Monthly Archives: April 2015

Waves on Wood

2015-04-28 21.09.22

On a Clear Day to Kent

kent palm trees

I thought that I had hardly ever seen the old Thames estuary look as blue and green as it did this afternoon.

Sometimes I go down to the front here at Southend-on-Sea and you’d not even know we aren’t on the edge of the earth, so it’s quite nice when the Garden of England across the water puts in an appearance.

Apologies for the double negative but I kinda liked writing it.


I must be one of the few people I know who doesn’t seem guaranteed to get the endorphin boost from exercise. If I run, which I mostly fail to do these days, I do feel it. The trouble with that is the rush sets me up for a high high which generally precedes a low low.

Other forms of exercise:swimming, classes, sometimes yoga and cycling – I can lose the will to live in the middle of doing them.

I make the effort to do something though to keep mind, body and spirit in balance. At 45 one must. Use it or lose it (they say) and I for one want to hang onto my synovial fluid for as long as poss! So in some ways, how I feel about the exercise itself is irrelevant, but it does lead to some challenging mood swings in the course of an hour.

Yesterday in the middle of boxercise I was overcome with alienation from the entire human species. As women seemingly shuffled about with various equipment I felt not revulsion but a deep sense of disconnection from people. This is not how I usually feel and the shift was so abrupt I could not help but be mentally jolted by it. I could quip at this point and say it was having to endure Beyonce on the sound system screeching Who Won the World repeatedly, but although I HATE that track it was probably unrelated.

And so to dreams. My mood having slipped into the abyss, I went to bed early. I slept badly, fitfully. The headache I have had on and off for a fortnight took hold but in my half awake state I couldn’t organise myself to get any painkillers.

Finally asleep for a little while, a Dutch doctor conjured up from my subconscious took pity on me, heard my problems and listened to my heart for a little too long. Maybe it was not beating. We waited. Connection was restored.

And because all dreams have to have some sort of surreal element to them, I drove right into today’s consciousness along a European pavement busy with shoppers.

Today involves people again, I wonder how I will fare.


Tricky Nicky and the Lib Dem Difficulty

I was going to call this post On Liking Nick Clegg but that sounded rather like I might be one of the women in that hen party that had a selfie mob with Ed Miliband’s battle bus last week, so I changed it.

What follows is a bit of a rant that sails a little too close to gender stereotypes and may even be *whispers* non PC.

Nick Clegg is, I think, a reasonable man. If we may judge a man by his wife (and since we may not in normal discourse since Jane Austen I’m giving it a go on a blog) we might say that Miriam Gonzalez Durantez proves that Nick Clegg is not the paper-thin man he has appeared to be during the coalition years. One minute Nick Clegg was joshing with Cameron in a garden in Westminster, the next he had all but vanished.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez is a lawyer, has written a secret food blog with her children for years, and founded the Inspiring Women initiative where women donate an hour of their time a year to go into schools and talk to girls about their jobs. Does she sound like the kind of woman that would suffer a fool gladly? Who knows. For all that I have a hunch she would not, it’s perfectly possible that for the past five years when she offered her husband cornflakes or porridge he put Dave Cameron on speakerphone to decide.

The only impact I can recall Nick Clegg having in government is the free school meals for primary children under a certain age. I don’t remember the detail because my children, although primary, were too old. How easily we tend to forget policies that don’t apply to ourselves (see my last post regarding the Conservatives). I remember Clegg at a recent Lib Dem conference declaring himself the ‘brakes’ man to David Cameron’s Jeremy Clarkson – it wasn’t exactly a Maverick and Goose Top Gun moment though. Calling himself the No man in government might have been correct, but it left a negative imprint rather than a positive one. Sadly, the overriding impression I have of Nick Clegg in government is that he allowed university fees to rise to £9000 a year.

This morning Clegg popped up on the Today programme on Radio 4 to appeal to people like me. The Public Service workers he said had ‘done their bit’. Too true matey I thought. Too true.

Over the last five years I have been on the same pay scale, part-time, with one 1% pay rise. The monthly money runs out earlier and earlier every month. The job has become more and more stretched as people are made redundant, but their work becomes absorbed into the roles of those of us who are left, who take it and are grateful not to be made redundant.

Also this week I heard a radio interview with a young woman in London. She said to buy a house in the capital she and her friends needed to save between £80,000 – £100,000 deposit. She said that many colleagues were therefore moving out. I moved out of London in 2006 for that very reason – on one public servant salary. It was not news. Many other people were forced to do the same. Even now a form of social cleansing is going on in inner city London with social housing tenants being forced out of their neighbourhoods because rents are just too high. An hour down the road in Essex, the spill over is now affecting the rental market here. Competition for rented accommodation is fierce, with some estate agents charging eye-watering letting fees because people are desperate.

