I fell in love with you and I cried: Chennai

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I fell in love with you and I cried: Chennai
(draft book chapter, part one, with a few extra details added for the blog)

(Kochi) The ride in the rickshaw from the train station to the guesthouse had been unpleasant, so we got a taxi on the way back thinking, why suffer if we don’t have to? We drove past parked up intricately painted trucks which looked like vintage fair ground vehicles; past a scooter with a man and a woman, her holding a tiny baby in her arms.

At the train station, again feeling comfortable, walking the length of the platform. I bought sweets, I said they were for cold/cough, the man showed me some herbal sweets, ginger or mint. I asked for twenty, a mixture, and he counted them out and wrapped them up neatly in a little parcel of newspaper held together with an elastic band.

At the train station restaurant we had masala dosa and vegetable biryani, this was mostly rice, but was nonetheless plain and delicious. Then another dosa to share, actually two, one each, as they came in twos as they sometimes do at the train stations and two more lots of chai tea. The waiters laughed but we wanted to eat well before getting on the train; we also bought samosas, banana balls and water from the station forecourt.

The train began its journey at the same station as us which meant we had no anxieties about people being in our seats. The train was the best one we had been on, as good as the Delhi to Goa one but brand new; it looked like it had never been used before and the seats still had that new plastic smell.

We were in 2 Tier AC (this means that the bunks are two high, not three, so everything feels a bit more spacious and the carriages, in my thus far limited experience, are smarter, with curtains at the compartments), a step up from our previous, daytime journey from Varkala to Kochi. The train left Kochi at around 7pm for a fifteen hour journey to Chennai. It was a good job we had eaten and bought food to bring on the train as no one came round with food, no samosas, no water, even.

First to get on after us was a young guy who had the bunk above my husband, he got straight up onto his bunk but the three of us talked for a while. He was a final year engineering student, he said that Indian parents want their children only to be engineers or doctors. He said sometimes parents decide when a baby is four months old or even before they are born what they are going to study. His parents were from Kerala but work in the UAE and he was brought up there up. He told us UAE is nicknamed Little Kerala as there’s so many people from Kerala there. We asked him if he had any pressure to get married, ‘Not yet,’ he said but his cousin who is a girl does, ‘She’s same age, at university like me, and wants to be a doctor.’ He talked about corruption and about politics and about the garbage problem. ‘As soon as I can, I’m getting out of this country,’ he said.

Later a man who had the bunk above me got on. He sat down next to my husband and we chatted for a bit. He lived in Kerala but was going to Chennai for a one week training course. He said he preferred Kerala for its climate and the nature, and said that Chennai would be hot. I asked him if he minded going, he said, ‘No not at all, it’s only one week.’

Then my husband and I watched Netflix, Orange is the new black, now finished, I’d like to get the book to find out how much is real, with the tablet and headphones, us both sitting on my husband’s bed and the man sitting on mine/ours (the lower bunks are also the seats for the people in the upper bunks until it is time for everyone to go to sleep).

Everyone got ready for bed (for me, this just meant undoing my bra, I wore comfy clothes and slept in them) and the man went up.
We each had two white cotton sheets, a pillow and a heavy woollen blanket, the ac makes it chilly and I folded my blanket double. The bed was firm but not really uncomfortable.

Someone closed the curtain to our cubicle and the lights were dimmed. It felt cosy, safe and peaceful. I think staff came and shone torch to check on us in the night. There was a guard asleep out near the sinks outside the loos. I think it felt okay to be with strangers because we’d chatted. I lay awake for a while, just enjoying the feeling. It was exciting. When I went to the loo, I counted the curtained cubicles to find way my way back to the correct bunk.

Woke up. The houses looked like Kanyakumari, which is also in Tamil Nadu, even though the two places are far apart (Tamil Nadu is a large state).

The palm trees were different to the ones in Kerala, some had shorter, floppier leaves and spiky trunks where the stubs of old leaves remained. Others were tall with very thin trunks and spiky punk hair like Dr Zeus trees and there were also low, bushy trees almost like English trees, like little hawthorn trees or big overgrown gorse bushes.

The train arrived later than expected, the man doing the training course said he had just enough time to get to the course for the starting time. No shower, no breakfast and going straight to a work course after an overnight train journey. He didn’t seem to mind at all, I thought about people in the UK, myself included and how we’d all complain if work expected us to do that.

