Yes Woman, Yes Cry

May 16. 7pm

After another day of doing very little, my brother and I shared fruit smoothies at a nearby resort and returned to Sangthien just after 4. I had plans to meditate, read, write or plan ny life in the hour before sunset. 

But I lay down for a minute and disappeared into a world of tangly dreams and woke up at 6.30. Quickly washing the sunscreen and sweat off my face, I headed to the bar where my brother was just setting up on stage. Good morning, he grinned. And I found a table and ordered my gin. 

And now I sit here, beautiful Thai music filling the evening air, an additional electric fan providing breezes at this part of the bar, waves lapping in the darkness just over there, and I find I’m crying. What’s that about? 

Disappointed in myself for sleeping so much, for not getting done the few things I had to do today. 

But also an inexplicable and surprising sense of homesickness. At which point a familiar guitar chord starts up and my brother’s voice fills the bar with ‘I remember, when we used to sit, in the government yard in Trenchtown…’

And the tears stream down my face as he sings No Woman No Cry. 

A song that I have cried over many times since I fist heard it at 15 years old, in my religious times, my student times, my married times, my difficult recent times. With always a different person, a different sadness, a different purpose. 

And as I sat here with warm Thai breeze blowing through my hair, pink and turquoise lights illuminating the trees overhead, my little brother making music over there, I got a sense of the distance I have come to get here, the many sadnesses and fears that I used to feel, that have all gone, and that everything I think is important now will also be gone. The relief and grief to let each thing, each person, each worry and fear gently drop away, to stand bereft and empty with none of the safety of familiar pain, of work, of people or all the things that I have surrounded myself with to avoid the empty simple existence of me. 

Just me. No purpose, no deadlines, no stress. And without all that I am such a small weak little thing. A childlike soul standing alone and unsupported in a warm Thai breeze. It is both beautiful and scary. And invites more bloody tears. While Thai families eat their shellfish salads and a group of guys laugh and the nimble waiters deliver trays of drinks, I sit on my table on my own, full of gratitude and sadness, that I get a glimpse of letting go. It takes time, which I have given myself. This is only my second full day here, it makes sense that after the blissful touristy excitement of yesterday, that once I was on my own long enough there would be sadness. 

May 17th. 8.30am

And so I drank. We biked to ‘town’ – the couple of streets crammed with shops, street vendors, restaurants and bars under multicoloured lights and flags. The lady at Bananabar scolded my brother for something, laughed at him for something else, then brought us delicious vegan spring rolls and coconut curry and rice. Just magnificent food. And gin. 

On the way back, warm night air swishing through our hair as the motorbike cruised gently through the dark jungle road, every now and then the sound of dance club beats can be heard and then the twirling lights and illuminated stars/hearts/jellyfish come into view to present a beach bar full of lights, music and people as one of the little oases of late night humanity in the dark insectful jungle. Gecko bar, Starlight bar, Naga bar… 

We stopped at Audibar to say hi to the owner Audi, a small topless tattooed man who greeted us with warm sweaty hugs and another gin, which was somehow luminous blue, and had to be downed in one as my brother was late for his 10.30 recording appointment with Magan. 

At Sangthien, without my brother, I joined the staff in the empty bar who were eating their staff meals and drinking rum. They continued their leisurely Thai conversations, and I smiled politely and sipped my rum as they laughed at each other’s jokes. The head waiter’s girlfriend was especially keen to keep topping up my glass, and we had a laugh about how Mao I was. ‘Just a little Mao,’ I protested, ‘Just Tipsy!’. ‘No, you Mao Maaaaak!’ they laughed.

And so the next two hours were spent with a handful of the Santhien family, one bottle of rum and one of brandy, and a lot of Google translate. They spent a while trying to explain what the noises in the night were. Frogs, grasshoppers and a very loud Ka Ka Ka Ka kaaaaaap right in the window above my bed at 4am, which we finally deduced was a Toucan. The lead singer talked about my brother’s tattoo – the Thai words for ‘Live in the Moment’ – and they shared some honest and awestruck opinions about how much they love him. That was nice.

And the drinking and laughing took away my sadness and I gratefully fell asleep just after 2am. 

So now, having woken up in time for the breakfast buffet, I sip my black coffee and eat my toast and vegan spread and watch the sadness return. I accept this is part of the letting go and I am grateful for the time to allow it.

