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.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Losing my blob

Decorating creates chaos - believe me - it does: 
 I've spent too many weeks this year emptying cupboards and wardrobes, shifting furniture, stepping over Henry Hoover, trying not to tip cans of paint on the carpet and living in general chaos. Tonight, now that Richard and I have succumbed to sore throat disease, I nearly - to quote Billy Elliott - lost my blob. 

We only had half a wall, a short skirting board and a third coat on the bedroom radiators to paint today. That necessitated moving an empty-ish wardrobe - no problem I hear you cry. In theory, no, not a problem. But the bed then became covered in bits and pieces from the wardrobe and I couldn't get past it to finish painting the radiators. Fluff under the wardrobe needed vacuuming and the way Henry Hoover was plugged in I looked like a contortionist trying to vacuum whilst balancing on one hand. I had to take control. I unwound Henry Hoover and approached the vacuuming from a different angle and with a new nozzle. In no time it was 'job done'. Richard was ready to paint the skirting boards and every time he bent down to do so I annoyed him - not on purpose - by squeezing past him with a paint brush and pot of satin white for a final third coat on the radiators. Yes, Farrow and Ball is expensive but is such good consistency and nowhere else have I needed three coats...

Finally the tasks were achieved. Richard started coughing and required paracetamol and I opened the windows even wider to get rid of eau-de-eggshell forcing Richard to hide downstairs with the heating on. I was baking hot and he was shivering. He has a cold - but wanted to help doing the decorating - and I wanted the windows open.

 After a friend had been round for nibbles and a glass of wine I redressed myself in decorators' overalls and put a second coat on the skirting board then painted two doors in Farrow and Ball New White eggshell. I couldn't do it earlier as our guest would have gone home with his sleeves covered in paint from our still-wet door frames. 

'Please, Richard, don't shut the sitting room door, it's still tacky and it will stick,' said I as I gathered up dust sheets in the bedroom. 

All was going well until I announced I couldn't sleep in our room along with the paint fumes. Richard shut all the windows again and said he'd be ok sleeping there but I knew it wouldn't be good for his cough. He was certainly suffering from a chill and was ready for bed about 7:30 pm. He elected to sleep in the spare room and helped get the sofa bed down for me. I wasn't ready for sleep, unsurprisingly. I last went to bed at 7:30 pm when I was eight. But I needed the sofa bed - if I shared  the spare bed with Richard, who was coughing well, neither of us would get any sleep. 

In order to get the sofa bed down one chair had to be moved, a table's contents had to be shifted and I needed to get to some bedding. Great! Spare bedding was easily found but the duvet was hidden under all the contents of the moved wardrobe from earlier in the day. I almost lost my blob...

When Richard had gone to bed I re-opened all the bedroom windows to let out the paint smells.(So much for odourless paint). I struggled to remove the duvet without getting it stuck to still-wet skirting boards and went downstairs to switch off the heating. Sadly the sitting room door had not been left open - as I'd requested - and now has to be redone along the edge by the hinge. I left it open.  Finally I was ready to settle down to watch 'The Durrells'. And, just like last week, it was a vain hope: I couldn't get comfortable on the sofa bed. The cat, finding it exciting that the sitting room door was open, found his way upstairs and wanted to come into the sofa-bed-room and I'd lost the remote control. Bugger it!


By my bedtime my throat was less sore but my eyes were itchy, the cat was crying for attention and I needed a pee. I had to give into the cat as he was scratching at the door. Richard was also coughing in the spare room at the top of the house and it felt like 1 am. In fact it was only 10:30 pm and I just about managed to watch 'The Durrells' in a semi- recumbent position on an uncomfortable sofa bed, two hours after transmission. I decided to take something to knock me out. It wouldn't do for the Durrell's friend, Theo, to try to spend any time in our house of chaos. He displayed severe OCD in tonight's episode and couldn't bear a thing out of place.

By sheer fluke I remembered to bring in the geraniums - we're expecting yet another morning frost - I was out there, barefoot, in my nighty on the patio, feeling cold ...Bloody geraniums!  I fed the cat -  to stop him scratching at the door - I took a paracetamol-containing night time decongestant and nicked the Easter egg I bought for Richard. I felt like scoffing it and getting the duvet covers plastered in chocolate. 

By 11 pm Richard had stopped coughing, the cat had stopped crying and I'd eaten  the chocolate egg. I'd managed to get most of the day's paint off my hands and, although I knew I really was quite tired, didn't feel sleepy. Damn it. The only other chocolate egg in the house is an expensive Green & Black's dark chocolate one. Perhaps I should find something else to do...
Like a crossword or read a book like normal people. 