The train station was big and busy, we found out where the prepaid taxi stand was and got a taxi to the guesthouse. Our friend from Chennai told us that Chennai was hot and dry and that where we were staying was busy, ‘You are staying in the real India.’

Our guesthouse was down a narrow alleyway off a busy main street, hectic with rickshaws and people. The guesthouse was tiled throughout with pretty green glass at the landing windows. Our room was small with no window but it was clean. We dumped our bags and went for breakfast- masala dosas- at a restaurant nearby that the guesthouse staff told us about, and then went for a wander of the local area.

We had finished our water on the train and spent a while looking around before realising we were overheated and thirsty. We stopped at a juice place and had fresh juice, salted peanuts and cold water and sat down for a while. Even so it felt good to be back in a dry heat, hotter but less humid, more like Delhi.

I washed loads of clothes and hung them in the bathroom, even though we had no proper window, just vents, they dried within a few hours, and didn’t smell, I was amazed. In Varkala during the monsoon it had been so difficult to get clothes dry.

I struggled with annoying WiFi, trying to do all the reviews I’d promised. Like postcards, only do if you really want to and don’t say you’ll do unless you’re sure. Now I only do if they especially ask and/or I make a good connection. I gave up and had a nap, often the best solution.

We went out for dinner at a different place, another local non touristy restaurant. Staff stood all around staring at us while we ate. It was a real lesson in overcoming the effects of self consciousness; eating rice with my fingers, being in the flow and not getting put off by six people watching us! The food served on yellow plastic plates again, like it was in Kanyakumari (must be a Tamil Nadu thing?). I had onion oothapam for the first time.

The night was warm and felt exciting and I didn’t want to go in for the night yet so we went to a little shop and bought 7Up and biscuits and cigarettes. I wasn’t sure if it was okay to smoke there (UK conditioning!). The hotel forecourt faced the alley but there wasn’t anywhere to sit, so we perched awkwardly on a little concrete step. One of the hotel staff got us some chairs and we sat down at the edge of the forecourt where it met the alley, and gave him a couple of cigarettes.

Opposite was a row of parked scooters. Three street dogs were squaring up and barking at each other; they were thick set with faces like Ridgebacks, sturdy, their bodies muscular and well covered. People went past, some said hello, we didn’t see any other Westerners. A older Indian man wearing a lungi and an Indian shirt, short sleeved with front pocket, walked passed us, greeted us and said, ‘Welcome to India.’

The wall opposite us was faded paint-peeled orange, tinged with blue. An orange cat sat on the wall. The cats in Chennai all seemed to be orange, not bright ginger tom colour but a paler orange. The colour of tiger milk, a drink my grandmother used to make me as a child, milk mixed with orange juice. A few feet below the cat was a little overhang roof of old blue corrugated metal. Beyond the wall the blue sky was tinged with yellow. The colours were warm and dusty, as if they’d been made out of chalk pastels. I gazed at the scene, wanting to remember, trying to soak it in, absorbing the colours through my pores.

‘Look,’ I said to my husband, ‘Isn’t it amazing, how the colours all go together; blue metal roof, orange wall with blue tinge, orange cat, blue-with-yellow-tinge sky.’
‘That isn’t the sky, that’s another building,’ he said. I looked again and saw that what I thought was sky was actually the wall of a big building in the background. It didn’t matter though.

A man came out of a door near where the cat was; he spoke to the cat as if telling it to get down, and walked off. The cat looked at him when he was speaking, stayed still for a few moments, then jumped down onto the blue roof, onto a parked scooter below, then from seat to seat along the length of the row of scooters, and disappeared from view.

Travel update

For nice pics see my husband’s Instagram travelswithanthony

We flew from Chennai to Bangkok on Sunday night, arriving early on Monday morning. We stayed two nights in Bangkok then got the over night train, then a ferry, then a taxi, to our place in Ko Phangan, where we are right now.

I realised that I can’t pack for Thailand, India and Japan and have a light backpack that will carry on (7kg) for Japan ( my ticket to Japan does not include checked in baggage unless I pay extra).

I admitted that many of my clothes had been bought while shopping as a recreational activity and when I felt fed up with my clothes and wanted to get something nice. I had such fun shopping in an Indian department store in Varkala; there were a lot more staff than in an equivalent UK shop, and I had three women helping me in the changing room. I so wanted to go shopping, get some new stuff, and buy something with the women, that I ended up getting things that weren’t quite right.