As much as I appreciate what Nick Clegg said this morning, the fact is that in order to be the brakes man on the Conservatives he has stayed in government whilst the economic divisions and social inequalities have sky-rocketed. A lot of the damage is done and it will not be easily repaired. So Nick, you may appeal to me personally this morning, but I have to judge you on your five year record. It’s a shame, because I think you have some good ministers in your team (Vince Cable for example) and the void left in the political centre is a worry, but in all conscience I think over the last five years, at certain points, you would have done better to have applied the handbrake to the coalition coach and made an EMERGENCY STOP.

Still your wife earns plenty and she seems super, so even if you lose your seat on May 7 you won’t suffer too much.

Conservatives: appealing to the selfish miser living in our pockets

Silas Marner is a complicated tale by George Eliot.  Falsely accused of theft, the weaver Marner leaves his hometown to start again, far away.  He lives an isolated existence, weaving and hoarding gold, until like his good name, his money is stolen from him.  Broken, his redemption comes through the lost child Eppie who he finds in the snow and raises alone.

The golden-haired girl’s love for the old miser transforms Silas forever.

The Conservatives speak of money and hard work and fairness, but there is no love in them.  There is no love for the poor, the sick or the frail.  There is no love for those who stumble or fall, or for those who make one mistake, let alone more than one.  The Conservative world is one that Silas Marner the miser would have cherished.  The bribes on the table to the electorate would have gone down well before Eppie arrived.  Right to buy for social housing tenants – check.  Shares in Lloyds for sale cheap to the public – check.  No tax rises – check.

But when love arrives in your life – love for another, the wider community, the world, the planet we live on, the Conservative way ceases to make the least sense of all, except to the grasping miser in your pocket.

Do not listen.

Vote for compassion and equity, not gold and greed.

Election Purdah

In the weeks running up to a general election, and until a new government is formed, government departments, local and national, drop the curtain on their activities. The purpose of purdah is to avoid any existing incumbents’ activity from gaining an unfair advantage at the polls.

There are two reasons this drives me mad; the main one being an etymological one (the minor reason being that campaigning should be ongoing, not an unseemly jostle to the finish line blanketed in sound bites and false promises).

Anyway, purdah is apparently from the Persian word pardah meaning curtain. Purdah was once widespread in India amongst Muslims and high caste Hindus and is the practice of keeping women segregated from men in a domestic setting: behind a curtain or screen or wall.

Women living in purdah were extremely limited socially and economically. Now if a woman chooses to keep separate from men at home, or chooses to wear a burqa or hijab in public, it’s no business of mine. But. If women are segregated and kept from the world for reasons of control and oppression how could I not care?

So why the British government choose to use this loan word as part of the democratic process – even with its oppressive connotation – presumably borrowed during the years when India was a colony with its people being oppressed and exploited by the British is somewhat beyond me.

This is More Water

There was a rider attached to yesterday’s post, which I did not write.

It is this. Ending one’s life for incessant mental pain would perhaps seem to be no more or less valid than ending it because some other physical disease has eroded quality of life to the point where the future trajectory is adjudged to be only downwards.

I do believe however that there are two differences: the possibility of renewed hope, or its medically verified absence; and the openness, or otherwise, of the method.

I watched my grandmother die, and, although I question the events leading up to her death, it was as they say, a process. It was not brought on violently, or suddenly, by accident or on purpose. It did not traumatise any relatives or friends any more than it rightfully should have. We were left with a few questions surrounding the medical circumstances that eventually led to her slipping away quietly, but these were not unanswerable. We were not left with a burden to carry. In March, my grandpa’s youngest sister, the last of my paternal grandparent’s generation decided that her quality of life had reached its nadir. She took to her bed and refused food, until she died ten days later. Her family mourned, but we also understood and respected her decision.

Perhaps we humans should have the right to die when we can no longer go on, but as adults we have a responsibility to approach it ethically, as a process, in which the feelings and rights of others have a place, and a voice, which in turn may offer reasonably solid ground on which to stand when it is all over.

Whilst thinking about these issues, I read this article about the Swiss clinic Dignitas, which clarified its approach, particularly in regard to those people who are in sustained mental pain and anguish.

‘This is Water’

This was the title of David Foster Wallace’s commencement address given nearly a decade ago, on May 21st at Kenyon College in Ohio. I have not yet been able to read Foster Wallace in long form, but I have read some essays and articles, which I admired.

This is Water threw me. It is so true, and that is what scares me. In the speech Foster Wallace speaks about our reality, how we all choose the meaning we construct in each everyday moment and how, without self-awareness, the meaning that is often automatically constructed is a negative, solipsistic one.

He knew what I know. He, like me, probably happened upon it the hard way. He called it the Capital T Truth of Life Before Death. He knew that it is easy to star in one’s own show; easy when you are young, beautiful, witty and so on. Of course it does not mean that you are any of those things, rather than as the star of your own show, that’s the role one is apt to cast oneself in, at first.

