writing

Surviving a Shitstorm

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“I had planned to go easy on you, but there’s this fierce warrior-goddess inside you, fighting with all her strength, calling out for a deeper treatment”. That was my reflexologist, mapping the soles of my feet exactly five days after my world imploded. I wanted to believe her, but not even head-to-toe chainmail could have made me feel warrior-like. A shitstorm had hit me, and I didn’t have a clue how to survive it.

You don’t need the hyperventilating, tears-and-snot detail of it all; suffice it to say, 2016 tore me apart. It dealt me one blow after another throughout the year, culminating in pure heartbreak. It unstitched me at the seams and didn’t stop until it had sunk its beastly claws into the very core of me. It catapulted me into a reality I could never have imagined and that I couldn’t stomach; anything I ate rose back up my throat choking me like the words I couldn’t say out loud. For a while, I’d had the only thing that mattered to me – LOVE – and in the slam of a door it went up in flames.  

Just like the two fishes symbolic of his zodiac sign, my lover’s heart began to swim in two opposing directions: one half chased something he didn’t even know existed, while the other half clutched at the shadows of the happiness he was throwing away. He became the epitome of Piscean indecision; a dark, deep, watery, enchanting and soulful mystery, whose penchant for living in a fantasy world ultimately demolished the reality we’d built down here on earth. Bags were packed, contracts were broken, memories were stuffed into boxes, keys were returned. The sky went black.  

In the first waves of shock, I sank. I reeled from the agony of it all, barely breathing. I knew that existing solely on wine and toast wasn’t sustainable, and that crying all day at my desk would wear thin with my boss, so I gave myself permission to do whatever was necessary to feel human again. If this involved letting people down, changing plans on a whim, over-indulging and over-spending, so be it. Anything to make me feel safe. Anything to make me feel loved. Anything to replace the weight of mourning with the lightness of joy. I asked myself: where do you want to be while you feel like this? Bali. The answer arrived like Usain Bolt. Just like that, I gave myself permission to escape.  

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I clung to this decision like a liferaft in the Drake Passage, with resounding approval from loved ones. “Put an ocean between it all and it might look a little funnier”, a text message read as I departed Heathrow ashen and depleted of strength. I dragged the shell of my former self 7,760 miles from the source of my pain, and touched down in The Land of a Thousand Temples, desperate to be healed.

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I never thought I’d be grown up enough to take a sabbatical. That was a word you heard whispered amongst your parents’ friends, referring in hushed tones to an acquaintance whose life had fallen apart to such an extent she couldn’t get through a dinner party without laying her mascara-streaked face down on the crockery and going to sleep in front of seven strangers. Yet here I was, amongst the hippies and the Hindus, beginning my own sabbatical. “I just need Bali to throw as much weird healing at me as possible”, I declared, and the island dutifully delivered.

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Legend has it that the magic of Bali – the very essence of why it’s such a healing haven – lies in its volcanic soil. This magic crept under my skin, whispering reassuringly, and I had no choice but to listen. I dug my feet into the earth. I howled at the moon and drank the stars. I climbed peaks in the blackness of night to watch the sunrise. I ceremonially released the past and beckoned the future with the help of the wildly crashing ocean. I covered myself in glitter and danced to reggae with strangers. I formed a coven with two amazing merwitches (a word we hope The OED will officially recognise someday).

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I skinny-dipped and delved into life’s big questions with a beautiful Alaskan kindred spirit. I poured my sweat and tears onto the yoga mat at every opportunity. I confronted my fears. I ate my weight in tropical fruit. I found a 95-year-old medicine man who healed me in mysterious ways I am not meant to understand. I bathed in waterfalls and monsoon downpours. I received massages and heart-melting smiles from locals. I gained a Balinese family. I met a guy at the public cremation of a princess. I met a guy whilst rescuing a litter of kittens from certain death. I drank coconuts and cocktails, watched sunsets and let turquoise waters kiss my skin.

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I practiced gratitude and spent time alone, absorbed in the chaos of my inner world, trying to make sense of it all.

