Friday, March 31, 2006

Is it a blog you would wish your wife or servants to read?

Yesterday was a bad bed day. I was listening to radio programmes most of the day and yet I can only remember one thing I listened to, which was a dramatisation of Metropolis - and that was pretty confusing.

In the evening I must have woken up a bit as I watched an Andrew Davies drama that Mum had recorded for me about the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial and very much enjoyed this. They built on a fictional love affair between two of the jurors, but everything from the courtroom was as was. I’m not sure the added frills were particularly effective, rather like the wet shirt scene in the director’s version of Pride and Prejudice – although at least this time we got some full-frontal male nudity. Which is always a novelty.

I love the story of the Chatterley trial because it involved so many heroes who stuck their neck out, putting reputations and even liberty on the line (Allen Lane was prepared to go to prison) for the ordinary person’s right to read what was considered a dirty book. Not only was this victory over censorship, but over class prejudice and sexism.

And I love to hear people make an argument. Would have liked to see more of the literary megastars that turned up to testify on the book's behalf and whilst the original ban does seem extremely prudish now, I would have liked to hear someone who had a reasonable argument for the ban at the time. Instead I'm afraid the prosecution and the book's opponents were presented as being a bunch of old farts and I'm not so naïeve to imagine it was as simple as all that.

Lady Chatterley's Lover is a great book, and contains less words which we now consider swear-words than Huckleberry Finn. Slightly more sex than Huck Finn though, as I recall.

Some feminists have criticised Lawrence for being preoccupied with his thingeme-bob and supporting the idea that women can only achieve any sort of personal fulfilment in the context of sexual relations with men. I don’t think this is fair. For a start we have to remember that he is writing about two particular characters at any one time as opposed to some universal model for social and political relations between men and women. And for example, in Chatterley,
Constance is not fulfilled by any kind of servitude or submission to a man - perhaps submission to her passion, which results in liberation and a complete rebellion from the patriachy. This passion happens to be for a man, but hey.

I honestly think Lawrence writes more convincingly about sexual passion than almost any other writer; he writes as if he is equally in love both with Constance and Mellors - and both the male and female characters in his other books (despite everything we know, some folks immediately read his love for his male characters as Lawrence being in love with himself) .

Disabled people also have an argument with the device of Clifford Chatterley's paralysis and the idea that this lead to Constance’s frustration and adultery. It did, but it was very much the strategy that Clifford chose which lead to the death of their marriage, not the impairment itself. In many ways, Clifford rejected her, wanting no more physical affection and pretty much opted to be an invalid. He also suggested she take a lover to provide him with an heir, so what is a girl to do?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Secret of Happiness #3

Stuff doesn't make you happy; people and experiences do.

Everybody knows this, right? You would think.

You are a man in his fifties, becoming increasingly aware of your own mortality. In the last few years you have lost a father, a brother and a sister-in-law. It is Boxing Day. Christmas Day has been a little fraught on account of the fact that your mother-in-law has been round and you find it hard to spend time with her. But today, for the first time in about four years, you are going to have both children and both children’s partners all in the same room in a relaxed situation. It is snowing outside.

You eldest daughter and son-in-law arrive and tell you that you are going to be a grandfather for the first time. This means of course that this will be the last time that all six of you are together as adults free from the demands of small children for some time. You have a lovely Christmas dinner complete with home-made crackers. You exchange thoughtful presents; you have been given a trumpet. How are you going to choose to spend the afternoon and evening?

(A) Sitting with your family, relaxing, having a laugh with them and enjoying their company, talking about the pregnancy and plans for the year ahead or

(B) Dabbling on your computer in an another room trying to make the GPS system on your phone work, dragging your exhausted-looking son-in-law away from the others in order to assist you.

Poor Dad. I often fear that imagination skipped a generation. However, it does serve to illustrate a point. Not just about manners, because of course what he did was rude, somewhat hurtful and especially unfair on poor little Adrian, but this is about happiness and identifying opportunities for happiness when they arise. When his life flashes in front of him at the last minute, I can’t imagine the joys of his GPS system will feature. Don’t know, do have my suspicions.

Now I am not about to dismiss the value of the GPS system or any of the other stuff that we don’t actually factually need, as most items beyond food, shelter, clothing, medication and means to get to and from our place of work could be called into question. However, I do think we are all susceptible to confusing the value of stuff, especially against the value of people and pleasant experiences.

Stuff is valuable in only one of two ways. One is not really to do with happiness; money and property can offer some degree of financial security, which may relieve some concern about the future. It never makes people happy: there are always plenty of other uncertainties which cannot be appeased with cash. And indeed, almost any investment one makes is a risk and involves uncertainty in itself.

In recent generations, owning your own home has been a tick-box on the criteria for a happy, successful life, causing tremendous strife for those of my peers who, during this boom, cannot get onto the property ladder. However, whilst property is a relatively sound investment, owning your own home is little more than a nice idea; one that my great grandparents didn't consider for a moment. Did it ever make anybody happy? Not exactly.

Stuff can only actually play a role in happiness when it either enables you to connect with other people or enables you to have a pleasurable experience. And the value of a thing should only be in proportion to its absolute necessity or the amount of happiness it creates. My laptop is tremendously valuable to me because it allows me so much freedom to do so much. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to work, blog, keep in touch with many of my friends, read the news, listen to certain radio programmes and so on. I don’t know what I would do with myself. Coincidentally, at five hundred and something pounds, my laptop is one of the most expensive items I possess. However, I could easily have paid two or three times that amount for a laptop computer without doubling or tripling the happiness produced.

I could buy a diamond ring at several times the cost of my laptop and get very little pleasure out of it indeed. Even if someone bought me such a thing – and it therefore played a part of our connection, it really wouldn’t be worth it. It would just be another sparkly thing and that money would be useful elsewhere – elsewhere in our lives or elsewhere in the world. Apart from the fact that the diamond trade is well dodgy.

Yet diamond rings are supposed to bring tremendous amounts of pleasure to any woman. In fact, all amount of useless stuff is supposed to bring pleasure to women for some reason. I know I am not a total oddball, but when I think about the happy experiences, even the most romantic experiences of my life, stuff didn’t feature at all. And if you take the most sentimental woman in the world and ask her to recall romantic experiences, she may mention the odd item of jewellery given, but there will also be the picnics and evening walks and incidents that cost nothing. She is certainly not going to provide a list of gifts received.

Now this has descended into somewhat of an anti-materialist rant and I didn’t mean for that. Only it does strike me that this is the direction that so much of our time and energy goes (materialism, not ranting). And indeed, so much of our culture is built up around the myth that material wealth and stuff - whether is a magic beautifying potion, the latest fashion or a shiny new car – is going to result in our happiness. But it never did, did it? I mean, my laptop is cool, but not for its own sake. Only for your sake and for the sake of my work.

