Monday, 29 December 2008

RIP my sweetest friend



M died today, suddenly following a bout of gastro-intestinal stasis (GI stasis). The onset was shockingly quick. It is all surreal. Part of the reason I am blogging this is to pay tribute to a small dearly-loved friend who was a daily companion with whom I spent more time than any other living thing in the past few years. She was a present from my dear S, who has now come home early from a visit to his mum. M was his first pet and she loved him and he did her.

To have a 'wi
ld' animal sitting by you on a sofa, giving you kisses, snuggling, sitting on your feet as you work (how will I work without her with me? She saved me from loneliness many a time...), resting her paw on your hand (as she did for the first time on her last night with me) is an amazing experience borne of trust. She was clever, bright, fun, sweet, gentle, absolutely beautiful, literally softer than silk, loyal and a blessed spirit-fairy-like lapin. I loved her immensely. We both did.



The other reason for me to blog is this: if anyone is Googling GI stasis or anything along the lines of a rabbit not eating or passing waste matter, take my advice and see a vet immediately. I did as soon as it was apparent that M was unwell (she missed an evening meal and I thought she might have some in the night but she had gone into shock by morning)... her decline was extremely quick, as is the way with rabbits.

I really cannot believe it... she was bouncing around at Christmas and lying next to me on the Saturday evening. I took her to hospital Sunday morning after noting she had not touched her evening food. She died at 9.45am today.

I am suspended somewhere else in the land of 'It's a lie'. She was just three-and-a-half and had otherwise been healthy and active.

I will miss her beyond words.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Christmas


Wishing you a peaceful, warm, healthy and happy Christmas/Yule...

Monday, 22 December 2008

The sun always shines?

Well, the days are getting longer now. Yesterday was the winter solstice, unbelievably. Lately, I have craved springtime due to the coldness that seemed to last week after week whereas I have historically craved autumn for as far back as I can remember and been quite satisfied with its drift from cool, bright days to cold, darker ones.

It's not -18C, as it is in some parts of the northern hemisphere, but it's been quite bitter and, yes, that's fine for winter. But it's the first proper season we've had this year, which is why I'm not too pleased with it. Why this one? Why couldn't we have spring? Or summer? Or autumn? I lust for the coolness of autumn when it follows a hot (or even warm) summer, and I quite like summer when it follows a fresh spring where March is windy and April is showery. This year, and last, we had poor summers. It snowed at Easter this year and autumn was just wet, a slow tapering off of the tepid, dank London summer of 2008. Mediocre weather. It's currently mild and actually quite nice (for midwinter). But I'd swap it for four seasons that feel distinct rather than the rainy mono-season we seem to have had for 24 months.

I realise I am rambling rather a lot about the weather. But I am British – what do you expect?

Anyway, all I'm saying is, right, that I like the cold, the wet, the dank, the sun, the balmy breezes and occasional snow. But not in some bizarre random order. And not just the first three for half the year...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Spring has not sprung...

...but I am currently finishing off an article for the spring issue of a magazine and have just made reference to April 2009 in the text.

It's no wonder I don't know what day it is...

Monday, 15 December 2008

That's when good neighbours become...

Really. I mean. How long can a cold last?

Still, S and I had a superb afternoon and evening at our friends' home yesterday (they are our next-door neighbours). They cooked a delicious three-course Sunday lunch that started at 2pm and finished at about 10.30pm for us and the couple who live opposite. I was dosed up with various remedies, as I was determined that, having missed out on three social occasions due to mister virus, I would not make it four no-shows. And it was only next door.

The great thing is that the hostess wants to cook for us all again. "Let's do this once a month at least," she said. She is a very good cook. Her scallops were delicately browned, the lamb was tender, the frozen berries with hot white chocolate sauce... Mmm. All washed down with some red wine, prosecco, champagne, and eventually, water and coffee. I have to say, though, I slept not. I think it might have been due to the coffee, which I had weaned myself off while on my sleep programme. I will not be touching the stuff again. I don't even really like coffee. Tea, all the way. And water. Plenty of water...

It was one of those afternoons where I realised how much I love the area I live in – it's a part of London where there is a definite sense of community and friendliness (OK, except for GFG, obviously, who has incidentally ceased her noise after I knocked on the door one night and told them to quit the idiocy). So, anyway, six of us sat around the dinner table and laughed and talked about this and that and nothing in particular. When I stayed with my good friend R recently, she said that 'proper' socialising would not occur in the part of north London she lives in; she knows a few people to say hello to, but there would be no lunches and laughs. It did feel different there. It was different. More transient and hurried, somehow. But London is like that: there are pockets of friendliness, and darker places, where you wouldn't want to stop for too long. Of course, there are in-between places and the ones that are constantly changing, changing, changing. These strands keep the city youthful and interesting. I've had tasters of all of these; they make the capital what it is. I think back to the area in which I last lived (near to where I grew up) and recall hearing a scream down the street, which I later found out was a knifepoint attack. I had no idea; I was in bed, it was just a scream; it was not unusual. Then there was the gunman in the house next door. Oh, and the gangsters who left a man viciously dead in a house-cum-marijuana factory nearby. I also recall when the place I grew up in was all dairies and rag and bone men, sweet shops and bakeries and leather goods sellers. It's changed beyond recognition, some would say for the worse.

Most people I know have moved away from where I grew up. Many don't like it any more. I don't know if I will ever go back there, especially to the road I lived in. My memories are too powerful. The one time I did peek down 'my' road and saw my old front garden, I sat in my car and cried at the sight of concreted-over flowerbeds where stunning red roses, bluebells, tulips, snapdragons, stocks, dahlias, crocuses and marigolds had been tended by my parents. There had been flowers everywhere. So cared for, and now: nothing. Just cars, ugly cars, and concrete.
Everyone had flowers in their gardens back then and made time to stop and say hello. We knew all our neighbours, which is why my current fellow road-dwellers are so important to me. If you can talk to, and relate to – and like – the people who share your space albeit a house or two along from your own abode, you feel you are home long before your key turns in your lock...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Fug

My head is full of phlegm. I cannot think. I have done some emailing, a bit of admin, had a work conference call (am working at home) and wrote one Christmas card. I feel too guilty to go to bed, though. And too worried about three looming deadlines.

Sometimes, being self-employed stinks.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Woolworths, old pal


While I waited for the pharmacist at Boots to prepare my penicillin to treat my chest infection (so that explains why the cough has gone on and on...), I wandered over to Woolworths, just for old time's sake (old times' sake?)... Anyway... I went in and had a look around. There was the familiar array of children's toys and games, all bright colours and exciting boxes. Then, there was, of course, the famous wall of Pick'n'Mix with its trays of colourful sugar. I looked at it. It was the same as ever: cola bottles, cola cubes, fudge, toffees, licquorice, chocolate mice, chocolate raisins, fizzy lemon sherberts, pink and yellow twisty things... lots and lots and lots. The rest of the store was nearly bare, stripped of most goods by those eager to get their hands on sale goods before the stores disappear, thanks to the credit crunch, or possibly, due to stupendously bad management. It was sad. It looked neglected, like a home where the residents are moving out swiftly and carelessly.

Visiting my now-local branch of Woolies made me feel somewhat nostalgic, but it is my memories the store in the northwest London high street that I used to visit as a child that evokes a powerful feeling of a time long gone, a largely carefree time. I don't know whether that store is still there but in my mind it is. It had racks of singles – seven-inch and 12-inch versions, albums (on vinyl) and cassettes, too. I used to look at the neatly arranged records and bought my first vinyl disks from there. Woolworths used to be filled with interesting items, the shops were clean, big, organised with items for the home, garden, crockery, books, children's clothes (Ladybird) and games. There was even a cobblers and key cutting service that re-heeled and re-soled shoes for less than £2, not the mad tenner charged in the City these days. It was cared for, it was reliable and you could always go in there for that elusive item. I recall Dad buying blakeys to mend our frequently-worn heels, and tubes of Araldyte, plants, and paint brushes and Cadbury's selection boxes and and and...

People's reaction to Woolworths closing has been largely a sense of sadness that it has to close its doors (and that thousands will lose their jobs). It's one of those stores that has always had a place on most high streets, and has been feature of most of our lives due to catering for children's wants (toys, sweets, music) so well. So, yes, it is like waving goodbye to an old childhood friend with reluctance and a heavy heart. I doubt I'll venture back into Woolies now. I'm all grown up and its shelves are bare. We must go our separate ways.

PIC: PA

Monday, 8 December 2008

Still sniffling

I lay in bed last night/this morning, groaning at the tedium of this cold, wondering if I am now suffering a follow-up episode two cold. I mean, how can one cold last so long? I had taken the maximum amount of Lemsip. And still: tickle, itch, sneeze, cough, cough, cough, uggggggggh.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Tis the season to sniffle

Why is it that I have the lergy again? Argh.

