The Tree That Changed My Life

The Tree That Changed My Life
By Jan Ambrose

Inspirational bitch Jan Ambrose went to the south of France and shed her corporate skin and a whole lot of tears . . .

Leaning against a tree in the south of France sobbing my heart out wasn’t quite what I’d expected when I signed up for a retreat after 26 years of working in a bank. I had taken the bank job aged 22 as a result of my father advising me to get a proper job. At the time, I was saving up to go travelling after graduation and I felt lost about what to do next. On my dad’s advice I’d applied for two jobs for when I got back – one with a retailer, the other a bank. The bank offered me a place on their graduate training scheme and I accepted, thinking I’d do it for a while till I worked out what I really wanted.

The training was interesting, I moved around departments, worked on different projects and secured a permanent role, enjoying the financial security and benefits. But if I’m honest, from the start, a small voice kept telling me there was more to life. I wanted to make a difference and help people and I knew that working in a bank wasn’t my true calling. I went with it, though. Time rolled by, I got married, we started our family. My husband also worked in the corporate world and I just settled. For 26 years, I found satisfaction from leading teams, helping people develop, mentoring and coaching but deep down I remained convinced I was meant to do more.

By last year I had been studying life coaching and hypnotherapy for several months alongside my day job and I loved it. Supporting people to make positive changes was incredibly rewarding. So when the opportunity emerged to apply for redundancy I decided to go for it. The fear of leaving a stable well paid job after so many years was overwhelming, but I had to – even if I wasn’t sure how things would work out. I dreaded the idea that if I didn’t take this opportunity I would be with the same organisation until I retired and I knew I would regret that. With a vague idea of what I wanted to do but no clear plan (something I was deeply uncomfortable with) I took the leap into the unknown. The generous redundancy pay out meant I didn’t have to worry about money for a while but as soon as I left, I found myself racked with massive fears. Who was I to think I could change direction and build a successful business helping people? Who on earth was I kidding?

After a few weeks of floundering, I was worried I would be drawn back to the corporate world. It was kind of overwhelming – 26 years in the same job had on one level, ruined my confidence. I needed support to move forwards and find out if I was cut out for this. So I booked a place on a retreat. This meant 5 days in the peace and quiet of rural France working with a small group of wonderful women, enjoying yoga classes and working on ourselves,. It was a fantastic opportunity – a really magical time. As a group we discussed the things that held us back, sharing all aspects of our lives. Everyone there was, like me, trying to change but finding it difficult.

For me, the biggest breakthrough came when we started to talk about what rules we had allowed to form over the years that dictate our lives. I was shocked at what came up for me. The rules that emerged came from somewhere deep down. During one of the exercises I wrote:

–       Good girls keep quiet, don’t make a fuss and hold back

–       Always be on time, be polite, be respectful

–       You don’t deserve and can’t make a good income out of this ‘alternative hypnotherapy stuff’

I’ve done a lot of personal development work and self exploration over the years so seeing what I’d written really shocked me. I was so rattled I switched my focus to the next task without really taking it in – how did I want to live going forward. I found myself writing:

–       I want to live an even bigger and more magnificent life

Next I wrote down a quote from the French writer Emile Zola that I’ve had framed on my wall for years.   ‘If you asked me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.’’

When I looked at the pages in front of me the contrast between how I’d been living and what I really wanted, was stark. I had been living out of alignment for so long. I felt an immense rush of emotion and I started crying. I felt compelled to move and getting up, I stumbled outside. Crossing the gravel path I was drawn towards a beautiful oak tree. I leaned against it, looked up at the leaves and cried and cried and cried for what felt like an eternity.

This was not the graceful weeping you see in films, this was full-on ugly crying, deep shuddering sobs as I let go of emotions I had been holding on to for years.  It was cathartic though and eventually the tidal wave passed and I felt a deep sense of peace. Exhausted I sat down under the tree. It was then I heard a quiet voice inside me saying ‘Welcome home …. you are loved.