To actually seek out happiness, one must look towards the people around us and experiences to be had from life. Passive experiences of reading or listening to music, or active experiences of swimming or painting or something like this. And spending time or otherwise connecting with other people. Preferably nice people. Some people suck.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Phew, for a minute there I lost myself.

I was a little nervous, to be honest. There have been points this week when I thought I might be going mad. I tried to put that into accurate terminology, but I always find it sounds more serious when you say it how it is. Mid-week there were instances of paranoia, where I became really extremely upset about my influence on events which had absolutely nothing to do with me – only to realise that there were other explanations literally hours later. I had been over-doing things coping with everything, and I thought I might have snagged a wire loose.

Now I’m thinking it was probably a combination of things; exhaustion, meddling with my painkillers and a profoundly exaggerated startle reflex which at one point had me crying out loud and then trying to work out what noise or movement had set me off. This was further exacerbated by deteriorating co-ordination which meant that I was bumping into things all the time – and then jumping out of my skin every time I did. Then several nights running I had such terrible, violent nightmares that I would wake up early in the morning unable to get back to sleep. To say I was a nervous wreck is a cliché, but if the hat fits...

So I’ve been in bed for a few days. It has rained a lot against my window, which is nice. Rosie phoned and talked endlessly about baby matters. When I have finished the Alphabet Cards she wants me to make Tinker a cloth book about the adventures of Weird Beard. She said, “I want Weird Beard in my child’s life!”

Weird Beard was a character from our childhood, of my invention. Remember the eighties craze for Top Trumps? Well R and I made our own pack with these odd characters we drew and gave certain attributes to. I can't remember many others, but I created Weird Beard, a character with few discernible features beyond his long multicoloured magical beard. Rosie thought it was hilarious and the idea of Weird Beard became a running joke. We have since raised the subject of Weird Beard in all sorts of inappropriate circumstances.

Another thing we discussed was how to introduce Tinker to The Sacred Language of Cheese and Ham. We were on holiday in Yorkshire and were having a picnic. Only it was raining so we were stuck in the back of our parents' car. Mum had labelled our sandwiches Cheese and Ham and for some reason the car was stationary long enough for us to get immensely bored, tear up the labels and create a whole new language based on the letters of Cheese and Ham and spoken with a Yorkshire accent.

“Eh Ehcemas,” was the initial greeting, which should be answered with “Eh Ahcemes.” and so on. I must say the complexity of this language, consisting of only six different letters and a maximum of one C, A, M or S, two Hs and three Es in any given word or phrase, was rather limited. Also the fact that we developed the whole thing from scratch in the space of half an hour – probably had as much chance as Esperanto in the greater scheme of things.

I don’t really fancy making a cloth book that a baby can play with. What kind of story can you get into a book made of cloth? Instead, following the (if I say so myself) success of Kettle, I may actually attempt to make Weird Beard as a soft toy. I think he was some sort of wizard. I thought if I made his beard out of several different colour and texture fabrics… Is it possible to have some sort of pathological creativity? Is this what I do instead of making babies? Or um, writing books…?

Really I will do something useful soon.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mind The Gap

I’ve been in bed for a few days, have got up to have a ramble.

Imfunnytoo wrote this blog last week on the subject of brain damage. She’s written several thought-provoking blogs lately, so do go over and have a read. However this particular blog started off with a family member suggesting that because Imfunnytoo isn’t so hot at maths, she must have had that part of her brain damaged as well as the cerebellum damage associated with Cerebral Palsy.

Now we know that Imfunnytoo probably has no issue with the areas of her parietal lobes associated with mathematical ability, only it just so happens that she’s not so talented at maths as other family members are. This could be to do with brain architecture – she just didn’t inherit the maths-whizz gene - or it could simply be because she wasn’t particularly interested in maths and developed her talents elsewhere. Clearly the lady has significant talents elsewhere.

This raises several issues. Imfunnytoo’s own blog focuses on whether she might be insulted to be considered “brain damaged” and I’ll leave that to her.

Another issue is the fact that non-disabled people all too often associate all our personal strengths and weaknesses with our impairment, one way or another. Usually our strengths are described as being despite our impairments, and our weaknesses - physical, cognitive and emotional - are thrown in with the package. Both are subject to exaggeration; Imfunnytoo couldn’t just be not as good as maths as other family members she had to have a cognitive impairment consistent with (more extensive) brain damage. And we’re all used to hearing how very very brave, bubbly and bright we are despite it all.

But yet another issue is this really troublesome issue of relativity. Surrounded by people who are extraordinarily good at something, the any of us could be at a disadvantage. I really do feel that when we talk about impairment and particularly those with the most stigmatised of impairments; learning difficulties, conditions like Autism and even mental ill health, there is an awful lot of mileage in considering the great diversity that exists among non-disabled people and seeing impairment as a natural part of this diversity.

The thing that baffles me is why it should be so very difficult to do this, without actually concluding that impairment doesn’t actually exist. Of course we can never know what it is really like in another person's shoes, but we can use our own experiences, imagination and powers of empathy. There are physical and biochemical differences in all our brains. We all have intellectual and emotional strengths and weaknesses. We all have to grapple with the juxtaposition of words, spoken or written and their syntax, context and meaning etc. If we think about these experiences, we can surely see the potential for having a great deal more difficulty and at least begin to guess what that must be like and how we might make life easier for one another.

Non-disabled people are particularly keen on dismissing those less tangible conditions altogether; children with ADHD are merely badly disciplined, dyslexia is an excuse of being a bit thick, people with depression just feel sorry for themselves. I don’t see it, I don’t understand it so it doesn’t really exist.

And yet, without pretending that “we’re all a little bit disabled”, impairment is an intrinsic part of the human condition and our experiences of limitation are only the extreme ends of the spectrum of limitation that we are all part of. Many people, for example, have a serious lack of imagination.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

God be praised! It's a girl with a winkle!

Tinker finally makes an appear -ance! Turns out we have another nephew on the way. I think R was relieved to find that there was actually a little person inside her and she'd not just been eating too many pies. Well there it is and apparently he has a winkle. May it give him tremendous pleasure.

If I had had a winkle, I would have been called Desmond. I mean, can you imagine a blue-eyed Desmond growing up in the eighties and nineties? My Grandfather was a blue-eyed Desmond of course, but he was born in 1920. Thank God for small mercies.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I danced myself right out the womb

I will never have confidence in my ability to write books until I have finished writing the first one. Publishing is a secondary consideration, although of course I hope for that too. Unfortunately, this lack of confidence is really the main obstacle between me and the finished thing. Of course my health doesn’t help much, not much at all, especially in these late stages when progress is going to be slow anyway and I often need full concentration, far greater concentration than is required for rambling away on here. However, if I knew, if only I knew that this could be finished and it would be all right. Well, I would have a hell of a lot more stamina for it.

