The PHoenix Coup: Part Two

Maisie a journalist living near London but originally from the US has already begun to investigate an astonishing announcement and payments unexpectedly being made into people’s bank accounts. It’s part of a universal basic income for everybody in the UK and increasingly it seems, for people around the world.

 Part Two : Groundhog Day

As I thought, Simon would have quite a different perspective:

“I can’t quite understand. How can it be organised without Government. I can’t see how this coordination on  a global scale works.   It’s bound to unravel as quickly as it appeared. It’s an interesting idea; I can seriously see the benefits but it’s just not going to happen. It’ll be a ‘flash in the pan’.”

We met as students at a university in northern England or the north of in what, the dark and distant past, was jokingly called the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. Mine was a very general degree. A bit of this, a bit of that. It was called social studies and included a mix of sociology, politics, social policy, even a dip in the waters of social psychology. It was a lot about people and understanding them. It suited me down to the ground. I went on to do a postgraduate degree in journalism after a few years on the journalistic coalface, on a local paper, the Star and Morning Telegraph, still in the steel city of Sheffield.

I was originally from the US and moved to London as a child  as my father had work there and we never left. We lived and around London and holidayed in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. I wasn’t to discover the north of England, quite a different place, until I went to University. I think my view of the world from both a US and UK perspective was invaluable in helping me see how the power games of dominant societies and the increasing power of the corporates played out across the world.

Simon, my husband, who I met in Sheffield, was studying law. A world apart from my easy going mish mash of a course. He had to show real commitment. He knew where the library was. But rather like the student doctors (did they ever grow out of it?) both worked and played hard. He often has a different take on things to me. Now he is a banker.

We married after my masters degree in our late twenties and had our kids by the early 30s. I’d managed to squeeze in some reporting for newspapers and a little TV in crises around the world: Eastern Europe, Africa, South America and Asia but having the kids meant a refocus on more investigative journalism than on the spot reporting. A recent project was finding out about how international corporations and the very rich avoided taxation. Often I’ll work at home on the computer but the kids and Simon, and Simon’s mother are incredibly helpful and supportive, enabling me to shoot off, following a lead, sometimes at a moment’s notice. 

Admittedly I fly too much. Our footprint of consumption is too great for the world to cope.

If I’m truthful. It’s not nearly enough. Maybe, trying our hardest isn’t good enough.

It’s now day two.

I checked with Simon, who was back at work at the bank. Yes the payments had been coming in to everyone and the source was really difficult to identify as it was from some crypto currency or at least a source that was untraceable. Was this real? legitimate money? Was it legal?

I spoke to friends, family, neighbours, here and back in the US.

Whoever was behind this had very sophisticated technical knowledge and systems. so obviously not the Government. I jest but it’s actually true. Neither the British Government, nor for that matter any government or european or global organisation had accepted responsibility. 

That made me wonder… if it wasn’t a government, who could it be? We know that many global corporations mine our data. It’s their business model and they use this knowledge to sell to others, to influence our actions. We’re bombarded daily with ads tailored to our interests, gleaned from our online activity. This also became even more sinister when it helped the campaigners win the Brexit vote and Donald Trump get elected twice.

I wonder if what we’re experiencing now is connected in some way.

First things first. The kids, their friends and I cycled to school and I was returning home.

“Good morning” shouted Jacqueline from down the road.

“How are you guys?” She’s a bundle of energy and one of our best neighbours.

“All good. How are you and John?” I sometimes feel that I’m a bit too distant but Jacqueline is bound to have an opinion on what happened. I ask, “Did you hear the announcement yesterday?” 

“I did. It’s about time that the government did something like this. There’s been too many cuts, services are nothing like they used to be and people hung out to dry. I do worry though, where will the money come from?”

That pretty much sums up what most of my neighbours would think but I think many others will feel something quite different. We’re on the edge of London but it is a rich mix of the original villagers, the poorer working classes that had been shifted out to council house estates through slum clearances and then the professional classes that commuted into work in the city. 

Back home I felt like pinching myself. I was beginning to imagine all sorts of things. It was too good to be true.

How was this possible? It went against everything we had experienced for years.

There was likely to be a lot of negative response. I checked some of the US channels. Fox came up trumps. As I expected, there was a news anchor with strong opinions. He was ranting about something for nothing and felt people need an incentive to find work and make a contribution. It’s working against our values of rewarding those who work hard. We rely on merit, on inventiveness, innovation. The push comes from needing to support your family. This will demotivate people, it’s a catastrophe…… blah blah blah.

Yes you heard that right. They are reporting that absolutely everyone is affected. From the European aristocracy, to the village dwellers in the remotest African savannah, up the Himalayas to the isolated communities, to the cut off tribes in almost deserted islands left behind by the modern age. One way or another, as of today, every man, woman and child would benefit from this change.

But that couldn’t be true. How had they managed to plan and implement this on such a scale, to reach out to every nook and cranny of our complex diverse world? and who are they?

You might think of reporters as cynical. I think you might be right. For my part, I prefer questioning. I’m not easily impressed. I’ve seen a lot and generally I’m angered by people’s attitudes to one another, which is often selfish, violent, aggressive, intolerant, prejudiced.

We seem to follow a predetermined path. To be superficially nice (sometimes) but ultimately fighting for me and mine. Be selfish. Focused on our needs. That might manifest itself in competition in the economy, arguments in the street, online trolling, or more extremely violence, aggression and war.

I’ve always felt that it needn’t be this way.

Was this generosity? Was this amazing action of a benefactor a new chapter in our history? A break away from the predetermined patterns of our previous generations.Wouldn’t that be cool? But, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I am a journalist What’s the catch? How is this possible?

I  switched on the TV and tuned into Prime Minister’s Question Time. The leader of the opposition was challenging the Government to explain how they had done this without the approval of Parliament. The PM is waffling. It’s obvious that they don’t know, they have absolutely no idea how or why this has happened. 