Also if I want a light backpack I can only carry what I need right now. I had some thick baggy trousers, they would have been good if we go up North when it’s chilly in the evenings in January or February but honestly, I can just buy again, they were cheap; it’s not worth straining myself carrying a heavy bag for that. It’s hard for me to waste stuff/money, having been brought up to be frugal. It helped to think of it in terms of that I paid for the experience…

So just pack bare essentials in terms of products/meds/miscellaneous, plus sarongs and vests for Thailand and a couple of nice dresses for Japan. The hotel cleaner in Chennai even asked if we had any stuff we were leaving that we could give him so that he can sell it for food, so that clinched it.

I am proud to report that my backpack weighed in at 6.1kg at Chennai airport. (Unfortunately my handbag might be weighed and added to that, if so I have a bit more work to do…) I can just pay extra for some check in luggage, but this kind of feels like a good task, and kinder on my body to travel light.

Writing update

I didn’t do much writing in Pondicherry even though we didn’t do that much there and I had time; the room was hot and stuffy, I felt a bit out of sorts, slightly funny tummy, and somewhat spiritually overwhelmed/absorbing everything from Chennai (to be continued…).

So I read people’s blogs and relaxed and barely did any writing, apart from handwriting observations and thoughts while/about being there.

We got back to Chennai Wednesday evening, feeling funny having not eaten properly all day, bananas, nuts, biscuits and crisps (as all restaurants were closed, will get to that next week) and didn’t do anything that night. I worked hard on Thursday but I still had lots to do on Friday. I got anxious.

I had some thoughts, Well it doesn’t matter if you don’t do it, Nothing matters, vs It’s a commitment you made to yourself, You aren’t doing anything else. Thinking I’m writing to order, from the head, rather than free flowing from the heart (I kept thinking about the cat on the wall, and the raindrops on the shutters (to be continued); the spiritual moments of Chennai that I so wanted to capture and was interested in.)

But writing a book has to involve a mixture of head and pure creative flow or it won’t ever get finished or edited. There was no internet in the room, and nowhere to charge my tablet downstairs where the internet was, so that slowed me up a bit, alternating between using and charging my tablet.

But I accepted that, and when at around ten pm India time I got it (last week’s Kochi chapter and blog) done and posted, I felt very happy; like I was honouring a commitment I had made to myself.

It was the same when I did the draft chapter on Kanyakumari for the blog, I spent the whole Friday on it and got stressed. It’s actually much longer than a normal blog so although it seems an easy cop out to just do the chapter as the blog, it is actually is a lot of words to deal with. (And for you to read. Next time (this time, Chennai) I’ll let myself do it in parts, or extracts. And do more in advance. (But I have rambled on in the writing update so it still ended up being long, sorry!)

I’m typing this bit on Saturday; interestingly I didn’t start with the cat (I did that on Sunday, but it was nothing really, I mean it was in the notebook just fine, it would have kept); I just started at the top and worked my way down, warming up to it, setting the scene and the mood, even for myself. I started from the last bit of notebook that wasn’t crossed out (meaning it had been typed up). As I finished for the day (on Saturday) I looked at where I am up to in the notebook: I am at the cat bit! How many times do I have to say, Trust the process.

Sunday afternoon, before Thailand, equal parts not wanting to write as excited and anxious re packing and just wanting to be with the feelings and the experience, vs when I look at my notebook I realise how much I have to write about Chennai, and I want to get on with it! (Let alone completing the Kerala chapter, and doing the additions and corrections to the already done chapters…)

I carried on writing this Chennai chapter at the airport on Sunday, then late Wednesday night on the train, late Thursday night in Ko Phangan, and Friday (today) morning and teatime, so this week was better, just.

In the garden in Bangkok on Monday late afternoon I sat and made many notes in my notebook, ready for the Thailand section, so the future is taking care of itself.

Unhelpful thoughts: Maybe a book is too hard, maybe I just want to be a blogger; the 2014 ones that I’ve been re-reading and reposting as part of Throwback Thursday were luminous, proper blogs; I wasn’t writing anything else so everything went into the blog.

Helpful thoughts: If you want to carry on like this (globetrotting, focussing on self realisation, living outside the matrix) then you’d better finish the book, sell it and make some money!

