Life Update

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We’re on the move! We will soon be leaving the easy stationary lifestyle of the busy marina for the freedom and peaceful nature of being out cruising on the canal. We’ll still have access to the marina facilities (laundry, showers, chemical toilet emptying and rubbish disposal) for a few months before being completely independent.


John has already joined a gym, I’ll be next, if only for the showers. John actually goes to the gym, I’m not sure if I will, although I did used to get a buzz off the treadmill at my old work. We have a shower on the boat it’s just easier if you use one elsewhere so that you don’t have to constantly fill up the water tank.


Along the canal there are chemical toilet, rubbish disposal and water points, provided by the Canal and River Trust and funded by the licence which all boaters pay.


Continuous cruising means exactly that, that you have to move every two weeks or so, up and down a stretch of reasonable length, in order to satisfy the definition. Like most people, we have to stay in one broad area in order to not be too far from work. We have our route planned, with John able to remember a lot of his old haunts as he continuously cruised here for five years, and was doing so when we met almost twelve years ago.


John goes to the gym on a Saturday or Sunday morning and I’ve spent a couple of those mornings making practice videos, of meditation/relaxation techniques. I’m focussing on content first, before I buy a camera and put a nice top and a bit of makeup on. My plan is to put a few videos up on a new Instagram account and offer bespoke one to one relaxation/meditation/stress management using a down-to-earth occupational therapy and spiritual wellbeing approach.


Netflix: Recently watched two French series- Call my Agent, complete at four series not cancelled in the middle of the story (I find that so irritating about Netflix), and then Family Business (season one with season two confirmed), and have now started watching Atypical from the start as the new season is out.

It seems quiet on WordPress, what’s everyone been up to? I think writing posts has been hard during the pandemic, if so, please let me know what you’ve been up to in the comments, and who knows, maybe it will help inspire a post. I’m grateful to everyone who’s been able to keep on posting whether regularly or occasionally. I love reading blogs rather than scrolling, although I am guilty of that too. Speaking of which, follow me on Instagram always_evolving_ever_real

Welcome to Holland

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So I had this thought. This great thing happened at work and I paused for a moment to really feel it and it made me think, the pain doesn’t go, the guilt doesn’t go.

I remember reading an article about grief, about how people say time heals as if you go back to normal but that never happens, it’s always there. You live with it, it is part of you but it gets maybe a little easier to manage. Like when you have a duvet and you’re trying to stuff it back into the cupboard and it doesn’t fit, that it maybe gets a bit easier to manage or a bit easier to put away.

So I live with the pain like V our friend the musician. Last time we saw her she looked radiant with a stunning new short haircut. She told me that all her life, drink or no drink, drugs or no drugs, she has episodes. The highest of the highs, making music, being on stage, connecting with the crowd, and the lowest of the lows, I’m gonna kill myself I’m gonna kill myself I’m gonna kill myself. She was trying to shave her head and her husband grabbed her and stopped her and that’s why she’s got this groovy new haircut. My mental health training kicked in, I might have said have you sought any help but I didn’t actually say what about antidepressants although I was thinking that. Even though I don’t take them. Despite one evening after my little yoga/dance session listening to Primal Scream I was blind but now I can see and thinking, that’s what I need to do I’ll go on antidepressants! I can be happy! A flash of insight but I still didn’t do it. John said about V well without that maybe she wouldn’t make the music and maybe she can learn to live with it… I thought maybe that’s where the music comes from even though I know that’s a cliche, the whole tortured artist thing.

Anyway this thing happened at work where in the multidisciplinary team meeting, the patients’ families were on zoom. These people, it’s as if you’re watching the news and there’s parents of children who have been abducted and they’re making an appeal. Those parents just look so broken and that’s what these parents look like. I was moved, I thought I’d like to do something for them, maybe some meditation or relaxation. I mentioned this to the new family therapist who is full of compassion, she said she wanted to start a family group and so we decided to do it together.

The first week I taught them counted out breaths* and we did the Metta Bhavana and then week two I did shoulder shrug** and then I did relaxation through the five senses… imagining yourself on a beach or in a wood or garden and all the things you can see, hear etc… one of the men nearly fell off his chair. I knew that one woman had a lot of trouble sleeping so I told them about Jody Whiteley on YouTube and mentioned The Joy of Painting (also on YouTube) put on to soothe by the BBC during lockdown, my mother in law and my sister in law had told me that it made them sleepy and was relaxing. I watched an episode, my eyes filled with tears, what a good man, ‘There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.’

