Wednesday, 19 February 2020

THE HANDMAID'S EMMA

I sat and watched the latest version of Emma tonight.  It had a paper thin cutting edge to it which previous adaptations lacked.  Margaret Atwood was walking across each scene in hobnailed boots.  The image of girls wearing red, aka handmaidens, ready to be at the bidding of the men, was ever present as they walked across the screen, against the backdrop of the most exquisite countryside.  Every image was exquisitely framed, like a huge expensive expansive one dimensional work of art. And the trees, magnificent, the most romantic thing about it.   And then the relationship itself, and plot which seemed to show the shallow spiteful snobbery and class system and elitism of identifying who would be suited to whom.  This was a more honest version and closer to what Austen was describing when she wrote her 'romantic' novels. They were not romantic.  They were not romanced. They were calculated swipes at the ugly gentrified sneering society.  The societies of Bath she abhorred in much the same way Virginia Woolf abhorred the affected society of Richmond.  How women were at the beck and call of men, just as they are in the Handmaid's Tale.   Margaret Atwood famously took a swipe at Austen for allowing women to put themselves in situations, allowing them to believe and seek out arrogant men who they could somehow 'fix'. But actually I feel Austen was all to aware her heroes were nothing of the sort, she just chose to illustrate the status quo within the confines of what she was permitted at the time.

There is oddly or perhaps not so oddly a connection between this adaptation of Emma and the film Parasite.  The same acceptance of class system applies. And the working classes are used as spare parts for the upper classes. The parasitic nature of those who have money to those who have less.  Everyone accepts their place, and is put in their place.  Teachers tell me how the education system is designed and structure to keep everyone in their place. How despite the huge slogans writ large about kindness and honesty in schools, even public ones, it is cunning and connection, not talent nor intellect, which allows those to get to the top. It annoys me that those in the public eye at the moment spouting out about being kind should realise that those at the top of their profession, in every profession have not got where they are because they are 'kind'.  Even the eleven year olds I teach realise that. They are telling the populace to be kind, when actually they already are.  They should look at themselves before spouting off about kindness to those who've spent too much time people pleasing.  Only those at the top have used their time pleasing themselves.  If someone tries to step out of their place, we call it revolution, chaos, disruption, anarchy.  Actually its not.  Its just not playing the game.  Just stepping out of the frame.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

