from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 1 January 2016

ragbag blog January 1 2016

Hello lovely people – and Happy New Year to you – from the soggy but (worryingly) flower-rich lands of Devon, where right now I'm looking out at a bird seed-feeder crowded with up to 6 different varieties of tit at any one time, and where the peanuts are visited regularly each day by both a male and a female spotted woodpecker.

Yesterday morning early a barn owl flew up over our heads just yards away from my herb-and-bee garden; I had a ringside seat of each of her snowy feathers. It felt auspicious; a privileged glimpse into a secret life. Two days before I'd seen a small bird less than a yard away on a verge also in full clarity: the bright chestnut-rust black-tipped tail fanned like an open hand. I realise I have no idea what it was. It wasn't a British kestrel (looked more like an American one); nor a snipe, jack snipe, woodcock... anyone?

'There were the simple miracles called birds'  wrote Octavio Paz in one of my favourite poems, 'Fable'.

Birds somehow save me from myself, as poetry does. And how good it is to immerse myself in poetry again, after a dry year. Paz (in El arco y la lira, The Bow and the Lyre) wrote: 'Poetry is knowledge, salvation, power, abandonment. An operation capable of changing the world, poetic activity is revolutionary by nature; a spiritual exercise, it is a means of interior liberation.' The website for this quote continues: 'According to Paz, poetry is a form of transcendence, removing the self from history and offering in its place a vision of pure or essential being and time. Poetry is sacred, providing salvation in a secular world.'

So there you are.


Tomorrow is 'perihelion': when the earth is at its closest annual point to the sun. Thought you might like to know that. It's symbolic of something-or-other.


My arm is mending well. The French consultant had suggested I request 15 'séances' (isn't that great? – 'sessions') of physio from the NHS, a request that I somehow suspected might be unmet. The physio at my first appointment the other day was so pleased with the strength and movement I have back that she thinks just one more plus exercises will do it. How good to be driving again, though the big old campervan takes some hauling in slow manoeuvres in small spaces. The worst bit though was reaching behind me to pull the seatbelt, or winding the window up. The driving was fine.

And I now have 50,000 words of my new book, 'creative non-fiction', as they say, on place, story, identity and belonging, written; 30,000 of those typed with one finger of my left hand. It was good to have that solo slow time in the forest writing, reading, walking and sleeping; it also helped a lot that my daughter was close by, and we cunningly managed to instill positive reinforcement for my endless hospital trips with the fact that the best patisserie in France is right opposite the hospital.


On wider matters: I have enjoyed the short conversation in the Comments below my Syria post of early December. (I love it when you comment.) Of course things have moved on, though the questions remain. 

What is 'right action', 'right response' from all of us to and in the current Middle Eastern situation?

How can I possibly know? The situation is complex. I've been pleased to catch up with the many searching and thought-provoking articles that The New Statesman provides on this and related matters. The 4-10 December issue had a number of very good articles.

But I'm also struck how, with the focus on the fear generated by Daesh, it's easy to overlook other things happening. One column in that edition, by Helen Lewis, reminds us how very inhumane the Assad regime is; she details, graphically, some of the atrocities. Isn't it easy, now, almost to think of Assad as a 'good guy' in comparison with 'the terrorists'?

I also notice, on a totally different tack, how the Government has given the go-ahead for fracking in British National Parks (does the flooding change this?); and also how the badger cull will be rolled out in 9 counties now with none of the time limits of the pilot culls – despite scientific evidence that culling badgers will not make the necessary difference in bovine TB.

It's as if, with the 'war on terror' headlining, apparently lesser subjects with enormous implications are slipped under the wire with relatively minor public attention. My father used to speak of how the Government would deliberately draw our focus on one subject to detract attention from other erosions of freedoms, human and otherwise; I thought he was being paranoid.


Speaking of erosions on freedoms (or perhaps rights), I've been a lacto-veggie for 40 years. Until a few months ago, I was vegan for 4 of those 40 years; an inevitable progression, I think, ethically.

In France, however, like various other things, it went out of the window a bit and I've eaten a lot of cheese/cream/butter lately.

I was never a perfect vegan: I still wear leather footwear at the moment (the alternatives are to bin lovely footwear for which an animal has already died, and to buy petrochemical fabrics that don't biodegrade), though I'm going to change that. I also ate eggs – no justification, except that if I stopped I would probably have succumbed to occasional hits of dairy because – well, I do miss cheese so much. If I was out and someone had made me a dairy-based meal, I'd eat it with pleasure.