Coming together later as a group we called out what we’d learned. Thank heavens we were in the middle of nowhere. I absolutely shouted to the universe what I had learned about myself ‘I am phenomenal, and I am here to live out loud.’ It was life changing.

Coming home, it’s resolved such a lot for me. I know I am here to use my skills and knowledge in coaching and hypnotherapy to help others grow and develop. I don’t know all the details yet of how that’s going to happen, but I’m working hard on it. I read recently, when you have the strength and courage to make a leap of faith and embrace change, an invisible mattress appears and the universe will support you.

Since coming back from France I have told the story of my retreat to many people and it seems to strike a chord. So no more holding back for me.  In particular I owe a very big thank you to that wonderful group of women and a magnificent oak tree for supporting me when I needed it most. With so much love.

You can contact Jan on: Jan.ambrose1@hotmail.com

See more about the retreat here


An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'

Eilean nam Ban project

Eilean nam Ban

By Ellen Patterson

We speak to actor and activist Ellen Patterson about her all female project  Eilean Nam Ban. An exhibition sharing stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary women through art, poetry and more…

Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about?

When I started my masters degree I decided to look back over the work I had done for my undergrad and noticed there were a lot more men’s names in the reading lists than women’s. When I actually compared them, I found that only 30% of the reading I was asked to do in four years of university was attributed to a female voice. Only 1% came from a woman of colour. I wish I could say I was surprised. So, when we were given pretty much free rein on our final pieces this year I immediately wanted to create a platform for women’s stories to be heard. I have felt inspired countless times by a piece of art, be it a song, a painting, a poem (the list goes on) so I was drawn to the idea of bringing women’s stories to life in art. The project ‘Eilean nam Ban’ has since grown arms and legs and I am now presenting an exhibition featuring an original song by a Scottish fiddler, a song by an Irish singer, a painting, a collage (made by my Grandmother who, by the way, is most definitely a Bitch), and several poems…so far! This will be shown for free at the C.A.F.E in Brixton on September 28th.

What does the name mean?

Eilean nam Ban is an island just off the coast of Iona in the west of Scotland). Iona was the site St. Colomba’s destination when he left Ireland in 563 and he set about building an abbey there (Iona still has a very beautiful abbey). According to Colomba though, this great task could not succeed whilst there were either cows or women on the island. He insisted ‘where there is a cow there is a woman and where there is a woman there is mischief.’ Thus, all the women and cows were banished from Iona and sent to a neighbouring island which earned it the name ‘Eilean nam Ban’ or ‘Women’s Island.’ In solidarity with those banished women (and cows), I hope that my exhibition can act as its own small women’s island.

Are there any particular people who have inspired you on your journey?

The biggest inspiration for this comes directly from REEK. I have followed REEK closely, working with you at any opportunity I get and your mission to let no women go forgotten has been a huge inspiration. All the work that Sara has done outside of REEK to shine a light on women’s stories has also really spurred me on.

How can people get involved?

Make your voices heard! I am still looking for stories and for artists to collaborate with. The stories can simply be the tale of a woman who has inspired you, be it your best friend, your mum, or that lady in the café at the bottom of your road whose smile always brightens your day. It can be one sentence or one thousand sentences  – if you want her story to be heard, I want to hear it. If you are an artist and want to get involved, I can send you one of these inspirational stories to use to create a work of art in whatever form you choose.

And anyone who can come to the exhibition, it would be great to have you there!

What issues do you see people face in your day to day?

This answer could be pages long; sadly I think we are very skilled at ignoring things that are staring us in the face. I will just focus on one issue for now, one that I see every day in my line of work as an actress; the constant treatment of women as inferior. I see this when a woman is told to lower her register or she won’t sound important, when she is told at 32 she can only play a mother, when she stands up for herself in an audition and is turned away. Time is not just up on the outrageous practice of accepted sexual harassment but on the perverse attitude towards and the shabby treatment of women every single day. She is a person, just as much as he is.

Tell us about a campaign/advert that made you angry.

