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Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Dreams good and bad

It's 6 a.m. and, since midsummer, my body has felt the need to wake at dawn. It's annoying since I'm someone who needs eight hours' sleep. Even though I'm awake - now, at 6 a.m, I don't want to be. I feel the need to get back under the covers.

Yesterday I woke at the same time, but had been dreaming about writing a short story. Character, plot, tension and resolution were all there. But within moments of waking, again at 6 a.m, I'd forgotten the details of my bestseller and felt infuriated for waking so early, still tired, but without my plot outline for the grandest piece of writing ever produced.

Today I've woken from a dream about seeing someone I used to know. In it I finally left that person, telling them what I thought of them. Which wasn't much. Also in the dream was my best friend from our school years, who, good as gold, came with my husband, to pick me up from a rainy, out-of-the-way railway station to take me home. My husband's smile told me all was well. And, after spending time with people I'm glad I no longer know, it was the smile I needed. So that's all good.

Strange the choices we make. But even stranger if the options we take at 18 don't get toppled as we age and grow. In our maturity we jettison people and ways of life which are no longer good for us. And find a better way of living - if we are given the chance to do so. Some people, living in repressive regimes, in abusive marriages, under exploitative employers, in modern-day slavery  or with over-domineering family members, don't have the choice to move out and move on. In my dislike of the current Tory government leadership nonsense I keep thinking I need to move to Edinburgh or south east  Eire. Just to get to the politics I more closely align myself with. I don't like Brexit and our recent Airbnb guests - many from overseas - think Brexit, coupled with Boris Johnson at the helm, is a grave mistake.  

Madly - for us - we have been flirting with listing one of our good-sized ensuite bedrooms on Airbnb. The room has its own kitchen too and has been recently upgraded and refurbished. During May this year we had so many bookings it became hard work, doing the change-overs, hanging out double duvets and ironing sheets. In June I slowed the pace by giving ourselves more days off and yet we were almost always fully booked. We've had 13 five-star reviews, largely down to our excellent cleaning lady and Richard's hospitality. So, within a matter of weeks, we have the badge 'superhosts'. But I use the word 'flirting' with purpose. We aren't convinced this is something we want to do. Whilst being awarded 'superhost' status seems great, we are tired. And we feel 'disrupted'. Richard wants his home back. But that's partly because, this week, he has to have an op under general anaesthetic and the thought of that is disturbing him. His sleep is poor owing to an upsurge in his tinnitus and he needs a few quiet weeks at home. So we've flirted with Airbnb and have enjoyed conversations with our appreciative visitors, but, domestically, it's demanding work. I'm so glad we have been described as having a 'spotlessly clean' space. To have been rated anything less would have been too awful to contemplate. But we'll have heart attacks trying to maintain such high standards! 

The weather is glorious, and has been for over three weeks, and the necessary extra washing dries fast. If we'd had guests during the wettest, coldest days in June, remember them? it would have been onerous drying everything in the tumble dryer or hanging double duvets on the plug-in airer. But for wash days we managed to avoid the rain. And we've had very charming, easy-going guests. We've been very lucky. But - as in my dream last night - there's a time to say goodbye, count your blessings and move on. 

We haven't been able to book a holiday for ourselves as Richard is going into hospital but we both feel the need for a break. Is that why I woke early, coming out of a dream about breaking with the past? The need to have a change, to get away from the strain of waiting for hospital dates, treatments and to simply have a good night's sleep?

I shudder when I think about my dream. Already images are fading, and like the plot, characters and jeopardy in my previous night's dream, the details have already gone. Goodbye to all that. Time to move on. Life is what you make it. When the hospital appointment is over we'll go away, feel refreshed and be glad we've made the right choices, can bat away the bad dreams and live our lives.


Sent from my ipad

Monday, 24 June 2019

Who would you choose? Sunday night's 'The Handmaid's Tale'

‘What if I told you “if you don’t choose they’ll all die?”’

