I was recently asked about online dating. To protect the identity of the person, I’ll paraphrase it.

“Dear Agony Aunt,  I’ve been single for at least 5 minutes and I’m desperate to find somebody, somebody, somebody, somebody; can anybody find me, somebody to love?  Please can you share some top tips?  

Unlovable, Hull.

Dear Unlovable Hull,

Have you tried the Queen fansite?  I expect they must have a dating page, because no-one, except other Freddie fans, are going to date you.  Sorry if it sounds racist, it’s not, it’s music-ist and maybe the truth hurts. No die-hard Queen fan is going to get any action, unless it’s with one of “their own Think of it as a unlikely as Freddie Mercury being straight, or Elton John getting married, Tom Cruise having kids, Madonna having friends, or William Shatner shagging some sexy cat aliens*.

*William Shatner did actually shag a couple of alien cat-women sisters in the film “Star Trek; Into Darkness”.  This immorality got the Starship filmed banned by a Pastor Swanson, who clearly didn’t appreciate Shatner setting his phaser to stun.  Pastor Swanson (for he was sired of man, but born of a swan), was so outrage by this storyline that he banned himself and his children from seeing it, on the grounds of, wait-for-it, bestiality and inter-species sex.  Interestingly, in Pastor Swanson’s bible, Jesus has no problem with threesomes and/or sister-on-sister incest, before or after marriage.  Well, I think we can all guess who’s behind that bit of sexual liberation, wink, wink. Ole Mary Magdalen, obviously teaching Jesus a trick or two, (but even she said no to cats). Pastor Swanson, the scion of Man-on-Swan loving, knew from the pain of personal experience that mixed marriages don’t work.  Perhaps when young, he struggled to adjust to alternate weekends; having the freedom of the river one week and then, the confines of a 1-bed apartment in Detroit the next?  Perhaps, he was the proverbial “ugly duckling”, swimming in armbands behind Mummy, (or “Hiss” as he called her)?   Whatever happened back then, we’ll never know, but it all came flooding back to haunt Pastor Swanson when he heard about Sexy Cat Aliens. He took a stand, like a middle-aged man Greta Thunberg, and he said, “Stop”. I wonder what the sexy-cat-aliens said.

Pastor Swanson with his Mother, Hiss. She says she is “So proud of him, now.”

Sexy Cat Alien: “Purrrr, you were inter-galactic last night baby”

Swan: “No, I was drunk, god, I regret that. I wish I couldn’t remember it. Is that what you people call normal? Because that sure aint “normal” on my riverbank. I’ve a good mind to tell the Queen on you, she’ll chop off yer head, what to speak of yer bollocks. Prince Philip, now there’s a man who know how to woo a swan; he’s so charming and funny and so, giving. The breadcrumbs he brings, all Duchy Organic, nothing finer, what a gent? Oh, I’m like putty in his hands.  So, back to you, then Galaxy-boy?  How ‘bout you just feck off into a black hole somewhere, you Space Pervert?  I’m off to sit in the weir and wash those memories away.”

So, back to online dating. I’ve compiled a 10 point check list, to help women become more successful, at online dating. (I may write one for the chaps, later, if I’m asked);

1.  Put on your profile, you are looking for “Mr Right”, to have sex with.

2.  Lower your personal standards; then lower them some more.

10.  Er, that’s it.

If you need help with a problem that you, (or a “friend” of yours), are facing,  get “them” to write in the comments box below.



I was recently asked to write about “Loneliness”, by my friend Rich BJ., (that’s actually his real name; sucks doesn’t it?).  According to BJ, loneliness is a cutting-edge issue of our time and one, I have to say, I often help clients resolve.  So, I’ve written a few pointers on the dos and don’ts of loneliness.  But before we jump-in with a shit-storm of bad solutions, like a Trump supporter in a gay orgy; let’s first try to clarify what we mean by “loneliness”.  I’m sure that the patronising tone of this article, will probably lead you to consider that I also may have suffered the isolation of the human condition, and remarkably, come out the other side with a wisdom borne of experience.  Well, not true!  I’ve always been incredibly popular and had loads of friends.  Now, back to you.

Often, clients say to me;  “I’m just not like other people” and this may be true.  Perhaps, you’ve been shut out of spaceship and your “people” legged-it at warp-speed to another Galaxy, leaving you behind in the woods.  Many of us have been subjected to similar types of social exclusion, often verging on bullying.  But worry not, you’re amongst friends here, and help is at hand.  There are some popular misconceptions on this topic I think we need to clear up first.  No matter how “alien” you feel, do not hide in a dark garden shed or entice a ten year old boy into that shed, by playing “catch my balls” with him, at night.  Do not move into his bedroom, with or without, asking his parents’; nor hide there as a “special secret” between you two.  Neither, contrary to popular belief, can I recommend you engage in cosplay, or cross-dressing with his pre-schooler sister.  If the police are chasing you, do not go on-the-run with a group of ten year old boys, strangely dedicated to you.  Trust me on this, you can save everyone a lot of hassle by just handing yourself in for medical research.  The probes they’ll stick in you are a kindness, compared to the probing on a sex offenders wing, in a high security prison.

