Katherine Gregor

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Katherine Gregor (a.k.a. Scribe Doll) is a literary translator and scribbler who has also been an EFL teacher, theatrical agent, press agent, theatre director, complementary medicine practitioner, and one or two other things. Perhaps that's why the literary characters she relates to most are Arlecchino, Truffaldino, Gianni Schicchi and Scapin, and feels empathy with crows, squirrels and cats. She lives in Norwich, Norfolk. (Photo courtesy of Rosie Goldsmith @GoldRosie )

A New Focus for the New Year?

I am just wondering if a shift of focus might help.

Practice makes perfect, so the more you repeat an action or even a thought, the more likely is that action or thought to become consolidated.  After all, wherever we direct our attention, there our physical and mental resources flow.  Everybody knows that.

Or do we?

It occurs to me that we spend a lot of our time and energy fighting against things we don't want.  Perhaps more than necessary.  Perhaps more than building, nurturing, creating the things we want. So much of our focus and energy goes on being anti what we hate or dread that I question how much energy we have left on focusing on being pro what we actually want.  Do we have sufficient time and energy to focus on both with equal effectiveness? It's a question that has been buzzing in my head for some time now.  Speaking for myself, I certainly do not.

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I get the impression there are more marches and demonstrations against unwanted situations and wrongdoings than in favour of desired or just ones.  Of course, when something blatantly wrong happens, I feel that peacefully voicing your disagreement or sense of outrage is the right thing to do.  But once this opinion is expressed, shouldn't the next step be to focus all our strength on building what we actually want?

When I was a small child, my mother had a UNICEF desk calendar with a quotation for every month.  One stuck in my mind, even though at the time I couldn't understand what it meant.  "Problems, like babies, grow bigger with nursing." I cannot remember who said it and only several decades later do I understand more fully the meaning and wisdom of this sentence.

It seems Mother Teresa once said, "I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me."  Nobody could possibly doubt Mother Teresa's commitment to world peace.  I can only suppose that the reason she refused to attend anti-war rallies was because she disagreed with the focus – however kindly and justly intended – of these rallies. The focus of any anti-something act is one of opposition.  Like pushing against something.  Could it just be possible – and that's just an idea – that by pushing hard against it we unintentionally end up supporting it? Feeding it? Strengthening it by giving it so much of our attention that we somehow consolidate it even further?

Surely, for focus to be unwavering, then we need to choose very carefully – no, we cannot be both in equal strength – whether we want to fight what we don't want or build what we want. 

As a year of much darkness, ignorance, stupidity and senseless waste draws to a close, I am hoping for a 2018 with the following:

Replacing anti-Brexit stands with pro-Europe commitment.

Replacing every retweet of a bully or genuinely incompetent politician with a tweet about a wise, kind or simply happily comical individual.  Plants that aren't watered wither.  Let's stop fuelling destructive individuals with too much attention.  Instead, let's lavish our attention on those we want to play more prominent roles in our society.

TV and Radio stations where 50% of news headlines broadcast good, encouraging items.  Yes, there are some, if news editors are willing to look.

Rather than anti-sexual harassment protests, pro-respect and gender equality rallies.

This list could go on and on and on...

One step at a time, we can shift our focus, and, consequently, change things for the better.

Together, we can do it.

So let's.

I wish you all a very happy, healthy, wealthy, fulfilling New Year.

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Worth a try! Happy new year to you!
Monday, 01 January 2018 01:32
Katherine Gregor
They do say in Qigong and Tai Chi that by pushing against your opponent you only lose strength and make him/her push harder agains... Read More
Monday, 01 January 2018 15:21
Rosy Cole
Thank you, Katia, and much reciprocation :-) Couldn't agree more with your sentiments. As someone we both know (not a member of t... Read More
Tuesday, 02 January 2018 13:36
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4 Comments

Qi Gong

It's the same every morning.  I negotiate my way out of bed and, eventually, brave the steep Munchkin stairs and stagger into the kitchen.  I put the kettle on, wait for the first crackling sound and switch it off.  I pour the water into a mug and go back upstairs, sipping it.  It's pleasantly just short of hot, cleansing, comforting.  I open the curtains in my scriptorium.  The sky is still dark.  For a moment, like every morning, I am tempted to skip the next stage of my morning routine.  That lazy, sneakily undermining voice that says, "What's the rush? You can always do it tomorrow."

No.

Today.

Now.

Just for ten minutes.

