Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Alexander Turns One.

We had a lovely day on Monday. Rather worse for wear now, but it was well worth it.

We had a little do for Alexander's first birthday in my folks' garden; there was Alex, his Mummy, Daddy, both sets of grandparents and his favourite Auntie and Uncle.

The Goldfish family and my sister's in-laws haven't seen an awful lot of one another, but my Dad managed to disperse any social tension by serving us "Pimms and Lemonade" with what I reckon was about 1 part lemonade to 5 parts Pimms - you certainly couldn't see any of the bubbles. But of course, we didn't realise this until we'd started drinking it and soon everyone was comfortably giggling and making rude remarks about one another as if we'd all been fast friends for some years.

My Dad also provided a dysfunctional bubble-generator/ water-pistol, which kept [...] busy while he took the entire thing apart, performed his juju magic and put it back together again in perfect working order.

My folks have a little paddling pool for children who visit, which we had fun in, and for his birthday, Alex got some tubes to crawl down. These, Alex and I mostly used merely for peek-a-boo purposes and Alex's father employed in a dramatic reconstruction of his terrifying pot-holing adventure - made all the more terrifying when we turned the now functional water pistol on him once he was thoroughly stuck.

Alex's Mummy had made a hedgehog cake, presumably to raise awareness that hedgehog numbers are dwindling in the UK. She realised at the eleventh hour that her design could so easily have been converted into a Dalek Cake (link originally provided by Jess in the comments to a post of Lady Bracknell's).

The cake was delicious and Alexander liked it so much that he smeared it all over his face and hair, an act accompanied by squeals of delight (see above - I didn't take too many pictures as I was busy having fun).

Alexander's favourite birthday present by far was a little toy piano with four notes very much like this. He has apparently played with one of these at a club he used to attend called Baby Sensory and was delighted to unwrap it and make noise with his. Making noise seemed to be the principle use to which he employed his various presents.

I painted up some wooden skittles for him, which you may note are extremely well varnished in the hope that not all the paintwork falls off the first time they're knocked over. These were a terrific rush to finish; last coat applied first thing Monday morning. We made him an alternative ball out of two pairs of black socks which I then sewed together - one you could throw at a window by mistake without breaking it. Alex gave them all a quick taste-test and seemed to approve.

It was a really good day; last week I was anxious whether I would be up to going at all, and whether it might be grim for me if I did. But it was good, I was fine and whilst it is impossible that Alex will actually remember it, I believe that he had a very good birthday himself.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Experience is cheap

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the day I tragically succumbed to the Dreaded Lurgy. Last year, you may remember, I doodled. I missed last week's Disability Carnival over at David's, which was about Top Tens. The next one at Reimer Reason is about resilience and I guess this ties in with both of them in a roundabout fashion:

My Top Eleven Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Chronic Illness Eleven Years Ago, Given That I'm Not Up to a Snappier Title.

1. You are not a medical condition. Medical fact and theory can be useful, even life-saving, but they do not tell you anything about yourself - even when you feel they have consumed the life you used to have. Almost all chronic illness is slightly mysterious (if we knew exactly what was happening in all cases, it might not be so chronic) and there is a real danger of getting over-invested in medical theories and controversies. The thing to realise is that the medical side of things is about a condition you happen to have, not about you. This may sound obvious to anyone who hasn't been ill for any great length of time, but it isn't. As such;

2. Take breaks from the subject of illness on a regular basis. Depending on where you are at the time and how often you have to see doctors and other medical professionals, you may manage the odd day or you may go for months without thinking, reading or talking about illness. This takes conscious effort and discipline. You still have to deal with it, but it is not a subject at the forefront of your consciousness. When it's there all the time, it becomes very difficult not to be miserable about it.

3. For goodness' sake, get the help you need! Do you know how much time I wasted because I refused to use a wheelchair, I felt a laptop was a luxury even when I couldn't sit up in a chair for any length of time and I wouldn't ask for help with all sorts of thing? Was there anything noble about this resistance? Nope. Just get on with it. On which subject;

4. It is useful to review one's attitude towards personal strengths. Sometimes you can think you are fighting the good fight when really you are running away from the problem. You might prefer to push yourself instead of resting or pacing, thinking this the brave thing to do when in fact it is slightly idiotic and nobody is going to admire you for running yourself into the ground. Eventually, you may get to a place where you don't think about your illness very much at all, but you don't get there by pretending it doesn't exist.
5. Balance is everything. Living with chronic illness and establishing a lifestyle where you can do as much as you can without exacerbating symptoms requires a very tricky balance of trusting and challenging yourself. There is danger in not listening to your body and a danger listening to your body too hard (mine makes very eerie noises late at night when the rest of the world is asleep). An activity diary, where you take brief factual notes about what you've been up to and how you're feeling each day is a really good tool during spells when you feel things are out of control; if there is any relationship between activity and your state of health, the sooner you figure it out the better. I wrote a bit about this in The Goldfish Guide to Being Reasonable (to oneself)

6. Approach alternative therapies with caution. Especially when you're desperate that stuff can suck you in, steal your money, give you false hope and then make you feel useless when you aren't miraculously cured. I've written about this before.

