Kissing the grey whales

Ever had an idea that just wouldn’t let you go? A bee in your bonnet? I wouldn’t mind a bee. They sound busy and useful. But I’ve got whales. A whale in your bonnet hasn’t got the same ring to it. It’s large and inconvenient, and has got me into some tricky situations with Mexican immigration officials lately.

For as long as I can remember, the whales have been swimming through the murk; surfacing for breath in sun, rain and rolling storms; turning and buckling their vast bodies as they travel through my head. And for years, I’ve been talking to anyone within earshot about the grey whales, and wanting to follow the route of their annual migration, from Mexico to the Arctic.

This year though, I stopped talking about it and instead, at 5am one morning, found myself, and my two year-old, squashed into a minivan, being waved across the US border by armed officials, en route to Baja, Mexico.

I was nervous of travelling solo with a child in Mexico so had joined a tour group. As the light began to illuminate the shacks in Tijuana, our driver got lost, and I caught glimpses of my fellow whale pilgrims, mainly silver-haired and neatly kitted-out Americans.

The two year old slept soundly in his car seat while the rest of us pogoed through the desert, past cacti waving and the odd one doing the finger. In the evening we arrived at the small town that was to be our home for the next week. Hot, sweaty and burping avocado and tortilla chips.

The tour guide was there to greet us with a grunt worthy of any tetchy walrus. Luckily most of the trip participants were friendlier and the two year old adopted several pairs of temporary grandparents over dinner.

I stole a salty kiss.

The lagoon where the whales mate and give birth to their young is hidden behind sand dunes. They are safe in there: to enter from the ocean they have to navigate their way through shallow waters over a network of sandbanks, which the marauding killer whales don’t care for. The route for us was a dusty drive, overseen by fish eagles. Out in the little skiffs on the water, it’s a different world, and the whales welcome you in.

I watched in disbelief as a baby came up to the boat and stuck its barnacled nose out to be patted. The two year old shouted, ‘Go away whale!’ when it blew sea-breath and spray in his face. But it didn’t take long before we were all elbow deep in sea, patting, tickling and shrieking in delight.

A mama more than ten metres long snoozed a short distance from our boat, with just her blowhole protruding, while her baby played with us energetically for about half an hour; diving under the boat, bumping it and coming up either side up for attention. ‘We’re free day-care’, laughed one ecstatic lady.

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The grey whale is the only living descendent of a species of whale that lived 30 million years ago. One mother came and sat in the water directly underneath me. I put both my hands on her and she slowly rolled over, eyeing me up from either side. I was eye to eye with a dinosaur. The two year old sang ‘twinkle twinkle…’ and her calf came and splashed up into our faces, practically nose to nose. I stole a salty kiss.

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Buddy, a retired military man, and his wife Sandy, had travelled to see the whales from Savannah, Georgia. Sandy nearly fell out of the boat with excitement when she first touched one. ‘You enjoyed it so much you need a cigarette afterwards,’ drawled Buddy.

The boat was a little universe of its own, and not always serene. There was a general hum of dissatisfaction at the shabby motel and the disinterested walrus guide. I kept my head as close to the whales as I could, breathing their breath whenever they came near. I joined in with ‘twinkle, twinkle…’ and tried out some songs of my own choosing. It seemed to me that they came when we sang. Who they came to was fast turning into a sensitive subject though, as everyone became addicted to their daily fix of whale love.

Elbows of some group members became sharper as they jostled for prime whale patting positions. An unsmiling British couple scowled and muttered if a whale approached anyone else. One guide, Pammy, was introduced to us as a whale-whisperer but Michelle, a former nurse from Oregon, complained that this was because she refused to give up the position at the back of the boat, which the animals clearly favoured.

After a week the honorary grandparents went home and we were left for the second leg of the trip with Michelle, the walrus and the aforementioned delightful British couple. ‘Can’t stand the sight of children’, said the man. I decided to leave them to their own special brand of joy and to make my own way back.

‘You are in the country illegally’, pronounced the immigration official. A Mexican prison cell flashed before my eyes.

We explored the Sea of Cortez. It swells up, convex, as though it’s going to spill out over the earth. We found giant blue whales; so close we saw their tails skim under the water. Spouting; breathing and submerging several times; and then diving for about 15 minutes before reappearing. We also found new travel companions, a couple of lovely grannies from Montana. And I dived in, down into the deep, deep waters. After a short swim I mistook the shadow of the boat for a whale coming up and clambered out in terror.

A slight hitch occurred when leaving Mexico. I was asked for our visas and realized the walrus had all paperwork, if there ever was any. ‘You are in the country illegally’, pronounced the airport immigration official. A Mexican prison cell flashed before my eyes. But after an interview and a $50 dollar fine we were soaring up into the clouds. As we waved goodbye to the whales and to Mexico, I tried to collect my heart from the bright waters below, simply mind blown.