And although I feel rubbish and am 'full of cold' as they say in certain parts, it's not enough to block out the stench of the mouse decaying somewhere in the floor/skirting. I am burning a Diptyque candle to mask the smell, but still, ugh.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Madly driven

I was terrified today, as a friend drove me somewhere via the motorway for a day out. I probably am a bit of a control freak, possibly not helped by having had two car accidents that were not my fault, and been injured as a result (the first one, a head-on crash, gave me a broken collarbone that went undetected as the doctors were more worried I might have broken my spine – thank God it wasn't the case – but I was in a lot of pain; the second was a shunt that made me lose feeling in part of one arm and hand for ages)...

So, anyway, my friend, who I hadn't seen for a while, and I had a lovely day out but the drives to get to and from our destination were hairy. I clenched my fists, grew hot and let the sweat form on my brow and nose. I was absolutely terrified as she put her foot down and went at 80mph-plus in the fast lane all the way, leaving insufficient distance between our vehicle and the one in front should she have had to brake. At some points, she even checked her phone for texts and horrified me by making a call.

I prayed to get back home in one piece. I really did. And I told S to remind me that I must never accept a lift (with this friend) that would take me on any fast roads... She's thankfully never had an accident but I know all too well that they are often caused by events beyond one's control and it's not wise to drive so effing close to the car in front. It's stupid and while I am obviously very fond of my friend, I felt somewhat violated.

When I got home, I relished every little detail of everything at home, home, feeling drained and relieved. I'm not trying to sound melodramatic but I genuinely felt lucky to have escaped unscathed and hope my friend calms the heck down with her driving. I did broach the subject of speed with her (while we were in the car, which is a bit of a racer) but she said she was well within the national average speeds. Hmm. Hmmmmm. Not good enough.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Spooks

Anyone here watch Spooks? It's the BBC drama based on MI5. And it is absolutely fabulous. It manages to be topical to a degree that makes me wonder when on earth they make the show – do they add scenes or dialogue in at the last minute?! It's slick and sharp, set in London, and is unfailingly gripping.

I watched the new episode that was aired on BBC3 last night and, without giving anything away, was sat there in silence as my heart thudded, skin grew clammy and my stomach swam. Sounds like flu, I know, but this was the Spooks effect. The writers are not afraid to lose characters, and this is what makes the show all the more visceral.

Hermione Norris, who plays the ruthless but razor-sharp Ros Myers, was quoted in an interview complaining about the programme's lack of budget. She said it was 'obvious', but I don't think it is. So, the sets are not all that exciting but in a backdrop of one amazing 'set' – London – it's not so bad.

Mmmm, I love it.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Thump

I was hit by a wall of sadness this evening. It came from nowhere and swamped me, a fierce wave of emotion that smacked my solar plexus and made me catch my breath. OK, so I wasn't in the world's best mood (poor kip, painful knee, raw skin on my face, sore arm post-flu jab, being unexpectedly kicked across the room while holding a pad, which f*cking hurt my leg!).

But, it was when I saw the little chairs at the side of the room, the small plastic seats that infants sit on, that something happened inside me. It was odd. It was as though a plug had been pulled. I felt as though I might weep loudly, and never stop. I just swallowed and batted back the tears that had started to form.

This was, I think, about people, justice and my faith in karma. Baby P justice, justice for the innocent Asian man killed by two fuckwits who got 'life' (13 and 17 years in jail before parole comes up for consideration – how in hell is that life?!), justice for girls raped in D R Congo. And on it goes.

The one thing that keeps many people going is that there is justice, divine or otherwise. But how can we have faith when apathy reigns and we let inhumane behaviour go on as we quote the tough lives of those who are responsible as the reasons why. This tolerance for the intolerable surely makes us culpable? If you don't know something's happening then you can't stop it. But if you do... like with the case of Baby P, and still nothing happens to change it, where is there to go? Is this just anarchy, albeit diluted? Do we have any control over anything? The thought that we don't and that we have no one to really rely on (and by that I mean the 'authorities'), is chilling.

I couldn't drive. I am frustrated with myself, with things that have affected me, with powerlessness, with things beyond my control. I sat and cried. There was nothing else to do.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Strictly not that big a deal, is it?

The lead item on the news (TV, radio and papers) has been the fact that John Sergeant has quit Strictly Come Dancing.

Is this really news? OK, it is interesting to fans of the show and of Mr Sergeant, who is by most accounts a lovely individual. But the lead item? For two days?

If he was bullied off the show, well, that's just not fair. I can see that some of the judges' comments were rude... But, seriously people, it's just a flipping dance show. Come on...


Am I missing something?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The details are the devil

Baby P, Peter, the little boy whose face has been on many front pages over the past fortnight, is on my mind. When I can't sleep, I sometimes think about him, his situation, the stepfather, the mother, the lodger...

I let myself try to imagine how lonely it must be to have no one in the world. To feel lost. To be cut adrift. To have human needs and feelings and to have them unrecognised, to have them unmet. To be small and have dark secrets. To feel utterly helpless. To not know how to escape. It makes me weep.

As more details emerge, especially the testimony of the lodger's 15-year-old girlfriend, I find myself even more unable to fathom what happened, how another person could possess such a capacity for callousness and evil. I hope there is a hell.

Grit

Yet again, I have an injury that is preventing me from going completely hell for leather in kung fu. It's the old knee situation. It's my own fault. Both my knees were painful so I did physio exercises; they got better and I stopped the physio. Now, one is bad again – searing pain when it's in a certain position.

It's annoying. Not only do I have the knee thing, but the skin around my eyes, following the eye infection, which is still waxing and waning, is so tight that it hurts. Nothing seems to help. It just flares up and abates, with varying degrees of severity. Last night, my skin was so itchy that I hardly slept and my eyes watered and itched again. I have longish fingernails and was so uncomfortable that I was scratching my face without really caring what happened. Luckily, it doesn't look as bad as it feels. I was so tired when I dragged myself out of bed this morning...

I had hesitated to tell my fu teacher, N, that I was yet again, yet abloodygain, injured/unfit. He said he had never met anyone like me (in terms of my capacity for things to go a bit awry). I said I hadn't either. I know that many of my ailments are stress-related, and stem from lack of sleep and unpleasant things happening to me. But I have to report such things, or I'll be shouted at for not performing remotely well.

I needn't have worried about N's reaction, which was possibly the nicest/most motivating thing he has ever said to me – that he "would be so annoyed if you don't become really good at kung fu, as the amount of grit you must have to keep on, despite all those things happening must be huge..." It was a bit of a shock to hear something positive, as I'd become somewhat conditioned to criticism. But it meant a lot. Without going into my life history, I suppose I am strong. S tells me I am. So do close friends. But I often, too often, forget and think I'm rubbish. So damned British.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Baby P

EDITED for legal reasons...

Little 'Baby P' suffered so badly that I can barely write about it without feeling sick. He suffered at the hands of his mother and a man who shall remain nameless so that an upcoming trial is not jeapordised.

I am incensed, beyond angry, beyond disbelief, that these social workers and health professionals can ALL have fucked up so royally. What? I even heard a professor of social science or somesuch going on about how social workers did not need to have any common sense, that child abuse is not common sense, so how would common sense help? What in hell's name is this man on about? I was staggered at his crass stupidity and smugness and am blown away by Haringey Social Services, a bunch of self-centred, self-congratulatory, self-obsessed, self-important idiots who failed to have any sense, common or not.

They issued an apology this morning. Bless 'em. So that makes it OK, does it? An apology is worth jack shit UNLESS it is coupled with an assurance that a lesson has been learned, a point taken, or a promise to make amends is made. What planet are these people on? Really? They have all kept their jobs. I know many people who have lost their jobs recently due to cutbacks but these incompetent individuals are still in post. The people of Haringey must be thrilled that their council tax is being spent on such quality, especially following the same social services department's failure to stop Victoria Climbie's relatives neglecting her to death.

And why, why, why... can anyone tell me how the people involved have not been charged with manslaughter at the very least? P died at their hands. I don't understand it. So, mummy dearest will get 14 years (will be out in seven) and the others will get who knows what? The sentencing is due on December 15th.

Sixty visits. Sixty visits. Sixty visits! In eight months, P was visited 60 times. But no one spotted a damn thing. He was literally broken and battered. I cannot think of a single adjective strong enough to describe how appalling the details of this boy's treatment was. The little lad was apparently also conditioned to lower his head to the ground when he was approached by one or both men. The mother, surely a case for sterilisation, said her bloke was "a bit of a nutter" but hey, she "loved him and let him do what he wanted". Fucking freak. I didn't really want to swear in this post. There aren't really any words strong enough.

The mother gave birth to a daughter while in prison over the death of P. The fucking social services shits, the liberal idiots who have nothing resembling a brain cell between them, who have no sense of what is right in this world, and what is to be valued, said that the woman should be allowed to have contact with her new child "as it was her human right to bond with her child". Fucking unbelievable. The whole thing is fucking unbelievable. If you don't know what happened, read this and weep. And for God's sake, get angry.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Hope

Wow. I woke up suddenly after 4am and could feel the vibe. I knew. Obama had to be the winner.