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week

 

 

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

Life Update

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Today on the boat

We are three weeks in to a month long lockdown here in England, with rumours it might go on for longer, and that we may be given five days to socialise over Christmas which would need to be offset by twenty-five days of lockdown in January. I sympathise with anyone who has strong feelings about it. For me personally, I’m pretty easy going about it. We have planned to go to my mum’s for Christmas Day and then stay at my husband’s mum’s for a few days. However, even if restrictions are lifted over Christmas, I will say to my mum that if she prefers us not to come, and to spend Christmas with a less risky friend, rather than my husband and I who both work in care homes, that is fine. In that case we would offer to work an early shift at work to allow people with kids to have some of the day off. I don’t really mind about being locked down for January either.

That said, I have felt very restless, particularly at the beginning of this lockdown, and am now treating it as an opportunity, or a lesson, in practicing patience and being here now. In fact ever since we’ve come back from our travels I’ve been thinking about going somewhere else. As my husband said, maybe what we need to do is just accept where we are and learn to enjoy that, before anything else will become possible.

Living on the boat in Autumn is good for that; the bright fresh walks in the countryside, the cosy feeling of the wood burner, the store of logs and kindling and spare gas bottle just delivered by the fuel boat yesterday. We’ve maintained most of our healthy living programme from September. I made someone laugh at work the other day when I said that the worst thing I’d done since August was eat two packets of crisps (potato chips.) Cooking from scratch is another great way to appreciate the moment and feel grounded.

Writing

My book: I submitted my book to five agents, which I found using Jericho Writer’s agent match search facility. I had some interest from one, a rejection from another, and am still waiting to hear from the others. According to this great article by Zadie Smith, in an ideal world you’d put aside your book for a year, if not, three months, before editing. My plan is to resist any urge to do anything until 23rd January or afterwards. That will be three months since I last looked at my book. Then I will edit again and get the word count down- it’s too long and that may be off putting, and after leaving it I will hopefully see where it can be cut and see things which need doing much more easily.

Upwork: I’ve begun a foray into writing for money. Upwork is very easy to get set up on, and scrolling through the constantly updating jobs is at least as fun as scrolling through Google news or Instagram. The variety is fun- one person wants articles about ferrets, from people with some knowledge of them. Unfortunately my experience is very limited, I once saw a man walking a ferret on a train, John used to talk about wanting one on his boat, and we both once saw a man in Ramsgate walking two ferrets on a lead.

My first job was ghostwriting/editing a young American man’s very exciting travel story. It was fun and I was able to do it well. I’m currently pitching for a few more. A lot of the jobs are very low paid/are suitable only for professional copywriters who can write a 500-600 article start to finish in half an hour, but there is a huge variety. It takes time to build a profile, get reviews and be able to pitch for the better paid jobs. And by pitch- I just send them a nice friendly message, although forums abound on putting snazzy proposals together. Clients range from companies churning out content, to individuals writing their memoirs. I recommend it!

Reading

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, about homelessness and walking the South West Coast path. Here’s a link to a great article about her and the book.

Russell Brand Booky Wook 2 and Revolution from a charity shop, amusing and interesting.

Watching

Netflix: The Queen’s Gambit, Baby (Italian with subtitles, in my learning Italian phase) Plus loads of old films my husband has found on YouTube, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Dead on Arrival, Charade

Self portrait Pushkar 2020

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 completed and out with agents. I live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire UK with my husband and two cats.

Thank you very much for reading

Follow me on Instagram thisisrachelhill

On Awe Walks Part Two

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Rupert Graves- Letter to my younger self- The Big Issue Magazine

Just a couple of days after reading about Awe Walks for the first time (see previous post) I bought The Big Issue and in the Letter to my younger self whereby a famous person looks back (always good and often very moving, and which have now been collected into a book) were the words above from Rupert Graves. Definitely an Awe Walk. Here is another of my own Awe Walks, taken again from the little book documenting my ‘spiritual awakening,’ (available super cheap on amazon)

Let’s go for a walk, Part 2 (or, Heaven on Earth)

I had to go to Wales again for work. It was almost two years since my first trip, when I’d been so scared about driving there. This time, it didn’t even cross my mind to be nervous. I arrived in the sunshine and spent an easy afternoon at the hospital, being shown around and doing the work I needed to do. In the therapy office, waiting for my host, I glanced around the room: overflowing notice boards, information leaflets, resource folders, work boots and shelves of books. I scanned the book titles: two were about magic. Was that just the Universe reminding me, yet again, that magic is everywhere?