*Firstly become aware that you have four parts to your breathing, the in breath, a little pause at the top of the in breath, the out breath, a little pause before the next in breath. Next, count your next ten out breaths. Count only your out breaths. Notice how your breathing magically slows… Great for the dentist etc.

**First breathe out, allowing you shoulders to relax. Then breathe in slowly and deeply, at the same time slowly drawing your shoulders up to your ears, so that the top of your in breath coincides with your shoulders being fully shrugged up. Hold that tension and your breath for a moment, before gently releasing your outbreath and lowering your shoulders in a controlled way, as if you were lowering a weight on a pulley. Safety- be kind and gentle to your body especially if you have shoulder problems. Don’t do loads in a row- the deep breaths may make you dizzy.

A few days later the family therapist said to me the woman who couldn’t sleep had been doing the shoulder shrug and had put on Jody Whitley and went to sleep straight away. A few days after that she said to me, ‘She wanted me to let you know she tried your technique of relaxing with the five senses and she was asleep before she’d even got past listen to the sounds outside the room,’ (which is the beginning bit where you’re drawing yourself inwards)

I felt very moved. I didn’t say anything at home but later when I was in bed a couple of little tears came out, just indulging in the feeling. I felt like it was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my career. When you work with people who are so complicated and there’s loads of other people working with them how do you know if what you do makes any difference… But here was somebody who was suffering who couldn’t sleep, I taught her something and then she slept. Even for me with all my negativity it was impossible to argue with that. I made a difference. That was worth doing. I did something good.

The next day driving to work I thought that’s where the compassion and the healing that worked for the woman came from; it came from my own pain and guilt and suffering. That’s where the healing comes from or at least that’s where the motivation to help comes from. And I thought that’s kind of the real meaning of the word Alchemy.

This inspirational poem helped STEPS Autism Treehouse Coordinator Claire through the time of her son’s diagnosis.

Welcome to Holland – By Emily Perl Kingsley

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like you’re planning a vacation to Italy. You’re all excited. You get a whole bunch of guidebooks, you learn a few phrases so you can get around, and then it comes time to pack your bags and head for the airport.

Only when you land, the stewardess says, “WELCOME TO HOLLAND.”

You look at one another in disbelief and shock, saying, “HOLLAND? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I SIGNED UP FOR ITALY.”

But they explain that there’s been a change of plan, that you’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

“BUT I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HOLLAND!” you say. ‘I DON’T WANT TO STAY!”

But stay, you do.

You go out and buy some new guidebooks, you learn some new phrases, and you meet people you never knew existed.

The important thing is that you are not in a bad place filled with despair. You’re simply in a different place than you had planned.

It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy, but after you’ve been there a little while and you have a chance to catch your breath, you begin to discover that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. Holland has Rembrandts.

But everyone else you know is busy coming and going from Italy. They’re all bragging about what a great time they had there, and for the rest of your life, you’ll say, “YES, THAT’S WHAT I HAD PLANNED.”

The pain of that will never go away.

You have to accept that pain, because the loss of that dream, the loss of that plan, is a very, very significant loss.

But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you will never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland. 

Warts and All: the highs and lows of being a parent

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John and I had talked on and off for years about writing a kind of anti-parenting manual, or an honest memoir. I had resisted, feeling blocked, muggy and even slightly re-traumatised just discussing it. But John said he wanted to keep it hopeful- if not actually light and amusing- and so offsetting and limiting my tendencies to go all the way down and thereby hopefully protecting my mood and mental health. Once we had decided to do it suddenly articles were everywhere, and of course the more you look at stories on a phone or tablet, the ‘suggested stories for you,’ the more you get.

One of these was an article about an online support group called The Motherload The article was about the fact that they had to tighten everything up stop getting direct messages to protect their mental health because people had been so abusive and it became too much for them. It made me think how mean and judgmental women/mothers can be which is also why it’s so hard to share difficulties, as these people had tried to create a really nice online environment with their motto ‘Sharing the load of motherhood, without judgement.’

It also made me laugh that their examples of shameful things to admit to, that people could share on the forum but wouldn’t be able to share on their own Facebook or whatever, were things like for example you let your child play on their tablet for longer than you intended to or that you ordered a takeaway for tea…

It was like the other week when we were talking about our embryonic ideas for this book and John’s sister said that the worst thing that ever happened to her was that her daughter once threw some French books out of the window because she didn’t want to have a French lesson. As John said to his sister, we don’t want to be dismissive of people’s experiences but…

From our perspective the above examples are laughable of course, and for dealing with the things that we’ve gone through and for anyone dealing with things of a similar magnitude they’re gonna need a bigger boat. I suppose that’s what we’re trying to do here, we’re trying to build a bigger boat. 

