Titles are too difficult today

Hello!

After two or three (one week away from school and I cannot function with regard to what day it is) days of mostly sleeping I am finally awake. This is, of course, ironic, given that tomorrow the interminable treadmill of work/school/endless chores resumes again and I will be a twisted husk of tiredness and shattered dreams by the week’s end. Still, the things I may do in the 48 hours in which I will be functioning at optimum efficiency may possibly drag me through the next six weeks to Easter.

Who am I kidding?

GAH.

The news is unspeakable. Just the bleakest of the bleak. The only possible cheer I can glean from the gigantic shit show that is current affairs is that political assassination seems to be coming back into fashion. No. I am not sorry that this is a terrible thing to say. I am, as long term readers will vouch, a terrible person who is generally only motivated to do nice things by a) the promise of cake, b) the fact that I don’t want my children to be too ashamed of me and c) the fact that doing nice things generally pisses people more terrible than me off.

I have been cheered by the hashtag PaulNuttalFacts and I urge you to check it out if you are vacillating between weeping and throwing your hands in the air or laughing until you’re sick. It sort of scratches the itch a tiny bit.

I have spent half term avoiding most hard core news. Instead I have been desultorily posting blurry images on Instagram and looking at other people’s less blurry pictures. I have been doing some therapeutic work on myself in recent weeks, and am feeling rather emotionally fragile and not really up to full blown social media immersion and the horror of my usual forensic news reading. I realise that the last sentence sounds unspeakably wanky. I have wrestled with how to describe it, and really I’m just not prepared to commit to anything more detailed. It’s all good. It’s all progress but it feels rather like weaving cobwebs and hoping they’ll keep holding me up for the foreseeable future. It’s not something I feel ready to stand on my soap box about yet.

In more cheering news.

I have finished reading Alys Fowler’s, Hidden Nature.  It was gorgeous. A truly lovely book.  It kind of reminded me of Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, which was also beautiful. It has that same confessional/natural world vibe going on. I also finished reading Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. I really did not like this. I am sure it is worthy and literary and very good for you and all of that, and is undoubtedly going to be a classic etc. Having said all of those things I found it a 700 page endurance test which I did not actually enjoy. One day I’m going to learn how to put down books I don’t like without finishing them, and it will be a marvellous moment.  I am now reading, Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer. I am loving it.

My friend Nicki and I went to see Sue Perkins do her thang last night at De Montfort Hall in Leicester. It’s a one woman show based on her book Spectacles. I loved the book. I love Sue, and it was a few hours of absolute delight. We didn’t want it to finish and we were both a bit tearful at the end,  because really, these days you have to snatch all the joy wherever you find it. She took questions at the end. One person asked about her show Supersizers Go, which she did with Giles Coren. Her memories of it were hilarious and it has inspired me to go back and watch them all again on Youtube.

Musically I’m revisiting Beck’s O’Delay album, listening to the new Elbow album in preparation for seeing them in March and enjoying Angel Olsen and The Wombats. Spotify is a marvellous thing.

Food wise I’ve been cooking from The Three Sisters Quick and Easy Indian Cookbook over the last few days. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Simple, pared down recipes that still give great flavour and are easy peasy to put together. My favourite so far has been the potato and spinach curry. The Tandoori recipe is good too, although I always add stacks more chilli, because we like the flavour but prefer more heat. It looks rather like one of those cheap, churned out cook books that are the cookery book equivalent of menus with photographs of the food next to the description, but it’s far from it. I’m really pleased with it so far and will be exploring it in more depth in the next few weeks.

Now I have to go and shout at small boys about cycling proficiency and basketball lessons (not at the same time, although this appeals to me) and teenage girls about whether that amount of eyeliner is a health and safety hazard. I need to talk to older teenage girls about what the tortoise is doing wedged there. I need to talk to myself about the ninety six crucial lists I have to get to grips with next week and Jason as to why a bobble head Yoda has suddenly appeared on the kitchen cabinets.

