Reality Check



I dream that I am on a train.

At first, the train is just a means to an end – I am stuck on it, I am escaping something else – but then my subconscious realises the glorious potential that being on a train can offer.

No more bad weather, failed connections and terrifyingly dark, mostly subterranean and criminal stations.  (By the way, is it only my subconscious that discusses marmite sandwiches with chess-playing gangsters?)

Suddenly, being on a train is about vistas, landscapes and wide, open spaces; a whole other type of escape.  There is possibility.

I remember how much I used to love to journey.

Today, every leaving of the house is a palaver, a logistical nightmare; is reminiscent of planning an Arctic expedition.

But I still long to travel.

I want to be somewhere, anywhere.

A lot of the time, I crave the excitement, the expectation of going somewhere.  I always love to plan, to research.

Oh, the thrill of being somewhere new.  A freshness to the eyes.

Neuropathy is not the only itch my feet experience.  I am often restless.  But perhaps that restlessness comes from being overwhelmed.  I want to escape the pressures, the burdens, the stresses of the here and now.

It’s easy to believe that the grass is greener just over there.  Keep looking for something better.  Perhaps it’s a useful instinct, sometimes, but, boy, can we go into overdrive on it.  It can be hard to settle, to be satisfied.  Content.

Sometimes I am desperate to get away.  But why?  And to where?  And how?  And then what?

We could always live our lives zooming from one thrill to another, one adrenaline rush to another but I’m not sure that it really does us any good.  Mongrel Beast, especially.  Because after the high?  Is the reality.  And, unfortunately, that’s where we live.

And perhaps ‘unfortunately’ is just further evidence of that attitude problem.  Contentment means peace and that can only be a good thing.

It does mean that I have to accept, make peace with, be at peace with whatever each day’s reality brings.  Is there good in everything?  It sounds very Pollyanna-ish.  Perhaps not in every little thing but perhaps in the bigger picture.  I am resting.  I am looking after myself.  No more adrenaline surges or blood sugar wobblies or constant eating in desperate pursuit of a little energy.  I am managing this disease.  I am alive and sometimes, even living.  There’s a lot to be grateful for, actually.  I need to take a deep breath and forget the lure of the novel, the different, the distant.  I am here, I am now.  I can be content with that.


The Help Conundrum


Swan's Head with Dripping Beak

Maybe it’s the easiest thing in the world to say ‘oh, if there’s anything you need…’ but what do we mean by that?  Do we mean anything other than that we’re expressing a vague sentiment of fellow-feeling, sympathy, pity, interest, concern …?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s a bit like that other chestnut that we all spout in daily life: ‘how are you?’  (Or other less formal versions, if you prefer).  Is it a greeting or a question?  Do we really want an answer?  And what kind of answer do we want?  The truth?  Or just some socially acceptable platitude?

I like to think that I would help someone, I like to think that I would be prepared to do something other than just utter the words.  And I know that there have been times when I have specified, I’ve asked ‘can I help you with this?’ or ‘do you need help doing…?’  It’s easier, more practical for all concerned, me and them.

Truth be told though, I’ve been feeling more and more redundant in recent years and even pretty utterly useless at times.  I can’t believe it’s four years since we last had a vehicle and that, obviously, completely changed how I could help people.  And when.  And, nastily, it even made me increasingly reliant on other people.  I don’t like that.  I don’t like being a burden (to my mind, at least).

And there’s not an awful lot you can do about it when your body is conspiring against you.  It’s just taken me a longer time than it should to realise it.  Because … well, why would  I want to?  But forgetting, not realising just how much my body is failing me leads to sticky situations.  For example, a few months back, I went to help an elderly chap pushing a wheelchair because I am an experienced pusher and he was struggling and it wasn’t right that he was having to do it all by himself … then I realised that I don’t have the strength to push anything anymore.  Very embarrassing.

But if I can’t help other people, what is there left for me?  My whole raison d’être is to look after people, to care, to help.  It’s what I’ve done my whole life.  It’s the only way I can justify my existence.

Whatever I have, I share, I give.  It’s my nature, not a boastful statement.  Sometimes I give what I do not have.  I do not have energy nor health.  Not anymore.  And so I have nothing left to give.  There is nothing left.  I cannot help myself anymore.

And that is the most painful and humiliating admission that you can ever make about yourself.  I am utterly useless.

What is there left for me?

Off to the knacker’s yard?


So when people say ‘oh, if there’s anything you need…’, what am I to say?  How should I respond?  The same way that I steadfastly respond  to the ‘how are yous?’ – with a smile and a cheerful response?  Because does anyone really want to know the reality?  Because do I really want to share?  Because do I want to shamefully admit that I need a hand, that I cannot manage alone?  Because is there anyone actually listening?  There’s too much heartache and embarrassment in baring your soul to a wall that doesn’t want to know, after all.

