Saturday, 24 April 2010


Today I fell off my bike.

It's a noteworthy occasion because it hasn't happened before, except for when I rode straight onto the extremely pebbly beach in Worthing a couple of months ago. My bike came to a halt and fell to the ground, a straight 90 degree topple which landed me firmly on the stones. The same thing happened today, except that I was on a cycle path that became extremely precarious and sloped as it reached the road. I was in a big gear, and I saw what was happening before it happened. Luckily I landed on a soft grassy verge, and the only injury was to my ego. In fact, I confess that it was quite fun! I felt like a proper cyclist, almost as if falling off was the completion of some silent initiation ceremony. You've got to fall off, get back on, adjust your saddle, go for a wee in a field where passing cars can see your white bum crouching because you're utterly desperate and can't hold on any longer - then, you can call yourself a cyclist.

NB: I also had a wee in a field today, and I think three or four drivers saw my white ass, caught me pulling my cycling shorts up. And it felt damn good. (I nearly stung my bum on nettles though, which I can guarantee would not have felt good. I happily averted any kind of bum stinging this afternoon - hooray!)

I went out for a ride because today was one of those stunning spring days that insist you go outdoors. It's kind of the law in England, where "nice" and "day" are used so infrequently in the same sentence, weather wise at least. I rode to Rushfields Garden Centre, where Nige works, and had lunch with him by the pond. It's about a 9 mile ride up there, with a few minor hills. Great for getting the legs pumping and the lungs working properly. There were hundreds of tadpoles swimming around in the pond, and I sat cross legged and watched them, awed by their wriggly tails and tinyness. As I sat, I pondered two very important questions:

Do tadpoles have brains? Are they conscious beings?
Answers on a postcard to Elloa Tadpole Wonderer, the Pond, Rushfields Garden Centre.

I felt like I was witnessing a miracle when I saw a whole group of the tadpoles get behind a grey flowerpot that was floating at the top of the pond and start to push it across the pond. I was transfixed! It seemed utterly incredible to me that there was some kind of group intelligence operating whereby these tiny little polliwogs had agreed to transport a foreign object that was hundreds of times their individual size across the water. Amazing. Why on earth were they doing that?! Please enlighten me if you know.

I have to tell you that I adore being out on my bike. I completely and utterly love it. It's become a huge part of my life since September, and it's something I love doing alone and also with Nige. I've become much stronger and fitter, and the way I feel when I'm out - and, come to think of it, for hours afterwards - is simply incomparable to any city-based activity I can think of. The sense of satisfaction is tangible, as is the voracious appetite that follows a good jaunt on the bike. A spinning class might be great for pain tolerance and endurance, but I'd rather be out amongst the South Downs any day.

On my bike, I see the same views, the same places, the same roads that I see when I'm driving my car, but my experience of those things is entirely different when I'm on two wheels instead of being carefully enclosed in my Clio. I didn't know when I bought my bike that I was soon to be entering a new community, consisting of people wearing tight fitting shorts and tops and fingerless gloves, a community whose members mostly acknowledge other members out on the road with a nod, a wave and a hello. Have you ever seen a cyclist say hello to a car driver? As a cyclist, I don't think I've ever said hello to a car driver, and vice versa. But on the bike, it's hello here, hello there, hello across busy A roads, hello as you're overtaking or being overtaken, hello on trains and in B&Bs, hello in cafes on those all important cake stops. Today, I think I said hello about 25 times. About one for every mile I rode. There is, also, a cultural divide between road cyclists and mountain bikers, but in all honesty I've not experienced much hostility from road cyclists at all, and in fact they were friendlier than the mountain bikers today!

I've realised over the last seven months that I'm really quite content with a simple kind of life. I'm not really interested in going to clubs and bars anymore, and although I have a weakness for shopping, given the choice, I'd pick riding over being in the local shopping centre any day. It's a free day out, no two rides are ever the same, and it's so much fun!

Items seen by the side of the road today include:
- a toy mouse
- a wig (I kid you not)
- litter

Items seen recently by the side of the road include:
- three dead badgers (sad)
- swans in fields next to the military canal in Kent
- an elloa lying on grass insisting that she cannot go on.

