Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Lessons From Barcelona

Funny how some things continue to reverberate through one's mind for some time. A particularly thought provoking book or film for example, sometimes rattles around in my head for weeks, months, years. My recent trip to Barcelona is still rattling in there too, and I think I have gained some interesting perspectives from the time we spent there.
The first thought I keep returning to was sparked by a quotation from Gaudi I came across on our first day in the city. It struck me so much at the time that I wrote it down. On the subject of his passion and masterwork, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi wrote:

"I will not finish or develop further the fragments of model of the bell towers on the main facade. I have decided to leave it only scheduled so that another generation will collaborate on the Temple, as is repeatedly seen in the history of cathedrals.

The work of the Sagrada Familia progresses slowly because the master of this work is in no great hurry."

I find this an amazing and inspiring attitude. Gaudi was completely obsessed with his creation, even living at the construction site so that he could devote all his time to the work in hand. And yet he was able to stand back enough, trust enough, to leave some of the vision to unknown, perhaps as yet unborn others to complete. I know that I would find that really hard. I may not be building a cathedral - only painting a wooden box, fringing a shawl or moulding a mask, but I have in my head a clear idea of what I want it to be. I would find it incredibly hard to hand over to someone else, and even if I did, the temptation to stand over the project supervising would be overwhelming. And this was Gaudi's master work, almost his raison d'etre. How incredible to have that trust in the unknown future... I find that very humbling and very inspiring.
In the second part of the quote I initially thought Gaudi was referring to himself as 'the master of this work', but on reflection I think he meant God. I think he meant that as the work he was doing was for God, only God need worry about how long it took to complete. And as God is immortal, then he is not at all worried.
I may not worship the same God as Gaudi, but I like the idea of dedicating our creative endeavours to whatever we hold sacred, be it spirit, God, Goddess, the ocean or our beloved ones. It gives the creative process a whole extra dimension, and, I suspect, gives added integrity to the process. For in creating as an act of devotion to that we hold sacred, how could we possibly turn out shoddy, sub standard or rushed results?

Monday, 23 February 2009

Work of the Heart

I have been away this weekend, at a planning meeting for Avalon Spring, this year's Witchcamp. It was tiring driving up to Croydon and back in two days (including a couple of diversions to pop in and see Mum & Dad and to give my friend Gaia a lift back to Swansea), and the meeting required a certain amount of hard work too!

But it is exciting to see the project coming together so well. I love the unique event that is a Witchcamp, and it is gratifying to put in the graft that makes it happen and see the resulting enjoyment of others. And of course it was wonderful to spend time with my good friends, not only working but laughing, talking, eating and drinking together. Isn't it a fact that the company of good friends makes any work a pleasure?

Here's the publicity we've sent out to people via email - I think this is going to be a great camp!

Charge of the Goddess

A 6 day residential intensive in Reclaiming and Feri magic 23 - 28 May 2009

In the leafy freshness of early summer, step out of time between the mists of Avalon at our magical intensive, Avalon Spring. We will meet together within the sacred enclosure of Avalon, to create sacred space and experience ritual, trance work, visualisation, ecstasy, sacred drama, ecomagic, dancing, chanting, storytelling, community building and have lots of fun! Our venue, EarthSpirit lies nestled within the beautiful Somerset hills, surrounded by fields and woodland. Avalon Spring has a long and intimate relationship with the land at EarthSpirit and has made deep connections with the beings that reside there - visible and invisible, and human and non-human - and is happy to be back there for 2009.

Listen to the words of the Great Mother...
and so it begins; our journey into this beautiful and profound
piece of liturgy originally written by Doreen Valiente that embodies
most witches’ concept of the many faces of
the Goddess. Her many names come to us through time.
‘For behold, I am the mother of all things and My
love is poured upon the earth.
For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is
attained at the end of desire.’

Working through the lens of the Charge of the Goddess, we will explore the ecstasy of devotion and our inherent Divinity and Humanness through daily pathworking and evening rituals.

'Present and aligned. Divine and Human. We are paradox and possibility.'