THE SURREAL AND SERIOUS WORLD OF TRAVEL


I find myself in an interesting time at the moment as a travel journalist. In the same week I was asked to write about romantic breaks and read through the latest travel reports, I also focused on the climate change issues and the ever-growing lethal impact of the virus on the travel industry.  Not to mention the future of man and womankind as we know it. In times like this the perfume counter that is travel journalism seems at its most puerile. For nearly thirty years I have been writing about destinations, and journeys, adventure travel, trekking in the Yukon and bungy jumping in New Zealand, when I was yfs (young, free, single), ten tip spotting when I was with child (Tom), identifying why kids clubs were passé even when they were allegedly on trend, and why the English don’t like children.  Now son is at university, and I teach yoga, I’m focused on everything wellness, and as everyone from Royal to pop star, to politician to earnest CEO claims they are weighed down with mental illness, having made the rest of us sick with their celebration of neurosis, wellness holidays seem to be a growth trend in travel on a viral scale as most are coming out as being mentally ill in some way. Boom time for therapists, life coaches and psycho experts of every shape and size. 
But most travel ‘trends’ as such are flawed.  There’s food travel – travel on your stomach, and eat what the locals do, although obviously not in China.  The alternative is to eat what you know – and the coastal resorts of Spain are full of the full English eating the full English.   Then the fastest growing trend in travel, wellness and fitness travel, although with the virus again, this seems a nonsense.  With the baby boomers now free to travel in style, many are cruising although - as the cruise shored off Japan and Hong Kong will testify, they are unable to leave the 'sinking ship' in a Year of the Rat, an animal best known for being able to leave a sinking ship. 
Coronavirus has taught us we are a global community of travellers whatever Brexit or the political machinations of our politicians, or those in Davos decree. We are all in this together.  This situation has given us more reason to go vegan, and stay hygienic. The coronavirus started in November in China (it was first reported in December but started in November my sources say).  This should have effectively cut off travel to and from the country immediately to contain the virus but because of the nature of the economics of doing this and the economic repercussions, this didn’t happen. Our greed will literally kill us.  As I write, there are still flights to and from China and in my opinion, there shouldn’t be.  We know too little about this virus at the moment and what everyone is being told, people – including the British – do not believe.   
As for climate change, there are numerous doctorates investigating sustainable tourism (I was told about one at Surrey University last year) but this is irrelevant.  Intellectual property would be better used for climate change initiatives. Culling the fashion and textile industry and limiting the internet hours will have more impact than cutting the number of flying hours or stopping cows from farting.  Ironically I did a report on Brazil for the Sunday Times over fifteen years ago, which has a thriving textile industry, and this is also the country which is currently cutting down the Amazonian rainforest, an initiative which forty years ago, the Paris Climate Convention decided would cause the ice caps to melt, the coral reefs to disappear and large areas to be flooded.  Forty years ago.   Twenty years ago the same Climate Convention deduced the greatest enemy of the earth was not in fact climate change – but politicians.  We never learn do we.  
So I read the recent feather weight reports on future trends in wellness and romantic travel with intrigue.  Eco travel and romantic travel has been re termed to be ‘ ‘guilt free’ travel,  encompassing the fact you don’t harm the culture you are visiting and you don’t harm yourself either.  The report which I ploughed through this week (fifty two pages of it by Mr and Mrs Smith), also claimed that the fluid nature of gender and relationships, would become situationships (quick flings/no commitment), fluid relationships (serially knowingly unfaithful) open mindedness would mean hotels would be offering triple beds as opposed to double beds.  Guilt free travel indeed for a baby boomer generation who enjoy cruising in all its guises.  I thought there were many which catered for this market already, but perhaps it is just my imagination.  
With all that is happening in the world, talking about where to go to for a romantic break, and how to immerse yourself in the culture, seems fatuous when there are more important and pertinent issues to address, like will there be a planet to travel round and animals and beauty to admire when we’ve allowed the lungs of the world to be destroyed? 
The best journalists out there are the children I've met and work with in schools.   I have become aware of how teachers are doing their best to give children calm, simple, answers to their increasingly perceptive questions (Ten year old ‘Are the Chinese honest about the numbers? ‘  Fourteen year old, ‘What are they doing with the dead bodies?) These kids should be in charge of the national media.   And certainly the travel pages.  I do think curriculum classes on civil and civic classes rights, how to identify narcissists, thinking classes (learning how to think rather than what to think)( and languages would be more useful than many of the other things we learn.   Also travel classes.   Not tourism, but travel. How to travel well.  It starts in childhood. The children teach the adult not the other way round. I realised that as soon as I had my son. 
The quickening speed of the virus proves there is no escape. Travel is geography, it has never been an escape, you still are the same person you started with unless you are open, and we still largely goldfish bowl our adventure travels despite what the brochures claim. Using the internet a few hours a day, not buying clothes has more impact on climate change than stop flying to far flung destinations.   I’ve stopped eating all meat and fish not because its good for me, but because it is good for the world. Not for the economy but for the natural world.   And if we stop demanding it, they will stop producing it and will have to find alternative ways to live. I have always felt the earth will get rid of us before we get rid of it.  Donald Trump, the comic book baddie, is ironically, the one person who can change the way things are happening. I know he’s not all bad. He has the same birth date as me. 

Friday, 13 December 2019

FRIDAY 13TH

Boris won.  It was like coercive control, a narcissist at his best, watching him talking about 'now we must now heal the country', when he was instrumental in inflaming the divisions in the first place.  He will control the money, the freedom, the communication. It will all be manipulative lies, under the guise of the greater good.  The divisions were always there but he's made them bigger, nastier, more insidious and divisive, and all under a subtext of working to the people's mandate, so that when it all goes horribly wrong, he points back at the people and says 'well this is what you asked for', like a bullying husband who turns round to his bruised wife and says 'well you married me'.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

MR BLUE SKIES. RICHARD LINDLEY

I attended the funeral of Richard Lindley MBE today.  I didn't know him very well, but I have known his wife Carole Stone for eighteen years, and any man who has the unconditional devoted love of someone like Carole must be special.  Richard was a journalist and reporter of the highest order.   A rare thing, those who spoke in St Martins in the Field, spoke of his gentleness, his integrity and his professionalism. He often had the chance to scoop a story, an image, but when he realised he was crossing a moral line, he stopped.  There were many stories from ex colleagues who revealed what a man he was.