Sometimes - and only ever in the presence of another human being, who, by default, is always Nige - I have bike tantrums. These are moments when I feel weak, or can't get my right foot into the pedal (it's always the right one - absolutely the stupid pedal's fault, not mine) or am generally annoyed at the fact that I am basically still a novice and therefore need some guidance or suggestions. I will flip out or pedal harder to get away from Nige, or stop and insist that I'm not going any further. Ouch. Sometimes, I am ashamed to admit, I behave very similarly to a small child who hasn't been given their way.

This admission, and indeed the behaviour itself, provides ample opportunity for me to fulfill my function and do the work that I am here to do: to forgive, to let go, to remember to laugh, to say fuck it and to change my mind. On our cycling trip in Kent last weekend, Nige and I had a few hairy moments. Stuff got triggered for one or both of us, and suddenly there was tension. We had to work through a whole set of beliefs in the car on the way to the B&B on Saturday morning! After doing the work we needed to do, Nige spoke about the true purpose of the relationship being revealed. Core stuff is coming up on a fairly regular basis at the moment, and it requires that I be attentive, respectful and surrendered, unless I want my old, fear-based patterns to carry on repeating themselves.

It was on Sunday though that a proper crisis popped up. Stuff happened over breakfast at the B&B, the details of which I don't need to go into. A few hours later, we were riding our bikes, and there it was - the Tension. Palpable, undeniable tension. I invited Nige to speak, and when he did, all my shit was triggered and I was not able to detach and simply hear him as a human being. Suddenly, his words were cutting into my very being. We actually crossed a new line for us, which was to enter into full blown bickering. Usually, one of us is in "adult" mode, or at least in it enough to know not to engage. But not this time.

It was lunacy! There we were, cycling through the "Garden of England", and I couldn't see a thing around me because I was consumed by my need to be right, and by my needs in general. Nige voiced his anger in a way he hasn't ever done before - it wasn't contained, it wasn't in the safe structure of a clearing, and I uttered ominously, "I don't like what's happening in this relationship." A statement, not a question. No curiosity. Just cold hard facts. This is the beginning of the end, now. Things are changing. He's changed. I've changed. Darkness has entered our relationship. I was a fool to think otherwise, an utter fool to delude myself into hoping that this was a 'holy' relationship. It was, I was convinced, a holey relationship - full of holes.

A mile or so later down the road, Nige stopped to ask directions. I don't know what happened, or how, but the Holy Spirit must have seen an opening. Nige checked that we were on the right road (which, of course, we were, only a mile away from the town of Lydd which we were aiming for en route to the very desolate and rather eeire Dungeness), and his bike was about two metres ahead of mine. Suddenly I said, "I really want to take a step towards you right now". Boom! An instant, a confession, a vulnerability, and the next thing I knew, we were crying in each other's arms, sharing our worlds and our wounds, correcting our mistaken beliefs.

I listened as Nige told me that when he was young, it wasn't safe for him to allow any gaps in the conversation, because in those gaps, he'd be pounced on and attacked. I shared with him that it is really hard for me to speak up, because I grew up believing that I was a burden to my mum and my family - and yet I have this compelling need to be seen. The one thing I think I need is the hardest thing for me to ask for, or take. Our dynamics click together like puzzle pieces born to slot into one another. No wonder there were fireworks.

We somehow managed to shift the paradigm we were working in, and within minutes were in the closing stages of a beautiful, authentic and healing process of connection and correction. There we both were, standing on a country lane on a hot Sunday, straddling our bikes and not the least bit aware of any passing cars or cyclists. I remembered my innocence; Nige remembered his. Innocence. Peace. Acceptance. Freedom. This is what we'd both been asking for over the breakfast table. It took a few hours, but we got there in the end.

Mighty Companions

We cycled off together, friends again - mighty companions! - and I saw the world anew with fresh eyes. I was and still am so grateful for the chance to forgive and be forgiven, for the opportunity to look into another person's life and see my own innocence reflected back to me. The love I feel for Nigel Atkinson is incomparable to anything I've ever known before. In him, I have the most beautiful man, the strongest one, the sacred one in whose arms I am repaired. I offer these same gifts to him, and we ride along and heal together and live again and remember to laugh.

