Thursday, December 29, 2005

All I made for Christmas

We're still in Suffolk - I was too ill to travel yesterday and [...] is too ill to drive today. We've had a good time, but I struggle to write on my Dad's computer. I did however upload this to blogger before we came away.

This is partly as a personal archive to remember what I did and why I mustn't do it again. At the beginning of November I started on some craft projects. I wanted to have some low-energy activities to do away from the computer, something to pass the time without taxing my mental or physical resources. The intention was quite reasonable.

Quickly [...] suggested I was taking way too much on. I ignored this.

However, here are the projects I started but didn't finish;

  1. A set of placemats and matching coasters. Eight of each, each with a different painted picture on them. I abandoned this earlier in December.
  2. A resin nativity set I was painting up. Wanted to give this to them in good time for Christmas but I ran out of time.
  3. Christmas cards. This was a failure of engineering. I made them, but couldn't persuade them to stand up.
So what did I achieve in the last seven weeks?

I made twelve extremely camp crackers. They actually look better than this; the crepe paper is more a lapis lazuli blue, but my camera is a bit naff. Notice the varying lengths. Hmm.

This was probably an inefficient use of time and energy. Christmas Crackers are so cheap and available, my crackers are not so special it was worth the effort.

I made several tree decorations, but they were variations on a theme, I didn’t feel the need to archive the lot.

I only intended to decorate one candelabra but it arrived with a broken foot. The company sent me a replacement without asking me to return the damaged one. I was then able to ply the remaining feet from it, replacing them with wooden beads.

Stringing beads is very time consuming. I spent about day on every star I did and given that one of the candelabrum had to be completely undone and restarted, goodness knows how much time I spent on them.

The beads get everywhere. The contents of the clear drum of our Dyson vacuum cleaner sparkles with the volume of beads within. I keep finding them in the most bizarre places.

Glass painting was a big mistake. I fancied doing this and forgot what hard work it is until I had messed it up the first ten times. This medium is unforgiving of poor co-ordination In the end, I had to give people these suncatchers despite the bubbling and that somewhat unendearing cat - I had simply run out of time to redo them or arrange something else to give.

Of course they probably look better with light shining through them on a window - the tree in patrticular. However, I think it is time I put my glass paints away.

These heart-shaped boxes came in plain rough card but already had these funky grate designs on the lids. I then painted them and jazzed them up a bit. My camera doesn't reveal the amount of gold paint involved here. [...] suggested they might be more appropriately filled with the ashes of a loved on than chocolates.

I had a very complex and sophisticated idea for this clock, which started out as a base from which to weave baskets, but in the end I gave up and painted a sun. Well a sun with a smiley face cheers people up, don’t they?

Again, my camera has failed me in so far that the face doesn't look that skeletal in real life and there is a lot of gold and indeed, even glitter. The holes which give the face away as a former basket-base are filled with glitter glue and tiny gold beads so they look like stars. Well that was the idea.

In summary, I took on too much, turned a leisure activity into a source of pressure, learnt nothing new, got paint on the bedclothes and saved only a neglible amount of money. All this, and I wasn't especially pleased with the results. Ho hum.

Still, in principle it was a useful exercise. While I have been away, I have been introduced to Su Doku. I did an easy one which took ages, but having worked it out I did a mild one that took much less time. Then a difficult one and then a fiendish one which was by this stage, having got into the mindset, very easy. I then decided that it is probably better to spend that time which cannot be really usefully spent, making things rather than solving puzzles, watching television, etc. Not that there's anything wrong with puzzles and things to unwind when you spend most of your time being useful, but I don't.

Anyway, so far the feedback has been good. My Granny insited on keeping her cracker as a souvenir. The main mistake was putting a swanny-whistle, a kazoo and a trumpet mouthpiece in the crackers we had on Boxing Day. The light switch for my parents' bathroom is outside the door, and every time anyone went in there, the light would be turned off and the theme from The Great Escape would be performed for their torment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Hazy Shade of Winter

It is actually a beautiful wintry day today; it has been kind of hazy, all pale yellow and blue like a Turner painting. At one point some swans flew past which is always beautiful to see. We've had some blizzards this weekend and I imagine there is a fair amount of snow on the moors, but the weather forecast looks good for our journey down south tomorrow.

I am pretty exhausted; I have done way too much in too little time. I did however have the rather pleasant experience of very suddenly developing a full-on cold on Friday night, getting through a box and half of tissues, half a box of Lemsip before waking up on Sunday to find myself completely and totally recovered (apart from the red nose, which is not entirely inappropriate for the season). But a thirty-six hour virus? Me? Either that or it was a profound allergic reaction to something, but I am putting a positive slant on it and declaring that my immune system is getting stronger.

I am getting very nervous about the journey south, about being in a house with stairs, about coping around other people, but I know it will all be okay. [...] has said he won't put the (manual) wheelchair in the car; this way I won't get bullied into going out anywhere once I get to my folks'. We argued about this, but he is kind of right. My parents have been suggesting various outings which are far beyond me just now. I had to persuade him I was well enough to go at all, which wasn't helped by the fact he found me asleep, fully dressed, on the bathroom floor earlier today. I don't know how I got there, do I?

Oh and I'm almost certain that I've put rude jokes in my grannies' crackers. Ho hum.

If I have a chance, I might well check in with you at some point, but otherwise hope you all have a lovely Christmas, Hanukkah or Solstice and I'll hopefully be back at the end of next week.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


I only have four whole days before we head down South and I have way too much to do. So far I have written precisely two Christmas cards, have wrapped only some presents and still have four letters to write and six crackers to make. I also have a great deal of paperwork to sort out such that I can go into 2006 knowing that our accounts information is just as it should be. Then there is making sure all the clothes are washed and packed and so on.

I am rather concerned by the fact that there are some of you who never use the word love in a non-romantic context. Mostly because I’m thinking I have identified another example of my social ineptitude. I once had a conversation where a good friend had been singing my praises rather, I interpreted this and responded, “Thanks; I love you too.” (Of course I was absolutely confident that this was what the other person was trying to say).

The prospect of hurting people’s feelings bothers me terribly and I have no desire to shock, but I have never really got a proper handle on social taboos. I know not to talk about fellatio over Christmas Dinner, but then I have never felt the need to raise that subject (except when as a child I couldn’t remember which out of fellatio and focaccia was the type of bread I liked).

That having said, I do remember feeling rather confused when I became sexual active, anticipating as I was, the climax that had been described to me as “a bit like sneezing, only nicer.” Well, at least I can’t claim to have been disappointed.

Anyway, point is, I hope I do not behave outrageously but I do believe that most things are better out than in, especially something as important as love. Whilst evidently I still have this difficulty with language and approach, but I would hate to feel it was impossible.

You’ll be pleased to know I do have a good old-fashioned British terror of physical contact, enhanced by pain and poor co-ordination. I can do hugs if I trust the person. I really struggle with this continental kissing business because I feel very vulnerable and frequently miss cheeks. But the one thing I can’t stand is if anyone chooses to touch me for emphasis, worst of all tap me for emphasis. No no no, you bastards, get away or I’ll set my Yorkshire Pudding on you!

Anyway, I am daudling about and blogging this nonsense because I have to write a few letters, including those to people who haven't heard from me since the summer. I have to write and say, "There isn't much news here, as I have been unwell all autumn and haven't done very much at all." which isn't exactly a cheery report. This is the main news, and the more I try to brush over it or sound philosophically positive about it, the more depressing it reads. I am even considering whether to make up an autumn of adventures for these two parties, who have no way of knowing any different.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Not Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

I had a bad night so am rather grouchy today. I cooked my suncatchers (painted glass) which have taken days making, including false starts which resulted in the application of vast quantities of white spirit and the precarious and unpleasant task of scrapping the paint from the glass with a very sharp knife. I happily put them in the oven, forgot about them until I spelt burning and now the paint is hideously bubbled. Bugger, bugger, bugger. Then there's the Ouch Messageboard - I have removed my link to Ouch to help me with the latest attempt at Cold Turkey.

