You are a silly monkey roaming free!

You have a monkey mind, stop monkeying around, you are up to monkey business. What other insults do we have to describe these relatives? But here, on my third day of spending time with them I still find an involuntary smile of recognition and happiness on my face most of the time.

The story of nature. We are here at Apenheul outside Amsterdam where they celebrate it. We are with over 300 primates, over half roaming free with the visitors.

A tiny spider monkey perches on the shoulder of a five year old. During our days here we have hardly heard a moan amongst hoards of children here, and we are all walking far, through this dutch jungle all day. How can plastic Disneyland ever compete with this living enchantment?

There are loads of people here, delicious organic chips, and here at lunch today was one of the clearing up assistants, a peacock, its relatives were also ridding the path of the place of extra mice, we noticed.

 We were gazing at these extraordinary looking guys throw themselves at each-other across the trees.

‘Oh yes,’ says a young keeper, ‘his son died two days ago and the whole family must realign. That’s the dad. (and she mentions his name – every single monkey has a name and they all seem to know them) He is normally very peaceful but now they are jumping at him and he is responding.’ It looks dramatic and it is.

The lemurs are very friendly and we hear how the large group is led by the two matriarchs. Its the one who has most children and grandchildren etc who is the Queen here and her word is law.

As for the gibbons. Their elegance and grace. A top model cant do that. Especially not up a tree but not even on the catwalk.

Oh monkeys how can I resist? I love you. If I make another book you will be the heroes and heroines.


Nature Worship

They say our ancestors worshipped nature. What on earth does that mean? In Tartu, we meet Ahto Kaasik, Head of the Centre for sacred Natural sites.IMG_0570

Beside a stone which looks to me very ordinary, rather boring and dull. Ahto pointed out that there were pennies and nails  slotted into the cracks and said there are still hundreds of sacred places in use in Estonia.IMG_0561


He said the stone is a teacher of natural knowledge.

In 1880 an important theologist complained about this stone and asked Rector of the University for it to be removed. He agreed it was pagan and gave orders for it to be broken. It disappeared.

Some time later the professor of Archeology asked what had happened to it and the builder who was to destroy it admitted that he had hidden it. Now its protected and many come; for example newlyweds come with flowers or seeds to bless their marriage.IMG_0560

This stone is unlike any others in the area. It was brought here by the last ice age. It is 1.8 billion years old, way older than anything else around it. How on earth did the people who chose this as a sacred stone know this? I mean it looks seriously ordinary. Unlike many of the other prettier stones I have seen here…

The Estonian traditional belief is that everything has a spirit. In the North of Estonia are stories of trees that have walked. Near Viljandi (I think it was here), some women had washed dirty nappies in the lake. The lake was highly offended so it also got up and moved away. Not only every natural thing has a spirit also every manmade thing. Like this well, most Estonian houses in the country have a well..IMG_0594

Or these gloves which have been darned? Do they have a spirit?


Then we went to the sacred forest.IMG_0573

In the entrance was a stone and when Ahto first came here it was filled to the brim with money – roubles and Estonian crowns.

Ahto, gentle, alert, told us the traditional rules for how to be in this forest: Never harm anything in this place. If we curse our mouth might well swell up and if we relieved our physical needs other body parts might become swollen. If we even think of anything bad we might be cursed and that curse might hit not just us but our children down to the seventh generation.

Ahto told of an old man he had met – around 65 years old, being pushed in a wheelchair by his mother. He told Ahto he had once been the boss in a road making company. He had been preparing to remove some forest for a road. As he stood checking the site, an old man had approached, saying: ´Dont do this son, this is a holy ancient Hiis.´

The  young boss didn’t listen and gave orders for the work to begin. Soon after this he suffered a stroke and since then has been in a wheelchair. As for the man who carried out the work – he was a normal man, didn’t drink or seem unhappy. Soon after he committed suicide.

Ahto said – ´Our ancestors came here a lot. They may have walked on a pilgrimage the further the better. Here they played music, they danced. They said that the trees spoke to them. They gave advice – you might ask them if you were thinking of marrying for example.

As we enter we should think good thoughts. Our wishes and deeds should also be pure.´ Ahto said that he himself at times speaks to trees.

Before they entered the old Estonians would greet the forest and bow to it. We did the same. We had with us red wool as they might have, and we IMG_0575discovered that many others had been before us.

Lastly we went to the graveyard. Outside the gates stand tall Pine trees. After the funeral the godson or another relative may cut a cross. Here is a fresh one.IMG_0590

Others are filled with sap, welled up as if a jewel.IMG_0587

Each cross looks different. The cross is said to connect the soul of the departed with the tree. The tree stopped souls from leaving the churchyard to haunt the living. Only on special times could they leave such as all souls night, Christmas eve or Easter.  Then they might visit their old home.