I put a photograph of the beginning of the word document with a very brief announcement of what we were doing on Instagram and had a couple of thoughtful responses including a long and thoughtful message from our dear friend S, the only person who truly understands my experience as a mother. John and I have just discovered the joys of speech into text and so we read out S’s message to the computer and then each spoke our response. I’ll check with S before it gets published but I hope to include her message and our responses within the book. This is an extract from John’s response, which is for anyone who tried their best to do a good job and parented with tons of love but had a lot of difficulty:

I want to say something about how I think all of these women have done such an amazing job and they never give themselves credit for it and very few other people do and I suppose also you know what this book is about is about giving that a voice and it’s because they feel shame for the things that they perceived to have been bad or wrong they don’t want to talk about it so they don’t get a chance to have any positive feedback from it because they don’t mention about it in the 1st place (speech to text we haven’t mastered punctuation yet!)

We are writing our own stories of parenthood, which are very different: I became a mother at nineteen and was a single mother for most of the time. John became a father at forty and can talk from the other side, of being a separated father. Both of us went into our journeys full of love and the very best intentions, both of us have guilt from mistakes we made. We also have friends to interview who parented with love despite being alone, being victims of domestic violence, having mental health problems, having problems with drug addiction, and who are still here, as are their children now all grown up. We hope that in sharing our stories others may feel less alone.

“Our stories are all we have. The only thing that can save us is to learn each other’s stories. From beginning to end….For every life we know, we are expanded.”― Karen Fisher

For the parents


Using MDMA to treat PTSD

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I heard about this on the way to work yesterday– using MDMA with talking therapy to process and heal from trauma and thought I’d share my own experience of healing using a do-it-yourself accidentally-created MDMA therapy. The passage below is taken from my spiritual memoir How to find Heaven on Earth: Love, spirituality and everyday life, available on Amazon for £3.72 paperback or £0.99 ebook.

Healing

Blessings from the West, the deep commitments of the lake

(Pagan blessing)

I love that line; it conjures up the near fathomless depths of real proper grown up love, reassuring me and at the same time reminding me, that’s Love: the deep commitment.  Search the waters of your soul.  Dive down into the murky depths, even though you are afraid of the dark, the weeds, scary fish, broken glass or rusty spikes or whatever you could find down there.  It’s hard to believe you can be afraid of yourself, but it’s true.  That’s why Love is scary.  It shines a light, not just a warm golden glow of happiness type of light; it also shines a searchlight deep into your soul, uncovering everything that ever happened to you, everything you were ever afraid of.  Although as the saying goes, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.  Who is scared of fish, after all, or rusty things or broken glass?  It’s beautiful down there, below the surface, in the dark, still waters of the lake.  It’s beautiful down there, you just never realised it.  Don’t be afraid, go, down to the bottom of the lake.  That’s Love, showing you it’s okay.  You being brave enough to go there, that’s Commitment.

I took Ecstasy for the first time, at the age of forty, with John.  We didn’t go clubbing.  We sat on the sofa and talked.  The drug was like a Search and Destroy missile, cleansing me, going down into the depths, leaving nothing left unburned.  I sat and told him about a really horrible time I had had at school, that I had felt so much shame about that I had barely ever spoken about it.  I didn’t hide my face.  I sat with my head up, making eye contact the whole way through.  It really wasn’t so bad after all.  It was in the past.  I felt the shame and the pain being washed away by Love.     

Later, I meditated, like in The Journey.  I travelled back in time and I looked at that time at school from the point of where I am now, a place of healing and peace and for the first time I saw it in a different way:  

I am a unique individual.  I have strong drives:  sex is important.   I don’t like to be bound by rules, either the rules of 1980s sexist society and the double standards about sexual freedom that still exist today, or the radical feminist doctrine that I was exposed to at the time.  I woke up:  I met someone and we woke up together.  A friend was also doing the same, but I went a bit further.  Boys talk, and the playground, like the office today, thrives on gossip.  It seemed cruel but it was just light entertainment for them really, just like the sexual misconduct and affairs of people I don’t really know are in the office today.

I was only eleven years old though, and had no one to walk alongside me, everyone who knew, even my friend, was unanimous in their condemnation.  You would have to be an exceptional human being to have withstood all that and walked with her head held high.  I walked with my head bowed, through walls of boys chanting taunts, explicitly announcing to all what I had done, or had done to me.  What would anyone have done?  I denied it, I walked in shame for as long as it lasted; weeks, months, years?  I took short cuts and laid low.  I avoided certain places.  I checked everywhere.  I declined invitations on certain routes. The boys would always be waiting.  A wall of shame and humiliation, so unbearable I thought I would surely faint or disappear but I never did; there was no escape from the torture.  It was unbelievable but I had to believe it.  I don’t think many people would have been able to do anything else but just imagine if I had.  If I had somehow believed in myself, in spite of the censorship of everyone around me.  If I was as I am now:  free and accepting of what and who I am. 