 I needed to look at this as an investigative project and start to work on an in-depth piece. My usual approach is to just cascade ideas on even the most improbable hypothesis.

Maybe we’re all on an acid trip; the powers-that-be having seen the light; maybe it’s a manifestation of the Buffet/Gates super-rich who’ve decided to pay every living human being a basic weekly income. There are, however, no statements from the usual suspects. Even the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook are denying any involvement or even knowledge. But they did deny involvement in previous scandals, so we can’t take things at face value.

So it felt as if we had been squashed and pummelled through the wringer of change but there ultimately seemed to be no downside. This is astonishing. It has had the most positive effect. I’m embarrassed to say, that with all my experience as a journalist I was still no closer to understanding how this had happened and who was behind it.  

There was a further announcement.

All debts are removed. What? So what does that actually mean? 

There’s information coming up on the BBC World News programme. They’re reporting from Australia and South East Asia, where it’s already later in the day, on celebrations in the street. News cameras and journalists are out interviewing people.

There’s information about activists meeting people in the street handing out leaflets; little clusters are gathering on street corners;  public meetings were being convened.

I felt like I needed a drink.

 

The Phoenix Coup: Part One

‘Same shit, different day’ I saw written on a badge attached to another passenger’s bag.  I was joining a SriLankan Airlines flight from Colombo to Chennai.

 Just five days later I was back home in London.

Little was I to know how life would become so incredibly different, not at all the ‘same shit.’

I’m Maisie, a freelance reporter covering just about anything and everything. I’d just been in South India and Sri Lanka for the U.K. Guardian newspaper, researching for travel articles.

My antennae were twitching, something was happening, I could feel it in the air.

It was an astonishing day that no one could have predicted. It would take some time to sink in but it would set us all reeling.

As a reporter my approach is to search things out, get under the skin,  help give people a voice I love to challenge the established order, so here’s my take on it.

Over the last few years we’ve become more familiar with the idea of constant change and unpredictability with one crisis after another. Today’s change was a different order of magnitude and was, in my view, positive. Not what we’d come to expect at all. It all began with something that seemed quite simple. The impact would be profound.

 It was an ordinary workday morning. The kids were up, rushing around as usual, then off to cycle to school on an organised cycle ‘train’. Simon, my husband, had already left for work at the bank.

I was due to do desk work, search the net and cover a slowly evolving story about corrupt politicians. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

That afternoon there was an announcement via the net, on the radio and on TV. For some time now politicians in Finland and other countries have been toying with the idea of providing every citizen with a minimum weekly payment regardless of their personal situation or work. It’s called all sorts of things but usually Universal Basic Income / UBI or Guaranteed Basic Income. Many countries had experimented, but not implemented it on any scale.

The announcement pointed out that we in the UK, in the fourth biggest economy in the world, was to introduce this very idea with immediate effect.

Fascinating. We’d had no prior knowledge that this was actually planned. No discussions or  announcements from the Government, nothing. 

I checked with my contacts. They didn’t believe this was coming from the UK Government. How was this possible? Maybe it was a hoax. 

The online communities, the cyber street corners, the dialogue of the ether, woke up. It was startling. It was almost as if all the lights in a major metropolis had been switched on. But it also, instantly, reached out to the suburbs, the villages, the farms.

Pretty quickly it was apparent that it had spread throughout the net. We often could see and track videos, memes, chat going viral with the latest news but this was different. It seemed to permeate every cyber street corner and the scale was enormous. 

It wasn’t just in the UK.

The very same policy of a flat income regardless of need, employment, whatever, was available to everyone throughout Europe and north America. It was incredibly consistent.

Hang on a minute, there’s more coming in via the net.

It was also the hot topic throughout South East Asia, Japan, and South Korea. This was astonishing.

I just might be going out on a limb here but I reckon politicians are renowned the world over for their selfishness and short term thinking. They represent acute levels of disorganisation and seem to be completely unable to create effective sustainable partnerships. They just can’t keep secrets.

So what is this and how could it happen? Coordinated action, at the same instant, through half the economies in the world. This is incredible, I’d never experienced anything like it.

I wanted to know more. I was on the hunt. 

I checked with my most trusted colleagues from around the world. I delved deeper into my own very informal, alternative online community networks that I built, slowly and carefully over the years to help me put stories together and to ensure they stood up. 

Exactly the same announcement was made in Russia, China, and North Korea. The same everywhere. A direct payment in the local currency.

Astounding. How? Who? What would this mean? Could it be true. I checked my bank account.There was a payment into my account exactly as announced.

I hadn’t noticed the time passing in all the excitement. The kids were back after a day at school. Simon would be early tonight and would be back home an hour later.

We’re quite a liberal family. We work from home whenever we can. We get great support from Simon’s mother whenever I had to go away on an investigation. We were trying to achieve a decent work life balance.  

So it might be earth shattering news but boundaries are boundaries. It was time for me to leave the work alone, put away the computer and switch on quality time for the kids.

“Hi, guys, how was today?”

“The usual stuff, but science was the best, really cool looking at our bodies. Did you know that we have more than one brain?” Rowan had a clear leaning to the technical side of things.

“Really?”

“Three in fact, obviously not exactly the same but they help us control our body in completely different ways. We spent ages on the gut, it affects absolutely everything and some scientists say it’s just as important as the brain in our head. How cool is that?” Rowan was clearly enthusiastic.

“Does that affect  what we should eat?” I was concerned, this might lead to more lectures at meal times.

“More than that, what we eat, how we live, the stress we feel.”

“Thanks Rowan…”

“We’re putting together a show of dance, music and skits.” Joe was altogether different and very artistic.

“When will the show be? we’d love to the there. What are you doing?” 

“I’ll know next week”

“Cool”

That is so good. Too many schools have let that sort of activity go and focussed too much on academic subjects. I’m so pleased that we’ve found a school that keeps it up and of course manages to keep both of you very interested. and enthusiastic.

