Friday, 18 October 2013

Little Heroes

In the early hours of this morning, while it was dark and still and very, very peaceful, I read a few extracts from Woody's journal and found a whole section called 'Little Heroes'. 

It contained details of people he'd encountered in everyday life; people who'd inspired him because of their attitude to life or because of something they'd said at the time. 

It was lovely to read it and I even remembered some of the people he'd included. There was a terminally ill man that we once met on a ward when Woody was in hospital. He was being discharged at the end of that day because he didn't have much time left and he was desperate to die at home with his wife & dog to keep him company. He wasn't at all maudlin. He was just very much in love with his wife of 56 years, grateful for the life they'd had together and really happy to be allowed home so that they could chat as long as possible before he had to go. Can you imagine being with someone for 56 years and still being excited to see them? Desperate to chat to them? Isn't that lovely? 

Another 'Little Hero' on Woody's list was an old guy who once helped us out when we were hopelessly lost in Teesside one night. We'd stopped to ask for directions but before we'd even finished the sentence, he'd opened the back door of the car & hopped in because the route was complicated and he didn't want us to get lost. He gave a running commentary of interesting landmarks until we arrived at our destination twenty minutes later and he hopped out again, eyes twinkling with laughter as he refused all offers of a lift back to our starting point, insisting that we'd only get lost again and reassuring us that he was enjoying his adventure and fancied a walk anyway. 

People who are kind, helpful and positive make the world a better place and I'm sitting here, eating my lunch and counting my blessings because I have an abundance of people like that in my life. 

All of my friends are kind and good and I'm especially lucky to have those boys next door, even though they're always calling me a "stupid looking c**t". Little charmers... 

Then there's Gill.

Also known as John (and various other daft names that I've given her over the many years that we've been friends) Gill is the best mate anyone could have. She's more placid than anyone I've ever met in my life, although she's got a stonking right hook when she (infrequently) does blow a gasket. Normally though, she's so laid back I'm almost sure she sometimes forgets to breathe! 

She's done so much to keep me going this last year, since Woody died, that I can't even begin to list it but I know I'd have been lost without her. 

On holiday recently we were trying to work out the day of the week when she was born because I was convinced she must be a Friday child - loving and giving. As it happens, she's a Saturday child - works hard for a living, but either of those descriptions would be equally as appropriate. She's the most diligent, conscientious, reliable, thoughtful, loyal person I know, a real grafter and usually very resilient but she's having a crummy time of it at the minute and I feel powerless to do anything to help. 

It's a rotten feeling, especially as she does so much for me. We both had such a good time on holiday and I'd dearly love to take her away again, somewhere hot and relaxing, so she could get away from the crappy stuff in her life at the minute, but I'm too skint. 

I never buy into that stuff about praying for people but I know lots of you do so if you've got any positive vibes, can you send them Gill's way or give your crystals an extra rub in her honour as you dance around your cauldrons tonight.

She's a little hero who needs a little bit of love, support & good fortune at the minute. 

Thanks, folks!

Monday, 12 August 2013


I've had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. We organised a 'mini festival' and lots of my lovely friends descended from various parts of the country to pitch their tents in my garden and recreate 'Woodstock'. 

It wasn't too difficult to organise. The Cheeky Boys from next door are the masters of the barbecue so they kept me on the straight and narrow. They helped me make a list of everything I'd need, hassled me where necessary to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything and then set up the seating and tables to make the best use of the gardens. 

I'd asked everyone to dress up in keeping with the Woodstock/Hippy theme and first to arrive on the morning was this gorgeous specimen.

I was just sitting on the garden bench, enjoying the sunshine, when she walked through the gates dressed as flower power. I laughed so hard I almost fell off my seat! Unlike my postman who, without batting an eyelid, greeted her with a cheery "Hello flower!" before handing over my post and wandering off to continue his round. 

Next came the guys with the bouncy castle and sumo suits, which I have to say were absolutely hilarious. I'd definitely hire these again. 

They weigh a tonne so if you fall over in them (and believe me, you definitely WILL fall over) it's virtually impossible to get up again without someone hauling you back onto your feet.

We're obviously quite a cruel bunch because we tended to leave people thrashing around like upturned woodlice, laughing ever harder as we watched their frantic, futile attempts to scissor kick themselves back into an upright position. 