Because it certainly was. I finished my work and drove to my hotel. A budget chain hotel, it was situated in what at first glance did not look like a pretty area: close to a big roundabout in a concrete landscape of office premises. It was still light, sunny and relatively warm. I got some chocolate and a drink out of the vending machine and went outside to stretch my legs. I thought about asking the woman on the desk if there was anywhere nice to go for a walk but she was busy checking in another guest. I walked out the back of the car park to a scrubby grassy area, there was a path lightly littered with rubbish, a few trees shading the path. I found a more definite path and then all of a sudden there was a river, flowing over and between big, grey rocks with a waterfall. I went down to the water’s edge. It was so isolated, all of a sudden, even though it was just moments from the hotel.

I went back up to the path and now it was a real path, in a real wooded area, the litter had disappeared. All of a sudden, there was a canal, with lovely little boats moored up, paint peeling, covered in algae, hemmed in by what looked like years of waterweed. It reminded me of when I first met John, and he was living on a boat on a canal. Was it a metaphor or not even a metaphor, a real life tableau, an illustrated live experience of This is your life?

Here we have John, waiting, stuck, as I might have thought. A little way along, the boats disappear and here’s me or rather, a location for me: the water’s surface green with plants and sparkling golden in the light, like Ophelia’s grave. I was here. Despairing, suicidal and romantic.

I followed the towpath. Everything became lighter and prettier. The water was like glass, reflecting the huge green trees that lined the bank.
A group of dog walkers came past with not just one but four lovely, bouncy dogs, who all, dogs and people, stopped for a friendly hello.

Through the trees, I glimpsed a huge cemetery, which gave me a momentary pause: evoking a layer of gravitas to my skippy summer-autumn walk; increasing my gratitude and the urgency and importance of appreciation; reminding me that I was alive. Beyond the cemetery, a rolling vista of green, sloping down towards houses in the distance. It was as if every view imaginable had been laid on just for me.

There was a field with sheep in it, another with cows and then a friendly horse looking over the fence at me. Around each curve of the river, something new and more lovely than the last. I wondered when I should turn back or if I should just stop for a rest: a little bench appeared for me to sit down on.

Bridges, each one quainter than the last, made of roughly hewn pale stone, dinky, just big enough to walk under, it was like being a child. They were numbered 52; 53; 54; John’s age? The future? Tracking the course of our life?

You couldn’t make it up.

My senses tingled. My soul soared.

Silver- really silver- birch, almost gold in the late afternoon light as if it had been painted, washed with metallic paint. Who knew you could get silver trees? Real, silver trees? Not in a royal palace or a rock star’s deluxe OTT garden or on some fairytale film set but just out here, on a walk that anyone could go on.

Hobbit fantasy land like tree roots, travelling down over the whole surface of the steep bank so that I could see them all in all their twisted glory: as if the steep bank was there on purpose.

Like life… it just got more and more beautiful, it went on for how long, who knows, when to stop, when did it start?

I could have asked about somewhere to go for a walk. I could have turned left instead of right. I could have found out all about it, read about it in a guidebook, looked it up on the internet. Maybe I alighted on the only pretty stretch or maybe it was this pretty for twenty miles or more.

I hadn’t had a drink, I hadn’t been meditating and I wasn’t tired. I’d just been working and then driven to the hotel. So what tripped me over into this state of grace? Maybe the chocolate in the hotel vending machine was spiked. I’ll never know.

Thank you very much for reading

Please feel free to share your own awe walk experiences!

Self portrait, Pushkar, India 2020

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 completed and out with agents. I live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire UK with my husband and two cats.

Follow me on Instagram thisisrachelhill

On Awe Walks

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Apparently ‘Awe Walks’ is a thing now, I read about it in an online article suggesting ways to feel better about our current situation and the approaching winter. I thought it seemed strange at first, because my own experiences of experiencing awe during a walk were for me the first step on my ‘spiritual journey,’ rather than an end in themselves. It reminded me of when everyone started getting into mindfulness and businesses started using it for their employees; some Buddhists commented that it was being practised without any underpinning theory or spiritual foundation. But I still think most people would agree that practising mindfulness, with or without anything underpinning it, is a good thing. So I’m supportive of the idea of Awe Walks, however they are conceptualised by the person experiencing them!

This description of my very own Awe Walk is taken from the little book I wrote which documented my spiritual awakening (available super cheap on amazon)

Let’s go for a walk… or, How to find Heaven on Earth

I plant my feet on the ground, about hip width apart, my weight equally balanced on both feet and on the balls and the heels of each foot. I soften my knees, bending them ever so slightly so that the soles of my feet seem to stick to the ground as if I am fixed, rooted to the ground as surely as a tree. Connected. I am connected to the ground, to the Earth.

