Poetry instead of Tea

Today there was poetry in the afternoon, instead of tea.  The instigator of the Poetry in Motion group, Clio Gray (author and library assistant at Tain library), read from Gerald Manley Hopkins. The subject was ‘birds’ and she selected ‘The Woodlark’ to read. These poems are written to be read out loud, to be listened to.  The writing is full of sound and movement and puts you right there, seeing and hearing what the poet sees and hears.

It reminded me of what an interesting and original poet Gerald Manley Hopkins was; he invented new words and new forms. His language was always vibrant, lively and very visual.  In spite of the era, and his religious leanings, it is still very relevant and accessible.  He is definitely one of our great nature poets. Sadly most of his poems weren’t published until 1918, well after his death in 1889; he was little read in his own lifetime.

He suffered from depression’ like John Clare, and wrote a series of what he called ‘terrible poems’ about those ‘dark’ days, which may not be his best known, or finest work, but still have much merit.

I’ve not read any of his poetry for years, and this is a good excuse to revisit it. He is well worth reading, and I’ll certainly be looking out my dog-eared Penguin copy of his poetry and prose.  I’ve written this to share his poetry with you, if you don’t know him, or remind you of it if you do.

As a taster, here is perhaps one of his best known poems – apart from ‘Inversnaid’ – ‘The Windhover’ (a lovely old name for the kestrel).  Enjoy.

 

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

 

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

 

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

 

My New Normal

 

The question was simple, casual:

“Would you like to join us for a drink at the bar?”

I’d been to one of my regular jaunts into the Highland capital for a literary meeting, and the kindly folk were being, well, kindly.

The answer however, was not simple.  The answer was complex.  It was at that moment I realised how far from normal my life has become.

I didn’t give the complicated answer, of course not.  Who wants to know that I can’t drink alcohol, or caffeine, or in fact anything at all after 7pm; that I have to be in bed before 10pm to stand any chance of getting anywhere near enough rest; that the effort involved in getting a train into town and walking to the meeting saps my energy and renders me good for nothing for at least 24 hours, and often longer; that my poor long-suffering fiancé has to drive into town to pick me up – an hour each way – because it’s too much for me to get a train back home?

So I smiled.  Declined politely.  Wondered if they thought I was rude, or weird. Or both.  They didn’t need the in-depth explanation.  It’s neither warranted nor helpful. It doesn’t make either of us feel better.

But sometimes I’d like to explain. Sometimes I’d like to clarify – that my constant leaving of the room is to go to the loo.  I’m not sneaking out for a fag or a drink; I’m not being rude and I’m not bored.  My bladder disorder means that I am unable to retain urine in my bladder without being in extreme pain.

I’d also like to point out, that however offensive it might be, my sweating is not something I can help.  The pain causes the sweating.  It’s autonomic.  I don’t like it any more than you do.

I might also stress that my lack of sociability is down to exhaustion.  I can’t volunteer to do things because I would not be reliable.  I can never guarantee from one day to the next what my energy levels are like; when I’ll have a good day or a bad day. And my good day might be a very bad by your standards.

So, I will continue to smile and answer the question simply.  For your benefit.  For my benefit.  I will continue to live my nowhere- near- normal, normal-for-me life. And when I see people who look sad or troubled, or in pain; when I see people giving the simple answer – although you can see the complication in their eyes – I will not judge.  I will wonder what trials and tribulations they are going through.  I will signal my solidarity to fellow sufferers of invisible chronic illness, who look so very normal but whose lives are anything but.

 

 

Photo by Debbie Mathews.  Installation by Sophie Cave, Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow.

My Cheating Heart -The Third in my Mini Blog Series on ‘Buying Nothing New’

I’m about to make a confession, although not that I’ve taken up Country Music!  When I decided in January that I wasn’t going to buy anything new this year, I didn’t kid myself it would be easy.  I did however believe that I would manage without too much trouble, after all I’m not a shopaholic, I mean I don’t even live close to any shops. It turns out my view was naïve to say the least.

