Learning to Breathe, Lesson 2

A 10am Saturday morning beginners yoga class. A great idea. Stabilise and normalise. Find an alternative to just coping.

It goes well. Well, as well as it can, for a 50-something inflexible fool attempting movements and twists of a body that’s remained tense and taunt for, let’s face it, maybe 30 years? As long as I watch and learn and follow the supple bends and obscure angles of the lithe, lycra yoga for beginner’s teacher, I’m sort of fine.

So, after maybe the fifth or sixth session I’m still going, spurred on by a sense of near normalisation, and even, dare I say it, some new-found suppleness of limbs and straightening of posture. Bully for me. ‘Before our relaxation session’ our lycra yoga teacher announces in her tranquil tones ‘we’re going to focus on our breathing…’

This is Ujayi breathing, apparently. She explains and then demonstrates. Seems straight forward enough. Exhale, be aware of your breath, then inhale. Basically, its breathing. I’ll give that a go.

I settle into a well postured position and I take my first Ujayi breath in, and then out. In and then out. Then, a sudden flashing surge in my chest. A manic rush, a quickening pang. Not like I imagine a heart attack feels, but instead an instant physiological recall of Day 1, circa 11am. Hold it back. Shorten my breath. Hold it back. Don’t go deep, keep it shallow. Then a second wave shocks my system. I’m ice cold, shivering, my breath erratic, dysfunctional.

My eyes closed, I see blue, bluey green, white tips of frothy water. Crystal blue skies above, circling, what’s up and what’s down? Cold water, then bath warm water from the late afternoon Vietnamese sun.

They clutched at water, not air. They were thrust against rocks. They flailed. It took seconds. Please seconds, not minutes.

And then, I’m back. Sat on the wooden floor of a lukewarm church hall in suburban Sheffield. Hot tears are streaming down my face, sobs are emerging from the depths. I’m trying to mute, for the sake of the other 50-somethings in the class.

And then, I feel a welling presence in the room. A calming breeze of fresh air, breaking through the stale, ageing air of the church hall and its yoga trainees.

Beth and Izzy are right in front of me…


Detania waterfalls, Delat, Vietnam (26 February 2016)

…I want to be there. I want to drown for them.

I want to hold their heads in my hands and keep them separate and safe from the rocks, cracks and fractures. I want to wrap my arms around them, hold them tight and take the knocks as they tumble and fall. I want to hold off the force of the water and calm the currents of the waterfall whirlpool. I want to lift them and push them up, push them out to the water’s surface. I want to watch from as they come up for air and swim and look at each other and laugh.



Black Mirror Jungle, 2:46 am

Running frantically wild, frenetically chased,
by an unnamed loved one,
through alien jungle.
Each leaf and branch super enlarged as though I am made miniature.

In an overgrown, enlarged plantation, unfamiliar.
Thrashing away each bright green plantation,
to escape, or not to be found.
A pounding desire to be left alone,
To be lost in this jungle.

Then I give up, or am found or accept they follow.
So I stop, and so they stop.
And I lead them to last night’s feast of roast chicken,
That I cooked over camp fire.

I watch them eat. They gorge.
They are starved.
So new to this entrapment game.
So hungry now.

As I watch, I hear the booming mind of the entrapper.
Do I wish them to join, in perpetual chase, or to remain alone?

Song of Los by Apparat, my head’s soundtrack.
Black Mirror S4 E4, my mind’s inspiration.
(A final line is omitted by the author.)

The pain of the practical

Two nights in a row, not gonna lie to you, cried my eyes out.

To be point that, really, I don’t wanna cry anymore.

Sure, I’m home alone, to get some work done, so no surprise really, but…

For fuck’s sake.

I switch from work, to Police questioning to…

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Sisterly love

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Dancing buds

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For fuck’s sake…

And After began.

The dishwasher slurps. There’s a chill in our rented-but-for-free-from-a-mate newly refurbed Soho apartment. Not sure how to readjust the heating. So feet will have to stay chilled. Coffee’s on. That’ll warm me up. Trace is in bed. Dozing. Not quite ready to face the day.