I tried to cheer myself up by listening to the Radio. I listened to The Friday Play on Radio Four (like you do on a Saturday) and it was so bad. Radio Drama is so rubbish at the moment,
so badly written. Makes the Archers sound like Chekov. This particular banality had a wheelchair-user in it, which added to my irritation, and I turned it off half-way.

My friend Vic suggested I write a Radio Play which I then get folks to perform long-distance. With fairly cheap recording equipment and one lot of decent editing equipment (which I’ve already got) it could, in theory, be done. In theory, I could produce plays with my friends without leaving the house...

I have also thinking about disabled people and pantomimes. They’ve been putting on the nativity at my Mum’s school this week. She is baffled by the fact that the entire first year (twenty-one children) have been cast as Cockerels. You know, those famous cockerels that turned up at the birth of Christ? One of the older children is privileged with the role of the only speaking cockerel. Hmm.

But Mum said that there was a kid who had broken his leg such that he had to use a wheelchair and have it sticking out in front of him all the time (the leg I mean). He had been cast as a sheep.

Anyway, I was thinking about this and then other seasonal plays and then onto
Cinderella. I suppose it is a bit obvious, a disabled Cinderella. She can’t get out much, her family are ashamed of her and she’s kept hidden away from view. The turnip turns into a funky electric wheelchair, the pumpkin into a Sunshine Bus. No? Her wicked step-sisters said that she couldn’t come to the ball because she wouldn’t be allowed in, but turns out the Palace is fully accessible – as is Prince Charming. And the glass-slipper could be… something a chiropractor would approve of, anyway.

The fairy godmother was always the best character in
Cinderella, but I’m not sure what you’d do with her. Depends if you wanted to entertain adults or children – and then what type of audience in either case. The fairy godmother in Cindrillon was one of my greatest roles in high school drama – certainly the greatest role I performed in French (okay, it was the only one). I wore my mother’s wedding dress with gold Doc Marten boots.

In other news, yesterday I received the funkiest hot-water bottle you ever did see from my friend. It has goldfish in it. How cool is that? My friend is a woman of profoundly good taste and great generosity.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Something Fishy In the Sky

A strange omen appeared in the sky over Whitby this morning. What could it mean?

Music Review 2005

I know it's a touch early, but I am unlikely to buy any more music this year and am unlikely to be bowled over by the usual competitors for Christmas Number One. Feel free to pick this up as a baton, so long as you link back to me and let me know about it.

Favourite New Album of The Year

Employment – Kaiser Chiefs

To be honest, I haven’t bought or listened to many new albums this year, but this was a very good one. Could have been improved by being an eight track album as opposed to the twelve – there were at least four really duff tracks which we could well have lived without.

The music is like a refined version of late seventies punk, with, deliciously simple hooks and riffs, but the mixing is refined. Most of it is high-octane with very funky use of some synths which sound like a lovely old Juno (in a good way).

They write about all kinds of daft stuff with relentless attention to rhythm and rhyme, but the daftness is intelligently done, in so far that they never actually annoy you and very often amuse. And they put the word
pneumothorax in there, how cool is that?

By far the best newish album I bought this year was
The Final Straw by Snow Patrol, but that was realeased last year and I am merely slow on the uptake. Every time I listen to it, I am baffled that I seem to be the only person on Earth who feels this is one of The Great Albums, the like of Automatic for the People, Led Zeppelin IV or Electric Ladyland. It rocks, I tell you! It’s bloody brilliant!

Favourite Album You Bought This Year

Astral Weeks – Van Morrison

Sigh. To say that I have fallen in love with the music of Van Morrison this year is not the cliché it sounds. I love the man’s voice, I love his way with words, the music effects me. It has been like having an entirely uncomplicated love affair in the comfort of my own home.

I suppose you know something is really good when you can't really put any of it into words. I made several attempts at this but I can't really describe his music or say what he writes about or anything. Anyone who has ears needs to possess this album.

Any other synasthesiacs out there who 'feel' music
really need to acquaint themselves with Van Morrison . It is, in moments, better than Rodrigo. In the unlikely event that such person reads this, they will know what I mean. My apologies to everyone else.

Favourite New Song

Bloody Mother Fucking Arsehole – Martha Wainwright

I must say I am extremely taken by Martha Wainwright’s voice and would probably buy an album of her singing nursery rhymes. I cannot say, on the strength of this one song (the album is on my wish-list), that I respect her as a talented lyricist – it’s stream of consciousness stuff and far more passion than substance, but the magic is all in the delivery.

Marmite Boy, friend of the stars and all round lucky sod, actually kissed her! With tongues! Well, perhaps I exaggerate a tad.

Best-Loved Song For This Year

According to my computer, I have listened to All Along The Watchtower by the Jimi Hendrix Experinece more than any other single song this year. I don’t know whether this is anything to be ashamed of. I was really rather surprised that it happened to be this song.

All Along The Watcher Tower is a terribly exciting piece of music which demonstrates the genius of Mr Hendrix and Co in just four minutes. It is a bit like aural caffeine really, I guess that's how I've come to listen to it so often.

I was slightly embarrassed that All Along The Watchtower by Bob Dylan was number three – I have obviously had a bit of an obsession with that song in general. I did download All Along The Watchtower by Paul Wellar but it was extremely dull.

Most Hated Song For This Year.

I helped Hal set up an iPod for his little girl, which required downloading McFly and Busted onto my iTunes. I haven’t worked out how to obliterate the stuff from my computer and if I am complacent, I am occasionally subjected to one of these tracks for the short period before I am able to act on it. McFly’s
Broccoli is probably not the worst offender, but perhaps typical of the genre.

The opening verse goes as follows

Everything was going just the way I planned
The broccoli was done!
She doesn’t know I’m a virgin in the kitchen
Cause it’s normally my mum!
But then she called me
And that’s when
She said to me [this line is sung with some passion – his heart is breaking]
She wasn’t coming round for tea

Now I have a clean mind but naturally realise this is full of blatantly genital and indeed oedipal references, coming round for tea being a euphemism for The Sexual Act, but I can’t for the life of me work out what the broccoli symbolises. Clearly it is a symbol – it is hardly a commonplace constituent of any romantic meal and it would never be prepared before the guest arrived. But broccoli? What is that?!

Basically it’s filthy muck and if I had a daughter I would ritually burn any McFly albums I found tucked under her bed, forcing her instead to listen to something wholesome, those nice Manic Street Preachers for example, or maybe The Cure. Something you can dance to.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I read the news today, oh boy

Four good news stories from the last few days:

From Monday it is possible for gay couples to register Civil Partnerships in the UK, which give them equivalent rights to married people. The British are so good at getting round this stuff; only the press, and then only the most sensationalist press actually used the phrase “gay marriage”. And indeed, from everybody I have spoken to abou this, it was not as if the British gay community were ever particularly wedded (!) to the term or concept of marriage as it exists within our culture.

This is great news as far as I am concerned. I would say ‘long overdue’ but I think perhaps we needed to wait; the backlash would have been far greater and more dangerous ten, let alone twenty years ago.

To me, civil partnership and marriage is about defining next of kin, property rights and children. Romantic partnerships are things which happen inside individuals and communities; no rings or sheets of paper could make [...] and I stronger and he is as much part of our family as Adrian, my actual factual brother-in-law – at least to those members of the family whose opinions and support matter. Religion only enters into marriage in so far as religion enters into every aspect of the lives of someone who is religious - such a person could not conceive of marriage outside the institution of church (or whatever), but then they couldn't conceive of spending Sunday mornings (or whenever) outside the church either, or eating forbidden foods, or wearing clothes which aren't consistant with their beliefs.

