Tag Archives: family

Yoga Camp #2: Morning meeting, routines, a little about power dynamics

By 6:30am, Dudelet is awake in his own tent and eking out the battery on his iPod. Soon after that, I’m awake and check in on him.



“Did you sleep okay?”


“I’m going to the morning yoga class – mummy’s still in bed.”



I make the first run of the day to (over-sharing imminent) empty my bowels in the squat composting toilets on the other side of the field. At this time, it’s mostly the camp workers and parents of small children wandering around looking dazed and sleepless, along with people like me who are heading to a seven o’clock class. Supermum isn’t moving from her sleeping bag and little elf is a motionless bundle of Hello Kitty blankets. There’s probably a five year old in there but she’s grumpy when woken early.

I trudge across the main campsite in my wellies (wet mornings) or flip-flops (grass and feet dew-wet) with my mat under my arm, heading for a 7am class. The sun is already long up. The early morning Bhakti crew (the core ideology, though in a completely non-evangelical way, is the Bhakti Yoga path but a rainbow coalition of yoga influenced spiritualities, including the decidedly secular, are present. There’s even a shaman or two hanging around) are already strumming and singing away. The Kundalini fans have been at whatever it is they do since five am in a smaller yurt. I pause for five minutes at the camp fire and chat to whoever is hanging out there. Later on in the camp, that includes dudelet who gets more and more independent and adventurous as things go on. Watching this is one of the joys of such a relatively safe space where everyone is looking out for everyone else’s kids. Wrapped in a blanket, I watch the early morning Dance of the Pawnee Women. I usually mutter in my head about cultural appropriation but keep my mouth shut.

I do a seven o’clock yoga class.

Yoga at seven, under a large marquee with the walls rolled up and on a slightly sloping, bumpy surface, is a wholly different proposition from a studio with a hard, level floor, central heating and a bit of the outside leaking in from a window someone’s left open a crack. Balancing is really balancing. Downward facing dog acquires a whole new dynamic depending on whether you’re facing uphill or downhill. Also, I’m trying out different forms – vinyasa flow, Indian (that was a bootcamp of a session!), spinal etc, so its all a bit of an adventure.

After yoga, breakfast (mealtimes are a whole other post).

Then the morning meeting!

I think about half the camp shows up for the morning meeting, possibly more. It takes place with everyone gathered in a circle round the campfire and gradually acquires a structure and dynamic as the week goes on. There’s also a subtle interplay of influence going on (one is tempted to use the word ‘play of power’ except that the word ‘power’ carries an inference of brute force applied for agenda progression that would be completely wrong here) between the leaders of the camp and the camp founder. The founder, U, is a thoroughly inspirational, thoughtful, charismatic and magnetic woman who has nominally ‘let go of the reins’. Almost. The leaders, who have only recently taken over the huge task of organising and setting up the camp, clearly respect her hugely but also need to be seen to be running things. Because that’s what they’re doing, running things. This isn’t an anarchy. Regardless of Western Bhakti Yoga’s counter-cultural roots, meals have to arrive on time and the composted toilets have to be crowned every morning. Eventually, a kind of equilibrium is set up but U doesn’t hold back in intervening when she feels its necessary.

Anyway, the first thing everyone has to do is say their name and be greeted by the group – “Gabriel!” “Namaste, Gabriel” – and so on round the circle. The circle, by 9:15, is two or three rows deep and people keep on arriving through the process so it can take about fifteen minutes to finish the process. At first, it’s profoundly annoying but as my sense of time starts to dilate and loosen up, it becomes rather lovely.

Then it’s time to announce KARMA YOGA! On the first morning, I volunteer to be a toilet fairy, meaning that every day at lunch time I join another volunteer and clean the squat toilets. It’s a genuinely lovely job (more later). The yoga teacher who eventually takes over facilitating this does an excellent job, chivvying and distributing and taking no nonsense. No meeting closes without every job being assigned.

People announce changes in the schedule (a constant work in process) and therapy that they’re offering. A couple of mornings from the end, I take a deep breath and cross the floor from being a middle class hanger-out-at-the-fringes and offer Tarot readings in exchange for chocolate (another story).

By mid-week, the meetings seem to grow smaller and the leaders send out children to try and drag parents along – possibly more of a festival oriented crowd has shown up. But the morning meeting keeps functioning and gives the camp a heart and a dynamic. Sometimes, thorny issues are discussed – managing the increasingly feral children at twilight or whether they should be able to play with the wheelbarrows. Having these discussions and reaching some kind of conclusion in an environment where many people are committed to a very ‘free’ ideology (to the point where their construction of ‘freedom’ becomes a kind of oppressive force in its own right? – another story) is something of an artform.

