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...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies

My increased pain meds are doing me a lot of good, much more than I expected. I am however experiencing things that aren’t really happening. This is something I have always had with the opioids, but there is a marked difference between codeine and trammadol.

Codeine is a thoroughly unpleasant drug. I can't imagine why people take it, morphine or heroine (which all create the same chemical reaction in your brain, only to different degrees) for fun. It really clouds your mind and then when you have weird experiences, they become very confusing and distressing. I have to say the weird things I experienced on codeine seemed to be especially evocative. Like coming into a room and smelling tobacco and saw-dust. This is the smell of my Granddad’s shed where he did his carpentry and the smell I associate with my Granddad. However, suddenly smelling this out of the blue whilst having a skull full of cotton wool was apt to bring on tears.

With the trammadol the experiences are perhaps more vivid, but not in the least bit distressing. Trammadol doesn't knock me out at all - at least not so I'd know it. And I think perhaps the fact I am more awake when things happen mean I am better at reasoning with them. For example, when I was calling a taxi on Monday to go to the doctors, I became concerned about the curious smell in the corner of my living room. It was kind of sweet but very chemical. And then it occurred to me that it was the smell of the air-freshener in the taxi, which I had apparently summoned up in association with the taxi driver’s voice. Even when it occurred to me that this was the case, it only seemed to fade when I put the phone down.

Since the increased dose, such experiences are becoming more frequent. On Thursday evening a bat flew over my head from behind me before vanishing at the other side of the room. I imagine it was a random bit of electrical activity in my brain which I would otherwise not have noticed. And I wasn’t in the least bit frightened, only startled and I realised as soon as it vanished that it had never been there. The only way in which this sort of thing causes difficulty is in the evening if I try to watch a film. Little bits of light from passing cars, even in a fully lit room, become significant objects like a white mouse scuttling across the floor and even though it only takes me an instant to realise I have imagined it, it has already distracted me from the screen.

No voices though and never the tremendous sense of menace which is perhaps worse than a hallucination. When I have had mental ill health, I have had experiences whereby words pop out of a page - or indeed text in any form. I was really struck when watching A Beautiful Mind which contained sequences where John Nash experiences this exact same thing, which I had imagined (as you arrogantly do) was entirely unique to me. The very first time this happened and indeed the very first time I ever hurt myself on purpose was actually on Prozac. I had been fine before, GP acknowledged my mental good health but suggested fluoxitine might 'stimulate my nervous system'. Went quite insane within the week. Completely better as soon as it was all out of my system a week later, but it did scar me in two senses. Horrible stuff. GP insisted it had nothing to do with the pills, but this was before anyone suggested that SSRIs had such negative potential, especially for fifteen year-olds. Ho hum.

However, what I get with trammadol is just fine, it is otherwise a dream drug really.

In other news, this evening I have been sitting with the lights off and the blinds up watching five simultaneous fireworks displays on the other side of town. I also learnt that my brother-in-law Adrian has got a new post as the organist for St. Mary’s Church in Southampton (big church in Southampton). So congratulations to him!

Something bad happened today, in that my electric wheelchair, confined to the shed downstairs which is extremely damp (it is embedded in the hillside) is going mouldy. My electric wheelchair is very precious to me. The fact that it has sat idle for a couple of months is rather demoralising. I have either got to get better and start using it again very quickly, or we’re going to have to carry it upstairs and keep it indoors for a while. A little thing I guess, but a decision I didn’t want to face.

We have been invited to Whitby Pete’s birthday party next April. Since it is next April, I shall assume that I will be loads better by then and able to go. Pete is going to attend as his alter-ego the Grand Duchess Gladys of Belconnia. He has a beard these days so I’m not sure quite how he is going to pull it off…

Friday, November 04, 2005

ICD-10, G93.3

In recent weeks I have become anxious about where my health is going. This is an almost inevitable consequence of relapse, but there are other factors involved such as the fact that it is now approaching three years since the major relapse which marked a sudden yet so far permanent deterioration in my health. And I don’t know what that means. Seems I’ve spent the last three years waiting to return to the level I was before and it ain't happened.

And it is going to sound really pathetic, but I’m dreading my twenty-fifth birthday next month. During the first few years of illness, birthdays were a time for despair because it was another year which I felt I had missed out on, time was passing without my actually progressing through life. And sixteen, seventeen, eighteen; important years, supposedly. I then managed to shake this off and have been fine since, but twenty-five!

I suppose the truth is that I always held up twenty-five as an age by which all this must be resolved; everything would be sorted by then, had to be sorted. If nothing else, I would grow out of it. And also twenty-five is a terribly grand age when I have achieved precisely nothing in my life so far and have never had a job. Well, apart from writing for Ouch, which I did all of once and won’t be allowed to do again. And then there’s the small matter of the three GCSEs… three… no A-Levels or degree. Just three incy-wincy teeny-weeny GCSEs. Three, I tell you.