There are about 300 of these places with crosses cut in the trees. They are not recognised by the church officially but they are not forbidden either.

In the 1990s a study was done showing that 65% of Estonians believe that trees and plants have spirits and a similar study was done in 2010.

Thanks Piret Estonias amazing storyteller for bringing me here!


Courage and the underpants

Yesterday morning as I put my underpants on I thought – if I get arrested today I am going to be wearing these for a long time. I had been doubtful if I wanted to be arrested with all the cosy joys of Christmas coming up, and one of our ducks going to be sacrificed for Christmas dinner. (I mean I am not going to eat Mr Duck but the whole Halal slaughter by the new lodger seemed a shame to miss.)

But by the time yesterday came I was ready for arrest. This had not happened accidentally. A whole movement of people has been in place to waken courage in Paris this week. Peaceful, non-violent action, not by the drilling of soldiers but by the unleashing of creativity. Almost constantly at the ZAC Zone Action Climate there have been young people of colour dancing. Swivelling on their heads, coasting through the space, weightlessly praising life, body and music. What genius put that in place?

dancer solutions

This has been no grey-headed discussion zone, but circles have formed from people far and wide to explore dirty mining, mad deforestation,  mighty food-growing resilience and much more. Art and music have fed the discussions and young men and women have fed us with tasty organic food on the street. And our courage has grown.

Courage is there in the Wonder Tales of Storytelling – check my website to see many projects linking courage and stories for young people today.

So by the time we got there, prepared for tear gas, pepper spray and legal actions I felt mildly disappointed that the French powers had legalised the protest. Though they made the right decision. Between the Arc de Triumph and along the Avenue de l´Armée we formed a red line. Symbolic of red lines which cannot be crossed if human and animal life on the planet is to survive. I can´t describe the wealth of creativity which was unleashed. Among the thousands were Norwegian grandparents against Climate change, hundreds of cyclists from many parts of Europe, a kilt wearing Scottish cyclist of 72, groups of clowns, polar bears etc etc.

red angelss

And the climate guardian angels who we met later in a Paris café toilet – they have come from Australia.

Some particularly beautiful banners came in view, swimming in the wind. As I approached them I saw they were salmon. Each one hand painted with the prayers and hopes of people of North West Coast of America. Being as I am involved in a storytelling project from Norway about Salmon we agreed to join them and help bear their many fishes.

IMG_20151212_143816Leading them a man from the Indigenous peoples there. As we followed him ceremoniously he played a large flute which scored into our hearts as to the immense seriousness of what is going on here. The wind filled the silken fish to dance. We passed by a couple of crazy Santas dancing to reggae music, the classical statues of Paris arrayed in red for the occasion, a long, long line of people bouncing a ball along a long red ribbon and countless other wonders. We stopped midway in the Avenue de l´Armée. Paul Cheoketen began to speak and tell stories.

Salmon man speaksWe were surrounded by the last stragglers, most of the thousands were on their way to the Eiffel tower by now. One of the crazy Santas cast off his beard and threw himself to the ground with his microphone to amplify Pauls word. He told us that we are not here for ourselves but for our children. He told us that his people had foreseen this time and he told a story. A story of bones, as many of these stories are. Of how if we take care of the salmon bones and return to the river the fish will do well. We carelessly scatter them at our peril.  Paul and his people make sense. We live in a world, not of lone humans but of a wondrous multitude.  Last night I dreamt that a tiger jumped onto my knee and I stroked it.



Active Angels in Paris

There is a state of emergency here. How much will we dare to do? Yesterday we sat in a room stuffed with activists from all over the world. She called out: ´Stand up if you are a woman who can vote.´ Most women stood up. ´Stand up if you have weekends off work.´Most men stood up, and she carried on like that til we realised that all the things we were standing up for were freedoms given to us through activism.

So how can I not want to be active when so very much is at stake? Well Christmas is coming you know and I have made a Christmas pudding for the very first time in my life, now that Mum has turned 90. Then there is the celebration of Yalda, the longest night of the year when the Afghans will be gathering, its the night of storytelling, can I really miss that to languish in a French prison?

ice coffin 2

Here is a coffin of Ice, carried by men from the Andes as they played a mournful march. This action seems noble, so respectful, so right. How can it be at all that we are forbidden to make peaceful protest at this tipping point of global history? Most people I have met so far are young, peaceful and prepared to be beaten.