When the alarm went off I switched the radio on and learned that Barack Obama had indeed won the election and is now president elect. I had a bit of a cry.

It's amazing. Exciting, promising and hopeful. This is a great moment.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Exciting

I hope Obama gets in. I have shivers down my spine.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Raw

My eyes are so raw and red and itchy that I feel I could scratch them out. I am worried, as my sight is a bit odd at the moment. The GPs I've seen have recommended X, Y and Z as cures but none have worked. The eye A&E chap was not better (and I am pretty sure he didn't use gloves when he touched my face/eye – ugh).

The eye thing, whatever it is, has extended to the skin around my eyes – it's so dry, it's awful. And when my eyes water, the saltiness of my tears makes my skin burn with pain. It almost makes me want to cry but that would just hurt. I'm waiting for a referral letter to the hospital. Madness. How bloody long will that take? The itchiness breaks my sleep, precious sleep. It's rubbish. Rubbish and crap.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Chocolate heaven

I am baking a chocolate cake using a French recipe that a friend was sent by the people who owned a cottage in which he holidayed recently. The first part of the method involved melting dark chocolate and butter. None of this milk chocolate or margarine lark, I'll have you know. The aroma of the butter softening and the bitter-ish chocolate turning to liquid was incredible.

I added the other ingredients and watched as the rich, possibly quite unhealthy blend glistened as I moved it around the bowl. The texture and colour was fabulous – it put me in mind of the character in Chocolat, which was a better book than it was a film. The sensuousness of the scenes and smells that I imagined in Chocolat was present in my kitchen. It still is.

The buzzer on the oven just went but the cake is not yet done. I will give it another five or ten minutes, to ensure it is solid enough to cut. If it isn't, it won't be a disaster. I licked the slim, sharp knife I poked into the hot cake and it is definitely not cooked. I know it was silly to lick the knife but if you'd have seen what was on that knife, you'd have run your tongue carefully along the blade, too.

A picture of said cake will follow once it is done. I'm just going to sit awhile, in the warmth, inhaling. Mmm.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Flying south

Swallows, calling to each other, have just flown over my corner of London, no doubt going south. I wonder if they will end up near the Canada Geese that took off last night, making noises I have never previously heard. The sky was dark and the air was bitingly cold, as they communicated in a warbling, eerie pitch.

Today, the sun shone for a while but is now hidden behind pale bluey-grey haze. It feels like winter.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Sad yellow flowers

I saw a funeral procession going ahead of my car yesterday. As I turned, I could see that the leading car held a white coffin, probably child-sized. The cars behind were black, shiny and sleek, filled with adults whose faces were hidden with veils and grief.

I could see an arrangement of flowers at the back of the first car. At first I thought it was an initial but as the car turned, it was apparent that the blooms had been made into the shape of a yellow dog with a blue collar. For some reason this choked me.

The sight of the coffin alone had made me feel philosophical but here was a person, possibly a young one, who had owned a dog, their pet, and was now never going to walk or play with it again, or do anything ever.

Monday, 27 October 2008

'Don't pee in your wetsuit'

Why is there a supposedly 'tailored' ad on my email inbox that says this? Eh?

Friday, 24 October 2008

Snakes

My spam inbox, which I clear regularly, just had a message in it telling me to 'grow giant snake in pants'.

No thanks.

Talking of snakes, GFG just passed me in the hallway; she didn't look at me (which satisfies me) but I had a brief, awkward chat with her husband, with whom I have no problem, as yet. I called the police station and left a message with the copper who had come round after GFG had kept us awake all night, saying that they were back. My initial instinct to walk the other way when I saw them at the doorway (going out), as I returned home evaporated swiftly. This is my home, I (and S) have done nothing wrong and I will not be made to feel uncomfortable again.

No thanks.

Coat me in it

There is a coat that I really want. I don't need it. I want it. It's so lovely that when I saw it in the window of the shop I instantly coveted it and, erm, gasped. It's long, warm and very stylish, nipped in at the waist. It's tweed and won't get dirty like my cream winter coat, which has been worn to death and now has a shredded lining and costs a fortune to keep clean.

But it's a bit expensive for a person who doesn't have that much work on. I check the website of the store daily to see if it has been reduced, but it hasn't. I did, however, dream about said coat last night. In fact, I had three or four dreams about the coat. I kept waking up, falling back to sleep and there it would be in my subconscious, tempting me...

Argh. What to do?!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Cold infested – again


Agh, I have yet another cold. It has robbed me of sleep this week and given me a sore nose, chesty cough and too much phlegm for my liking. The virus (above) is amazing looking though, don't you think?

I toyed with the idea of going to kung fu earlier this week but wisely refrained and took to my bed with painkillers washed down with a mug of hot water that had manuka honey and whiskey dissolved in it. It seemed to knock me out. But still, as is the curse of the self-employed, I have had to work... Thank God I am at home and can sniffle about with no make-up on and get out of bed a bit later than I usually do. I am also wrapped up in several badly coordinating tops and a pair of jeans. M, the rabbit, just looks at me, cute as hell, eyes as limpidly affectionate as ever.

S told me I look lovely yesterday evening, though I knew this was far from the truth. Bless him. I was pale and the skin around my eyes is dry and uncomfortable. We ordered a delicious curry this evening. I don't have much appetite or energy but a curry always goes down well and I'm certain it helps to destroy the cold virus. Worth a try, anyway.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Up, up and away

I cycled up a hill that I thought I'd never manage today. I was tired due to a poor night's sleep and had also underestimated the strength of my legs. The day was bright, cool and sunny, reviving me (as did a scrambled eggs, pancakes and tea breakfast).

Leaves turned golden, brown and red around me, and floated down as we cycled over their crunchiness for miles, for hours. Up, up, up we pedalled. And then down, freewheeling, only the possibility of people or animals emerging from trees and shrubbery, keeping our speed down. My eye, still irritated for some reason, watered and wept as the cool wind hit my face – just the one eye dribbling a tear down my cheek. I stopped periodically to wipe it away and then carried on pedalling.

Men and women carried cameras to capture the stunning display of autumn scenery, me not among them this time as I had forgotten my Canon. You could see Canary Wharf, the London Eye, the Gherkin, all so clearly. It was beautiful.

At home, we had cups of tea and teacakes, then went to my local pub with family and friends and came second in the quiz. What a delicious day.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Focus and pressure

I've slept well since we complained to the police and GFG went on her holidays. The stress of Monday night/Tuesday morning was immense... I felt as though I had run a marathon and was in recovery for at least two days afterwards.

I went to kung fu to get rid of my pent up adrenaline through the sheer physicality of the exercise and to do the best bit, sparring. It felt as though something had clicked in my head as I blocked blows and dealt them. I did get my fair share of whacks but I stood my ground more than I have in ages and actually earned praise from my instructor, N, for showing improvement.

Having confronted the GFG creature and slept well, I felt sharper. I forced myself to think of the things that were annoying me (which wasn't difficult) and visualised myself batting it all away. It seemed to work. I was bopped on the head, face, stomach, and various other spots, but that's all part and parcel of it.

N later said that I needed to be put under pressure to spar. It's true that I am best under pressure. I like a challenge; I find work that's brainless tedious. I like having deadlines; my ears prick up when someone tells me something can't be done. I'm not a rebel (or, if I am, I always have a cause) but I think there's very little in this world that's impossible, if you put your mind to it.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Calm after the storm

The calm before the GFG vs Us Upstairs storm wasn't really calmness. It was more a case of holding one's breath and counting to 1,000,000. Well, it did go on for many months until the point of no return, which is when the police were called in.

Now, GFG is on holiday presumably. She trundled out of the premises (after keeping us awake till past 4am), with a large case, looking fresh-faced, don't-care-ish and obviously thinking she can do what the hell she likes. We were bemused at her attitude. It was simply incredible. This is the trouble when you are a reasonable person. You give other people the benefit of the doubt and can't really concieve that others can knowingly behave so horribly and mean it. You live and learn. And she obviously thought our reasonableness was tacit compliance/the surrender of the bullied.

Having got the police and council involved, though stressful in itself, has bestowed a certain amount of calm on the situation. There was no alternative. Some people can't communicate, won't communicate and are reprehensible, so it's best to let the officials take over.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Good cop, good cop

The police came round and were very helpful. They listened, gave advice and offered to help. The main constable, who was an excellent communicator, soared in my estimation when he took the effects on my health and sleep very seriously, saying that he feels rubbish when he misses sleep and could relate to how I must feel.

It's a shame GFG isn't home, as they would have had a word about harassment among other things. Her front door had been left open (she'd left it that way), so they had a good look round her flat (and commented that they could see what I mean re the doors...) while shouting: "anyone in?" Ha ha, bet she'd love to have seen that.

They'll be back.