The Turner prize was awarded to Simon Starling on Monday. I used to defend it, I am not opposed to conceptualism or installation art; some of that stuff is very interesting. Perhaps I am getting old, but I am decidedly unimpressed by someone telling me that they merely did something. To me, art has to be about an interaction between the artist and the audience – and as, Oscar Wilde said, art’s role is to conceal the artist from view and act like a mirror on the audience. Recent Turner winners have been all about the artist, not the art. The way we respond to art – in the widest sense of the word – should tell us something about ourselves on some level. I look at Shedboatshed and sense that someone is trying to bullshit me.

However, the BBC News website did a Mock Turner Prize, the winner of which was this very interesting photograph (tin foil falling into a pan of water). I really like this. I have to say none of the other shortlisted pictures were outstanding, but there was some interesting stuff in there. I certainly think our own Pete Mentalas ought to enter if they run it next year.

Also on Monday, people with progressive health conditions including MS, cancer and HIV have been awarded protection under the Disability Discrimination Act from the point of diagnosis. As I understand it, previously they were only protected one impairment had manifested itself, so if you were sacked once word got out you were ill, you would have little or no protection. So that’s great.

And yesterday David Cameron has been elected leader of the Conservative Party. I am really pleased about this and was impressed by his speech. I cannot imagine that his politics will ever seduce me, but we desperately need a viable opposition and he sounds like he might actually achieve it. Least of all, he described as scandalous the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in the party. In the last election there were more Conservative parliamentary candidates called Philip than there were female candidates...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angels' voices!

One of my favourite aspects of Christmas is the music and I’m not talking about Slade. As children our Christmases were always very musical as, despite having nothing to do with Church, we were always in choirs, Rosie was in various orchestras and Dad in brass bands. Then there were traditions at home like Carols from Kings and all that. I actually envied my friends whose folks made a seasonal pretence of religion, taking them to midnight masses and the like.

Through much of our childhood we didn’t have a car so we used to bus down to the various services and concerts in town and then, generally having missed the last bus home, walk the mile or two so home in the dark and quiet. On such nights there were always shooting stars. At least I remember this being the case – not several in one night, but I would spot at least one or two. We inherited rather manky sheepskin coats from some dead relative or other which R and I objected to wearing except on those December nights when they were fully appreciated. Magical times.

Later on, our high school included a church on its 'estate', so we used to have proper carol services in there, the choir entering in candlelit procession to Once in Royal David’s City. Rosie got to do the solo eventually.

The first carol service we went to at high school I was too young to be in the choir and Mum and I developed a terrific attack of the giggles. My Mum was always nervous about going up to the high school. It was a public school at which we had assisted places so we were relatively poor compared to most of the other girls, pony people, you know? Mum has never had much social confidence and seemed to have this inferiority complex when it came to the parents of my school-friends. She is beautifully spoken but has a bit of a Suffolk accent – what Hal, amateur linguist, kindly describes in myself as peasant inflexions - and imagined that the gold-chain handbag brigade were turning their noses up at her.

The first thing that happened was the vicar arrived and the vicar was enormous, at least seven foot tall and I am ashamed to admit it that this seemed very funny. We obviously had to try and contain it, which of course made it all the funnier. Then of course they opened with the reading about Adam and Eve and the sins of woman, being read with some zeal, and this began to crack us up. Then, as became a tradition in school carol services, we sung the little known carol Three Kings From Persian Lands Afar which none of the congregation knew, but were all prepared to have a go, until the choir broke off into their harmonies and the whole thing fell apart into a rather nasty dirge. Mum and I were sat shaking with suppressed laughter.

However, the absolute killer came when the choir sang Deo Gracias from Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Candles which in Church Latin is of course pronounced “Day-O Grassy Arse”. And in Mr Britten’s arrangement involves a great deal of impassioned repetition of the phrase “Grassy Arse”. There was much bladder-compromising hilarity between the two of us in a Church full of pony people.

Later on when I joined the choir and we were back on the bloody Britten, I tried to explain this anecdote to my more refined colleagues, but nobody understood what we'd been laughing about.

The last Christmas before I got ill we did a hell of a lot of carolling. At this time I was a sort of honoury Catholic having rallied them into a protest against Jeans for Genes day at school. I can’t remember why I personally objected to Jeans for Genes day, but I demanded that we be allowed to donate to an alternative charity for the privilege of wearing civies because of our religious beliefs (!) and proposed we should all wear skirts that day as a peaceful protest, which my obedient followers obliged with. The teacher who was in charge of charitable activities was terribly impressed with my passion and later volunteered to run a Religious Education A-Level course with me as her only student. To this day I don’t know whether Catholics should have any objection to the charities that benefit from Jeans for Genes, like Great Ormand Street, Muscular Dystrophy charities and the like – probably not. I think my trouble started when I played the part of Jesus and gained three eleven year-old disciples who kept following me around and asking me for words of wisdom for months afterwards. Kind of went to my head.

Anyway, we did a great amount of carolling with the Catholics, all around the posh houses in town where nearly nobody ignored us and people handed us notes for our pains. Someone gave us thirty quid! But we weren’t bad and had bothered to bring song sheets such that we could complete entire carols. In my memory, we even had a lantern but I think I might have just made that up.

On my fifteenth birthday, Dad, Rosie and I joined an informal bunch of carollers in the Maternity block at Ipswich hospital where R and I had been born – probably Justin too I should think. R and I sang all the harmonies, there was a fairly decent range of voices and we did sound rather splendiferous even if I say so myself. Not a single baby cried that Christmas Eve night – there was one heavily pregnant woman who gave out an agonised scream during The Twelve Days of Christmas, but in fairness it does go on a bit. It was really magical to be there with all this new life around us and to think that my tiny little self might have heard such music a few hours after I was born. It was a very special time and coincidentally, the last carolling I got to do.

Every Christmas morning, Dad and Rosemary would go playing carols all around the wards with the brass band and it occurs to me with hindsight that there may have been far more worthy causes, folks who would have benefited more than the new mothers and bairns from hearing a few sung carols – as opposed to windy carols, which just isn’t the same thing. But my Dad’s office was in the maternity block so perhaps other staff did the same thing on other wards. I hope so.

My favourite carol is probably Oh Holy Night which is just gorgeous.Silent Night, of course, in either English or German is pretty special. My least favourite carol has to be The Little Drummer boy. I can’t stand that carol. I hate it when pop singers and crooners do carols in general – why do they do that? I do like Mike Oldfield’s version of En Dulce Jubilo but that was something quite different.

Since there are so many cat lovers out there, I must recommend the music of Jingle Cats – Christmas carols sung by cats – or at least cat-noises which have been sampled and played with and set against a really basic accompaniment on a very cheap and nasty keyboard. It is awful beyond description, but it must be heard. If you have iTunes search on there and listen to clips, otherwise I’m sure you can buy the CDs from somewhere… ebay has one of their albums up for auction just now.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Top Tip

If you make any adjustments to your blog Template, save the whole thing as a TXT document. I don't know how I managed to lose my entire Template, but I had this old version saved from last time I was conducting experiments. This means that some of you I like to are currently not linked to, but I'll work all that out tomorrow.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Chrirstmas Lights

Often at this time of year when I’m not very well, I regret missing out on the local community celebrations. From The Whitby Gazette;

"Whitby's Christmas Lights turn-on was disappointing for the large crowd of people who supported the event after Scarborough Council switched them on in the middle of the day and did not turn them back off again.

The event was attended by Castleton singer Alistair Griffin but his job was reduced to just turning on the lights of the Christmas tree at Dock End.

In addition the lantern-lit procession had just two lanterns, there were no song sheets at Dock End so individual carols lasted around one verse before everyone forgot the words and the hot soup which was supposed to keep everyone warm never turned up."

