– Finding the keys to grief

Finding the keys to grief, unlocking doors to the soul.

A wonderful thing has happened and I am bursting to tell, but the process of putting it all into words is proving so dammed hard (I had to draw a flow-diagram) it will need a certain amount of patience on your part to see how all the different pieces came together.

(In no order of importance).


On Sunday 28th June, at around 7pm, after a week of record-breaking high temperatures a carelessly discarded cigarette set fire to the forest. I realised something was different when the light outside began to lose its usual intensity. You start to notice these things when your senses are no longer overloaded by traffic/ industry/ and all the other things living around other people. It gives you a more intense feel about what else is going on we otherwise miss. And stepping out onto the porch the reason was immediately apparent. Directly ahead, filling my usual panorama of valleys stretching away into the distance, were great billowing clouds of angry smoke, heading this way. Impossible to estimate how far, but having experienced enough fires already in Portugal and Galicia I knew it was time to get out of there as quickly as possible.


A week or so before this I received an intriguing email. It was from someone I didn’t know, she had come across the site, read my blogs, and wanted to help. She was also a BACH REMEDIES practitioner. As you will probably know already I am always keen to learn more about any branch of alternative medicine, especially first-hand. BACH in particular, as it requires creating a personal profile (like in homeopathy) from which future diagnosis is based. It was too good an opportunity to miss.


Born and raised in London, as far back as I can remember I have always wanted to live somewhere else. First it was my childhood version of Wellingborough (Northants), where I often stayed with my Nan, and was set free to run wild in the neighbouring allotments/ fields/ orchards. Then Aberllefenni (North Wales) in the 1970s, where I first experienced night so dark I couldn’t see my feet, while above were literally billions of stars all twinkling like diamonds. And during the day the entire landscape was transformed into a luminous green velvet upholstery, accompanied by the soundtrack of running water. Newlyn (Cornwall), around the same time, before wealth destroyed its soul, and crafts and junk were still worshipped as gods. Bayone (S W France) too, for its wild unspoilt Atlantic beaches, empty but for massive washed-up trees. It all grew into such a powerful force, that when Maureen and I met we immediately decided our life from then on would be all about finding a place just like that, nothing else mattered. And we stuck to it, over the next 35 years moving from one idyll to the next, each time in a more remote and intense location.


Making friends has never been easy. I have a no ability to remember jokes, no interest in sport/ drinking/ smoking/ the media/ late nights/ restaurants/ or talking about things I have no experience or interest in. Which pretty well excludes me from most social situations. But what I am good at, is meeting the few incredible and truly unique people who don’t like any of the above either. Especially as soul-mates. Four of whom have shared their lives with me over the last 42 years, and in the process made me into a better person: Jane/ Angela/ Maureen/ Pauline.


Self-esteem. Which is zero. In my world I look at everyone else and see only how crap I am in comparison. Same goes for whatever I make or do.

Now here comes the part where I try and weave them all together.

Maureen died. And with her went my will to live. At the same time I discovered I had many friends, most of whom I hadn’t even been aware of, and who rallied round and kept me going. Many also proffered their sagely advice. Stuff like: sell El Pocito and move into the pueblo/ spend more time with other people, not on your own/ give up being a vegetarian and so strict about things/ accept that Maureen was a one-off, that you’ll never meet anyone like her again, and lower your expectations/ get a job, start a business. All totally not the person I had been until then. But now everything was different, I was single for the first time, had no income, and was bewildered/ desperate. So I chose to accept their wisdom, because they were still in the world of the living (unlike me), and amazingly it did feel right. Well at least during the time I was away from El Pocito. Back there I was getting even more depressed/ sadder/ lonelier/ and my health was beginning to suffer. Also, deep down, I still couldn’t get rid of that nagging doubt that this new me was not being true to who I really was.

Then came the night of the fire. It was an awful shock to discover that everything I had spent my life on might be going up in flames. With no time to save any of it, including the precious cats. Then when I got down into town it was even stranger, no-one had yet realised what was happening. I had nowhere to go or any way of finding out the latest news. In the end I knocked at the door of a couple I know, one of whom is also a foreigner, and they were kind enough to invite me in. While I waited for them to phone round I fell asleep, all my energy drained away. They made up a bed, and by 9pm I was in it. But if my body was hoping that sleep was going to do its magic, then it was in for yet another shock. Because with all the windows left deliberately wide open, to catch any passing breeze, it was like being outdoors in the middle of the day. Hot. And every half hour the church bell next door would strike, jarringly (why doesn’t someone fix that clapper so it rings true?). Traffic passed by endlessly. The street lights kept blazing until dawn. Across the road the baker was working flat out, wood oven burning. And somehow (how?), I could even feel what little fresh cool air there was, being squeezed out by all that fog from the hundreds of electrical appliances left on/ wi-fi/ and mobile phones, surrounding me. By morning not waking refreshed but suffering from a monumental headache, something I never have. I felt so claustrophobic. So left a note and slipped out with the dawn, and headed back to El Pocito.

And this is where/ when everything happened. The moment I passed through that gate, saw the house was still there intact, unchanged, my three lovely cats sitting there waiting, I was enveloped by this terrific surge of pure unadulterated goodness.

I was home. H/ O/ M/ E. The place we had spent a lifetime searching for. That Maureen had known was it from the very first moment she first came here, and yet I had never realised. Suddenly, now I did. I was home, where I belonged.

The next day there was another email from my BACH friend. She had made her assessment, suggesting which remedies would be helpful, and worked out my “type”, my core personality. Based around the remedy VERVAIN. Which in her words, is:

a thwarted one at that: they’re passionate, full of conviction, pioneers, can be very intense and over-strain when unbalanced – which gives rise to tension in all manner of ways. They want to change the world and for the better… They have high ideals and will not yield them for a moment – and frankly, why should they? Quite often they can be loners, even though they would dearly love to be with others – the ‘other’ must share the same ideals, there can be no compromise.  Your body type/metabolism might also indicate Vervain.

Just reading this (before even getting as far as taking any) was like finding a key, which opened a hidden door. Inside, for the first time, I had a sense of who I was, how others saw me.

The same day I came across this quote by Faulkner (in one of Dan Price’s brilliant MOONLIGHT CHRONICLES zines):

A dream is not a very safe thing to be near. It’s like a loaded pistol with a hair trigger; if it stays alive long enough somebody is going to get hurt. But if it is a good dream, it’s worth it.

I also remembered something Maureen said in her book TREAD SOFTLY… (and I hope you have downloaded a copy). How she admired my ability to keep going, even when everything was stacked against us.

My entire world had shifted. Once again I was able to see the good in everything, no longer just the bad. The glass wall was gone too. And I now have so much to live for. A lovely home. The garden of my dreams. All the books and other hand-crafted objects we’ve made over the years, the tens of thousands of people whose lives they have touched. I am blessed to be able to live totally according to my own principles, without compromise. Have even begun, at long last, to make contact with people living here who are on the same wavelength. Plus I know now there is another soul-mate out there for me. Who is no less than Maureen.

  1. Maria Martinez said:

    Hola Phil!…me alegra que hayas superado tu pena…la vida es hermosa…sigue con tus sueños….tu al menos puedes realizarlo…el ser humano es un ser social…sigue buscando el contacto con los demas…es agradable….Maria.L.

  2. Emmanuelle said:

    Hello Phil, I am sorry for your loss. Keep going as I am sure that Maureen would have wanted you happy. What we say in French:’what does not kill makes us stronger”. It does not help but one has to realise what we have to learn from such pain as the loss of a loved one. In the hope that this message finds you in good spirit. Emmanuelle

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