Lessons for today:

*Bike helmets don’t even exist on the island, just roll with it. 

*Buy more mosquito spray. Seriously. 

*When getting on the back of a motorbike, lift your foot VERY high to swing it over, or you’ll whack your ankle on the sticky out metal bit at the back and cause a world of indescribable pain (that your brother finds hilarious). 

*I am not a size medium when buying shorts in Thailand. Everyone here is tiny, I’m clearly a large. 

*Fundeee means goodnight and will be greeted with delightful smiles. FANdee means good girlfriend and will be met with confusion. 

*Relax into the speedbumps and go with the flow. This is a good lesson for life and one I am reminded of many times a day. 

*Our brains are wired for safety, not happiness, so when you feel like going back into familiar safe patterns, know that they are there to protect you from the new thing which might be scary, even if it is the thing that will make you happy.

Grateful for:


My brother’s effortless motorbike riding

The endless supply of cool drinking water behind the bar to refill bottles

The little lizards that glide around on the walls outside my cabin

The fridge full of vegan snacks my brother brought over from Bangkok

The excellent wifi here

The people in Melksham who lovingly tell me to stop watching Council meetings and to enjoy my tropical adventure here

Taking a while to let go

May 15. 8.32pm

As it got dark, my brother arranged a short motorbike ride (him barefoot, me holding on and laughing at the lack of a shred of protective gear) to the west side of the island so we could watch the pink sun set fire to the clouds over the sea, before returning to the Sangthien stage for his evening set. The lovely Thai waiters settled me at a table under a palm tree in view of the stage and the sea, with an apple mojito full of rapidly melting ice, as my brother joined the owner on stage with his guitar. 

Framed by a huge ornamental heart made of straw, the stage is draped with fairy lights against a backdrop of the evening sea. Gentle waves wash over the beach as they sing chilled tunes including ‘Feeling Good’ and ‘Everything’s Going to be Alright.’ My brother improvises a song about last night’s storm which kept Magan, the owner, awake checking on the electricity all night. ‘Magan is my man, my man’. After a few more relaxing tunes, I notice a group of young men gathering at one end of the restaurant. A recording of a deep voice (my brother’s with special effects) announces that it is time to turn off the lights for the start of the Fire Show. The leisurely lounge music gives way to a fiery display in which a crew of glorious grinning topless young Cambodians twirl fire around their beautiful bodies to a banging Prodigy-based soundtrack for which my brother provides the energetic drums. The acrobatic young men fling fireballs into the darkness, twirl flaming hoops around themselves, and spin musical rings of light around the restaurant.

They are fucking amazing. I’m torn between trying to capture it on video and experiencing the utter beauty and energy that is so mesmerising and intoxicating that I’m crying with sheer love and joy for it as the pounding bass and drumbeat pulse through my whole being.

The expert waiters dodge the flames as they deliver cocktails and Kai curries to the many guests; a woman with a baby walks through the display nonchalantly.

My brother on the drums shouts to me – ‘They will take a photo of you!’


‘With the fire, they’ll come to you!’

And sure enough, one glorious fire boy is suddenly spinning a ring of fire right around my face and someone is taking photos up close. 

Zero risk assessments, I absolutely love it. The finale is a series of immense Catherine wheel effects of spinning sprays of sparks that fill the beach below the bar. The energy and beauty is intoxicating and I am brim full of love and gratitude as I settle back at my table with another mojito for the rest of the night. 

In a few hours in Melksham they will choose their new mayor. I wish for this much bliss and love and peace to be in the room when they vote, but I realise I am lucky enough to have bought my ticket out of it, and find all the love of a gorgeous sunny Thai beach resort, a few thousand miles away from the people I care about in Melksham. I know the stress and fear and confusion of it all and I love how far away I am, but sad for those who I love that are still troubled by it. 

I wish I could give everyone a week on this beach, with this deliriously healing and beautiful warm breeze. It is like anger and fear can’t even exist here, the purpose of the whole island is pure bliss. Everyone here is either choosing peace or providing peace. The purpose and values of everyone here is beauty, love, peace and leisure. 

Leisure. Recreation. Re-creation. It takes a few days to undo the heavy complex tangly web of duties, jobs and fears that you might arrive with, but the complete gorgeousness of the place gently teases all that out of you until you are clean and peaceful and your biggest priority is to sit with your feet in the clear lapping water until the sun sinks low enough that it’s time to move on to the next peaceful beautiful place. 

