As I write this, listening to Magdalena’s music on Spotify, I cannot get out of my mind a video she shared on Facebook, showing Coronation Street’s Leandra Ashton crying over her mother having been arrested by police for having taken her grandmother from her care home – the family having had no physical contact for nine months. Apparently, the police then de-arrested her, but having spoken to Magdalena I was very much struck by what she’d said as I watched the video. I always think it’s interesting to hear different points of view, and Magdalena’s have certainly been carefully thought through.
I first came to Piddlehinton in 2002, after I met my husband, Tom when we were both working in Corfu. He was a sailing instructor and I worked for a tour operator.
Originally I grew up in Poland, in a town called Poznań, but when I was six I also lived with my family in Algeria for two years. This was a very formative experience for me. My father, an engineer, was very much into languages and travelling, and my mother was a teacher, then she had a children’s theatre, and now she’s a therapist. When we lived in Algeria the community was very mixed: both Algerian and families from Russia, Spain, Poland, France and Portugal. So there was always this sense of adventure built in from my early childhood, meaning I also wanted to travel.
After taking a degree in music in Poland, when I was 24 I got a scholarship to Bali, Indonesia, to study music and culture at the university in Denpasar. There were hiccups, because they didn’t speak any English (and mine was okay, but not brilliant), so I had a huge challenge to try and learn Balinese. It adopts the Dutch language and Latin alphabet, and that helped a bit, but I couldn’t participate fully in the course, which was my grief. However, I took full advantage of what I could, learning to play the gamelan and having dancing lessons. I studied all of the culture and knew the island like my pocket.
It was when I was at Uni that there was a challenge to my music, because I used to be prone to illness. My tonsils were removed when I was ten, and I was hospitalized for two months when I was fifteen with pneumonia. When I was healthy I could do a lot of amazing things, but when I was ill I could not do anything. It had made me wonder whether I could rely on my health if I had a music career – and my teachers were also questioning it, telling me, ‘Well, your health is not really for stage and performing.’ So it was my big sadness. But then I started to write my own music and lyrics, expressing my pain, trusting myself that I could reach my dreams – which was always singing – and my health started to get better.
So what is going on with the world right now really resonates with me, for I have had to learn to look after my immune system. I don’t know when I was ill last time, I haven’t been really ill for years. I use herbal remedies and homeopathy, meditation and yoga, and I also kind of programme my body into feeling well.
When the kids were little and bringing home lots illnesses from school, Tom and I were ill frequently. So we started to take the mineral selenium (or zinc) on a daily basis as this really brings your immune system back. So then I didn’t have colds, I could perform again and I felt like my dreams were returning.
In 2016, my biggest test was that there were some cancerous cells detected in my body, and the NHS immediately wanted to remove them. However, it was not cancer, it was cancerous cells. And I said, okay, my body’s telling me something. What? And it started a huge journey for me. I said I don’t want any intervention, I want monitoring, if you can offer me that. Obviously if things get worse we will review, but otherwise my body’s telling me something. So I consulted herbalists and other specialists, and I was working on a psychological level, trying to work out what was my inner conflict between what I would like and what I do – reviewing my life in some sense.
I was also being very positive every time I was going for the tests. They were scheduling them every three months to start, then every six, until it came to the point where the consultant said, ‘You’re clear, how have you done it?’ Before, they didn’t even want to hear what I’m doing. Then, suddenly after two years, when I got clean, they said they’d never had such a case. And I said, ‘Well, that’s because your letters are scary. You say fear, cancer, dead… this is the letter I got from you, and it’s not true.’
So I believe that now saying to the nation about fear, everyone being in a state of fear is completely wrong. It’s taking our power of healing away, taking our power of empowerment through finding the source inside ourselves.
I ask her what she thinks Covid19 is telling the world.
I think it’s telling us that we need to wake up and take responsibility. Because this is what I did. For me it was my wake-up call. I love digging, I like research, and I knew that if they did clean all the surface of the cells it was likely to come back, but it was also likely to imbalance my hormones. And I said I didn’t want to have early menopause at 39 if it was unnecessary. I didn’t want more children, but I wanted to be a healthy woman for as long as I was meant to be – not be suddenly cut off from that.
It’s like when Olly was a nine-month-old baby. He had croup and the doctors said he would be asthmatic: ‘It’s normal. He has croup now, so he will be. But don’t worry, he will be on an inhaler and he’ll be fine.’ But I said no, we still have time to prevent that. So I went to my homeopath and asked what she’d suggest. She said, ‘There are two remedies, a or b. Use this if it works, or that. High potency. Give me a call how it works.’ And the next day he was clear, all the croupy cough was gone.
I ask how she feels about the negativity towards homeopathy.