I especially liked the concluding line

"In contrast, Christmas lights in Scarborough town centre are wired up to allow a big switch on and this year's event was hailed as one of the best ever."

The bastards!


This is an odd thing I felt inclined to write about but it has been an odd day. I realise I probably spend more energy on washing my hair than any other single task I carry out on a regular basis and it is especially problematic during the winter when I can’t afford to sit around with wet hair. The state considers clean hair to be a luxury. Any social services care package won’t include it and difficulties experienced washing one’s hair is excluded from consideration in DLA assessments (at least it was last time I looked).

Obviously the first thing you can do is to cut your hair short or preferably shave it off. Shaving it off is likely to leave your head rather cold, it would probably itch a bit and a short hair-cut needs to be kept short. Despite cutting my hair into a brutal bob just six weeks ago, it has since grown long enough to put into a pony-tail.

Beyond this, one must find ways of reducing the frequency of washes. Our grandmothers would not have dreamt of washing their hair every day or every other day, which seems to be the norm for most folks these days. I have heard that if you don’t wash your hair at all for six weeks, it eventually begins to clean itself, but I’ve never been able to stick it for six weeks.

There are certainly likely to be days when it needs washing but nothing can be done about it. I have scarves around my head when this is the case. These are also a great way of keeping warm, since much of our body temperature is lost through the head. Nomads is the best place for Fair Trade multicoloured scarves.

There is such a product as dry shampoo, which comes in an aerosol can and does improve the appearance of greasy hair – although this is very much a temporary measure. An emergency tip is to brush face powder or talc into your hair - it absorbs the grease so it does look perhaps slightly better than it did before, but um, somewhat greyer. At the end of the day, there’s nothing disgusting about hair which is a bit shinier than hair that has just been washed; if it can’t be done, it can’t be done.

But when it can… I have to wash my hair in the bath, because I don’t have a shower and can’t manage bent over at the sink. Unfortunately, immersing my head in warm water almost guarantees that I fall asleep. If I am alone in the flat, I have a small alarm clock which I set to go off in twenty minutes time to avoid sleeping while the water cools down around me.

If you need to condition your hair, use leave-in conditioner – using the stuff you have to rinse out doubles the wet section of the job, you usually have to hang around while it works and it is far more slimy and a potentially irritant when it gets in the bath water. The cheapest and most pleasant-smelling I know of is Boots’ Coconut & Almond Oil Leave-In Conditioner. You can spray it on your hair while it is wet or when it is dry, whenever you like.

If you have to rest before you begin to dry your hair, have two towels ready for the purpose, preferably in situ over a radiator or other heat source. I am currently experimenting with a microfleece turban from Lakeland Limited, which seems to be particularly absorbent.

When I get out of the bath, I dry myself on a bath towel but then I have to proceed in a state of undress until my hair is dry. Of course I get extremely cold for a short time, but making myself any more comfortable poses the risk of going to sleep with wet hair wrapped in a damp towel. While asleep, I then cool down and remain cold for a greater length of time only to wake up with all sorts of aches and stiffness and a bad case of the sniffles.

In order for the flow of blood to your arms, which hold the hair-dryer, to work with and not against gravity, you need to lie on the bed on your front with your head dangling over the edge. I also think having your head upside down speeds the process, but I haven’t quite grasped the physics. Pace your drying, swapping hands and taking breaks etc.

I find the application of moose on one’s hair does seem to make it dry much quicker. Presumably I’m not doing my hair any good, but hey. I am fascinated by the blurb on all cosmetic products. My can of moose poses the question, “Who is in charge of your style? You… or your hair?” and goes on about micro-hold technology and all kinds of made-up crap. The other day I was looking at cleanser which was supposed to cure my acne and it read “The tingling sensation tells you that your skin is perfectly clean and clear of impurities.” and I’m thinking, the tingling sensation may have something to do with the fact that alcohol is the third ingredient on the list…

Do store hair products like moose in a sensible place. Even my “Hoots mon” joke didn’t go down well with my beloved when my can exploded in the bedroom late one night.

And don’t forget, that when you’re done get up very very slowly after you’ve had your head hanging upside down or else you are likely to pass out.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

If it keeps on raining, levee's going to break

The weather here is atrocious. The snow on Friday barely touched us – there’s so much salt in the air that it rarely settles in Whitby, although in the distance the moors were solid white. Since then the sky has been the colour of wet clay and we've had hail and sleat and lots and lots of rain. Yesterday some of the more interesting seabirds came up the river to escape the worst of the weather elsewhere. My favourite are the guillemots which look and act a bit like penguins. It’s fairly unusual to see them in the harbour at all, let alone this far up the river.

All this rain and Charles Dawson’s concern about things going wrong
reminded me of an incident that happened this time last year. It was one evening, the phone rang and when I answered it, there was a recorded message saying, “This is the Environment Agency. The sea-defences are no longer effective and you are about to be flooded. Gather together warm clothes and prepare for evacuation. Carry your pets and elderly neighbours to higher ground. Keep calm and run for your life.”

I can’t remember the exact wording, but this was the gist of it. This was before December’s tsunami but from the message, you’d expect the town to be engulfed by a tidal wave at any moment. I suppose the tone was necessarily, as even with this scary-sounding warning I was thinking, “Yeah right; I’ll believe that when I see it.”

So I pulled the blinds up. And saw it.

There is a road between us and the river. At least there had been before. There was a bit of pavement but only right in front of our building; there was no pavement either side of us and we were completely cut off. It was however very very still and we still had all our power and everything so it wasn’t exactly frightening. I was kind of jittery because I just couldn’t understand what had happened and therefore what was going to happen. In fact the only thing I could think to do was to tidy up a bit so that our downstairs neighbours could take refuge here. I wanted them up here right away; neither of them are exactly agile and one in particular would need to take the stairs a step at a time. But [...] went to fetch them and they insisted that there was nothing to fuss about – even though the water was just a few feet away from their door.

After a while, a fire-engine turned up to try and put the river back, but by this time the tide was retreating and it did the job itself. At the next high tide, early the next morning, only part of the road was covered. And after that it got back to normal.

Today I am having fun choosing which great works of art I want on next year’s calendar. The National Gallery website have a Create Your Own section which includes the ability to have a tailor-made calendar. So I have things like The Umbrellas by Renoir for April, Seurat’s
Bathers in July, the Wilton Diptych for December and so on. They don’t offer you the entire collection, obviously – I think there’s about sixty to chose from.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Guilty as charged

My resolutions are going okay. I have been listening to almost all the recommendations you gave (w1ldchild mentioned Jamie Cullum, for crying out loud). Here are my painted toe-nails as evidence of that resolution fulfilled and I have been going outside regularly, if only for a short time. The shock of the cold air makes me feel briefly invigorated after which I need to sleep again. Since I am able to fall asleep in empty baths, under cold showers, in the middle of telephone conversations and the like, I am inclined to get back into the warm as soon as possible.

I have been thinking about this guilt thing. I feel guilty about all sorts of things. I feel guilty about my tremendous good fortune in certain aspects of my life, about the way I feel about and treat other people, about my appalling social acumen and clumsiness which is sometimes as much about carelessness as poor co-ordination. I feel very guilty about the way other people’s connection with me means they lose out in various ways. I feel guilty about my failure to meet expectations.

I feel very guilty about the way I manage my energy levels. I waste so much. Every night I settle down berating myself at the ways I wasted my energy today, the things I failed to do but ought to have, the things I did but were less important. My blog itself is a tremendous source of guilt because it is energy spent on something which could be spent elsewhere. Even when I spend all my energy on my book, I feel guilty because I have unanswered e-mails, unwritten letters, I am neglecting chores I ought to have done, I let everyone down. I simply don’t have enough energy in the day, any day, to do all the things I ought to and need to and want to do. Not nearly enough.

