my hands in his. He stared intently into my eyes.

‘So you seem genuinely interested Molly. I’m so pleased. You should meet my mother. She can talk about the joys of Islam for hours. But she’s not serious. She’s great fun. You’ll like her.’

‘Yes I’d like that,’ I heard myself saying.

So the beer did its work and the rest of the evening became blurry to me. We talked and talked and ate and ate. There were so many flavours, sweetness and spiciness, heat and comforting naan. I loved it all. I felt wonderfully sated and happy. I remember leaving the restaurant. I remember being driven back to my house. Outside the door Taj took my face in his hand and kissed me gently. Then he was gone. I sat on the doorstep for a while in a daze, just thinking about what a good evening it had been and how serene I felt. I managed eventually to unlock the door, climb the stairs and collapse into bed without washing my face.

Taj.

He had been the perfect gentleman, not forcing himself upon me. So different to how I had imagined. I had thought him arrogant and shallow and yet there seemed so much more in there than I knew. I hadn’t known anyone like him. My mind was trying to resist but my heart was singing. Wake up Molly. My brain said he was too good to be true. Street savvy Molly don’t be taken in by this. What’s his game? What does he want? What’s he up to? Cynicism came easily to me. It was the streets I had grew up in, the school I had gone to, the whole environment bred mistrust. We were used to being treated as nothing. We were nothing. Surely Taj was too good to be true.

Sleep came quickly and I dreamed of Taj. I was falling…

 

CH 2 OF MY NEW NOVEL : SYRIA

It was Friday evening. I was home, getting ready to go out. Dad was out as usual so I was playing music loudly, streaming it from Spotify for free. It wasn’t the sort of thing I normally listened to but I needed to get in a happy, energetic mood for tonight. So it was a playlist of club anthems, repetitive beats and strong bass lines. It was seeping inside me and filling me with excitement. I needed a good laugh, to dance and forget everything, to lose myself in music. What to wear? I chose my tight black jeans and Converse boots, matched with a vintage Ramones T-shirt. I didn’t really have any jewellery except two plain gold studs in my ears and an ankh on a bootlace round my neck. I was retro. I layered on some make-up, worrying about the effect as I didn’t wear it during the day. Was it too thick? Was the foundation the right colour? Well it would just have to do. I finished with bright red lipstick and dark kohl round my eyes. I brushed out my long unruly red hair as much as I could though it still went it’s own way, curling in waves everywhere like spare corkscrews at a party. My look was deliberately from the past. It was what I liked. I kind of wished I had been young in the 1970s. Punk would have suited me just fine. I liked to think I looked like Chrissy Hynde, pretty but androgynous. I didn’t.

‘Damn this bloody hair,’ I said out loud.

I looked at myself in the wall mirror. Well I supposed I looked striking if nothing else. I liked the way the foundation smoothed out my skin so you couldn’t see the freckles. I liked the way the kohl made my eyes look mysterious and maybe even sexy. Yes, I would do.

I grabbed my phone and stuck the buds of my i-pod in my ears and then descended the stairs two at a time. I crawled in to my beloved leather jacket and headed out, slamming the door with abandon behind me. I headed up the road and across the arched bridge, aiming for the student area. I always walked. Buses cost money and I hated them anyway. I liked the feeling of freedom walking gave me. On your own feet you were in charge of your destiny, no-one else. It reminded me of the lyrics of that Marley song: ‘My feet are my only carriage.’ Yes, I could relate to that.

I passed the pub and there were two guys outside, loafing about without aim as usual.

‘Hey darling, come and have a drink with me,’ one said.

The other one flashed his white teeth in a big smile.

I didn’t actually know them but I had seen them around many times. This pub was a magnet for the layabouts of the neighbourhood. They came to talk and to buy and sell grass, mostly just to talk and watch sport on the pub TV.

I half smiled and said, ‘No thanks, I’m going somewhere urgently,’ I said.

Usually this worked. Today it didn’t.

He glared after me as I passed.

‘What’s the matter with me? Too posh to have a drink with a black man? Are you racist?’

I sighed and walked on faster. Me posh? That will be the day? It was just so irritating. Why did they have to bring race into everything? I didn’t want to have a drink with any man, whatever colour he was.