I SURVIVED.

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After months of suffocating anxiety, finally I was able to just sit – with no distractions or support – and contemplate my life without the overwhelming sense of panic, anger, grief and fear I’d been consumed with. Where once I’d been rigid with tension, my body now relaxed and the waterfall of tears slowed to a trickle, rising up only in moments of healthy release. I gave myself permission to trust my instincts again, without which I would never have washed up on the shores of Bali.

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“Find closure”, people say. Closure. When your heart is still fully engaged in a situation, closure is the kind of word that makes you want to tell everyone to kindly fuck off. But the truth is, whichever word you use – peace, acceptance, forgiveness – you will eventually find a way of not being consumed by the issue every breathing second. And when you realise you’ve reached that point, it’s a Margaritas-all-round kind of milestone.

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Sometimes I still crumble – actually, let’s go with often. I’m a work in progress. Because I handed over my heart to a boy with blue eyes, for what I understood to be a lifetime. Because his face makes me weep with love, familiarity, confusion and loss. Because we shared private jokes nobody else gets. Because of memories and landmark dates. Because when he danced my sides split with laughter. Because he was my home. Because I can’t switch the love off. Because the world we created together was demolished one Wednesday night. Because trust was replaced with betrayal. Because my mind takes me to dark places when I imagine him smiling with someone who has thinner legs than me, a nose piercing, and the kind of forehead that can pull off a fringe. When my brain lures me there, I tumble through deep portals, into galaxies of the unthinkable, unsure if I’ll make it back alive. But I always do, somehow.

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Living without the person you love to the depths of your soul feels like shit, guys. There’s no sugar-coating it. But somehow we must rise. Somehow we must find a way to steer our ships calmly and authentically through stormy waters. Somehow we must hold the shards of our shattered hearts in our palms, and ever-so-slowly place the pieces back into our chests. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces will never fit together the same way again, but a new shape will form, which we must grow to love. Above all, we must remember that scars are beautiful; they’re the tapestry of our existence.

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Every day during my two months in Bali, I’ve embraced fire; to cleanse, to feel strong. I’ve breathed volcanic air, fired up my muscles in Vinyasa Flow, lit candles and incense at bedtime and burned the toxicity of 2016 on the beach at midnight. I’ve worshipped that majestic fireball that’s born in the sky each morning and that dies on the horizon each night. Fire has become everything to me; it has attempted to evaporate the water of his Piscean energy and to dry the tears that have drowned me. There’s a burning determination within me to turn my pain into productivity. He may have written the ending to our story, but I’m in charge of the narrative from here on.

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Will I write a tale in which I transform the turmoil of 2016’s shitstorm into progression, personal growth and flourishing creativity? Yes.

Will I continue to heal, slowly and delicately unfurling like a leaf in a slow-motion nature documentary until I’m vibrant and whole again? Yes.

Will I remain steadfast in my pursuit of a life that sets my soul on fire? Yes.

And will the warrior-goddess that my reflexologist saw within me rise triumphant in the end? Absofuckinglutely.  

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Living The London Life

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Proudly published in 2014 by Forward Poetry, in an anthology called Everlasting Words: A Collection of Poetry.

In this city I can be whoever I wish.

I can be anonymous, blend with the crowd and close my eyes on the world.

I can be bold, stand out from the crowd and open my eyes to all the world has to offer.

In this city I can follow trends, or push against them.

In this city I need no friends, but I have many.

In this city no face is familiar, but every face is an ally.

Some days I resist the city’s pushy advances, some days I crave them.

Sometimes the mayhem bullies me into my shell, sometimes it draws me out.

This is a city of concrete grey; this is a city bursting with colour.

This city is a ferocious tiger; this city is a fragile butterfly.

I see brick walls and dead ends everywhere, yet possibility all around.

This city makes me feel young and energetic.

This city makes me feel old and tired.

In this city I can rebel or conform.

This city teaches me how wise I am and how much I have yet to learn.