“Do you have much homework this evening? OK to fit it in after dinner? I’ve prepared that cheesy rice, cauliflower thing.”

“Yep”, suspiciously in unison.

“Great, lets grab a snack and take Sally for a walk.” 

We live in the suburbs. Way back it was a village but it had now been taken over by the big smoke of London. We have a great park nearby and the canal and its wonderful tow path. Sally expects a walk after school, in fact she’ll peacefully growl and stare if we don’t, at exactly 4.00.

As we walk there is something in the air. I must be imagining it, but people do seem to have a skip in their step, a smile on their face, Oh my God they’re even greeting each other.

Surely it’s not down to that announcement?

It would have a dramatic impact for millions of people, not least those families experiencing real poverty.

Later, after dinner, the kids had said goodnight and retreated to their rooms. Simon and I got a little time together to discuss the strange events of the day. He’s a banker and so will have solid insights into what’s happened today.

“So what’s your take on all this?” 

 

Note: revised on 28th August 2019

Forever Together

“This feels  com-ple-tely  weird

How the heck, did it happen?

Please, move over, I’m feeling claustrophobic. We are so, not the same size!

To me it feels like the two of us are crammed into a sleeping bag, just like the one we bought for you to go camping in England. If you curl a bit I’ll curl round you, like two spoons together. Yep, yep, that’s it.

Much better.

So you’re the Hindu, can you explain to me what’s happened?

Nope.

OK, I’ll hazard a guess.

I must say, as cramped as this is, I am so pleased to be with you, I know its not exactly physical, more meta-physical but I can actually feel you and its wonderful. I just don’t care about anything else. I lost you and I’ve found you again. Super!

Its also amazing how we can communicate just through thoughts. Are you thinking in Kannada or English?

A mix of both.

You clever dick. You’re the boss. 🙂

Ok so here’s my take on it.

I think it’s something to do with reincarnation. Once we die and we’re released from our body our spirit finds a new home, a new body and begins its next life. Agreed?

Well, there’s also a belief amongst some people that couples can be reunited in their new life.

Yes, I remember discussing this with friends and joking about whether we’d wish to be reincarnated with our husbands! Most didn’t seem to want to be.

I did though!

You and I have had some disagreements. I don’t think you realised how hard it was for me, at times but I loved you to the end of the earth, and beyond

Remember me saying that?

Of course

I love you too.

So how have we ended up here?

The last I remember, you had a second heart attack and you didn’t want to go back on a ventilator, you’d hated that the year before, even though it gave us another year together. So I asked the Doctors not to resuscitate and you died.

Afterwards, I was on my Enfield, squinting through the tears on my way back to Siddartha Layout, to sort things out so I could bring your body home, when ….

BANG.

A lorry knocked me off the two wheeler and next thing I know I was here with you.

Where is here? by the way.

I don’t know but I’m beginning to adjust, I’m not feeling bunched up anymore – I’m getting used to it.

I remember being in hospital and you made a joke about me not smiling so I giggled and smiled, last thing I remember I was complaining that my head hurt.

Then I was in a valley, having passed through a bright sun light. People were singing and dancing. I thought of you and whispered a message, that I loved you, to a passing dragonfly. Then as if by Magic, you appeared and I saw you through the crowd coming towards me.

Wow. So let me get this right, we’ve died within minutes of each other and somehow our souls have joined together, reincarnated into the same body. How amazing is that?

I feel that we’re gently melding together, we’re becoming as one.

Well, I didn’t read about this in the Bhagavad Gita! Did you?

Waahay, this could be fun. Maybe we could give a TED Talk.

Tom and Amy

img_0246Tom and Amy first keep to visit us what to them might seem like a hundred years ago. They were introduced to us by the lovely people at Indiasomeday which continues to be our favourite agency.

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After that first trip, we decided to designate them as our adopted children as we got on really really well. On their return home they got married, resigned from their jobs and became nomads.
They now have an exciting adventure filled life as itinerant travellers working then travelling, travelling and working.

 

Tamy have become part of our lives. Amy was our celebrant at our wedding and Tom took the photos. They continued to be with us during Manjula’s difficult times due to her illness. When she died earlier this year, they immediately changed their plans, rode over the hill to the rescue….. well, flew back to India to stay with me for a couple of weeks. I hadn’t realised how important that was to me, they were a godsend . They’ve now visited three times, this year alone and some guests have come to think they actually live here.

We meet up to eat a vegan when our paths cross in London.

They’ve created two lovely videos of Manjula and I and our work here. Please check here for the videos and a link to their own seeking skies site.

Manjula absolutely adored them, Tom and Madam’s witty banter and humour fed off each other.

Did I mention they’re vegan? Real activists who live their beliefs, working hard to try and save our planet, to show the older generation their mistakes and provide a positive path to the future.

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Thank you Tom and Amy for helping me survive this incredibly difficult time.

 

SF

11th August 2019

Telling Stories

Dear friends,

I’m used to telling stories as a cycle tour guide and as someone who facilitates workshops. I’m told I can be good at it. Writing stories; fiction or otherwise is quite a different matter.

Here are my first attempts, more will follow:

1. The first example is, a Mysore View, posted in June 2019. You can read it here

2. The second, Magic Roundabout, was posted in July 2019 and can be found here

After some feedback I created a revised version of Magic Roundabout, you may wish to go straight here.

3. and here’s yet another one Looking for a home, who is it about?

4. Forever Together …. stars a certain beautiful, smiling woman

please provide feedback to help me learn to improve.

Improving my writing skills is a new challenge and a different way to connect. Learning proper English is a big enough challenge from a guy from Yorkshire! 😉

I want to relay Manjula’s story to a wider audience. It’s part of managing my new situation, keeping going on this rocky path and holding Manjula close to all our hearts.

To try and do Manjula and her story justice I’ll be completing some online training courses and so I invite readers to give critical feedback to help me improve.