I don’t understand it. I cannot tell you what is going on against it. I have friends who are herbalists, and their work is extremely difficult, because they cannot promote the medicine they are making because the Government’s guidelines ask for such high fees to get the patent for the medicine – which grows in your garden. For goodness sake, it’s in your garden – has been there for millennia! I am always eating dandelion flowers – something I’ve learnt. At this time of year we have them, and then in May. They are fantastic – very cleansing for your liver, very good for you. If anyone has a problem with their liver, dig the roots, do your tincture, put alcohol over it and start taking it.
We are not taught how to heal ourselves. Everything is going the way of pharmaceutical companies and now they are pushing for vaccines. I really question that. I don’t want to say it is the wrong approach, but it is not the only approach. And what I feel now is that we’re pushed towards it being the only way. I feel we are misconstruing everything.
The illness should be teaching us something; death is teaching us something. That we are not properly looking after people who are dying right now. They are dying in isolation. The families cannot touch their loved ones in care and that is really sad.
This virus has shown me that fear is not the way. Sovereignty is. Freedom. That I am responsible for my happiness, this is what I mean by the word, sovereignty. So in some ways it has made me stronger. Before I was very worried about the world. Wondering why, in the 21st century, we are putting fear at the centre of attention – the biggest shadow. We are afraid of dying, afraid that Covid will take our loved ones.
But the average age of people dying from it is 83; and the average age of people dying in this country is 81. So it’s not Covid that’s going to take us, it’s Alzheimers and other things. I work as a music therapist and I see Alzheimers every day. That is what is taking us away – not remembering who we are.
So in some sense it’s shown me clearly something I’ve known for a long time: that fear is not the way. But everybody has to realise this before we heal. It’s madness for me that we can be bombarded by numbers, and those numbers don’t mean anything. Because, you know, we are a country of 70 million, but how many people live in the whole world? Show the statistics, the global picture; because I don’t think we’re being shown it clearly now.
I do think we’re sheep. I resent having my freedoms taken away. Wearing a mask is a difficult question. I went into the whole subject and I think, from the Government guidelines, it’s saying that no-one should question you if you’re not wearing one; you don’t have to provide any medical reason. But it depends on where I’m going. If I go to the shop in Piddletrenthide I don’t want to get into an argument there, or feel they see me as being unkind. I don’t want to be unkind to my community.
If I’m in a state of mind and feel, I am myself and I’m strong, then I can smile and be friendly, and not wear the mask in town. But there are days when I just don’t want to face it. The mask has become a symbol, and there are many doctors around the world who don’t agree with wearing it; or say you should only wear it for a short time. I feel very sorry for those who have to wear masks all day long. They may end up with a viral problem which they themselves create. For me, wearing a mask in a shop, really, it’s not a big deal, I’m only going in for twenty minutes. But I think that making a culture of wearing a mask being compulsory, where people are forced to wear it to keep their jobs, I think we are at risk of damaging something deeply.
But it’s very, very difficult. Because you don’t want to show that you are arrogant. This is not a time to be arrogant. This is a time to be loving and caring; but not to bow and hide and be afraid of every other human being.
I ask about her lowest point this year.
At the beginning I felt quite overwhelmed by what was going on. I felt bombarded. I don’t watch the news, that decision was made a couple of years ago. I started watching the BBC and it was like, where is the news about Europe? It is very insular here. But I was prone to be aggressive in a sense that, for example, me and my husband never have arguments, but I was so angry with what was happening in the world I was shouting at him. I knew that if I saw people in masks, more people in fear – I didn’t have enough compassion.
So it was my anger management, during those few months, to spend time alone. My mental process was so busy that there was a moment in April when I was quite down, so I needed isolation. I have my studio in the garden and that for me was my refuge. So even my family didn’t see me very much. They saw me every day, but I was often retreating for three, four hours. I had to work hard to keep myself okay.
Because there was fear. I think we all felt fearful. We could go for a walk, have a lovely family meal, but there was this creeping shadow behind you saying, ‘Uh, I’m still here. You can have this lovely family meal, but I’m still here.’
Both Tom and me were furloughed for six months – which made a big difference. Luckily, we also have incomes from different sources – we own houses that we rent. That’s why both of us can work part-time. I have some in Poland and we got diminished rent from these properties. One of my tenants lost his job and I called him and said, ‘I am not going to throw you out. You can stay and pay me as much as you can, and let’s see how things are going.’ I saw him in Poland in August, and he was back on his feet and said I saved him from depression.
And despite my need for isolation, our family life and the education of our children thrived. I loved home schooling – knowing it was temporary and there was no other option. Knowing that if we had to do it, we needed to do it well.
On Monday, the first day of lockdown, we had a family gathering and did a timetable for each day. From then on, every Monday morning was assembly to adjust the timetable if anybody had any issues. It was from nine to four and included school work, which took up to two hours a day. And then what? So I introduced languages, we had regular Polish lessons, they started French and Spanish on-line. Tom did the theory day skipper course with them and we had lots of practical lessons: woodwork, every Tuesday was cooking. There was PE every day – so bicycle rides or tables tennis.