But Ms Virtuous has raised her head again. It's about congruence. One of the truly distressing things about Western culture, and writ large in my face in Brittany, is the intensive farming of animals – suffering on a massive scale hidden away from our view. Of course I/we all know it happens, and passing cattle trucks fill me with a profound upset. But in Brittany the lush fields are empty, and intensive units of pigs and veal calves are everywhere.

Having a veal farm that I passed frequently where I was kind of leaked the suffering into my (no doubt over-porous) psyche on a continuing basis. I was constantly aware of the presence of so much quiet suffering. These poor little sods are taken from their mothers often at a few days old, kept in crates in the near-dark, and shipped off to have their throats slit at a few weeks of age. Stories abound of their attempting to suckle at the fingers of the slaughtermen in the abattoir. 

This is a direct by-product of the dairy industry. I cannot be part of this. For a long time, like many others, I'm sure, I have felt helpless to do anything at all about the cruelty of all this, other than clean up my own larder and wardrobe, so to speak.

I can't let them out; I can't tackle the farmer; I can't save all the suffering animals (and humans) in the world; probably no one except myself.

What I can do, though, I have now decided, is to revert to veganism and also to set up a kind of 'going vegan' website/blog for this new year. I shan't be preaching or proselytising – each person's path and karma takes them where it does, so it's more somewhere to go for info if you feel you want to change things.

I want just to put the info out there via my own trials and lapses and hypocrisies; plus what eating meat and dairy entails for animal suffering (OK you can eat organic, where here in GB the Soil Association monitors animal welfare, but you're still supporting the suffering of pigs, sheep, poultry, cows and the production of calves for the meat industry) and the climate. 

I want to examine why we don't need meat, and why we could feed ten times more people on a plant-based diet.

I want to look at the alternatives and their implications; offer nutritional info; maybe delicious recipes (because they can be utterly wonderful).

I want it to include others' thoughts and contributions; I want it to be well-informed, compassionate, not overly-sentimental despite the deeply emotive aspects of all this. A kind of clearing-house.

This is my commitment to the other-than-human.


And another commitment, as many of you know and many of you share, is to the life of the imagination, without which, as Lindsay Clarke says, empathy is not possible. And to soul, and its nurturing.

I'm excited about my this year's programme of courses, most of which now are week-long retreats in wonderful and wildish places: Iona, the Cévennes, Cornwall, Brittany.

I'm utterly delighted to be offering a day workshop on Dartmoor in the vein of my old 'Ground of Being' workshops on a shamanic course at Schumacher College – more soon.

And then there is Horse Medicine as a weekend on Exmoor.

Oh and a possible new poetry group in North Cornwall.

Meantime, there are still two residential places left on my 'IMBOLC: The Inward Flame' retreat weekend here in Devon, mentioned in the last post of last year, at the Celtic fire festival at the very end of January; one of the 'waystations' of the turning year, and a time for renewal, creative inspiration and deep restoration. As part of that is the self-contained THRESHOLDS day workshop: 'this wild & precious life', a chance to reflect on your life, what's working for you and what's not; and whether inner and outer lives work fruitfully together.

Can I tempt you?


One last thing (really!): is there somewhere – anywhere – you might plant a tree this year? If we all did, what a revolution that would be.



  1. Hi Roselle, what a great way to start the new year! Looking forward to checking out your going vegan blog. And glad your arm is healing nicely!
    All the best.

  2. David, how lovely to hear from you. Thank you. And I would certainly like to repost some of your vegan posts on the new website/blog when I set it up, if I may?

    Meantime, I wish you all good things for 2016, and new inspiration.

  3. I agree: just what I need to start the year. Vegan son Jeremy (he now subscribes to your blog) is home and again we're shamed into giving up dairy and fish, though latter gets less and less anyway. The only way is to do it properly and if we can find a decent butter substitute for baking (coconut oil too high in saturated fat, surely? as is palm oil with its frequent non-sustainability). I'll try cashew butter instead and invest in a powerful grinder to make my own. Like you I don't like to preach or proselytise but the simple fact of all that horrifying cruelty to animals is enough to make me vegan for ever. I look forward to the vegan blog and to a fluid exchange of recipes.

    The other thing was your 50,000 words written between Oct and now. I'm full of admiration and even more fired-up to try and equal it before the end of this year! Just before reading your ragbag I emailed you about my pathetic efforts this autumn. So, on with it, I say.
    Miriam xx

    1. Hello lovely Miriam - delighted to hear all that (and in response to your email, thank you! - and yes, TWR whenever you're ready). You have plenty on your mind! - perhaps a resolution might be to be kinder to yourself??) ;-)

      I use sunflower oil for baking - organic, of course! - and the Meridian one has a truly lovely nutty taste. I also put a little olive oil into a jar in the fridge to congeal, and use instead of butter on toast: much more healthful than all those grim non-dairy spreads.

