Friday, September 30, 2005

We skipped the light fandango

I can't write much at the moment as I am rather poorly. So instead I thought I would express myself through the medium of art with yonder self-portrait. You'll be pleased to I am actually slightly more colourful than this, but it isn't so easy to paint with a mouse. Shall write when I can.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

There's a fog along the horizon

Cognitive dysfunction really gets me down. It is not the same as fatigue, which is a monster in itself and something most people don’t experience until they have full-blown ’flu’. Fatigue is like a lead weight in the top of your skull. It weighs on every thought and slows your entire body down. It is unrelenting, unlike tiredness which comes and goes and improves with sleep and rest. But its principle effect is straight-forward, as if your brain is running on Low Battery. And if you have it for years and years, your expectations fall and you have a new concept of ‘tired’ which is what everyone else might refer to as ‘exhausted beyond comprehension’.

Cognitive dysfunction is more complicated. For example, today I can’t spell. Word (where I am typing just now) is underlining about every third word I write in read. If I typed this in Blogger without a spell-check, it would probably be illegible because I wouldn’t notice my mistakes. I am usually a pretty good speller and I am usually a very fast typist. I can speed read. But not today. Today the English language is a strange and complicated tool. As you can imagine, this is taking me ages to write.

But there’s not a whole lot else I can do. I had an order arrive from a craft catalogue, but I can’t remember what the heck I was going to do with the stuff that I have bought. This should come back to me, but it is disappointing because I know I was looking forward to getting the stuff. I had been trawling the craft catalogues. Panduro have discontinued Luminous Stiffy. Panduro are a Swedish company, you see. You could spray Luminous Stiffy on stuff to make it luminous and well, stiff. I never bought any but it made me titter. Like the hobby of Teabag Folding, right up to the point where you learn what it actually entails.

Having a brain that doesn't work brings me down much faster than having a body that doesn't work. I am my brain. When it fucks up, I am fucked up. One of my earliest memories, my earliest memory of terror, was when it occurred to me that all the person I was had little to do with my body or any part of me I could see. It occurred to me that there was no good reason why I didn't float out of my body and find myself in someone else's head, someone with a different Mummy and Daddy, someone starving in Ethopia for example. I remember this occurred to me whilst on our way to pick Rosemary up from primary school, so I must have been about three at the time. I began to cry but couldn't explain what was wrong and couldn't stop crying.

I imagine that if I could put this in a different way, everyone would think, "Oh yeah, I remember thinking that" and I wouldn't prove to be the only toddler who ever underwent an existential crisis.

However, clearly, I am still here. I am still myself. Even if I am a somewhat dyslexic version of myself who managed address a parcel to Leiceiceicestershire this morning. There is really little difference whether the dodgy mechanics are in my head or in my body. I really ought not to take this so badly.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Lessons I have learnt about writing novels - The Premise

Last week w1ld child asked if I had any advice about writing novels. I shall therefore attempt to impart some of what I have learnt so far.

The first point is that you have to want to write. If you only like the idea of having written a novel, then you probably ought to put your energies into something else. I have been writing for fun ever since I could string a sentence together on paper and I have been making up stories for even longer. This doesn’t mean I am necessarily any good at it, but it does demonstrate that this is something I find enjoyable and therefore relatively easy to do. Writing a novel is a hell of a lot of work and if you have to squeeze every word out of yourself and onto the page, you’re probably better off doing something you actually like doing.

The second point is that obviously, you have to have an idea, a premise. This doesn’t have to be anything very complicated, profound or especially original. Often people who can and want to write waste their time waiting for some genius idea to float in through the window. However, you can do complicated, profound and original further down the line.

An idea may just be a question - this is the way I always think. Something like “What I found out that the old man across the road was a Nazi war criminal?” For some reason this pops into my head, probably because of the death of Simon Wiesenthal last week.

This leads on to other questions like, how would I find out? How would I react? How would the guy react? And obviously you’ve got all number of ways in which such a situation could be resolved. You confront him and he kills himself. You confront him and he murders you. You blackmail him and buy financial solvency with your silence. There are many other directions this could go of course, but you see my point.

Ideas like this pop up all the time. Recently the wonderful Vaughan who is a much better writer than me wrote a rather lovely blog entry about travelling on the Tube concluding

I want to secretly leave notes for people travelling on the London Underground, tucked inbetween the seat cushions. A way of communicating in this never-sleeping city.

Talk about a gift! What if you found such a message? Anyone with any imagination can see how such a scenario could lead to a poetic if contrived romance, in which as if by fate, a beautiful stranger happens to find the message and find it so enchanting that he or she seeks out the author, believing Vaughan to be their soul-mate. This could end happily or with some great (preferably violent) disillusionment.

Or it could be that Vaughan leaves a series of profound messages so that various characters undergoing crises in their lives pick them up and find the answer to their questions. This would be perhaps even more contrived, so maybe you could pick on just one such character and obviously the message should be fairly cryptic and take a bit of interpretation before the answer became clear.

