Back on the mat with Hamish Hendry

Recently a fellow yogi asked me if I could let her have a brief summary of the notes I took when Hamish Hendry came to run a workshop at Stonemonkey Studio recently – she had seen me scribbling away as he was talking.

(As an aside, I find it impossible to listen to someone imparting knowledge of any kind without taking notes – I often never re-read these notes and even find myself writing utter illegible nonsense whilst still looking at the person speaking – it’s like a weird compulsion, where my hand takes over.  I’ve come to think it’s just how I process things, as though the act of committing ink to paper reflects the process of commiting thoughts to memory – but who knows?!)

Anyway, not that ‘brief summaries’ are my forte (try ‘lengthy ramblings’ for a better bet), I promised I would get something down. So here goes…

It was the second time I had practised with Hamish – as before, he ran a Mysore style self-practice class in the morning and gave a talk on aspects of yoga philosophy in the afternoon.  And, as before, I was struck by his intuitive knack of being in the right place at the right time for adjustments and his uncanny ability to get you doing things you thought were beyond you, in the most unfrilly, no-nonsense way imaginable.  Supta kurmasana? Not a problem – wham, bang, legs behind your head, hands clasping. Err… hello? This isn’t something I do, Hamish! Well, it is now. Drop-backs for the first time after a hugely emotionally challenging barren back-bending spell? Yep, off you go, lovely job, done and dusted. Yet his adjustments feel completely safe, completely in control – my body seems to react enthusiatically to his speedy, firm manipulations like a trusting puppy. Yes, he is certainly a very gifted and  experienced teacher, who I sense operates on a hugely subtle, energetic level, tuning into his students and what baggage they bring with them, even as they first enter the room as complete strangers.

This is summed up my the fact that, as he assisted me with drop-backs (I’d been avoiding these for months – it’s a long story – you can read my recent frond yoga website blog post if you’re really interested…), he combined his usual perfunctory adjustments with a kind smile and the words,

You can do this. It’s just this stopping you,‘ (pointing to his head).

How did he know?! I mean, I’ve only met the man twice, yet he managed to summarise seven months of emotional rollercoaster in that simple statement! And something in me broke down – in a good way. I found myself sobbing (and I mean, sobbing) in child’s pose after successfully (and rapidly – good old Hamish) accomplishing what had eluded me for months. You hear of such emotional releases during yoga, especially in back-bending, but that’s the first time anything like that has happened to me – slightly awkward, but luckily child’s pose is a very forgiving pose for emotional melt-downs!

Anyway, I feel truly blessed and inspired to have worked with him and would love to work with him more often.

In the afternoon we did some sanskrit chanting from the Bhagavad Gita.  Ahem, sheepish confession to make: I appear to have lost the copious notes I made regarding the full details of this chant.

(As another aside, I have a terrible habit of scrawling my compulsive note-taking onto whatever random piece of paper I can locate at the bottom of my bag – my home is scattered with back-of-envelopes and back-of-receipts, many of which inevitably end up in the unfathomable graveyard of Very Important Scraps of Paper, the location of which remains as elusive as the Bermuda Triangle.)

However, I did write down an approximate translation of the chant on my frond yoga facebook page as I was so taken with it, so I shall reproduce this here:

‘Be happy for those who are happy; be compassionate to those who are suffering; be joyful for the virtuous; and be indifferent to the non-virtuous. If you manage to do all that, your mind will be cleansed and you will find inner peace.’

I was struck by just how much of a challenge to the average human being this deceptively simple set of instructions contains. If you break it down, you see how potentially difficult each instruction is:

1. Be happy for those who are happy. 

Scenario: You’re having a shitty day. You’re stressed out and feeling grumpy, frumpy, etc. Someone posts on facebook about how wonderful their holiday in the Seychelles is and how happy they are, with a photo of them looking radiant. “Eugh,” you say in disgust. Them being happy makes you feel unhappy about yourself. Familiar? Oh come on, we’ve all been there at times! Imagine having the zen-like quality of being genuinely happy for others’ happiness at all times. Their happiness would create your happiness, therefore happiness would be doubled, and the world would be a happier place, not to mention you too! Sounds like a pretty good thing to aim for…

2. Be compassionate for those who are suffering.

This is, seemingly, the easiest one of the bunch. Empathy and compassion are part of what makes us human. But take it a little further and remember that everyone is suffering in some way. To get all Buddhist on you for a minute, life is suffering. So we should be compassionate towards everyone we meet. Not so simple, huh? Especially when that person is being really unreasonable/annoying/spiteful etc… Such negative behaviour usually comes from intense suffering, so really our compassion should increase for those people. It reminds me of a lovely quote (source sadly unknown – can anyone help me out?), which I find very helpful: ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle, of which you know nothing – be kind, always.’