Please do feel free to comment.

Thanks

Stephen

Mysore

July 2019

The following appeared elsewhere…..

“Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment there is. From campfires and pictograms—the Lascaux cave paintings may be as much as twenty thousand years old— to tribal songs and epic ballads passed down from generation to generation, it is one of the most fundamental ways humans have of making sense of the world. No matter how much storytelling formats change, storytelling itself never gets old.

Stories bring us together. We can talk about them and bond over them. They are shared knowledge, shared legend, and shared history; often, they shape our shared future. Stories are so natural that we don’t notice how much they permeate our lives. And stories are on our side: they are meant to delight us, not deceive us—an ever-present form of entertainment.”

From New Yorker 6th July

Magic Roundabout revised version

a factly fiction tall tale….

Manjula’s life takes an unexpected new direction

The first thing to hit us were the smells. The burning of fuel to create the steam that drove the machines. Next, as we turned a corner, we saw the blur of lights like snakes curving through the air,  the sounds quickly followed, the clanking, ch ch ch chuffing, and what sounded like church organ pipes playing, the screaming, bodies rushing in an out, up and down, turning all around, the laughter, jolly music, a breathless stomach churning cacophony.

Carter’s fair was in town.

A traditional fair of rides and entertainments from maybe a hundred years before. The imagined town was a temporary set-up on a country estate in Wiltshire as part of a weekend music festival.

We’d attended this world music fandango for over ten years as a group of twenty or more, our extended family. A misshapen circle of tents was our home for the weekend. An event shelter acting as our dining room and lounge and another tent as our kitchen. We followed a rota to take it in turns to cater for the whole group and that with occasional guests, often previous visitors to Mysore Bed and Breakfast, completed our little communal village. The cluster of tents, since we first arrived to open fields, had been overtaken by the expansion of a quickly growing metropolis. We were in the midst of an incredible mishmash of temporary homes. Ranging from the very basic young persons festival tents that would be lucky to see a second outing, to the grown ups frame tents and the trendy bells. Nearby in their gated community were the glampers.

It provided a respite from our hectic urban lives and a golden opportunity to catch up and connect. We were excitedly looking forward to our weekend fillip.

Gina, aka the ultimate networking organiser, our captain, had helped pull the group together, an extended family of comfort, an incredibly rich mix with her husband, Angus, from the Caribbean, together with Sharon, Claire, Ruth, Mags, Alice, Ben, Poppy, Liz, Grant, Jenny, Peter, Jane, Barbara, Megan, Dave, Ann, Dean, Manjula, Stephen, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert Dibble and Grubb.

It’s the first full day of the festival and time to explore. One small group ventured off to find the steam fair.

Poppy, the youngest, was the star of the group. Age five and three quarters, she was, of course, mature beyond her years. It was her very first music festival. She’d heard and seen evidence of them in Finsbury Park, close to her home in north London but this was her own opportunity to see, hear and smell it for herself, first hand. She secretly hoped it would rain, just a little bit mind, so there would be the funny mud she’d heard so much about. Maybe some slip sloppy falling people. Her full time assistants were in tow, namely Ben, the chef entrepreneur, her dad, hailing from the alternative town of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire and Alice, her mum, the creative jewel, originally from Poland but settled for years in London. This small group out following the trail to the fairground included Manjula and I. We’d married the year before having set up and run a Tourism business together over seven years in South India.

Manjula, from Mysore in South India, and I had opened a Bed and Breakfast business as an open house that welcomed thousands of guests from around the world. Since the very beginning it was number one in our city. My bit of the business was guided cycle tours. I’d belatedly realised how well told stories could provide valuable insights. How history was so precarious and could easily have taken an alternative route. Close to our home was a place that presented an incredible cluster of potential historical turning points. With the slightest change of circumstances it could have resulted in dramatic changes of history for India, Britain and continental Europe. In the midst of all this we’d created a great lifestyle, jealously admired.

I’m Stephen, from North England, Ben’s dad and officially known as Grandee poo by the energetic articulate granddaughter. I was on cloud nine as we were altogether for the weekend and had earlier in the year, visited my youngest son Oliver in Canada. I’d missed them all as we were all living in such disparate places. My previous partner and Ben’s mum, Liz was also here that weekend. We had been together over twenty years and retained a supportive relationship. In fact Manjula and Liz has become close. Liz a strong woman, caring mother another key connector, remained back at the encampment hanging out with others in the group.

I’d moved to Mysore in South India nine years before. Manjula was introduced to me and came to clean and cook pretty much immediately. Over the years we fell in love, carefully reconnoitred the employer/employee relationship minefield with a wedding in a field. This followed a ‘formal’ marriage process, in which we couldn’t quite figure out when we’d actually ‘tied the knot’ in the official office where ninety-nine percent of the activity were the exchange of land and building contracts!

The only cloud on the horizon, was Manjula’s ill health. She’d been diagnosed with a chronic lung condition but other than a very serious time in hospital a year ago from which she recovered, she seemed to be strong and thriving. It was predicted however to ultimately seriously affect her life chances and mobility. Manjula was from a very poor background, worked in service as a maid, had faced many challenges including a previous abusive husband and had lost a baby through illness. This had helped create a strong confident woman who had a great ability to empathise and connect with others. She’s an incredibly warm, welcoming and giving person. Tolstoy might say she had discovered “the good way of life” as she had the “great inner force, calmness and happiness” to which he referred.

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The group arrived at the fairground to the usual mix of rides, stalls and entertainments, including Manjula’s two favourites. Poppy and Manjula were ecstatic, it’s not the sort of thing we’d see in South India. The absolute favourite was the carousel. The girls mounted their steeds, held on tight, to the gentle rising of the horse, as it sedately circled. Manjula beaming her usual radiant smile was especially bright. Once the ride came to an end, I helped Manjula down from her horse.