London is getting up to a Monday morning again. A new build next door is having its aluminium fire-escape stairs delivered, unloaded by gloved hands from a fleet of flat-bed white vans. From the window, more white vans, more high vis vests. Deliveries for the start of another new week.

It’s snowing. In London. Carefree, drifting flakes at first, then a steady stream, as though joining the white vans and behooded walkers on their way to work.

About this time two years ago, I remember feeling normal.

I’d been to the gym, I was on my way to a kick-off meeting with a new client, I’d discovered a new album, the weather wasn’t so bad. I was driving Mario-the-Mini to collect points on the young drivers black box, for Izzy’s return. A Friday, I was thinking about what to do at the weekend. I called Trace.


Part of the day’s excursion was a boat trip.

Then, later that morning, on a Virgin train to Leeds central, around noon, my world came crashing in.

And After began.

My last conversation with Izzy (Part 1)

The sharp shingles dig into my ribs and smack me awake.

There are smaller, softer monochrome pebbles that ease the pressure of the larger, sharper, blackened rocks, as though, by age, they have lost their sharpness as well as their colour. The gentle sound of the ocean’s undulations surround me. I’m wet through and half submerged in water.

I crawl out, barely able to lift myself. Exhausted. Confused. On terra firma, albeit a bed of black and grey shingles and jagged rocks. How long have I been here? Where have I come from to be here? Where is here?

After a while I manage to lift myself out of the water and onto the shingle shore, so that only my feet and shins are still immersed in the blue black sea.

I take a moment to rest my cheek on the rocks and then strain to lift my neck and look behind me, from whence I’ve come. All I can see is a faint line dividing the blue black of the sea and the blue grey of the sky. Nothing else. No boat, no wreck, no sign of life, nothing other than an endless line of ocean and sky.

I pull myself up onto my hands and knees, edging upwards, dragging my knees and the rest of me up to standing. I wobble, find my balance, and stand still.

I look ahead of me. And then up. And up. And up.

In front of me is an immense tower, a block of grey white cylindrical concrete rising out of the shoreline of grey black shingles and rocks. It has a tip, high above me and, as I try to focus my tired, sea salted eyes, I see the shimmer and pulse of a light.

A lighthouse.

I slip and stumble up a gentle incline, my feet sinking in as the pebbles shuffle and rearrange, making way for my weight. Not far up the monochrome beach, I come face to face with the lighthouse and I joyously plant both my hands firmly onto the comforting, man-made concrete.

I press my cheek against its cold rough surface and breath in. Whatever this is, wherever I am, it has to be better than an endless ocean and sky.

I start to edge my way around the outside of the lighthouse, not letting either of my hands off the gritty surface. As I manoeuvre around, I look around me and realise the lighthouse is standing alone on it’s own tiny island, surrounded by sea and sky and nothingness.

Then my hand comes across a sharp vertical edge. A frame. A door frame. I stand back for a moment, letting my hands go of the surface of the wall. I stare at a wooden, meticulously painted panelled door. Its hinges are brass, as is its solitary, round handle.

I move my hand towards the handle and grasp it. I turn it and it loosens the frame and I feel the weight of the door pulling towards me.

I step inside.


There’s an inner space, a sort of outer casing to the building that surrounds an inner, pure white wall. Directly ahead of me is a steel door, a lift door. There’s a button. I glance to either side and see the inner wall running around the core of the building. I take in the smell of chilled, stale air, of a space that’s not been opened for a long time. I press the button.

A shift, a buzzing and a whirr of movement above me. The lift descends, pauses for a moment and the door slides opens. I step inside a tiny steel lift. There’s only one button. I press it.

A repeating buzz and whirr and a jolt and the lift ascends.

A shudder and the lift comes to rest. The door opens and I step inside a room, in the top of the lighthouse.

There’s only one object in the room. It’s the familiar wooden frame of Izzy’s bed and her brown duvet, ruffled, dishevelled and slept in. My eyes begin to feel with tears as I edge closer to her bed.

She’s there. Curled up in her pillows. Asleep.

I sink to my knees.