Soon, soon. Really soon.

Meanwhile, my alphabet cards for Tinker are a disaster. Went to a great deal of trouble to track down a great enough quantity of A3 white card at a reasonable price (as is very often the case, I looked in all the sensible places then I found the stuff on eBay). But my co-ordination… some days I can paint all right and other days I cannot colour-in. Unfortunately, until I have well and truly messed up some project or other, I don’t know what sort of day it is. Oh well, I think something can be salvaged.

Why is it that I am compelled to make so much stuff? Why can’t I just buy some alphabet cards for my niece or nephew? By the time I have bought the extra card I now need, it would probably have been cheaper and it’s not as if mine were ever going to be so fantastic.

Anyway, Rosemary is having an ultrasound scan on Thursday – in Hampshire the first scan they offer is at twenty weeks apparently. So hopefully by the end of this week I will be subjecting you to a blurry photograph of the famous foetus. I know you can’t wait. They might even be able to tell whether it is a he-tus or a she-tus, depending on its exhibitionist tendencies. This also means that Tinker is approximately half way between nothingness and somethingness.

You know foetuses cry in the womb, but because there’s no air, we can’t hear them? When I read this I wondered, what on Earth does a foetus have to cry about? It is safe and warm, has everything it needs in the way of food and drink and it doesn’t see anything scary. What’s more, it has always been there. They can hear things though, and apparently, the foetus will later remember music and voices it hears at this stage later on when it is a person. Adrian proposes to play it nothing but Bach, but I know Rosie is secretly subjecting it to Songs from The Musicals. Hmm yes, I have now answered my own question about what foetuses might have to cry about.

I don't think you want to know anything more about foetuses, do you? No? Okay. Do you want me to put another T-Rex song in your head? No? Fine, fine, please yourself. Weirdly enough, when Cosmic Dancer came to an end, the next song that randomly kicked in was Chapel of Love by the glorious Dixie Cups. You try getting that one out of your head. I know. I'm not proud.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Secret of Happiness #2

Well, I'm still firmly wedged up my own arse so my second lesson which it would have been useful to have had instilled from birth is:

Question Actions, Not Feelings

Many years after his death, folks began to speculate that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll, may have taken some erotic as well as aesthetic pleasure in his friendship and photographic fascination with little girls. There is no evidence that he ever behaved inappropriately around children, but he clearly enjoyed the company of children whilst having no family of his own (not unlike Beatrix Potter, J. M. Barrie, Hans Christian Anderson and Louisa May Alcott – obviously all raving perverts). Bored Freudians picked up on any reference to inner turmoil or conflict in his work and concluded that he must have been a paedophile – you didn’t think that inner turmoil and conflict were part of the human condition, did you? Dodgson, or Dodgy as I like to call him, also had epilepsy, impaired hearing and a stammer, and was thus overqualified as a fictitious villain.

The whole thing is poetic; the guy was both delightful and disturbing in his writing which explored the nature of the innocent and the sinister, eccentricity and madness, wisdom and ineptitude and various other issues which we struggle with even more now than in Victorian times. Of course there must be something sinister about him! Instead of thinking about what darkness it might be within us which makes the reading sometimes uncomfortable, let’s put it all down to his own darkness. Nothing to do with us.

Now I have a great affinity with Dodgson. He was a crip, an adopted son of Whitby, he provided the title of my book and he invented the portmanteau “chortle” - surely one of the greatest words in the English language. And when I was younger, until I actually read about his alleged suppressed paedophilia and realised it was as sturdy as the other accusation laid against his memory - that he was in fact Jack The Ripper - I even had sympathy with the chap in this respect.

Not that I had a thing about children or anything nearly so problematic, but I was tormented by feelings I didn't want to have. I mistrusted people I was supposed to respect, felt contempt for those I was supposed to admire and even disliked some of those I was supposed to love. But by far my greatest problem was the grand infatuations I would develop for totally and utterly inappropriate people.

Only that wasn’t quite the problem. Infatuations ought to be fun; you get all sorts of chemical rushes, the world seems like a better place and everything you look at is blue and kind of sparkly. The problem was that I tried to resist them.

We are taught that the only healthy attachments are mutually felt. If we love one another as friends, lovers, family members or whatever, I must love you just as much, but no more, than you love me. Any imbalance in this is harmful; one of us must be obsessive or the other emotionally stunted.

I question this. For one thing, even if this were true; if there was something unhealthy about anything other than total emotional reciprocity, how the hell would we ever know about it? But most importantly, how does even a dramatic disparity actually cause harm to anyone?

For me, it wasn’t about the frustration of wanting something that I could not have; I guess it could be for some people, but not me. It was more like wanting something that I did not deserve to have. In fact, it wasn’t even that; I never exactly wanted anything in particular, I just had these feelings which were much too strong, of an inappropriate nature and perhaps most essentially, totally and utterly unrequitable.

So I felt lecherous and miserable and spent a great deal of time terrified that at some point, somehow, all this would slip out. I don’t know quite what I expected would happen then; that I might be dragged from my bed and lynched by torchlight, I don't know.

However, the essential point in all this is that it never did slip out. All that worry for nothing. Because even really big feelings do us little harm, so long as we don’t act on them. And indeed, exactly the same thing happens now with infatuations and I enjoy it, confident that the experience is mine alone. All this sin in thought stuff is nonsense; we only have so much conscious control over our thoughts, and very little control over our emotions.

And as everybody knows, the more one attempts to cast thoughts from one’s mind, the deeper they intrude (On a vaguely related subject in case anyone’s interested, here is a interesting if random article about religiosity and OCD). All we actually have a choice about is what we do and say about them – and here, usually, it is possible to keep them entirely under wraps if one so chooses.

So back to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (the Lutwidge is important; Lutwig is German for Lewis, Charles in Latin is Carolus, thus Carroll, see? Utter nonsense.). Of course I take the view that all Art should be looked upon completely separate from the Artist anyway, but even if we must lump the two together, we know of nothing that he did wrong. Maybe he was sexually attracted to children. Maybe Napolean thought he was an early incarnation of Elvis. Maybe Darwin's fascination with those Galápagos tortoises went further than it appears.

None of this actually matters a jot. It is of no consequence to anybody.

I have a sense that nobody will know what the heck I am rambling on about today. However, I do think that this is one of the most important lessons of my life so far, so there.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Secret of Happiness #1

I tried starting this on Friday; something like this appeared on Friday ever so briefly, so apologies if you've read this or something like this before.