The remaining, perhaps greatest source of guilt is that I get so much more than I give. And the absolutely worst thing is that I am afraid that I get so much more than I am ever going to give. When I was convinced I would be well again one day, I was confident about making up for it. I mean this in all contexts. I would be able to pay vast quantities of tax in order to clean my slate with your good selves who have given your hard-earned cash to keep me in teabags. I would be able to do some job where I was helping others as I myself have been helped over the years so far.

Now I am not just having another moan here, I am trying to address this. Some of the above, I can do nothing about. The thing about energy levels, I feel I ought to act upon but am not sure now. I could cut down on the things I am committed to, but I would feel only more useless and isolated.

However, this last one is something that perhaps some of you can help with – not to make me feel better but perhaps to suggest alternative ways of looking at this. I believe in the welfare state and feel no particular shame in being on benefits. But this lack of shame is conditional; the condition being that at some point I give something back.

Now, significantly, almost all of the other people I know on incapacity benefits have come to this position having done a great deal of work already – folks who have been forced into retirement ten or twenty years early. And they look upon it as retirement; their time is their own, usually their ill health is only going to get worse and they seem to feel no obligation to try to spend what time they have left trying to regain self-sufficiency.

I, on the other hand, am deeply indebted to the collective pot and to be honest, the guilt of the situation bothers me more than the prospect of living in so-called poverty for the rest of my life, never buying a house or owning a car or having holidays – since these were never on the cards. Of course a big part of this is a basic human need to have some degree of self-sufficiency, some worthwhile occupation, which has been eluded me thus far. But it manifests itself in a sense of enormous guilt.

So, apart from concentrating on all the little ways in which I justify my existence by being nice to people, how do you get over this? I know I might get my book published, but unless I was particularly successful, it is unlikely to make much impact on anything. I mean, I will be pleased, but it is unlikely to mean self-sufficiency. And I know I might get better one day, but, I have no idea whether or indeed when.

Does anybody ever get to a point where they really truly come to terms with incapacity and dependance? It is just not fair that I should exist at the expense - in all senses of the word - of other people and never give anything back.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Freude, Schöner Götterfunken and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair

Possibly following Vaughan’s suggestion that I should listen to Beethoven and The Beach Boys, I had a strange dream in which I heard Good Vibrations and the fifth movement of the Ninth Symphony kind of spliced and diced and mixed and muddled together in such a way that it sounded really very good. I have since been trying to recreate this wonderful sound with Adobe Audition, I think I’ll call it Ode to Vibrations. One of the best bits is if you get the baritone “freudenvollere” (elongated somewhat) up against “I hear the sound of a gentle word” – that sounds great. Also if you get the predominantly soprano “Wem der grosse Wurf gennlungen” bit up against the second lot of “I’m picking up good vibrations” – wowza!

Of course, I’ll spend hours trying to get this thing like I heard it in my dream and it won’t be quite right and if anyone else heard it, they wouldn't hear it at all and they'd think I was completely insane. I would perhaps acheve a lot more in life if I didn’t let these little things distract and obsess me. But it did sound really good. Honest.

I have heard entire new songs in my dreams, a few of which have been worth writing down. Actually one of them I was very pleased with, but I was fifteen and on reflection the lyric was pretty awful – it moved between English and French mid-sentence at one point. But the song I still get in my head from time to time. Paul McCartney got Yesterday like that, apparently.

Health no better but I’m coping better. Ish. Yeah I am, I must be. Actually I feel my health is subtly improving as well. Things which suggest my immune system has woken up even if I still feel like shit, like my skin being somewhat clearer. I feel rather panicky about the speed in which this month has passed. I very almost missed the deadline for our credit card payment, which is not at all like me. We pay the entire balance off every month – we only have the credit card because it’s with the Co-op who award dividend. It works a bit like this;

There’s a shop in the high street called the Co-op

By gum, what a great idea!

For out of what you spend, you get a dividend

Three times every year.
When Ma gets a shilling for her share
She shouts as if she was a millionaire… etc… etc…

I have no idea how ancient that song is, whether it was originally on the television or radio or if it was some sort of pre-Christian tribal chant or what - perhaps someone can enlighten me. I was a member of the Co-op junior choir and thus it became embedded in my consciousness forever. I don’t know how much a shilling was worth, so I can’t comment on the likelihood of a person receiving this amount nowadays. However, [...]’s father always tells me that I am short of one; everytime we speak on the phone he concludes the conversation “You’re short of a shilling.” which I have never understood and presume is some sort of quaint Mancunian compliment.

Anyway, I had put the statement to one side and then yesterday found it, panicked and paid on-line which was the only way that (hopefully) means the money will get there before we’re charged interest. What is worse is that the Excel file upon which I keep all the transactions is in a mess and I really need to go through every transaction on the credit card and the bank account for the last three months to check everything is as it should be. Which with my current state of brainlessness, is a considerable task.

Heavy Rant for a Tuesday Afternoon

This is a heavy socio-political post. If you’re feeling fragile, I’d leave it here. Some things one has to get out of one's system...

People argue that women are liberated in this country. People even argue that things have “gone too far the other way”. However, you don’t have to look very far to see that some very unpleasant and deeply oppressive attitudes continue to prevail.

The article Drunk young women ‘taking risks’ details a survey by the Portman Group, an organisation promoting moderation in alcohol consumption. According to their statistics 36% of the five hundred young women surveyed claimed to have been sexually assaulted whilst extremely drunk. Thus the ‘risks’ referred to in the title. Women 'get blamed for being raped' refers to a survey by Amnesty International which suggested that one in four of the thousand respondents thought that women were at least partially responsible for being raped if they were drunk or wearing revealing clothing.

Both these are shocking statistics and as such questions must be raised as to their research methods that are not detailed in the articles or in the original press releases. But it is not the statistics that incense me. Last year there was the more explicitly entitled Binge drinking link to rape rise and indeed this week the BBC News website has a “Have Your Say” page entitled Should women be blamed for being raped?

So, to rape. Alcohol makes you vulnerable. If you are stone cold sober, are a 7th Dan in Karate and travel about with a pair of armed bodyguards – and if you wear a cast iron chastity belt under your burkha - then you may greatly reduce your chances of being raped. But to guarantee your safety, you must avoid all men. Because you see, women don’t actually get themselves raped. It is not something we carelessly do to ourselves because we’re a bit pissed or wearing impractical shoes.

In fact, the causes of rape have absolutely nothing to do with the victim. It doesn’t matter if she is a nun or a prostitute. It doesn’t matter if she is eighteen or eighty years old. It doesn’t matter what she is wearing or whether she knows her assailant or whether she flirted with her assailant beforehand. And it doesn’t matter if she is, to use an old Suffolk expression, as rat-arsed as a fiddler’s bitch.

Rape is perpetrated by men who have got seriously warped ideas about the relationship between men and women, along with the relationship between sex and violence. Crucially, men who rape think that, for whatever reason, it is okay for a man to assault a woman for his own gratification. Why exactly – whether this is about power or sex or something to do with their mother - doesn’t really matter. They achieve this by pretending that this is something that a woman either wants or deserves, or pretending that what a woman thinks or feels is of no consequence.

Now a rapist might say she was asking for it because she had a short skirt on, but then he might say she was asking for it because of a certain look in her eye or the tone of her voice or some such nonsense. There is little difference between those who rape women and those who rape men or children; the same excuses are made in all cases and the excuses ought to be equally dismissed.

The only way to effectively prevent rape is to teach these men – to teach everyone - that it is never ever okay. It can never be okay. The message that the drunkenness or any other behaviour in women results in the rape of women sends out the exact opposite message. This says, these sluts are getting off their heads so really it’s there own silly fault.

