Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Home and Away

I've always suffered from wanderlust.   as a child i was a sleepwalker,  still am when stressed, and would be found at the corner sweet shop in my nighty.   apparently all i  remembered  would be a vivid dream.  

As a teenager,  in the sixties,  i  hit the road to hitchhike round the country and lived on campsites and in squats, on the beach and in hostels and one time in a police station cell  at Dunfermline.    A couple of weeks were spent sleeping  UNDER  the beds of two lads in Cornwall.   their landlady  would burst into the  room in the middle of the night to make sure they didn't have "young ladies" in bed with them.   they could say, with all  honesty, hand on heart,  that  there  was  nobody IN  their beds.

For a while i was resident  in the cab of a lorry with a cat,  traveling  up and down the country on the few motorways that existed at the time........didn't enjoy that so hopped out at Bath and stayed in it's beautiful old houses for a few years.    i had a coffin shaped flat in the building pictured.

The cheapest flats were always in the basements because of the damp and the rats, or in the attics because of the interminable stairs.   the pay-off for five flights of the steepest steps in the galaxy was the view over the backs of the houses, much more idiosyncratic than Nash's sweeping crescents beloved of the lesser spotted tourist.    there were families of cats  on the roofs.    they lived, mated, had kittens and died up there, probably the descendents of  cats who had escaped out of the windows of the flats and never made it home.   a steady supply of rodents  made them   fat  cat  flat ratters  !!!

When children came, and "settling down" was delivered along with the placenta i had to find a different way of meeting the gypsy feet need.    for a while i would fold the pushchair down onto piles of nappies and clothes and take a coach to visit friends in different parts of the country, but a few small child, travel sick disasters took the shine off that experience.......for other travelers  too,  not just  me.

There's a certain light at dawn some mornings along with a smell and feel to the air that says move, move, move !!  and i have to move.    so instead of packing my backpack and stepping out onto the road with thumb extended  i would move all the furniture around.    my poor husband would come home to find every room in a different place.   i had to promise never to touch his study as the shock would have sent him into a major decline.   i'm sure this need for change was part of the reason i made a lousy wife,  perhaps polygamy has it's benefits for us waifs and strays. 

Disability has finally caught up with me and often i'm confined to my little cul-de-sac, not seeing the big wide world for weeks at a time.    some may see that as pitiable or expect resentment and anger at having freedom denied, but i can't see it that way.    we have been gifted with imagination and memory, nobody can take that away, even those with dementia remember times  long past as  though it were yesterday........it's yesterday they  struggle with.     the choice we all face,  sooner or later,  is to lament what's lost, or laud what's been experienced.    following the former leads to depression,  choosing the latter leads to warm reminiscence of times past.   i know which i would choose.



Friday, 24 April 2015

The Black Hole At The Centre of the M.R.I.

Have you ever had an MRI scan?  
It's the most amazing experience.
Would you indulge me and let me talk about it for a while?

I had been warned about the noise,  but still wasn't prepared for the all consuming manner of it.   even with the earplugs provided it was a mix of a ship's foghorn, a jackhammer, a rapid fire machine gun and a pneumatic drill all competing for dominance, interspersed with almighty clicks, bonks and thumps.   it felt as if the giant magnets were revolving around me, moving heaven and earth in the process,  threatening to tear me limb from limb before flinging me into the heart of a black hole.

The machine looks like a tunnel into the depths of oblivion just waiting to eat you and spit you out the other side.    as the bed  slid in to the waiting maw i was tempted to ask if it was carnivorous,  but was afraid they'd turn the power up to 11  in revenge and i'd be smeared all over it's walls, never to be seen again.

The hardest part was not moving an inch for twenty minutes.    i forgot to ask  if that included breathing but made an assumption, on the lack of evidence of homicide charges brought by the families of previous victims,  that maybe shallow breathing  was a good idea. 
Have you ever been told to be totally still for a length of time on fear of having to re-sit an uncomfortable experience?    take my word for it, the more you try not to move.......yep.......the more you just have to ......HAVE TO...... scratch, twitch, shrug, wriggle, squirm ANYTHING but stillness.   i didn't know it was possible to itch in so many places at the same time.    my chin itched, my feet itched, my nose itched, my chest itched, my feet itched, my hands itched, my armpits itched....... MY  ARMPITS  ITCHED !!!  i'm itching all over sitting here remembering it......agghhhhhh   I    HAVE   TO    S C R A T C H    !!!!!!