I would say, yeah, so what?  You boys, you’re just jealous and curious. You girls, well, you’ll come to it soon enough anyway, so what’s all the fuss about.  It felt good.  Yeah, and I am proud that I didn’t care, that I went further than you, that I followed chance and opportunity and circumstance and  the desires of my body and IT FELT GOOD.  Some women go through their whole lives and don’t experience the pleasures I had standing up in that brick cupboard or sitting on that orange box in the maintenance shed or wherever it was.  It’s my body, it was my body then and it’s my body now and I respect and honour the pleasures that my body requests of me and supplies me with.  

Because if I can’t accept myself, how can I expect anyone else to?  If I’m saying, deep inside there’s something disgusting about me.  I’m dirty, I’m spoiled.  I’m different.  I’m not like other girls.

Although sometimes, once you’ve decided that you’re ready to go down there, sometimes the Universe tosses you yet another bone, and lets you off the hook.  Whatever it was you’d just rolled up your trouser legs and taken a deep breath to face…  has miraculously disappeared, healed of its own accord.  Intention is often all, no action required. I don’t need to go down there.  I don’t even have to take a last look at it. I can cut the line from up here and I never have to think about it again.

It wasn’t always like this.  I used to wonder and wonder:  Would that, coupled with a naturally sensitive nature, be enough to cause me all the problems I’ve had?  Would that explain why I felt normal when I was about five, that I looked normal, felt right in my clothes, went to parties and had friends and then later, from seven or eight or nine, felt dirty, like a leper.  Like I’ve always felt since.  Like I want to cut myself but never do.  Like I deserve to die when I make a mistake.  Like it’s okay for me to suffer.  Like all the good and happiness wasn’t meant for me.   Those feelings run through me like the words in a stick of rock. 

I wanted an explanation but at the same time I wondered if my explanation would be enough.  How bad did things need to be?  Would I be disappointed if I went all the way down there and found there was nothing after all?  Would I really get any satisfaction from uncovering past horrors?  But if I don’t find anything then I don’t have any excuse for how I am.  I tick all the boxes: punky/alternative troubled teen, unconfident, promiscuous, can dissociate sexual feelings easily, poor self esteem, permanently guilty and anxious.  It offers a neat explanation for my personality, which I quite like.  Or am I just a fantasist, looking for that neat explanation that lets me off the hook.   So that I can say, oh, so that’s why… and haven’t I done well, considering, instead of: I am largely a failure, hanging onto life by her fingernails.

In the end, though, I decided to let go of all the imaginings and explanations and just live with myself as I am now. 

Psychologists call it an extinction burst: when you start trying to eradicate an unwanted behaviour, sometimes at first it kicks back harder.  So after you renounce whatever it is you want to be rid of, you need to stand firm, because this backlash against happiness will surely come.  Like when I was first living with John and I was so happy and yet my OCD was the worst it had ever been.  Or like now, the most spiritual I have ever been, the most relaxed, and yet, these dark thoughts return even on the brightest day:  You are useless, you can’t do anything.  I feel awful, I am such a failure, I am all alone, etc. 

I’ve thought a lot about causes and cures.  I’ve talked to psychologists and therapists and people with different religious beliefs and I’ve read books about personal growth and healing and spirituality. I have wondered whether my suicidality and these horrible self sabotaging thoughts really were little demons that had taken up residence in the chambers of my heart.  Or were they the result of old ingrained negative beliefs or unresolved trauma. 

Whether or not these problems need to be banished with cognitive behaviour therapy, whether I needed to be prayed over, have my chakras unblocked, sit on a beach and do a ritual, meditate, do candle magic or just write it out… As always, I tend to get distracted and overcomplicate things.  The answer is usually the simplest possible.  So if I’m tying myself up in knots or thinking too much, I’m probably on the wrong track.

In the end though, as always, it all comes back to the beginning.  It’s not me going down into the scary depths, it’s Love, searing through, and all I have to do is sit with it and forgive myself.  All I have to do is sit still and say to myself, over and over again, you are loved.