I wish that I could be an island, self-sustaining, but I know that realistically that isn’t possible.  Or even healthy.  But I can’t help but feel that there’s a certain honour in trying.  But for how long?  And at what price?

This post was inspired by a post over at Dead Men Don’t Snore.  What do you make of her practical advice?

O Tempora! O Mores!


[picture to follow when both computer and myself are feeling somewhat better; please check back!]


I never quite ‘got’ the grandfather clock song, it didn’t make sense to me that the clock just stopped when the old man died; clocks aren’t sentient, even if they can be sensitive, so how could the clock ‘know’, how could it grieve or pine?  Silly song.  (Unless maybe the grandfather was murdered, in which case, apparently, clocks always get broken so the time of death can be conveniently established.  Or mis-established if you really want to stretch and challenge your plot or your readers).

Old clocks don’t really seem to die either; their mechanics seem steadfast from one century to another, you just wind them and off they go again.  (Accuracy may be another matter, however).  And modern clocks?  Do they die?  We pop new batteries in them but probably get bored of the current design or model in our fickle modern way sooner than even the most skimpily-made clock dies.

Mind you, I have killed a clock before.  Or two.  But I would also like to indict my husband.  You see, we have a clock in our hallway, as most folk seem to do, but ours is right smack next to the loft hatch.  Three clocks later and we have a rule that the clock must be reverentially placed on a safe, flat surface in another room before any loft-bound mission commences.  We learn, albeit slowly.

It was the railways that brought standardised time, and the need for it, to the nation; although the time-counting passion had been fashionable for at least a couple of centuries before that.  I often wonder what the world was like before then, before all this time-keeping mania with its timetables and schedules.  A world before time?  In a certain sense, perhaps.

From King Alfred cutting notches in his candle (well, he did in my Ladybird book anyway) to the chap, or chap-ess, who first noticed the shadows revolving a stick or pole, we have long been fascinated, if not obsessed with time.  By marking out these divisions, we are seeking control.  And often than not, control over other people.  Maybe too, there is a feeling that orderliness can only be achieved with this mastery.  I don’t know, I still wonder at how it would have been with just the luminaries and the shadows to reveal the passage of time.  A more peaceful, a more natural existence?  Who of us can really tell?  We have a deep cultural impression of time seared within us now; we can choose to abandon the system and live wild in the wilderness but our ideas, our concepts, our mores of time come with us even if the clock doesn’t.

Dividing up our time, enumerating it, counting it, watching it, measuring it, what have we really achieved?  A sense, maybe, of just how little time we actually have and how little control we have over its relentless progress.  A two-edged sword, it seems, this time-keeping mania of ours.

Moodscope: Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.


Wise words whether it’s our response to food or a more general attitude:

Moodscope: Don't yuck someone else's yum..

What’s Your View?


Whilst I may not personally have the soundest of relationships with food and eating habits or with my body or myself, it seems that it could be a lot worse.  And worse than any personal issue or problem, it seems Society as a whole has a pretty crazy, a pretty warped, a pretty futile outlook on such matters.  Pain, punishment and perfection are the path of enlightenment that we are encouraged to pursue, madly, blindly, at all cost; a mystic, confusing holy grail.

Here’s another conversation on the matter:

The Problem with Fitspo | Bras and Body Image.

Water Babies


St Ives Harbour

What is it with the sea?

We sat watching the sea-green waves roll in, continuously  never-ending, entranced. The waves were high but not fierce, despite the windy day; perhaps the curve of the bay broke some of their force because it was likely choppy further out. The waves at our local beaches behave very differently, the coast is more exposed and the shingle and stone beaches are long, almost continuous  mile after mile, so they are not moulded by high-rising rocky cliffs and slopes; however there is a mighty shelf not too far out which seems to temper their height and which makes swimmers and other water babies cautious.

Occasionally as we sat there watching, mesmerised, our eyes were drawn to the rocky side of the bay closest to us and of which we had the best view. Towers of surf and spray crashed onto the rocks but it wasn’t the fear-inspiring crash of a storm. This evening the sea was playful and sunbeams danced on the water.

And they weren’t the only ones enjoying the water; there were other water babies too, human ones. We sat and watched those too. I confess that I was rather bemused by their antics, for as much as I loved to swim, I cannot see the attraction of becoming a human seal in rubber armoury on what was a pretty cold day for the time of year. Heads and feet were left painfully exposed and they seemed to be spending most of their time plunging head-first under the waves as each one rolled in, which to my mind wasn’t quite the point of surfing. I understood surfing to involve surfing, riding each incoming wave triumphantly. There is a kind of attractive glory to that but watching them plunge under to lessen the break upon them made me uncomfortable, reminding me of all the vulnerability and risk that water poses to us.