The Reverent Dr Sam Wells, gave a careful, considered, powerful sermon on how journalism was an 'ism', a seeker of truth.  And that Richard was a seeker of truth, so rare these days, Dr Wells said, that he would be considered a prophet.  Journalism, he said, no longer existed.  It was merely marketing, puppetry at the hands of those who had the biggest off shore bank balance.  The journalists knew their strings were being pulled, just these days they didn't know by whom. Dr Wells quoted Aristotle who was always seeking truth, but that was in the time when religion wanted to prove the heretics wrong.  Not unlike politics really. And proof is frozen perception. And truth is one's own truth. Although as he pointed out, many in power have no idea what 'truth' is any more.   When that happens, the only thing for people to do is trust their gut instinct ignore the lies told by the politicians and media to realise the political system is broken as it continues to allow these people to rise to the top.  Not just in this profession but in everyone.  Rare is it that the cream rises to the top. It is 9/10 the shit.

Plato and Socrates weren't much better, categorising and arguing, making life about criticising and putting people into boxes, much as media has become today, and every establishment really. No room for compassion, compromise and certainly not something as progressive as unconditional love.

Michael Palin spoke eloquently of Richard being a marvellous neighbour and adding glamour to an area of London which had recently only just lost Lindsay de Paul.  And Roger Bolton, of ITN and This Week, spoke of Richard as a serious journalist who was always polite, but when he met Carole, he changed as a man. While his motto was always to ask the question 'why' (a favourite question of mine, although rarely gets asked and even rarer gets an answer), Carole was always 'why not'.

Carole read a letter which Richard had written to her on their wedding day, and put it in a sealed envelope, asking her to open it when he died.   She read it, through tears and everyone, hardened journalists and editors, broadcasters and writers, were sobbing. It was a love letter from the grave of someone who learnt to love by someone who knew how to love.  And Carole Stone knows how to love.To give. To be generous. Richard knew what good look liked when he saw it, and he kept to his word, as he wrote in the letter, 'I will always love you till the day I die. And beyond. For real love transcends death.'    And I knew he was there in that church.   As I walked to Trafalgar Square filled with Christmas markets selling rubbish, the National Gallery looking classic and classy, the bells of St Martins peeled out like a. wedding day service, and the sky shone bright blue on a day that was supposed to be grey and rain.   Richard had the bluest of eyes and I would tell he was looking down on us, and reminding us of the power of unconditional love.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

ERUPTION IN New Zealand

I watched the news as most probably did and saw a real piece of news (as opposed to manufactured/fake/slanted/celeb/political) about the eruption of the volcano on White Island, a 'private' island off New Zealand.  It is dreadful and my heart goes out to those who have lost their loved ones, and those who are in hospital.