Aliens who hid in children’s bedrooms

Perhaps you just feel inherently “different”, to other people.  Maybe you’re a bit of an “outsider” at home, or you just don’t want to play-by-the-rules of conventional society? For those of you who really can’t fit-in, my suggestion is to turn to the healing power of music.  Try dressing from head-to-toe in black, perhaps don some daytime make-up which makes you look slightly vampirescque and look for musicians wearing the same clothes.  Buy their music, whatever it is, then buy all their merchandise, (even wear the t-shirt) and travel as often and as far, as you can, spending all of your money on their concerts.  For a mere $100, you can find yourself surrounded by tens of thousands of other outcasts; all wearing the exact same black clothes and all gathered together (on a weekend night), voicing their refusal to partake in a system they neither understand, nor agree with.  You’ll find things in common, as you stand patiently in line, waiting to show your ticket, or try to locate your numbered seat, amongst the thousand of identical rows.  Trust me, the unique feelings of isolation and disaffection, will be amplified as you all rhythmically raise a fist in time to the music and join in the mass sing-along.  You may have just found your tribe.   Who knew there were so many people, like you, who work in admin during the week.

Screenshot 2019-09-14 at 17.27.03
Individualism can be an isolating and lonely experience.

For some of you, it’s an insatiable craving for friendship and connection which creates feelings of desperate loneliness.  Even though you could be (unhappily) married, or have children (who secretly dislike you), for some of you, that’s just not enough.  Perhaps you feel like your life is stuck in second-gear, and it hasn’t been your day, your month or, even your year.  Given the opportunity, perhaps you don’t even have five good friends you could share a rundown, Manhattan penthouse with?  Don’t feel stupid or unpopular.  The trick to having friends is to systematically collect them.  Start by locating a weekly classes or activity, you can attend.  By seeing people on a regular basis, having shared interests, you build relationships.  Plan to acquire one new friend at each activity you go to.  Once you have four friends, meet each of them, once per month and continue to collect more.   The more classes you attend, the more friends you will make.  Simple.  Let’s say you attend two classes for six weeks; in just two years you could rack up 18 friends, filling both your diary and any rundown penthouses you want to live in.

Lastly, perhaps you are empathic to the isolation and social confusion of others, particularly young people and adolescents?  Maybe you want to reach out to help them, but you don’t know any?  One of the best ways you can do this is to go back to college and get a degree in English Literature.  You’ll also need to do a post-graduate year, to qualify as a teacher, then you will be able to apply for teaching jobs in wealthy,  conservative, mens colleges.  Once installed there, you will be able to play a pivotal role in broadening your student’s minds, creating a sub-community of attractive young men, all deeply connected through…poetry.  Don’t worry about getting fired for challenging the “system” through the power of verse (no limericks thank you).  Yes, you will change lives, (primarily your own), by surviving unemployment, without references or social security benefits.  Don’t worry, in twenty years time or so, you’ll be invited to their big weddings, lots of people will shake your hand and thank you for being “inspirational”; and you’ll get to eat and drink for free!

Another inspirational poetry teacher is invited to wedding.

Perhaps you are facing problems that you’d like my help with, in future articles? Write to me, confidentially, in the “comments” section below. I’ll answer every one I find interesting.


Suit of d’Amour

Chapter 2

The Dress


“Oh my gawd,” said the Duchess of Sussex in her dressing room, “I’m so flaming fat, now I’m up the duff.”  Her Ladies in Waiting, looked at one another, pausing to see who was going to reply.  They deferred, to Chief Lady in Waiting, Lady Isabella Chessington-World, who nodded sympathetically, saying, “Perhaps, you’d like to try a different dress, ma’am?”  Darker colours are obviously most flattering on us all. 


“Do you think I look like a bloomin’ iceberg?”  The Duchess  continued, pulling at the white ankle-length dress she was wearing. 

“No, ma’am,’” came the muted assurances of the Ladies. 

“But I do think Isabella has a good point,’ piped up Lady Green Von Gables, “This one is very beautiful on you and it’s Harry’s favourite colour.”  There was a understated urgency in her voice, that was barely detectable, to one outside the intimate royal circle.  The fact that it was detectable at all, meant something was severely amiss, amongst the Ladies.  Surrounding the duchess, they eyed each other uneasily.

“Oh, would you Adam and Eve it?  Not more flaming khaki?” the Duchess sighed.  This time there was a noticeably enthusiastic response from the Ladies.  Gushing words in flattery of the mud-green dress (Primani Couture) and excited requests for the Duchess to try it on.  “Nah, you’re alright,” the Duchess continue, “I’m not getting changed, I’ll just wear this.”

The ladies didn’t respond.

Lady Isabella broke the silence, “I’ll get us all some juice, it’s awfully stuffy in here.”

“Luverly.” Replied the Duchess, not noticing the ice-like undertone, in Lady Isabella’s voice.  The other ladies suddenly found things-to-do, there was an unease in the room, that only the Duchess was oblivious to.

“I was thinking of carrying a small bunch of flowers” she continued musing out loud, and maybe wearing a little thingy on my head, a little “Markle-sparkle, as they used to say.” She laughed, alone.

Lady Isabella clapped her hands and Peggy, the Duchess’ maid, appeared.  “I’ve brought the blackcurrant juice, m’Lady Isabelle”, she said nervously. 


“Put it over there.” Directed Isabella, nodding towards a side table, on the opposite side of the room.  Peggy walked over and as she passed Isabella, something caught her ankle, for the life of her she could have sworn it was as if she was tripped, although obviously, that was not the case and she, the “clumsy fool of a girl” (as Lady Isabella had rightly shouted at her, many times in the past) lurched towards Meghan, the huge jug of blackcurrant juice tipped and the glasses fell.  They were only saved from breaking by the extra deep pile of the khaki polypropylene carpet, Prince Harry had insisted on, for Meghan’s dressing room.  To Peggy’s horror, the juice splashed across the front of Her Highness’ full-length white gown.  Peggy looked up from the floor, now prostrated at Princess Meghan’s feet.  “What da fuck?” Shouted Her Highness. 


