Island Life

imageimageimageimageFor  the last 8 years I have lived on a little island on the river Thames.

Water, as I’ve mentioned before, has always been my element, and I had promised myself many years ago that one day, I would live on or beside it.

I first saw my house when idly browsing one day on a website specialising in waterside homes.
Coming from a very large Edwardian house, I took one look at it and thought it was not big enough.

And then I adjusted my perspective and began to think again.

Compact and much smaller than I had been used to, yes, but right on the river in a peaceful and beautiful backwater, with my own mooring and a south-westerly view, which meant that we would get the sun all day right through until sunset.
On one of the quirky little islands that dot this stretch of the Thames like tiny jewels, yet with the best pub in the area just the other side of the bridge and only 15 minutes into London from our railway station.

All this, and with one wall entirely window, filling the house with light and a large decking wrapping around for barbecues and evening cocktails.

Best of all, somewhere of my own to sit right at the water’s edge and dip my toes and reflect.
I would have been mad to turn it down, it had my name all over it.

I went to see it, walking over the large iron bridge and down the winding footpath that runs through the centre.
That was it- love at first sight!

A week later, I signed the deeds and it was mine. I’ve always been decisive when it comes to something ( or someone ) I love.

So we moved in, Freddie, Molly and I, one rainy March day.
By boat, because it was an island after all.

The removal men dropped in the river and smashed, one of my antique Victorian wash-stands and our cat was shell-shocked at the sight of so much water, but we were in.
We had to sell the piano!

When I tell people I live on an island, I hear one of four reactions:

‘ Oh, so where do you park?’
‘ But what do you do when you have to carry all your shopping?’
‘Do you ever get flooded?’

Or lastly, and much more rarely : ‘ How amazing and lucky, I’d love to live on the river!’

I always know that the person who says any one of the first three sentences will never live anywhere like this.
You need to have a certain adventurous spirit to live somewhere unusual and parking is not usually uppermost in that kind of mind.

To think of such banalities as parking and shopping when there is outstanding natural beauty to be had so close to the centre of London is to completely miss the point!

For this is one of the most glorious and unspoilt stretches of water, in the first real village outside London.

Shaped like a canoe and with only 49 houses, each one different, this is one of the smallest of the islands on The Thames.

One of the first things people notice is that we have our own post- box, which is rather quaint and stands there like something out of Beatrix Potter.

One of the houses is called The Chalet, and is an original from when the Island was first developed as a place to live by people from London who wanted summer homes on the water.

We now live here all year round!

We are opposite Hampton Court Palace, and our tiny hamlet is filled with history.
Henry VIII, whose magnificent residence is ours to enjoy just across the river, acquired a cottage in Thames Ditton for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves after their divorce – although she never actually lived there.
The miniscule doors and windows that I pass every day are testament to how small the Tudors were in stature, if not in deed.

Every season is a changing feast for the eyes and senses.

In winter, the glow from the moon reflects upon the water like a silver disc, illuminating the sleeping ducks like a still life.
The boat yard is closed for the season and there is a quiet ‘ off peak’ feel, though our cosy pub, Ye Olde Swan is always buzzing, with roaring log fires and laughter over local pints.

Before I lived here, I hadn’t understood the words in the song ‘ These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things’, but now I’ve actually seen ‘ wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings’.

When the spring arrives suddenly, as it always seems to, there is a flurry of boating activity.
People remove the covers from their little vessels and start to think about the first jaunt upstream.
The Olympic rowing team appear too on their practice runs, the shouts of the cox often being the first thing I awake to.

The cygnets, goslings and ducklings bob past, their proud parents in front.
Friends and neighbours sit out on their porches for the first time, their faces turned towards the weak spring sunshine and there is the promise of long days and nights to come.

Oh, but in the summer!
Lazy boats drift by all day, and everybody is laughing and waving.
As I said to my daughter one day, this has to be the happiest house we’ve ever lived in, for every single face that goes past wears a smile.
Boating on the river has that effect.

And now, the wild life is fully grown and swans glide by, no longer cygnets, their beauty and purity in contrast to the blue skies and colourful clothes of the day trippers.

To sit at the water’s edge at sunset is my favourite thing to do in summer.
Made even more perfect if family or friends are there too, sharing it with me.
And I never seem to be short of willing volunteers in this season!

Chilled rose wine or a beer in hand, the sun glinting off the river, shouts of nearby children and the merry barking of a dog.
These are the delights of an English summer on the Thames.

How could you ever leave?
Or think of parking issues?

I sometimes contemplate how it will be when I live elsewhere, because I know I won’t be here forever on this little slice of heaven so close to London.
That’s why I take as many photographs as I do, plus it is so picturesque.

If there is one thing I’ve learnt, it is that nothing lasts, everything changes. We can only hope to recognise moments of happiness,peace and tranquillity as they arise, and be thankful for them.

For this island living gives me just that ; calm and quiet and a place to reflect and write.

In my working life, I am in central London at least twice a week, sometimes more. Evenings too.
And my love for London is never in doubt, as I wrote in my last post.
In fact, another thing that really thrills me is that the very same river that runs past the Houses of Parliament, also runs past my house.
As I wander along on my way home from a business event or social gathering and gaze out over the lights on The Thames, I have the satisfying thought that very soon, I shall be on my own porch, a nightcap in hand, looking out on my own little sparkling stretch of the very same famous river.

The Island is a wonderful counterpoint to days spent amongst so many people.
Nature has its own power to soothe the soul like no other, and as I walk over the bridge after a day in town, I feel all my cares and tensions melt away and flow downstream.
The quiet of the night here, with no car alarms or traffic, the clarity of the stars because we have only old – fashioned gas lamps lighting our path.
These things restore balance to the weary spirit.