Showdown

The door slamming went on and on and on and on – until around 3.30am. We went to bed after speaking to the police, who said that they were busy (it was a full moon) but insisted that they did intend on getting someone out to us. As it happened, they called us at around 4.10am and suggested we get some sleep and said someone would come round later today.

Anyway, this morning, at 7am, the door SLAMMING started again. We shook in our beds (through anger and the vibration, not fear) wondering why and how life had become so strange. Can you believe it? We couldn't.

* just had a call from the police apologising for the delay and saying they will be sending someone around; I have to say, they have been pretty good at calling us back *

S and I cannot believe things are the way they are. We lay in bed as GFG ram-raided her way through the early morning, feeling sick and tired and bemused. We have done nothing – really, nothing! – to deserve this treatment. It's appalling. My stomach hurt and my head (dulled now by painkillers) throbbed. I had looked forward to today being productive and enjoyable. But all I am doing now is popping pills, drinking caffeine, waiting for the police and council to get back to me and, oh, yes, trying to write a piece (on stress) for a deadline today. Can't concentrate. Funny, that.

We had a feeling GFG might be on her way out to work, or somewhere, so S waited at the bottom of our stairs, inside our flat, and stepped out when she opened her door. He asked her if she was going out "because we called the police after the continual noise and they will want to speak to you..." She actually feigned surprise and looked at S as though he was talking Swahili. Barefaced in the extreme. As much as I would have liked to have punched her (and I punch pretty damn hard) I am not an especially violent person and don't want to end up with a police record because of her.

I immediately went down and asked her what the noise was all about, she kept on about "I'm on my way to the airport. I have to go," whilst S (who kept his composure remarkably well) said: "It was quite deliberate, what you did, that noise last night." I added: "You kept us awake all fucking night. What is your problem? What have we ever done to you? You know I have insomnia and you did that?!" The all-too-brief conversation, such as it was, ebbed between S telling her she was a liar, a despicable human being and a nasty piece of work, me asking what the fuck was going on, and GFG saying she was off to the airport and that "she would have let us know" if it was deliberate. Amazing, utterly incredible.

Watch this space.

Police

I've had enough of GFG's door slamming. So far, it's gone on until 1.30am, so I called the police (at about 1am) and am awaiting their arrival. I had earplugs in but still her blatant malicious SLAMMING, which shakes our home, woke us up. The SLAMMING has been going on all evening. I shouted at her to stop but it doesn't have an effect. Neither does the polite approach (tried that months ago).

My chest tightened horribly and my blood pressure must have gone through the roof; I can feel the adrenaline coursing through my body. I can't keep letting this happen. I will blow a fuse. I was having a nice peaceful evening watching telly and then she started (S was out). I have a deadline tomorrow and the actions of that selfish, immature little c*nt will now fuck up my day. It has gone on for months, the best part of a year. Too long.

I have fucking well had enough. ENOUGH.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Weekus horribilus

The people waiting in the hospital eye casualty department were a mixed bunch. There were some like me, in their 30s, with nothing too obvious afflicting them. Then there were older folk with super-thick glasses on. And then, of course, there were a couple of young men with black eyes, stories to tell and bloody bandages.

I had secured a late appointment at the GP who told me to go to eye casualty immediately as the antibiotics and other types of drops had failed to clear my eye for a month. It's been itchy, blurred and red most days. The GP, who is lovely, asked me if I have been stressed lately. I mentioned only that I had had money in Icesave, which collapsed amid much uncertainty over what would happen to savers' money; I decided the rest of my worries would take up far too long to explain so curtailed any further chat.

By the time I got to the hospital, which charges a stupid amount for parking, it was nearly midday. The GP had warned me that I would be there for a couple of hours, but I was not prepared for a five-hour wait! It was ridiculous. Luckily, I had taken some work with me, a report that needed to be read, so I sat there with my green highlighter and wodge of paper as absolutely sod all seemed to happen around me.

Occasionally, I went back to my car to buy a new parking ticket (£10 spent on that) and sat in the autumn sun listening to the radio. Strange fat caterpillars with wings (I think) crept over the windscreen so slowly that any distance covered was only apparent after many minutes. My route to the hospital, as advised by the GP, had taken me through a beautiful park, where dying leaves of green, gold and red hues made me catch my breath. If I wake early at the weekend, I will take my camera with me and capture some images. Mist rising and deer feeding... stunning.

Eventually, after lunch (£7) I saw the ophthalmologist who flicked my eyelid inside out (OUCH) and prodded about. He ruled out the usual infections and said my eyelids were inflamed and the eye itself didn't show anything unusual in terms of sight etc. He seemed to accuse me of using make-up to irritate my eyes, which I found really annoying. I haven't put any eye make-up on for bloody ages! I miss lashing my lashes with mascara and eyeliner. I've only relatively recently got the hang of painting a line above my upper lashes.

Dr Eye gave me a tube of steroid ointment that I must squeeze into my affected eye for a week and that was that. I got home at 5pm. So far, the redness in my eye has subsided a bit but last night I lay awake as the pesky itching returned in the dead of night. I started reflecting then about my savings, my expenditure (which I have reined in but does nevertheless merit consideration), my lack of work, my appalling neighbour's ongoing idiocy, my body's reaction to cumulative stressors over the years, and somehow fell back to sleep.

My kung fu instructor, N, said I seemed withdrawn yesterday and a couple of my classmates saw through my unconvincing smile and asked if I was OK. I had to blink back tears. Normally I can hide how I feel from most people but I just didn't have it in me. The thumpthumpthump of thingafterthing can be wearing. I was paying N for a class when he said he reckoned my eye problem was down to stress, which I agree is right; he advised me to train to get rid of stress. Trouble is classes cost... I have the option of doing some leafleting for the club in return for classes, which is good, but it is slightly disheartening that this is what I must do. If any writing needs to be done for the club, I can hopefully do that in return for classes (I've done some in the past, as a favour), but it seems nowt needs doing now. I must sort out some work...

This has not been the best week ever. Not the worst. But not the best.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Icy times

Talk about stress. I have a smallish amount of savings – from the sale of a flat and many years of hard work – in Icesave. I was gutted/stunned when I heard the bank went bust yesterday – especially when I couldn't access my 'easy access' cash. I have even developed a stress-related dry skin condition (nice, huh?) But this morning, as I sat glued to the computer listening to Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, panic lifted.

Thank God
they're going to cover savings. I'm finding work hard to come by as it is, and losing hard-earned savings would have been too horrible to boot. I spend time looking for good deals when supermarket shopping and have reined in my unnecessary expenditure where possible, so losing a huge amount of my money would have hurt. Badly. Oh, and any plans I had to visit Iceland are no more. I won't be spending any cash in a country that stuck two fingers up to me and other UK investors when it came to the question of compensation. Bastards.

Regardless of Icesave, I've been avidly watching or listening to the financial news (is there any other, beyond the US elections?!). It's addictive. God knows what will happen next. Is this really all the result of the US money men being complete morons?! The tectonic plates that have seemingly kept the economy going are sliding all over the place, giraffe-on-ice style. I'm half scared, half intrigued and overall, very pleased we didn't buy a new place last year.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Eye drips and drops

There are drafts of three unfinished posts in my 'posts' basket thing. They are entitled: "What goes around", "Choosing battles" and "Reflection".

The first two posts, had I bothered/had time to complete them, were about downstairs woman, GFG, and her wet walls and ceiling, which mysteriously leaked really badly for one night and then stopped. She had to come up and talk to us after being nasty for months. She still remained frosty and rude but it was funny to see her on the back foot. I call it karma. I call GFG, the door slammer extraordinaire, a bitch.

The third post, possibly more worthy of my time and brain power, was about how very tired I feel at times now. It reminds me of how I felt when I was suffering particularly badly from insomnia. I cannot now imagine how I got through weeks, months, years, without madness descending. (Or maybe it did...)

My current tiredness is due to having an eye infection that has gone on and on and on and on. I cannot wear eye make-up, which makes me feel a bit naked if I'm in a professional situation (I like my eyes to look 'polished', if that is possible). The skin around my right eye is red and raw, and I look as though I have been punched. The eye is scratchy (eyeball and lid). The eye streams at times. There seem to be bits in my eye. I wake due to all of the above, and I scratch and press my poor eyes.

I know it is not good to rub your eyes but I do so with much vigour. I do it in my sleep. I rub until my eyeballs squeak. The bad one is so irritated that I screw my fist on to the closed eye until my mouth waters. (I know, this is weird. I feel strange and obscene writing it down.)

My GP gave me some drops (that followed the previous prescription of eye cream) and while the drops feel cool, they don't stop the ITCHING. Bloody, stinking bastard itching.

I am irritated, itchy and annoyed. Even doing hours and hours of kung fu, which made me madly tired, have not been able to overtake the keep-awakeness of the eye thing. Hmph.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Craig Charles in my head

I didn't sleep well last night. The reason? I had a dream – a nightmare in fact. Craig Charles was running down a street, chasing me. I was running for my life. Running as though I had jets under my feet. Running because Craig Charles was chasing me with a paper aeroplane in his hand.