A little later, we moved on to a sheltered harbour. Relatively sheltered, that is, because the waves, although tempered by the harbour wall and the natural shape of the opposite cliffs, were causing the small boats anchored there to rock, not bob, with each roll. A rock that at times was more of a lurch and once again, I was reminded of man’s vulnerability and found myself, yet again, wondering at those for whom the sea has always bewitchingly called.

Water is the story of human civilisation, great cities and cultures have risen and fallen with the availability of water. Or, perhaps ironically, the over-inundation of water. Humans depend on water for everything: to drink, to give them food to eat, to water the animals they tame and use, to give them building materials, to give them opportunities to trade.

As I watched the small dinghies rock in that sheltered harbour, I thought of how peoples, not so long ago really, went to sea in vessels not much bigger or much more secure. Great trading networks were founded by the determination of people in small, vulnerable vessels; great discoveries and voyages of exploration were undertaken by the determination of people in small, vulnerable vessels. And I wonder why. Being in a boat, even on a proverbial millpond, holds little attraction to me. I see the vulnerability and the risk. I fear water.

But so many don’t. I have great respect for those who chose to go to sea even as I baffle at their choice. We still depend on those who go to sea; those who transport the goods that feed our insatiable hunger for material things; those who transport the actual food for our actual hunger; those who catch the food. Presumably the sea calls to them, it sings a song of enchantment in their genes, it lures them. And lures never end well. The sea is to be respected.

But feared? Perhaps. Because as I watched those gentle harbour waves, I realised too how unstoppable, how uncontrollable those waves were. And that is what I fear; to me water is a powerful force, one that can never be dominated or mastered by mere humans, however experienced or knowledgeable. We are nothing against its strength, we can be swept along by it just like the tumbling weed or the churning sand. And however mighty or impressive the civilisations that we keep on building, it can all be swept away by one wave, like a sandcastle built too far down the shore.

I am not a water baby; I keep my distance, admiring the beauty and charm of a simple, single wave but still deeply conscious of who is more powerful.

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Bags, like anything else we wear, say a lot about us.  Are we fashionable?  Do we have money to blow?  Are we practical?  Are we likely to be accompanied by nappy-sporting, snot-bubbling juniors?  Some don’t even carry a bag.  It’s mainly males.  Our society tells them they don’t need bags.  But they invariably end up having to borrow or use something from a woman’s bag.  And occasionally letting slip at the same time that they’d rather like it if they had a nifty container to hold the mandatory phone, wallet, keys, junk combo that they tote around in bulging pockets or trying to desperately grip onto in clammy paws, waiting for that ridiculously expensive latest model smartphone to hit the deck.  Again.

Actually, I know of women who don’t carry a bag either.   It seem a little strange the concept of the bag-less woman, as if something vital was missing from her or as if she somehow wasn’t quite complete.  Our society dictates that women carry bags, an essential rite of passage along with ear-piercing, court shoes, cutting your hair short and goodness knows what else.  (I’m not exactly sure, I never did quite get the whole young lady thing.  Still don’t).  One of my friends never has a bag on her but once you get to know her, you’ll know why she’s never parted from her coat.  That coat is an incredibly complex filing system where she has cards, money, receipts and all sorts of useful things stashed in all the many pockets.  It’s almost a Mary Poppins trick, watching her extract things.

Pockets are good.  (And doesn’t there seem to be a gender bias too when it comes to those?  Other than jeans and outdoor wear, apparently women don’t need pockets.   Ever).  I like pockets.  Pockets have their uses.  But I’m a sucker for a bag.  I’ve always liked bags, I like putting things in bags, keeping things in bags and storing things in bags.  It might be genetic.  Apparently my grandmother had the same tendencies, always armed with at least a half-dozen carrier bags at one time.

I am at least a little classier.  I’m rarely toting a carrier bag, although cloth bags definitely have their uses, especially as overflow departments.  But I always have a bag, or two, with me.  I can’t really imagine going anywhere without my bag, my life is in there, plus a few other half-dozen things.  Recently, I have made progress.  Lately, I will walk to a single appointment with just wallet, phone, knitting, other vital things maybe, probably food, all chucked haphazardly in one simple cloth bag.  I have even managed to walk up to the corner shop with just my wallet, not even my phone.  But I like the comfort of having my life with me, I like being able to deal with the crises that do occur randomly and sporadically (and even sometimes regularly) in my life.  I think also because I have complex health problems, I’m always going to be likely to need some stuff.  Not often always, but maybe.  My bag is something of a lifeline.  Physically and psychologically.

