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.

Notes from The Old Chapel – summer – a year in Norfolk

It has been a year since we moved to The Old Chapel in Norfolk. It does not seem like a year. The summer is in full swing, the sun is shining and everything is in bloom. It is an idyllic time of year. The fields are full or ripening barley and the hedgerows are full of birdsong and wild flowers. It is hard to believe that a few months ago I felt like I was freezing to death.

It is wonderfully warm. The birds in the garden, ever hungry, get through a container of bird food a day. It seems like one minute it’s full, the next it’s gone. The garden is growing vigorously in its unruly way and I am battling weeds and overgrown bushes.

My mood has improved with the sunshine as has my sinusitis that has blighted my health this year. I am feeling almost well though I have to guard against my dark moods.

I set up a business this year, LittleBuddha, where I sell handicrafts online from India and Nepal. Business has been very slow and though I love selling Buddhist things I am not sure it has a long term future. It seems pretty hard to get noticed online and I can’t afford heavy advertising. I am deciding if it is worth keeping it going for longer or if I should just jack it. It has taken up a lot of my time for very litte reward.

My novel lies neglected. I have not been very productive with writing so I need to get back to it. I can feel it calling me again.

I have done a lot of work on myself to try to heal my mental health but it often feels like one step forward and two steps back. I have found meditation and the tenets of Buddhism to be helpful. I try to concentrate on the moment and not dwell on the past and future. I think I may still need to seek outside help.

The Chapel is lovely to live in in summer. The conservatory holds the heat and is wonderful to sit in any time of the day or night. I still feel like it isn’t mine, that I am just a visitor renting a holiday home for a time. I need to make my stamp on it. If it could be eternal summer I feel like I could be truly well here.

I am mostly alone as my husband works long hours. I sometimes wish for friends but I would rather have no friends than the wrong ones. This is a mistake I have made many times. It is a year I have shed yet more toxic people from my life and I don’t regret it. It was a necessary clearing out of the past.

My dog Didi is  a constant companion and he is a great friend, funny, mischevious and ever loyal. We heal each other.

Looking outward, it has been a year of many disasters: Brexit, the election, terrorism attacks, the London Tower fire. All these events weigh on the mind. I struggle to find a way to deal with their impact.

I feel like there has been a lot of reflection but not enough action. I need to move forward to find my place in the world. I feel a great restlessness, a need to do something meaningful, to make some mark.

I need to write… and maybe something else…

Walk in Norfolk – Creake Abbey and Burnham Thorpe

On Sunday along with husband and dog I set out for a walk. The rain of recent days gave way to sunshine and mild temperatures. We went to north Norfolk as we often do as it’s prettier than the bit of Norfolk we live in.

We arrived at Creake Abbey. This is a ruin left in the Middle Ages due to plague. It’s peaceful. I like ruined things. There isn’t a great deal of it left, just two arches and part of a wall. There is a smart tea room with tables outside where you can have light bites. I had fish cakes. It was very pleasant.

We set out with our trusty guide book which turned out to be very untrusty. There was a large sign saying keep out where we were supposed to start and a handy map telling us that the walk was wrongly marked in the guide book and we had to go a different way. Very get off my land. You get a lot of this in Norfolk as in the rest of England. It is all owned and it seems like in a lot of it ramblers are not welcome. We found the “permissive path” and set off. Our walk was now two miles shorter than it should have been. We wound our way across fields and farm tracks. The countryside is full of life at this time of year. There is cow parsley along side the hedgerows, mallow flowers, butterflies, buttercups, all manner of wild flowers bursting into life. The farmers’ fields are full of yellow rape. I felt totally at peace.

The walk went through Burnham Thorpe which, to my surprise, is the birth place of Nelson. We stumbled across a plaque saying the rectory he had been born in was on this spot. Sadly it has been torn down. There is a smart holiday let barn built in its place. I felt a fascination to learn more about Nelson and read about him when I got home. He certainly had an eventful life and went to sea at the age of twelve. All a contrast to the quiet of his birth place.  The village is small and sleepy and very pretty. There are lots of intriguing cottages which would be idyllic to live in.

More farm tracks along the walls of the Holkham estate until we finally got back to Creake Abbey where we started. At one point we had to navigate through a field of llamas who looked at us inquisitively. It was an easy, flat walk through gentle countryside and I felt good when I finished. I think it was about two and a half hours walk at a slow pace.