The cat is having a nervous breakdown because the cat from Norway (that got stuck in the doorway) has decided to take over our garden and she is cowering under the barbecue, panting, because it won’t even have to extend a claw to kill her. It will just squash her with its mighty, Norwegian girth. Jason is flailing about a golf course with our friend Rob who he co-erced into going with him. This means the house will soon be full of random trip hazards and clots of churned up earth, and I still haven’t decided what to do for dinner because it’s Sunday and I opted out of thinking.

A fool to myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding Frenzy

I am Still unspeakably tired. It is half term. I should not be tired. I should be turning off my alarm and wallowing about like a hippo in a onesie, ignoring the children and reading books. That this is not happening is a cause for some distress in my life. So far there has been a great deal of activity and alarm clocks are still a feature. Gah.

I do not feel guilt that I am not all about the outdoors and fresh air and exercise. I loathe all three of these things with a passion that remains undiminished as the years go by. I do not like cagoules or stout walking boots, or marvelling at the lark upon the wing. I just want to draw the curtains and sit in the gloom with the cat, who hates the weather as much as I do. She is a very reliable predictor of frost, as she will not go outside and wee if there is a nip in the air. She hates having a cold bottom. Hates it.

And frankly, who can blame her?

Despite the frantic time table, there have been lots of lovely things about the week so far.

Sunday was spent hosting my parents’ birthday feast (their birthdays are three days apart). My mum’s cooker has been dead since the end of November, and she was craving roast chicken with all the trimmings, so that’s what she got. I added Yorkshires to the ‘all the trimmings’, because why wouldn’t you? I also made cauliflower cheese with Romansco cauliflower and a version of cheese sauce I adapted from some amazing Welsh Rarebit I had recently. We finished with the classic chocolate Malteser cake and ice cream. It took hours to cook and minutes to eat, but it was lovely to share the day with them and we spent until the evening squabbling over the crossword and roaming far and wide conversationally from politics to the order of the Hanoverian kings and back.

The children and I went scuffling off to the library yesterday. We made a pit stop at Simon’s deli for supplies and generally wandered from book shop to bakery, to deli to library to book shop. This is the sort of urban safari I approve of. Tilly made Thai green broth with prawns for lunch, and spent the afternoon making a chocolate Guinness cake with cream cheese frosting. I’m glad she’s not moving out just yet. I went on a date with Jason to see Train Spotting 2 at the cinema. Yes, our idea of romance is to sit in the dark, not talking to each other, watching a film about smack heads and feeling nostalgic for the old days. What of it?

Today I had to collect my brother from Big John’s garage at some unholy hour of the morning. His clutch had died and to keep him busy while Big John fitted a new one, I made him come with me to my new favourite Indian supermarket (Pak Foods in Evington) to stock up on spices. He then showed me the new oriental supermarket he found at the back of the old football stadium as was. After that we did more food shopping in a conventional supermarket and came home laden with spoils (and new tortoise substrate). Oscar and I spent the afternoon with some friends devouring cake. I cooked herb crusted roast beef for dinner and spent the evening failing to win the pub quiz but enjoying myself mightily.

As I type it is clear that food is a key theme of the week so far, and looks set to continue. Books are on the agenda. I have finally finished A God in Ruins, which was perfect. I have not read anything else yet, but there is still time. All would be perfect if the alarm clock could be dispensed with and there were less errands to run, but I can stagger on as long as my belly remains full. If I continue to eat at this pace I may not so much stagger as roll.

doings of the week that was

All my words are jumbling I’m so tired, but here I am, hammering away at the keyboard again.

It’s too late to be coherent but for some reason I have decided to persevere and do a random round up of the week. I have been to many meetings, written many emails, waved flags for libraries and heart units and the NHS in general. I have ferried children to basketball tournaments and sleep overs. I have rescued Tallulah’s boot from the menders. I have had people round for dinner, to eat real food, which I cooked from scratch. I have also snuck in a takeaway and lunch at Wagamamas.

I have also done these things:

I’m reviewing Flora Shedden’s  (one of 2015’s GBBO contestants) recipe book, Gatherings. It’s very beautiful to look at, not all cake driven, and contains recipes for cardamon gin and clotted cream. So far it’s a winner.

Slow on the reading front this week due to falling asleep but A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson continues to be brilliant.