Anything on my sister’s Instagram feed. The worst was Kim Kardashian selling those weight loss lollipops. For a brief moment I genuinely wanted one. I am a 27 year old woman who is secure in her body (most of the time) and I was lured in. How is a fourteen year old who is being bullied at school supposed to read that and not be convinced they should be shedding pounds one lolly at a time?

What message would you put on our on our sticky bitches? (gender equality stickers, free on our site

LIVE IN PEACH (go cruelty free)

What are your three favourite smells?

Just smells or scents? Okay, I’ll do both! Smells; summer rain, talcum powder, a burning log fire. Scents; Bitches, Witches, The Dark Heart of Old Havana  by 4160 Tuesdays.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

Definitely a Bitch. But can I still be in the coven?

Yes. Yes you can.

You can support the ‘Eilean nam Ban’ project on their fundraiser here. All charitable donations in aid of The Fawcett Society. To get involved contact: eilean.nam.ban@gmail.com


DIVE QUEER PARTY

DIVE QUEER PARTY

REEK spoke to those Damn Rebel Bitches, Dive Queer Party’s’s creators Miss Annabel Sings (MAS) and Agent Cooper (AC). Credited for ‘redefining the Scottish queer club scene’ (The Skinny) and being Scotland’s best-loved and most notorious queer cabaret party mongers, they return to the Traverse Theatre with their outrageously queer Camp as Xmas Cabaret. The event will raise funds for Waverley Care, Scotland’s HIV and Hepatitis C charity, in recognition of World AIDS Day.

What makes you a feminist?

MAS: Feminism means equality and freedom to us, which form the bedrock of what Dive is all about. We live by our mantra – you can be whoever you want to be, however you want be, wherever you want to be – and promote the power of positive expression.

What equality campaign is most important to you? Why is dissent important?

The never ending campaign for LGBT equality. Dive recognises and cherishes the privilege of being born and based in Scotland, the country voted the best place in the world to live for trans* people and where at one point this year three out of four political party leaders openly identifying as gay. But these are all rights and privileges that were hard fought and could so easily be taken away. Only a short time ago it was a criminal offence to be gay in the UK and the stigma and brutality doled out by the powerful during the AIDS epidemic in he 80s was just yesterday, really. Our Xmas show will raise funds for Waverley Care, Scotland’s HIV and Hepatitis C charity, in recognition of World AIDS Day. World events are spurring both massive leaps forward and tragic steps back for LGBTIQ rights around the world, so we want to spread a message of expressive freedom and acceptance and rallies those on stage and in the audience to stand up and come together in celebration of difference, promoting a world where you can “be whoever you want to be, however you want be, wherever you want to be”.

What inspired you to create DIVE? Tell us about drag and how things are changing?

MAS: Our four eyes met across a sticky carpet during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011 when I was touring with notorious live art collective Eat Your Heart Out. I asked AC on a date but despite having lots in common we never made it to first base (thank goodness). We got scheming instead, joining forces to talk about our shared vision for a queer space to share, explore and show off their collective creativity, joy and madness in a safe, fun and inclusive environment. We take having fun very seriously and spend lots of time together being silly and making each other laugh.

AC: That space would eventually become Dive Queer Party, which started off as an eclectic, anything-goes queer party in the murky depths of a subterranean dive bar in Edinburgh in July 2013. This is where the foundations of the company and collective were rooted and from this early stage we were promoting a world where – through the power of positive expression – you can be whoever you want to be, however you want be, wherever you want to be. (By the way I still deny she ever asked me out on a date – there is no evidence and frankly, you would, wouldn’t you?!). I’m excited about the blossoming drag king scene in Scotland and the UK, which must be inspired by the profile of feminist campaigns and women’s rights and issues. Nights like The King’s Court (at The Rabbit Hole at CC Blooms) here in Edinburgh and places like Bar Wotever, Kingdom and The Glory down south are leading the way. We were so lucky to have the amazing internationally renowned artist and drag king Diane Torr based in Glasgow until she died thisyear. Her stage appearances and Man For A Day workshops are legendary and Dive was lucky enough to work with her many times in the short time we knew each other.