I feel the breeze play on my face, feel the wind lifting and moving my hair. A strand of hair falls across my face, in front of my eyes; lit by the sun, it is tiger eye, spun gold. It is still winter and the sun is white and hazy but I can feel the warmth on my cheek, feel the energy warming me, bringing me back to life.

Everything seems interesting. Almost anything can be of interest if I notice it and pause to observe it. I used to march without pause down the street, across the fields but now I walk steadily and stop often. The sight of tiny leaves of ivy growing up a fence; brown pinecones on a bush silhouetted against a blue sky; a holly bush, impossibly shiny, almost plastic looking; all these and more stop me in my tracks.

The trees… one looks like a peacock, one looks like a creature from Where the Wild Things are, standing guard in front of the village church; one looks like an old man with flowing beard. Best of all I like to stand under their branches and stare at the old ivy limbs winding their way around the trunk, dusty and hairy and beautiful.

Halfway along my walk I come to a stream that runs through a small patch of woodland. I stop, facing along its length. The tall trees are reflected in the water. At the top as far as I can see, the trees disappear down. In the middle, their reflections overlap and join with those of the trees nearest me, giving a sensation of depth. A ripple appears, making the image iridescent with sparkling light. I follow the river down to my feet where the reflections travel into darkness, deeper below than the trees are high above.

I could stare into the river for hours. Even in this ordinary little village, there is so much beauty. The summer evening sunsets. At night, the stars.

Thank you very much for reading

Please feel free to share your awe walk experiences

Self portrait, Pushkar, India 2020

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 completed and out with agents. I live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire UK with my husband and two cats.

Follow me on Instagram thisisrachelhill


Life update October 2020

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After several days of rain, the sun came out in the late afternoon, lighting up the red berries

The wood burner is going- it’s not that cold, I’m sure when I eventually go out for a walk and get it together to fill up the water tank, it will be okay with a nice warm coat on- but sitting writing it feels a bit chilly.

#NoSextember Year Two (where my husband and I have a month of clean living including no sex) This was completed with no breaches; it was a lot easier having done it last year. This time we approached it more confidently and with more seriousness and it seemed to go better. That said, it wasn’t always easy. Week one we were both suffering from one last blow out in August. Week two we both seemed a little cranky with each other. That can be difficult when you can’t just make up with sex or flirting, or cheer yourself up with chocolate or a drink. The second half seemed better, and even more productive. I got my book done, and even booked a day off work in early October to make sure it got sent off (I think that’s called ‘honouring my craft’)

My husband has been working on planning our new website: Further. As with all things tech related, this has been slower than we anticipated. However, we now have a new laptop, lots of ideas and my son on board to help with the technical side.

We are both increasingly distant from- and often dismayed by- the polarisation which people seem so involved with at the moment- people we know with otherwise quite lovely lives, who could be really happy, full of hate for politicians on the opposite side or lost in particular conspiracy theories and calling everyone else ‘sheeple’ and falling out with friends on social media about whether or not to wear a mask.

Further will be a place for anyone who feels similarly to us, who is able to look at it all without getting completely caught up in it, who values human connection and kindness over ideology. Best summed up by Rumi’s famous quote: ‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’ ‘Seeing beyond boundaries and meeting heart to heart’

We’ve also found the ideal underpinning philosophy, to the Further site and to our lives: The teachings of Epicurus. In a stunning example of synchronicity, as we were discussing this, a boat went past called The Epicurean! Nowadays the term is used to describe a ‘foodie’ someone who enjoys good food and wine. But Epicurus himself lived on bread, olives and the occasional slice of cheese. He devoted himself to the search for what makes people happy, and his conclusion was, a simple life with few possessions, shared with friends, while also having plenty of time for alone time and quiet reflection, and really appreciating what you actually have.

As the videos explain, it can be used nowadays as an antidote to the relentless dissatisfaction human beings naturally seem to have (the craving, addressed in Buddhism) which is mercilessly exploited by advertising, marketing, and the forces of capitalism. People always want more, but material things don’t give you happiness.

So naturally I have abandoned my longing for a stone cottage in Yorkshire and have moved onto a house in Italy whereby to create an Epicurean community- we live there, and people on the same path/with the same outlook come and stay.

Self portrait, Pushkar, India 2020

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 completed and out with agents. I live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire UK with my husband and two cats.

Follow me on Instagram thisisrachelhill

Thank you very much for reading