I am also reading Alys Fowler’s Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery. It’s a review copy but available for pre-order. It’s a kind of memoir/exploration of Birmingham’s canals. It’s rather lovely.

I watched The Great Pottery Throw Down. They made clocks. I hate clocks because they tick, and remind me of my own mortality. I can’t say that any clay renditions of clocks made them any more palatable to me, and Keith didn’t cry this week. He just got furious with a bearded man from Newcastle who basically made a clay box with paint dribbles on. I felt his pain. I may blog more about this later, if I can get over the clock phobia.

I went to a Leicester Comedy Festival event called Dead Leicester. Tilly’s friend is in the theatre company that put it on. We went to show our support and were a bit grumbly because it was icy cold and snowing when we arrived. Then it turned out to be so excellent that we forgot to be grumbly, although we were all pale blue by the time it finished. We thought it was just a ghost walk, but it turned out to be a ghost walk that was a great deal like Horrible Histories crossed with The Mighty Boosh. We all loved it. It’s on for the duration of the festival if you’re in the area.

Today I went to London to see the divine Ruth Wilson, who I have a massive girl crush on, playing Hedda Gabler at The National Theatre. I’d never seen any Ibsen, so had no idea what to expect, but I had high hopes because not only was Ruth in it, but it was an adaptation by Patrick Marber who I really rate. Turns out it surpassed expectation. I loved it. I loved it so much I might try and get tickets to see it as an NTLive production too.

I came home and watched the Terry Pratchett documentary Back in Black. It made me cry. I miss him and I think about him every day. Oscar is reading the Discworld series to me, and we are currently half way through The Last Continent. Every day he reads me ten pages of Pratchett, and I find myself turning my thoughts about them over and over in my head like pebbles in the surf. Sometimes, as I read the day’s news slipping into my Twitter feed I find myself rolling my eyes towards the heavens, only it isn’t the heavens, just Terry. Sharing a cloud with my other muse, Sue Townsend. Squabbling over who has the comfiest cloud hillock no doubt.

That’s as good a place as any to finish.

 

Space for Change

Someone in the comments (I am reading them. I will publish and reply when I’m not so tired) said that they didn’t really understand what making the space for change to happen meant. They were referring to my last blog post, so if you haven’t read that yet you’re going to be really confused as I realise I’m replying to a comment you can’t see, about a post you haven’t read. Perhaps skip this one and come back tomorrow.

It is difficult to explain because the things I am experiencing are not really things there are necessarily adequate words for, but I will try, because if nothing else, I like to attempt to get things straight for myself.

So what I said yesterday was that I realised that change could happen if you made space for it in your life, and that I had come to the understanding that you could make that space by having conversations with other people. Real conversations about things that matter rather than chats about the weather.

I think that what I mean by that is that when things seem hopeless, or stuck, or impossible to change, change can actually occur regardless of what might seem like overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

What generally happens is that we come across something that frightens us, or overwhelms us and mostly we cope with it by either turning away from it in some way or running towards it. We turn away by ignoring it, or shifting the responsibility for it onto someone else, or distracting ourselves in some way. We tell ourselves that we will do something about it when the time is right, or that we’re too tired, or too busy, or we just hope that if we wait long enough the problem will go away. We run towards it by deciding to deal with it in the first way that comes to hand, by pushing through it, or rolling over it.

Sometimes these things work, it has to be said. They’re not bad things to do in themselves, but they don’t solve every problem, and sometimes they make things worse.

The main thing I think, with all of these responses is that they become problematic when they become habitual. When we just don’t think about why we’re behaving in that way, we just do it, because ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ That almost instant reaction helps us to repeatedly numb ourselves the more often we do this stuff. We think less. We question less. We become more accustomed to accepting the idea that nothing can be changed. The gap between the perception of the problem and the ‘solution’ to it becomes so small that we forget to stop and think critically about what we’re doing, even if that habit or ritual no longer serves us, or perpetuates something that hurts us. We forget that we control what we think and how we can respond.

What I mean by making a space is that when we are confronted with these things that can hurt or overwhelm us, or which we fear, rather than switching on to those habits, it can be really, really useful to find a way to pause and assess what is actually happening and then make decisions. This is the ‘space’ I’m talking about. One really effective way I’ve found to do this is by having conversations with people.