Just a few minutes later, I declared, "I really like what's happening in our relationship." I think it's very important to take the ego's self-righteous convictions and turn them into statements of grace. Where I had been so convinced ten minutes before that things were going downhill for us and that 'this was the beginning of the end', now I simply knew in my heart that all was well, all was safe and that nothing real could be threatened. Love is. Everything else, I made up. The truth is not vulnerable to my ego's pitiful attacks on it, and whatever my ego decides to throw at it cannot change the fact that God loves me. In the back of my mind, I hear it whisper to me sometimes, things that are sinister and world-based: "One day, he'll die and you'll be left all alone", or, "He'll go off you soon enough Elloa. Everyone gets sick of you eventually." The thing is.... even if something like this did happen in my life, it wouldn't mean what my ego says it'd mean. I'd still be loveable, acceptable, enough. I'd still be love.

I like to ride my bicycle. This is what I wanted to share with you today, because I've done four bike rides in the last 8 days and have had an excellent time. What seems to transpire though, every time I sit down to write, is how every situation in my life is an opportunity to live and teach one of two things: love, or fear.

Today, I choose love.

What do you choose?

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Sun Song

For a year now, I've been wanting to share a very special song with the world. It is a song I learned on my Shamanism month at Esalen in February last year, and it's called The Sun Song.

The Sun Song is one of a few songs we shamans learned, but of all of them, it's the one that's stayed with me and that I love the most, although I can actually recall any of the other songs we learned in a split second. These include the Thunderbeings song (which is entirely unrelated to the Thunderbirds), I Have Spirits, and I Circle Around, the last two of which we sang on a daily basis when we gathered in the evenings for our journeys into the upper and lower worlds (if this makes absolutely no sense to you, don't worry!)

Songs - and in particular singing - hold potent meaning for me. I remember being a tiny tot and loving to sing, especially at playgroup where we sang "See the sleeping bunnies". I loved this song so much in fact that over twenty years later, a friend of mine told me that her little girl sings it at nursery, and I almost had a fit as I realised that this was the exact same song that I used to sing!

When I was ten years old, I played the Angel Gabriel in our school nativity, and I sang a solo. My dad couldn't come to the concert that evening; he came the next evening, when my friend Sophie was singing the solo and I was simply singing along during the chorus. I remember feeling very upset about it and interpreting it to mean that somehow, I wasn't worth loving, and that there was something wrong with me.

Six months later, for our school leavers' concert, before my classmates and I left the comfort of Brandlehow Primary and went off to our respective secondary schools, I was offered a solo as Nancy from Oliver, but my classmates complained that I'd already had a solo that year, as Gabriel at Christmas time. It was another moment of shame for me connected with singing, and the fledgling belief that I am wrong to sing out loud began to cement in my heart.

After that, singing became a lot more awkward for me, and I lost confidence in my voice. During the first term at "big" school, I auditioned for a part in "My Fair Lady", and I got through to the second auditions! When I was asked to come and sing however, I made up an excuse about needing to go home and babysit, and despite my teacher Ms Bell practically begging me to stay and just do the audition quickly, I gave in to my fear and ran away.

In my final year of secondary school, I was in a play and had a duet song. No prizes for guessing that I talked my way - tantrumed my way in actual fact - out of singing.

And then, last year, a good ten years after these episodes, I found myself in California, singing on a daily basis and struggling at times to accept myself, and yet somehow, miraculously, really enjoying letting my soul just... well... sing. We drummed and sang and moved and rattled, and as the days and weeks sped past, our group became more and more trusting and more and more open, and the barriers came down, and I sang my heart out.

We learned the Sun Song on a beautiful California morning at ten o'clock, and stood together, faces upturned to the ball of fire gently warming our cheeks and kissing our eyelids, and we sang. I've sung this song many times since then, in many places - all over America; at the edge of the River Thames in London; here in the woods in Sussex. It's a song that I was intending to share with hundreds of people last year at the Burning Man festival in the US, but because I followed my intuition, I didn't go, and I am so grateful for that decision.