3. Be joyful for the virtuous.

This is a bit like the first one, but more specific.  If you’re struggling along your own spiritual path, this is about how you view those people who just seem so far along it themselves that they appear too good to be true. You know the ones: they’re vegan, they glow with vitality, they get up at 2am each day to do their four hours of yoga practice, including pranayama, study and meditation (this is ACTUALLY what Hamish does – FACT!), they do a lot for charity, they only buy organic and locally sourced products etc, etc – and they’re bloody lovely people to go with it, dammit! Something very human in you wants to hate them, wants to find out their flaw, wants them to get ‘found out’. Then you meet them and they’re just so, well, lovely and down-to-earth and humble, that you feel terrible. But then it starts again… This is so very human and I guess comes down to that very base emotion that it naturally within us all to some extent: envy. The people we envy possess qualities we wish we had ourselves – in this case discipline, commitment, courage and faith in their convictions. We should instead be happy for these people that they have borne such fruits on their own path, and grateful for them for spreading their warmth and wisdom and inspiring us to continue on our own paths. This links in with two of the yoga yamas: apagriha (non-greediness, which extends to not coveting what others have) and santosha (contentment – being happy with where we are right now and knowing it’s just where we need to be on our journey).

4. Be indifferent to the non-virtuous.

So, this is easy if you’re part of the non-virtuous crew! But if you’re trying really hard to develop yourself, become a better person, grow positively or just simply be more nice, people who don’t seem to hold the same values as you and flaunt this under your nose can be really hard to stomach. But they are people just like us – we’re all trying our best to muddle through life, and who’s to say your way is any better than theirs? Again, you know nothing of the battle they are fighting. It’s about taking judgement out of the equation and just focusing inwards on your own values, being true to these, and unruffled by others’ paths that are at odds to your own and even being grateful for the challenges that these people present us, as obstacles always teach us valuable lessons if we allow them to. Again, really difficult to pull off I would say, and only possible after lots of meditation/spiritual practice, in order to observe your feelings in a more detached way. So there I go, spouting about a spiritual path being the ‘right way’ – it’s a bit of a conundrum, this one!

Anyway I won’t bang on any more, but suffice to say there is a life’s work in that simple chant, and one I want to get involved with! When I finally find my actual notes from Hamish’s talk I will post some more of his wisdom… 🙂

Posted in Ashtanga yoga, Bhagavad Gita, Cod philosophy, Hamish Hendry, Positivity, Stonemonkey studio, Yoga | 2 Comments

Finding my voice

Hmmm, my last blog post sucked a bit. It did though, didn’t it? If I’m honest, it’s the reason I’ve not posted again until now. Chris asked me to read it to him and, in doing so, I became so bored with my own words that I could barely bring myself to finish. My voice faltered as I struggled to embody its unfamiliar ‘voice’ that reeled off various ‘interesting newt-based factoids’ and complex techy descriptions (well, newt traps are hardly techy but you know what I mean). I felt really disillusioned.

“Oh God I’m so rubbish at writing. Aaaagh, woe is me, I can never write again. Sob, I’m unable to engage the reader’s interest – what a pathetic excuse for a human being I am. What’s the point of it all?” Etc etc…

(There may be a teeny amount of exaggeration here, although such mind-leaps are not unheard of at a certain ‘dark point of the month’ if you know what I mean, ladies – and long-suffering men…)

Once the horror of having put ‘out there’ a post of which I am not proud subsided (I refused to delete it though – that would be ‘cheating’ according to my self-appointed and rather amorphous code of blog ethics), I began to ponder what exactly had happened, as is my wont.

Well, I think a couple of things happened, which I shall try and summarise below:

  1. I was really tired, after newting late at night and early the next morning, and found myself engaging in blogging with a determined ‘you will finish this post this morning’ mindset, when it was clearly the Wrong Time.
  2. I was trying to be the ‘informative ecologist’, which is just not me. I’m terrible with facts – I always limp in near the back in the legendary May family Boxing Day quiz. Don’t get me wrong, I know my ecology stuff. But it’s just not in my nature to seek out, absorb and communicate to others factual knowledge. That is far too ‘concrete’ for me. I can do it when required, but in more of an editorial way (i.e. with a concerted effort to tailor my writing for a particular audience).  I naturally deal more with the grey areas of life – obtuse takes on the seemingly ordinary and much probing into what makes people tick and what’s going on with this crazy world. Pondering the answers to the big, existential questions and subjective musings on life’s mysteries – that’s when my writing and creative thought process are at their best.  I’m drawn to the unseen, the subtexts, the spaces between.

As I was lying in savasana after a fab yoga session yesterday, I found myself thinking further on this. Why had I shifted my ‘voice’? (Yes, I know I should have been mindfully in the present moment rather than following my thoughts but, hey, that’s sooo hard to pull off and I’m still working on it…)

I came to the conclusion that I was trying to be someone else in order to please others and be judged well – an old chestnut for me. When re-starting the blog recently, I questioned what its purpose was, and came to the conclusion that I needed to provide more ‘facts’ to keep people’s interest. It seemed that other people’s blogs provided more useful information or had a stronger theme, and were definitely less full of random whimsical wordiness. However, by doing so I compromised who I was.  This blog is, for me, completely self-absorbed – how can a personal blog be anything else? And I’m OK with that.  It’s a platform for me to explore my creative thoughts and writing style and, yes, find my voice. And it’s worked – I know I’m being true to myself when the writing just flows. And I know I’m not being true to myself when I struggle to re-read my words without squirming…

The blog also provides a challenge for me to unapologetically put my thoughts out there, which is something I have struggled with throughout my life. I’ve previously been so wrapped up in worrying how others will judge me and trying to please everyone (hint – IMPOSSIBLE!) that my own thoughts have lain dormant to the point where I just didn’t hear them and, if I did, then I definitely didn’t trust them. It didn’t matter what ‘I’ thought – as long as everyone else was happy. And a little word of caution – that path leads to very dark times. How can you love yourself if you don’t know who you are? That was the realisation I came to in the end, as I wailed ‘Who am I?’ to the night sky in a belated charicature of teenaged angst (interestingly, I never had a teenage rebellion phase – perhaps that was the problem). Eventually I had to ‘find myself’ by going to the other side of the world, feeling like a big, hopeless cliché of modern life.

