Monday, 5 March 2018

Missing The Bath

There has been more than a foot of snow lying on my garden for over a week.  fieldfares have flown in from the countryside in search of sustenance  and the wind skirling from the arctic has caused my poor arthritic spine to declare a National Emergency.   I recall winters like this from primeval times when i was younger and fitter, in memory they seem to have occurred more frequently and with greater intensity but maybe that's simply my mind playing tricks and forgetting the majority of bland winters because they were mundane affairs not deserving of taking up space in the hippocampus.

It could also be due to the fact that climate not only affected us when outdoors but it followed us when we came in so we were cold day and night. My three bedroom childhood home was heated with a small one bar electric fire in the living room.... THAT WAS IT !!!   no central heating, no heaters in our bedrooms, no carpets, no warm towel rail, no double glazing, loft insulation, wall cavity filling, just that one poxy twelve inch radiant bar that we bickered over continually.   

Surely anyone over sixty five recalls waking to the INSIDES of windows covered in the most spectacular ice ferns glinting in early morning sunshine, their spiky fingers spreading from corner to corner, a three dimensional, frozen lace curtain heralding the fact that the room had hit sub zero.

Bath night was a torture of goosebumps, damp towels, cold pyjamas, two inches of tepid water that barely covered the nether regions and a quick dash down the stairs to take a turn drying off in front of that tiny semi circular false promise of warmth.   Later, gypsying from town to town, one of my top priorities when flat hunting was a good sized bath and unlimited hot water, hardly surprising considering the traumatic experiences of home ablutions.   The best one was a cast iron monstrosity so deep and long that i had a foam covered, empty fruit box for the feet to rest on for fear of drowning in its bubbly depths.  

As age continued it's onslaught on my rickety skeleton a long, scalding, deep, Radox filled soak became the only way to warm up and ease the ache if i became chilled, so imagine my dismay when moving to Hexham to discover i had inherited a wet room with no tub.   my beloved children had numerous suggestions from a Victorian hip bath to a half beer barrel all of which i churlishly turned down whilst appreciating their deep concern expressed on my behalf.   

Whilst i love the comforts of twenty first century living with it's abundant warmth and softness and wouldn't go back to the not so golden age of the freezing fifties, i haven't learnt to love my wet room and probably never will but, as in all things, the benefits outweigh the loss.   safety trumps luxury every time.  I may miss the easing of aches and pains when the temperature plummets but surely the agony of a broken hip would be much, much worse.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Profit And Loss

In the middle of a conversation with a friend about coping with change, my mind went on a wander, roamed into the fiscal realm and decided to take  a walk on the allegorical side.   perhaps my bizniz alter ego took charge for a moment firing synapses that linked the acceptance of change to a profit and loss formula.   reducing emotions to the realm of practical finance helped remove the sting inherent in considering personal adjustments and enabled me to focus not on the "loss" but on the "profit".

Life consists of a continuous cycle, gaining and losing, losing and gaining, joy to sorrow, grief to celebration, a child is born a grandparent dies, round and round and round, nothing stays the same the only consistency is inconsistency.   as a wise man once put it "there is a time for everything under heaven: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."   perhaps, once we grasp that nothing is forever, we can find a certain equilibrium, an acceptance of whatever comes our way.
When my sons grew out of childhood and began emotionally moving away it felt as though i had lost an essential part of myself, my sense of purpose and identity went AWOL for a while.   i feared i would lose them, and i did.... in that incarnation.  but what i gained was far more precious in many ways.  we became equals and they CHOSE to be a part of my universe, everything was given freely, adult to adult not imposed by dependency.  i lost my babies but gained two wonderful, independent friends, and daughters in law, and granddaughters, and in them and their love i refound myself.   a nett gain in the Great Balance Sheet of life.  
More recently the move from Lindisfarne to Hexham was a huge heart wrench there was so much that had to be left behind.   Being a Bournemouth girl the sea is embedded in my DNA, the cry of the gulls a lullaby, the salt tang a taste of home, big wide open skies a gift from God to keep humanity humble.   being landlocked once again has reopened the void that island living filled for a decade, feet are now firmly planted on the ground,  water walking a luxury of the past.   

Another huge miss are the coffee shops, little oases where for a while i could escape the confines of home and surreptitiously peep from behind The Guardian, being the only socialist on the block, and see the comings and goings of my neighbours and tourists as i slurped an Americano by a log fire.   the blessing of having a cafe in the back garden all gone and listed as a loss in The Ledger Of Life but offset by other factors such as the ease for my children reaching me now there are no causeway tide times, the security of living in a fully fitted for disability flat, doctors and hospital on the corner.   The audit sheet balances as it always does if we chose to seek the profit and set aside the loss.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Pirouette Of Life

The decorations that survived rough handling have been wrapped in shredded tinsel and returned to their dusty, nest in the cupboard deep under the stairs.   the wrapping paper has been retrieved from the recycle bin where it was erroneously discarded whilst dizzy with post pressie rapture. trifle and gateau have been devoured and the calories promptly deposited on hip and thigh.   thank you letters are written and are now at the mercy of the Post Office.  new year clock watching is relegated to memory and fireworks to ashes, allowing The Indomitable Fred to emerge from his self imposed exile under the bedspread. another year passes into history, a further digit will be added to my age, a few laughter lines will be added to the network, and the journey of life continues it's relentless pirouette. 
Did you know that the making of New Year's resolutions has been around for over four thousand years?  you can blame it on the Babylonians, though they celebrated at the end of March after the first new moon of the vernal equinox.  in 1752 we adopted the Gregorian calendar to bring us into line with Europe and the new year moved to 1st January.... anybody seen a petition to "take back control" of our calendar recently?   Those trendsetting Babylonians would make promises to the gods in hopes of being treated well through the coming year, returning borrowed items and getting out of debt were a la mode. nothing much changes over the millennia does it? now where did i put those library books? 

Of course, we shouldn't need New Year to prompt changes but we humans aren't naturals when it comes to self improvement.   we seem to embrace the negative when it comes to attitudes and actions as enthusiastically as Mr. Vader embraced the Dark Side, with equally disastrous results in terms of relationships and health so to have a specific time set aside to re-assess where we are on the spectrum of life isn't without merit.  
Given omnipotence there's one resolution i would see imposed on each and every one of us on a daily basis.... to be better and kinder than we were yesterday and commit to making this a happier universe.   we seem to have become a negative and confrontational society with the need to lay blame for every perceived fault and flaw, lacking the will to show others the tolerance and leniency we would like shown to ourselves in our frailty.   this attitude of censure and criticism is turning us into an aggressive and confrontational nation lacking in joy and harmony.  I very much doubt anybody wakes on the first of Jan and and makes a conscious decision to be more negative, nitpick daily and criticise at every opportunity, perhaps we absorb these attitudes by osmosis from those around us.   if so perhaps we need to choose our friends more wisely.   

Lacking the godlike powers necessary to enforce brotherly love on a universal scale all we can do is choose to improve our own little corner by taking an honest look at ourselves and shining some of that criticism inward, not in a self destructive manner but in self awareness, and determine to start making the changes necessary to become the humans we would like to be.

My resolution for 2018:

       spend more time with happy people.

             speak kindly to all.
                     treat others as i would like them to treat me.


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Help For The Helpless

It snowed at the weekend.  beautiful, sloppy flakes slaloming from the sky, glowing as if from within with reflected light from the Narniaesque lamp post outside my window.   a chocolate box scene of nostalgic Christmases past, replete with warmth and camaraderie.  well.... not all Christmases, not the one spent in a squat sans electricity, running water or glass in the windows, waking to a layer of ice on the thin blanket, a tummy as empty as the food cupboard, the black eye of a large rat contemplating whether my chin would make a tasty breakfast, i in return wondering if a candle would generate enough heat for rat stew. it's strange how candlelight can evoke such an extreme of memories, either cosily snug when lit by choice in the security of a safe home, ecclesiastical at an Advent Service or signifying loneliness and want when imposed by poverty. 

That season didn't hold a great deal of joy or merriment, the warmest moments involved a Salvation Army Band and tea laid on in a bleak church hall by people of goodwill who gave up a Sunday afternoon to feed us waifs and strays, simply because they could and they cared.  it was their kindness shown through coffee and sandwich that started me on the road to redemption, such a simple offering saved a little lost soul at no great cost to the givers.
We were a raggle taggle bunch of misfits unified by one fact.... for various reasons we couldn't go home or we had no home to return to.  we came from every social class with varying degrees of education and wealth.  one young man had been thrown out of home because he was "a pansy".  his adoptive parents believed a real man was a hard drinker who worked with his hands and beat his wife.   john was a philosopher, a dreamer, a poet who taught himself renaissance guitar on an instrument missing several strings and read Plato.  some had learning difficulties and simply didn't know how to manage the intricacies involved in maintaining a home.  there were many with mental health issues who wandered the motorways vainly trying to outrun their demons.  family violence and abuse was a recurring theme making a shop doorway  a marginally safer option than their own bedroom.   none of us woke one morning and decided homelessness and poverty was our career path of choice, we were all victims who had run out of safe places to hide
For a long time after leaving the streets i would wake in the night and pull the blanket onto the floor and sleep there in solidarity with my soul kindred still suffering the depredations of street life.  even now, decades later, i wake and my mind's eye wanders the doorways and alleys, the dark spaces, the dangerous places and seeks out the damaged in spirit, the broken of body and shivers vicariously with them.

Last week amongst the Christmas shoppers laden with bags, standing next to a busker blasting out Jingle Bell Rock was an older lady selling The Big Issue.   she had the wary, weary look that i wore all those years ago.   I found myself wondering about her story and the road that brought her to this little market town relying on the generosity of strangers for a meal and bed that freezing night.   what cruelties and inhumanities had she experienced to bring her so low at an age where most were looking towards a gentle retirement in the company of loved ones,  and i remembered the past.... as i often remember.... and i bought her magazine.... and felt impotent.... as i often feel impotent in the face of great need.

Some believe it's the responsibility of government to provide for the vulnerable, and they are right but our government doesn't care, its policies show that,  from the reducing of disability support to billions of pounds worth of cuts to the public services that help the weakest and poorest.   some believe that charities should fill the gap, and they try but many charities rely on government grants and they are being relentlessly cut.  some assume homelessness could never happen to them or anyone they love and in their shortsightedness fail to recognise that the hungry soul in front of them could be any one of us given certain circumstances.  some simply lack imagination or compassion, their hardness of heart an indictment of first world selfishness, we have become a society that is rich in matter but poor where it really matters, we have forgotten that a society is judged on how it treats it's weakest members.  

So this Christmas if you see a dirty bundle huddled in the cold try giving it a name, call him or her john or jeni, because once it was us and it's only because some strangers with a conscience saw us as fellow human beings and took the time to care that we aren't still there or, more likely,  found cold and stiff one snowy morning.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Human Hedgehog Chimera

DIDDLY DIDDLY BONK....  a text pops up on my phone, "hello, are you there?"  snuggle deeper into the duvet and hit delete.

BOING.....  an email drops into the inbox,  "haven't heard from you for a while is everything ok?"   light another candle and immerse self in  Margaret Atwood's dystopian universe.

PING....  a Facebook notification proclaims it's arrival,  turn to Netflix and hug The Indomitable Fred closer.

Is she poorly?   anti-social?  engrossed?  otherwise committed?

No, none of the above can in all conscience be claimed to explain the absence of the jeni from these pages recently.  so what's the problem?  well you see, i think i'm a chimera and the cells i share with the hedgehog dominate once the leaves turn russet and fall.  frost covering the tops of cars and roofs, dark mornings, a frozen bird bath, the scent of wood-smoke all conspire to trigger a deep desire to stockpile carbohydrate, lay down an extra layer of fat, line the universe in duck down and hibernate.  thought processes become sluggish, muscles tighten, joints lock, and the ability to focus on  something even as enjoyable as writing for you becomes an effort too far.
It would be nice if i could say this is a side affect of ageing or disability, that in my youth i embraced the changing of the season with vim and vitality, that i relished watching fireworks with feet of frozen plasma and revelled in the donning of padded jacket and leg warmer, but it would be blatant dishonesty.   

The irony is that i actually love autumn in many ways.   the golden light from a low sun, drifts of crunchy leaves, the clean, crisp fragrance of loam bring back memories of dawn walks by the banks of the Cam, one child swaddled in woolly hat and scarf tucked up warm in the pushchair with only a little red nose exposed to the misty air, the other engaging swans in a breakfast of surreptitiously hidden toast crusts, remnants of a hasty, early departure.  the sense of another year of life passing into memory, its pleasures and pains being consigned to history and the adventure of new beginnings beckoning at the next turn of a corner fills me with hope and curiosity. 
Whether the root of this desire to vegetate is physical or emotional is an unknown, yet it happens every year and it always takes me by surprise. one morning i wake and am enfolded in a mantle of lethargy, an ennui that saps the soul of motivation.  it's not necessarily unpleasant or even on the level of awareness it   the first inkling of it's presence is when those who love me become aware of an absence of jeni online as words dry up.   the home library ladies will comment that i'm devouring more books.   my desk slowly starts to buckle under the weight of unsorted paperwork.  the wheelchair gathers a layer of dust as i dig in for the duration.

Around the third week of November subtle signs begin to impinge on awareness until the inevitable eureka moment gallops over the horizon, usually via a conversation that swings from rhapsodising over autumnal beauty to bemoaning a lack of inspiration.   once the source of unbalance is located steps can be taken to move beyond stultification, to become more human less rodent.
How do these conflicting states co-exist?  it's all part of being a human/hedgehog chimera of course.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Minimus and Maximus

Myers-Briggs, Taylor-Johnson, Pearson-Marr..... noooo not the names of solicitors but of personality tests, those wonderful multi page, multiple choice questionnaires that we use to justify our less attractive attributes.   "It wasn't my fault guv honest, my Myers-Briggs Indicator made me do it !!" imagine how the joy of discovering my overwhelmingly sanguine personality had the longest list of positives was rapidly deflated on turning the page and finding we also have, by far, the most negative features.  in the perusing of a paragraph i plummeted from elation to self condemnatory despair.... sanguine to the extreme or what?   Considering the complexity involved in filling in and decoding some of them, completing the test itself must be an indication of a certain personality type.   the stick in there to the end, no pain no gain sort, noble souls with the Dunkirk Spirit who wouldn't dream of walking away from any task before completion.

After six and a half decades of sharing this planet with humans of various genders, nationalities and lifestyles it seemed time to simplify this categorising system so here's The Jeni Personality Measure.   People are either maximusses or minimusses,  simples !!!
The difference between the two species is apparent in every corner of our lives.   open the freezer door and what do you find?   neatly stacked, tightly lidded, matching tubs each marked with contents, date bought, date frozen, date to be defrosted and, naturally, stacked in order of use = minimus.   random unmarked, loosely tied, plastic bags stuffed into every crook and nanny = maximus.  look in kitchen cupboards and if you find every tin and packet within it's sell by date, in usable quantities, tidily lined up you are dealing with a minimus.   if upon opening the door rusty and dented tins in quantities capable of feeding the entire UK armed forces spill onto your head, you undoubtedly have fallen into the black hole in the universe of a maximus' home.   clothes work on the same principal.   socks paired and outside in, bras and knicks sets matched and in their appropriate drawer, tops and bottoms colour coordinated on hangers = minimus.   socks, bras, knicks resembling a mutant cat's cradle squished in together wherever there's a spare corner with the bottom of the draw popped out due to overfilling, tops and bottoms strewn on chair, floor or cat's bed = maximus.  

Fortunately most families are comprised of a min, max, mix, but where you find a household that's one hundred percent max the result will often resemble the set of Steptoe and Son, eclectic in it's contents and every surface dust free, simply because said dust has nowhere clear of stuff to lodge it's smutty feet so hangs in the air as if in a gravity free environment, a swirling vortex, hovering in hope of the momentary appearance of a landing pad.   a min dominated home in contrast, is a joy to behold for it's clarity and clean lines.   books will be ordered by colour or size.  of course there may not be any on display as the advent of the eBook was a minimus dream made manifest, since they lack all temporal form. 