It isn’t perfect, life never is, anywhere.

I think my parents sometimes worry about me living here.
But I went to a boarding school that encouraged outdoor living and robust character, so I find I’m quite resourceful and up to the challenge!

Our power sometimes fails for no apparent reason and water pressure can be a challenge as we share one pump.
And don’t even think of flushing anything down the sink or elsewhere, you have to treat life as though you were on board a boat, but I love sailing so I’m used to this.

These small trials can, if you let them, make you feel annoyed.
But instead, you can allow them to bring out the Robinson Crusoe in you ( or in my case Girl Friday ) and feel satisfied that you’ve dealt successfully with the practical challenge.

Sometimes, when I have to park miles away on a drizzly winter’s day and carry heavy shopping over the bridge like a pack-horse in the trenches, I think ‘ what on earth am I doing living here?’

And returning late at night from a party, the footpath leading to my house can seem like the longest and darkest path in the world.
And yes, sometimes the footpath does flood and I have to don my waders.

But the treasures far outweigh the small tribulations.

Where else but on the river does your view change every single day?

Last week, my son stopped me as we were coming over the bridge to point out a kingfisher darting across the water.
A heron stood at the edge under the willows and ducks were laughing ( they do, believe me ) as they enjoyed the first of their early spring baths.

It’s enough to make a poet out of almost anyone.

So if you’re passing our little island on the Thames this summer, in a boat or perhaps on foot, give us a wave.

We will wave back, safe in the knowledge that you will wish, for at least that moment, that you were sitting here in your very own river-side seat with us.


Copyright Amanda Hills Feb 2015 All rights reserved
All images, Amanda Hills
‘ My Favorite Things’ by Rodgers and Hammerstein

London Calling


imageMy great-grandfather was a Yeomen of The Guard at The Tower of London.

For those who may not know, The Yeomen of The Guard are The Queen’s bodyguards at The Tower and are the oldest British Military Corps still in existence.
Created in 1485 by King Henry Vll at The Battle of Bosworth Field, they still wear the original and highly- distinctive red and gold Tudor-style uniform in his honour. In London, they are both respected and instantly recognisable.
I have a photograph of Edward ( for that was his name) with my great -grandmother, Kitty, standing proudly outside The Tower in his finery, my mother and aunt in the foreground, two little girls in ribbons.

Perhaps this explains in part my life-long love affair with London- it is somehow in my DNA.

Samuel Johnson said : ‘ When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…

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London Calling

imageMy great-grandfather was a Yeomen of The Guard at The Tower of London.

The Yeomen of The Guard are The Queen’s bodyguards and are the oldest British Military Corps still in existence.
Created in 1485 by King Henry Vll at The Battle of Bosworth Field, they still wear the red and gold Tudor-style uniform in his honour.
I have a photograph of Edward ( for that was his name) with my great -grandmother, Kitty, standing proudly outside The Tower in his finery, my mother and aunt in the foreground, two little girls in ribbons.

Perhaps this explains in part my life-long love affair with London- it is somehow in my DNA.

Samuel Johnson said : ‘ When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. For there is in London all that life can afford’.

I was born in London.image

One of my earliest childhood memories is of travelling up The Mall, past Buckingham Palace in a black cab with my grandparents.
I had been allowed to sit on one of the fold – down seats, which I thought a huge treat, and my grandparents, who shared my love of our magnificent capital city, pointed out The Changing Of The Guard and the Standard flying over the battlements of the palace which meant that The Queen was in residence.

To this day, I still check every time I go past to see if The Union Jack or The Standard is flying, getting a warm and comfortable feeling somehow if Her Majesty is at home!

I also still think that London cabbies, with their friendly banter and The Knowledge are the best in the world.
On late and rainy nights, to see the amber glow of their ‘ For Hire’ sign coming round the corner and stopping for you, is like manna from heaven to a weary soul.

My father worked in central London for nearly the whole of his career too.

Those were the days of three hour lunches and a personal secretary in a tight wiggle skirt to pour your 5 o ‘clock gin and tonic.
MadMen style meetings and Office Ladies Nights abounded, and yet they still seemed to get more work done than we do today, uninterrupted as they were by mobile phones or emails.

It was my dad who first took me on the London Underground.
As I gingerly stepped onto the steep escalator at Baker Street, aged about 6, I felt as though I would plunge to the very bottom like a fairground roller coaster.
I clung fast to my father’s hand and coat sleeve and bravely faced the challenge.
I must admit, I still don’t look all the way to the bottom as I step on, for if I do, I sway ever so slightly, and these days, I’m usually in somewhat higher shoes.

And then, ten years later, aged 16, I discovered a whole different side of London- its Nightlife!
I very quickly became addicted.

My dad, who reads this blog, was not supposed to know that I’d been up there, travelling all the way from suburbia as I did ( sorry dad ).
But my pal Linda and I had managed the mighty feat of getting ourselves into the hottest of the hot spots of the time, The Blitz Club. And we thought we were the absolute cat’s pyjamas. There was no stopping us!

Housed in a tacky wine bar in Covent Garden, Blitz Nights were on a Tuesday, which was by rights, a school night. I’ve loved a Tuesday ever since!

It quickly became notorious, and then famous, for its queues of wonderfully dressed punks and rebels around the block and its handsome and caustic New Romantic doorman- one Steve Strange, later of Visage fame.

We were so tame compared to the rest, although Lin managed rather better than me, with her purple curls, laddered tights and five layers of mascara.
I made do with tiny skirts pulled in with the widest elasticated belt imaginable and very big hair.
And somehow, they liked us, and…
we were in!
To dance to the newest thing- a video. How amazing and rare!