Soooo, basically, what I am building up to saying in my usual over-wordy way, is that I intend to continue to use this blog to unashamedly be who I am. Yes, it means very few people will ever get to the end of my posts and yes, it frightens me to do so and yes, it’s a struggle to understand what I’m giving to others with this approach… But what I hope I’m giving is honesty, my personal truth, and my own candid take on life. There’s a lot of bullshit in this world, and it’s rare to find unsullied truth. When you do, you know it. It shines with a pure beauty.  I am not saying I’ll achieve this – it is nigh impossible to be completely honest with yourself most of the time, yet alone with others – we all hide the parts of ourselves that we fear. That’s why there’s such liberation in exposing these parts first to yourself and then to your loved ones – but that’s for another post. But I will try and reveal as much as I can. I need to – I’ve come to see that it’s part of my own healing and development. To be strong in my own convictions, even though my own conviction is usually that people need to be less narrow-minded and immovable in their own convictions! (You see, even making that statement scares me, in case I’m struck off someone’s Christmas card list for being so opinionated – I’ve got a looong way to go…!)

So no more will I hide what I really want to write about and say, for fear of being judged. People are always going to judge you – it’s IMPOSSIBLE to please everyone and for every person that rates you, another person hates you (I just made that little rhyme up – I like it!). Understanding and accepting this has been one of my biggest developmental boons. Also, very few people read my blog anyway, so my self-absorbed ramblings will mostly go unchecked – hurrah!

Anyone still with me? If so, I will bake you some flapjacks, you’re a star… 🙂

PS The further through this post I got, the more the writing flowed, rapid and unstoppable – a sure sign I’m on the right creative path!

Posted in Cod philosophy, Positivity | 2 Comments

Newt bothering

Being an ecologist has many perks. OK, I often have to get up really early (sometimes 2am early!), but these early mornings often yield good fruits. Being out and about when the day is just stirring always feels like a treat to me – as if I’ve been granted a special gift of a morning to myself; just me and the animals all pottering about together doing our morning chores. This morning I found myself standing in a sparkling dew-tipped field with a gently curious family of Highland cattle – I love these placid creatures. I watched the mother licking her calf and could almost feel how comforting the rough touch would be to the little one. Witnessing such maternal care breaks down the barriers we impose between us and other mammals.


I was in the field to empty some newt traps in the hedgerow pond. It’s the great crested newt survey season, which first involves setting newt traps at dusk (made from 2-litre plastic bottles cut in half and the top end inverted, then impaled on a garden cane, the end of which is embedded in the pond floor so that the inverted neck of the bottle is below the water-line). As back-up search techniques you may also search the aquatic vegetation for their eggs or use a net to try and find them. Then, once darkness descends, you look for newts in the pond with a high-powered torch. Overnight, the curious newts may enter the inverted end of the bottle and are then apparently too stupid to find their way back out, even though it’s perfectly possible for them to do so. So we revisit the ponds in the early morning to check out our newt haul and let the dense little critters back into the water. By the way you need a Natural England licence to do this – yes, I possess a great crested newt handling licence – it’s a funny old world!

Great crested newts are protected by European law. We actually have loads of them in the UK, but we’re one of the last strongholds across Europe for this beautiful species, so we need to protect what we have. Not always popular with developers, as you can imagine, but if you were to see one in the flesh, it may persuade you why we need them in the world. They are truly spectacular – they have jet-black, grainy skin with a vibrant orange belly and orange and black striped feet. The courting male has a spectacular jagged crest and white stripe down his tail and the females are just, well, huge. To me they look primeval; left-overs from dinosaur days. In the water they are graceful, floaty, ethereal, shooting off in a flash when disturbed. In the hand they are fairly slow and stolid.

I unfortunately didn’t find any cresties this morning, but I did find this gorgeous male smooth newt – smaller than a crestie and covered with spots, with an evenly undulating crest rather than a jagged one. Their splendour when suspended in water, with crests aloft, doesn’t translate to when they’re in the hand looking all squat and slimy. Then their crest just flops, their spotty pattern dulls and they look like the kind of stupid creature that can’t find the exit they’ve just walked (or swum) through. But really, in the water they are something else. I will try and bring photos of this from a future haul.

Male smooth newt

Quick caravan life update – we had a very industrious bank holiday weekend (well, mostly Chris to be fair), which has resulted in a solution to our water issue (we now pump out of a 100 l water butt) and a great storage solution for the awning (see photo below), knocked up by Chris in an hour. My own contribution was the installation of solar-powered fairy lights over the awning roof, which don’t seem to work. Humph.

Neat and tidy, tidy and neat.