7. Your happiness is much more important than your health.
The two are frequently interrelated, but sometimes one does have to make a decision between the two. For a long time I felt guilty about doing things I enjoyed which might cost me healthwise, guilty about pleasurable food that someone told me might be bad for me, but the only person you have to answer to with this stuff is yourself. And whilst there is a point in a life which is happy but unhealthy, there's not much point in a life which is unhappy but healthy.

8. You mustn't stay angry
with an illness or indeed the body which you may feel has let you down so badly. It's never going to say sorry, buy you a bunch of flowers and attempt to make it up to you. Anger is a natural part of the process of mourning, but it's often something people neglect and allow to fester such that they look back and have a tremendous sense of injustice about the way that life has turned out. Justice simply doesn't enter into it.

9. Nobody is going to really understand what you're going through and some people won't understand at all. This used to cause me immense frustration, not helped by the Lurgy arriving in my teenage years when to feel tragically misunderstood was the default position. My policy since has been to make sure the most important people have the most important information and not worry about the others. Most people who completely fail to recognise your limitations usually aren't trying, and that's a problem they've got, not you. See Telling it how it is for some advice as to getting this stuff across.

10. Keep a look out for other health events. Sometimes there is a temptation to put everything down to the one condition and dismiss every new symptom, to respond to every limb that turns green and falls off with a shrug and a sigh. This can be a big mistake. In particular, one has to look out for clinical depression (if indeed, that isn't your chronic illness). It is normal to have volatile moods when you are living with fatigue and pain and it is normal to respond with sadness to a dramatic change in life. However, this so easily slips into becoming an illness of its own. Depression reeks havoc with fragile physical health as well as being one of the most unpleasant and dangerous illnesses one can possibly have. On which subject...

11. Don't kill yourself. Whatever you do, don't do that. Not that this was a mistake I made - at least not successfully (would freak you out if I had, wouldn't it? Here you are reading my blog and I could have been dead for years!). I imagine lots of people contemplate suicide at some point during the early years of chronic illness (and later), but it is a rather silly idea. If you are capable of ending your own life, you have nothing to lose by sticking around and seeing how things turn out - you can always do it later on.

On that optimistic note, I best be off. As previously mentioned, this isn't merely the Dreaded Lurgy Day, other notable things happened on this date as well. And this time last year I phoned my sister, who said it was a bad time to talk. Rosie never says it's a bad time to talk. The next day, Alexander emerged into the world. All going well, I get to celebrate this fact with him tomorrow.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Waking up and book planning

Life has been full amid this fuzz. I won't say sorry for my spell of absence, but I do hope nobody was anxious that I was either very sick or had deserted you. I've not been suffering, it's not been a particularly grim time. I've just not been able to think about or write much (an or which implies I sometimes write a lot without thinking; perhaps so). But I've been reading lots, listening to music, watching daft films and I am feeling a bit brighter now. I have even made some progress with my book.

The colourful plan of my novelAt some point, I had a conversation with my muse about my Wood For Trees Syndrome (or WTF Syndrome; an inaccurate acronym, but more accurate to my sentiments*). My muse, who has an annoyingly practical mind for one whose purpose is to inspire me, suggested that I should rewrite my plan properly so when I'm editing I actually know what the heck is going on. I tried doing this on computer various ways, but I kept getting in a muddle. So I thought I needed to print it off onto an A4 sheet. And naturally it is now using three sheets of A3, and not nearly finished yet.

Simple story really, linear narrative written in the first-person. It's really not very complicated; I could summarise the plot in a sentence if I wanted to. But it is hard work, when you're writing and editing the bloody thing, to keep track of all the things that happen. Each colour represents a thread of the plot. Some of these boxed sentences represent a slightly longer sentence, others represent a few thousand words.

I'm even considering adding some weather icons because I keep forgetting what the weather is doing (which is important in terms of trivial inconsistencies which can break the spell I've tried to cast). No, you can't read any of it, sorry; I printed it in 8 pt text so you have to get right close to make out a word of it.