Or it could be that Vaughan is in some sort of trouble, but under the constant surveillance of some bad guys of some description (government agents, gangsters, aliens or whatever) and his only way of asking for help is to write these notes and slip them down the between the seat cushions on the Tube.

You can probably think of many more, hopefully far more sensible ideas, but you see what I am getting at. All you really need to get started is a hypothetical question that you're interested in answering. Hopefully everything falls into place from there.

The third point is two pronged; write what you know and write what you want. Writing what you know does not mean that you must write about characters just like yourself and your friends doing the job you do and living in the place you do – unless you can make yourself, your friends and your work seem like the most fascinating subject on Earth, this is probably ill-advised. It is more about emotional experiences and aspects of the human condition which you know something about and crucially have something to say about. This may sound a little “deep” for someone writing a thriller, but I think it must apply across the board.

This is the most essential ingredient really. It helps to be able to write about familiar things – it would be very hard for me to write about the adventures of an accountant living in New York because I know nothing about accountancy and I have never been to New York. However, if what I had to say depended on my main character being an accountant in New York, then I would have to make this happen somehow. I could learn something about accountancy through research and I could watch loads of movies and read lots of book set in New York such that I could almost imagine having been there. But I would have to understand the character of my accountant as I understand my closest friend. Otherwise, I would come across as a fake.

Thought for The Day

Sometimes people may point to a flower and say, "How can you look at this thing, which is so perfect, so orderly and yet so beautiful and believe that it is the product of random events and not created by the mind of God?"

But because I understand the science of evolution and see evidence for this science all around and indeed, inside myself, I just cannot believe that an omniscient, ominipotent and benevolent creator God did any more than set the ball rolling - if that.

However, when in my fatigue, I forget to put in a Tesco order, run out of milk and am forced to use powdered milk in my Earl Grey tea for a twenty-four hour period, I am left without a doubt that there is a supernatural force of Evil at work in the world today.

I have just added two new links:

Rolls Eyes is Ouch regular Justin R's new blog.

Clausentum Photography is my sister's new platform for wedding photography in the New Forest area. She is very good. On the off chance that you or someone you know is planning to get married in the New Forest, do check her out. I know this is a rather silly place to advertise such a service but you never know who may be passing through. You can also buy a print of the flower at the top there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Rage Against The Machine

Thanks ever so much for your support, guys. It's really great to have people who understand my frustrations, who I can talk to without feeling I'm letting the side down and at the same time give objective advice instead of drowning me in tea and sympathy. Much appreciated.

Yesterday was a wipe-out and today is going to be rough because I have a bump on my head. It’s bad enough getting random bruises everywhere, but I woke up yesterday morning and felt a sharp twinge when I turned my head quickly. When I felt my head there was a tender lump an inch or so behind my ear.

I once developed a black-eye in my sleep, but I did have a good idea as to how I attained it. The bump has no logical explanation, Captain. Unfortunately, whilst mildly distracting yesterday, it has wrecked my sleep. The pain has kind of spread into the muscles of my neck and I can’t get comfortable. A new version of not being able to get comfortable.

Never mind, the Benefits Agency kindly phoned up in order to give me an entity to transfer my frustrations onto. I'm not in trouble, it's just I'm not allowed to do anything such as write any more articles I am paid for from now on for the next eighteen months. Why? Well, in summary because it's not conducive to getting me into full-time employment. Severely disabled people (their definition) either can work, in which case they can be eased into full time employment (although one wonders how they qualified as incapacitated in the first place), or they are compelled to do nothing. What’s more, I have to put my intentions (i.e. to do what I have to do) in writing and they’re hassling me for not filling in a form that I didn’t think applied to me.

Now what was that rhetoric about giving opportunities to disabled people? Uh, no. Opportunities for those disabled people who really ought not to have been on incapacity-related benefits in the first place, maybe. Jobcentre Plus isn’t a rehabilitative program. Of course there are arguably a group of disabled people who would be able to work if certain fears are addressed, support given and flexibility applied – but these things ought to have happened much earlier, these folks were never actually incapacitated for work by ill health and impairment, only prevented from working by inadequate provision.

The rules that are effecting me are actually meant for those people who are up to holding down a part-time job but can do no more. After six months, you must either stop or carry on with a view to increasing your hours to full-time (which you have an extension of six months to do). I wrote a single article, which counted as four weeks work, but initiated this six month countdown as if I was doing this constantly.

It’s irritating that this counts for me, because I am penalised for occasional work like this and as I say, it’ll be another eighteen months until I’m allowed to do it again. Add to this, the irony that actually folks on Incapacity Benefit and SDA can earn up to twenty quid a week for an indefinite period. And because I am on Income Support, I was only allowed to keep twenty quid for every week I ‘worked’ anyway. However, even if I had just done six months’ part-time work and got to keep every penny (up to £78 a week), this still wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

Incapacity Benefit and SDA are not means-tested benefits - you qualify even if you're stinking rich and have a healthy income from another source such as a private pension. So what’s wrong with allowing people in these circumstances the opportunity to increase their quality of life and contribute to the economy?

