About Val

About Val
13 years old“For every moment of joy, for every hour of fear, for every winding road that brought me here – for every breath, for every day of living, this is my thanksgiving …”
Don Henley

Ah yes, who is this McCleary person, you may well be asking (or “who cares?” as the case may be)!

But, since you’ve clicked this link, you must be slightly interested, so let’s have a quick walk around my life to date.

Val & Gordon ca. 1966I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on a cold January morning – I refuse to get into exact dates here, but let’s just say that it was post-WWII!! Normal Irish childhood, left school at 15 to start my “career” as a clerk-typist in a Belfast bakery, all the while dreaming of putting on my travelling boots and riding out of town in a cloud of dust. “Pipe dreams”, friends scoffed – “you’ll get engaged at 18, married at 20 and have your first baby at 21, just like the rest of us”. Well, I did almost get engaged at 18 … (ah Gordon Stewart, where are you now??)

But there were also certain perks to being a teenager in the British Isles during that portion of history – I clearly remember, for example, the exact moment I first heard the Beatles at an outdoor Students’ party during Queen’s University Rag Week. They’d set up some kind of makeshift speaker system in front of the City Hall and were playing the latest hits – I can’t say I was rooted to the spot when I first heard the dulcet tones of John, Paul, George & Ringo singing “Please Please Me” but it certainly got my attention. The calm before the storm, one might say – a storm that certainly rattled the battened down “Easy Listening” music world in my part of the globe. All of a sudden, boys were growing their hair into Beatles’ fringes and wearing round collared jackets and we girls, well we were going bananas. I queued overnight for a ticket to see Beatles first concert in Belfast, “saw” being the operative word, since “hear” would be somewhat of an exaggeration. I, who swore I would never do anything so silly as to scream at a concert, came home with stars in my eyes, a ringing in my ears and laryngitis.

I also saw the Rolling Stones live around that time – Mick was still prancing around the stage banging on a Tambourine and Brian Jones was still alive (My God, I am giving historical reference here after all!). Those were the real Bad Boys of the music world then (laughable now in comparison to Eminem & Marilyn Manson!) and my mother was horrified that I wanted to “pay good money” to see them in concert. But I went anyway, in my new cream coloured “winkle-picker” stilletto heeled shoes, catastrophic for the feet, but man, did they look cool! The concert was in the Ulster Hall and about twice as many tickets had been sold as should have been. I managed to make my way to the front of the stage where I, along with dozens of other concert-goers, was overwhelmed by the heat and the crush and ended up being pulled onto the stage by a line of overworked roadies to avoid being trampled to death. That night I hobbled home shoeless, my one new cream coloured shoe lost in the crowd; I’m sure I got an ear-bashing from my mother for that – in our family, shoes “just didn’t grow on trees” to quote my mother.

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15 years old bridesmaid One way to assuage my itchy feet at that time was to go Youth Hostelling. You joined the Youth Hostel Association, got your little green card and the world was your oyster! Ulster was, from today’s point of view, an amazingly safe place to get about in, so Saturday afternoons found me and my girlfriends out on the road, thumbs in the air, headed off for such exotic destinations as Ballygally, Portrush, Newcastle, Gortin Gap or Whitepark Bay. The dormitory accommodation (NOT “co-ed”, of course – hey it’s 60s Ireland we’re talking about here!) was more or less comfortable, you cooked your own meals in a communal kitchen and had an hour of “housework” a day (cleaning the kitchen, sweeping the dormitory etc.) to keep the costs down. It was a great cheap way to see the country and meet new people.

I think I can safely say that my travelling fate was sealed during one of those Hostel weekends, Ballygally on the Antrim Coast, I think. There was an Australian guy staying there who didn’t have much money, so being the well-brought up Irish maidens that we were, we offered him share of our meal. In return he started telling us about his travels; he’d been on the road for 3 years, criss-crossing the globe on a shoestring budget and had a sack full of stories that took us well into the evening. The more he talked, the more I got caught up in his web of tales. After that, nothing was the same – I was 16 and there was one thing I knew for certain – as soon as I hit my 18th birthday, I was off!

And I was – a couple of months into my 19th year I took a job in England – OK, not a mega-adventure I agree, but I was Capricorn enough, and my family apprehensive enough to convince me to paddle in safer waters for awhile before diving into the ocean!

But I was determined to “seek my fortune” and eventually my travels took me all over Europe, to the US for two and a half years, “home” to Europe, overland to India and back to Europe crewing on a yacht.

Sannyasin in PuneI travelled light most of the time, stopping to work wherever and whenever the money ran out; jobs weren’t too hard to come by – chambermaid in Amsterdam, au-pair, carpenter’s helper and all-round farm-worker in Germany, waitress in Italy, ski-lift attendant in Austria, housing advisor for the elderly in England, teacher of English in Iran and, of course, ship’s cook between Sri Lanka and Greece.

Settling in Germany was the culmination of an of incredible string of coincidences – a chance meeting in a ruined temple city in India brought me to a mountain hut in Austria, from there to a farm in Bavaria and then to Munich. Staying in one place wasn’t easy – the road still beckoned for awhile, especially the road to India, a country which had long since captured my heart and my imagination. During my travels I had spent 8 months travelling alone all over that amazing continent! Two Indian sojourns later (the first lasting a year, the second 9 months) I finally hung my rucksack on a nail, found a job and a city apartment and set out to put my restless past behind me.

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That, as it turned out, wasn’t as simple as it seemed, but with the help of some good friends and some exceptionally good luck, interesting things started to happen. A chance meeting with a musician awakened a long-dormant singing vein – one thing led to another, concerts led to bigger concerts and to studio jobs. The singing “hobby” continues to flourish and I’m happy to say that I finally released my first CD last summer. For more details on that (and a quick listen if you like), go to My Music.

During my travels in India I had become acquainted with the work of Dr. Shri Balaji També, Ayurvedic Healer and Teacher of Meditation and Holistic Living. Through the connection with him and the group surrounding him I was able to spend some time helping to develop Atmasantulana Village, which has now become one of India’s most renowned Ayurvedic Healing Centres. The relationship has deepened over the ensuing years and continues to this day.

Since I have always loved to cook, one of my main fields of activity was the kitchen where, under the supervision of Smt. Dr. Veena També (food magician extraordinaire!) I gained some theoretical and practical know-how about Indian vegetarian/Ayurvedic cooking. That skill has been put to very good use over the past few years allowing me to give regular cooking classes and, time permitting, cook for yoga/meditation groups and seminars. You can find out more about Atmasantulana Village, ordering Ayurvedic products and, if you’d like to try out a few mouthwatering vegetarian recipes, go to my Vegetarian Page.

If you’ve made it this far, well done! I hope you’ll take time to have a look around the site and that you’ll find something interesting. Don’t forget to bookmark the page and visit me again. I’d be happy to know what you think, so please send me a message and do feel free to contribute – have a good family recipe, a favourite website? Why not share it with the rest of us?

Take care and don’t forget: God gave you the face, but you have to do the smiling yourself!Aum


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