Recently I have been thinking about little Tinker, sitting in a comfy pink uterus with another five months to spend playing with its fingers and toes before it has to make its journey into the world to meet us all (Tinker is played by an actor). And I have been thinking about the lessons I have learnt in life which would have made things a damn site easier had they been instilled in me from the start.

I have also been thinking about this hateful self-help industry, which I have touched on before. I don’t mean self-help when it comes to a particular dilemma or a medical condition or something, but this “Your Wallpaper Can Change Your Life” hogwash. Plus all the promises of happiness we receive from those offering us products and services. When I recently opened a new bank account and received the bumph in the post, I had this glossy brochure entitled Three Steps To Happiness which contained the three step instructions to activate my account. But Happiness?

However, I do think there is much mileage in sharing experiences and perspectives on life and so, perhaps rather than leaving this stuff to self-appointed gurus or commercial interests to issue us with their saleable wisdom, I think perhaps ordinary people should just share what they have learnt with one another.

People are afraid to do this, afraid to assume authority. We struggle to say, “This works for me” – perhaps we think that in order to say such things, we must have perfect lives?
Which brings me to the first important lesson I have learnt in life so far.

Happiness is only ever part of the picture.

One of those miserable German philosophers, Nietsche or Schopenhauer or some such person, said something along the lines that if we had immortal life, we would not experience love, particularly erotic love, because there would be no urgency, no prospect of loss. This chap (who might not even have been a German come to think of it) said that you can only truly love something which you know has a finite existence, something which you are certain of losing. One way or another, we will lose one another.

When such losses occur, of course, it hurts like hell. And even before such losses occur, we worry terribly about our loved-ones, and experience doubt, frustration, jealousy and disappointment. Like Buddha said; He who loves 50 people has 50 woes; he who loves no one has no woes.

Love is only the most obvious example; exactly the same applies to any project or cause that you chose to invest in, any goal you work towards, anything you care about at all. All of this will bring you at least some suffering and none of it is going to last forever.

I think we are living in a strange time in the West just now, where we may be losing touch with this particular truth. Suffering has become intolerable to us. Nobody should be allowed to suffer, in any way, ever. If you have any kind of hunger, feed it. If you have any kind of pain, numb it.

At the same time, we have just come from the opposite and similarly ridiculous extreme, where having been conceived in sin, we were born to suffer and submitting to all manner of unnecessary misery and pain was seen as positively virtuous – especially for women. We really don’t want to go back to that.

And yet, if an individual was to get to the end of their life without ever really having suffered, they probably wouldn’t have had a very worthwhile or enjoyable existence at all. It does not necessary follow that all suffering is associated with some greater happiness – I wish it were. Unfortunately there seems no natural justice and some experiences in life are far more painful than they are pleasant.

It is however my experience that such things are not altogether useless, not given a little distance. Often they teach us a great deal about ourselves, other people and the world around us. We could live without them for sure, but we may learn something from them.
And fortunately, there are also very many experiences in life which are far more pleasant than they are painful. And indeed, very often those things, those relationships or projects, which you have to work the hardest at and suffer the most for, are also those which offer the greatest rewards and indeed, are the greatest source of happiness.

However, the price of things is something that we have to come to terms with in order to get on and not spend our lives wishing for some change that would bring about perfection or wondering what is wrong with us because we are so very fortunate and yet still feel anxious and melancholy from time to time. A degree of dissatisfaction is necessary for progress.

Life is beautiful, but it is an animated, complicated and flawed beauty rather than something air-brushed, still and symmetrical in a magazine. And indeed, it may well be the transience and imperfection that make our passion for it so very intense.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Where does the pollen go?

My chief memory of sex education in school is not the class itself but a Maths lesson which followed. I arrived there late with rather damp hair. Mrs E., the least pleasant teacher I encountered in my school career, demanded an explanation. An explanation that I could not give. Oh, but I can tell you.

It had been the banana and condom lesson. Everyone under forty had one of these, right? Our Biology teacher began by producing a condom which she had allegedly bought in a Czech supermarket; it was bright red, had a painted smiling face and… horns.

We were told about coils, levers, pulleys and variable frequency oscillators and then left to lark about with these (common or garden) condoms we’d all been issued with. We were encouraged to test their strength, but the lesson quickly descended into a contest as to whose condom could stretch to the greatest capacity. This involved hooking them over the taps and filling them up in those huge laboratory sinks. Five or six gallons average, before they exploded. And they did explode. Which was how I came to be so late and wet for Maths.

The talk we had from the Old Girl (former pupil) who came in to describe her pregnancy was of similarly dubious value. She explained that she didn’t want any drugs or to be pushing against gravity, so she had stood at the window looking out on a glorious summer’s day and sipping her herbal tea. The baby then painlessly dropped into the waiting arms of her husband. Hmm.

Actually it was all fairly useless. My parents are not religious or particularly weird, but it was always too early for me to have my questions answered and by the time they might have been prepared to speak, I was too embarrassed to ask. So I didn’t really know what was happening when I started my period, because we hadn’t covered that in biology yet and Mum had sewn me some myth about how it couldn’t happen until I was at least sixteen so there was no need to talk about it yet (I was in fact eleven). Everything else I learnt from shameless older friends and books.

So there is a young lass who’s about to marry a sailor and her mother takes her to one side and tells her, “Now sailors are a funny lot and at some point in your married life, your husband may suggest that you make love the other way. But if he asks you, you must say no, because that is an altogether ungodly practice.”

So the young lass and the sailor get married and after a few months the lass begins to wonder why he hasn’t ever made this request.

“Darling,” she says, “Why is it that you’ve never suggested that we make love the other way?”

“Oh, we don’t want to do that,” he says, “that’s how you get pregnant!”

Monday, March 13, 2006

Hoist the Jolly Roger!

I was supposed to announce the winner of my Name That Pirate Competition yesterday. I know, sorry! Our friend H came round yesterday evening and all my systems started to shut down in the afternoon, which threatened a complete disaster as his entire purpose for coming was to consult for me on how to set up his mic and use sound editing software. Managed okay though in the end. No awkward questions about what has been going on in my life during the last seven months.

So anyway, I am pleased to announce that the name of the Pirate is… Kettle! as suggested by Charles Dawson.

Kettle received three out of four votes; Rosie objected because she reckoned keh sounds are very difficult for a child to make as famously I could not pronounce words beginning with C or K for some time, until I was miraculously cured during a particular episode of Mr Ben. She also thought that it could be confusing to give a toy the name of another commonplace object, but honestly, the child is already about six inches long now, it is about time it learnt to cope with such a minor paradox.