The intention for the 2009 Avalon Spring intensive invites us to become who we really are.
Join us from the 23 to 28 May 2009 as we explore what it means to be aligned and present, divine and human and to be paradox and possibility. We will celebrate our divine selves and immerse our ’selves’ in the Charge of the Goddess. Gather with us to do the work the multiverse calls us to do at our 11th residential intensive just outside of Glastonbury on the edge of Compton Dundon village in Somerset.

Avalon Spring is a 6 day residential intensive in witchcraft and earth based spirituality in the Reclaiming Tradition, which this year will also be exploring the Feri roots of Reclaiming. We welcome all traditions and people of all experience levels, and invite all to come together as community to explore practical magic, devotional practices and ‘craft’ skills to take into our everyday lives.

Dorm Place, £450-£600
Camping Place £350-£500
(Cost includes all meals)

To enquire about booking, or for details of concessionary places and sliding scales contact us:

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Bah Humbug!

Valentine's Day this year is a challenge for me. It's probably just circumstances (or perhaps because it falls on a weekend when everyone has more time to devote to it), but this year' annual celebration of love seems inescapably in-your-face to me.
What is particularly sticking in my craw is the realisation that the card I received from T last year wasn't the only one he sent. And the fact that the one I received would have been sent out of expediency rather than passion.
Still, luckily this year I haven't received any cards at all, for which I am truly grateful. A sympathy Valentine at this stage would have been more than I could bear!
Even so, today there are several other more positive realisations going on in my head. Firstly, spring is most definitely in the air - St Valentine's day is traditionally the day that birds choose their mates, and true to that there is a lot of bird song and activity in the garden. Secondly, I am moving on emotionally, even if today is a bit of a hiccup in that progress.
And thirdly, despite all, I still believe in true love. I think this must be what they call the triumph of hope over experience, but still. I'd rather be an optimistic idealist than a pessimistic cynic.
So I say both Bah Humbug and a very Happy Valentine's Day to you. But mostly Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Playing Catch Up, Part Four: I Never Thought It Would Happen

I first heard The Rubinoos back in 1977, when I was 13. I fell instantly in love with their infectious cover of an old Tommy James and the Shondells song, 'I Think We're Alone Now' (you can find their version - to my mind the definitive one, but then I'm a little biased! - here). I played their records incessantly throughout my teenage years - I'm still amazed that I never actually wore a hole through my copy of the LP 'Back to The Drawing Board'. They were absolutely my favourite band bar none, and my obsession with them expanded to an affection for their fellow label-mates on Beserkley Records, Greg Kihn and Jonathan Richman (and to a lesser extent, Earthquake). Yes I know, you've probably never heard of any of them! Beserkley titled itself 'Home of the Hits', but this was a rather inaccurate assessment of affairs. As a small independent label, Beserkley was hampered by limited resources (such as being unable to afford to send its artistes on national tours), or by sheer bad luck at critical moments (such as their distributor going bankrupt just as a new album needed to be in the shops). Either way, The Rubinoos never hit the big time.

Fast forward a few years to the mid-90's, when I discovered on a nostalgic trip through my old vinyl collection that I still really really liked The Rubinoos. Further investigation revealed that they had re-formed and were releasing albums again! My obsession reignited, and since then I've been a dedicated collector of their music and memorabilia. Yet I'd still never seen them play live - partly because they mostly play in either California or Tokyo which is a bit of a trek from Wales! They played in Spain about 6 years ago, but I didn't find out in time to make the trip.

So I was thrilled to find they were playing a mini-tour of Spain in February 2009, and absolutely determined that I'd be there. Still rather a long way to go, but how could I miss this chance? Cathy & Julian agreed to come with me to Barcelona to sample the heady mix of Gaudi, tapas and Californian power-pop!

Before the concert I posted on The Rubinoos fans' Yahoo list about how excited I was to finally be seeing them perform live, and received a lovely reply from the band's bass player, Al Chan inviting me to come and introduce myself to the band at the show. This was wonderful, but also made me incredibly nervous - I knew I would be completely awe-struck and tongue tied if I had the chance to actually meet my idols.

