Tat’s Life

I’ve been fascinated by tattoos for as long as I can remember; intrigued by the stories they tell, by their boldness and their permanency. I had my first one done around the age of nineteen, and whilst I can’t say it was the most profound of experiences (if I recall correctly I’d imbibed at least two pints of cider after a university lecture and had dragged my reluctant friend to the tattoo parlour with me intent on getting a dragon on my hip, but when we got there and they didn’t have any dragons in the book I opted for a four leaf clover instead – lucky I’ve never regretted it. But then, how can you regret luck?), it set me on a path of discovery that I’m very much still following today.

Each tattoo since that first one has held more emotional significance. The second, a literal translation of ‘inner strength’ into Cambodian script on my lower back, was done after a long term relationship ended badly in 2007, and I wanted to mark the start of my recovery by remembering the happy time I had spent alone in Cambodia before news of my ex’s infidelity broke. The next one came along after a stint of travelling in 2011. Written in English on my foot, it is the last line of a Buddhist prayer (‘May all beings be free), the full version of which my parents kindly gave me as a talisman on a necklace before I commenced my travels. On that trip I had a magical experience with a green turtle whilst diving in the Perhentian Islands off the coast of Malaysia, which I felt was relevant to the last words of the prayer (and hence also to the meaning of the tattoo). I also happened to meet the person I sincerely hope to spend the rest of my life with, who makes me feel more free to be myself than anyone I’ve ever known.

And then there’s the newest addition to the tattoo clan. I’ve been toying with this one for a while, and it’s been particularly difficult because it is related to the thing I’ve struggled most with for the majority of my adult life: Writing. Some of you may know I went part time a year ago to focus more on my writing, but due to a severe lack of discipline on my part, ‘success’ (whatever that means) hasn’t materialised in quite the way I’d hoped it might. So I’ve recently decided to take off some of the pressure, to try and write ‘for love’ instead of fame and fortune. And to help me both with my writing and with the new transition I’m about to make to life as an expat in Brussels with my partner, I decided one more tattoo was appropriate – this time the unambiguous word ‘Believe,’ written as if by a feather quill, which is also included in the design, and which stretches over onto the top of my arm.

I’m sure none of my tattoos will be to everyone’s taste, but all that matters to me is that they are to mine. Not only that, each one (with the exception of the clover, but I love it nonetheless) marks important stages in my life – beginnings, endings, declarations of hope. Each to their own, I say. Maybe I will be embarrassed by them one day, when I’m old and wrinkly and they no longer look as good as they once did. But, like my wrinkles, my tattoos will go to the grave with me, and they will tell the story of adventures, of love, of aspiration: They will tell the story of a life well lived.

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In Memoriam

Yesterday I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic deaths of four children at the Mants’ase Children’s Home in Lesotho, which a friend is involved with. Whilst the loss of a child is always devastating, what makes this story especially heart breaking – besides the fact there were four of them – is that they died trying to rescue a duck from a dam, which they believed to be ill and in need of help. The children were aged between eight and twelve, and a six year old who was with them when the tragedy occurred did not comprehend the seriousness of the situation and did not report it immediately for fear of being told off.

Incidents such as this are a huge test of faith for those of us who have it. If there is a God, it is difficult to understand how He could let four innocent children die in the pursuit of saving another living being. But if there is anything we can learn from such incomprehensible tragedy let it be this: the importance of compassion, of loving for our fellow humans (and non-humans), not just in word but also in deed, and of living every moment as if it was to be our last.

God bless you and keep you Nthabeleng Kibe, Mpho Mafa, Tebello Machona and Reitumetse Mohale. Sleep tight little ones. x

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Should anyone feel moved to make a donation to the children’s home to show support at this difficult time you can do so here. Thank you.

Being Present

I’ve just walked home from work. I did the same on Tuesday, but that time I was plugged into my music, walking in time to the beat in my ears but oblivious to the beat of the world around me. Tonight was different. It was a conscious decision to take in my surroundings, to be fully present in this balmy late September evening in the city I’ve called home for the past eleven years but am soon to leave behind for pastures new. I wanted to absorb its every detail, soak it up like a sponge, so that when I’m no longer here I can conjure it any time I like, simply by closing my eyes and remembering:

