Royle Appointment (or University – My Arse!)

I recently spotted a familiar name in the credits of The Royle Family, one of my favourite sitcoms.  Sandra Coulson was a crew member on the last three Christmas specials, amongst numerous other TV shows.  It’s great to see her name appearing on telly with such frequency.  She and I were at school together, more years ago than I care to remember (Hi Sandra – on the off chance you’re reading this!).  This isn’t meant to sound name-droppy, by the way. 

Back in our sixth form days, Sandra Coulson and I had ambitions.  Mine lay in journalism; she always yearned to join the film industry.  To put it mildly, neither ambition was exactly nurtured by our teachers.  Sandra’s was dismissed as a pipe dream, while mine was deemed unachievable without a university degree. 

These ‘educators’ of ours ceaselessly hammered home the baseless, blinkered message that ‘uni’ was the only route available to us post-school and moreover that it was all we should desire in life.  Qualifications and examination grades, they would have us believe, were the sole qualities on which one would be judged in ‘the real world.’  They sneered at our ‘unrealistic’ goals and encouraged us to aim a little lower. 

In defiance of our ‘dear’ teachers, both Sandra and I followed our dreams and we achieved them, without the necessity for a degree. 

OK, after four years in the profession I realised that journalism was not for me and switched careers to become a legal secretary.  But the point is I did it in the first place!  I am proud of my accomplishments since then, such as having stories published.  And have never regretted not following the well-trodden (dare I say predictable) path of so many of my other classmates. 

Degrees are not the be all and end all.  Good luck in your profession, Sandra.  Up yours, teachers!

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My Tai Chi Journey

My Tai Chi Journey

The local Kai Ming Tai Chi Association, with which my Wednesday night class is affiliated, recently asked would-be writers for contributions.  A sequel is being published to a book which came out about three or four years ago called View From the Back of the Class.  This is an anthology of articles, stories, poems and cartoons by class members and instructors.

So I thought I’d exercise my rather idle writing muscle and have a go at something:

 

 “Foorwarrrd…baackwarrrd…ward off riiiight!”  Raj’s voice was as hypnotic and warm as the Indian Ocean lapping rhythmically against the surrounding beach, as he guided us through the rudiments of what I would come to know as The Form.

This was my first taste of tai chi.

My husband and I were on honeymoon in heavenly Mauritius.  The wonderful Raj was quite possibly the most relaxed man I had ever met.  He had a wise, serene, “guru” air about him, was stupendously supple (he also taught yoga), possessed a permanent smile, and chanted instructions to us in a very long-vowelled Indian accent.

We were, believe it or not, the only participants in his tai chi class.  We occupied a private niche in the hotel gardens, where a heady brew of floral scents suffused the late afternoon air.

I had never experienced such utter contentment.

 ******

It was over a year later, in August 2008, when I heard that a new tai chi class had begun local to me, in the somewhat less exotic surroundings of Little Aston Village Hall.

Now admittedly utter contentment had been very easy to achieve in Mauritius, but I did go some way towards replicating the sense of wellbeing during that hour in Little Aston.

People talk a lot these days about going on a journey, be it literal or metaphorical.  I embarked on my personal tai chi journey that evening.  To the regular soundtrack of soft Chinese percussion music, I began to learn the 37-stage Cheng Man Ching Form – in obviously far more intricate detail than during half an hour with Raj among the jasmine flowers.

The standard posture took some getting used to initially: feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, pelvis tucked under, head lifted as if pulled upright by an invisible string.  Some of the exercises involved adopting positions which probably looked extremely silly yet felt entirely comfortable.  I was soon balancing wobble-free on one leg while twirling the other ankle for several minutes.

I remember the first time I rubbed my hands together then held my palms an inch apart to feel the flow of energy between them.  Oh yes, there was a definite force, as though something tangible and spongy was held here, like a ball of dough.  It was an electrifying and lovely feeling.

After the half-hour warm up the group split, with one instructor, Neil, taking us beginners (just two of us that week) aside to start the basics, while his colleague Mark progressed the more advanced members – who had been attending the class since April – further through the Form.

At the end of the class I felt so alive, yet in a different way to when I’m hiking over hills (I’m a keen walker too).  These exercises were neither aerobic nor gymnastic; in fact I had barely moved from my spot, but it was all about internal energy.  Mine was positively surging around my body.

It took a year to learn the form in full, averaging at one new step per week – steps which glory in such names as Single Whip, Repulse Monkey and Carry Tiger to the Mountain.  Once learned, each move is repeated and repeated and refined to the nth degree, with the focus on different facets.  Patience is not so much a virtue as a prerequisite in tai chi.  This is an art that can take a lifetime to practise and perfect. 

 ******

I have well and truly fallen in love with tai chi.  The benefits to my health and general wellbeing have been enormous.  It can’t be a coincidence that I haven’t (touch lots of wood) had a day’s illness in three years.

I also find I sleep much better on “tai chi nights” (Wednesdays), and that just 10 minutes of practice a day – a routine I try and adhere to – takes me out of myself and calms me beyond belief.  The intricate moves require such intent concentration that all thoughts of everyday stresses are temporarily pushed out of the mind.

I am forever discovering inventive ways to incorporate tai chi into my daily life (a spot of Standing Post while waiting for the kettle to boil).   I am more conscious of my posture and balance; I feel physically stronger; I try, as often as I can remember, to “breathe abdominally!”

I would like to say a huge thank you to Neil and Mark for being such inspirational instructors!  Though I won’t be ruling out future excursions to Mauritius to revisit Raj.