They were so heavy that some people found it easier to squeeze themselves into the kids suits. I doubt it made them any easier to manoeuvre but they certainly looked funnier.

Friends continued to arrive over the course of the day and I was really pleased to see that everyone had gotten into the spirit of things and dressed up. 

Some of the guests even took the time to co-ordinate their outfits!

But without a shadow of a doubt, the pièce de résistance had to be these two. 

I think they'd gotten their decades muddled up but groove was definitely in their hearts and they looked stunning as they strutted their way around the garden. Or at least they were stunning until they saw the bouncy castle, at which point any semblance of 'cool' evaporated in the sheer unadulterated joy of a good old slide!

One of my friends made a great job of painting everyone's face and her husband had researched the lineup for the original Woodstock and made up a playlist to suit our theme so we had great music to accompany our food and entertainment. 

My culinary skills are appalling but luckily, everyone joined in to make sure the food was cooked perfectly. Many thanks to everyone who brought 'extras' to complement the barbecue.

This pic was taken by my friend, Howy
Note the difference in quality between his swanky camera and my half arsed iPhone pics.

It really was a superb day although there was obviously a tinge of sadness. At one point, late in the afternoon, as I looked around at everyone having such a good time, I couldn't understand why I felt as if something was wrong. Then I heard my friend telling the story of her burned poaching pan from the weekend before last, when I'd gone to visit her, and I remembered that the last time she had visited my house, Mark had made us both poached eggs for breakfast and the thing that felt so 'wrong' was that Mark isn't here anymore and I was hosting the party on my own. I felt a bit overwhelmed by it all and I had to take myself off for a mini weep as I realised that this is my life now and I'll always have to host parties singlehandedly but luckily, a couple of friends spotted my 'wobble' and talked me back to good humour quite quickly.

As the night drew in we moved round to the smaller garden at the back of the house and huddled round the fire to toast marshmallows, chat and sing - the usual drunken shenanigans really - until rain forced us all into the kitchen and conservatory for the final wind down before everyone drifted off to their respective tents and I went up to bed, only to find it was already occupied. My options were to squeeze in the middle of the snoring, sleep talking occupants or take my chances on the sofa. Needless to say I chose the sofa!

The next morning, as everyone began to surface looking slightly worse for wear, a seemingly endless round of bacon butties and hot drinks were required to get us all into gear and ready for the big clean up. Luckily, the breakfast worked a treat and the job was done quickly and efficiently so many thanks to everyone for helping out. I had very little to do and my house and gardens were soon restored to their former state, leaving us with plenty of time for a walk along the sea front to clear our heads. We even had a little paddle in the FREEZING North Sea before returning home for an early night for the friends who stayed over an extra day. Perfect!

I wish Mark could have been there this weekend. He'd have thoroughly enjoyed having everyone over to stay and it felt very strange to be having a party at home without him but I suppose it's another milestone and, now I've gotten the first one over, the next should be easier and feel more normal. Small steps eh?

Friday, 26 July 2013

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

It's the twenty fifth anniversary of the Sunderland Air Show this weekend, the largest airshow in Europe and the only event of it's kind across the North East. The first Sunderland airshow, held back in 1988, was only ever intended to be a 'one off' event but it attracted so many visitors to the area (approximately 250,000) that it has continued each year ever since and now boasts over one million spectators. 

In light of the fact that it's usually pretty mobbed, I rarely go down to the seafront myself on these occasions. I get a good view of the planes from my own back garden and I find that environment much more civilised and relaxing however, tonight, my next door neighbours (whom I affectionately refer to as 'The Cheeky Boys') decided to take a trip down for the opening ceremony and fireworks and invited me to tag along. 

I'm really glad that I went with them. It was a beautiful balmy night and the crowd was just the right size - respectable enough to justify and appreciate the activities but not yet completely inundated, as I expect it will be this weekend. 

There are ample 'Park & Ride' facilities around the City but we took a chance and drove down to Seaburn itself. Surprisingly, we managed to get parked quite easily (you won't stand a chance of this over the rest of the weekend, by the way) and as it was such a nice night, we decided to walk down to the sea front so we were well placed to catch the first planes going overhead on their way out to sea to start the display. 