I reached the main road and crossed it, going into the student Indian take away. It was safer here in the student area here than in Hulme where I lived. Nobody would bother me inside. I ordered a vegetable curry and rice and sat in the corner on the plastic chairs. It was the cheapest thing on the menu, just £2.30 so a bargain. It would fill me up before the drinking began. The curry was mild, adjusted for the students’ taste but it was still good. I started to relax. There was hardly anyone in the place, just two male students in the opposite corner, deep in conversation. I scraped the remains of the curry from the plastic box making sure I got every last bit. The rice was sticky, just how I liked it. My phone rang. I checked the name. It was Abbie.

‘Hi Abbie, whats up?’ I said.

‘Everything’s great. Where ARE you?’ Abbie said.

‘I’m in the take away. Eating,’ I said.

‘Well stop eating and get yourself over here. Bring booze,’ Abbie said.

I laughed, too loudly so the guys in the corner looked over.

‘Ok, ok. See you in five,’ I said and ended the call.

The students were still looking at me so I gave them my best frown, got up and walked out. I checked instinctively that my wallet was still in my pocket and strode down the street, turning left past the Irish pub. I stopped in the corner shop and bought a bottle of vodka. The owner was an Asian woman who always looked grumpy. I waited in the queue. The woman in front was asking advice about painkillers. She was covered head to foot in black. Only her eyes showed.

The shop owner answered in her usual style.

‘How should I know? I am not a doctor,’ she said.

The black clad woman hurriedly paid for some paracetamol and left.

I plonked the vodka on the counter and put the money beside it. Shop owner woman looked at me like I was spawn of the devil and took the money, turning from me towards the till. I swiped up the bottle and exited the shop rapidly. Two minutes walk and I was at Abbie’s hall of residence. I pressed the buzzer and waited. Someone buzzed me in without asking who it was. I took the stairs and after one storey arrived at the door of Abbie’s flat. I rapped as hard as I could and after a minute the door was opened by a Malaysian student. Abbie shared with five other Malaysians, none of which she knew. They kept themselves to themselves and spent a long time cooking in the shared kitchen and talking in each other’s rooms. I realised with a jolt of guilt I didn’t actually know any of their names. The girl smiled at me and opened the door wide to let me through.

‘Thanks,’ I said smiling back and stepped inside. I wondered if I had known her too long now to ask her name. Probably. I decided against asking and walked past her to the kitchen. Abbie was sitting at the table deep in concentration painting her nails a metallic blue. This made me realise I had omitted to paint mine any colour at all. Damn! I had failed again in the glamour stakes. I banged the bottle on the table.

‘Beware of Molly bearing gifts,’ I said.

Abbie laughed.

‘Get that bottle open girl. I could murder a drink. In fact I could stab it in a park and bury it,’ she said.

I took two glasses from the draining board and decided on wiping them out with the cloth first. Cleaning wasn’t Abbie’s strong point. I sat back down and poured two generous shots into the glasses. I didn’t bother with a mixer and glugged down the liquid enjoying the searing sensation in my throat.

Abbie regarded me as if I was a specimen in a petri dish she had just found.

‘Molly, you are an animal,’ she said, getting up and retrieving some orange juice from the fridge.

She poured a glug into her glass and offered some to me. I demurred and took my second swig. I felt more relaxed and looked around the kitchen. I had been here a thousand times. It was about as basic as it was possible to get with the cheapest units round the walls and a big plastic table in the middle. It was always grimy feeling in spite of the fact that the university sent a cleaner in every day. The surfaces were littered with the detritus of someone’s meal and there were two rice cookers belonging to the Malaysians with half their contents spilling out.

‘ I am an animal. I like that. Look at the state of this dump. You are all animals,’ I said.

‘Yeah, right, whatever. So are you up for manhunting tonight?’ Abbie said.

‘No. I am up for getting drunk, dancing and having a good time. No men,’ I said.

‘Cool. That will do for me,’ Abbie said.

After several more drinks we wandered out down the street. I felt pleasantly serene from the effect of the alcohol. Everything was good. I took Abbie’s hand and we waltzed down the road together laughing and tripping over each other’s feet.

The next thing I knew we had arrived at the Student Union building, another monstrosity from the sixties with no architectural merit. The door guy leered at us. He was a student but puffed up with his important role of being able to decide who did and didn’t get in. Local boys were often chancing their arm trying to get some university totty.

‘ID ladies,’ he said.

I showed him my card. He actually laughed at my photo which I was rather proud of as I thought I looked mean, moody and magnificent in black and white.