“Can I go on again?” She squealed.

“Of course, Madam, of course” I saluted!

Manjula and I walked further round the carousel to find a vacant horse each and ride again. Up she got, smiling insanely. I thought this was supposed to be easy going. I felt as though I’d been on a bucking bronco. I felt a bit sick, all very unexpected, what was happening to me? This will not do!

As the carousel came to a stop we alighted and walked round to find the rest of the group. We couldn’t find them anywhere. They must have walked off.

I still felt under-weather, a bit weird, still sort of sickly but told myself to man-up, it was a carousel for God’s sake.

I looked at my watch. It was 1.30 but I remember it being that time when we first got on the carousel with Ben and his family. We seemed to have gained more than twenty minutes. Odd. Or old age… I’ll have mis-read my watch.

No problem, Manjula had one more favourite place to visit. The slot machines.

In an amusement arcade in Dorset she’d become addicted to a particular machine.

DSC03109It was a completely random-luck-filled-game but the excitable giggly girlish Manjula loved it! Pennies were lost and won, I’m sure we’ll be back.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Ben, Alice and Poppy arriving at the Carousel. They got on it…. again! We went over and were reunited once they’d finished their ride. They asked why we hadn’t joined them on the carousel but we had forty minutes earlier. How weird is that? How could it have happened? We’re we in a space/time vortex? Manjula had been on the carousel twice the first time with Ben and Poppy but they had no recollection and they’d just arrived. What’s that all about? It’s impossible, it’s as if we were in a bubble of lost time and things had not happened. It was completely incomprehensible. I can assure you we had had no wacky baccy.

Manjula and I wandered off, utterly confused and arranged to see them back at camp. Manjula, the mature, strong, calm who was by the turn of a coin, an excitable little girl, was having an absolutely wonderful time and had no idea what time it was anyway. So, what does it matter?

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We had a couple more things to do, such as visit the Ferris wheel and check out some shops. We’d ridden the Ferris wheel during Manjula’s previous visit to the U.K. at this very festival. It wasn’t your traditional wheel, it was much bigger, slow, sophisticated. It afforded a wonderful view over the country estate in which the festival was based. In the distance we could see the country house, the fields of tents at least three hundred and sixty degrees, around us.

“Look, look, see our flags” exclaimed Manj.

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Next to our tent, we had a flag pole and flags of Grenada and India to help people spot and return to our camp in the midst of thousands of tents. We could even see them from all the way up here.

On the other side we could see stalls and vehicles selling food, clothes, furniture even. At times, it felt like home as there was such a lot from India. The woodland area gave healthy lifestyle, including: yoga, massage, carving wooden spoons (I’d carved one for Manjula), a children’s play area and then throughout the site were music stages of different sizes, tents for dancing and DJs playing, where world music could be found every day over the weekend.

Waaaaah, this was wonderful. I could feel the beaming heat from Manjula’s smile, her joy, and still there was no rain. Great! I suddenly, felt sick again, maybe it was all too much excitement and action for the old man!

After we’d left the Ferris wheel, we wandered sort of aimlessly along the grassy routes that passed between the stalls. The crowds were getting larger, it was the first full day and the place was filling up.

The usual stalls, that we’d seen over the years, were here; mostly selling Indian or African products and every type of international food you could imagine.

Manjula was drawn to a particular stall, she had become an intrepid traveller with an open mind, she always finds endless things to attract and entertain.

All I could see at this stall was an Indian guy sitting cross-legged on a rug, the sort of Persian style, with hanging colourful reminders of home. His wife sitting behind in the inner recesses beckoned Manjula to join them and spoke to her in Hindi.

There was the liberal sharing of Namaste. It all felt a bit mysterious. To me they looked like northerners. There didn’t seem to be anything for sale. For those of you who haven’t visited India, it’s worth pointing out that it isn’t at all unusual to find fortune tellers (palm, star or card readers, parrots, anything is possible) or an incredible usual mix of spiritual types: Swamys, poojaris, Sadhus, Gurus, offering hugs, insights, predictions, everywhere and anywhere in India. These people were mystics of some sort.

Hindu’s are open to finding God via any of the multiple paths that exist in life. Me I’m also open to the varieties of India but I’m also from Yorkshire (north England) so retain a ‘healthy’ cynicism in life.

The three of them are by now speaking Hindi (it’s not the local language where we live but Manjula knows it and at least three other Indian languages).

Well the conversation goes on and on. That is also not unusual in India. It’s a right old mix, of intensity, exclamations, even laughter, the look of shock, I worry that there seems to be the odd tinge of anger or is it disbelief? I’m completely lost, but absolutely trust Manjula. She seems Ok with it all. So after what seems an age we leave, we all stand and there are the usual Indian gestures of farewell. Manjula looks both pleased and confused. We venture on and find a place to sit and get a chai.

Manjula was very pleased, I was receiving the full force of her inner sun beaming through her golden smile.

Now, I’m intrigued. That’s not particularly unusual as India never ceases to amaze and surprise. She tried to explain as best she could, what they’d said.

So this is what, I think, they’d discussed.

Manjula was astonished, bowled over, that the two people knew her story. Her poor background and the many challenges she’d experienced, a dysfunctional family, life as a maid, her first husband, her baby that had died, our meeting almost ten years ago, the business, her chronic lung illness, our life together. Wow, even the cynic was surprised.

How was this possible? Life in India teaches you to ‘go with it’, you have to deal with paradox and uncertainty and not always question too much. She went on…

As I predicted it’s unexpected and mystical.

The couple also knew how much the challenges in her life had helped create a strong personality with an open caring attitude that brought people together. I’d seen this in so many ways, not least how she related to our guests and our staff. I smiled from the memories of my beautiful and how she’d blossomed since our time together.

These two really knew all about her, and us for that matter.

I know I know, this is so beyond a westerners experience and understanding.