Take birthdays.  I hadn’t thought about them.  Whilst I might be happy not to have a new gift for my birthday, my family and friends might not feel the same.  Is it fair to make them abide by my ‘nothing new’ rules?  Generally I make things for my parents; they’re at an age where they don’t want anything new and always tell my sister and I not to bother with presents.  We do of course, but usually something comestible: cake, sweets, chocolates, or meals out.  What about cards though?  I’m happy to make cards, and most people are happy to receive a handmade creation.  Most people, except my dad, who sees them as a sign of ‘cheapness’.  My partners mother was a bit like that too when she was alive, as if spending time making something didn’t show you cared as much as buying a mass-produced card-confection.  Perhaps they’re not the only ones.

As you know if you’ve been following me, I’ve already excluded the wedding, and now it seems my heart, or my brain, is trying to bargain more exclusions. I’m planning to start swimming again after an absence for health reasons.  My costume is wearing thin and decency demands I get a replacement.  Making one is not within my skill set, so my only option is to buy one.  The idea of buying a second hand one didn’t do much for me, but the idea of breaking my ‘vow’ seemed a lot worse.  So, eventually I packed up my pride and bought a second hand costume. I mean we all have washing machines right?  I was pleasantly surprised.

So, anyway, you can see my tricksy heart is looking for ways to circumvent my good intentions. I’m onwards into month 4.  Any suggestions gratefully received.

 

Outdoor Girl

 

Watership Down 58 miles from London
Findhorn 600 miles from London

I was born and raised in the suburbs of London.  It was Surrey then and is South West London now, less than a dozen miles from the city centre.  We lived on a busy main road in Park Villas, salubriously titled in honour of the local authority recreation ground which our long skinny garden backed on to, and which we called ‘the rec’.

As kids we spent hours in the rec, playing in the playground, kicking a ball about, playing mini golf or messing about with a racket and variously annoying the park keeper. If we weren’t in the rec, we were in the garden, playing with the animals, in the Wendy house, on the swing, or when we were older, doing a bit of pretend gardening.

Most of my childhood memories are outdoors: we’d cycled to Richmond Park as a family, and when I was older I cycled there with friends. We got 2 buses to the outdoor pool in Richmond in the summer, completely unsupervised. We played pitch and putt on summer evenings and went to the coast – Angmering-on-Sea, Littlehampton, Bournemouth – on summer weekends. We picked blackberries in the late summer and early autumn. We walked, cycled and swam in the open. Sitting indoors was reserved for winter and really wet days.  TV was an evening only activity, and restricted at that.

So, a city girl living in the far north of Scotland is more at home than you might think. I enjoy being close to nature and the seasons.  Living on a farm means time passes by the things that happen outside: ploughing, planting, lambing, hay-making, harvesting; passing the year through nature’s rhythms.

Life is less frenetic here.  It’s easier to take time to walk, to chat to people.  A lot of children walk to school, and get the opportunity to play outside, although I suspect far less than did a few decades ago.  Nowhere, however remote, is immune from the spread of technology in day-to-day life: the phones, games, pads, music, laptops and Macs.  The gadgets that keep kids, and adults too, locked indoors in bedrooms and lounges across the country.  Electro tech’ that’s deemed so vital, yet keeps a generation of children from accessing what really is vital – a connection to nature; enjoying the great outdoors.

We can’t go back in time to those halcyon days, which we remember as more idyllic than they probably were, but we can teach our children and grandchildren that there is joy to be found in fresh air and countryside by encouraging them to engage in outdoor activity from an early age. Being stuck indoors with a piece of tech should be the less interesting option.  I’m not demonising technology, simply suggesting that children need to reconnect to with the natural world.  We need a generation of caretakers for the earth, and sitting inside watching nature programmes is less likely to spawn one than being outside connecting with nature.

My life-long love of the natural world was kindled by being outdoors, by bringing all sorts of creatures home – rabbits, birds, tortoise, cats, fish, crabs – strays of all descriptions.  My tolerant parents encouraged me to be outside if I was moping about and that always energised me in ways I didn’t understand.  This still holds true today.  A brisk walk, a stroll along the beach, a short run, they all blow the metaphorical cobwebs away and re-charge us in inexplicable ways.

I’m lucky to have arguably the greatest outdoor destination in the country on my doorstep, but whether you’re in the city or another part of the country you’re never far from somewhere outdoors where you can rejuvenate your spirit.  Make being outside a part of your week and I promise you’ll feel better.