By the time we left the hotel for the evening my tummy was already doing flip-flops and I was absolutely certain I wouldn't be able to eat any dinner. We were uncertain what time the gig started (in all the chaos of my departure I hadn't written it down and the tickets didn't specify!), so we decided to go straight there early and then kill time in a bar or restaurant if necessary. At 7.30pm when we arrived at the venue (The Apolo 2) the place was in complete darkness and for a moment my heart sank: we must have got the date wrong! But when Julian experimentally pushed a door, it opened, and we entered. Going on through heavy double doors, we followed the sound of music.

To my utter astonishment and delight, the next door we opened revealed the Rubinoos on stage, doing their sound-check. And they were playing one of my absolute favourite songs, 'I Never Thought It Would Happen' (an apt title at that particular moment)! I stood there in the doorway in stunned bliss, wearing a goofy grin and unable to believe this moment was real. When they finished the song, we asked the guy doing the sound set up what time to come back and were advised 'about 10-ish'.

That left a bit of time to kill, so we went round the corner to a cafe and had a couple of beers, and then found a small restaurant where I picked at some felafels and salad, still feeling very nervous. By now it was 9.30pm and I was fidgety and anxious to get back to the Apolo 2. So we strolled back and entered. We got some drinks at the bar and I bought the latest album, 'Hodge Podge' (a special Spain-only release to coincide with the tour), then we found a seat at the back. But we weren't seated long before the support band, Suzy & Los Quattro came on, and we moved to a comfortable place at the end of the bar from where short little me could see the stage over everyone's heads.

Suzy & Los Quattro were pretty good, but my nerves didn't subside until The Rubinoos appeared. Just hearing those familiar tones melted my anxiety, and then I was swept away by the music. The set list (for the record, just in case another Rubinoos fan reads this) was Altamont, Arcade Queen, Hard To Get, Early Winter, Tonight, Driving Music, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, Perfect Stranger, Stingray, Must Be A Word, I Never Thought It Would Happen, Hit The Nerve, In The Worst Way, Amnesia, I Think We're Alone Now, Rock and Roll Is Dead, and Sugar Sugar (encore).

The band's reputation as a great live act proved to be well-founded. They hit just the right balance between sounding fresh yet polished, tight yet relaxed; and the between songs banter is witty and entertaining, drawing in the audience and creating a great atmosphere.

Just after 'Hit The Nerve', Al Chan announced that they had been asked to dedicate the next song ('In The Worst Way') to me! Unnoticed by me, Cathy had sneaked off to the front and handed the band a note asking them to dedicate a song to me because I'd come all the way from Wales to see them! I was called to the front and spent the remainder of the gig at the foot of the stage in a happy daze singing myself hoarse and applauding until my hands hurt.

Finally the concert was over (I wished it could have gone on and on), but luckily Cathy & Julian were there to push star-struck me forward to get the band to sign my copy of 'Hodge Podge'. Jon Rubin, Al Chan, Susie Davis and Tommy Dunbar autographed the CD for me, we had a lovely chat with Al (who was just so friendly and welcoming), and Cathy & I got to have our photo taken with Jon. They jokingly asked me to get them a gig in Wales. Wouldn't that be amazing! Anyone want to come and see the band in Wales?!

At last we left, with me still grinning like an idiot. How lucky I am to have friends and family who will accompany me while I chase my dreams! How wonderful is a Universe that contains The Rubinoos! How amazing that 32 years after hearing the band for the first time on the radio I was singing and dancing in a beautiful Spanish city while they played live in front of me! How utterly incredible to have a song dedicated to me!

I'm still grinning and singing now, back safely in Wales. I Never Thought It Would Happen - but it did.

P.S. I've Googled the Barcelona concert but haven't been able to find any video from it. But here are The Rubinoos from the concert they played in Madrid the night before, playing (what else?), 'I Never Thought It Would Happen'.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Playing Catch Up, Part Three: Gawping at Gaudi

Well, I guess the title and the photo above give the game away. To our utter amazement we made it to Barcelona on Tuesday as scheduled, our flight only delayed a scant 10 minutes or so.

It was an evening flight, so we saw little of the city that evening apart from through the windows of our taxi to the hotel.

The next morning (Wednesday), after a breakfast of delicious Spanish pastries and excellent coffee served with hot milk we set out to explore. Cathy and Julian are both fans of Gaudi, so there were plenty of places we were keen to see. After working out the mysteries of the city's Metro system we found ourselves in the old part of the city casting admiring glances everywhere.