What people do you most identify with from history?

MAS: Leigh Bowery, for being so out there and showing us anything is possible. My whole view of performance changed when I encountered his world. This was the inspiration for our ongoing show ‘Homage’ – a celebration of queer heroes from the past, present and future, resurrected or given life through the medium of performance and showcased in the unique, rainbow- adorned, glitter-streaked world that is Dive.

AC: The aforementioned gender activist, dancer and drag king Diane Torr. We became friends with Diane only 3 years ago but she made a massive impact on me before she sadly died earlier this year. For over thirty years she explored the theoretical, artistic, and practical aspects of gender identity and was so generous in sharing her knowledge and experience at the same time as being ruthlessly experimental and open to trying new things. I think she’d be excited and proud to see the blossoming drag king scene in Scotland and the UK.

Is smell important to you? Which smells and why?

MAS: Ooh, the whiff of a Dive Queer Party and the other queer spaces in the city like The Rabbit Hole, Pollyanna, Grrl Crush and Hot Mess, to name a few. Nothing quite like it.

AC: Smell is v important. I like hanging out in urinals, gym changing rooms, lorry sleeper compartments anywhere with the heady scent of a real man really.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch? Tell us what kind of bitch you are?

We are DAMN QUEER REBEL BITCHES!

Gender and sexuality is so threaded into the fabric of our society and how power is exerted over us. Being queer, being your true self (whoever you want to be…”) makes us hellu Damn Rebel Bitches by default. We feel we have a responsibility to be visible, loud and proud here in Scotland, where LGBT rights have been hard fought and we hope help make change possible in therest of the world.

We had a review recently which sort of sums that up:”In a lot of ways, Dive’s Homage might be one of the best shows to really capture what Fringe is about. The radical, the alternative, the ‘fuck you’ of convention, the freedom of expression. We’re all different and we all fucking love each other is the message of a night with Dive.”

What treats are in store for audiences at The Miss Annabel Sings Show Camp as Xmas Cabaret?

MAS: Oooh well, it’ll be a proper festive feast of anarchic queer cabaret featuring some of the best bits of Dive’s triumphant year, with performances from the fairest drag kings and queens of the realm, as well as saucy sing-song-a-longs, riotous audience games, delicious festive cocktails and a very special (bio)Queen’s speech.

AC: We’re delighted to be raising funds for Waverley Care, Scotland’s HIV and Hepatitis C charity, in recognition of World AIDS Day. And there’s a special guest performance from transgurl cabaret singer SADIE GODIVA, one of the stars of Dive’s over 50’s cabaret project which was launched for LGBT History Month in February in partnership with Luminate – Scotland’s creative ageing organisation, and LGBT Health & Wellbeing.

MAS: The event kicks off with an atypical office xmas disco from 4-6pm with Dive’s resident DJ, DAVE FROM ACCOUNTS. The Miss Annabel Sings Shows opens straight after at 6pm, stuffed full of the best bits of 2017 and guest performances from drag queens FEDORA VERONICA HOMBURG,

DUCLEA REIGNS, GEORGIA TASDA and THE DUCHESS, and Drag Kings KING BIFF -,SIMON PATERSON of very own AGENT COOPER. Also starring LUKE PELL as the Angel Gay-briel and an alternative carol concert from the hilarious PORN CHOIR (they do exactly what it says on the tin).

Diva will be at Traverse Bar Café, Edinburgh on Sunday 3 December 2017,4-9.30pm. Box Office: 0131 228 1404www.traverse.co.uk www.dive-party.org.uk@DiveQueerParty

Waverley Care is Scotland’s HIV and Hepatitis C charity. The organisation’s work is focused on prevention, education, testing and support throughout Scotland, reducing new HIV and Hepatitis C infections, getting people diagnosed and supporting those affected in whatever ways they need. Waverley Care challenge HIV and Hepatitis C related stigma, tackling health inequalities and promoting good sexual health. In all that Waverley Care do, they never give up on people and are always there to walk alongside anyone affected by HIV or Hepatitis C.

http://www.waverleycare.org


WE ARE MOODY, WE ARE HUMAN

              WE ARE MOODY, WE ARE HUMAN

Jade Mordente attended a MOODY event about a new digital ecosystem for hormones, cycles and moods that aims to help women have the best periods possible.