These words, said to June by Commander Lawrence, who appears helpful yet maverick, in the extended, televised ‘A Handmaid’s Tale', 
(Hulu, MGM) are chilling indeed.

June is no longer just a recipient for the commander’s sperm ie a walking, fertile, young woman desperately needed to breed to order. The worm is turning in this dystopian series. Women are just beginning to think of resisting their masters. And that includes a commander’s estranged wife who was punished by him and had her little finger chopped off. Even the wealthy wives are treated brutally if their husbands dictate it in this dysfunctional land of Gilead.

But while being given the task of choosing merely five from the doomed people, who are to be sent to almost-certain death, is an unwelcome job, it shows June is finally being given credit as an intelligent woman. And this is at a time when women are not allowed to read or write anything at all. So lowly is their status.

So how would you choose five? How did Schindler choose ‘his Jews’ who would otherwise have been murdered by the Nazis? 

How do I choose the best apples in the farm shop? How did I choose our kitten when he was at the Cats' and Dogs' Home? And what happened to those who were left? The same thoughts, believe it or not, occur to me in our garden. Whenever I do my planting of new seedlings I always try to save even the weakest. The gardening books say the opposite. But this is life. If I throw the less sturdy plants into the compost I’m failing to save some that could grow into stunted-yet-alive plants. I don’t like waste. And I don’t like to stop life even among the humblest of plants. (However I’m less than holy when it comes to slugs).

A job I do rarely is that of cleaning out our garden pond. Currently it is full of duck weed and needs to be emptied. The only thing that forces me to get on with it is the thought that if I were living in Nazi Germany, or some other repressive regime where forced labour was ‘that or death’, I’d get on and clean it out. I’d have no choice. 

I’ve just read some facts about honour killings across the world (BBC online news headlines). As we know the victims are usually women who are killed in order to save family honour. And what do women do in such societies? If they don’t have their own money or loyal, safe contacts how do they flee such dangerous situations? 

One of the most terrifying films I ever saw was ‘Not Without My Daughter.’ In the film, which opens in the USA, an American woman, Betty, marries an Iranian but in time he wants them to return to Iran. She is reluctant but he says it’s only for two weeks. When they arrive her husband turns into a repressive monster who has tricked her into staying. All Betty can do is go shopping in the market place. She has no freedom of movement, no free will and no say in matters whatsoever. Betty briefly manages to visit the Swiss Embassy - American Interests Section - but is told that since she is married to an Iranian, and as long as she lives in Iran, she is an Iranian citizen. This means she cannot leave the country without her husband's written consent and has no parental rights over her daughter. Her husband, alarmed by Betty's absence from the house, threatens to kill her if she tries anything like it again.

Betty and her daughter are overheard and put in contact with some Iranian smugglers, and using fake identity documents, they make their way past the checkpoints. Finally they reach the American Embassy in Ankara and can fly back to the USA. So far so 'Handmaid's Tale.' (Except in the series the handmaids are trying to flee the USA.)

'Not Without My Daughter' was made in 1991 but today, across the world, desperate people are fleeing repressive regimes. Who does our government allow to stay? Who would we choose? 

Although 'Not Without...' was written decades ago, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the role of women now, events in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ look more likely and less fantastical. More real-life than literary.Yes, it can happen. Yes, it does happen. 

Freedom to choose, whom to see, what to watch, what to read, what to eat, when to sleep, when to go for a walk are acts we take for granted.

I can’t truly imagine how it would be to have to wake at 5 a.m. to milk the goats or a single cow so that the men-folk in my family can have milk with their breakfast. How would I feel having to do all the washing up and cleaning and only then eat after my husband, his father and my son have had their fill? If I’m lucky I can go shopping at the market but there’s no money for a coffee with friends, what friends?, merely a chance to chat when I take washing down to the communal well after the men have had the lunch I’ve had to prepare for them. And at night I can’t choose to go to bed and read or watch t.v. when I want. I have to lie, exhausted, in the marital bed for my husband who will want sex no matter how I’m feeling. 


‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and Russell T. Davies’s ‘Years and Years’ (BBC) may be described as dystopian but for some, women in particular but asylum-seekers in general, these are the lives being lived, in fear, right now. We need to be thankful for our liberties.

And, if asked, which five would you choose? 

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Reaction might bring action for the poorest in society.

Finally the results of the Tory austerity budget, and the disastrous effects on our social infrastructure, are made very clear to us by Polly Toynbee ("Behold, the Tory leadership candidates: all in denial, all in dreamland", The Guardian, Monday 10 June).

For those of us who were brought up to believe that the welfare state was introduced, post-war, to eradicate old-age penury, to ensure some kind of financial safety net for the sick, needy and unemployed and are sickened by tales of desperation as depicted in "I, Daniel Blake" Polly Toynbee's article was a sight for saddened eyes.

The raging beast that is Tory infighting, aka the leadership contest, is a distraction from the real fight England has on its hands: the treatment of the poor, disabled and those with medical needs. Our welfare state has been tarred as something for wet, lazy and undeserving people. Five-week waits for folk with no money are punitive sanctions which are tolerated because such people don't have the strength to argue back.

When I was a full-time special needs co-ordinator the hoops that some parents had to go through to get their child's needs provided for would weaken even the strongest-willed of us. Boris suggests cutting taxes for people who already earn £50K plus - still a good salary - but this reward does nothing to repair the damage done to those with greatest need in our country. 

After ten years' of Austerity Britain those at the bottom of the capitalist heap are broken down by a lack of compassion, hunger and nowhere, other than the church and foodbanks, to turn. It seems ok to blame the poor for being poor, the ill for being ill and the disabled for being disabled. Where are the workhouses? Do we have a bed and breakfast hostel in our street? Do we ever see inside the rooms of such 'hotels'? Belongings piled high for a lack of space and cooking reduced to the preparation of pot noodles as the only kitchen implement in the room is a kettle. Nowhere for children to read or do homework. But, hey, wasn't it such a good idea for Thatcher to sell off council houses? As a nation we should feel shame that our most vulnerable are treated with contempt.

So what do I do about it from my home of comfort in Bath? I donate to food banks and charities for the homeless. I donate to charity shops and I rage against the unfairnesses on social media. I don't vote Tory and I send funds to political parties which aim to get rid of 'the nasty party'. Maybe I should do more. Maybe I should volunteer at a food bank or campaign on the streets to raise funds for the Salvation Army and Crisis Centres. But what I really want to see is the welfare state, the benefits system and social housing returned to complete functionality. How would we measure this functionality?

Polly Toynbee gave some markers in her excellent article yesterday: Functionality could be 
a) 100,000 filled vacancies in our NHS and a reduction in the 2 million on waiting lists. b) Schools would have 10% of funding per pupil returned to them so that teachers aren't buying essential classroom supplies out of their hard-won earnings and heads can start employing more teachers and TAs to reduce class sizes.
c) SureStart centres could be reopened so that children from non-privileged backgrounds could have basic training and preparedness for early years schooling.
d) Pay people properly and keep rents low! Four out of ten children are currently living in poverty in a country that is the 5th richest nation in the world. That is the highest rate of child poverty over the last sixty years. Dysfunctionality not functionality. 
e) Social security should be reinstated so that it was exactly that - security for those in society with needs. 

I could list so many provisions which should be accessible for those who are without.But poverty is hidden, unless you go into your local 'Poundland' or charity shop.

But poverty isn't news. Instead our screens are filled with stories about Tory infighting, Brexit, migrants, the cost of living, data mishandling, snooping, pay gaps, climate change, plant extinction and plastics. Disharmony rules. Dog eat dog. Let's get ahead and leave the rest behind. The poor are poor because they can't keep up.