That first day we explored the Barri Gotic, La Rambla and its environs, a Gaudi exhibition in the Cathedral museum, and after lunch we took the Metro to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's immense unfinished masterwork. This truly is a marvellous, amazing, unique, impossible building. Even now, more than 80 years after Gaudi's untimely death, it is still an immense building site. And yet... it still had - to me at least - a magical, sacred atmosphere that made my spine tingle.

Outside, one end of the building depicts the Nativity in a cascade of flowing stonework that brings to mind a humoungous melted wedding cake. The immense towers and spires are attended by giant cranes and scaffolding as the vast project continues. At the other end of the building, imposing angular figures form an epic depiction of the Passion.

Amazing though the exterior is, it was in the interior that the atmosphere really struck me. Strange, considering that at the present time the interior is full of building materials and workmen in hard hats hammering, sawing and drilling in that vast echoing space. Hardly a place one would expect to have much atmosphere, and yet I was moved almost to tears by what I felt there. Perhaps it is partly that Gaudi designed it as a stylised forest, but somehow I think it is more than that - though I am at a loss to accurately convey it in words or pictures. Just go and see for yourself!

After a long day of walking through the city, we returned to the hotel promising ourselves we would have a more restful day on Thursday. We should have realised we were tempting fate by making such a statement!

Setting off on Thursday morning full of enthusiasm for more Gaudi, we opted to visit Parc Guell, an 11-acre city park for which Gaudi designed the infrastructure and much of the landscaping. Our tip: if you wish to see Parc Guell, do not follow the directions given in the Lonely Planet guidebook unless you fancy walking miles out of your way. We must have added a good couple of miles to our route and by the time we arrived we were tetchy and footsore.

Parc Guell proved a little disappointing after La Sagrada Familia, being crowded, noisy and lacking the same 'Wow Factor'. Or perhaps we were just too tired to appreciate it! Nevertheless, there were still plenty of amazing sights to see - Gaudi is so unique. My favourite area was the vaulted market place with its rainbow ceiling mosaics.

Not long after we left the park, the weather turned and we holed up in an excellent restaurant which restored our good spirits while we waited out the rain. We returned to the hotel to rest up for a couple of hours before our planned evening excursion, for me the highlight and raison d'etre of the whole trip...

[To be continued]

Playing Catch Up, Part Two: The Snow...

The view from Cathy & Julian's window, Monday afternoon - snow still falling.

The plan had been simple. On Sunday my Mum and Dad would drive down to Wales to mind the house and animals while I was away. On Monday morning I'd drive up to my sister Cathy's house in Kent. She and my brother-in-law, Julian, were travelling to Barcelona with me, and as they live about 40 mins from Gatwick airport we'd opted to fly from there. If I arrived on Monday we would be able to make our way there in a leisurely fashion for the flight on Tuesday.

Simple. Except... the weather intervened. Several people rang to suggest I may want to leave on Sunday instead to avoid the heavy snow that was forecast in the South-East on Monday morning. I checked the weather forecast on TV and decided actually, that might be a good idea. The only problem was that I had thought I had a day and a bit to get the house organised for Mum and Dad and get all my packing organised. I had even flirted with the idea of going to my Tai Chi class before leaving for Kent. That now all went out of the window, and a frantic round of getting the house organised, tying up loose ends and packing began. Luckily because my brother Mike was still stranded by car problems at Halfway Up A Hill, he was able to chip in and very valiantly helped with the chores, even hoovering the whole house for me. Even so, it was about 6pm before I was finally ready to leave. The nice thing was that this let me see Mum and Dad before I left. The downside was that the weather front moved in earlier than originally forecast, and a few flakes of snow were already falling by the time I drove off down the road.

