Del Hughes reflects on a year of living dangerously
March 20th 2022 is a date writ large in my memory, because on that day, Nation Cymru published my first ever article. And, fortuitously, it also marked the unofficial start of a shiny new twelve-month, life-enhancement plan.
So I thought I’d take a breath, look back on my triumphs, and disasters, and take stock of what I’ve gained from a year of dangerous living. (In the interests of honesty, for ‘dangerous’, think ‘mildly dicey’, but you get my drift.)
The catalyst for this new regime was, improbably, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A few weeks before my mum died, we’d watched that film, and she’d remarked that I was ‘just like Bilbo’ – no adventurous spirit and happiest sitting quietly at home.
We’d laughed, I’d said, ‘Who wouldn’t be happy in a hobbit hole?’, and that was that. But, after her death, those words haunted me, percolating, until the day I realised that she was right.
For the past eight years, my daily routine had been: get up – take pills – sit down – repeat. I justified such inaction as a sad, though unsurprising, side effect of becoming disabled.
But, though limited in what I could physically do, that shouldn’t stop me attempting to improve my lot. Mum’s aside was the wake-up call I’d desperately needed! It was time to get off my arse, get outside, and start living.
And what a year it’s been!
It began with an art class. Innocuous enough you might think. Nope, because this wasn’t any art class, this was life drawing (Advanced). Gulp. See, my cousin, Jen (a trained artist with a flair for all things crafty), had been unwell, so I’d stupidly left it up to her to choose our first activity.
I’ve written, in excruciating detail, about it here, so I won’t go over old ground – mainly because, even now, the cringe still triggers literal cold sweats, crimson cheeks and utter mortification.
Just know that, as an individual with severely impaired artistic ability, it truly was one of the worst experiences of my life.
Saying that, whenever Jen and I get together, at some point one of us will laugh-snort, the other will mutter ‘donkey’, and we’ll dissolve into hysterics, so uncontrollable that it makes me glad Tena Lady are a thing. (My pelvic floor just doesn’t have the snap it used to.)
After that debacle, I took it upon myself to sort out all future activities. And that’s why, a couple of weeks later, Jen and I were barrelling down the A484 on our way to the epicentre of all things esoteric – Llanelli. We’d made an appointment with renowned psychic and Goddess of Ghostcraft, Sally, and were extremely excited. Whoop whoop!
To be frank, what we learned in Sal’s pebble-dashed semi wasn’t on point. Yes, she hit upon a couple of things that she couldn’t have known in advance, but whether that was genuine psychic ability, or simply good guesswork, who knows?
Mind, we would go again because, whatever the source of our messages from the beyond, it gave me and Jen a damn good giggle on the drive home.
Since then, I’ve continued with my abstruse adventures, one of which took place deep within the Badlands of the Gower Peninsula.
I’d planned a night of witchy rituals beneath May’s full moon, and my mate, Gaynor, had come along for the ride.
What I hadn’t planned, or for that matter even considered, was having my amateurish progress monitored by two proper hedge-witches and a druid.
During the ceremony, it soon became clear that my spiritual advisor, ‘Lady Nightshade’ (aka Audrey), who I’d found on Facebook, possibly wasn’t the specialist I’d imagined.
According to Colin the druid, ‘crawling widdershins is unlikely to be propitious. . . in fact, probably the opposite’, and Janet and Angel-fire nodded along in mute agreement. Bloody Audrey!
Gaynor and I had also prepared ‘release/forgive’ and ‘manifest/affirm’ lists, ready for burning atop the sacred capstone of Maen Cetti.
However, due to our wild Welsh weather, along with a terrifying number of rats, and toads – Shudder! – our ritual lost any and all dramatic impact when we ended up burning our lists in the back of my Renault Kangoo. Sigh.
Alan Partridge of the ether
Jen and I decided to try our luck with a different psychic over the summer. Freddy Moon (not his real name, obvs), was ‘psychic to the stars’ and promised to take us on ‘a fascinating, eerie, and spiritual journey.’