Guilty by Association

Is it just me, or do other people feel frequently guilty?  I’m not sure if there’s some innate fault-line in my psyche that guilt bubbles out of when bad things are going on, or whether there’s something more prosaic happening.  Even though it’s rarely me at fault, I feel the hot-faced shame nonetheless. Today is a classic example. I was driving merrily along, abiding the speed limit in my insured, MOT’d – and for a change clean – car, when a police car pulled up close behind me with blues on.  I panicked: what have I done? Is something wrong with the car? Where can I pull in? A rush of thoughts pinging about my head. The police car has already passed; overtaken and rushed on to whatever emergency was occupying him.  It’s not the only time that’s happened.  About a year ago I was pootling down the road minding my own business when a police car with blues on raced up behind me.  I was convinced he was trying to pull me over.  He sat on my tail as I looked for a place to pull in, feeling more terrible by the minute.  Eventually, I pulled into a junction.  Woosh!  He was gone like a rocket.  Breathe.  It’s OK.

I don’t suffer from anxiety as a rule, but if there’s a commotion going on somewhere it always troubles me: when the alarm goes off at the supermarket door, and I know I’ve not stolen anything, I feel guilty; when I’m walking through security at the airport and there’s nothing dodgy in my case, I go hot with embarrassment, worried I’ll be rumbled. What?!  You don’t have anything to hide.  You haven’t done anything wrong!

As a ‘mostly vegetarian’ I  eat  a lot of sulphurous vegetables and wind inducing pulses.  Flatulence is almost guaranteed.  My father has a delightful expression: ‘wherever you be let you wind go free’ which allows him to fart(I refuse to use the ‘T’ word) with impunity as far as he’s concerned.  I’ve never been quite so free-spirited and certainly not in public, but whenever there’s a public incident where something malodorous is involved, I will be the guilty looking party, whilst whoever the real culprit is gets off scot free.  I get the hard stares, the people moving away.  Honestly, it wasn’t me.  I don’t dare protest innocence. In all circumstances this confirms guilt. I smile and blush vividly, embarrassed for the person who has no such emotion.  Not that they should be embarrassed.  And neither should I!

I’m sure the psychologists among you will have a field day.  In the meantime, let me say simply, even if I look guilty, and lights and bells are going off around me, the likelihood is -it wasn’t me!  Honestly.

Personalised Plate Recording

 

I’ve always been able to remember car number plates.  Ever since I was a kid.  Our first family car, a yellow Mini: original A reg named Primrose.  The Ford Anglia, which was forever breaking down: 1965 ice blue C reg that always looked a dirty white colour.  The lime green Fiat 127: L reg and hideous, and it’s replacement, the black Fiat 127 with go faster stripes and twin exhaust (really) an S reg, and our first brand new car. And the list goes on.  My first car, of course, lodged firmly in the databanks, an Austin 1100 (F reg) and my second, a Mini Metro (X reg).  But I can remember all of them.  My Ex-husband’s car, a friend’s first car, and every single car I’ve ever owned. It’s a lot.

Given that I can’t remember where I put my most recent cup of tea, or what happened yesterday, it seems strange that my brain should have a data slot for car registration numbers.   I’m not a number person. After nearly 2 years I have no idea of my work mobile number, I don’t know my fiancé’s phone number and I struggle to remember the house number. So why this weird ability to recall car number plates that is no use to me – or anyone else?  I have no idea.  I wish I could wipe the databanks and replace them with something more useful, like remembering where I put my keys, or my phone, or what I was supposed to be doing instead of writing this blog…….

My Name is Alex and I’m Your Conductor Today!

train-seats

 

The young chirpy voice piped up a cheery ‘good morning’  on the packed train carrying a miserable load of  – now ‘ex’ – holidaymakers from Gatwick Airport to Clapham, and onwards to London and who knows where, home.

I looked up in surprise.  This was not the usual breed of grumpy ticket checker/issuer.  This was someone making the best of his job, possibly even enjoying it.  He was unusually verbose and clearly enjoyed interacting with the customers.

‘Good morning madam, may I see your ticket please?  Excellent.  Change at Clapham for Basingstoke, and have a pleasant day’

Amazingly, he was even offering to help anyone that might need it.

‘If you need assistance today ladies and gentlemen, I’m the handsome chap with the sandy hair and glasses.  You can come and find me in one of the carriages’

That elicited a few smiles, a few sniggers. To me, it was wondrous  to hear a cheerful voice in the grey London dawn.  Refreshing to see people smiling, perhaps against their natural inclination, at that hour of the day.