Claustrophobia was my biggest uncertainty, the thought of sliding into darkness with no means of escape, or sitting up suddenly and bumping my head on the inside of the tube, arms flailing,  was a feature of my dreams for a day or two beforehand.    as always, the reality is never as scary as the anticipation.    the far end of the machine isn't enclosed,  so as the bed came, very gently,  to a stop i could tip my head back a little and see blue skies with doves flying over the rainbow, way up high......ok......maybe not....but i COULD see the white wall of the room, and there WAS a cool breeze blowing over my face from a  strategically placed fan.

It reminded me of  light at the end of the tunnel days.    you know,  when you can't even see the tunnel let alone the light,  and you just want to close your eyes and make it all go away so you can walk out the other side, or wake up and find yourself snug in bed, wrapped up in a soft, soft duvet to find the nastiness  had all been a bad dream.   i wish i could make those times as easy for you as my MRI experience.   i wish i could make it possible for you to walk away and use your experience to raise a laugh and entertain your friends.   i wish i could exorcise the black hole at the centre of your universe.   i would if i could......

Monday, 20 April 2015

soul sister singletons


I think Val (a dear friend from my lost, long ago youth ) has made a good point in her comment to my last post.   Those who have lived solo for a long time become very self contained and learn to manage,  whatever difficulties come along,  by their own guile and cunning.    if the sky falls on my  head in the middle of the night there's nobody to prop up the firmament  except me or the cat, and he's no use in a crises, he thinks any sign of sentience in the dark equals food.

When the tax bill comes and the numbers make no sense  instead of running it past a partner i rely on good old Google and a calculator.    when the water pipes burst in the icy weather there was no muscle to call on, just W D 40 and my puny upper body strength to turn off the stopcock.   during the time  i've had so much pain and lack of movement the last month or so,  there's been nobody to rescue me from the hilarious process of  putting socks on when i can't reach my feet,  or help  getting  in and out of bed when the up/down process sends daggers racing up the back and down the legs, or rustle up pain killers at dawn when the last one has fallen down the back of a bedside table,  just my own inititive and bloody mindedness.

This is by no means a complaint or search for sympathy, quite the opposite in fact.    i actually think it's a good thing to have to learn resilience.    not the Bear Gryhls  (how do you spell that???)  making lunch out of hedgehog and roadkill and sleeping in an abandoned cesspit type of resilience, but the knowledge that whatever tomorrow asks of me i can survive it, hard as it might be.   

I don't think many singletons set out to spend life alone as a conscious choice.    i think we just drift along until one day we look back and wonder, "how did that happen?"   but i do think it is easier for us to face the future  alone than for those who find solohood thrust upon them unsought, unwanted, unloved.    for them  i can only offer this crumb of comfort, you are strong enough to face the darkness,  stronger than you know,  even though you don't always feel it, even though you definitely don't desire it. 

The human spirit is a powerful force and the will to live is hardwired into our very being.    nurture that force, be kind to yourself, call on your soul sisters and brothers when it all feels too hard and keep going.

Friday, 17 April 2015

All The Lonely People

There are over 7 billion people in the world today.

The average woman speaks 20 thousand words a day.

The average man speaks 7 thousand words a day.

144.8 billion emails are sent worldwide daily.

145 billion texts are sent worldwide daily.

130 million books have been published.

By age 60 the average person will have read 560 of them.

All those words.    can't  you  just imagine them flying through the atmosphere  like billions of tiny drones buzzing from ear to ear, mind to mind, human to human, human to animal and, some would insist, animal to human.    kind words, sad words, happy words, congratulatory words, angry words, positive words, negative words.  words that take on a life of their own, growing, reaching outwards to entangle more and more people till they are unrecognisable from their original intention, a many headed hydra.

Yet......we still feel alone    In the west we are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness.   Gloucestershire have drawn up a loneliness map showing clusters of people who rarely have social contact (read the full article by clicking address below) and are encouraging other councils to do the same.   they tend to be over 65, living alone, no car, low income, health problems.   scary.......i fit the scenario minus 2 years.   


But there's a difference between being lonely and being alone.   I am mostly alone, apart from the cat, but i'm not often lonely.   there is too much to think about, too many letters to write, too many movies to watch, too many birds that entertain, too many of those emails to send to lovely friends, too many of those 560 books that i haven't yet read, too much garden to tend,  to be lonely, except...... 
.........at night.    It is lonely in the early hours when there's  too much pain  and it feels as though the whole world is asleep......except me..... and  there's a limit to how much cocoa and toast one girl can consume in a night.    so maybe Gloucestershire could create an online solution by linking people all round the world who could email each other during a time zone that fits their needs.   an insomniac in Australia could chat with a lonely housebound lady in Aberdeen over her lunch.   jeni in Hexham could email Haiti and say goodnight to an online friend.   the world has shrunk so much via technology that with a little imagination none of us need feel alone.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

This Adventure Called Life

Is the cat going up or is he going down the steps   up?  down?........down?  up?.......in...... out..... in......out......shake.... it..... all..... about......  try squinting......sit back in the chair ...... lean right forward.... wave your hands in the air.