We made it to the promenade and found ourselves a perfect spot in plenty of time for the Red Arrows to make their appearance and I have to say that, even for someone like me, who isn't usually remotely interested in planes, they were spectactular!

We watched the whole of the display by the Red Arrows before ambling along the length of the sea front to Minchella's Fish & Chip shop, which I still say is the best chippy in the country, by the way.

Finally, as the night drew in and the light started to disappear from the sky, we made ourselves thoroughly sick on the fairground at the far end of the sea front. Perfect!

If you're going to the airshow yourself this weekend, have a great time but whatever you do, go to the fairground BEFORE you eat your fish and chips ;)


Friday, 19 July 2013

Shattered Teacups

I had an appointment with my GP today. I was collecting the results of a blood test that he had carried out at the beginning of the week and I have to say, the results were a wonderful surprise:

Thyroid - Perfect!
Kidneys - Stunning!
Liver - Beeyootiful!
Cholesterol - How low can you go, baby!
Arthritis - Nada!
Menopause - Not yet but that's no surprise really, I'm only twenty seven ;)

In fact, apart from a slightly low reading for folate (whatever that even is?!?), I'm in all round, tip top condition. Not bad going for a girl who's lived on marmite crisps and chunky Kitkats for the last nine months eh? 

Of course, this is all well and good but it does nothing to explain the strange symptoms I've been experiencing over the last few months. 

For around four to five months now I've been feeling tired. Not just a little bit sleepy but really, really tired. Tired to the point that I can barely string a sentence together or concentrate on whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing. Tired to the point that I feel quite apathetic most of the time, as if I can't really be bothered to actually do anything, not even things that I usually enjoy. Extreme tiredness, exhaustion even. It's very unlike me. 

At first I didn't notice it as a standalone physical issue. It's been a tough nine months following Mark's death and I naturally assumed that I was experiencing some sort of grief related depression. In fact, I'd say that I definitely have experienced a minor episode of grief related depression, which, according to everything I've read and been told, is perfectly normal and acceptable for someone who recently lost her husband. 

Because of this, I didn't bother highlighting it to my GP. I thought it would pass but it hasn't. It's getting worse. In fact, it's become such a nuisance that I made an appointment to speak to him about this specific issue last week.

I was reluctant to broach the subject at first as I was concerned that he'd automatically chalk it up to the effects of grief etc., but he's a good dude and a thoughtful GP so when I insisted that this feels different somehow, he listened. 

He listened as I told him about the slight blurring of my vision which I'd thought was down to tiredness, the pain in my hands and feet, the numbness in my fingers, the spasms in my legs, the pins and needles running down my arms and the loss of function in my hands which has been causing me to drop coffee cups, jars and bottles lately and he suggested we do blood tests, hence my visit today. 

I'm glad that the results are all clear and positive but I'm not so glad about the subsequent discussion which followed because unfortunately, he suspects I'm experiencing the early symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Strange news to receive on a sunny Friday afternoon, I'm sure you will agree. 

Anyway, he's referred me to a Neurologist for further tests and I've come home with a bundle of information about the condition, which is quite useful as I don't really know a great deal about it. 

I'll read everything he's given me - forewarned is forearmed - but I'm not going to waste too much energy worrying about it until such time as I receive a conclusive diagnosis. Life's too short to waste worrying about things which may or may not happen and anyway, in the midst of everything that life throws around, I usually find I manage to muddle through things fairly well. 

I'll just have to buy extra cups to compensate for the ones I keep breaking. It's a good job I'm a cheapskate. I'd be really upset at the thought of replacing expensive cups all the time ;)

Friday, 12 July 2013

Am I Sad Enough?

Today I spent two and a half hours being assessed by a counsellor to establish whether it would be appropriate to offer me a course of one to one bereavement counselling. 

I have to be honest, I came away from that assessment feeling utterly worn out and ever so slightly inadequate somehow. Maybe even a bit of a fraud? 

The questionnaires didn't help...

"Have you had suicidal thoughts at any time over the last week?" 


"Have you tried to commit suicide at any time during the last week?"   

Erm... No, but is that not answered by the first question? Surely a person couldn't attempt suicide without having a suicidal thought beforehand? 

"Have you thought about harming yourself during the last week?" 


"Have you harmed yourself at any time over the last week?"  


"Have you harmed anyone else during the past week?"

Do cats count? I stood on Maisie's tail the other day.

Then there were the agree/disagree statements...

"I feel alone and isolated"

"I have no friends or family members who I can talk to about my problems and feelings"

"I often feel that I have no one to turn to when I need support"

Of course, I 'strongly disagreed' with every one of them. I have a fantastic group of friends and we talk often and openly. I know how fortunate I am in that respect.

You see what I mean though, don't you? By the time we'd gone through all the questions and I'd answered 'No' or 'Strongly Disagree' to everything, I had begun to feel like a complete fraud. In fact at one point, I briefly flirted with the notion of changing my answers to make myself sound a more worthy and deserving case. Ridiculous!

After we'd completed the questionnaires I gave the counsellor a potted history of my life. It was very short. I'm only twenty seven, after all (LOLZ) and I thought it would help to give some context for the issues I'd like some help with now. 

He listened intently, making notes every now and again, and then he asked me what I hoped to achieve from counselling. I'd given the matter some thought so I told him I have two objectives:

1. I'd like professional intervention to help me come to terms with some of the events surrounding Mark's illness and death. I'm particularly troubled by random flashbacks of the day that Mark was taken into hospital for the last time. I suppose it could be a mild form of PTSD or something.

2. I'd like professional help to break a pattern of behaviour which has emerged and which is now causing me significant angst. The behaviour is rooted in my childhood (hence the need for a brief life history) and has reared it's head recently, possibly requiring some sort of CBT to help me to break the cycle and establish new coping mechanisms. 

At the end of the session he summarised his understanding of the information I'd given him - he'd captured everything perfectly - and then afterwards, he told me that he thought I was a "remarkable person" and in all the years that he'd been doing his job, he'd never met anyone who had encountered all of the life issues I have dealt with and come out of the other side with such a strong sense of self.

He told me that people often come along for a counselling assessment with a degree of anxiety or nervousness (I was very calm and relaxed), that people always have to have at least one of the questions repeated (I didn't) or the response scale explained more than once (again, I didn't).

He commented on the fact that the life history I'd shared with him was delivered clearly and concisely with all of the salient points covered that I later needed to refer back to. He suggested that this demonstrated a much clearer, logical train of thought than most clients who had been through similar life events and were attending a counselling assessment. He reflected on the clarity of my thought processes and the measured, logical evaluation that I had given his questions, which were all answered consistently and without deviation from the topic or theme. 

He asked me about my profession and academic background and seemed to think that my thought processes were a result of these factors. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I spent most of my academic life procrastinating like there was no (always) tomorrow or that each and every one of my assignments had been started the night before they were due in, completed in a half arsed way after a fraught all nighter at my tatty old PC and submitted with three seconds to spare before the deadline. 

I didn't tell him any of this because by that time, all I could think was that he didn't consider me a needy enough case to be able to access the service. I don't think I'm sad enough to warrant counselling. 

So now I'm caught in a crummy position. On the one hand, If I am able to access some form of counselling, then I'm going to feel as if I oughtn't to be there, as if I'm taking a place that some other, more deserving person could have. 

Alternatively, if I can't access the service, then I'm just left with me, on my own, wondering why no one can see how bad it actually feels to be me at the minute. 

It sucks.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Dead of Night

It's 3.30am and I'm already awake and crying. I miss my husband such a lot. It never really gets any easier, to be honest. 

In fact, apart from last October/November, when Mark became ill and died, these last two months have been the most difficult two months of my whole life. 

There are such a lot of 'firsts' around this time of year - Mark's birthday, Father's Day, our first wedding anniversary. I'm trying hard to be 'normal' but it's a struggle.

Everyone says that this first year is the most difficult. They say the first anniversaries/milestones are the most painful and it gets easier after this. I hope they're right. 

Friends keep telling me that I'm "doing really well" so I suppose I must be but it's difficult to get any perspective at 3.30am. 

Worries are magnified and nightmares become real at 3.30am. At 3.30am, you realise that there really are monsters lurking beneath your bed.

It's too early to be the morning, too late to still be the night before. Everyone else is asleep.

3.30am is the dead of night. I've always hated it.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Thatcher Bashing

Yesterday saw the passing of Baroness Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister and one of the most influential and divisive political leaders the country has ever seen. 

October 13, 1925 - April 8, 2013

Naturally, the internet went into overdrive, with social networks around the world buzzing with views, opinions and comments. I often find the internet quite a cruel place following the death of a celebrity or public figure so I avoided Facebook and Twitter yesterday and assumed I would have been able to avoid most of the bile by today but as I signed into Twitter and Facebook this morning, I was greeted by a barrage of cruel and personal comments about the woman often known as The Iron Lady. 

I grew up in the North East (Sunderland), a city with a huge shipyard and mining community, so I have first hand experience of the impact of her policies. Although it was hard on everyone, particularly in this area, I can see the arguments both for and against the changes that she brought about. I'm also an ex-public sector accountant and anyone who thinks that the old public sector regime could have carried on the way it was doing at that time clearly doesn't understand basic economics. 

This country was stuffed in the seventies. We were a laughing stock across the world and she brought strong leadership to drive through transformational change at a time when most other politicians lacked the backbone to do anything constructive about the mess we were in. 

I'm not saying I agree with all of her policies. Even though I thought the unions were irresponsibly power crazy and only had themselves to blame when it all backfired, my heart bled for the miners and their families during the strikes, yet I'm still sensible enough to recognise that the mines would have closed anyway sooner or later, once the subsidies had ran out. I also had my whole street out rallying against poll tax when it was introduced, even though it would have been a more attractive option than council tax or rates for me as an individual. 

Love her or hate her, she's still the only politician we've seen with any balls since Churchill and she certainly did more than anyone else to help people stand on their own two feet and have some pride in being self sufficient, particularly women. As an aside, I see that most of the people making the vile comments on my timeline are the same folks that got their first leg up onto the property ladder by making the most of her 'dreadful' policies and buying their council houses at a whopping discount. How soon we forget.

I'm sorry but compared to any of the current spineless, mealy mouthed, self seeking, ineffective weasels we have in 'power' at the minute, I'd take Thatcher every time but that aside, irrespective of any of the political arguments, this is still a human being that died. 

Have we really lost all sense of dignity and humanity that we think it's acceptable to gloat and make cruel, personal comments about someone who just died? Do we really think it's acceptable to be that callous about a human being just because of the job that she did, the job that WE asked her to do because there was no one else capable of doing it? Seriously? Because if that's the case then I'm scared for us all as it means the very fabric of our society truly has crumbled. 

We have a dreadful habit in this country of building people up, putting them on pedestals and then kicking the shit out of them when things go wrong instead of taking some responsibility for ourselves and doing something constructive to bring about change. Everyone finds it easy to be a sideline commentator but most people don't even bother turning out to vote anymore. We're turning into a nation of moaners. It's pathetic really.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Talking to the Dead

I'm fortunate enough to live right in the middle of a vast network of cycle paths, many of which are part of the National Cycle Network and, weather permitting, I try to get out on my bicycle as much as possible. 

I have a regular, twelve mile route that I try to follow, mainly because it's the most convenient and also, it's relatively scenic. I usually cycle half way, stop for a drink and a quick chat with the horses in the top field and then I cycle back as fast as I can, always trying to beat my own speed for the total time taken. 

I met a man at my halfway point on the cycle track today. I don't know his name but I know that he's seventy five years old and I know that his wife contracted breast cancer and died twenty two years ago. 

I've never seen him up there before and I'm unlikely to ever see him again but there's something strangely reassuring about the anonymity of chance encounters with complete strangers and he had such a gentle, unassuming manner as he told me the story of his wife that I somehow found myself reciprocating and telling him about Mark

We chatted about all manner of things, for well over half an hour, but we kept coming back to the subject of his wife and, even though he'd had subsequent relationships after her death, it was very apparent that he still missed her and loved her a great deal. He wasn't maudlin or overly sentimental. It was more a kind of quiet respect for her memory and the life they had shared together, which he had clearly cherished. 

We reflected on the challenges of moving on and adjusting after losing a loved one but also, without dwelling in the morbidity of the situation, we also talked about how crucial it is to remember those we love. He told me that his daughter currently lives in Hong Kong where there is a strong tradition of honouring ancestors and elderly loved ones in a very particular way. 

Today is the day of Qingming Festival, also known as 'Talking to the Dead Day', which is the first of those traditions in this current year.  On the ninth day of the ninth lunar month (13th October this year), there will be a celebration to mark Chung Yeung Festival, also known as 'Senior Citizens Day'. 

These two days are public holidays in the Hong Kong calendar, during which time it is traditional to pack a picnic and take the whole family down to the cemetery where they will then spend the day tidying up the graves of departed friends and family members whilst listening to the elder family members reminiscing and telling stories to the youngsters in order that their memories live on from generation to generation. Isn't that a wonderful idea?

I sat on a bench on the cycle track, enjoying my first glimpse of sunshine after the very long winter and listening to the soothing voice of my new 'friend' as he told me the story of 'Talking to the Dead Day' and, for a very short time this morning, I felt at peace. 

It didn't last very long but it's the first time I've felt truly calm since Mark died and I just wanted to share it with you. 

Saturday, 30 March 2013


Today is a special day. 

On this day, ten years ago, something happened which is still, to this day, probably the most important event in my life. It's a private matter, it's very personal and I don't want to blog about the detail but I wanted to put something on here to mark the day as it's so important to me. 

Apologies for behaving so cryptically on a blog which I leave open for public viewing. I'm very aware how hypocritical it all seems.

I don't really want to make too much of a fuss about it but nevertheless, the people closest to me know how important this day is for me and I woke up to cards, gifts and good wishes a'plenty, for which I am very grateful. 

Thank you. I know you are reading this and I know that you know how important you are to me.

I'll be spending this weekend with a small group of amazing people whom I love very much, who know me inside and out, through good times and bad, and who love me unconditionally in spite of/because of it all. I'm very fortunate to have those people in my life.  

My only regret is that Mark isn't here to share this day with me. Tonight we're having dinner at the same restaurant we went to after Mark and I were married last June.  He'll be an enormous loss at that dinner table tonight but nevertheless, it will be an evening filled with love, laughter, gratitude and memories. Oh, and lots of scrummy food :)

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Happy Birthday!

William and Maisie are two years old today. Jason Bourne was two last week (14th March). Look how much they've grown!

At three weeks old. 
Tiny, very cute, two of them still being bottle fed...

At two years old. 
Lazy, greedy, wallpaper shredders who are so spoiled that they even have their own pew in the kitchen...

These little dudes, along with our old cat, Millie, have kept me going over the last five months or so. When Mark first died, I felt so low that I could easily have just given up and stayed in bed forever but no matter what else is going on in the world, these greedy guzzlers start hurling themselves at the bedroom door at 6.30am each day and it's actually quite hard to wallow in bed while four hefty cats are trying to batter down the door. It's much easier to drag myself downstairs to feed them and then, once I'm up and moving around, life doesn't feel quite as grim and I'm able to continue on through the day. 

I know everyone moans about the amount of cat pictures on the internet and I know they're not everyone's cup of tea but I'm really grateful for them, even though they're a bunch of lazy, unappreciative little wasters! 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Just For Today

Many years ago, someone who I barely knew at the time but who was later to become very important to me, handed me a card. It was quite a small card with only nine brief paragraphs written inside but for all kinds of reasons, it quickly became truly precious to me.


Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life problem at once. I can do something for 12 hours that would appal me if I felt I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today I will be happy. Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Just for today I will adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my luck as it comes, and fit myself to it.

Just for today I will strengthen my mind. I
 will study, I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer.
I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.

Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do someone a good turn, and NOT get found out; if anybody knows of it, it will not count. 
I will do at least two things I don't want to do - just for exercise.
I will not show anyone my feelings are hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not show it.

Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, talk low, act courteously, criticise not one bit, not find fault with anything and not try to improve or regulate anybody except myself.

Just for today I will have a program. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.

Just for today I will have a quiet half hour all by myself and relax. During this half hour, sometime, I will try and get a better perspective of my life.

Just for today I will be unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful, and to believe that as I give to the world, so the world will give to me.

I was going through a tricky phase back then and this card was a useful way of focusing my mind/chanelling my thoughts in a more positive direction. I remember how I would read it every morning and I'd choose one of the paragraphs as my 'action' for each particular day, trying so hard to maintain the suggestion throughout the day and usually failing miserably. I seem to recall that I often had a great deal of trouble with paragraph six, usually finding it quite problematic to be agreeable, to talk low, criticise not one bit or find fault with anything. I was such a selfish, self centred little moaner in those days!

I'm sorting out some old files this morning and I just stumbled across the card again. I would probably benefit from following the suggestions again so I've decided to reprint the card here, as a reminder for myself, because my office is such a tip that I'm sure to lose the original card again. 

Today I'm choosing paragraph one as my focus. As I sit here, staring at the giant pile of mess that is my backlog of work, I'm trying to convince myself that "I can do something for twelve hours that would appal me if I felt I had to do it for a lifetime". 

It's just a case of mind over matter, right...?

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


I've been feeling quite despondent over the last day or two. My trip to Egypt was cancelled and I'm at home with a heavy cold and no energy, which means I've spent the last two days lying on my sofa, feeling a wee bit sorry for myself. 

I've had some time to mull over one or two things that have been troubling me and I've come to a painful realisation about a particular friendship which has left me feeling quite sad. 

I've also started the task I've been dreading since November - sorting through Woody's clothes and bundling them up to donate to our local Animal Rescue Charity Shop so, all in all, I'm feeling pretty unsettled at the minute. 

I was going to write a more lengthy post about some of the details behind all of this but then I realised that I don't actually want to think about this stuff anymore, never mind write about it, so instead, I picked up Woody's journal and started reading through that as a distraction. 

I opened the journal at a random page and saw a very brief entry, which made me catch my breath by it's very simplicity...

          "Stared up at the evening sky and looked at the cirrus clouds. Felt light and calm. Then warmth at my side as I looked down to see Jason, cuddled up against me and staring up at me, feline eyes unblinking from his open, trusting face. There is spirituality in so many places..."

That entry was made on 6 September 2012, just six short weeks before Mark died. It was a private note made by him, for him, and a snapshot of his thoughts and feelings right at that moment in time, which I find pretty inspirational by anyone's standards, never mind someone who was living with cancer on a daily basis. 

He had such a wonderful attitude to life, even before his diagnosis, and reading his journal is a reminder for me that I need to stop dwelling on the negative aspects of life and concentrate on the goodness around me. He's right, there really is spirituality in so many places and I don't want to miss any of it because I'm too busy feeling sorry for myself to appreciate it.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 
I fall in.
I am lost... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in this same place. 
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in... It's a habit...but,
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

Portia Nelson

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Losing It

You know you're finally losing it when...

You're sitting in front of the fire, absently wondering why it doesn't seem to be lighting very well, when you take a bite out of a piece of flapjack, start gagging on the worst taste ever known to man and look down to find that you're actually eating a firelighter. 

So this morning I've learned that firelighters don't taste very nice when they're dunked in tea and flapjack biscuits aren't brilliant for lighting fires. 

They don't tell you about stuff like this in bereavement counselling.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Bin Lid Weather

It's incredibly windy here today. Woody used to call this weather 'Bin Lid Weather', a rather dubious term which came about after he once walked down a street on a very windy day and saw a dustbin lid come flying from nowhere and sock some poor unsuspecting fellow pedestrian across the back of the head. 

I have to be honest, I almost laughed an eye out when he relayed the story to me at home later that night but I suppose a dustbin lid, travelling at force, could actually do a fair bit of damage to a dude, so if you're reading this and you've ever had the misfortune to be hit by a flying bin lid, then please accept my sincere condolences. Also, out of idle curiosity, I just googled 'flying bin lid' and this story came up in the search results which makes me feel even more guilty for laughing. 

I usually have a great deal of difficulty getting into an upright position in the mornings so Woody was always first out of bed. As such, he'd also be the first to notice the weather and he'd call out a warning if it was a bin lid day. He'd also call out a score on his imaginary 'bin-o-meter' and if he thought the bin lid factor measured greater than 8.5, he'd urge me to stay indoors for fear of an incident occuring. 

Bless him, he was always very safety conscious. I miss him such a lot.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Grief - Three Months On

It's three months today since Mark died

It still doesn't feel real. 

I'm going through the motions of normal life (whatever 'normal' is) and I'm trying to fulfill commitments which were already in my diary. I don't want to let anyone down.