These are people who very often will not work again because their conditions are never going to get better and are very often going to get worse. But debilitating as that is, this doesn’t mean that they are rendered totally useless, nor do they automatically lose the desire to maintain some level of self-sufficiency and participation in society.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I feel my luck could change

I had my… seventh physiotherapy appointment this afternoon, I have only managed to attend two so far and this time it was the physiotherapist who phoned in sick. Fantastic! I fear this whole experiment is doomed; the particular guy I was seeing was only on a six-week secondment to Whitby. Bugger.

And today it hurts a lot. I am going to have to make another one of those trips to the doctor where I try to ask for a higher dose of painkiller without sounding like a wimp. Added to what I hope is only an increased tolerance to the medicine, my lymph-nodes have been up, my throat sore and my temperature all over the place for over week now and it’s getting worse. This is a dangerous time of year for me, much as I love the autumn. Here is a lovely picture taken in the Lake District last autumn by my genius yet ginger brother-in-law Adrian Taylor. I was there and it was that lovely.

I hate the up and down nature of my illness – it is the worst element. It makes it very difficult not to be anxious about my health because if I relapse now it could mean a crappy week or a crappy month or it could be Christmas before I’m back to where I am now. Of course, I can’t do much about it anyway so I really shouldn’t worry, but the uncertainty of the situation is intrinsically stressful. I would have to be in denial not to be just a little bit nervous.

Still I have been reading about Buddhism and disability, in particular the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is a physiological event, a combination of electrical and chemical activity. Pain only becomes suffering, the theory goes, when the mind thinks that it shouldn’t be happening, when the mind resists what is a natural and inevitable part of our experience. I am too tired to discuss why this might be a useful concept, but I think it might.

I owe a great number of letters and e-mails so please bear with me. Thanks to everyone who voted in my poll – wowza - I hope to be modelling the results for you at the end of the week.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mind-Blowing Decisions

I am stuck. I need a new cardigan. I had one but I gave it to the charity shop accidently on purpose. But I can't decide which one. I like this one and I like this one too and two would be excessive and beyond my means. Purple or blue. Blue or purple. What do you think? I am really struggling with decisions at the moment but it's getting progressively cold. I've already got me legwarmers on.

Both cardigans are from Funky Ware and are of course Fair Trade. I mean, capitalist dogs don't make clothes like this. Following the success of my previous poll (the results of which I am um, yet to act upon), I thought I would leave it to you. This time I will do what you tell me. I think. Probably. I'll also only leave it a few days because as I said, it's getting right parky.

(I'm not just asking you for a filler or because I like running polls - I honestly can't make up my mind and I've been tyring to come to a decision all week).

Which cardigan should I buy?
The Really Funky Blue One
The Really Funky Purple One
Neither You Tree-Hugging Lentil-Munching Patchouli-Scented Hippy!

Stone In Love

I decided to write about this, since it is such a big story both in terms of Disability and The Arts.

Trafalgar Square, as you really ought to know, was built to commemorate our victory over the French in the Battle of Trafalgar. The Square was to display statues of five British heroes;

Lord Nelson (whose column stands in the centre)

Henry Havelock and Charles James Napier (two random military bigwigs, nothing to do with Trafalgar, but they were involved in various conquests in Pakistan and India)

George IV
(the most unpopular monarch since Richard III, but King at the time of Trafalgar)

William IV
(the most unheard-of monarch since King Gerald-The-Pepperpot, but coming to the throne when Trafalgar Square was close to completion)

Actually, I have a great affection for William IV or “Sailor Bill” because he sounds like a jolly decent chap and is the one that everyone forgets when they recite the Kings and Queens of England since 1066. But alas funding ran out and his statue was never completed. So the fourth plinth stood empty for a hundred and fifty years.

Since 1999, the Royal Society of the Arts has been commissioning contemporary work to occupy this space, usually for a year or eighteen months. Contemporary art is and always has been controversial; it is the nature of the beast. But few people are criticising the lasted work, a sculpture reminiscent of the Classical style, for it’s artistic value.

This sculpture is of Allison Lapper, a modern artist by another artist Marc Quinn. People feel scandalised by this statue because:

  • She’s a woman. Any representation of the female form was going to be controversial. There are still people in this country who believe the only statues of women should be of Queen Victoria or the Virgin Mary – two characters of equal sanctity in their minds. Think about it. You know these people exist.
  • She’s naked. Traditionalists would argue than neither Nelson, Havelock, Napier or George IV were ever naked at any point during their lives ever. Nudity simply isn’t the British thing to do. And remember, public nudity is a punishable offence on the grounds of causing fear and alarm.
  • She’s pregnant. Ew! Pregnant! Too much information! Roughly 30,000 women lose their jobs every year because they get the ridiculous idea that it is possible to combine procreation with employment. Their heads must be full of sugar and spice instead of cerebral tissue!