‘That’s never you,’ he said, ‘Far too pretty.’

I couldn’t actually decide if this was some clumsy attempt at a chat up line or if he was just a total asshole. I snapped the ID back in my wallet, glowered, and hurried into the room ahead of me. Abbie propelled me to the bar and ordered two vodka and cokes.

‘What a fucking jerk!’ said Abbie in my ear, having to shout above the din.

I shrugged and downed the vodka in one and then dragged Abbie to the dance floor. It was wonderful to dance, to let go. I felt my cares disappear as my body moved. Nothing mattered except the music and me. I was lost in a trance, in a dream. I felt totally free. I didn’t care what people thought of me or how I looked. I danced and danced with no sense of time. After who knows how long I suddenly felt tired so looked for somewhere to sit. There was a corner of a sofa free so I perched on it, catching my breath. Abbie was nowhere to be seen. I became aware of someone looking at me and turned my head towards the feeling. It was the Asian student from the other day staring at me intently, the one from the coffee bar. He smiled when he saw me look back. I snapped my head away from his direction as fast as I could and scanned the room for Abbie. I STILL couldn’t see her. I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes, feeling suddenly nauseous. I would just have to go home. I had had way too much vodka. I opened my eyes again but the room began to spin. It was better to close them again. I became aware of someone holding onto my hands. I flicked my eyes open again in shock and saw it was him, the guy from the coffee bar. He smiled and leaned in to speak to me.

‘Hi I’m Taj. Are you ok? You seem a bit drunk,’ he said.

I felt myself stiffen in shock.

‘Yes I am fine. Absolutely fine. I’ve lost my friend,’ I said.

My mind registered the fact he was called Taj.

Taj.

It suited him.

‘Come dance with me. It’ll make you feel better. I promise,’ he said.

He didn’t wait for an answer and I felt myself being dragged to the dance floor. Taj was holding me up and I was very close to him. As he was taller than me I could just see his shirt and my face was pressed against the hairs coming out of the top of it. I could smell his aftershave, something spicy and expensive smelling, subtle. We were swaying around together as if there was old-fashioned music playing when really it was fast, thumping dance grooves. Normally, I would have pulled away by now but I suddenly felt safe and warm and I had no need to free myself. Everything was okay. I had no idea how long the dancing went on but as he gripped me ever tighter I realised I had never been this close to a man before apart from Miles. He felt completely different to Miles though. I could feel myself attracted to him in spite of inner resistance as if something animal was rising within me, something I had never allowed myself to let free rein to before.

The next thing I remember we were outside in the street and Taj was making me drink a bottle of water. I could feel myself swaying and I had to concentrate on not falling over.

‘Oh no. How did this happen? You must think I am really stupid,’ I said.

‘No, not at all. You just had too much to drink. It happens. I don’t really drink myself,’ Taj said.

‘I need to go home,’ I said.

‘I can drive you. My car is around the corner,’ he said.

‘No, no. Please don’t bother. I am fine. I can get a taxi,’ I said realising that I had no money for a taxi but I wasn’t going to tell him that.

He didn’t reply but just steered me along the road until we reached a black jeep Cherokee. It was huge and very shiny and clean. It looked like something a rap star would drive, a little over the top for a student in Manchester.

Taj pressed a key fob and opened the door.

‘Isn’t this a bit pretentious? Is it really your car?’ I said and then instantly regretted it, realising I shouldn’t be antagonising my rescuer. A little voice somewhere deep inside of me was telling me I shouldn’t be getting in the car of a complete stranger but another voice was also telling me I didn’t have much option given the state I was in.

‘Do you think so?’ Taj said. ‘I think you might be right. My Dad bought it for me as a birthday present. I was kind of hoping it would be a babe magnet,’ he said.

‘I don’t mean to be rude. It’s very nice,’ I said.

I was bundled into the front passenger seat and started to feel a little more human. Everything inside was pristine. The dashboard was black and so were the seats. Taj turned to me as he started the car and the dash lit up.

‘Where do you live?’ he said.

I felt the usual stab of embarrassment that I was going to have to tell him that I lived in Hulme.

I took a deep breath.

‘Hulme. Rolls Crescent.’ I said, staring straight ahead.

‘Really. How cool,’ he said and started to punch the information into the satnav. I had never been in a car with one of these before. As we started down the road I was startled by the strident voice of satnav woman giving directions.

It didn’t take long until we arrived at my front door.