Thank you very much for reading

Follow me on Instagram always_evolving_ever_real

Seeking Princess Carolyn

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Princess Carolyn from Netflix’s BoJack Horseman image courtesy of

I’ve continued to submit my book to one or more agents every weekend (the first step is to get an agent, usually). Today I submitted my book to Hay House (a publisher which does accept unsolicited manuscripts); due to the volume of submissions this is now via a form (rather than sending cover letter, sample chapters etc) where there is space for a 500 word synopsis. I’d previously honed my synopsis down to about 300 words so I tacked on some details about me and where I see the book fitting, the kind of information I would usually put in the cover letter.

I’ve used the agent search facility at Jericho Writers and the one at Writers and Artists. I’ve looked around the bookshop for titles in some way similar to my own and googled who the authors’ agents are. Friends have told me about similar books and I’ve searched my memory and found and submitted to those agents. Right now I have no more on my list.

So I thought I’d ask the WordPress community. I’m going to paste what I submitted to Hay House in full below. Who knows, it may help one of you who are writing your submissions. If when reading it you think of any books that in some way resonate with my story, please do let me know in the comments so that I can google the author’s agent. And if there is anything I can do in return- read a sample of your manuscript, provide motivation or any advice on your projects, please do let me know.

With very best wishes

Rachel

I fell in love with you and I cried, a spiritual, personal and travel memoir of a year in India and Southeast Asia, complete at 113,000 words.

In April 2017 my husband and I asked ourselves: What would we do if we could do anything? It was scary but we decided to sell up, leave our jobs and go travelling, along the way unpicking the conditioning of property, career and security and exploring what a life with less stuff would look like. We gave away most of our possessions and in March 2018 we went travelling for a year to India (where we spent seven months in all), Thailand, Tokyo, Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam.

My book documents the trip through the eyes of a relatively inexperienced traveller. The sights, sounds and colours of India and Southeast Asia, the physical and emotional ups and downs, my anxieties and my increasing confidence, the connections we made and the fascinating people we met.

I share the personal challenges, discussions, reflections and spiritual realisations of a year of travel and a mid life rebirth; the search for meaning and reclaiming ones purpose and the process of separating from family and becoming someone new. All wrapped up with noticing beauty- the external environment and the internal world intertwined.

It is also in part a mental health memoir documenting moments of despair and suicidal feelings. My journey is about self acceptance and finding a way to forgive myself for mistakes of the past. It’s also about living before it’s too late and trying and learning to be happy.

This was a pre Covid19 trip of a lifetime, making connections with local people and fellow travellers and putting beliefs about minimalism into practice by living out of a small backpack for a year of slow travel.

I have a long running personal blog with readers who are supportive of me personally and have followed my travel journey with great interest, commenting that my travel writing makes them feel as if they are there too and admiring my honest vulnerability.

I have been a dedicated writer for years, attending creative writing classes, self publishing small books (Self help for the suicidal (Rachel Doran), Make it Happy: a short guide to long term relationships (Rachel and John Hill), and How to find Heaven on Earth: love, spirituality and everyday life (Sadie Wolf) the memoir of my spiritual awakening, and am a published writer of short stories of women’s erotica under the name Sadie Wolf with Black Lace and Xcite Books.

I feel my book will appeal to people who enjoyed All the Way to the Tigers by Mary Morris, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, A Round-Heeled Woman by Jane Juska and The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.

PS My husband came across this fascinating article. I go to work in a responsible job, manage in society (well just about) while at the same time I have felt all the states described. ‘The mind is as big as space,’ as my old meditation teacher once told me.

Moving our home

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An example of a possible schedule. There’s a lot of locks!

Readers from outside the UK may be unfamiliar with canals and narrowboats. Here is an introduction and for those interested in learning more there are hundreds of blogs and youtube channels about life on the water. Living on a boat used to be a counter culture existence and still is, although it is increasingly popular due to bricks and mortar being so expensive.

Like houses, boats range in price, from new build fully fitted out 60 foot widebeams for around £120,000, to a shell to build on which can be picked up for a few thousand pounds. Basically price depends on size and the amount it’s done up or not. So for £10,000 you could get a small boat that is finished, or a slightly bigger one that needs work. Apollo Duck and eBay are good places to look, fun to browse even if you don’t intend buying a boat- although be warned, you may fall in love!

I love watching the boats go past; I was impressed by a shiny black widebeam like a floating palace but my favourites are the continuous cruisers’ boats with bicycles, wheelbarrows, firewood and plants on the roof. I saw a wonderful boat, grey, made out of shipping containers that had been lifted onto a hull, with a family living on who we asked as they went past and they told us they did this themselves; it gave them a really decent home.

Most couples around us live in narrowboats around 50 plus foot long. Ours is 48 foot which my husband says is about the smallest you want to go for two people living in it full time!

http://www.pendle-narrowboats.com

Here are some beautiful new build boats- we met the man from here in Bangkok airport, chatting at the gate, both as surprised as each other when we told him we live on a narrowboat and he builds them!