Posted in arctic, beach, blue whales, gray whales, grey whales, mexico, migration, single mother, swimming with whales, toddler, travel, whales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watershed week

This week I have come to Deal, a small town in Kent. I’m here with three female cousins who I haven’t seen together for about twenty years. We’re renting a flat and and attending a course for the week, while the toddler/goblin plays with trains and paints with a childminder.

Every morning, toddler and I walk the coast road to the town hall. On the left there’s a line of grey sea mist, and on the right a line of pretty, old cottages with the occasional wooden boat in the window. I like peering in and imagining living there (with a nice fisherman of course).

It all feels dreamy and a bit of a crazy whim really. None of us can afford to be here but felt we couldn’t afford not to be either. Among us we are dealing with some of the most serious life challenges possible. This course offers nothing less than a promise of a way of healing ourselves, and others, of anything under the sun.

After one cousin’s Facebook recommendation, I’ve already dabbled. There are hundreds of clips on Youtube of the method we’re about to learn, called Faster EFT. I followed some of them and found them helpful enough to think there could be something interesting going on here.

But as we sit in the front row in the town hall, with about 50 others, I have my sceptics hat on. After all, if this really worked, why aren’t we all doing it already? The speaker is a charismatic American, Robert G Smith. He works the room with jokes, at the same time as imparting his philosophy of how our minds work, and how we can use the subconscious to overcome physical, mental and emotional problems.

One of the main principles is that ‘you are doing it to you’. This means that if there is anything unpleasant going on in your head, it’s your responsibility, because there is no-one else in there.

If we concentrate on the positive, Robert says, that’s what we’ll manifest in our lives and the same for the negative. I’ve heard that before and to be quite honest, it’s too airy-fairy for me. It sounds too glib and easy, and the implication seems to be that I wanted the difficulties of the past three years in my life. I didn’t. But Robert explains further, including how we can learn to release the negative, no matter how awful or deeply engrained.

He tells the entire hall that he is now too busy teaching to do private sessions, recounting how he told someone who had bugged him for months that if their list of memories/issues was entertaining enough he would see them. It wasn’t. He also describes himself as a bulldog when working. Sympathising is not part of this method, and after years of treating the most difficult problems imaginable, its creator is interested only in getting straight to the root.

When I’m not in the town hall, mulling over the powers of our subconscious, I’m sitting with my cousins having lunch in Deal’s delicious cake-filled cafes. My favourite is Pop Up Cafe. I’m so happy to be here, to have this time with these lovely women who share some of my root system.

As the week goes on I decide, despite my skepticism, that I need to give Robert my list, in case this really can help me change things for the better. I’m sweating as I hand it to him, garble something along the lines of could he have a look to see if it’s entertaining, and then scarper, relieved. He’ll say no but at least I’ll know I tried my best for my son.

I experience the method for the first time on Thursday, when another student practices on me. It’s a bit like swimming around in murky water, because I can’t feel anything. That’s normal for me, I cry a couple of times a year on average, but it’s frustrating because emotions are integral to the work. I console myself with custard creams in the coffee break. And then, looking out the window, notice I am actually crying.

On Friday, it’s my turn to work on someone, a woman with a mass of gorgeous curls and what she describes as pain all over her body. I’m guided by an experienced practitioner, who says we should choose one pain to start. We go for her foot, the worst. More than a decade ago a tendon in her right foot snapped, ending her dancing career. Walking has caused her pain ever since, and it’s getting progressively worse.

So, I do the stuff we’ve been taught. I ask for memories of when it happened, and what else was happening in her life. I identify the main emotions she was dealing with and then ask for earlier memories that also hold those emotions. There’s abandonment at the time of the injury, when her husband told her he had been having an affair and left her, and when she was tiny, being left at school for the first time.

Then we get going. I work for about 45 minutes. During this time, the woman’s feelings of abandonment disappear. She finds a teacher in her memory, who takes her hand in the classroom and makes her feel safe. I ask her to try to bring back the abandoned feeling. She can’t.

Then, we find her foot pain has gone. We watch her walk around the room going up on tippy toes, trying and failing to make it come back. She’s delighted. I am stunned and speechless and head for the custard creams. I am also terrified because Robert has just agreed that I can have a session the next day. Oh God.

Fast forward to a week later. It wasn’t that bad. I told Robert some major things I wanted to change, ‘So you basically want to sort out your life?’ ‘Err yes..’ We went through some early memories. I was still swimming through the murk but various sensations in my body dissolved. We found some sore spots, and I wanted to stand up and run for it a few times, but it felt gentle.

The next day, breathing was a different experience. I’ve had asthma since childhood and experienced a constant pressure in my chest. Not any more. When I got home and saw my family I felt ok. That, by the way, is an earthquake.

I tried it on Skype with an old school friend. She’d had messages from an abusive ex and was feeling pretty bad. I told her about what I’d learnt and she asked if I could just do it on her straight away. In seconds she was laughing.

A word just came back into my vocabulary. Hope.