Many times over the last year, I've wanted to share this song, and at times I have even gotten over my self-consciousness and have sung it to a person or people. I've sung it to Nige, who regularly invites me to sing it with him in the woods at sunset. I've sung it to the young adults I worked with who have Aspergers Syndrome. And I've held back too; just last weekend, I wanted to share it with a beautiful group of women at a dance workshop, and fear won.

So, here it is. It's raw. It's not perfect. I don't take singing lessons. But it's from my heart and that makes it beautiful, however technically imperfect it might be. My intention for this is that it may bless your days and be something that you can carry in your heart, sing at your leisure and share with your loved ones.

Namaste x x x

Morning sun, morning sun,
Come my way, come my way (x4)

Come my way, come my way, 
Take my pain, take my pain (x4)

Take my pain, take my pain,
Down below, down below (x4)

Down below, down below,
Cool water, down below (x4)

And at the end, a heartfelt, "Thank you sun!"

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

30 Before 30

I'm inspired to write this list mainly because of two influences: firstly, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, which I did a couple of years ago and which changed my relationship with creativity (both mine and others'); secondly, because of this blog, which I read earlier.

Having only recently begun blogging, I feel an urgency and an intensity of wanting to share everything, and now! For today, I've decided to keep it simple and have a go at articulating the dreams I carry in my heart, some of which I have probably never even heard whispering to me in my sleep! This is a voyage into the unknown for me as much as for anyone who reads this.

On Saturday, I will be celebrating 8 years clean and sober. Eight years ago, I was 18 years old and I'd hit rock bottom good and proper. My life had spiralled out of control, and I was left, skeletal and exhausted, at the most pivotal crossroads I've ever encountered. My choice then was life or death, fear or love. This choice is one which I continue to be presented with day in, day out, and I make a consistent and heartfelt effort to choose love on an ongoing basis.

Every year since getting clean, I have recorded my dreams around the time of my anniversary. When I started on the 12 step road which ultimately led me to A Course in Miracles, which today is the foundation of my spiritual practice, the solid ground on which I stand, I was told that I could and indeed would have a life beyond my wildest dreams, as long as I didn't pick up that first drink or drug. It is an important ritual for me to keep returning to my heart, to listen to what she has to say and to endeavour to live more fully from that place.

To date, I haven't used a drink or a drug for 2919 days (including leap years), and my life has transformed time and time again, becoming what it is today, which is something that I'm utterly in love with. Back then, I was a shell of a person, and I couldn't begin to comprehend the things I would see, experience, feel, heal and do in the days and years to follow. The list below is surely not an exhaustive one, and I'll probably look back aged 30 and not be particularly fussed about certain items on the list. Tonight however, these things feel important, relevant and exciting.

So, here it is, my list of 30 Things Before I'm 30 (ooh, what an opportunity to play!):

1. Return to Esalen, ideally for a month, and almost certainly with Nige. Esalen is a place that I will hold in my heart forever. It catalyzed huge change in me last year, and I met some of the most incredible people of my life out there, and was given the opportunity to be the most incredible person. I spent naked time at the Baths. I worked in Grounds, nourishing the land that holds a huge number of people every year, which for years held the Esalen Native American people, and which instantly became one of my favourite spots on earth the moment I arrived there.

Second time around, I would love to share this place and all it means to me with Nige, who is the love of my life. It was a time of intense separation for us when I was there last year, and a lot of things had to shift and change as a result of some of my behaviour whilst away. Second time around, I would love him to be intimately woven into my experience, and I wonder whether he would have an adventure there all of his own to go through.

2. Go touring with Nige on beautiful Condor bikes (or similar!). I love the land in England, but I feel so drawn to Italy, and would love to cycle through it, stopping at trattoria con alloggio (neighbourhood restaurants with rooms) along the way, drinking Italian coffee and eating proper Italian food, luxuriating in the language, my best friend by my side. I love this picture of Victorian cycling, but wouldn't actually want to do it like this!