When was the last time you were moody? You probably felt kinda guilty about it, right? Someone might have made a ‘time of the month’ joke and you probably giggled with your head down or even apologised. We have all been there, but why? Since 50% of the population are female, 50% of us have felt uncomfortable because of our natural monthly cycle. Feeling agitated, tearful, fat and grumpy for at least five days out of every single month – that’s a big ask of women who have much better things to do with their time (i.e running the world). Entrepreneur Amy Thomson, journalist Laura Weir and nutritionist Lola Ross are three women who have felt our pain. Together they are fighting for us, as females, to reclaim the word ‘moody’ and revolutionise the way we talk, treat and feel around our period. Born out of the frustration we have all felt when we can’t find answers to solve our period woes, the trio decided to found an integrated web platform which not only connected women, but armed us with the emotional intelligence to know our cycle, harness our mood and maximise productivity, no matter the date. Answering a quick and easy questionnaire on sign-up (which is free!) allows the platform to place you into a specific Moody tribe. This then enables the Moody team to carefully curate a profile for you and offer natural solutions to help you through your personal hormone cycle. Knowing your cycle, and how your body works during your cycle is the key ingredient that wearemoody.com encompasses.

Moody founder and nutritionist Lola Ross will inform each tribe of specific dietary advice to conquer their issues – stress, bloating or sadness – and discuss a range of vitamins and supplements for inner balance. The Moody team have also joined forces with post-chemical pharmacy, Biocol Labs, to demystify the vitamin arena and they will soon offer mineral and plant based hormone vitamins and supplements through a retail section of the website. Organic period products such as biodegradable tampons from TOTM will also be available, with more products launching on the site soon.

Sign up, discover your tribe, learn your body and embrace being moody.


WITCH HUNTING

WITCH HUNTING

Suzy Nightingale writes about the late night,  cabinet of curiosities event about the witch hunts at the National Archives in Kew.

Poisonous gossip accusing women of witchery, the mysterious scent of Egyptian mummies during a theatrical ‘unwrapping’ and the ‘First Ladies of Egypt’ – fearless Edwardian women and their pioneering work in Egyptology were merely three of the fascinating topics covered at Kew’s National Archives at Night event. Hosting a suitably macabre itinerary for Halloween, the Archives building was bustling with hundreds of guests eager to delve into the darker side of history. Of course we felt most drawn the witches, on which we’ll focus here; and oh, it certainly got dark…

The persecution of women during the infamous Pendle witch trials is well known, but did you know that, twenty years later, it all began again thanks to the accusations of a young boy and his pushy father? Setting neighbour against neighbour, poisonous gossip, suspicion and superstition entwined to create a volatile atmosphere that once again cast a dark shadow over an entire community. In a talk entitled The Second Pendle Witch Scare: The Lancashire Witch scare of 1633-43, Dr Jessica Nelson read a letter sent by one William Conway, describing in a state of some excitement, the fact that a pack of up to nineteen female witches had been “discovered” in Lancashire. Witch scares were not uncommon, the previous Scottish scares inspiring Shakespeare to include them as malevolent characters in Macbeth; but this was a witch hunt with a difference. The finger that pointed at the women this time belonged to a ten year old boy.

Encouraged by his father, Edmund Robinson declared he had seen witches congregating in their small community, and was toured around communal gatherings with the claim he alone, for a fee, could point them out in the crowd. One of the accused was an elderly woman called Margaret Johnson, who came to be known as ‘the penitent witch’ as she was the only one to ‘confess’ to her crimes. Under interrogation by the Privy Council, she claimed a man dressed in black had repeatedly approached her, offering the power to hurt humans and beasts as she wished, in exchange for her soul. At first she turned him down, she said, but his seductive offers eventually persuaded her to sign her name in his book of captured souls. As the interrogation continued, it became clear (even to The Privy Council, who expressed their concerns in a report) that Margaret was a very confused and frail old lady, perhaps with what we’d now recognise as dementia, who changed her story many times. Interestingly, no matter how hard and how often she was pressed to ‘admit’ the other accused were fellow witches, she strongly protested their innocence, citing their daily prayers in the cells and stating they were true, godly women.

