Road Trip!

Where do you go when teased with the lure of the white sands and balmy climes of the Bahamas, Cuba or the British Virgin Islands being only a mere hop, skip and a jump of a plane journey away?

Well, you pack up a tent and go on a road trip instead. Err, of course.

America is big. Vast. However, in a week we covered well over 1000 miles and popped into 7 different states. I say popped because at times it was somewhat unintentional what with the Colonel’s driving and perhaps more relevantly, my map reading. We popped in, and with a little oops, popped out again.

In truth, his driving is irritatingly good; I am simply a poor passenger with a habit of yelping and clutching white-knuckled onto the door handle if I think we’re either going too fast or are going to crash. For me, the two go hand-in-hand. So, this being a regular occurrence led at times to a fairly high stress journey (more so when driving in Manhattan where my fears were completely validated looking at the number of dents in the cars. Did you know, they actually have bumpers over their bumpers for protection here?)

However, and back to the road trip … We wiggled our way along the smaller roads, avoiding the pot holes, cracks, lumps and bumps which in the U.K. we appear to have considerably less of and I consequently shall never complain of again. We googled some road signs, delighted to find that sometimes one can actually turn right on a red light. It does leave a rather large margin for error which is perhaps not entirely sensible, but I didn’t make the rules. And rules they like. Oooh they are strict. But it keeps things in order, mostly; and we like order.

And then we drooled.

Fresh, bright white clapboard houses stood proudly, their slatted shutters painted varying shades of greens and blues framing the huge Georgian-style windows; colonial pillars supported the grey roofs covering verandas which themselves were filled with pots of flowers and plants and tables and chairs, offering a peaceful place to sit and watch the world go by. Wide wooden steps led down to the gardens and with no hedges or fences indicating where one plot started and another ended, they seemingly merged into one another allowing for clear uninterrupted views.

The gardens themselves were simple but perfectly neat. Manicured lawns with flowerbeds planted up close to the houses. Hydrangeas with their huge pom pom flower heads, hibiscus, hostas without a slug to be seen, box balls in abundance and lots and lots of trees. Nothing too taxing for the gardeners, but everything colourful and wonderfully healthy. With a hot climate and plenty of rain, everything flourishes there and yet surprisingly very few grow their own vegetables and fruit. Not an apple espalier or raised bed in sight.

There were no overgrown jungles of front gardens there. No black, brown and blue overstuffed bins spilling out their contents onto the weeds on the driveways. It was perfection and it was beautiful. I suspect I would struggle to keep up with the Jones’.

Towns with names like Great Barrington and Lennox offered shops for the wealthy where a cushion would cost well over a hundred pounds, but always the service was impeccable as if that should take the sting out of the tail. We looked, we touched, but rarely bought.

The campsites were clean and quiet and only once were plagued by mosquitoes, but the local pharmacy offered more anti-mozzie sprays and more importantly, soothing anaesthetic creams than you could shake a stick at (at a cost of course).

The beaches were litter-free and the sun shone. What more could we have asked for? So whilst the glamour and glitz of the Bahamas will no doubt beckon again another time, this time we have saved our pennies and enjoyed the beauty of another little world for a short while.

And, as I type and watch my sunburn begin to peel and scratch madly at the line of bites from some little blighter of a bug which starts at my ankle and heads towards my bottom, I do wonder if there are mozzies in the Caribbean …

Katie x

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”Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

(The last book by Dr Seuss)

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 …

Katie xx

56. A Massage For Depression?

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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.

Katie xx

55. Dirty Weekend!

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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!

Katie xx

54. Leaving Scotland

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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.

Katie x

44. Sometimes I Just Don’t Like Myself.

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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. 😧

Katie x

27. Normal is Good

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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.

Kx