Yes. He let go of the – erm – paper plane and I ducked. It flew quite well but didn't hit me. After this, Craig changed into some unidentified assailant armed with something shiny, and at that point I woke up. Well, I screamed in my sleep and woke myself up and then was so scared that I couldn't get back to sleep.

I had had beans on toast for dinner and some Guinness at a pub quiz. Not a trace of cheese, but I'm not having that combo again, I tell you.

Bliss

That feeling, when you are tired, so tired that you simply cannot keep your eyes open, can be unbearable (if you are at work when it strikes), or beautiful (if you have a day off or it is the weekend and there are no places to be, no calls to be made, no things to be cleaned).

A year ago, I would not have been allowed to nap, as I was in the throes of a sleep programme to reset my body clock so I could sleep. But now? Now, just occasionally, I let myself slide into sleep when I feel the uncontrollable slow of my heartbeat, the cooling of my skin and the gathering sluggishness of my thoughts. Now, I can let go and just sleep, just for a while, just until the drug of exhaustion wears away. And if the sun is shining on my tired limbs as I drift off, I am lost in splendid relief, as I melt into a warm, subconscious world.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Time

I never seem to have enough time to write down my thoughts. It is driving me mad.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Things on my mind

• My dad is out of hospital and recovering. The doctors, on the whole, were incredible. The nurses ranged from fantastic to below average. There were occasions, however, where we had to drop in that I am a journalist – funny how attitudes changed from monosyllabic/apathetic to communicating/caring... Hmm.

• I love sparring. I can hardly walk today as I've done two days of kung fu in a row (yesterday was seriously hardcore – I sparred with three men, including my instructor, who batted me around as though I was a piece of string). Wonderful, wonderful stuff. It is by far the best exercise anyone can do. And great catharsis.

• The neighbour is a total c*nt and needs to be spoken to – probably tonight. She has again woken us with door slamming. It is unacceptable.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Salt of the Earth

I have a fantastic plumber, a superb electrician and marvellous builder/handyman. These three men are real finds. They are rare honest tradesmen and are so good at what they do that I must remember to write their numbers down in my address book. If I lost my mobile phone, I'd be back to pin-sticking in the Yellow Pages, which, as I have come to find, is not a source of high quality workers.

Today, our builder/handyman came round to do some work on our flat. I added to his workload by asking him if he would please put up two shelf units in the bathroom and en suite shower, and he did so without question – and without an extra charge. We drank tea and talked about crime, punishment, political correctness and common sense. All in a day's work.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Doctor, doctor...

When the NHS is good, it is very, very good. I dismay at the system at times, and have kicked up a remarkable stink when people have been treated badly (why be a nurse if you patently hate people? It's really only a minority of nurses I've found to be apathetic – and I've made big noises about this)... but goodness, when you meet certain doctors and consultants and see what they can do to really change people's lives for the better, it's quite humbling. Leaves me in awe.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Disorganisation

My dad called me early this morning, well at about 8am. He had been up since 6am being prepared for surgery. He sounded nervous and tired.

Mum just called and said that the operation was in fact "meant to have been tomorrow", so all the tests and psyching up and eating nothing, has been for nothing. Fucking stressful for a 79-year-old man.

It's really fucking ridiculous.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Rage

The bitch downstairs (GFG = Ground Floor Girl) severely wound me up yesterday.

I deeply resent having her bullying behaviour being present in the back of my mind when I am talking to other people. Especially when I was talking to my dad yesterday, who is going into hospital for an operation tomorrow (bed availability depending). I wanted to give him 100 per cent attention. I did my best but there were slivers of Fuckface seeping into my head every now and then. I was slightly preoccupied.

What also pissed me off was that I felt ill and I wasn't able to relax in my own home. I should have really stayed in bed all day but I couldn't bear to be home alone with her making noise and using my garden equipment. If I had been feeling well and didn't have an infected eye, I would have gone outside and asked them what they were doing. But I was on my own and ill, and decided to hold off in case I needed a witness.

S was out for the day and I didn't want to go home from my parents' place so I popped into a friend's home for a chat. Then I went home. On the way, I bought some wine, knowing that I would need a drink to calm down. I was so furious that I was punching the wall (with gloves on) and did some press-ups on my knuckles. I only stopped punching as M, my rabbit, looked worried.

She let a door slam. The place shook. Bear in mind the endless (deliberate) slamming and stomping of feet (on wood) and the early morning hoovering – all knowing I suffer from insomnia. I screamed through the floor and didn't hear a peep afterwards. I will not be bullied. Does she really think people will put up with shit and that there will be no consequences? Moron. Does she know that people, when driven mad, don't care any longer?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Wrath

There are only two people in this world who incur my wrath on a personal level. One of them is GFG who has lived downstairs for nearly two years. She is the most selfish, arrogant person I've had the misfortune to deal with. I despise her.

I can barely begin to list the things she has done. But this morning, she decided to let her doors slam so hard that they woke me and S from sleep, and she then decided to hoover, and sang "I'm hoovering on a Sunday morning." Singing? Well, wailing. She did this because her husband (poor bastard) is home from his job away (he's rarely home, wonder why) and she feels a bit more courageous and finds she can more easily act like a knob. She helps herself to our garden furniture though she has paid for nothing, and you can be sure that if we used anything that was hers, she's go mental.

I am so angry I actually don't know what to do. I find it's bordering on harassment now and am considering calling the police. I can't put up with this for much longer.

I'm ill and should be relaxed at home (S has just gone out as he had something planned for today) but I haven't slept well and every time I hear her move, I am on edge. I will have to go out to get some peace of mind. This is ridiculous. Ridiculous. I can feel myself simmering; soon I will explode.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Hovis triumph

The new Hovis TV advert is superb. S and I watched it in unexpected silence and after it had finished said: "What a brilliant ad." And then, after a moment of silence, we confessed that we both felt tearful (in a good way, filled with nostalgia for times that we had never even lived in being in our mid to late 30s).

I have just found a clip of the advert – it was aired this evening (with Coronation Street made shorter for the first time, to accommodate its length). It charts the Hovis Boy, the one we all know so well, going through streets of more than a century ago and track him running through the 20s, 30s, 40s... and on and on through evocative moments. You see Suffragetes, the Blitz, the miners' strikes, 1966 (football of course), the Millennium and on it goes until the boy runs into his warm 2008 kitchen with a loaf of bread. I felt choked watching it.

Absolutely fabulous work, ad folk. You did well. I think it is one of my favourite adverts of all time – and I have seen it but once.

Cold infested

It's horrible being self-employed when you have a cold. I have had one all week – it started mildly and then, due to commuting for three hours a day and being in air-conditioned offices, it has worsened.

I've been drinking horrible Lemsip (orange and something) and trying to eat healthily, though I seem drawn to cheese (Mini Cheddars, cheese Doritos/M&S tortilla chips, cheese sandwiches, cheese sauce (on gnocchi) and erm, I think that might be it).

I have an eye infection now and look as though I have been punched. My right eye was red and angry when I woke – I have thrown all my (newish) mascara into the bin just to be sure I'm not harbouring germs. A day in bed would have seen this off but hey, no such thing as sick leave for the likes of me. I so want to scratch my eye – it is dry and gritty. Aaaaagh. I've been coming home and flopping almost every night.

I think I picked up the virus from a chap in kung fu last week. I asked how he was and he snuffled: "Am OK but am just getting over a cold, thought I should come back to class." Oh brilliant. Then we had to hold hands while stretching, which can be a sweaty affair at the best of times – and doesn't perspiration carry toxins? Charming.

I wish the instructor would bring in two new rules: 1) do not train when you are ill (it is selfish) and 2) always use deodorant! (some of the blokes stink!)

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Bag, brolly, ticket and tissue

I have a cold and feel like poo. Why has no one come up with a cure yet? I hate Lemsip and all the other cold 'soothers'. Yuk.

PS: It's far worse having a cold when you have to commute for hours and it is raining. Juggling a bag, brolly, ticket and tissue is not much fun. I am exhausted.

End of the world etc

I am pleased that the Large Hadron Collider experiment didn't result in the end of the world. It may yet do so – in 2012 – anything to avoid those pesky Olympics, eh?

It's said to take four years until the impact of the experiment is known. Wouldn't it be ridiculous if this was the equivalent of a massive schoolboy cock-up and we really did send ourselves into oblivion? What a way to go. The Mayan calendar ends in 2012, I think. Hmm. Ah well.

One professor un-eloquently commented that those who fear that the LHC will spell doom "are twats". Out of the mouths of scientists... comes a load of rubbish sometimes. How arrogant to assume that we know better than nature and the universe. Man has a phenomenal capacity for destruction, and science should not pretend otherwise. All actions have an equal and opposite reaction, as someone [a scientist, hmm?] once said...