  • She’s disabled.
This is also the first time that a human statue has been on the Fourth Plinth, so another argument goes that, in the spirit of the Square, we ought to have a national hero up there. Like who? Well, a war hero of course! War…. Hero…. Well the only person I can think of who has come out of conflict in a good light during my lifetime is Simon Weston. Of course he’s disabled too and not nearly so pretty as Ms Lapper.

Now, if this was to be installed permanently, I think we’d have to think very hard about it, but for an eighteen month period? How can anyone argue against it? It makes an excellent choice on account of the fact;
  • She’s a woman. There are very few women among the statues of London and it is only this year that we finally erected a memorial to the Women of World War II. Despite the warnings of berks like Buerk, women are underrepresented in almost every area of public life. Just look at our government, our Labour government whose cabinet consists of six women and seventeen men.

  • She’s pregnant, naked and strong. I could right a thesis on the importance of this. Suffice to say British women are pretty messed up when it comes to asserting control over our own bodies and reproductive autonomy. This is a lady who made a choice. When one in four pregnancies are ending in termination and God knows how many others are being kept when they are not wanted, it’s about time the rest of us followed suit, one way or another.
  • She’s disabled and beautiful. Well, you can work that one out.
I now have to recount a conversation I had about this with [...], who opts out of current affairs.

Goldfish : Someone suggested a statue of Nelson Mandela. I mean, he’s not British but he is an international hero and the fourth plinth is right outside South Africa House.
[...] : Yeah, but that would be terribly provocative.
Goldfish : Who to?
[...] : The South Africans
Goldfish: Why?
[...] : Well they’re not going to want a statue of Nelson Mandela sitting outside their embassy.
Goldfish: Why not? They did elect him president and everything.
[...] : Did they?
Goldfish: Yeah, ’cause like, Apartheid’s over now.
[...] :Oh right. Well then yeah, that’s a good idea I suppose.

Do you think I should bother telling him about the Berlin Wall as well?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Climbing Up The Walls

The four walls are creeping in on me just now. It’s been two weeks since I last left the house and… three, maybe four since I went out on non-medical related business. The time creeps up a bit. It is actually a good sign when I feel it at two weeks; means I’m not so bad. When I work it out and it’s been six or seven and I’ve only just noticed, I know I’ve been very ill. Well, both you and I know that I’m not very ill because I’m keeping this up pretty well just now. But it’s still been two weeks.

Of course it’s all relative. I know people who have been literally in the same room for a year. And others who get cabin fever after a weekend stuck indoors.

Now I’m getting excited/ panicked/ nauseous about my book again. During yet another troublesome night I began to go through (despite my conviction that I would leave it alone for a few days) and got through editing the first seven thousand words within a reasonable margin of satisfaction. As in, done and dusted.

I found my first major inconsistency. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had my protagonist’s parents living in Cornwall. This is an important fact for all sorts of reasons. However, within the second chapter I found a few sentences indicating that they were in a different time zone. Bugger.

I suppose it’s not major, but I hadn’t expected to find such a bloomer so early on in the book. I know there will be others and probably much worse; I’m just praying there’s nothing nearly so bad as the ones that turned up in my first draft.

I’m also having difficulty sorting out chapters. I naturally write in sections or scenes; stories are like that. But these vary greatly in size, sometimes as little as a thousand words, sometimes as long as three or four thousand. If I called each of these a chapter, I would probably have a book of fifty odd chapters! I could divide these scenes into larger chapters but even with this, unless I ignore what’s going on in the story at the time, I struggle to make such chapters even vaguely consistent lengths.

On top of this is the issue of naming chapters. It is terribly old fashioned, but a big part of me desperately wants to entitle every chapter. One of the favourite books of my childhood was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. I love that book for so many reasons, but one great thing about it and other books from that period is that the chapter titles are so very exciting such as I Run a Great Danger in the House of Shaws or The Flight In The Heather: The Heugh of Corrynakiegh.

I can’t be as close as I feel to finishing. I still have masses to do. And why does it make me feel like throwing up when I think about a time when it will all be done? I don’t understand that at all. I suppose it is a matter of what will I do then? And if it turns out, as it well might, that what I have written is rubbish or okay but nobody will publish it, then what the fuck am I going to do? What am I going to do with my life if the one avenue which might have made things okay is blocked off to me?

Hmm, sorry, I know. If this fails, I must try again or think of something else. There are a lot of opportunities in basket-weaving. I could work from home, weaving baskets and selling them on eBay. Baskets which attach to wheelchairs or mobility scooters perhaps. Or I could learn a bit more about computers and conduct major banking fraud from the comfort of my bed. Or perhaps I could invent something like, I don’t know, an ergonomic toothbrush.

For the time being, I certainly need to get out more.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Sometimes when I refer to my novel, I feel a fake. There are many days when little to no progress is achieved, sometimes weeks where nothing happens. Part of me feels like I've barely started with all I have to do.

So today I did a wordcount.

In fairness, it is still a big mess. I am going to leave it for a few days and then come back and work through the whole thing, tidying it up, rewriting bits that need rewriting. There are still bits I haven't written, but I don't want it to be much longer than this. 100,000 words is an effective doorstop as it is, especially as the first draft was about 75,000 (do did that happen?).