Nige and I started cycling together only in September last year, and already we have seen and shared so much together. We've postponed our Lands End to John O'Groats trip (UK End to End) until we have suitable bikes. So, I suppose, as well as this goal, to cycle Italy, I also have these ones:

3. Nige and I to get proper touring bikes, like the Condor Frattello. It seems like a fairly tall order to both of us at the moment, although I did have a cunning idea the other day, which was for us to get married and ask for the bikes and all the necessary bits as wedding presents! We wouldn't need a Gift List if we got married, because we're both happy not having very much (although my recent penchant for clothes shopping is starting to worry me slightly). To have touring bikes that are designed and built to withstand the miles would be a dream come true for both of us. I believe it is totally possible for this to happen within the next 3 and a bit years.

4. To ride Lands End to John O'Groats with Nige. It's a goal which we set ourselves in October, and in February this year, we both realised, with the help of Dave Richards, that this wasn't going to be possible for May 2010. I for one am determined that we will see this come to pass, and that I will cycle the thousand miles from one end of the country to the other. To read more about this, see my other blog.

5. To have a proper holiday. Even Esalen and cycling are no substitute for a proper, two week long holiday. I'm not really a beach bum (all that sand!), but I confess that I do like a good few days lounging by a pool in the sun, with only the decision of which book to read or dish to sample weighing on my mind. When you do the WorkStudy program at Esalen, you work around 30 hours a week. Cycling is, needless to say, hard work, as stunning as it is too. What I'd like is a proper holiday, which at the moment seems very much out of my reach. So, yes, a holiday please.

6. Ride in a hot air balloon. I just think this looks so cool! I would love to do a sunrise/sunset ride, with Nige of course, and I would happily do this in my home county of Sussex.

7. To be able to bake. I have been thinking and talking about this for ages, and I've even signed up to Kate the Bake's blog for inspiration, but so far in my life, I don't recall ever baking a single cake. Perhaps we did cupcakes once when I was a kid, but I only remember eating the raw dough, and more often we did chocolate rice krispie cakes, which really aren't the same. Bake on!

8. To dance with either Gabrielle Roth or Jonathan Horan, her son. The 5rhyhtms have totally changed my life, my relationship with my body, and have helped me to become the dancer that always dwelt inside me but which I never properly set free. Gabrielle started the 5rhythms practice at Esalen (hence my going there - a pilgrimage of sorts), and it is a global practice now. My teachers, Chloe and Christian, are amazing people and wonderful dancers, and stagger me with their depth and humility and wisdom. A bigger dream of mine would be to become a 5rhythms teacher myself, but at the moment I don't really conceive of that as being possible by the time I'm 30. Some radical stuff would need to happen in my finances to make that possible! And secretly, a part of me thinks that I'm just not good/deserving enough to become a teacher of the rhythms. What an interesting observation. It feels more realistic for me to say that I'd like at least to dance with the founder of the practice by the time I'm 30.

9. Fuck it to self-doubt. I'd like to become a 5rhythms teacher by the time I'm 30. YEAH! That feels good. You should try it (saying fuck it to self-doubt, and, if you're that way inclined, 5rhythms too).

10. Have a go at my Paint Box idea. Hm. More on this another time I think.

11. See Marianne Williamson speak. She's amazing.

12. Spend some quality time with Grandma, Bob and Rachel. Grandma was very present for me when I was a child, and I miss her.

13. Teach the Sun Song to groups of people, possibly at a festival like Wild Heart or Buddhafields. I decided not to go to Burning Man last year, so this dream is still unfulfilled.

14. Be present in my sisters' and brothers' lives. I can't believe how quickly we've all grown up! I get the feeling that our lives are going to spiral off in a hundred different directions over the coming months and years, and I'd like to be close with them. They are beautiful and talented people and I'm so proud of each one of them - Rosie, Daisy, Bill, Edie, Josh. Love you guys.