I start deliberately shaking on the spot, sending the movements from my feet through my body and all the way up to my head.  I direct little jolts to every inch of my skin, every organ, every muscle, every vertebra, waking every nook and cranny.  I imagine I am one of those blankets Roman housewives would shake from their windows every morning, when I was a child getting ready for school. They would flap them vigorously.  To banish the dust, evict mites, fill the fabric with fresh air, toss out memories of bad dreams, liven the wool with sunshine.

I quake from toe to top, like a rag doll, loosening every joint, becoming aware of parts of my body I didn't even know existed.  I banish stale air from the hidden recesses of my lungs, evict dark thoughts, fill my cells with imaginary rainbows, toss out all physical and emotional gunk and liven my muscles with a dose of resounding universal YES.

After a few minutes, once I have given every part of my body a good shake, I stop.  It feels wonderful, like being reset, with every nerve tingling and feeling alive.

Then I stand.  Knees soft, head floating into the sky, feet plunging firmly into the earth.  As the tingling subsides, I focus on my breath.  Regular, deep, inhaling from my belly, imagining sunlight filling my lungs.  Trying to think of nothing else.

Ah, I must remember to buy some cheese later –

Breathe.

I forgot to e-mail my friend, yesterday –

I gently bring my mind back to my breath.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Slowly.

If I can finish work by three, I could –

Never mind that for now.  Just breathe.  Slowly.  Regularly.  Let the belly expand, the lungs fill in full, then let the air out, no rush, sense the warmth spread through my body, grow in strength.  I suddenly feel taller.  Towering over the house.

At least ten minutes have gone by without my noticing.  This time, as the breath rises, it carries up my arms.  Effortlessly.  Naturally.  And so I begin the sequence of movements that constitutes the form of Qi Gong I am practising today.

Dragon and Tiger meet.

I'd tried different kinds of yoga over the years – many of my friends swear by its benefits – but it had never agreed with me.  For some reason, it made me feel ungrounded.  I also did pilates for a few months, but it felt like too much effort.  Then I discovered Qi Gong and it's 70% rule of practice.  Always give it your 70%.  No more.  The interesting result is that I end up achieving far more than when I set out to give it my 100%.

Dragon looks to the horizon.

When I first started Qi Gong, I was suffering from yet another episode of adrenal exhaustion, or Yin deficiency, as my Chinese doctor elegantly puts it.  In other terms, your garden variety of burnout, with all its classic symptoms that make life seem unmanageable.  When you wake up every morning, and your heart sinks at the prospect of the day to come as though you have to climb Mont Blanc in summer clothes.  When I enthusiastically asked my teacher how long I should practise every day, he replied, "Five minutes."

I frowned.  Didn't he understand I intended to take Qi Gong seriously?

"Five minutes.  No more," he reiterated.

Tiger crouches.

He was right, of course.  By setting out to do a five-minute practise session at home, I would inevitably end up practising for twenty minutes, then half an hour, and now nearly an hour every morning.  Of course, if, when I wake up, I were to tell myself that I would spend an hour doing Qi Gong, I would simply never start.  So, every morning, as soon as the nagging little voice of laziness and procrastination whispers, "Why don't you leave it till tomorrow?" I cheat it by replying, "I'll only practise for ten minutes. No more."

Three months after I first started Qi Gong, my health was better than it had been for years.  When people asked "How are you?" I could actually reply, in all honesty, "Very well, thank you."

Tiger separates her cubs.

I find that practising Qi Gong has also helped sharpen my focus in other parts of my life, such as work.  Also, the slowness of it is not only very grounding, but also surprisingly empowering.  After a few minutes of practice, I feel like a willow, soft but sturdy, swaying in the strong wind but not breaking.

Tiger pounces.

Most people I mention Qi Gong to don't know what it is, so I explain that it's the mother of Tai Chi.  Many react by saying they couldn't cope with practising such a slow-moving exercise.  I try to tell them that it's that very slowness that makes you feel so in harmony with life, that's so empowering.  The trick is not to build a boat solid enough to withstand a powerful wind without capsizing – it's to weave a sail of silk that can gather the wind in its embrace, so the boat glides faster and more effortlessly.  But, of course, different disciplines are suitable for different people.

Dragon and Tiger pierce heaven and earth.

Outside the scriptorium window, it's now light.  My body feels like a friend, an ally, and I am looking forward to starting my day.

Dragon soars to heaven and brings back the pearl.

And, let's face it, with movements that have such beautiful, poetic names, I'd certainly rather practise Qi Gong than do "press-ups", "push-ups", "weight-lifting" or going on a "treadmill".  But that's just my own, personal choice.