Rosie preferred Gimpy Mumpy’s Pat or Vic’s Sam, but had a lot of fun with Blogging Mone’s suggestion of Arrrrgh, which she decided would probably frighten a child (it would do the way R said it).

And we all had a great laugh having been reminded of the legendary Captain Pugwash. Plundering Porpoises! Thanks to everyone who left comments.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Not much to say really

I am having a few crap days and rediscovering what crap days are like. Which is basically good because it has been a while since I had a properly crap day, so I must be improving. I have been lying in bed watching the DVDs of Stephen Poliakoff’s Perfect Strangers on my laptop - do you remember that? I watched it through twice and managed only to sniff a bit through the second time. The first time I had to change my pillowcase. It is rather brilliant.

I have to say I rather approve of the statue of Winston Churchill in a straitjacket made to publicise the mental health charity Rethink. I wasn’t sure about the use of the straitjacket, but when I saw some of the disapproving opinions along the lines “Hitler was the deranged one, why not use him instead?” I thought the project must be worthwhile.

Don't forget to enter the Name That Pirate competition if you haven't already.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Life is Beautiful

I opened the kitchen window yesterday evening and there was this wonderful sound. It was raining, but mostly the sound was it splishing and splashing off everywhere and underneath this sound there were at least a couple of birds signing. I am pretty poor with birdsong; living where we do I can only identify birds that are not seagulls. But these little fellows were singing their hearts out. A lovely sounds like running your finger up the top end of a piano. Perhaps.

Anyway, with the combination of the birds and the water, it could have been the sounds of a waterfall in a forest glade. There are a good few waterfalls on the moors, hidden away. There is one, Falling Foss which is just gorgeous, but so out of the way. I can’t really tell you exactly how I got to see it, as it was a little naughty. But if you think about your perfect idea of a waterfall at the bottom of a fairly densely woods valley, so long as it doesn’t involve anything too tropical, Falling Foss is about there. Here is a picture, but it doesn’t do justice.

Later I got an e-mail from a friend who signed off

All my frustrated bewildered and frantic love,

which I thought was rather sweet.

Then today we had an adventure. Yup, I’ve been out of the flat twice this year and it’s only March! Today we went the supermarket at Scarborough. It was very exciting – we bought some fabric conditioner! Really it was great fun, I felt very sick on the way there and dozed most of the way back. But the novelty was pretty good.

There is still a lot of snow on the moors (it hasn't snowed since Saturday when a rescue helicopter had to replace the ambulance to Scarborough). It is mostly collected along the walls and hedgerows so you get the usual patchwork of farmland and moorland except with these silver-white borders between the different pieces of fabric. The sky was blue but so hazy that you couldn't actually make out the horizon; the big container ships travelling up the coastlooked like they were floating along in mid-air.

In other news, Disability Bitch is back on Ouch for the first time since... at least Christmas, I think. For the uninitiated, be warned: she is a bitch. Half the joy however is reading the occasional comment from people with irony deficiency complaining that she is, well, a bitch.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ism Through a Prism

For Vegankid's Blog Against Sexism Day.

Both sexism and disablism are based on the same faulty mechanism; the confusion between biological fact and social construct. Sex is a fact. Impairment is a fact. But gender and disability are both garments that society has sewn for us. Both constitute a vast set of assumptions and expectations based on a relatively superficial matter, whether it is your particular combination of X and Y chromosomes, or your capacity to walk, see, hear etc as judged against a fictional norm.

The victims of sexism and disablism have also suffered far less from any kind of violent oppression as from the assumption that other people know what is best for us. Other people know what is best for our bodies, even what is best for our souls, about to how and to what extent we should be educated. Other people know how best we might best spend our time on Earth. We are rarely hated or feared until we step out of line, but such lines, subtle and unspoken as they are (now more than ever), are our subjugation.

Impairment often poses a direct challenge to gender identity and thus sexism increases the burden of disablism for both men and women. I recall a discussion among a group of people with my particular condition where the question arose as to whether men or women suffered most severely, in social terms, from having this illness. The men argued that the stigma of financial dependence and unemployment was far greater for them. That fatigue and enforced inactivity was emasculating; they were expected to be strong and active, not weak and passive.

Chronic pain and loss were also very difficult to deal with as a man. Men were allowed to show their feelings, but the sanctioned releases were exhausting; you go to a football match, stand and shout for ninety minutes, you participate in sport to get it out of your system or you flood your system with alcohol or recreational drugs. None of which does a great deal of harm if you are in otherwise good health and you just need a single discharge of emotion.

When your life has undergone significant change and you are suffering on a daily basis, you need to talk about it. The men felt that not only did they have difficulty with this, but their male friends tended to drop off very quickly when confronted with the new situation. It wasn't that the disabled men felt that didn't have the words or that their friends didn't have the capacity to listen, but the culture had made both parties feel entirely compromised by the prospect of any discussion. That is was going soft; giving up a bit of their masculinity.

The women argued that whilst they suffered from lack of sympathy from others over their unemployment – as if it just didn’t matter – there was so much other work that they were expected to do no matter what. This was especially the case when they had children; friends, relatives and others would be vocal in their disapproval if it wasn’t Mummy picking the child up from school, if it wasn’t Mummy cooking the dinner or if poor useless Daddy had to flail about ironing his own shirts. As if motherly and marital love consisted of a set of practical tasks and to decline from these tasks meant a failure as a woman.

Women also felt that their emotional response to illness was far more likely to receive a medical label and indeed, that the very physical nature of their condition was likely to be questioned if they ever came across as even slightly hysterical. This certainly seemed to be the case; out of the men who had gone through lengthy diagnostic processes, there were far more physical tests and scans than with their female counterparts, who seemed to need to demonstrate perfect mental health before any physical investigation would take place.

I could go on and this was just one group of people who had a particular condition. However, there is a theme running through these experiences which I think must apply to most conditions and impairments; being disabled means that you are regarded as a little less of a man or a little less of a woman.

Egalitarianism would seek to reduce the impact of rigid gender constructs on people’s lives, so this might not seem such a bad thing. Unfortunately, the effects of being a little less of a man or a woman in a sexist society is not to free you from the constraints of gender, but to reduce your value as an individual. Gender remains so important in our lives that if you do not fulfil your assigned gender role, you are a little less of a person.

Of course, disabled people are thought of as being a little less in many and various ways, but our compromised gender identity is a major contributing factor.

It is therefore imperative that disabled people are active in the fight against sexism, not just because we are right-on liberals who believe in fair play, but because sexism is part of our problem.