The Friday evening chatter as the bars by Borough Market began to fill with thirsty punters, relieved to see the end of the week; intricate brickwork in the arches leading down to the riverfront; tourists in droves slowly ambling with cameras and ice creams, no urgency or sense of purpose; runners dodging walkers like bullets; a man with unkempt hair, a typewriter and a sign saying ‘stories while you wait’ (what’s his story, I wonder); an Aussie in breeches calling ‘roll up, roll up to the cabaret freak show’ on the south bank by Waterloo; photographers waiting for the perfect shot as the sun slid down behind the Houses of Parliament, painting the sky in pinks and oranges like a famous work of art as the water lapped peacefully beneath, its surface soft as velvet; buskers with a range of instruments and abilities, one man in particular by the London Eye whose eye I caught as I walked past and whose voice was heaven wrapped in caramel with sprinkles on top; couples strolling hand in hand with smiles as wide as the mighty Thames along whose banks they walked; a discarded jumper that spoke of being forgotten, or perhaps cast off in a moment of passion or overheating; plants in pots outside offices, wilting and browning in the unseasonal heat; drunks gathered on steps with cans of lager, their pastime more acceptable somehow in the context of a Friday night when all around them office workers did the same; a bouncer underneath the bridge in Vauxhall, trying to entice me into his bar for happy hour; a leaf almost but not quite out of my reach as I jumped to touch it; a Portuguese café called The Three Lions where families spilled onto the street; children arriving home from school clutching violin cases and empty bags of fried chicken.

These are the myriad people and things that make up this special city, bringing her to life in all her kaleidoscopic glory. These are the things I will miss; the things I leave behind.

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The Word is Out: Onwards and Upwards

So, it’s official: Five weeks on Saturday I’ll be moving to Brussels. Why? Because my other half’s job is taking him there, and also because I know enough about both life and love to know that when opportunities come up you have to follow them – as well as your heart. To say I’m terrified would be an understatement, but the overriding feeling is one of excitement. I’ve lived in London for the past twelve years, and whilst I love this crazy, vibrant city and will miss it – not to mention all my friends here – more than I can say, I feel ready for a change.

Whilst ‘what will I do’ and ‘where will we live’ are pretty high up on the list of burning questions, ‘will I write more when I’m away from the distractions of London’ is the one that’s really running on a loop through my mind. It’s no secret that reducing my working hours by one day a week to give me time to write has been less successful than I’d hoped. But you know what? After a lengthy hiatus I’ve started meditating again and I’ve done some thinking, and have decided that it’s time to stop beating myself up for what I haven’t achieved, and start taking steps – no matter how small – towards what I am capable of achieving. That may be a published novel, or it may not, and for the first time in a long time I can honestly say that I’m okay with either. My new plan is to ease some of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself and fall back in love with writing, hopefully at the same time as I fall in love with the new city that is to become my home for the foreseeable future – and I’m excited.

Life is for living and the world is for exploring. And whilst Belgium might not be all that exotic, or, in distance terms, all that far away, it’s certainly a start.

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Graceland

In 1996 I discovered the joy of Graceland* – the album by Paul Simon, not Elvis’s former home (after which it was named). I remember driving along dusty Kenyan roads with the windows wound right down, staring at the spectacular landscape with its peculiar upside-down Baobab trees and feeling a surge of pure bliss as Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes belted out of the tape player.

I must have listened to that album a hundred times during that trip alone, but when I came back to England the tape was relegated to the back of the wardrobe and all but forgotten. Until a couple of days ago, that is, when Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes started playing in the restaurant where I was having lunch. It caught me completely off guard, but as the first few bars of the song wafted out from the speakers I felt that familiar wave of pleasure – a feeling that the vast majority (though admittedly not all-I am partial to the odd mass-produced ditty) of modern ‘popular’ music these days couldn’t hope to elicit.

How, I wondered in that moment, could I have become so desensitised to such wonderful music? The same applies to so many other incredible songs that I’ve stumbled across, then walked away from, over the years. What at first sweeps you up like a heady affair soon turns from lust to love, from love to like, and from like to mere indifference.

It occurred to me, then, that this was a rather neat analogy for relationships. Just like with music, where true classics may wear thin with constant repetition, but will, ultimately, stand the test of time, so the initial flush of relationship lust can wax and wane when we become used to it – but if the relationship is right for us it too will stand the test of time. It will ‘come back into fashion’ in just the same way as our favourite tracks and we will be all the more grateful for its, as with their, existence.

Put another way, we may not always be overly enamoured with one another – the classic “I love you but I just don’t like you very much at the moment” scenario that comes about when life gets in the way, giving rise to stress within our relationships – but if we are truly ‘meant to be’ we can be quietly confident the situation will right itself before long.

We humans are magpies by nature. We like things that are shiny and new, and get bored of the things we know too well, so start taking them for granted. But, rather than spending all our time chasing the new, it’s well worth taking a moment to look around sometimes. Because it’s only then you can appreciate the many wonderful things and people that you already have – and feel thankful.

*For any other Paul Simon fans out there, Graceland is currently available on Google Play for £1.99-absolute steal).

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