Like I said, really important conversations, particularly about things we probably worry about talking about.  We can, of course, talk to ourselves, or a therapist, but sometimes that doesn’t always give the new perspective or insight or ‘space’ we need, because our thoughts and words can still follow those tram lines of habit we have established, and which are so comfortable to us.

I have found that if I am able to talk about tricky stuff with other people, people who are not necessarily going to support my view, or leave it unchallenged, it is more helpful. New people can be helpful because they can bring fresh insight and experience to things we may have hashed over a thousand times with those we know and love. Equally, friends we love and trust can be helpful because they know that even if you disagree with them, you love them enough to talk to them without falling out, and that you will attempt to be respectful of their feelings, and so they extend the courtesy to you.

Conversations like these do many things. Firstly, the sheer decision or act of having one means that we have already hit the pause button on our habitual responses. We’ve already given ourselves a little room for manoeuvre.

Secondly, a conversation is a two way street. It involves listening as well as talking. In the act of listening to someone else we are also making space. We are accepting that there are other ways to think about or see the issue at hand. We are accepting the possibility that change can happen because we can see that what we understand as change, may already be someone else’s everyday experience. Someone else may already be living the change we want. If we accept that someone else can have/do that, we have to accept somewhere inside of us that we can have it too.

Thirdly, our listening may just bring us new facts that make change possible in a much more concrete way than accepting someone else’s opinion. We may find for example that we can suddenly afford that new sofa, because even though we thought it was out of our price range, someone else did find it cheaper elsewhere. It sounds trite, but it really isn’t at all. My mighty power at the doctor’s surgery yesterday came as much from discovering new facts about my condition as it did from the support to change from my brilliant, clever friends.

Fourthly, our willingness to talk about difficult things with people and trust that love is enough to bind us, despite our differences, is a direct microcosm of a lot of what campaigners are trying to make real on the world stage right now. If you experience that across your kitchen table in the space you have made in your small, domestic life, you must know that it can happen everywhere else. It is happening everywhere else, and all you need to do is carry that knowledge in you like a flame, and keep extending that conversation, that willingness to talk out and out, from your kitchen, to your school playground, to your work mates and on.

Finally, if we can accept the difficulties and fears in ourselves, if we can reach out to others to talk about them, we can change them into strengths. I was talking to someone today about how we can re-appropriate words. She posted a meme about the shutting down of Elizabeth Warren’s speech and the line ‘nevertheless she persisted.’ It was supposed to be an insult. Instead it has gone viral, and has been turned into a slogan of peaceful resistance. It has been filled with positivity by people who are making the space in their lives and thoughts to not be frightened or cowed by insults or put downs. They have chosen not to react in the way the person insulting them wanted them to. They have made the space, had that conversation in thought or deed, and chosen change. They have chosen their power, and it came directly from their hurt or fear. They are different sides of the same thing. The space to think gave the power to flip the message and the meaning and the energy.

For me, this understanding is underpinned by a double helix of those two slogans I use so much. ‘What unites us is stronger than what divides us,’ and ‘Be the change you want to see.’ I’ve been dwelling on them for months. I’ve finally worked out how to use them. I just need to keep talking.

And if there’s one thing in this world that I am really good at. It’s talking.

 

Roar

I had an inspired moment today. It was really empowering. It was a culmination of several things that have been evolving in my life in recent months.

The first thing that happened was my meeting a brilliant band of women who I am creating a project with. We first came together some months ago and at that time we had a conversation (which is still ongoing) which changed my life for the better. It was one of those conversations in which several things clicked into place.

The great learning I took from it that I can share with you is that in order to change things, we have to create the space for that change to happen. I had always thought, somewhat naively that those kind of profound changes would happen somewhere that looked important. Somewhere like the House of Commons for example, or around a table in a board room. It turns out that I was wrong. Utterly and completely wrong, and the empowering thing is that it does not matter where that space is, as long as you make it. And the even more empowering thing is that the change isn’t fuelled by money or anything external at all. It’s fuelled by sharing conversation, meaningful, real conversation. And the best thing is that anyone can do it. The only proviso as far as I can see is that you have to be as willing to listen as to speak, and that you have to be willing to speak your truth, however daunting that might seem.