Friday, 5 September 2008

Punched

You know when someone says something to you and it's so unexpected and so weird (in a bad way) that you think you are going mad, that it can't have been the case? Well, I feel like I have just imagined an entire conversation.

Sometimes I feel as though I am speaking a different language (to some people). I am numb.

I can't even begin to explain it (sorry, I know that's not very helpful in blogland).

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Fight Club

I love it. I love it. I do...

I sparred for the first time in ages tonight (following a cracked rib and knee problems). I haven't worn my fighting gloves (well, mitts) since January, so this was a big deal for me. Erm, I was a bit scared when I started but instructor N told the first man I was paired up with to back off a bit as he was going for it a bit too harshly (and he has plenty of experience, compared to me). I must admit, I'd have come off pretty badly without this intervention. The second chap was more restrained and we had a great session. I need to be far more 'solid', I know. And, of course, my technique needs plenty of work. But it was bloody brilliant. The amount of energy you expend is amazing, and you feel as high as a kite afterwards.

This was catharsis at its best, believe me.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Passion

In my profile section on this here very blog, I talk about not being keen on people who display apathy as a trait. I love people who have passion, whether that is for cars, justice, kung fu, cricket, writing, work, chess, food, or recreating medieval battles in a field somewhere that no one has heard of.

Having something that you feel brings you vigour and sparks your endorphins is the stuff of life. It gives focus and breeds energy and a zest for the subject that makes the brain work – and gives it the capacity to grow and retain the sponge-like qualities that enable it to keep the synapses firing.

People who love what they do for a living are truly living a blessed life. Or are they simply getting their arses into gear? I am amazed I do not meet more people who say that their jobs give them pleasure and turn them on. How anyone can stay in a job – long-term – where they are unhappy, is anathema to me. Isn't life more precious than that? I understand that work equals money equals numerous things despite boredom/torpor/brain death... as it pays the bills and all that. (Believe me, I know...)

But to be resigned to be stuck in a dead-end job is, I think, a crime against one's intelligence and humanity. It turns you into a robot. I know that needs must but if apathy reigns, needs must be changed.

Passion. Passion. Passion. The word was batted to me once (and again and again) by an interviewee who talked with such passion that I decided that my life had to change. I was drunk on her words, on her way of thinking... I got back to my office after the interview and there, the seeds of my escape from stagnancy were sown as I wrote the article. That was seven years ago.

Since then, I've gravitated to people who have the p-word as a trait. They are always interesting, always on fire. Here's to people with passion: long may you live.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Scones and tea?


For scone fans, this is the recipe I used, courtesy of the BBC Food website (see below). Excuse gratuitous repeat of close up of scones with butter and jam. I had no clotted cream, unfortunately, but they were still tasty.

Ingredients
225g/8oz self raising flour
pinch of salt
55g/2oz butter
25g/1oz caster sugar
150ml/5fl oz milk

Method
1. Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
2. Mix together the flour and salt and rub in the butter.
3. Stir in the sugar and then the milk to get a soft dough.
4. Turn on to a floured work surface and knead very lightly. Pat out to a round 2cm/¾in thick. Use a 5cm/2in cutter to stamp out rounds and place on a baking sheet. Lightly knead together the rest of the dough and stamp out more scones to use it all up.
5. Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk. Bake for 12-15 minutes until well risen and golden.
6. Cool on a wire rack and serve with butter and good jam and maybe some clotted cream.

Girl of my dreams

GFG (Ground Floor Girl) is a pain in the arse. She's rude, selfish, messy, unfriendly and very odd.

And, as I discovered by listening through the wall, she is selling her flat soon. Such a shame.

(Normally, I would have scruples about eavesdropping. But where she is concerned, I am quite happy to throw them out the window – as she does with her skanky fag-ends.)

Oh, yes, I had a dream this morning that I was telling GFG exactly what I thought of her. It was quite satisfying. Maybe dreams can come true.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Christmas?!

One of the magazines that I have subscribed to dropped through my letterbox this morning. I was appalled to see a leaflet for 'Christmas subscription offers' enclosed.

Are they mad?

Speaking up

Regular readers may know that I've been on a bit of a downer lately, which worsened after my kung fu teacher said a couple of things that upset me.

On Saturday, we had a club day out, which I'd arranged a while back (I am the social secretary). I was in two mind
s as to whether I should go (due to said comments) and I had also woken with swollen eyes, which looked as though I had been punched. I got the swelling down with cold water and managed to appear vaguely presentable, pleased that the sunshine meant I could wear sunglasses.

At the meal, N was seated on one side of me – I wondered if he would be frosty but, on the contrary, he was warm and friendly. My intention was not to talk about my concerns at the meal, as it seemed a bit unfair/irrelevant to the other people there. However, V, whose tongue loosens with alcohol, announced that she thought N wanted 'to get rid of' her/us/people from the class but later added that she had noticed that he was being nice to her 'now that she was focused'. I couldn't get a word in edgewise (V is easily the loudest person I know) as she and another classmate, Diane, argued across the dinner table, which was a bit awkward for everyone else. N, who looked shocked, stressed that 'nothing was ever personal', said he had to try different ways to push us, and, interestingly, that it frustrated him that he felt he couldn't teach us at times.

As the conversation shifted and people left, I raised my own concerns about what N had said to me in the pub. He explained that I am animated when I talk about something I am really interested in (yes) but can look vacant in kung fu (matter of opinion, but I put that down to a lack of confidence in my ability, not vacuity), that I'm not a vacant/vacuous person (good!), but that he wanted to see animation in kung fu (fair enough).

Why couldn't he have just said that in the first place?! I wouldn't have gone home and felt like shite and nearly thrown away 18 months of learning something I absolutely love. I don't mind criticism but there's a time and place (not the bloody pub)... He also said I'd clearly improved a great deal and could potentially be very good, which threw me (in a good way) after all the 'you're crap' comments.

I'm satisfied in the knowledge that my teacher now hopefully knows that a barrage of unbroken negativity doesn't motivate me but sends me the opposite way, deep into a shell (it's this that possibly makes me seem 'vacant'... the irony). And I'm convinced that come what may, it's always, always, always better to air grievances. Always. Not only does it empower, but by remaining tight-lipped, how on earth can anything have a chance to change?

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Domestic therapy


When I was younger, I baked regularly. From about the age of eight, I blended cake mixture (and licked the spoon and scraped the bowl), pounded pastry for delicious fruit pies, rolled out biscuits and generally did kitchen-esque things that would make Delia proud.

The art of making food – the textures, aromas, anticipation, salivation – have always been therapy from the stressors that have bothered me. I felt warm and safe in the kitchen, where I had my own corner of the counter as my mum went about making a Sunday roast. (I was tidy, showing early signs of Monica-from-Friends tendencies that have stayed with me, but it was a useful trait when dealing with flour and eggs...)

I especially enjoyed serving my creations to my family and friends. In fact, when I was in my twenties, I used to bake banana bread every Sunday for my colleagues. There was never much left by Monday lunchtime. Sometimes, I'd have a slice myself.

So, this afternoon, following a week where I felt churned up and deeply upset for a variety of rather heavy reasons, I Googled for a recipe for scones (as I knew I'd already have the necessary ingredients) and
voilĂ ...



The scones tasted good. Even if I do say so myself. And my headache disappeared as the smell of baking emanated from the oven. I can see myself spending a good few hours in the kitchen as autumn (lovely autumn!) approaches.

Remember me?

The other day on the train, I saw a woman who looked oddly familiar. She had longer hair than when I had last seen her six years ago. She had also added a few lines to those that had already formed on her face, but she wore exactly the same expression, which I can only describe as a half smirk/half sarcastic purse of the lips coupled with disapproving, hooded eyes that you only usually see when a sneer is on the cusp of someone's next facial movement.

I had to suppress the urge to make sure that the woman saw me as well as a powerful desire to make sure she didn't see me. This conflict of instincts made me stand up taller while also making me want to step backwards (though I didn't). We had been seated on either side of the train doors and now, at the final stop, we would inevitably clash at the doorway. There were plenty of people around but the rush-hour crowd was not so thick that we would be shielded from one another. I looked at her again and again, smiled to myself, and knew that I had more drive in me now than I had had when I first knew her (and back then, when she and I fought, I gave her hell). I was daring her to look up, to meet my gaze. But she did not, lost in some inane thought, no doubt. Or maybe she had seen me.

This woman, with her beige bag and beige hair and face (and personality) is the last person I worked for before going freelance [I am so tempted to name her here...]. Let's call her Linzi [she'd like to think that that would suit her]... So, Linzi. A bully in a beige suit. A bully who made me vow to never work for a company, to be tied to any one place for my income (after I woke one day with blood all over my pillow and duvet) was there, right there... I thought I had an ulcer but I didn't – there was a bizarre amount of blood over my chin and mouth, and I have no idea where it came from – there were no cuts in my mouth or bites caused by teeth-grinding.)