Where are Cameron and Osborne now? The 'We're all in it together' creators of Austerity Britain are probably doing the rounds at night - seeking out the homeless offering haircuts and medical services to folk who sleep in plastic bags on harsh pavements in the coldest June we've had since last June. Of course they are. The creators of such misery don't give a fig for those in need. That's one-in-five. Hardly a tiny percentage of the population reduced to Dickensian levels of poverty. 

Shame on you. But shame on me, too, for allowing it to happen. I'm supposed to have a social conscience but am frustrated that I don't know what to do to help. Perhaps I should email this blog to a selection of politicians and see if I get a reaction. Reaction might lead to action. Action might lead to a reduction in the suffering and desperation endured by far too many in the poorest of situations in our country. But I must do something. 

Well done Polly Toynbee for spelling it out. Writing about social disadvantage is one step in the right direction to getting something done. 



Sent from my ipad

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Bank holidays


This year, over the last three sunny spring bank holidays, we’ve had people to stay. But not without incident. Over Easter I managed, in my cleaning and prepping, to curl the hoover lead - snake-like - around my groin and almost did myself some damage. While our friend was out I left the milk in the fridge too long such that she said, so politely, on her return, that it had turned to yogurt. Not a good start to Easter!

For early May bank holiday, more visitors were expected and an irritating globule of adhesive had to be removed from the door into our ensuite shower room. The door isn’t top quality wood, unlike other, older ones around the house. Vain attempts to drill into it have left coat hooks dangling from resistant screws. An alternative stick-on hook was useful until it left behind this glutinous mass which I can’t erase even with tough sandpaper. The irritating substance is now secreted behind an ornamental hammered-metal seahorse. This tasteful aquatic object is covering the offending sticky feature and is stuck there with blu-tac. Nothing like a high-tech solution! 

This lunch time, the old Whit Sunday, again expecting more guests, I was surrounded by towels. Towels to wash, towels to dry, towels to use and towels to put away. We’ve been lucky with the weather thus far: it has been perfect for drying bulky items every bank holiday this spring but today... The clouds are dark, rain threatens, spits then peters out. But it’s strangely warm. The kind of weather to give a migrainer a bad head. But the towels had to be sorted.

Earlier today, while waiting for our guests to arrive, Richard was in charge of Henry Hoover and did a thoroughly good job vacuuming downstairs. It all looked clean and shiny. Except...moments before our visitors crossed our threshold I noticed not apples but a pair of his dirty socks in the fruit bowl. You win some and some you don't.

And of the various sheets which I washed yesterday two are from our own bed and are still soiled... but which of the many white sheets that are hanging ready for ironing were they? Thankfully I have a sensitive olfactory organ. Not as acute as Jo Malone’s, but it’s one way of sifting the washed from the unwashed when all our deep-fitted sheets look the same ie white.

Even earlier today I ended up putting wine glasses, cups and other crockery in our washbasin in the main bathroom as my hands were full and I couldn’t get down the stairs to the kitchen. Each step was littered with a bag of rubbish or table napkins or a small rug, or pillow cases ... you name it ... our stairs had a surfeit of it. And our family bathroom looked like a bomb had hit it. The only way of clearing the stairs so that the aforementioned crocks & glassware could go in the dishwasher was to dump it on the bathroom floor.

Then - by some miracle - at 4:30 in the afternoon - I put my feet up, the white sheets were sorted, the bathroom floor was clear, the towels were dry and in their correct places and the weather was just about managing to dry a couple of pieces of bed linen. 

But, hey, what’s that? I still couldn't relax:
Why was a shoot from a sycamore tree suddenly making itself known amongst our neat honeysuckle hedge? And what was that pile of soil doing beneath the planter on the patio. And where did that thumb print on the glass of the picture frame come from? 


Next week we have a few more guests. But by then our lovely cleaning lady will be back...Today it’s taken me all day to achieve what she manages in two hours... 