      A good grinder is a good idea - I don't have one.

      Fired up re the new website/blog. Two brief holding pages up now at (don't know it it's visible yet). Anything from you of course v welcome. It'll grow only slowly though I think. But tis done.

      Much love to both and am delighted Jeremy reads my blog! xx

    2. Just seen a mistake - blogger won't let me edit. Only the brackets though.

      Meant to say: I didn't write 50,000 when in Brittany; only 30,000! The rest was one and off through the summer. x

    3. Yes – so easy to forget to be kind to oneself. Thanks so much, R, and for the vegan tips. I used to use sunflower oil until I discovered rapeseed. Shall try Meridian when baking.
      M x

  4. David, I've just set up a holding page for said site:

  5. Thanks for mentioning the Syria-thread, Roselle - and the link to New Statesman. Perhaps informing ourselves further about the reasons for one of these grievous world-situations will empower us more to do contribute a little bit to ameliorating it, in some way, down the line.

    If nothing else, such increased knowledge might make us more empathetic to the plight of the people who flee the crisis. Though I suspect the readership of this blog are not the ones who need to change their minds most about this, but perhaps via our social connections we can move someone else a little bit, if we know more.


    Apropos global, 'systemic' problems I'm glad you brought up the meat ... so to speak! And I applaud you for your new site/initiative in this regard. I esp. like that you seem to have a less preachy angle towards this very real problem, as I believe that is the only way to connect with people whose minds and hearts one wants to move towards more ethical consumption choices.

    I was just about to walk through the snowfall to our local store and buy three liters of milk, and I was thinking that maybe I should not do so - and buy some soy milk instead from another store, further away. I have been living as a lacto-occasionally-seafood-eating-vegetarian for 21 years, with bursts of heroic attempts at going vegan. So I know a lot about these considerations, relapses, dilemmas and so on. And then I began to think about how the soy cultivation in Brazil hurts the rain forest and perhaps, overall, kills more animals and biodiversity.

    I also began to think about what else I was using right now, in my little place in the great system, which is - ultimately - linked to abuse of people and planet.

    For example: In front of me is a big Samsung flat-screen which I recently purchased because my eyes were hurting from using just my laptop. It is a wonderful screen - very useful to me in my daily work.

    However, when I just now googled "Samsung" and "ethical track record" I got all sorts of disheartening articles about their ties to child miners in the Congo ... kids who work in the mines and dig out the minerals for cheap which goes into electrical appliances like this screen. I've been in such a mine in Bolivia (Potosí) and it is perhaps the most hellish place on Earth imaginable ...

    So where am I going with this? Is it something new to me - these strands of considerations about how much responsibility I have, if I really want to think about it all?

    No. I have been conflicted about this for years and thought and written extensively about how much is right to act on and how much is not. I am certainly not someone who says - 'we can't avoid hurting someone by living (in the modern world) so let's not care about it'. That is the weakest and most cowardly excuse for not taking SOME measure of responsibility.

    But what? How much? When? In what circumstances? Things sure have gotten a lot more complicated for the ethical consumer since I was selling fair trade coffee from stands in the supermarket 15 years ago and thought that this would surely make a Big Difference.

    (As a matter of fact I'm not even sure I have any fair trade coffee in the house currently.
    My latest purchase was coffee from Colombia, and they don't have a particularly shiny record with regard to allowing worker organization ... )

    So I guess my conclusion here is that if I am the kind of audience you imagine - somewhat ethically conscientious but conflicted and confused ... then I do very much look forward to following your new blog and finding out what we can do. Together. Because we can always do more than we thought we could, even if we can't take responsibility for all.

    I wouldn't mind some support for another heroic vegan-attempt, either ... :-)

  6. Another fantastic response, Christopher. Thank you. SO hard to be congruent, especially if we want to do that in every area of our lives. And important too not to beat ourselves up when we fall from our high ideals. We do what we can, each of us, as I said, don't we?

    But yes all of this is much easier if we do it together. I'm hoping the new website/blog (on hold because of work and family stuff for a little while) will be a cooperative one, somehow. I shall look forward to any input you might have or wish to have.

    Meantime, do you know (I imagine so) Positive News?

    More anon.

  7. Christopher, I meant to add: good luck with the vegan-heroism!


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