Saturday, 28 December 2013

Bleak midwinter

I awoke to the bellow of the foghorn today; a low mournful sound, conjuring a memory of those still, quiet days of breathing in the damp heaviness as we headed out into winter woods to walk off the Christmas excess.
As a child, fog was exciting, acting as cover under which to stalk imaginary prey through the sodden undergrowth; the snapping of twigs underfoot curiously muffled in the whiteness,  as was the sound of the dog gambolling at our heels, panting flumes of mist whilst barking for sticks to be thrown into the blankness beyond.
We would return, pink cheeked and red nosed to battle for the warmest spot by the fire; tucking into slices of freshly baked fruit cake, safe in the knowledge we had burnt off Christmas pud.

Now I view fog not as the mysterious blanket shrouded under which we could play our games of stalk and seek; but as the seeping clammy cold that finds a way through the thickest of layers, chilling me to the bone, and causing my joints to ache with a fierce burning unknown as a child.
Tamoxifen has robed me of temperature control; leaving me wrapped layer upon layer like some odd woolly Babooshka in my quest to stay warm, then suddenly leading me to shed clothing like a demented streaker as my inner furnace steams into the red zone.
My joints swell and stiffen at will and I find myself stumbling on the stairs, fumbling to grasp objects with banana fingers, and clumsier than I have ever been. Yet for all this, Tamoxifen has given me back my life, and for that I am truly grateful.





Sunday, 22 December 2013

Unto us a boy is born.....

My brother entered the world on the shortest day, whilst we, his sisters, sang carols in the old Norman church to mark the end of the school term. My father, unused to the demands of small girls; made porridge with too much salt then, with relief etched on his face, surrendered the plaiting of our hair to the nurse who had come to help whilst my mother was in hospital.

It was an exciting time; the unfamiliar delight of a new male child , and the novelty of a father home for Christmas; mixed with the anticipation of socks stuffed with goodies from Father Christmas and presents piled high in the wicker laundry basket.

When mum came home we knew how much we had missed her steady presence, and with promises not to tire her out, all trouped up stairs to the bedroom to re confirm her love for us; and become enraptured with the brother we had all hoped for.
As the youngest, I felt my place somewhat usurped by this small red faced being, and although fiercely proud of my new baby brother, resented the fact I was the baby no more, so acted accordingly; becoming needy and whiny to the exasperation of all.

With a birthday so close to Christmas, my mother always ensured there was a distinct separation between the two celebrations. No amount of cajoling would move her to decorate for Christmas before we had properly celebrated my brother's birth.
 We were the only household I remember who held off decorating until Christmas Eve. Whilst lights twinkled on trees in the windows of many a house, ours remained quite bare; then on Christmas Eve to the radio playing Carols from Kings College, or some such, we would all be assigned jobs.
The house was cleaned from top to bottom, and the Christmas tree brought in from outside to be hung with the red silk baubles from the Far East, and delicate glass decorations which shattered into sharp shards if they slipped from fumbling fingers. Holly, gathered in the forest on those long frosty walks with the dog, alongside evergreen branches,garnished the wooden curtain pelmets; whilst the house filled with the scent of pine and oven baked mince pies. The table and silverware were polished, red or gold candles placed in every candle holder, and finally the Nativity figures set up on the hall table to greet visitors as they entered.

 As small children, we would then wrap up and walk to church to attend Nine Lessons and Carols; the liturgy and rituals of which became so ingrained in my consciousness that I can still recite them to this day. When we grew older we stayed up late, meeting up with family and friends to go to Midnight Mass.
The heavy, still and timeless atmosphere of the church; where ancient words seeped to the very heart of Norman stones as the flicker of candlelight played across the walls; never failed to bring home the true meaning of Christmas.

Even now, I find in decorating the house, faint echoes of the rituals we had as children. The tree is not put up until school has finished for the term, and I listen to carols as we hang the ornaments we have collected over the years.
 We still demarcate Christmas and birthday,but this time it is the birthday of my husband at the beginning of January; so New Year's Eve finds us talking down cards and tree, leaving simple lights to radiate Christmas warmth and brighten the way for a birthday to come.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Merry and bright

My tree is up, adorned with the tin decorations and wooden beads collected over the years. No tinsel, just small, unobtrusive white lights that peep through foliage and flicker to their own set rhythm.
In the kitchen, star lights have once again attached themselves to the windowpane spreading a warm glow to the passer by; whilst the Swedish Nativity tower spins lazily round under the watchful eyes of stylised reindeer.
 I love the ritual of decorating the house at Christmas; stringing lights around the picture frames, and banisters; and scrabbling in the box for  Jesus in his manger. When the gloom of the evening settles heavily all around, the strings of lights banish the dark with their soft golden light.
Baby Jesus slumbers under the soft focus gaze of Buddha and the Madonna once more,  and all is calm and bright.






Friday, 13 December 2013

Full Circle

Yesterday found me back in the hospital operating theatre where my odyssey began 3 years ago; to finalise the rebuild that will mark an ending to what has been a life affirming and life changing experience.
During this journey I have lost and regained a breast, my hair, my immune system and the profound sense of who I am.

Unlike Humpty Dumpty I have  been put together again, but in a different, more complex manner. There is more balance in my life; I have learnt to be still and breathe the world around me. My wide eyed trust in the inherent goodness of others has wobbled, then been reaffirmed not only by the medical teams who came in and out of my life with more frequency than I ever thought; but by the people I have worked with on a daily basis. There has been trauma, loss and bewilderment, but this has been tempered by laughter and the friendships forged in the fire.
I have emerged, battered, bruised but as yet unbroken; and I have family and friends to thank for that.

It is said that we are never given more than we can cope with..... I say a little inner Tank Girl goes a long way!!



Thursday, 5 December 2013

Leap frog








As a student I lived in a thick stone cottage on a farm nestled in the rolling countryside; at the foot of a hill leading to a village so small, the sole amenities were a spit and sawdust pub and a lonely phone box.

There was no heating in our cottage bar an open hearth in the living room in which to burn scavenged wood and, from November until March, an ancient aga in the kitchen. As Autumn bit deep, hours were spent huddled round the kitchen table to soak in the aga's comforting heat, whilst nights became an interesting lesson in how to dress for bed so as not to succumb to the creeping cold in the small hours. Flannel pyjamas, sweatshirts and woolly socks were the sleepwear of necessity.... and occasionally, if the temperature dropped below zero, mittens and the odd wooly hat were added to the nighttime ensemble; our quest for warmth overriding any embarrassment.

We had no need of an alarm clock; as at dawn the cockerel crow mingled with the throaty roar of the tractor, and slow, low bellowing as the cows made their way to be milked , made sleep impossible.
Later a brimming milk churn would appear on the doorstep, still  warm from the parlour, with the cream already settling on the top. This was the perk of the first up, to lavish on the porridge slow cooked on the aga.