Linzi was a bastard and probably still is. I know where she works because me and my ex-colleagues (now friends – oh, how we bonded!) sometimes Google her. I know which train she takes now, and where she sits. And that she still wears beige. Not much changes.

Suffice to say that this woman tried all manner of means to get me and my colleagues to leave so that she could replace us with her cronies. I came off badly because I stood up to her. In time, the office ended up as a Linzi version of Friends Reunited. My colleagues and I eventually left because, frankly life was too short to put up with the evil idiot who embezzled a load of money and somehow got away with it – due to an incredible police mess-up with the case notes.

By the time Linzi's computer was seized, I must have been a distant memory, and had left only a legacy of my fury and defiance (I started cases against her – just to teach her a lesson – and I got the unions involved, though they were largely useless, but it gave Linzi something to worry about...). I remember when a friend called me to tell me that Linzi had been arrested. I was in M&S buying tights at the time and yelled with delight and laughed for about 15 minutes. Shame she didn't get to spend some time in jail.

If I see her again, I'll grin. She'll probably fall over on her beige shoes with shock.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Enough

My kung fu teacher yesterday said that I have no presence, that there is nothing in my eyes, that I look vacant/vacuous (I'm not sure which little insult he chose) and that he would not be surprised if my eyes roll back in my head, "as there was nothing there".

This little commentary, in the pub with about six other people, happened after I was telling a few of my friends there about being asked for ID (they had been talking about trying to buy alcohol when they were underage). He thinks that if I had any presence, I would not have been mistaken for a younger person. Well, fuck presence.
I am seriously considering jacking it in – and telling him why. Kung fu is meant to relieve me of stress, not be a source of it. Maybe I am just not cut out for it (how many times have I said that?)...

I've arranged a day out for the class tomorrow [that was like pulling teeth] and now don't want to go (I am repeatedly deemed a "rubbish" social secretary even though I am the only one who has ever bothered to organise anything new; at least I make a bloody effort).


Another later conversation with someone else, which I won't go into here, ended in me feeling as though I'm a pain in the arse what with insomnia and so on. I suppose I am, at times.

I wish I could expand on all the reasons I don't sleep, but I don't want to. Suffice to say anyone going through similar wouldn't have much fucking presence and might find their energy is taken up with just getting through the day. It's all made me feel insulted and worthless. I slept for about three hours and feel like utter shit today.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The State of Me

I've read Nasim Marie Jafry's blog for the last 18 months. She's funny, clever, observant, wry, down to earth, and I've always thought that if I met her over a coffee, we'd laugh about gardens, the weather, sleep, blogging/bloggers, mice and cooker hoods. I've tried to remember how I came upon NMJ's blog, and why I instantly added it to my bookmarks. There was no big reason (the name of her blog made me scrunch my brow). She simply had a voice that I wanted to listen to, having read a few entries.

It was therefore no great surprise to me that I greatly enjoyed NMJ's book The State of Me, which I finished over the weekend. I read it fairly slowly, as I do when reading books that are penned mainly in the first person. When well-written, I savour such works. It feels to me as though someone I know is talking to me, telling me things, confiding.

The State of Me is about a young woman, Helen Fleet, who is flawed, funny and feisty. Nasim takes us from Helen's fireworks of adolescent-on-the-cusp to her fading fast and burning out as illness takes hold of her and sits her firmly down – for the best part of a decade, at least. The sense of Helen's isolation and inwardness is made clearly apparent in the way the story is told. It made me feel sad and guilty for not knowing what this thing called ME/CFS/Yuppie flu (ugh) really is, and how devastating its effects are. I'd heard of it, of course, but I didn't really get it until now. It was abstract, a bit strange, hard to grasp... (but in retrospect I blame the doubters who communicated – or miscommunicated – this confusion to the likes of me when it first came to light...).

Having said that, The State of Me does not set out to be a novel equivalent of a documentary. Yes, Nasim enlightens the reader, if the reader chooses to listen. But the essence is a damn good story – there's the undulating relationship between Helen and Ivan that comes and goes, comes and goes... The constancy of Helen's mother, stepfather and uncle, and one friend, Jana, root her and give her life. Even if she is not living to the full physically, Helen has the full repertoire of emotions... Helen's love, Ivan, is drawn particularly well. I liked him immensely and though at times he did not behave impeccably, you could understand why, though you hated some of his deeds for what they did to the protagonist.

Nasim possesses the arts of understatement and careful observation that, on several occasions, disarmed me. I loved that some of her references seemed as though they were aimed specifically at me. That surely is the writer's ultimate aim – to be able to connect through the pages of a book using certain words that are so well-chosen that they spark the synapses like Christmas tree lights?

My feeling as I put The State of Me back on to my book shelf, was that this novel is a highly impressive, enjoyable debut and, I hope, the precursor to many more books by NMJ...

But I understand also that TSoM was written by a woman battling ME. That itself is a feat beyond the as-if-that-were-not-enough feat of having a book successfully published. I commend NMJ for her remarkable achievements, wish her extremely rude health and hope to one day toast her in person in an Edinburgh café when ME, for my blog friend(s) and all who have suffered ME (and its allied misunderstandings and unnecessary battles), is just a memory.

Holding back the fears

Apparently, one of the reasons I can't always (well, often) hit as hard as I want to in kung fu is because I am internalising certain things (namely anger). I hold back. The reasons are myriad.

It's quite bizarre, this mind-affecting-body lark. I am going to try to cease with this internal baloney, which only ever damages me, and hit/kick the crap out of the next pad I meet. When I get there, the catharsis, I imagine, will be explosive.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Untitled

Ever get the feeling you are, at best, mediocre at various aspects of your life? I feel as though I have the anti-Midas touch at the moment. Thing after thing... erodes the confidence after a while.

Oh well.

Sorry the blog's a bit melancholy at the moment.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Thought spinners unite

This has been a strange few weeks (I may have said that before on this blog). My mind has been a pickle. It has been pickled. Not in excess alcohol, but in excess thought. The amount of pressure in my head has been immense. It has caused me to sleep fitfully and dream the most bizarre, and often deeply disturbing, dreams – nightmares, in fact.

The brain is incredible. Literally in-credible. Its ability to spin thoughts into garish garments with three legs and four holes for heads is just phenomenal. At times, I have felt as though my head will explode. It happened slowly – one thing after another. Slowly, slowly, break the camel's back (sorry to mix metaphors)...

When One Thing after Another becomes hump-shattering, you just can't think. Clarity becomes an abstract concept and you lose your words. You just can't speak for the pressure cooker in your head. Why do humans do this? (Well, some humans...) Do the people that have tendencies towards thought spinning have an eye for the minutiae, nuance and unsaid that makes them perceptive where others simply drift by? Does this enrich? (I think it does – to a point.) Or, would their lives be easier if they could switch off and deal only in the factual? Hmm.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Mind reader

Do you ever have periods where others keeps tuning into your brain and say exactly what you have thought, using unusual words and phrases? It's happening to me at the moment. These synchronicitous (is that even a word?) happenings do, erm, happen, from time to time. But this time it's quite ridiculous. And good. I like all this sixth sense stuff. It's fascinating. And very real. It's all about wavelengths, I guess.

Erm, how old? (part three)

Heavens. I was asked for my ID again when trying to buy two bottle of Argentinian white wine. (This is the third time in six weeks; I was quizzed while buying Superglue at the weekend and had the wine situation a few weeks before that.)

I smiled as some of my cards fell out from my purse on to the floor. I didn't have anything with ID on it. The man looked closely at my eyes and smiled back with embarrassment. I said that this situation had happened previously and that it was very kind but I am 39, not 19. He smiled some more, almost shy. The queue built behind me. I think the people behind me thought my card had been refused or something as they shifted impatiently.

Eventually, he scanned the two bottles. I thanked him as he carried on looking at me as though I had just done cartwheels while swallowing fire and chuckled to myself as I walked back to my car.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Gary Glitter

He won't get on a plane because he thinks he will have a heart attack.

Let's shove him on to the fucking plane.

I'm listening to the radio – so many people are calling in saying they know people who have suffered at the hands of sickos like Paul Francis 'Gary Glitter' Gadd. They talk of their children and grandchildren. And mostly, the abusers were people who were trusted. These people ruin lives. They wreck children, who carry the wreckage with them for life.

Poor me etc...

This has been a strange week so far. I haven't felt so ridiculously low in ages. There are various things causing me worry and I don't know where to start. I had work to do yesterday – a bit of work – but not as much as I had planned. I'd marked certain assignments in my diary and have had to Tippex them out. The pages stuck together.

So, my diary is now nearly empty but I'd arranged a few social things that may now have to hit the dust. It's not fun having time on your hands when you didn't expect it and haven't budgeted for it. I will of course be chasing new work but I've lost about a month's salary, at least, and have nothing booked in bar a few days' work over the next few weeks. There are no guarantees that work will come my way... talk of budget-cutting is all too common.