The reason of course that I’m having to carry less is because I find, regretfully and almost shamefully, that I have got a lot weaker lately.  I’ve never had brilliant arm strength, I have to carry my load pack-style to be able to get anywhere.  But I could always carry a pack.  My record was 26 kg.  These days, I’m struggling with everything.

Only being able to carry a load on my back means of course that shoulder bags are out.  Yes, my handbag is a backpack.  It has been for a very long time.  Because I’m realistic and practical, I know what my strengths are and I know that I don’t have to be fashionable.  (I can’t even see the point of trying when I look at the most of the pointless specimens that pass as handbags on the high street).  I even took a backpack to my wedding, much to my mother’s horror.  She tried demoting me to a little satin slip of a clutch.  I wasn’t impressed with the idea of a bag that needed to be chained to your hand the whole time, it’s not really my style.  I’d rather be doing other things, even talking requires hands in my world.  There was also the question of size.  I even had to carry an inhaler back then.  This thing, well, you’d be fortunate if you could even get a tissue in it.  No thanks.  I did win that round though because one of our bridesmaids’ dress straps broke during the reception.  You’d never guess who was the only person with a sewing kit?!

In the summer, I was pretty bad, as you know, and I found that I just couldn’t carry my bag anymore.  The smaller packs, especially, have very soft backs, cushioned and padded for all sorts of ergonomic comfort but not designed for support.  I needed a firm back.  There was also the small problem that about three inches of the seam had come away from the bottom and was threatening to decant most of my bag contents at any given moment.  That and the straps were virtually completely threadbare.  That and the fact my husband had emptied an entire cup of stinking coffee all over the year before.  That and it was actually at least three or so years old too.  It’d been a lot of places, seen of lot of action and wear.  It had to be retired.

I get sentimental about such things but as I couldn’t even carry  it anymore, this time I didn’t really get a choice.

I transferred my stuff into a small camera backpack that we have because those have nice, firm backs.  But they’re so padded that you can’t get much in them, regardless of their actual size outside.  That and it’s a bag of two halves so you can’t get anything big in it (like a book or a folder or your knitting and definitely never any shopping).  And when you do want to get into the bottom half, you have to unzip it all the way round and the whole thing sorts of falls apart, flapping wide open and threatening to spill most of your belongings.  The camera bag had downsides.  Besides, I don’t really want to look like I’m carrying around a fancy camera or something tempting to twitching fingers anyway.  And cameras bags are expensive too, there’s no point wearing this one out and not having it when I actually do need a camera bag.

Eventually, I conceded.  And bought myself a new bag.  Bags have got very expensive of late and it always seems a waste to spend money on myself.   I couldn’t go with the cheapest option because I now have very specific needs.  I need a firm, rigid back.  But preferably not accompanied by a huge bag, rucksack-style.  It’s just OTT.  Several ways.

I found my perfect bag in my usual outdoor shop, they keep me in replacement walking stick feet too.  (Another extravagance that I grumble over on a regular basis, every three or six months.  And I lost a virtually brand new one in some nasty sucking mud in the dark the other week!  Husband couldn’t believe it when I dragged him back to the scene of the crime, walking stick foot abduction, at the first possible opportunity to root for it.  To no avail though.  I’m still indignant at that mud bank).

Having a new bag is one thing, the next is the complicated and long process of transferring the contents.  I have spent a very happy evening stockchecking, inventorying and transferring.  My life is back in one bag, with plenty of space for knitting and shopping and all the goodness knows what that only I seem to be able to accumulate.

I decided to take a photo, first, because I do that and second, because if anyone is ever stupid enough to try crawling away with my overloaded bag then I would like a record of what was in there for replacement, police and insurance purposes.  (Yes, I do have one of those minds that can imagine all possibilities, usually negative).  And because I’m the kind of person who not only manages to write a mere one thousand words about their new handbag but takes a photo too, you know you’re going to see it too.

(I tell you what, those mesh purses that they sell in the cosmetic section of the supermarket were genuinely the next best thing since sliced bread.  My bag was a sticky shambles before I invested in a containerised solution).

So say hello to my new bag:
Mountain Warehouse Walkabout 20 Litre Backpack
(Mine is all black however because it was half the price of a fancy coloured one that will probably just show the dirt anyhow).
But the green/grey combination does allow you to see the special back support design:
Mountain Warehouse Walkabout 20 Litre Backpack
Nifty, yes?
And do you really want to know what I’ve managed to stash in there?
You sure?
My Bag's Contents
I wonder just what my bag says about me?!
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(images are borrowed from the manufacturer’s website so copyright lies with them)