The farm buildings were reached by a long narrow drive, flanked on one side by a coppice, and on the other by pasture bounded by a ditch. There was a solitary lamppost half way down resembling nothing so much as that which Lucy found when she stumbled through the wardrobe into Narnia.
Its light was always so dim, that on dark evenings stumbling into the ditch was all too real a possibility.
  The rain brought further hazards, as the coppice contained a pond beloved by spawning frogs, and the ditch was their destination of choice. Walking home in the dark became a test of skill and endurance. We would gingerly tiptoe, half blind by raindrops, staring through the darkness at our feet as frogs hopped under and over, all but invisible in the gloom. One wrong step could result in a sickening squelch if the poor victim failed to jump quickly enough. There were plenty of near misses, but we, graceful in this ballet of life and death, managed to avoid the ultimate horror of frog underfoot. Yet every morning after rain, a scene of carnage awaited; the tractor a merciless executioner, and the quickest of frogs unable to escape the enormous rolling wheels.

Squashed frogs splayed as if prepped  for a biology investigation, slowly desiccating in the sun,is an enduring memory; and probably the reason why I cherish the squat White's frogs that live in the safety of our vivarium; appearing once the lamp is extinguished, to sit wide eyed like comical gargoyles on the heads of long suffering water dragons; and softly croak to the rising of the moon.







Saturday, 30 November 2013

Ravelling and unravelling

As a child, Granny knitted us woolly socks to keep our toes warm on those days when we squeezed the most mileage from even the scantest of snowfall to build snowmen, or indulge in those vicious snowball fights that always ended in tears. Our fingers quickly turned red, then blue from the damp cold seeping through our gloves, until frozen to the bone we ran inside, white faced and breathless, to jostle for the warmest spot by the fire.

My cousins too were mavens of the knitting world; no tangled wool and slipped stitches to hinder their progress, rather the steady click of the needles in precision harmony. Complex cardigans of every hue, adorned with cable, lacing, basket weave and all manner of intricate patterning flew from metal at lightning speed; leaves, cherries and delicate buttonholes appearing with seemingly magical ease under their skilful fingers. I was lost in admiration as I watched them chat and knit; following the most difficult of instructions with a confidence  I could only hope to aspire to.

As an uncoordinated, clumsy child; knitting was not an obvious choice; but one day I spied a pattern for a jumper in my mother's magazine, that I just couldn't bear to live without. I had to learn to knit if only to possess such an item........ and so it began, the slow tortuous process; made more difficult by the complexities of awkward left-handedness.
But knit I did; battling through the dropped stitch, tangled wool stage, until I found a fluid rhythm that, although nowhere near the speed and dexterity of my cousins, sufficed to produce a good interpretation of the jumper I had so longed for. Confidence brimming, I took on further challenges, knitting mohair hoops of black and red to provide my brother with a 'Dennis the Menace' delight; and venturing into the pattern book of Norwegian sweaters knitted on circular needles.

As with all things, life moved on, and the  knitting needles were put away in the sewing drawer to lie in the dark bereft of the coloured yarns that had twisted and turned around them. But just last week, I stumbled across a cornucopia of wool in a shop that just cried out to be bought; so I did, along with a new set of needles.

They say you never forget a skill once acquired, but knitting is a vicious mistress; and with the echo of chemo and tamoxifen befuddled synapses slowing me down, I found myself back at the tangled wool and dropped stitch frustration stage once more. I cast on, knitted, frowned, unravelled, recast, knitted, dropped stitches, unravelled, picked them up again...... then suddenly, quite by chance, touched upon the smooth rhythm I had first discovered all those years ago. The sheer elation of finishing a small square of cable and stocking stitch took me by surprise; a feat so insignificant marking another dropped stitch picked up, in a life unravelled.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Dem Bones......

I love this ring, it's a huge knuckle-dusting weighty piece of beauty;  a Tank Girl special that sits loosely on my finger and taps against the table as I write. It is a post chemo ring, spied in a shop nestling amongst the girly bling rings, a strange interloper, oddly out of place, but with my name firmly stamped on it. Bought with a smile and worn with love, it has become the key piece of my bone collection.

In the healing weeks post mastectomy, before the onslaught of chemo, my sister and I went shopping for the hats and scarves I knew were to become my headwear of necessity . No acrylic itchy wigs for me; rather soft silks, warm wools; plain, patterned and carefully turbaned .... my choices in which to swathe my head and hide FEC's poisoned touch.
We had a glorious time, and stumbled upon the perfect item, a scarf of skulls and roses, artfully printed so at first glance the skulls appeared to be buds hiding in amongst the leaves. It became my talisman, to be worn at every chemo session to keep black thoughts at bay. It made me smile to think that in this place where the tussle with death was played out amongst the young and the old, I would carry death's symbol as a totem .

When my veins gave up, shrinking and stiffening at the thought of  bright red toxins, and my Hickman line was introduced; I bought skeleton tees, soft against this new scar, further talismans against my stumbling body and an immune system which had all but ceased to function.

Now I am firmly back in the land of the living, I still find myself drawn to the skulls and bones that saw me through those dark difficult days.
My Charlie Chaplin and skeleton mariachi  tees add gentle humour to dull day outfits, their quiet significance lost on those around me; and my scarves no longer turbaned round a smooth bald scalp, nestle cozily around my neck on those days when my bones ache and the cold seeps into my very core.
 I found a bird skull ring for sale on the internet today.....just one more piece for the collection, perhaps.....




Friday, 22 November 2013

Winter warmer

On the cold winter nights of my teenage years, pyjama clad and with cheeks still rosy from the hottest of baths; I would scurry downstairs to bask in the glow of the open fire, or sit with a book, back pressed against the radiator, to soak up the warmth before braving the chill of the hallway .
Thick woolly socks were the natural choice to keep the cold from creeping through my toes, and an old fisherman's jersey belonging to my father, to swathe my body in warm familiarity. I loved that jumper, with its slightly unravelling cuffs, flecks of colour amidst the grey, and  faint aroma of apple tobacco. It was a fail safe for wintery nights; or for those days when the chill seeped under my skin and I arrived home from school pale faced , with teeth chattering and feet like ice. I guarded it jealously, keeping it in my drawer during the long days of Summer; bringing it out to lie at the foot of my bed as the days shortened and the frost on the grass welcomed in the chilly Autumn days. 
When I headed off for university, however, I chose not to take my beloved jumper with me.... It was a house garment, too bulky to pack, too parochial, I reasoned to myself..... so I left it, with the promise it would once again swathe me in warmth when I returned at Christmas. That was the last time I ever saw it; I arrived home for the holiday to discover my mother, in an act of charitable kindness, had given my jumper away!!
 I still recall its frayed cuffs and slightly flecked wool with fondness; but above all it is the faint aroma of apple tobacco I miss the most.





Sunday, 17 November 2013

Soup kitchen

Now the cold weather has begun in earnest, I find myself dressing in layers; a practical exercise beloved by mothers, and rebelled against by reluctant teens. Tamoxifen is a fickle friend, causing huge fluctuations in body temperature that central heating alone won't fix; so I compromise, layering tees under thin sweats with thick knits, and scarves on top, to be cast aside as the heat in my body rises. I have re fallen in love with an old cashmere cardi, bought in a sale years ago, whisper soft and gentle on my cold bones. It is my fail safe; long and pocketed, perfect for pulling on over pyjamas first thing , before the heating launches into action, allowing me to brave the chill and scurry down to the kitchen to brew the first pot of coffee of the day.
It is weather like this that makes me crave warming dishes; chilli con carne, lasagne , curries  and deep crusty pies...... but most of all soup. Not shop bought, pre packed  sterile tasting soup, but the soup we ate as children; thick and flavoursome, tasting of love and comfort.