Posted in Caravan life, Ecology, English countryside, Off-grid living | Leave a comment

Caravan life

This post is brought to you from my new home – on wheels! Having recently lived for three months in a hastily converted Fiat Ducato van, our ‘Swift Challenger’ caravan feels like a veritable mansion. Well, kind of – residents of mansions probably don’t have to walk single-file through their home – but, on the plus side, they also probably can’t make their morning coffee without leaving their bed and without assistance from any remote technology or home-help.

My first observation of caravan life is the hugely inappropriate nature of most caravan names. For a start, we are anything but swift when towing this behemoth, and the biggest challenge it presents is how best to cover up its chintzy interior. Along our row, there’s a ‘Conquest’ and a ‘Gladiator’, yet confrontations amongst the owners are likely to be rare to absent, and would probably revolve around the volume of the neighbour’s radio or similar – hardly bloodthirsty warfare. There’s even one called a ‘Streamline’ – can you imagine anything less streamlined than a caravan?! Anyway, I digress…

So why am I here?

That is a good question, with a number of answers. Firstly, have you noticed how obscenely expensive it is to rent in the UK these days? And have you noticed that, if you’re on a small budget, there’s very little chance of getting somewhere with a decent outdoors area. So, if you’re trying to save money and if you’re someone who feels ten times happier when connected with the natural world, then caravan life is a great solution, especially if you’re already familiar with living in a small space and have already begun the process of downsizing your possessions. It also helps if you like an adventure, have nomadic tendencies and enjoy embracing the randomness of what life can offer!

We’re almost two weeks in and so far so good. It pretty much tipped it down with rain for the entire first week, apart from one glorious day. I consider this a good test, and it didn’t dampen either our spirits or the interior – phew! But now the sun is shining and all our windows are wide open.

When I told one of my sisters my plans, she said she couldn’t get the phrase ‘trailer trash’ out of her head, and kept thinking of Eminen’s mum in 8 Mile. I totally understand this perception, and make sure I’m out of my dressing gown before I open the blinds each morning to avert such associations! But really it’s all very civilised – especially as we can benefit from the huge advances in mobile technology. We have an excellent 4G mobile wifi connection (with the best skype connection I’ve literally ever had!), a wireless printer and great music set-up. We also deliberately bought a decent caravan such that we have a full-sized shower cubicle with hot water and a decent water-flow, a four-hob cooker (three gas rings, one electric) with oven and grill, decent-sized fridge, fixed double bed and separate seating area. We also have, to Chris’s delight, a dedicated drinks cabinet and, to my delight, a huge awning on the side, which I like to call my ‘yoga studio’.

Downsides are the ‘cassette loo’ (not sure why it’s called this – have yet to discover any musical associations beyond me singing to disguise those unavoidable sounds), which needs to be emptied fairly regularly, and the fact we have to refill our water tank every day. Still, Chris is working on a solution to the latter issue, which so far seems to involve a HUGE water butt (I can fit in it – I checked) and a long hose-pipe, so we shall see. It also means we have become much more aware of our water usage, which is great preparation for our long-term plans to try and live more off-grid. For example, we now know it takes around 30 litres for us both to have a decent shower (and this is no mean feat given Chris’s hair credentials).

The benefits are that I live in a field by a gorgeous lake on a farm. My front garden is HUGE and, on this bank holiday weekend, became the scene for a cowboy themed children’s party, such that the farmer was mowing the lawns in his full-on cowboy garb and the air was filled with the whinnies of miniature ponies and their equally miniature riders.

We can go for evening walks round the grounds and spy on the swan patiently sitting on her nest in the woods (until her protective other half chases us away) and watch the bats swoop low to catch the flies over the water. We wake up to the sound of birdsong in the hedge by our heads. Trilling skylarks and laughing woodpeckers fill the air during the day and the scent of the may blossom, just bursting out now, fills my nostrils. When I need a break from report-writing, I can just step outdoors in bare-feet and feel the grass beneath my feet, or sit by the lake and watch trout jump. I am already scoping out suitable flat areas amongst the trees for al fresco yoga when the weather warms up a teensy-bit more. Basically, the outdoors are as indoors as possible for day-to-day life, and I am very happy with that.

Even better, our neighbours are either on holiday or fellow ‘long-termers’ like us. Either way, the mood is very mellow and relaxed, and I have to remind myself that I’m not on holiday every day, especially when the sun shines and I can unzip the walls of the awning and let the outdoors in even more. But then who’s to say I can’t be on holiday whilst also being at work? As long as I get my work done, I can still feel that happy, excited sense of freedom and holiday that caravans give you.

I will bring you more updates on how caravan life goes for us as the summer develops – hopefully the outdoors will increasingly prevail over the indoors… 🙂


My new front garden 🙂


Posted in Caravan life, English countryside, Nomadic lifestyle, Off-grid living, wildflowers, Yoga | 2 Comments

Back in business

I had nigh forgotten about my poor old neglected blog, but then a strange sequence of events has forced its patient presence back into my life over the last twenty-four hours. Last night I went round for dinner with friends and halfway through the evening one of them disappeared to do ‘blog stuff’. It turns out he has made the intention to blog each day for a year, starting on his 50th birthday. On each day of his fiftieth year, he will post a photo that he’s taken that day and some related blurb. (As an aside, if my dad was reading this he would be keen to point out that this would actually be his 51st year, just to rub the ageing thing in further – he has always been peculiarly pedantic on this point, reminding us that ‘we were in our first year before we turned one’. Guess he’s right again,*sigh*…)