We ate chicken in a basket sitting in collapsing disused train seats and carriages.
One night, we saw Boy George and the whole of Spandeau Ballet and I danced with Sade Adu.

And then later, on the way home ( to Lin’s, so my dad wouldn’t find out, taking off my make-up and getting back into my civvies on the way ) we stopped at The Up All Night for coffee, where we congratulated ourselves on being quite the two most avant -garde teenagers that Surrey had ever seen.

London, London!

How it called to me through those years. Bored as I was with the view from our small village ( sorry mum and dad ! )
I couldn’t wait to get up there, and I did, working there through my early twenties.

How exotic it seemed, and removed from the provincial town I went to school in, and yet still so much the city of my childhood, and memories of my grandparents.

And now, I’m working there again, after several years absence whilst I raised my babies. The siren call got to me, finally and I felt an enormously strong pull back.

According to my dear and wise friend Havovie, the Earth Star Chakra Portal sits at the heart of London, and is crucial for our planet’s future. It governs love, divinity and humanity.
Maybe that is why I needed to be back there…my passion for it is just the same.

This time, I’ve re- discovered my love of Mayfair, which truly is my favourite of London’s little inter- connected villages.

Whether it is the name and history , or the fact that it is the most expensive dark blue property on the Monopoly board, and the one I always want to own whenever I play, it holds a particular charm for me.

‘Mayfair’  first acquired its name in 1686, when King James ll granted permission for a fair to be held on the swampy farmland that was then mainly used for cattle, in the first two weeks of May. This then became an annual event and people from surrounding villages began to flock to the area for the very first time.

I love the connotation of Olde England merry-making that the name implies, and the verdant month of May is so beautiful here in London.
Maybe it is because I love dancing and music so much, that this history appeals to me too.


From Berkeley Square to The Ritz, and Claridge’s ( surely the most heavenly hotel in the world ) to Shepherd’s Market ( what names! ) the winding, cobbled streets of Mayfair have always seemed to me to be filled with a certain sort of magic.

And even now, with the influx of a breed of money-making and showy individuals of the sort that I dislike, ( the area has always attracted this too, due to its wealth ) Mayfair manages to retain its charm.

Put simply, I like to wander there, admiring the skyline, the meandering streets, the leafy squares and the magnificent Georgian townhouses.

Would I like a house there? You bet I would – and build a hotel on it too- do not pass go, do not collect £200!

And my daughter Molly seems to have inherited my love of the area.
Recently, she wrote in her own blog, about Mayfair being one of the most delightful places that London has to offer: ‘ streets laced with golden lights and rosy- cheeked concierges outside each hotel door like Nutcracker soldiers’.

As the words of the song ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square ‘ say:

‘That certain night, the night we met
There was magic in the air.
There were angels dining at The Ritz
And A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.

I may be right, I may be wrong,
But I’m perfectly willing to swear,
That when you turn’d and smiled at me
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’.


Copyright Amanda Hills 2015, all rights reserved
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square by Maschwitz/ Sherwin

All I Want For Christmas…?

imageWhen I was a child, there was a great clamour every year for the roles of both Mary and Joseph in the school Nativity play.

But I have always felt that the unsung stars were the Innkeeper and his wife. They may not have had the best costumes or the most lines to say, but they seemed to me to embody the true meaning and spirit of Christmas, and one that I try to keep.

For they said ‘ yes’ when everybody else had said no and opened their doors so that two people in need could enter out of the cold.

Christmas. Always a difficult season to navigate, and even more so now, when everybody is so time- pressured and rushed, that there seems to be no time to enjoy what should be a period of peace and happiness.

Battling through the festive shoppers as you struggle into work each day, the season itself seeming to start earlier and earlier every year.

Queues in every department store, as you desperately try to think what to buy your father that is different from last time. My dad is always the trickiest on my list, as he doesn’t really want anything!

And isn’t that the point really? Most of us, who are lucky enough to live here in London, in England, don’t actually NEED anything.

‘What do you want for Christmas this year ?’ I hear people ask each other, as early as October. Before we’ve even celebrated Bonfire Night.

I’ve always been clear what I would like.

Everyone who truly knows me, also knows that I want nothing more than everyone I love the best back in the ‘nest’ at once!

I take very much after my maternal grandmother in this, who virtually did a head count each night, and was only satisfied to return to her knitting and her seat by the fire, once all the family were back safely indoors!

But I haven’t had this joy in quite some time, as my eldest lives in Florida and so I have had to adapt. I find it very hard, especially at this time of year.

We are never certain of anything in life except one thing: nothing stays the same.

I well remember the chaos of the run-up to Christmas when my children were all little. At one point, I had three children under 10, a cat and a rather greedy and demanding black Labrador. Madness!

And during this period, with one of them always ill for the festivities and with no chance to escape the house, I used to think that all I wanted was to go to the shops, buy myself something slinky to wear, and go to what I imagined would be a glamorous ‘ office party’, where I would be the toast of the night and dance until 3.

Of course, now that I can actually do this ( well, maybe not the toast bit! ), all I want is those days of chaos back again, with my babies!

I long for the days of school plays and dress up, where my kids decorated the tree, even though I’ve managed to block out the pandemonium and sheer exhaustion, not to mention the countless trips to the shops to replace Christmas tree chocolates and decorations that the dog had either eaten or destroyed! ( If I’m going to be totally honest here, I’ve had to go back twice this year already, as  in a moment of weakness, I’ve eaten a chocolate Santa and a bag of coins that were destined for one of the kids. As  I’ve said before, I don’t change! )

We’re never happy, are we?