This urban environment both stifles and fuels my hunger.

In this city I feel lost, until abruptly I am found.

Elements of me rest dormant while others are re-awakened.

The people in this city barely acknowledge me, yet they care deeply for my wellbeing.

In this city I can be both the exception to the rule, and the norm.

In this city I am equally free, and equally trapped.

I am living in this city’s heart, and this city is living in mine.

Habitat Restaurant & Bar

Food review of Habitat Restaurant & Bar, Brisbane, Australia (first published on brisbane.concreteplayground.com.au)

If the definition of its name is anything to go by, you would expect Habitat to present itself as an environment in which you can feel naturally at home; a welcoming locale, day or night. Happily, this West End restaurant and bar successfully lives up to that expectation, providing a trendy yet unpretentious setting for post-work drinks, as well as a life-saving breakfast menu full of inventive hangover cures, should they be required the morning after. With a lunch and dinner menu equally as strong – featuring locally sourced, organic produce and ample portion sizes – Habitat proves itself to be as versatile as it is conveniently placed.

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Ask the staff for the best brunch recommendation and you’re sure to be advised that nothing beats the Vegemite and cheddar loaf, served with smoked bacon, free range poached eggs, rocket and macerated tomatoes ($13.50).  Sadly for pescetarians, it’s not possible to substitute the smoked leg ham for smoked salmon on an order of eggs benedict, but you can get a vitamin-rich alternative to meat by requesting a serving of beautifully ripe avocado instead.  Not a lover of the mighty poached egg?  Fear not: the menu creatively deviates away from the more predictable breakfast offerings with flavoursome dishes such as twice baked pumpkin and honey soufflé garnished with rocket, parmesan and feta ($14.00), or the aromatic white bean cassoulet served with ciabatta and lemon caper crème fraîche ($14.50).

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There’s an air of rugged masculinity to the spacious interior; throughout its visually balanced design it combines sleek, industrial-chic with rustic textures and moody grey tones.  A long, narrow mezzanine level separates diners from the main bar area, and gets you a little closer to the street espresso bar (which, incidentally, serves a thoroughly decent latté, complete with the customary froth-art).  It’s this confident design amalgamation, teamed with laid-back beats and a solid selection of craft beers and signature cocktails, which creates the buzz and draws the evening crowds. It’s worth noting, however, that whilst this laid-back local continues to gain popularity with Westies and visitors alike, aim to arrive by 10pm to avoid the disappointment of missing last orders from the bar.

Rating: 7/10

Style: Modern Australian

Ideal dish: Twice baked pumpkin and honey soufflé

Price Range: 3/5

Outdoor Seating: Yes

Good For Groups: Yes

Delivery: No

Wheelchair Access: Yes

Takes Reservations: Yes

 

The Big Green Apple

First published by Responsible Travel

If nature in New York sounds like an oxymoron, it’s time to take a broader look at what The Empire State offers beyond Manhattan’s urban jungle.  The excitement of NYC is not to be missed, but when you’ve had your fill of skyscrapers and shopping sprees, head to the iconic Grand Central Terminal and board a train away from the city’s buzz and bright lights.  You might just discover that the Big Apple is bigger and greener than you thought.

If you’re tight for time, a one hour train journey from Downtown will take you to the seaside shores of Long Island, where South Oyster Bay and the Amityville River offer tranquil waters for kayaking, and the many small, car-free islands reward hikers with spectacular city and ocean views. Native marine life is abundant, and aboard the numerous boats departing Riverhead and Montauk you can discover the thrill of spotting whales, seals and porpoises in the wild.  You can easily spend a day on Long Island connecting with nature, enjoying fresh seafood and still make it back to Manhattan by cocktail hour!

It may not seem conceivable amidst the hustle and bustle of Times Square, but drive 90 minutes away from the traffic-filled city and you’ll find a winter wonderland of snowy mountain peaks, frozen ponds and waterfalls.  Their close proximity to Manhattan makes The Catskills a popular winter sports destination; snowmobiling, snowshoeing, tubing and ice fishing are just a few ways to enjoy all that beautiful white fluffy stuff. Cosy lodges dot the land, beckoning you in with log fires, locally brewed ales and eclectic menus featuring local farm produce.

Further Upstate lie the vast Adirondack Mountains, where hiking and trekking opportunities are inexhaustible.  Local guides offer insider knowledge of the landscape and with over one hundred summits, it’s a paradise for hiking enthusiasts.  Advanced climbers skilled in self-navigation can try bushwhacking but you don’t have to tackle “The 46” to appreciate nature’s splendour – Adirondack Park is home to many easier walking trails.  Cascade Mountain’s easy-to-reach peak is a favourite amongst locals, and Lake Placid (two-time Winter Olympic venue) welcomes walkers of all levels.  For an alternative endorphin-kick, try white water rafting in this stunning wilderness.  The region is also blessed with the fiery colours of Fall, as the deciduous forest bursts into colour each September and October.  The Lake Placid community marks this annual natural phenomenon with the Flaming Leaves Festival, and the area comes alive with hot air balloon rides, live music, craft stalls and ski-jumping competitions.

While Manhattanites speed through life in a “New York minute”, a few hours from the throng of yellow taxis and pretzel stalls is a community of people for whom time passes more gently.  As a non-commercialised society, the Amish are known for living without modern conveniences, believing them unnecessary distractions from their simpler way of life.  The Amish Trail, leading through Cattaraugus County’s Enchanted Mountains, is a rewarding way to learn about their fascinating culture and history, and glimpse the world through Amish eyes.  Follow the trail and you’ll see communities going about their daily lives, practicing traditional farming methods, travelling by buggy and dressing in characteristic plain clothes.  Business is done from people’s homes, advertised by hand-painted signs inviting you to venture inside and sample diverse goods ranging from individually stitched quilts to homegrown vegetables.  Their shops are worlds away from Bloomingdales and Macy’s; you’ll receive a personal, friendly welcome and come away with locally produced goods that you won’t find elsewhere, as well as a better understanding of their approach to life.  From here, culture vultures can take a scenic drive north west to Victor, Ontario County, where the culture of the Native American Seneca people is preserved and celebrated at the Ganondagan Historic Center.  Visiting the reconstructed bark longhouse is akin to stepping into a time machine, where Seneca life and heritage dating back to the 17th century is depicted through historical artefacts, educational videos, dance, food and nature walking trails.

Back in NYC the action continues 24/7, but peace and quiet can be enjoyed by escaping the city within the city.  An early morning meander through Central Park reveals the urban hub at its least chaotic, with only pre-breakfast meeting joggers to keep you company.  Well marked routes lead you through the most photographed spots, including the “Imagine” mosaic; a tribute to the late John Lennon.  Outside the park, bikes are a great mode of exploration, with free route maps and dedicated Greenways separating cyclists from traffic.  When you reach the Hudson River Greenway, park your bike and switch to a stand-up paddle board – you’ll experience unexpected tranquility and views of the metropolis you’ll never forget.  It might even prompt you to shout “I heart New York” at the top of your lungs!

60 Minutes with Bethan Roberts

Interview with author Bethan Roberts (first published in the Fiveways Directory)

It’s the morning after the launch party of her new book, and local author Bethan Roberts confesses to being a little fatigued (not that you’d know it from looking at her; she’s fresh-faced, smiley and impeccably dressed. I like her instantly).  When she presents me with a hardback copy of Mother Island I’m so thrilled I almost crack the spine and begin reading on the spot.  Remembering my manners, and the point of our meeting, we begin to discuss her source of inspiration.

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The story is set in isolated Anglesey, a ruggedly beautiful island where Roberts spent time as a child, but rather than focusing on the island’s history, this story observes a more contemporary, domestic issue.  “When I started writing it I’d had a baby about a year earlier and I didn’t have time for the research a historical novel requires, so I decided to bite the bullet and write about what I knew: babies.  I’d employed a part time childminder and I started considering what it was like to be a nanny, to love those children and every night give them back.”  Pondering this whilst navigating her own fears as a mother lead her to write an utterly engaging tale which explores a darker side to childcare, and deals with what happens if the nanny doesn’t give the baby back.