Then U closes the meeting. I think this is how she and the organisers achieve an unspoken(?) balance between their roles. U is the spiritual heart of things in a way that is both utterly inclusive and completely uncompromising – a difficult trick. Appropriately, she leads a chant, in English and Sanskrit, that centres on the need for attentiveness to ‘the heart our only teacher.’ It relates to the Bhakti Yoga path, which informs the whole camp. It isn’t my thing but any irritation that might have accumulated (why don’t they ever volunteer? That’s not an empirically verified therapy! Oh for heavens sake – why they cancelled that session – that’s the only reason I came…and so on) is gently but firmly soothed away.

Yoga Camp #1

We went to yoga camp in August. That’s the first thing you need to know. We booked a cat sitter, packed up supermum’s beloved army surplus bell tent, a mountain of rugs and sleeping bags, four or five yoga mats, a nine year old and a five year old and headed off to the wilds of Shepton Mallet to pitch a tent in a field for nine days and nights of all-you-can-eat yoga.


The second thing you need to know is that I’m probably going to vaguely anonymise* this. There were lots of things we liked, a few things we struggled with and at least one thing each of us hated. And I want to be frank and not hurt anyone’s feelings, by accident or design.

The third thing you need to know is that this wasn’t a posh camping, Pineapple Dance, Om Yoga Show sort of yoga camp. Oh no. This was hard core. This was lights out at 10:30 (hooray!), bahkti devotional chant every night (more on that later), squatting composting toilets and vegan mass catering all week. No alcohol or drugs on site. Kundalini practice from 5:00am (we never did manage to catch that) and yoga classes of every variety you could imagine and one or two you probably couldn’t.

The final thing you need to know before I go into any kind of detail (future posts) was that the camp was launched a decade ago for the love of it and is still fueled by volunteers and ‘karma yoga’ – doing your bit in the kitchen tent or tending to the toilets or any of the hundred and one other things that a zero-environmental impact camp (they came pretty close) of two hundred and counting women, men and children needs to keep running smoothly. Somehow, it all worked without any real bad temper and minimum grumpiness, even from the people trying to deliver servings of vegetarian curry to two hundred people at a sitting.

We learned a great deal about ourselves, our yoga practice and our respective comfort zones. I’m still digesting it all. I may or may not get around to writing about:

  • the zen of composting toilet karma yoga
  • the story of the Italian who introduced fishing to that African lake
  • little elf’s holiday
  • feral tween twilight time
  • Grandfather circles and the dangers of inviting Loki to the same party as Woden
  • Bhakti, bloody bhakti
  • Appropriation of Native American culture and when it is suddenly and illogically ok
  • hugging and the dangers of pokey intimacy
  • coffee addiction
  • Tarot reading for chocolate
  • outdoor showers and nudity
  • the middle classes versus the off-the-grid
  • the joy of morning meetings
  • wasps, wasps, wasps
  • wind and moonlight

That was a longer list than I anticipated. Does any of it intrigue?

*Shepton Mallet. Yoga camp. Google isn’t that much of an assault course, people!

Heart Attack And Vine

First of all, the heart attack.

My sister and I are having one of our rare conversations. Our mother (natural for my sister and adoptive for me) is in hospital after a suspected heart attack at her day centre. She’s been living with my sister for about six years and Sister is showing the strain.

It turns out that it isn’t so much a heart attack as a consequence of the extreme levels of calcification of her already battered heart valves. They can put in stents or replacements but there may be side effects for someone of her age (89 next week – as usual, I’ve forgotten her imminent birthday) and poor health.

“What kind of side effects?” I ask.

“Oh, you know. A stroke. Death. That kind of side effect.”

From anyone else, that would be a joke. It’s possible Sister’s developing a black sense of humour. She once answered the door to a man who asked her what her crutches were for (no longer needed, thankfully). He had a broad Liverpool accent so the conversation went something like this.

“Are you alright, love? What are the crutches for, la?”

“I have chronic continuous pain syndrome.”

“That’s too bad, chick – what does that mean, then?”

My sister fixes the man with a dead-eyed glare worthy of Charles Bronson in his prime.

“It means I’m in continuous pain.”

(Two beat pause.)

“That sounds really bad, love – can you sign here?”

“That was funny,” I said when the man had departed, quite quickly. She looked at me blankly.

“But I am in chronic continuous pain?”

Anyway. She isn’t now. She is, however, an Anglican deacon studying for the priesthood and is professionally determined that our mother is going to a better place. We agree that I’ll take a day trip up North and see our mother with Sister as an escort. For my sake, not our mother’s.

Our mother is upright and perky.

“There was a lovely chaplain. He came in during rest time and sat with me for ages.”

“That’s nice.,” says Sister.

“The heart man was very good. He says they could give me an operation that’ll give me years more life.”

Sister rolls her eyes.

“But the other two consultants both say that the risks are two high and that your quality of life afterwards wouldn’t be very good.”

“But why shouldn’t I live a little longer if I can?”

“But aren’t you going to heaven?”

“Well, yes. I hope so.

“So does it matter when you go, then?”

“But if I could have a bit more…?”

It’s uncomfortably like a patient mother remonstrating with a young child about the dangers of too much cake. Mum changes the subject.