I also comforted myself at my eighteenth and twenty-first birthday that come my twenty-fifth I’d be able to go out and get pissed with my mates and make up for the lack of celebration on these more significant dates. In fact, even if I am fully over this blip back to the levels of the summer, I shall still be worse come this birthday than I was at either my eighteenth or twenty-first.

I went to the doctors on Monday. In the waiting room there was a small child dressed as a pumpkin - I wanted to say to its anxious looking father, “You realise it is just a costume, don’t you? Your child hasn’t really turned into a pumpkin.” It had been a tremendous effort to get there and somehow I felt short-changed, even though my pain-relief was upped. But basically there is nothing he can do.

And this, together with concern from my folks manifesting itself in a renewed level of interest and various weird and wonderful suggestions, has got me researching my condition again. Just to see if there’s anything I am missing. Just to see if there’s anything happened in the years since my last serious look. Well of course there have been new bits and bobs but I don’t see how they could be put to good use. There are however some bits of information which I really should avoid on a bad day but can’t very well help tripping over on the Internet. There’s:
  1. Personal accounts from people who somehow got this diagnosis but got better through the power of prayer, sticking raw carrots in every orifice or some such nonsense. The heart sinks. Especially as some of these people are so evangelical about it; if you don’t have faith, they you can’t really want to improve.

  2. In-fighting between people with this condition, about the name of the thing, subgroups, the cause of the thing, treatment regimes, prognoses, all sorts of crap. I am really not taking well to conflict just now. There are some people who just thrive on the idea they are being held down and misunderstood.

  3. Mortality rates and specifically, accounts about people who have died from my condition. All the time I'm fighting a constant succession of minor infections, usually two or three at the same time, but I am never seriously ill with any of them and in time they all pass. But eventually some people have their immune system completely overwhelmed, minor infections become major infections; organs fail – like AIDS death, basically. A small proportion, ten percent and even then, well, much later on I should think. But I don’t want to think about it and I suppose I would rather not know about it. At least not when things are going badly. My life is in no danger just now, I mean not nearly. I might as well be considering how my childlessness and early menarche heighten my risk of breast cancer.

  4. Poetry. Any kind of poetry about illness.

    Oh woe is me!
    Life is unfair!
    I have [insert condition]
    And nobody cares.
    I’m so very very ill
    I can barely even walk
    I want to kill (myself)
    With a plastic fork.

    For some reason I always think of that great First World War hero, Lord Flashheart who said “Just because I can give multiple orgasms to the furniture just by sitting on it, doesn't mean that I'm not sick of this damn war: the blood, the noise, the endless poetry.”
Ho hum. So anyway, I got to the end of this exercise with the sense that nothing has changed and nothing is likely to change any time soon - there is an imminent revolution in the way my condition is diagnosed - a single blood-test as opposed to a lengthy process of elimination - but that's not really my issue.

At school my nickname was Neil because I was tall, had long brown hair and sat around cross-legged, rattling on about peace and harmony. Today I fear I am living up to it in other ways. "I might as well be a Leonard Cohen record." Sorry guys.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Warning: A very boring political post but something I had to get out of my system. It is rambling and incoherent but once it's said it's said and I can move on with other things.

"The issue of incitement to religious hate is a tiny part of a much broader pattern that we are attempting, collectively, to put together, to create a society where cohesion, tolerance and understanding are natural, where people can settle their differences in ways that don't develop hate and where people feel free to be able to express sensible views and have sensible arguments." - David Blunkett as Home Secretary.

I realise Blunkett hasn’t been Home Secretary for a while, but this isn’t about him. As some of my more moustachioed readers may be aware, I don’t buy into slippery slope arguments. That’s not to say I don’t know a dangerous idea when I see one. The Race and Religious Hatred Bill is dangerous, not because of where it might lead us, but because it is founded on the above, very dangerous, ideas. We’re back on John Stuart Mill again folks;

1. There has never been a really good idea which seemed ‘sensible’ when it was first uttered. This is a hackneyed truism that all nutty fringe groups wheel out when accused of being… nutty fringe groups. However, it is true. It isn’t the case that because the slave-abolitionists were treated as nutcases, today’s nutcases will be tomorrow’s heroes, but some of them may well be. Some of them have got to be, after all, unless this is the absolute peak of civilisation (please God no). There will be new ideas and it seems unlikely that we’re all going to see the sense in them the minute they come out. Even if this wasn’t the case, who is to say what is a sensible view and what is extreme?

2. Often people who expressing extreme views touch upon an element of truth or an important point even though in its entirity their argument doesn't stand up.

3. Even when people are totally wrong, by challenging our arguments they keep them fresh and vital.

These three points can be illustrated rather well with the case of the Animal Rights Movement. There was a time when received opinion did not consider animals to have any moral significance. One interpretation of the Bible puts us in the privileged position of stewardship. Descartes compared animals to automaton without any true experience (they didn’t think therefore they weren’t – oh really Descartes was a tit). It seems very strange that we could ever imagine that animals didn’t have feelings, including those of fear, pain and distress. Isn’t it glaringly obvious?