My mother is the queen of the soup pot. She has perfected her skills to a fine art; adding handfuls of this, sprinkles of that, and interesting titbits encased in those little bowls of 'leftovers' from the back of the fridge, to a heavy based pan slowly simmering on the stove. I'm sure at one time there was a recipe, yet over the years, it was tweaked and enhanced until it metamorphosed into something special, the taste of home. Carrot and coriander was a staple, served up with chunks of  crumbly homemade bread. Then, with the addition of leftover Sunday veg, Jerusalem artichokes,a couple of courgettes, a grind of pepper, and a sprinkling of herbs, it transformed into a thick veggie delight, to stick to the ribs and banish the chill.

On days like today I too find myself in the kitchen, making soup. Not the same as my mother's; but rich and warming all the same ....  My favourite being slow roasted root vegetables, smokey with paprika, hinting at  the warm slow fire of chillies . My thin soups of summer, tangled with noodles and fragrant with lemongrass, ginger and lime are a thing of the past; put away ready for Springtime. Now is the time for robust flavours, for Harissa paste, Ras al Hanout, and the dried chillies from the garden. Yesterday evening I found a bunch of coriander lurking at the back of the vegetable drawer.....today my kitchen will once more smell of home.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Facing the fear




As children we were fearless; careering downhill on skateboards,oblivious to traffic; intent on speed. On wild windy days we would unfasten our coats and, holding the billowing sides above our heads, harness the wind to drive us along on our roller-skates; twisting and turning our arms to steer the way.
During the seemingly endless days of Summer, we spent many an afternoon in the garden building walls from boxes.....before crashing into them on our bikes at top speed, with all the panache of the most daring stuntmen; scattering cardboard, and sometimes ourselves, to the four corners of the lawn.
 Weekends were spent scrambling up to the tallest tree branches in the park or swinging on ancient frayed rope swings over cool forest streams. We would dare each other to climb higher, swing harder, vying to be the best, the bravest. For us, adventure was king, and setbacks part and parcel of pushing our limits. Cut knees, broken bones, bruised skin and bruised egos were learning curves; and there were plenty of those to be had.

Looking back, I often wonder at what point we became cautious, and lost that carefree attitude to danger. Is the loss of fearlessness a prerequisite of 'growing up' or is it that life simply changes, regiments, loses that instantaneous joy of just being?
 I found my rollerblades in the back of the cupboard today, and am tempted to grasp the nettle and speed down the hill opposite our house ..... Just to see if I can throw caution to the winds and be fearless once more.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Back in the saddle

I grew up surrounded by ponies. Not the mane plaited,glossy hoofed, gymkhana jumping kind; but the wild ponies of the forest, with their docked tails, dusty coats and deliberate habit of congregating on narrow roads to prevent easy passage. Part of the local scenery, they nonchalantly hung out with the donkeys; a picture postcard for snap happy tourists...... but I loved them best galloping wild across the heath, spurred on by some invisible force, their hooves muffled in the scrub; or in the early morning, stoically standing swathed in the rising mists; whinnying to foals lying couched in heather. These were the free - unfettered by saddles and bridles, skittish and unpredictable; accepting the odd pat from gentle hands only if the mood took them, soft mouthed for picnic treats, but with a vicious nip for the unwary.

I wasn't a child who yearned to ride, but there was something soothing about being amongst these beasts. We would go to the stud where dad and his friend had Welsh Mountain ponies, and I would bury my hands into the oats to breathe in the smell of their soft breath. I did not fear them, and would happily clamber into a saddle, should the opportunity arise; which from time to time it did.
I was not an elegant rider like my father mid polo match, or my sister who seamlessly flowed as one with her chosen mount. I was the Thelwell sketch, awkward in the saddle, all elbows and knees-spurring on my steed with blind optimism; ever hopeful that the pony was far better versed than I, and would carry me safely on my way. Mostly this method worked, but one afternoon as we trotted up the field, I suddenly found myself  forcefully ejected from the saddle, landing in a vicious gorse bush. Pride battered and jeans full of prickles I picked myself up, dusted myself down, and did the only sensible thing..... gingerly remounting and heading for the stables; my blind trust in ponies forever dented.

Lately, after months of uncertainty leaving me somewhat battered and bruised, I have managed to pick myself up,brush myself down, and once again climb back into the saddle.
Being at work once more has soothed me, but my blind trust is now, like my trust in ponies, somewhat tarnished.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The fine art of surfacing

Shoe shod, sleekly coiffed and city suited; my journey back into the land of the living has begun in earnest . No longer a piece of  discarded  flotsam and jetsam, battered by the pull and crash of  breaking waves; I have become as driftwood cast onto new shores offering a wealth of interesting possibilities.
The kindness of strangers has allowed me fully to become myself , a wiser, stronger version; the salt stung scrapes and bruises from the rolling surf fading into memory; my feet firmly anchored to the dry land once more.


Monday, 4 November 2013

Lifeline

When I was small I used to brave the rolling waves; allowing them to crash over me, tumbling through and over and under, before being deposited in a jumble of limbs and wild mermaid hair onto the shingle. Eyes salt stung, breathless and cold-trembling, it was my personal battle with the surf; yet the feeling of being amidst the crests and foam was exhilarating. Finally, teeth chattering, blue lipped and exhausted, I would reluctantly admit defeat; creeping back to shore to lie in the hollows between stones so the sun could warm my shivering bones.

Lately I have once again been tumbled over stones, under the weight of heavy water; exhilaration replaced by the overwhelming fear of an uncertain future. But today a small gesture has spun a lifeline to reel me back to solid ground once more.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Press pause....

Stuck in suspended animation, no drive to move forward, no way to get back . It is as if the pause button has been pushed whilst I wasn't looking. Every day is Groundhog Day .... my default cosy knits and vintage tees hold no surprises, my inbox holds no offers, my phone no messages. The still quiet of the house, once soothing , is now oppressive .... hours are spent curled up, iPad in hand, searching job sites for my redemption; whilst my brain slowly turns to thick silt and my confidence wilts to nothing.
I cook, I clean, I bake and I blog; all the while moving as though underwater. I need to shake myself loose from this torpor that I have allowed in,  give myself a stern talking to, and come up for air........