To Peggy’s surprise, the Ladies were incredibly nice about it.  In hindsight, the nicest they’d ever been.  They rushed forward, helping her up and asking if she was alright, ever-so-sweetly laughing it off.  They even collected the glasses and ice onto the tray, before she had a chance to, still assuring her not to worry.  Even Lady Isabella told her not to blame herself, saying “accidents happen”, with a kindness she’d never seen before.  Peggy went slowly back down to the kitchen to tell Cook, what she’d done (knowing, Cook’s tongue would be more painful than the carpet burns she was enduring).  She was feeling terribly guilty, not just about the dress, but also about all the nasty things she’d thought about Lady Isabella in the past. She stayed out of the way until the ladies swept down the grand staircase and out in the big black cars, to attend Princess Eugine’s wedding in Windsor, later that day.  HH Meghan, had changed in a loose-fitting khaki dress (Georgio D”Asda – home delivery item).  “She looks lovely in everything.” thought Peggy, as she watched them go.


Later Peggy took the white dress to the Royal Dry Cleaner and arranged for it to be made as-good-as-new.  Mr Dyson, the Royal Commissioner for Cleaning, kindly agreed that Peggy could make weekly payments, until the balance was cleared.


Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 04.52.39

Suit of d’Amour

23 May, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-05-23 at 20.00.35

Chapter I

HRH The Duchess of Sussex, as she was known to her close family, walked gracefully down the stairs, two small page-boys awkwardly tried to managed the long train of her dress, giggling as they tried to untangle it from the bannisters without actually falling onto her, resisting the temptation to sit on it and slide down behind her.  Harry look up from the cereal box he’d been studying and smiled as she came into the kitchen.  She’s so unique, he thought, not at all like the girls he’d dated before; he watched her serenely glide across the Amtico marble floor of Nottingham Cottage.  As a child, Meghan never imagined that all those hours practicing the moon-walk at the Widdecombe School of Dance, in Compton, would one day prove to be so valuable to her.  How wonderful it would be she thought, for portly, old Mrs Widdecombe to see her now, a Duchess.  Her mind wandered for a moment, and she daydreamed of a reunion, with her patiently waiting for old Mrs Widdecome to rise from a low curtsy and kiss her hand.   She joined Harry at the breakfast bar and perched, light as a feather, on one of the sophisticated high bar stools and leaned in next to him, almost head to head.   (The stools had been a wedding gift from the people of The Federal Republic of Germany; luxury hi-shine chrome and leather-look seats, by top German designer, Aldi von Lidl).   The page-boys arrived at the doorway, kicking the train, now a giant satiny football shaped thing, realising they had almost caught up with the Duchess, they stopped tussling, abruptly and sat down, cross legged on the floor and waited patiently; (for about three mili-seconds, then they picked pearls off the satin train and flicked them at each other).

“Hot wet?” Asked Harry.

“Harry!  Your nephews are over there.” * Whispered Meghan, blushing.

“Um, it means, do you want a cup of tea, that’s how Marines say it”, replied Harry earnestly.  “Come on Megs, I taught you all the Marines lingo on our first ever date, when we took that wonderful drive from Toronto to Ottawa to see the Canadian National War Memorial.  That particular cenotaph, “The Response” as it’s known, is one of my most favourite war memorials in the world.  It was so special for me, that we both shared a love of war memorials.  That’s when I knew, we were soulmates.

“Oh, yes, of course, I totally remember, that’s the one your Great Grandfather unveiled in 1939?”*  She blushed even redder at the thought that she had let him down, by forgetting one of his fascinating military facts.  “Yes, a cuppa hot, wet tea would be delightful.” Replied Meghan, lying.  She had learned to refuse coffee at breakfast, she was British now – another one of huge sacrifices she had made to marry into Harry’s family.  She’d sacrificed most of her own family, when she got engaged; something she was surprised to find the inner Royal family completely understood, and if anything, looked upon as a very promising quality in her.

  • The “nephews” were in fact no longer “over there”.  They’d snuck away at the first opportunity, back through the maze of corridors and courtyards to a small apartment, hidden, somewhere inconsequential, in the outermost walls of Kensington Palace.  They were, at that precise moment, tucking into a proper boys breakfast of cheap sugary cereal with (lashings of) milk.  Whilst fighting one another for the collectible toy solider in the cereal box, they also levied a joint complaint at their mother*, for making them carry long bit of girls’ dresses around for days on end. 

    * Their mother, Lady Nerissa Chelmsworthy, had at one time been a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Cornwall.  Nerissa  sought companionship in the stables with one of the queen’s footmen, Mr Darren Graves, of Southend.  The happy marriage that ensued, had led to a downgrading of her ladyship’s title, as is the custom, dropping “Lady”, to become The Hon. Mrs Nerissa Graves;  and subsequently, a downgrading of her roles within the royal household – basically from top job, to dogsbody.  She was now called upon to help out, when there was no-one else; such as when the Duchess of Sussex required a couple of twin page-boys for her long dresses.  The Hon. Mrs Nerissa Graves, was perfectly happy with her choices in life, she and Darren lived happy simple lives, in the heart of Kensington.  Being overlooked by the Royal family brought freedoms she had never known, if she kept her head down, she kept her free home, hidden somewhere within the warren of Kensington Palace.

  • **

      She may at this time have been checking her phone for messages, or even for the weather updates for London (cloudy).  She was absolutely not, in any way, looking up facts on military memorials in Canada and relaying that information to her husband, through the guise of a casual conversation.