Anyway, this morning, bleary-eyed after not much sleep due to gassing with friends until late then rising early to check the status of a birds’ nest on a demolition site (the chicks had safely fledged, yay!), I sat down with a cuppa and trawled through my friend’s back-entries (ooer). One cold cup of tea later and I realised I had been totally hooked in by his inspired ramblings and funny insights into this wonderful and crazy life we are blessed to experience. It reminded me how brilliant it is to share your take on life, and how I love reading others’ words and sharing my words with others. Blogging is brilliant for that. I felt a rush of affection for my poor blog, languishing in a dusty, forgotten corner of the internet, and made a promise to myself that I would go and retrieve it, dust it off and unleash it on the world once more. Well, unleash is probably a bit grand – in internet terms, my reappearance is more like a very small, fluffy, lop-eared rabbit hopping rather erratically and ephemerally across the screen as a subliminal flicker like off Fight Club. Don’t ask me why it’s lop-eared. Or even why it’s a rabbit.

Anyway, following this promise, made to myself as I drifted off the sleep, this morning I received an email from someone I’m doing some work with, who congratulated me out of the blue on my ‘awesome blog by the way’. I was flummoxed – I wasn’t aware anyone was still reading my blog. Somehow I still fail to comprehend that, once ‘out there’ my words stay there for all to see, even when I’m not updating. It’s kind of like thinking no one can see you when you can’t see them. So anyway, I took this as a sign that I should press on with cranking up my creative juices and flexing my typing fingers once more – and here I am, a girl of my word (or, rather, words)!

So I am very grateful to my friend Tony for inspiring my return to the weird world of blogging and I would highly recommend his blog for anyone who likes to have something amusing and/or thought-provoking to chew on over a cuppa:

I will finish this with a very brief beckymayhem update. After seven months teaching yoga, travelling and surfing in Morocco and France, I am now back in the UK for the summer, once again attempting the crazy combination of ecology, yoga teaching, massage and (at least in my whimsical head) writing (novel update: hopefully only around a third to go now, fingers crossed!). I am also currently living in a caravan – but more on that later. Bye for now… 🙂


Posted in Ecology, Morocco, Nomadic lifestyle, Self-employment, Surfing, Thai massage, Travel, Yoga | 2 Comments

Local insights

Well today I officially went all-out Moroccan by having my first hamman at the local massage parlour. I feel AMAZING! I had already had one in Essaouria at a luxury spa, but this was something else – I feel it’s something that’s much better administered at a ‘rough round the edges’ local place – they seriously pull no punches with the loofah. Basically, you’re told to get our kit off and then you lie down on a bench in a floor-to-ceiling tiled room whilst a no-nonsense woman chucks hot water at you, rubs olive soap into your skin then scrubs you mercilessly with a coarse glove until fat worms of sludge start to fall off you, which she points out to you with a gleeful cackle. She then rubs pure ground argan nuts into your skin (‘food for the thirsty new skin’), followed by clay (‘to make you feel soft like a baby’). She wasn’t kidding – I can’t stop stroking my arms now… The process takes an hour and is completed by her showering you off and washing your hair, which engenders complete regression to a childlike state of blissful contentment – there is something very maternal and nurturing about the whole thing.

I came out feeling relaxed yet invigorated and energised, and now my skin is glowing and, frankly, I look radiant, even if I say so myself! No wonder a weekly hamman is something the Moroccans swear by, including the men. A recent conversation with our villa’s chef revealed to me quite how integral the hamman is to Moroccans. I was asking him what he was going to do on his day off and he said he had some jobs he needed to do and proceeded to list them. Having a hamman was up there, sandwiched between picking up some paint for his house and buying groceries.

“Pour nous, c’est comme le docteur,” he explained.

Living and working in a foreign country, as opposed to passing through as a tourist, helps you to see life through different eyes as you begin to notice the nuances of the local eccentricities. Experiencing Eid in a Muslim country was a wonderful opportunity to taste a different approach to a huge religious and familial celebration, akin to our Christmas. Like with Christmas, the reality was a huge anti-climax to the build-up, thank goodness in this case. The ominous tales of blood running down the streets and mass public goat slaughter were completely unfounded, and not once was I hit over the head by a lifeless hoof.

In fact, the most noticeable element of the big day itself was how like a ghost town Tarazhout and Aourire became. The pathetic bleatings of doomed sheep and goats that had filled the air in the preceding week were now eerily silenced, and all the people were nowhere to be seen – they were either in the mosque or with their families. After the initial horror at the savage centrepiece of the celebration (the ritual slaughter of a sheep or goat by each family) I ended up feeling a great fondness for the day. The excitement of the locals was infectious and I realised that their centrepiece is no different to our slaughtered turkey, except that they are much closer to the experience, rather than being conveniently and clinically distanced from it, as we are as we pass our credit card over at the supermarket in exchange for some cellaphaned, now flightless casualty. I have had some quite profound stirrings to become vegetarian since that day though…

One aspect of the regional celebration of Eid wasn’t exaggerated though – that of the macabre fancy dress parade that follows during the next few days, whereby local lads dress up in the stitched together skins of the recently slaughtered goats, wearing scary Halloween masks and generally enjoying the power of their intimidating presence as they march through the town in sinister groups. The pathetic photo below was the closest I dared to get! The town did smell distinctly ‘goaty’ for a few days too – you could smell those boys coming…

P1000187 Gruesome Chewbacca lookalikes…

And finally, here’s a sneaky peek into a traditional Berber taxi, which took me up to a friend’s Riad in the mountains the other day – loving the gaudy tat!