Decorating creates chaos ...

Sunday, 7 April 2019

The A-Z of how to ruin your back while streamlining your house

What have I been doing with my time instead of writing my blog? This time last year I was immobile with a slipped disc - and jobs around the house got left. But this January life was very different from January 2018. Jobs HAD to be done. There were cupboards we couldn't get in to as they were SOOO full. And we had to redecorate both at our house and mum's house - which has been empty five years and has had two sets of builders in... And we're tentatively planning to put our master bedroom and ensuite on AirBnB. And I mean tentative ...

During January and February this year I've been:- 
a)Moving furniture for friends and selling it from our garage - in the snow! 
b) clearing our mini-kitchen - it's an ensuite kitchen - attached to our bathroom - yep - odd! 
c) clearing all our wardrobes for future guests 
d) moving our personal belongings to our inbuilt lockable wardrobes
e) chucking 26 bags of rubbish -  to the dump
f) sorting another 8 bags ready for a car boot sale on Easter Day
g) clearing under our bed and moving furniture to decorate our bedroom
h) decorating our bedroom and painting small occasional pieces of furniture - it was beautiful and sunny in the garden in February - yes - February - ideal weather for paintng small tables and chairs outside 

During March I was:
i) sorting and chucking loads of stuff from our transit room - moving our chest of drawers into there - with Richard's help 
j) decorating our bedroom - 3 walls, doors and all the paintwork
k) sorting the guest bedroom on the top floor, sleeping up there whilst we had new ensuite bathroom done - chucking at least 3 more bags of rubbish
l) moving all our personal financial files upstairs - sorting them and labelling them to free up cupboards in our ensuite mini kitchen - we are planning to advertise our master bedroom and kitchen and ensuite on AirBnB - for one season only 
m) moving bedroom furniture - with Richard's help - and hoovering every day for 10 days while we had the ensuite bathroom done
n) travelling up to mum's over the last two weekends in March which made my back ache from the car seat
o) 6 days of decorating at mum's - getting very tired and sleeping on less supportive mattresses than I need BUT no moving of furniture
p) then when the back pain started, last Sunday night - the last day of March - the last day of three months of punishing my discs and trapped sciatic nerve - sweeping and mopping dust and debris in mum's conservatory - it was really left in a poor state after builders had been in - but that truly hurt my back - I thought I wouldn't be able to finish painting at mum's on Monday - April 1 - April Fool's Day - but managed it with 2 x co-codamol and ibuprofen
q) then clearing newspapers and dustsheets, loading our car in a rush to get to the farm shop we like enroute home

During April 
r) collecting a good-sized bathroom cabinet for all the medicines I've moved from our ensuite
s) clearing and cleaning stairs for our new cleaner - to see what needs doing when we start AirBnB - especially getting behind the radiator in the hall - that always hurts my back
t) moving surplus shoes, boots, scarves and winter gloves off the stairs 
u) trying not to do too much as my back started complaining but I had to get rollers, tins of paint and dust sheets to our shed and kitchen cupboards plus the old  fold-up chairs - used while decorating mum's furniture-free house - up to the garage - Richard did most of that while I was on the pain killers and soaking in a warm bath
v) I want to put bark on the flower beds today - to suppress weeds - will my back moan at me? 
w)and - later today - before the rains come -  continue planting up pots, tubs and window boxes - a splash of colour for the patio and the front garden 
x) will I manage to paint the new fence panels? perhaps - if it's a sunny, warm day - I often seem to be doing this on a Good Friday - Richard will help
y) moving remnants of the old fence to the car for the tip - Richard will HAVE to do that - I can't bend and lift wooden posts
z) anything else that hasn't been done yet - like sorting our downstairs loo and breakfast room - we need to get our house to look more like a home and not a place we've just moved into -
 and, finally, getting everything out of cupboards for the car boot sale over Easter weekend - hoping for dry, warmish weather 😏

Then we deserve a holiday - in a place with supportive mattresses and lots of warm weather or a sauna! 
And there we have it - the tale of how to ruin your back A-Z

Sent from my ipad

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

All change!

We've had a very busy three months: storing and selling furniture for friends of ours who don't live in Bath but who had a housefull of goodies to be disposed of here.  Then all change in our house - new ensuite bathroom and other works, and finally the decorating of my mother's empty home. Each situation required the moving of cupboards, cabinets, tables and sofas. With a bad back like mine I've had to rely on the menfolk to manoevre the heavy items. I can't lift or shift!