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Bedtime stories

When my son was much younger, we would snuggle up together on the 'big bed' every evening and read his favourite picture books. I would put on my best silly voices, and he would join in the refrain. It never mattered how tired he was, he would force himself to stay awake for 'just one more'.
 This nightly ritual was evocative of a simpler  time and place; when it was my sisters and I who curled up under warm blankets whilst my mother perched, book in hand, at the edge of the bed.
By the dim glow of a bedside lamp, my mother's soothing voice would transport us to Narnia, to Asgard, to the hidden garden behind the ivy clad wall. We flew to distant lands with the Phoenix, and climbed sooty chimneys to discover the friendly ghosts of Green Knowe
Sleepy eyed, with teeth fresh brushed and newly bathed bodies pyjama clad; we would clamour for just one more page,  one more chapter, not wanting to leave those worlds behind.
 It was here, in these moments, that I found my love for words, and the deep satisfying language of well crafted stories.

Now my son is older there is no need for the bed time ritual, as he reads alone deep into the night; books precariously piled beside his bed with spines cracked and pages bent. Often I have to go up and turn out his lamp, feigning annoyance that he is not asleep; whilst secretly thinking how alike we really are ... but the other evening as I was putting fresh linen on my bed, he appeared in the doorway, book in hand, to read to me. It was a gruesome and gory story, beloved of young teens and as befits Hallowe'en; yet as he read, I recognised in the tone and cadence of his words the soothing bedtime story voice we all seem to share........


Sunday, 27 October 2013

Slow Sunday

For today I am the tin man, rusted and unmoving. Joints ache, and I stumble as I take the stairs.The cold and damp has seeped into every joint, swelling knuckles and knees; making my spine creak and groan. It is a day for swathing myself in soft tees and cosy knits, for snuggling on the sofa with borrowed lives from the well worn pages of 'The Night Circus'....  cocooned in my own little world, safe from the wind and rain, with a steaming cup of coffee and newly remembered bar of dark chilli chocolate; it strikes me that there is much to be said for a little Sunday self indulgence;

Friday, 25 October 2013

Fabulous fungi


I went walking in the woods today, accompanied by two small people who ran, scrambled and found joy in hollowed trunks and fallen branches; and a friend with whom I can relax and simply be. It was somewhere peaceful, away from the dirt, dust and disappointment of city streets; and the unproductive journeys that seem to make up the pattern of my new existence.

Meandering along wooded paths in the thin sunlight; though carpets of fading golden leaves and browning acorns that crunched underfoot; we stumbled across a feast of mushrooms, bursting with promise. Cocooned under their Autumn blankets, or standing proud in the open, the colours, patterns and textures called out to be photographed...... 


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Talking stones

When I was small, I found a pebble down by the shore. Tumbled smooth from the ebb and flow of countless tides, and warmed by the sun, it sat in the curve of my palm; a rough hewn heart shape, grey and somewhat insignificant. I stumbled across it in my box today; amongst those little things that follow us around which have small face value yet are intrinsically woven into the fabric of memory.

I love shingle beaches at the height of summer; winding my way on unsteady, unshod feet over sun baked stones; creating a perfect hollow in which to lie and drift away to the sound of pebbles relentlessly pulled and rolled by the waves.... and always the stones, smooth worn, patterned and plain, made glossy by the surf in those moments when the tide was high; or dulled by the sun and warm to the touch. Digging down amidst them, there was  sea glass to be discovered ; soft green and opaque like a frosted window. A small collection, carefully chosen, would be amassed by my towel to be used when the tide was low and the soft sand uncovered enough to build castles. The stones would play their parts dependent on size, shape and colour. A window, turret roof or portal would be carefully selected, and the shells by the shoreline used as a crowning decoration. If luck was with me, I would find the perfect flag of seaweed, and discarded lolly stick as standard bearer; or a gull's feather to anoint the tallest tower. A moat would be built, with a channel to the sea, and the hopeful promise of waves to do their work and fill it without crumbling the walls.

When the time finally came to gather belongings and set off for home, I would agonise over which of my treasures to bring back; a smooth pebble that smelled of seaweed and had the salt taste of waves, or the frosted sea glass from sunken galleons and times past. One day I must have chosen this heart pebble; and unlike the others that stayed on the shelf in my room, then dusty and forgotten found their way into the garden beds, this was put into my box of delights to lie still in the darkness holding on to memories.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Tongue tied

Today is a struggle; searching for the words and phrases stuck in blocked pathways or lying limp, heavy and defeated on paper. Music does not soothe, but jars against the sound of a pen scratch, a crumpling of notes, and the click of the off switch.
..... A run to banish cobwebs and fire up the sluggish synapses is in order. A deadline awaits and the clock is counting down.



Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Dipping my toes....

Yesterday I rejoined the world; city clothes, lipstick smile and genteel heels, a transformation from faded denim and cosy knits. I entered a new place, dry mouthed with the clamouring of pent up butterflies and the weeks of uncertainty,  to see if it were somewhere I could find a re-beginning.
Warmly welcomed , listened to and appreciated; the realisation that those skills I believed faded , jaded and lacking were indeed still sharp and current; breathed life into my shrivelled confidence.
Pitched against an internal candidate, I knew it was not to be; yet perversely it affirmed I am as capable as I once believed, before the maelstrom tumbled me over stones  leaving me battered and bruised.
My city clothes await the next sortie; which may bring me back to the world for good.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Letting go

It is said that when one door closes, another opens..... but what if there are no more doors? or those that remain, stay resolutely closed; tight locked and blank faced.
Words sent out into the ether spin and turn in space unnoticed, ignored or put aside.
The irons in the fire are darkening; connections crumbling to dust.
This is the beginning of the letting go.

Monday, 7 October 2013

"Me and my cousins...."

Vampire Weekend's Contra; formally the soundtrack to those seemingly endless sessions at the chemo unit, now small son's music of choice when riding shotgun in my car. I love the layered rhythms, he loves to sing along; songs from difficult times transformed into one of those easy connections between the two of us.

He invariably flips through to 'cousins', the chorus of which immediately conjures up images of my grandparents' garden, and an old photo of my siblings, maternal cousins and I lined in height order from eldest to youngest; standing on the low wall around the fishpond.
Clad in sensible brown shoes, wrinkled socks and party dress, my place for now is at the very end of the line; my brother absent, as yet unborn. It is easy to guess who my siblings are...with matching home sewn dresses of rich blue, wide white sashes and different coloured hair ribbons to identify us. My sash as usual is twisted the wrong way, as I stand solid, one sock up, one sock down, squinting into the lens.

This is just one of  many line ups that span across the years; order changing as our ages no longer define how tall we have grown, clothing reflecting the latest trends.
Now when we gather together, it is our sons who form the line ups with us; boys and parents intermingled as they tower above us on their way to adulthood.

I have often wondered how it would be if we were all to come together for the ultimate line up..... Cousins, spouses, offspring in size order as tradition dictates ; a long line spanning generations. We would, of course, have to find a very long wall!