Now it could be that in the future, we come to realise that it is wrong to treat animals as property and to kill them for food at all, just as we now understand that it is wrong to treat human beings as property to be used, abused and discarded at will. For most people this does not seem like a sensible idea at the moment, but given the cultural turnaround we have made over not entirely dissimilar matters, it is surely not beyond the realms of imagination?

Even if it is perfectly okay to kill animals for food, that is not to say that much of what the Animal Rights Movement says is not entirely valid. One of the reasons I abandoned vegetarianism is that after three months of academic study on the issue and perhaps one too many essays by Peter Singer, it occurred to me that I wasn’t morally disgusted at the idea of killing a wide-eyed fluffy bunny and eating it for my tea. In fact it may be fair to say that Peter Singer instilled me with a zoocidal blood lust but that’s beside the point. However, I also realised more than ever that the way we ‘process’ our meat products is morally reprehensible. My fluffy bunny suffered perhaps a moment’s anticipation and a single instance of pain after a happy life hopping about in the fields *. My Kentucky Fried Chicken had a far worse fate.

And sometimes they get it completely and utterly wrong. One conclusion that Peter Singer’s particular warped brand of utilitarianism leads him to is that some animals have a greater moral status than tiny human babies and some severely impaired adults. This is not even partially correct, but by making such an assertion he challenges us to consider what it is that makes a person worthy of moral consideration and whether indeed there is a hierarchy. By saying “The grass is pink” we are forced to consider how it is we understand the grass to be green.

No this of course has nothing much to do with religion as such, but religion is a just another point of view. Of course religion may be interconnected with ethnicity and culture and when people use the word ‘choice’ they over-simplify the situation. I could not choose to be a Catholic because I could not persuade myself to believe what Catholics believe. My friend Mary could not chose to be an agnostic because she could not persuade herself to believe what I don’t believe. However, there are many other points of view we would find similar difficulty in adopting, none of which are related to my ethnicity or upbringing.

When Mary decided to become a nun I was horrified. But the thing I kept finding myself comparing it to was a friend getting married to someone that I vehemently disapproved of. I might even use the word hate. I hate what I perceive to be the misogyny of the Catholic church, I hate the way that I watch the doctrine sustaining the poverty, over-population and disease pandemics in the Third World upon which it depends to keep the masses faithful. I hate a Church that forbade the Catholic women in Bosnia to use oral contraceptives during a period they were subject to mass-rape, a Church that protected child abusers within their own ranks etc, etc. I don’t hate Catholics; a large proportion of my family are Catholic and many of my friends. They are good people. But that machine, that Church, is fairly abhorrent to me.

[Naturally I didn’t put it like this to Mary. All I could do was to express my disapproval and then go on to offer my full support. She is my friend and her happiness is paramount to me.]

Now, the Pope is a regular reader of this blog and doesn't like it when I say such things. However, simply by out-lawing my feelings - or the expression of them - would not change anything. The only way I could be dissuaded is if somebody sat me down and put me right about any misconceptions I have, argued with me. Of course it might be I like to hate Catholicism and I’m not going to listen, but then, what does this matter? If I were to attack priests or desecrate Catholic graves, I would be breaking existing laws. If I were to rally an angry mob outside the homes of Catholics I would be breaking existing laws. Freedom of speech has always been conditional; you can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre and direct incitement to violence has always been a crime.

But at the end of the day, conflict is natural. Cohesion is not. The law is not about surpressing nature, but about creating a society where everyone is free to express themselves as much as possible without impinging on the freedom of others to express themselves. When Isaiah Berlin talked about liberty he kept reiterating this fact with the concept of The Final Solution; the utopian idea used by very many political and religious movements that through a restriction of certain freedoms, we would all come to see things the same and live in harmony. It is a useful term to bear in mind.

And what are we left with after we have out-lawed ideas that make us feel uncomfortable? Does it stop the bad guys? The previous Incitement to Racial Hatred laws (race at least being something you can’t help) leave us with this:

“The British National Party exists to secure a future for the indigenous peoples of these islands in the North Atlantic which have been our homeland for millennia. We use the term indigenous to describe the people whose ancestors were the earliest settlers here after the last great Ice Age and which have been complemented by the historic migrations from mainland Europe. The migrations of the Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Norse and closely related kindred peoples have been, over the past few thousands years, instrumental in defining the character of our family of nations.” - First paragraph of the Mission Statement, British National Party web-site.

Apart from the fact that the Norman Conquest brought vast numbers of French people onto our soil, the following decades established the first Jewish communities in the UK. There had been Jews here before, but not communities. Thus the cut-off for immigration ends a thousand years ago. Translation:

"We exist to secure a future for the white non-Jewish people of this country."

Fortunately, you’d have to be really thick not to notice the absence of the Romans. But then, what have the Romans ever done for us? Well, there was the aquaduct…

* I didn’t actually catch and kill a fluffy bunny with my bare hands. I just realised I could if I was hungry enough. And could run fast. And didn’t actually look the thing in the eye as I broke its neck. And hadn’t just read Watership Down.