Now, this issue of avoiding all men. Fear and loathing is actually a big turn off for the vast majority of men. Rape is against human nature and nature in general (apart from mallard ducks - the bastards). When you’re drunk, you’re not always able to read the signals as well as you might and indeed, everyone opens themselves up for some degree of being taken advantage of under the influence. However, most men, even drunk, don’t need a whole lot of vocal - let alone physical - resistance to get the message.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to identify the exceptions to this rule and the concept of rape disturbs most men because it makes them feel ashamed and confused about the sometimes predatory way they look at and think about women. (In truth, women look at men in an equally predatory way, but we’ve no chance of overpowering our prey.) This leads many men and patriarchal society in general to be in denial about rape. Either it didn’t happen at all, or it wasn’t really as one-sided as is claimed.

In previous ages and indeed in more oppressive cultures in the world today, the avoiding all men policy was the way they did things. To become victim of rape was an even more shameful experience than it is in this country today, simply because most ‘decent’ women spent all their time at home, in the company of other women or protective male relatives. Decent respectable women were unlikely to get raped because they would always be in a ‘safe’ place. No freedom of movement, but hey.

Unfortunately, this is an attitude that quietly prevails in our own culture, even if some of the barriers have lifted. What the media really wants to say is women brought this upon themselves. They would absolute love a study relating skirt-length and rape. Why on Earth is nobody asking questions about the men who are committing these crimes? Who are they? Are they drunk?

Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not denying a few pretty obvious truths here. Being drunk inhibits your judgement, your awareness of your surroundings, your ability to think quickly, articulate a need for help or co-ordinate yourself if you need to run or fight. Getting drunk late at night in a town centre puts you in a place full of shadows, renders your friends disloyal and surrounds you with drunk, boisterous, possibly frustrated and potentially aggressive strangers. Any fool would put some basic strategies in place.

However, nobody can possibly provoke violence of this nature. Violence against women, as a threat or in real terms has always been at the cornerstone of inequality. We need to get our attitudes straight about this once and for all or else we're all going to lose out very badly indeed.

Monday, November 21, 2005

My Top Three "Feel Good" Movies

(may contain spoilers; I’m not going to be overly careful).

3.It’s a Wonderful Life

George Bailey’s (James Stewart) ambition has been thwarted at every turn and now he is about to go to prison because of some missing money. On Christmas Eve, he decides to end his life, when Clarence, a thus far wingless angel, is sent down to save him. Clarence then takes him back over his life and shows him the way things could have turned out if he had never been born.

James Stewart is a joy to watch in any role, and this is his finest. One of the things I really like about George Bailey’s character is that his entire life has been a record of making the best of a bad show; he has had bad luck, he has made sacrifices in order to help others and nothing has really turned out the way he expected or indeed would have wanted. But despite this, things have turned out okay, because he, his friends and family have made it so.

This is not gritty realism but the characters and situations are honest and human. The good are not universally good or strong or wise. Plus there is no absolute justice even in the end – apparently they struggled to get it past the censors at the time because Mr Potter (who actually stole the missing money and is an all-round bad egg) never actually gets his comeuppance.

2.Groundhog Day

Cynical weatherman, Phil Connors (Bill Murray), is sent to Punxsutawney to cover their Groundhog Day festivities. He is eager to get back to the city after making the report, but a storm arrives and he is stuck in Punxsutawney overnight. Only the next day he wakes up and finds it is Groundhog Day... again. And the next day, and the next day; he is stuck in the same day forever and he can never leave Punxsutawney.

Initially he exploits his knowledge of everything that’s going to happen that day for money and women, but soon enough he becomes bored and desperate and attempts to end his life. Then, finding this is impossible – every time he ‘dies’ only to wake up back in Punxsutawney on the morning of Groundhog Day – he begins to explore more meaningful ways of spending this ever-repeating day.

I am not a massive fan of Bill Murray and I have seen dining chairs less wooden than Andie MacDowell, who plays his colleague and love interest. However both of them are used to best effect in this, so don’t let that put you off. It is a film about taking control of an unwelcome situation, a triumph of the human spirit over cynicism, but not without a fair amount of comic darkness before we get there.

1.Harold & Maude

This is a beautiful film – as close to perfect as a film can get. And nothing I can say could do justice to it so if you haven’t seen it, hire it or buy it for £4.97 from Amazon.

Harold is an oppressed young man; his mother is attempting to find him a wife, his psychiatrist is attempting to cure him of his angst and his uncle is attempting to conscript him into the army. He can only imagine finding significance through death; his two past-times are staging mock-suicides for his mother to witness and attending the funerals of strangers. At one such funeral he meets Maude, a seventy-nine year old woman who declares that they’re going to be great friends before driving off in the priest’s car. At another funeral, she steals Harold’s own car, but offers him a ride in it anyway.

They do indeed become great friends and eventually lovers, Maude freeing him from his oppression; teaching him the value and vitality of life and himself. It is all very beautiful, as I say. Quirky, yet full of truth. The cast are fantastic; every performance is spot-on. It is at times very funny, and at other times very moving, without the strained tugging on our heartstrings that romances often resort to. Nor is there anything silly or especially comical about the cross-generational love affair, which is in fact entirely plausible and well... I have probably used the word beautiful once too often already, haven't I?

The soundtrack is entirely by Cat Stevens, except for a few seconds of Tchaikovsky, which is of course a joy in itself. It is a film about love and hope and life and the innate exoticism of seagulls.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

I can see clearly now the rain has gone

My period of misery is over. I could have to cope with this crap for weeks yet and let’s face it, given exactly where we are now in the year, there’s a possibility that this entire winter is going to be a write-off. If I cannot cope now when it’s not too cold, there aren’t too many bugs about and there’s Christmas to look forward to, what kind of state am I going to be in if I am this bad or worse come January? I don’t know about anybody else, but I am really getting on my nerves.

So today I have made the following resolutions:

  • I am going to go out and sit in the yard at least a couple of times a week. It occurs to me that I haven’t set a foot outside in three weeks. The lack of sunshine is not going to do my mood any good. I don’t care if I look like a lemon.
  • I am going to stop listening to Radiohead and all cello music (Barber and Elgar specifically) for at least until the end of the year. Instead I am going to listen to the Scissor Sisters and Mozart. Or perhaps not.
  • I am going to stop worrying quite so much about other people. The universe had shrunk quite a bit in the last couple of months, but I cannot afford to be consumed by what remains. I am going to try to address why it is I feel so guilty all the time.
  • I am going to apply scarlet nail-varnish to my toe-nails.
  • I am going to try to work out how I can have a reasonable life if I am stuck at this level for a while longer.
The last one is the hardest. It is approaching three months since the downturn, but that’s nothing amazing. If I thought I was actually going to be stuck at this level for a long time – like for a year or something – I think I would feel quite desperate. However, there’s not wanting to be pessimistic, and then there’s not wanting to wait and wait and every week be disappointed that I’m not a lot better (or worse, every few days feel a little improved, only to feel much worse again shortly after).

Perhaps working on the basis of having at least another month or two of this is not unreasonable. In which case I have got to stop fannying around and put a few things in place; get the wheelchair indoors, hassle [...] to help me entertain the occasional visitor and do all my Christmas shopping now on-line in the knowledge that I’m not going to be able to do any in person.

Sorry for the succession self-indulgent posts. I am working my way through this and promise that whatever I write next (unless someone dies or one of my limbs fall off) will be a little cheerier.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A kiss on the nose turns anger aside

For ages I wondered why it is that other people I know, who are often far more incapacitated than I am, manage to cope so well with long-term illness. They’re very careful, they never overdo things, and they never whinge about all the things they can’t do. The answer came to me when I was lying on the floor in the dark. The muscles of my legs had gone on strike whilst I was walking along and refused to take my weight again. So I just had to lie there until [...] found me.

I am just rubbish at being ill. I am simply bad at it. Nobody enjoys this, but other people manage it in the same way that I am a reasonable mathematician even though I don’t much like maths.