Saturday, 5 October 2013

Solitary confinement

Today I am snail like; retreating from the world into my own small space filled with soft sounds and soothing familiarity. It is a day for curling up with cats, coffee in hand, to watch other peoples' lives play out on screen.  A stack of DVDs grows as I pick and choose ; but as to sit and watch all day would be the height of self indulgence I decide upon just one, with a vow to hoover the house before I start......leading to a flurry of activity and three very disgruntled cats.
 A thought strikes me that I am allowing myself to slump into lethargic mode; which is so alien to how my days used to be. To counter this I transform into a whirling dervish; starting at the top of the house, and with each descent, chasing away the dust with a roaring vacuum and keen eye. Bathrooms next, spray, scrub and mop and finally the kitchen.
Feeling less guilty, and with the justified excuse for skipping a gym visit, I settle down at last to watch 'Untouchable'.... A fabulous French film, filled with warmth, humour and stark realities. It is well crafted , and says a great deal about the human condition.
As the end credits role and the quiet of the house surrounds me , I am painfully aware that my days, once filled with the hum of conversation, the ringing of phones, and all the human interactions that make up the busy workplace; have fallen largely silent. I travel east or south to the bustling markets not only for the artisan and home grown ingredients to fill my pantry, but for the comfort of strangers; to be amongst people as they converse in the shops and caf├ęs, to be around the hustle and bustle of daily living once more.
My irons in the fire need to be stoked, and my career rebooted. I have to retrieve that sense of excitement and purpose that once drove my every waking hour, confront the daemons that dragged my confidence into the dust and give them a good kicking!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Order! Order!

Today my husband looked on bemused as, pegs in hand, I ordered wet washing on the line. There is logic in my method, but a logic he does not quite understand.... the order of garments by item, size, weight and in pairs, means that when the wind and sun have done their work (or in the case of sudden showers) I can quickly unpeg and fold into the awaiting bag; heaviest to the bottom, lightest on top, socks together. It is a habit borne of a violent dislike of ironing, and the efficiency of returning clean clothing to their rightful places.
I need order amidst the clutter of family life; regimented laundry being just a small taste of my mild obsession.
Last evening we wound our way through the giant labyrinth of functional Swedish household goods to find that elusive of all grails; the perfect CD storage. I watched, with hands firmly in lap, and mouth silent, as CDs were transferred in haphazard manner to gloss red drawers. In my mind I catalogue how it should be; Eddie Vedder next to Pearl Jam,This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins sharing space, whilst Goreki and Arvo Part join the classics in their own bespoke compartment. My hands itch to rifle through and re arrange, but I stifle that thought for a time when the house is still and there is no one to judge this particular foible; the bookshelves a testament to longstanding differences in our methodology. How can I logically explain why Aiping Mu and Hong Ying can share shelf space; but must be followed by Achee Min , before Amy Tan and Bi Feiyu are placed? My husband categorises by size, and weight; I categorise by timeline, author, genre and  thoughts contained within. It leads to a higgledy piggledy interweaving, yet I can stretch out a hand and immediately grasp what I am seeking.....until it is moved, that is! I wince when I find Dante next to George Orwell, and Primo Levi looking out forlornly from a shelf bursting with Zola and Sartre ....

Loathe as I am to publicly admit it, yes, I am that person who surreptitiously rearranges books; re folds clothes in Zara, and who repositions those CDs and DVDs in HMV who have drifted far from home. I dread to think what a therapist would think of it all !!






Monday, 30 September 2013

Cat nap

There is something special about clean linen, fresh from the line, smelling of sky and new mown grass. Crease free and cool to the touch, I smooth, tuck and straighten; controlling and confining billowing duvets and over plumped pillows into the perfect symmetry of a well made bed.
 Cats wind around my ankles watching, waiting to claim those first  squatters rights to stretch out and doze the day away, safe in the knowledge I am too soft hearted to banish them when bedtime comes; choosing instead to wrestle my square footage of duvet from beneath their soft, supine forms......subconsciously matching my breathing to the low vibration of a contented purr as I curl into vacant spaces and slide slowly into sleep.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Signs of the times

I live with a goat and a bull, testosterone driven, who paw at the ground snorting and bellowing; locking horns with all the sound and fury they can muster. Too alike to see they are of the same mould, they battle for the right to be heard, to be seen, to be justified..... whilst I, the small fish, glide between angry hooves soothing, pacifying, rebalancing; until almost by default I am transformed into the troll beneath the rickety bridge, and they, united at last, can enter the green meadow.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Clean and fresh


I am the queen of gleaming porcelain ; citrus -over- bleach scented , showroom ready, watermarks wiped away. My prayer flag of  colourful laundry flutters in a gentle breeze, as the weak sun breaks through the morning mists to spotlight socks in pairs - whites with whites, stripes with stripes; shirts and towels sized in perfect order; a stark witness to a mild compulsion.
Freshly ironed shirts grace the wardrobes , and the act of symmetrical folding renders drawers smooth opening and crease free.

Today's flurry of domestic duty hides the deeper truth. I am at heart a slattern; happiest curled on comfy cushions, glasses perched on nose to blur the dust soft settling around me; allowing words sharp focus. My book-stack beckons, full of promise and the scent of fresh pages whilst I , always eager to submit to the sirens' call, shrug off this mantel of domesticity and retreat once more to my true form.








Friday, 20 September 2013

East End

Today I travelled east to where the bright young fashionistas sip bespoke coffee, or stand on cobbled corners sketching the world as it drifts slowly by. I browsed through vintage racks of prints and plains to seek out clothes I'd worn the first time round; and gazed into shop windows filled with sumptuous fabrics from far flung places; crying out to be cut, stitched and shaped in soft folds.
I wandered down sun drenched lanes,where street art and graffiti mark the gritty urban cool of a coveted postal address; stumbling upon little cafes where spice is king and aromas beckon the hungry passer by.
My bag was quickly filled with pungent French cheeses, artisan earrings and soft organic t-shirts; before giving into temptation and snacking on crumbling carrot cake and double espresso to the background sound of indie pop and a spluttering  gaggia.
It  was relaxing; a trip away from the usual to and fro of my humdrum existence.....an escape to a place of infinite possibilities,that shall be stored carefully away for future reference.






Monday, 16 September 2013

Comfort


Now that the warmth of Summer has leached from the day, the cool of Autumn sends me scurrying for my scarf drawer to drape soft silks, wools and cottons round my neck.
This is how I find myself unconsciously echoing the rhythms of childhood ; burrowing my nose down into their gentle folds as I curl up on the sofa lost in a book.

As a small child 'manky' went everywhere with me. It was a piece of my mother's silk petticoat, that felt cool and gentle against my skin and smelt of love and comfort. Cocooned under thick quilts at night, I would stroke it slowly against my cheek,soothing my body into sleep. During my waking hours it was clutched tight in my hand as I went about my daily routine. It was a part of me, my protection against a confusing world.

 Being a third child, I wanted so much to be accepted as a 'big girl' in the eyes of my family;  so one chilly night when the fire was roaring in the grate, and my father was home on leave, I solemnly put down my mug of warm milk and handed him 'manky' ; demanding that he put into the flames..... which of course, he did!

Watching 'manky' slowly disintegrate into ashes was, I suppose, a small rite of passage.......... the funny thing is since that night, I cannot bear to drink hot milk


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Into the forest


On sultry summer days we go to the woods, small son and I , to walk along windy tracks dappled by sunlight,and to sit in the cool shade of tall trees.