The word "fuck" appears 54 times. I have to do something about that.

In other news, I was forced to cancel my second acupuncture/ physiotherapy appointment. Next time, if I'm ill again, I will be kicked off the books. The reception didn't put it quite like that, but it is fair enough. Perhaps I'm just not well enough to do it just now. Which is depressing, because I actually feel like I'm doing all right except for the pain, yet it's not the pain that has stopped me going. I've had six physiotherapy appointments since mid-August and I've managed to attend two. And it was my idea, I asked for the referral.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tragedy equals Comedy minus Timing

Last night I finished The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I expected it to be depressing. I thought it might be quite self-indulgent in the way veiled autobiographies often are, especially veiled autobiographies involving mental illness. However, in the end I found it funny more than anything else.

Oscar Wilde said something along the lines that a work of art (art in its widest sense) can’t be moral or immoral, it is either effective or ineffective. Because ultimately, art is a mirror. It tells us something about ourselves. So what the heck does it say about me, chuckling away to a book in which a young women descends into madness, first published a month before the author killed herself? Do I have a really sick sense of humour?

No, it was funny. The character of the narrator and protagonist was funny, with her bizarre romanticism (aspiring to collect male acquaintances with exotic names), her sexual frustration, her preoccupation with her own unfulfilled greatness, her inability to be truly ‘good’ like her prissy friends, or truly ‘bad’ like the vulgar Doreen, whose every word “was like a secret voice speaking out of my bones”. She treats everyone else with both disdain and admiration – although she rarely expresses any of this out loud. She desperately wants to be normal and happy but has a very limited view about what that means. She is a Bridget Jones with a high IQ and dodgy brain chemistry.

And her unhappiness is comic. When desperation sinks in, she is totally hapless in her attempts to escape from home or write her novel. Before she makes what might be considered an asserted effort at suicide, she makes pathetic, really laughable, gestures towards it, which she takes so very, very seriously.

The funniest thing about depression is that you do take it so damn seriously. I mean, often there is something, something at the root of it which you really ought to take seriously. But you wind up taking everything seriously, including yourself and all your ridiculous behaviour. Suffice to say that my elaborate plan to drown myself in a duck pond in the middle of the day, or to persuade a taxi-driver to drop me off on the tallest bridge in Suffolk, no questions asked, seem pretty funny to me now. Especially as I tried to exercise them both in the same afternoon, visiting a church in between (just to check there was no God) and doing a lot of walking round. This resulted in an immediate relapse in my physical health that put me in bed for two months solid. And this when it was my physical health that was making me so desperate in the first place… Come on, that is a bit funny, surely? I mean, who thinks about drowning in a duck pond anyway?

I supposed I can laugh quite easily at this because it was a long time ago, I was a teenager at the time and whilst at the time it seemed like the most dramatic incident in the history of everything, well, I just hadn’t been born. But even last year, when I went loopy, it was quite funny. It was the most terrifying thing that ever happened to me. It wasn’t Plath’s Bell Jar. If the Bell Jar surrounding her had shattered and great shards of glass had fallen in on her, then that would have been closer to my experience.

However, my paranoia was, in a sense, a comedy of errors. For a start, there was discussion of my ‘crisis’ going on behind my back – I know that for sure now – just not nearly to the extent I imagined. So there were people revealing information that they shouldn’t, to my knowledge, have known. And then was the fact that I had a brain like mud and I didn’t know what I’d said to whom. I would often demand of someone, “How do you know that? Who told you that?!” only for them to reply “You did. Just now.”

Then there was my central delusion; the idea that my every thought was being leaked or projected out of my brain. This sounds funny by itself even though, my God, can you imagine it? My only way to describe this experience is if someone took all the sexual thoughts you ever had – but especially the really odd ones, the stuff you don’t yourself feel too comfortable about – made them into a graphic film and then broadcast this film on the television sets of everybody you knew. Everybody. Not just close friends and family, but everyone, your postman, your colleagues, your teachers from school, and of course, everyone who had ever featured in any of your fantasies. And they can’t turn their sets off.

This wasn’t quite what I imagined, but I was pretty sure that all my thoughts were leaking out and thus, everybody knew everything – they might as well have publicly broadcast my innermost everything.

Shame is not the word. Terror barely touches it. But it is kind of funny. I mean, really. I shuffle away from people who read their Horoscopes and yet I fell for this? Ha!

[It was a virus, apparently. Story of my life. It’s bad enough that every time I have a new and distressing symptom the GP feels my perpetually swollen lymph nodes and says, “It’s a virus.” Didn’t expect the bloody shrink to pull that one! My brain swole up, she said, blurring the lines. Hmm, the lines. Blurred. Fine.]

Perhaps I find humour in this stuff because the human situation is inherently comical. Our minds do not behave consistently with the reality of our lives. All sustained emotional distress is ironic, but then arguably so is contentment. We are programmed to fear death above all things and yet it is the one absolute certainty about our existence. At the same time, our minds have the capacity to turn upon us and consider death long before we've exhausted every other possibility. It is, after all, the last thing you do.