“There was a lovely chaplain. He came in during rest time and sat with me for ages…”

“Yes, mum,” my sister says. “You’ve told us that.”

“”The heart man was very nice. But I think he’s too old to do the operation.”

Unwisely, I try and explain that there’s a whole team that makes the decision. It gets complicated. We hear about the chaplain again. A nurse provides us with a fistful of booklets about the particular technique this consultant has been trying to sell our mother.

“I suspect an enthusiast,” I tell my sister, and she agrees. The stats suggest an 80% survival rate after one year. They don’t tell us a) how ancient or otherwise these survivors are and b) how likely they were to carry on living anyway. We aren’t encouraged. We try to explain the stats and procedures we’ve just learned about to our mother and decide to leave it till the full patient conference next week which Sister will make sure she attends.

Then I prattle bravely about my children (whom mum barely remembers) and my job for an hour. At one point, she points behind us.

“Do you think those things on that trolley are for sale? They look very nice.”

We both swivel in our seats. She’s pointing at the coronary emergency ward crash wagon. It does have quite an attractive set of little IKEA-style red drawers.

Later, I reach St Pancras and buy a bottle of moderately posh red wine. That would be the ‘vine’ bit.

Snowday 2012…

…Was pretty ace, actually. Perfect snowman snow. So we rolled large balls (which were a bit filthy because there were only two or three inches of actual snow and we ended up with a lot of grass and mud attached) and made snowmen. The following day, I felt like I’d been running for the first time in years and my arms seemed to be dislocated which is what exactly going from a lie-in to three hours of physical labour without a warm-up will do to you.

Show is heavy. And so are sledges. But I decided that I love both.

Afterwards, humongous crowds of people trooped through our house for tea, coffee, GameCube and intense Barbie play-sessions. Grown-ups filled the kitchen, we ran out of cake and milk and all the left-overs clogging up most of the shelves in the fridge came in immensely useful. We aren’t used to being that social at the moment, being as we usually spend most of our free time wringing our hands about the ongoing real-estate car-crash, the Crack In The Front (not anything the the Doctor could save us from, I fear) and the Woman Downstairs. Silly us.

And then everyone went to bed beautifully and supermum and I watched something from Buffy Season 6. And not even that could bring us down.

There are times when we don’t appreciate what’s right under our noses. But not on a Snowday – we had us a good time and we all slept wrapped up in the sleep of a house that had been filled with love and good times. We must do it again soon.

You want a picture, don’t you?

Little elf accessorises a snowman

Little elf accessorises a snowman

Southport Seafront, clichéd decay, weird paddle boats

The fact is, Southport isn’t anywhere near as bad as I remembered. Every toilet in every chain restaurant seems papered over in posters warning about meow-meow and suggesting one ‘asks Frank’ but the expected gangs of feral tweens wandering the seaside wastelands seem to keep themselves voluntarily confined to a large skatepark. Tottenham and Hackney could learn a thing or two there.

We’ve been here for three days, visiting my elderly relatives and taking a ride round ‘my old haunts’, as a obscure track by The Dream Syndicate might put it. There’s a decaying Victorian park sandwiched between an immense Travel Lodge and an even larger Best Western that offers a pleasantly melancholy tour of Southport’s former grandeur.

I had my iPhone so I took a picture of a decaying and pleasantly melancholy park gazebo (or meow-meow house).

In the distance, there’s the deserted coils of the giant rollercoaster in Pleasureland. I’ve no idea if it opens in winter. Probably not. It looks like the council decided to put a lot of money into it at some point and sort of…stopped. But not before they built a heritage centre. I walked around it (it was closed) and couldn’t really work out what it was for. It was surrounded by truncated lampost pillars, like a Greek ruin.


There’s a circular chamber at the back. Perhaps its the airconditioning for a vast underground system of tunnels and bombshelters. Perhaps not.


Dudelet and I took a walk while we waited for the arcades to open. There are rituals associated with seaside towns which must be observed at all costs and the exchange of money for noise, coloured lights and unreliable hits of serotonin is one of them. Dudelet, though he didn’t know it at the time, was about to win a jackpot amount of tickets* and acquire a memory which will remain with him for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, we passed a building with a sign proclaiming it to be the Smallest Pub In Britain.


Next to the Smallest Pub In Britain was an equally small sternwheel paddle steamer. I have no idea how they acquired it.


Back in the park, we found a deserted miniature railway station. It was a forlorn sight.


Elsewhere, the Most Gothic Hotel In Southport stood waiting R-PAT’s wedding party.


Then I discovered Hipstamatic and turned everything into the 1960s.


And here’s a picture of my family. They’re the cold looking little group trudging wearily towards Fun.


Later this week, I’ll do the happy post about the joyous, uplifting things. But today is all about the cliché and the decay. I suppose I’m listening to too many Cure reissues.

*If you don’t already know, it’s far too complicated to explain.