We had our family zoom last night, our weekly intercontinental gathering which this time included the hilarious moment in which Thailand brother, in his separate little zoom box on the screen as always, suddenly knocked on my door and popped into my zoom screen. Oh how we laughed. And then someone noticed my haircut and I said, ‘I know, I’ve got rid of that long boring frumpy look!’ London brother apologised for always calling me frumpy. I said, ‘Well I was, I chose frumpy and boring and safe and good. That was my story.’

‘Yeah you need to work out your new story now.’

‘Maybe it’s scary because your story is actually something absolutely amazing.’

‘You know sometimes we hide our lights because we think it will upset someone.’

‘Oh yeah, you know that quote – our greatest fear is not that we’re rubbish, is that we’re absolutely amazing or something.’


New York brother said, ‘I like to think that I should live each day like I time travelled back in time to change something for the better. You don’t know what it is, but you know you have to do something to make the future better.’

‘Ooh nice.’

Right now I can’t imagine doing anything important, I’m just loving sitting still for a while.

My Thailand brother outlined how he came up with his priorities. For 30 days he meditated for an hour and then wrote down fifteen dreams. Crazy, brave, beautiful uninhibited dreams. Which included things like ‘Own a lion’ or ‘Speak 100 languages.’ At the end of the month, he looked at every day’s list, and although it kept changing, there were some constant themes. And from that he found his five pillars – Music, Love, Friends, Travel and Languages. And then it became clear. If any activity, person, conversation or task isn’t in service of one of these, then it is not a good use of his time. And he won’t do it.

I like that. To be so clear what is important to you that you can easily say no to what is not.

May 16. 7.39am

Thank you for my speech to text facility so I can write while walking along the main road that runs all the way along the skinny island of Ko Samet. In an attempt to get my body onto Thailand time I said goodnight to my brother at midnight and settled down to sleep. I thought that if I happened to be awake at 1am I might tune into the Town Council meeting just to see who was going to be mayor this year. I’m sure it wasn’t a good idea to dip back into my old job and I did feel a ridiculous surge of fear as the opening public session involved the usual criticism – some of it directed to the tasks that were dropped when I left. But I will take this as a benchmark of improvement that I quickly got over it and saw the value in the feedback being articulately but angrily levelled at the council.

I’m glad I was there for the next bit in which the mayor gave a lovely speech about his first year in office and all the brilliant colleagues who had made it good. Because I was on my own with it all I sent a few messages to people in Melksham who might be watching the meeting too, and immediately felt ridiculous to need to reach out from thousands of miles away just to remind people I still care and hope that they still care about me. So I accept that the whole letting go of Melksham project of this adventure is a gentle gradual untangling.

The thing that is ironic about this trip to Thailand is that it is directly because of my recent challenges in Melksham that I am here. My current wander on this road through the magic morning jungle is in response to and rejection of my previous job in Melksham. (Let’s not forget it is also paid for by my savings that I earned from that job). It is because of that place of confusion, stress and obligation that I found the strength to depart to this place of tranquillity, emptiness and peace. 

So I am grateful for the unhappiness and inauthenticity which provided enough contrast to push me to seek the happiness and truth that lands me in a tropical piece of paradise the other side of the world.

Lessons for today:

*Bring Mosquito spray for goodness sake woman. 

*When you pop on to the beach to film the fire show from a clever sideways angle, you need to stand WAY back because those sparks go about 30 metres along the beach. 

*Veggie pad Thai has eggs in it so you will displease the vegan gods with that order. 

*But chicken coconut soup is completely vegan if you ask for it without the chicken (mai kai) 

*If you are in a cabin with huge windows overlooking the main path, remember to close the curtains before taking a shower. Or you will emerge all refreshed and grinning, and suddenly be aware of your unrequested exposure, and have to hurriedly pull the curtains closed. 

*If you hurriedly pull the curtains closed in a Sangthian Resort cabin with too much force, they will fall apart and you will be left with a crumpled pile of curtain and rail that, while hilarious, offers little privacy from the aforementioned  immense windows. 

* That quote I was trying to remember is from Marianne Williamson:

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? … Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


It is life-changingly good.

My job started getting stressful and I could feel anxiety crawling back around my skull as autumn approached so I started running again. Just a quick fifteen minutes off into the countryside and back before work. Nice. I mentioned it to a colleague who said he’d been meaning to join parkrun. Really? I’ll go if you’ll go. This weekend? Why not!