15. Support on another Awakening workshop. After getting clean, this was one of the most transformative experiences of my entire life. Each one I attend reinforces my commitment to the work of healing, undoing and the decision to live in Love and not fear. The workshop and subsequently the work have impacted my heart, mind, body, soul and relationships in ways that will have repercussions for decades to come. It really is that impacting.

16. See Take That in concert again. Please God, let them play again before 2013, and let me be there!

17. Complete the lesons in A Course in Miracles - properly. I am trying to live my life from a different place, and the Course and its teachings are my starting point in the day and the touchstone I return to throughout the morning, afternoon and evening. I'd like to complete the lessons. I'd like to know God.

18. Forgive my mum. Dear God, you are in charge of this one. Rather than a dream, it's an intention. I know too that it's a somewhat intangible "goal", and one which I attain repeatedly. I guess this one is very personal and very much between me and God, and in the quietness of my heart, I know what I mean when I write these words. Innocent, lovely, Kim.

19. Do a Sweat Lodge. I've done two so far in my life, and they were both very profound, very deep spiritual experiences. The first one was in Canada in 2004, and the second was in 2009 in California. At this rate, I'm not due another one until 2013, which might be right on the cusp of my thirtieth!

20. Go to Port Patrick with Nige. It's an important place to him and I'd love to see it.

21. Take afternoon tea on a steam train. Woo-woo!

22. Get my teeth sorted. I never got the chance to see the orthodontist when all my peers were, for reasons unknown, but I'd like to get my teeth fixed because I am unhappy with my overbite and overcrowded mouth.

23. Have a cat or a dog. Or a bunny rabbit. I'm really not sure about kids, but I'd love a pet.

24. To have some of my writing published. I don't think a blog counts, because it's completely self-published. It's a sort of distant dream of mine, and not really one I invest a lot of time in, but I have always loved writing, and I would like to explore that area more.

25. To go on holiday with a friend or friends. It's something I haven't done for years, since Abbie and I went to Ibiza in 2004 in fact, and being in a relationship, Nige would always be the first person I'd think about going away with. I reckon though that Liz and I would have a great time on holiday together, and I'd love to live such an abundant life that holidays with both Nige and friends would be possible.

26. To read poetry aloud in front of a group of people. Actually, I've kind of already achieved this dream, reading one of my poems, "Permission", at an open mic night at Esalen last year. I'd like to do it again though!

27. Write and record a sketch show. I've got lots of silly ideas, and the thought of actually committing them to paper and then filming them is really scary for me, but something I think I'd get a huge confidence boost from.

28. Go to a country I've never been to before. I guess this ties in with number 5. I love seeing new and different cultures, and more and more I'm coming to appreciate the land.

29. Move into my own flat. I think I'll be ready by the time I'm 30 to be living in somewhere I can truly call home. I'm not quite as convinced about this one though.

30. Simply, to love. My intention for this life is to live it in love, joy and peace, rather than fear, attack and guilt. This morning, I've spent about an hour doing a clearing in order to return to a state of love and peace. I'm back here! It's where I want to live. None of the external stuff really matters, as long as I'm clear, accountable, and in my right mind. This isn't a quantifiable goal, but it's possibly the most important one I've written down.

So, what are your goals or dreams? What does your heart want to say?

A couple of great websites are 43 Things, and Future Me if you want a structure to work with.

Happy dwelling with your heart!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Take That

Ah, Take That. The boy band that is now a legitimate man band. I love them.

When I was 10 years old, in 1993, my family moved to a new house to accommodate the newest addition to the family, Daisy. My youngest sis is now a staggering 19 years old, working in a bar, going travelling soon and off to Oxford Uni in autumn! How flieth time...

Back to the story. We moved house, and my sister and I became friends with two sisters who lived on our new street, called Nicola and Emma. Emma was massively into Friends Forever, the cartoon teddybears, and she had all the merchandise - the bedspread, the border on the wall, toys, mugs, notebooks. You name it, she had it, probably hundreds of pounds worth of stuff. Her older sister Nicola, however, was into Take That, and it is to her that I owe a debt of gratitude! Initially, I think I started liking them because she did, and because I looked up to her (she was in the year above me at school, and that autumn, I would start at the same school as her, and she and a friend would be the first people ever to offer me a cigarette).