Posted in Faster EFT, Heal, Healing, Robert G Smith, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Footprints in the sand

Trying to secure a home is no joke. And the waiting in limbo is becoming unbearable. I am so ready to take that step, into a space that is all ours, where we can jump, shout, laugh and cry. One day I think we’re nearly there, and the next day another problem comes up and I’m back on the phone, biting my nails and trying to sort it out.

The beach helps me stay calm. I can lose my head in the waves, in rock-clambering, pebble-plopping or just dancing around on the sand. The tides and the weather have been a bit crazy lately. We were building a sand-train with limpet shell wheels, when the sea suddenly washed all the way up and over our feet. While sauntering back, there was a huge thunderclap and we had to sprint the rest of the journey, buggy cover on, head down against the hail.

Back inside, shedding ice balls in the kitchen of the beautiful cottage we are house-sitting, I took refuge in a cup of Pukka herbal tea. I love Pukka tea, partly for its fairy-based packaging. Sipping it transforms stressed-me into fairy-me, lighter than air, and worry-free. Even in recent times of great austerity, the fairy tea boxes seemed to flit unaided into my shopping basket, otherwise filled with beans, rice, fish fingers and nappies. In fact I got a free bag and mug because I bought so much tea, and I get regular emails from Pukka. That’s how I found out about the beautiful world competition.

For this competition, you have to upload an image or video of your ‘beautiful world’. I’m not sure what happens if I win, I think it’s a weekend in a treehouse somewhere but whatever, it’s just nice spending time on their website rather than worrying about where we are going to live. I didn’t have time to prepare something specially, and when the toddler was asleep I grabbed my camera and selected the last video clip, which was him jumping around on the beach in the wind.

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Four hours later I was about to throw the camera and computer across the room in frustration at not having managed to upload the clip, and went to bed. But once-upon-a-time I filmed, edited and sent films for broadcast from across the globe, so I couldn’t let it lie. Eventually my video was uploaded, shrunk to a size where it didn’t crash Pukka-land and sent off into the ether.

Today was another day punctuated by lots of difficult phone calls and emails, so for light relief I revisited my handiwork. What I’ve captured is actually not just him jumping around in his waterproof suit, puffing in the wind like a balloon. It’s him noticing his footprints in the sand for the first time. And it feels to me like watching man walk on the moon.

Strangely, I feel I am taking these giant leaps in consciousness for the first time too. We are two sets of footprints in the sand, embracing life and dancing off as the tide rushes over them. I am following in his footsteps as much as he is following in mine. I’m looking at my path, where I’ve been, where we’re going, and I’m determined that we will soon have a home of our own to orbit our dancing footprints around.

Posted in dancing, fish fingers, footprints in the sand, herbal tea, home, house-sitting, sand, Uncategorized, video clip | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Owning up

Welcome to the travel blog I have wanted to write for years. This is also the record of personal growth that I have meant to write forever. Most of all though what I hope this blog will be, is the journey to realising my dreams of being a writer. Yes a proper one. I may as well own up now. That’s what I want.

For starters, I’d like to write a memoir, and some fiction for older children, informed by my own experiences of growing up in a small place steeped in history. I’d also like to write through the pain caused by abusive relationships. I’ve found that the writing of others has helped me through some very dark moments and I would like to offer the same, especially to children, through stories.

I’ve had hilarious, deep and beautiful friendships. I’ve had a career that took me to astounding heights and all over the world. It didn’t leave much room for anything else though. Oh this, lets face it, is going to be about a search for a different sort of life and what I learnt from the last one. I’m going to try and make it honest. And funny. If possible.

So here I am. A mother. Nothing unusual or momentous, you might think, but in giving birth to my son, I began the process of truly awakening to life myself. It’s been quite a journey since the evening when I sat in the birthing pool and held that little folded frog in my arms for the first time.

Things were already rocky in some areas of my life but I was hopeful and could never have imagined what was to come next. A turning circle that took me back to my family home, from which I had been unconsciously running my whole life. From a successful professional with my own flat, I was transported to a totally different existence which felt in many ways to me like it belonged in an earlier century.

My son arrived a month early. At two days old we were in A&E at midnight. He was admitted to special care and I didn’t know where we could stay once we got out. Since then we’ve travelled a lot, sometimes through choice, sometimes not. Most was good, some awful. At three weeks we were on a wild and windy journey across the sea, and at four months we were fleeing on an early morning flight, seeking legal sanctuary.

We’ve ended up in a womens refuge and a homeless hostel, we’ve had to accept charity handouts of food. But actually, it has all been the most amazing experience. The people along the way, the friendships deepened and forged in challenging times (yes some lost too) have reframed my life forever.

Now you find us on the beach most of the time, watching the waves, running from the tide and building sandcastles with woolies and waterproofs on, screeching and flapping like seagulls. We’re enjoying seeing Autumn set in along the lanes, leaves and magpies flying everywhere, sky the deepest grey, rainbows in abundance. And you find us (fingers crossed, touch wood) about to secure our very own affordable home. At last. A new beginning. And a beginning for my blog.

Posted in homeless, homeless hostel, Introduction, legal sanctuary, memoir, mother, single mother, travel, womens refuge, writer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments