Manhattan today is wet and dreary so the perfect time to settle down and once again attack the book proposal. I’ve just re-read the two paragraphs below about the day we bought my bicycle on ebay in preparation for the trip. Anyway, I thought I’d share them with you as it was such a happy time and despite the rain today, it’s made me smile …. I hope you’re smiling too.
“So, sitting in the sunshine outside a sleepy pub in Suffolk with my parents-in-law, husband and several pints of beer, my other half gleefully took it upon himself the task of bidding for the bicycle. Loving a challenge he rolled up his sleeves with gusto and, with a grin for his audience, he somewhat importantly pushed his lop-sided glasses further up his nose with one finger. Then, licking his lips, he rolled his head from side to side as if in anticipation of six rounds with Mike Tyson. In truth I think he was having a moment of fancying himself on the trading floor of a city bank. Any moment now he’d be shrieking, “Buy! Buy! Sell! Sell!” Michael Douglas and Wall Street have clearly left their mark on him.
With the ease and serenity of someone who is unfazed by the adrenaline rush of an auction, he laughed his way through the excruciating process of the last hour of bidding. I sat beside him wringing my hands in anguish, squealing rather a lot and as the seconds counted down, leapt around crossing and uncrossing my legs as though about to wet myself, which was in fact a distinct possibility. Thankfully however, we won the bid as, when the clock hit the last five seconds he put in a final cheeky bid. One hundred and one pounds! He grinned with victory and punched the air, beer spilling onto the table. It mattered not, for my heavenly husband had beaten Mike Tyson, outplayed today’s gold market and made a sweet million. I had a bicycle. He was a happy man. His parents were uproariously giggly and a tad tiddly and disappeared to fetch some celebratory drinks; meanwhile, I was utterly exhausted and needed a lie-down, but five minutes later made-do with a large glass of red. Shopping with my husband has never been a tranquil experience.”
As many of you know, I’m a British lass temporarily living in the US. Previously unaccustomed to American traditions, last year we were Thanksgiving virgins. Kindly invited to celebrate the event with some new American friends and their family, I can say with hand on heart, it was up there with one of the best days I’ve had.
It was like Christmas but without the focus being on presents. In essence it involved a lot of food, noise, chatter, happy people and a plethora of overexcited dogs and children. There were no strange gifts of apricots steeped in brandy from a distant relation destined to remain for years beyond their sell-by-date at the back of the kitchen cupboard, (the apricots, sadly not the relation ); no more tie-dyed bandanas from a well-meaning great aunt Flossie; and no more pairs of amusingly decorated socks from the halfwitted uncle with a penchant for filthy jokes in front of the aforementioned Great Aunt Flossie and the children. Just everyone bringing a little something to contribute to the meal itself and a great deal of happiness.
Being at times unable to shake off some of my rather stuffy British traits, I do however find the group hand-holding and public verbalising in front of a large group of mainly total strangers what I am grateful for to be utter purgatory. Being unable to speak in public, (and by that I mean in front of more than a group of two people), as last year my moment for the firing squad of eyes to be directed upon me approached, my mind went blank, my unfortunate neighbour had to endure my increasingly sweaty palms and starry dizziness began to take hold. This of course is a classic case of brain becoming overwhelmed, body and aforementioned brain entering total paralysis, followed by a tendency to fall rather dramatically to the floor, thereby requiring smelling salts or a slap around the face to bring me around—the former obviously being preferable to the latter. However, with a hefty glug of wine and a determination of not wanting to let the British side down, I managed to stutter a little drivel about friends and family and excellent food. My darling husband long since being aware of my propensity to drop indelicately to the floor, gave me an encouraging smile.
He however was seated at the far end of the table, next to our hostess, the warmest and most kindly of women and at an age of well over eighty years. With total sincerity and a broad grin he looked her directly in the eye and confessed to being grateful and honoured to having been being seated next to the best-looking chick at the table. They have been firm friends ever since.
So with Thanksgiving once again just around the corner, there’s understandably a lot of talk at the moment of what we’re grateful for and I’d just like to say to everyone (without you having to hold my sweaty palms) that I’m grateful for all of you. For listening to my drivel, reading my nonsense and encouraging me and each other for our lovely little blogging world.
That’s me. A military wife, and probably the most unlikely one.
Compared to the disciplined and structured life that soldiers and officers exist in, I am chaotic, untidy and quite possibly verging on unhinged. Quite how the marriage works, you may well ask, and I can only assume that the more we analyse, the theory of opposites attracting is becoming less theoretical and more factual.
We tease each other relentlessly. And the fact of the matter is, if I was married to someone as slovenly as myself, it would surely only be a matter of time before I started clearing up supper the following morning and leaving my endless reams of paper from the book scattered on every surface, and the screwed up balls of discarded nonsense strewn over the floor for days. God forbid, I might not even get dressed in the mornings …. although I do have wonderful daydreams of floating around the apartment in a silk kimono, scarlet lips sipping on a coupe glass of champagne as I listen to Vivaldi, whilst writing frenzied chapters of the book …
The Colonel (aka my husband) tells me he would loathe be married to a female version of himself. Oddly, I get that. But imagine how tidy their cupboards would be. From time to time he sorts out the kitchen and I swear that when I came back from my cycling jaunt the herbs and spices were lined up in alphabetical order. Although, in his defence, tidying is therapeutic.
So perhaps we all need a little bit of opposites attracting alongside compatibility, love and understanding of each other. And perhaps also we need our friends of the same sex to offload the drivel to. I’ve recently finished the book ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin who says just that. Sometimes women need women and men need men.
So, as the Colonel finishes organising and holding a socially distanced Remembrance Service at the UN, my eyes well up with pride and admiration. I certainly don’t have his qualities of planning but I guess we all bring something to the table … in this instance, it’s a huge chocolate cake, specially for him with maybe a bit of ice cream on the side.
There is something strangely unique about New York; it’s rather like a vacuum packed London, all the good and bad bits squeezed together into a pulsating, squealing, squirming mass. As soon as you step outside your door you are hit with the chaos of the streets with every person rushing from one place to another, the filthy litter blowing into doorways where lost souls have made their homes and shoving, brusque rudeness. It can take its toll on anyone, irrespective of how sturdy a disposition they may have. And yet, there is a different side … ask anyone for help and they’ll do more; they’ll smile, chat and ask questions, and when you take the trouble to instigate a conversation with a stranger, you’ll have a new friend for life. Perhaps New York is a sheep in wolf’s clothing after all and not so frightening underneath the snarling exterior.
We are exactly halfway through our posting here. Eighteen months gone and eighteen to go.
It has been a rollercoaster which sounds so predictably trite and yet … what with the usual frustrations of settling into a new country, we have had however the antidote of parties in Central Park, people of every nationality to meet and learn from, the beauty of the towns we’ve explored, the outrageously glamorous Hamptons, the museums and theatres … it’s been everything and more than we’d hoped for.
Within weeks of arrival we had an electricity blackout that wiped out the entirety of Hell’s Kitchen all the way to the Upper West Side. This hadn’t happened since the early 1970’s. The chaos that ensued was staggering. That’s a lot of people stuck in a lot of elevators.
After 24 hours we decided there were only so many games of Scrabble we could play, so walked down the 49 floors to the nearest bar until a couple of hours later our legs had stopped shaking long enough for us to walk back up again. Had we known that was the start of many, many games of Scrabble in future months we might have invested in a larger scoring pad. As I type, we are exactly 77 games a piece. That’s 154 games in the Coronavirus Challenge. That’s a lot of Scrabble, a lot of checking the dictionary and a lot of expletives.
For a time we were slap bang in the epicentre of America’s coronavirus. So we battened down the hatches, took to Zoom like the rest of the world and watched the Navy hospital ship ‘Comfort’ sail into and then finally out of Pier 90. All faintly surreal, like seeing Florence Nightingale float up the Hudson dressed in white. We watched the news desperately, religiously day after day and as life crumbled around the planet all we really wanted was to be closer to our family.
And then, Trump vs Biden. I shall refrain from any political ramblings, but again, we are witnessing extraordinary times.
Suffice to say it’s been an interesting time with ups and downs like everyone else, but a time for plenty of reflection and thought … And dare I say it, thank God for Scrabble.
I only go to the hairdresser when two factors are simultaneously in alignment. To be fair, it’s a rare occurrence. They are as follows:
1) The bank account is in the black, and
2) My dear husband remarks that my hair is looking a little ‘tired’. This is dangerous territory for any man, however this one’s no fool and would only ever pass comment when a) the hair situation is on the brink of becoming dire, b) there is a door between us and c) I am not hormonal.
However, in the knowledge that there have been no options/hairdressers open to us, he has wisely kept his counsel of late. However even I am aware that the benchmark of ‘dire’ had been passed even before we went into lockdown.
So, I tentatively asked him if he’d like to cut my hair. Nothing difficult, just a good inch or two into a neat bob.
Within almost undignified speed, I was whisked into the bathroom and plonked unceremoniously on a kitchen stool by my husband who alongside a look of utter jubilation, had adopted a rather dubious French accent.
“Just don’t bother ask me about my summer vacation plans” I twittered nervously as I watched him don the sharpest pair of kitchen scissors. Oh dear God, those two glinting blades, so close to my ears of which I was suddenly rather sentimental, and more importantly, my jugular. I did hope he was planning on wearing his glasses.
Standing behind me, he took my head between his hands and as I glanced at him in the mirror, his face took on a look of total concentration, and then, he silently got to work.
An hour later and a perfectly sleek blonde bob hung neatly just below my still intact ears. As to who was more delighted, I’m not entirely sure. But one thing is for certain, should he ever need a new career I think he’d make the most fabulous dog groomer, sheep shearer or possibly even a hairdresser …
Ps.. As a matter of interest, if you could have a totally different career, how would it differ from what you currently do? Or are you perfectly happy 😊
I’ll admit it. I love scrabble. Don’t be too harsh on me.
I’m fully aware it’s seen as an old people’s game, a dull person’s game, a tediously lengthy game for the quiet type with a bad haircut and an annoying habit of absently pulling at their nasal hair. Whilst I currently do indeed have a bad haircut, I do not however put my fingers up my nose, well, certainly not in public.
The Colonel and I take our games seriously. We have taken competitiveness to another level. We have a large black book for our scoring and an extensive list of words that are and are not allowed. No slang, abbreviations, Latin and absolutely nothing from the Urban Dictionary. Quite how “gonad” was allowed in I’ve yet to work out, but I digress …
The last game was won by The Colonel by a mere three points. This result was met with ecstatic fist punching and jubilant hysteria from himself and much screeching, cursing and howling from Yours Truly. This daily release of emotion is a wonderful antidote to any pent-up frustrations of being held in confinement.
Strange we may well be as we find ridiculous pleasure in bringing out the longed-for seven letter word, or in utilising the ‘J’ on a triple letter score, but one thing is certain … it sure does pass the time in a very happy way!
P.s. How are you passing your free time? And dare I ask, do you play Scrabble?!
A few weeks ago, society appeared to be divided into two camps. There were those who took the Coronavirus seriously, did as they were told, stayed in and didn’t excessively stock up on lavatory paper. This group consisted of ’the majority of people’.
Then, there was a second group, consisting of a combination of young adults who took to having house, street and beach parties (when the weather was fair) combined with a handful of the more elderly and dare I say it, faintly belligerent generation. (This latter group of septuagenarians and octogenarians claiming that if the war hadn’t got them, then neither would this piddly germ and frankly if they wanted to take their daily fifteen mile drive to collect The Telegraph, then they jolly well would). Within this group of ‘those who would not obey’, both parties blamed each other, not only for the spread of the virus but also the lack of the aforementioned lavatory paper.
However, times have calmed and we’re (generally speaking) all now doing what we’re told and life is tootling merrily along. Parents have lifted all time restrictions whatsoever on their children’s iPads and phones as they realise the hypocrisy as their own weekly ‘screen time’ update is into the double figures per day. People are finding enormous pleasure in the occasional arrival of an online delivery, far too much comfort in the contents of the fridge and most notably, starting to sweat at the rapidly declining contents of the ‘drinks cupboard’.
However whilst as a nation we have now joined together whether that be by clapping and cheering for the NHS, or simply the unity felt by ‘all being in this together’, there appears to be another two groups unfolding and emerging. They are as follows:
1) The ‘Mary Poppins’ variety
This group keenly suggests ways we occupy our newly found time by learning a new skill such as learning Swahili on Duolingo whilst baking gluten-free, fat-free canapés to go with alcohol-free drinks at six o’clock (and not a minute earlier). They are encouraging us to mimic their exercise regimes that would put Joe Wicks to shame and embracing our inner decluttered selves. The photos of their beautifully made-up faces in their perfectly neutral-toned harmonious homes are are seen by some of us mere mortals as ’inspiring’, but by others as ‘sanctimonious little f*****s.’ Whichever way they are viewed however, they remain calm in their down-dog yoga stance, whilst sipping herbal tea and micro-scheduling their day.
On the other hand there is a second group, commonly known as
2) Everyone Else …
This is a large collection of the population who will now happily pay a total stranger any amount of money to take their children and their sodding homeschooling off their hands; those whose wine o’clock which used to begin as soon as the taps were turned on at kids bath-time, now starts at lunchtime; those who regretted from day one having invited granny to stay and those who never again want to hear the patronising nasal tones of their husband’s boss giving his daily virtual meetings whilst having to tiptoe around the house with a screaming toddler, an hormonal teenager with attitude and a dog with diarrhoea who has just eaten the left leg of the sofa. Was someone having a laugh when they allowed hormonal teenagers into the same house as a mother mid peri-menopause? And as for the husband, well as soon as the sodding lawyer answers his sodding phone, the Decree Nisi will be thrust down somebody’s sodding throat …
But all is not lost. For one day, this too shall pass and we’ll emerge from our homes, irrespective of whichever group we had momentarily belonged to. And, as we step out, blinking in the sunlight of our newly found freedom, we can be assured of unity once again, unity in our extraordinary memories of a strange, strange time.
It’s surprising how noisy a kettle is whilst boiling.
As the Colonel logs onto yet another meeting, I snarl and curse at myself for not having made my coffee before he started.
I’ve tried various methods of quietening it, such as covering it with a towel, but that was met with much waving of arms and pointing. Apparently it was a fire hazard. I’ve tried filling it only half full, but nope, even noisier. So I wait until the meetings are over, the phone calls end and then I make a dash to the stove and make a large pot of coffee … bliss.
I tiptoe around our open-plan apartment wondering if it would be rude to suggest his meetings move to the closet. I ponder over buying an electric kettle which I can attach to a power socket in the corridor outside and I momentarily ponder whether I have an addiction to coffee and obviously dismiss this immediately.
But let’s brush, swoosh and whoosh away the negatives … for positivity shall reign, and my positive news is … that I have mastered the art of the Chocolate Soufflé. I have conquered my fear of the sinking soufflé.
I shall admit this is not world-breaking news, indeed most of you can probably already make this light as a feather, airy and moist ramekin of deliciousness. It is heaven in a bowl with a dollop of ice cream. So much so that yes, I use that awful cringe-worthy word moist which in my squirming mind sits alongside soiled and gusset. But I digress, it is such a piece of heaven that I would be willing to forfeit my coffee for this utter delight.
So whilst we enter into another groundhog week of the same again, I search again for something new to dilute the monotony. We’re safe so there’s no complaining, but I must confess to a sense of pleasure in an achievement so small. Perhaps I shall try the Japanese soufflé pancakes or start learning Swahili on Duolingo. Either way, if the Colonel could perhaps make his way to the closet with his laptop and phone, I could make that darn cup of coffee …
Ps. Do you have a positive that obliterated any negatives from the weekend?
The streets are empty with only a few scurrying individuals collecting their groceries, faces all but hidden behind masks. Except the eyes. Darting, accusatory and nervous.
There are no tourists wearing their backpacks, looking lost and filling the horse drawn carriages for an expensive saunter around Central Park. The enterprising men and occasionally women who dance, juggle, sing and leap over each other to make a few bucks from anyone who’ll watch are all gone. … Except one solitary man, who sits just a few yards from Times Square. He has no shoes but wears long, dark shorts and a faded cap, and in his hands he holds an old battered pair of drumsticks. In front of him are a variety of pots, tins and the occasional glass jar. Every single day he is there. He sits and beats out some sounds with a strangely beautiful rhythm. But today he lacks his energy; he is wilting. He has no audience and the street is empty.
In Central Park, parents sharply order their children to walk in single file behind them and curtly step off the path to let others pass. Scarves are quickly lifted to cover strained-looking faces.
There is a solitary helicopter hovering above the edge of the park. There are very few police on the streets, but there is order. Silent queues stretch around the block from the grocery store.
With empty avenues and streets, the true numbers of the homeless are glaringly apparent. Lying on the subway gratings where the warm air blows, in filthy doorways and on the sun-warmed benches around Columbus Circle … anywhere offering some shelter. But without a tourist in sight and few people passing, their opportunities for donations of money, food or cigarettes are limited.
For a few hours each morning in Central Park, dogs are allowed off their leads. They bounce and bound, oblivious to the troubles of the world, simply enjoying their daily freedom, chasing the pigeons and squirrels. It is their same routine every single day without a single care or worry to curtail their fun. Bliss.
Ps What’s it like with you? Is it the same or different?Where are you?
Back in the 1970’s and 80’s, ‘Avocado and Prawns with a Rose Marie Sauce’ was considered the height of sophistication. Sadly this delicious trend went into hibernation for a couple of decades but I confess to utter delight when it made something of a comeback.
It seems that now Avocado Toast (sadly without a prawn in sight) is the alternative trend, particularly if eaten at a trendy table on the sidewalk at an expensive Manhattan brasserie whilst wearing Lululemon yoga pants.
Wearing yoga pants (or yoga bottoms to my Brit friends) is also quite the ’thing’ at the moment. Another trend. These are not however to be confused with cotton leggings often seen with a v.p.l., saggy, baggy knees, and tucked into ten year old UGG boots – this is a very different look.
Wearing these tightly fitting pieces of Lycra understandably gives the impression that one is either on the way to, or has just left a class; thus meaning that they’re a busy person with a busy schedule, who takes exercise seriously. They’re worn by the sort of woman with good legs and a pert bottom who has a weekly mani/pedi and blowout. They are not the sort who would ever be late to collect their children from school and only ever shaves their legs in the summer. ie Normal human beings. No, these yoga pants people are in control of their lives.
I now aspire to be a Yoga Pant Person.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this current trend has not gone unnoticed by the Colonel, indeed most men, and, in what I can only consider to be a moment of madness or unrealistic optimism, he recently bought me a pair.
Whether he was suggesting I needed more activity in my life to tone my derrière I don’t know, but the effort of squeezing myself into something more akin to a wetsuit was enough aerobic activity to bring me out in a sweat. I am now the proud, if faintly hesitant owner of a pair of dark green yoga pants.
I can only assume that this is what a pair of Bridget Jones’s big knickers or Spanx do. In short, they suck in and elevate.
My bottom has been lifted and is now self-isolating away from the backs of my upper thighs which is quite a novelty … they’ve been too close for a number of years. The seams and stitching seem to take the focus away from lumps and bumps and yet, despite being tightly squeezed in (to the extent that I may require additional help to extricate myself), I can move and bend very easily. These pants have in the space of 3 minutes, taken five years off my legs and bottom. No wonder people are wearing them.
I am now trying to remember those old yoga moves whilst the Colonel looks on in amusement. I can’t say I’d ever go outside in public in them, when life returns to normal, but then again, my mind has been broadened with these new trends and if there was a prawn cocktail involved who knows?
Many (many) moons ago in the freezing cold winters at school, we were told that if we sat on the hot radiators, we would get piles. We were also told we would get them if we sat around doing nothing.
As far as I know, none of us ever did succumb to this supposed fate worse than death, but I don’t think we knew what they were anyway. I wonder we didn’t smell a rat, but Google was not around in those days to either dispel or confirm these rumours and the library didn’t have any radiators at all, so it was unlikely we would have ventured in there.
But old habits die hard. I still loathe being cold and can’t sit still for very long, particularly when the football is on or during long films with subtitles. This has been noted by the Colonel who gives a little twitch of his nose and an audible sigh when I get fidgety and he yelps when in bed I put my cold feet between his thighs … please note, it’s absolutely the best place to warm them, but you might be met with resistance.
Our apartment thankfully is warm however. It has also been cleaned within an inch of its life which as I’ve said before is like therapy for me … it also keeps me active. But there’s only so much cleaning one can do. So, I’ve started doing a little yoga on the sitting room floor which reminded me of a post I did a long time ago …
Today I enrolled in my first yoga session. Dear God. I’ve just become one of the yummy mummies, but by walking into the mirror-clad room, not so yummy I notice. Quite what happens after two children and hitting forty I really don’t know but frankly everything seems to have dropped further south than The Cape of Good Hope since I last put on my gym kit. Soon I’m going to be needing some sort of a bra-like contraption to lift my buttocks off my calves …. particularly in comparison to our yoga teacher.
To age this woman is nigh on impossible. She’s all long bouncy hair and hoopy earrings and wears what appears to be a leatherette thong over her leotard.
I feel a little over-dressed and overwhelmed. I’m also rather glad that I’ve not brought the the Colonel with me for moral support. He’d be both sniggering and drooling simultaneously. I also hope we don’t have to listen to whale music and trickling water. Oh. Yes, we clearly we do.
Her body flexes and bends in ways that bodies frankly shouldn’t and yet watching her catlike grace and elegance as she fluidly moves from one position to another is quite mesmerising. Everyone is concentrating and silence reigns apart from the the whale music and trickling water which now has some African drums added to it. The water is making me need the loo and the more I think about it the more I need it.
“Focus your mind” she says soothingly, elongating the word mind as her buttocks point to the ceiling.
I’m trying to think about what I’m going to cook for supper rather than the loo.
“Find your inner wisdom” she purrs. Inner bloody wisdom – it’s all I can do to clench my buttocks to prevent an involuntary escape of air from my bottom.
She’s moving around the room, adjusting everyones legs and arms. She’s coming to me …. oh right … not so gentle and calm now is she, as she pulls my arm higher towards the ceiling and my hip further out – my balance is going … I clutch at her leg. Her hoopy earrings have now attached themselves to my hair and it takes a few seconds to restore order with my muttering apologies snappishly hushed. Finally, having been red-faced for the remainder of the class, I leave the purgatory sharpish, desperate to escape, never to return.
But then again, I do feel rather nicely stretched out and there’s a class later in the week with someone called George. Perhaps I might give his class a go instead.
So here we are, husband and wife, working from home in our apartment in New York. Well, when I say working, the Colonel is working and I am doing everything else whilst he peers at me over the screen of his laptop, giving suggestions as to how I should fill the dishwasher. Need I say that if this continues, there may be an imminent need for the funeral directors and it won’t be due to Coronavirus…
We can’t complain as we have a little bit of space here so it’s not too claustrophobic an apartment and the view is lovely, looking onto the Hudson with New Jersey beyond and of course the strangely quiet streets below. Not too exciting if plane spotting is your thing, or you like watching the cruise ships coming in, but lovely nonetheless and cabin-fever hasn’t set in yet.
Being cooped up here for too long without much exercise and a penchant for making the perfect chocolate pudding may mean that when we return to freedom I shall need an American version of Weight Watchers; but for now, I shall not worry. I’m eating better as the Colonel is around so I can’t skip lunch, (although he has now discovered how many cups of coffee I really drink), and am taking care of my mental health by cleaning like a demon … (yes, it works – doesn’t matter if it’s a room or just a drawer) … Not that I’ve got the urge to hide under the bed with a twin pack of biscuits, the cat and a bottle of wine, but years ago I had my moments like the best of us … And of course it’s very useful having one’s husband at home to explain slowly and deliberately that yes, my phone will behave badly if I have 124 tabs open at any given time.
So the apartment is beyond clean; it’s been hoovered, mopped, dusted and disinfected and while the smell of Lemon Lysol is lingering heavily in the air, I’m not entirely sure whether I like citrus very much after all. Perhaps buying it wholesale at Costco was not such a good idea; we have six month’s worth at least, but I’m assuming we won’t be here that long … will we?
Last week I met the author Barbara Taylor Bradford OBE. She has written 35 novels, sold over 30 million copies and is apparently worth in excess of 300 million dollars. That’s a lot of books and an awful lot of money.
When I think of us all tap, tapping away on our iPads and laptops with our spellcheckers and predictive text working overtime, I wonder if when she began in the 1970’s she wrote on a manual typewriter with a dictionary and thesaurus to hand.
She was charming and very beautiful. I was star struck and developed a rather strange lisping stutter. I did however manage to ask her how disciplined she was about her writing. Ridiculous question of course, but surprising that I managed to utter any words given the sudden vocal constraints. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I told you she starts at five o’clock every morning and with only a short break at lunch, continues writing all day. Ahh! So yes, really rather disciplined.
So with this in mind, I have adjusted my daily schedule to, if not exactly rising at five, certainly by nine o’clock I am wrestling once again with my final editing. I’ve begun researching appropriate agents and pondering over query letters and all the while, thinking about beautiful Barbara and how hard she works, day in, day out despite being over 80. Quite an inspiration. I just wish I hadn’t have offered to find her a cab … of course she had her driver waiting for her downstairs … what a durr I am.
Is there anyone who really inspires you to write or work?
When I was in England, I owned a bread maker. Cumbersome, bulky and noisy, it did however produce, with very little input from Yours Truly, a magnificent loaf.
Imagine for a moment if you will, the smooth, mellow smell of freshly baked bread drifting from room to room; Can you hear the blade of the knife cracking through the crust? Can you see the sharp crumbs exploding outwards before the knife finally reaches the air-filled soft pillow of bread lying within? And the silky butter glistening, sliding and melting into the billowing warmth until finally one’s salivating mouth can savour and devour the taste, the texture, the pure heaven of a simple slice of bread and butter?
From this, I trust you have deduced that I love bread.
With delights and joy such as this, is hardly surprising 12 million loaves are sold every day and that entire books have been written about baking a loaf of bread. And yet, since living here in New York, I have tasted only one good loaf and it cost just shy of 7 dollars. “7 dollars?!” I hear you screech … yes. It used to make me screech too, now I just whimper and close my eyes as I painfully hand over a ten dollar bill. Don’t even bother work out how much that it in pounds. It’s simply, a lot. There is cheaper bread, but it is grim, partly due to the excessive sugar content. So, because I am essentially tight, I bought an american bread maker, flour and yeast, and for the next consecutive ten days I made a loaf of bread. Surely in the long run, this would be more cost effective? Apparently not. Ten days, ten disasters.
Dropping a loaf of bread with the consistency and weight of a London brick makes quite a noise as it travels at speed down 49 floors in a refuse chute. The crashes, rattles and hollow echoes boom way their way down to the basement. Another disappointment. Another bread-making disaster.
The Colonel raises an eyebrow at the latest effort, a twitch of a smile faintly teasing at his lips. “No toast for breakfast then?” He tentatively asks, looking at the gnarled solid body of inedible, semi-cooked flour in my hands. I harrumph and turn to go to the refuse chute at the end of the corridor once more.
“I could use this thing to sodding knock you out,” I mutter, clutching my loaf.
“And half of Manhattan,” he snorts with laughter.
On his return from a trip to London, he brings me presents. Amongst the other more romantic trinkets, there is a kilogram bag of strong bread flour and some yeast. He is nothing if not eternally hopeful and practical. The flour is Canadian, the yeast British. I try again.
Loaf number eleven I could smell as I woke. I don’t do jumping out of bed for fear of dislocating something, but this morning was the exception. A little jump and consequently having to limp to the kitchen, I peered through the viewing window of the bread maker. Dear God it worked! Hallelujah!
It is not perfection, but with a little help from Britain and Canada, I have made my first half decent loaf of bread. The Colonel and my son are still asleep having been up all hours watching some rugby which apparently was quite important. They have since gone back to their respective beds looking dour.
I wonder if the prospect of bacon sarnies for breakfast will raise the mood. One minor issue if I’m having to import flour and yeast, I suspect my loaf of bread is probably going to cost significantly more than 7 dollars …. hmmm. Might need to have a re-think.
We live in an apartment. It’s an apartment in Manhattan with one of those downstairs reception hall places with people in uniforms who sit behind a big modern desk with lots of telephones and say, “Have a nice day” each and every time you pass them. That’s a lot of “Have a nice days”. They also give me a spare key every time I forget mine and call me to ask if I need the fire department when I set off the smoke alarm in the kitchen. Its a bit posh for me, but they’re lovely and we understand each other.
Yesterday I made the unfortunate decision to go to Costco to do some food shopping. Now, just to be clear, I obviously have aspirations to be a Waitrose or Wholefoods kind of ‘gal but I believe that I must have some Scottish ancestry which makes me … shall we say, ‘careful with money’. Therefore Costco is my weekly shop.
I had forgotten that at weekends however the trains often have delays because this is when maintenance work is done. I had also forgotten that if it looks like it’s merely drizzling from the apartment windows, it is actually gale force one zillion with horizontal rain once you step outside.
Being Autumn, I had worn my ‘Glasgow’ coat which the Colonel bought me on a posting to Scotland a couple of years ago. My lovely coat with its fleecy lining reaches mid-thigh, and has a hood with soft fluffy bits that frame one’s face. It is supposed to be completely waterproof. I now know that it is not.
I sat in a puddle on the train squeezing ineffectively the drenched sleeves whilst listening to my Audible book “Next Steps in French” by Paul somebody and muttered in French every few seconds the response to his questions. I can now say, “I am afraid of flying, so am planning to take the Eurostar”. I know for a fact this sentence will never be useful to me, but perhaps the next chapter will be more relevant.
By the time I had walked from the subway station and arrived at Costco I was wet from my forehead to my knickers and from my knickers to my squelching sodden shoes. My neatly written shopping list had turned to papier-mâché in my pocket and the quirky turquoise ink that I like to use had transferred, not only onto my right hand, but clearly I had been touching or wiping my face rather a lot too. In fact, the only part of me which was dry was the back of my head, and as for the soft fluffy hood delicately framing my face? I looked like I was draped in a collection of small drowned rats’ tails.
Having squelched and shuffled my way round Costco, it took an hour and a half to get from the checkout queue back to my apartment. And, as I walked into the reception hallway, three wide pairs of eyes looked at me from behind the desk.
“Don’t say it!” I said through gritted teeth. “It’s not a good day.”
They looked sympathetically up and down at me, tutting and shaking their heads. Then they nodded, looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Ma’am, have a better day!” and roared with laughter. Bollocks to the lot of them.
As for the “Next Steps in French” by Paul somebody, by the time I had gotten home and onto the next chapter, I could say, “I was about to book a taxi when you called me”.
As I’m too tight to get a taxi, I don’t see that this is ever going to be relevant either … although perhaps it would have saved me the delayed trains, the soaking knickers and the turquoise face … as for my Glasgow coat … I don’t believe the fluffy bits will ever look the same.
Ps. Before you ask what the relevance of the picture is, there isn’t any, it just made me feel wonderful simply looking at it!
I saw a picture of Kate Middleton in the news yesterday. She was crying. Well, in truth it was more of a dainty weep (and about what, I know not, but that is not the point …. what a lot of what-nots. Forgive me – I digress).
She had a delicate trickle from one eye which required nothing more than a gentle dab with a lacy handkerchief. I wanted to stroke her hand and sing soothing words, but given that she is on the other side of the world and I am a complete stranger to her, I suspect I would probably be arrested even if I could travel across continents in seconds and climb into her bullet/mad-woman-proofed Range Rover.
My point is this: Yes, her weeping brought out the mother in my soul and I wanted to comfort her, but most importantly, it was all so darn feminine and pretty.
I think I could learn something from her.
When I cry, I am a howler. I dribble unattractively, I snort, snuffle and cough. I wail loudly with much flailing of arms. Salty hoses open with full force from my pink puffy eyes and even pinker nose. I look like a small pig with serious issues and an allergy.
I am under no illusions that it is not a pretty look. People will cross roads to avoid me. The Colonel has a tendency to look baffled, bewildered and faintly scared. With good reason I suppose. Thankfully, it tends to be fairly short lived, the end result being a blotchy face with mascara smeared like a panda around my eyes and black streaks down my cheeks; the occasional sniff, an apologetic grin and it’s all over. The relief on the Colonel’s face is rather endearing.
Thankfully this is a rare event. Indeed I’d say it’s only happened twice this year. But boy does it feel good! A hearty old blub and the world is a better place. A release of pent-up frustration and whoosh it’s all over. I could start on making comparisons to orgasms, but I think that might open a can of worms and I like to keep my posts tasteful and decorous … mostly.
Suffice to say, I am curious …
When did you last cry?
Are you a howler or a weeper?
Did you feel better afterwards?
Ps If there are any men reading this, I’d really, really like to know.
I don’t follow the Kardashians, or their voluptuous bottoms.
I think I might quite like a derrière like theirs, but I wouldn’t want surgery, and if I had to do those squat exercises … Well, nope. I’d squat down once and my knackered old knees wouldn’t allow me to stand back up again. Indeed, I think I’m beyond a pert bottom. Besides, if my arse was that curvaceous, without a cut-out hole in my mattress, I wouldn’t be able to sleep on my back at night.
But enough of the Kardashian’s, let me ask you about selfies: the pouting, the posing, the need for attention and adoration culminating in the form of a love-heart-shaped ‘like’ … Is this slightly odd behaviour? In the old days it would have been called vanity, now it’s just, well, normal. What do you think?
Of course, looks fade. One day we will all be old; what was once plump and taut will soften and droop; our paper-thin skin will crease and wrinkle and ’tis a brave soul who will want to flaunt it then. So perhaps the young should embrace their beauty and youth and put it on display to all and sundry because all too soon those days are over. Perhaps.
But shouldn’t we instead of following those simply with outward beauty, start positively celebrating those who have worked hard and achieved big? Those who have struggled and conquered? Those who have their beauty within?
Or perhaps we should stop looking over the garden fence altogether at the apparently greener grass, and start watering our own instead. Or maybe, I should just start trying those squats …
If we were to travel back thirty years, I would have been daily banging my fingers on the typewriter keys making a click, clickety click as the type bars struck the inky ribbon and left their imprint of blackened letters onto a white sheet of paper. And when the words in my mind refused to flow, I could rip the sheet of paper out with a forceful and resounding whoosh of the roller, scrunch it up between my hands with fury and hurl it into the waste paper basket across the room.
In today’s modern computer-abundant world, just holding down the delete key doesn’t give that same painfully exquisite release of frustration. It’s a shame really. Of course I could simply throw the iPad at the window or indeed the nearest person, but somehow the repercussions of that would most likely not be proportional to my momentary frustration.
So, I continue to write, edit, rewrite and drive myself mad with trying to create something that is, in my mind, not perfection, but the very best I can do. After all, isn’t that what we should do … our very best?
Any tips or suggesstions for getting through over the last hurdle?
Some would say categorically not. They have a disease, it’s a part of their makeup (genetic or otherwise) and they have no control over it.
Others might argue that yes, how we feel is our choice. We have a mind of our own and we can control it (using various methods).
It is also often debated whether depressive thoughts are addictive, in the same way that substances like alcohol, or behaviours like gambling are addictive. And when we are not using these substances or behaviours we feel out of control largely because in a (self-destructive) way the familiarity gives us an element of comfort. In a similar vein, it is often noted that women (and men for that matter) in unhealthy relationships are mimicking those they had with their parents in childhood. It might not be healthy, but it is familiar.
So, if using by these theories, we fight the urge to believe that we have no control over our minds and we fight the urge to fall back into the dark, warm but comfortable well of depression, ( Read my post on Depression – A Multi-Pronged Attack ) can we overcome it?
My view, for what it’s worth, is yes. But it’s no walk in the park.
It’s curious how whilst I was cycling through France last summer, I had never been so happy or so at peace. Perhaps it was something to do with … the daily exercise (ok it was a brutal 60 – 90 kms a day); being in the sunshine (yup, it hit 41 degrees); a challenge each and every moment (wait til the book comes out, then you’ll understand); social interaction (albeit mostly in a different language apart from on meeting one couple who when I exclaimed how delighted I was that they were English, they replied, “Nah! We’re from Birmingham.” Right; No alcohol, but gallons of water and my weight in croissants; No toxic people to be around and no social media …. And so on and so forth.
Yes, all those things that we’re supposed to do daily to help ourselves (granted, perhaps not in quite such an extreme form), nevertheless, whilst I’m not suggesting that anyone heads off for a 1200 km cycle ride, it’s funny how happy one can be with just a bicycle a tent and the winding road ahead.
So what do you think? Depending of course on the severity of the anxiety or depression, do you believe we actually have a choice to be happy?
Should those words even be permitted in the same sentence together? Some might think not.
Yesterday I took my (almost) 21 year old son to three shops. He coped admirably in Sephora (a beauty emporium to any understandably baffled male or otherwise readers). In a nutshell, when asked at the entrance if we needed assistance, I whipped out my phone, showed a screenshot of what I wanted and boom! We were in and out in less than four minutes. Now that’s a good shopping experience according to him.
Second shop – J Crew for women … even I was bored; uninspiring and rather ordinary clothes with disproportionate price tags. There was also a sale consisting of a couple of rails of crumpled, make-up stained unwanted items, many of which were on the floor being trampled on. I love a bargain like the best of us, but .. So with my son ambling behind me and despite trying to make the occasional positive remark, we lasted rather less than four minutes.
Final shop – J Crew for men … ‘Jacob’ came to our assistance with a friendly manner and a rather natty scarf tied around his neck. Good looking shirts, shorts, trousers all laid out neatly, no fuss, no noise, no mess and and yes, even a sale. And with Jacob folding and refolding everything within his sight, there was order. What more could we ask for? In less than ten minutes we left with a fab pair of shoes, big smiles all round and a joyous Jacob.
How does this happen?
It has been known to take me weeks to find the perfect pair of shoes. And yet, perhaps therein lies the problem. Am I seeking a form of perfection that most probably doesn’t exist?
Should the thrill of a bargain override this need for perfection? Does order and presentation really matter that much?
Dare I suggest that we, the fairer sex, can spend days trawling the shops, searching endlessly with a picture in our minds of a particular article of clothing? Will we ever find it? Or do we actually enjoy the trawling process?
And finally, if we believe that perfectly beautiful clothes will make us equally perfectly beautiful, do men have that same perfectionist gene? Or do they have more realistic expectations?
Shopping is, I find, a frustrating but occasionally necessary pastime. I have no answers except that I clearly need a Jacob to iron out the creases in my life and clothes, and perhaps occasionally I can borrow his rather natty little scarf. It’s really rather perfectly lovely.
If you have any, please give me some solutions … I have too many unanswered questions here!
To travel and to explore surely encourages one’s mind to expand and to stretch out the personal boundaries of one’s self. I’d like to think so.
It has been several weeks since I moved to New York and I fear I have neglected any writing both on WordPress but also on the book. So after a metaphorical whipping I am back on the sofa tap, tapping my fingers and urging the grey matter to shake off the cobwebs. Ah, but I sit here and there is such a view, so I simply gaze and gaze.
We are high up in a building where light floods in through floor to ceiling windows giving views to the west and north. The Hudson River is a constant moving body of water with boats and cruise ships travelling up and down. Beyond the river, cars and trucks can be seen in miniature over in New Jersey and below, people rush around doing their daily business; all busy, all with purpose. Fire trucks and ambulances scream their sirens every few minutes; horns are blaring, there is shouting, laughing, arguing. A glimpse of the green trees of Central Park gives a little respite to the hard angular surroundings. The buildings, the glass, the steel, the concrete, the brick; the beautiful, the ugly, the noise, the chaos. And I gaze and gaze ….
I explore daily and osmosis is forcing an absorption of the sights, sounds and smells. It is inescapable and dirty, exhausting and so very noisy. But it is also exhilarating and liberating. Anonymity is freeing and here nobody pays any attention. Anything goes.
So I shall continue to explore and absorb, but will now find a little balance in my day and write and tell you all about it (if you can bear it!). The book also is toddling along but now with renewed vigour and the desire to find the light at the end of the tunnel. But in the meantime, the river is an absolute mill pond today and there are three small sailing boats barely moving across the water and the sun is just catching their sails in the light …
I made the mistake yesterday whilst on the underground, of asking the Colonel what he was thinking about.
He looked instantly baffled and faintly like a bunny in the headlights. Once again I think that history was paying him a visit and he thought it was a trick question. It wasn’t. I was simply curious as to how and why someone could remain completely silent for the amount of time it took to get from Baker Street to Notting Hill Gate.
‘Really,’ I grinned, nodding encouragingly, ‘What were you really thinking about for soooo long? I don’t mind if it was about the lady with the big boobies over there,’ I whispered.
‘I hadn’t noticed’ he said sanctimoniously but with a twitch of a grin. I laughed.
‘In actual fact’, he said, (he never uses normal words like ‘actually’) ‘In actual fact, I was wondering about the advert up there’ and he pointed towards one of the advertisements set in a neat row above the tube maps in our carriage. It was a drab and dreary looking picture. He carried on solemnly, ‘It’s for a new business card which apparently is being voted rather highly by Which magazine’.
I paused, it now being my turn to feel baffled. ‘Seriously?’ I asked. ‘That’s what you were thinking about?’ He nodded.
‘Crikey,’ I sighed. ‘No wonder you get so much more done in a day than I do. Shall I tell you what I was thinking?’ I carried on without waiting for an answer. ‘By the way, you do realise you didn’t say a word for at least four stops, and we had to change platforms?’ I confess this might have come out in a faintly accusatory tone.
He was starting to look a little bewildered; indeed, as though looking at the lady with the big boobies might have been a better option.
‘I too was looking at the adverts,’ I said importantly. ‘That one,’ I said and pointed to an advertisement containing a picture of a simple white bowl which was filled, indeed heaped rather artistically with peas.
‘However, I don’t know what mine is actually advertising because that isn’t important to me. But,’ I held up my finger to point out the crucial part was to follow, ‘But, I was wondering if I was to take one of the peas from the bottom of the pile, whether they would all have fallen out. And then,’ I started giggling oblivious to his bemused expression, ‘And then,’ I carried on, ‘I started thinking how funny it would be if all the peas fell out of the advert and onto the lady with the big boobies, down her cleavage even, and then into our carriage, until there were peas everywhere! Imagine it!’
By now I was laughing uproariously. My hands were clasped together in delight and I fear I was receiving a few quizzical looks from nearby strangers.
The Colonel peered closely at me whilst scrunching up his nose. He pushed up his glasses with one solitary finger and frowned. ‘Help me God,’ he muttered and started shaking his head. He then opened up the newspaper.
I sighed, my bubble momentarily burst. But seconds later, I rummaged in my handbag for two pencils and then opened up my own copy of The Standard. I silently handed one pencil to him and we glanced at each other, slowly both beginning to smirk and then, in an undignified scramble raced to find the crossword at the back of the newspaper to see who could finish it first.
Do you think it matters if you’re like chalk and cheese?
I love to write. I need to write. So why have I allowed a diddy little move across the pond to take precedence over writing this week?
All I need is just a couple of hours each day to sit and tap, tappety tap. A bit of editing, a little rewriting. Simple. And yet tiny doubts have been creeping to the forefront of my mind. Doubts are clever little blighters. They ensnare and suffocate any lingering fragments of confidence. Will the book ever be good enough? And then the inevitable happens; procrastination claws its way in and takes a firm hold.
There is always another box to be packed (despite an army of packers due next week), or the need to ponder for far too long over whether I need my wellington boots in New York City; or whether I should take some sachets of bread sauce mix for when I can’t be bothered to make it from scratch. Important decisions you see. Oh, I have no doubt of my ability to procrastinate! I have honed my skills over decades; frankly I could have a Masters with distinction in procrastination.
I believe a little discipline is required in Mrs Colonel’s house. A sharp rapping of the knuckles and the occasional poke with a pointy stick.
I am not a lounge lizard who wanders around the sitting room mid-afternoon still wearing pyjamas. I do not shuffle around the kitchen in Donald Duck slippers and a matching onesie as I peer bleary-eyed into the fridge at noon. I go to bed early and get up early. I love mornings and am annoyingly bouncy from the moment I see the light creeping through the gaps in the curtains. I must be hell to live with.
But my point is this … we all have the same 24 hours in a day and we all choose to use it differently. And I have been lazy for the past week and have not set aside a couple of hours a day to write. I have not (and never will) be seen wandering around in the Donald Duck slippers and matching onesie, but without the structure of writing daily, I may as well have been. Just wait a moment whilst I bludgeon myself to death …
To be fair, I have been overhauling my relative’s garden for the last several days, but that’s besides the point …
Poignant Pause …
Excellent! Knuckles have been duly rapped and a pointy stick has metaphorically poked me. I have given myself a little talking to and told you, my wonderful WordPress friends of my failings. I am now a new woman and ready to do some more editing and re-writes … Quick cup of tea first though, it’s still early …
I am officially old. Frankly, the fact that jet lag took me a week to recover from is a pretty clear indication that, yes, I am old. I obviously also suffer from first world problems so forgive me if you can.
When I was a young and carefree twenty something, we would party all night and still manage to go to work the next day. We simply giggled our way through the day on happy memories of the night before, cans of coke and black coffee. Now, if I manage to stay awake until ten o’clock, I’m doing well. ‘Tis a sad state of affairs.
Yesterday on the train, I was not just an old woman, but a grumpy old woman.
“Why do they say twice at every single station, ‘Mind the gap’?” I snapped at my husband.
“I mean really,” I continued, warming to my theme, “How many people have actually fallen down the gap between the train and the platform. I’ve never seen even one!”
He peered at me over his glasses, looking a little baffled and worried as to whether or not this was one of those test questions, like “How much do you love me?” (Just for your information, this is a test question and in order to avoid divorce, the answer should be … “I love you more than the best pint of beer in the best pub with the best supermodel talking about the best Formula One cars.” This would be a perfect answer.)
“See!” I said, “Nobody has ever fallen down the gap!”
“Perhaps they haven’t fallen because they constantly remind us not to.” He replied carefully.
“Pah!” I snorted. “I’d like to test your theory. Are you honestly saying that if they didn’t say “Please Mind the Gap” in that mind-numbingly dull voice, then we’d see a plethora of people wedged side by side hanging between the train and the platform all wailing to be rescued with their arms waving?”
By now I was not only belligerent, but completely beyond all reason, so husband dearest twitched his nose and took it upon himself to find the newspaper rather interesting. In his mind, this too was clearly a test … discovering when it is best to keep quiet rather than to instigate World War III. Some times it really must be hard being a man.
Since arriving back home, I’ve spend the last 12 hours alternating between walking like a zombie and lying on the sofa mopping my fevered brow. Actually there is nothing fevered about my brow in the least but I was hoping to portray an image of a broken woman. A broken woman with jet lag who would be the grateful recipient of peeled grapes being fed to her by her doting husband. I’ll admit this scenario is unlikely, however I can categorically say that I am pooped, knackered and done in.
Being on holiday in a city is very different to spending a week flat-hunting and trying to understand how ‘the city that never sleeps’ actually works. One is swept into a false sense of security by the fact that the language is, by and large, the same. Do not be fooled! Trying to understand the rights, wrongs and the pitfalls of a chaotic, manic city where everything is different is not easy.
Attitudes are different, tone is different and requests often come across as orders. Networking is key and the phrase ‘The Land of Opportunity” holds strong. Tipping compared to Blighty is a very different system and costs. Ultimately, living in New York compared to London is expensive. Very.
We’ve been introduced to some good people and thankfully have several friends already living there which no doubt will ease the transition. But at the end of the day, the transition has to be made by us.
As a note to self, I have to remember not to say ‘golly’ or ‘gosh’ too often and whilst saying ‘poppycock’ amused me, it raised a few eyebrows. It’s just such a glorious word …
Am I excited? Hugely! This is such an adventure … This is The Land of Opportunity where anything can happen! Who knows, maybe I’ll come back in a few years time with bright white teeth and the most enormous pair of knockers. How thrilling! I jokingly mentioned this to The Colonel and he went a little pale – Oh poppycock, golly and gosh! If he doesn’t know when I’m joking, then I’m doomed in America …
As ever, all tips and advice will be gratefully received 🤓🤓
I’ve been to New York before, twice as it happens; but I’ve never come with more than just a few spare pairs of knickers, a clean shirt and my makeup bag. No. This week I’m here to find a home. My findings so far:
The weather changes rather a lot. I seem to have been alternating between shivering and sweating profusely. (Don’t ever believe your mother if she delicately reminds you of the little rhyme, “Horses sweat, men perspire but ladies merely glow.” It’s either bollocks or I’m a horse.).
The local supermarket alternates between Aldi and Waitrose but with an American accent. It is also called a grocery store. The staff are either incredibly helpful or utterly terrifying in equal measures.
Every tiny and limited amount of space is crammed full with beautifully presented produce and more choice than you can shake a stick at. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly need to eat dandelion leaves or miniature kale but they make it look so delicious that I’ll be sure to give it a go in due course, once I’ve worked out where the Granny Smiths are …
The Colonel sent me out to go and get some provisions (that’s another word he appears to have adopted). It took me over an hour and I came back with two very shiny apples, a pack of Polish ham and some goji berries. I don’t know what goji berries are, but apparently they promise eternal youth. This solitary outing cost me our budget for two days and consequently I haven’t been allowed out on my own since.
Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?
On our first day in New York, I learnt how to cross the road. That is to say, I learnt how to cross the road without either being arrested or run over.
In London, when you want to cross to the other side, you choose a relatively quiet moment in the traffic, randomly step off the pavement and with a few smiles and apologetic hand waves arrive safely on the other side. Not here. No.
Firstly, you only cross on the zebra crossings. I like this rule. I like things to be black and white. If only in the U.K. they would adopt this stance on drink driving. How about just saying absolutely no alcohol rather than a rather questionable amount which differs between body type, sex and how much you’ve eaten. So basically if I’m an overweight man who’s just eaten a pizza with extra dough balls, I’m safer in the car after a glass of wine. I’m getting off the point as per usual, but you get my drift.
Back to the roads .. Secondly, there are no buttons to press when you want to cross the road (saves on children’s arguments as to whose turn it is) and there are no beeps telling you when it’s safe to start walking. You have no control and have to pay attention. There is however a lit-up picture of a big red hand instructing you not to move under any circumstances, and when its time to cross, a picture of a white man who appears to be running. I’m not sure that running is necessarily required, but I’m not going to argue with this instruction, so run I do.
The problem occurs when people start moving across on the red hand when no traffic is in sight. This confuses the rules in my head. I therefore spend rather a lot of time looking baffled and starting to cross (at a run of course) and then changing my mind. This in turn, confuses everyone around me. I felt yesterday like a piece of toast being pushed down into the toaster when the power wasn’t on … I just kept on popping back up again. Unfortunately the other pieces of toast behind me bumped into me and that upset everyone. Being shouted at in an American accent is quite disconcerting, “What the fuck lady? You can notdo that.” As established earlier, I’m clearly not a lady and my response to them merely confirmed this further.
Betty was my black dog, my little cackling demon, the ogre clutching on to my back. Haven’t we all had a little of her from time to time?
The majority of us have suffered from moments of depression, anxiety or a combination of both. I had my fair share, yet whether mine was worse or not than anyone else’s, who am I to say? I had moments of feeling blue, but then don’t we all? Perhaps that’s all it ever was, just a little bit of blue.
Like all the evil bullies of this world, in the end Betty found me to be a rather repellent host and has consequently moved on.
The sun is shining, the world is a happy, if complicated place and I can see Betty and the bullies for what they truly are. Having used every resource available to me, (see my post Depression – A Multi-Pronged Attack ) I can confirm that this slightly unhinged woman has indeed killed Betty and moved on.
“Ha! Don’t you get so cocky!” I hear someone say with a smirk. Perhaps they’re right; but in truth I don’t want to be around that person. I only surround myself with positive people who like me want to live in peace, love and optimism. Yes, I have to be careful and keep an eye on myself, but that’s what we all do anyway.
Life is for living. But most importantly, life is for living in the light and not the darkness.
The British Post Office is a fairly depressingly dire place. But we need it. I think.
The queue at my local Post Office always reaches the door, and yet of the six tills, only two are only ever manned. There is usually someone else wandering around in the background but they never appear to be doing very much apart from talking to the teller whom you have just waited twenty minutes for. Hence, irritation starts to rise with ferocity as you feel you have deserved and want to claim the tellers undivided attention for just a few minutes. You have stood beside the birthday card stands, the array of stationery and the plastic toys for sale for too long. And yet, if you stand for long enough, you start believing that you actually need some paperclips with coloured unicorns attached to them.
Then, uproar. A man comes in, bypasses the entire queue and heads straight to a momentarily empty till. The wretched teller is ignorant of his blatant lack of adherence to the British queuing system. The line of waiting men, women, grumpy children, angry old women and a random dog begin by hissing amongst each other. The young lady beside in front of me sucks through her teeth and says quietly, “Excuse me?” in disbelief at this. I however am clearly feeling hormonal.
“Excuse me! Are you not aware of this queue?” What should have been uttered as a polite question comes out as an overly loud bellow of indignation.
All eyes on me.
Man looks horrified and scuttles amid apologies to the end of the queue.
I am mortified.
“Oh God,” I whisper to my lady friend, “Now I feel like such a cow.”
“Nah!” She says. “We’re all with you.” And as I look around, I am being given nods and smiles of approval, apart from the rather sheepish man.
Unity. Yes, there is strength in unity!
Although, having come from Scotland, had this happened in Glasgow where everyone calls a spade a spade, this would never have started. Well, it might have, but there would have been a full-blown punch-up, the police would have arrived, someone, probably me would have been tasered, ending with all and sundry having a good glass of whiskey and a three hour discussion.
Oh I do love a bit of human interaction. So good for the soul.
It goes without saying that we all have a book in us; after all, we’ve all experienced something worth writing about or indeed have the imagination to create a story. And so, like many others, I started writing. I wrote with enthusiasm, passion and joy. And when I finally typed the words The End, I had a little cry (more of a dribbling howl in truth).
And then the editing process began.
I now spend more of my time googling grammar, such as when to use a semicolon or a comma than I do on Facebook, cooking and checking my emails combined. This is not normal. Surely I should already know all of this? But now I’m questioning everything. The structure, the grammar, even the actual purpose of the book. I am beginning to doubt myself.
Perhaps that is why there is indeed a book in all of us, but very, very few actually end up on the bookshelves. It’s quite a challenge. It also makes me admire those who have worked endlessly and tirelessly to produce a book. You have succeeded! Bravo!
Now, back to those wretched semicolons (and is that hyphenated or not?) … Give me strength …
What do you struggle with most when writing your blog or book?
Less than five minutes ago I was a respectable and fully dressed woman picking out an assortment of pretty summer dresses to try on. But those dresses are now on the only hook in the changing cubicle and my own clothes have just slid off the plastic stool and are in a heap on the floor.
My husband is enthusiastically thrusting more dresses through the increasingly large gap between curtain and wall, so my semi-naked body is exposed to all and sundry. The shop lady who stands by the door is saying, “Only six items at a time!” in a whiny nasal voice. She is clearly irritated by my husband who bounces in and out clutching more clothes and God forbid he’s now bringing in underwear and getting increasingly overexcited. This is a place for women only and he is happily oblivious to her rules. She tries harder, “No men inside sir, this is a respectable establishment.”
My necklace has become entangled in dress number four and I’m trying, in a muck sweat to free myself.
Another woman comes in with an armful of clothes and her husband, seeing a fellow male in the ladies-only section trots in smartly behind her, ignoring shop lady who is now turning purple. The other woman helps me disentangle myself from my necklace and we bond over dresses and underwear, chatting as though we have known each other for years.
The two men excitedly together run in and out of the changing rooms for smaller sizes, bigger sizes, different colours, all the while, discussing the rugby. They have a role and are apparently loving it, particularly when they find something in the sale section. The other woman and I chatter and giggle as our husbands enthuse about how wonderful we both look. We giggle all the more. A bit of flattery and we’re handing out the credit cards without a care in the world.
Shop lady tries and fails to give our husbands different coloured plastic tickets with the number of items that she thinks we have as yet another floaty, whispy dress flits past her on a clothes hanger. She is now not only purple, but spluttering.
Finally, with our bags of newly purchased items, we happily thank shop lady profusely for her help. She purses her lips and gives a little derogatory sniff in our direction as she turns to her next customer. “Only six items madam! Them is the rules in this establishment.”
Wife kissing handsome husband goodbye at the door as he leaves to go to work.
Wife sees handsome husband wearing the tie that she had tried to wash, instead of, God forbid, paying money and sending it to the dry cleaners.
Silk ties do not like being washed.
Silk ties return to the tie rack neither cleaner nor the same shape, or indeed size.
Wife thought she had discreetly (secretly) thrown away said ruined tie.
The moral dilemma? Should I have let him go to work with dodgy tie, or admit to the consequences of my money-pinching ways?”
I think I might have made the wrong choice …
“Why in Gods name did you wash it?” he spluttered, eyebrows rising dramatically.
“Umm, I thought it was polyester?” I blatantly lied. His eyebrows lifting even further confirmed he didn’t believe me. “I don’t have polyester ties!” he spat through somewhat gritted teeth.
“Well, it was dirty. You had dribbled on it.” I said. The best form of defence is attack. Wrong course of action however.
A stomping back upstairs, roughly removing both coat and suit jacket ensued amid much huffing and puffing. I followed cautiously.
The new and clean tie appeared to be rather problematic in putting on. This caused further and considerably noisier huffing and puffing. “It takes a very precise and careful hand to tie a tie properly,” he informed me.
“Oh,” says I, duly informed. “And, um for how long have you been practising this um ‘art-form’?” I question innocently.
“Since I was eight,” he mutters.
I collapsed in a heap of guffawing laughter, and a small twitch of his lip and a wiggle of his nose confirmed I was forgiven. “I’ll give you a lesson in tying a tie if you like!” I giggled hysterically. “Pah! I’ll give you blasted lessons!” he laughed feigning indignation.
“I’ll bin this one then,” I giggled, holding up the mis-shaped offending tie.
“Pah! It’s got years of life left in it!” he laughed, trying to snatch it from me.
“Not with a socking great rip in it, it hasn’t!” I shouted, running down the stairs with it.
“You wouldn’t!” he laughed and chased me to the front door where for the second time this umorning, I kissed him gently and held him close. “I love you” he whispered, “So very much.”
So. Should I have,
a) Let him go to work in a grim tie
b) Admitted the error of my ways, but been slightly more apologetic
c) Told him it was his own fault for having silk non-washable ties and polyester would suffice
d) Tied the tie for him whilst changing a plug, reading a map and reciting the periodic table.
It is rather ironic that I write endlessly about moderation. But in truth, I am fascinated by it.
Now, according to that fellow Aristotle, the Golden Middle Way is the desirable middle ground between two extremes; one being that of excess and the other, of deficiency.
As an example, he uses courage as a virtue, being in this case the Golden Middle Way. But if that courage is taken to excess, it would manifest as recklessness and, in deficiency, as cowardice!
Ooooh I love these Ancient Greek philosophers with their faintly dodgy beards … they were a clever bunch of cookies.
So what is it that makes some people so able to maintain the ‘Golden Middle Way’ in their lives, and yet others follow the path of extremes? Is it simply self control, or are we born that way?
Why is it that I absolutely have to eat an entire packet of ginger biscuits in one sitting, whereas my lovely friends would only have one or two? Perhaps I’m overthinking this and I’m simply more hungry.
Ps. Exactly what is it that you have a lack of self control over? (Ahem! Nothing smutty if you please)
Pps. Sorry about the picture, I couldn’t find one of Aristotle, so this will have to suffice.
Forgive me for sharing, but I’ve been faintly hysterical. To clarify, I am most certainly not looking for sympathy. That was very kindly given, free of charge by the staff in the coffee shop. I think it’s the only thing I’ve had free of charge there, the place costs me a small fortune.
My lovely coffee shop has endured months of me sitting in my usual spot, tapping away at the iPad whilst buying a few desperately expensive lattes and a chocolate brownie or two. We chat and laugh and they ask about my writing, and are the most kind and friendly bunch of people. Suffice to say, should I ever get this wretched book published, I’ll have to sell quite a substantial amount just to break-even, in order to compensate for the amount of coffees I’ve bought.
Each day they hear me come through the rickety door as the little bell above gives a jingle and a jangle. They call out with a cheerful, “Morning! Your regular decaf latte, in a mug not a cup and saucer? We’ll bring it right over!” and I smile coyly, blatantly ignoring the snarls and filthy looks of the other customers in the queue in front of me as I take my place in the corner with the cushions and the squishy seat. As the morning progresses, I change my order a little and try not to be quite so predictable. Sometimes I ask for extra cream or try an Americano in anticipation of moving across the pond, but I don’t really think that’s going to help me.
But today was different. Today I began the final chapter of the book, which is now less of a book and more of a friend. I friend I have created and although at times I have loathed it when I have come to a tricky section, I also love it with a passion that makes me want to weep. And sadly today, that is exactly what happened.
I was writing about the final few kilometres of my trip on a squeaky bicycle called Claude, when suddenly it dawned on me that it was nearly over. Through writing, I had been re-living this ‘journey’ of mine, and now, for the last time it truly was coming to an end. To the horror of everyone, this realisation suddenly found me wailing, howling and dribbling into my flat white with extra cream. Bless them, the girls came straight over, the men more slowly and somewhat nervously. (They wisely understood that women-of-a-certain-age in a state are to be treated with caution …)
As I wiped my mascara’d cheeks with a unlimited pile of Farrow and Ball coloured napkins, I explained how I would miss coming to their lovely coffee shop and writing and as I snivelled and dribbled, I thanked them profusely for all their kindness.
“Err won’t you still have a bit of editing or something to do?” one of the girls tentatively asked.
“Oh! Oh yes!” I exclaimed, brightening somewhat. “In fact, lots of editing and umm re-editing and things like that,” I carried on. “Err, yes of course … you know, spell-checking and things!” I trailed off at this point, quite unsure what on earth I was talking about. But this seemed to appease us all and the world seemed like an infinitely better place, with all-round smiles and lots of slaps on the back and reassuring, ” Well, you’ll be here for weeks then!”
“Thank goodness for that!
The men disappeared with sighs of relief that all was now well, and the girls gave me my first ever free coffee as a get better soon gesture and offered more Farrow and Ball napkins to wipe away the eye makeup which was apparently now on-my-chin-makeup. And we sat and chatted happily together about the benefits of waterproof mascara vs falsies. I thought falsies were fake bosoms, but they’re all a lot younger and infinitely wiser so I’ll heed their advice. So, when it really is all finished, spell-checked and edited, I’ll simply go to America as planned, have an Americano and get myself some falsies. Sounds like a fabulous plan – odd how the Colonel looks ever so over-excited …
Any tips, advice, suggestions for finishing a book? (Including editing and finding an agent or publisher or …. anything). Thank you x
No, of course it’s not really wretched, I’m simply being a drama queen because I am frustrated. Supremely frustrated.
I’m frustrated because with no published books under my belt, how on earth can I really justify the time I need to write?
I feel as though because I’m not (yet) an author, it’s rather self-indulgent, pompous and pretentious to announce that “I need to be alone!” and mop my fevered brow. Whether it was Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich who said it, I don’t recall, and frankly it doesn’t matter, my point is that I do need to be alone but I feel a bit of a drama queen saying it. Admittedly I don’t need to do the mopping of brow with a delicate white handkerchief, but in case Renee Zelwegger isn’t available for the film version of the book, I’m happy to practise my craft and step into the role …
So, I keep sloping off from the packing up of the house (we’re moving), the cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing and general ‘life’. (Nb This is also said in a woe-is-me type of voice, despite the rather odd fact that I rather enjoy it) So, in order to give myself a little bit of writing time, I am shirking my responsibilities by hiding behind the door of the kitchen, tap, tapping away. Did I mention that I was moving house?
Once I have got book number one done and dusted and it’s flying off the shelves in every bookstore from London to New York (optimism and a total lack of reality are currently my default setting), then I feel that I am justified in disappearing off for several hours to write. I can then type madly, hitting the iPad with such ferocity simply to get out the words, sentences and paragraphs that are endlessly trying to burst out of my head and are longing to get onto paper before they are forgotten and lost in the dusty crevices of the grey matter.
Oooooh I’m exhausted! Forgive my rant, my frustrations and my inner melodramatic diva who has momentarily escaped the confines of my middle class British background. I shall resolve this. A little self control is required. A little earlier rising in the morning, allocating specific writing time and then using that time correctly instead of drinking tea and looking at Facebook. Oh yes, I can do this! Discipline is all it takes!
In the meantime, I think I need a little lie-down in a darkened room with some whale music, except the sounds of running water .. well, I needn’t go into that …
Perhaps I’ll just hide behind the kitchen door again; there’s a socket for charging my iPad, a very friendly spider whom in hushed tones I like to chat to about the benefits of waxing vs shaving (oh yes, that hairy arachnid needs to know!) … and at least the ginger biscuits are close to hand …
Disappearing into the bowels of the earth, otherwise known as the underground system of London, the sound of a violin rose up to meet me. A young man was playing the tune from A Fiddler on the Roof, “If I were a Rich Man”.
Oh, if only I could have joined him with some fabulous Russia dancing!
oh how I wanted to don my dancing shoes and join this marvellous man with his enthusiastic fiddling on his fiddle!
Oh how I wanted to leap beside him with gay abandon!
(Nb. Slight yawn, but for those wanting to be politically or otherwise correct, please note that I am using gay in the old fashioned sense … I have no desire to make comparisons of dancing abilities between people of varying sexual orientations – I’m exhausted, should have used a different word in the first place).
As he played faster and faster I was swept up in the excitement of the moment and the exhilarating music, so promptly tipped the meagre contents of my purse into his violin case. He grinned widely at me and added a slight dip of his chin to acknowledge my paltry collection of two and five pence pieces. He also got two safety pins and a book of Royal Mail stamps, but I managed to retrieve those.
With my heart singing, I continued on my journey with his music becoming fainter, but with my walk infinitely lighter and bouncier. I write this despite the unhappy truth that even if I wanted to risk the disapproving looks of fellow travellers who would assume that I was most probably a complete loon, I strongly suspect that once crouched down in my Russian dancing stance ready to fling my legs from under me, I would never have been able to stand up again without the help of some small hydraulic apparatus.
So, if you’re needing a little boost today, turn on the radio, do a little jig, sing, or even join a fiddler and try a Russian dance.
Does jolly music make you want to dance with gay abandon?
Towards the end of my cycling trip last summer, I came to the conclusion that both Claude (the bicycle) and I needed a little attention. So I hosed Claude down with water, gave him some oil for his squeaky bits, and found a lovely lady in a beauty salon for myself. I did however go in the hope that any cleansing and moisturising treatments for me, would be marginally more gentle.
She took one look at me and started tutting with a slow shake of her beautifully coiffed head. This was perhaps not the best of starts, but always one for believing that the truth can hurt, I ignored this and persevered.
An hour and a half later and I reappeared a new woman. She had been given a fairly tough job, but managed in a short period of time to perform nothing short of a miracle.
During this time however, we spoke in a mixture of my bad French and her decidedly better English about beauty. I asked her how it was that French woman always seemed to be so well put together and just naturally beautiful.
Her response was as follows:
She said the English were like sparkling man-made Christmas trees; adorned with flashing coloured lights, baubles, tinsel and weighed down and covered from top to bottom in some form of the latest trend in decoration.
The French on the other hand, were simply healthy trees with just a few plain candles to enhance their natural and pure beauty and nothing more.
This was of course her own opinion, but one thing did resonate. That being, there is beauty in simplicity. Life doesn’t have to be covered in sparkling lights to make it perfect. perhaps there is truth in the proverb, “All that glitters is not gold”.
Who do you think is the most beautiful woman in the world?
London is bathed in glorious sunshine. Both young and old are in the parks and the streets with tentative smiles revelling in the apparent beginnings of spring. The chairs are being put outside the cafes once again and the daffodils are nodding their heads. The winter wardrobes are being packed away and the flippy floppy skirts are out in force.
Some have dared to bare some pasty skin to the air; pale legs which haven’t seen the light of day for six months are now on display. Woollen hats and scarves have been tossed aside and replaced by sunglasses perched atop pink noses. It may be sunny, but by Jove it’s still chilly! We have emerged from our hibernation full of cautious optimism for the start of a new season.
Girls sit outside bars drinking white wine spritzers rather than huddling next to the fire with a warmed heavy red. Boys drink … well, boys drink beer. (Yes, my tongue is firmly wedged in my cheek.)
I used to be a winter person, but now summer is my happy place. So with anticipation (and a little hope) of further warm sunshine and the frightening prospect for both myself and the general public of having to peel off the layers, I am having words with my pasty white body and am mentally preparing it for a day when a teensy trip to the beauticians is imminent.
“A leg wax?” my scrawny limbs scream in response!
“It’ll be gentle,” I say soothingly.
“Lying bitch!” they retort.
Indeed I am, but standards must prevail and I certainly don’t want my husband mistaking me for an orangutan again.
In the meantime, I shall clutch my hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and make another chicken pie to stock up the freezer. One can never be too sure when the weather will change, and frankly I cannot be having another argument with my legs again … they’re rebelling, on strike and refusing to move from the fireplace. Shame.
I am stuck between two stations in a dark tunnel and cannot therefore leave the train.
My fellow passengers initially started expressing their irritation by merely sucking (deliberately audibly) the breath between their teeth. Then, the sighs of annoyance became louder as if to alert everyone within earshot of their displeasure. Now conversations are being started between complete strangers and it must be said, that this is most unusual behaviour for the Brits. Each person however is relating why their own potential tardiness is of greater importance than the next person’s. We all want mutual sympathy, hand-stroking and a way of expressing our frustration … which is not being helped by the dreary voice on the loudspeaker telling us he knows even less than we do. Marvellous.
The lady opposite me who brought her entire makeup bag and had given herself a makeover is now repeating the exercise. Lipstick first – most peculiar. Now she’s plucking her eyebrows which frankly are sparse enough … I hope this won’t encourage any others to trim their nasal hair or cut their toenails.
Sadly the little boy who previously occupied my seat got off at the last station with both his parents. He entertained us all by telling us, complete strangers, with a deadpan and utterly sincere face about his holiday to the swimming pool yesterday and how he’d like to go again; but this time just with daddy because Daddy is more fun. This resulted in snorts of laughter around the carriage. Daddy smirked. Mummy didn’t look best pleased.
The man beside me has rather obviously cut himself shaving three times presumably due to a blunt razor blade. He has little pieces of loo paper attached to his chin, but one is rather dangling down, hanging on by a single whisker which he clearly missed .. I’d love to pull it off. Perhaps the lady with the tweezers could oblige.
I love people watching. Others watch me but I care not. A little observation is no bad thing, too much is deemed creepy and anything beyond that is obviously stalking! So I think I’d better get out my book and amuse myself that way …
If only I could just tweak that teensy bit of dangling loo paper off his chin though …
Are you a keen people watcher? What do you think people see when they look at you? (Don’t worry, I know that others see a batty, scatty, ditzy thing with a dodgy haircut when they look at me … if that makes you feel any better.)
Ok, minor confession. I made the teensy weensy mistake of setting myself a deadline which I may have inadvertently shared with some of you. The deadline for having the first draft of the book ready was Valentines Day. Yes, I am fully aware that that was yesterday.
And, well, in truth, to be frank, and without putting too much emphasis on my inability to write when I’M SO FLIPPIN’ KNACKERED THAT I CANNOT EVEN SEE STRAIGHT, LET ALONE WRITE, I have to admit that it is therefore, consequently and any other conjunctive adverbs that you can squeeze in, not quite there yet.
I’m sorry if that came across as a little bunny-boiler-ish and overly hormonal. In the simple language which I love and understand the best, I’m just a little ‘pooped’.
Normal service however will be resumed immediately and indeed, I’m only a week away at most. So please forgive me. I’ve had a busy week where life has somewhat overtaken me, rammed, scratched and battered me, but I’m back on the straight, narrow and hardworking path of yet another wannabe author once again.
Right! Socks have been metaphorically pulled up, cap straightened and shoulders pulled back. I am ready to finish the last few chapters. I’m on the home run and raring to go. Just a quick cup of tea and I did spy some ginger nut biscuits hiding in the cupboard …
Have you ever missed a deadline? And the consequences were ….?
Now I fear I must discuss, or at least give my view on the slightly taboo and decidedly undignified subject of knickers.
Of all the advice that I was given prior to my cycling trip, and there was a lot, the common denominator from everyone was to invest in a good sturdy pair of cycling shorts. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if mine were shorts or knickers. Whichever they were, they did the job well. But Mon Dieu, what an unsightly piece of clothing.
Lycra’d within an inch of their life so that they tightly suck in the wobbly bits like a vacuum packed chicken, and let other parts spill out over the top and underneath; the end result is one ends up looking like a rather badly stuffed Christmas stocking; all lumps and bumps but the only surprise with this stocking is whether one is able to take them off without the huge effort making one either puce in the face, or accidentally breaking wind.
As for the padding within, it is simply a large piece of foam which sits like a small yoga roll-mat between ones legs. However, the result? unattractive, however not a bruised botty in sight.
But, there is one piece of advice that I was NOT given, and that was to wear them from day one of said cycling adventure. If it is left until day three, you will discover that you can’t sit down without wincing, howling and yelping. Sadly this is really rather a case of locking the stable door once the horse has well and truly bolted and frankly is in another county. This was sadly what I did.
And, whilst trying to be delicate here, it’s not just ones ‘back bottom’ that becomes bruised, it’s the ‘front bottom’ area and for want of a better word, ones ‘fou fou’. This entire region becomes so delicate, that should you be travelling on a romantic holiday with your darling loved one, you can wave goodbye to any woo hoo for your fou fou for at least a week. Or if you do, he’ll find that he got more than he bargained for, with more wincing, howling, yelping and yowling than a night in a brothel with Madame Whiplash and her whippy-stick.
I think that just about covers it.
Any experience of cycling knickers? No? Lucky you … 😳
I am a sucker for beauty products. I have, shall we say, a fair few in my cupboard under the basin. Thankfully the Colonel and I do not share this cupboard. Indeed, if we did, he would be allocated two and a half square inches, or if you’re metric, ten square centimetres … or something along those lines. I know not; I am old school, or perhaps just old, hence needing the beauty products.
I see these sumptuous creams in their heavenly packaging with promises to erase lines, cellulite and imperfections and I drool. And from time to buy, when I’m feeling flush, I open my dusty purse and buy them.
And, as the Colonel waits for me to come to bed, I am still applying cleansers, toners, creams and serums as he scowls and harrumphs and the usual, “What are you doing in there?” can be heard through closed doors, occasionally, though not always, with volume.
I must be the only woman in the world to have cycled for twenty six days non-stop from the north to the south of France with the entire Clinique range in her panniers.
Why? Vanity, delusion and a smattering of hope.
And do they make any difference? I know not, but if I didn’t use them, I might look considerably worse and that’s too great a risk to take for a muppet like me.
Yesterday, I allowed myself an afternoon off from writing (and reading your blogs, sorry) and mooched around the beauty counters of Peter Jones in Sloane Square (the posh bit of London). No, of course I don’t live there before you even start to ponder. I’m from Wandsworth and not the smart part.
Peter Jones for the non-UK residents is middle class shopping for the yummy mummies, the rich, the poor-who-want-to-be-rich and now even for those who own a dog and can’t bear to leave ‘Fifi’ at home. This has allowed many a handbag pooch to enter and generally speaking they behave far better than the majority of the children.
It’s a safe haven where the older staff have worked there for donkeys years and the younger ones are doing a ‘season’ whilst on their gap year having finished at private school. Not quite the same as a ‘ski season’, but with equally well-off customers but obviously with less snow.
You can buy everything and anything there, and to be fair, it’s not all expensive. They take into account every type of bank account, healthy or ‘minimalist’ shall we say. (Although if you bank privately, you’ll feel more at home – handing over your Coutts card will give you no better attention from the staff however, but you’ll feel part of ‘the club’).
Sadly, I did my mooching yesterday whilst having a rather empty bank account moment. Of course this is a guaranteed disaster, for as soon as I have no money, everything looks so appealing. When on the other hand I’m feeling flush (a rarity I hasten to add) I can never find anything. C’est la vie.
So I went from one counter to another and foolishly let each and every beauty sales person try their hand and products on my unfortunate face. They rejoiced after having given me a full makeover at the transformation in my skin, spoke of how my eyes were ‘popping’ (WTF) and were craving for me to hand over my purse. I simply looked in the mirror and muttered about how lovely it was and that I should now see how it looked in the outside light, and hurried onto the next counter, begging them to repair the damage. And then the process began all over again.
Eventually I left Peter Jones, empty-handed, but with a face so covered in serums, moisturisers and foundations, that I resembled an oompah loompa who had fallen into an oil slick.
I welcomed the Colonel home who peered at me, frowned and looked faintly fearful as I kissed him hello, but was wise enough to say nothing, probably quite difficult anyway as our lips stuck together with my peachy lip gloss entitled, ‘Glamour Puss’.
That night however, whilst scrubbing my face clean of all the muck, which was quite some feat, there were no questioning words of why I was taking so long. Instead, as I did my usual leap into bed, putting my freezing feet between his legs to try to warm them up (NB The higher up your husbands/partners legs you can get your cold toes the better, but you may meet with resistance as apparently it’s painful in many ways). So with a yelp of apparent agony from the Colonel, he then turned to face me, breathed a sigh of relief, stroked my cheek and whispered, “Hello beautiful.”
Gosh! I think in future I shall stick to au naturel.
Ladies: Are you comfortable without makeup?
Gents: If you’ve read this far, your thoughts please.
You are in a well. A deep, dark well with murky, warm water up to your thighs. If you look up, you can see a tiny chink of light, but it’s a long, long way away.
You are not alone down there in the well. There are many others. It is not frightening because it’s familiar. You’ve been here before. It almost feels quite comfortable, perhaps even safe.
Around the inner sides of the well are ladders, ropes and the occasional handle of all shapes and sizes. Some are short, some long, some a little broken and some sturdy. But not one of them reaches the whole way up to the light at the very top.
And on every ladder and rope, there are people trying to climb up. There are young people, old people, black, white, rich and poor, all heaving themselves up, slipping down, knocking others off as they fall. It’s utter carnage. So it’s easier here at the bottom in the warm water, because anyway who really knows what dangers lurk up at the top? Life at the top can be a perilous place.
Each ladder, rope and handle represents a lifeline.
First you have to haul your heavy wet body out of the soft, warm water. It is now cold and uncomfortable and your body is heavy with all the water, but you try. You reach for the first lifeline.
The first ladder is marked ‘doctor‘. It is a solid, strong and quite easy to climb up but as you progress, the rungs become narrower. So you need to move one of your feet onto another ladder.
This one is labelled ‘exercise‘ and is a little creaky, but seems to be helping you up a little further. As someone falls beside you, you reach out to the rope with the name ‘social interaction‘ on it. You start to feel enthused and energised and begin to look for other ladders.
There are some little handles on the wall with the name ‘meditation’ on them. You grab them. And all the while you can hear a wonderful voice giving ‘group counselling‘ to encourage and teach you how to reach higher for the ladders.
Yoga, Pilates, medication, therapy, exercise, medication, reading, writing, fresh air, light, gardening, baking, cleaning, cycling, good food … There are dozens of them …
Yes, there are ladders all around, and they are there to be used. All of them. Because one alone will rarely work. Each of us is different and some ladders work better for some whilst different ropes work better for others.
But despite our individual differences and needs, there are two factors that unite us. And they are:
It’s up to us to WANT to climb out of the hole, and it’s up to us to DO the climbing.
Have you ever suffered from depression or anxiety and was there a trigger?
It seems to me however that every family has their own dusty cupboard full of skeletons. And, within said cupboard, there is usually a black sheep, a matriarch and a faintly sanctimonious do-gooder otherwise known as Joan of Arc. There are sometimes other variations, but usually at least one lurking somewhere in the twisted branches of the family tree.
I am not deluded enough to believe that my family doesn’t have it’s own armoire full of rattling bones, but suffice to say I love it just the way it is. (Indeed, I am probably the “troublesome” one).
But what I loathe more than anything else, more than tax returns and eighteen year old yoga students telling me to find my inner wisdom, are those on social media who try to portray a life of perfection pertaining to themselves and their family. THEY LIE!
I watched a young girl on the tube the other day taking selfie after pouting selfie, photoshopping and then posting them on Snapchat or Instagram or … “whatever”.
Yes, I’m a miserable old goat, but if any of her 500 apparent “friends” were indeed to actually meet her in the flesh for the first time, they might struggle to recognise her. The fleshy-lipped, bosom-heaving beauty with cheekbones as sharp as a knife in her picture, bore no resemblance whatsoever to the girl sitting next to me. The confidence with which she posed, pouted and flicked her hair whilst completely oblivious to the other passengers, made me question as to whether this confidence was borne from the prospect of the inevitable “likes” that she was no doubt imminently due to receive; or from the pleasure that she was getting from making a perfect version of herself. As I said, I am a grumpy old goat.
Sadly I suspect that if I did the same on WordPress, I’d probably have you all in stitches of laughter at me as I tried to stretch out the wrinkles, hold in the muffin tops and hide the bingo wings. As for the bosoms, well, perhaps the answer is simply to do a handstand. I’d have bouffant hair if nothing else, except perhaps a cardiac arrest. The thought of that level of exertion is requiring a little lie down and some ginger nuts which won’t help the muffin tops, alas, I care not.
But, back to those skeletons. I wonder if those who pose for the happy family pictures in the luxurious locations that the majority of us can’t even pronounce, truly believe their own publicity. Is it a form of propaganda? Is it advertising oneself, and if so, for whom?
And when I see beautiful photographs of beaming happy families on a gin palace in the south of France, are they really trying to pretend that their decree nisi hadn’t recently been signed, or that the youngest child hadn’t just been expelled from a rather top-end public school for selling drugs? Why must we attempt to portray perfection?
To be clear, I am not perfect. I am annoyingly bouncy, irritatingly highly strung, scream with gusto if frightened, have dyed my hair which has resulted in a distinctly purple and yellow striped tinge, have lines, wobbly bits and am a grumpy old goat. I am not saying that I love my flaws, but I do the best I can with what I have been given and accept the rest. (Just call me Joan, Joan of Arc). Surely life’s too short to be worrying about what the rest of the world thinks? Isn’t it? As for the hair … there’s some work to be done me-thinks …
I am not in the same league as some of the gardeners here on WordPress. Frankly, I am in awe of their horticultural prowess.
I do however have a few meagre RHS qualifications and occasionally some Latin names find their way from the dusty crevices of the grey matter. Alas, give me houseplants and I’ll kill them. I will kill them by either forgetting about them or over–loving them.
I suspect historically that happened to a few relationships as well. (Obviously I didn’t actually kill the boyfriends, although I’d have liked to have thrown a few plates, vases and saucepans at some; but that might have made me seem a little unhinged, and I’m obviously not that.)
Yesterday however, and back to the gardening, I took the train from London and came (sans mon husband) to visit my parents-in-law. The reason: Obviously to enjoy some time with them, but also to help with their garden.
And garden I did!
Yes, it was chilly. Yes, my nose was a little sniffy and my ears turned attractively scarlet in the freezing cold, but it was glorious! And I thought I was a fair-weather gardener…
Fresh air and exercise has culminated in a tidy garden which has cleared out the cerebral cobwebs and frankly I crave for more. The sense of achievement has left me feeling unattractively smug and faintly pleased with myself. So if anyone wants to put me in my place or their garden needs sorting, you know where I am … well, sort of. Although, there’s limited internet here so if you’re horribly rude I won’t be able to retort quickly back or indeed give you my address. Bother! 😉
A fellow blogger and friend Chelsea, wrote yesterday about friends and being judgemental. (How to win friends … ) Excellent post and something that I suspect a lot of us can resonate with. I know I did.
Historically I struggled to make friends. I was a loner and I didn’t feel as though I could fit in anywhere. But, at that time I was very unhappy. I was hurt and angry with the world and subconsciously I believe people were picking up on this, which made me more isolated and consequently more unhappy. I was on a little miserable hamster wheel of self-indulgent misery!
And alongside this (as if it wasn’t bad enough), I was extremely judgemental. I was like the bulldog looking over the garden fence and seeing the pretty little cat in it’s pretty little garden with it’s oh so green grass. And I hated that cat and all it’s friends with a venomous loathing and frankly wanted to eat the little blighters for lunch.
Yes, I was indeed a bulldog.
At social events I would stress beforehand, arrive in a jitter, and become the infamous wallflower, desperate for someone to talk to me. I’d leave early and then berate myself for being so unutterably wet. But I simply didn’t think that I had anything worthy to talk about and at that time small talk was an anathema to me. What had happened to the carefree young woman of years ago?
However, a strange thing has happened. I have now got a busy little life and what with one thing and another, my days pass in a blurry fizz of happiness and often exhausting, but well received brain-overload. And having of late been forced into a flurry of social occasions with people from different situations, backgrounds, parts of the world and dare I say it, social and class status (I’m in England, it exists) my entire mindset has changed. People are fascinating, and they all have a story to tell!
Most of the time, people do ask about us, and we ask about them. It’s a rather symbiotic relationship, however fleeting, but I guess that’s just small talk for you.
And sometimes, we’ll meet someone completely fabulous who becomes a true friend. There’s that saying, that if you throw enough muck at the wall, eventually some of it will stick. Like online dating, if you meet enough people, probability states that eventually, you’ll meet someone that you gel with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really referring to people as muck, but you get the point I hope. Neither am I promoting multiple dating, bed-hopping or anything quite so insalubrious … again, I hope you get the point.
So perhaps now I’m not quite the bolshy bulldog that I once was. And, because there’s no need, I don’t bother looking over the garden fence (unless the neighbours are having a bbq).
I’m more of a little, green happy, hoppy frog bouncing around in my own little garden pond. Yes indeed … I think I’ve found my inner frog who loves everyone. Well, mostly … I am human after all.
Are you a grumpy bulldog or a happy, hoppy frog?
Do you like socialising? Or do you find it difficult?
It appears to me that there are a plethora of budding authors here on WordPress.
Indeed, some already have beautifully bound books sitting on the shelves. Oh, how we long to be in your shoes! How we dream of being that far along the published line, with our designated writing rooms and a spouse who when visitors appear at the door, whisper that you are not to be disturbed as the genius, the ‘artiste’, is ‘at work’.
Said genius might perhaps be wafting around in a silk negligee and matching robe with a cigarette holder firmly clamped between glossy scarlet lips as she drops ash on the carpet whilst dictating to her loyal and dependable secretary. Of course if the author is of the male variety, one presumes that there would be less of the silk negligee and more of the smoking jacket and cigar, but I’m frightfully broad minded these days, and frankly, anything goes.
Some however have finished writing and are desperately and nervously waiting for the telephone to ring. Waiting in excruciating anticipation for their editors, agents or publishers to gush in delight, gasping with excitement at the marvellously original manuscript that you have sent. Cover to cover they have devoured your novel whilst rubbing their hands in glee at the potential film rights whilst already looking at potential Oscar winners to take the leading role. Oh! Oh! Oh!
And then, there are those of us (and I include myself in this grouping) who are daily, weekly or whenever-we-can-ly tap, tap, tapping away at our computers and iPads.
We live in a never-ending rollercoaster of hopeful optimism and desperate pessimism. We continue with life, with children, families, jobs and dreary mundane problems sucking out the very life within us; whilst in the deepest and dustiest crevices of our grey matter we secretly harbour and nurture a tiny and often fleeting glimmer of hope. A candle light so faint it can barely be seen. And so we continue to write, to throw our vulnerable selves, our mind and souls onto the pages for all to see, just in case, just in case …. we can succeed.
So carry on my friends! And if ever you wish to be seen in a flimsy and quite possibly highly flammable silk negligee whilst holding a cigarette, don’t forget that smoking is terribly bad for you, but frankly I may well come and join you. My tongue is, as ever, firmly lodged in my cheek, however, with all sincerity may I say, let us keep writing, keep working for as well as loving to write, we also love to read each others work. And one day, one day, that little glimmer of hope just might turn into a roaring flame.
Are you writing with a purpose in mind, for pleasure or a combination of the two? I won’t ask if you have a penchant for negligee, but … do tell …
I am a simple creature. I am not on the same intellectual planet as many of you; and yet my little world is my ‘normal’.
My world is a complex combination of beautiful yet rugged landscapes, alternating between The Great Plains of Steely Determination, The Dark Forests of Fluffy Blondness, and The Deep Seas of Optimism and Hope.
My brain is forever randomly spinning off from one region to another, with speed and agility from years of practice. And as a planet attacked with repetitively exploding asteroids, with constant storms, volcanoes and earthquakes of my incessant thoughts and ruminations, life here is rarely calm and sedate. Indeed, it is exhausting.
Occasionally however the power of my mind can override the bedlam and I take a brief trip into your peaceful world. But it takes gargantuan mental strength to gently drape a veil of calmness over me, muffling the noise and slowing the racing chaos.
And what have I tried? Breathing techniques, yoga, music, exercise, meditation and drugs (prescription only I hasten to add), whale music, dolphin music, you name it, I’ve tried it.
And the outcome? Yes, they do work, but only if one ingredient, one teensy factor, is added.
And that is the deep down, passionate, unadulterated and unfiltered WANT to make it work.
I have to fight the storms in my mind, battle the asteroids and have my own personal war in my head to allow peace to take hold and calm the crazy nervous energy. It is a battle of wills, my wills.
Mental strength … is it the most powerful tool that we have?
So, according to WordPress, and not my memory, which even I will admit is unreliable (and that is being generous), I have blogged, posted, written and rambled for an entire year; and I can honestly say that I’ve loved every minute of it.
I have wittered fairly endlessly, mostly about absolute drivel, and yet, you my friends have tolerated me, humoured me and made me feel welcome in this, our rather special writing club.
I have read your posts, at times in complete reverence at the magical ways in which you have used our glorious language; but surprisingly instead of feeling that green-eyed monster crawl up my inner thigh and reach towards an embittered heart, I have embraced your work, loved it, praised it and attempted to improve my own as a consequence.
Pease forgive my failings and be confident that I, more than anyone, am the most aware of them, and be calmed in the knowledge that I am working hard to be the best person that I can be.
So thank you my friends … You’re completely and utterly fabulous!
Sitting yesterday outside my coffee shop, I heard a man coming towards me. In actual fact until he came into sight, his gender was questionable due to the extremely high notes that he was singing. Indeed, the word ‘singing’ should be used rather loosely as well …
He was tall, wearing dark sports clothes and carrying a backpack with a couple of racquet handles poking out of the top. Finally, atop his head and covering his ears he wore an oversized pair of headphones. Headphones that clearly were muffling the sounds of the outside world whilst immersing him into his own wonderful bubble of music. And how he sang!
Great, sudden high-pitched screeches with wild arm movements sent fellow pedestrians ducking and fleeing in fright. Long and musically debatable notes were (loosely) held until he began to run out of breath; whereupon he appeared to grapple with deciding whether to continue on the warbling note, or to allow some much required air into his oxygen-depleted body.
His walking pace slowed, his arms raised high as he momentarily paused creating a brief silence as his audience of coffee drinkers and pedestrians alike also held their breaths in anticipation … He then took a deep and long inward gasping of breath and then burst forth with renewed vigour, passion and more animalistic wailing noises and his walking pace quickened once again. His head moved vigorously from side to side and a wide, broad smile beamed across his face.
As he passed us and went on his merry way, we all smiled at each other, brought together for a moment in time, enjoying the happiness of one individual, so deep in his own happy world and so oblivious to ours, that we almost felt a little envious. How carefree! How wonderful!
And it made me wonder, when was the last time that I felt that free and uninhibited? Indeed, when did you last feel and breezy? For me, it was cycling in France. Perhaps time has made me nostalgic, but of late I find myself pondering wistfully of my month away with only myself and Claude my bicycle to consider. The freedom was so utterly welcome, it was bewitching. I had indeed liberated, and seeing the man yesterday, made me yearn for it once again.
Perhaps the man had returned from a tennis or squash session and was high on endorphins; in which case I think I should dig out my own racquet and balls. Or perhaps, just perhaps, he was simply high on life. In which case I shall consider another trip, another adventure to bring back that glorious, glorious feeling of total and blissful freedom.
Do you feel free?
Do you yearn to be liberated from your anxieties, marriage, commitments or depression?
New Year’s Eve. It’s coming, and I’m sorry but I loathe it. I loathe it about as much as someone eating a giant packet of crisps in the cinema during the quiet, romantic bits; I loathe it as much as doing my tax return or going to the fridge to heat up the beautiful quiche that I’ve spent hours making, only to discover that someone has eaten it ‘for a snack’! A snack, I ask you. Good God!
In my twenties, I loved New Year’s Eve. Wonderfully huge parties, everyone excited and happy and always the hope of meeting a heavenly hunk from Hampshire … oooh the thrill of young love!
In my thirties, I was married; there was the patter of tiny feet (quite a lot of feet actually) and my husband, married friends and I would have raucous and rather badly behaved dinner parties as if trying to recapture one’s twenties whilst the children slept upstairs. However in truth, we all secretly longed to join their blissful slumber. But we forced jollity, drank too much, ate too much and woke up the following morning feeling ghastly with a mass of squeaky, cranky children.
I am now in my forties. I have since divorced, remarried, and my children are going to their own parties. I feel as thought I should be going out and celebrating. I feel as though I ought to be standing outside in the freezing cold of London in winter waiting for the fireworks. And yet, call me dull, dreary and drab, but I just don’t feel the need to conform any more; to please anyone or to look for a handsome hunk from Hampshire (in truth, men from the Home Counties are a little predictable and conservative for me).
So forgive me if I don’t post pictures of myself waving a sparkler and popping champagne at midnight on the 31st, but this Cinderella needs her beauty sleep (and clearly plenty of it!). May I however, wish everyone, for when the golden hour arrives, a very, very Happy New Year. Let’s start afresh, leave the past behind and have our best year yet!
(Without blatantly reminding me how boring I am 😁), what will YOU being doing on New Year’s Eve?
Anxiety … It starts with butterflies, then the clammy hands, tingling feet, dizziness and nausea, until finally in order to prevent passing out I have to either lie down or somehow get my head lower than my heart. Usually this involves bending over so far that it looks as though I am interested in looking at my knickers.
These deeply unpleasant sensations also occur if I am too hot, dehydrated and/or haven’t eaten enough.
Embarrassingly this happened on my second date with The Colonel. I had been a teensy bit overexcited, had forgotten to eat all day and was wearing a rather natty little dress of the faintly Grecian variety with lots of lengths of fabric wrapped round me. Alas, I think I had bound myself up slightly too tightly, and promptly had a little fainting episode. Not awfully sexy having your not-quite-boyfriend shove your head between your thighs, but I suppose I should be grateful that he didn’t give me a fireman’s lift and douse me in cold water.
I digress … my point here is this. Apart from the dehydration and lack of food causes for these symptoms, I have found that more often than not, my brain is confusing anxiety, with excitement.
Now this anxiety is really just a way of my body and brain recognising that there is a potential danger. It is simply preparing for fight or flight. As we know, in times gone by, the Sabre-toothed tiger approaching the entrance to the cave required some serious action. A delicate fainting, reaching for the smelling salts or practicing my breathing techniques would probably have resulted in ‘Kitty’s lunchtime’.
However, it’s perhaps a little unnecessary to have these rather extreme reactions when I am standing on a chair to change a lightbulb, or kneeling on the kitchen unit trying to reach the top cupboard. It can be a fairly long winded task to change a lightbulb if every few minutes as the adrenaline starts racing through my body, I have to be upended and forced to look at my knickers again.
So I have taken to changing my thought process.
Each time I feel those dizzying, clammy, nauseous feelings of anxiety I say (out loud) …
“Oooh! I am so excited! What fun I am having!” several times and then repeat, and again …
Now slightly simple, unhinged and odd I may well be, but slap me down with a feather, it jolly well does the trick. And dare I say it, on a par with, if not better than, my previous deep breathing exercises.
It appears that by forcibly telling myself that I am excited rather than fearful repeatedly whilst doing the stressful and loathsome task, I can overcome the need for a little lie down or reach for the sick bucket.
So I shall persevere with this and fingers crossed it could be the way forward … I suppose the only worry is if I try to incorporate both past and previous remedies. I suspect that by saying, “Oooh! I am so excited! What fun I am having!” whilst my head is up my skirt and I am heavy breathing, I may well be sectioned or frankly, arrested.
How does your anxiety manifest itself? And what do you do?
I’ve got a stinking, sneezing, coughing cold and my husband has sent me to bed whilst muttering about ‘pestilence in the house’.
The room he complains is smelling of Olbas Oil, to which I respond, “It’s either that or I’ll not be able to breathe.” He appears to be contemplating the two options. He also keeps picking up tissues with thumb and forefinger and carrying them with an extended arm and a grimace to the bin whilst holding his breath. And when I sneeze, he asks if it’s strictly necessary.
Sympathy is not his forte. If I had the energy, I’d hit him with a shovel.
Of course the benefit to being in bed is that I can tap, tappety, tap away to you without any guilt for once, and dare I say it, I’m already feeling remarkably better. It’s either that or the fact that I’ve poured half the bottle of Olbas oil onto the bed so I can breathe and perhaps the paracetamol might be kicking in.
So I pathetically mop my fevered brow and wish that I looked like Meg Ryan with a cold in ‘You’ve Got Mail’ (a chick-flick gentlemen, so you’re forgiven if you haven’t seen it) instead of a pink-nosed snuffling, truffling little piglet. And downstairs the Colonel has the hoover going and I’m sure I can smell disinfectant, but it’s gone awfully cold. Dear God he’s opened all the windows. Oh well, the house will be clean, but let’s face it, Mother Teresa he is not … bless him!
I wonder if he’ll come to bed in a face mask … or perhaps the smell of the Olbas oil that I accidentally spilt on his side of the bed will send him shuffling off to the spare room … hmmm …
Sometimes I encounter and consequently ‘suffer’ from first world problems. These can be anything from a late train, an unexplained rattling in the car when it reaches 80 miles an hour, or running out of truffle oil; (no of course I don’t really keep truffle oil, I’m just exaggerating to make a point), and then yes, I have a little whinge.
My husband, known as The Colonel, simply looks at me over his glasses and raises an eyebrow. This usually renders me suitably chastised and I usually give a snort, tell him to ‘sod off’ in my typically eloquent manner and reduce my whinge to a “mutter-with-attitude”.
A fellow blogger (A Fractured Faith) wrote recently about the homeless and it rather spurred me on to do something useful and to press the pause button on this shoddy behaviour. So I hunted around the cupboard upstairs and emerged with:
. An old sleeping bag
. A military windproof, waterproof, everything-proof coat
. The softest, warmest blanket that I gave to my late mother and have been struggling to throw out
. Some toiletries in rather natty little airline bags (apologies for the revolting word …. Toiletries, Soiled, Moist and Toilet make me squirm. It’s the ‘oi’ thing. However, also Gusset and Lubrication. Enough said.)
Having lugged these items down to both the train station and High Street twice in the search for someone ‘in need’, and returning on my bicycle still fully laden, I was in danger of losing my inner Samaritan. But, third time lucky and I found a lovely chap with a dog who despite having everything that he needed, directed me to a gentleman who apparently did.
By now it was late afternoon, the sun had dipped beneath the trees and it was cold. Terribly cold. It was just starting to drizzle and the wind was picking up when I saw him. A narrow, hunched dark shape with the sleeves of his thin jacket pulled over his hands. He was shaking; not just his arms, but his entire body. He looked up at me and I smiled. Slowly and gently we began to chat. A thin, cold scrawny man with nothing to his name. No address, money, belongings or education.
His past was something of a horror story and the fact that he was still alive was either a miracle or testament to his courage.
I came away feeling humbled, ashamed and also angry at ‘the system’. He was so grateful for the pathetic bits and bobs that I gave him and so willing to talk to me, a silly middle aged, middle class woman with an expensive haircut and a propensity to buy expensive Christmas baubles. In the end, I felt grateful to this gentleman.
I am trying to help him further but suffice to say, it’s a minefield out there with a system with no money and too many people needing help. I shall continue but the longer I take, the colder the weather is getting.
I came home feeling not sanctimonious, pious or as though I had morphed into Mother Theresa, but just plain humbled.
Since then I have been making a conscious effort to (attempt to) restrain my irritations at unimportant first world issues and be grateful for what I have. Although having just re-read that I realise that I now sound like a prize knob so I’ll perhaps retract it, but it does make one think…
And finally, when I told my son about this and the horrors of being homeless (trying to educate my 20 year old son is I realise locking the stable door well and truly after the horse has bolted) he calmly informed me that the sleeping bag I had just given away was not my old one, but in fact belonged to him. Bugger. Thankfully he has a far nicer nature than me and just patted my shoulder. I think he muttered something about the onset of dementia but by then I was back in the cupboard again trying to work out if the military jacket I’d just handed out was not my other sons old CCF one, but in fact belonged to the Colonel … God I’m an arse.
Are there many homeless people in your neighbourhood?
Contrary to my usual nonsensical chit chat and ditzy writings, the other day I had a brief ‘discussion’ with a fellow blogger about the hibernating habits of bees! This jump-started the rather dusty grey matter into a flurry of activity and led me to do a bit of a research, aka googling Wikipedia (that infamous source of (mostly, ish) correct information.)
It transpires that there are masses of animals that hibernate and frankly I think I/we have missed a trick here.
Whenever the nights draw in, the weather turns colder, or there’s a shortage of food, the breathing of some animals becomes more shallow, their pulses slow and a heavenly slumber ensues. Ahhh! Just the thought of it sends me into a marshmallowy soft blanket of snoring and truffling bliss.
So according to bears, hamsters and skunks (and if we were to follow in their footsteps), if the kitchen, larder and secret garage store of ginger nut biscuits is looking a tad low, this would mean that it is time for a wee snooze.
Or if it all gets a little chilly and the nights are drawing in and we were to follow in the footsteps of prairie dogs, ground squirrels and deer mice, then yup, time to pull on a duvet onesie and take a lovely two month siesta.
It certainly seems to be what my body and mind are craving. A deep, long and uninterrupted sleep.
However, (and somewhat sadly) I’m not entirely sure that this would work for me, or indeed us.
The problem is that life is short. Much too short. And unlike bears, hamsters, skunks and bats, we humans have more than just cotton wool between our ears and therefore we have the wisdom to comprehend that life is for living.
And even though a heavenly slumber to help us pass through the cold dark days might be appealing, it would be a tragic way to waste our very short time on this heavenly planet.
For myself, that feeling of wasted time, combined with a personal loathing of the onesie and the fact that I am currently in Amsterdam with a very excited stepdaughter leaves me no time for wishing my life away in sleep. Instead, there are places to go, people to meet and a life to live.
So when my inner hamster, bear or bat is longing for a wee hibernation, I shall fight it and instead remember the wise words of Dr Seuss …
You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!
Do you love your bed?
Are you tired, exhausted and just want to sleep?
How do you fight the lethargy that winter brings and how?
Sometimes I astonish myself. It is quite extraordinary how I can so masterfully waste time. If there were degrees being handed out here, I’d have a First, with a distinction, several stars and a cherry on top for good measure.
I see myself as an (occasionally) rational person; I understand that time is one commodity that we in theory have control over, and yet as it slips away hour by hour, day by day, I manage to waste it on utter nonsense.
As I said to a fellow blogger this morning, what historically used to be ‘reading time’ to keep the grey matter alive and kicking, and as a very enjoyable pastime, I now can waste hours, hours on my iPad googling holidays that I obviously can’t afford, ways to make my eyelashes look longer and houses for sale in the deepest depths of France. And I use the word ‘waste’ because despite all this lengthy research, I still have no romantic little city-break booked, no house in Provence with a sparkling swimming pool, and my eyelashes are still as stubby as they were last week.
Reading my latest book, ( Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight) I have now had to resort to reading it in the bath. Even though my iPad I am sure would work perfectly well in the bathroom, I still have visions of it falling in amongst the bubbles and yours truly being electrocuted …. found days later with Rigor Mortis deforming my body and face whilst donning a particularly attractive perm. Not quite the death I had envisaged. As an aside, if one dies in an odd position, this ‘Rigor Mortis’ sets in, how do they fit you into a coffin? Would they have to force and squeeze you tightly into a recumbent, legs together position and then nail the lid on quickly in case suddenly you popped out like a Jack-in-the-box? Just a thought …
Anyway, I digress … now that I have used up my previous ‘reading time’, I am now using up my ‘bath’ time. Perhaps when I have realised that in fact I cannot be electrocuted by a battery operated machine, I will stop reading in the bath and the dreaded iPad will venture into the bathroom and I will start googling more nonsense from there. Heavens! My life is being taken over by a 6 x 9 inch piece of metal with a rather attractive purple cover.
So, Sarah Knight of the aforementioned book, explains very clearly and assisted by some fairly fruity language, that my problem is time management. We all have the designated 24 hours in a day, it’s just that some of us choose to use it better than others.
So, my resolution for the fast approaching New Year is to manage my time considerably better. Firstly I shall don a watch (that I secretly think my lovely husband is giving me for Christmas because I am apparently always late which is hard for these military types to cope with. As it’s a Christmas present I obviously can’t start this resolution immediately – procrastinator – surely not?). I shall then make to-do lists, must-do lists, get-your-bottom-off-the-sofa-lists. I shall have spreadsheets and bar charts and attempt to become a wonderfully efficient version of the scatty, forgetful, googling me. After all, isn’t that what resolutions are all about, a moment of pre-Christmas excited enthusiasm in changing one’s somewhat shoddy ways for the better? Any suggestions more than welcome.
Are you a time-waster like me? 😬
Are you organised and efficient? HOW do you do it …. ?
What do you google? (As per previous posts, nothing smutty or vulgar please!)
I am as ever, reading about three books on the go. I cannot claim that this is even in part due to a wondrous ability to multitask. No, this is simply because there are so many fabulous books out there and I want to read them all, now. I am nothing if not needy, demanding and impetuous.
As some of you know, moderation has never been my thing. Indeed, a tendency to get marginally overexcited when encountering something new has a partial influence on my inability to have a modicum of patience. Therefore finishing one thing before commencing something new is a tad alien to me. (This probably accounts for the chaos in my life!)
My point here is this. I have recently started a book by Sarah Knight entitled “Get Your Sh*t Together”. Interesting title (she says with a pompous sniff) and one which certainly made me wonder how on earth it could have ended up on the shelves of such a middle class shop as Oliver Bonas. However ….. I now see why she has the honour of being a ‘bestselling author’ of more than one book.
If like me, those dark, dank and dreary days of winter are already taking their toll on you, buy this book. Buy this book and then read this book. (Unless you have an understandable aversion to bad language. To say it is peppered with it throughout, would be an understatement).
It is simple enough for even the intellectually stifled like myself. Frankly if it wasn’t for having another two books to read, this could be done and dusted, cover to cover in less than 48 hours. And …. it’s worth it.
It is inspiring even for those who have their life well and truly in their own minds, on track. For the rest of us mere mortals who are floundering slightly with ‘to do’ lists that never are truly done, and daydreams that never seem to materialise into something tangible, it is absolutely worth a few very happy hours of sinking into your favourite armchair whilst the dark rain falls outside. It truly is, for any fellow procrastinators out there, a kick up the backside and an alternative way of getting one’s sh*t together, without an irritating little man with a megaphone shouting, “Get up and get a life!” Frankly I’d want to hit him with a shovel, but occasionally it’s what I need.
How do you combat the winter blues?
What books get you excited? (Nothing smutty please!)
I spend my life trying to halt the bad habits in their tracks with a large stop sign and a smattering of self control. I usually fail, dismally.
The limited good habits that I have and I am scrabbling around trying to think of what indeed they actually are, I am unbearably smug about. Ah yes, I don’t like dark chocolate at all and therefore I don’t eat it. Filthy stuff. So when offered some, I say with a sweet self-congratulatory and faintly superior smile, “Oh no, thank you, but I’ll pass this time!” as though I have some exorbitant levels of self control and treat my body like the proverbial temple. I don’t. I am effectively lying. I just don’t like dark chocolate. Oh God, I’m a fraud.
However, back to the point; stopping the negative thoughts. Do you have a habit of thinking about something vaguely depressing or negative (usually about the past) that within minutes can be blown out of all proportion? And one’s musings seem to slide downwards into the dark murky waters of depression? Well, in the wonderful world of CBT there is a name for this:
Now, when these negative thoughts start to take over, there are 3 points to ask:
1). Have I made any progress towards solving the problem?
2). Do I have a better understanding about this problem now that I’ve been thinking about it? And finally,
3). Am I feeling better or less depressed than before I started thinking about this?
If the answer is a clear NO, then yup, you’re ruminating.
Thinking about something and trying to find a solution is completely different and not to be confused with rumination. Trying to find a solution is positive. Rumination is not. Rumination is a habit, of the bad, disgusting dark chocolate variety.
How to stop it
The CBT experts will give you a load of chit chat about bringing yourself back to the present as rumination is so often about the past, I however need less of the chit and none of the chat. I need answers and solutions in what to do. So cutting through it all, the answer is this:
As soon as you have asked yourself those 3 questions above, recognised that yes, you are ruminating, immediately GET UP AND DO AN ACTIVITY. Um, yes it’s actually that simple but as with so many things, distraction is a powerful tool.
A pleasurable activity is of course the easiest way. Baby steps and all that. But in simple terms, find something, anything that ensures that your brain is totally and utterly focussed.
Despite some claiming to be able to multitask, it is impossible to truly focus on more than one thing at a time. Perhaps that is why rubbing your tummy and patting your head is so difficult, but maybe that’s just me. Whether this activity is turning on the television and cleaning out a cupboard, blogging, cooking, whatever floats your boat … it simply doesn’t matter. It’s just a case of stopping ‘feeding the beast’ and bringing an end to this self destructive habit called rumination.
Every time it happens again, repeat the process. Yes, your cupboards will be incredibly clean and you will have devoured the entire Game of Thrones series, but you will be learning how to stop the habit. And eventually, ‘the beast’ will wither and die. The habit will go and less effort will be required. You may become a serial cleaner with a penchant for trashy tv but hey … does it matter?
To me, this makes a lot of sense, and yes, I’m doing it. And yes, it works.
To summarise for those who haven’t read the above:
. Recognise it and act on it.
Give it a go … you have absolutely nothing to lose, but a happy and peaceful life to gain.
Do you ruminate? Do you let it lead you into the depths of despair or do you try and break the cycle?
Snuggling contentedly amongst my other issues, I have two rather deep seated and firmly ingrained problems that I have recently discovered are linked. This actually is rather good, because that means that I now have one rather than two. Please note the positive spin – I am if nothing else, eternally optimistic.
I am a people pleaser and find it incredibly hard to say no.
I am unfamiliar with the notion of ‘moderation’.
And the link is this: I can’t say no to others, or myself. I simply cannot say “No! Stop! That’s enough”.
I suspect I am a people pleaser because of a need to be loved. The problem with this, is that being a fairly needy individual but loathe to be a burden, where one feeling should in theory neutralise the other, it doesn’t; it simply makes me complicated.
So I do things for people that I don’t want to do, consequently get grumpy and do whatever it is with extremely bad grace.
And then my neediness kicks in. Imagine husband dearest trying desperately to leave for work in the morning, briefcase and coat in hand, with me attached to his ankles being dragged across the kitchen floor wailing, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” Not that he’s quite beating me with his umbrella to detach me but …. Admittedly I am exaggerating somewhat, but you get the gist.
As for moderation, this tends to happen when doing something that I enjoy, for example:
Certain types of exercise (ie cycling until my body starts shutting down)
Nibbling delicately on a biscuit (read: devouring a twin packet whilst locking myself in the larder),
Getting excited about an event (hyperventilating, shaking and nausea)
Again, I hope you get the gist.
There is simply no “Off” button. No bright little button with “Time to stop now Katie!” flashing on it. No sodding great beacon with a man holding a megaphone shouting “No, you stupid woman, just Nooooo!”
I can’t say No!
So the question is twofold:
1). How do I stop this impetuous, people pleasing doormattish behaviour, and
2). How do I dig deep enough in order to find my inner self control? (As in, where do you keep yours? Clearly close to hand, perhaps in a little pocket somewhere …. whereas I think I left mine at a childhood birthday party many decades ago.
I’ve had to have a wee chat with myself of late. In truth it was more of a stern waggling of the finger involving some rude words and the occasional metaphorical kick in the shins.
And why? Because I was sensing a slight return of the lethargy, the tiredness and the excuses. The desire to light a fire, put on a pair of unattractive fluffy socks, matching pyjamas and woolly hat and vegetate makeup free was fast becoming just a little too appealing. Now fear not, I have come to recognise this. It is my very own slippery slope; my uncontrollable freewheeling downhill on Claude the bicycle when the brakes have failed and the only option, unless I am prepared to hit rock bottom, is to take an almighty leap to get off in the full knowledge that it’s going to hurt.
The problem with my ‘slippery slope’ is that the end point is even more unattractive than me in a pair of fluffy pyjamas. You see, I’m just not that kind of gal. I’m a “where’s my nothingness of a silk nightie … can’t find it … never mind, better do a Marilyn Monroe and wear nothing but Chanel No 5.” You get the gist … I fear that if I didn’t jump off said slippery slope, within a fortnight I’d have eaten my body weight in ginger nut biscuits, would be drinking like a fish and be found, the size of a small whale reading Barbara Cartland, wedged under the bed. As it happens I have always had great admiration for Barbara; frankly anyone who managed to write that many books is a hero in my mind – I can’t even do one (yet).
Now don’t get me wrong, I can give you a thousand reasons why I should be kind to myself and give in to the lethargy. Well, one or two …. my folate levels are apparently low, and ummm, well it’s winter isn’t it?
So in truth, without a plethora of excuses, I’ve had a ‘wee chat’ with myself, have bounced out of bed, slapped on some face (makeup, to the men out there), have embraced the cold air with gusto and have come to my coffee shop. Much too long a sentence once again and for that I’m sorry, but you see I’m just a bit excited. I took that metaphoric almighty leap off the freewheeling bicycle and not only was it easier this time, but the landing didn’t hurt. Yes, it’s only a meagre trip out of the house, but what I’ve found is that if I start the day with the right attitude, everything follows suit with my jobs done and the house and husband sorted. I then go to bed that night happy, fulfilled and tired enough that whether I’m in my birthday suit, a beautiful little nothingness of a silk number (marriage number two therefore efforts and standards must prevail you understand) or wearing a flannel onesie with a picture of Bart Simpson on it, I’ll sleep like a baby and the slippery slope will be a thing of the past. Or at least until the next day …
Of COURSE I’m not going to ask what you wear in bed … as if … but instead, what do you do to combat lethargy?
The past few days have seen a slowdown in the writing of my book. A tiredness and lethargy combined with family commitments are poor excuses; and yet when one’s brain is foggy and the body is longing for a sleep that never seems to remedy the situation, it is hard to see the wood for the trees and make progress.
As it turns out, my folate levels are at rock bottom but in many respects, I’m rather glad that it’s not simply my own laziness that has been the culprit relating to this fatigue. So it is with almost a sense of relief that I have been told to be kind to myself, something that I have never in truth been an advocate of. But needs must, and when the wise doctor speaks, I must take heed of his advice.
So strangely, I feel reassured and as a consequence am further determined to write, albeit in bed! I’m not entirely sure that this recumbent form of filling the day is what my medical guru was intending, but as I sit surrounded by soft pillows, light-as-a-thousand-feathers duck-down duvet and the soft light glowing from the bedside lamp, I must confess to feeling rather marvellous, if incredibly guilty. I am if nothing, one to take advice to the extremes.
Sadly however, this being London, there is a car intermittently blasting it’s alarm, a thud, thud base of music resounding through the walls from the traffic jam outside the house, and God forbid, the thought that my wonderful mother-in-law will be making her daily FaceTime call shortly is more than enough to end this sedentary self-care. Life quite frankly just go on, and the shame of being in bed at half past nine in the morning is shocking even to my befuddled, exhausted little mind.
So up I shall get and face the day whilst munching on some dark, leafy vegetables, and find my folate supplements. I shall seek peace and solace in my writing and make progress once again. As for the car alarm, I shall continue to huff, puff and mutter about moving to Outer Mongolia for a bit of peace and quiet. Alternatively, I could just hide for a little longer deep under the duvet, so that the sounds of life in a city are softened and a little muffled. But by God, it’s hot under there and as I emerge red faced and sweaty, I can hear my mother-in-law trying to FaceTime me …. Yes, enough self care, it’s time to crack on.
How do you combat tiredness? Is your bedroom noisy or are you in Outer Mongolia?
When I was ensconced in the wonderful world of online dating, a friend of mine suggested I google a chap called Matthew Hussey. He’s a dating guru, young and full of vitality and dare I say it, happiness. I found myself slightly addicted to his YouTube videos so when I’d watched them all, I bought his audio book and played it again and again and yes, again.
He speaks sense. He understands the psychology of both men and women, of how we interact and sometimes how we fail to interact and also understand each other. He explains how what we say and what we do can be misinterpreted, and how our very basic caveman instincts are still absolutely paramount in terms of our current behaviour.
But one thing that he talks of, is practising talking and engaging with people. People in the queue at the coffee shop, people in the supermarket, people anywhere. Just a simple smile and a happy brief chat can not only make your day, but also someone else’s.
Now of course living in London, it is deemed as a little odd to smile at a stranger, and frankly unhinged should one make conversation … and yet, why should the most natural thing in the world be given a few raised eyebrows?
The other day on the tube, my fellow passengers and I became united as a small dog raced past us on the platform and on reaching the end, threw itself onto the tracks and bolted off towards the tunnel. What ensued, along with all trains on the Central Line coming to an almighty halt, was that we bonded. We chatted, laughed, made suggestions as to how to entice said dog back and enjoyed even more hilarity as the Platform Manager in her fluorescent jacket took to shouting abuse at our canine friend. What became of the dog, I know not, as it clearly was unimpressed by being roared at, and subsequently turned its back on her, cocked its leg on the tunnel wall and promptly trotted off into the darkness.
My purpose of this post is this; whether we are dating or not, Matthew Hussey has a point. Some of us are good at ‘small talk’, some not so. But as with everything that we want to improve or even excel at, we should take heed of his advice, and practise.
Engaging with people and the world whether that be sharing a smile or a little chat with a person is good for the soul and the spirit. Not just yours, but theirs also. Sometimes, your kind words can lift someone’s day from being somewhat shabby, to positively fabulous. Go on! Be fabulous today!
Are you good at small talk? Or do your inhibitions prevent you?
Yesterday I joined a wonderful class and being the first introductory meeting there were ‘housekeeping’ rules to discuss; where the loos and fire exits were, if a fire alarm was to go off to treat it as genuine as no practices were scheduled, no bad language allowed etc etc.
Two minutes in, the fire alarm goes off, the lady sitting next to me jumps up and exclaims, “Oh Fuck! It’s a fire!” clutches at her knickers, declares an ‘oops’ moment in her excitement and runs, semi crossed-legged out of the room. I’d say it was a pretty good icebreaker.
Ps. To reassure you, it was the toaster in the next door room that set it off! How we laughed! What made you laugh today or yesterday? X
I have finally found my home away from home. It is simply a little coffee shop between the river and the park. It has wooden floorboards, huge windows and soft armchairs filled with cushions. There are beautiful pastries and fresh fruits in wicker baskets, smells of roasting coffee beans and hot chocolate and has now most firmly become a part of my daily routine.
I sit, drink copious amounts of coffee and write.
I used to find that writing on the underground worked a treat until I realised that going round and round on the Circle Line in order to type up the next chapter was probably a little odd to say the least; and somehow writing at home just seemed to be difficult. It was too quiet and the overspilling ironing basket would give me the evil eye, and the cupboard with the ginger nut biscuits would call to me a little too often to guarantee a lifetime free of the dreaded cellulite. So the coffee shop it is. They do have a rather delicious chocolate brownie which just happens to come with ice cream but I digress.
Like so many of us, it took a little while before being able to feel entirely comfortable and entitled to while away the hours in someone else’s space; but within a week I found myself feeling as though I was simply ‘a home away from home’. The staff became chattier to me by the day and even better, knew how I liked my coffee. And now? I feel like one of those people (usually men dare I say it) who go into their local pub and are asked, “A pint of your usual sir?” Oh yes, I feel as though they have accepted me into their fold and I’m loving it.
So, as I tap, tappety, tap away with the world moving around me and gentle music playing in the background, I have now reached the momentous point of being one third of the way through the book. There is still a long way to go, particularly in light of the fact that I have a notebook completely full of barely legible notes to make something of, but it’s a good start. I’m out of the starting gates, have done a few furlongs and am galloping midfield with a mass of others.
There are many on the same course, and whilst some are ahead, some behind and some have fallen at the first hurdle, I am doing my very best to keep on the straight and narrow. I’m only a little way through with the inevitable Becher’s Brook or another huge challenge or six to contend with, but with a good wind behind me and my bank account allowing for the continuation of daily coffee and chocolate brownies with ice cream, with a little luck I shall finish before the clocks go forward in the spring. I may of course be something the size of a whale with a coffee addiction by that point, but I will, with a little luck have a book. Battle on McDuff to myself and all of us!
Where is your most favourite place in the world? Do you have somewhere away from home that you love to visit?
When I look into a mirror, it is usually with trepidation. I never quite know what I shall see. The majority of the time I can see only the flaws, and yet just occasionally when the light is low and soft and I am at peace with the world, then what I see makes me content.
Beauty is a funny old business. What one person finds attractive, another finds repellent. But what do I see in the mirror?
I see a vibrant woman full of life with hopes and dreams. I see gentle creases from a life lived with laughter and joy. I see a strong, proud body that has carried children and hands, arms and legs that have worked tirelessly and with vigour throughout.
And yet sometimes I still see the little girl crying, needing, wanting her mother. I see the lost look in her pale eyes as she craves the security of love. I see a tired face lined from the incessant ravages of life and the vacant stare at the fear of facing the future.
With minimal effort we can show the world one face, and yet hiding behind the shield may be something remarkably different. Or perhaps we simply change like the tides, depending on what life or perhaps God throws at us.
Yes, beauty is a funny old business.
How do you see yourself? What do you see in the mirror?
Work on the book has been a little slow of late. Ok, so if the truth be told, I’ve been procrastinating rather a lot. It’s incredible how I can find little excuses and reasons to not write. And suddenly a week has passed. Then two. And before I knew it, the habit and routine of writing has flittered away. We all know that it’s very hard to start a good habit and mightily easy to let it slip. Don’t we all favour the easiest route in life?
So yesterday I made myself a promise. I would take my bicycle and iPad on an outing and set myself up in a coffee shop and actually get to grips with the book.
So as I sit here, bouncing around on excess caffeine, I have made enormous progress. There’s a huge amount of work to be done, but it’s a good start and clearly this works better than trying to find a place in the house where I can sit and write without being disturbed by the jobs that I see needing to be done and the telephone ringing. Clearly I could never be self employed as I don’t appear to have the discipline.
Thankfully I am surrounded by at least six others on their various computers and iPads also tap, tap, tapping away so there is no sense of guilt that I am occupying one of the most comfortable seats by the window and letting two cups of what I had thought was decaffeinated coffee but is clearly not, last two hours. I think I’m nearly done here for the day as if I have any more to drink I’ll be bouncing off the ceiling, but clearly for me this is the way forward. The fact that they play lovely music, have rather delicious chocolate brownies and I get to do a bit of people-watching makes it all the more fun. I think I can get rather used to this.
What gives you inspiration to write? Do you need to get out of the house?
There are a lot bloggers here who are writing, or have been pondering for years on writing a book. Well, I fall into the latter category, have a mass of material and am now just starting to try to put it all together.
The problem (and oh and there are so many), is that all I want to do is to have a month to myself in a small room with no distractions. The likelihood of this? Nil. So I have to improvise.
Yesterday however, I did something completely out of character and perhaps more in line with an activity for the over 70’s; I took the Colonel to visit Ham House and gardens. But before you offer my unfortunate husband any sympathy whatsoever, he has a trip to Rome this week and therefore is in no position to make a fuss or complain, not that I am remotely jealous (she says with a derogatory sniff and twitch of her nose as she beats the green-eyed monster to the ground with a large shovel).
I had cycled past Ham House a couple of months ago and put it on the old bucket list. And well worth it too. Built in the 1600’s it made us stop and gaze and wonder and take a trip back into the life and times of the Fire of London and the Plague, when maps were dubious in their accuracy, baths were a rarity and men and women of a certain class and wealth had their own designated areas in the house.
A couple of particular rooms that both the male and female apartments had within the house were tiny ‘closets’ (not as in dressing room or to be confused with a bathroom), but a tiny room with a fireplace and an area for some sort of a daybed and a desk where he or she could escape to, rest, or write. Can you imagine?! What a joy!
Now understandably these rich souls had to deal with all sorts of other problems that we generally don’t have (such as giving birth to 11 children obviously not all at the same time without the wonders of mind-altering and pain-blocking drugs, infancy death, no clean water and therefore drinking beer instead – were they all drunk? etc etc) I do however rather envy them having their very own ‘closet’. One could escape for hours at a time and write in relative peace and quiet. I could escape for hours at a time and write in relative peace and quiet! Of course, there isn’t really much room here in our military house to create such a room and I suspect our housing officer might raise an eyebrow or two if I started knocking down the occasional wall but you get my gist. A place of my own, with a log burner, armchair, lots of Jane Churchill fabric, a secret stash of ginger nuts and a large no entry sign on the door (in a pretty eau de nil distressed piece of shaped wood). Perfect.
But sadly, unless I compromise, take refuge in either the clothes cupboard or the understairs cupboard and switch the log burner for a hot water bottle, I fear I shall have to continue with my writing in the comparative norm like everyone else of the kitchen, with my iPad attached to the wall by the cable that isn’t quite long enough to reach the little table and chair as I forgot once again to charge it overnight.
So yes, I stand and type, grasping an hour here, an hour there trying to create a book so wonderful that eventually someone, anyone, ideally a desperate agent will give me a flicker of hope and perhaps, just perhaps one day on amazon at 0.001 pence you might be able to find a book written by me, about a woman and her lowly bicycle Claude … who knows?
And, in the meantime, I think I might just move the Colonel’s uniforms from the cupboard and try and make a little more space … I can almost fit in there if I bend my legs to the left and push the handbags and shoes to the right … oh! So that’s where I hid my jewellery when I was away … golly now I can tell the Colonel it’s back from the menders …
Where do you write? Do you have a perfect hideaway?
Let’s not beat around the bush here, my brain is a simple thing.
It is not made up of intense masses of grey matter jostling to be the first to find the answer to a question, to read and understand the contents of a (proper, grownup) newspaper, to remember anything politically intelligent, to finish (or even start) a cryptic crossword puzzle … No. It is not.
My brain is more about fluffy clouds of marshmallow trying to remember my children’s names and their dates of birth which is considerably tricky when under pressure (ie when someone asks me), where exactly I parked the car and even more worryingly why I have just walked upstairs for the second time – (what precisely was I planning on doing up there?)
No, I am not the brightest spark in the box and yet I have discovered this sad fact appears to have the most marvellous consequences, side effects if you like. I shall expand.
I have found that if I am having to do something that I don’t like (ie most things that don’t involve cups of tea, ginger nut biscuits, reading, writing and games of tennis) and therefore don’t want to do, I can trick my simple little brain into making the required task completely bearable.
So, to use an example here on holiday in France … Each and every day, in order to reach the empty part of the beach that the family like the most, we need to cross a river called the Huchet. This for me is on a par with putting pins in my eyes, eating my toenails and sucking on a random stranger’s too. It is not only freezing cold, but it is a murky shade of greeny brown where there is no likelihood of seeing ones toes and in terms of how deep it is, well apparently that has something to do with the moon, suffice to say, it varies from above knee level to (I’m about to cut my) throat deep. Unpleasant? Very, very deeply and with no pun intended.
However … If I distract myself sufficiently, it is bearable and I can wade across without too much of the drama queen in me squealing, complaining and writhing my body in the agony of it all. And how do I distract myself? I sing. I sing, just as I sang when cycling up those wretched mountains that the French call hills, not so long ago. I sing anything that I can remember the words to and anything that I cannot. Nursery rhymes work well, hymns and yes, happy birthday to me have all been uttered from my pursed lips as I step on tiptoe through the grisly, cold dark water.
If it’s truly bad, then I use another of my senses … touch. I flick my thumb nails onto my index fingers and dig in, hard.
If it’s worse than truly bad, ie up to the neckline, then I also start to use deep breathing.
So I’m puffing, singing and finger flicking and well knock me down with a dead fish floating past, we’ve reached the other side!
Now forgive me for being just a tad simple, but aren’t these tactics exactly what we use when we’re having a moment of anxiety or a panic attack? Are we not told to breathe in slowly and deeply? When we’re angry and seeing red and about to explode, did our parents and teachers not tell us to count slowly to ten until it passes? When we’re in labour (sorry gentlemen) are we not required to huff and puff our way through it? What I’m trying to say is, are these not all simply distraction techniques until the moment of unrest or pain has disappeared? Is our mind truly stronger than our body?
“It’s all in the mind,” my father used to say about seasickness. And yes, strangely, if I was kept busy out on deck, I never had any moments of queeziness, but perhaps hardly surprising when you’re clinging for dear life onto a mast whilst at a 45 degree angle to the angry sea and death is looking you in the eye.
Is it truly all in the mind and we can use distraction to obliterate any unpleasantness? Is this how mad people can walk across hot coals?
Clearly, with my simple little brain it works. If for you it does not, then you can pride yourself in the knowledge that you are a clever sausage. I’m rather jealous, but then again, perhaps you just need more intellectually stimulating distractions. Perhaps you could do the cryptic crosswords instead? Just a thought … Oh, and could you explain to me how to do them?
How clever are you?! Can you use breathing or singing to fob off anxiety, stress and pain? Or do you have another trick?
Without meaning to harp on about it too much, whilst cycling for the best part of a month in France, I had only myself for company.
I talked to myself, sang to myself, told myself funny little stories (and laughed at them – yes I am suitably strange) and cried to myself. I regularly bored myself stupid and craved company. The only people, until almost the end of the trip, that I encountered were of course French, and despite a fairly healthy ‘O Level’ result in the subject over 30 years ago, conversation was understandably a little limited. Of course, over time it improved considerably and particularly when I became less self conscious and more confident.
On one occasion, when lost again, I asked a family for help in the navigation department in my very best french.
“Ooh!” they grinned, realising immediately that I was a foreigner, “Are you English?”
“Oh thank God!” says I with great enthusiasm, “You’re the first Brits I’ve spoken to in fourteen days!” I wanted to hug them, kiss them, sit them down with a cup of tea and listen to their life story.
“Nah! We’re not English, we’re from Birmingham,” came the strong accent in response.
Right… Frankly I couldn’t care where they came from, as long as they could understand me and I could listen and understand them. It was a short lived conversation … I think my overly enthused neediness was perhaps a bit off-putting. Similar to when I try to chatter to the postman when he comes to the door, his eyes start to glaze over as he backs down the path. Perhaps I truly am just a needy individual.
However in the last few days I met someone who had been doing almost a parallel trip to me. A South African by birth, he said what he thought, without any filter, and with gusto. He called a spade a spade and swore like a trooper. A rather high powered physicist with a photographic memory, I did question the swearing, but he merely threw his head back, laughed like a drain and replied, “Frankly Katie, I don’t give a fuck!” I liked him enormously. But he too had been devoid of all conversation and despite being fluent in five languages, French was not one of them, so had even less of an opportunity for chatter. It hadn’t however stopped him from having an absolute ball. We then talked incessantly for three days and marvelled at the delights of having company, giggled over the best way to get in, out, and dressed in 6ft x 2ft x 2ft tent, and spoke endlessly about our ridiculous adventures. Laughter is truly good for the soul.
I am now back in the real world and find myself a slightly different creature. Having craved company, whilst I enjoy it, I enjoy it in moderation. No, that word that has never been a part of my life before and I welcome it and wonder if perhaps it might overflow into other areas of my life. There is always hope. I find that I now need a certain amount of solitude in which to block out the noise, the people, the endless nonsense which I find invades my mind and colours my mood. I can now control my own mood completely by myself which is new to me and very much welcomed, but external influences still can alter it. So partly for self preservation and partly because I simply enjoy it, I now ensure that I have time every day and every evening for a little solitude. Call it self care, call it indulgence, call it selfishness, as my South African friend says, “Frankly, I don’t give a f…k!”
What about you? Do you need solitude or do you loathe it? Do you control your own mood?
I’ve bicycled 1000kms through France, taking the long and winding route of La Velodysee through towns and villages, along canals and rivers, on cycle tracks, roads, through fields, around fields, lost in fields …. I’ve been frightened, I’ve cried, I’ve hurt myself, I’ve hated myself and bored myself. And yet, I’ve also laughed until tears have streamed down my face. I’ve been humbled and I’ve been moved to yet more tears by the kindness of others. That’s quite a lot of tears actually …. odd really for someone who doesn’t tend to cry much.
I’m utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. I want to speak, I have so much to say and yet the words won’t come. I want to sleep, but my mind is preventing it. And I honestly don’t think anyone really understands at all. I’m not looking for praise so please don’t give it. I’m not wanting congratulations in the least. But I do want to thank each and every one of you for all your encouragement and support throughout this. But at the end of the day, all I have done is very simply to have tested both my mind and body to their absolute limits.
Having never wanted to see another canal, river or pine tree in my life, I am strangely missing them. Having bored myself stupid by my own thoughts for days, weeks, and having longed for conversation (preferably in English), I now crave solitude and peace.
I do however feel that this is normal. This is a normal reaction, behaviour and feelings and as with everything else, my favourite Persian saying comes into play … This too shall pass …
But it’s done. This dizzy, ditzy blonde and (slightly) unhinged woman has done what she set out to achieve. And now, in truth all I want is to sleep.
Well, I’m nearing the end of what can only be described as an extraordinary 26 days.
I have 7 left and short of Claude (my bicycle) and I completely running out of steam or getting squashed by a truck, we’re almost there. Being the eternal pessimist however, yet always full of hope (and no I don’t know how that works), I’m never one to count my chickens and it certainly ain’t over till the fat lady sings as they say.
Most of what has happened will be in ‘the book’, but suffice to say I have enough material to write a trilogy.
I have laughed until I tears have streamed from my eyes, I have cried, wailed, howled in pain and in fear, and screamed at myself to dig deep, not just once, but almost daily.
And the outcome? I have found a strength not just physically but mentally that I never knew existed. I have been alone and sometimes desperately lonely … and sometimes just simply desperate. I have lain in a tiny tent being battered by storms for 48 hours, convinced that at any moment in the darkest of nights it was all over.
And yet, I have found kindness and generosity, laughter and warmth. I have been propositioned by men both younger and about forty years older than me and have also discovered that camping au naturiste doesn’t mean a beautifully natural site in the pine forests, at all … I have been given a standing ovation, snarled at, snapped at and had to deal with handfuls of drunkards. And that’s only scratching the surface.
And for what you might well ask? Why would any sane person put them self through this? A personal challenge? A midlife crisis? Or perhaps simply a woman looking to find where the girl in her had gone. The girl who was once fearless and strong but somewhere through that inevitable process called life, became lost, became frightened of everything but most of all, became frightened of the negative voices in her head, the unutterably foul, burdensome and oppressive voice of a demon called Betty.
Has your past restricted your future? And how do you intend to remedy this?
Ps. If any of you have got this far with my drivel, you mightn’t believe me if I told you that I’m in a bar and La Vie en Rose is playing … I’m in heaven.
As I embark on week two of my adventures travelling through France on a (now rather squeaky) bicycle called Claude, I have come to realise that everything here changes within moments.
The weather, the terrain, the incline of a track and energy levels and of course this all impacts upon ones mood.
One minute all is well and the weather is good, the sun is shining and there’s a light breeze. This can change before I have time to say, “Which pannier is my darn fleece in?” and before I know it, it’s not a fleece that’s needed, it’s an umbrella, Wellington boots and an oilskin waterproof all-in-one, complete with hat. Although I do sometimes smile to myself as I remember the Colonel telling me how many moons ago in training, they were all barked at with a, “Skin’s waterproof Sir!” Very true and sometimes quite a useful reminder.
The track is peaceful, cycling through the pine forests but lose focus and you lose your way. Within moments the track turns to a road with cars racing past and lorries roaring within a couple of feet and the confidence can be knocked within seconds.
As for getting injured, I’ve got more bruises and scrapes on my legs than when I used to muck about with horses!
And yet, it passes, and it passes quickly. Yes I know I harp on rather irritatingly about the old Persian saying This Too Shall Pass but it’s very true. It does pass, one solves the problem and moves on. No harm done and a little more wisdom gained. Character building one could say.
And as for the good times, the happy moments? Well they are held onto, treasured and clutched close to the heart. Nothing can take them away. Anything from a peach being given as un cadeau from a small French boy to three men saying, “Madame, we commend you” and solemnly and sincerely giving me a round of applause. Frankly I found myself ridiculously moved by both of these moments, and there have been many many more. It’s not really a big deal this cycling trip, (I’m no explorer or great adventurer!) unless perhaps you’re like me, slightly unhinged with a point to prove to nobody else but yourself and a desire to dig deep and find that wonderful quality that for me, was lost for a long time, courage.
Have you ever lost your courage, and did you find it again? How?
I think one of the most enlightening findings to date is that the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome are often those found to be festering in my mind.
Yesterday I deviated from my route of cycling alongside the Nantes – Brest Canal and took to the roads. The advantage being that it was more direct and I had a bit of catching up to do from a rather slack day two. The disadvantage (of course there’s always one) is that I therefore encountered hills. Not just a little ouch on the legs for ten seconds and it’s over, but serious back, leg and bottom breaking stuff that makes muscles holler in pain and the lungs scream. But where there’s an up there’s always a down and the freewheeling to follow is a respite – until the next one.
And then of course there’s always the danger of counting ones chickens before they’ve hatched… As I pushed Claude (my bicycle for new readers) up yet another ‘colline’ and looked around me I thought that frankly I couldn’t get any higher, and relief did rather start to wash over me. It was also the tail end of the day and nobody could surely be that cruel to put yet another challenge in my way.
Err … Mistake. As I rounded the bend, yes, a long freewheel down but then a monster, a beast of a long, not to be messed with, avoided or run away from, MOUNTAIN! (Fair enough, very, very large hill) …
Dear God even if I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, put my fingers in my ears and shouted, “La! La! La!” it would still be there to face me.
Remember the children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? Well, I had no option but to go over this bugger even if I walked the entire way. And neither tears nor a tantrum would make it magically disappear.
And then I remembered the phrase, baby steps.
You can’t eat an elephant burger in one go, so you break it up into bite-sized pieces.
Bearing in mind that my options at this point were fairly limited, I sensed this approach was worth giving a go. Firstly of course there had to be acceptance that there was going to be pain and secondly that it was going to be a lengthy form of pain.
But, little section by little section I tackled my mountain, puffing, heaving, fighting the bastard thing, sweating, panting, howling at times in sheer frustration …
Sometimes however from afar a hill can be perceived as a mountain as are many challenges in life and the prospect of undertaking such a task can be frightening in itself. But as with so many things, if it’s broken down it’s in actual fact not quite so terrifying.
Slowly, slowly, bit by bit I cycled, pushed and heaved my way up. When I had enough breath, I sang songs that I could only remember the first two lines of, so starting making up the rest … Gave up on that and sang happy birthday to me even though it wasn’t, but at least I knew the words. I pretended I was an incredible author and was a guest on a talk show (Graham Norton’s as it happens – yup, a repetitive fantasy) and all the wonderfully witty stories I would tell (hadn’t of course worked out what they were exactly), oh and the best one was doing a book signing at Waterstones in Picadilly – apparently the biggest one in Europe! And the queues were out of the door! “Oh I’m so sorry you’ve been waiting!” I’d smile coyly.
Oh what marvellous daydreams I have!
But on I battled. Keeping my mind preoccupied with thoughts of nonsense simply to keep away the constant reminder of the physical agony. There were no tears, just pain aching long and hard. Baby steps … baby steps …
But wait just a heart-in-your-mouth minute … can this really be so? Is that really, truly, dare I say it, the top? Have I climbed my very own Mount Everest?
Well blow me down with a bicycle pump! Indeed I have! And I grin, widely and congratulate myself with another two mouthfuls of crunchy baguette, and a glug of water and stand and look around me.
Distance is a remarkable thing … the colours of the land stretch out and become softly muted. Figures and any features or forms of human activity are now invisible to the eye and the complete silence gives way to solitude. A feeling of total peace from being utterly alone, drifts and washes softly over me. Perhaps I truly am in heaven.
What challenges have you got in your life at the moment that you’re afraid of? And how do you manage your fears? (Not by singing happy birthday I’m sure!)
If I had thought it was hot in London, well here in Huelgoat it’s positively steaming. After the typical schoolboy error of bicycling too far on the first day, leaving me utterly exhausted, today I have just gone a few kilometres to this beautiful (although frankly they’re all beautiful) little town. I am camping beside the lake and all is peace and quiet.
Disasters to date? Breaking Claude’s saddle on the ferry. Yes, another minor mistake! When travelling with this much weight, lift by the frame not the saddle. Durr me!Honestly with all these schoolboy errors I should be in shorts, pulled up socks and sensible shoes. Nevertheless, found a repair shop and all sorted for twenty euros with much broken French/English and a lot of arm movements.
Successes to date? The Colonel’s army sleeping bag. Heaven in a rather sickly green colour. Never again will I poo poo his suggestions.
All in all, I am making slow progress in a haphazard sort of way and learning very quickly about the importance of food and fluids and taking advantage of the boulangeries and English style lavatories at every opportunity.
Has anyone any advice for travelling in France par bicyclette?
I am finally ready. Tomorrow I leave for the beginning of The Journey.
For those of you who (thankfully for you and your sanity) haven’t endured my endless witterings, I must clarify that this is not an antarctic exploration, nor am I walking unaided through the Gobi Desert, climbing K2 or sailing solo around the world. No. I am, with the aid of maps and hopefully rather a lot of signposts, bicycling my way along the Atlantic Cycle Route from the port of Roscoff to a campsite known as Moliets-et-Maa which is roughly between Bordeaux and the border with Spain.
I suppose the only difference is that I am doing this trip with my old friend Betty. Betty is my little demon, my demon of anxiety and depression who hasn’t been around for a while, but I sense she’s waiting for me, smirking slightly and lying in wait, ready to pounce at any slight moments of stress.
But, in essence I have the real company of Claude (my bicycle), a rather natty little tent which Claude is not invited into, and my husband’s army sleeping bag. I’ve also managed to squeeze in most of the Clinique sun protection range just to ensure that I don’t arrive at my destination looking like a small shrivelled walnut. Claude has his own repair and maintenance kit but the packaging on mine is prettier. I have a tiny cooker thing that looks a bit like a Bunsen Burner and singes the hair on my arms every time I light it, a few other cooking and eating implements, and a stack of maps. First aid kits etc of course and … well, it’s all packed now and I simply can’t remember but am hoping to goodness that I’ve got my passport in there somewhere.
The anxiety levels are pretty much through the roof this morning. The usual symptoms which I’m sure some of you can resonate with … stomach doing a gymnastics performance, palms disgustingly damp, shaking hands and mind and thoughts darting from one corner of my brain, ricocheting off it’s boundary and firing off into another direction. You can understand therefore why I’m rather looking forward to just going in order to end this purgatory. Perhaps purgatory is too strong a word, but it’s been a while since I’ve had it, and had forgotten how awful it is.
But, let’s be very clear here as I’m certainly not looking for any sympathy, I am the one who decided to do this and it certainly hasn’t been forced upon me! In fact most people are appalled. I think they worry about my safety being a woman on her own and all that. But frankly, if it’s as regards the likelihood of being hit by a truck, well, frankly that could happen to a man too, and if it’s about some dodgy bloke trying it on … well woe betide him! They clearly don’t know the volatility and sheer force of a middle-aged, highly strung, hormonal woman when she feels threatened. (See my post Road Rage for further clarification on how I sense I am marginally unhinged).
So no, whilst I am anxiously waiting for the hours to pass, and feeling excited but terrified in roughly equal measures, I’ll say au revoir for now and will post again when I’m on the other side of The Channel. Hopefully, by then I shall have half a dozen croissants in my basket, a large grin on my face and my sense of direction intact (surely, as long as I cycle on the right and keep the sea on my right then I’m doing it right and going roughly south …). As for roundabouts, I haven’t yet mastered them in England, so ….. I guess I’ll just have to keep you posted. Adieu.
Only a few more days now until I cycle off into the sunset with husband dearest and two adoring sons waving their handkerchiefs with damp eyes, gazing desolately at my lonely departing figure …
Or perhaps not?
“Pub?” I hear them ask each other, grinning widely.
“Let’s go!” and they march off smartish towards the nearest ale-house without a single look back at yours truly.
I somehow suspect that the latter scenario is infinitely more probable than the former.
Bastards! Ahh but they can now ditch the salad, eat chips, finish all the expensive ice creams and with no one to keep them on the straight and narrow, when I return, will I find an empty larder and only a small green morsel of mouldy cheese staring back at me from the fridge? Will I find that they have all developed rickets and scurvy? .. And will there be three inches of dust on every half-empty pizza box and penicillin-growing mug-covered table? Will I find dirty laundry spilling over onto the floor and not in their colour-coordinated baskets? Quelle horreur! Interesting how I am more concerned about the laundry than the scurvy, but I digress… How will they cope without me?!
Sadly, I flatter myself. My husband as most of you know is a military man. He requires order, precision and tidiness. I believe that his ideal picture of a perfect home is the one in “The Sound of Music” where Captain von Trapp blows a whistle daily and the children rush into line for inspection. I have mentioned this to him in jest, but instead of poo-pooing my theory, quite worryingly he nods and agrees, muttering to himself as he disappears into the quiet of the study. He does however then put his head around the door to remind me that he is of higher rank than a captain. Quite …
So no, rather irritatingly, I suspect that the house will be sparkling, the larder will have been reorganised, my herb and spices cupboard (a very irksome place for him, that he is usually barred from) will have been cleaned and all those tiny pots and jars which are usually out of date will have been mostly disposed of and the remaining ones placed, yes placed not shoved, with their caps on properly in perfect alignment and in alphabetical order. There will be none of my little hair bands, lipsalves or hand creams left on any surfaces (or in the car, dammit) and my bedside table, usually covered with books, clocks, photographs, more hand creams, eye creams, frankly any creams to help keep old age at bay, will have had a major overhaul, aka it will have been tidied within an inch of its unfortunate and usually cluttered life.
Do I mind this? Of course not! He will feel extremely satisfied as he explains to me the benefits of keeping order and how tarragon should be to the left of thyme, and how folding my clothes at the end of the day and placing them on the chair is infinitely preferable to ripping them off, randomly throwing them ‘nilly-willy’ in the vague direction of the chair and bouncing into bed chattering to him happily and trying to convince him that some rose-scented cream would benefit the lines on his forehead. He will mutter something about them being stress-related from living with me, but within a few minutes I shall be fast asleep, curled up close to him and he will have some long-awaited peace and quiet. No wonder he enjoys going to work so much, and quite probably why he is maybe just a teensy bit looking forward to my imminent departure. Can’t understand it myself.
How do you cope when your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend goes away?
Do you throw yourself into a cleaning frenzy, party for 48 hours non-stop or go into a complete decline?
Time management is not my forte. In truth there is no management. I flit from one thought or task to another with extraordinary ease. I start something, bore easily, become distracted and like the proverbial butterfly, flutter away to something else. The end result? An over-filled brain of constant thoughts and ideas, and an awful lot of half-finished jobs.
An ex-boyfriend of mine (the same one who gave me the self-help book with post-it notes in the appropriate pages) told me that I was not a ‘Completer Finisher’. Apparently there is even a term for people like me! I finished with him pretty smartish so not quite sure he was entirely correct.
However, to contradict myself, from time to time I find something that I genuinely enjoy and lo and behold I become addicted. (If you know me well, alcohol may well spring to the forefront of your mind, but I was thinking of something more positive like, cycling perhaps.). I become obsessive about it and am completely driven and focused. This is all well and good if it’s a positive activity, not so much if it’s something like drinking alcohol, over-eating, under-eating, biting ones nails (having typed this, I now realise that I can lay claim to all of those). Once again, this rather reconfirms my out of kilter ability to moderate. Fair enough, my total lack of moderation.
My mother used to say, “A little of what you fancy does you good.” And yes she was right, but then again she wasn’t having to peel the wine bottle from my arms as I lay on the floor wailing. I do think however she wondered, and often despaired no doubt, as to why I hopped from one ghastly secretarial job to another. The answer, they bored me rigid.
People however have never bored me. I love talking (one on one, rather than in large groups … it’s a social anxiety thing). And most of all I love it when I meet someone whom I ‘click’ with. The problem is that I get terribly over-excited, want to scoop them up, take them home with me and force them to tell me their entire life history. Slightly strange I grant you and hardly surprising that I struggled socially in my youth. But I need interaction to other human beings, because otherwise I bore myself. And that is why I must go and get a job as soon as I’m back from my bicycling adventure. It’s when I try to engage the postman in some chatter and I can see his eyes glaze over as he backs nervously down the path, then I know that I have to get out more. I suspect he thinks I’m a complete fruitcake, but living in London I suspect, or rather hope, that I am not alone.
Online dating was enormous fun! Again lots of people to chatter to, but of course they were always utterly confused when after a lovely evening together and I had listened with enthusiasm to their various tales, I said, “Thanks awfully and super lovely to meet you, but we’re simply not a match! Toodle Pip!” And with a breezy smile I’d be gone, and they’d be left scratching their heads looking utterly baffled. You see, as a friend, they’re fabulous, but as a future husband, hopeless. By the time pudding had come along my mind was starting to wander, by coffee I was losing the will to live, so in order to find a lifetime partner (awful word, apologies) I was going to have to meet someone slightly extraordinary who kept me hooked, interested and completely on my toes. Thankfully for the male population of the counties of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire, after four long years of searching, I found The Colonel and we are both as nightmarish as each other, so really it’s a match made in heaven.
So you see this butterfly behaviour when I lose interest, and obsessional behaviour when I find my passion, is really rather an extension of my lack of moderation. I do wish that I was normal, but there is a positive here ….
Whilst a lot of things will find me filled with ennui at the tedium of it all – paperwork, political debates, Post Office queues and quinoa (I don’t do ‘bland’ and that’s at the top of my list, along with semolina), I do have passions and they include … you. I adore my WordPress friends, my non-Wordpress friends, blogging, writing, reading, cycling, tennis, quirky people and crumpets with masses of butter and a tiny dot of marmite. You are all my passion, not just for the here and now, but if you can possibly tolerate me and I don’t bore you senseless, then I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. Sorry about that …
Do you have a passion? Do you bore easily or are you disciplined and finish tasks?
I’m a bit of a dreamer, a daydreamer. I fantasise. I obviously need to clarify. Not in a kinky tie-me-up sort of way, no, so stop smirking.
I fantasise about having a pretty little stone house in France with long summers spent with family and friends, eating endless croissants with a table strewn with bowls of salads drizzled with olive oil, baguettes and cheeses. I see a sparkling swimming pool and numerous dogs playing chase with their tongues and tails waving in the dry, warm air, the sounds of a game of tennis interspersed with laughter and squeals of delight. I want it so much that I can almost feel the heat of the sun, touch the lavender in the flower beds, feel it, smell it. Bliss! Ahhhh I’m there!
It’s not completely out of reach. It’s not a “when I win the lottery ….”, it’s a possibility for in a few years time. There are of course problems associated with a big move like that, but the question is always the same. Do the pros outweigh the cons? And a firm and resounding yes can be heard from yours truly.
It’s not that I am discontented living in England and annoyingly I cannot, during this heatwave, even blame the usual atrocities of the weather here. This desire is perhaps associated with the people, the slightly more predictable climate in summer, it’s the thought of the plants I could grow, the peaches, tomatoes without a greenhouse! The quieter rural roads, it’s the beautiful language (“Kev! Put yur facking shoes on before I belt you one!” sounds so much better and more civilised in French), it’s the long lunches, the siestas, the cafes on the pavements, the black coffee and a Gauloise for breakfast, it’s the thought of tap, tap, tapping on my little computer at a little desk in the shade of a plum tree, listening to the chickens scuffling around in the flowerbeds as I write my book. It’s, yes … it’s just a dream. A very peaceful, happy dream that I’ve had for as long as I can remember.
“Pah!” I hear you snort!
“The fool! She’s seeing it all through rose-tinted spectacles! She’s just found an old copy of A Year in Provence. Doesn’t she know she’ll never integrate, never be quite fluent enough, never even look French.”
And yes, you’re quite probably right, but a girl can dream can’t she?
Do you dream of moving away? Of a different life? A different place? Where? How? What?
I try to be a good person. I try to think positive, happy thoughts and yet when I see some whipper-snapper of a teenager celebrating a little too keenly with the world of bloggers their 80,000 followers I don’t know whether I want to hit them, or myself, with a large shovel … repetitively.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted for them (truly, not said from between clenched teeth) and frankly if I had that many followers I’d probably be thanking my vast audience, my family, my agent, publisher and the lady who sells ice creams down the road with great gusto, but …. but … but … Ok, let’s face it, I’m jealous. My name is Katie and I am a jealous human being. Not an attractive trait I am fully aware, but honest? Yes. (Note to self: Just because you’re honest, it doesn’t make it less unattractive Katie.)
So why do we want followers, how do we actually get them and does it really matter anyway?
As with all social media there is something rather lovely, however ultimately addictive, about other people gushingly adoring us. It makes us feel good. Human nature.
And who are the real biggies of the social media out there? Quite easy really … Now forgive me but I’m not a great lover of the Kardashian’s, the TOWIE bunch, the Made in Chelsea lot or any of the wannabes who are plastered over every magazine. I don’t want or need to see their latest plastic surgery or their most recent tattoo on their perfectly liposucked buttock. And I certainly don’t want to see or hear about their sexual adventures with every other member of the group or their undignified divorce. There’s sharing, and there’s sharing. How about a little decorum, decency and leaving just a tiny bit to the imagination. It’s a lot more attractive. So moving away from that rant as I’m going slightly off piste and just sounding old and stuffy.
It might be that we are trying to get a book published and we therefore need a good following as it will make us more attractive to publishers. Understandable. If we are trying to get a business off the ground, understandable. A new career, understandable. Although if only half of those 80,000 followers commented, quite how one is supposed to read, let alone comment-on-the-comments, I have no idea. I have just shy of 600 followers and it takes me a while to respond even vaguely intelligently (of course including emojis as an intelligent reply), to the comments that I get. So how do they do it?
Perhaps the ‘blogger biggies’ have been doing this for years. Perhaps they started tap tap tapping away on their phones when they were still in nappies and I was, well I was probably too busy changing nappies to notice. They were ahead of the times. I was busy being a mother, wife, un-wife (yes it’s a new word), single parent, single working parent, unhinged single working parent, to even notice that the world had moved on.
In fairness, I have been blogging now for precisely six months. Six rather short months so yes, I will not-so-happily but freely admit that I need a little patience. It may well be a virtue, but I am fairly patiently-challenged without a doubt. So indeed, I need to work on that one.
I obviously need to read more from other bloggers, but I love the ones that I follow, they take a bit of time to read and comment on and once again, it’s a time thing. There’s only so much time in one day. But if the biggie bloggers can manage it, then maybe I need to work on that too.
Maybe I need to rethink my content. Maybe it’s … *hushed whisper* … shite! Oh God! I’m writing shite! Yup, that may well be. However, I’m a simple creature and I don’t think much therefore is going to change in that department.
But in truth, I do love writing my shite and golly it makes me feel good when my lovely, scrumptious followers who I now feel are my friends, comment back and we chatter about random nonsense. Oh yes, you make me happy. So if I had 80,000 would I honestly be able to chatter and natter with that many people. No, of course not!
So should I start posting extremely airbrushed photos of myself. Should I pout, preen and squeeze my elbows together in my best push-up bra whilst wearing my one and only pair of Jimmy Choos? Should I just borrow a couple of baby Chihuahuas and stick them down my front instead. Probably get a lot more likes that way.
But perhaps I have the answer.
I should pause, relax and enjoy the journey of my writing. It’s not a competition, some were in the starting blocks before I even began looking for my trainers. I genuinely like my regular followers, the ones that I know do actually read what I’ve written. There are a few whom I almost love. I love that they have become part of my life. And so yes, thank you, you lovely people. I shall try to be patient, try to write better, try to read more and comment more without letting everything else in my life slip by the wayside; after all, the Colonel does still need feeding and clean underpants daily. But most importantly, I shall breathe, calm myself and continue to enjoy this wonderful, liberating world of blogging.
Do you have 80,000 followers? If so, umm sorry about this post. Love you really, and umm not at all jealous.
I am one of those strange creatures in life who doesn’t just have a minor deficiency when it comes to the trait of moderation; rather, it doesn’t exist whatsoever.
On a positive note, as obviously there has to be one, (I am nothing if not eternally hopeful) what it does mean is that we non-moderators are full of passion. We are ones of extremes. There is no soft diffusing button, melting polars into each other. It is one or the other.
When we love, it is with intensity. God help those on the receiving end. They should be given a manual on how to cope. But when we hate, we loathe with an intensity second to none. I’m beginning to understand why as a little girl I found finding friends so difficult.
Whatever relationship we have, be it with another human being or even something as simple as food or drink, (yes I’m going there), it is extreme.
For example a fellow blogger (you know who you are) has a complete passion for ice cream, a certain flavoured ice cream I seem to recall, my love however is ginger nut biscuits. Put a packet in front of me and whoosh! They’re gone. The problem is that being so crunchy, it’s not something that can be quietly nibbled on whilst watching the telly. Unless, like in the cinema you wait until there’s a particularly noisy scene and then munch like crazy before it all goes suddenly quiet again and you’re caught out with a mouthful of half crunched crisps or biscuits going slightly soggy in your mouth but determined not to ruin everyones viewing within six feet. Tricky.
Sadly, I have little self control in this area. If I am on my own and therefore decorum can be eased somewhat, I don’t nibble delicately, I guzzle. Not ladylike I am fully aware, but I can promise you that I will never do this in your company.
But is this just a lack of self control? Of discipline? How did we miss out on this important piece of learning? (Clearly I was smoking in the woods at school during this particular lesson.). If we had an ounce more restraint perhaps. A little composure and grace.
After all, let’s throw a little philosophy into the mix to enhance the point, isn’t temperance one of the four cardinal virtues? In ‘The Republic’ Plato (bear with me here …) narrates a discussion of the character of a good city which included temperance which he said was ‘common to all classes, but primarily associated with the producing classes, the farmers and craftsmen and with animal appetites to whom no special virtue was assigned.’ Does he mean that we craftsmen with animal appetites have temperance or simply need to have it … If Pluto speaks of it, then it must be true. How extraordinary though! Am I a ‘producing class’ ie ‘working class’? From reading Jilly Cooper’s book ‘Class’, I would very much have put myself down as middle class, so I’m now rather torn between believing Plato or Jilly. What a conundrum.
May I continue? Drinking … Once I developed a taste for it, frankly it was all over. Thankfully it wasn’t (apart from my totally off-the-rails stage late teens) until I was in my mid-forties that alcohol became less of a friend and more of a naughty, somewhat addictive lover. Again, rather less Jane Austin’s even raciest moments, and more Fifty Shades of Grey.
But of course somewhat predictably, I always take things to the farthermost point and suddenly discovered what had previously been a way of relaxing the body and mind at the end of the day, had become a serious problem. I suspect some of you can relate to that. By that stage of course there is a fairly acute issue to deal with.
Smoking … I’m not even going to bother going there .. It’s a constant and pathetically boring battle of mine of always wanting, but never allowed. I shall continue to stamp my feet and have a tantrum.
Happiness and/or sadness. No, that’s much too vanilla for the likes of us. It’s either pure unadulterated, unmitigated and all-consuming ecstasy or I’m researching how painful it is to die in various ‘formats’ and googling Dignitas. I write not with humour at this point.
Sport. We don’t do a gentle jog around the park, a lighthearted game of tennis or a cycle ride for twenty minutes in the middle gears. Pah! Of course not. We push ourselves to our utmost and ultimate limits. We need and feed off that feeling of intensity. So, that gentle jog results in marathons being completed, a course of tennis lessons ends in daily three hour practice sessions followed by competitions, and a bit of a cycle pootle results in foolhardy trips from north to southern France (I had to get that in didn’t I …)
The list however is endless and a lack of moderation seeps into every aspect of our lives. From levels of anxiety and depression, to anger, OCD, to social media and how we deal or don’t deal with it … on and on and bloody on.
For we non-moderators, life exists at each end of the spectrum and then some. Our minds are frenetic and often filled with dozens of thoughts racing around and we struggle to find which ones to put into action and which to ignore … It’s like running from the North Pole to the South, daily. Sparkly and glittering one day, damp, dark and depressing the next. And because we put our heart, soul and body into everything we do and think and say, perhaps it is hardly surprising that we feel the need for acknowledgment and even praise for our extreme efforts. Therefore we can be needy and demanding. Attractive qualities? No, probably not. It is however completely and utterly exhausting.
But where we lack middle ground, we make up for in other ways. You could never find a better friend. You could never find a person with more dedication for their chosen subject, person or sport. You will be loved with intensity and if you are married to us, then we will make love to you with unsurpassed passion. We are filled with the utmost emotions of joy, excitement, laughter and love.
Fear not, it is just our way. And if, if you should find us not too strange, unhinged, a little too erratic, and choose to accept us for the extraordinary creatures that we are, (perhaps sometimes very gently reminding us to be calm) and return our love, you would be hard pushed to find a more grateful, more loving recipient.
Do you know anyone like this, or is it in fact you?
I’m not entirely sure, but in truth I think I’m a little bit scared. Finally. I guess it was bound to happen at some point, but with still twelve days to go until The Big Adventure, I’m hoping that this is just a case of reality and nerves catching up with me. It had to happen at some point. (Please note the attempt at a grownup attitude, I’m guessing that had to happen at some point also.)
Yesterday I did the final bits of shopping for the bicycling trip and now the kitchen table and floor are covered in practical maintenance and repair kits, first aid packs, and an awful lot of detailed maps from the north to the south of France. Quite how everything is going to fit into two panniers and a basket, well tomorrow’s packing will tell and that’s not even including a couple of extra clothes and half of the Clinique counter (did I mention that I’d been shopping?).
The Colonel is away for a couple of days so there’s a sense of quiet and loneliness in the house. ‘My Rock’ (what a ghastly cliche!) is on business up north so my stability and routine maker isn’t here. The time to behave like a grownup therefore is here. What I should be doing is rolling over and going back to sleep, but the child in me wants my thoughts bashed out here to you, you unfortunate blighters! Sorry about that.
I spoke yesterday on the telephone to my sister. My sister who has been so unutterably encouraging for me to do this trip. I had thought that she’d call me barking mad and try to persuade me otherwise. Foolishly, I had underestimated her knowledge of me. She understands my need to challenge myself and be finally free of my fears. And for that and for so many other reasons I love her. She has tolerated my past, my nonsense and my mistakes. Where we differ is that she holds her cards close to her chest whereas mine have not just been worn on the proverbial sleeve, but splayed out with garish colours across the street, with trumpets sounding and much hysterical wailing and despite it not being how she might deal with life’s ups and downs, she tolerates that about me too.
The love of a sibling when both your parents have gone is even stronger. She has looked after her irritating baby sister and together we have laughed, cried, occasionally squabbled but also coped together with the worst of emotions, grief. Grief borne from the deaths of our parents. And we have bonded again and again over shared memories that nobody else now in the world can possibly know of. Memories of parents, of childhood, of each other from times long since passed.
I shall telephone her again tomorrow and somehow and no doubt rather awkwardly tell her how much I appreciate her and then we’ll change the subject quickly and talk about our children and laugh about the adventures and journeys that their lives are taking them on. Night night …
Strangely, despite thinking that this is what authors required, I didn’t have to have total silence, a large vat of proper coffee, all in a beautiful summerhouse at the bottom of a perfectly manicured garden complete with Mac computer, mini fridge and the requisite six packets of ginger nuts available to nibble on, or rather, devour. No.
In actual fact, I was on a rather hot and steamy underground train, tapping away on my phone with a gentleman’s less than savoury armpit six inches from my face and a small child with a scooter cracking it into my shins every two minutes.
I think that I’ve had a rather childish dream of writing romantic novels (please note the use the word ‘novels’ rather than ‘books’; I am nothing if not ambitious, also rather deluded), yes, romantic novels in a perfect little setting where the sun always shines and a proud husband occasionally taps tentatively on the door with offerings of pots of tea or lunch on a tray for his hard working and tremendously successful wife, The Novelist. Oooh yes, I’m warming to my theme! Visions of sitting holding court on Graham Norton’s sofa are springing to mind; lunches with Stephen Fry to discuss plot lines and evenings with previous Nobel Prize winners in literature ….. ooooh yes! (Or do you have to be dead to be a winner?? Might have to rethink that one…)
But just momentarily back to reality as The Colonel (aka Husband Dearest) marches up the stairs wearing nothing but a pair of pants and one sock, peers around the bedroom door to see me tapping away in bed, glasses perched on the end of my nose and muttering like a faintly mad thing.
“Do we actually have any clean socks in this house, or shall I wear a pair of the boys Star Wars ones for meeting the General this morning?” A rather withering look from him, a muffled yelp from yours truly from beneath the soft feathery down of the duvet and I bound out of bed in search of clean socks and an ironed shirt and revert guiltily back to wifely duties.
I clearly have ideas substantially above my station, those of grandeur and success. I am also, as most of you know, slightly unhinged. But, if you can’t dream then how does one progress?
So I shall continue to dream about summerhouses, expensive computers and a housekeeper perhaps to ensure that clean and ironed laundry is continually available to every member of the family, and possibly guests as well.
But one thing I don’t need to dream about is writing. I don’t need to dream about the pleasure that writing actually gives me. And if finally, a long way down the road I manage to finish such a thing as a book, then yes, my dreams will have come true. And perhaps meeting Graham Norton and Stephen Fry will have to just wait for another day.
What do you dream of? Do you dream of writing a book … ? What’s stopping you? Xx
I dislike the terms ‘Mental Heath’ and/or ‘Mental Illness’. Actually that’s a bit of an understatement.
For me, simply using the word ‘mental’ immediately brings images to my mind of the mental asylums of old, with padded cells, beds with wide leather straps and children being torn from the arms of their mothers. The film industry frankly hasn’t helped either. The pictures of a wife or husband being dragged away screaming, out of control, desperate. (As an aside …. And they wonder why we still hide our true feelings and thoughts?!)
I’d go as far as to say that I find it distressing. It brings fear into my mind. Fear that only a few generations ago, this could have been any one of us taken away by the men in white coats and having every element of control of ourselves and our lives taken away. And the realisation that in fact an understanding of this disease is so very recent. If we had been born a little earlier, we too could have been locked up, with no likelihood of ever seeing the light of day again. A prison.
I have been searching within the old grey matter for some time now for a softer phrase. A kinder term and finally I came across a fellow blogger (Lynda Estacio) who recently described her mental health as her emotional health.
My search is over.
I have thanked her, because for me, it describes the illness without any upsetting connotations.
My life is one filled with emotion. I am a person whose days historically have been ones filled with a zigzag of extreme highs and extreme lows. If I was happy, I was overexcitable and faintly manic. If I loved, I loved with an intensity almost beyond reason and with obsessive undertones. If I hated, I loathed with intensity. If I was sad, I was distraught and simply unable to understand it or come to terms with it. Grief from a death or the devastating effects of a divorce therefore almost destroyed me. Essentially, my emotions were too extreme. As per usual, there was no moderation, and never any ability to control them or even understand them.
Now, thankfully there is less of a zigzag of emotion day after day, and more of a smooth curving of ups and downs. And that is good. That gives me the space and ability to deal with the natural ups and downs of life. Sure I have my blips. We all do. I have my insecurities and that is acceptable and normal, completely normal. Yes, it is normal and good to have emotion.
But in excess, it is exhausting.
In excess, it is frightening.
But in moderation, as with most things, emotion is truly wonderful and completely natural.
So, thank you therefore WordPress once again for introducing me to a blogger who has given me a new way to think about this illness, this disease. I just have to care for my body and my emotional heath.
Emotional Health. I like it … very much.
How do you describe your depression and/or anxiety? Do you mind ‘Mental Illness’ or is it just me!
I could at this point refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which essentially summarises all that I should ramble on about, however I am no intellect and frankly I still don’t understand quite what he means about ‘self-actualisation’… so in my Katie and rather simple way, this is how I translate it.
To need means it is necessary, in order to live safely and healthily, to want however, is about making life even more comfortable and pleasant. Done. Tick. End of post? Not quite …
Last night I had a trial run in my little one-man tent in the garden, (so less than twenty yards from the kettle, a warm, dry bed and a hot bath – therefore not exactly a life or death scenario). But a good exercise in realising that a flimsy nighty and a water bottle with a leaky lid and a propensity for falling over needed some further consideration.
The main problem however was my roll mat which I had bought for my son many moons ago when he was doing a camping expedition on Dartmoor. (Think, bleak, wet and windy). I could pretend that it was so many years ago that therefore material technology was not advanced and back then all mats were three millimetres thick (or thin …). The truth of the matter however is that a) I was utterly clueless as I’d never been camping myself, and b) I was far too mean to buy a decent thick one. He never complained however, and it was returned a little flatter still and somewhat muddier.
Nevertheless, yours truly, still being rather mean, thought that this would be perfectly sufficient for myself and therefore used it last night. I didn’t need a new one despite perhaps wanting one.
Now, our lawn here in London is perfectly level, the grass perhaps a little crunchy from the heatwave but sadly though, through this pretty, pale blue, three millimetre thick length of foam otherwise called a roll mat, I felt every blade of grass, tiny stone and uneven morsel of soil. I felt like the Princess and the Pea if any of you remember reading it … although less of the princess and more of the middle-class, middle-aged woman with clearly rather bony hips.
Eventually of course I managed to get to sleep … inevitably it happens in time and to be honest, there was absolutely not a cats in hells chance I was going to creep into the house and quietly slip into my soft, warm bed with husband dearest … or even onto the sofa and then disappear back outside before anyone awoke (obviously this had been considered).
So no, I endured it, even folded the roll mat it in half so as to make it six millimetres thick, for the top of my body at least, no mean feat doing this when tightly encased in a sleeping bag like a moth pupa and the ceiling of the tent does not enable one to sit upright … yes, a hot, sweaty moth pupa in a flimsy nighty. Nice. The result … foam mattress is now deformed with a small tear along one edge and the flimsy nighty strap has snapped off.
Now of course I could make do and mend, because I don’t need to replace either, but let’s face it, this camping lark is supposed to be enjoyable therefore I want to go and buy myself at least a couple of creature comforts.
I awoke as dawn was just breaking and the birds which normally are muffled by the constant drone of the traffic and aeroplanes were busy and chattering, the air was cool and I was in a complete state of happiness. Fancy waking up with a smile on one’s face! Extraordinary behaviour!
Creeping in to make tea for myself and The Colonel, there was a crashing down the stairs and he appeared in the doorway wearing nothing but a huge grin on his face. “You’re back! Hurray! Come to bed!” he demanded. (Simple sentences for such an early start and he does sometimes forget that I am not a solider to be ordered about, but instead his lovely wife.) I grinned back, and then muttered about the dodgy roll mat. “Oh!” he said, “I’ve got one on order for you. All sorted.” Ahhh my lovely, gorgeous, caring husband.
“Think you might need to rethink the nighty though.” he smiled widely. And with that, he turned and bounded back up the stairs with me trailing behind with two cups of tea, grassy feet, a muddy bottom and a nighty being held up by one thin strap of silk.
Happy? Oh yes!
Do you find that like me you try to persuade yourself that you need something whereas actually you only want it?
I’m used to bringing up little boys. I love the black and white simplicity of how they view the world. I like the straightforward feed, water, love, exercise, boundaries and sleep way of bringing them up. Forget one of those necessities however and World War 3 is on the doorstep, but generally, I stuck to those guidelines with consistent regularity and they appeared to thrive.
It’s a noisy existence however bringing up boys. No such thing as a quiet bath on your own. Honestly whoever writes these ridiculous articles about candles and bubble baths and a good book …. For God’s sakes! I tried that many a time. In fact the boys even once made a bath for me, how sweet they were. It was only when I was lying there admiring my perfect children and wondering how they they had managed to get quite so many bubbles not just in the bath, but exploding out onto the floor and beyond onto the landing outside that they happily told me that they had used Fairy Liquid. Nice.
And as for candles in the bathroom … Pah! Boys appear to have a fascination with fire. Do you know how difficult it is to put out a burning loo roll which your youngest has been playing with whilst yours truly lies in the bath oblivious. Oh yes, you just throw it in the bath with me. Of course.
And in fact more often than not, I’d have ended up with two little boys joining me plus the contents of the Lego basket and their grubby little knees as we’d squeeze in together. But we laughed, oh how we laughed.
Girls however I’m not used to. Less black and white, more grey, mauve and yellow and every shade in between.
I took them (and the Colonel, poor bloke) shopping yesterday to spend some holiday money. I managed to escape briefly as I found a wonderful little shop with mainly men’s socks, ties, and sarongs etc in. The elderly couple who were in charge of it whilst their son was busy in the stock room, were chatting very easily and I mentioned that I’d momentarily escaped.
“Stepchildren?” she asked.
“Girls?” she asked. She sucked through her teeth and then simply said, “They’ll hate you!”
We then both gaffawed loudly together with interestingly her husband nodding rather enthusiastically as well. She explained that in order to be liked by a) the stepchildren and b) the ex-wife, you have to be a minimum of 4 stone overweight, have very deep pockets and the ability to spend 2 hours looking around one shop for a specific type of hair clip that is to go with a certain outfit otherwise the world is going to end.
Well, if I continue eating my ginger nuts at the rate of … well let’s just say the Colonel had to wrestle them off me last night … then I shall indeed manage to enhance the old muffin tops which my delightful boys pointed out a few weeks ago. I don’t have very deep pockets, but am good at improvising and as for looking for hair clips? No, I’d have to compromise there and keep it to within one hour.
So, after a rather unsuccessful shopping trip yesterday, I engaged them in painting. I found an old tin of watercolour paints, some paper and pencils and together we set to. We sat in the shade in the garden, sipping on orange squash and nibbling (a few) ginger nuts whilst they dipped brushes in colour and enjoyed a few hours of complete tranquility. Honestly, it was bliss. I did a pencil drawing of a robin and was completely immersed.
I know that it is often suggested to those who suffer from anxiety to try drawing or painting and now I get it. It’s like complete therapy. I wasn’t even irritated that I had forfeited watching Nadal at Wimbledon! The girls and I were happy. There’s a lot to be said for this simple activity.
So next time you’re trying to have a peaceful little tiddle on the loo without a plastic machine gun peeking round the door of the bathroom and you’re being riddled with open fire of spongy bullets and your nerves are in shreds, panic not! You can get out the paint pots. Of course with boys, you might end up with more paint around the house than you’d bargained for, but it will make wonderful and unforgettable memories. Heaven, complete and utter heaven.
When you’re feeling anxious what do you do? Have you tried this painting lark??
Ps Pls forgive any typos, am typing in haste as Westfield Shopping Centre is beckoning … only a couple of hair clips to search for …
Actually 13 now because I’ve been pondering about a title, but hopefully that will come …
I am dyeing my hair. I’m what a nice, kind person would call a strawberry blonde and my husband calls ginger.
In fact he calls me an Orangutan because I apparently have hairy arms and sleep with them behind my head with my knees up. Marvellous. Some things one can do nothing about, some however, you can.
We were on the tube the other day and I pointed out a rather beautiful girl with the most heavenly deep red hair. My sister’s was like that as a child and I’ve always thought it was gorgeous.
“Isn’t she stunning!” I whispered to him nodding in her direction. He glanced briefly up from his paper, looking over his glasses.
“Nobody can say that a ginga is stunning.” He replied bluntly and carried on with his reading. He does tend to call a spade a spade.
At this point I walloped him with my copy of The Evening Standard. His eyes widened and he looked baffled.
“What?” He yelped. I’m only saying the truth.”
“Pah!” I snort as frankly I could think of absolutely nothing to retort back to my gingerist husband. But it made me think … if he thinks I’m an orangutan and therefore a bit of a ginga, maybe it’s time for a wee change.
The smell of what I imagine is ammonia is hideous … every now and then wafts of it dart up my nostrils making my eyes water and my head jerk back. So now I not only smell pretty grim, but also have tears down my cheeks and am twitching. Rabid dog springs to mind. I’ll let you know if I start foaming at the mouth.
Thin plastic gloves falling off, leaning over the bath, water everywhere, ammonia making my eyes now stream, … I wonder if this gets into my eyebrows then I’ll match …
20 Minutes Later …
I walk into the kitchen where the Colonel is sitting. I think he can smell me before he sees me. Clearly ammonia lingers.
He sees me, sits up rather straight and slowly a long smile fills his face. Oh yes! Result!
It’s now a lopsided grin … Game, set and match to me! I feel fabulous! Claudia Schiffer eat your heart out!
He now looks slightly demented and is getting a tad overexcited. Calm yourself sir! Where’s the damn Evening Standard when you need one? I think he needs a good wallop or … something like that … But golly, there are children in the house and anyway that darn ammonia has given me a headache! It’s not often I hear him say, “Pah!” He scoops me up, ice blonde hair and all, and giggling we fall up the stairs …
Have you ever changed your appearance radically?? How did it make you feel?
It’s all well and good patting myself on the back and encouraging myself to step out of the old comfort zone, but understandably, others might not have the same urge to do so.
Going to the bicycle shop to give Claude (my bike) a general overhaul prior to ‘The Big Trip’, I realise that I am not alone in travelling around on two wheels and enjoying this lovely weather as half the world and it’s cousin are at the little local bicycle shop too.
The red haired, multi-pierced friend, cycling fanatic and in fact shop keeper from my previous visit unfortunately had his attention firmly up somebody else’s inner tube so taking my place in the queue, I was finally attended to by ‘Gustapho’, a rather splendid Brazilian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of ‘la bicyclette’. I certainly felt as though Claude and I were in safe hands.
Sometimes however I do wish for a little privacy and surrounded by the truly serious cyclists, a ridiculous amount of Lycra and some fairly solid thigh muscles all waiting in the queue for their turn, I found myself whispering to Gustapho about Claude’s newly acquired clicking noises, the dodgy gear and the brake that the other day failed to actually work at all and resulted in a slightly closer inspection of a Privet hedge than I had previously anticipated.
“Aha! You have need of me. You need Gustapho. You madam, may call me Gus!” he pronounced proudly with a strong accent in a rather lovely theatrical way. I feel as though I’ve just stepped onto a film set and any moment ‘Gus’ is going to give a deep bow with much waving of his arm.
“However,” he pauses (I actually think for nothing more than effect), “For a full service Madam, we have a waiting time of one month.” One solitary finger is raised with force at me to make the point.
A lot of red-faced gulping, apologising and whispered grovelling with hand wringing ensued with yours truly explaining that I had thought that I was so organised and prepared but clearly proper cyclists, such as those I was surrounded by in this tiny shop, have every detail planned out not just weeks, but months in advance. Schoolboy error Katie. You truly are a novice.
I could hear tutting and sighing from other customers and so began asking about other shops in the area who might be able to help. But apparently every shop within a 50 mile radius worth their salt would give me the same answer, so humbled, humiliated and rather red, I started backing out of the shop. Quite hard when seven other people all with bikes have wedged you in and you’re desperate to leave.
All of a sudden however my red-haired, tattoo-clad friend then popped his head up from his inner tubes, gave a huge grin, came over and shook my hand like a long lost friend. Oh the relief at the sight of a friendly, familiar face.
Whereupon he explained loudly to not only ‘Gus’ but embarrassingly to everyone within hearing distance of the details of my trip. Now I’m not so bigheaded as to imagine that a middle-aged old bird such as myself could possibly make an impression, but bless his little cotton socks, he had remembered every detail of our last encounter when I admitted that I, said old bird, was undertaking a 1200 km bicycle ride through France on my own, camping each night whilst donning a rather unattractive pair of padded cycling knickers which in fact may well be shorts. Having divulged all of this, and left me feeling slightly less of a lower class bicycling citizen, and almost a slight sense of pride, he then happily disappeared into the bowels of the shop for presumably more playing with his inner tubes.
However, for my moment of happiness, I discovered that everything comes at a price. For the lady (and I use the term loosely) beside me with fearsome helmet, dark wraparound glasses and an enormous mountain bike, suddenly involves herself. A splutter of laughter from her as she raises her glasses to her forehead and peers down at my tatty bicycle, Claude, with his pale blue slightly distressed paintwork and wire basket on the front with a rather natty pink handbag (if I say so myself) inside it.
“Good God!” she sniggers, pointing at Claude, “On that?”
It’s an odd thing to feel protective over a pile of metal and rubber, but Claude and I have bonded well over the past couple of months and I felt that implied insults were most certainly uncalled for. Pah! She had a good fifteen years on me and I felt my hackles rising well above her varicose veined legs. But of course, manners maketh man and all that, so I smiled as sweetly as I could between clenched teeth.
Whereupon she launches, along with Gus about the merits of having a proper bicycle, in fact as she so smugly told me, it’s imperative to have two! Her road bike (she pointed down the stairs to the maintenance section where a skinny whippet-like equivalent to a bike) was being finely tuned for apparently the third time this year.
“My dear!” she tinkles with laughter, “Yours is far to heavy and cumbersome! Haven’t you thought about the hills?” She, Gus and now a couple of other Lycra’s roar with laughter together with Claude and I wanting the earth to swallow us up.
“And who will be taking your gear?” she carries on. I thought gear was a way of talking about drugs, but clearly she’s talking about my spare clothes and tent.
“Well, um I’m putting everything into the panniers and the tent, sleeping bag and roll mat sort of fit across the top of them,” I finish rather feebly as their mouths start to hang open and whilst the woman’s eyes narrow at me and her head tilts questioning in disbelief, Gus’s eyes are widening and becoming faintly bulbous. He’s reminding me of a large fish on a plate with the head still on and you want to take that silly little sliver of lemon and put it over the eye so that it stops staring at you. Actually I’d rather slap them both with said fish.
More laughter, clearly this is hilarious. I feel as though I’m back at school. Frankly I could bludgeon one of them very happily. Gus starts fiddling with my gears rather roughly and talking detrimentally about my bottom bracket, crank arms and dropouts. I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about but more of the Lycra-clad brigade (aka customers) are joining in, sucking through their teeth, shaking their heads and offering words of unintelligible technological advice to this pathetic creature (me) with her flippy floppy skirt, pink handbag a rather dejected looking bicycle. Perhaps they have a point. Perhaps this is truly just madness. I can feel that pricking of tears. Talk about pissing on my fire. Any flame is well and truly extinguished … in fact I’m now just a little puddle on the floor.
But with a jangle of his multiple earrings and silver crosses around his neck, my flame haired friend bounds up the stairs with a beaming grin like a long lost friend.
“Gotcha booked in for the morning!” he shouts. “I’ve shifted a couple of things around. We’ll work it out for you.” And with that, he gives me a wink, pats Claude on the saddle and moving his head closer to it, gives a wonderful stage whisper to Claude, “Don’t worry mate, I’ll have you fit for the fucking Tour de France in 48 hours!”
If I wasn’t concerned about getting my now frazzled hair caught in his nose, lip or eyebrow piercings, I’d have snogged him.
Gus looked rather surprised, the lady with the varicose veins and the two bikes looked thoroughly miffed and from behind me I heard some tutting. But frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
After much thanking, and believe you me, you couldn’t have had a more grateful recipient, Claude and I left swiftly and apart from becoming slightly stuck getting out of the door and leaving humiliated and with our confidence in tatters, we know that we will be fine, we will work out the problems which undoubtedly shall arise and even if we end up going, with my map reading skills, via Timbuktu, Claude and I shall write to our lovely WordPress friends and tell you all about it, the good, the bad and the ugly bits too … You’re all brill. You don’t laugh at me too often, you accept me for who I am, metaphorical warts and all. And for that my friends, I thank you.
How do you react if you’re ever laughed at or humiliated?
PROPER PLANNING AND PREPARATION PREVENTS PISS POOR PERFORMANCE!
So, the maps are prepared, the route is not quite set in stone but a phrase book and an O level in French will hopefully be enough to get me from Roscoff in the north of France to Moliets et Maa in the south. If I end up in the Alps, you’ll know that I’ve got my droit and gauche mixed up somewhere along the line. Easy mistake I’m sure.
My camping gear is ready and I practised again today putting up my tiny one-man tent. All fairly straightforward except that now that the ground is as dry and hard as concrete, so a small mallet will be added to my panniers.
I have a few clothes ready, including some extraordinarily unattractive padded cycling knickers. I was told very clearly that purchasing these would be a life-saver for me, or certainly for my bottom. Although frankly they’re so big you could potentially use them as a buoyancy aid. It was clearly not a woman who designed them. I have never seen such an ugly foam-lined piece of Lycra in my life. However, if they prevent a sore bottom, then my vanity will have to be pushed aside for a while. I remember at prep school we had to wear two pairs of revolting grey enormous knickers. Underpants and over-pants. Even in summer – grim. Now there’s a yeast infection waiting to happen. These are not dissimilar except rather stretchy and the padding makes me walk as though I have a rather bad case of haemorrhoids. Enough said.
Claude (the bicycle) is going in for a bit of a service next week, to my lovely new chum with the red hair at the bicycle shop to make sure that he’s all tickedy boo, fit, healthy and raring to go (Claude, not the red-haired bicycle doctor). The left brake needs a bit of tlc I discovered last week … ok, it chose to fail at a rather crucial moment. Don’t worry, the lady and the dogs were perfectly fine afterwards.
And as for me, well, I have three weeks and five days to go, so of course am planning the important things like working out how I’m going to fit the entire bathroom cabinet into my panniers when they’re already filled with dull things like bicycle oil and spare inner tubes … The Colonel and I clearly have different priorities.
The ferry is booked, the cooking kit and first aid packed up (although I am a complete girl’s blouse and frankly if I’m needing first aid, I shall be found in the nearest hospital with Claude and my French phrase book trying to get sympathy … I wonder if the French are as tough as the Scots? In which case I’m doomed. They only hand out drugs if you use a combination of tears and begging in roughly equal quantities.) I think I’ll keep the first aid kit in just in case, we’ve got some Thomas the Tank Engine plasters and some Dettol, plus various different gauze’s etc etc. Perfect.
I think I’m relatively fit, so I just need to keep up with the exercise and then …. boom! I shall be off. Setting off on my way to Clapham Junction railway station, packed up, raring to get onto the train to begin my adventure. But the funny thing is, that I’m also enjoying the preparation of it too. It’s not just about arriving at Moliets et Maa, it’s about the entire journey, both physical and of course, mental. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this. This extraordinary feeling, not of anxiety, but of excitement, pure unadulterated excitement.
To be continued ….
Ps What makes you excited? Nothing smutty allowed … Ok, so when was the last time you were really excited? Nothing smutty here either …
When I was young, I used to think gardening was for old people. I also used to think that cricket was dull (No I daren’t mention football). Well, cricket for me is still quite dull, but being undoubtedly in the minority I concede that I just might be wrong. And as for gardening being for old people, well I’m so far off course with that opinion that I’m heading to the Bermuda Triangle, never to be seen again. So please don’t shoot me down just yet. The ignorance of my youth was pretty blissful, but as you know, I am now a new woman and learning every day.
I used to watch my mother pottering around her gardens dead-heading here, staking there, looking as pretty as a picture and so very, very content. At peace with the world. I try to emulate her, starting off with Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, a large floppy hat, flippy floppy skirt and a rather twee trug, until I’ve done my usual and got a little overexcited and started tree pruning or digging in manure with over enthusiastic gusto and before too long the skirt is hitched up into my knickers, I’m pink in the face and all sense of glamour and grace have disappeared into the compost heap most probably along with the hat. Quite how my mother managed it I shall never know.
But a couple of things I do know are this …
Studying for those RHS (Royal Horticultural Society for non-gardeners) exams was the probably the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Perhaps because it was something that I was actually interested in, rather than studying algebra, trigonometry and …. binary (what exactly is the purpose of binary?) at school. Maths and I never got along and indeed still have a fairly tenuous relationship. Learning about something however that lives all around us and keeps us alive is so relevant, so important that even the narcissist in the old me cannot help but be in awe of mother nature.
And finally, gardening is the best cure for anxiety and depression todate that I have come across. It would be inconceivable to find me upended in a herbaceous border crying into the perennial geraniums, I’d be too busy gazing into their cheery little faces of pinks and purples. And how can I possibly be anxious when my entire focus is to pull out weeds and deadhead the roses … it takes complete concentration and as we all now know, I simply cannot multitask.
Also, and as an aside, being in the sunlight … did you know that normal sitting room lighting gives you 100 lux, whereas being outside on a sunny day gives you between 20,000 and 200,000 lux! And we wonder why we feel better after a day outside. Plus there’s the exercise … think endorphins and dopamine, and finally that wonderful feeling of satisfaction. Of a job well done.
So even though we have a postage stamp of a garden in our military quarter, there’s still room for some flowers and pots and whilst I don’t think that Wandsworth Borough Council would appreciate my attempts at tree pruning, I see no reason to do a bit of digging, planting and pruning, if not to look glamorous with our Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, but at least to perhaps find a little peace within the world and most importantly, within ourselves.
Do you have a garden, balcony or a windowsill with pots? What do you grow?
Monday morning and back in saddle again. (Nb for new readers, this relates to the bicycle saddle rather than any association to the equine variety.) But this time it was tougher. Cold, windy, a little rain, a bad attitude and a poor choice of route led me to stop and have a little ponder on what on earth was going on with my mood.
Now, in the old days, I’d have gone into a complete decline, had a minor (ok, major) spoilt brat tantrum usually involving tears (to show someone, anyone who would listen to how utterly ghastly I was feeling and to justify my impending surrender), said “Sod this for a fun game of soldiers” and given up.
Instant relief would follow toute de suite and I would shamefully pretend to ignore the disappointed look on everyone’s face.
Sadly, that little voice in the back of my mind whispering, “You shouldn’t give up when the going gets tough!” gradually became quieter and quieter as the habit of giving up became so strong that it was now the default setting, until I simply couldn’t hear it and even if I could, I would choose to ignore it. It’s incredible how quickly a bad habit can grow.
So here we are, a grown woman, with a raison d’etre to better myself, standing miserably by the side of a busy road, alone, cold, tired and a trickle of rain disappearing down the back of my neck and ending up somewhat uncomfortably in my knickers … Marvellous.
However, with the fearsome prospect of bicycling the length of France, not always necessarily in glorious sunshine with a boulangerie at the next corner and a delicious Frenchman’s shoulder to sob upon, I realise that the new me is indeed made of stronger stuff and I am trying a new tack, and tentatively refusing to fall back upon the default setting of giving up.
So, I delve deep, find my inner grown-up and give myself a stern talking to. This, in simple terms involves some fruity language and the promise of a hot chocolate tout bloomin’ suite.
Oh, and next time, to remember that this is England, so take a waterproof. (Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance …. ahhh yes, there’s a soldier in me yet).
Changing my route and heading away from the dual carriageway and within five minutes I discover that there truly is a God. Who’d have known that they have invented a drive-thru Krispy Creme doughnuts shop just for me! Well hallelujah!
Twenty minutes later, dried out and warm, filled with soft, sweet heavenly doughnuts, (very plural and no I’m not saying how many), a coffee and a route infinitely better than cycling alongside a dual carriageway, I find myself charging along with a smile on my face confident in the knowledge that I’ll have burned off the 4 million calories I’ve just consumed super-toute-de-suite and all is once again well in the world. A bit of behaviour management and a stern talking to and I’m tickedy-boo. Perhaps Krispy Creme had a marginal impact, but really I’m not that simple … ok, maybe …
What do you do when your mood drops?? Do you give into it? (Truth please!) Or do you have a secret weapon or doughnut up your sleeve?
Well blow me down with a feather! … 500 followers!
I confess that the overwhelming feeling here is one of gratitude mixed with a large dollop of disbelief. Disbelief that frankly anyone would feel compelled to not only read my nonsensical drivel, (sometimes even making positive comments) but actually press a button to ensure that said drivel continues to filter onto their screens. Extraordinary behaviour from each and every one on you, but it has to be said, that I am absolutely and unutterably delighted. Thank you.
I still feel like a bit of a newbie here although I started in January; I’ve yet to work out how to take a photograph and post it, I only worked out how to “re-blog” last week and as for putting my posts into some sort of order … well that’s just beyond me. I’m not a clever lassie, but I write and I love it. And I read your posts, and I love them.
So thank you, thank you WordPress for opening up my world to these wonderful people, these wonderful …. friends.
My brain is a simple thing. Like my computer, when there are too many tabs open at one time, it starts having a crisis, slows down and invariably simply stops working at all. Now, in the knowledge that I should probably take it to a computer hospital, I wonder if perhaps my brain needs a bit of a looking at too.
The reason I say this is because I cannot multi-task. Too many things going on up there in that fluffy cotton wool between my ears and it all starts unravelling. Badly. Like a dozen balls of multi-coloured wires being tangled up together, if things start getting too complicated, there is a sudden fizzing, a loud explosion and boom! It’s all over … A crisis is here. It happens very easily, relatively often, but is a bit of a bugger to sort out.
The Colonel however works best when doing a minimum of three things at once, and frankly the more the merrier. Concurrent activity he calls it. I have been known to just stare at him, baffled and bewildered as to how he does it. Perhaps that’s why he is good at his job and I don’t appear to even have a job. Must resolve that too …
However, I am now addressing this, ‘issue’. (Not the staring one, or the jobless one, the inability to multi-task one). So far, without much success.
I’m embarrassed to admit how very simply I tested myself yesterday morning and the outcome, but here goes …
Filling up the watering can in the kitchen sink whilst emptying the dishwasher.
You see, I read somewhere the other day that to help deter that awful habit, ‘procrastination’, the answer is, that if you see a job that will take less than one minute to do, then you must start it within a minute. Well I think that’s what it said. Brilliant! But perhaps only one task at a time. This is fine for most people, but not for the non-multi-taskers. The single-taskers like myself may find it problematic.
So, back to the watering can …. I’m putting things away, the water is filling the can, the cupboard doors are all open, I can feel the stress (yes really) starting to filter into my brain and the balls of wire up there amongst the cotton wool starting to fizzle, but to put away the frying pan means taking out several other pans so that it will not just fit in, but also the door will close. Fizzle, fizzle goes my brain …. The sound of water is suddenly louder and looking over my shoulder with a wok in one hand, the colander in another and the frying pan under my arm I see a steady, heavy fountain of water pouring out of the watering can’s spout, over the edge of the sink and into the open cupboard below, and yup, into the tub where the three-in-one multicoloured clothes washing pods live.
Brain has exploded …. much yelping, dropping of woks and pans and strangely my immediate reaction was not to turn off the tap, but to put the colander under the steady stream of water … we now have a version of the Water Fountains at Versailles.
Presumably I don’t need to describe the bubbly mess that I single-handedly created. Suffice to say however that those cute little squidgy little pods of blue and green designed to keep your clothes super clean, dissolve in cold water very quickly. Nine ruptured immediately, five stuck together and the remaining three are currently still drying on kitchen roll (stuck of course to the paper).
The laundry basket is however empty and all the sheets and towels have been washed too, completely unnecessarily of course, but just so as to use up the washing liquid on the floor, the sink, the side, and my shoes … Yes, everything is sparkly clean.
However, do not fear fellow single-taskers, for I have found there is an upside to all of this … if I am completely focused on just one task, not only do I tend to do it well, although I can become quite obsessed (tennis, now cycling) and take it to the extreme, it does mean that I simply cannot think about anything else whilst I am doing it. As in, I cannot think about anything else negative or otherwise whilst doing this activity. So Betty (the demon depressive) is firmly locked in the shed and shackled to the garden roller with duck-tape on her mouth so to speak.
So for all my single-taskers out there, if indeed I am not alone, there is hope for us all. Whilst we may not be able to fill a watering can and empty the dishwasher, we can do one better … We can get all the washing done and clean the kitchen floor too. Have hope!
Some of you might know that I’m doing a wee bicycling trip through France next month. 1150km of pottering along cycle paths and tracks, through villages, past (and into) boulangeries, and following the coast south all the way to where my husband’s family will, fingers crossed, be waiting for me with aftersun, paracetamol and a vat of ibuprofen gel.
I’ve chosen the scenic route which with any luck will mean avoiding the lorries and buses, but may of course mean that I have to endure the sound of my own voice and thoughts for many, many hours a day at a time. Thankfully I’m no singer so there won’t be any renditions of The Sound of Music, but I do ponder on whether I’ll be ok with just … me. It’s not a safety thing, God forbid should some poor fellow think it’s wise to take on this feisty old bird! No, it’s more about being bored of my own thoughts and if things get bad, will I be able to stop the downward spiral of negativity without my usual routines and a practical and heavenly husband just a few miles away.
Well, time will tell and any suggestions are genuinely welcome.
I’ve been going out most days and gradually getting stronger, fitter and more confident. People on the road never fail to astound me however, cyclists and drivers alike. Yesterday I had only three shrieking moments, once with a lorry cutting me up, once with a woman suddenly deciding to cross the road and the last one, much the worst, with a fellow cyclist in front of me deciding to ‘gob’, yes ‘spit’ his phlegm out which promptly landed on my leg. Arghhhhh! Yes, I damn well did give him hell. To be fair, he didn’t know that I was right behind him, but did his mother teach him nothing?!
I got a little lost as per usual, but found Fleet Street, The Strand, Covent Garden and little secret squares tucked away with the occasional terribly smart restaurant hiding within. Beautiful. I was looking to bicycle along Southside which I’d heard was rather fun, but having been stampeded by a school trip of children simultaneously with a group of Japanese tourists I made a bit of a diversion, not even sure if that was Southside.
I ended up in the borough of Lambeth which is dodgy old place, well the part I was in certainly had little to recommend it. Huge tower blocks, screaming children, an ominous feel about it and a few too many ‘young’ loitering (with or without intent I know not). Certainly the blood was pumping as I passed a small group of lads who thought it amusing to try to intimidate me. Standing up on the pedals and pushing on hard, I got past in one piece despite one of them thinking he might outrun me on his skateboard … pfff … as bloody if.
At the far end of this particularly dubious area however I found myself at The Vauxhall City Farm. Quite extraordinary to find Alpacas and chickens in the middle of London. I stopped and watched and listened as two girls had rather an amusing discussion as to whether or not donkeys were carnivores and their safety was in question.
Having a little bell on a bike is now fairly pointless, as people 80% of the time who are walking, have headphones on so can’t hear you, dogs are unpredictable (nearly took out a Dachshund last week) and other cyclists … well I’ve only overtaken three so far and one of them was stationary. I think perhaps I need a socking great foghorn instead, but being slightly highly strung myself, I may well find it’s not awfully good for the blood pressure. I give myself enough frights … the other day in the bedroom I was opening the sliding door of my husband’s cupboard and screamed blue murder as I discovered someone standing in front of me in the cupboard. Dear God! Thankfully it was in actual fact just my own reflection in the mirrored cupboard door, but I needed a bit of a lie down after that. You get my drift … perhaps a foghorn is not the answer.
I’m getting fitter of that there is no doubt and my stamina is improving (particularly with the incentive of a bloke on a skateboard shouting obscenities and chasing me). And the other day I managed to overtake a girl going up a particularly long hill towards Wandsworth as her boyfriend waited patiently at the top for her. It felt good.
I still have a long way to go and watching a YouTube video in the front garden on how to change a bicycle tyre last Friday certainly was a little too public as I ended up having various very kind and well meaning people offering to help, but that wasn’t really the point! How sweet they were, but as I explained, I do need to work out how to do this for myself! People are kind really, they’re not all axe-murdering psychopaths.
So onwards and upwards. Have a lovely day my friends and remember, if you’re in London, avoid the dodgy end of Lambeth past the farm, and for certain, avoid a blonde bicyclist wobbling her way through town with an array of expletives on the tip of her tongue and a rather pathetic tinkly little bell on a bicycle called Claude.
Like the rest of us, I sometimes daydream about winning the lottery … Errrr, don’t we all?
The thought of spending summers on a boat floating around tropical islands whilst a wonderful lady paints my nails as I stand at the wheel with The Colonel beside me sipping champagne gazing adoringly up at me. (Actually the wonderful lady shouldn’t be overly wonderful or beautiful for that matter, let’s not give the Colonel too much to gaze at … let’s give her facial hair, spots and an unusual dental arrangement for starters) … The winters, spent sitting beside a roaring fire writing best-selling books in a huge chalet in Verbier with yet more champagne, a year’s supply of ginger nuts and enough fit (male) ski instructors to get even me looking vaguely elegant on the slopes. (In retrospect, make that two years’ supply of ginger nuts) … Ahhh, what a glorious life it would be!
They say money isn’t everything (Pah! Ok, it’s true) but they also say it’s easier to cry in the back of a Mercedes than on a bicycle and that I do agree with.
So back to reality with a backbreaking thump …. what do we all wish for that will give us happiness?
Life has a funny old way of throwing things in our paths however, determined to try to floor us, or at least postpone our progress, and often just when things are tootling along on their merry way, something is tossed with force unexpectedly before us.
Sadly, for me, it is rarely a lottery win. In fact, the little ‘presents’ that appear tend to be the bad stuff. Usually related to health and death. And we grieve and we struggle and then when it starts to vaguely diminish, we find that in actual fact, “normal” is good. Normal is ok. Normal, our natural default setting, is actually fine, anything rather than being in the depths of despair and depression, is frankly fine.
But, if we wanted more than just normal, more of the good things from life, how do we go about it? I don’t mean to sound overly greedy and it is inevitable that bad things will happen from time to time, but what about having some good things to help counteract them. To act as a balance. To fall back on when the ‘shit hits the fan’.
How do we persuade “life” to throw us a few good packages? Well, we could spend all our hard earned cash on lottery tickets. We could also just sit and gaze out of the window and dream a lot and hope that Prince Charming himself will appear up the stairs of our top floor one bedroom flat on his gallant steed, but the likelihood of that is slim at best, even in my unhinged, erratic mind. So, what to do?
In my mind, the best way forward is to be a “Yes” person rather than a “No” person (kindly read Are You a “Yes” or a “No” Person? for further details!). By this, what I mean is that I for one, have to resist daily the temptation to sit and gaze out of the window and find excuses not to do something, (oh, believe you me, I can find an excuse for everything!) and be proactive (ghastly word, apologies) and get off my wobbly skinny arse, say “Yes!” and actually do something!
Those two words always remind me of Dick Dastardly shouting at his dog Muttley, (if you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about then you’re too young you lucky thing so you have that advantage over me already!) “MUTTLEY!! DO SOMETHING!!” he would shout, although Muttley usually demanded a medal for doing so … Now chances are, you won’t receive a medal this time, or even next, but it’s odd isn’t it how those people who are successful in life tend to be the ones who it turns out have been trying and practising their craft for years upon years and yet we had never heard of them until ooooh I don’t know, a character called Harry Potter suddenly becomes a worldwide phenomenon. Funny that.
So my point is this, surely if we believe that mathematical formula relating to probability, if we keep trying, keep learning, keep working, keep being a “Yes” person and giving it our all, eventually good will come of it.
In fairness, this may not result in a yacht in the Bahamas or a chalet in Verbier. It may however result in an alcoholic giving up the booze once and for all, a sufferer of depression finding a way of living in peace, a lover of flowers owning his or her own flower shop, a blogger having his book published or an idiot like me simply bicycling from the top to the (not quite) bottom of France on a bike called Claude. It won’t earn me a medal like Muttley, or a chalet in Verbier, but it’s a personal challenge and might improve the old muscles in the thigh and bottom region …
Whatever the goal, whatever the dream, and despite whatever is thrown in our paths, let’s be a “Yes” person, make the dream a reality and attack life with gusto, passion and a smattering of hope. Try, try and try again. After all, with any experience that we undertake, if we succeed, we will gain confidence and go on to even greater things, and if we fail, then we gain that wonderful quality, wisdom.
And in my mind there are worse things in life than being a wise old bird with a wobbly arse and a twin pack of ginger nuts in her bicycle basket.
Are You a “Yes” or a “No” person? What is your dream, your goal in your life?
I’ve been saving this up for you. Just in case you thought you were a tad unhinged, I think I’ve now overtaken you and reached the top of the class in that department. (Nb Photo with lassie above is not me … even I wouldn’t clean the car in heels …)
A glorious day in Scotland, and it was not raining, in fact the weather was positively tropical. Everyone still wears their coats though, after all, it’s common knowledge for the Glaswegians that if it’s not raining, it’s about to and if you’ve not got your coat, you’d be well advised to nick someone’s else’s.
By now I think you will have understood that ‘The Car’ is my husbands true love (along with Jaffa Cakes, women with long legs and beating me at Scrabble). With time on my hands, I figured that an outing to the car jet wash was the order of the day.
I must confess that being somewhat mean with money (the old fear of dying broke with 5 children from 5 fathers in a studio flat in the darkest depths of some God-forsaken city surrounded by beer cans and cigarette butts regularly rears its ugly head) …. moving onwards and away from that particular thought … this forces me to not be frivolous with the old notes and to generally get out the bucket and sponge and wash the car myself. However, a moment of madness and a simple trip to the car jet wash ensued. Or so I thought….
My money is in the machine. I’m not wasting a penny. The timer is going. I sense urgency to get the darn car clean; I have only eight minutes to complete my task and the clock’s ticking … they don’t call it a pressure washer for nothing. What started out as a blast of water that ricocheted off the car onto my face, was quickly replaced by bubbles. A lot of bubbles, with force.
The hose is stuck under a tyre; I’m flicking it away, it’s caught on the stumpy aerial on top of the car, I’m flicking it away again … every flick comes with a drenching of white bubbly car detergent all over yours truly. Eyes stinging and streaming, I look as though I’ve entered a wet t-shirt competition for the over 60’s – it’s really not a good look. Perhaps wearing a coat would have been a good idea.
Suddenly the hose is snatched from my hands by a huge Scottish man who barks at me in a language I can only assume is native to the farthest part of The Outer Hebrides …. I comprehend nothing. I snatch it back …. However, I am now not alone in being covered in bubbles.
His eyes are narrowing and yet he once again lurches towards me to grab said hose with more of the guttural, phlegm-inducing sounds which I can only assume are more words …. ahhh but I’m quick off the mark here! I can see Angelina Jolie in myself as I swiftly dodge his swipe and point my brush at his face, bubbles exploding over his huge chest and now bubble-splattered hairy face.. God he’s enormous. “Go away!” I squeak. He responded with words that my brain couldn’t register, except for two, “help” and “mad”. He shakes his head in bewilderment at me, bubbles flying from his beard.
Dear God, he was trying to help me. Another squeak, “Oh … Bugger!” Back-tracking required with speed.
“Um, gosh, thanks awfully. But um, I rather enjoy this …. see?” When in fear, the frightfully British accent lurches forward overtaking all normal speech. The thought of a burly Scot vigorously rubbing the paint off my husbands pride and joy was too terrifying to contemplate, so I now spend the next two and a half minutes pretending to simply adore washing cars as I rub and squirt and spray with gusto and all the time gibbering and thanking him profusely for his offer. He looks baffled, bewildered and somewhat wet.
At long last, the timer rings and the furious noise and force of water diminishes, and I am left standing in relative silence opposite a mammoth soggy Scot with bubbles in his beard and a now flaccid hose which rather halfheartedly gives a final and rather pathetic little spurt of water before dribbling onto the ground. “Sorry.” I mutter and hand it to him, whilst ineffectively wiping at his bubble-soaked jacket. I wisely leave the beard alone as I make out another two words, “Focking nootter …”
“Yes, you’re quite right … awfully sorry.” It’s the Noel Coward accent again, but I’m in the car pronto and making a hasty exit.
Sometimes you know, even if people look scary, they’re as kind and soft as … well, they’re just not. Think I’ll stick to the bucket and sponge in future – infinitely safer.
Do you ever judge people wrongly? Do you ever act like a complete fruitcake?
A few days ago I went into the local cycle shop to prepare for my trip through France. The Colonel had advised me to buy a repair kit and an extra inner tube or two. Pas de problem!
However, it is tragically my horrible nature to distrust everyone (except policemen, firemen, the nurse back in Glasgow who does the best “screening tests” for women (apologies gentlemen), some relations and Delia Smith).
I also distrust pretty much everything too (in particular, the locks on the doors, my ability to keep house plants alive and my hairdryer which is on its last legs and I’m sure about to die/explode/cause a house fire).
Trust for me is a tricky old business. As a somewhat anxious old bird I am convinced that I am going to be ripped off, conned, or the innocent young man outside the house is in fact a burglar casing the joint. I fear that everyone is a wolf in sheeps clothing, an axe-wielding murderer and I am the proposed victim. Why? A bit of history and I’m slightly unhinged I suppose.
So a trip to the cycle shop was, in my mind a perfect opportunity for someone to pretty sharply realise that I am a complete novice in this department, to take full advantage, and within ten minutes I’d have them sucking through their teeth, shaking their head and I’d be be leaving with a boxful of gadgets, tools and a warning that cycling on my own from north to southern France was not only inadvisable, but dangerous. (Unless of course I bought their most expensive bike, complete with a six week course of maintenance lessons). And not being the most assertive of women, I’d agree to it all. Then of course I’d curse myself and have to go through the arduous task of begging the Colonel to take it all back for me as I was too much of a wuss to have said a firm “no” in the first place and I certainly couldn’t bear the humiliation of setting foot in the place again. Wet? Abso-bloody-lutely! I am a complete girl’s blouse.
Apparently, this all stems from a lack of life skills, yet again.
Ahhh, but I am learning! I am a new woman! I have had therapy to combat this. I too can be assertive …
So leaving Claude the bicycle chained up outside, I headed into the shop with a confident smile and a breezy gait, (how a gait can be breezy I’m not entirely sure, but you get the gist), determined to look as though I was knowledgeable, capable and therefore unable to be taken advantage of. Ha! I’ll beat the buggers!
Perhaps the fact that everyone in there (and they were all men) was head to toe in Lycra and I was wearing a very pretty floaty little number might have been the first giveaway (see my post Finding Etta which might explain why I figured cycling in flippy skirts was a good idea).
So I gulp, give myself a mental pep talk and go for it.
“Please may I have a couple of inner tubes and a basic bike repair kit?”
Fabulous! Well done me … not a stutter or a wringing of hands in sight ….
The young man behind the counter with orange hair, a matching beard and a lot of earrings raises an eyebrow. “What size tyre is it for?”
Ok I’ve been caught out. I have absolutely no clue. Should I have brought a tape measure from my sewing box? Time to come clean. Time to admit that I’m clueless. Time to put myself at risk of being conned. Fear kicks in, panic is knocking at the door. I am vulnerable.
I give a defeated sigh, accepting the inevitable, point to my beautiful Claude outside the shop, and say, “Um, I think I might need your help with that.”
Forty five wonderful minutes later and I have several new best friends and am sitting behind the cashiers desk (Jon is his name) on his computer showing not only him, but also four of the Lycra-clad men the wonderful website (The Atlantic Cycling Route) detailing the route of my proposed trip in August. Claude, my EBay purchase is now in the shop being twiddled with, checked over with great enthusiasm from my fellow cyclists, so much so that screenshots of the website were taken, a wife was telephoned and Claude has had the complete once-over. Rather amusing n’est pas?!
So I floated back on Claude, flippy floppy skirt thankfully not catching in the newly oiled chains (my new friend Jon behind the desk gave it a bit of ‘lubrication’ for free … (dreadful word I know, apologies …. a bit like moist, soiled and toilet … it’s the ‘oi’ words … shudder … can’t bear them) and I headed home on a high with simply the two inner tubes and a repair kit, plus some funny little plastic things to get the tyres off which he threw in for free. (I think he realised that I didn’t actually have a clue how to change an inner tube … I thought it involved a spoon end or something and a bit of a wiggle).
So you see, all is well with the world. Not everyone is a baddie, in fact, there are some rather nice people out there. And now all I have to do is google “How to Repair a Bicycle Tyre” or I could ask the Colonel. Alternatively my new best friend, Jon with the orange beard, did mention a series of maintenance classes that they have for only £10 a session …. might be an idea, he did recommend a course of three however …
Do you worry about being ripped off? Or axe-wielding murderers hiding under the bed? What are you frightened of?
Yesterday’s little jaunt of 18.3km and not a centimetre less my thighs are telling me this morning, was an interesting learning curve on the etiquette of cyclists.
It turns out that my peddling companions are, once squeezed into their Lycra, helmet on and fearsome black glasses stretched across their faces are the two-wheeled equivalent to the white van driver, or for those who have not encountered our congested British roads and it’s drivers, that person who sits incognito behind a computer screen making foul remarks on social media knowing that they will never have to reveal their true identity.
You may call me harsh, but an hour or two daily around the streets of London and through the parks for the past three weeks has taught me that they’re a competitive bunch, who have no idea of personal space, cycling side-by-side, ignoring the designated cycle lanes, chattering obliviously with their fellow cyclists, upsetting even the most docile natured drivers and never saying thank you by means of a teensy little hand wiggle or nod when someone actually gives them a wide berth. Pah! Such rudeness!
However, I will admit, that whilst writing in fury, I’m generalising somewhat … but I write what I see, every single day.
There was however a very nice chap at the lights whom I asked advice from about where I should be positioned in the road at a particularly tricky junction … he replied, “No clue, just cycle fast and straight and everyone will get out of your way, mostly.” It was the “mostly” that concerned me, so I wobbled to the pavement, pretended to look at my map, and when the road was completely empty continued on my merry way.
Through Richmond Park I pedalled like fury, sadly overtaken by every other cyclist, most irritatingly by a young lad and his companion, an elderly man who I can only presume was his his great, great grandfather … it’s just like skiing, having the little blighters shoot past you with a whoosh of snow as I bellow at them to give me some fucking space. (Sorry about that, just thinking about it gets me reaching for my happy pills and a glug of Bach’s Rescue Remedy.)
I did at one particularly low point see a most capable (and enormous) man dressed in rather fetching red and white Lycra with a large cross on his back, and feeling safer being close to a Red Cross worker (or in my mind, a paramedic), tried even harder to keep up with him. No joy I’m afraid, and as I realised whilst watching his rather muscular bottom disappearing up the hill in front of me, he was in fact a professional Swiss team competitor … in training. I really must work on my flag recognition.
So I arrived back at home yesterday feeling slightly despondent to see the Colonel had been organising and tidying the garage again. If he found evidence of my recent shopping expedition by way of a few rather nice shoe boxes, he didn’t pass comment. He did however give me a rather lecherous look and despite my being disgustingly hot, sweaty and a tad grumpy went in for a kiss … my response, “Quite frankly, on yer bloody bike mate.” I thought that was quite witty, his forlorn face said otherwise.
Today will be a better day ….
How do you rate drivers and cyclists in your neck of the woods?
I know you want to hit me with a shovel, but ummm ….. exercise DOES work. Yup, sorry about that, but unfortunately, it does.
I remember going to the doctor’s surgery many moons ago (Do read The Doctor if you want evidence of my previous mental state) and being apoplectic with rage at his suggestions and yet, months later when the medication had eventually taken the edge off the depression and anxiety and I was able to think just a little clearer, I started the only form of exercise I knew, tennis.
Odd isn’t it how the doctors, therapists, magazines and papers are all telling us to use exercise to beat depression and anxiety and yet still, we are enraged and hate them all for their irritating and pathetic suggestions. “I have a disease, going for a swim won’t change that!” and “How can I go for a run when I can’t even get out of bed?” we shrill. “Don’t you understand how I feel, how can I possibly go for a cycle ride when I feel like this?” we shout.
And yet, and yet, they do keep banging on about the wretched benefits of it, even the celebrities we idolise seem to be talking about it. Bastards the lot of them. They just don’t understand. Don’t they know how darn exhausted we are?
However, when you have those endorphins and dopamine coursing through the body (don’t even question trying to fight those chemicals), the brain is occupied (no possibility of thinking about death, dying and misery, whilst focusing on a small yellow ball flying at eighty miles an hour towards you), the laughter, chatter and screams of hilarity filling the court (and often neighbouring courts) make any downward spirals of negativity stop firmly in their tracks with an almighty screech of rubber on tarmac and a handbrake U-turn. And as for the light, sun and fresh air … well I personally couldn’t find any of those whilst hiding under my bed with only the drooling dog and a family pack of multi-flavoured crisps for company.
The hardest part is the putting on of those trainers. (Read this post next … Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain) After that, it’s a breeze …. one becomes swept up with that extraordinary and distant friend, happiness, and before you can say “Goddamn gym bunnies” your cheeks are rosy, you’re laughing, chatting and organising the next session with newly found friends. If this all sounds a bit too cheesy, the only words of wisdom this old bird can hand out are from that age-old adage, “Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it”. Because, annoyingly, using exercise to combat depression and anxiety and the lethargy that comes as part and parcel of those evil twin sisters, actually does work. It beats it. Game, set and Goddamn match.
WHAT EXERCISE ARE YOU DOING FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH TODAY? WELL??
Alongside illness and losing one’s job, apparently moving house is up there in the top most anxiety-inducing activities, not forgetting of course divorce, death and going to prison. ‘Activities!’ What a dreadful description … Honestly that makes them sound like a day trip to the beach with a dripping ice cream, striped deck chair and a fishing net. Anyway, apart from the ‘going to prison’ thing which I am hoping to avoid, I’ve gone through all of the above and survived.
I have discovered, that in actual fact moving is not the equivalent of being dropped in the fiery pit of hell. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that it is possible to actually rather enjoy it. It’s rare to be moving house to somewhere that you don’t want to move to … So on the whole, one is moving to a better place, whether upsizing, downsizing or simply to be closer to the equator … hmmm France would be glorious, love Scotland as I do, the weather is truly shite.
So with optimism in abundance for a positive move, a month ago I planned, packed and labelled boxes with vigour and a happy heart. Yes, I was leaving my friends, but if they’d have me, I could always go and visit.
Where was the stress and anxiety when the day arrived? Decidedly absent.
Why? Because of a simple yet forceful positive change of attitude and meticulous military-style preparation.
There’s always something that goes slightly awry … in my case it was the key to a large old linen press so really not the end of the world. It turned up, eventually. As long as the keys to the new house and the kettle is to hand, nothing else really matters.
In the old days, I’d have had sleepless weeks beforehand worrying, stressing myself into a sweat-induced nightmare. And about what? Change and a fear of no control and the unknown.
So now, let’s embrace the new, use planning and preparation to keep charge of as much as we can, and then just go with the flow. More than that we can’t do, after all, this is life that we’re dealing with. It’s short and really should be very, very sweet.
How do you cope with anxiety and stressful situations?
Joining our wonderfully stuffy and rigid royal family comes a woman of substance. A woman with a mission using her status to make the world a better place and yet somehow she manages this with grace, dignity and incredible likability. She says we all have a voice, we just have to use it. And of course, she’s right.
And after it all, after the last people have gone back to their real lives, after the shops, bars and restaurants of Windsor have cleaned their tables and closed their doors to count the weekends takings, and the street cleaners have filled yet more bags and are starting to get everything shipshape once again, what are we left with?
A wonderful piece of history that’s for sure. But what else? For me, I feel inspired. I feel inspired by a woman, a woman who gets on with life, works like a trooper and fights for what she believes in, in a feminine, graceful manner. She ticks every box and frankly Harry has done very, very well.
So it’s time to get on, stop worrying and attack life and the things I want to do and achieve. Dare I say that I think we could all take a leaf out of Meghan’s book. I know that I will. Enough dramas about the minutiae of life, I need to crack on and not let any more anxiety or depression stop me from living the life that I want.
Let’s run that marathon, write that book and cycle to the south of France …. the clock is ticking, and sure as eggs is eggs, I ain’t gonna want to run out of time!
The strange thing about cycling is that it’s impossible to feel any form of depression whilst your thighs are burning, your lungs are screaming, cars and of course other proper cyclists are zipping past, as you force 20lbs of metal and rubber up a hill. Your mind is rather, occupied, shall we say.
Equally, tootling gently around the sunny London somewhat quieter streets and the pretty parks with the breeze in your face and the warmth on your back, seeing the world close up, a feeling of complete unadulterated happiness, of living in the moment totally encapsulates you.
My first trip out was to the sorting office to pick up a couple of parcels. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. According to google maps, a mere 6 minute cycle ride.
I returned home 38 minutes later, and no, there had not been a queue at the sorting office.
I saw two gorgeous old Renault 4’s (along with the Citroen 2CV my favourite ‘pottering along a French country lane’ cars) a beautiful steel grey and white whippet which I knew would have delighted the Colonel, I met a very grumpy old woman whom I had thought I was helping across the road (clearly not) and I discovered that it’s quite hilly in southwest London. I found that I’m good at indicating left, but not right (a rather wobbly affair ensued) and the problem with having a bicycle is that there are no hazard lights, so when all else fails or you’re going to do something highly illegal, you can’t just push the button and everyone knows to avoid you. Simply stopping in the middle of the road on a bike could have serious consequences for the shiny new bike and the considerably older and not so shiny me. I did it once on a mini roundabout (it was going awfully well, but then I had to do the indicating right thing, wobbled rather a lot, so stopped in the centre of the mound of the roundabout). Probably best not to repeat that one. Of course the one advantage that I have, is that when I go on my big adventure in France in August, the mini roundabouts there you go anti-clockwise so I’ll be indicating left, so no wobbling! Hurray … a doddle! (It is anti-clockwise in France isn’t it? Hang on, which way will I be indicating? …. ) And frankly, drive too close to this cyclist at your peril … and possibly mine.
I love looking at the houses, the gardens, the people, the dogs, seeing, really seeing everything. Noticing the detail. The glorious feeling of freedom.
Do you remember the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid film and the beautifully shot, idyllic scene on the bicycle with Paul Newman as Butch, and Katharine Ross as Etta, with the music of Raindrops are Falling on my Head? Well, when I’m cycling that’s how I feel. I am Etta! (Albeit not there in the looks department and I don’t have Paul Newman sitting behind me but you get idea). It’s a time of complete happiness and of being at peace with the world.
So I shall venture out again today and find my inner Etta, that simple purity of enjoying a moment in time, for loving something for what it is, happiness and peace …. unless of course there’s a roundabout to navigate.
What gives you that feeling? Anything else worth trying? All suggestions very welcome (apart from anything smutty or involving a vat of chocolate, or a combination of the two). X
Odd, but true …. Since the scuba diving experience (Scuba Diving With Anxiety) I appear to have control over my anxiety. (My left ear is deaf as a post, but this I can live with.)
Just because scuba diving was quite frankly an opportunity for me to impersonate a mermaid whilst jumping into the Finding Nemo film doesn’t make it any less of a moderately extreme activity. One teensy mistake, and oops, out of oxygen and poof! You’re dead. Yes, I know what you’re thinking and I agree, I’m sure there are safety procedures galore, but the fact of the matter is, we need oxygen to survive. Personally I’d put it up there in the dangerous category alongside jumping out of an aeroplane with a parachute that one of my children has sewn together.
Now, this having been my first dipping of the toe into the scuba diving world, I was unsure as to whether at 12 metres down, if trouble arises, one can just bob back up to the top or whether eardrums burst and a case of the bends follows … no clue, but in fact, my ignorance probably worked in my favour. Because, it meant that there was no option but to use breathing techniques to get my panic attack under control, and under the expert tutelage of the rather delightful ‘French Kevin’, I did.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve practised my breathing during yoga whilst down-dogging with the best of them; bottoms in the air, the huffing and puffing from neighbouring mats sounding rather like a maternity ward; but in truth I’ve only breathed on a rather superficial, shallow level.
Realising the gravity of the situation and understanding fairly smartish that I HAD to deal with something deeply uncomfortable, and potentially life threatening, I didn’t faff around with pretending to blow on a little piccolo, oh no, I took on the entire brass section of the orchestra. I was no longer Katie, wife of the Colonel, cake maker, gardener and peacekeeper, I WAS KING OF A SODDING GREAT TUBA. I huffed, I puffed, deeply, slowly, deeper, slower … all I could hear was air moving in and out. I focused, I concentrated, I breathed.
And erm … I hate to say this … but it worked.
We’re talking less than ten minutes.
A bit like going out for a walk in the fresh air when you’re feeling a bit blue does make you feel better (even if you want to hit the person who suggested it with a shovel). Annoyingly, it does work.
Why is it annoying? Because it implies that my depression and anxiety have been ‘in my head’ if you’ll excuse the pun. And they haven’t … It’s a disease, a proper disease in which medications, therapy and doctors have had to intervene. So how does something so basic as breathing beat every pill hands down?
You see, the breathing and focus took over the fear. The breathing and focus were stronger than the panic. The breathing and focus won.
So when being in a tiny cramped minibus with a low ceiling and a claustrophobic panic attack found its way crawling up again, I started blowing on my tuba again. (The Colonel did look a little quizzically at me, I can live with that and the deaf ear). Minutes later, all was fine. The moment had passed. The rest of the journey was unremarkable, not particularly comfortable but frankly no more so than for anybody else. I suspect that it’s also slightly a case of having done scuba diving, taking a bath with a mask and snorkel on is simply child’s play.
There have been a couple of other moments since, and again blowing on my tuba has each time, more and more quickly reduced the anxiety to nothing, no more than anyone else has on a day to day life.
It’s hard work fighting a war with yourself, your mind, but we’re so much stronger than we actually give ourselves credit for.
Remember, it has to be done with gusto … passion … intensity. Put down your piccolos, pick up your tubas and remember, the purpose is to make the breathingand focus win the battle against the panic and anxiety. Give it a go … a really loud, pushing out a baby, blowing on a tuba go. Happy days!
One of my indulgences in life is not to have a personal trainer, a dietitian or haircuts every six weeks, but to once a year, employ an accountant. Not quite so glamorous and perhaps not quite what you were expecting, but I’m nothing if not practical. My justification of this ‘indulgence’ is simply based on the fact that I don’t have Sky Tv or Netflix, go for regular massages, manicures, pedicures or any other types of cures.
You see, I feel no shame in not spending six hours of my sodding life trying to fill out a sodding tax form that I don’t sodding like, don’t understand, is badly worded and each and every times results in tears, tantrums, a minimum of two phone calls to the bank and four phone calls to the tax office helpline which takes, oh yes, a minimum of 20 minutes to get through before you can actually speak to an actual human being.
(And breathe) …… I’m sure you understand.
The last time I did a tax return, I finally had to beg the unfortunate man to stay on the phone whilst he and I filled out the last four pages of the form together which probably accounts for why it takes 20 minutes to get through to a person in the first place … because of people like me, but I’m guessing therefore that I’m not alone in doing this.
So now I have the lovely James. The lovely blue-eyed, twinkly-eyed James, whom, with his wife, has the perfect set-up of a life together in a beautiful riverside village not far from London where in their garden beside the swimming pool is a little cream painted wooden office where their employees come in each morning and presumably James and his wife simply tumble out of bed and head through the garden to their little office, via the pool, clutching a hopefully not too soggy piece of toast and begin their day. It’s all rather idyllic in my mind, and frankly as James always looks rather chirpy, I’m guessing I’m not too far off the mark.
So, suffice to say for the last few years James has been doing all the hard work for me and I now simply telephone him with the figures, send him a cheque and he does the rest. The result, I don’t have to battle with the tax office, make endless phone calls, cry, behave like a brat, and James does it in a nanosecond, happily receives my cheque and then goes for a lovely swim in his beautiful pool. Win, win I’d say.
With my various anxiety issues (yawn) I still intensely dislike making telephone calls and naturally therefore procrastinate telephoning even the lovely James, but this year we were getting dangerously close to the deadline so needs must, and I thought happy thoughts and dialled his number.
Now usually once I’ve bitten the bullet and made a call, I wonder what all my fuss was about and berate myself for having procrastinated, but this time James was offhand and cold. I’d even go so far as to say verging on rude. I was upset. I was irritated. I only want kind, gentle people in my life otherwise my demons (aka Betty) start paying me a visit, and she is not the sort of visitor anyone wants knocking on their door.
I therefore, being overly sensitive, took James’ coldness to heart and then somewhat predictably to the absolute extreme, as is my default setting, and vowed that next year if I was going to pay someone to help with the finances I’d darn well pay someone who was going to be gentle, friendly, ask me how my day was and generally smooth my naturally ruffled feathers, (clearly no doubt that I really can be quite the spoilt princess) rather than someone leaving me feeling more anxious than usual and as though I had done something wrong, upset him, not asked him enough about his wife …. “Manners maketh man James” I wanted to remind him. I’m glad I didn’t.
I received an email a month later. James was dead.
Apparently only a few days prior to my speaking to him, he had been diagnosed with a brutal type of cancer, had a couple of weeks later gone in for surgery, and a few days following that, died from septicaemia.
I am ashamed to admit that at the age of 48 I still hadn’t learned to put aside my own self-obsessed thoughts and instead think and ask if he, James, was ok during that strange and final telephone call, rather than to focus, yet again on myself, my own feelings and me. Yes, me, me, me. I’m so, so sorry that I never stopped to think for a moment and ask.
We just never know what someone else is truly going through, do we?
I just remembered this and thought for anyone wanting a fresh start, it might help. It certainly helps with depression and anxiety! That’s for sure … just one drawer at a time …
Part 1 – Recognising The Problem
Very early on in my relationship I remember cooking lunch for The Colonel (my then boyfriend, now husband) and it was, as per usual, chaos ….
I recall him quietly observing the scene in front of him, looking at the wonky, dusty pictures with those little black thunder bugs that somehow find their way behind the glass, the piles of ironing that I had tried to hide behind the sofa, the pretty, distressed cream and rusty paperwork tray spilling its guts onto the work surfaces, the sink overflowing with every pot and pan and then, at me. What I had thought of as scatty and endearing was in fact to him, frighteningly chaotic.
“I think we have a problem” he said quietly …. Not exactly “I think we have a problem Houston” in a Tom Hanks sort of way, but in my little world, it was quite frankly as momentous as that. This could be ‘the deal-breaker’.
Now, some may say that he should have accepted me for who (or is it whom?) I was – The problem was, that I didn’t really like the person that I had become. I in fact wanted to change, but I simply didn’t know how or indeed where to start.
“Oh!” I said.
“Wait!” I said.
“I have a plan!” I said, by now rather excitedly. He was looking a little nervous, and annoyingly, somewhat unconvinced.
“You, my darling, gorgeous man are at one end of the organised spectrum, not saying that you’re, you know, anal or anything, God forbid! No, just seriously beyond tidy! And truth be told, that’s where I would like to be ….. not anal, obviously, and let’s face it that’s never going to happen in a month of Sunday’s.” I snorted with laughter at this and then remembered that this was no laughing matter, this was a serious, grown-up conversation, so carried in a more restrained fashion, perhaps even verging on an ‘eating humble pie’ sort of way “And I appear to be at the other end of that, um, particular spectrum.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Ok. Fair enough, I’ve completely fallen off the end of the scale into the big, black pit at the bottom,” I grudgingly admitted but then continued on with renewed gusto, “however, if you could shift just a teensy half a fraction up the spectrum towards me, would you help me get this all in order and start again? I NEED to do it. I WANT to do it. By the way however, nothing, I repeat nothing is to be colour-coded or chronologically ordered.”
I think I could see his lips twitch, but could have imagined it. “Where shall we start?” he asks.
Part 2 – The Process
We started with books. I had literally hundreds of wonderfully trashy romantic paperbacks, some fabulous history books, gardening books galore and the occasional self-help book (which I tried, and failed to hide). Most I’d read and some I hadn’t. They were all fairly battered, the majority being secondhand and of course covered in the habitual layer of dust. A bookshelf, emptied onto the floor, cleaned within an inch of its life and whilst it was empty, hoovered behind and underneath – that hadn’t happened since I’d moved in. Clearly the spiders had been very happy. Then, one at a time a good book would be dusted and put back on the shelf. A rubbish book, a book I’d never read and frankly never would, would go into a cardboard box and finally a pile of ‘I’m not sure books’ would sit beside me for a final decision at the end.
The start was difficult. The colonel was fantastically understanding and patient although from time to time had to pull out the odd Jackie Collins from under my jumper where I’d attempted to hide them. The first box was filled and then more and more as we worked through the house, through all the bookcases that I had inherited in the last forty-odd years. That’s a lot of books. That’s a lot of boxes.
The car was full and a trip to the charity shop ensued, double parked as we carried them in to the wide-eyed surprise of the volunteers there; perhaps they thought we’d robbed a library. Driving away, exhausted, very teary – an end of an era. A change. Scary. Getting back home ….. Dear God – freedom. Total freedom. Half empty shelves. Space. This is bliss. Exhilaration. I want more – I want more of this feeling. Laughter and pure joy. And so it began.
Some things were more difficult than others. It meant making decisions which was not my forte. But I can, in all honesty, say that there is nothing, absolutely nothing that I’m pining for or that I miss and wish I didn’t got rid of. Also, it’s incredible how quickly you forget what was actually there in the first place.
Slowly but surely I cleared up my little cottage. Some days it was just a case of clearing out one drawer. A kitchen drawer or cupboard. Just emptying it, cleaning and chucking out the tin opener that my mother gave me when I was a student but had gone a bit rusty, or the three chipped wine glasses that had gone cloudy, never matched and frankly I could buy a new set of four from Ikea for the cost of a cheap bottle of plonk if I really needed more. It was cathartic. It was therapy on a major scale. It felt so darn good.
I found my wedding list from my previous marriage, all the letters from the guests, everything to do with a marriage that was no more. Why was I hanging onto the past? I didn’t want my house any longer to be a shrine to the past. I wanted to move forward. Those were the more difficult days and once the colonel had seen I was on a roll, he left me to it, so I could spend as long as I wanted dealing with the past, putting it behind me, moving forward.
It was liberating. As the cupboards emptied, the nic-nacs on the tables and every visible surface became clearer too as I realised that it actually wasn’t necessary to cover every windowsill and table with ‘stuff’. More space and less stuff meant easier cleaning. Easier cleaning meant less time doing it, so more free time. More free time meant more time to organise and sort and clean … and, live. The more I did, the easier it became and the more I enjoyed it. It was like the endorphins that one gets from exercise. I was happy, very happy, very organised and had started afresh. I had finally moved away from the past and it was good, seriously good.
I’ll still use every pan in the kitchen when I’m cooking and sometimes the Colonel will ask why I have to have three lipsalves, a handful of hair bands and a tube of Crabtree and Evelyn hand cream in every room in yet another pretty little pot, and I’ll call him anal and he’ll call me an untidy, scruffy bugger and we move on, giggling and chatting as together we cook, and clean up ….
I’m sitting here with a large fresh juice, on a ridiculously comfortable sun bed on a ridiculously beautiful beach feeling as though I’ve simultaneously conquered Everest, become the next JK Rowling and saved the human race from drowning in a sea of plastic. In a nutshell, I’m feeling a teensy bit pleased with myself.
I have scuba dived, or is it dove … frankly I don’t give a hoot.
I was a mermaid. I was a mermaid for forty minutes on a coral covered reef surrounded by every imaginable and remarkably-coloured, shaped and sized species of fish, darting here and there, feeding, playing, whatever it is that fish do, whilst they were apparently oblivious to the presence of a couple of visitors in their habitat.
I knew it would test me. Suffering from anxiety, I knew there was a strong possibility of a panic attack or six. I knew that a panic attack under water would most probably be the end of my career as a mermaid. However, on a more positive note, if I was able to control this, I would indeed have conquered my very own Everest, to say nothing of being a superhero.
A video, a lengthy instruction in the pool, lots of information later and before I know it, I am perched on the side of the pitching boat, and being expected to just drop backwards into the sea. I understand that I am safe. I know the logic, I know the drill. But dear God!
It’s like that horrendous game where someone stands behind you and you have to fall backwards into their arms with the belief and trust that they will catch you. I’ve never done it and never will do it, trust not really being my forte. However, I am now having to believe in the knowledge I have been given, the experience of having done it in the swimming pool and I simply have to have faith in myself. Flippin’ marvellous.
Ordinarily, this would have been the perfect situation for a minor meltdown. However my instructor ‘buddy’ was waiting in the sea, my husband (aka the Colonel) was watching with a look of delighted anticipation and the other group of divers were waiting for me before they could go. No pressure then. I took one final look of unadulterated terror at the man helping me, and closing my eyes, holding my breath, (both completely unnecessarily of course) and dropped backwards into the heaving dark water.
Its quite a surprise really when you think you should be dead and in fact you’re most definitely alive. Kevin, my French (and alarmingly good looking) instructor was there, as promised, and I was apparently unharmed, also as promised. Quite extraordinary.
Together French Kevin and I made our way slowly down the line into the depths, with much stopping, starting, squeezing noses (well, really just mine) and sorting out of ears refusing to equalise, alongside trying to keep the emotion under wraps. Despite the multitude of shells with goodness knows what creepy crawlies living inside them and some rather slimy seaweed all attached to the line, I was not letting go. I was beyond getting squeamish over a few beasties … I was so out of my comfort zone I’d need a train, a plane and a bicycle to get me back, for I had bigger fish to fry … I had Betty the Demon to contend with.
Finally we reached the bottom where Kevin had previously explained that we would just sit for ten minutes to adjust. Without the task of equalising to focus on, the panic started almost immediately, roaring around in my brain wanting to take over. Betty the demon is screaming with laughter, heart racing, fear taking over, fear winning. I need to escape. I need to get up, get out. I am afraid. I am desperate. Panic has successfully gripped me by the throat and my shallow, fast breathing is making me nauseous, faint, hot …
Kevin’s hand touches my arm. I hold onto it tightly. He understands. He holds me and with his free arm indicates for me to look into his eyes and mimic his breathing. It is slow, it is controlled. In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly, repeat.
His unwavering stare is reassuring, but odd because it’s not the Colonel’s and he’s awfully close, but hell, right now he’s lucky I’m not sitting on his lap and clinging to his neck like a limpet (thank God for small mercies). My breathing is copying his rhythm, the panic is subsiding, Betty is stomping off, muttering obscenities at a lost opportunity to come back into my world and my head is starting to nod that all is getting better and I finally manage the O.K. signal.
I start to look around, I start to see the wonderful underwater world around me. And the more I look, the more I relax, and the more the breathing becomes normal. We head off, everything is slow and peaceful. Together, we point out the weird, the wonderful, the unutterably beautiful. We share the experience and though this is a normal event in his day to day life, he clearly expresses delight in showing me the glory of this unexplored world.
The corals, the constant movement, the peeping of eyes from deep within a crevice, the darting movements of the fish alongside an overall slow waving motion of the current moving everything in its path and of which one has no control, during which all you can hear is your breathing.
In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly.
This is mindfulness, this is real breathing, this is living in the moment.
The grinning Colonel was waiting for me. In truth, I don’t know which of us was the more exhilarated, the proudest.
And now the sun is dipping down over the horizon, the light is changing and the fishermen are moving slowly across the water in their narrow boats. What a day. Yes, what a day.
Have you scuba dived?
How did you cope? Did you find it easy or not? Any tips?
Taking the first steps outside of the aircraft and into the air, the heat and humidity lunged with full force into my body and lungs. A strange feeling of a pressurised osmosis raises my temperature within moments until there is simply clammy skin and a few damp tendrils of hair on my neck and a slightly unpleasant feeling of losing a little control.
For a day we walked around the city of extremes. The poverty was to be expected and yet when it is lying in front of you on the roads there is of course the instinctive want to put the world right, to scoop up the filthy naked babies and their parents from where they lie and give them some of what I, and so many of us, have.
There are families living in the dirt beside the crazy traffic, the men cooking over tiny fires whilst the women scrub at clothes in dirty buckets of water. A baby sleeps, her naked sister squats and urinates a short distance away whilst the boy plays in the dust with one broken toy. And what do I think? I think of my son’s old scooter left outside our house for the dustbin men to take away, just last week, in a sorting out of old toys and clothes. I think of the carelessness, the frivolity of our society, the excessive food, clothes and the throwaway mentality.
I see the stray dogs and cats; old, young, desperately thin and more often than not, injured. I think of the shameful cost of buying the latest most fashionable breed of dog in England. I see filth and chaos, the high rise buildings alongside the shacks, I smell the drains competing with the sweetness of frangipani, and whilst the senses are being attacked from every angle, I see two tiny barefoot women under a makeshift covering talking together.
The older one has her eyes half closed as she lies sprawled on the cracked concrete. The younger one fans her and as I pass, she looks up at me and grins widely, her lined face lighting up. “Welcome to Manila” she beams and waves a bony hand, never pausing from her fanning. I smile back at her, pause beside her, unsure, wanting to help, not wanting to offend, but she waves me on, the moment has passed and she is already chatting again to the woman, fanning away the flies from her face and making her more comfortable by creating the lightest of breezes on her skin.
And what do I wish for? I wish that in the future, in the dark days, I remember her; her smile, her dry, dusty, thin skin stretched taut over her fragile bones and I remember that my life is so very easy and sometimes it’s good just to keep a little perspective.
Make a commitment to yourself, your mind and body. Make a promise to put on those rose-tinted glasses that you once, where the world was a wonderful and happy place.
What have YOU done for your mental health today? Can you make this promise to yourself?
If you need them, take them. If they’re not working, change them. Your doctor is your friend – your job is together to find what works for you. And if the doctor doesn’t work, change them.
R. Re-setting The Thought Patterns
Go to therapy, talk to a psychiatrist, talk to a psychologist, learn about CBT and practise, practise, practise every day until your brain starts to ‘unlearn’ the bad habits and learn the good. It works.
Get outside, get some fresh air in your lungs and find the light. Just to let you know, bright moonlight gives you 1 lux, normal living room lighting gives you 100 lux, but being outside on a sunny day gives you 20,000 to 100,000 lux … monumental difference and we need it more than most.
Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, whatever you need to practise daily to start to control the anxiety .. Nb Don’t do the audio cds in the car. I nearly crashed I was so relaxed, and they keep telling you to close your eyes … enough said.
I. Instil proper eating habits
Invest in your body. Think you can live on processed food and feel good? Cooking is for everyone, for you and your family. If your own parents have brought you up on Macdonalds, crisps and ice cream, shoot them (Nb Yes that is a joke) or better still, educate them. If your mind and your body is out of sorts, it’s going to be even harder to get back on an even keel. (Ginger nuts don’t count as long as the whole packet isn’t eaten in one sitting.)
S. Social Interaction
Have a proper chatter and a natter with at least one other human being every single day. The dog does not count, neither does talking to yourself.
Whatever floats your boat as long as it raises your heart rate and gets the endorphins and dopamine kicking in. Find something, anything that you’re going to stick at.
Make the promise that you’re going to do this every single day and see through those rose-tinted glasses …
London is bathed in the comforting warmth of the spring sun and whilst the pavements are a multitude of light and dark stretched and tangled streaks from the dappled shade of the budding trees, the air is still. My son and I are walking towards another coffee shop to find somewhere to tap away the rambling nonsense which fills the fluffy void between my ears; I am feeling a wonderful sense of being able to breathe and relax and enjoy just this very moment in time.
The world isn’t perfect, parts of my past are black and painful, the future is of course unknown and yet …. and yet … at this moment I feel happy. I am loathe to point out the stain on my character for all and sundry to see, however, I must confess that it’s odd to feel happy when my default setting is the polar opposite.
“Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth”
(As stated in the government Ministry Paper 28 relating to the Jamaican flag.)
The gold recalls the shining sun, black reflects hardships, and green represents the land. It was slightly altered in 1996, but for me, the simplicity of this statement sums up my state of mind … yes, there are hardships and troubles to endure, but the world is good right now and the future I hope is as rosy as it can be.
And what of you? Is your mind akin to the Jamaican flag or am I just barking mad?
My late mother’s beautiful clock was broken on our previous move, and despite a lengthy stay in the clock hospital, it never recovered. However, as I sit around the boxes stacked up high, I can hear a gentle ticking. And every half hour the beautiful ting, ting, tinging chime of mother’s clock can be heard from the depths of one of those boxes. The fact that it has got the hour completely wrong is immaterial and merely receives a raised eyebrow from the Colonel following a glance at his watch, and a smile from me.
Just the familiar sound of ticking is comforting. I have missed it, and the gentle, regular sound takes me back to my mother’s house and the peace and serenity that prevailed there. The safety and reassurance. The complete quiet, except the ticking of the clock.
So this is mindfulness! …. At last I understand it.
In a troubled world where nothing is certain and the future is a fictional imagining based on what we’ve worked for, what we hope for and a smattering of luck, sometimes the constancy and familiarity of a person or even a silly old clock ticking along in the background is not only soothing, but part of the multifaceted foundations essential for a balanced life.
This weekend we had a final lunch with the Colonel’s work colleagues whom, over the last year and a half, have welcomed me into their world. The world of the military. A life where there are rules, many unspoken, there is hierarchy, also unspoken and there is a system. A system that works. It is a life of order and precision in a world of chaos, unsettled politics and endless conflicts.
Their kindness have at times overwhelmed me and their patience never-ending, when I have asked them yet again to translate the letters and numbers that relate to places, people and events which dominate conversations. I try to remember that they work on the 24 hour clock and punctuality is expected and the norm, whereas ‘fashionably late’ is simply ‘intolerably late’.
Words are chosen carefully so that any potential confusion is eliminated. Of course this is all drummed into them from the very beginning of their training. Precise and clear instructions and not a lot of waffle. It’s laughable to try to imagine CGS (Chief of the General Staff) issuing vague orders … it simply would never happen! The chaos that would ensue…!
I recall one early meeting with them, and as the Colonel went to the bar to order more drinks, he asked a colleague to ‘look after me’ as he left my side for a just few minutes. This was executed naturally and smoothly without a pause in the conversation and said colleague without any hesitation chatted happily, asking me questions until the Colonel returned to me and he then slipped quietly away. From young subalterns they learn how to look after their guests. They have by then, enough life experience and confidence to be able to talk easily and more than enough manners to engage with their companions and make everyone around them feel comfortable as though their guests are as interesting as Mandela or Gandhi, as amusing as Chaplin or Robin Williams and as respectful and important to them as their own wife or mother. Manners maketh man and all that …
They have a unique sense of humour and a banter all of their own, formulated from extreme situations within the cramped metal confines of tanks or in any of those dire places in 45 degree heat in full combat gear, where at any moment they can be under attack with IEDs causing complete and lethal devastation. Where they, and they alone, are responsible for keeping each other alive as one of them begs for a trigger to be pulled as the tourniquet is tightened further and his muffled screams fill the dusty air yet again, but knowing that it’s only minutes before he’ll bleed out. There are fine sand covered body parts spread over the filth as they wait for the longed for throbbing of the chopper to take them within the golden hour, to relative safety. Time is the killer now.
So whilst I pack my boxes, organise and make lists, and my anxiety and stress levels are wanting to creep up the scale, I think of those soldiers and officers and am able to keep it marginally into perspective. It is simply moving again. That’s all. We all have different levels of pressure and stress that we are able to cope with, mine being fairly low. But that’s ok, I’m working on it. And once I’ve waved goodbye to our lovely home here and I’ve managed to pack up the house without tears, tantrums or actually packing the Colonel into a box, I’d say I’ve done rather well …
I’ve been reading through my posts lately and had rather forgotten about this one – I hope you don’t mind me reposting!
Research says that a part of the treatment of depression and anxiety is to indulge in massage. Fabulous! However, I’m a middle class, middle aged woman and I don’t just take my clothes off for anyone. I’m rather British and frankly going to a therapist for the first time was bad enough – stiff upper lip and all that. Talking about one’s feelings? Are you clinically insane? I went to a Victorian boarding school on the southernmost cliffs of England where crying oneself to sleep was the norm, but one never talked about it.
So to be completely starkers, be kneaded and pummelled like a lump of dough was definitely going to take some pluck and courage.
The Technical Paragraph … skip this para if you have a low boredom threshold (I do if it’s any consolation).
The Mayo Clinic claim that a 60 minute massage can lower cortisol (the hormone that’s produced when stressed) by an average of 30 per cent, (although the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine found the therapy lowered levels by 53 per cent … bit of a difference but it’s all going down and that’s what matters in my book). And when cortisol lowers, serotonin and dopamine increase. The combination of all this thereby boosting the body’s ability to fight off pain, anxiety and feelings of sadness. Win, win, win! Definitely worth ripping my clothes off for.
Ok … enough of the dull bit … carry on now.
So off I trundle to visit ‘Michelle’. Michelle is stunning. Michelle has a sing-song voice calming voice and in the warm, whale music of her scented room, I lie on a bed with only a couple of tiny towels covering the important bits. Now, to be clear, prevention.com say that the word massage comes from the Arabic word mass’h which means “press gently“. I since have looked into this further, and there are definitely some discrepancies over this. But as far as I am concerned … “gently” sounds good.
Are you joking? Face down with my head poking through a hole in the bed, I am oiled, squeezed, stretched, pummelled and beaten within an inch of my life. And I feel fan-bloody-tastic! I feel slightly drunk and my legs certainly can’t hold me up. No wonder the Chinese have been doing this for the last 2,500 years …. who needs alcohol when you have Michelle in your life?
I’m beyond relaxed, lying legs akimbo, tiny towels long since disappeared and I suspect that at some point my damp cheek indicates that I might have dribbled, so given the option of sliding my oily body and matted hair (yes, the head got a going over too) into my clothes again, I slurrily asked if she could perform any other beauty miracles on me. “A leg and bikini wax mightn’t go amiss” she said in her sing-song voice just a tad too quickly. But hey, I’m agreeing to anything and with whale music drifting through me she paints me with warm soothing wax until …. ARGHHHH! Holy God …. “Just a bit nippy!” she laughs as every morsel of hair is ripped from my below my waist. The tiny towel which had once covered my modesty is now gripped between my clenched teeth whilst I, unable to utter a word, make Neanderthal moaning noises as she chatters away happily about her camping holiday last summer.
An hour later I return home, with a gait akin to John Wayne, resembling an oil slick from the waist up and a bald, plucked chicken from the waist down. All benefits of my massage long since gone. And when I delicately crawl my fragile body into bed and cuddle up next to the Colonel as his arms wrap around me, he suddenly pauses, then lifts the duvet, peers down and reappears with a grin. “Don’t even think about it!” I mutter with veritable force from between clenched teeth. He looks like a berated puppy but I am practising deep breathing so I think he thinks I’m asleep, and even he wouldn’t risk the wrath of a hostile, woman in recovery from a major ordeal.
Ooooh! Advice to anyone …. when your husband is just a teensy bit tipsy, starts telling you how much he loves you and suggests a romantic weekend away, say yes and start packing.
Which is how I now come to be in the most glorious hotel overlooking the snow-covered Cairngorms with a bed that could fit an entire family plus a couple of dogs, and a bathroom to die for. I’m writing this, The Colonel is watching the rugby … can things get any better?
But what about the anxiety? Did I stress about leaving the house, hiding the silver in the fridge, the potato basket and the wellington boots (until the Colonel thought we should bring them with us, so I had to empty them again … I managed to ignore his raised eyebrows and twitching mouth this time). Did I stress about the fridge freezer setting fire, or have to go and check three times that the front and back doors were closed, locked and double bolted? Did I worry that I’d forget to pack something of vital importance and then have to drive back, collect it and go through all the door closing, locking and double bolting three times more?
Well, I certainly thought about these things, but I know a good opportunity when I see one and the best thing was that I had no time to stress. I didn’t have days and days for the thoughts to fester and grow in my mind in a downward spiral until I’d be dreading the event. Because to be honest, that’s what usually happens. Actually, it’s what always happens. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened when we last went away … too much time to think about it all, and whoosh! My mind went on a fictional nightmare of an adventure of its own.
To make matters even better, we went via Edinburgh with its stunning castle, cobbled streets and abundance of cashmere and tweed shops. I’m afraid the shallow side of me took over, the shops won, the tourists were pushed aside and I am now the proud owner of a discounted cashmere cardigan and a half price stunning, yes darn stunning, tweed, fitted, just above the knee coat! Sod anxiety …. bring on the shopping.
I tend to be a very nervous passenger in the car … the hangover from a nasty accident in the late ’80’s. I have a tendency to shriek rather a lot and put my hands over my eyes. Apparently it’s rather off putting to the driver.
The drive north from Edinburgh however was glorious. The vast and bleak open hills and spaces, barren and devoid of the softening effect of any trees. It looks so inhospitable, almost frightening. They’re exposed and raw without a single nook or cranny in which to hide from the biting winds and harsh weather. It’s no wonder that nothing but the toughest of plants grow here, and any that do grow, grow low, low to protect themselves.
The roads are narrow and twisting and from the great heights we then drop down into the forests. Within the endless dense forests, the ground is a mass of thick leaf litter and pine needles and there are rocky streams meandering through. From time to time we pass tiny villages and hamlets with houses all built of the same solid thick stone with slate roofs and chimneys spiralling smoke. Mossy stone walls follow the roads with occasional stone pillars and lodges indicating the entrance to yet another vast estate. I try to look down the driveways, but they’re miles long and hidden from sight from nosy southerners like myself.
The people who live here are miles and miles from anywhere. It’s remote and they’re tough. I wonder whether they suffer from anxiety or whether they have more important things to worry about, like if the sheep are lambing and stuck in snowdrifts, or whether the generator will work properly when the electricity fails again. Perhaps they worry about how much food they have stored in their larders, but somehow I suspect that their log stores are full, the larders are bursting and the fires permanently lit.
Perhaps I need to get things just a teensy bit into perspective and stop worrying as to whether an axe-wielding thief is going to break into the house, rifle through the potatoes, find the silver and set fire to the house, and instead spend more time in this beautiful place and get filling my larder and log store and frankly write a book. Bet I wouldn’t have quite so much to stress about then, and if it all gets too much, I can put on my lovely new tweed coat and stroke my discounted cashmere cardigan. Bliss!
So, in just over a fortnight we’re moving from Scotland to London. Bearing in mind how very little I expected from our two year jaunt to Scotland, I am surprised by how emotional I feel. Because you see, I’ve made friends. Lots of lovely friends who seem to just like me for who I am, quirks and all.
My lovely tennis friends, who laugh when I squeal, shriek and roar with laughter at my own inadequacies. Who tease me mercilessly when I shiver on court and complain of the freezing Scottish weather as they go swimming in the outdoor pool whilst it’s raining, again. Those friends who teach me little Scottish words, usually relating to hangovers and bad language, and who translate for me when I look blankly at them, once again not understanding their accents.
We sit and have coffee together, we share stories, we laugh and chatter for hours. We put the world to rights, yet nobody dominates, we take it in turns. There’s a thirty year age gap between us and it doesn’t matter a hoot. Yes, I shall miss my friends.
I won’t miss the weather and the darkness. In winter the sun barely peeks over the trees on the horizon, but to the north I can see beyond the city to the Campsie Fells, which are beautiful hills, covered in snow. Sometimes the evening light catches them and they glow a warm peachy golden. But the rain and the cold. I won’t miss either.
The people here talk, a lot. A trip to the post office takes twenty minutes because everyone likes to chatter and natter. They are friendly and open. Yesterday the supermarket lady and I spent a good ten minutes discussing her allergy to nuts and bowel issues. I’m glad the Colonel wasn’t there, he’s not really very keen on discussing intimate subjects, particularly with a complete stranger. In London if you smile at a stranger you’re likely to be shunned, in Scotland, embraced. Yes, I shall miss the people.
And I shall miss the beautiful park, just around the corner. With its lake, river, waterfalls, woods and endless paths. Where you will find every marvellous breed of dog and every person who loves just to be out in the rain or occasional shine. People stop, chat, talk about their dogs or simply stand and watch the elegant swans and cygnets who grace the lake. It’s my happy place and yes, I shall miss it too.
The ironic thing is that it is only three years on Tuesday since my mother died, and whilst I think of her every day, I do wonder …. you see, she was here as a child through to her early twenties. I wonder if she has been to some of the places that I visit and I wish I could tell her now about my life here and more importantly listen to hers. I don’t just miss my mother, I long for her, I absolutely long for her.
So now Robbie is making the headlines about ‘the disease in his head that wants to kill him.’ Well if that doesn’t help break the stigma, I’m not sure what will. There will be those of course, who say that he frazzled his brain himself with all the drugs and frankly with all that money he can afford the top treatments which perhaps are not accessible to the rest of us and therefore sympathy might not be high on their list of priorities. Personally however, I rather like him, not in a groupie sort of way, but in an ‘I’m going to attack life and give it my all’ sort of way.
And that is, when I’m feeling drab and a tad shoddy, what I lack. That ‘va va voom’. That gusto and effervescence that I know is lurking beneath the surface, but is being smothered by a heavy dark and murky fog.
But today is a beautiful day, snow is blanketing Scotland and I’m housebound. So, let’s turn on some Robbie, dance around the kitchen and find some va va voom!
There are some things about myself that I genuinely don’t like. Actually I wouldn’t blame anyone else for not liking these traits much either. Does that mean that I’m not a likeable person? I don’t know. In a similar vein, if someone does one bad thing to another, does that make them a bad person? Likewise, I don’t know the answer to that.
But back to the point – The hated trait is my ‘over awareness’. Particularly of other people. I’ve already spoken I think of my over sensitivity so maybe this is much of the same thing.
The fact of the matter is that there is another family here who is irritating me beyond belief. My children don’t seem to have noticed them, and even if the Colonel has, which I doubt, I suspect it’s simply because the mother of said family is (even in my moment of negativity) quite a good looking woman. Foxy is probably how he’d describe her.
The irritating thing is that whilst they’re most probably perfectly lovely, they are just so loud, oblivious, and unaware of everyone else around them. Oh it’s all coming out now isn’t it? My faults and foibles, and there you all were thinking what a nice English lady she appeared to be … well, clearly not and I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry, because you see, I don’t like these horrible traits of mine either. But how on earth do I stop them? How do I ignore people?
Why am I so judgemental? Why does it matter if they have loud conversations across an otherwise silent, yet full room, whilst their iPads and phones fight each other for volume, have their feet up on the tables and chairs and wear their pyjamas in the main sitting room? Why does it matter if the squabbles between themselves are audible for all and sundry to hear? Why does it matter if they wander around in bare feet as though they are at home and then pick at their toes in front of me? Why does it matter that the mother has a continual habit of snorting and coughing up enough phlegm to warrant the opening of a handkerchief factory, but then swallows it with a resounding, “Ahhh!” for all to hear?
Why the heck should any of this matter to me? Why am I such a irritable old fun-sponge? Am I really already a classically grumpy old woman? Yes, I believe I am. I am the female equivalent of Victor Meldrew, the fictional character in the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave. Yes, I am indeed Victor’s twin sister and therefore as old (he must be approaching 80 …).
Why can I not just switch off and be immune to it and more importantly, why am I like this?
And therein lies the problem … As a child I was taught that children should be seen and not heard, we should be considerate to everyone, never ‘make a scene’ or unnecessarily draw attention to oneself. We must be kind and polite to all and help little old ladies across the road, even if they don’t want to cross. Manners maketh Man and all that.
(Oh God, she’s just snorted again … and, yup, again, followed by another “Ahhh”. I now want to bludgeon her. Noooo, I must think calm, happy thoughts. Think of fluffy bunnies and arghhhhh! She’s done it again! For God’s sake.)
Frankly (and apologies in advance for the language now), but frankly bollocks to it all. Maybe that’s why I’m such a people pleaser, maybe that’s why I was such a doormat to my first husband. I was living a 1950’s perfect little housewife dream who wouldn’t say boo to a goose.
(Yet more snorting … would it be rude to offer her a handkerchief? But she’s having a FaceTime call with her sister now and the children are all joining in, so I daresay it would be impolite of me to interrupt.)
Maybe I’m actually just jealous … maybe I secretly want to drag and slide my feet with every step across the floor, let my children wipe their noses on their sleeves, and pick at their toes in public. Maybe I secretly long for that laissez faire attitude to life.
So maybe I’m not only over aware, over sensitive, intolerant, judgemental, a rotten skier, but I’m also jealous. Flipping marvellous.
The solution … apart from whining to you all (again, I am sorry … although you’ve probably stopped reading by now anyway), I think the best course of action is either to put on my headphones to block out the sound or alternatively to ditch the headphones, turn up the volume, snort, pick my toes, then my nose and take the philosophy that if you can’t beat them, join them. Think I might be a rebel and do the latter. 😧
I once had a garden in Oxfordshire, England. Sincere apologies if I’m sounding like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa … ‘I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills’. Somehow it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and I certainly don’t see Robert Redford kicking around here ….
However, in my garden, I discovered that digging up potatoes is like finding buried treasure, rather exciting. Picking beans (before the dog has sniffed them out) is total satisfaction, and the monotony of shelling peas is absolute therapy (mindfulness I think it’s now called).
Now, it strikes me that these are some of the normal everyday tasks that our grandparents used to do … did they suffer from anxiety and depression? Did they have the same levels of diabetes and obesity that our generation suffers? Did they hand their child in the supermarket a packet of crisps and their phone to play on, in order to stop the tantrum? I don’t think so somehow …
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they had it easy in any way, shape or form particularly with the advances in medicine as an example, but surely there’s some form of halfway house to be had?
They did the washing without the help of a washing machine, they cooked without blenders and microwaves, they cleaned without hoovers and spray polish, they wrote, read and enjoyed handwritten letters. Everything took time, and effort and patience was the norm and absolutely necessary.
No online food deliveries or factory-made meals with ingredients defined by letters and numbers and more often than not, ending in ‘phosphate’. What exactly is disodium diphosphate anyway? Some sort of raising agent … what’s wrong with an egg from a happy chicken. I’m on a roll now, warming to my theme .. does anyone actually know what partially inverted refiners syrup is? Apparently it’s in my ginger nuts. And no, I don’t really want to know, I’m just having a rant on my soapbox.
Perhaps I’m simply feeling a little nostalgic for an era of which I only know snippets of, from what has been passed down through the generations. Perhaps I crave some simplicity in my life to help me. Perhaps I crave some digging up of potatoes, weeding the beds, working up a sweat and doing these things that we now call mindfulness, but in those days was just called life. Perhaps I simply crave my garden … not at the foot of the Ngong Hills, just my little simple garden in England.
As time passes, I’m beginning to understand myself better. Seems faintly tragic that it’s taken 48 years, however the more I understand, the easier life becomes. I’ve learnt what to add into my life and what to avoid like the plague. Bit like a cake recipe really … add another egg for more lift and va va voom and less syrup and treacle to make it lethargically stodgy and sink like a stone. Yes, I am indeed, a cake (hopefully chocolate).
I’m discovering the things I like, loathe, need and most definitely don’t need in my life. I’ve also realised that there are some things that I’m hugely sensitive to … but what I’m understanding is that I’m not alone! Thank the Lord … I just thought I was a bit odd. To specify …
I loathe loud or sudden noises (sudden and loud and I’ve been known to turn feral) …. Many years ago my children thought it would be highly amusing to jump out at me from hiding in the airing cupboard, resulting in ‘yours truly’ screaming with true gusto, roaring that they were out of The Will and promptly bursting into tears. They’ve never done it again. Poor little buggers …. I had to apologise more than they did. The Colonel also knows that on entering a room he is far better gently singing Ave Maria in soothing tones than announcing his arrival with any form of unanticipated volume.
I love bonfires. I could stare into a fire for hours, feeling the heat. For me it’s as soothing as listening to water, but without the consequence of desperately needing a tiddle. (In case that’s just an English thing, it means a wee!). I find it wonderfully calming.
In terms of needs, I need to just sometimes remember that I do have to have downtime, me time, time out, whatever you want to call it, but I need to be able to just to take a breath, and check up on myself. To ask myself, “What have I done for my mental health today?” I need a little bit of care and occasionally to treat myself like Dresden China.
And as for what I definitely don’t need in my life …. I don’t need bad people. Narcissists, liars and unkind people (who tend to be desperately insecure I’ve found). I did a bit of ‘culling’ of friends on Facebook last year … terribly therapeutic once I’d stopped feeling guilty.
I’m sure that this is fairly simplistic, but in truth, that’s me. Simple. So in summary, I believe that I shall add more fires to my life, have the occasional massage (can I put that down as ‘me time’ or am I pushing this a bit?), wear ear muffs on bonfire night and ditch anyone who isn’t genuinely lovely, gorgeous and reckons that adding a few of these ‘eggs to ones cake’ is not weird, but absolutely necessary.
We know, because we’ve had it rammed down our throats by well-meaning friends, family and professionals what we should be doing every day.
We know we should be exercising, getting outside, eating properly, keeping busy, taking our meds, seeing our therapist, doing yoga and meditation. We know that we should not be drinking too much, not procrastinating, not overthinking, not hiding in our beds waiting to feel better, waiting for the exhaustion, panic and anxiety to fade. Frankly I’m panicking just thinking about it all.
But these are just words, words that are so easy to say and yet with these endless lists of things that we should and shouldn’t be doing it’s no surprise that it all becomes overwhelming, anxiety sets in followed hot on the heels of procrastination and what then happens? Zip, nothing, nada. Back to square one on the Snakes and Ladders board again. See post Snakes and Ladders.
Frankly …… Arghhhhh!
Now apparently, the current worlds strongest man is a British fellow called Eddie Hall. He is the only man able to deadlift 500kg under strongman rules. I have no clue what the rules are, and frankly I don’t give a stuff, because that’s half a bloomin’ ton … That’s lifting up a horse or a cow with two hands.
An incredible feat! This surely shows how strong the body can be, but also how mind-blowingly more powerful the mind actually is. His body was screaming at him, but his mind overruled it. (Until he had a nosebleed and passed out, but that’s beside the point!)My point to this is that when a wee Eddie popped into this world, I daresay his mother had no idea that in 30 years time her son would be picking up the equivalent of an Angus Cow for pleasure. But more importantly, he wouldn’t have been able to have done this the moment he appeared. His physical and mental ability has taken years to grow and perfect. He started out small. He learned what his limits were, he worked, he strived, he increased his limits both mentally and physically.
And that’s absolutely no different to us!
We start with baby steps. Steps so small they’re akin to a little hamster. Yes, I’m warming to my theme …. Hamster steps, a little scuttle here, a little scuttle there. A stop, a twitch the nose (not strictly necessary), a little regroup to evaluate where we’re at, a look around, and then off to do another little scuttle.
And we grow. And our scuttling becomes more confident. We start to walk. We start to walk with our head held high. We stride. And we grow braver, bigger and stronger and able to do more and more, just like Eddie Hall. We practise, we work, sometimes we fail, but we just get back up and try again. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but someone somewhere had to start laying the initial few stones.
So remember when you’re taking those first little baby steps, that once upon a time our mate Eddie Hall, the World’s Strongest Man, was once just like us, a teeny little nose-twitching frightened hamster.
Yesterday something completely new, novel and rather bizarre happened. I certainly don’t want to jump the gun, count my chickens before they’ve hatched or continue spurting any other idioms for that matter, but I’m nervously excited. Little butterflies of trepidation fluttering inside me ….
Please forgive the very basic simplicity of this, but this is the level that I’m at right now! But I am wondering if anyone out there (she ask hopefully) has similar thought processes …
The Situation aka The Fact
No clean socks in the drawer for sport.
Previous/Usual Thought Processes and Actions
Panic and stress, leading to upending all the other drawers in case sports socks have walked by themselves into t-shirt or knicker drawer. Heart racing. Mental beating with large pointy stick whilst berating myself for being so disorganised, utterly unprepared and useless once again. I wonder how The Colonel can possibly want to be married to such a pathetic creature. I have reinforced that no, I am not a domestic goddess however much I’d like to be. Anger followed by despondency kicks in.
Wear previous days sports socks? Noooooo, that’s grim. Can’t stoop that low.
Wear non-sport socks? No, they slip inside my trainers and besides then everyone will know that I’ve not got clean socks to wear and have had to resort to this…. oh the shame (despite the knowledge that others have been seen playing in jeans and espadrilles because they forgot their kit.
I won’t go and play tennis today. I’m in such a bad mood anyway that I’ll play badly and this mood is infectious and nobody wants to catch that. Cup of tea and turn on iPad.
All negative! What a surprise … not.
The Situation aka The Fact
No clean socks in the drawer for sport.
Brand Spanking New/Most Unusual Thought Processes
Ahhh, it’s because I’ve done two lots more tennis this week. Crikey that’s great. Well done me! Metaphorical patting and slapping on the back. Big smiles. Maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling a bit chirpy this week? No shit Sherlock …
See if I have any drying on any radiators around the house, or borrow a pair from The Colonel or wear a pair or two of normal socks and if they’re a bit slidey, well heck, it’s not like I’m playing at Wimbledon! (Snorts of laughter ensue, followed by some serious day dreaming of me on Centre Court looking fabulous in a tanned and blonde sort of way playing the most unbelievable shots leaving Serena Williams looking baffled …) Back to earth …
Put on two pairs of non-sports socks, patted myself on the back, again, and as I’m leaving the house, find a pair drying on the kitchen radiator. I am a domestic goddess! Think if I’m going to continue playing so much tennis, I might go and buy some more socks … oooh I see a shopping outing in the offing! Yay! Double yay!
I sit quietly in the car. I have never felt this before. This momentary feeling of having no anxiety. The light and relaxed feeling of thinking ‘What does it really matter? It’s just a pair of socks’. Is this the endless CBT that I was so convinced was nonsense and couldn’t possibly work for me, actually beginning to infuse into my brain … Is there some sort of osmosis going on?
This is a new sensation and it’s glorious and I want to hold onto it. I want to hold on to this wonderful, lightness in my mind for longer. Is this how other people think? How utterly, utterly liberating. I don’t want this feeling to leave me. But surely, if it’s happened once, then it can happen again? Can’t it?
One small but impossibly heavy link on the chains that holds me down in my murky sea has just crumbled beneath me and I’m gently moving upwards towards the light. I can see it, I can almost touch it. Please, please don’t let this feeling go.
On social media, everyone is seemingly very, very happy. All of them (apparently) enjoying a blissful existence of beautiful, laughing children on sun drenched beaches with parents exclaiming how they are having a ‘Proud Mummy moment’ (urghh!) as their daughter number one, two or three (or perhaps all) have been accepted to Oxford University, meanwhile their gorgeous hubby has just swept them away on an eye-wateringly expensive safari trip as pictures of distant lions are thrust into our inbox. Similarly in the press, flawless models and celebrities pose outside the popular London nightlife haunts, with glowing perfect skin, no cellulite (God forbid), spots or a muffin-top to be seen. Everything looks so darn perfect and so darn predictable.
However, we also know, that this a totally air-brushed version of what the truth is. And yet, when it’s constantly thrust down our throats, we do start to believe it.
It’s human nature and it goes without saying that it makes us look at our lives slightly negatively. Jealously creeps in, slipping and sliding its way into our minds until the green-eyed monster makes us just a teensy bit dissatisfied and disappointed with our own lives. Our ordinary trips to the supermarket, our jobs, our daily mind-numbingly dull and endless chores of housework and whinging children frankly all seem just a little bit … meh!
Is it however to be expected and the norm to be wandering around in a state of euphoria? Of course not. I don’t see the average person going around the supermarket or at work with a constant grin on their faces. In London they would be avoided like the plague. Up here in Glasgow they would probably be sectioned.
How many times do we say, “Everyone else is happy, why can’t I be happy? Why can’t my life be like that? I would be happy if my life was like that? Depression and anxiety suck!”
And yet, these people, these apparent friends of ours are simply wanting us to believe that their life is a constant holiday in the Caribbean.
However ….. What is the truth? The truth is that the husband has been having an affair, they both have a drink problem and child number three has just been expelled for selling weed. The safari holiday was a last ditch attempt to save the marriage, escape the mistress (who has now turned into a bunny-boiler) and in actual fact, those were the only two lions that they saw after seven hours confined in a 4-by-4 with three bellyaching kids, no WiFi and two of the three missed it anyway.
So now we know the truth. Now we can choose to either accept what is being thrust daily in our faces and believe it, or take it all with a little pinch of salt, give a smile, move away and instead, start concentrating on our own lives.
So now, instead of wishing for a perpetual smile and asking myself every day if I am happy, I shall ask myself, “Am I ok?”. If the answer is yes, then that is good. That is normal, and normal is good.
I will ride out the inevitable storms in the knowledge, that they will end.
I will relish and delight in those fleeting moments of total joy and happiness.
And for the rest, for the average day-to-day life of simply living, I will enjoy the feeling of peace and of normality. Because normal, is good.
I’ve never much liked the word hobby. It’s always tended to conjure up images of groups of 80 year olds sitting in a draughty church hall doing crochet, undoubtedly wearing large polyester floral skirts with elasticated waists and discussing the merits of their husbands vegetable patch ……
I’ve had single girlfriends who have secretly joined Salsa evening classes, until a few weeks later they can’t talk about it enough. Worse still, they have tried to coerce me into joining them. Err, no thanks! Raving about the liberating joys of learning something new and meeting different people. Why on earth would I want to do that?
Why would I want to risk making a complete fool of myself, standing on the edge of a roomful of Fred Astaires and Ginger Rogers, whilst nobody picked me to have as their partner. Oh nooo! Besides, I had friends. Why would I need any more? My own little random group of friends, strangely however from the same middle class background with the same dress sense, likes, dislikes and thoughts as me. Was this a coincidence or had I subconsciously chosen friends because as they were like me, therefore they were deemed safe and I could therefore trust them?
However, that was in the old days, the bad days. Those were in the negative days. To be honest I was not only just a teensy bit narrow-minded but also somewhat uneducated. I knew nothing! Not that I know an awful lot now, but perhaps I am slightly more open to ideas. And of course, this was before I discovered my ‘thing’ (autocorrect just put in ‘thong’ rather than ‘thing’ which has made me smile, childish I know … I’m sure I discovered thongs a long time ago!). I don’t have a hobby, I have a ‘thing’.
And tennis is my thing.
It’s my focus … for several hours a week, I think completely and utterly on one thing. I do something completely alien to me which is to concentrate! I’m pretty sure Roger Federer isn’t serving for the match whilst stressing over what to buy his wife for her birthday or whether Trevor the plumber is going to turn up that day. During those hours I have no negative or anxious thoughts, and that is becoming so regular that it’s becoming a habit. A good habit. Betty the Demon Depressive doesn’t get a word in. She is silent. I am not feeding the beast, so she is wilting. Simples.
It’s my sport …. it’s exercise which means endorphins, dopamine, serotonin start leaping into action, boosting my mood. They are real and they work. The exercise has helped my skin; it makes me drink more water which helps every organ in my body. I can wallop a ball with such force that all my frustrations fragment and disappear. Despite being a skinny bird, age is cruel thing and where bingo wings, muffin tops and love handles once were, muscles are appearing. This makes me more confident and the Colonel’s glasses steam up more … both of which are positives in my book. (The latter perhaps needing to be kept under control from time to time).
And finally, it’s a part of my routine and structure …. It’s one of my daily tasks. It gives me a sense of purpose and control with my life, mind and body. I need routine and structure more than most people. Without it, there’s always the fear that I really might end up doing nothing all day and hiding away in my little home, wrapping my bingo wings around me with nothing to talk about.
And finally, it’s my social interaction with the world. I have new friends. Friends who are different from me. Friends of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. I have no one to hide behind, no children, husband or alcohol. I have learned from them that being yourself is good. We talk nonsense mostly, laughing about nothingness. We laugh, we tease, we tell each other our woes and our joys. We put the world to rights. They don’t judge me and I don’t judge them. They are quite simply, fabulous.
So, if anyone out there is even just starting to think about having a new ‘thing’, then my advice (without being preachy … what right have I?) then don’t overthink it, just do it!
Don your very best floral, elasticated skirt, head down to the church hall and start doing it …. Crochet, tennis, salsa, Ethiopian basket weaving – whatever floats your boat. But you’ll end up with considerably more than just a new hobby. You’ll have a whole new part to your life. A very, very good part.
In exactly three weeks time, the Colonel, my two boys and I are taking a holiday. Whoop! Whoop!
We are going to a small village in the Alps which is predominantly full of Italians who make skiing look as effortlessly natural as if they had been born in a pair of skis. They have a tanned, healthy glow about them which makes their smiles look even brighter and whiter. Their tiny children race past me on the slopes with the confidence of youth and the knowledge that if they take a tumble, they will simply bounce. Besides, they’re so small, they haven’t got far to fall and anyway papa will appear within moments with an elegant swish of snow, to scoop them up, utter some words of encouragement and send them on their way again …. to rejoin his bronzed wife in her enormous sunglasses, sipping coffee, behind a light cloud of smoke with a cigarette held between two long tapered fingers. I feel as though I am in a film with Sophia Loren … except there’s a bit of twist as Bridget Jones (aka me) has just been added to the cast list.
How do they even make smoking look good? Not quite the same here seeing the masses huddled together outside Tesco’s in the pouring rain whilst you’re trying to get your jammed trolley out of the row. “Kevin!! Go and help that lady with the trolley! No, don’t kick it you pillock!” No, not quite the same at all.
I am a cautious skier who started much too late in life. I do not share the Italians’ attributes. I have less of the tanned healthy look about me and am blessed with more of a pale, insipid look, something akin to skinny-legged hermit crab who has been hibernating for a year or two.
I scuttle from one side of the piste to the other, stop, look nervously around and scuttle back the other side. When things get tricky, I do what I do when driving, I stop. But there are no hazard lights on this vehicle, so this particular habit has been known to cause a pile-up. I am fairly prickly with anyone under the age of six who skis past me and doesn’t give me at least ten metres of wide berth, and when things get very tricky, I sit down. I have been known to cry on occasion, also whilst sitting down.
However, to say I am excited about our upcoming holiday is an understatement.
I am bouncing around, laying clothes out on the bed, counting out pairs of socks …. adding a few for good measure, and what should I wear to go to breakfast? Certainly not my skiing gear – that might look a bit keen, besides I wouldn’t be able to move, would over-heat and can guarantee to spill something on my lovely pink ski trousers … oh the decisions! But such lovely ones.
The Colonel gathers his kit and essentials in roughly five minutes, in part because they were pre-packed in advance, and secondly because he takes the exact numbers of changes of clothes, whereas I can’t decide, so end up taking everything, and a spare just in case. … I see him give a slight shudder when he sees how my side of the bed is getting piled up high … certainly more than a 23kg baggage allowance high, so I remind him haughtily that I am ‘planning for every eventuality’. I also wonder just how high a man’s eyebrows can go up? But sensibly he keeps his thoughts to himself.
So why with my obvious limitations on the piste and otherwise am I so excited?
Why when this is more expensive than three of our camping holidays put together, am I feeling so happy?
Why, when there are times that it can be scary and at other times nothing less than terrifying, do I feel so alive?
Because, I can feel it now. I can see it now. The air is crisp, cold and clear; you breathe in to the very bottom of your lungs and it feels so very, very pure. The beauty of the mountains is nature at its very pinnacle, in all its glory, standing proudly. The sounds of laughter, the crunching of snow underfoot…. the swishing of skis …. After the dirt, grime and sludgy colours, to the purity, the whiteness …. how clean, fresh and sharp the colours are. I’m in my own piece of heaven.
It simply makes me happy. Each year I work on improving and each year I remain the same … but it doesn’t matter. It’s family time in a healthy, stunning environment with masses of exercise, food and drink. I couldn’t ask for more.
I love the feeling of happy exhaustion after a long day of exercise, the looks on the boys’ faces, rosy and laughing. Joking about who is the fastest, more laughter as we all know the truth that the Colonel is far and beyond the best in every respect. He has been known to ski past me, on one ski and no poles whilst bellowing, “A little more angulation my darling!” If I wasn’t panting so much from the exertion I’d tell him exactly where to put his angulation.
So you see, that is why I am excited. Because despite everything, I know that I will be happy there.
Better still, we will all be happy there.
I’ll never look like Sophia Loren, but maybe, just maybe I can work on my skinny-legged hermit crab to look a just a teensy more elegant (or even have a spray tan? Just a thought …).
In order to overcome my fears, or perhaps to simply not be seen as a great girls blouse, I have undertaken a few ‘activities’ of late, beginning with being driven around the racetrack circuit at Thruxton for starters.
A nice steady Skoda, or so I thought …. Although this was a while ago, I still recall with horror approaching the bend where the sign very clearly said CORNER, SLOW DOWN, and screaming at the drivers left ear “Dear God, we’re all going to die – didn’t you SEE the sign? There are rules you know, RULES!” before screaming all the more with one arm clinging around his neck, the other hand clutching something solid and handle-like (turns out when I was finally peeled off him, that it was in fact the handbrake).
You see, I don’t do anxiety, stress, high adrenaline levels well. The bewildered look of my 9 year old niece who had sat so calmly during the entire episode in the back of the car spoke volumes. Who was this mad woman and why was her uncle going to marry her?
A trip to the water park, small children running past me shouting with excitement to get to the slide the fastest. This was a family-sized rubber ring, more akin to a small dingy as it held up to six people and children (who have an annoying habit of saying smugly, “I’m only 7 and I can do it”). Had I not been trying to hold back the nausea, dizziness and complete terror, I’d have kicked them.
My terror was only marginally controlled by the pure glee on my children’s faces that they had got me to do something so totally out of my comfort zone. My fear was causing them such joy! I love them, but …. Bastards!
The fact that there is irritatingly, video footage of me throughout this 20 second period of horror, ending with me lying in the base of said rubber ring in a star-shape, legs akimbo, whimpering, and needing the help of a life-guard to get out, again spoke volumes ….
And finally, how zip-wiring in Cape Town across gorges 150 down whilst clamped to our instructor (rather aptly named ‘Hope’ – did he make that up just for me?) – I am aware that I looked something akin to a monkey clutching onto its mother, except this monkey screamed from one platform to the next, “Dear God, we’re going to die Hope, WE’RE GOING TO DIE!” I sense a bit of a pattern …
There is a scene in Pride and Prejudice where Mrs Bennet refers to her nerves and her long suffering husband calmly says, “Ah yes, they have been my constant companion all these years”, or words to that effect and I do wonder sometimes if the Colonel feels the same ….
Why do I put myself through this and is it time to stop? Have I proven a point and can I now just accept that I feel wobbly and a little tingly-toed when I stand on a chair to change a lightbulb and need a little sit down and a nice cup of tea afterwards?
Or must I continue to face my fears? At what point is enough, enough?! I do hope that the Colonel has some of the attributes of the long-suffering Mr Bennet, otherwise, we’re in awful trouble…. And no, I will not be sharing the video footage – Darling children, if you dare, you’re out of the will.
I must confess however, that whilst these perhaps extreme tests that I have, with my family’s persuasion, put myself through, have been utterly miserable, I have however discovered that anything marginally less frightening has been an absolute doddle.
I can now do zip-lining and water parks if forced, with slightly less trepidation. Being driven fast remains tricky but I don’t have white knuckles and can hold a vaguely intelligent conversation whilst driving down the M6 … but perhaps that’s because there are so many roadworks that one is forced to remain at 50mph.
I do know one thing for sure, and that is, that facing one’s enemy, being brave and attacking life with gusto is worth the short-lived pain. If only to see one’s children laughing happily and even occasionally saying, “Well done Mum! You were awesome!”
Happy Friday everyone out there …. Whatever they may be, let’s all face our fears today!