There's nothing much funny about Sylvia Plath killing herself at the age of thirty. One of the main sources of her unhappiness was the sense of being unable to fulfil a potential that she knew to be immense. And all that nonsense about sex, about men and women, marriage and babies. We may be destined to screw one another up just a little bit, but it's nothing worth dying for. Not nearly.

Suicide is really a lot of bad luck.

But if you can't laugh...

Poker Metaphors

My diet of Americana is taking it's toll. I have never played poker. I don't even begin to understand the rules. More a chess girl me. Or Scrabble. But here I am at a very crucial stage of my novel using poker-related metaphors.

Is this okay? I mean, gambling is one great big metaphor that can be applied to most decision-making and poker involving an element of deception... No, no, poker will not do. I am English for Jingo's sake! And I live in Yorkshire. If I want to gamble I make bets on whippets.

Jennifer decided to back Buster, the rather mangy whippet with a limp and half an ear missing and so she decided to meet John and hope nothing would happen. John, on the other hand, put all his money on Tiddles, a pedigree whippet with a taste for rabbit. By eck and hell, as like as maybe, 'appen by fireside. Tiddles won and Buster had a massive cardiac arrest half way down the track. Only when Jennifer woke up in John's bed the next morning did she remember the limp and realise her mistake.

Okay, poker it is.

And I don't have any characters called Jennifer and John and nobody ends up in bed together in case you were worried. I was just testing the water.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I want to rock your gypsy soul

Today I am mostly listening to Moondance by Van Morrison which I bought on eBay for £2.74 including postage. When this sort of thing happens I am tempted to leave feedback along the lines; “Excellent seller, fast despatch, but rubbish taste in music.” How could anyone have parted with this piece of sublime loveliness for £2.74? It’s not quite Astral Weeks but it is rather special.

I have been writing, writing and um, writing some more. I spoke to my paternal Granny, which is always good impetus. She’s okay just now, doing quite well in fact. Today was the first time I’ve called up in about six months and it sounded like she had been awake before the phone rang. Even still, I have this fear that she might die before I finish the thing. She won’t much approve of what I’ve written - especially on the subject of religion in general and Catholicism in particular - and she won’t like all the swearing and sexual references. But she will enjoy reading it nevertheless and she has been such a support and encouragement to me. Less conditionally so than my folks.

My maternal grandfather would have been similarly delighted. He was a builder who had bookshelves full of Hemingway and D H Lawrence. He also wrote really bad poetry (I mean, terrifically bad poetry), mostly about family events. Rosie’s GCSE results, my uncle’s new car. He wrote a poem accusing me of stealing his favourite gnome, although in truth I was only one among several conspirators. And he always had somewhat exaggerated faith in my abilities. My paternal Granny recounts that during the last conversation they shared, he declared that I would be the next female prime-minister.

Talking of Rosie’s GCSE results (I wasn’t really, was I?), I thought I should share with you the fact that my sister’s GCSE Music Group got a 100% A-C pass rate. She was the only teacher in the school to achieve this – the overall average was only 55%. So that’s excellent, really, isn’t it? I'd say it's bloody marvellous.

Sleep is still a bit dodgy, but last I moved into the living room around five and watched the fish. Klutz and Schmuck were doing their fishy love dance and in the half-light looked like a ball of black flame swirling about. Lucky sat in a corner of the tank facing the other way, looking absolutely mortified at his parents’ behaviour.

Since I haven’t mentioned the fish in ages, you should be reminded that Klutz and Schmuck are six-year-old black moors and Lucky is the miracle that is their offspring. Miracle because for the first five years Klutz and Schmuck paid no attention to one another; they ate and they grew fat. They grew so fat that they needed a bigger tank, at which point they became sexual beings and started chasing one another around and laying eggs. However, every time they laid eggs, they would eat them all up. Once in a while you’d see the odd fry, whose egg they’d missed, but they it would get swallowed up within a day or two. Lucky was the one that got away. It took him about four months to get to a size where he is too big for them to gobble; every time you looked up at the tank you were sure he was about to get caught. Now six months old, he is still about a sixth of the size of either of his folks but he can now boldly swim beside them.He is not so fancy looking as his parents, but I think he is significantly more intelligent.

Changing the subject completely once again, if anyone has a genuine interest in forensic pathology and the like, check out the Virtual Autopsy at the University of Leicester. Be warned; this is not for the faint hearted or those who have eaten in the last hour, but an interesting resource. I have learnt more useless information in the course of researching my book that I learnt in ten years at school.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Bearing My Soul

Today I cleared out the contents of my handbags. Having a bit of a morbid imagination, when I do this sort of thing I often wonder what they’d think if I disappeared under mysterious circumstances and started looking for clues in my belongings. When I say things like this out loud, [...] tends to ask me “What planet are you on?”