Right in the centre of Kensington Palace, in a sprawling apartment with huge windows, Prince William was sitting down to breakfast, with HRH Katherine-the-Great-Mother, and her Royal Children.  (William had been told the children’s names several times by Katherine – when he was pretending to listen to her.  Luckily, his super-spider-senses alerted him that he’d be in trouble, if he dared ask her again.  One time, he’d tried to catch onto what other people called them, but the courtiers had all laughed hard when he called his son, “Your Highness”.   His super-spider-senses immediately sensed something had gone wrong, and he joined in laughing with them, as if he’d deliberately made a joke, about something).

Katherine-The-Great-Mother, put the box of Duchy Organic buckwheat and rye cereal on the table; no one reached for it.  The butler, Stevens, stood beside her with an elaborate crystal punch bowl of chopped fruit.  “Wills, would you like fruit or cereal?”  Katherine asked.

“Neither.” He replied in his ‘unhappy voice’, deliberately putting on his ‘unhappy face’.

“Wills, we need to eat fruit as an example to the children and Duchy products because your Father checks.”  She reminded him with gentle firmness.

“I want the other box”, he said sulkily.  “Not this rubbish, I wouldn’t feed my worst polo pony this stuff, unless I wanted to put it down.”

“Yes, Daddy’s right, it even killed Grandpa’s fish.” Pipped up the small blond boy, sitting next to William.  (Unbeknownst to William, his name was Prince George) “Grandpa’s big golden carp hated it, we fed them some, just before they died, didn’t we Nanny?” ***

Katherine stared at innocent Prince George and then up at his nanny, Kitty Ashby-de-la-Zouch, standing behind him.  Kitty stared back, wide-eyed, wishing she’d drowned in the pool, alongside the carp.  For a fraction of a second, her hand twitched almost imperceptibly, as she mentally considered stuffing down some Duchy cereal, in place of a cyanid pill.

*** .

The four Golden Koi Carp had ranked amongst Prince Charles’ closest friends.  He confided in them on a daily basis, since they’d arrived in the palace pond in 1975.  The shock of finding them floating upside-down on a crisp January morning, still haunted him.  He missed them so much, there were so many things he’d wanted to tell them; they’d never know about Harry’s wedding, about the new eco plantation on the Duchy estate or how wonderful his 70th birthday party was.  The fish had been an honorary gift to the Queen, from her ceremonial trip to Japan in 1975.  The visit had been an attempt at thawing the icy relationship between the communist, People’s Republic of Japan, (who had relatively recently removed all of their own monarch’s powers with the Constitution for the People’s Republic.  This was actually extending the precedent set by the allies, at the end of the WWII, who required Prince Hirahito to admit on National Radio to the Japanese people that he was not ordained by god to lead them.  Obviously, every Japanese man, woman and infant could see through this piece of brilliant political manoeuvring and remained faithful to their Emporer in their hearts).

Prince Phillip had initially been banned from going on the trip to Japan, after he’d vowed to “finish that murdering bastard Prince Hirohito off with my own bare hands, so-help-me-god”, in one of the tour briefings.  The atrocities of the Japanese POW camps were still scarred into British collective memory; and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had left a gaping hole in Japanese esteem.  Unbeknownst to the British, the treasured carp gift had been the basis of an elaborate insult.  The number four being synonymous with “suffering” in Japanese culture and never normally used in a present.  The carp themselves, most often glorified for their properties of love and beauty, were also less well known, as a symbol of fighting.  “She’s carping-on”, was how the Japanese military translators succinctly summarised every one of the Queens speeches during her visit.  Instead of verbatim translations for their dignitries, they delivered running commentaries on the rise of the young sumo prodigy, Yokozuna Mienoumi, through the various bouts he fought, eventually winning his first successful makuuchi tournament.  The smiling faces and goodwill, the Queen’s party encountered throughout the tour, were due to the large amounts of Yen being collected by Japanese dignitaries, on black market gambling and the amount of celebratory Sake they discretely consumed in tea cups.  The British considered the trip an unprecedented success.

“Hmph.”  Someone made a discrete cough next to Katherine, Stevens said, “Would you Highness prefer Krispy Sugar Flakes for breakfast this morning?”  Katherine shot him a look that could kill, but Stevens was immune to outside influences, steady as a rock, he was able to preserve with the unshakeable hand of silver service, completely unfazed by events around him.   Stevens had served the Prince since being assigned to him as a small child.  Adept at completing tricky time consuming things for him, like tying his shoe laces, unpacking his clothes and passing his helicopter pilot’s licence.

Stephens’ unfazability was an innate skill, very much sought after in children of the lower classes, by the inhabitants of the “Great Houses”.  The “gift”, had come down the generations, it was in his DNA.  Notably, his great, great grandfather had been butler to General, Sir George Pomeroy Colley, throughout his illustrious career.  During the Battle of Ingogo (1881, KwaZulu-Natal) in the First Boer War, he had held an umbrella over Gen. Colley during the rainstorm that change the outcome in favour of the British.  The commemorative painting “British Victory over the Afrikaners at Ingogo.  Her Majesty’s soldiers advance in a retrograde direction from Boers, under cover of a violent rainstorm sent to save them from imminent slaughter, by the direct hand of intervention, of the Lord Christ”; was only completed by the General during the battle, because of the steady hand-on-brolly of his butler, Stevens, protecting the wet canvas from the beating rain.  The original picture still hangs in the National Gallery, celebrating the only victory during the entire war, attributed to the British.  A faded print of said oil on canvas, hangs in a wonky clip-frame, in the corridors beneath stairs, of every stately home in the country.  An important reminder staff that there are no limits to selfless service (or time off, should the Masters or Mistresses, need something).