One remarkable day in February saw some lovely people from Scandinavia trudging through the six-inch snow to retrieve a dainty chest of drawers from the garage. We had stored our friends' furniture there. They were very pleased with it, paid cash and were clearly not put off by the wintry weather. The little chest now resides in their home in Corsham, just across the Wiltshire border from us in Bath.

Our master bedroom, ensuite kitchen and ensuite bathroom have been completely cleared. The former has been decorated and the latter has been refitted with a new shower, washbasin, toilet and non-slip floor. It will be adorned by a new shower door, duckboard, thick white bath sheets and a square non-slip mat for the shower tray. So a lot of work has been carried out there. The mini kitchen hasn't been upgraded but is now home to a clothes rail and is storage for archived documents, photographs, diaries, newspaper clippings and so on. More a walk-in wardrobe than a mini kitchen.

It's taken a lot of effort to sell £300 worth of furnishings from our garage - which is now empty - and to upgrade our master bedroom. But it's done!

Last weekend we began another huge task: the decorating of my mother's house. It has been empty for five - yes five - years. After all mum's furnishings had been removed I thought each room would look dowdy, dismal, drab and forlorn. But not so. Apart from the conservatory - which needs work - and an ancient carpet in one of the bedrooms, the house looked remarkably good. Our childhood home has been lifted by the installation of a new garage door, a brand new, completely virgin kitchen and a brand new shower and bathroom.

Thus far we have managed to decorate two rooms downstairs, one needs its ceiling painted and its skirting boards doing. Another merely (merely!) requires skirtings to be glossed. Bedroom doors are more or less finished and one bedroom has already had its walls and ceiling completed redecorated. This weekend we will paint the other bedrooms, complete the paintwork in the hall and on the landing. Then we start on the front door and porch. Thankfully builders have decorated the stairwell, hall and landing in white emulsion. However that has left the skirting boards looking drab.

We will do what we can do.

Then we will dress the rooms with a painting, a plant, an occasional table or some such.
And our old home may be ready to hand on to another family.

It will be the end of the MacPhersons, my family, in Nightingale Place. Such a pretty address but no longer ours. Time to move out and move on.

Will all our work be enough to attract a potential purchaser?

Monday, 18 February 2019

Fit for February - My 28 Day Fitness Plan for Cancer Research

Last year I began Michael Mosley's HIIT ( high intensity interval training) and resistance exercise regime coupled with a low carb eating plan. For six months I went on a low carb diet and have only recently begun eating wholemeal bread again. And even that is a rare occurence. I never have pasta, potatoes, rice, pastry or biscuits. I do allow myself a few squares of 85% dark chocolate and thin tortillas. My breakfast consists of whole-rolled oats and blueberries and for pudding I usually have Fage Greek yogurt with fruit. Or I make my own chocolate cake from red kidney beans with sweetener. It actually tastes very moist and chocolatey. My sugar intake is generally low now. Although sweet potatoes are carbs they have a lower glycaemic index than the ordinary spud and are better for us all overall. And I don't miss sugar!

Since I know how to exercise reasonably efficiently these days it seemed a good idea to participate in the Cancer Research UK Fit for February fund raiser. I'm being sponsored to stay fit - a win-win situation!

I'm so pleased my target of £50 has already been overtaken and I aim to raise £100 by the end of February.
This is my Fit for February plan:

February 1 onwards:
day 1   step ups x 20
day 2   standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20
day 3   step ups x 20

There was heavy snow on the ground from the end of January and it was impossible to go for walks or even get the car out for the fitness spa where I swim. I started gently because I hadn't exercised much since Hogmanay.

day 4  4 reps of step ups x 20
day 5  8 reps of step ups x 20 and 4500 steps (we went for a walk once the snow had gone)
day 6  HIIT - warm up, star bursts: 2 reps x 20 and 4 x run-in-place for 20 seconds at high speed
day 7  harder resistance exercise 8 x 20 step ups including more challenges

After a week I'd got back to my indoor exercise regime from last year. All I needed was to add 9000 steps  (a walk into town and back) daily.

day 8  4 reps of step ups x 20
day 9  standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20
day 10  HIIT - warm up, star bursts: 2 reps x 20 and 4 x run-in-place for 20 seconds at high speed
and  harder resistance exercise 8 x 20 step ups including more challenges
day 11  4 reps of step ups x 20

When I followed Michael Mosley last year I needed to exercise like I did on day 10 but for three times a week. With the added workouts I'm doing now I'm unlikely to be exercising more overall on a weekly basis. I'm just spreading out what I normally do over seven days instead of three.