We had holidays booked over the Christmas period - a week in Lanzarote before Christmas and a fortnight in Cape Verde from Boxing Day onwards. I couldn't face the Lanzarote trip so I cancelled at the last minute, upsetting a very dear friend in the process. I feel pretty bad about it but I just wasn't capable of anything else at the time. 

I gave myself a stiff talking to and made (another) last minute decision on Christmas Day. I decided to go to Cape Verde, alone, as I thought it would give me some breathing space, some time to reflect and maybe begin to accept what's happened over the last three to four months. 

I was wrong. I returned home just as muddled and 'woolly' as I had been before I left.

I tried to immerse myself in work. I had a desk full of papers and files and everything had to be completed by 31 January. It was hard to concentrate and I felt as if I was wading through treacle but I think it was the right thing to do, to keep busy, to distract myself, to stop myself thinking too much. 

I suppose, on the surface, I must look as if I'm coping reasonably well but there's an anxious little voice inside me that keeps crying out a warning that I'm sinking. 

I feel exactly the way I did during my very first open water dive. We stepped into the water from the pontoon, my instructor and I, our jackets full of air to ensure we bobbed straight back up again, allowing us to float on the surface for a while, reminding ourselves of our agreed hand signals and dive plan, before making our descent together.

I hadn't been diving very long at the time and, although I'd learned the theory from my diving exams and pool practice, I'd yet to grasp the reality of the effects of water pressure on the air in my BCD. As we began our descent, the weight of the water above me compressed the air in my jacket until it ceased to keep me afloat and I began to sink like a stone. 

I was only in 30 metres of water so I suppose I would have simply hit the bottom at some point, but I still found it hard to contain the bubble of panic that rose within me as I struggled to kick my way back up. I suppose it's a normal reaction really. It feels so unnatural to be breathing underwater for those first few dives and it takes a while to become accustomed to it. 

As I continued to sink, the pressure in my ears began to build until I thought my head would explode, preventing me from thinking clearly. Trying desperately to equalise the pressure in my ears, I failed to grasp that it was only going to get worse because the water pressure would increase as I sank further towards the sea bed.  

It was only when my instructor grabbed my arm, using our pre-determined hand signals to remind me to add more air to my jacket, that I managed to regain an element of control and ascend slightly to release the pressure in my head. It took some time and practice before I finally learned to control my bouyancy properly but I've never forgotten that first dive and the sensation of panic that I experienced. 

I feel just like that now, as if I'm out of control and sinking fast, trying desperately to kick my way upwards but deep down, knowing that it's pointless. I'm not in the water but I feel just as helpless and hopeless. Is it possible to drown on dry land? 

I can only assume that I'm presenting some semblance of my normal self because everyone is still telling me that I'm "doing really well". 

I wonder if people are saying these things to be supportive, to make me feel better? Maybe they're being genuine? Maybe I actually do look as if I've got my shit together and I'm ok? 

I certainly don't feel as if I've got it together. In fact, I feel the very opposite of 'together'. I'm experiencing very strange sensations of detachment, as if I'm coming apart and splitting off onto two levels somehow. 

The first level is 'normal' me, engaging in conversations as if everything is fine. Accepting the good wishes and support and smiling my acknowledgement of the comments about how well I'm coping. 

It's not that this version of me is trying to hide anything. I'm lucky to have close friends, an amazing support network, and we all talk very openly about our life events. I want them to know how frightened I am, that I'm truly scared I'm losing my mind, but somehow I can't find the words to articulate the true extent of my internal hysteria. I can't make them understand what's really happening and as a result, I feel I'm becoming more disconnected from the world in general.

The second level is the 'detached' me. The person who has floated off out of herself and is now observing these day to day interactions from a distance, with a sense of rising panic because she knows that people can't really see what's going on inside and she's terrified. 

'Detached Me' is the crazy lady who wants to start beating herself around the head and screaming her lungs out in the middle of the shopping centre until someone, anyone, takes notice of the fact that she isn't 'coping' at all. In fact, she's very much the opposite of 'coping'. Maybe she's even just a teeny bit insane?

I'm not (yet) at the stage where my 'inner crazy lady' has taken over but it's a mystery to me that anyone can possibly think that I'm alright, never mind "doing really well"

I'm constantly reminded of that poem...

Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead.
It must have been too cold for him, his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith