Sunday, 28 February 2016


Idly dilly dally dabbling on Facebook one rainy afternoon recently i came across a page for a group based in Birmingham (hello all you lovely Brummies) called Spokz People.   They offer emotional support for those with physical disabilities. what caught the eye of this inveterate survey filler was their asking for people to test run a questionnaire used at the close of counselling.    how could i pass that by?   nope... couldn't,  so made contact with them to volunteer my meagre services.   

"Spokz People was set up after we discovered that many people with disabilities would prefer and would benefit from therapists who have a disability or specialise in disability. We are breaking the mould by not only providing physically accessible services, but our knowledge and experience of disability means we understand the possible issues relating to disability and are flexible in catering for different needs."  

In the early hours of the following morning, festering in my pit of many quilts with Adagio For Strings playing softly, i found myself ruminating on the fact that in all my contacts with social care until i spoke with Spokz nobody has ever asked "how do you FEEL about living with disability?"   though many of our fears and frustrations are the same as our able brethren there are some that  are quite different and aren't often recognised or voiced.   It  can leave a soul feeling very isolated. The fact that i have gone to bed every night for the past couple of decades armed with books, CD's, the cat, biscuits and a rudimentary knowledge of relaxation techniques to pass the long, dark, painful hours is testament to that.   in the olden days when the legs still worked i would go walking in the night when slumber was elusive, returning home weary ready to try again.  when i lived on an island in the middle of the North Sea i would sit on a bench in the lee of the church, tip back the head and try to count the stars to the music of waves strumming shingle.  now i can only go a'roamin in my mind and sometimes that mind wanders in darker places than a moonlit graveyard. 

The premature loss of career, or the knowledge that employment will be forever  out of reach is heart wrenching.   i was blessed to have a wonderful team of people who acted as my hands and feet, without them my bizniz would have faltered at conception (you know who you are... i am in your debt and will love you all forever) but to walk ... crawl... away from it all when only early 50's, at the height of success, with a head full of dreams and ideas was one of the hardest things i've ever had to do.  many years later and i still wake weeping after dreaming, in vain, that there's a corner of The Gateshead Metro Centre still home to my little bookshop.  imagine how dispiriting it must be for a young person to know they will never have the privilege of earning a wage or being independent, forever relying on the kindness of family or strangers whilst longing to enter that rite of passage called a career.   
Bullying has become a national epidemic spurred on by the anonymity of social media, nihilistic TV soaps/reality shows and a vitriolic right wing press, but the weakest among us haven't always been considered fair game to be targeted for abuse.   it's not so long ago that the elderly were guided across busy roads or offered help with carrying a heavy load, doors were held open for a wheelchair user and seats given up on buses for the halt and frail. in 2014/2015 disability hate crime increased by 41% and when a friend knows somebody who has an experience like that related below it ceases to be yet another statistic and becomes personal, mutating into an anxiety provoking possibility with the potential to impose a severe case of agoraphobia. 

"The other week I was in Newcastle wheeling along Northumberland Street at a busy lunchtime. Coming in the opposite direction was a man, not paying attention to where he was going as he was on his phone. I couldn't move out the way as I was penned in by people, but I assumed the man would look up from his phone and move to get past. Instead he walked straight into my wheelchair. He then launched a torrent of abuse at me about how "people like me shouldn't go out as we just get in the way" and how the world would be better off without me. After he had finished his verbal attack, he spat on the floor in front of me and stormed off!I am not sure what was more hurtful, the fact that this random stranger saw fit to insult me, and all disabled people, in such an abusive way! Or the fact that of the dozens of people walking past on one of Newcastle's busiest street, not one saw fit to intervene!   I can't help but feel if it were a racial or homophobic attack for example, that would not have been the case! How is it that one form of abuse is more acceptable than an other"

Issues such as these can make the experience of disability more traumatic than the limiting condition itself and once you add the inevitable loneliness into the mix it's surprising there isn't an epidemic of depression and despair amongst my soul sisters and brothers, maybe there is !!  at a pain clinic course there was a decided split in attitude. some were full of bile and ire blaming the universe and all in it for their predicament, threatening to sue at every perceived slight and oversight, unhesitatingly venting their discontent on any willing target.   others wanted to learn how to cope, seeking understanding of the mechanics of pain on the psyche and the body, willing to take responsibility for finding ways of making life livable  within constraints.   the latter were more inclined to find  humour in little things and to grasp positives with both hands and wring them dry for every drop of potential.

This is why people like Spokz, who offer online and phone support, are so very vital, why we need more like them.  it's too easy to become stuck in unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting, to allow the fear and futility dominance.  sometimes we need a guiding hand to help navigate the reefs of negativity, to be reminded that we all have value not because of what we can achieve but because of who we are.... 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Reading A Competitive Sport ??

I'm a little bemused, perhaps the memo went astray, or in a senior moment i misfiled it.   could you enlighten me please?   when did reading become a competitive sport?   Ooooh, you didn't know either?   seems you and i have been kept in the dark about a fundamental change to one of the  finer diversions dreamed up by humanity.

From Schools Minister Nick Gibbs  to Mr Facebook Zuckerberg there are demands and online challenges to read one book every week for a year. you can find websites, blog sites, reading sites, social media sites, news sites, "how to" sites,  insights, outsights,  put your left foot in and shake it all about sites.  do a Google search for "read a book a week" and you will find dozens of entries, i gave up dipping in after FIFTY SIX of them.... more than seven days worth !!

Now, as  a long term librocubicularist and insomniac i have absolutely no quarrel with anyone who can consume vast quantities of reading material and often do so myself, along with mountains of cocoa and toast.... hey, if you are going to be awake whilst the rest of the west slumbers make an event of it, fretting only delays any prospect of shut eye.... but i can't see how racing to finish in order to start the next title is in any sense relaxing or conducive to sleep.
noun - A person who reads in bed.    
pronounced - lib-ro-kyoo-bi-kyoo-lar-ist

A book can be thought of in a similar way to chocolate... Mills and Boons et al would be the equivalent of cake covering, cheap and leaving a nasty, palate coating after taste.... mass market paperbacks represent Cadbury or Galaxy, easy to binge on and once started hard to stop but ultimately unfullfilling, unenriching.... literature is the equivalent of a luxury box of artisan hand made truffles, rich, dark, challenging and to be savoured.   

In my early teens, having exhausted the school library, i worked my way through the parent's shelves of Pan Horror, Dennis Wheatley and Readers Digest Condensed.   not greatly edifying but short chapters and few words over two syllables made them accessible to a young reader, but when a couple of years later i was given the C. S. Lewis trilogy Out of the Silent Planet it was as though a door had opened onto a new vista.   to discover analogy before knowing it even had a name was inspirational, clarity of images conjured  from a few words remain sharp and vivid decades after reading them, dialogue that unfurled and flowed into the furthest recesses of my mind lingered, creating a longing to read and re-read a single sentence until it surrendered its ambiguities. having tasted, for the first time, gourmet high cocoa content there was no returning to Milky Way.

So.... a book a week ???  if you're a speed reader it's viable but i have a suspicion that for most of us to succeed quality would  be sacrificed on the altar of mediocrity.   what is so noble about devouring 52 humdrum bestsellers but turning your back on the high quality confections the English language can supply because they are harder to digest?   is it possible to revel in a narrative when the mind is already anticipating the next novel in the queue?   would you take the time to discover the definition of a new word if it set you back a few pages in your schedule? can you truly immerse yourself in a fictional world, absorbing it's nuances, becoming fully familiar with it's personalities whilst watching the calendar countdown?  

In an age where everything has to be quantified and evaluated before it is deemed to be of worth there must be areas of our lives that can be appreciated simply for their pleasure,  to be lingered over, rolled around the psyche for as long as there is more to be found, reading for me comes into that category.   Not a race,  a contest, a sport but an escape, an experience, an immersion.   

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Old Cats CAN Learn New Tricks

This adorable, sweet as pie, fluffy wuffy, puddy tat is....a fully fledged, feline fiend and serial attacker !!   truly....  i kid ye not.... he would savagely  chomp on an ankle if you weren't circumspect in your approach and if you prefer your flesh un-flayed.... DON'T TOUCH THE BODY !!!

Of course, like most creatures full of anger and suspicion, he has his reasons for reacting as though Attila The Hun were battering down the gates of his sanctuary whenever a two legged male of our species enters his airspace.   his kittenhood was spent living rough in the concrete alleys of Newcastle's inner city where the young humans were as feral, and considerably more malevolent, than even  he in his fear and rage could be. they considered him a valid vehicle for target practise with stones, fireworks and the random fly tipped debris that furnishes our city's deprived  areas as  universally as  the  kudzu vine in China.   He, in turn, viewed them as vermin to be attacked and neutralised as assiduously as the rats and mice that overran the fetid back yards.

Days were spent sleeping under my fire escape, curled around bones stolen from the local Halal butcher,  like a dragon jealously guarding it's gold.   nights were the usual full-on fight for sustenance, sex and survival that is the unenviable lot of an un-neutered, homeless tom cat. The day he strolled into my yard bleeding from a severed ear, a cleft paw and an infected eye the decision i had been avoiding for months could be postponed no longer....  terminate.... or tame.  

Raising a wild cat is rather like training a child,  decide the battles worth fighting, then be consistent and NEVER give an inch.  not relishing fending off a stealing, scrounging, ravaging felineus i instigated a  veto on slipping him treats from plates, and an all out ban on cake or biscuit. for thirteen years he was a sugar virgin until....  i dropped  a fruit  cake. what a difference a day makes !!  one taste and he became the grasping, intimidating, bully of old, as i feared.   sugar is like cocaine for cats, coming a close second to catnip.

felineus (Latin)  Origin & history

From fēlēs ("cat") + -īneus.

Knowing that the mammalian brain becomes more rigid as it ages, less absorbent sponge, more fibrous loofah, i was prepared for a prolonged battle as his earlier training had to be reinforced and the new, unacceptable, behaviour modified.   "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" played on a loop in my mind  each time a biscuit provoked a Pavlovian response of dribble, drool, and demand.   my opposing mantra became  "nobody is too old to learn".   Either i'm a cat whisperer extraordinaire or the dear little beastie has mellowed with age.... there was no battle, no blood shed, no sucrose rage, simply a week or two of popping him into the bedroom on his own every time there was an attempted scrounge with a firm word and disapproving look.  he hasn't given up, simply changed tactics.   now he sits at a distance and stares.... s t a r e s.... S T A R E S !!!! to induce guilt.   it doesn't work and i can live with it.

So.... it set me thinking.   If this geriatric cat with early year's malnutrition syndrome can be taught new behaviour, us humans have no excuse when it comes to change.   how many times have you heard poor choices or unacceptable  behaviour justified with  "it's just the way i am, i can't change now."   "i'm too long in the tooth to do it differently." "i've always been this way, always will be."  "i've tried to overcome this but i just can't."   not true.   i'm not saying it's easy, i'm saying it's possible.   

There have been many incarnations of jeni over the years, some more exemplary than others.   There have been attitudes and behaviours that fill me with shame when remembered, but also times of triumph  as those less than noble traits  were consigned to the past.   our setbacks aren't failures if we allow them to become a springboard for progression, a spur to action, a challenge to be better.   As we walk through life we have a choice, to allow our flaws and faults to become more and more entrenched with the passing of the years or to turn and face those feral responses, retrain the mind, be more human.... less cat.