North Norfolk is always a delight with a variety of countryside – green pasture, crops, small copses of woodland and a glimpse of sea in the distance.

A good day.

Book Review: A Street Cat Named Bob James Bowen

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This book was bought for me as a Christmas present and I left it lying around for a while. When finally I opened it up I had a pleasant surprise. It is the story of a young Australian guy living in London. It opens with him leaving his sheltered accommodation for recovering drug addicts in Tottenham.  The protaganist is down on his luck. He has been homeless and a heroin addict after his failure to succeed in the music business. Into this dark world steps Bob, a cat he discovers hanging around at the bottom of  the stairs. They srike up a friendship and a close bond develops. We share their adventures as James gets his life together and comes off methadone. Busking in Covent Garden as a source of income Bob is a lucky charm. Everyone stops to pet him and the money rolls in enabling the pair to recover from street life. The book is simply written and hopeful. The mood is not black in spite of the  inauspicious start and we see the goodness in so many people. This is a story of redemption and love. It was quite lovely.

Yogi Cameron Diet – Week 7 Review

So I am already on week seven of the Yogi Cameron diet. The diet rules remain the same this week as for other weeks. The spiritual emphasis is on refraining from sex. Yogi Cameron suggests it takes away your energy from more important things like developing your spiritual practice. I think this idea will be very hard for most Western people where we are taught that a healthy sex life is good for us. I think when I was younger I would have scoffed but now I am older I can see some wisdom in it. My interest in all matters sexual has certainly waned in recent years. Yogi Cameron even abandoned a relationship to concentrate on Yogidom. You have to admire the dedication that I think most people could not emulate.

I have felt better than last week though I think I am still a little under the weather and get tired easily. I have discovered the joys of stewed fruit for breakfast. This is recommended as part of an ayurvedic diet as it is easy on the digestion. Just add water to fruit and simmer for a while. Add a little sugar though nowhere near as much as they tell you to in traditional cook books. The result is divine. It works for lots of kinds of fruits like cooking apples, pears. I have even tried strawberries and nectarines.

I have been sticking to the vegetable curries and rice for lunch. I have been doing much better this week on the no alcohol rule though I did have two glasses of wine on Thursday when I went out for a Thai meal. It was easy to stick to ayurvedic principles in Thai food. I had a vegetable curry with rice. I should have resisted the wine but I didn’t.

I still haven’t lost any weight. Sigh. To do this I think I am going to have to make some  significant changes to the diet.

I have kept up yoga and meditation. I am now meditating for twenty minutes. I am more successful in going deep on some days rather than others. I feel calm and I am not so bothered by negative events as I used to be. I am learning to manage stress and to bounce back from setbacks. I think I still need more help in this area. I really need to believe in myself as a trainee yogi and convince myself I can do it.

Onwards.

Yogi Cameron Diet Week 6 Review

Week 6 of the Yogi Cameron diet is the same as Week 5. The spiritual emphasis is on not stealing.  The diet is the same. I have kept to it about eighty per cent of the time. I have still been drinking alcohol which I am still annoyed with myself about. As of today I have eradicated all alcohol from the house so as of today I haven’t had any. I have taken the pledge. Food wise I have been doing pretty well and eating healthy whole foods. I notice when out and about how difficult it is to get healthy food in town. Most choices seem to be really unhealthy and don’t fit with ayurvedic principles.

I haven’t been feeling well this week. I don’t think it’s to do with the diet. Maybe I am coming down with something. I am not sure if it’s mental or physical or a  bit of both. The week has been full of minor irritations. I am facing up to a lot of my demons and I know this means I have to make changes in my life. I need to change the way my mind works. It is a  lot of work and sometimes overwhelming. I am hoping I will be better when I get through to the other side.

I have been reading more about ayurveda. There are a lot of conflicting opinions as the diet comes from ancient Vedic texts which are thousands of years old. Some ayurvedic diets allow meat and fish but Yogi Cameron does not. I am doing the more strict type. The emphasis is on fresh foods that are grown locally and organically. Eggs are almost never mentioned. I have read this is because they are considered dirty and low because they come out of a chicken’s bottom. I have still been having the odd egg. Most Indian recipes with eggs in them stem from the Raj and the British influence.