I am falling over a lot lately and it is my fault. I stay on my feet long after I ought to, because I can’t really be arsed to do one thing at a time. It is a pretty bad state of affairs when my legs give way, when they are so flooded with crap that they stop working, but my higher dose painkillers mask the build-up somewhat.

And even now as I type, I am very tired. I feel rather as if I have taken a blow to the back of my head; head hurts, neck feels about to snap and I feel like I might be sick any time soon. So looking at a computer screen isn’t exactly doing me a lot of good.

But I just get bored of playing the sick role. It is kind of like a game; doing the right thing all the time. Eating the right food at the right time. Getting plenty of rest. Gentle exercise. Taking tablets, all kinds of tablets, tablets to counteract the effects of other tablets. Going to the doctor when things change. All this is just fine when you condition is stable and you do it in order to maintain stability, but right now I feel as if it makes no difference what I do.

People say “Listen to your body” but different parts of my body are giving quite contradictory commands. Bits of me are crying out to go for a three mile run, whereas other bits of me raise violent objections to almost any physical activity and then go on strike. Bits of me want to sleep, but I don’t. I really don’t want to sleep any more.

To sleep perchance to dream; ay, there’s the rub. Or in fact yet another rub, which is that I’m having a phase of horrific nightmares where my various discomforts penetrate my dreams in violent and gruesome fashion. I dream about being strangled or hung, about my legs being mangled or eaten by animals (dogs or crabs, as a rule). One recent recurring development is the idea that when my legs are wounded, there’s no muscle inside them. Once there was nothing between my skin and bone apart from maggots, another time it was damp crumbling rotten wood.

And all this has nothing on the emotional crap I dream, which just leave me feeling wretched. Such tremendous guilt, which I don’t really understand; I do have things I feel guilty about, but my subconscious seems to think I have a number of bodies under the floorboards. The less active I am, the harder it is to shake these feelings off after I've woken up. When your dreams are highly dramatic and your life is extremely dull, the two tend to blur into one another.

So I’m feeling pretty grim just now. Again.

I feel I need to do something dynamic to change the course my life is taking just now.

But what?

Linus says “No problem is too big or too complicated that it can’t be run away from.” but this is.

Maybe my starting point should be to dismiss the characters of Charles M. Schulz as philosophical role-models.

But how?

A few good things happening this week. I have some fantastic new pillows which make me so much more comfortable and able to sit up for much longer periods of time. This ought to cheer me up a lot. I finished reading Skallagrigg which is a very good book and was quite an achievement for me. I put up an overlong review for it at Blogging Bookworms if anyone has a spare afternoon.

Agh yuck. I hate being like this.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Here comes the rain again

I spent most of the weekend catching up on my e-mail backlog, trying to put our household accounts in order, almost had it sorted and then another wave hit on Monday afternoon.

When not lying down in a darkened room, I have been mostly busying myself with what I describe as my basket-weaving activities. I have been making Christmas decorations, crackers and presents for people. Except half these projects I know I am not going to be able to finish in time, least of all because I need to be better in order to complete them. For example, I had the idea of sorting out some place-mats for my parents because they have a few from various ancient sets, never enough that match when people come round. So I bought some suitable MDF etc, only I’ve got to paint on them, properly paint. I can apply paint to stuff, but my hand-eye co-ordination is crap right now and I can’t really sit in a suitable position for any length of time. And this implies that I am a good painter when in better health, which is highly disputable.

Mostly I have been stringing beads onto wire and making Christmas decorations. Incredibly time-consuming and pointless activity, but it is a mindless distraction and at the end of the day I have material evidence of my own labours.

At some point I am going to have to come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to finish my book before the end of the year, which is a terrifically demoralising prospect. But for now I shall pretend I have more time than I do.

On a more positive note, this morning I received a photograph of my friend Mary and her fellow novices in the convent in Saint-Pern that her mother sent to me. It is the first I have seen of her about eighteen months. I hope to get some sort of note at Christmas (she’s allowed to write to her friends once a year) and it’ll be another eighteen months before I might actually see her in person again. She looks happy. She’s gone for the whole black and white look, which is very in this season.

Anyway, I made the tissue-paper crowns for the Christmas crackers (which are the campest crackers you ever did see; they are quite vulgar) but now I need some really bad jokes. So far I’ve got

Q. What’s red and really stupid?
A. A blood clot.

Monday, November 14, 2005

When I am king, you will be first against the wall

Following Marmite Boy’s Reasons to be Cheerful (not) and Lady Bracknell’s entry If Lady Bracknell Ruled The World, I thought I would have a go at world domination. My first attempt included such things as the Compulsory Vote (with option to abstain), Proportional Representation, deprivatisation of the rail industry and double council tax on second homes. But I thought these weren’t really in the spirit of the thing, so instead, here is the relatively trivial legislation my reign of tyranny would bring about.
    1. T-shirts with slogans on should be banned. There are a handful of humorous exceptions, but the vast majority of them are immensely irritating and lower the wearer in my esteem. Everything from those FCUK items through to any tight-fitting t-shirt which says Sexy! or Gorgeous! across the chest, as if labelling an item thus may effect its nature. I especially object to sexual propositions or misogynist assertions in t-shirt-form. What is that about?
    2. Everybody should adhere to a strict code of etiquette in their use of technology. When the phone rings during a television programme, either turn the television off (we have videos) or don’t answer the telephone (we have answer-machines). When guests arrive, the television on in the corner of the room is not conducive to comfort and fluid conversation – if children are present they can either bugger off, play quietly or engage in conversation like everyone else. When conducting a conversation on the phone or in person, one must resist the temptation to conduct a second conversation by text message. Technology gives us the power to do what we want, when we want. Surely we can take advantage of this such that we give each task and indeed one another, our fullest attention?
    3. All food manufacturers should be limited one layer of packaging. This is both an environmental issue and a consideration for less dextrous crips. Of course it looks nicer if it is in a box as well as being wrapped in foil or cellophane or whatever but it is essentially unnecessary. Like the packets of chocolate biscuits I have opened for my arthritic grandmother. They come in a cardboard box but inside they are wrapped in cellophane and inside the cellophane they are wrapped in paper and inside the paper they are wrapped in foil. They don’t taste any better for my efforts.
    4. A complete ban on all Women’s Magazines. In truth my dictatorship would result in greater freedom of expression than we have now, but I hate hate hate hate hate hate these publications. Typical contents of a Women’s Magazine for those who have never read one;

    1 True story - How submitting to violence saved my marriage.
    2 Eat yourself slim – how gnawing off your own leg could lose lbs overnight
    3 Recipe: Triple Chocolate Gateau
    5 Fat Cows – How being even slightly overweight makes you entirely worthless.
    8 Your man is probably cheating on you – find out with our fun quiz!
    12 Recipe: Mars Bar Fritters
    20 The Suffragette Diet – it won them the vote; it can make you a size 10
    32 Fashion - This season’s ninety-seven must-have items that you can't afford
    52 Beauty Feature - This week, anti-aging creams for the under-12s.
    84 Made-up Problems - Are you too suffering with this thing we just made up?
    136 Love Feature - Blackmail your way up the aisle
    220 Recipe: Lard chunks with a sunflower-oil dip
    356 You’re probably a neurotic bitch-troll from hell – find out with our fun quiz!
    576 Money Feature - How to defraud credit card applications
    932 Careers - We talk to a feisty woman who has a job, but really bad skin.
    1508 Health - The ten diseases most likely to kill you.
    2440 Sex Feature - How to fake a mind-blowing orgasm!
    3948 Horroscope - Your life isn’t your own; it’s in the hand of the stars.

    They really are
    that bad. Please double the amount of pornography produced if the shevles need filling; it is significantly less demeaning to women.