As it is a 'private' island my first question is, do the owners of the island get paid?  Who owns or wants to own an island with a live volcano on it?  Sounds a bit James Bond.  Were the tourists asked to sign away their lives before going on the trip, and who did the research into potential eruptions?  I remember walking around a live volcano in Ecuador as part of a tour with Explore.  There was a group of teenagers and their parents, in search of something that would make fourteen year olds go 'wow' and for an hour or so move away from the black mirror of their iPhones.  It worked.
So I understand the fascination of looking into the abyss of a live volcano.   The one I walked up and around didn't look harmless. It looked verdant with life and the birdlife are some of the most colourful and exotic in the world.  I remember at school learning about volcanoes in humanities, and getting top marks for learning by rote the different aspects of volcanoes, why they exist, and their history and our connection to them.  I was fascinated by the prehistoric nature of them, imagining dinosaurs emerging from their depths. When I went with my teenage son I realise as he looked, he was imagining the same.
I visited Naples a couple of years ago and am always amazed despite knowing Vesuvius is very much still bubbling under, why the Italians continue to build in the same stream of lava which destroyed in a blink, Pompeii.  Tourists are still able to walk amongst the streets, and see how the devastation was so quick, it left the shadows.  And yet the tourists still walk there in their droves each year, even in the searing heat of the midday sun in the summer.   We are an odd species, self sabotaging at every opportunity.  
Some of my yogi colleagues tell me the eruption is the earth telling us once more we need to treat our planet with more passion and compassion.  And that it is merely a reflection of how we are treating each other (which at the moment, is not very well).  Perception is all we have, and so many now project onto others perception which isn't accurate.  Proof is considered 'truth', but proof is merely frozen perception. Even scientific evidence, which is claimed as the ultimate frozen perception, is fragile - it is broken when the next scientific evidence comes along to disprove it. Replacing it with yet another frozen perception.

Sometimes it needs seismic activity to realise what is important.  And actually, what is important isn't very much. It is our health and those we love unconditionally. That's it.  If we have our health we are able to use our senses, and if we love unconditionally we are able to appreciate and be grateful for those senses.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