As long as we have assumptions and expectations about our roles, desires, strengths and weaknesses placed on us because of a physical and biological status that we all have (i.e maleness or femaleness), an altered physical or biological status (i.e impairment) is going to impact on those assumptions and expectations. And thus people with impairments will continue to be treated differently because of them.

Does that make any sense to anyone?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A is for Antidisestablishmentarianism

I spoke to Rosie last night, who impressed with the as yet unnamed pirate, has employed my services (or at least submitted to my pleas) to make the alphabet cards for Baby Tinker’s nursery. Rosie and Adrian are currently insisting that the child is going to be called “Kiwi Bob Snottit” for reasons known only to themselves.

Rosie has made her first purchase for Tinker. She has been very good, despite being generally a bit of a girl and taking great pleasure in shopping. And I am very pleased to report that this purchase consisted of ten Ladybird books, including Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, Alice in Wonderland and The Three Musketeers. Great stuff.

“Of course, the baby will have books for cousins,” I say.

“What?” says Rosie.

“Baby Kiwi,” I say (you have to indulge her), “He or she will have books for cousins.”

“What do you mean?” says Rosie.

“Books. It’s a metaphor. One is coming into the world as we speak.”

“You’re giving birth to a metaphor?”

“No, a book.”

“Eek! Is it a hardback or a paperback?”

Rosie does seem very confused at this stage of pregnancy; she stated that [...] was an only child who grew up in Barnsley. She has known him for almost seven years. Mind you, when I said that he had lived in Burnley at one point, she declared that this was the same thing; the two places begin with B and they are both Up North.

We had much fun discussing inappropriate words for every letter in this alphabet I am going to do – we managed to come up with one almost entirely made up of words for bottoms and digestive processes, only most of the pictures would be similar.

In all seriousness, it is a challenge. You have to think of appropriate words for each letter of the alphabet where

(a) a child will be able to recognise the object early on (why give the child the concept of
yacht which it must differentiate from boat?)

(b) a child will be able to pronounce the word fairly early on

(c) a child will be able to read the word as soon as it begins to read (whilst
elephant makes for a nice picture, why burden a child with ph before it has mastered its single letter sounds?)

But also, one has to consider;

(d) the relationship between the letter, the shape, the colour and the sound of the word and any sound association between the letter and the object.

For example,
snake is a great word because you can make the snake curl into the shape of the letter S. You can also make a snake as colourful as you like. And the snake hisses – it makes an S sound. Fantastic. Similarly whale can have lots of waves in the shape of the (more rounded) letter W. And whales make a “Wibble!” sound, or at least it would be good if they did, so why not pretend?

However, some letters are absolute bastards. Sometimes I wonder why we have the letter X in our alphabet at all. You can only do X-Ray where an X sounds like an X. This will make for an amusing picture, but it is rather advanced concept.

You can tell that I am taking the duties of auntihood seriously. I have even been revising Piagetian Theory. Anyway, they're going to have a scan in a few weeks, so hopefully you'll be able see a picture of The Science Project - I mean Tinker- very shortly.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Competition - Name That Pirate!

Naturally, the news of my forthcoming increased auntihood has resulted in a flurry of industry. The first thing was to paint this piggy-bank. I am also very chuffed the dolly I have made, as I have no experience of toy-making, only ever sew in order to mend things and I didn't have a pattern or anything. Despite all this, it turned out quite well. Now all my dolly needs is a name.

I meant for dolly's gender to remain indeterminate, as is Baby Tinker's gender at this time (hopefully there will be a scan soon and I will show you, like it or not). However, my instinct is that this is a gentleman-dolly so I shall refer to it in the masculine.

The dolly is a pirate on account of the fact that his hair went hideously wrong. I had no idea how to give a dolly hair so I sewed nine metres of black ribbon onto the top of his head. I then realised he was best wearing a bandanna at most times.

So the dolly is a pirate and spends his working day plundering the high seas. For this he wears denim dungarees which are so incredibly funky that I would probably make myself a pair if I had more fabric.

The dolly is disabled and can't stand up straight. I may make a wheelchair for him later on, but I am anticipating baby Tinker to be very clumsy and inclined to eat everything during his or her first years of life and would therefore damage such a thing.

After a hard day's work, the dolly clocks off, changes into casual dress and spends some quality time with his pet, the Big Scary Kitten. Despite the violence and villainy essential to his day job, the dolly has a warm heart and a great love of animals. He also likes listening to music. He is very keen on Depeche Mode, having himself been described as the Black Martin Gore.

Strangely enough, "Is it black?" was the first question my mother asked when I told her about the dolly. I explained that the fabric I was using was kind of tea-coloured if that was anything to go by.

"Trust you to make a politically correct doll!" my mother declared. "Is it gay?"

"It is a dolly for the baby," I explained. "It is ambiguous."

The word ambiguous sent my mother into a fit of inexplicable giggles, so that was the end of the conversation. But just to reassure my mother, who may worry about such things, here is the dolly spending an evening with the lads down at the local nightclub The Dolly House.

Here the dolly meets his best mates, Tinky Winky and Tortoise. After some nice tasty seafood, these chaps like nothing better than to dance the night away, which is a precarious business when you have no skeleton.

At the end of a long day, plundering the high seas, playing with his cat, and getting very drunk in the nightclub, the dolly collapses in a drunken stupor on the floor (he's a real-ale pirate).

So now it is over to you; what is the dolly's name? There are no prizes except for the knowledge that a small, as yet unborn, person will have the dolly that you named as his or her most favourite treasured toy (perhaps). Hmm, I might think of a prize of some sort.

I think the best way is if you enter the competition by leaving a comment with your suggestion below. I know that means everyone gets to see your idea, but I think it may be more fun that way. I'll tell you who won next Sunday (12th March 2006).

And before you ask, yes, a new digital camera is high on the list of gadgets to be purchased when finances allow.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Don't people just make you sick?

Inspired by Charles Dawson and his allegedly Distasteful Subject.

Recent generations have had a kind of cultural mysophobia instilled in us from an early age. AIDS emerged within six months of my birth and was always in my consciousness; eight year old Sally and I decided not to make an oath of our friendship in blood in case one of us was infected. I do not know quite how many diseases I was vaccinated against and indeed, my health was excellent as a child.

On diagnosis of the condition I developed at fifteen, I was informed that I had simply not had enough bugs and diseases and my immune system had now collapsed, perhaps permanently, in the face of its first significant challenge.

Now personally, I would prefer that people like me became disabled than mothers and fathers had to face the deaths of their infant children to preventable diseases – if indeed there is a connection between my pathetic immune system (and the increasing rate of asthma and other allergies) and vaccination. My point is that I am not naïve about the potential effects of infection.

One of the chief candidates was Epstein-Barr which causes Glandular Fever or Mono.