I suspect if we were all a little more engaged, a little less preoccupied with our own troubles; if we were to do our jobs with more enthusiasm, and smile a bit more, then the world would be a better place.  A smile is infectious.  You can hear it in someone’s voice.  It can turn a grey and miserable day into something a bit more positive, even if only for a while.

I wrote to the train company and asked them to thank Alex for cheering me up that morning.  I don’t know if they passed the message on, but I hope so. Good on you Alex!

Musings of a Former Vegetarian (without a current label)

 

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I decided, age 11, that I wasn’t eating meat.  Not no more.  Not no how.  My mother was horrified and thought I would die of malnourishment.  To be fair to her, she learned to cook a few staple dishes: her version of a veggie paella (with burnt tomatoes that tasted surprisingly good) and a cheese, potato and onion bake.  We also discovered pasta – a never seen before carb’ in our potato dominated house.

As you will note, I lived!  I soon found out about various aspects of nutrition, which sparked a life-long interest (and various certificates along the way) in diet, food and cooking.  The average supermarket didn’t have ‘veggie options’ in the early 70’s and meat-spurners were forced to buy weird things from wholefood shops that were packed in brown paper bags.  You had to be creative and engaged to survive without turning into a lentil-eating, sandal-wearing hippy.  As an up-coming teen, that was definitely not a cool vibe.  Rose Elliot, and later Sarah Brown, were my lifelines.  I cooked every recipe in those original books, discovering the amazing array of plant based foods, without the need for weird things from hushed wholefood emporiums.

I remained a vegetarian for over 30 years, fairly strictly.  I was never a vegan, I relied on eggs too much, but I’ve since dabbled with vegan cooking and enjoy the challenge from time to time, although not as a permanent lifestyle choice.  Being a vegetarian definitely made me more adventurous than my meat and two-veg mates, though it by no means guarantees a healthy lifestyle.  Over dependence on dairy can be a recipe for weight gain, and eating vegetarian versions of junk food – pizza, chips, convenience foods – will leave you equally lacking in vital nutrients and  as drowning in surplus calories as your carnivorous counterparts.

I didn’t make a conscious decision to stop being a vegetarian. I simply decided to add a little fish protein to my diet at a time when I was unwell and needed to make an extra effort to look after myself.  I’m not saying that you can’t be healthy and look after your nutritional needs on a plant based diet – I did it for over 3 decades.  What I am saying is that for me, eating sustainably sourced fish was something that I incorporated into my diet and found I enjoyed.

When I moved to the Highlands of Scotland I decided to try wild venison.  A healthy and sustainable option for meat protein.  (The deer need to be managed, to some extent, to keep numbers supportable in the environment, and make sure weak herd members don’t starve in harsh winters. ) So, I enjoy some locally caught and butchered wild venison occasionally.  And occasionally is the key word.  My diet is still largely based around vegetables meals, with one fish dish a week and a meat meal very rarely.

There is absolutely no doubt that in the UK we all need to reduce our meat consumption.  The current levels are not sustainable.  There are issues with the conditions of animals reared in other countries. There are issue with transportation of livestock. There is also some question as to the ultimate healthiness of a high meat protein diet. Above all there are environmental issues with excessive meat consumption, where land is given over to growing meat, when it would be better used for growing crops. However, it is also true that there are areas of the UK where crops cannot be grown.  Some areas of the highlands are prime examples.  The land is designated as ‘rough grazing’ and the fact is that you couldn’t grow crops on it if you wanted to.  In this instance, ruminating animals are the best way of turning poor grassland into a viable protein source.  If we all reduce our meat consumption and concentrated on buying better quality grass-fed UK animals, we could do a lot better by our farmers, who often struggle to turn a living, never mind a profit.  Farmers in the highlands, along with crofters, have always struggled with the poor land and the harsh environment, if they were supported with better networks and better prices, we could be self-sufficient in beef and lamb, without the need for imports.

Raising meat well takes time and effort.  The inputs are greater and it costs more, but it is a better option than antibiotic laced, GM fed imports.  I appreciate not everyone can afford the price of an organic chicken or a slow-growing grass-fed piece of beef, but if you only ate it once a month, once every few months, it would make it more likely.