day 12  5000 steps
day 13  standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20
day 14  HIIT - warm up, star bursts: 2 reps x 20 and 4 x run-in-place for 20 seconds at high speed
and  harder resistance exercise 8 x 20 step ups including more challenges
day 15  4000 steps
day 16  standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20
day 17  3000 steps plus HIIT - warm up, star bursts: 2 reps x 20 and 4 x run-in-place for 20 seconds at high speed and  harder resistance exercise 4 x 20 step ups including more challenges
day 18  standing dumbbell (arm) crunches (with weights) x 20

The beauty of this plan is that  it's cheap - and I only borrowed the dumbbells. The rest of my exercise schedule is done without any specialist equipment and costs £000. What I've failed to do is to cover 9000 steps daily nor am I swimming three times a week at the moment. However I have continued my standing dumbbell arm crunches which I didn't incorporate into my plan last year. And I'm doing indoor exercises daily. I could continue raising money for CRUK by doing 10,000 steps daily but March can still be bleak and it might not be nice enough outside. Either way what I've achieved so far is, I feel, a good start. Michael Mosley's team advises having rest days too.

From this week I intend to swim more often and get back to walking 9000 steps daily. When the weather is warmer and drier it'll be more inviting for a power walk!

Thanks to everyone who has sponsored me thus far. Can we make £100 for CRUK? See my facebook page for an update and do make a donation - even £2.50 goes a long way. By the end of February I hope to be able to say I'm walking daily and swimming three times a week on top of my HIIT.

It's good for me and good for CRUK.

Yippee and heartfelt thanks!

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Poor Nelson - vegans & pets

This morning, for once, Nelson crept into our bedroom quietly, rather than bounding in or chasing us and hiding under the valance. I was listening to BH - my Sunday morning treat - and explained to him that if I was vegan I might not agree with keeping him as a pet. He didn't seem to react. And it shows he does vaguely see us as masters in our own home because he occasionally cries out ahead of his entrance to the bedroom - as if he's asking for permission to enter. Overnight, when he's not out killing mice and squirrels, he sleeps downstairs on a thick, fluffy blanket which his aunties gave him at Christmas. He rarely sleeps on our bed.

Now he's almost nine he does doze more. He certainly perpetuates his habit of sleeping in the guest bedroom most afternoons. That's fine but he loves meaty cat food - something  I doubt plant-based food eaters would condone. Indeed I've been told pet ownership is something vegans really don't agree with at all. Although two vegans I know very well each own a dog and they've never said to me that having a pet is something they don't hold with. And we love vegan food - just not all the time.

It just so happens Nelson isn't a pet that vegans would necessarily be concerned about. He was a rescue cat; his heavily pregnant mum had been found wandering and forlorn by a lovely family who took her in and helped her give birth. She and her tiny kittens were well cared for at Bath Cats and Dogs Home until the kits were weaned. After all the kittens had been adopted - Nelson was one of them - the lovely family took the queen home with them. The family even came to see Nelson on his first day with us - the day we collected him from the cats' home. 

My understanding is that vegans don't like the fact that we 'own' our pets. If I am correct ownership goes against their belief in animal rights. However I may have got that wrong. But as we are giving what-would-have-been-a-stray cat a warm, loving, food-filled home we are likely doing the right thing. We are certainly not keeping him in a cage on a meat farm. I regularly donate to charities who rescue dogs - especially - from such harsh, terrifying places. And we are not using him to breed like the poor animals in a puppy farm. In this case it's the females who are at risk by being kept constantly pregnant. They must be worn down with it. And they never go out for walks or play. Just get mated, give birth and suckle their young. I quite understand why vegans are opposed to factory farming - especially for sentient creatures like dogs - especially - and cats.

And of course I agree with caring for animals properly and find dog and cat farms abhorrent. I also don't like the idea of buying an animal as a pet from a breeder - unless the nursing dogs or cats are truly well cared for and aren't expected to be constantly mated. Our family were very careful in choosing a breeder for their first labrador. And a fine animal he turned out to be. 

But I don't want to give up Nelson nor the idea of having a pet. Although he can be a tyrant - we are his slaves when he's hungry - he also provides warmth, companionship and interest. And, of course, woe unto you if you're a mouse looking for a warm house in which to reside. Nelson will get you, mousey! 

Our cat would have been a stray or an inmate at an animal sanctuary if we hadn't adopted him. 
He wasn't born in a pet shop, nor is he the result of forced breeding on a puppy farm. Thankfully he wasn't rescued from a meat farm either. I think we are doing the right thing caring for and keeping a cat. I don't, however, think we are going to convince him to eat plant-based  foods. (Although he eats grass and licks cat mint in the summer months).