Sigh. Ah well, got that out of my system. Can't really think of anything else. Really very tolerant type, me. This despite the fact that I've had a tiny tiny bead rolling around under the keys of this keyboard, jamming keys at random (well not quite random - it seemed particularly keen on vowels and backspace). Aagh!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

We'll drink, we'll drink, we'll drink

I am actually feeling a lot better today so thought I must share this fact with you. Yesterday I thought I was going spontaneously combust, I was so ill and fed up. That is an odd way of putting it but there it is. This morning, perhaps partly thanks to a rather rude awakening, I am feeling much more positive and happy. And indeed, my brain seems to have engaged.

Need your advice please. Last night, after feeling so sorry for myself for the preceding forty-eight hours or so I decided to make a list of resolutions that may speed up my recovery or at least reduce my state of misery at this time.

One of the problems I have is a killer sore throat and a terrific thirst – it is difficult to differentiate between the two. First thing in the morning, it is too painful to speak and I am thirsty all the time. I drink a pint or two of fluid every hour, not much caffeine at all. And naturally, I’m often up and down needing the loo.

One of the drinks I have a lot of is Ribena because it is very easy to make and it is very soothing on my throat. Unfortunately, I am kind of aware that this isn’t actually going to help much with hydration – all that sugar is going to irritate my kidneys and make me pee more, so I’m going to be more thirsty. Like in diabetes.

The only other things which are soothing for my throat are alcohol – which is even worse from this perspective - and Camomile tea. Unsweetened camomile tea is really very soothing to the throat but even that is a diuretic. And anything I drink, I drink in quantity, because I need so much. Sucking sweets is no good as I have a mouth ulcer issue. During The Sinister Case of the Ever-Expanding Bosom last year, the doctor suggested sucking on a lemon in order to abate my thirst, but that doesn’t help my throat much and just because I tested clear for one condition (diabetes) this does not mean that my thirst - such thirst - does not have a physiological cause. It isn't comfort-drinking and I can't imagine, given everything else that is going on, that this one symptom is psychosomatic.

So, does anybody have any idea of something I can drink which is not high in sugar or any other diuretic, but is soothing for the throat? Most of the time, this is a minor issue, but just now trips to the kitchen and loo are using up a great proportion of what little energy I have. Any suggestions much appreciated.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

You got your Mother in a whirl; She's not sure if your a boy or a girl.

transvest, tranz-vest', v.t. and v.i. to dress onself in the clothes of another, esp. of the opposite sex.-adj. transvest'ic.-n. and adj. transvestite (-vest'-it), (one) given to this.-ns. transvest'ism; tranvest'itism. [Pfx.trans-, and L. vestis-vestire, vestitum, to dress; cf. travesty.]

So says my
Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary (1974 edition). I know perhaps a writer ought to possess a dictionary published within her own lifetime, but I like to read words such Frisbee, econut and pneumothorax in the Supplement.

Of course, in a modern dictionary the word
gender would presumably replace the word sex. Sex is now understood as a purely biological identity; what you have in your pants and your chromosomes, your maleness or femaleness.Gender is the societal construct of masculinity and feminity so dress comes firmly under this.

Even so, some people believe that nature plays a part in what we wear, that for example women are predetermined to be very much invested in their physical appearance whereas men have more important things to think about. Such speculation is made in the context of the last hundred and fifty years where the pinnacle of masculine fashion has been, quite literally, uniformity. Both my grandfathers, all four great grandfathers and indeed a few of my great great grandfathers were soldiers or sailors at some time in their lives. During peacetime, men began to wear a different sort of uniform; the suit and tie or the dinner jacket and bow tie. For millennia women have been complaining that all men are the same, but it is really only in the last two centuries that we have begun to dress them this way.

Before then and throughout much of history, men and women have been more or less equally concerned with self-ornamentation: clothes, jewellery, make-up and defoliation. And indeed there have been periods where modesty was such a highly valued virtue in women that we dressed very plainly and men were comparative peacocks. Such cultures arguably exist elsewhere in the world today.

Modern Western man, it seems, embraces the idea that evolution compels him to compete in all areas of life from the football pitch to the corridors of power, but conveniently ignores the fact that this competition is about sexual selection. Thus what a chap looks like, how he dresses and grooms himself, may be of far more importance to any potential mate than whether he can beat his mate Barry at darts. Yet many men pride
themselves on a total and absolute disinterest in their appearance.

For heterosexual women, this must be a great tragedy because there is rarely anything nice to look at. Meanwhile, women feel that so much of their innate value is tied up in their attractiveness to men that many of us spend a great deal of energy and endure considerable discomfort in order to comply to an entirely artificial standard of beauty – something which has very little to do with sexual attraction. If it was all about sexual stimulus, far fewer of us would be on a diet and none of us would shave our armpits.

Men suffer a greater tragedy because they are allowed even less room for self-expression through dress. As a woman, I am allowed to wear clothes designed and manufactured for men. Men’s socks, for example, are a better wearing design for less expense and come in sedate colours rather than multicoloured stripes or infantile cartoons. Men’s boxer-shorts are superior to the thong if one wishing to avoid a visible panty-line. Men’s shirts, if bought several times too large, are far cheaper and more practical than ladies’ night-dresses. I can confess to such deviation without inviting any doubt over my femininity.

However when a man prefers texture, fit or even the sensation of constraint in ladies clothing, he is considered rather odd. Why? Women’s clothes are sold on texture, because we enjoy touching things which are silky, velvety, lacey, we enjoy colour, shininess and sparkle. However, this stuff has an appeal to all of us. Women like looking at it and touching it and men like looking at it and touching it. Why, then, are women the only ones allowed to wear it?

Of course modern masculinity is largely defined by being all that is not feminine, whereas femininity has always been slightly more pragmatic. I have never really understood the common use of the word ‘effeminate’ to refer to men who do not conform to the construct. 'Camp' men are nothing like women at all. Julian Clary or Graham Norton are not like any women I have ever met. Campness, male homosexuality and all associated eccentricities are an integral part of masculinity; gay men are not
women with dingle-dangles. Yet the idea that they are, perpetuates straight male fears of losing his masculinity through the slighest frivolity.

The very idea that transvestism or a particular interest in clothes is indicative of homosexuality is ridiculous anyway. Many gay men I know have dabbled in drag, but in a very public way, as a joke, a play on expectations I suppose. I can’t imagine many gay man being turned-on by wearing women’s underwear for example, because he has probably spent a lifetime of almost total disinterest in women's underwear, unlike many of his straight counterparts.

I don’t mean to suggest that all straight men want to dress up in women’s clothing only that it would by no means be against nature
if they did. It is certainly not against nature that many men wish to dress in an attractive way. My Mum actually threw out my Dad's cuban heels because she felt they made him look effeminate. [...] gets a lot of leg-pulling from my culturally conservative family because he likes to dress up full stop. Not in women’s clothes particularly, but just so he looks nice. Fortunately we live in Whitby where it is okay to dress up as a vampire or a pirate or whatever the heck you like without provoking comment.

During Goth weekend it is possible to play a game where you sit in a pub and guess the sex of each person who walks in. I must admit I did laugh inside once when talking to one beautiful lady Goth with a very deep voice in a Wakefield accent and an Adam’s apple. I asked her what she did for a living and she said “Tree Surgeon.” In my head I found myself singing He cuts down trees, he wears high-heels, suspenders and a bra…

And I must issue a word of caution. When a person has dressed according to the conventions of his gender for years and years and he begins to explore his full identity for the first time through dress, he is perhaps better off doing it behind closed doors as opposed to on the seafront at Brighton. I know that Adrian and indeed the people of Brighton would want me to post this picture here, if only as a warning to others. And anyway, he can’t complain too bitterly when it’s already on-line.

Anyway, I have now perhaps detracted from the sincere point I was trying to make, which was that we should all cast off conventions of dress and express ourselves fully as individuals, regardless of gender or sexuality. But I have kind of lost my thread now...