But I have learned a little along the way. And what I know now is this: that everything in life is transient, happiness is fleeting and it is important to live fully in every moment.

I enjoyed  ( nearly ) every stage of my children’s early Christmases, and now I’m aware of how precious each Christmas is that I get to spend with any of my loved ones. I never take anything, or anybody, for granted.

Yes, there are a couple of special  people in particular that I would dearly love to have with me this year, but I realise how truly lucky I am to have my parents, my other two children and my friends around me.

So many do not.

On this beautiful planet we all live on, there are so many terrible things happening every day.

An atrocity this week that was horrific beyond words.

There are so many lonely people, and folk sleeping rough.

The homeless and the dispossessed among us seem to increase with every passing year.

We can, and must, do our bit, but we simply cannot help them all individually.

Collectively, however, we can do something.

Look around you, in your own small corner of our world.

Is there somebody who may be on their own or lonely this Christmas? Someone who may be feeling sad, but can’t find the words to say so? An elderly neighbour on their own, or a friend whose children have gone to spend Christmas with their other parent? I’ve been there, it is desperately hard. People do put a brave face on you know. Don’t be fooled, take the time to look a little closer.

It really isn’t about the presents under the tree, or serving the perfect Christmas feast, nice though these things may be. It is about being the Innkeeper and his wife and opening your door. Saying ‘yes’ not ‘ no’, making that extra space at the table, offering a spare bed for the night, opening your arms to the stranger or the person recently bereaved.

My daughter works at a stables ( how apt for the Christmas Story! )

She mentioned that there is a Hungarian gentleman also working there with the horses who speaks no English and who may be on his own Christmas Day.

‘ No he won’t be’, I told her. ‘ there is a place at our table for him, if he would like it. ‘

He may not come, but the important thing was to invite him. This is the true spirit of Christmas for me, not the new iPhone or the designer finery.

Of course, we don’t all celebrate Christmas. There are many other traditions and beautiful  celebrations for our wonderful diversity of  cultures and nations here on earth.

But I’ve always believed that although we may have different paths to follow, we are all trying to reach the same destination.

It won’t be easy. This season, with all its stresses and strains, can bring out the very worst in people.

There may be clashes between the generations, a moody teenager or a grumpy and difficult relative to deal with.

But with some tolerance, goodwill and a large dose of humour, ( and for me, a glass of something sparkly to hand all Christmas Day!)  I do believe a safe course can be steered through it all, and enjoyment and love can preside.

So I hope you will find your moment of happiness in this wonderful season, and importantly, recognise it when it comes.

For I’m on a mission to spread good cheer, and to do my own small bit to say we need to stop this endless greed and avarice, and idea of ‘ the perfect Christmas’ and  return to what the Christmas message really is about.

I’m happy to say, my children all share the same view and find simple happiness in the silly family games that we play and the fact that we all sit down together to eat, rather than the gifts they may receive  ( though they do! )

And so, in  the immortal words of Nat King Cole:

‘I’m  offering this simple phrase,

to kids from one to ninety-two,

although it’s been said many times, many ways,

Merry Christmas, to you!’

Shall We Dance?


imageAs I mentioned in my very first blog, I have several passions in life, and one of them is dancing.

I’ve been dancing  all my life. In fact, the first scar I ever had, still visible beside my left eyebrow, was as a result of my love of dancing!

I was on top of our outside coal bunker ( yes, this  was  in those days! ) aged 5 and I was constructing a dance routine which consisted of me pirouetting and then pretending to fly over the coal hole.

Except I overdid my exuberance, as usual, and fell in, cutting my head open on the way down.

My mother , who had probably been to Casualty with one of my  brothers already that week, was not impressed when I told her I was being Liesl from The Sound Of Music.

That was the first film I was ever taken to see at the cinema.

My Irish grandfather, the same one who taught me to swim, for those of you who may have read my blog ‘Just Keep Swimming’, took me one afternoon as a treat.

On the bus we went, a treat in itself, from Enfield, stopping off in the town beforehand, where I was taken into a little shop and told I could choose my very first handbag as a special gift from Grandad.

Navy blue suede with gilt handles it was, I can still see it now- and I proudly put my hanky and purse in there, along with the packet of sweets I had chosen to take in with me. I haven t changed much!

As I sat next to my beloved grandfather in the dark, and the music started, I was spellbound- and captivated by both Captain Von Trapp and Liesl.

That was where I fell in love with dance as a means to express joy in human emotion.

Many of you will know the scene I mean: in the summer pavilion at night,in a thunderstorm, Rolfe and Liesl leaping from bench to bench as the rain pours down in the garden outside. Ending in their first kiss. I’m a hopeless romantic!

This was the very scene I was re-enacting as I leapt over the coal hole.

In my mind, I WAS Liesl!


And so it went on, through ballet classes and learning to be en pointe, my first pale pink ballet slippers and my extremely wild and unruly hair brushed and coaxed by my mother into a bun, while I sat protesting , my eyes  watery with painful tears.

And then being taken to see Mary Poppins, my mum and I sitting side by side tapping our feet to ‘ Step in Time’ as Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke danced across  starry London rooftops with sooty faces and a cast of impish chimney sweeps.

My  greatest treat as a young girl was being allowed to stay up on a Thursday night to watch Top Of The Pops , waiting impatiently for Pan’s People to come on and perform their routine.

As cheesy as it inevitably  was, their smiling faces seemed to me to sum up the sheer joy that I always felt as I danced. Oh how I dreamed of being one of them!


Eventually I grew up and went to work in London.

There, the wonders of The Pineapple Dance Studios opened their portals to me.