The weather wasn't too much of a problem for the first part of the journey, even though some of the snowfall was quite heavy. But almost as soon as I joined the M25 motorway (which encircles London) conditions deteriorated rapidly: the snow was falling faster than the passage of vehicle tyres could clear it. Soon the traffic was crawling along at less than 5 miles an hour, and the only possible thing to do was stay in the tracks worn by the vehicle in front of you. Changing lanes would have meant attempting to cross the mounting snowdrifts between lanes, and frankly I was pretty sure my little car would never manage it. With quite a lot more distance to go yet I started to feel seriously worried, imagining that at any minute someone's tyres would begin spinning uselessly in the thick snow and we would all grind to a halt, ending up spending the night snowed into our cars. Luckily I had a flask of coffee, some food and blankets, yet the prospect was still alarming. I phoned Cathy to find out what conditions were like in Kent, thinking that if they were as bad there I would probably be best to leave the motorway at the next exit (if possible) and hole up in a motel somewhere.

Cathy said that although it was snowing hard, the roads around them were relatively clear so I decided I may as well push on. The going was still painfully slow, but once past the M23 exit things improved enough for a little more speed. Eventually, we were able to travel at about 30-40 miles an hour, which felt much faster than that after the long period of tedious crawling along. It was still snowing heavily, but mercifully at about 1am I arrived at Cathy & Julian's house. There was no way I could get the car up their steep drive, so I called them on my mobile to let them know I'd arrived and they came down with torches to help me with my bags. Phew!

The snow continued to fall, thick and constant, and we spent Monday snuggled up in the living room, drinking coffee and gloomily checking the weather forecast, fully expecting our flight on Tuesday to be cancelled. All that effort for nothing. Or so we thought.

Playing Catch Up, Part One: Slaving and Celebrating

The absence of recent posts on this blog could mean that life has been dull and I have had nothing to write about. It could mean that. But it doesn't. Things have been quiet on the blog because the last few weeks have been so crammed with activity that I haven't had time to blog at all.

So now things have quietened down a bit, I'll write a few instalments about what's been going on (and then I'll settle down with a nice cup of tea and catch up on all my favourite blogs...).
Just after my post on 'Change' things got really busy on the new kitchen. The units were delivered and stored in the garage and I busily prepared by cleaning and decorating so that T and I could install the units when he came for the weekend. T came on Saturday 24th January and stayed until Tuesday 27th, but despite us both working from early morning until 7-8pm at night, we only managed to complete about half of the installation before he had to go back to work. Even so, only half a new kitchen was a distinct improvement on the old dingy one, so I wasn't too disappointed not to get the job completely finished. T was good enough to leave me the kitchen in workable condition, which was just as well, as a wave of guests was about crash over the Moonroot homestead.
I spent all of Wednesday cleaning the house in preparation (how is it that any DIY job manages to fill the entire house with dust from top to bottom?), and on Wednesday afternoon my first two guests arrived: my brother Mike and my friend Ann. They had both come to help celebrate the 21st birthday of Ann's daughter Rachel (my Goddessdaughter), who is at University nearby.
We had originally planned to pick Rachel up the next morning (her actual birthday), but just as I began cooking dinner, Rachel rang to say she'd love to join us that evening instead. So I turned off the dinner and we decided that as the round trip would push the timing of the evening meal uncomfortably late, that we'd all hop in the car, pick up Rachel and have dinner out somewhere before returning home.
That was a great plan but unfortunately fate had other plans. Literally as we arrived at the University, my brother's car began making an unholy racket which sounded like very bad news. It was, and our return journey was made in the back of an RAC recovery truck.
The next morning after depositing my brother's car at a local garage, we carried on with the birthday celebrations which included a shopping trip, a very enjoyable meal out, cake and champagne - and a good time was had by all.
The following day we had a surprise up our sleeve for Rachel - her two best friends from back home in Essex were coming up to visit her. The surprise was kept secret until the last minute, but it also involved a lot of ferrying people around in my car - the poor thing must have been in shock after being crammed full of so many people and their luggage and then driven many miles up and down steep Welsh hillsides!
By Saturday morning, Rachel was back at Uni, and Ann was on her way home by train, but my poor brother was stranded at Halfway Up A Hill awaiting the repair of his car. In the meantime I had beds to strip and remake with fresh linen, sheets and towels to wash, shopping and tidying up to do ready for the next arrivals: my Mum and Dad, who were coming to house sit so I could go away for a break in Barcelona. And then it started to snow...

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

(Belated) Poetry for Imbolc

The Thread

Through birth and death and rebirth,
The thread continues spinning.
And though all beginnings have to end - 
All ends are but beginnings. 

- Susan Farley