“The experience of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is really what writing novels is about,” explains Roberts, as we discuss the main character, Maggie, who abducts two-year-old Samuel from his family in a misguided quest to rebuild her shattered life.  Through opposing character perspectives, the novel dives into the fragile dynamics between parent and childminder; a delicate balance of authority, understanding, power and, most crucially, trust.

BETHAN ROBERTS, PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHARLIE HOPKINSON.

With Mother Island firmly on store bookshelves, Roberts must shift her focus to her next creation.  But she says she’s unlikely to complete anything in local coffee shops, joking that whilst she loves “feeling connected” to the area and having a sense of belonging, bumping into friends and neighbours is a slippery slope towards every writer’s worst enemy: procrastination.

Full of endearing modesty, Roberts leaves me with a list of “must-reads” by other authors, including her recent favourite, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, hailing it a “wonderful” and “generous” book.  But it’s Mother Island I’m most keen to devour, and moments after her departure I’m immersed in the first chapter.  Perhaps it’s her ability to tackle uncomfortable subjects with effortless empathy, or the suspense she generates from page one, but for the next hour I’m unable to answer the phone or do anything besides let my imagination wander to that mysterious island and all the secrets it promises to reveal.

New Burger on the Block

Food review of Coggings & Co, Brighton (first published in the Fiveways Directory)

It’s an exciting prospect for any foodie when a new independent restaurant opens; so how about one that uses locally-sourced ingredients, boasts eco-friendly furnishings, displays the work of local artists and just happens to serve up astonishingly mouthwatering burgers? Introducing Coggings & Co – Seven Dials’ new burger restaurant and gastronomic talk of the town.

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It seems Brighton is experiencing a burger revolution; soggy buns and meat of dubious origin are no longer deemed acceptable.  Today, the hungry customer seeks high quality and creativity; an expectation Coggings & Co more than satisfies.

It’s with keen anticipation that I enter the new premises of Andrew Coggings, former Fiveways business owner and 2013 Sustainable Restaurant Awards winner.  Andrew’s ethical approach has lost none of the key attributes that previously made him successful; sustainability and service remain high priorities, and he demands nothing short of perfection where quality is concerned.

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The inventive menu is built around the very best Sussex produce; beef from Redlands Farm, brioche buns from the Real Patisserie.  Whilst this menu is compact, it takes us some time to digest the options; local photographer (and my gastro partner-in-crime) Pam Dolton tackles the meat while I peruse the specials board.  We’re so excited we can barely control ourselves.  The mention of chilli jam wins me over and I opt for the spiced cauliflower and sweetcorn fritter, whilst my beef-loving colleague chooses the brisket with a chipotle chilli kick.

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There isn’t much conversation once the food arrives; stacked high, and presented simply but attractively on wooden boards, these are the Mount Everest of burgers.  It’s fair to say we’re both equally overcome by the aromas, textures and flavours of our respective dishes.  This is undeniably good food.  Garnished with fresh leaves, extraordinarily good chips and homemade aioli it’s also incredibly filling food, but it’s inconceivable not to at least attempt a dessert.  Opposite me, Pam looks as though she might burst with delight when a plate of mini doughnuts arrives, filled with black cherry coulis and accompanied by a pot of Cocoa Loco Fairtrade organic chocolate dipping sauce.  Heaven on a plate, basically.

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Uncomfortably full but ridiculously happy, we’re unable to move for some time; Andrew’s experienced and loyal staff don’t rush us.  We spend some time admiring the quirky artwork and relaxed aesthetics of the space, before eventually waddling home.  Our verdict: Coggings & Co is a triumph and a must-try.

Words: Rosie Greenaway barefootblissblog.wordpress.com

Photos: Pamela Dolton www.pdphotography.uk.com