The first one destroyed us both. I was nervous, not sure where to go, what to wear, how it worked, what the barcode was for, but after a few minutes in that jogging crowd of lycra and leggings, I felt at home. Just keep running, and if it hurts, just keep walking.

I had expected pain, breathlessness, exhaustion, mud. What I had not expected was a cheerful marshal in high viz, full of applause, encouragement and smiles at every corner of the route.

Keep going! Great job! Nice pace!

Thank you, I gasped back, confused, and then grinning. How absolutely awesome.

My colleague was miles ahead, he passed me on his return lap, making great progress, shouting cheerfully ‘I’m in agony!’ as he passed.

I slowed down when it started hurting, watching rainbow leggings and ‘250 runs’ T shirts overtake me.

As I approached the final bend, with that last uphill back into the park, I could hear the cheers already up ahead. Strangers applauding and welcoming me to the finish as I arrived bewildered, broken and breathless, but smiling. My colleague and I were both doubled over in pain as we stumbled back to town, regretting the lack of watm up, but full of grinning elation at achieving 5k on a Saturday morning.

That was six weeks ago. Since then I have beaten my personal best (almost) every time, donned purple wig and witch hat for the Halloween event, gone running three or four mornings a week, and noticed an incredible improvement in my energy, focus and overall mood. Anxiety is right down, happiness is much higher, and I have that smug sense of acheivement at the start of most days.

So, to pay back my gratitude for the fact that we have an amazing parkrun in Melksham, today I offered to volunteer as a marshal. And if I thought running made me happy, then without a doubt, smiling, encouraging and clapping for 145 strangers made me even happier.

So that all day I have been giggly and jovial. Chatty even. Confident, a bit. Calm, in my soul. And at bedtime I curl up to sleep on a night when my love is working nightshifts, and instead of the sleep hypnotherapy or weighted blanket support I needed to sleep on my own last year, I am now unable to sleep because I’m simply giggling into my pillow, brim full of love and happiness for the world, and all my gorgeous beautiful people I get to share it with.

Thank you parkrun, thank you volunteers who make it happen, thank you for the perfect mix of social, physical and mental reward that provides an intoxicating and addictive cocktail of endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin and seratonin.

As we stood in our high viz at the bridge today, cheering on the runners, I was saying to my marshal buddy that I’m sure the NHS must love parkrun, at which point my lovely doctor – who prescribed me anti- anxiety meds last year – came running round the corner in glorious green and black leggings, smiling and saying ‘thank you marshals!’ in an out breath, as she sailed off to the finish.

I flipping love it. I absolutely recommend it.

Thank you.

Day something or other: Dance!!

Oh my days. I did not realise that I have not danced for more than a year! We just had a staff zoom meeting, which was really positive. Because my love is fast asleep after his night shift, I have taken my meeting as quietly as possible in the living room, with headphones on. After the meeting, since it was so happy and productive, I found I was smiling. To keep that positive feeling while tackling the many tasks discussed, I thought I’d put a happy tune on to accompany my work.

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Day 13: Kindness

How lovely this one is. I thought I would have no trouble coming up with a range of acts of kindness but now that we are in proper lockdown again I’m suddenly limited. I can’t go and help out at voluntary events, I have so few people I interact with as I work from home. I have cooked some special meals for my lovely man – but is it kindness if it’s for someone you love?

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Meeting anxiety

10am. So that huge project I was working on last week is on the agenda for tonight’s meeting.

I woke up with the usual Monday meeting knot in my stomach. This is a different type of fear. Although maybe its all related. This one is the familiar meeting anxiety which, before I try to push away with work and distractions, I will dissect to see what it’s actually made of. There is the general social anxiety of a meeting full of people, but tangled up in it is the following:

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Day Seven: Connection

Yes, I’m even further behind now in my daily plan. After Friday’s adrenaline drenched adventures, I was wiped out all weekend. I forget that after my body has experienced an 8 or 9 level panic attack, there is a moment of incredible bliss where I slide right down to a 5, and I am massively grateful for steady breathing and not trembling, but it’s still not perfect. What follows is usually a couple of days of exhaustion and lethargy in level 5, in which I still can’t eat properly – which adds to the weakness – and I am mostly curled up on the sofa under two blankets. No motivation, no focus, and no fun to be around at all. The fortunate timing meant that I had a whole weekend to soak up my somnolence, and didn’t need to snap out of it until Monday morning. Clever timing there, little panic-maker, it’s almost as if you know my schedule! So, while I thought I’d have the energy and enthusiasm for a deep dive into the mysterious motivations of my inner child, I realised that’s a subject which requires a strength I haven’t quite got yet, and will be addressed in a few days when I reach day 13.