At the triple action we attended the other day a few went into the Louvre itself and spilt oil, they were arrested. Then the climate angels appeared, I hope you can see how very beautiful they were. After that those of us who had got through the search were attracted by a row of black umbrellas and joined them singing: ´Oil money out of the Louvre, Move, move move.´

Lets see what courage is found in the next days…


Playfellows – Wandering 2

Wandering festival was a sevenweek ago now.  What remains in my mind?

In the sunshine we are sitting  on this lush mountain with the ecophilosophers, and filled so to bursting full of ideas we long to just go out and explore. They finally stop talking and let us go. Some climb the steep mountain. I’m drawn towards a river of ice melt, running deep in the valley.
Barefoot over snow and warm moss I glance at the bubbling beck and wonder why in the world I drink anything else than this nectar water. I bend down, cupping my hand and it strikes me. Why not drink direct like a beast? As I lean closer and closer to the stream, the pebbles shine – sharpen and brighten, magnified and magnificent. Further and my lips touch the surface feeling its cool touch. I’m bowing down kissing the water. The kiss draws in the freshest drink the mountain has prepared for me. Why haven’t I done this before?

A slight air of the guru wafts round David Abram as was the case with Arne Naess. And like Arne we hope he will engage us in the serious work of play and exploration of the More Than Human World, and no-one wants to more than he. To leave our tedious superficial selves and sink into the fresh EAIrth. And we do.
The openers peeling back the stifling skin are many. David’s insistence is one. He sings the same song, reminding. You are not alone. Everything around you is talking to you. Everything above you is calling you everything beneath you perhaps sensing your every tread. So walking to this mountain farm I made up this song.


To the Mountain

Do I feel my footsteps on your skin?
Do I feel my soles upon your wet and stony skin?
If you are me and lying prone to catch my dancing steps,
Do I  feel my footsteps on your skin?

Do you feel my footsteps on your skin?
Do you feel my step upon your wet and stony skin?
Do my soles a-tingle on your wet and grassy herbs?
Do you feel my footsteps on your skin?

Do you hear my calling in your breeze?

Do you hear me shouting through your wind?

Do you hear my song which echoes in your rocky ears?
Do you hear me singing through your air?

Do I hear you calling in the rustle of your leaves?
Do I feel your breeze speak to my skin?
Do I hear your waterfall a-fossing in the wind?
As you call me to your vast and airy mind?

One of our hosts was Gjermund. Tall, almost gaunt but radiating action and connection. This valley is not on the way to anywhere now but in former times was a thoroughfare, where cattle, sheep and goats were driven many months march from the Oslo area. The rich soil means that animals are still brought up here for the short season. And Gjermund brings people here, many, over the year. What draws them? Nature and stories of the OUTLAW.

sharing crack

As we encourage one another to step outside the narrow confines of the Only Human World, I remember the old nursery rhyme:

Boys and girls come out to play
The moon doth shine as bright as day!
Leave your supper and leave your sleep
and join your playfellows in the street.


Wandering Festival – day 1 on the mountain

Its not every day you go on a walk with 3 bona fide Eco-philosophers but last week it happened. We started off at Tvergastein, famous hytte of Arne Næss. Here we are on the first day with Per Ingvar Haukeland.
He is telling us about the time when he was 22 and met ‘Arnie’ for the first time. He immediately got invited up to Tvergastein and a couple of days later he and Arne were on the train. Arne said something like ‘Lets have some fun,’ and started climbing up ontothe luggage racks. Even though Per Ingvar was quite shy he felt he had no choice. The train was full up so they trod on the top of the seats and grasping on the racks with Arne shouting back to Per Ingvar – ‘Mind out for that old ladies head!’, pointing down to a woman who was probably 10 years younger than himself. Per Ingvar said it changed his perspective on life. Arne Næss was one of the founders of deep ecology.

I was a bit nervous as I had seen a film showing Arne Næss little hut perched on the top of a cliff and you had to do rock climbing to get there. You could tell these were cool dudes and maybe I was the only one not suddenly able to turn into Spider Man. To my releif, it turned out Arne had another hytte further down. The thing I liked best was a tiny chest of drawers which he had made out of matchboxes. He used to collect teeny weeny wonders and put them into this.

Well walking back over the deadish moss and snow we suddenly came over some lemmings. Martin Large (Hawthorn Press) asked amazed at how this cute furry animal, scuttling around like a huge bee could survive up here in what to the English looked like a desert. Yes folks, check the picture. This lifeless vegetation makes Norwegians flock to the mountains. I used to think they needed their brains testing. When I had lived in Norway for 5 years, I was walking the Pilgrims way. After many long hard days we came up to Dovre Mountain. Suddenly my eyes opened and I could see its immense beauty.