And that conversation and that space we created, has helped me own my power.

And how useful that is in this world of Brexit and governments that don’t listen to their own ministers, let alone their own people, and Trump and everything he brings with him like a particularly toxic cloud. How wonderful to know that all you need to change everything is the space, the conversation and finally, the willingness to own your own power and use it.

And this morning I walked into my doctor’s surgery and for the first time in twenty-five years, instead of being cowed and angry, and feeling vulnerable, I felt mighty. Instead of feeling that I should somehow apologise for the failings of my own body and how inconvenient I was to everyone (including myself), I kicked arse.

I rolled over the ‘you’re normal,’ and the ‘you’re peri-menopausal,’ and the ‘your migraines are not really related to your menstrual cycle.’ I refused the, ‘wait and see,’ and the ‘monitoring’ and the ‘have you considered,’ because what the hell else do they think I’ve been doing for the past twenty five years?

I refused the pills and anti-depressants and Triptans and the persistent offer of drugs that everyone knows make me iller, not better. I said no. Boy did it feel good. It felt amazing. He kept trying, and I just kept saying no until he understood what everyone should understand, that when I say no, I mean no. Particularly when it comes to my own body.

And after I had said no,  I said. ‘This is what I want you to do for me. This is how this is going to happen. This is the only thing I am willing to consider.’

And I got a referral to a gynaecologist for the first time in twenty-five years.

And for the first time in twenty-five years, I walked out of the surgery and did not shed a single tear.

I felt like I’d won everything in the world.

Afterwards I went to see my wise friend Kim for coffee. We were celebrating my liberation from oppression, and we got to talking about bigger issues. She said to me that she had had a real revelation this week when she had been reading about the repeals that Trump has been making to women’s health care in the USA. She said she found herself utterly amazed that he, and other men, were in a position to make those kinds of decisions about women’s bodies. And it’s true. It is amazing. Utterly amazing that in 2017, women’s bodies are still being legislated for like land, or goods, by men.

And she said something else to me that really made me think hard, because it would be too easy and too simplistic to say that it is entirely men’s fault. She said to me, ‘I wonder how we allowed that to happen to us?’ And before everyone goes off the deep end, neither of us are suggesting that it is entirely women’s fault either.

I know what she was saying held truth for me, because the truth of it had been in me earlier that morning and I had acted on it without thinking consciously about it. What happened at the doctors’ was, in essence, what Kim had articulated.

I have always had the power to say ‘no’. I have always had the power to say, ‘this is how it’s going to be.’ I didn’t do that. I wasn’t oppressed or victimised and nor was it entirely my own fault. It was just where I was. It is a mid ground. A ground that many of us occupy, wittingly or unwittingly.

The conversations I’d been having, the space I’d made in my life for change, for things to be different, had meant that I had room to move from that ground. For the first time, this morning, as far as my body was concerned, I took my power back and I owned it. It wasn’t dramatic. It wasn’t angry. It wasn’t aggressive. I just wasn’t afraid of owning my body and choosing for myself what happened. I chose for things to be different, and they were. And part of what made me able to do that was knowing that because of all those brilliant women, I was not alone. I carried them with me and I drew on our collective strength.

And I know that from the number of women I have seen in the last few months standing up, saying no, mobilising, acting and doing, that I am not the only person this is happening to, and it is not just about our bodies anymore. This is bigger than that. We are talking, we are sharing, we are are creating space for change to happen and change is happening.

 

Pit stop check in

I went to a meeting at 1.30 pm today. Then I went from there to a meeting at 3.00 p.m. Then I had to call a local radio station and talk to them for half an hour. It was very glamorous. I sat in a car park. Then I drove to another meeting. On the way I stopped at my local Co-op to buy a biscuit, which I swallowed the last crumb of as I walked in the door of the meeting. I got home at 8.30 looking rather wild and windswept.

I did think rather ironically of the whole ‘slowing’ down thing as all this was galloping apace. In my defence, after travelling at 150 mph last week, this is slowing down of a sort. It’s just going to take me some time to get back to normal pace. I’d say I’ve been motoring at about 80 mph today.