Posted in Morocco, Nomadic lifestyle, Self-employment, Surfing, Travel, Yoga | Leave a comment

Something’s got my goat

One thing’s for sure, there are a lot of goats in Morocco. Every morning I wade through a group of them foraging through the stinky Tarazhout public bins, on my way to the car, and this morning I was nearly run over by a group of them galloping down the steep, narrow street outside our apartment (do goats gallop?) as I opened the door, closely followed by a shouting man. But there are even more goats than usual at the moment, and lots of sheep too – there is a distinctive ovine/hircine whiff in the air. Transit vans parked at the side of the road open their back doors and sheep literally fall out, as they are so rammed in (see what I did there?). The owners grab one of their legs to control them as they overspill onto  the street.

I found out the reason for the rapidly expanding goat/sheep population. Next Wednesday is a national fete, which is celebrated by each household slaughtering a goat or sheep, skinning it and letting the blood drain into street. Then, as an added bonus for this specific Agadir area, it is tradition for children to wear the skin of the slaughtered goat or sheep and run down the streets asking passers by for one dirham and, if the passer-by refuses, they bash them over the head with one of the hooves. It seems like a very macabre and savage trick-or-treat game.

I am glad I have had warning of this. Imagine if I’d wandered out on Wednesday morning into rivulets of blood, only to be bashed over the head by a strange devil-goat child. I think I might have been rather traumatised (and actually still think I will be, despite the warning)…

Anyway, today is a rare day off and I am really enjoying a lazy breakfast on the beachfront – egg tagine of course, with café noos-noos (the only Arabic I’ve learnt so far – it means ‘half-half’, so you get half milk, half water) and a divine date, avocado and banana smoothie. Off for a surf later, then sunset yoga and an episode of Game of Thrones. Bliss. I’m also finally taking some photos of my new home town, so will bring you an insight into provincial Moroccan life with a touristy-surfer twist soon.

Posted in Cafe Culture, Morocco, Nomadic lifestyle, Surfing, Travel, Yoga | Leave a comment

Savage beauty

Sometimes this place takes my breath away with its natural beauty. Two days ago I watched the huge red sun seemingly melt into the horizon over the ocean, at the high speed that you get this close to the equator. Then, as I turned to drive in the opposite direction I was lucky enough to catch the golden yellow orb of a full moon rising behind the silhouetted mountain range. Totally stunning. Then at Tamri beach the other day I was struck by the sea’s blue and white striation, as an endless army of brilliant white breaking waves poured onto the beach, when my eye was caught by a flash of pink in the sky. Looking up I saw the arrow formation of a flock of flamingos against the blue – completely unexpected, and even more beautiful for it.

P1000028  P1000038

Yet this beauty is set against the savage rawness that is Africa. The other day I was walking back to the apartment from the car and I heard a sickening crunch and instinctively knew it was the sound of bones snapping and life ebbing away. Reluctant to turn but unable to stop myself, I slowly looked back and felt a stab in my core as I saw the tortured final throes of a cat thrashing around in the road, clearly on the edge of death, but refusing to let go without a fight. With no limbs working it nevertheless twisted and flipped, in eerie silence. I was horrified, and found myself welling up uncontrollably, desperate to help but feeling completely helpless. But what really struck me was the seeming unconcern of the Moroccans – a brief flick of the eyes, a tiny pause in conversation, then life resumed as before, with no one even seeming bothered about putting the cat out of its misery. To them I guess it was just another inevitable casualty of the huge wild cat population – one less mouth to feed, one less noise in the night. The cat’s body lying discarded by the bins the next morning seemed an appropriate symbol of this attitude.

It made me re-evaluate my own reaction; the seemingly default human reaction of horror and sadness to seeing another creature suffering no longer seemed so natural – the counter evidence surrounded me in the unconcerned eyes of fellow human spectators, as unbothered by the incident as the goats foraging through the bins nearby. Maybe my assessment is wrong, and it’s just that I don’t understand the Moroccan expression of emotions yet, but it seemed pretty clear that folks were used to such events and not too bothered by them. As I often seem to say in this blog, we are but mammals after all, with our deep instincts being personal survival and procreation, with ‘default’ base reactions being tied to these objectives. The layers that we have built upon this are dependent on social conditioning, and clearly vary hugely between different cultures.

I’ve seen locals throw big stones at dogs too, and ‘dog carcass’ was apparently the casualty of such a stoning. It’s just a different take on things I know, but one that’s hard to adjust to, coming from a culture that places a different value on cats and dogs. Some locals do seem to own cats or dogs as pets, but largely they are seen as pests not pets, and I suppose the attitude towards them changes accordingly. I guess a cat being run over in Morocco is akin to a pigeon being squished in London – most people wouldn’t really bat an eyelid aside from an initial feeling of distaste.

Hmmm, all food for thought – living abroad really does challenge your set ways of thinking, which can only be a good thing.