Well anyway to cut a lifelong story shorter, the bottom line is, they declared that Manjula’s life had been given a whole new direction. A sort of half reincarnation without having to die. She’d arrived at a turning point in life and mystically switched tracks. Maybe the rides on the roundabouts… the carousel and Ferris wheel had created something magical and dramatically changed her life, who knows? It’s almost as if we arrived at a crossroads and something happened to switch her onto a different track a parallel reality.

So what does it all mean?

Well it seems that she’s had a dramatic unbelievable change in her life, some of her previous experiences didn’t happen and have been erased from her life. Her previous marriage has gone, just didn’t exist, same goes for her child that died, and most wonderful of all her chronic illness has been expunged. Poof, gone, disappeared in mid air. It’s gone totally. She doesn’t feel any strain on breathing at all, she has a new strength. I’m tearful, overjoyed, this is so wonderful. We both have a new life. How lucky are we?

And why?

As I understand it…. It’s a sort of mystical reward. In her life she has had to endure a seemingly endless series of challenges any one of which could have broken her. Instead she not only emerged strengthened she has developed a warm openness that bridges to others and creates bonds of care and compassion. So it seems that as a reward for her goodness and the extremes she’s faced there has been a sudden change in her life, a golden reward, a sort of half reincarnation, a twisted surreal karma, a crossing over to a parallel reality.

Well of course it’s unbelievable, but eh, as I’ve said in India we learn to be adaptable, not question too much and suck the best out of whatever happens. In this case, it means Manjula has a new lease of life, we ain’t going to complain.

So I create my own narrative, to try and understand what’s happened.

For what it’s worth, my limited understanding (apologies to my Hindu friends for this distorted understanding) of Karma. It seems to me that Karma is a bit like a bank. Good deeds, lead to deposits in the bank that are subsequently cashed in when determining your next life at reincarnation, once you die. In this case Manjula has used some Karma cash mid life to create a new path and delete some of her previous life and current problems. Wow!

So we must have crossed a historical turning point during our rides on the magic roundabouts, landed in a parallel universe and have super new opportunities, ostensibly as a reward for Manjula being such a star. I’m reminded of a Kerouac quote from a letter to his wife: “practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realise you’re already in heaven now” that’s my Manjula and her life.

I turned to Manjula lifted her high (she’s small and light), hugged her until breathless… and kissed passionately. We wouldn’t of course do that publicly in India but hey we’re in a brave new world.

“I love you, Manjula”

‘I love you three”

We return, elated to our sort of Trumpton camp where we find Liz and Gina who’ve been caring for little Manju, our unexpected daughter and share our amazing story

Note

This is a reimagined story, written by Stephen. It’s his second so clearly, as you now realise, he has a lot to learn.

Manjula unfortunately didn’t have this experience and died of a heart attack in March 2019. She was unable to visit the U.K. for a planned third visit. Her daughter from her first husband had died just a few months old fifteen years earlier. She leaves her husband Stephen and their dog Lucie at the Bed and Breakfast she helped create and that together with MYCycle tours, continues.

Manjula’s story, the real one, not an imagined one, will be posted in instalments at http://www.meandmycycle.com over the next few months.

Follow up

Feedback and further comments, check here

The magic roundabout

a factly fiction tall tale….

The first thing to hit us were the smells. The burning of fuel to create the steam that drove the machines. Next, as we turned a corner, we saw the blur of lights like snakes curving through the air,  the sounds quickly followed, the clanking, ch ch ch chuffing, and what sounded like church organ pipes playing, the screaming, bodies rushing in an out, up and down, turning all around, the laughter, jolly music, a breathless stomach churning cacophony.

Carter’s fair was in town.

A traditional fair of rides and entertainments from maybe a hundred years before. The imagined town was a temporary set-up on a country estate in Wiltshire as part of a weekend music festival.

We’d attended this world music fandango for over ten years as a group of twenty or more, our extended family. A misshapen circle of tents was our home for the weekend. An event shelter acting as our dining room and lounge and another tent as our kitchen. We followed a rota to take it in turns to cater for the whole group and that with occasional guests, often previous visitors to Mysore Bed and Breakfast, completed our little communal village. The cluster of tents, since we first arrived to open fields, had been overtaken by the expansion of a quickly growing metropolis. We were in the midst of an incredible mishmash of temporary homes. Ranging from the very basic young persons festival tents that would be lucky to see a second outing, to the grown ups frame tents and the trendy bells. Nearby in their gated community were the glampers.

It provided a respite from our hectic urban lives and a golden opportunity to catch up and connect. We were excitedly looking forward to our weekend fillip.

Gina, aka the ultimate networking organiser, our captain, had helped pull the group together, an extended family of comfort, an incredibly rich mix with her husband, Angus, from the Caribbean, together with Sharon, Claire, Ruth, Mags, Alice, Ben, Poppy, Liz, Grant, Jenny, Peter, Jane, Barbara, Megan, Dave, Ann, Dean, Manjula, Stephen, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert Dibble and Grubb.

It’s the first full day of the festival and time to explore. One small group ventured off to find the steam fair.

Poppy, the youngest, was the star of the group. Age five and three quarters, she was, of course, mature beyond her years. It was her very first music festival. She’d heard and seen evidence of them in Finsbury Park, close to her home in north London but this was her own opportunity to see, hear and smell it for herself, first hand. She secretly hoped it would rain, just a little bit mind, so there would be the funny mud she’d heard so much about. Maybe some slip sloppy falling people. Her full time assistants were in tow, namely Ben, the chef entrepreneur, her dad, hailing from the alternative town of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire and Alice, her mum, the creative jewel, originally from Poland but settled for years in London. This small group out following the trail to the fairground included Manjula and I. We’d married the year before having set up and run a Tourism business together over seven years in South India.

