Lunar eclipse conjunct Mars: Curtain call

One of the benefits of writing a blog is being able to go back and look at what you’ve written. I have been trying to put the New Year’s Eve lunar eclipse, which was conjunct my Mars, into words and I forgot that one of the eclipses in the summer of 2009 was also a few degrees away opposite my Mars. I wrote then that it felt like a lot of little lights were going out in my life.* This time around, with all the other stuff going on (Mercury and Mars retrogrades and so on), it doesn’t feel so much like lights going out, more like curtains being drawn. And the set for the next scene isn’t up yet.

The winter travel chaos in the UK have seen me hiding out at home for the past week since I got back from being away most of December. I spent New Year’s Eve alone at home (already spent Christmas with the family) — what better way to herald a Cancer eclipse? In fact, I slept through the countdown. And then as the first week of 2010 wore on, I realised that I was sleeping … and sleeping … and when I wasn’t eating or washing … I was sleeping.

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Relocation charts

I’d always been vaguely aware of astrocartography but never thought about it much even though I now live something like 6,000 miles away from where I was born, until Neith suggested I should do a relocation chart for myself. The results were fascinating.

A relocation chart basically casts your natal chart for the place of your choice. It could be somewhere you’re at right now, or hope to be in the future. While your natal chart is still your ‘main’ chart, the main map of your psyche, the relocated chart can bring up some themes that may arise for you when you move to a different location. Because the chart is cast for the time and date you’re born, the planetary configurations remain exactly the same in aspect as your natal chart. However, the change of location may alter the axes, that is, the house positions. The further you move from your place of birth, the more radical the shift in axes. But even a relatively small change in location may shift your house axes a few degrees, and that is sometimes enough to shift planets into different houses, or angles into different signs.

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Birds chirp, people snore

I was on a week long road trip recently and shared a room with two travelling companions, both of whom could easily snore the whole of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries in a night. When we travelled together several years ago, I would sulk, stay up half the night and make a big deal about getting ear plugs the next day.

This time, the new, meditative me decided, ‘Right, here’s a chance to practise’. They snore because they snore, not because they want to keep me awake, and getting mad at them doesn’t help at all. I decided to try what we’re taught to do in meditation with a stray thought, just notice it and go ‘thinking’, or ‘here’s a thought’, and let it pass like clouds across the sky. So each time I was woken up by the snoring, I made a mental note ‘snoring’, and went back to sleep. I didn’t attach the old narratives to the sound — ‘damn, there they go again’, ‘I can’t get to sleep’, ‘how will I wake up on time tomorrow’, ‘I’ve got to be driving for 5 hours’, etc. And wouldn’t you know it, it worked.

I slept like a baby, and was told — you guessed it — I snore too.

Last night in Africa

I have been a week in Cape Town, South Africa and am due to return to Europe tomorrow. This trip has been life-changing in many ways although my initial purpose was as a conference participant and tourist. A week may not be long enough to get a sense of a place, but I’ve experienced enough contrasts to appreciate its diversity.

I don’t know enough about the apartheid era to know whether the sense of openness with which I was greeted somehow emerged from a past that has known the pain of man’s judgement against man. I have never felt so welcome, not even in my home country. Where I come from, the urge to conform into the bland middleground is such that it doesn’t take much to stick out. Where I now live and work, my foreignness singles me out from a distance. While I do not face any hostilty, I am not immune to the glass shutter that comes down across the eyes of even those who are friendly, when I’m at the supermarket checkout, at a pub or even walking down the street — the shutter that widens the chasm between politeness and welcome.

In South Africa, it was different. I am not of the place, but I felt like I had been there forever. I had arranged for a visit to a black township this afternoon, and was initially apprehensive about being the gawking tourist. What I encountered were people actually asking for their pictures to be taken. The third man from the right in the picture above said, ‘Tell people who you met here.’ To me, it was an honest request for recognition and acknowledgement from another, something no amount of police raids and identity passes could have ever granted.

The children, as ever, were the most endearing, not begging for treats or money, as the stereotypes have painted, but wanting simply to become part of a foreigner’s travel memories. Those memories may include the spectacular scenery of the Cape winelands, the majesty of Table Mountain, and the elegant oak-lined streets of the university town of Stellenbosch, but those are pictures you can get on postcards. With these pictures, I honour the request of the children of Kayamandi (‘Pleasant Town’). I met them and they met me.


A friend of mind recently introduced me to bookcrossing, and I have to admit, I’m fascinated.

Books + travel + randomness = serendipity

I love it.

I’m off to South Africa for a conference in July and I’m already thinking of seeking the books ‘set in the wild’ in Cape Town. Might release a few of my own too.

Have wheels, will travel

When the transport company withdrew the only bus service from my place to work in this rural town where the buses only run once every hour anyway, I bit the bullet and bought an old banger for cheap. Not the most environmentally friendly option, I know, but being financially-challenged, I had little choice. It’s a nifty little thing and has got me thinking about all sorts of possibilities, now that I am freed from the constraints of the hourly timetable.

The open road beckons.

(And no, it’s not a 4×4).

Travellers and Magicians

I’m back from being three weeks away. Travel is a funny thing, primarily because it messes with your sense of space and time. No wonder the invention of the steam engine during the Industrial Revolution changed notions of ‘a here, a there and elsewhere’ (Trinh T. Minh-ha, Travelers’ Tales) so radically.

The notion of travel, that is, actually packing up your bags and going somewhere, as opposed to commuting to work, say, entails a mild sense of uprooting, even if it were for a few days. What fascinates me is the condition of being ‘on the road’, the sense of being ‘en route’ somewhere. Travel agencies sell destinations, rarely the journeys themselves. What could they say? ‘Your very own cramped seat on a mind-numbingly long flight. Only £399!’ Not likely. They sell you the destination so that you won’t mind the tedium of getting there. TV travellers like Michael Palin make journeys seem exciting, adventurous, even fun, with the benefit of planning crews, film budgets and editing machines.

I am often impatient to get where I want, and get frustrated when trains are delayed, or resentful when connections are missed, so on this trip, I tried being aware at various stages of the state of being en route, in flight, on the way. At different points (usually when I remembered), I decided to try and experience actually being on the way, rather than trying to speed through it to some point in the future. So I began to notice mundane details like the pattern on the upholstery, the whirr of the engine and the cramp in my buttock. Occasionally (again when I remembered), I tried being aware of my breath. It wasn’t long before I started noticing the pleasures of travelling in spring — the daffodils by the roadside, the brighter days, the general feeling of going somewhere.

Returning home, however, entails a different kind of adjustment. A winding down and up again. A winding down from the travel buzz and a winding up again to the old rhythms of deadlines, appointments, even household chores, that my body seems to have forgotten. Maybe this awkward gear-shifting is what made Elizabeth Bishop wonder if it might have been easier to have stayed put in the first place.

From Questions of Travel
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

“Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?”

But no, that question could never even have been asked if one had never left at all.

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