“Yes please, I love Krispy Sugary Flakes” Will looked up at Stevens with new found enthusiasm,  “How did you know, they were my favourites?” Stevens didn’t reply with words, he was already holding a silver tray with a brand new box of Krispy Sugar Flakes on it.  “Would Your Highness like to find the embedded toy solider, or should I locate it?”

“I want to find it”, exclaimed the blond boy next to William, “Can I?  Can I please?”  William immediately dropped his head and went back to his unhappy face.  Stevens popped a little green figurine in the middle of a white bowl edged with silver, he moved his silver tray forward towards the table, the little boy reach to take the bowl with his short pudgy arms.  Bypassing the child’s outstretched arms, Stevens placed the bowl silently on the crisp, white tablecloth in front of William.  The blond boy’s face crumpled, William however brightened up immediately.  Picking up the toy solider, he marched him around the breakfast table, pretending it was trying to shoot little Prince George from the top of the spoon, then from behind the milk jug etc. The boy’s bottom lip started quivering and his eyes filled with tears.  Katherine waved her arm, indicating the rest of the staff should swoop in and serve fruit and cereal to the children.  Then she retired to her private dressing room, saying she could feel “one-of-her-heads-coming-on”.  She lay on the chaise lounge and called her sister, Pippa, and sobbed heavy tears on the phone about how exhausted she was doing-it-all alone, with no help from Wills.  Two of her ladies-in-waiting removed her shoes and massaged the reflexology points for headaches.

Harry dropped a hexane fuel block into the base of the Crusader cooker on the kitchen worktop.   Using his pocket fire-steel, he deftly lit the block, then fitted the cup of water to the base.

“I could just turn on the water-boiling-kettley-thing, if it’s easier, Harry?” said Meghan.

“No way, Megs,” he replied.  “You’ll never make a hoofing cup of char, using one of those gopping kettles.”

“Yes. You’re. So. Right” Replied Meghan, convincingly.  It was a line she’d been taught to use when she had no idea what was being said.  Her coach, through the complex minefield of royal decorum, etiquette and protocols befitting a Duchess, was the highly regarded Madame Cholet; founder of the famous Swiss Finishing School For Feminists, in San Morizt.  (Formerly known as, “L’Institut Attraper Un Gars Riche”).  Harry pottered about making the tea, still wearing the army fatigues and headband he loved to sleep in, Meghan unconsciously twiddled a small green plastic figure between her fingers, dropping it onto the worktop.  He turned to her, holding a Royal Wedding souvenir mug of tea with both their smiling faces emblazened on it; (there’d been a few left over),  she smiled lovingly up at him, he wasn’t smiling any more.  There was a darkness in his expression she’d never seen before, “Harry, is everything ok?” She asked.  He made no reply, his eyes fixed on the toy solider, lying on it’s back on the counter.  “Harry?  Harry can you hear me?” She asked again, concern now rising in her voice.  But Harry couldn’t hear her, the small toy solider had transported him to another place.  Suddenly, he sprung to life, throwing the mug violently at the wall, Meghan screamed as a fountain of hot tea rose up into the air, landing predominantly over the “Tejn”, faux sheepskin rug (a wedding gift from King Carl XVI Gustaf, of Sweden, chosen by the Trade Ambassador for Ikea).  Then Harry ran, he leapt over the back of the sofa, through the hall and  disappeared out, across the courtyard.  Meghan stared through the now open, front door; which slowly began to swing back towards the house, screaming with centuries of rust.

50 Shades Darker

19 June, 2017

I found myself sobbing, heavy, quiet tears, through deep, rasping breaths.  Crying that doesn’t want the comfort of strangers, in a very public place.

It had all begun with a routine appointment; a nil-by-mouth, we-lost-you in-the-system, sorry you’ve been here for a few extra hours scenario.  When the doctor finally arrived, he was one of those doctor demigods, who has gone into medicine purely to save the hopes, dreams of ordinary women, like me.  We chatted, well he chatted, while I silently worried about the procedure, and he gently talked me into it.  It was sort of our first date.

A few minutes later I was on the bed, deep throating a hosepipe, he was pushing down my oesophagus.   Choking and gagging in a very un-Linda Lovelace way, I thought, why-oh-why do I always go for the wrong men.  We’d neglected to establish a “safe” word, to halt the rough play, I tried to introduce one – a little too late.  As I had a strap round my head holding a mouth guard in place and a tube down my throat, I wasn’t able to communicate using words like, “stop” or “psychopath”, instead I used sort of continuous retching, choking noise.  Dr Christian Grey, intuitive as he was, got the message.  He paused his delivery to try and soft-talk me into playing-on.

“The worst is over.” he said.  I glanced at the long length of hose in his hands, I wasn’t entirely sure I could trust him.  The pause was shattered by a mutiny.  My head said breathe, follow his instructions, try to be a good girl about this;  but my body decided otherwise.  Gripped by an innate desire to continue both living and breathing, my hands reached up completely independently and ripped the hose out of my body.  Suddenly it was over, I sat hyperventilating on the bed.  Dr Christian Grey was ever-so-nice about it, and of course, I apologised profusely. He stood in front of me, with his gentle strength, pondering our situation.  Then in his soft Australian lilt, he said,
“I guess we’ll have to sedate you next time, so we may as well do a colonoscopy at the same time.”  My body was electric with shock, he was already escalating, planning his next perverted scheme; to drug me and shove that hose up my arse as well as down my throat.  Horrified, I mustered all the fake enthusiasm I had and replied,  “Yes, of course.”  I’d realised I had to act compliant, f I was going to get out of this date alive.  If I could only convince him I’d return, then he might just set me free.  It was a long shot, but my only chance of surviving.