Many people will disagree with my stance, and that’s fine.  I’m not preaching for people to stop being vegetarians, or to become vegetarians.  I’m encouraging you to be conscious about what you’re eating and the implications it has for your health and the health of the planet.

If everyone became vegetarian tomorrow, or next week, it would not save the world!  Many vegetarians eat soya, which has its own set of ethical issues.  The UK would not return to some mythical ‘green and pleasant’ land.  It is more likely to become a barren place of housing estates, out-of-town shopping centres and miles of tarmac.  In the highlands, where some of the grazing animals contribute to environmental schemes, the land would be overrun with non-native species and gorse, the deer would run riot, and new forestry would be under threat.  The natural world has a delicate balance and humanity has intervened for centuries, impacting it for both good and bad.  Without management, many highland species of plant and animal life would not survive.  Already threatened by habitat loss, they would struggle even more with herds of wild deer and sheep rampaging across the countryside.

Eating is both an ethical and political issue these days.  There is much to despise in modern farming, and there is also much to admire: there is good husbandry and bad; people who care about the environment, and people who don’t.  As consumers we need to encourage the good practices by demanding high welfare, slow growing, grass fed, non GM fed animals.  We need to be prepared to eat less meat and pay more for it.  We need to shun cheap imports that out-compete our home-grown meat on price, but not on quality.

So much of my life has been spent as a vegetarian that I still think of myself as such.  Most of my meals continue to be plant based, and when I do eat meat protein, it is always locally sourced, usually from someone I know personally.  We don’t all have the luxury of those choices, but we do all have the responsibility to think about what we eat and where it comes from.  My way of eating doesn’t have a label.  It’s individual, and so will yours be – flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, carnivore – it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s a thought-out position.  That will mean you’re doing what you can with the resources you have, to eat well – for you and the planet.

 

 

 

 

Food ethics, security and sustainability is a huge topic.  If you want to find out more, the food ethics council is a good place to start:

http://www.foodethicscouncil.org

A Greater Fear

alzheimersI fear Alzheimer’s more than cancer, or more accurately, any form of dementia: a disease that can rob me of my abilities and ultimately my mind itself – my life too in the end.

Writing is part of who I am.  I can’t imagine forgetting how to do it; forming words and sentences, expressing ideas.  Such an easy, natural and taken for granted skill, stolen away by synapses failing to connect; brain cells dying.

It might never happen. My octogenarian parents show no signs of it.  My mum was tested because she thought her memory was failing.  The morphine she’s on is the more likely culprit. She passed the tests. So no signs, no obvious risk markers, but the fear lurks: in my forgetfulness, my inability to recall where I’ve put things; the impossibility of retrieving the right word at the right time.  I know it’s tiredness, and stress from being tired, that robs me of my capacity to remember, to recall, but the fear lingers.  Pain is so much easier to contemplate.  I can live with pain.  I do live with pain. Even dying is easier to think about.  Easier than contemplating losing yourself and everything that makes you who you are, without even knowing it.

I think about writing about dementia.  I’ve worked with clients who have it.  My sister works in the field.  I have friends who have family members with it.  There’s a wealth of experience and information that could be explored.

But for now, I think this is all I can manage.  For now I‘m writing furiously for all I’m worth, ticking projects off against the day when who knows what, who knows when.

 

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We all experience memory loss, and the inability to recall names and words from time to time and for various reasons. If you are worried that you or a relative may have Dementia, contact your GP who will refer you/them to a specialist.

The Alzheimer’s Society can be found here:

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/

And Alzheimer Scotland here:

http://www.alzscot.org/

 

 

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam…

spam

I would like to think that the 25 comments in my queue contain an element of interaction; that somewhere, if I look hard enough, there will be a word of encouragement, a glimpse of solidarity, anything by way of human connection.  But I know.  I know you are blips and bops and spam and ads and things much worse.  You sound so plausible.  I suppose some must succumb, or why would you waste your time in such futile endeavours?  But I’ve been blogging for over 5 years now and I know.  I know your sycophantic ways. So Gerri, Vicki, Bunni, Ollie, Bobo, Maverick and Ellie I will not waste my time scouring your contributions, checking if you are really ‘spam’.  Instead I will consign you to the bin, a bulk action, along with the rest of my junk.  And I will wait for that gem of a comment that is genuine, and I will approve that to sparkle on my blog, outshining and outweighing the rest of you by a mile.