In search of susurrus #1

Chinese lanterns light up a dark sky
Chinese lanterns and karst peaks

Photos rarely tell the truth. Memories are even worse. But between the two, a sensory-saturated moment in time can be recalled in startling clarity. To organise your travel snaps is to head grinning with relish into a forgotten instant. What better task, then, for a dark and quiet January on a northerly island.

This series of photos is about China, where we lived for a few years. Some are quietly observed; others are snapped in haste. Travelling with a family meant learning to notice these instants, and to enjoy  – sometimes only fleetingly -the excitement, calm or bewildered curiosity they inspired.

The first photo was taken in southern China, in a region of limestone mountains of fantastical shapes near Yangshuo. The round, red lanterns seemed to glow like planets, with the karst outlines in the distance. This countryside was like a thousand Chinese paintings; mountains inked below a rice-paper sky.

That night we were staying in the Giggling Tree hostel, a bike ride from the nearest noisy and neon-lit town. The evening was cool but we ate outside and drank beer and talked nonsense and watched the children race around the old, stone courtyard with their visiting cousins. I snapped this picture on a trip to the loo, mesmerised by the light and taking a moment to enjoy the cool, jasmine-scented peace of dusk.

We had a full moon that trip too, and watched it slide into the circular frame of an eroded rock – a detail I’ve only just remembered.

KW Sundibanks, Shetland



Confucian wisdom on social media

Elderly Beijing man in Mao suit
Beijing man in contemplation

Anyone anxious about their social media presence can take comfort in the wise words of Chinese philosopher Confucius: “Worry not that no one knows you; seek to be worth knowing.”

Of course, it was alright for Confucius. He was writing in 500 BCE at a time when blogging would have involved making ink from pine soot and ground horns before laboriously brushing inspiring ideas onto thin bamboo strips. They’d have to be worth it. The really important stuff was carved onto vast stone columns; a communication method that would seriously chip away at the number of daily mundanities currently recorded by humankind.

This compelling fascination with living out our brilliant lives in public, and adding a glossy finish to everything, must have deep roots, for Confucius also remarked: “We take greater pains to persuade others that we are happy than in endeavoring to think so ourselves.”

It’s an endlessly perplexing business, chiseling away online in the hope of being noticed. Sharing our best side; hiding our bad times. What’s too little? What’s too much? How do we avoid sounding pompous? or flippant? or worse still, desperate? How can we make sure we are, in Confucius’ words, ‘worth knowing’? And why do we need so many friends when we rarely have time to talk to the ones who stay nearby?

Having lived in the factory-belt area of southern China; seeing elderly people sitting amidst massive piles of jeans on the street, squinting as they stitched details on pockets, I knew I wanted my business to be fiercely ethical and fervently kind. But that alone doesn’t make me worth knowing. It probably makes me a bit annoying, if anything. And it certainly doesn’t tell me how to succeed at it.

Luckily, Confucius also left a bit of a hint in another of his famous tweets. In it he identified five qualities to aim for…all obvious, but often undervalued.

He said: “If you are courteous, you will not be disrespected;
If you are generous, you will gain everything.
If you are honest, people will rely on you.
If you are persistent you will get results.
If you are kind, you can employ people.”

Does this translate to the modern world? Not in the minds of any of us who’ve worked for less than kind bosses or those many who slog away to no avail. But it clearly worked for Confucius, who has, after all, ended up spawning an entire philosophical movement with followers in numbers we can only dream of.

A word of caution, however, before you rush to download the entire Confucian tome, The Analects. In what was obviously the equivalent of a tired rant after several goblets of rice wine,  the great man is also supposed to have declared:  “A man without a mustache is a man without a soul.”  Thank goodness our modern musings are no longer set in stone.

Happy New Year, on and offline.

Sundibanks, Shetland





Fight dirty against festive fatigue

Seasonal survival tips…#5 Dig it all better

A new study says time spent in nature builds better communities. What finer way to prove science right than by indulging in a little organic guerrilla gardening and digging your way to a better festive frame of mind.

Requisition a spade from a neighbour’s shed and start tilling the soil in secret for the sake of humanity. Clear away the weeds and feel the festive fog lift inside. Your efforts now could turn that local wasteland by the bus stop into a wonderland. Wear gloves though. Humanity can be unenchanting sometimes 🙂

Silk less serious. That’s the spirit!

DSCN0403Silk pillowcases flapping in the wind

(for more on the study, see )

A thinker’s guide to festive fatigue

Seasonal survival tips…#4 Go all existential

Next time you’re asked what’s on your Santa list, retort: “We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are — that is the fact.” Chances are Santa will be so perplexed, you will end up with that organic silk pillowcase you’ve been longing for. Unless Santa has spent the long Arctic winters reading up on philosophers and replies witheringly, “Hell is other people,” in which case you’ll get nothing.

Silk with Sartre. That’s the spirit!


Party small talk – an (un)festive guide

Seasonal survival tips…#3 Talking therapy

Pick a random topic to introduce to every party conversation between here and New Year. We respectfully suggest the following: loft insulation (unless you’re in the building trade, in which case better make it animals in clothes), stuff you’ve found in skips (unless you’re my husband, in which case it’s going to occur naturally) or rabbits. After a while you’ll become aware of strange looks, at which point you can retreat to the bed covered in coats and lie down quietly with your silk pillow until the taxi comes.

Silk less serious. That’s the spirit!


In a mad world, love the moments

Sometimes nothing much makes sense. But taking time to notice the little, joyful moments in life can only give us strength.  From a cup of coffee that makes you smile to a field of fragrant flowers, Susurrus loves these moments of calm amidst life’s chaos.

Here’s one I filmed recently…there’s something surprisingly mesmerising about a line of gorgeous silk washing, wafting wildly in a Shetland breeze! I shot this while lying on the grass, gazing up at the sky…I think of these as my susurrus moments, and I’m always searching for them.

Feel free to share your own…and here’s to those many, many people who are unjustly struggling today to find moments of joy or calm of their own.

Silk with Strength. That’s the Spirit!

yangshuo with the cousins 047
Great coffee in Yangshuo, China
Making flower chains, Yunnan, China