We are off on our big narrowboat adventure on Saturday (see previous post- I have a new job and we are relocating.) The sheds are sorted out, the electrics checked, the engine serviced. The fuel boat brought a new gas bottle this morning We have both finished work now and have just a few jobs before we go; shopping for supplies, block up the exterior cat flap*, do the laundry, fill the water and empty the loo.

*We’ll keep the cats inside while we are moving, at least at first (and always when going through the locks), maybe once we get going Alfie the brave one might like to sun himself on the deck or roof, and when we moor up we might let them off for a wander as they don’t go far- plus we have Dreamies (the equivalent of crack cocaine for cats)

If I feel daunted by the prospect of all those locks I just have to remind myself that people pay good money for a week or a fortnight cruising the canals on a narrowboat; apparently demand- and prices- have rocketed for this summer.

Alfie enjoying the view from the (stationary) roof

You can follow our journey on Instagram

Me: always_evolving_ever_real

My husband: travelswithanthony

Thank you very much for reading

Rachel

Leaning into What is

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I don’t believe in mantra, I just believe in me, Yoko and me, that’s reality.

Early one morning I was reading the preface to Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, about how the novel is about things as they are. What people are actually doing, raw, real life. It chimed with what I’d been thinking. In the face of conspiracy theories, politics, online versus real life, my focus more than ever had become our real life here on the boat. Me and my husband, the cats, being on the boat, cooking and eating dinner. (The cats obviously don’t participate in cooking but you get my drift.)

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a while will know I am no stranger to exploring all the other stuff but right now that isn’t where I’m at. It may be partly due to everyone getting into the weird stuff- something about everyone doing something puts me off it. It’s definitely about wanting to distance myself from the nastier sides (not that I was ever there) and realising that there’s some weird crossover stuff happening where yoga types march with neo Nazis and somehow think it all makes sense. I watched with horror and sympathy all kinds of people getting lost in conspiracy theories/politics, sometimes to the great detriment of their actual lives. E.g. the people who followed online conspiracy theorists and stormed the Capitol, found it didn’t actually happen how they had expected and are now facing lengthy jail terms.

And I thought about myself, living in my head, and in a fantasy future dream world whilst being largely secluded from the actual day to day world. I thought about how I do so much typing that I have chronic pain in my shoulder, arms and wrists. Is that really being in tune with reality? I was reminded about reading in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield about the people who had spent years in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, encouraged to only focus on the spiritual and neglect their physical health, then after years eventually leaving and going back to the everyday world with poor physical health.

And I thought about my job, where I’m not using all my skills or fulfilling my potential. I began wondering about stepping up again into a senior role like I had before. One evening my husband was idly looking at jobs and said ‘I’ll have a look for you.’ A moment later and he was reading out the perfect job. A week later and I’d had an interview, been offered the job and we’d found a marina to move to. It’s funny, the exact same thing happened to my neighbour. She’d been unhappy in her job for ages. One night her husband had gone to bed and she thought, I’ll just have a look what’s out there,’ and there it was, the perfect job. Hers isn’t quite as far so she’s going to commute, but the look of glowing happiness on her face was the same as mine.

I feel it’s my response to lockdown, we’ve been sequestered here in the countryside, not doing very much, for the best part of a year. The new marina is half an hour by train to London, about the same distance or less to Norfolk, and is in a busy location beside restaurants and a small supermarket, walking distance to bigger shops and with onsite marina facilities including launderette and showers.

It is a bit daunting to move from our idyllic linear rural mooring to being in a sardine marina mooring, but we are a few feet away from the towpath and a grassy area with squirrels and the edge of the canal where swans and geese come to be fed. And life! We went to check it out and the area was busy and buzzing and felt like Spring, and didn’t feel as Covid anxious- in more built up areas people just can’t keep out of each others way as they do where we live now- people cross the road more or less as soon as another person comes into sight. It almost felt as if life was normal there.

We are going to allow around ten to fourteen days to get down there- so the holiday we planned for May is actually coming sooner and will be more intense- a one hundred mile journey with over fifty locks. In the meantime, we are both working out our notices, buying bits and pieces like a new witch’s hat (chimney covering) and wheelbarrow wheel, fixing things on the boat, sorting out our stuff, and doing all the normal stuff that is due at this time for us- car MOT, tax and insurance and similar for boat.