Another of the seven women Edmund accused, Mary Spencer aged 20, gave a spirited defence and denied outright being a witch. Her male neighbour, a man by the name of Nicholas Cunliffe,  said she’d bewitched a bucket, bidding it run to her (as Dr Nelson wryly pointed out during her talk, one might think this a ‘rubbish use of witchcraft’), but Mary explained she liked to roll her bucket down the hill and race it to the bottom, the court record showing she “…prays God to forgive Nicholas Cunliffe, who having borne malice to her and her parents these five or six years has lately wrongfully abused them.” Her parents having both been condemned to death in the previous assizes. During the court proceedings, Mary often complains the overwhelming noise from the public gallery is so loud she couldn’t even hear many of the accusations against her, so how could she properly defend herself? A chilling reminder of the mass panic and blood-lust that had been whipped up by this pervasive atmosphere of malice among neighbours. In yet another case of a woman being accused by a male neighbour with whom she’d had a previous disagreement, Francis Dickinson stood firm in her denial of witchcraft, passionately using attack as her form of defence, and detailing the disagreement she’d had with her male accuser over the purchases of a cow and, later, some butter that led to bitter arguments culminating in her eventually being accused of being a witch.

During their investigations, the Privy Council took it upon themselves to carefully examine the bodies of the women, looking for signs their familiars had suckled from hidden teats, even examining the cervix for unusual markings or dried blood from a recently suckled spot. Somewhat surprisingly, the concluding report of surgeons and midwives stated nothing unnatural was found on any of the women, no extra teats (in the cervix or elsewhere), no signs of evil-doing. And so, the Privy Council had nothing to go on but one confession from an old, confused woman whose word they already seriously doubted. In the end they resorted to interviewing Edmund Robinson, without the presence of his father (who’d previously refused for his son to be questioned alone). Eventually (we don’t know how long) Edmund confessed he had made up the whole thing up. But why? He’d first invented the tale as he’d been told to collect the cattle in for his parents, but went to play instead. To evade punishment he thought back to the stories he’d heard of the first Pendle witch trials, thereby getting himself out of trouble and enjoying the attention they afforded him. When others then surged forward to further accuse the women he’d named, it became clear rumours and suspicions had long been bubbling beneath the surface against any women who dared to argue with a male neighbour or caused trouble in any way. Edmund didn’t know what a bandwagon to be leapt upon his stories would cause, and Dr Nelson made the point that his father was most culpable, as he’d been the one to seize on the money-making opportunity in which his young son could now, for a pocketful of coins, travel around looking for and ‘recognising’ witches.

So what became of these women once the Privy Council had Edmund’s confession, confirming what they’d already feared was a case of hysteria following false accusations? Were the doors to gaol flung open as the women were triumphantly released? Far from it. In fact, from what records we have, we know most of the accused women died in prison. Despite their now assumed innocence, they’d been kept imprisoned in such devastatingly terrible conditions they became ill and died there. There are no records of what became of Margaret. We can only suppose that, already elderly and frail, she’d succumbed early to the vile conditions she’d been kept under. Pontificating on why the women had not been released, Dr Nelson assumes their deaths provided a convenient underlining of the whole, poisonous affair. Had the women been released back into the community, we can perhaps imagine their righteous fury at the neighbours who’d accused them, the continuing whispered suspicions, an on-going miasma of malice. A sad, stark truth we must consider is that these angry – innocent – women who’d refused to back down were seen as better dead than making mischief. A community washing their hands of blame by turning their heads. A wiping of the slate with bloodied hands…