It was the summer of 1993 and "Pray" by Take That (or TT for short) was at number one for six weeks. I'm writing this all from memory, so if some facts are wrong, forgive me. There was, to me, something sublime about their voices, the way they harmonised. And then I saw the video: 5 young men, too old for me, but young enough to idolize, with shirts flapping in the tropical breeze, singing and posturing on a sandy beach about "hoping that I'll be a part of you again someday". (Embarrassingly, I thought that the lyric was "All I do is shine and pray", when in fact it is, "All I do each night is pray". Shine and pray?! Good God.) I think that I was hooked when I saw that video. I'd been going round to Nicola's house and had seen the dozens of posters on her walls and ceiling and wardrobe, and quite quickly began to emulate and imitate her fanaticism. Throughout the early years of my time as a TT fan, I looked up to Nicola a lot.

When she had concert tickets for the eighth row to see them at Earl's Court, I was so jealous - mum had managed to get me tickets but for Block DD (if only tickets corresponded to bra size! I'd have won either way: had they correlated to actual bra size, I would have been in the front row. Or, magically, if your ticket then correlated in some mysterious way to a flourishing bosom, I'd have ended up with huge ones! Sadly, this is just a whimsical fancy of mine and not connected to reality in any way. I'd like to point out that this is the first time I've ever actually had that thought before. I'm not that weird.)

Back to Nicola - she made a banner saying "I'm on sale Bargain Barlow" for Gary, who had said in an interview that he was always looking for a bargain. This was towards the end of TT Phase One, when Gary had gotten lean and toned, had a new haircut and was promptly replacing Mark as the favourite of the band among the screaming tribe of teenage girls. Robbie had left by this point, and this tour was the one which was so impacted by Robbie's swift departure that they didn't have the time or resources to remove the fifth walking travelator from the stage for "Never Forget", so at the most poignant part of the concert, his absence was made all the more tangible. Nicola came back from the concert and reported that Gary had seen her banner, had pointed at it and laughed with the lads. I wished it had been me he'd noticed. Oh, how I wished.

Anyway, back to 1993... Once I had made the decision that I too liked Take That, a double mission began to take hold. Firstly, I needed to acquire as much memorabilia and merchandise as possible. I bought every magazine that they featured in, including "100% Unofficial" magazines which dished out all the goss on the fab 5. I bought countless copies of Smash Hits magazine and spent fiver after fiver in Athena buying huge A1 sized posters of them. I covered my walls and ceiling from top to bottom in posters of them. I bought their two albums, "Take That & Party" and "Everything Changes", as well as the VHS videos accompanying the albums, with footage and music videos and interviews on them. I watched them obsessively, memorizing everything about them. I fantasized about meeting them.

One morning, on a Saturday I think, I went into my mum's bedroom to get some pocket money, and from her bed, eyes closed, she told me that she'd met Jason Orange the night before. I've never quite forgiven her for it. How dare she meet him when I was the one who loved them! Another part of me was relieved that it hadn't been Mark that she'd met, or Gary or Robbie. I'd DIE if she met any of them and didn't bring them home for me to meet.

The second part of my mission was keeping this intense obsession a secret from everyone at school. Take That were not a popular band at school, and to admit to liking them was equatable with throwing yourself to the lions (we've all heard the stories about the child in the zoo who gets eaten alive). So, for a time, nobody came round to my house, or if they did, absolutely did not set foot inside the door. Until one day. Stealing was becoming the next "in" thing to do, and I had been going through a horrible time at school, feeling excluded one minute, being used as a go-between the next. Suddenly, an opportunity arose for me to do something to make me popular, included, and liked. That it meant stealing things was scary, but an acceptable price to pay.