There is something special about the quiet ; a heavy stillness, broken only by the gentle rustle of a stray leaf dropping through the canopy, or the sudden trill of birdsong. We seek out the fallen giants , where ants and beetles wind their way through slow crumbling bark and fungus blooms; to balance and scramble across broken branches and exposed roots.

As children the forest was our playground. Dog in tow, we would stomp through springing heather, down rutted tracks and into to shady glades, to  net sticklebacks in cool slow running streams; or rustle amongst the fallen leaves for the green prickly cases plumped with nut brown conkers.

There was always an empty bag or two for sweet chestnuts, which we would peel and eat as we walked, our mouths puckering around the slightly cotton feel of raw kernel unsweetened by roasting. Blackberry gathering demanded a tub, and a walk away from the beaten paths to the places where they grew in abundance. Purple stained hands and mouths signalling a good harvest, to be sugared and stirred and transformed into sweet bramble jelly.

The blackberries are ripening now; and as I pass the swathes of bushes at the end of the road, I can't help but think to myself  that perhaps it's time I learnt to make my own jam .













Thursday, 12 September 2013

Lazy daze.....

This past week I have become as a cat; curled on soft cushions devouring words and dreaming of warm sun. My book pile grows as I browse reviews; purchasing new worlds and other lives with the tap of a smooth screen, whilst a soft shuffle iPod soothes the silence.
Life has slowed and I walk through my world on unshod feet; wrapped in the comfort layers of  vintage tees and  soft wash denim. Lethargy is king now there are no demands to mark my passing hours, no calls, no meetings, no long corridors to stride in high heels and determined air.

To awake from this lotus eater's existence isn't easy, but today I forced my unwilling body to the gym, to stretch, to glow,to remember true tiredness. A 3k run, a slow hill climb then 20 lengths of the cool blue pool.... Just me, myself and I.
 I felt every step, every stroke, in the smallest of joints, the tightest of muscles; but I also felt refreshed, revitalised and ready to rejoin the world.





Saturday, 7 September 2013

Heartwarming


Some say that chicken soup is the panacea for all ills.... but for me it's tomato; slow roasted, fresh from the vine.

The sweetness of red onion, fine chopped and softened in a glug of olive oil, tomatoes scattered with sea salt and added to the pot; no need for chopping, skins hold in the flavour as they cook. Basil and thyme from the garden, crushed garlic and a chilli for warmth.

The kitchen smells of comfort as the oven does its work.... Skins burst, juice mingles, onions and garlic caramelise. Now the stock ; with sugar to cut through the acid and sweeten the mood.. smooth blended, rich and inviting.

A crumble of cheese and tortilla chips to garnish....... et voila! Happiness in a bowl, to warm the heart and banish the dark clouds.




Thursday, 5 September 2013

Shedding skin....


I am the woman who talks to cats, who mumbles as she walks; thoughts clamouring to be released. I move through the world like a ghost; unheard and unseen whilst all around the masses go about their daily courses.

The rumour mill rumbles on and I, unwilling to share the why's and how's, the gaze of others; make myself small, insignificant... to be overlooked and forgotten.

I read, I dream, I listen to the silence; my days humdrum and ordinary. I miss the hustle and bustle, the noise, the joy and the frustrations that used to colour the hours.

 I have learnt to bask in the warmth of the sun, to be still in the silence; but I have not yet learnt to grow a new skin and start out into the world.

   

Monday, 2 September 2013

A great escape

So we celebrated my non return to work, small son and I, by travelling up to town.
We spent the day meandering along sun scorched pavements,  through shady alleyways, and out onto grand plazas; where fountains sprayed and tumbled, and workers snacked on pre packed deli delights.
 We gorged our senses on museum exhibits, and our bellies with Italian peasant food.
We browsed through books, bought random trinkets and stopped to take in the river views.....
It felt good, a way to exhale at last; to banish the sadness, the sense of failure, and gather a little glimpse of how it could be.
Tomorrow,when the house is still and silent, I shall hold this glimpse in my head and teach myself to breathe once more.




Sunday, 1 September 2013

.....I don't like Mondays.......


Midnight has struck, and with the last chime, my life has changed irrevocably.
Until now, the thought of not returning to work could be pushed deep into the darker recesses of my mind, as the daily humdrum filled my waking moments. But as Monday approaches and the house will once again be still and silent; the realisation that I won't be rushing out of the door, laptop in hand, ready to do battle with whatever the day brings, is suddenly a very daunting prospect.

For so many years I  have been defined by what I do, not only by others, but also by myself. I have breathed my work into every corner of my life; so now I find myself struggling to redefine who I am. I catch myself  composing emails, and planning to do lists in my head; only to be pulled up short as I realise that this is no longer my responsibility, there is no one to email, nothing more to do.

Time stretches before me, to be filled with the promise of fresh starts , new horizons, greater challenges....... but my confidence is gone, and the thought of taking a risk fills me with a cold dread.

If this were Wonderland, an innocuously labelled cake would point me in the right direction; well either that or an enigmatic cat, grinning from ear to ear.....but as of yet, I am left searching for a glimpse of  the elusive  white rabbit.





Friday, 30 August 2013

All is Rosie.....


3 am is the witching hour; when once again I find myself curled on the sofa listening to the chirrup of crickets, who seem blissfully unaware they are soon to be a dragon's breakfast.
My joints ache, and the Tamoxifen induced night sweats make me a restless bedfellow.

There is something strangely soothing about cricket song, an evocative sound that instantly transports me back to the endless summer days of childhood; when the sun always shone and we were free to roam to the forest or beach, with strict instructions to be home before tea.

 We roamed as a pack, we neighbourhood kids; safety in numbers, eldest looking out for youngest.... and sibling rivalries, for the most part, kept for home. Our days were spent cycling through winding country lanes, to picnic by cool forest streams where sticklebacks and water boatmen darted through the shallows; or to the beach to mould our bodies into the warm shingle, drowsy and hypnotised by the gentle shush of waves .

I like to think it was like this... but was it really?  We all edit our lives as if to play out on the big screen; boredom, pain and conflict removed; a past viewed through a filtered lens. We recall with fondness those uncomplicated moments when friends could be relied upon and the world was a forgiving place; choosing to omit the dark days, the dull days, the difficult times that also shaped who we are.

How will I edit my life at present? I'm not sure.... Perhaps it should stay as a first rush, the good, the bad and the ugly in brilliant high definition; and not a soft focus lens in sight.















Wednesday, 28 August 2013

New broom...


When the frustrations of my life get too much, I clean.

The sharp scent of ammonia and bleach bite at  my nostrils as I spray, scrub and wipe; the steady drone of the Hoover quieting the noise of the tumbling thoughts in my head.

Steamy hot water, foam on porcelain ; the squeak of the cloth as it scours away the dirt, grime and sense of failure.

Fingers prune, joints ache, a thin bead of sweat trickles down my spine .....
but my surroundings are transformed, order restored, and for a short while there is the quiet glow of satisfaction at a job well done.