I am still rather behind with blog-reading and life in general, but otherwise I am fine.

* I realise an acronym should be initials which can be pronounced as a word, but abbreviation doesn't alliterate with accurate. This is the sort of place my head is just now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Checking in

I've been kind of dazed and disconnected. Sleeping lots and lots. I've also been having internetty trouble so I'm kind of behind with everything. But I'm okay. The mysterious bug was never seen again; I hope nobody thought it had crawled away under my bed where it grew and grew and grew until it was so big it could re-emerge and gobble me up. Normal service will resume shortly.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The creature that possibly wasn't there.

Yesterday afternoon, while I was very tired and nauseous, I noticed an object on the floor beside the sofa. It was about two and a half inches long and folded in half. At first I thought it was a scrap of food so I picked it up off the floor before realising it was some sort of creature.

This bug had stubby legs like a caterpillar, with a pale papery body (suggesting it had been dead for a while) and a bright orange pointy face. It was a little gruesome, actually, but incredibly big. I decided to keep it to show [...] when he woke up so I put it on a tissue (since I didn't want to handle it any more), and took it into the kitchen.

When I got to the kitchen, I glanced down at the tissue to find that there was no creature, only a drop of red blood, about the size of penny. Rather alarmed that I had dropped this strange thing and might stand on it, I went back over the four metres I had walked from the sofa. And there was no sign of it. I looked again. I came back to the tissue and that was still there and still had the blood on it.

I looked the creature up in our insect book and then on-line. No joy. The closest thing in terms of size and colouring would perhaps be stag beetle larva (like this - click on at own risk), but it would be totally the wrong shape. It would appear that this bug is a species as yet unknown to man.

Hmm. I held the thing as well as looking at it close up. And any spell I was under would have been broken when I was on my feet; i.e. when I ought to have been reasonably awake. And yet I really can't work it out. And to be honest, it has shaken me up. I have seen, heard, felt and smelt some entirely imaginary things in my time, but nothing quite as complicated as this.

The blood bit isn't that odd. I bleed a lot without knowing it; I bleed very easily and I'm always bashing or scratching myself in the normal course of the day. It is perhaps an indicator of my bewildered state that I didn't give myself a thorough examination to see whether I was bleeding at the time. I was more concerned about the vanishing creature than the blood.

I can also lose things which are right in front of me. That does happen from time to time. Last week I needed the scissors to open a carton of milk to make a cup of tea and had turned half the house upside down before realising they were right next to the kettle. However, when [...] woke up I asked him to look and if he didn't find it, it isn't there.

It seems unlikely a grub or caterpillar could have got into the room it was in. There's no plants in here, nor are there plants right close to the window. Also, it was just too big. We don't get enormous caterpillars in these parts.

However, it really doesn't make any sense; there is no way I was asleep, because I had the tissue as evidence of my journey into the kitchen. And there was just too much visual detail I absorbed about the thing. Even if I had taken a double dose of painkiller by mistake, or even if I had eaten something perculiar (I was unusually nauseous but I'd only had some cereal, crackers and fruit all day) that is way too much.

Still, I am somewhat discombobulated.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Auntie Blogging Intermission

Alex, moments before he pulled the parasol right overA very busy few days, thus I am in the process of catch-up.

Yesterday was my Granny's birthday and we had a surprise party for her (such a surprise that the rest of us only knew about it on Monday). Alexander was naturally the most important guest and spent the best part of six hours on his feet, walking about, wandering in the direction of the barbeque or the pond and thus giving everybody else a fair amount of exercise.

He is very confident on his feet; he is now officially much better at walking than I am. He still falls over, but only if he turns around in an awkward manner. Apparently he is such an early walker that there is only one pair of outdoor shoes available in the shops to fit him.

Need to take it easy for a bit.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Some of your goldfish-related questions answered.

I've been feeling kind of guilty about the number of hits I get from goldfish-related search phrases put into Google. Usually, these are folks who have phrased their question rather inappropriately, as discussed here. Others are just too bizarre; I still get regular searches for goldfish swallowing fetish (I really don't want to know, thanks).

However, I thought it was time I tried to answer some of the genuine goldfish-related queries that have inadvertently lead people here.

What might a goldfish have to complain about?

I only look at Sitemeter from time to time and I've seen this several times over the last couple of years. I imagine it must be an essay set for school Key Stage 2 Existential Philosophy. I guess the question is meant to enable the student to consider the unique nature of the human experience, to attempt to define what makes one human with particular focus on our ability to change things we don't like. A goldfish may not do this; it may resist or flee from a situation of distress, but it does not have the agency to change its life or environment. And what it certainly can't do is employ the help of others in this regard.