Manjula, from Mysore in South India, and I had opened a Bed and Breakfast business as an open house that welcomed thousands of guests from around the world. Since the very beginning it was number one in our city. My bit of the business was guided cycle tours. I’d belatedly realised how well told stories could provide valuable insights. How history was so precarious and could easily have taken an alternative route. Close to our home was a place that presented an incredible cluster of potential historical turning points. With the slightest change of circumstances it could have resulted in dramatic changes of history for India, Britain and continental Europe. In the midst of all this we’d created a great lifestyle, jealously admired.

I’m Stephen, from North England, Ben’s dad and officially known as Grandee poo by the energetic articulate granddaughter. I was on cloud nine as we were altogether for the weekend and had earlier in the year, visited my youngest son Oliver in Canada. I’d missed them all as we were all living in such disparate places. My previous partner and Ben’s mum, Liz was also here that weekend. We had been together over twenty years and retained a supportive relationship. In fact Manjula and Liz has become close. Liz a strong woman, caring mother another key connector, remained back at the encampment hanging out with others in the group.

I’d moved to Mysore in South India nine years before. Manjula was introduced to me and came to clean and cook pretty much immediately. Over the years we fell in love, carefully reconnoitred the employer/employee relationship minefield with a wedding in a field. This followed a ‘formal’ marriage process, in which we couldn’t quite figure out when we’d actually ‘tied the knot’ in the official office where ninety-nine percent of the activity were the exchange of land and building contracts!

The only cloud on the horizon, let’s call it cloud number ten, was Manjula’s ill health. A few years ago she’d been diagnosed with a chronic lung condition but other than a very serious time in hospital a year ago from which she recovered, she seemed to be strong and thriving. It was predicted however to ultimately seriously affect her life chances and mobility. Manjula was from a very poor background, worked in service as a maid, had faced many challenges including a previous abusive husband and had lost a baby through illness. This had helped create a strong confident woman who had a great ability to empathise and connect with others.

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The group arrived at the fairground to the usual mix of rides, stalls and entertainments, including Manjula’s two favourites. Poppy and Manjula were ecstatic, it’s not the sort of thing we’d see in South India. The absolute favourite was the carousel. The girls mounted their steeds, held on tight, clearly worried yet unused to the gentle riding of the horse, as it sedately circled. Manjula beaming her usual radiant smile was especially bright. The ride came to an end. I helped Manjula down from the horse.

“Can I go on again?” She squealed.

“Ok Madam, of course” I saluted!

Manjula and I walked further round the carousel to find a vacant horse each and ride again. Up she got, smiling insanely. Madam (she was known as Madam English, amongst our neighbours and local shopkeepers since our first visit to the UK ) held on just as tight. I thought this was supposed to be easy going. I felt as though I’d been on a bucking bronco. I felt a bit sick, this will not do!

As the carousel came to a stop we alighted and walked round to find the rest of the group. We couldn’t find them anywhere. They’d walked off.

I still felt under-weather, a bit weird, still sort of sickly but told myself to man-up, it was a carousel for God’s sake.

I looked at my watch. It was 1.30 but I remember it being that time when we first got on the carousel with Ben and his family. We seemed to have gained more than twenty minutes. Odd. Or old age… I’ll have mis-read my watch.

No problem, Manjula had one more favourite place to visit. The slot machines.

In an amusement arcade in Dorset she’d become addicted to a particular machine. You’ll know it. It eats two pences (next to the smallest value English coin). The point is to knock coins off the edge, then they become yours.

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You put a two pence in the slot at eye level. The coins zig zagged their way down, hitting alternate pins, until landing at the very bottom. If you were lucky the coin lay flat and was then pushed into the pile of coins which just might tip them over the edge, down the chute and ultimately into your sticky mits. A completely random-luck-filled-game but the excitable giggly girlish Manjula loved it!

Pennies were lost and won, I’m sure we’ll be back.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Ben, Alice and Poppy arriving at the Carousel. They got on it…. again! We went over and were reunited once they’d finished their ride, only to be asked why we hadn’t joined them on the carousel, when we had maybe forty minutes earlier. Strange? What’s that all about? It’s as if we were in a bubble of lost time, as if things had not happened. It was completely incomprehensible. I can assure you we had had no wacky baccy.

Manjula and I wandered off, utterly confused and arranged to see them back at camp. Manjula, the mature, strong, calm who was by the turn of a coin, an excitable little girl, was having an absolutely wonderful time and had no idea what time it was anyway. What does it matter?

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We had a couple more things to do, such as visit the Ferris wheel and check out some shops. We’d ridden the Ferris wheel during Manjula’s previous visit to the U.K. at this very festival. It wasn’t your traditional wheel, it was much bigger, slow, sophisticated. It afforded a wonderful view over the country estate in which the festival was based. In the distance we could see the country house, the fields of tents at least three hundred and sixty degrees, around us.

“Look, look, see our flags” exclaimed Manj.

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Next to our tent, we had a flag pole and flags of Grenada and India to help people spot and return to our camp in the midst of hundreds maybe thousands of tents. We could even see them from all the way up here.

On the other side we could see stalls and vehicles selling food, clothes, furniture even. At times, it felt like home as there was such a lot from India. The woodland area gave healthy lifestyle, including: yoga (laughing and otherwise), massage, carving wooden spoons (I’d carved one for Manjula), a children’s play area and then throughout the site were music stages of different sizes, some acoustic, others electronic, tents for dancing and DJs, where world music could be found every day over the weekend.

Waaaaah, this was wonderful. I could feel the beaming heat from Manjula’s smile, her joy, and still there was no rain. Great! I suddenly, felt sick again, maybe it was all too much excitement and action for the old man!

After we’d left the Ferris wheel, we wandered sort of aimlessly along the grassy routes that passed between the stalls. The crowds were getting larger, it was the first full day and the place was filling up.

The usual stalls, that we’d seen over the years, were here; mostly selling Indian or African products and every type of international food you could imagine.

Manjula was drawn to a particular stall, she is an intrepid traveller with an open mind, she always finds endless things to attract and entertain.