This is my therapy

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Food for thought


I love how the garden smells after the rain; how everything looks so much greener and fresher. It's the best time to gather tomatoes, when the cool of the rain has released that scent of earth and promise, and the warmth of the sun has coloured the skins just enough to be seen amidst the tangle of leaves and vines. My small harvest is added to the mixture of tomatoes, chillies and peppers that have already found their way into the bowl on the side to finish ripening at their leisure; ready to be transformed into something delicious, or simply rubbed onto ciabatta with a drizzle of oil and sprinkling of salt. The simple act of eating something home grown, an echo of childhood.

When I was young I used to long for neat sandwiches made from shop brought bread, with pale crusts and uniform slices; filled with pink processed ham or squares of rubbery cheese and cut into even triangles; dainty and precise. I wanted so much to belong to the 'pristine lunchbox brigade' with their plastic bread and hermetically sealed cakes.

 Instead we ate 'real food' - home grown vegetables, freshly baked bread, cakes, biscuits and jams. No pre packed 'mothers pride' for us; rather the soft feel of dough beneath our hands, the ritual pull and push of the kneading  and  tang of yeast in the air; then later the first slice, still warm from the oven, spread with butter and the sweet amber promise of homemade jam.
The kitchen was ours (if we so chose)to chop, whisk, mix, stir and sprinkle; to fight over the last scrapings in the mixing bowl and to argue over whose turn it was to wash, and whose to dry.  The only rule being to clean up after ourselves.

My packed lunch sandwiches; crumbly and delicious, filled with last night's cold meat loaf and a dollop of ketchup, or slathered with marmite and stuffed with lettuce; used to be infused with the slight tinge of shame I felt upon comparing them with the pristine white squares and triangles of my fellow diners.....but this was secondary school, where standing out, even in small ways such as this, triggered a maelstrom of teenage angst.

Nowadays I find myself repeating  the rituals of childhood,  making my own raggedy sandwiches bursting with the fillings that taste of home.... jealously guarding jars of jam and marmalade from my mother's pantry shelves, and longing for a slice of warm fruit cake. Real food, prepared with love, with a taste that lingers in the memory long after it has been consumed.











Thursday, 22 August 2013

Dreaming of sleep


I love the sound of rain hitting window panes; especially at night, in the still of the house, when the dark surrounds me like a warm blanket, and the soft breathing of the cat adds a rhythm of its own.
It makes me feel safe, secure in the shelter of my home.

On nights like these, when insomnia strikes, I curl up on the sofa with a warm mug of chocolate and let my mind drift in the darkness. I miss sleep; my body craves it, but my mind pulls me back,and I know that until I clear the jumble in my head I will twist and turn in a tangle of sheets and limbs until the first streaks of light appear through slatted blinds.

As a child I had nightmares  so vivid  I can still recall them today. One recurring dream made my heart thud in terror; and often sent me scurrying to the comfort of my mother's bed...... There was a man in it, with empty eyes ; menacing and very real. He appeared out of no-where, a presence in the corner of my eye, coming steadily closer; turning my dreams into something very dark and dangerous. I was always afraid that should he catch me, I might never wake up.

This dream terrified me to such an extent, that I could never truly explain it; and then one day something happened........ I saw him, in the flesh; on a hot summers day at the beach.
 I was in a friend's beach hut, salty from the sea, wrapped in a towel and gathering clothes to change into when something made me look up. The door was pegged back, and as I stared out to the rolling waves, a man walked past carrying a blue crash helmet. He glanced through the open door  and met my gaze. It was him, it was definitely him! For a split second I remember not being able to breathe or move, waiting for whatever may come...... then relief flooding through my whole being as he turned his eyes back to the sea and walked away.

I have no idea who he was; some poor innocent bloke off for a stroll by the sea, no doubt; but for that split second he was the embodiment of all my fears..... and oddly enough he was also my saviour; as after that brief encounter, I never had that particular dream again.






Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Flushed away.......



When I was little my sisters persuaded me to flush a rather fetching pair of my red knickers down the loo; their argument being that dad would pick them up mid ocean , and bring them home again next shore leave. Exactly how this would have been possible I have no idea; but to my young mind it seemed an infinitely reasonable suggestion........ a view definitely not shared by my exasperated mother.

I have always  believed in the 'infinitely reasonable'; trusting rather than questioning  people's underlying motives..... although I am rapidly coming to the  conclusion that 'trust no one' would be a more enlightened path to take.

My surgeon was a case in point; promising 'a few stitches under local anaesthetic'  to repair two small sections of my stomach wound in order for it to successfully heal pre chemo.
In reality I lay on an operating table for the best part of an hour, whilst he carefully reopened a 6cm section to the depth of my first finger joint; then stitched it together again in three layers, using different sutures as he went. It was fascinating; if not vaguely surreal.... but 'a few stitches' it certainly wasn't!

Why then, when it was decided I needed a Hickman line, did I fall for the ' easily done under local anaesthetic' spiel?
I quickly learnt that "you will feel a little pressure" is a veiled euphemism for " this is going to be excruciatingly painful". So when the Hickman failed and had to be removed, you won't be surprised to hear that this too was billed as ' a straightforward procedure, no need for general anaesthetic' .......did I cease to believe, stamp my feet and demand to be fully sedated? No, but I sorely wish I had!
I will spare the gruesome details; save to say the theatre sister, mid procedure, firmly requested I was given more anaesthetic ; and at one point,  I swear the surgeon was leaning heavily on the table; pressing on my chest in order to yank the tube out.

Despite all the pain and discomfort, I was of course right to put my trust in the surgeons; yet in my working life, I wish I had trusted less, questioned more; and yes, even stamped my feet a little!
Part of me still wants to continue to believe that trust between people is all you need; that  'infinitely reasonable' suggestions are what they claim to be, and that everyone is working together for the common good...... Alas my cynicism has finally kicked in, and that blind trust, like my red knickers, has been all but 'flushed away'.











Saturday, 17 August 2013

Sweating the small stuff....

I always believed I was a little fish swimming with the tide; an amenable, adaptable 'go with the flow' type of person........it now appears I am a secret control freak!

I could blame cancer of course; as ultimately, when you are diagnosed, you take  that leap of faith and put your life in the capable hands of specialists. ... But actually I think it is definitely 'third child syndrome'.

I left the chemo unit after my first cycle of FEC ( 'fecking chemo', as it came to be known as) thinking ' that wasn't so bad, I can do this'; and eating sushi in the car on the trip home .... 5 hours later I was throwing up constantly, unable to keep down the back up anti sickness meds.
 Vomiting  first rice and fish, then water, and finally bright green bile for 10 hours straight is an edifying experience for all the wrong reasons. Looking back we refer to it as my 'Exorcist' moment, but in reality it was terrifying. Your body is no longer your own, and for all the bravado and 'Tank Girl' exterior in the face of an extremely worried husband and shell shocked son, all you really want to do is curl up and die quietly in a corner. I didn't, of course; the wonderful staff at A and E rehydrated me; finding the one vein in my arm that hadn't been burnt out, and sent me on my way still queazy, but with anti sickness meds that stood the test.