Arne Næss:

Already when I was ten years, and eleven years, I was walking sometimes by myself in this direction, towards the mountain. Already then, I looked upon this mountain as a kind of benevolent, great father. And this big mountain – this great mountain, I mean – seems to be such an entity! So it was alive for me, and therefore I decided the best thing would be to live either on top of the mountain, or further down on the mountain itself.



 Really I should be writing every day. Every day, a new bunch of kids, every day so many new meetings with the ancient pilgrims way.

We’ve been walking, pretty much every day for five weeks.

A graceful Somalian girl says ‘Going barefoot, it makes me feel like a real lady.’

This year were some kids from the more affluent side of Oslo. Kids who come from rich West side think this Eastside is scarey. But now they feel the adventure and history and kindness which is here too. Three girls from Kjelsås say they will walk to Trondheim when they get older.

A boy, he looked tough but kept picking bunches of flowers. During Per Jostein’s telling of Olav the Holy he quietly made an installation of twigs and stones. An artist. He told me he loves nature.

A kid asks – Do you beleive in God? I do, they say. I remember when I was a child, you couldn’t say that, it was uncool.

Norwegian kids are not brought up to share food. You bring your pack lunch, you eat it. But the kids from immigrant parents, they are different. One quiet mix race boy, kept following me. He said, you must be hungry, he shared his water then a lovely potato and home made meat ball.

Some days in April were unbelievably cold. As a medieval pilgrim I have no waterproofs and some of the kids do not have good equipment either. We are walking barefoot on the freezing ground. I hear squeals but no complaints.

At one point a bunch of robbers attack us – here you can see the robber chief in black on the hill, preparing to attack us.


The teachers are fabulous, we meet so many great teachers. But they can be so insensitive. The kids are in the middle of an adventure where I have been walking overland for 6 years. The teacher comes up and ask me how long I’ve been working as an actor etc.

geo 15

We are collecting gold coins. A short stocky boy is walking along and he says – ‘Today its not just about gold and material possessions! Other things are far more important. Listen! You should listen to me when I say wise things like that!’

Usually there are one or two kids during the 4 hour walk who hang extra close, have extra many questions. Might be a boy, might be a girl. One day 60 kids from the school at the end of my garden joined us. Most of them have parents who have gathered here from the far corners of the globe. Oslo is divided East West and most of the East side kids dont have white skin. But this girl was one of the few who did. She also had freckles and we both knew just the little hillock we wanted to sit on for lunch. She told me about how her family from the far North, Sami blood. We got on so well and she suggested that since I am a pilgrim and often have to sleep outside, I could stay that night with her. She had a spare room or maybe I could stay in her room. She could cook for me and show me the stream where she plays.

This happens fairly often, this kind of hospitality amongst kids which you pretty much never find amongst adults in our super rich town. The other kids were intreagued – ‘Hey the pilgrim is going to stay the night with her tonight!’ It was building up and I was starting to feel a bit bad. Near the end of the walk I say to the kids – ‘Am I really a pilgrim from the Middle ages?’ ‘No!’ says someone. ‘Does that mean I am lying to you?’ I explain that although I am not several hundred years old, the story I have told is based on a historic tale. A woman who tried to kill her husband and had to walk for 7 years through Europe as a penance before she could go back to the North of England. Otherwise she would have been burnt as a witch or put in prison.

Well this particular day, I liked that girl. I knew somehow that life was not so easy for her, she told how hard it was for her not to eat too much and she missed her mum. And I didn’t want her to feel betrayed or disappointed. So I decided I would go over to her house anyway since it was not so far. Another 20 minute walk is not so much after all. She was there. We went out and together we discovered a viking grave, just a few minutes from her house. We discovered we both love trees and she showed me the stream where she and her brother have made a den. We cleared up some plastic to make it more beautiful. She showed me the tree she loves climbing. We went home and she made me some tea, and then she read me her poems full of incredible insight! I asked her over to me the following week as I live just below her school and wanted to show her my ducks.

Later she sent me a message. Her stepmother said that she couldn’t come, she had to go shopping that day.


The individuality of the kids emerges as they have time to play, picking up their sticks and stones.

A kid says – ‘I like challenges.’

I ask how was it to walk in silence. ‘Deilig.’

Many wanted to be pilgrims, talked of getting their family to do it with them.

One thin active girl tells me towards the end –  ‘This is the best thing I’ve done. And I’ve done a lot of crazy stuff.’