Luckily, I’d had private drama classes at prep school and my mind flashed back to the time I won a joint silver medal, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, for my interpretation of “Shop keeper conversing with Paddington Bear”.  It was a duologue, where Paddington was played, I remember, by the utterly un-bear-able Samantha Asti-Spumanti.  She was given the most extraordinarily positive review in the school newsletter that week. While my part of a “working man in a shop”, was barely mentioned; despite the many gruelling hours I spent teaching myself a convincing northern accent – “Hay up! By gum.”  Even Nanny said it was utterly unfair and that I was far the best on stage, and had my parents come along, they would have absolutely agreed and not even recognised me at all, until they had looked in the programme to double-check the names.

All the memories of those days on stage came flooding back, they would be tested to the full in my escape plan.  Acting as convincingly as I could, I said, “Hay up!  I reckon I’ll be back next week for reel of hose pipe up me jacksee”.  I held my breath as he stared at me, his beautiful brow creased slightly; I could see I had thrown him into a state of confusion. He was obviously trying to decide if he could trust me to return.  Then he smiled  gently and motioned to the door.  I walked towards it, wishing I could run.  He pressed the green release button and freedom opened in front of me.  Still acting as normally as possible, I said,  “Hay up! I’ve had a right fantastic time with thou hose pipe.” and with a polite, “Thanking thee.” I left.   Only when I heard the door close behind me, did I start rushing through a labyrinth of endless passageways, until finally I found myself on the main corridor of the hospital and in the safety of a busy public place.  I slumped onto a chair,  panic and relief simultaneously rushing through my body.  I took rasping breaths –  part panic, part checking there was no residual bits of hosepipe in my oesophagus, and I sobbed uncontrollably.  No one stopped.  I didn’t want them to, I didn’t want to explain that nothing much had happened, that I was just over-reacting to an everyday procedure.  Instead, I took comfort from the fact that crying so soulfully in a hospital corridor, made it look like my grandpa had just died.  “Routine medical negligence”,  passers-by thought, as they walked to their appointments, “Fifty shades darker.”  I replied in my head.

So our cat, Bugsy, got traumatised and ran away in late June.  It was my fault, I’d taken him down the road-to-hell-paved-with-good-intentions, to the local vets, he never recovered.  Once he got out of there (alive), he legged it and was only ever heard of behind distant neighbourhood fences, from that time on.   Fact of the matter is, I was as traumatised as him.  First of all, watching him held down having his fur shaved off for a blood test, then paying for the bloody, blood test.  Bad so far, but not a patch on what was to come, I was given an estimated price for his ongoing treatment; a thyroid  operation at roughly £20,000 ( in used dollar bills).  Then a price for his rotting teeth to be replaced with a gleaming Hollywood smile (£1m in uncut Angolan diamonds).  I left the building trying to evaluate exactly how much that cat meant to me and to the kids.  I called my Mother, the animal lover,  about it hoping she’d transfer her £2 a month donation from the PDSA into my own “save the cat” fund.  Unfortunately, last time she’d petted him she’d got bitten by fleas, so her kindly suggestion was that I have him put down – for his own good.

Image result for evil vet black cat

By the time we returned from our summer holiday, in September, there had been only one sighting of him in 9 weeks,  I told the kids he must have found another family and totally dumped us.  Asha was particularly sad, as Bugsy used to sleep with him most nights.  My Mother asked if we’d seen him since we got back, and kindly advised me that cats often disappear when they’re going to die, apparently, they prefer to die alone, she said. I tried to remind her that he had a thyroid problem, not pancreatic cancer, but she wasn’t having any of it.  Then she helpfully reminisced on all of the pets she’d had since childhood (she’s 90), and told me how each one had died.

Uncharacteristically, I was hanging laundry on the line on a sunny mid-September day, when I looked over to the long grass at the side of the garden.  Technically this long grass was once the lawn, but Sami can skim valuable seconds off his grass cutting chore by letting the edges encroach.  I could see a black thing curled up in the sun in the long grass.  I left the laundry and went over to it, a skinny, visibly ill cat woke up and tried to stand on very shaky legs.   I almost didn’t recognise it as Bugsy it was so weak, not the killer beast I’d been so used to.  I hadn’t realised rotting teeth mean death to a cat that can’t eat the lickle creatures it catches.  But he had the tell-tale shaved fur patch that the vet had inflicted on him.  So the kids and I began to feed him small amounts, round the clock. Friends helped out when I was at work.  My mother advised me if he didn’t gain weight, then I should have him put down, for his own sake.  But he fought for life and each day I saw an improvement in him.  My son Asha, was upset that the cat didn’t know him anymore, wouldn’t come in the house or let him play with him.  I tried to explain that starvation affects the brain and he would need to rebuild his trust with us, after all, how could Bugsy understand why we’d abandoned him.  I felt like taking him to an animal shelter, he was one of those typical abused animals, who will come for food, but is totally wary of humans.  Except, this abused animal was mine and I’d abused him.  I found myself at the back door in the middle of the night, worrying about him and calling him in, but he never came to me.  After a couple of weeks, he’d made good progress physically and he was coming right up to the back door to be fed, although he still wouldn’t come in.

One morning, I opened the door to feed him and found another cat, sitting on the step next to him.  They were exactly the same in colouring, equally black, but the new one was a huge, confident, regal cat.  I looked from one to the other, again and again.  Then, to that enormous Prince of Cats, with the shiny fur, staring up at me as if he owned the house, I said,  “Where the fucking hell have you been, Bugsy?”