No stranger to depression, did Foster Wallace, like me, kick that persona to one side on a regular basis when the shadow self strutted centre stage. Did he, like me, shrink to the sidelines to watch the world float by, the water, whilst he gulped for air and clung to some mental piece of driftwood each minute, hour, day…

What scares me is that Foster Wallace knew well that there was always more than one way to see the world, and a myriad of interpretations for the self in it. He described in This is Water how to do those cerebral backflips that I do every day: the rigorous workout of the pre-frontal cortex, endlessly seeking alternatives as the meaning of any and every particular reality that will not suck my marrow. What he could not do, it seems, is survive the great weight of feelings that eventually dragged him down. All those headfuck acrobatics could not ultimately escape the gravity of mental pain, which is actually physical, and beyond all other things immeasurably tedious.

So my own prescription is this: choose your thoughts wisely, but feel the pain at least a little every day – and, sadly, some days a lot. There is no real escape. The ultimate avoidance of what seems infinite pain is allowing the shadow self centre stage just a moment long enough to enact a brutal amplification and a passing on to others. It is, as Karen Green, David Foster Wallace’s widow said, always a mistake.

Let the feelings drip, drip, drip. Take the antidotes where one can. For what else can we do? After all, This Truly is Water and This is all there is.

Boat: Starry Night

Boat: Starry Night


I am particular about my tea. Most particular.

Last year I had to create a colour chart to ensure I was no longer presented with grey watery offerings in the wrong mug. The wrong mug is any sort that is thick-rimmed. The right sort is bone china, of a certain size. I do not want a thimble; I do not want a bucket. Those little battles were won, in due course, and my tea when kindly brought in the morning is a robust warm brown colour… but I have not yet won the war. Sadly, what is known unaffectionately as ‘half-a-cup’ still arrives from time to time – an abomination.

I sound awful and it is true I will lie in my bed like roadkill in order to be brought tea in the morning by one of the girls (usually the youngest), but once I am up and about I am happy to make tea for you too, in exactly the right shade, volume and presented in the right china.

I have two cups of tea a day. One is the get me going one first thing, the next is the 4 o’clock cup that I make for myself. I’ve been in my routine so long that I was not aware what the consquences of messing with it were…

Yesterday, I skipped the 1600 brew. Instead, I set off up the M5 to drive back to Essex from Devon. I played Russian Roulette – weighing up the benefits of an empty bladder against the late afternoon caffeine fillip that I have come to take for granted. Big, big mistake.

I was so tired as I went head-to-head up the M5 I almost had to give up and pull into the Gordano services near Bristol. If you don’t use the M5 then you won’t know this, but with it’s one burger rating and £100 parking ‘fines’ for exceeding the 2 hour limit, you don’t go to Gordano unless you are somewhere beyond desperate. I therefore struggled round the bend onto the M4 as far as Leigh Delamere, which is better than Gordano, but not as good as *Membury, or **Reading which are the best. (Best is a relative term here – you’ll be ripped off and depressed in any of these land that time forgot dumps.) Anyway, the obvious move at Leigh Delamere after I had finished collapsing in the bad boy massage chairs (I didn’t pay) was to get a cup of tea on board as quickly as possible and see if the driver in me could be revived. By now I was 2.5 hours late on the tea timetable and things were pretty touch and go – if there had been a tannin IV set up nearby I would have been first in line.

I was reminded of the first time I went to India and travelled round the desert state of Rajasthan. No matter how long and arduous the journey, a cup of chai at the roadside always perked me up every afternoon. Chai may not be my first choice, and it’s less than half-a-cup served in a small glass, but it’s better than nothing at all. Tea has magic properties, no doubt. That is, apart from the tea at Leigh Delamere. The tea there yesterday, that was meant to be my lifesaver, was worse than dish water.

The bag purported to be from Tetley, the water masqueraded as boiling, and I asked for fresh milk in a jug but the whole confection was rank. Consequently, as I tried to sip the imposter beverage I nearly had a breakdown.

I only made it back to Essex at all thanks to strong root ginger beer, wasabi peas and more mini Easter eggs than I actually ate at Easter. And that my friends is messed up.

Lesson learned. No more skipping the late afternoon brew; it could have been fatal. As it is I am quite altered. Perhaps irrevocably.

*Sub-standard toilets apparently, but I don’t notice
**Beware scammers here saying that they have run out of petrol and asking for £40

No thanks

PS The 5 burger rated services along the M4 is Chievely, near Newbury, but you have to come off the motorway and get involved in traffic lights on roundabouts and I never can quite face the additional faff.

Hung Out to Dry

Dedicated and long-term readers of this blog will know that I have a thing about washing lines, but to make a change, here’s some homemade pasta hung up to dry. It’s not my home, and I didn’t make it, but it was very tasty I will say.

2015-04-09 08.44.43

It was probably the best thing about yesterday. The second best thing was seeing the picture of David Cameron reading to a 6 year old girl whilst she faceplanted on the table in utter, utter despair.