Like last week when I received a tape from Amelia. The tape was completely unmarked and when I tipped it out of the jiffy-bag the accompanying card did not fall out. So for a moment I thought, “Shit. Someone’s sent me a completely unmarked tape and I have no way of knowing who it is until I listen to it. Is one of my friends or associates in deep trouble, recorded evidence of some international outrage and arranged for it to be sent to me in case of their death or capture? If I stick it in the machine will it be some familiar voice saying, “By the time you hear this, I’ll be dead…”? Or “Your mission, if you chose to accept it…”? Or am I being stalked and someone’s sent me a tape of heavy breathing?”

This is the way my imagination works. And when I vocalise this [...] says, “What planet are you on?”

Anyway, I thought I would bear my soul, or to be more accurate the contents of my handbags to you, so you can play at being a forensic psychologist attempting to profile me;

1 black polyester wallet with credit cards etc and about thirty pounds cash
1 set of keys, four of which I don’t know what they belong to. All attached to
1 penknife (Celtic knot-work, two blades)
1 pencil sharpener
1 blunt pencil with the name Grace on it
1 fortune cookie fortune “You are talented in many ways”
1 theatre ticket Stranges On A Train 29/10/04
1 3m/10ft tape measure
1 clothes peg
1 Blue Badge
1 hair elastic
1 chewable toothbrush
1 book Waterstones vouchers, expired 30/04/04
1 Crisis Call leaflet
1 watch with abalone face and leather strap
1 psychiatric referral letter
1 Psychological Services Appointment Card
1 Physiotherapy Appointment Card
1 DWP letter regarding changes in my DLA
1 mirror with a detail from Surprised by Henri Rousseau on the back
1 “Anti-shine” pressed powder
1 map of York
1 yoyo (fluorescent green)
1 liquorice blackcurrant
1 comb (black)
1 half-full bottle bubble-blowing liquid complete with hoop
1 condom
2 Shopmobility Membership cards (Ipswich & Bury St. Edmunds)
2 lipsalves (1 strawberry, 1 eucalyptus)
2 notebooks, containing shopping and things-to-do lists, directions, bad poetry, cartoons, notes on Wargaming rules, notes on guitar tabs and notes relating to my novel
2 Brufen Retard tablets 800mg
2 dihydrocodeine tablets
3 sherbet lemons
3 tampons
3 ballpoint pens
4 teabags (3 x Red Bush, 1 x ordinary)
5 earrings (of which there is one pair)
6 hair pins
6 ibuprofen
7 stamps, 1st Class
8 Tramacet tablets
17 stamps, 2nd Class
20 Aspirin
42 co-codamol tablets (three different strengths from 8/500 to 30/500, some in effervescent form)
£2.73 in loose change

Plus half an acre of Rainforest’s worth of tissues and miscellaneous receipts – everything from earplugs through petrol to wheelchair parts.

So what does all this say about me? And did I commit the murder?

That bag at the top's not mine, by the way. Just a bag. You can buy it from Accessorize for £25 if you like it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Is this a dream? Am I here? Where are you?

Had yet another terrible night. Actually, it wasn’t too distressing once I finally gave up and lay listening to eleven out of fifteen episodes of Jaqueline Susann’s Valley of The Dolls which is the Woman’s Hour Drama just now on Radio 4. It is not great, but it’s good to familiarise oneself with the gist of such an iconic text. However rather like Wuthering Heights, the song is better than the book. I mean the Dionne Warwick’s Theme from The Valley of The Dolls as opposed to the Billy Idol/ Generation X song which is um, perhaps only as good as the book.

I realise I have just committed cultural heresy by suggesting that Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights is superior to the Emily Brontë novel, but frankly, it is. The book is beautifully written, but it is an ordeal. There’s darkness in novels, but then there’s such unrelenting darkness than your eyes ache with the strain. Whereas the song is fantastic and only takes four minutes and twenty-nine seconds to get through.

Since I only had about three hours of proper sleep (out of about six of lying in the dark with my eyes closed), I can’t imagine I’ll be doing much today. I think it is more my dysfunctioning brain than my pain, as I keep getting stuck in that space between dreams and being awake. Not like a hallucination, but like a profound confusion. I get quite scared and make a scramble for consciousness, and then once awake I am well and truly awake. I’m exhausted so I try to get back to sleep, but I’m on edge and it is at this point that I notice how much pain I’m in, which without visual or aural stimulation is pretty all-consuming. It would be if it was a bad itch in those circumstances.

The only thing I'm really bothered about is that I had my physiotherapy/ acupuncture appointment today which I had apprehensions about and would rather have got over and done with. As it is, I've had to cancel and rebook for next week.

Friendly Bacteria

I am having a hard time today, so I am distracting myself by pondering absolute trivia. Like yoghurt. [...] bought me home a pack of yoghurt with four flavours; strawberry, apricot, fig and rhubard. Fig flavour yoghurt? Rhubard?!! I should inform you that that rhubard flavour yoghurt does not taste very much like rhubard because if it did, it really wouldn't work. As it is it tastes of vanilla with a bit of a tart edge. But who sat down in the office (at Danone) and thought, "Hmm, rhubard - an excellent flavour for a yoghurt!" And fig? Is this just a way of reiterating that yoghurt is good for you, by making it taste vaguely unpleasant?