Scribe Doll  

For further information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qigong

http://www.norwichqigong.co.uk

Recent Comments
Ken Hartke
Thanks for the inspiration. I'm a "lapsed" Tai Chi person and I need to get back into it. Discipline is lacking. It always cleare... Read More
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 17:09
Rosy Cole
An invigorating post in itself :-) I so sympathise with your episodes of adrenal exhaustion which can be quite a handicap and are... Read More
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 19:58
Stephen Evans
I think this would make an excellent short film!
Sunday, 17 December 2017 14:46
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3 Comments

Yellow

I need yellow in my life. 

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Its unadulterated joy.  Its sunshine.  For me, joy is most definitely yellow.  Not lemony, with a green undertone.  Not a darker shade with a injection of mustard.  Not the distinguished, pale, almost ivory variety.  But brilliant, sunny, golden and unashamedly direct.  Like a smile.  Not a glamorous, camera-friendly smile but a grin that takes over every muscle in a face, and doesn't give a damn about how the light falls on it, totally un-self-conscious, unbridled, full of teeth, wrinkles and dimples.  Like the glowing petals of sun-worshipping sunflowers in a Tuscan field.  Like the spring-heralding daffodils on a Cambridge College lawn.  

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 I have cut out the word JOY from sunflower-yellow card, and pinned it to the board above my desk.  Yesterday, I bought myself a bunch of yellow roses, and trimmed the stems at different lengths before arranging them in a cobalt blue, earthenware pitcher.  They catch my attention as soon as I come into my Scriptorium, ten buds looking in every direction, one of them brushing against the corner of my laptop screen.  My eyes yearn for yellow.  My lungs long for a deep breath of yellow.  My skin craves sunlight.  Over the past few months, I have been crocheting small, deep yellow lozenges.  One or two at a time, while watching television or listening to the radio.  When I have finished the ball of yellow wool, I'll buy another one, burnt sienna perhaps, or forest green.  Perhaps by January, I will have enough lozenges to make a Harlequin scarf to brighten up the grey English winter days.  But whatever colours I choose, they will have to make a good team with the first, the original deep yellow, the burst of sunshine.

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I find brown grounding and comforting.  Green makes me feel elegant.  Red is for when I'm not afraid to be noticed.  Grey is for slouching over my translations.  Blue is for calm, orange for inspiration.  And yellow is for rejuvenation, regeneration, for courage, for success.  For happiness like a cloudless, sunny sky.  For warmth, for strength, for courage.  

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For the unstoppable joy of the sun.

Scribe Doll

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A Piece of Italy – I Mean Naples – in Notting Hill

Pasquale places cutlery next to my sfogliatella.  Pointedly.  "You Northerners probably eat it with a knife and fork," he says, deadpan, and strolls to look out of the front door, his hands behind his back.

He says Northerner to me, Roman-born.  Slap-bang in the middle of the boot-shaped peninsula. "And how do you, Southerners, eat it?" I shout back. 

He turns around, takes one hand out from behind his back, clumps his fingers together and lifts them up to his face.  "Like this," he replies.

I put down my fork and pick up my paper napkin.  I raise the sfogliatella and bite into it.  Pointedly.

The exchange takes place in Italian and, seeing that those at my table who've been following it are now laughing heartily, Pasquale's moustache stretches into a mischievous smile.  Unable to guffaw with a mouthful of crisp pastry and ricotta, I can't, however, suppress a snort which sends a small cloud of icing sugar all over my chin.  

I always ask for a sfogliatella when I have lunch or dinner at Da Maria's – it's the best I've tasted in London.  Just as I always expect to have at least two or even three hearty laughs with the owner, Pasquale.  

"I'll give you Northerner," I say, once I've swallowed the delicious Neapolitan speciality.

At that moment, a middle-aged man opens the glass door, briefly letting in the traffic sounds of Notting Hill Gate.  "Here comes another foreigner," Pasquale mutters.

They greet each other like friends, talk about football, then say goodbye with a hug.

"So where's the foreigner from then?" I ask.

"Ischia," he replies.

By now, my husband and my friends can barely breathe from laughing.

"Ischia! But that's what – thirty kilometres from where you're from?" I say, hamming up my Roman accent.

"Of course," Pasquale replies, now unable to suppress his smile.  "That's far enough from Naples."

Of course.  How stupid of me.  

It occurs to me that when I meet fellow-Brits abroad, I never ask them exactly which part of the country they're from.  Or when I meet French people. Whenever I come across Italians, however, the innate campanilismo of that part of me that is Italian through nurture awakens.  Of course, when I encounter a fellow-Roman, the next question is invariably, "Which part? – Oh, I'm from the Tomba di Nerone area." 

The jokes between Norfolk and Suffolk inhabitants are nothing compared to the precisely localised civic pride of Italians.

In this instance, however, the campanilismo expressed by Pasquale and me is pure show, actively aimed at the gallery, who get the joke and giggle.

Da Maria is therefore not a piece of Italy in the heart in Notting Hill Gate, but of Naples.  There's a Napoli Football Club scarf and memorabilia on the wall and a large TV screen for when supporters gather to watch a match.  There's a figure of Pulcinella.  There's a mural with a Naples street scene, complete with a line of washing waving in the wind, a Saint Gennaro, little boys playing football or eating the most famous local dish, pizza, Mount Vesuvius across the bright blue bay, and, overlooking the street from the balcony, two celebrated Neapolitans: Sophia Loren and Totò.  

I've lost count of the number of years I've been frequenting this tiny café-restaurant, tucked in right beside the Gate Cinema, with tables covered in checkered tablecloths.  It must be nearly twenty years – since my friend L. introduced me to it – and she had been going there pretty much since they'd first opened, in 1980.  When I lived in London, L. and I used to have breakfast there most Saturdays, after a quick shop at the Farmers' Market behind Waterstone's, and before doing the rounds of the charity shops in search of either books or quirky, unique clothes.  We had dinner and a celebratory glass of red wine when Pasquale finally obtained an alcohol licence.  

When H. and I moved in together, I introduced him to Da MariaHe decreed the pasta and pesto to be the best.  My staple is no longer on the menu, but as soon as he sees me arrive, Pasquale asks, "Pasta al tonno, right? With or without peperoncino, this time?" A few minutes later, my favourite dish is served.

The food is delicious and very reasonably-priced, but it's the warm family atmosphere and the sense of humour-on-tap of the place that attracts a following among both Italians and Londoners, although I have also heard Polish, Arabic, French and Spanish spoken at the neighbouring tables.  Some locals lunch there every day.  If someone is absent for a while, Pasquale worries, asks around if they're all right.  Enquires after them if they're ill.    If they've had a professional success, he shares the news with other regulars.  "You know so-and-so who comes here at lunchtime, sometimes? He's just published a book" or "She's just graduated", etc.

Now that we live in Norwich, whenever we're in London for any length of time, H. and I go for a meal at Da Maria.  Pasquale greets us like the proverbial prodigals. If his wife is in the kitchen, she comes out and shakes hands.  If his son happens to be around, we want to hear how his studies are going, and ask about his plans.  

After dinner, it's often a limoncello for H. and a grappa for me.  

And, at the end of a long day in a city that's fast becoming a shrine to corporations and chains, a feeling of human warmth, of international bonding, for us both.

*   *   *

Da Maria is now under threat of closure.  All that because of a planned expansion of the Gate Cinema's foyer.  In an area that used to be one of London's quirkiest, where so many independent businesses have been eradicated by the faceless chains, Da Maria is one of the few remaining jewels.  Interestingly, it's located in one of the capital's wealthiest boroughs, Kensington & Chelsea – they of Grenfell Tower fame.  Below is a link to an  article from The Observer and a couple of clips from YouTube.  There is also a petition.  Please sign it if you have been to Da Maria, if you would like to go, or if you simply support independent businesses that are one of a kind.

Scribe Doll

Da Maria Website

Article in The Observer

YouTube Clips

What Happens When Napoli is Playing...

The Petition

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Sfogliatella sounds delicious. I hope Da Maria is rescued.
Monday, 09 October 2017 01:59
Ken Hartke
Good luck to Da Maria. This reminds me of some friends here. Although I don't have a speck of Italian DNA, I'm a member of the Clu... Read More
Monday, 09 October 2017 16:26
Katherine Gregor
Sounds like a truly fun bunch, Ken. I can just imagine the atmosphere of warm bantering. Thank you for sharing.
Tuesday, 10 October 2017 09:07
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3 Comments

Latest Comments

Stephen Evans Going to the Dickens
14 January 2018
Thank you! That sounds just my style
Katherine Gregor Going to the Dickens
14 January 2018
I haven't yet been able to read a Dickens novel in ful (shame on me).May I recommend a wonderful New...
Katherine Gregor Four Wishes
14 January 2018
Amen to this.
Stephen Evans Four Wishes
11 January 2018
Devoutly to be wished.
Stephen Evans Going to the Dickens
05 January 2018
Thank you! Ken has reminded me that I read A Tale of Two Cities in school. I am moving on to Carson ...

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