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This week, instead of lying in bed listening and worrying and feeling outraged by the drunken noise of a pub kicking out at 2am, I have chosen to settle in for an hour on the sofa, to observe. There is an initial scuffle or two, mostly around a misunderstanding of who Milly was going out with, but nothing too violent, and then the crowd flows and ebbs around the market place, gravitating towards its various needs. Kebabs, taxis, each other. At 2.05 the loudest shouts are a variety of ‘fuck you then,’ or ‘fucking twat!’ but once the most disgruntled members have been encouraged away from the crowd, the noise becomes more friendly. Did you find your phone? How are you getting home? Have you got a rizla? I’ll wait here. Who’s phone is this then? Did you have a good night? It’s on 3% mate. Some kerfuffle and two police vehicles congregate by the bus stop, a Wiltshire Council man wearily pulls up his truck, empties the bin, replaces the liner and moves on to the next. Seagulls are gathering around the discarded kebab boxes. One girl has some very important but inaudable things to shout about her hair, and another runs across the road to leap into the arms of a boy. Among the sound of happy chatter and laughter are the intermittent clipping of heels and slamming of car doors. Couples form and wander around together, apart, together again. Groups of boys gather, hugging and laughing in their T-shirts and jeans, and girls with long pale legs and swishy hair walk around intently. A taxi is trying to pull away from a boy who runs alongside holding on to the door – I’ll give you fifty quid mate, I’ll give you a hundred quid! until he lets go and the taxi drives away to his friends laughter. Their names float on the air – Jessie, Freya, Ellie, Callum, and instead of drunken yobs, tonight I see my friends’ children. My niece and nephew, myself 20 years ago. These teenagers are excited about life, they are fearless, powerful and unswayed, oblivious to the concerns of a pandemic that have kept a lot of us locked up for months. Their need to connect is greater than their need for safety. Or warmth. They have looked forward to tonight, phoned each other, planned their outfits, assured their parents they’d stick together. They fizz with the energy and excitement about each other that I remember having, they are urgent and alive. Their need to connect is far stronger than my need to sleep right now, and I almost respect them for it.

‘I’d do anything to belong, to be strong, to say there’s nothing wrong’

It was 1999, I was 21, I was wearing some sort of embroidered hat, ripped jeans and muddy trainers as I stood in a crowd of several thousand people on a warm June night at Glastonbury. My brother and his friends had some other camp-fire based priorities so I was on my own for the headline act, Skunk Anansie. Being from a very religious family, I had been discouraged from listening to ‘satanic’ music, and my musical expression had mostly been singing along quietly to REM on my disc-man, or belting out the far more acceptable holy songs at Sunday Service.

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2.39 am

I suppose I should just accept it, enjoy it even. Set my alarm for 2am, make a cup of tea and settle down for the inevitable hour of drama after the pub kicks out. As the sun set over another warm July evening earlier, I looked at the people setting out for the evening and knew it would be a loud one.

The initial fear and apprehension as crowds gather, swaying and swearing, turns to fascination at the dynamics of a drunk crowd. A fight is taking place a little away from the crowd, people watch and laugh. The doorman moves towards them and one eventually walks off, shouting back his defensive ‘yeah fuck you!’ the whole time. Someone is carrying a woman on his shoulders. The others look on amused, as he walks off, and places her down on the pavement so they can walk together. Couples under the tree and more interested in each other and some dancing and giggling is taking place. I try to image their excitement, their euphoria to finally be out, their need to shout to each other, to the whole of Melksham, I’m alive! And their inability to consider the few dozen of us that would prefer to be alseep a few metres away from them.

By 2.30 most of the immediate crowd has gone, I watch them disperse, very slowly, and other little groups form further down the street. The daytime features of beautiful hanging baskets and flags of civic pride adorn the brightly lit street, punctuating the spaces where groups of people now stagger, shouting, laughing, swearing, screeching. It’s another 20 minutes until I can try to sleep again, with just the last few shrieks of ‘fuck you! You’re nasty!’ drifting up through the window.