LICENSED TO CHILL IN ESTORIL


Lisbon light has long been rated as something special. Allegedly a combination of refraction from the sea, the lack of pollution and the warm climate, as soon as you leave the airport, situated in the centre of the city, you will need the sunglasses.  Even on a grey late October day, as it was when I arrived, the light was crisp and clear as if gazing into an iceberg.  This brightness lifts the spirits, and combined with the positive ions from the sea, the friendly culture of the locals, it’s an ideal place for a retreat. Which is just as well, because half an hour’s drive along the coast is Palacio Estoril and wellness spa.
Fifty years ago the hotel, which was built in the 1930s, was well established amongst a select few, but then Bond, James Bond arrived, bringing with it a Hollywood spotlight of its own. In the Second World War, as Portugal was neutral, European Royals made it their home along with German and English spies who allegedly drank Vodka Martinis shaken not stirred in the bar.   I never rated George Lazenby as a Bond, but I really liked the film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1968) in which he featured as the brief hiccup between Connery and Moore.   The first image which emerges after the opening credits of the film, is Palace Estoril; a five star, old style grand hotel, veined with symmetrical well-lit corridors, the elegant walls lined with photographs of famous guests (Princess Grace, Queen Elizabeth, Tony Blair, Diana Rigg and George..), mirrored and marble cocktail bar with muted velvet lighting and vault like ceilings with large buffet tables where breakfast is served without background music and fuss.  I admit, in design if not in energy, there is a touch of The Shining about it. The same doorman, Filippo, in grey gold braided tail-coat and peaked cap, still stands at the doors to greet guests as he did Bond, and is proud he appeared in the film and had a small speaking part (no credit, no payment, he tells me).    
The Palacio is situated five minutes (I timed it) walk from the beach, the train station and bus station into Lisbon, and three-minutes-drive from the prestigious Estoril golf course (I always noted a lot of men and women in red trousers in the early hours hovering at the door).  It is easy to walk on the sand beach or on the long esplanade where cyclists and runners stroll down to nearby Cascais.
Although one hotel, part of it was built later – the fifth floor and the style, design and energy of this floor is completely different to the lower floors, which although built earlier, appear more modern.  The fifth floor with the best views, of the coast, nearby gardens and casino, is darker and more formal.  By the pool there are split level rooms which are again totally different, looking out directly over the water and gardens.   It seems three hotels in one.  
When I researched my book HAVE TODDLER WILL TRAVEL (Hodder), I identified Portugal as being the top destination for families, and its still the case regardless of whether you have a child in tow or not.  They are a very friendly, giving, people pleasing, gracious, and kind nation, qualities which other neighbouring nations would do well to emulate (including our own).  Service is not treated as servile, it is an honour to serve. 
So in this bubble of light, graciousness and positive ions, it is an ideal location for a wellness retreat.   
Adjacent to the hotel is the Estoril wellness spa.  Taking up the top three floors of the building, the bottom two host the Banyan Tree spa, associated more with the Far East destinations of Thailand and Malaysia where it originated. There is a symbiosis between the two cultures, - Portuguese and Thai, as both have service innate to their culture and it shows.   
This year the centre won a prestigious Conde Nast Award for ‘targeted healing’, which appears rather obtuse until you look at the range of treatments on offer both at the Banyan and wellness centre.   You can visit on a yoga, detox, anti-ageing or more specifically medical spa package.   I admit, I have always been cautious of those spas offering ‘medical support’ having experienced some Northern European ideas of spa, and found them as clinical as disinfectant.  
This centre is different, largely due to the team of therapists and their skill in explaining the relevance and benefit of each therapy.  
There’s the conventional treatments.  The scrubs, full, back, and deep tissue massages offered by the Banyan Tree, with therapists from Thailand who push all the right points to de-stress you as soon as you enter the room.  The therapists are excellent.  
Move up to the wellness centre and there’s the water treatments. They don’t use the sea like they do in Southern France thalassotherapy centres, but use the local spring waters which are full of minerals and salt.  Here you can sample the thermal baths, with the steam rooms, sauna and hamman, or try out the hydrotherapy pool, either in a group class, with Aqua T’Ai Chi or with the therapist Paulo, who specialises is Watsu – which is shiatsu under water.   It is like going back to the womb, or outer space.  Which is the same difference really.  I would highly recommend it for people who are under pressure, stressed and have issues with letting go.   There is an element of trust, as you allow Paulo to lead you but the experienced has calmed even the most on edge CEO.  There are also various water baths and massages.  After you experience the Vichy Shower Massage you won’t want a conventional ‘dry land’ one after it.   Streamed with warm jets of water, you are massaged.  The only experience I could compare this to is if you are massaged by two people at the same time.  
Then there’s the scientific.  The centre analyses your blood, identifying what you are lacking and what you need to avoid anything from varicose veins to dementia.  The magnified images of the red and white blood cells and platelets are fascinating.  I’m going to have my blown up and put on the wall.  It looks like I’ve discovered a whole new universe, which I suppose in a way I have. 
The osteopath and physiotherapist offer that deep insight into the body, mind and emotions which you wish you could have every day, telling you why we need to relax the diaphragm, and the lasting impact being on the mobile too much has on body as well as the self esteem (which are closely connected). 
However it is the biofeedback consultation, which astronauts have before they are permitted to ‘fly’ which is most illuminating.  Bringing together science and the alternative, clients are hooked up to a computer and the vibrations are shown to reveal any physical, mental or emotional conditions which need to be addressed before you blast off into space.   
Up a level again, and you have the pilates, pilates reformer classes, the yoga classes, barre (ballet for sadists – ie ballet without free expression).  And the postural re-education classes, which for someone like me who teaches yoga, I found enlightening.  The class is designed to teach people how to breathe, not just when exercising but in life.  It should be mandatory pre yoga.  
I was pummelled, stretched, twisted, pulled, steamed, balanced, dunked in water, floated like a baby, was told I have issues with betrayal and abandonment, self-belief, apathy and power and that I am dehydrated (I have been dehydrated since I was 18, I should be a prune), I have no cellulite and need more B12.  But on the plus side, I am mentally, emotionally and physically fit, flexible, and fun, which is good to know.   
The organic café on the first floor is excellent. The Feeling Good juice (spinach, avocado, everything green basically, and sesame seed tuna personally recommended, but always try the soups.  The main hotel has a good healthy menu alternative showing if meals are without gluten, dairy or suitable for vegans, but do try out the brunch and lunch options at this wellness café.  The juices are well conceived and both vegetarian and no vege alternatives are not just healthy but genuinely delicious.  
With all that is on offer you may forget to pop outside, but please take a stroll along the promenade.  The sun usually shines in Estoril but even when it doesn’t, it is always warm and that light lifts the spirits. The walk to Cascais and back is the ultimate tonic each day, either to top or tail the treatments.   
I was so chilled after my four days at Palacio Estoril, I was even able to sleep for the three hour flight back on Ryanair. And I’ve never done that before.