When you lose control in such a spectacular fashion, you fight to regain it in other ways; choosing when to have your head shaved, learning to inject yourself , eating healthy nutritious food and most of all ignoring the pain, nausea and fatigue to ensure a veneer of normality is maintained.
It becomes second nature to hold things together, keep things close and  become all things to all people. Without realising it, you begin to 'sweat the small stuff' and it becomes harder to let go.

Walking away from my job is scary; in doing so I have relinquished control, and am floundering, like Alice down the rabbit hole; trying to make sense of the new order of things. Do I need to 'sweat the small stuff' or is this a chance to be like the little fish I always imagined myself to be? Like Alice, only time will tell......







Wednesday, 14 August 2013

In at the deep end


When I was 3, I learnt to swim by default.

It was one of those rare, blistering hot summer days of salt kissed skin and ice cream on the beach. I was too hot in my armbands, and my sisters had no use for them; I wanted so much to be free to dive the waves. So, according to memory, I stripped them off and marched into the rolling surf.

In my minds eye I can recall being surprised when the first wave knocked me off my feet;spinning me under the wall of water. Indignant and determined I spat out half an ocean, and had another attempt, feet off floor, arms paddling like mad, waves buffeting rolling , relentlessly pushing against me..... But I swam, because not to swim never entered my mind.

Nowadays I swim in cool, blue pools, chlorinated, temperature controlled; safe and sterile. My mind can drift as I cut through the water...breathe in, breathe out.... A meditation to clear the jumble. Perhaps it has become too safe, and I need to sharpen my wits against the crashing waves and foam.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Step on a crack.......

When I was small, we used to play the pavement game.... you know, the one where you are not allowed to step on the cracks between paving stones, or some dreaded unmentionable thing would happen.
Somewhere along the line, I must have stepped on a huge crack, and fallen straight through; finding myself, after 14 years working in a place I loved, suddenly 'between jobs' .

When I lost a breast, there was no sense of shame; of having somehow become a non person; of having let everyone down. It needed to go and that was that. Losing my job, however, has wiped away my identity; rendering me paralysed and causing me to doubt my own worth.

'Take time out' is the constant message from lovely friends and family.... ' find something new; something you really want to do' .... sage advice I'm sure. So I make new routines, go swimming, watch movies , read the books on the pile that has grown by my bed; or put the ipod on shuffle and rediscover those long lost tracks whose haunting beauty had all but faded from memory. Yet all the while I am quietly grieving for what I have lost , and for who I used to be.

When I was undergoing chemo, my well used phrase in  dark moments  such as  these, was 'What would Tank Girl Do?' ...... Well, short of snogging a genetically engineered kangaroo; or driving a tank through my former employers' office; I am open to suggestions .






Saturday, 10 August 2013

Alex in Wonderland



My life at present is seemingly following Alice's path into Wonderland; complete with 'Duchess' who handed over something that was not as it seemed, and a 'Queen of Hearts' who is busy removing heads left, right and centre!

I, like Alice, am all at once left floundering at the bottom of a very dark rabbit hole; with the key just out of reach.

I would go and drink tea with the Mad Hatter; or seek advice from the Cheshire Cat; but as with all things, the Hatter is otherwise engaged and the Cheshire Cat has completely vanished.

There is no mushroom to restore equilibrium; just a toadstool, red and inviting.....but deadly.

Anyone know the whereabouts of a reliable white rabbit??



Friday, 9 August 2013

Bragging rights, scars and sibling competition

I drove home for a family lunch yesterday; and by home, I mean of course to the place where I grew up. It took 3 hours, but the iPod on shuffle kept me sane; as did the idle chatter of small son.

As I sat across from my eldest sister, a scar on her shoulder caught my eye. I knew of course that it was there, but it struck me that this was the first time I had actually seen it.

Scars are funny things; the physical manifestation of times of your life  that will never be forgotten, simply because they act as a permanent reminder.
 Childhood  mishaps, such as my 'spectacular skateboarding spill' and the long since forgotten feel of grit in an angry wound, have now faded to thin white hatch lines on a suntanned knee. Other scars remain fresh, however much they fade.

In my family we do scars incredibly well. Not your 'run of the mill, this is where I put my hand on broken glass' scars; but the deeper, darker scars of personal battles against our genetic inheritance. My eldest sister claimed first bragging rights..... A cut-throat scar; a hermetically sealed room; and much to our amusement, a Geiger counter in the bathroom! More scars followed, each surgery adding to her rights.

As with all things familial, we went in order from there; my second sister and I succumbing  to the  same diagnosis and operation within two years of each other. We were now the true Amazonians of braggers rights.
My sister's experience guided my choices, allowing me to be fearless ; and to  ultimately transform into her mirror image... hip to hip scars, my left to her right.
Through her experience,I knew what to expect and how to fight; she however was the brave pioneer with courage in spades.
When it was my turn to undertake what she had not; to watch bright red poison collapse my veins , to shave my head  and have tubes pushed deep into my chest; I learnt how to be brave in my own right.
Now every morning when I look at my scars; secretly, and in a way only those with siblings will understand, I think to myself ' I am the queen of the bragging rights '




Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Making connections

I went to see Visions of the Universe at the Greenwich Maritime museum today, and as I sat transfixed at incredible views of crab nebulas, and the beauty of exploded stars; I became aware of a repeated phrase of background music; just a couple of chords really, but enough to send my mind into a frantic tailspin, desperately searching for where I had heard them before. It has just come to me now; 'Les Revenants,' a French series freshly aired on TV... Not the same music; but those same chords ....

Back at the museum, I was also drawn to the panoramic of mars..... Because at a certain point it brought memories of the Atlas Mountains to mind. ...... Well I did say I had a butterfly brain!

Monday, 5 August 2013

The art of giving....

I enjoy buying gifts; it's truly a selfish act, however; and probably brings me greater joy than the poor recipient! Perhaps it's because I believe I find just the thing... A book, a piece of clothing, a quirky mug, a film.... And then, in the cold light of day, I realise what I am really doing is foisting my eclectic tastes upon unsuspecting friends and family!

My latest offering ( and to my shame, I have given this to multiple recipients) is 'The book of human skin' by Michelle Lovric.
It is a sumptuous delight; shocking at times, yet humorous and compulsive reading. I'm not sure what my mother will make of it!
In my defence, I balanced out my gift by also giving her Tan Twang Eng's 'The garden of Evening Mists'  beautifully written, with an elegance of style which ensured I went scurrying straight back to the bookshop and bought 'The gift of rain'

..... And that's another thing, although Amazon and I are best of friends; nothing quite beats a good bookshop on a rainy afternoon.... The scent of new books, the feel and weight of the pages ; the way time seems to slow as your eyes scan for that special book that you simply must have..... even if you have no idea what exactly it is you came in for.


Sunday, 4 August 2013

How to begin

A friend once told me I had a butterfly mind; and I daresay they were correct. 
Random thoughts scatter, triggered by an image, the scent of something familiar , a piece of music, the feel of fabric, a turn of phrase.... twisting and linking together to make connections. 
If I were creative I would harness these; channel them into something special, something meaningful...... I always mean to; but as with all butterfly minds, something new grabs my attention and off I ramble once more......