Making the decision to commit to the new marina was anxiety provoking as it all happened so fast, but since it’s all been set I feel surprisingly calm. I’m really looking forward to the job. It represents not only the chance to use all my skills to the max and be fulfilled, but also the people are warm and genuine and I feel I’ll be able to be genuine too. I’ll be working in a mental health setting with people who are facing the most complex difficulties and I’m proud and honoured to have been chosen for this role. Of course I won’t be writing about it and it’s also why I’ve ‘anonymised’ my blog and Instagram.

I still intend to finish editing my travel/spiritual memoir book, and to post a blog once a month. I expect me or my husband will post pictures of our great narrowboat journey, follow us on Instagram travelswithanthony or always_evolving_ever_real

Thank you very much for reading

Rachel

Life Update

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I followed Zadie Smith’s advice on editing, which is if possible leave your finished book for a year, if you can’t do that then leave it for three months, then when you go back you will be able to see what needs doing and be able to be ‘its reader instead of its writer.’

A writer who has stopped writing can be a a funny creature. Writing gives me a sense of purpose, occupies my thoughts and is my support system. I found it weird at first, although I did enjoy the typing break. The last couple of weeks I nearly cracked and started early, but I resisted and by the time the day came, I had totally got into not doing it and it was actually hard to get started again.

It’s similar to how I feel under the current circumstances. At first I was restless all the time, talking about when we would be able to get back to Cambodia or India. Now I have accepted that we won’t be going there until next winter. We have both booked the first two weeks of May off work to go on a two week boat trip though. We live on a narrowboat, and so have a holiday right there, but haven’t as yet done a long trip or more than one night away at a time.

This three months of not writing coincided with November lockdown and the post Christmas restrictions which are still in place here in the UK. It’s really been a lesson in living day to day and accepting things as they are, whilst being totally present as my head hasn’t been in my book. I’ve really appreciated and enjoyed things such as a takeaway coffee from the supermarket when we’re out shopping and getting essential supplies once a week, and the excitement of the fuel boat coming to deliver logs, Calor gas (propane) and kindling.

My husband John

This being the UK, weather has been very changeable, we’ve had thick ice on the canal, we’ve had lots of rain, and a few days ago we had lovely thick snow for the first time in a while!

I’ve been getting really into cooking; I’ve never been confident that I really know what I’m doing with spices but recently I’ve been following lots of cooking accounts and copying some recipes from Instagram which have turned out really nice, then I’ve used them as a springboard to make my own versions.

It’s really been nice to add some more variety, courtesy of Livity Plant Based Cuisine and Vegan Food and Places, both on Instagram.

Talking of which, for writing, cats, food and every day life, follow me on Instagram thisisrachelhill

For beautiful photographs of our travels follow my husband travelswithanthony

I’ll leave you with this quote from the film Down to Earth, which was recommended to me by my friend Karen:

‘How we live every day is a ceremony.’

Self portrait, Pushkar, India 2020

Thank you very much for reading

About the author

In 2018 in our forties and fifties my husband and I sold up, gave away most of our possessions, and went travelling for a year, mainly in India, and also to Thailand, Tokyo, Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam. My personal/spiritual/travel memoir of the year is currently being edited a bit more before I resend it to agents. I wrote everything down and made it a bit too long! I live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire, UK with my husband and two cats.

Beyond Melancholy Hill

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On repeat every day

This morning John got up before me and fed the cats and lit the fire and made me a cup of tea, having first gone outside into the engine room to get another box of cat food,* and to the store bin outside to get kindling whilst I dozed in bed. As well as our new-to-us sofa- which even reclines!- we have at last bought a comfortable mattress, having been using a futon mattress ever since we moved onto the boat. After a year of the mattresses of low-budget accommodation of India and Southeast Asia it actually felt comfortable but over recent weeks it has become unbearable. This one is a Silentnight with integral topper, firm yet comfortable, and only slightly hangs off the edge- its 4’ a small double but too thick to fit under the lip in the wall like the futon did, bought from Gumtree for £50, second hand but apparently new. John says this might give him a few more good years!

I got up and we wrote out Christmas cards- just a few to elderly relatives and the kids- and walked to the village shop to post them. John filled up the water while I washed the dishes using the ‘emergency’ five litre bottle we keep in the kitchen. Then he went to work for a late shift- 2pm-10pm- and I did the washing in the twin tub and lit the fire, and settled down to write this. My plan for the rest of the afternoon/evening is to eat Marmite on toast, watch Ashes to Ashes (Season 2-3), eat stollen, perhaps cook something,** and watch more Ashes to Ashes.