On my laptop he's going up, but on my phone he's going down.   

Most people have said down, the erudite reply below came from someone i love dearly and, although i'm pretty certain it's a piss take, makes a lot of sense.

After careful consideration I would conclude down.
The light at the end is very bright, suggestive of sky. There is a definite stone lip protruding from the step, someone suggested it was a grip on the top of the step but it looks much more like that is the flagstone on the top of the step. This is given credence by the fact that the face of the step is of rough unfinished concrete.

Clever though isn't it?    it's like those magic eye pictures where a shape forms out of what seems like random colours.    i could only do those if they were behind glass so i could focus on the reflection. 

There was a shop in The Metro Centre, where i had my bizniz before my body broke, that displayed them on the mall and i would stand in front of them making wonky faces trying to see the unseeable.   one afternoon i was busy swaying, screwing up eyes, bobbing and weaving in front of a HUGE framed one when a gentleman came out of the shop and asked if i was interested in buying it.   in my inimitable form i waved my arms around and raved about how wonderful the brain is to find an image from such a lurid and clashing mix of colour that nobody in their right mind would put together in a painting and....... yes......you've got it........it wasn't a magic eye picture, it was a real piece of modern art worth more than i earned in a year and......yes.......he was the artist. 


That just about sums up my life really.    i don't know how i get in the corners i find myself in.    how on earth did i get from south coast seaside town to Wales to Cornwall to London to Bath to Cambridge to "nice" private estate to inner city north east to an island in the middle of the north sea to a little market town and plenty of stops in between?    it's like i make it up as i go along, as i did with Mr artist.
None of us are born with a road map to show the way, i think most of life is guesswork, chance, error, hope with a little knowledge thrown into the mix.   the next breath could change the course of the future and send me down paths i could never begin to imagine.   whether that's scary or exciting i don't know, probably a bit of both.   next week i'm having an MRI scan and quite a few people have asked if i'm nervous as it's supposed to be quite frightening, but i'm actually looking forward to it.   it's something i haven't experienced before, a chance to learn something new, a chance to talk with knowledgeable people, a time in the car with a lady i love to chat with........ another adventure.   

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Only The Lonely

Back in the olden days when my children were children and i hennaed my hair for fun not out of vanity to hide the grey, i would walk my boys to school every morning and back in the afternoon.    the houses on the estate we lived in had huge picture windows front and back, floor to ceiling.   it was a nightmare to heat but gave a wonderful view of the gardens and the room would be full of light no matter the weather.    i loved how in winter the snow would pile up against the glass and create a sensation of being under water, our lounge became a goldfish bowl for a short while and we would pretend to be fishies and talk in bubble & speak.

In one particular house we passed there was a lady in a wheelchair who would always be sitting there, at the window, watching.    what she was watching or waiting for i never discovered, perhaps she thought if she stared long enough she could catch death before he caught her.

After a few weeks of half waving a hand as we passed she waved back.   there followed another few weeks of waving and smiling and miming "going to school", or "off to play football",  which wasn't often as i'm not sure who hated footie the most the boys or me.    then out of the blue one day as i passed, on my way home alone,  she gestured for me to come to the window.   we swapped names and phone numbers and not too long  later she felt safe enough to ask me in. 

She'd had a top tier job in finance, choosing a career over children, and had been at the height of success when lung cancer struck,  she had been a lifelong smoker.     her husband worked in the same field and his way of coping with her illness was to work 60 hour weeks and drink half a bottle of whiskey before getting her ready for bed.    they had always been too busy to have time for friendships and now she was alone all day just sitting in front of the window,  waiting for him to come home.    they had lived in that house for over 20 years and knew nobody and nobody had taken the time to get to know her and give her company when she needed it most.   

I don't come out of this too well either.   a young mum with two energetic boy children coping with illness myself, i didn't give her the time she deserved and when she died suddenly i was devastated and full of guilt, promising to do better next time.   of course when the next time came around i  didn't do much better, we don't do we?

I think i'm trying to say, don't leave friendships till it's too late.   no matter how satisfying your career, one day you'll  retire.    no matter how willing your family are to support you,  sometimes it's the non partisan advice of a friend that we need to hear.    no matter how much you and your partner love each other, life is fragile and you can't guarantee how  long you have together.   