Not my forte! But now to enjoy my Sunday afternoon. And tomorrow is a day off.

Happy bank holiday one and all!

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Eight years on...


So what was early retirement supposed to be like? I think I imagined oceans of time to 
a) get the house looking perfect (or at least modernised and cared-for)
b) do plenty of travelling
c) having a superb garden
d) reading loads
e) getting my novel published after doing the MA in Creative Writing.

The reality is I still have pupils to tutor - I was told before I left full-time teaching that I would be turning away tutoring work. I should have believed them!

Reading a-e from bottom to top
e) getting my novel published. I’m still going to writers’ workshops but have yet to do a full edit on my novel or even follow up on advice from other writers. And only three literary agents have seen the manuscript. What am I doing with my time? 
d) reading loads. My reading habits were at an all-time high about two years ago when I dabbled with three book groups. However I’ve elected to stay with my former group. We meet in a lovely old pub in the city of Bath. Why wouldn’t I carry on meeting there? But - and it’s a big but - I’m reduced to listening to audio books as I’m not finding the time or energy to read 400 pages per month. Per month! I used to read two or three books per week ... what is the matter with me?
c) having a superb garden. I manage our larger-than-average garden by spreading bark on flower beds and weeding the bindweed which won’t be smothered by the mulch. Richard cuts the lawn. We pot up glorious pansies for the patio and grow beans, spinach & leeks in raised beds on our patio and at the top of our 120-foot garden. Richard uses the vegetable garden for an annual potato and broad bean crop. It is a maintained, neat garden but not yet superb.
b) plenty of travelling. I’ve been ‘retired’ for over eight years and we have yet to go on our round-the-world cruise. We see Sidmouth a lot! Erm - more progress there methinks. 
a) get the house looking perfect. Our four Airbnb reviews have been 5* for cleanliness and for having a ‘lovely’ ensuite double room, with parking. In fact we have an empty garage too so guests are well provided for. So one area of the house is looking perfect:-
We have an upgraded ensuite shower room and have redecorated the Airbnb space throughout. Our lovely professional cleaning lady is a life-saver and is quick and thorough.
But how do I keep the rest of the house up to 5* standards and still have time to live? What’s happened to the oceans of time I imagined I’d have after leaving full-time teaching? SBO ( still buggering on) I suppose...

Monday, 22 April 2019

On being a slashie

I’ve been so busy being secretary for our local art trail I haven’t even got my own art work prepped for sale. And we open on May 4th - a mere ten days’ time. Cripes! 

I take photographs - either with my SLR or with my iphone. When I’ve edited and enhanced the images I download them onto a memory stick for Steve to print. This year I’m having two seaside images made into small mounted prints. The rest will be greetings cards to sell direct to the public. That’s in theory. 

On top of that, while we’re establishing our double ensuite room as a listing on Airbnb I’m still prepping maths worksheets and activities for my pupils. In addition I have yet to make cakes to raise money for charity.

No wonder I feel as if I’m holding down several jobs - I am a modern-day slashie:

tutor/photographer/community art secretary/Airbnb host/ fund-raiser for Sierra Leone schoolgirls/ writer

When I was a full-time head of faculty I cleaned our house on Thursday evenings so the place would look good for the weekend and neat enough when friends came over. I’d shop on a Saturday and do the garden on a Sunday. My life was contained, controlled, defined by my role as SENCO ( special needs co-ordinator). There was little time for anything else.

Now that I’m a slashie - nine years after leaving full time work - I blog as often as I can but where does all the time go? It is so true when you hear folks say ‘How did I ever have the time to go to work?’

I enjoy gardening and running our household but we’ve found it necessary to employ a cleaner. The trapped nerve in my lower back won’t allow me to sustain the ‘spotless’ standards required by Airbnb if we do take on more guests. At least that part of the house will be well cared-for. 