So off I went, with my luminous pink sports bag, stealing little trinkets and pens. A security guard in a popular high street store came up to me and asked to look in my bag. My heart pounded in my chest and my head felt like it was going to explode. I was guilty and had been caught! Fleeting images of prison, of a children's detention centre, of disapproval, flashed in my mind. He took a look in my bag, saw only the layer of clothes I'd put on top of the loot, and sent me on my way. Round the corner, I started crying, and the girl I was with, the bully/friend who I didn't know where I stood with from one day to the next, ordered me to stop, telling me that the security guard had followed us round the corner and was watching. I looked up, and there he was. We walked to the top of the high street, detouring and taking the long route back to my house. I begged my friend, who had a lot of power in my class, to take the things I'd stolen. I insisted that I didn't want them anymore. And she insisted on coming into my room. I was utterly powerless. I tried in vain to stop her from coming in, but I saw the look on her face when she entered and looked around, the silent glee that spread from ear to ear, lighting up her eyes in malice. She had a weapon now, and she knew it. The weapon was just as powerful as when I wet myself in the corridor and a girl in my class saw and used it as bait in games of Truth or Dare.

People, of course, did find out about my love for Take That. I felt utterly alone, but I never stopped liking them. Even Nicola, the girl from my street, stopped liking TT at one point and began liking East 17, writing on the wall of my house one day "Take That are rubbish. E17 4 ever!", or something along those lines. I chalked out her words, her horrible, blaspheming words. Nicola eventually left the dark side (because it was always one or the other, E17 or TT, never both) and became a TT fan again. She had to take two days off school when they broke up, she was that upset.

I myself was absolutely devastated when they split. Take That and their music held me through such a critical time in my life. My family had fallen apart. I'd made and subsequently lost friends. I'd changed schools, was going through puberty, and suffered a seemingly endless array of upsets and rejections. Their music was my retreat, my haven and my promise of sanctuary. Them ending was another shattering in my already fractured world. I felt like it was the end of any shred of happiness for me.

Fast forward a number of years, and I am spending a year living in Australia when I hear the news that Take That have reformed and are on tour. Gutted not to be there, not quite believing that this could be true, it surprised me but then receded to the back of my mind. My utter adoration of them I'd never be able to deny, but that was a long time ago.

I came back to England in October 2006, and the following year in December, I was at the O2 seeing them in concerts. Yes, I was stuck up in the heavens, miles away from the four men with microphones, and yes, I was with my sister, who appreciated the experience but certainly wasn't a fan, but boy oh boy, I wouldn't be anywhere else in the world. When they sang a lyric from their really old songs and asked the audience to sing the next line, I proudly wailed along, rather smug that I was one of the minority who seemed to know all the words. Their music had grown and matured, just as they had, just as I had. I began to listen to them again religiously. Their songs touched my heart, made it soar and sing, gave me hope. A year later, I went into work early with the sole purpose of getting tickets for their upcoming tour, "The Circus". I was absolutely ecstatic when I got through and bought two tickets for July 2009, a full seven months away, but who cared! I was going to see them in concert again! I can honestly say that that evening was one of the "Greatest Days" of my life.

Today, the strangest thing is happening. The love of my life, Nige, actually listens to and likes Take That's music! Not all of it, of course. But he is listening to it non stop in the car, singing it, and reaching out to me about it. Having a ticket on my vision board seems to have worked a certain kind of magic in my life, and it's beyond my wildest dreams for myself that my partner actually enjoys the music that has touched the most intimate part of my heart.

Take That phase one held me through a really delicate time in my life. Their split mirrored a huge amount of brokenness in my life at the time. Coincidentally, their reformation, and the accompanying growth in them as a band and their music, parallels my own growth into being authentically me, into living a creative, loving and mature life. After Take That split, I lost control, and I'm so grateful that today, with them reformed, I too am whole again, living an incredibly beautiful life. My decision to not be ashamed of liking them is symptomatic of how much more accepting of myself I am. I used to have to hide the fact I was a fan, because it left me open to ridicule and aged 11, I was incapable of saying, "so what? This is who I am, and it's none of my business what you think, and it's none of your business who I like. Accept me, or don't. Either way, I know I am okay". Today, I do not hide who I am. I am a lovely person. And yes, I like a band who many over the years have slated and mocked, who are, some say, very uncool. And I love them anyway, and I think they're great, and I know that I have nothing to hide anymore.

So, come on come on come on come on, Take That, and party!