One day YOU  might be sitting in a chair at a window watching a world you can no longer enter.    if that  time comes i wish you a battalion of friendships, companions in the flesh and on the phone and by mail and ......by drone if necessary, friendships galore, a bouquet of people who will love you to the end.   


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

From Ugly Swan to Beautiful Duckling

I always thought the end of The Ugly Duckling wasn't right.   it didn't fit with my experience of reality at all.   i thought the world in which Hans Christian Andersen lived must be a much nicer place than mine.   in my universe when the duckling woke from his winter sleep and looked into the water what he saw was........a grown up ugly ducky!!     he just wasn't from the same clutch as those beautiful, graceful creatures, he could never be a swan, it wasn't his destiny.    i didn't know back then that Mr Andersen's  happy endings stemmed from his own deprived and abused childhood, that he was consumed by the desire to make everything better, to find the rainbow behind the rain, to become the prince in his own story.

I reached teenhood in the 60's when the vogue was for the blonde, leggy, skinny, Swedish model look, a thoroughbred.   i was dark, short, dumpy, a pit pony......... a pit pony bearing the scars of surgery.    regularly accused of being a freak, cripple, ugly,  marked me as surely as it marked Hans.  The accused ends up believing the accusers, and it affects every part of life.   how can you hold your head high when you are convinced the face attached is going to offend anyone who sees it.    looking at photos of that time i wasn't THAT bad.   no stunner but no gargoyle either. 
A wise man once said beauty is "the hidden person of the heart, a gentle and quiet spirit".   have you ever had that wondrous experience of seeing a plain face transformed by the sort of smile that lights the corners of the galaxy?   it's not about how we look, it's about who we are, and who we are will always be written, as clearly as an essay, on our face, not by beauty but by character.


Lizzie Velasquez is a perfect candidate for beauty from within.   have a read by clicking the link above her photo.   to turn all that pain into something positive and to face a hostile world with a message of hope for those who are bullied takes more than courage, it takes grace, great grace.   i'm not sure i could do it.   could you?


Friday, 3 April 2015

The Cost of Lost Educashun

When i was first challenged to write this blog my first reaction was horror and shame, knowing that my lack of education would scream out loud for the universe to see.   you have seen......and not judged......and i thank you for that.

As quickly as the embarrassment  flooded into my mind a second voice, a voice i have learned to trust over the years, spoke quietly and with wisdom......"tell them, tell them why you don't know a comma from a coma, or a hyphen from a python, tell them what it was like back in the day.   tell them so maybe someone else out there will have the courage to find their voice on this most democratic of platforms...... and you can always turn to The New World Library that is the internet for guidance."

So......let me tell you.....

Meet the Lord Mayor Treloar Cripple's Hospital.....yep!!.....that truly was it's name.   it was knocked down a few years ago.   buried under the rubble, crushed and bruised mingled with the bricks and glass were the memories of the many children who had the misfortune of being born broken and malformed in the 1950's.   it was also my home between the age of 5 & 7.   on arrival, after being torn from parents who were only permitted to visit once a week for an hour, we would be tied by gauze bandage to the bed frame with the promise of release once it was proved there wasn't an escape risk and that we wouldn't cry......crying was a great sin, packed in as we were one hysterical child could cause a riot worthy of Broadmoor

Treatments were brutal and mostly ineffective, causing more damage than the the original pathology and more agony than any child should have to endure.   pain relief was still a distant dream in the imagination of Big Pharma, a quick whiff of chloroform was the best that could be hoped for.  

It wasn't all doom and gloom, there were some magical moments too that i happily dredged from the wreckage of that well intentioned torture chamber.   in the hot southern summers our beds would be pushed out onto the veranda, what they called The Solarium, so our pasty, scarred skin could benefit from the sun,  a very innovative treatment option in the 50's.   i remember sultry, sticky, humid nights lying under mosquito nets drifting into sleep under the stars,  the buzz of insects a hypnotic lullaby better than any sleeping potion.
Schooling ????   it didn't happen.   too many children, too few staff, no resources.    on returning to civilisation it was to schools that didn't have remedial teaching,  you just had to sit at the back of the class and catch up as best you could.    i couldn't  ! ! !    numbers and letters and punctuation were beyond my best efforts, punishment and bullying by teachers simply drove me into a world of imagination where i could run in fields of daisies and fly with wings of fairy dust, no handicap, no pain, no disability, no shame, no "cripple".