Legwarmers and and leotards and very many ways with my hair,  the bane of my life, which I was now wearing in a Punky rough cut in what I rather hoped was a tribute to my heroine, Debbie Harry of Blondie.

Signing up to classes in Jazz and Latin American Dance ( still my favourite ) and loving the fact that every week I had the opportunity to leap, fly and jump in a big space  with mirrors whilst wearing Day Glo colours.

In fact, I still love this, as evidenced by the class I went to just last week on Hallowe’en, where my dance teacher, Nancy, thrillingly supplied masks and Glow Bands!

And that’s the point.

Dance is a fantastic way to let loose and celebrate the sheer joy of being alive, human and a physical being, while also expressing the way that the music makes you feel.

Because of course, there is always music! That’s the wonderful thing.

One of the best dancers of Salsa I know is my friend Ana.

Now Ana was born with an unfair advantage in the rhythm stakes, as she is Cuban.

She told me that in her home country, as soon as babies can move, their mothers place their hands on their tiny hips and start to gently rotate  and sway them to the Salsa beat.

No wonder they are so good at it!

I’m very lucky, because Ana taught me how to Salsa in the Latin style and it is all in the hip action, as they say on Strictly.

And we only have to look at babies and very young children to see that dancing is intrinsic to human nature.

Across all cultures, in every corner of the globe, people have developed their own way of moving to music or a beat.

Dancing is used to celebrate a ceremonial occasion, to demonstrate fertility and abundance and to just show yourself and other people that you are alive!

I’ve danced everywhere and at any occasion my whole life.

From sunset beaches with friends, to impromptu dances in sailing huts,  and from pool parties in exotic climes, to a rather wild Irish jig in a pub on Dublin’s Grafton Street.

Even in  a  country field at midnight with some old school friends ( ‘ Play That Funky  Music White Boy’, Lesley  and Mark?)

When I say how much I love to dance, and how happy it makes me feel,  some people tell me they can’t do it.

‘ Oh, I’ve got two left feet’, they say. Or :  ‘ I’m much too shy, I can only dance after I’ve had a few drinks’.

But I don’t believe this is true.

As all the  very young can naturally dance, I believe it is only  inhibition and ego that stand in the way of people wanting to let loose.

And certainly, in England, there seems to be a notion that men don’t dance!

All that wiggling of the hips and bottom- isn’t it a bit much??

But I hope that programmes such as the marvellous ‘ Strictly Come Dancing’ are beginning to change all that. We’ve seen rugby players and cricket captains alike embrace their inner dancer!

For I’m currently on  a mission to encourage more men into the dance class I go to three times each week.

Not only do I believe they would love it, but I strongly think that dancing together improves the relationship between the sexes.

We are not designed to dance alone, it takes two to Tango after all and the most iconic and celebrated dance partnership is still Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Dancing is the quickest route I know to happiness.

Any dull day can be transformed, if we just put on some music and start to move to the rhythm as the mood and tune takes us.

There is no wrong or right way really, unless you are in a classical class or giving a performance.

When it is just you, you can freely move around, expressing yourself just as you like and it is so uplifting and transformative.

I think it is impossible to stay feeling even a little bit blue whilst sashaying across the sitting  room floor to Ricky Martin, but that’s just me!

Everybody has  their favourite dance track for the mood they are in…I bet you can think of one now!

So don’t hesitate…because one of the best things about a dance piece is, it is usually only about 3 minutes long. And in  that 3 minutes, you can change your mood for the better, sing at the top of your voice and pretend to be anybody you want to be, including the best version of yourself.

On any given day, I can be Darcey Bussell, a Spanish Flamenco dancer or even just me, dancing and loving it, as I always have.

Of course, on a rainy day like today,  I am still always Liesl, in her white dress, jumping from bench to bench, supported by Rolfe’s manly hand, forever sixteen…

All it takes is the courage to lose your inhibitions for a while.

As Mary J Blige wisely sings in ‘ Family Affair ‘ :

‘ Let loose and set your body free.

Leave your situations at the door

So when you step inside jump on the floor’ .









Are You Lonesome Tonight?

image imageMy inspiration for today’s blog came from two friends of mine, both of whom will recognise themselves but who I won’t name!

The first friend, is a very brave and strong lady, who by being courageous enough to speak her own truth about loss, has helped many other people, including me.

The second, is a lovely friend who took me out this week to a beautiful place, listened to me, laughed with me, encouraged and inspired me and who I know will write a wonderful book one day!
Thank you both and this blog is in your honour.

Firstly, before I say more, I do realise my blogs are very personal and they may not appeal to everyone.
But I’m not here to dress things up, or appeal to some lowest common denominator, or even to be ‘ liked’.
I’m here to speak my truth and more importantly, if my words help anyone at all on their own journey then that is my life mission!

It is incredibly difficult sometimes, to be spiritual beings in human form, and I do strongly believe it is this way round and not the opposite, as many might think.
We need to help each other whenever we can- and we always can!

There are already a lot of ‘Lifestyle’ pieces out there, and they are very valuable too, but for me, if there is one thing writing had better be, it is personal, otherwise, I see little point.
‘Words are but pictures of our thoughts’ as Dryden pointed out. Indeed.

So today, I want to write about a tricky subject, and that is loneliness.

There is shame attached, somehow, in any of us admitting to this emotional state.

A very special and wise man I know- and again, he will know who he is- once said to me that humans all too often use the words ‘ I’m fine’ as a defence mechanism, when really they are not fine at all and would benefit much more from reaching out for help.