Radha Kund

13 May, 2016

“Hey Hari, a really great thing happened.” it’s my boss, Shaunaka, in my office.   When he says, a-really-great-thing-happened, it could mean absolutely anything.  Perhaps there has been an EU turnabout on some policy that he has orchestrated (and I have organised) across fifteen member states, a lottery grant for a few million pounds (which I will manage), perhaps lunch with the Dalai Lama (which I won’t be invited to); or he might have found a new second-hand rug in the antiques market.  He likes rugs.  He used to design carpets and custom-made silk rugs, in his own individual celtic designs, beautiful knots, emblems and crosses of old family trees.  I often wondered what those carpets looked like in real life, not through Shaunaka’s colour blindness, the pinks he saw as beige, the blues he mis-read for green.  I bet his customers showed them off to their expensive friends as one of those technicoloured “designer” items, while he believed he was delivering something subtle and muted.

This day, and this was many years ago when I was young and enthusiastic, someone had sourced some Sanskrit volumes for the library, a really great thing has happened.

“So, someone reliable needs to go and collect them.”  He says smiling.  “From India.”

“Great, we know lots of people in India who could do that.” I reply with casual disinterest.  Shaunaka is the Director of a graduate centre for Hinduism at Oxford, he knows a lot of people in India.

“Aren’t you going on holiday to India, this week?” He replies.

“Nope.” My comeback is emphatic, “I lied about that, I’m really spending three weeks at home decorating my house.”

“Ok,” he pauses, “Just that you don’t have a house.”

“Yeah, well, I might get one.”

Ignoring any idea that I might not want to do this, he continues, “So, there’s a sadhu who wouldn’t part with the books for years and now we’ve had a message, he has agreed to talk to us.”
“Okay, a sadhu.”   I repeat slowly.  A sadhu is a holy man, a renunciate.  Any genuine sadhu will not mix with a young western women.  This is not the world of Maharishis with money, cars and that ilk.  This is the world of deliberate material rejection and spiritual attainment.

“He lives in a hut. Next to a Tulasi grove behind Radha Kunda”

“Are you serious?”   I am serious now.  I am not questioning his vague directions on how I find an old man,  three thousand miles away, who probably hasn’t ever seen a landline, let alone a mobile phone.  I know exactly where Radha Kunda is and what that means.   In India, there are a billion significant places of worship, from palatial temples to a tree stump on a filthy path, the place is alive with belief and superstition.   Of these billions of places, there are a few universally recognised holy places.  And a small place called Vrindavana is one of the most sacred.  Only 40 miles west from the Taj Mahal, but well off the tourist map, or off the western tourist’s map at least.  A place of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of visitors, the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna.  Within the district of Vrindavana, is Goverdhan Hill, a place so holy that pilgrims may even travel through it by what is called “dandavats parikrama”.  This means that they will lie down fully with arms outstretched forwards and pray (dandavats), moving along the pilgrim path in these single body length motions of prayer, instead of walking.  These are the lightweights; the serious devotees have a pile of stones next to them and will lie down 108 times in body lengths of prayer, dropping a stone from their finger tips each time to mark how many they’ve done before moving forward one body length and repeating.  It takes them months to finish the 21km path, they must sleep wherever they are on the road and continue each day.  When they are done, many of them simply start it again.  That is how seriously this place is regarded.  And along the pilgrim path, there are a number of holy water ghats and tanks (kunds).  Of them all, there is only one called “Radha Kund”, or Radha’s pond.  A sunken square water tank, a Kunda, about 30m square with wide stone steps on two of its sides, it’s deep green water hiding giant turtles who surface soundlessly from time to time.  Built up around it are hundreds of ancient temples and shrines.  It is the bathing place of the goddess Radha, created for her by the god, Krishna, entirely to please her.  A place utterly revered, considered the holy of the holy in India – not a place for me to stroll up and buy a few books. Well, not without turning more than a few heads.

“Ok, then,” says Shaunaka, as if it’s all settled, he goes to leave. “Oh yeah” he turns back before he goes, “The sadhu took Mona Vrata 30 years ago.  He is very highly respected, so make sure you do it properly.” He finishes with a customary flourish, pulling the rug out from under my feet, after the deal is done.  I purse my lips and stare silently at him until he edges out of my office, smirking. “Mona Vrata” is a vow of silence.  He wants me, a white, western, unmarried woman to go to Radha Kund, find a sadhu who lives in a dirt hut behind a kund, and buy his prized rare books, in silence.  And, I am to do it “properly”, whatever that means.  But I do know what that means; that’s why he’s asked me to go.

A week or so later I arrive at Goverdhan Hill, just before dawn with an aquaintence as a walking partner.  I don’t remember who, but it is a long walk if I do it “properly”, and totally unsafe to think of going it alone.  We get out of our taxi, remove our shoes and kneel in the dirty road side, touching our head to the ground in reverence – of a hill.  We set off down the main road.  By dawn we are at the palatial old buildings of Kusam Sarovar.  A series of beautiful, three storey sandstone tombs, ornately carved for long

kusam sarovar.jpg

Kusam Sarovar

forgotten kings and queens, it has huge bathing ghats in front.  I have swum in the murky holy water here many times.  We stop to say gayatri, the silent morning prayer to the Surya, the god, as that perfect ball of orange heat appears in the sky.  The once damp, cold path will be burning our feet in just a couple of hours.