The kids loved it – but they were missing friends. So there was no question of wanting to carry on, but it was a very special memory. I was worried about arguments, but there were none. They realised if they make a war there would be a war for everyone. It was a very peaceful time at home, very supportive. And I realised how much the kids love learning, it was amazing.
I ask how this year has affected her music.
Well, it completely blocked my music. For the first time I had a band, and we were very proud of that creation. Four fantastic musicians, some with a long-lasting career. It happened because two years ago, these people said, ‘Magdalena, your music needs a band.’ And I said, ‘Well, I live in the countryside and I’m doing what I can on my own.’ And they said, ‘Don’t worry, you have a band now.’ So we created the name – Magdalena and the Mystical Birds. I am the bird, I am now a phoenix in a band. And we were working very hard towards the launch, on the 21stMarch. We’d booked the Lyric Theatre in Bridport, waiting enthusiastically to share what we can do. And then, well, we couldn’t.
It was the last weekend before lockdown and we knew it was the only opportunity to get together for, we didn’t know how long. So we decided to keep the theatre and stream the concert live. We had sound engineers, two cameras. And all the people agreed to come and it gave us the material to work on over lockdown, to master all those pieces.
But playing to an empty theatre felt very strange. The high point of my musical career has been getting the band together. Then this was taken away on the day of the launch.
The Government’s attitude to artists made me laugh. It is completely forgetting that we have degrees, years of expertise. I work as a music therapist so I know the influence of music on others. Ever since I’ve been in Piddlehinton, very slowly I was always dreaming about performing, very slowly, because of the language, different culture, children, family…. Then everything was put on hold. But I still have that dream, and I’ve been training for that dream for thirty years.
Of course many of us can become more digitalised. I put my music into the digital platforms and am applying for it to be used in movies or anywhere else. But for most of us, most of the living is in the performing. I don’t like to be in front of a tiny screen, watching other artists, this is not the way.
Music is very important in my life. It is my oxygen. And I have realised that I need to look after my own needs, my spiritual and artistic ones. Because if those are met, I can be a good mother. I have learnt that the more happy I am with that area of my life, the happier I am at home. Also, I want my children to be independent. I want them to cook. Not because I am lazy and don’t want to cook, but I want to teach them.
I ask how she’s feeling now.
I feel more empowered – and the more of us who feel empowered the better we will feel. Have we reached the bottom yet? I think that is the question. Because if we’ve reached the bottom there is always up. There cannot be worse. I know that on a personal level I am already up. My lowest point, in April, after I lost the band, I was home-schooling, functioning, but there was this underlying, what’s going on, I don’t understand.
But now I see that this year has confirmed in some sense my belief systems. It’s confirmed that we need to change. The virus is teaching us to pause, look around. We need to learn about caring on a completely different level. First caring about our soil, our food, our forests. About our seas and the mass dragging of the ocean.
I think that we are in denial as humanity – we are in denial that we are on the verge of the sixth extinction. I love the beautiful scientist, David Attenborough. We all love his movies, but do we understand his message? He is telling us truth. I think we see a beautiful movie, beautiful cinematography, but the message is that we are on the verge of distinction.
Actually, I am a very positive person. I feel that after the bottom line there will be an up – but I don’t know where will be the bottom line for the world yet.
For me, empowerment means accepting that I don’t know my future. Because we are taught from children: plan your future, plan your career, have your steps ahead and do them one by one. My life was kind of wobbly in the sense that I never had a plan, it was just unfolding – while showing me many beautiful places. If I had planned, I would never have gone to Bali, to Corfu, come to England. Those things came and I took my opportunity. But now I know it as a truth, that there is not a plan. And I know that for all of us it’s about being present.
In September I met one of the old men of the village and, oh my God, it was heart-breaking. We were both picking blackberries and chatting and he said how lonely he’d felt, with his wife, and I said, come to us sometime, visit us. And then at the end he just opened his arms and gave me a hug.
Lockdown created a big shift in my feelings about community. When we are ready to open up again, I want to be more active in ours. Although I will still accept my moments of retreat, which is my pattern. I am always out, then in, out then in, but depending when the world is calling me, I will be out there. Keeping the positive through my music.
Also, just knowing each other better, having those lovely little chats on our walks, rather than just ‘Hello’. The other day I was picking blackberries and hawthorns for my wild hedge jam, and there was some lovely lady talking with me, who just lived in London Road, and I had never met her before.
Teaching people to look after each other. To love each other. For me, that is what lockdown has taught us. And for me, I now don’t believe in fear. I transformed my inner world into seeing more love. And I have re-found myself.
You can follow Magdalena’s musical journey here.