This is something friend number one touched on last week in her brave Facebook post.
She reminded us that the three hardest things to say are: ‘ I love you’, ‘ I’m sorry ‘ and ‘ I need some help’.

I was reflecting on this on Wednesday when I was in central London.

Everywhere I looked, people were staring fixedly at their own little personal screens of loneliness. And, may I say, often walking straight into me in the process!

They were not noticing the beauty of the October day, the majesty of our great capital city with its amazing architecture, nor the eyes of the homeless man who sat in human misery right in front of them as they almost walked all over him.

Now, I know, I am guilty of having my phone with me at all times, and I start to get short of breath if I have no battery life left and there is no charger in sight.
I’m famous amongst my friends for searching out phone charging opportunities via friendly waiters and bar staff all over town!
One of my friends refers to my phone as the ‘ crown jewels’ because of the way I bodyguard my ancient CrackBerry.

Guilty as charged.
I said I’m very far from perfect at the start!
All the people I love the best ‘ live ‘ in my phone- or at least, that’s how it often feels!
And as a natural communicator, I do like to feel I can always be contacted.

But it has gone too far.

I like Facebook. Yes, sometimes I love it.
I admit that it gives me great pleasure to be able to communicate instantly with my best friend Lesley in LA, my dear friend Debbie in Madrid, my children if they are travelling and are over the other side of the world.
I get to see that they’re alright, see their photos.

And it is fun and a little bit of light relief, to see the funny moments on there too, as well as some of the more serious and important posts.
I’ve learned a lot from the wisdom of others this way.

But we do know it isn’t real don’t we?

Often, it can seem from people’s posts as if they are having a brilliant life!
Facebook envy is a very real phenomenon, or feeling that we are the only person not invited to the party!

But often, as my brave friend said, it is those who are hurting the most who post positive things, just trying to keep a smile on their own face and attempting to see the light through the current darkness.

We need to look beyond the pictures to the real heart of the person to see the truth.
This is called being a true friend.

It is so easy now, to hide behind words: emails, texts, Whatsapps, Facebook posts.
We forget that as humans, we are created to interact physically and emotionally, face to face.

‘ No time’, people say. ‘ Too busy’.
But busy doing what exactly?

Emailing and replying to interminable threads and cc ‘ all’.
And scurrying through the day, meetings and more emails and calling it a life?

Yes, there are bills to pay and jobs to hold down. Families to care for, mouths to feed.
But we managed to do all of these things for a very long time without constant phone gazing, and I would argue, made a better and simpler job of actually getting on with the business of living!

We’ve made it so complicated, living through our machines, particularly where relationships are concerned.
Creating a generation of young people who don’t know how to interact with each other properly, or even how to behave during courtship without the aid of a device.

And at the risk of sounding controversial ( I don’t care ! ) I believe men have struggled with all of this even more than women, being the creatures of action rather than words that they naturally are.

So, back to my point. Loneliness.
Is it any wonder that more people than ever before are reporting themselves as feeling ‘ extremely lonely’?

This type of ‘ removed’ communication increases it.
Travelling about all over the place, texting and Tweeting, never looking up.
We seem more connected than ever before, yet we’ve never felt further apart.

As I said to my friend; ‘ London is full of everyone. Yet we talk to no one’.

Yes, strong words, but I believe them to be true.
I hope I’ve caught myself with this just in time.

I’ve always talked to people I happen to meet on my daily path anyway.
Irish blood, we like to talk.

After all, we are all the same, we’re all connected here.
None of us any better or worse than any other, status and money are just facades, our ‘ masks’.

Shopkeepers, bar staff ( again! ) cabbies, doormen, refuse collectors and fellow commuters alike- I talk to people, and I even smile!

And now, I turn my phone to silent ( haven’t managed completely off yet! ) when I’m with someone and I don’t answer unless I’m anticipating some sort of emergency call, or I already know there is an urgent situation that may need my attention.

Everything else really can wait, and constant phone gazing over a personal or intimate meeting or dinner is so very rude!
It is like saying to the person you’re with : ‘ I don’t find you interesting enough to devote my time and attention to you’.

Last week, I was having tea with my son in Brighton.
I don’t see him as often as both of us would like and I was enjoying his delightful company.
Importantly, as I love him very much, I was enjoying also looking at his face and expressions as we spoke.

My phone rang, I had forgotten to switch it to silent in my bag.
‘ Do get that if you want to mum’, he said. ‘ I know it may be work’.

It was 5 pm on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon, I was with a beloved son who I hadn’t seen for a month.
There was no way I was going to answer it.

‘ No, that’s ok,’ I said. ‘ I’m enjoying your company and that’s much more important.Whatever it is, can wait’.

Soon enough, he went in to get the bill and I was easily able to check my missed call.

By living in reality like this, and truly being with someone in that moment, you are giving them the greatest gift any human can give another and your most valuable resource : your time and your undivided attention.

This is the gift my friend and I gave to each other last week, and it is beyond price.

Both of us messaged each other the next day, yes.
But it was just to say what a wonderful and inspiring evening we had both enjoyed together.
This sort of message just cements what is already there.

I believe if we all spoke to each other more, smiled a little more, took time a little more often, that there would be much less loneliness in the world.
And then when someone asks how we are and we say ‘ fine’, we may actually mean it.

Please do something valuable with that phone you are currently holding in front of you like a shield, and use it to call someone.
Give them the pleasure of hearing your voice, arrange to see them.

And then give them your real, undivided self.

Tonight, I am going out to dinner to a lovely little Italian restaurant with two dear friends.
My phone will be on silent and in my bag…

I will call you back!


100 Happy Days

A tricky concept to write about, especially in a blog?
Nevertheless, today, I’m going to try!