It takes about six hours of brisk walking to get to Radha Kund, if you do it properly.  Added to this are detours to bow in temples, visiting the many other kunds, paying respects at shrines, and pausing to acknowledge significant places from ancient stories (sthalis) we pass – God’s footprint in a stone, a special tree, many must be respected if I am to do this properly.  Priests offer blessings with dabs of sandlewood paste on our foreheads and we drop rupees into empty donation boxes in return.  We pass through lively villages, serene countryside, see wild monkeys and abandoned palaces.  There are no food stops, this journey is done fasting, or a partially fasting, depending on the lunar calendar and the month of the year; I know, because I’m doing it properly.  I wear a cheap cotton sari, I carry my shoes in my left hand, my meditation beads in my right and a bottle of water under my arm.  I have a small change purse hidden in the 6 metres of folded sari, rupee coins to offer to widows and sadhus along the way.  On this journey the poor must be properly acknowledge and respected with donations.

In the afternoon, we reach Radha Kund and take time to make the journey around it’s many pilgrimage places.  When we have finished, we rest watching the green water for turtles, I look around for the path behind the Kund, for a hut or derelict building where the sadhu lives.  I can’t find it and I don’t have an address, merely his name.  I approach a local woman and say his name, moving my arm to show I am trying to find him.  She stares at me, in my sari, with my sandlewood paste on my forehead, the grubby feet of one who has walked the 21km of Goverdhan pilgrimage barefoot.  I ask her again and she bows her head, mumbles and vaguely nods in a direction.  I realise she doesn’t want to tell me where he lives.  In her eyes, I can see I am the equivalent of Julia Roberts in that weird stretchy dress in Pretty Woman, thigh high black boots, a prostitute visiting their local holy man.  I go in the direction she has said and ask a man, he smiles bemused, like the hotel manager in the film; not entirely against prostitutes, but surprised to find one here.  He points to a low hut, with wild Tulasi bushes growing in front.  “Tulasi”, or “Holy Basil” as we know it in the West, is considered a natural marker of a sacred place in India.  I walk over but I know I cannot cross the threshold into his “garden”, a dry dirt area in front of his hut; to knock on the door is a sign of familiarity and utter disrespect.  I am being watched, the equivalent of net curtains are twitching all around the Kund.  So I stand outside the makeshift gate to his dusty garden and wait, looking at his house.  I have no idea if he’s in or not.  I must simply wait patiently, till someone comes.  I am prepared to wait and hour or two, out of respect, then, if no one comes I can ask after him locally and return the next day, to wait again.  I must never cross that threshold without invitation.  After some time, he appears beside his hut, he looks confused and rocks his head side-to-side, the customary Indian signal for what do you want?  I say the names of the books, the Vedantas and Sutras I have been sent to buy, I say the word “Oxford” and he signals for me to wait inside the garden.  Radha Kund waits, watching too, I can feel it.  I must do this properly.  After about half an hour, he comes back, he lays a cloth down on the bare ground and he offers me a metal cup of water (which I must accept and drink).  This is no rom-com picnic, the cloth is for the books, to protect and respect them, not for me.  We crouch either side in the dirt, examining his prized possessions.  He shows me the titles and publication dates, they are in good condition, but even if they weren’t, these are years out of print, I will not see them again, they will not appear on any open market.  They probably didn’t ever have a print run, just a few copies produced at great cost, a very long time ago, now all but destroyed by the climate.  They are in Sanskrit, I can’t read them, I guess the titles and he nods when I have the right one.  We silently negotiate the value, he draws numbers, in Hindi, with a stick in the dirt.  He returns to the hut and comes back with other tomes, some of them I am interested in, some of them not.  Eventually, after hours or deliberation, we come to an agreement, it is done.  He excitedly wraps the books in layers and layers of different cloth and ties them up with home-made string.  This is not a seller of tat in some bazaar, where I knock down the price.  These books are probably both priceless and worthless, in India and in the West.  They are lost in a dying culture, but they will be well preserved and much valued one day, where I am taking them.  I do the deal with proper respect and give the holy man what he asks for each volume.  Then, because holy men must be respected with donations, I donate to him generously, on top of the payment.  He smiles and I leave, offering respectful pranamas – folded palms.  As I walked away, I looked back and saw him watching me and noticed how happy he looked, really happy.  I was surprised.  His face, smiling in the sun, slightly looking up is my strongest memory of the whole thing.   In my youthful naiivity, I had no understanding of the demands of older age, the necessities of life that may have forced him to part with his most precious items, to a stranger from the West.  But I remember him smiling, so genuinely that I think it meant a lot more than that to him, like he’d been praying for a solution that was somehow resolved by preserving that legacy of knowledge, in Oxford’s archive-quality care.    I pass the man who gave me directions, he has watched the whole lengthy transaction from a distance, he nods toward me.  I pass the woman, she smiles and nods with respect at me this time.  I have done it properly.

I walk for two minutes through Radha Kund, the ground feels damp again, it is cooling quickly at the end of the day; charcoal fires are lit, burning smoky warmth into the cool evening.  Sunset is coming and silent evening prayers will pay a respectful good-bye to the sun god, Surya as he travels, full circle towards morning again.  We have come full circle too, we have travelled the right way, around the sacred sites, around Goverdhan Hill, respecting its divinity and its inhabitants.  According to the ancient scripts in my arms, we are also changed in divine ways from the experience.  We reach the main road and walk along, looking for our taxi from this morning.  Sure enough, he has stayed all day waiting patiently, properly, where we left him, just like he said he would,.  We kneel in the dirty road side, touching our head to the ground in reverence – of the hill.  We set off down the main road leaving Goverdhan Hill behind us.  Properly.

Radha kund (1)

Radha Kund