Meet Epstein-Barr, also know as the kissing disease, because that’s one way of contracting it and most people who get Glandular Fever are adolescents who do a lot of that sort of thing. With tongues. Scary stuff, eh? You could be ill for months and if you are unlucky, you could end up like me. Don’t kiss any icky boys or slimy girls and you’ll be safe, right?

Well no. In the developing world, there is an almost 100% infection rate among babies and in the UK about eighty percent of us carry the antibodies; evidence that at some point we were infected and are now immune. Most of us didn’t get sick at all, however many tonsils we tickled.

Similarly; herpes. Eek! Herpes! Seventy percent of us have facial herpes that causes coldsores. About one in five of us have the genital version of the virus. That means that a state of herpes infection is actually normal; fortunately most of us are oblivious to the fact because our immune systems tuck these things out of sight and most of us don’t experience (or at least don’t notice) symptoms.

Just recently in the news there was the suggestion that students should be wary of the number of partners they kissed because of the heightened risk of Meningitis. Meningitis is serious, it can kill and otherwise cause severe lifelong impairment. Yet one in ten of us carry the bacteria involved. Without behaving abnormally, there is very little you can do to guarantee your health and therefore, your life.

People do make you sick. Human contact is a bloody dangerous business. And as I say, we are riddled with potentially problematic, even potentially deadly organisms who largely manage to coexist with us. Some of them even benefit us. It is just the way the world is.

The Goldfish Guide To Avoiding Sickness From Infectious Diseases

  • Hand-washing and food hygiene is all essential. It is very easy to make oneself very ill with the toxins your body has already disposed off, so to speak, as well as bacteria in meat and eggs which is destroyed with cooking. That stuff has to be taken seriously.
  • There is no excuse not to use a condom. They are an effective form of contraceptive and protection from at least the ew nasty diseases. When you don’t want to use a condom, and either party has slept with anyone else ever, get screened. If you are grown-up enough to have sex, you are grown-up enough to feel no shame in this. The vast majority of STIs cause very little harm unless they go untreated.
  • If you have an infectious disease such as the flu or a sickness bug, stay away from other people until it has run its course. Remember that your sniffle could do a lot more harm to someone with a vulnerable immune system, who may be a colleague, or someone next to you on the bus – apart from the fact that making your colleagues sick will double your workload when they’re off work in a few days time.
  • Have a good idea about the symptoms of serious infectious diseases like Meningitis so that on the rare occasions that it does crop up (and you don’t need a SU card to get sick), the damage can be kept to an absolute minimum.
  • Look after your immune system by exercising, eating healthily, giving up smoking but most essentially, getting plenty of human contact. Then at least if you do catch the dreaded lurgy, your immune system will be boosted by all the love, laughter, support and stress-relief provided by whichever bastard infected you.
At this point I must remind you of the wonderful Giant Microbes website first pointed out by Gimpy Mumpy, where you can contract various diseases, including Syphilis (right), for a mere £6.25.

A competitive price around our way.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Playing the mind guerrilla

Disclaimer: I am a bit odd just now. I seem to have a wound somewhere which is bleeding words. I thought better of this post because I am not sure it came out as I intended, but I hate to pull something which will have been read already. I could not write explicitly about what I wanted to write about, but that last bit is really about an individual as opposed to people in general. Lots of words, not very articulate today.

The reason I decided to study psychology was that somebody said that I would save lives. He said I had a gift for understanding people and if I trained to be a clinical psychologist then within ten years there would be at least fifty people walking the Earth who wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t take this course. The subject had always interested me, Kant was getting up my nose and then this. It happened to come from someone I greatly respected and duty-bound, I accepted his counsel.

The reason I stopped studying psychology was that I got too ill to carry on, even with the uber-flexible regime of the Open University. That was the crux of it. But there was an inevitable degree of disillusionment with both myself and the subject.

Psychology is a very young science, conceived when philosophy and medicine got drunk at a Christmas party. Right now, one may think of psychology as being in its adolescence and thus full of controversy and contradiction. I’m not talking about that slight inconsistency between quantum mechanics and particle theory which we are all so familiar with in physics, but a far more profound quagmire, with various theories being presented as the complete answer when really they are only a small part of the question. Different learned gentlemen will tell you that it is all about our mothers, it is all about where we sit between neurosis and psychosis, it is all about our repressed libidos.

As a theoretical science, this is confusing enough. As a branch of medicine*, it is an intimidating minefield. It is as if you have a tummy ache and you know that if you go to one doctor she will propose a radical change in diet, another doctor will prescribe a course of tablets and another will propose major surgery. Still another will suggest it has nothing to do with your tummy and will diagnose an ingrowing toenail. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of sick people who are not getting any better, and still others who have acquired further complications along the way. However, this is the best we can do just now.

All this is further complicated by the fact that we all want to maximise the happiness in our lives and are tempted by glossy books, seminars and cult-like arrangements which propose Instant Confidence or that It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be. On Radio 4’s Old Harry’s Game (currently being repeated on BBC 7), Satan makes mischief in the world of men by publishing the self-help book, You’re Really Special and Everyone Else is A Git.

So anyway, studying psychology is like studying physics before Newton. A great deal is known. A great deal can be speculated upon. But how it all fits together is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, a significant number of people seek power and money purporting to have discovered the secret of happiness **.

The second great disillusionment was with myself. I never actually believed I had a gift for understanding people, only that I am more interested in them than many other people so I pay a more attention to what they say and do and so see patterns that other people don’t always see. Even so, you have always baffled me. Yes, you. But the enigma is not without its charm.

I certainly don’t have a gift for dealing with people. How could I? I have extraordinarily little experience and bumble through all my human interactions. I can be incredibly clumsy with people and whilst this would improve with practice, I think perhaps the damage is done; I shall never have the extreme tact and sensitivity necessary for dealing with people in extreme distress.

However, the greatest realisation was that I am not a very sympathetic person.

It seems that there is a great contradiction in our attitudes towards mental health in our culture. On the one hand, we want to believe that those with mental ill health are simply lacking in moral fibre and just need to pull themselves together. This is, of course, nonsense. With both physical and mental illness, an individual’s attitudes and behaviour may contribute much to their prognosis, management and rehabilitation, but nobody can simply decide to get better.

On the other hand, our society wants to imagine that some people with mental ill health are completely out of control and not responsible for their own actions. This can lead to very paternalistic, even draconian treatment; people must be looked after and coerced into the correct course of action. But it can also be incredibly indulgent.

If you live with or care for someone with physical or mental ill health, you are likely to see some unpleasant sights from time to time. I think a good comparison can be found between watching the manifestations of mental ill health and watching a loved-one in a fit of vomiting; it is not at all pretty, it is makes you feel sick yourself and at the same time you can see that this person is suffering and there’s little you can do but be on hand and help clear things up afterwards.