It’s not ideal, but things are going in the right direction. Here’s some stuff about today.

My dishwasher got fixed. The dishwasher repair man tried to go a bit rogue and replace hinges on my oven door for reasons which are still not entirely clear. What was clear that I didn’t want to pay him the £120 he tried to charge for something I didn’t want, so he took them off again, and my oven door still shuts, so that’s a win.

The library furore has died down and things are taking a surprisingly optimistic tack. Nobody wants to string me up. The controversial meeting has been cancelled for good reasons, due to the fact that the library has a reprieve (albeit one I think may be temporary). We are now focussed on positive action that will keep the library open and thriving for as long as possible. I prefer this to manning the barricades. Usually you only get to man the barricades when it’s freezing and I’m not well. I’d have to droop against the barricades shivering, which isn’t half as effective.

I am going on local radio in the morning to talk about the library. This is quite hilarious to me. I usually have to go on with my gloomy, Eeeyore voice to talk about cuts to the local NHS services, so it’s almost a holiday.

My NHS/local paper meeting this afternoon was feisty. We skirmished. We are all very polite. I say we. I mean my colleagues round the table who are old school, good mannered, good people and indulge my hoydenish ways. It was invigorating. The summary. The NHS is still going down the toilet. We are attempting to put cling film over the seat.

My health is a trifle better. I am still mostly eating bread and Hula Hoops although I did branch out into granola today. Someone offered to sell me a copy of the Socialist Worker this evening. I only had twenty pence on me and felt very ashamed of my middle class aspirations when I confessed I’d spent the rest of my money on granola in the Co-op because it was on offer. I shall be first agains the wall come the revolution. There will be buckets of blood, and Dorset cereals.

 

 

Minimal Adulting

Today I have done the bare minimum to pass as an adult, and spent the rest of it asleep. This is my default, ‘the world is too much’, response. It used to be going out and getting pissed and dancing till four in the morning. Now it involves a slanket and a healthy disdain for anything I have to wear that isn’t pyjamas.

My dishwasher went on strike this morning. Not only did it fail to wash anything, it also failed to drain, and then emptied itself all over my kitchen floor. I was surprisingly calm about this. Some light swearing, a lot of mopping and a bit of staring at pipes under the sink unit and I was able to categorically assure myself that I still know nothing about plumbing.

An engineer was supposed to come out by three this afternoon. Naturally this means we have seen hide nor hair of him and he may or may not appear tomorrow at some point. In the meantime I had a slight moment of woe when I realised that the dinner I had chosen to cook used ALL the saucepans, the grill, a roasting tin and forty seven other things all of which needed washing up by hand.

I was not, however, resourceful enough to think of making something else. I am in one of my non-inspired phases of cooking which involves me thinking wistfully of cheese sandwiches and Hula Hoops while being required to actually assemble real food for four other people at times I don’t really want to eat it. This is largely down to the hormone thing, as everything I eat tastes either of soap or metal at the moment and it is not entirely thrilling to spend several hours chained to a stove to then have to stolidly much through the soap/metal combo.

In between falling asleep I am reading Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. It is so wonderful I am quite sad that I keep waking up with it welded to my face. I remember reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum when it first came out and loving it so much. It is so pleasing that she just gets better and better as the years go by.

Other than that, I have signed forty million school letters, which will end up costing me eleventy squillion pounds due to impending school trips and the like. I have failed to pick up Tallulah’s boot from the mender (she is not hopping to school, all is well). I have done some work and ignored other work on the understanding that no matter what I do, there will always be more of it tomorrow.

I have also booked my yearly ‘fucking hell my bloody hormones, save me, you bastards,’ appointment at the Doctor’s. I envisage it going much like the ones I have every year, where they dismiss everything I say and try to give me something that will make me more bat shit crazy than I usually am. I will sit in the car park and weep, drive to the nearest shop to mainline whatever it is I’m eating that day that doesn’t taste like bicycle spare parts and then get a bit stabby about it all. This too shall pass.

In the meantime, I am keeping half an eye on the news. Who knew that I’d end up cheering on John Bercow? These times make for interesting bedfellows.