Ghosts not Scars

Born Whole

halloween-2888097_640It’s that time of year again when shops and households are getting ready for a night of spooky fun; I’m talking about Halloween of course. My daughters are looking forward to going trick-or-treating with their friends next week and who am I to be a spoilsport?

While they’re excited I am feeling a little uncomfortable about the prospect of wandering the neighbourhood amongst scores of people in fancy dress costume. I used to think this was because I didn’t grow up with the Halloween tradition; back in the 70s and 80s Halloween hadn’t yet reached Sweden and by the time it had caught on I’d left the country.

But there’s one thing not to be that interested in Halloween, another to feel actively uncomfortable with it.  It’s not the ghosts that scare me, nor the zombies; it’s the use of facial disfigurement to represent horror that I take issue with.

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Confessions of a Tech Junkie

Born and raised in Stockholm, and having lived all my life in urban areas, including New York and London, I always identified as a city girl. Easy access to grocery shops, book shops, restaurants and cafés is essential to me, as is public transport.

That said, I can’t do without my annual three-week stay in the Swedish countryside where I have spent almost every summer since I was little. It’s a much-needed respite from the stresses of city life, and even my London-bred children love it.

While I appreciate nature, I am not a particularly outdoorsy person, and I detest the idea of going camping. The only time I slept in a tent was on a camping trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas with the geology club of my alma mater. That was more than twenty-five years ago, and though I generally have fond memories of that trip, I am in no rush to sleep in another tent. I don’t much like picknicks in the open either, and I prefer to have my meals indoors even in the summer.

On top of my metropolitan lifestyle, I am also tech-junkie, always tempted by the latest iPhone, iPad, and wireless headphones. Even my hearing aids are state-of-the-art tech, although so far, I’ve managed to resist the temptation to invest in a  pair of hearing aids that can stream music and take calls from my iPhone.

Although there are lots of benefits to be had from all the connections made available through technology, there’s a drawback. For our increasing dependency on technology risks disconnecting us from our self, the essence of who we are as human beings.

For much of my life, I took urban life for granted and believed it was the only life I was suited to. But over the past few years, something within me began to shift.

No, I am not about to abandon London for a life in the English countryside any time soon, but after years of feeling a nagging sense of loss, of something missing, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I finally discovered what it was: connection with nature.

In my case, that connection manifested itself through trees. I discovered the healing, grounding effect that being around trees has on me and how they help me get out of my head and into my heart.

Breathing in the fresh oxygen produced by trees is in itself healing and restorative, and the different shades of green, orange and red foliage have a gentle, soothing effect on me. The trunk, which connects the leafy crown with its roots, reminds me to stay grounded.


If it weren’t for a wise and fabulously intuitive lady called Alice, I might not have discovered the healing nature of trees. The first time we met, she gazed at me for a while in silence and then said,

‘There’s something about you and trees. Go out and be with trees.’

I followed her advice and soon discovered that trees are not just beautiful to look at; they help me connect with my deep, authentic self.

Spending time in nature and being close to trees, I felt whole, and it reminded me of a deeper truth; as human beings we are part of nature, something which is easy to forget in our high-tech world.





Tell the Truth

Last spring my 9-year old daughter was the only pupil from her school to take to the streets alongside other school children across the country to protest the government’s lack of climate action. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, no less, and driven by a genuine fear for her future, she made a placard and marched through London, accompanied by my husband and me.

As proud as I am of her engagement, it also pains me that my child fears for her future and that of our beautiful planet. As her mother, I’d love to be able to alleviate her fears and assure her that all will be well and that she needn’t worry, but that would be disingenuous. For the science is unequivocally clear: we are heading towards a worldwide climate catastrophe unless we make drastic changes to how we live; what we do, eat, buy, etc. As inconvenient and uncomfortable as it is, Extinction Rebellion is right when they say time is running out. In Britain, the government has only paid lip service to the climate crisis, and their 2050 net-zero carbon target is too little – and a generation too late.

This week saw the beginning of a two-week-long manifestation by Extinction Rebellion across the world, and since Monday, Trafalgar Square and part of Whitehall have been occupied by Extinction Rebellion, a peaceful protest supported by many and criticised by others who complain that the manifestation shuts down traffic and causes a host of inconveniences for those who want to go about their lives as usual.

IMG_1001And, of course, it’s inconvenient when streets are shut down, and you can’t get to your meeting on time, but as the rebels point out, it’s not nearly as inconvenient as a dead planet. Man-made climate change is no longer a fringe opinion but a fact, so why is it that so many of us still resist the message coming from Extinction Rebellion? Why do so many us still feel compelled to rationalise and defend our own considerable carbon footprints?

I know I have tried to justify my own carbon footprint as necessary in order to live a decent life, but in my heart, I know that’s not true. It’s the easy way out; it’s the argument that says that as long as others are flying, it makes no difference whether I fly or not; as long as cows are farmed across the world, there’s no point in me giving up meat, etc.

The more I educate myself about climate change, however, the harder it becomes for me to continue life as usual. As recently as this summer I was convinced that I’d never be able to give up eating meat, but knowing just how devastating meat production is for climate change, how can I keep eating my burgers and steaks in good conscience? Well, the truth is, I can’t.

Saving the earth, and ourselves requires so much more than giving up plastic and going vegan. It demands wholesale system change from top to bottom, it requires us to reassess the way we live, and calls upon individuals as well as businesses and governments across the Western world, in particular, to change what we produce and consume, because our current way of life is simply not sustainable. I’d like to think such change is possible, but I’m not hopeful. I fear that by the time real change happens, it will be too late.img_1015.jpeg

Part of the problem, I believe, is technology. There is no denying that technology has enabled worldwide connections on an unprecedented scale, which is fabulous in many ways, but our ever-increasing reliance on technology has paradoxically left us more disconnected than ever. Disconnected from nature, from community, and from ourselves. We seem to have forgotten that we too are an intrinsic part of nature and that what we do to nature we do to ourselves. Our man-made dependency on technology also means that it is in technology, we seek the solutions to climate change, when the reality is that nature itself holds much of the solution. Geoengineering is not the answer to our problems; reforestation and rewilding are.

As much as it sounds like a cliché, trees are the lungs of the world. Not just trees, but marshes, peats and wetlands all serve as natural carbon captures, yet we continue to rob nature of these precious resources in the name of development and economic growth. Without system change, a complete rethinking of what development means, and a rejection of the current economic system, we will not be able to stop climate change. Yes, it’s inconvenient. But the truth often is.


Crow’s Feet

I’ve never been the cuddly type, and I thoroughly dislike kissing on the cheek. Air kissing is even worse. What’s wrong with shaking hands or just nodding hello to someone who isn’t your closest family member?

The only time I don’t mind greeting people with kisses is when I meet my extended Swiss family. That’s because I’m busy remembering that in Switzerland you don’t just kiss twice on the cheek but three times. If you forget, it becomes very awkward when you’re pulling away at the same time as the other person is moving in for the third kiss.

My mother has her theory about my aversion to forced intimacy, which she shares with every psychologist I’ve ever met: all those times I was in hospital as a child, being prodded by doctors and nurses without regard for my personal space.

Or, perhaps, it’s just that I’m a cold-hearted Scandinavian who doesn’t like other people to get too close to me?

Either way, fate has ordained that I should find myself sharing a home with three warm-blooded, cuddly-loving, space-invading people: my husband and daughters.

Don’t get me wrong, of course, I love to hug my children (and husband, occasionally) and now that my eldest is thirteen years old and asks me to leave her room before I’ve even crossed the threshold, I have to be grateful for the occasional embrace. Her sister, on the other hand, loves to cuddle, and I must admit, she is by far the best hugger I’ve ever met. She’s warm and soft and has hands that can melt the coldest heart.

At night, when I tuck her in, she wants me to lie next to her for a little while, hugging and chatting about the day just gone. Last week, we were enjoying one of those moments when she stopped mid-sentence and fixed her eyes on me.

“Mummy, you look terrible,” she said. “You’ve got loads of wrinkles around your eyes. You’re getting old.”

That’s not quite what you’d like to hear from your nine-year-old daughter, or from anyone else for that matter. I’m 47, hardly ancient.

But just in case, I’ve since been slathering on an extra layer of eye cream morning and night.shutterstock_1306218478

I don’t mind growing older; truly, I don’t. I have a few strands of grey hair, my crow’s feet are getting deeper, and my waistline is not what it used to be, but none of it bothers me enough to do something about it. I have a gym membership that I haven’t used for years but which I still keep paying for because you never know, one day I might go there. And I can’t be bothered putting on make-up on a regular school day. I’d rather have those extra minutes of sleep in the morning.

The only times I make a real effort to dress smartly and paint my face is when I have a party to attend or when I go for my annual gynaecological exam.

If you saw my gynaecologist, you’d understand. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and only a few years older than me. We have kids around the same age, but whereas I look like the tired and irritable middle-aged mother I am, she’s smoking hot.

“Ovaries look good, and I can’t see any sign of menopause yet,” she declares in her soft Irish lilt, and I leave her office on a cloud of relief and a feeling of having been granted a second chance at life.

Age is only a number, some people say, but that’s not true. Age is something that affects your body, whether you like it or not. I’ve noticed this year, for example, a growing number of age-related complaints. This summer, I discovered I have tinnitus, which my doctor put down to advancing age; and the harmless waterfilled cysts in my breasts are very common in middle-aged women. And I have to get up to pee in the middle of the night.

It’s downhill from here, and the sooner I accept it, the sooner I can get on with the stuff that matters.

So, if listening to my daughter pointing out my physical flaws is the price I have to pay for a cuddle, it’s a price worth paying.