All I could see at this stall was an Indian guy sitting cross-legged on a rug, the sort of Persian style, with hanging colourful reminders of home. His wife sitting behind in the inner recesses beckoned Manjula to join them and spoke to her in Hindi.

There was the liberal sharing of Namaste. It all felt a bit mysterious. To me they looked like northerners. There didn’t seem to be anything for sale. For those of you who haven’t visited India, it’s worth pointing out that it isn’t at all unusual to find fortune tellers (palm, star or card readers, parrots, anything is possible) or an incredible usual mix of spiritual types: Swamys, poojaris, offering hugs, insights, predictions, everywhere and anywhere in India. I think these people were mystics of some sort.

Hindu’s are open to finding God via any of the multiple paths that exist in life. Me I’m also open to the varieties of India but I’m also from Yorkshire (north England) so retain a ‘healthy’ cynicism in life. So the three of them are speaking Hindi (it’s not the local language where we live but Manjula knows it and at least three other Indian languages). She’s also learned English since we met but always insists that she learned from the guests and not me! Me, I only have a few words of our local language known as Kannada so I’m completely lost. Manjula has proven to be my key to Indian life in so many ways and not just languages. She has astonishing insights.

Well the Hindi conversation goes on and on. That is also not unusual in India. It’s a right old mix, of intensity, exclamations, even laughter, the look of shock, I worry that there seems to be the odd tinge of anger or is it disbelief? I’m completely lost, but absolutely trust Manjula. She seems Ok with it all. So after what seems an age we leave, we all stand and there are the usual Indian gestures of farewell. Manjula looks both pleased and confused. We venture on and find a place to get a chai, sitting on one of our collapsible camping chairs (I had been in trouble during our last visit to the festival two years ago, for not carrying chairs so that Madam could sit as and when needed, I’d learned my lesson).

Manjula was very pleased, I was receiving the full force of her inner sun beaming through her golden smile.

Now, I’m intrigued. That’s not particularly unusual as India never ceases to amaze and surprise.

So this is what, I think, they’d discussed.

Manjula was astonished, bowled over, that the two people knew her story. Her poor background and the many challenges she’d experienced, a dysfunctional family, life as a maid, her first husband, her baby that had died, our meeting almost ten years ago, the business, her chronic lung illness, our life together. Wow, even the cynic was surprised.

How was this possible? Life in India teaches you to ‘go with it’, you have to deal with paradox and uncertainty and not always question too much.

Now you also need to understand. Manjula’s English was really good but we’d sometimes lose things in translation so here’s what I think was said.

As I predicted it’s unexpected and mystical.

The couple also knew how much the challenges in her life had helped create a strong personality with an open caring attitude that brought people together. I’d seen this in so many ways, not least how she related to our guests and our staff. They also confirmed her own wishes for reincarnation, to come back as a tree!

I know I know, this is so beyond a westerners experience and understanding.

Well anyway to cut a lifelong story shorter, the bottom line is, Manjula’s life had been given a whole new direction. A sort of half reincarnation without having to die. She’d arrived at a turning point in life. Maybe the rides on the magic roundabouts… the carousel and Ferris wheel had changed something, who knows? or is that my own fantastical imagination?. It’s almost as if we arrived at a crossroads and something happened to switch her onto a different track, an altered state or parallel reality.

So what’s the result and why did it happen?

Well we’re still here at the Music festival, obviously. It seems that some of her previous experiences didn’t happen. There was no previous marriage or child that died, and most wonderful of all her chronic illness has been expunged. It’s gone totally. She doesn’t feel any strain on breathing at all, she has a new strength. I’m tearful, overjoyed, this is so wonderful. We both have a new life. How lucky are we?

And why?

So remember there maybe some misunderstanding given I don’t speak Kannada and English isn’t her first language.

It’s a sort of mystical reward. In her life she has had to endure a seemingly endless series of challenges any one of which could have broken her. Instead she not only emerged strengthened she has developed a warm openness that bridges to others and creates bonds of care and compassion. So it seems that as a reward for her goodness and the extremes she’s faced there has been an expected a sort of half reincarnation, a twisted surreal karma, a crossing over to a parallel reality.

Well of course it’s unbelievable, but eh, as I’ve said in India we learn to be adaptable, not question too much and suck the best out of whatever happens. In this case, it means Manjula has a new lease of life, we ain’t going to complain.

So I create my own narrative, to try and understand what’s happened.

For what it’s worth, my limited understanding (apologies to my Hindu friends for this distorted understanding) in the midst of multiple explanations of Karma. It seems to me, (bear of small brain, poo again) that Karma is a bit like a bank. Good deeds, lead to deposits in the bank that are subsequently cashed in when determining your next life at reincarnation. In this case Manjula has used some Karma cash mid life to create a new path and delete some of her previous life and current problems.

So we must have crossed a historical turning point during our rides on the magic roundabouts, landed in a parallel universe and have super new opportunities, ostensibly as a reward for Manjula being such a star.

I turned to Manjula lifted her high (she’s small and light), hugged her until breathless… and kissed passionately. We wouldn’t of course do that publicly in India but hey we’re in a brave new world.

“I love you Manjula”

‘I love you three”

We return to our sort of Trumptown camp where we find Liz and Gina who’ve been caring for little Manj, our unexpected daughter and share our amazing story

Note

This is a reimagined story, written by Stephen. It’s his second so clearly, as you now realise, he has a lot to learn.

Manjula died of a heart attack in March 2019 and so was unable to visit the U.K. for a planned third visit. Her daughter from her first husband had died just a few months old fifteen years earlier. She leaves her husband Stephen and their dog Lucie at the Bed and Breakfast she helped create and that together with MYCycle tours, continues.

Manjula’s story, the real one, not an imagined one, will be posted in instalments at http://www.meandmycycle.com over the next few months.

Follow up

Feedback and further comments, check here