I’ve been working hard on reaching an accommodation and acceptance of my current circumstances- I know this is ridiculous, since I live a life that so many people would dream of, but it’s part of my makeup to be striving, pushing; pushing against my natural state of melancholy. Looking to the future and the next big thing, or hoping that one day it will all work out. I’ll get a publishing deal, come into money when all along my life is as it is and I’m missing the moment. Being so focussed on creativity can be just another way to push away the present moment rather than accepting it and then hopefully enjoying its richness. Also from a practical point of view I get a lot of RSI so it’s really good for me to have a typing break when I can.

So I guess this is a kind of gratitude list: my husband John, my anchor and my guide.

There’s so much to be grateful for in terms of us sharing the same outlook that I forget that so many people can’t even find (as they are so rare) a vegan boyfriend or husband. I wouldn’t dream of being with someone who wasn’t vegan, and bearing in mind we only know about three vegans I’d probably be lonely. Above all, I am consistently accepted for and as myself, with absolutely no expectation or pressure to be anything but, even though I’m always changing.

John and The boat & The cats= Home and the perfect home and lifestyle for me

My job/financial circumstances. I qualified as an occupational therapist in 2000, naturally rising up to become Head Occupational Therapist at a secure service from October 2010- February 2018. That job was so involved and me being me that by the end I was pretty burned out. We went travelling March 2018- March 2019. March 2019-July 2019 back in the UK and in a state of shock and finding it hard to imagine ever working again. July 2019 we both started working as Bank (meaning you can pick and choose when to work) Health Care Workers. December 2019 I stopped, feeling the work was too physically demanding. I went to India December 2019- February 2020.

On return I took a deep breath and signed up to an agency to get Occupational Therapy work, which involved making an introductory video interview and going for mandatory training. A job would have probably involved full time work and up to an hour’s commute each way. The night before the training I said out loud, ‘I don’t want to do it, somebody please save me!’ An email from the occupational therapist at the place where I’d done the healthcare job came through saying there’s a three day a week occupational therapy job if you are interested. Although it’s a bit out of my comfort zone as it’s not the clinical area that I’m really confident in, it is fifteen minutes up the road, the people are all really nice, and working at a lower level and only three days means I have enough time and energy to try and build an alternative career- ghostwriting and editing via Upwork and of course editing and pitching my own book.

Agency work, either full time or at a higher level, or both, is still an option, and might be a good idea at some point- we could be here in the UK earning as much money as possible for six months, and in Italy/India/Phnom Penh for the other six months. But for now, whilst we 1. Can’t go anywhere and 2. I want to try and build an alternative career, this is ideal. If I did a job like I did before, with a commute, all my energy would be taken with that. Plus I am a real homebody, and rather lazy, and enjoy nothing more than sleeping in and hanging about on the boat with the cats and the swans.

I’m getting the Corona vaccine tomorrow – as a worker in a care home I am in the first batch, everyone at my work got a link sent to us through which we can book in at the local hospital. So that’s our fun activity for our date day- Fridays are the day John and I always have off together. In January we’re getting eyetests! (not been done since just before we went travelling- I still have my reading glasses and their bright pink/orange case which went everywhere and never got lost, its catch long broken but held closed with a hair elastic…) And I’ve got a £25 M&S voucher from work as a Christmas present as well so I could also go and spend that on yummy Christmas food. Or perhaps a dressing gown. I’m not being sarcastic when I say that truly, my cup runneth over.***

Modest/tentative plans for next year

Focus on eBay and selling the India stuff we bought in Pushkar- a narrowboat really isn’t big enough for a business involving stock!

Go to the Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch exhibition in London and hopefully see my friend Molly at the same time!

Go to Italy to check out property- still thinking about it

Go off for a week on the boat- we have people’s dream holiday beneath our feet yet don’t really use it

Phnom Penh, Cambodia and/or India, are still hoped for for winter ‘21-‘22 but of course who knows?

Go cold turkey on Waitrose Essential Mince Pies and Aldi Holly Lane Marzipan Stollen (both #accidentallyvegan) I haven’t had a drink since August but I have bought Vegan Baileys (from Waitrose), Champagne (from Aldi), Gin and Tonic ready mixed in cans (from Aldi) and Fosters lager for Christmas Day and Boxing Day so will be probably ceasing all that in January too

*The cats have decided that the only food they really like is one particular flavour only of Morrison’s own brand, which involves a special trip to Northampton a half hour away.

**I never did, I just had a bowl of muesli

*** I’d nearly finished when a knocking/tapping sound on the window alerted me to the swans outside wanting food. I rest my case.

Sending you all warmest wishes and lots of love

Thank you for being here

On the way to London last weekend to meet up with John’s kids before Christmas- just in time as London shut down again a few days later

Rachel

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Me, crap photos but real everyday life: thisisrachelhill

John, good photos of boat life and our travels: travelswithanthony