So, after doing my remaining bits of work, I sorted out a pile of letters, paid the taxman, shredded a load of documents and then switched off my computer. It gets a bit depressing, constantly flicking your eyes up to your inbox. I set fire to one letter – a rejection – and held it over the sink. At first, the flames were slow but they gathered pace quickly and I had to turn the tap on as I dropped the burning paper. The embers smelled good. I put the damp remnants in the bin, ensuring there were no flickers (I once emptied an ash tray into a bin at work, many years ago, and the whole thing went up in flames – it was pretty impressive...).

After 5pm, I lay down to have a think. I was shattered after spending the day trying to remain polite to the people who have pissed me off and messed me around. It's made me cry on and off since Monday. I haven't done anything to deserve such treatment at work and feel utterly disposable.

Most others don't understand – they'll just say that they, too, have money worries (while telling you about their next holiday abroad, knowing full well they will be paid at month-end). It amazes me that people think journalists are well-paid. Believe me, it's not the case.

I know the thing to do is to aggressively chase new work, and that is what I will do. These hiatuses show me I need alternatives and perhaps represent a doorway from the mundane and known to new pastures. I've been through much worse but that doesn't make this situation any easier.

One money-related problem is that I'm not sure I'll be able to afford my kung fu classes – they keep me sane despite my moronically bad performance. Though I think I must be one of the least coordinated people in the history of the world, I challenge myself to go. Even when I think I'll give it a miss, as I'm not getting anywhere, I somehow find myself drawn to it.

Sometimes I manage to draw down into the things that really do need to come out and I belt the pads hard. My technique, as my long-suffering instructor N says, is usually wrong. He is right, of course... it must be maddening watching people flail like squid in a weird ballet of ineffectual movement. But I try my best, though I am sure appallingness is the overall impression I give, and that – at times like these – makes me shrivel.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Blue

Today was one of those days when I wished I had stayed in bed...

• I've had one assignment slashed by half, at very short notice, and it has made me feel awful. It's an awkward situation where someone wants to save money and is questioning why I need X number of days to do something. I've taken X days to do the same volume for years and been praised and asked back again and again. But now? Now, all of a sudden, I'm being made to feel as though I've lied about the amount of time I spent previously (when I worked my arse off) and have been questioned about what I did. It's very depressing. I feel like a popped balloon. I haven't felt like crying about work for a long time.

• I had a headache all day yesterday as I didn't get enough sleep. Consequently, I didn't sleep well last night, which for me, is a bloody shitty disaster.

• I was absolutely dire in kung fu. I almost burst into tears in the middle of class; in fact tears did roll down my cheeks but I pretended they were sweat, not that it fooled anyone. N, the instructor, was infinitely patient with me. I think he was willing me not to cry. I was burning up inside as everyone seemed to grasp what we were meant to be doing and I ended up looking like a moron. My brain just wasn't retaining anything. It was like a vacuum. A couple of my fellow students said I was "doing well", but I know I wasn't. They were trying to be supportive but it just made me feel even more inadequate that they had noticed me struggling so badly, so much so that they (who are by no means brilliant) felt they could comment. I know they were trying to help, though... I know. But it felt rather patronising.

• I had a (surprisingly healthy) ready meal and some old cream liquor for dinner. I felt better – number – as the alcohol warmed my body and quietened my brain.

• I've had my hair cut recently; it was very long and is now shoulder length. Most people have said positive things about it but a couple of people have said nothing except "Oh, you've had your hair cut?" What am I supposed to say? "Er, no. I just have a wig on." Why do people bother saying anything if they think I look horrible? Why not just not say anything? The worst was one friend who said: "Ah, had your hair cut..." and then did this noise, a sort of elongated "oh" mixed with a "hmmm" while nodding slowly and unconvincingly. Yeah, that made me feel amazing – thanks. I'd never do that to someone – unless I wanted to hurt them. Main thing is that I really like my hair now, it is much more manageable and is finally in a decent style. S loved it and so do most of my comrades, so what does it matter? (It matters when it's one more criticism to add to a day-full...)

• Oh fuck it. I'm going to bed.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Fate... up against your will...

In starlit nights I saw you
So cruelly you kissed me
Your lips a magic world
Your sky all hung with jewels



Beautiful...

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Just how old are you?

I went to Homebase to buy some glue, a new vase to replace the one the wind blew over and shattered this morning, and a paint roller.

The vase and roller (plus some plain white plates that hadn't been on my list) were easy to find but I couldn't locate the glue. There didn't seem to be a glue section, nor was there a big 'ADHESIVES' banner hanging above any aisles.

So, I asked a Homebase man where the Superglue was and he literally looked me up and down as though I was insane. He frowned: "Hmm, are you over 18?"

I am 39.

Thirty-nine!! Hahahahaha.

I laughed, how I laughed. The man, perhaps taken aback by my manic cackling, took me to the glue area and left me there, still looking at me somewhat askance, probably imagining me later with my hoodies and dem, swigging cheap booze and, erm, copping a load of Superglue fumes. There was a fat man standing in front of most of the glue display. Squinting, I read from a distance to see which of the many types of glue I could use, reached in front of his massive belly and plucked a packet from the display. He continued to stand, motionless, mesmerised by the yellow tubes of Araldite, apparently.

I've been asked for ID in the past two months when buying wine but at least there you have to look 21. I cannot believe this man thought I was 17. It could be flattering, I guess, but I don't want to look younger than 18, thanks very much!

Anyway, the vase is in place, the glue was used to stick down M's pawprint motif on her bed (she had pulled it up and eaten a bit of it), and I just can't be bothered to paint today, so am listening to rock music while online shopping and intermittently cleaning the place.

I'll try to buy some wine later and see if the youth fairy's spell is still working.


----------------
Listening to: Echo & The Bunnymen - The Killing Moon

Friday, 15 August 2008

Sleep is magic

It really is. I cannot begin to explain how much better I feel for a good night's sleep. After Wednesday night's awful insomnia, when my head was filled with exhaustion and the accompanying craziness that it brings, I needed serious rest. The brain, when tired has the capacity to be quite self-destructive.

I was so tired yesterday that I ached like I'd been beaten. But I was determined to go to kung fu later so had a little lie down in the sun with M, my rabbit, sitting by my knees. Inevitably I dozed for about 20 minutes. I didn't think it would interfere with my sleep at night, as I was really beyond it and the exercise put paid to any energy left slopping around my bones.

Anyway, I did sleep. I had a nightmare about an awful train crash that woke me violently. It was vivid and frightening. But apart from that little brain treat, I did sleep...

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Sleepless on the settee

Am so tired.

My skin looks unglowy and I have dark circles beneath my eyes.

I worry/analyse/think too much. Must sort this out.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Olympic waste

Am I bad for having zero interest in the Olympics? A couple of my friends are very enthusiastic – one said he would book two weeks off work to watch them.

But while I will be very pleased and proud if we win any medals, which I hope we do, I can't say I'll be glued to the box to watch the games. I don't have the time anyway.

As for London 2012, I cannot believe we are spending so much money on a sporting event that will pass in the space of a few weeks. Insane.

Silly fool

Thank God I slept last night. I think sanity, such as it was, has returned.

My body ached all day with tiredness. I was hoping to just get through the working day, and would see if I was still standing come time for my kung fu class after work.

During the day, I drank plenty of tea: strong, dark. I ate a huge plate of pasta with fat black olives in it at lunch, accompanied by a friend. It was really good to have a hot meal at lunch – much better than mayonnaise-smothered cardiac-arresting sandwiches that purport to be healthy.

I switched on my iPod at about 4pm
(my current boss doesn't mind), when I was seriously flagging and the old familiar feeling of deep exhaustion settled on me. But, listening to music – 'my top rated' – had a strange effect. The heaviness in my body disappeared. My head cleared. I felt energy course through me: endorphins caused by pleasure, I assume. It was quite a dramatic effect.

So, I managed to get to my kung fu class. I did feel pretty zonked, though.
I felt like I would cry at times. I think my energy reserves, stoked by the music endorphins, were used up in the first 20 minutes and after that, I felt as though I was rubbish at what I was doing; my very short period of feeling any good drifted away. I know my instructor, N, wasn't impressed. I wasn't either. My shoulders were very tense, the sort of tightness that causes pain. They still hurt this morning. I need to relax. I need a massage.

Obviously, exercise releases endorphins in the body, giving one a natural lift and disguising pain, to an extent. The effect it has on me, when combined with my frustration, is to make me battle through things, like a fool, and push myself. (Adrenaline, another pesky hormone, does the same.) So, I decided, in my fatigued wisdom, to try to kick for the first time in six months. (This was kicking a thick pad.) As I did it with one leg, it felt OK. I was pleased. Then, I switched legs and felt a twinge. Just a little twinge. N asked me if I should be kicking. By that point I was on number 19 of 20 kicks with the second leg. I shrugged, thinking I had to test the knee at some point. Didn't feel any pain at the time – but you never do. Trouble is, the bloody thing is aching today. I'm hoping to God I haven't put myself back to square one. I really could cry.