Stormy Nights of Transformation

In 1987 I was 10. About this time of year there was a very memorable storm, you may recall, not dissimilar to the one on outside tonight (in London, UK). Trees collapsed, cars were smashed, gardens were destroyed, and I felt a fascination with this touch of wildness in our city and indeed beyond.

I wrote a story inspired by that night, for creative writing was my favourite outlet for self expression. In the fiction I was preparing for a Halloween fancy dress competition, which seemed fairly significant at the time, not least because my arch nemesis would be competing with me, and to me at any rate it might as well just have been me and her in the contest. I knew she was hotly tipped as the favourite; being richer and possessing finer garments standing her in perhaps better stead. I was unperturbed, and created for myself a unique costume fashioned from bin-liners, and rolled a black cardboard cone hat, adding some details by sticking on old scraps of material. Nothing fancy but the best I could muster. I reckoned further points may be scored for originality and style, the way an outfit was worn as much as the clothes themselves.

I laid my costume out before I went to bed, the night before the big day. That was the night of the manic storm, and nothing was the same after. In the morning I discovered that our back garden had been blown several blocks away and a tree fallen on Dad’s car. What more despite being apparently safe inside, my carefully crafted costume had been shredded, crumpled and broken beyond repair. I was distraught and could not conceive how this might have happened. The rest of my room was ok; it was most alarming. I thought I could no longer enter the competition and felt utterly disappointed, with a sense of void as to how this came about. Sighing and tearful I left the room to tell my Mum who was busy getting my brother ready for the day and making breakfast. There was no hope for this day I had so looked forward to.

But on returning to the bedroom I saw an unfamiliar object in my midst, positioned where I might have missed it before, high up on the cupboard. A shiney white cardboard box sat quietly and expectantly, with considerable promise. Tentatively I approached, reached for it and took it in my hands, examined it and removed the lid. What was this! A brand new beautiful black velvet and lace ensemble, complete with sparkly hat and shiney pointy shoes! I was flabbergasted, gobsmacked and temporarily frozen in disbelief. Everything was going to be all right after all. But how? Never mind that, the important thing was, did it fit? What do you think? It was the best fit since my Grandmother had stopped making handmade clothes for us because she was tracking down her first husband on the other side of the world. From the starry hat, lacey gloves, velvet frock and cape to the snug ankle boots, I was perfectly decked out. There was even a wand, but I was not sure about that and thought it might get in the way; I was a witch not a fairy, so I tucked it into my left boot. Over the moon, I set to shadowing my eyes and heightening my lips. My parents were contending with immense loss – you could just about spy the remnants of the shed and eucalyptus tree a few gardens away. The insurance line was jammed, in fact I don’t think the phone worked at all. I easily persuaded them I’d be fine on the bus.

I was still nervous even though I was better dressed in the new cloak than possibly I ever had been. I think the unexplained element of arriving in this attire put me a little on edge – not only was I not used to it, but also, part of me questionned my right to be in it. What if it was a mistake, or worse a trick? But who could hatch such a plot? I was flummoxed. Broken into by my arch-rival Gwendoline’s steely intent to trip me up and foil my desire (since our last run-in at the fairground when from high up on the wheel I poured some noxious concoction on her head)? We had been very good friends once, but she resisted strongly when I suggested we open up our friendship to others in the neighbourhood. While she might have motivation the practicalities did not support this. She could not have the keys to my home, and all the windows were tightly closed in this time of storm. The beautiful outfit could be a sign of her original devotion to me, but there would have to be a catch… Maybe more weirdly, I had been visited by fairies in the night, performing magic? Either way I barely dared entertain these thoughts further which had been lurking in my adrenaline fuelled glances on the top deck of the 43 bus. I arrived at the town hall, sounding my heels on the steps and escorted myself into the tall brick building to register my participation. What would the others be wearing? What would Gwendoline be conjuring? Could it be as incredible as my dress? As a final touch, on the way out of my house I had grabbed a broom which was scattered in what was left of the front garden to complete the look. I walked into the hall and found a place to watch others from, leaning on the broomstick nonchalantly.

The speeches and parades went by in a bit of a blur as I found it tricky to focus on the formalities. I could make out Gwendoline on the other side of the room, though really she ceased to be as important now I had arrived. It seemed that everything was out of my hands now anyway; the unusual events of the night and morning had taken care of that, and this awareness started to settle. My Mum and brother arrived shortly before the adjudication was made, and I was grateful to not be alone. This place was a little way from home so I didn’t know many others there particularly well. I just knew that Gwen would take part as we had talked about it and planned it before the split transpired. I think when the mayor or whoever he was announced my winning, I was no more stunned than I had already become accustomed to. I glowed nonetheless, overwhelmed with pride and joy to have succeeded in my special quest. Why did I want to be the best? Probably because I was tired of Gwendoline behaving like she was superior all the time. I wanted to shut her up. And winning is fun. I’m not sure if there was money, a prize or a crown, but not long after being acknowledged as the winner, I got on my broomstick, quite conscious that miracles or magic were entirely possible, and flew off before everybody’s incredulous eyes, and out through a high window!

A few months later in early February I sat an entrance exam to a girls grammar school. For the English section I basically rewrote this story as one of the titles was ‘The Stormy Night’, and that was what got me into the school I spent the next five years in as my maths was fairly basic.

It gives me great pleasure to remember the story (and the story of the story), unfortunately I do not have the original with me, though it’s possible that it is housed in my parents’ attic.

Apart from this reminisence I wanted to tell you that Spirited Bodies is going to have a break soon. We will cease events and workshops for some months as the routine has taken hold and its grip is lethal. We were meant to be less predictable, for therein lies the most potent magic. What ought to be extraordinarily remarkable occasions, were in danger of being overlooked, become commonplace in my spectrum. I don’t mean the extravaganza just gone, but the monthly sessions where in fact more new people come to celebrate some milestone, than at the recent biggie. Each of those moments deserves more attention, and the time to regard each potential participant; who will benefit most, and will the group bring out the best in each other?

Managing men has been an ongoing matter. So many want to take part, but who has the most honourable intentions? You cannot tell from a simple questionnaire, or even necessarily meeting. But the most nervous women involved and sometimes our team who are less immersed than I am pick up on energies once the nude proceedings are in action. Artists too remark of male models not in it for a purpose befitting us. Meanwhile I am so preoccupied with replicating ‘The Raft of the Medusa’, and everybody’s comfort that much that is important eludes me. And while I do all the admin and run the show, I cannot be all things to all people.

So clearly we need time to change. We have a good strong team, and we will work more as such in the coming months, refashioning the Spirited Bodies experience. Newer team members especially Thelma felt strongly that we must return to our core, what the original mission was. This was about the models’ transformation, and it was about women modelling for the first time to experience a remarkable transition towards confidence. We reconnected with the founder, Morimda to hear in her words what inspired her, and as well she took the time to join in a little.

Meanwhile I want some time away from the overwhelming admin; I want to travel a bit and get back to writing and performance. I have felt like I was doing the project more for others and no longer so much for myself as it used to be. I need to give back to me. But I know Spirited Bodies will keep calling me back too, and at the right time, something magical will emerge again. Happy Halloween fellow spirits!

If you would like to join in an all female event coming up very soon before we take our break, click here for more details on how to get involved and do not hesitate to get in touch. Making the decision to refocus our mission has freed me up to feel appropriately enthused about our final events! There are 2 more sessions at Holborn (see Workshops & Events) as well as the aforementioned new opportunity for women. In addition a small exhibition of some of the Spirited Bodies art work will be on display in the Sh! shop in Hoxton throughout November. Please note this shop is a women’s shop and men may only go in accompanied by a woman, except on Tuesday evenings between 6 and 8pm which are ‘Gents Tuesdays’. As we come to the end of this season we celebrate Spirited Bodies’ 3rd anniversary.

IMAG1324Magic shoes from a recent costumed session Thelma & I did in Tadworth!

Thelma & I being ladies who lunch
Thelma & I being ladies who lunch

Murder in Mortlake – Images from a mysterious event

I awoke before the alarm to unfamiliar rays fraying the curtain edges. Today! Yes! Mortlake! New models in a church woohoo, and some artists. God knows I’d bamboozled the place with my laminated signs inviting anyone almost to a) take their clothes off, b) make some art. The big day.

I print out questionnaires for models (checking that Lucy who loves the questionnaires has not already done so). Check. Coffee, shower, clothes and train. I am meeting an Eastern European man who will let me in the building, his instructions are mostly clear. I like this dilapidated building, I mean the church isn’t bad, but the room I model in for Paul’s group has not been redecorated since the 50s I reckon. There are holes in the walls showing the bones. Yellowed lino to set off several more dreary shades of yellow and brown that adorn the cupboards. It reminds me of a room I used to live in, homely. Character. None of this Argos/Ikea bullshit.

I heft easels into the hall, sort out the heating which is so powerful there’s no need to bake the place out. It’ll whip up a temperature in no time when the models need. Sun is shining and there’s a tap at the window. Expecting Lucy I unlock the door to find an uncertain looking asian male. “Are you Esther?” I am. “I emailed you, about the modelling.” Come in, are you going to join us today?

He looks really tired but asks if I can inspect his body to see if he will be ok to model. I say there’s no need, he looks fine to me, but if the 3 hour stint will be too much bother on a warm day in Ramadan with no water, then I’m sure we can fit him in another time. He shuffles off as Lucy arrives. He hadn’t looked quite right, today, however it’s so nice to have interest from a non-white guy.

Lucy occupies the kitchen and models start to drift in and assist with easels etc. Such friendly people, and the artists too look excited as they set up.
I’m not used to being wanted this much as everyone seems to fancy a chat, but I really should gather the models. The men all arrive first which is almost worrying; but makes the emergence of a gaggle of females all the more exhilarating at the last minute. Just like Mum I remember all the models’ names, all 15. Only 2 are returning from previous events, and one is Ursula who I modelled with before. Some will go on the altar, others in the middle of the hall. They can pose how they like at first.

That crouching pose looked a killer, still that’s partly what makes new models so good – they don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for so they strike some of the best (most excruciating) poses

Sylvana is late and prefers to hang out in the changing area till break. Any anxiety she displayed before has mysteriously vanished once she is in pose. Lucy and I harrangue the models into group poses which look like scenes to show more connectedness between these almost total strangers in the buff. Sylvana is a queen on her throne, dismissing unwanted advisers and turning her nose up at suitors. I must congratulate Lucy on her dramatic skills.

Wench commands a good deal of attention

One larger woman takes the gaze off of several smaller ones

A little direction helps for connection

Towards the end no one can stand up any more

Ursula brings a friend and they make good poses together

It is eerily quiet except for scratchings of charcoal and one artist’s balmy monologue. I decide to put on some of Lucy’s music to jolly things up, but unfamilar with her selection the spirited salsa sounds I choose somehow seem too hectic; I sense a franticness amongst the artists jolted out of their calm, and a shiftiness from the models, itching to dance!

Overall I am overwhelmed by a fantastic turn out – artists I know from all over London have shown up, and almost all the models I expected have made an appearance. There’s just one thing missing. Having given up on the music I soon notice a gap in the silence. Where is the murmering that came from the table next to the piano? I’d made special arrangements for a certain peculiar man to be here after an incident of him (not meaning to) follow a model some of her journey home after the last event. But it seems my management has just now eluded him as I scan the room for his large orange headphones.

Belly Button (Body Adoration) Sculptures

This is a poem by Ursula who took part yesterday and joins us as we create the next event, for Notting Hill Visual Arts Festival (next week – see ‘Events’)
Belly Button (Body Adoration) Sculptures
I so like to engage
With my body
Display its beauty
For which I am grateful
Especially my belly
As the centre of it all
I start breathing consciously
To establish a relationship to it
See how it ebbs and rises
My belly, as the centre of action
And the focus of my adoration
Because I can work with it
And shape it
Into a form that I like
Not too big
But small and beautiful
With its button in the middle
As a sign of my connectedness
To where I come from
Not too small
Otherwise I can’t see the belly under the button at all
And my feelings could disappear
And could get lost anywhere
My belly is a landscape
My belly is a landscape with a button
My belly is a landscape with a button and I like it
Not too hilly
The hills come further north
Along my body
Hills with nipples at their tips
The kind of hills that we call tits
The centre, though, is my belly
I think that my soul lives here
I imagine this to be the home
Of my feelings, of my sensitivity
I so like
To engage with my body
As it’s a part of me
Along with my mind and soul and spirit
Making me part of humanity, I share with it
I am, We are
Minds souls spirits and bodies
An array, a display of landscapes and sculptures
Every-body wrapped in a skin and a colour
And their outlines horizons
With a button
In the middle
Of each one’s belly.                                                                                          © Ursula troche, 2 – 7.12
Photograph by Ursula Troche
Photograph by Ursula Troche

Guestblog: ‘When Atlas Dropped the World’ by Lucy Saunders

It was just another day, nothing special, Atlas said.  After all these years, I’d got the job sussed – I could do it with my eyes closed, and frequently did.  It’s a matter of resting individual muscles, one after another, without losing position – if you look, you won’t see me do it, relaxing and then tensing.  The trick is to get all round the body, be fair, don’t miss one muscle group out, even ones that don’t seem obvious.  Just because a muscle isn’t telling you its in pain doesn’t mean it is capable of staying in the same place all the time.  Muscles are designed to be various, to change their state from extended to relaxed.  So I have to do that within a pose that requires my stillness.  Of course I do move a bit, but very slowly, you’d probably never notice.  Its not like I do big stuff – I never change the side my head is under the world, for instance.

The original pose was something that came naturally to me, I do wish now that I hadn’t left the toes on the foot on the extended leg touching the floor – because that’s where the vulnerabilities come in, where you stop the blood in its journey and create pain.  Its any point that bears weight eventually.  Even if you were standing straight up on the ground, normally, not carrying anything, eventually your feet would talk with pain until you moved.  We are naturally moving creatures – and the situation I was in was an unmoving one, for all time.

Meditation helps.  You send your mind elsewhere, detach yourself from your thoughts, feel the universe within, the inner darkness like the space between stars.  Time doesn’t have much of a meaning in a situation like that.  Walter Benjamin was right, boring tasks free the imagination.  I would divide time up, have times when I thought furiously about concrete things, like maths, statistics, science, even who said what to whom back in the day, and other times when I would shut down thinking, reaching for just existing, which was a hugely challenging skill, because once you’ve realised that you’ve achieved it, you are just existing, then you’re back thinking again aren’t you, its like some tricky fairground game.  Giants, like humans, need input – if it doesn’t exist, your mind creates it.  there’s me, kneeling in the eternal void, forever, carrying the world on my shoulders, and all I’ve got between me and madness is my brain.  Its an entertaining thing, a functioning brain.  This was in the days before headphones or iPods or audio books.  I rather envy anyone who gets in the same position now, they’d have all that entertainment on tap.

You ask the big questions, in such a situation.  Forget about the obvious, like why you are here – is it worth wondering about?  No, I thought more about what was specifically giant, human or god, what was the stuff of life.  What was death like.  As an immortal, I am never going to know, it’s a mystery, something that living things do so easily, they just stop breathing, they just stop the chemical factory going – well, the chemical factory keeps going, it breaks down the body into its atoms eventually – but that little strand of electricity, that spark, has gone.

Anyway, it was a day like any other, no better, no worse, and from deep down a yawn emerged – I tried to control it, I held my jaw together, but it was topped by a sneeze so I lost it, and once I’d started losing it, I lost it more and more and more.  It didn’t take much to knock the world off its place on my shoulders, it rolled away like a drunken marble, I just had time for a quick stretch and rubbed my eyes, then I was after it, like a dog after a rabbit.  It was damaged, once I’d caught it, of course it was, but its an enigmatic little thing, it is full of ingeniousness.  Once I’d parked it up again, a bit twisted round so Africa wasn’t in the same place anymore – well, once we’d got that far, a change of view for me seemed reasonable – I could get to thinking about how it would all turn out.  Just a few millennia and life will be buzzing around the planet.  I wonder what they’ll call this moment.  The Precambrian happening p’raps.