Here’s hoping to a return to health and well being next week.

Yogi Cameron Diet – Week 5 Review


I had a health check this week as I am a new patient at the surgery. I am in perfect health according to the nurse. This is good news. She said I am not overweight but for myself I would like to lose about a stone. Frustratingly, I still haven’t lost any weight. I can’t blame Yogi Cameron though. I can only blame myself as I keep cheating.

The diet is the same as the other weeks. The spiritual emphasis is on not stealing. This doesn’t just mean actual stealing but other types like stealing a parking space. I must admit I don’t do this type of behaviour really so I can feel success in this area.

I have been feeling out of balance this week and as a result I have been eating far too much and I have drunk too much alcohol. I am feeling really annoyed with myself for my lack of willpower. I have been eating all healthy whole foods but just too much of them. I find myself ravenously hungry in the evening and that’s when I cheat by having a piece of bread.

I have had lots of thoughts from the past that make me feel bad. I think this is part of the healing process to get it all out of your head. It’s hard though. I have kept up my yoga, meditation and praying. I have slept well. I have had a reasonable amount of energy but not as much as I would like.

I need to get my head into the space where I follow the diet properly and then I can really evaluate it.

Notes from the Old Chapel – Dog days of summer

Another peaceful week has whizzed by in rural Norfolk. I was busy with a wedding anniversary and husband’s birthday. This involved breaks from dieting as I had two meals out to celebrate the occasions. I do believe in marking things though and that you can be too strict with lifestyle things. For our anniversary we went to the Sainsbury’s Art Centre in Norwich, saw two very good exhibitions and had lunch in the cafe. Parisian photography and Parisian art. Just my kind of thing. Excellent. For husband’s birthday we went to the Dial House in Reepham. This is a Georgian  house made into a swanky b and b and restaurant. The restaurant is quirky with lots of antiques dotted around. Everything is for sale including the chairs you ar sitting on. Meals are served on mismatched vintage plates. It has a certain charm. I managed to stay  vegetarian with an aubergine and cheese dish. I quite enjoyed it though the food is not absolutely top notch, more rustic. I found mine lacking in flavour.

I have been dotting around the area doing various tasks. I keep getting lost on the country roads having absolutely no sense of direction. It seems like I always end up on the way to Norwich whichever way I start out. The local roads are mostly single track which has its own etiquette. I am getting the hang of it. My doctor’s appointment involved a very twisty twiny journey so it was  a relief to discover at my health check that I am in perfect health. I had to celebrate by getting lost on the way back.

We are having a typically English summer with lots of rain and cloud with occasional bursts of sunshine. Is it just me or did summers used to be sunnier?

So I am bursting with health and my mood has been quite good. Health inside and out. I have been writing regularly and I feel like my characters are really taking off.

Our sewage treatment facility seems to be screwed and is now overflowing with any water usage whatsoever so I will have to have it looked at. There are perils in rural living.

My dog Didi has settled well into rural life and has now turned into a lazy bones who would rather lounge around the house and garden rather than go on long walks. I seem keener than him on the walking thing. The cat, Monty, is still too scared to go outside for some reason and is hiding in the utility room. He is a strange one.

I have bought a beautiful oak kitchen table which has chairs that look like they were hewn in a fairy tale. This fits in with my new found Mrs Tiggywinkle vibe.

All is good.

 

Yogi Cameron Diet – Week 4

I  am sticking with the Yogi Cameron Diet. Week 4 is really the same as Week 3. There is an emphasis on honesty and turning your ‘I can’t’ statements into ‘I can’. The diet is still fruit and vegetables with basmati rice. The largest meal is taken in the middle of the day and there is no eating in the evening.

I must admit to feeling really well this week. I have energy and a sense of well being. I have cheated as it was my wedding anniversary on Thursday so we went out and I had lunch in the UEA art gallery cafe. I had fish cakes so that was a Yogi Cameron no no. I also had wine on Thursday. In spite of this I still feel good. Unfortunately, I still haven’t lost any weight in spite of my vigorous yoga routine, jogging and healthy diet. This is puzzling to me.

All I can do is to be ever more draconian next week. Absolutely no cheating whatsoever. Just fruit and vegetables.

Here’s hoping.