Posted in Cod philosophy, Morocco, Nomadic lifestyle, Travel | Leave a comment

Nagging muezzins and gnarly waves

Well, this morning’s Muezzin certainly gave it some welly. I am slowly becoming accustomed to being woken around 5am by the call to prayer that pierces the town’s slumber over the loudspeaker. This somehow is a fitting symbol of the Moroccan’s somewhat cavalier approach to a good night’s sleep. In a strange way, I am quite fond of the sound – it punctuates the day from dawn until dusk; five summons in total. However, I would describe this morning’s caller as possibly a tad self-indulgent – I may well be struck down as an infidel for such blasphemy, but really – it seemed a bit OTT.  He went on for at least 20 minutes (usually it’s around 5 minutes) and, towards the end was frankly toying with us – he would seemingly grind to a blissful halt, and then around 30 seconds later mumble an afterthought. Aaaaagh…

Still, I am upgrading to a windowless room in a day or so, so will hopefully find sleep less elusive. Being someone who loves the outdoors and light, I have slight trepidation about sleeping in what could seem like a vampiric vault, but the bags under my eyes are growing alarmingly large, so needs must. Plus, it’s a much bigger room and I will no longer be in a single bed, which I’ve realised is far too reminiscent of teen/student years for me these days – a thirty-something’s prerogative.

Life has mellowed out significantly this week, as we’re hosting an external yoga retreat rather than running our own, so there is much less teaching and more down-time. The group are lovely and very self-sufficient, so I have had time to get my head round the office admin side and get out into the waves a few times. I’ve been facing my fears at a beach break called Tamri, which is notorious for its ‘show-no-mercy’ waves and powerful rip currents. I was machine-washed here a number of times when I came out to Surf Maroc on holiday a few years ago, so the butterflies in my stomach were swarming as we approached the beach. Once in the water, I remembered the might of Tamri – walls of foaming water bashed into me or, worse, dumped on my head, and I quickly had to remember the ‘turtle-roll’ technique to avoid being smashed down by the waves (you basically roll under your board, so it takes the impact whilst the wave washes over you). I desperately paddled out to move past the impact zone (ie where all the waves are breaking) and get ‘out the back’, behind the breaking waves. Once out the back, life becomes much easier- you get to bob about on your board, chilling out, chatting to other surfers, and awaiting the next set of ‘green’ (unbroken) waves to paddle for, then feeling the adrenaline rush of sliding down the face of a breaking wave; you are much more in control of the experience. Conversely, in the impact zone you are at the mercy of the might of nature, battling to literally keep your head above water. It’s rather unfair that beginners have to start in the impact zone before discovering the zen-like state of being out the back, but that’s the nature of the beast – I guess it’s a rite of passage.

Anyway, for the last two days, I completely failed to get out the back. I knew that, physically, I was capable – I’m a strong paddler and fit enough. However, what stops me is my fear. I fear the big waves crashing on my head and fear the possibility of feeling literally and metaphorically out of my depth amongst all the pros out the back. I nearly make it out the back, then see a watery behemoth racing towards me and turn tail, choosing to catch it in rather than risk it breaking on my head. This pattern was repeated on both days, despite me giving myself numerous stern talkings to. However, in the end I made a commitment not to beat myself up about it – the turbulent ocean was doing a good enough job of that already. Instead, I decided to give myself a break and congratulate myself on facing my fear of Tamri and being in the ocean. Once I lifted the pressure, I began to feel the exhilaration of being pounded by nature’s elements; the restless water, the wind in my face, the smell of the sea. I started to actually enjoy myself, and caught some lovely waves – OK, they were only ‘foamies’ (waves that had already broken), but I still managed to turn and ride along them as they continued to break, and found myself whooping, as I do when I feel the rush of speed in the water – always a good sign. I remembered why I love surfing, and that it doesn’t matter what stage I’m at, as long as I’m having fun. One day I will make it out the back at Tamri, I’m sure of it, but hey, I’m in no rush – I have six months of this!

So, in my usual way, I conclude by embracing both sides of the argument – there is a definite balance between facing the things that scare you and being kind to yourself and congratulating yourself for the progress you’ve made so far. It doesn’t matter where you are on your journey, as long as you’re moving in the right direction – for me, that direction is towards the horizon!

Two quotes to sum up both sides:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Mary Anne Radmacher


Posted in Cod philosophy, Morocco, Nomadic lifestyle, Positivity, Surfing, Travel, Yoga | Leave a comment

Salaam alaikum

Greetings from sunny Morocco! Actually the sky outside is currently more of a London dishwater grey than the customary electric blue, but I am in no position to complain. Despite the odd overcast day and even occasional rain (at which the Moroccans start whooping and celebrating), it really does seem to be year-round sunshine here.