Sounded promising, though discovering the ‘journey’ would begin in the Holiday Inn Express, Swansea (East), somewhat lowered our expectations.
And thank God/Goddess for that because Freddy, bless him, wasn’t up to the job. Even if this Alan Partridge of the ether was genuinely psychic, the messages he imparted certainly didn’t showcase his clairvoyant competence – ‘I see a man. . . wearing shoes.’ LOL!
And, if he was a charlatan (well, duh!), he was such an abysmal one (or, with hindsight, a very clever one?), that, instead of clamouring for our money back, we ended up rooting for him, willing him to come up with any ‘validations’ that were, actually, valid.
But alas, it wasn’t to be. Poor Freddy.
Under November’s ‘Mourning Moon’, I attempted a solitary practice and hosted a dumb supper.
Despite misgivings, I did consult Audrey once again – she’d apologised about the whole widdershins fiasco – and she expertly explained how the evening should pan out, plus all the regalia I’d require, if I was to make this dinner party dead good.
Coincidentally, this was the weekend when Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall was hosting a ‘Magical Market’, so Jen and I dashed down to source the prerequisite paraphernalia – sage smudger (for cleansing), moonstone (Mum’s ‘focus’ crystal?), candles (for atmosphere) and, of course, the witches’ staple, a cauldron.
By any measure, it was an unconventional evening – but the table looked beautiful, the Boeuf Bourguignon was delicious, and at times I fancied that my paranormal parents (and past pooches), were really sitting beside me. It was lovely.
My only missteps, according to a proper expert who’d commented on my subsequent article, were:
1. Not burying the uneaten stew in the garden – in the interests of thrift, I’d put the untouched portions back in the slow cooker.
2. I definitely shouldn’t have finished off everyone’s Prosecco either. Sigh.
Also in November, Jen and I did something we’ve wanted to do for years – we went on a ghost hunt and it was an unnerving experience. The organisers at Ghost Watch Wales called this top-secret location, ‘Area 51’, due to the wealth of ‘unexplained phenomena that occurs here.’ Eek!
That night we, maybe, faced spectral shenanigans, maybe heard otherworldly voices, definitely experienced temperature anomalies (though there were fan heaters on in the toilets), and 100% definitely caught the scrape of chair legs being dragged across the main room’s parquet flooring when every member of our Scooby gang were together in the kitchen. Uh-oh!
Despite my scepticism, I will admit that the atmosphere of the place was unsettling and I was glad when 2am struck and we could head for home.
But it had been great fun too – so much so, I’ve already been on another hunt with GWW, and I’m waiting, impatiently, for them to firm up dates for their supernatural charabanc sojourn to Bodmin Jail, because that will be a proper paranormal escapade. EEK!
As well as the esoteric, I’ve also undertaken activities that can ‘tap into your subconscious, helping you achieve complete physical, and mental, relaxation.’ And Jen and I first dipped our toes into those salty waters at The Lazy Frog Floatation Centre.
For me, a sensory deprivation tank was the stuff of New-agey nightmares, but Jen was having a tough time, and since it, apparently, eased stress, we decided to dive right in. And bugger me if it wasn’t the most mind-bending, life-changing, and abso-bloody-lutely brilliant experience ever!
If you fancy it, and I’d definitely recommend that you try it at least once, do prepare yourself for some full-on brain-busting action, because your thoughts will go places you wouldn’t believe.
Whenever I float, I obsess over hypotheticals – What’s my favourite owl? If I had sex with a car, which would be the tenderest lover? Would Tim stay with me if I could still talk but had turned into a dog? I could go on, and on, but you get the picture.
(I should also mention that it caused episodes of what I can only describe as ‘stag moments’, where I was overtaken by irrepressible, primal bellowing, but they were a small price to pay for one, completely, pain-free hour.)
And floating opened me up to those ‘hippy-dippy’ therapies I’d never thought to try. I spent an evening in a gong bath, a type of meditation where you ‘bathe’ in sound vibrations. But it didn’t do it for me. It was rather like being at a grown-up sleepover – but a nightmarish one where you don’t know anybody, and there’s no alcohol.