‘It’s a nice house,’ said Taj looking at our red front door and sounding as if he meant it. I was taken aback by his lack of snobbishness. Usually, people would make some disparaging comment about my area unless they were gay and then they would think it trendy. I had got used to it.

I sat with my hands in my lap and looked down. I was unsure of what to do. I still felt drunk but not quite as bad as I had been in the club. Normal consciousness was seeping back in.

The silence seemed to go on forever. I had to break it.

‘Thanks. For bringing me home I mean. It’s so sweet of you. You didn’t have to. And thanks for not slagging off my house.’

He laughed.

‘Why would I do that? I hear the parties in Hulme are the best in town. What are they called? Shebeens. Yes, shebeens the police daren’t raid,’ he said.

I smiled.

‘Yes, good parties,’ I said. ‘We know how to enjoy ourselves.’

I wondered if I should invite him in. I decided against it. I was off men remember and anyway Dad might still be up.

‘Thanks again,’ I said and got out of the car rapidly. I swayed up the path and fumbled in my jacket pocket for the key. Thankfully it was still there and I managed to open the door. I turned before I shut it behind me and waved at Taj. He waved back, smiling broadly.

I shut the door, relief flooding over me that I had finally got home safe.

Without knowing why I sank to my knees and started to cry. The tears ran down my face causing my eyeliner to run. I brushed my hand across my cheeks and saw the black come off onto my palm. There was no sound in the house. Dad must be in bed. That was a relief.

I crawled up the stairs using my hands to stabilise myself as I went. I crashed on top of the bed with relief and fell asleep almost immediately, not even bothering to take my boots off.

My dreams were vivid, more so than usual.

I dreamed I was going up winding stairs to a club door entrance. Taj was walking behind me, pushing me from behind, sometimes putting his hands on my butt to get me along. In the dream I was irritated that he was doing this. He shouldn’t be touching me. It seemed like the rickety stairs went on forever. I awoke abruptly from this dream and my throat was sore with dehydration. I stumbled to the bathroom for a glass of water. I downed the glass quickly, feeling much better and greedily poured myself another one.

My head was thumping with a regular beat. I scrabbled in the cabinet for some painkillers and quickly found them and swallowed two. I walked back to bed and undressed myself properly this time. I dived under the covers and felt better. Taj came into my mind. How weird that he had been at the club after I had just noticed him a few days before. He had been so unexpectedly nice. He hadn’t taken advantage of me or been mean at all. Was it fate that I had met him? No, Molly I said to myself firmly. You are not getting interested in a man. You don’t need a man. You need a job. You need to concentrate on your studies. You are going places.

But Taj stayed in my mind as I fell aback to sleep. This time I slept more soundly and I didn’t remember my dreams when I woke up the next morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of Italy

For my 50th birthday my husband took me to Italy for a treat. We went to Umbria which is billed a a quieter version of Tuscany and so it was.

It was beautiful and I learned how to smile again. Our hotel was on the top of a hill and it had been an old castle. The views were the most wonderful thing. You could see for miles: olive groves, woodlands, farmland right down in the valley and mountains in the distance. It was a perfect landscape – a little bit of everything. The hotel grounds were full of birds singing away until the evening. Every day was sunshine but one when it rained.  I loved it.

We went on lots of outings in the hire car to smart mediaeval towns full of flowers. We ate some amazing lunches. Italian gelato is exquisite, absolutely nothing like British ice cream. I must learn how to make it. We don’t eat meat but the rich farmland meant there were lots of vegetable dishes to choose from.

There was something special about the area. Pilgrims come from all over the world to the shrines of St Francis. Many saints had made their homes here in the past, living in caves in the hills. I could see why. There was a spiritual quality to the place, particularly on the high ground which I hadn’t felt since the West Highlands. You can feel close to God here.

I felt far from the cares of my life. I could feel the weight of my depression leaving me and even my constant sinusitis got better. I ate too much and drank too much and delighted in everything. On the last evening I sat on the terrace and tried to imprint the view on my brain so that I could remember it back in dreary old England.

Of course you cannot be on holiday forever though I wish you could. I need to incorporate at least some aspects of the trip into my life. I have concocted an ambition to have a little albergo in the hills  of Umbria and have people to stay. It would be wonderful. It can be my goal.

Already back in England I can feel the weight returning so I must fight to remember how life can be. I must think of Italy when the shadows come. One day I will get there.