A while ago ( just over a hundred days ago ) a friend of mine inspired me to join the100 Happy Day challenge.

Nancy is an impressively bouncy and upbeat individual, and I was going through a somewhat challenging time whilst doing my best to stay positive, so I thought: ‘ Ok, let’s see. Can’t do any harm at all and may even do some good’.

Without wishing to sound too angelic ( you know I’m not, or will do as we go along ) I have always made a little nightly point of writing down the 3 things that have made me happiest that day.
Coming from a Buddhist perspective, I do believe that in order to make anyone else in your life happy, you have first to start with yourself.

And I had been pleased- though not surprised- that most of the little things I noted down each night were either free, or cost very little at all.

Things like…seeing a dear friend’s welcoming smile, a hug from one of my children or even getting into a warm and cosy bed at the end of a long day. We do take that for granted, when so many do not have that luxury.

I had already found that focusing on these happy moments had increased my sense of gratitude and pleasure in my own life, so the 100 Day thing was just a continuation of this at the start.

Then an interesting thing happened.

As I began to really be mindful of the events and people in my day, I actively started to look for the upcoming little ‘ happinesses’.

Now I’m a psychologist, so I’ve long had a strong belief in the power of positive thought, as there is so much scientific proof for the good it does, both for the human psyche and for the body.
And of late, my own research has increasingly been in the field of Mindfulness and Positive Psychology.

But this was slightly different.

As I awoke each morning, one of my first thoughts was to wonder which one thing would outweigh all the others as my top happy moment for that day.
What a great way to start!

Being already extremely fortunate in my life, and lucky that I am the sort of person who enjoys a variety of hobbies and passions, I always had so many lovely things to choose from.

Would it be my dance class or a walk with a friend? Maybe my daily Yoga practice, or the view from my window over the changing river?

Or my work, which brings me so much satisfaction and pleasure these days that it is hardly work at all?

Perhaps something big was coming up that day, such as my eldest son’s return home from America, or there would suddenly be a tiny, unexpected moment of perfect joy in the special smile exchanged between two people who truly love and understand each other.

The point is, there were so many!
And I hadn’t realised how many, until I truly focused on them.

I live in a beautiful place, on an island on the Thames and so this was even easier for me, but one of my favourite happy moments, and one I will always treasure, took place in a hot and crowded room in London, during a work event ( that was the smile 😊 )

These little snapshots of joy in my life began to be something I could not do without.
And even as something made me happy and I thought : ‘Oh, this is today’s’, there was always the delicious possibility of something even happier topping it later! Some days I had so many, I was spoilt for choice!

And the happiness cascaded, as happiness always does.

I began to notice that rather a lot of my friends, who had reported to me that they were avidly looking forward to my Happy Posts each day on Facebook ( my chosen platform, there were other options, but this felt ‘lighter’ somehow ) had begun to post much more positive things on their own pages.
One friend told me that she had always viewed herself as a ‘ glass half empty’ kind of person, but reading about my Happy Days caused her to re-think.

As they read my words, they told me they started to reflect on their own special microcosms of joy.

One friend, who lives in the Middle East ( thank you Reine ) where life is much harder at the moment than here in London, told me that it had affected her quite profoundly.

In a country where there is often so much conflict, she had been feeling- unsurprisingly- a tad more negative than her personality would normally allow. She even told me : ‘Amanda, it is so much easier to be happy when you live in London.’

And then she began to look for her own Happy Day.

It came on a trip to her gym, where she happened to glance out of the window and see a small and beautiful bird, busy upon the branch of a tree.
She saw that the bird was taking no notice of conflict, time or place. It was just being a bird. As nature intended.

She emailed me to say that she thought of what I’d been saying, about actively looking for the good things and living in the moment, and she told me that she had seen there was a lot of beauty in the world, even in a place where peace can be hard to find.

I think the main lesson I’ve learned has been just that: how many moments I really have in my life that give me happiness, and this was a platform through which to express gratitude.
And the wonderful thing about gratitude is, the more you express it, the more things come your way to be grateful about!

It’s a win/ win formula.

Now I’ve completed the challenge ( and I was one of the apparently small percentage who do, most expressing ‘lack of time’ as their reason for dropping out…although it took me less than 5 minutes to post each night…) I miss it.

My friends say they miss it too.

Joyce told me at a party last week that it was the first thing she looked at each morning, my Happy Moment from the evening before, together with the photos I chose to go alongside it.
‘ I miss your Happy Moments’, she said. ‘ I loved seeing all the little things that were making you smile. ‘

But I shall carry on the rhythm, going through my day, noting all the moments where I feel content, happy or at peace, so that I can enjoy the feeling again later and share with those who have contributed to it.

And again, looking back, although there are several repeating themes- dance, tennis, yoga, a swim, the beauty of nature, a special smile, London, family and friends- most of them cost nothing, or very little.

The sight of wild geese flying low over the misty river, or the face of a beloved person can be anyone’s Happy Moment…if only they will take the time to notice it.

The effervescent Nancy, who started all this for me, is on her third lot of 100’s, and I’m contemplating doing my second 100 too.
Happiness seems to be addictive!

And with the autumn upon us, and winter coming on, it is a fabulous way to beat any blues…and far cheaper than any therapy!

I hope you notice your Happy Moment when you feel it…



Just Keep Swimming !

It won’t have escaped your notice that the pic accompanying this blog is of me in water.
Taken by a friend, in a swimming pool, on a happy day in Italy, it is one of the few photos of myself that I like.
I think it’s because I look genuinely happy !
That is the effect being in water ( and in Italy ) has on me.