Though I found it underwhelming, don’t let me put you off trying it.
The majority of people there did garner positive results and, in fairness, the main cause of my inability to fully unwind, and the attendant upsurge of stress, was my overwhelming fear of exhibiting a thunderous ‘stag moment’ in the midst of forty sleepy strangers.
In December, I went along to an Ecstatic Dance & Cacao Activation event being held in Bishops wood, and that was a real eye-opener. Myself and twenty-odd others were there to ‘express our wildness, release emotions and revel in community magic.’ Um. . . okay?
Once we’d drunk the cacao – a concoction vastly different from the cocoa I’d imagined (and not in a good way) – the music started, we donned wireless headphones and everyone bar me, headed off into the woodland to let rip ‘our untamed expressions.’
I stayed seated in the roundhouse and started small, some gentle shoulder-shrugging, and the occasional ‘unscrew the lightbulb’ move I’d seen on Slumdog Millionaire.
I was too aware of how ridiculous I must have looked, not helped by my oversized reindeer hoodie. But, as the music built, I began to loosen up until I reached a point when, suddenly, I didn’t care. I didn’t care about my windmilling arms, or that my legs were propelling Roy (my rollator) on a tour through shrubbery, undergrowth and mud.
Because that was the beauty of it – nobody gave a damn what anyone thought. We were simply allowing our bodies to do exactly what felt right – and it was liberating, remarkable and I felt truly ecstatic.
Feel the fear
I’ve also faced up to a fair few fears too, with varying success. I competed in a poetry slam, where I was, mercifully, knocked out in the first round. I couldn’t have approached that mic again, not after the acute embarrassment of those two minutes – trying desperately to squeeze out a poem while my voice ricocheted through the panoply of pitch, from bass to soprano and back again.
I had a shot at curing my arachnophobia by letting Dylan, a curly-haired tarantula, amble around on my bare arm – Worst. Idea. Ever!
And, much less extreme but, for me, almost as frightening, I attended a sewing masterclass where I attempted to make a cushion in under three hours. (Spoiler: I nailed it. Yay me!)
I’ve also tried pottery classes, the W.I., came face-to-beak with my favourite owl, travelled the world (albeit virtually), navigated my way through a tricky Christmas (shout out to the gas man who made it happen), and started playing the ukulele. Phew!
I’ve met fantastic people, made new friends, started socialising again, and I’ve stopped hiding myself away for weeks on end.
I’ve had adventures that have imbued me with a degree of self-belief and increased self-confidence.
I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and even those many failures, because at least I had a go, and in doing so, infused my life with some much-needed joy.
Losses and gains
But there’s been loss too. In June, our dog Barney, a scruffy bundle of nerves and neuroses, followed his ‘brother’, Tommy, over the rainbow bridge, and I still can’t think of him without welling up.
Since then, we’ve welcomed two lurcher pups into the family. They’re huge, hugely destructive, hugely adorable and we love them to bits, but they’re no Barney – though Tim says that’s a blessing because ‘Barney was sodding hard work, and could be a bit of a dick!’ Lol! He’s not wrong.
And a couple of weeks ago, Tim and I did a road trip to Ystradffin, sat on the riverbank, sang some songs (with uke accompaniment), and scattered 20% of my mother (and 90% of Tommy and Barney), into the waters of the Tywi.
Before now, I hadn’t been ready to let any part of them go, preferring to keep them sealed up and safe in their urns. But lately. . . I felt it was time to start setting them free.
Whether that’s due to my new optimistic outlook or, more prosaically, just because enough time has passed, I can’t really say. But, if I were a betting woman, I know which horse I’d back.
So, what’s next? Well, my odyssey will continue, and next week I’m ushering in a new year of dangerous living with my most hazardous activity to date.
And, maybe me and my uke can spread our own little bit of joy when I, eventually, pluck up the courage to perform in one of our club’s community gigs.
So watch this space, because the action is only just beginning to heat up.
If you’re inspired to start your own dangerous living regime, and want to try any of the activities I’ve written about, the articles contain links and contact details. Bon Voyage thrill seekers!
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