But nobody has an excuse to be an arsehole. Nobody has an excuse to vomit on you and walk away without apology. And when a person really doesn’t have a choice about it, if they are in a state of genuine diminished responsibility then the situation requires outside intervention. When a child misbehaves, one may quite rightly think, “This person cannot fully understand the consequences of their actions.” However one doesn’t then sit by and do nothing while the child sets fire to the nursery.

Yet I hear that often; they can’t help it because they are ill. We should be kind to them. We should submit to whatever abuse they dole out. Well, I cannot buy it, mostly because I have known enough people in extreme states of mental distress who somehow manage to be reasonably decent human beings, at least towards other people if not towards themselves.

Hmm, yeah I know. When one cannot be explicit, it is difficult to conclude with the revelation which prompted one to write. Anyway, unlike psychologists, writers of fiction don't need to be sympathetic, just empathetic, which is a different thing entirely, so we are all better off for both the illness that stopped me in my tracks and my disillusionment.

* In case anyone is confused, the practical difference between psychology and psychiatry is that your psychiatrist has a medical degree, can therefore prescribe drugs and thus tends to deal with a different group of conditions – or as part of a team, the more clinical aspects of a problem. Someone once said that a psychiatrist is concerned with the brain, whereas a psychologist is concerned with the mind. In fact both are concerned with the brain and the mind, but it is perhaps a helpful generalisation.

** Despite everything, I was a brilliant student and did discover the Secret of Happiness during my studies but I will save that for another day.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Scary Things #3 - Purple Haze all in my... head? eyes? I dunno

So the other night I woke up and saw a purple face at the window. I was startled, but it wasn’t that scary. For one thing, we are on the first floor and anyway the face was between the curtains and myself. And purple. Really quite bright purple as if it was emitting light.

Like I say, I was startled but I was thinking, “That isn’t really here.”

I do, after all, have some experience with things that aren't there. But it didn’t go away when I thought this. It just kind of hovered there. It was smiling at me. I wasn’t smiling back.

You know when you have been looking towards a light, you turn the light off and you see dots in the darkness? Well it made me think of that a bit. Except it was quite a vivid face. And there was no light in the room. There is the clock which projects the time onto the wall. But that’s red light was much dimmer than this.

My next theory (all the time there is this purple face staring at me) was that what I was actually seeing was dust or something on the surface of my eyeballs. You know sometimes when your eyes are half-open you focus on that stuff, like little threads and bubbles floating about? I was then making it into a face in the same way that some lady thought she saw the Virgin Mary on a toasted sandwich.

However, I was becoming increasing uneasy at this thing watching me, so I closed my eyes and lay on my side for a bit. I kept my eyes shut for some moments and when I looked up again it was gone. I then got up and went to the loo.

The next day, I tried research about the nature of light and the anatomy of the eye, to work out how I could be perceiving light on the surface of my eyeball in order to imagine this face. It was so bright. Not like the light filled the room or anything silly like that, but as bright as a cathode ray tube or something like this. However, I am no physicist and couldn’t work it out from anything I read.

Then it occurred to me that the face had appeared directly above th
e whimpering floorboard
. Since moving the furniture about we have started needing to walk about on a floorboard which doesn't creak but whimpers under foot. Parts of our building are over two hundred years old, back in the day where Whitby thrived on illegal activity and this was, we believe, an Inn.

So now I am thinking there is probably some treasure (or preferably a map to some treasure - more exciting) buried under the whimpering floorboard and that face, which was undoubtedly a pirate, appeared to guide me to it. He or she was probably known as "The purple pirate" or "The violet villain" on account of the fact that... he or she wore a lot of purple?

Of course I don't actually think that, at least I don't actually believe it, but I think that, because my imagination will skip, hop, leap and jump to the most ridiculous conclusion in the absence of a neat explanation.

Then last night when I was in bed quite a while before [...] and he came in and sat down on the bed, presumably to get undressed. Only when I turned over, there was nobody there.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Scary Things #2 - The Pro-Active Patient

I am actually getting some work done in between all this nonsense. Hard to believe, but true. You see I am getting better and during this last week something really significant may have happened.

I have dropped a dose of Tramadol.

I just thought that I could do without the last dose of the four I take every day, especially if I spaced the daytime doses out a little. It is taking me longer to get to sleep at night, but not because I am in so much pain. Tramadol has narcotic properties so I guess I am missing my bedtime fix.

There are many reasons why this is exciting. Most notably, this is the first improvement in my pain for well over a year. I’m trying to keep it in proportion because it has only been a week or so, but muscles are feeling stronger and the pain is returning to something like its original pattern. This is where my muscles are never comfortable, but the really intense pain – like acid under my skin - only comes on during and directly after exercise (when I say exercise, I mean walking between rooms). Previously it was just all the time, but exercise would worsen things and a slight exertion would have me chewing my legs off.

The pain had got progressively worse and I felt that the next probable event was when my system became so used to the Trammies that they were no longer effective. I don’t know quite what would have come next, but Tramadol is a dream drug for me and my constant fear is that sooner or later I will be on morphine. I don’t want to go there. I know it is just a name of a drug, but that mere name fills me with abject terror for all sorts of reasons. In my more desperate moments I have seen my progression onto morphine as the point at which I would have to opt out. I know, I never pretended I was brave.

However, that’s not the direction things are going at the moment, so why is this a scary thing?

It is scary because something happened like it ought to happen, for the first time in ages. I relapsed, I was forced to rest and this rest has actually paid off. That is how it is supposed to happen, according to the doctors and the books. Yet I had begun to disbelieve in any kind of pattern which involved a degree of recovery; I can make a list as long as your arm of things which I know cause deterioration. But recovery? I have done all the right things and it has made little difference.

Until now. Maybe. Possibly. And suddenly I am faced with a tremendous responsibility. I cannot let this slip away. I have to keep my muscles strong, and get them as strong as possible but I must not push them too far. I must look after my immune system and make my way out of the winter without another challenging virus. I must be as kind as possible to my digestive system which keeps threatening to give up the ghost. I must pace myself and not get too stressed about anything.

Really I ought to be keeping an activity diary of every bloody thing I do and eat in a day, with a score for my progress. I ought to get a pedometer or something so I know how far I am walking in a day. Really I ought to be dedicating every last drop of energy to this new ray of hope, reading the books again, cutting out all caffeine, alcohol and refined carbohydrate, eating organic and standing on my head a lot. If I become a total control freak at this stage, I could be walking to the bus-stop by the end of the year.

That is why it is scary. And it’s only been a week.

Still, good news, good news.