I learnt to swim when I was 4.
My beloved Irish grandfather had bought me a new red and yellow rubber ring, and together, in the sea in Worthing, we launched it.
As I tentatively took my feet off the bottom of the sea bed and let them dangle in the watery space, my love of swimming was born!

And I’ve loved being in water ever since.
A warm and salty ocean, a pool, or even, at times, a river.
If there is some water nearby and I have the chance, I will always take the opportunity and the plunge.

I don’t mind if the water’ s cold.
Years of bracing English seaside holidays with my family. My father standing no nonsense, as my brothers and I stood shivering in home- made towelling robes, our noses running, being told off for getting our feet sandy again after they had been washed off with a salty bucketful.

My idea of heaven is a wild Cornish sea, and as long as I have a wet-suit top covering my shoulders, I can happily body-board and catch waves all day.
The promise of a Cornish pasty, chips and a steaming mug of tea from the little corner cafe keeps me going too.

But if the sea is an Italian one, and the waves gentler, then to frolic and bob about under a Calabrian sun, and to exit the ocean knowing that I can bask in some serious rays as I dry off, is a delicious prospect!

In my first blog, I wrote about space, and I think it is the same sort of feeling that I get when I swim that makes it so pleasurable for me.

In the pool, at the end of the day, I can find myself in a meditative state.
Worries melt away as I enter the water.
And most of my fellow swimmers, wherever I am, are just so nice!
Nodding peacefully to each other as we don our goggles and pick our lane.
Respecting the quiet, knowing it is the time most of us just like to be with ourselves.

I love the way that my arms and legs and head cut through the water.
I’m not the fastest or most expert of swimmers, but my stroke settles into a rhythm that’s comfortable for me, and my breathing slows to match- just as it does during yoga.
Reflection comes easily for me there, but it has a dream-like quality, very therapeutic.

And I love to just watch the water and the bottom of the blue pool go by, lining myself up with the darker navy of the lane marker.
Counting the lengths and finding a calming rhythm also in that.

And when I’m done, after my 20 or so lengths ( and I do like a satisfying number, so if not 20, then it’s 30 ) I climb out feeling clean and satisfied, and as though I’ve washed away all the grime of the day ( yes, I do shower first, for those at my club! )

Knowing too, that all I need is myself and a costume and I’m all set.
No special equipment, just my body and the desire to swim.

Thats my happy thought today.
Clean body, clean hair and a refreshed mind. And then the satisfaction of knowing that sleep is so much better when I’ve swum.
And getting into clean sheets after a swim has just got to be one of the best things ever!

So, if in doubt, and no matter what life throws at you today, be guided by Nemo…and…

Just Keep Swimming !



First blog – SPACE!

Having posted various bits and pieces on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn over the years, I’ve finally decided to have a go at putting my thoughts down on my own blog.. If you’re reading this, then thank you and welcome!

Amanda Hills here, I’ll just switch this on, in the words of Mr Fitzherbert ( known by another name, for fellow fans of Bridget Jones ).

People who know me well, will also know that I wear several hats.
I’m a Psychologist and Freelance Writer, but I teach yoga in my spare time, am a Guest Lecturer at King’s College, and very importantly, am a mother to three very fine creations- best three days work I ever did!

So I have many passions, and I’m very blessed to lead an incredibly full and rewarding life, for which I’m extremely thankful every day… ( more of that in another Blog about my 100 Happy Days )

Now I don’t want this to sound ‘goody two shoes’, because again, anyone who knows me well will attest to the fact that I’m no angel and I have a very strong mischievous streak, together with a highly developed sense of the ridiculous and a weakness for the double entendre…. Years of holidaying with a particular family has honed this last one!

Chief amongst my passions are, in no particular order : my family and close friends, London, tennis, music, films, dance, cocktails, books, yoga and meditation, water- being on it, beside it and in it- Ireland…I could go on..

And all coming from a deeply held spiritual belief that we are here to enhance and encourage our fellow human beings’ journeys, spread a little light and sunshine and most of all, approach everything we do from a place of love , non-judgement and compassion…. Whilst also having fun and enjoying ourselves!
Laughing is one of the best feelings in the world and in the words of another heroine of mine, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I dearly love to laugh.

So, welcome to my world, or, my corner of it at least.

And today, I want to briefly share my great good fortune at going to an amazing place to practise yoga this morning.

Called ‘Yoga Sp8ce’, it has been lovingly built in the woodland area of the home of Stephanie and Riccardo near Ockham in Surrey.

As you drive through the gates, there is so much space, and air and light, that you can’t believe you are still so close to London.

We were led in a beautiful yoga class by Clare Gibson, with a view over the lake, the tiny bridge over it and a tranquil Island in the centre… Like a little reminder of heaven while you sit in Lotus position!

Clare set a beautiful intention, reflecting the studio’s name, asking us to ponder on yoga’s amazing ability to create space.. Both inside our bodies and minds, and in our hearts.

And it is the little space, or pause between our inhale and our exhale, and then the reverse, which we begin to learn to focus on when bringing our minds to stillness at the start of meditation.

Space… it seems a rare commodity these days. In London, in our diaries and most of all, in our lives, but as Clare taught us today, just a few minutes spent quietly, in reflection and peace, can begin to give you the space you need within yourself. And that’s a very good place to start!

And with practise, you can carry that feeling off the yoga mat with you and take it with you everywhere you go- crowded tubes and London streets included. In fact, especially there!
I know. Because I do it every day. And it is a fantastic tool to have.

So that is my thought for the day and I want to practise it throughout this week… Just breathe and give yourself some SPACE. Be still inside yourself and you can feel the calm, even with a hundred other people around you.
Thank you for the space for reading this too…