That was the deepest thought I had today. Indicative of my state I think.

You may observe that there have been a number of recent additions to my Favourite Blogs list. These include my mate Becca at Comprehension Dawns and Marmite Boy at Marmite Boy On Toast who are regular Ouchers just getting into this blogger lark. Katya at Broken Clay is another disabled blogger who I've meant to add to this list for an age.

By the way, all the bloggers on my blog list are disabled. This was a coincidence initially, but since then I have exercised a policy of positive discrimination. That having said, they are blogs I do actually consider worth reading - it's not purely out of sympathy for the poor crippled bastards.

On the subject of which, a blog which deserves an extra-special mention is The Perorations of Lady Bracknell (yeah, I keep thinking
perforations as well) which is an excellent new blog from everyone's favourite literary battle-axe. It is very very good, do go check it out.

If you're up for something more sombre and beautiful check out today's entry at Did I Miss Something?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Oh lord, it's hard to be humble

I was still feeling pretty low when I got up this morning. I had a night full of nonsense dreams. Then I got round to doing something I meant to do a few days ago and now I’ve gone all mushy.

I belong to a support group for people with my condition. I don’t get a great deal out of it to be honest, but I like to keep my finger on the pulse. The one scheme I am involved with is the “Buddy Scheme” whereby people who are able have a one-way pen-friend correspondences with those who are severely affected and unable to write. I did this in my late teens with a girl who has become good friends with me and I wanted to do it again.

Somehow I wound up with two “Buddies” by accident. One sends me short letters every now and then, but another I have been writing to since around Easter time without having heard a thing. It is quite difficult to write to someone, virtually every week, who you know nearly nothing about. You wonder whether your letters are even being read and if they are, whether you might have been paired with someone who really doesn’t like what you’ve got to say.

Then this week I got a tape in the post and this morning I got round to listening to it.

My friend Amelia recorded this tape one sentence at a time and there’s only about four or five minutes worth. She describes how, when I first started writing she was in a very bad way. After four weeks in hospital she came home and was stuck in a darkened room, having to wear earplugs all the time, unable to speak or anything. So, she says, feeling like she was making a friend at this time meant a great deal to her.

Now she’s doing better, as she can actually speak. This week she managed to stand up for the first time and felt seven foot tall. She says that I shouldn’t worry about how long the book takes me.

I hate to say this about a fellow disabled person, but by God; the lady is an inspiration! And it’s especially humbling since throughout most of the tape she’s thanking me for everything I have done. What did I do? I ramble on in letters to her as I ramble on everywhere else. Still, I don’t feel so useless this morning, except for the fact that earlier I was feeling really crap about my life when really it’s not nearly so bad as it might be.

Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue

One of the chief reasons for keeping a blog is to get stuff out of my system, so you'll just have to ignore me while I get all self-indulgent and not for the first time.

In fairness, I am more tired than usual. I had a good ten hours sleep, but if felt more like two. Also I had run out of Earl Grey Teabags. In fact, horror or horrors, I can no longer get
Tesco's Finest Earl Grey Teabags on-line. These are the best Earl Grey Teabags ever. They make Twinings taste like Co-Op Red Label. I have still have some Rose Pouchong Teabags left, but I think I'm more addicted to the Bergamot than the caffeine.

Anyway, the big issue isn't fatigue. I've had a couple of days solid writing (such as I ever manage anything
solidly) and already my confidence is sinking. I get frustrated and my characters start swearing at each other and at me. Even now, so late in the day, one of them just did something completely unexpected. I was so angry with him, but really it does make sense and elliminates what was really a rather clumsy chain of events.

I also start worrying about all kinds of little things which become much bigger. Like for example, I have my token crip and I start to worry in one chapter about the response of another character to his crippiness; is that too strong? Is that too weak? Then I begin to worry about my entire presentation of disability, if entirely incidental to the plot. Then I begin to worry about all my characters generally and the plot and my ability to use the English language. And the whole thing gets quickly out of control.

Once one little demon gets in, he opens the door to a slightly larger demon who in turn can open the door to even bigger ones and so on. Pretty soon my head is full of demons (see right).

After all, I've never done anything my whole life.

What kind of statement is that? Oh God, I really ought to get myself some coffee or something. But it does take a lot of getting over, this whole void of achievement and despite my having sailed through the recent anniversary of my being ill, I am now thinking, "Shit, I'll be 25 in three months and three weeks time and I haven't achieved anything yet. I've never had a job. I've still only got three GCSEs to my name."

It is probably just today. Trouble is, I was just going to write, "and anyway, I'll probably have finished my book before my birthday" but given my past history of unmet deadlines I really ought to stop saying stuff like that.

I'll shut up now.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


I'm writing again, thank God.

That is all I have to say on the matter.