My sister, who lives at the opposite end of the country, is a fully subscribed minimus.   back in the day, when flying 400 miles was feasible, i would stay in her lovely flat when visiting The Parents. empty surfaces, floors devoid of clutter, uninterrupted space was to me an epiphany.   the advantages were apparent at every turn.  easy to keep clean, no dust traps, an illusion of space, no trip hazards, no hunting under haphazard mountains of jumble to find the remote, it evoked in me a yearning for energy saving simplicity.   after every visit i made a vow to the universe that on returning home i would follow her example, have a major clear out, astonish my children, change my ways......  yeah right !
It would start well, one small section of a room would be transfigured into a little area of zen calm at which i would stand and gaze in rapt admiration at this character transformation encapsulated in a cleared corner.   self congratulation and solo back patting would ensue, smugness would settle around the shoulders like a velvet cloak to be sloughed off on turning and realising that this minimalism had only been achieved by moving the accumulated clutter to a shelf, that was now in danger of snapping in two under the added weight of transposed, treasured possessions too precious to be discarded.   within twenty four hours this maximus would have reconciled herself to the inevitability of admiring her sister from afar and failing to emulate her.

So.... are you a maximus or a minimus? is The Indomitable Fred cat a maxipuss?  at what point does feeling snug and secure among a rich environment turn into pathological hoarding?   is it within our power to change such a deep rooted character complex?  should we need to? put your answers on a postcard and send to me.  hopefully it wont disappear, never to be found again,  into the pile of leaflets, junk mail, garden implements, shoes, gloves and charity bags that festoon the mat at the bottom of the stairs.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Calorific Crime Scene

It was a Crime Scene Investigator's Nirvana, Christmas and Hanukkah all rolled into one.   every whorl, loop and arch delineated in a sticky  melange revealing the secret sins of the protagonist.  no alibi, defence or pretext could exonerate the guilty party in the face of such damning fingerprint evidence.   Dr. Black with candlestick in drawing room?   Miss Scarlet with gun in ballroom?   Reverend Mustard with lead pipe in study?   Nooooo.... jeni with tablet in kitchen !!!   

The remnants of every sticky, tacky nibble splodged onto the screen illustrated the true origin of a recent half stone weight gain.   no tummy tightening or bum bracing would survive a half hour interrogation in the light of those pesky prints, each one testament to a momentary weakening of calorific resolve.   of course a gentle rub with a soft cloth and a couple of weeks of judicious eating would sort the problem easily, though sadly not permanently, and nobody would be any the wiser. 
Later, snugged up on the sofa watching the last episode of Orphan Black and relating to it's themes of dereliction and redemption, whilst absent-mindedly erasing all evidence of surreptitious snacking from the screen with a fluffy yellow duster, i found myself lamenting the unsavoury fact that life's indiscretions can't be so easily washed away with a J Cloth  and spray cleaner with all misdeeds forgiven and forgotten like in the movies.  sadly, murky real life leaves tenacious stains that continue to adhere long after the event and no amount of scrubbing can totally erase the heritage of our transgressions.   

I can't be the only one who wakes in the night with heart hammering dismay as scenes from the past play back in full technicolour, refusing to lie down and sleep, reminding me of every ill spoken word, heartless deed and abject failure as a parent, friend, human being.  it seems impossible to silence the voices when their accusations are valid and the fallout of the past is still manifest today. i wasted too many years when younger trying to run from the less honourable episodes of my life, burying them as deep as possible, locking them away but finding no key to keep them quiescent.   not erased, simply hidden.

All that can be done with yesterday's demons is, like my manky tablet, hold them up to the light, expose them, confess them, own them and make a commitment to do better in future.   those murky, cosmic finger marks must be illuminated, without justification, before any absolution can be forthcoming.    in the same way those extra pounds laid down by unwise nibbling wont magically disappear unless i make dietary changes, or the screen of my Acer wont stay shiny without hand washing and regular cleaning, the failures of the past can only be expunged by making better choices in the future and hoping for forgiveness from those affected.