But, with these domestic and tutor-driven commitments, I’m getting NO time to look over critiques of my writing nor to edit my manuscript. It’s been a year since I sent it out to agents and there’s no point forwarding it to others unless it’s been edited some more. Where do I get the time? 

I have no time for making delicious meals either. Thankfully Richard is a good cook and if Airbnb guests want a cooked breakfast he’s up for catering for them. He yet has to perfect his eggs hollandaise.

Last Sunday we made easy money selling books, figurines, bags, shoes and unwanted clothes at our local car boot sale. We were only there three hours. So many vendors arrive at 7 am and dealers buy from them within moments of their arriving. We are far more laid back than that - roll up an hour later and leave an hour earlier. Who wants to get up at 6 am on a gloriously sunny Easter Day when you’re a slashie? 

( ps I’m supposed to be retired). 

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

A is for Autism. B is for Bryony. C is for Controlling.

I’ve been wondering whether someone I’ve known, and been infuriated by, for many years is autistic. It’s less usual to find autism or Aspergers diagnosed in females but in this case the woman I refer to suffers from anxiety, depression and is very rigid in outlook. So I wonder whether her reactions to things she doesn’t agree with or dislikes - and that’s almost everything and everyone - is down to her being autistic. I have taught mildly autistic children, but not known any adults with the condition. Well, not knowingly.

What is my evidence? As a child Bryony would be up at 5 am cleaning - no-one told her to - and even now has a meltdown if criticised. It’s very odd for a child under ten to be up early to do something dutiful like cleaning, isn’t it? Up early to open presents, yes, but even so 5 am for any child is far too early in the day.

On the plus side Bryony's home is extremely - excessively - neat and tidy. Everything is spotless as she still - as an adult - gets up before dawn to clean. The garden looks hoovered and not a cup can be left out of place for long before it’s moved and washed up - immediately - it would never be left in the sink to soak. And she's an excellent cook. All her skills are domestic ones.

But on the down-side Brony never goes out for coffee, nor to the cinema and is never asked out to anyone else’s home. Shopping has to be done in a certain way, the car has to be spotless and she seems fearful of new, different people or new situations which she can’t control. She always gets to an event far, far too early and greetings cards are written and sent a month in advance. Bryony’s hypercritical and it’s difficult to have a discursive conversation with her as everyone has to agree with her views or she bangs the table or ‘flies off the handle’. 

Are these the symptoms of autism? Few social filters, the need to control and be in control, being uncomfortable in anything but very familiar surroundings and not caring that she might have upset others with her rigid views. Also the lack of a social life and always having to be home in bed by a set time...

I’d be grateful if anyone who knows about autism in adults could shed light on the situation. I do know I can only take her in very small doses and always feel controlled by her when we do meet. I dislike the way everything has to be on her terms and I've noticed other people have learned not to challenge her. She did have a break down, necessitating early retirement, and took an overdose a few years ago. I’m not sure if she was sectioned under the mental health act but certainly there have been mental health issues over the years, or so I've been told. I’ve only known this person in her adult life and would like to know more about her as a child  but it’s true she’s not easy to be around for more than a few hours - and only every now and then. 

Is this autism or just a controlling personality with a very conservative, rigid outlook? She is self-righteous and very finicky. Trivia, always to do with cleaning, home maintenance, like whether the washing-up bowl has been cleaned inside and out etc, occupies her mind as does being critical of others. She’s conformist and no-one comes up to her ultra-high standards. Nor would they want to. I don’t feel she lives in a happy land and she talks about herself rather than how things affect other people.

Is this autism? Or something else? She's certainly been depressed enough to take an overdose but she's hard work to be around. Bryony isn't well-read and has no formal qualifications. Is she just insecure?
And is being hypercritical of others her way of boosting a fragile ego? 
As far as I know no-one else has autism in her family but Bryony's own aunt was rigid and controlling and 'wouldn't be told.' 

I wonder. Is it mental health, is it autism or just a personality I and many others find off-putting? This in turn leaves her socially isolated.