So, the next chapter of beckymayhem has well and truly begun, as I commence my six month contract working as Yoga Manager/Yoga Instructor for Surf Maroc, a company that specialises in surf holidays and yoga/surf retreats. For a girl whose two favourite things to do are probably surfing and yoga, I feel like I’ve landed on my feet rather, especially given another large part of my job is acting as host and getting to know a hugely diverse range of guests, which well and truly satisfies my incurable nosiness and fascination with the intricacies of we complicated humans… 🙂

As my daily routine settles down, I hope to bring you regular insights into Moroccan life and the life of a yoga teacher/surf bum through the blog. So far, the life is suiting me very well indeed, despite a very long working day during the yoga retreats. I have been launched straight in at the deep end, just as I love it, by joining two back-to-back yoga retreat weeks. During the yoga retreats we teach an early morning yoga class as well as an evening class and day-time hosting/admin, so the day begins groggily at 6am and ends with collapsing straight into bed at around 10:30pm ready to start all over again the next day. In theory there are hours off in the middle of the day for surfing/doing our own yoga practice/ blogging (?!)/ maybe even giving some thai yoga massages, but as I’ve been learning the ropes and getting my head round the job, such free time has been elusive so far, hence my tardiness at posting here.

Anyway, here is an insight into my new daily routine:

My alarm goes off at 6am and I groggily fumble around in my pitch-black room (why don’t we have shutters in the UK – they are awesome!) after a fitful sleep. Moroccans certainly do not have a sense of ‘keeping the noise down for the neighbours’ at night. Our staff apartment lies in the heart of Tarazhout, a small, fairly non-descript fishing village that has grown into a surfer tourist hot-spot due to the prolific surf spots up and down the coast in this area. I am certainly getting to know the sounds of ‘Tarazhout by night’ intimately: children are still playing noisily in the street at 1am, men arrive by motorbike all through the night and rev outside my window, having shouted conversations with each other; an old man sits sadly on the step beneath my room most nights and plays terrible music on a radio to himself; packs of dogs re-establish their pecking order through regular scuffles; and a cacophony of throat clearing reaches me on surround-sound from neighbouring apartments. Then from 5am onwards the early morning shift of the Muezzin’s call to prayer, braying donkeys and cockerels begins. Tranquil it is not. Being a light sleeper, these nocturnal shenanigans are beginning to show beneath my eyes, but sleep is becoming easier as the long hours affect me, so perhaps it’s something I will get used to.

I blearily make my way across the nauseatingly tiled hall (Moroccans love patterned tiles, and like to cram as many different patterns into a room as possible) and into the pongy shower room. The stone placed futilely across the plug hole does little to prevent the odour of sewage oozing into the room, as is the case in all bathrooms here, evidence that the Moroccan sewage system is probably in need of updating. The water is cold, as the plumbing is broken, but that’s actually quite nice, after the sticky humidity of the night.

Myself and the two other yoga teachers, Jenn and Sarah, walk out into the dark morning, negotiating pot holes on our steep street and out onto the main road. We walk past ‘goat bins’ (the stinky public bins that always have goats climbing all over them, rooting out discarded delicacies), ‘dead dog’ (a flattened, crispy dog carcass at the side of the road), run the gauntlet of the local dog pack, hoping they’re not in a  boisterous mood, which can result in nips to the back of your thigh, usually field some lecherous comments from local men and finally seek refuge in our clunky Renault Kangoo van.

If I’m driving, we over-rev and bunny-hop our way down the coast road (I’m still getting to grips with left-hand drive and the quirks of the gears), trying to avoid kami-kazi cyclists and moped-riders without lights, many with multiple passengers on one seat. Some deign to use their mobile phone light or a tiny torch to indicate their existence as we near them from behind, but most just trust that Allah will provide. Moroccan pedestrians also seem to have a preference for walking in the middle of the road, which doesn’t help matters. Neither does the Moroccan indifference to road markings – cars drift all over the place as if the drivers are under the illicit influence of alcohol in this ‘dry’ country (*ahem*, excuse me as I politely choke on my tea).

After 15 minutes we arrive in Aourire, the small town where the beautiful yoga villa is located, and I prepare to teach an early morning dynamic yoga class in the rooftop shala with a view overlooking the ocean. Most day I watch the sun rise over the mountains inland. Then follows a multi-course hearty breakfast with the guests (waist-bands expanding already, eek) and then we wave the guests off for a day’s surfing, or join them if we are able. If we stay at the villa, we have office admin to do, or odd-jobs to keep the villa and retreat running smoothly. The guests return around 4pm and we help them out with any requests, then teach an evening class at 6pm as the sun sets over the sea. We share a delicious evening meal with the group and do any more ad hoc bits and bobs then finally leave around 10pm, collapsing into bed around 10:30pm ready to begin again the next day.

I have to sign off now to prepare my evening class tonight, but more details of life out here will follow… 🙂 It definitely feels good being back in the craziness of the African continent. The craziness does not quite match that of Kenya in 1998, where I spent 6 months teaching in a rural school, but craziness nevertheless abounds, from the chaotic souks to the cheeky smiles of the locals. I feel the thrill of the challenge of being out here, deliciously combined with the wonderful feeling of having found my ‘thing’ as I embrace my role as yoga teacher. The joy I get from sharing my love of yoga with students, and working with the same group through the week makes me know for sure that taking the risk of coming out here has paid off already and will yield many, many benefits. I know the experience will teach me loads more about myself as I face new challenges and crystallise my thoughts on my future direction. As always, the fear of stepping out of my comfort zone has soon turned to a thrilling sense of empowerment and excitement, as I sense my boundaries of what I think I can do expanding. Salaam alaikum! 🙂

Posted in Morocco, Surfing, Travel, Yoga | 2 Comments