 I knew of one family of four cats - all strays - who were content to eat vegetarian cat food. I think if we tried that with Nelson he would ambush us and grab us round the ankles until we gave in. Cats like meat, don't they? 

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Red Cross or Lifestyle Choice - take your pick?

After last week’s thick layers of four-day-old snow dissolved out of sight in heavy downpours, traffic swept past once more and the post got through. 

On the first morning after the white-out I received two letters. In one envelope there was a persuasive testimony from someone who’d been a rough sleeper. His biography accompanied a monochrome image of him as he was then. He’d had a long beard, wore many scarves and a bobble hat and carried a huge pack - the burden of the homeless. Because he gave up drink, which he said kept out the cold and helped him forget, he now had a job and a flat. He helps others who live the life he once lived. It persuaded the reader to donate to the charity he now works for.

In another envelope a stapled, thick card booklet of subdued whites and rich, inky-blue hues announced the latest Farrow and Ball colours. For someone sleeping rough interior decor is the last thing on their mind, although perhaps their dreams are of richly decorated rooms. I can’t tell.

The following day a package from the Red Cross showed more images of others in crisis - this time of children and the aged in Yemen, some with missing teeth. Other pictures were of the elderly, lonely, poor and cold in this country. In the same post there was a flier advertising the services of a dental-whitening practitioner. Perhaps the toothless in Yemen have reveries about bright, white, pearly teeth. I imagine, though, that they have more pressing needs.

This disconnect is a little like watching a documentary on television, in real time, about the work,say, of the Trussell Trust and the huge increase in the numbers desperate for food banks. And then, in the commercial break, being blasted with tv adverts for deep crust pizza and gooey puddings. From that, before the investigation into deep neediness in the UK resumes, we are shown ads for products to help us slim. With another blink of the eye we are returned to watching people clutching vouchers for three-days’ worth of food handouts.

We flip from one reality to another as if we share those experiences, all at the same time and all with an equal weighting in our lives.
But it isn’t so. My reality isn’t that of the dying in Yemen nor is it that of the glamorous forty-year-old with shiny white teeth.

A recent article on facebook led to an outcry from social media followers. A reporter had lived for one week on state benefits and was left with £6 in his pocket with which to buy an evening meal. He learned very fast to buy a whole cabbage and chicken as both would feed him, in different guises, for almost a week. He realised that his usual post-work drinks were a no-no, that he’d never have a take-away nor another ready meal again if he only had £6 left at the end of each and every day. A trip to the cinema was out as was travelling on a bus. While he experienced these abrupt changes to his former well-being: - his lack of choices, his non-existent social life and lack of any small luxury - the outcry from others was that his endurance had only lasted a week. If you know that this week you have to walk everywhere, can only afford very basic food, can’t see any mates for a drink and have to go to bed early to stay warm then, for one week, you’ll cope. Readers protested that a week on the margins of society was not long enough. Most impoverished people are continually without spare cash. They cannot have a change of shoes, and not just for one week but for next month, next season and the foreseeable future. So why bother living like it for just a week? What does it teach you? 

The juxtaposition of suffering with trivia on the tv must detract from the seriousness of the ‘Man Alive’ type documentaries, wouldn’t you think? An investigation into society’s ills shouldn’t be bombarded with adverts for things most of us don’t need and the subjects of the documentary can’t have. Which reality is real? Are we in danger of being exposed to extremes - both of deep poverty, need and squalor and of conspicuous, sickening opulence? 

Wouldn’t it be sensitive to stop the adverts, just for once, while viewers concentrate on the important messages about our failing welfare system? 

I found it hard enough in Delhi, in the eighties, to see beggars in rags rattling their tins under a banner advertising slimming products. 

Such juxtaposition could be avoided on the airwaves. But what do I do about my letters? I suppose I could simply open the ones from charities... But would I evade important communications if I stopped opening every other envelope? It’s highly likely I’d miss something important.

I fear I’m stuck with a promoted reality, unless, of course, I get rid of my tv and all access to social media. Whether it’s in fliers, in tv adverts, in inserts inside magazines or just in pop-ups on social media, the two worlds of desperate need and lifestyle opulence simply don’t marry. How must it be for someone feeling hungry, who wants half an hour’s relaxation in front of the box, to be bombarded with ads for prosecco and a 'chocolate bouquet' when they only have a tin of beans in their all-but-bare cupboards?