Complaining is a uniquely human behaviour in which a person implores other members of its species to help them exact change. However, at the same time, people tend to complain when they feel a situation is unfair; without knowing whether a goldfish's lot is unfair or not, the goldfish has little to complain about. That's probably roughly what the teacher is after.

Then again, it may be a creative writing exercise where the student is asked to anthromorphise. In which case, a goldfish might complain about the myth that it only has a seven-second memory when actually it can remember quite a lot from one day to the next - like sights and sounds associated with a food supply. Apart from that, the living conditions of pet goldfish may give it cause for complaint in a variety of ways. The BVA AWF has some advice about good goldfish husbandry in Goldfish as First Pets.

Can a goldfish die from depression?

Reading between the lines, I sense that the reader is experiencing guilt over the death of a beloved goldfish. Was the reader, by any chance, reading poetry to the goldfish when it shuffled off its mortal coil? Was the reader, by any chance, reading their own poetry to the goldfish when it kicked the bucket? Did the goldfish have a melancholic look in its eyes when it heard the second couplet rhyming "you" with "blue"? Did the goldfish gaze open-mouthed as they concluded with the sentiment that it was the reader's "only friend", before turning on its side and floating to the surface of the tank?

If so, it was probably dropsy or something.

How can I teach my goldfish to speak?

Teaching a goldfish to speak English required dedication and tireless endeavour and is not a task to be taken on frivolously. You will have to speak to and preferably read to your goldfish (Shakespeare and the Classics of English Literature are essential) for a minimum of two hours every day. And it needs to be every day if you hope to be having basic conversations with your goldfish within ten years. They are slow learners and of course, a goldfish is a fragile creature and may not survive to master yes, no, please and thank you. For this reason, I recommend educating several goldfish at once to increase your odds.

What do goldfish do when we are not looking?

Let's put it this way. Remember that cat and three kittens (later named by vets Hope, Freedom, Flag and Amber) that miraculously survived in a box of napkins in the basement of the World Trade Center when it collapsed? Didn't you ever wonder whether perhaps they were the real target and the whole thing was orchestrated by vengeful goldfish?

Smack the goldfish

This blog does not condemn corporal discipline for aquatic pets. A stern talking-to is usually all your goldfish requires.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, "Ah!"

A redwood tree(That was a Joseph Campbell quote, in case you wondered)

Today Mum took me to Brandon Country Park which is a pretty green place near here that nobody seems to know about. It's free to park there, they have a coffee shop, toilets and the paths are pretty good for wheelchairs. Not all of them, but you can have a pretty good 'walk' there on the flat.

An enormous treeLike I say, a hidden gem and thus today, on a sunny day in the school holidays, there was nobody about.

There are a couple of massive trees there. Our American and perhaps particularly our Canadian cousins will be decidedly unimpressed with a rather young Redwood and whatever this one on the left is (you can see my 5'11" mother wandering off to the right, for scale). I must admit I did check nobody was looking, kicked off my shoes, got up out of the wheelchair and attempted to climb it. But these are big kickass trees for the South of England.

A tree-trunk with carved graffitiThe woods are haunted by some chap in a deer-stalker, but he wasn't about today. There is a mausoleum of the family that used to own the land and tree documenting the relationship of Janie and Hally. Writing carved into the bark reads Janie + Hally, 1983 Feb., Jan 86.

The mausoleum of the Bliss familyMy Mum decided that Janie and Hally had been happily in love during the spring of 1983, but three years later Hally had brutally murdered Janie and buried her body beside the tree on which their names were inscribed. My Mum has that sort of imagination.

We saw some squirrels, a Jay, the most enormous black slug you ever did see. On the way home a stoat crossed the road in front of the car. I had to look it up to know it was a stoat as opposed to a weasel, and learnt that in Japan, a stoat is a sign of good luck.

A path in the woodsIt was a very nice couple of hours; it is so good to be out in green places. Sara wrote about this last week in Green is the Meaning. Seahorse has also been enjoying the great outdoors in Shropshire.

It was also nice to be with my Mum and talk about nonsense. I managed to breach the sticky issue of the big bad family secret which I had inadvertently divulged to someone. It is a rather pathetic big bad family secret, something which has had shame heeped upon it where there ought to be no shame (someone did do something naughty, but nothing injurious to another person and it was over fifty years ago). Fortunately Mum was only slightly surprised that that someone hadn't known already. Which was a relief.