Tuesday, 4 October 2016

We Don't Talk Any More.

Voice automated services and I don't get along.

The system fails to detect my diction and in frustration, my accent becomes stronger which means we just keep going in circles until one of us - usually me - gives up. If my husband is home I end up ramming the phone into his hand with instructions to tell 'them' my name and National Insurance number when prompted because I've already tried several times without success.

How hard does it have to be before we're allowed to speak to another human being? Not just on the phone but face to face. If you're lucky enough to still have a high street branch of your bank, which to some extent we are, being able to pop in and speak to a clerk is also getting to be something of a challenge. I don't mind waiting in the queue.despite there being only one or two clerks dealing with customers. I do mind waiting however whilst another member of staff patrols the line asking individuals what their business is with the bank today and how can they be of help...? Well, first of all, I'm not willing to discuss my business with you and the rest of the queue as it's private and no, I have no desire to use the machine in the wall to deposit money regardless of how efficient a service you assure me this is. And if it's all the same, I would prefer to interact with a real person in a natural and sociable way. I'm not here to offer a life story or distract from the job or hold up the line for longer than it takes to complete the transaction I came here to do so how about knocking the patrol on the head and planting your backside in that seat and getting on with it? For some reason, this simple solution doesn't appear to fit in with the latest research concerning efficiency in the workplace or whatever convoluted label some faceless company has been paid extortionate amounts for identifying today's trend for saving time and money.

Our youngest has just started secondary school and the only way to contact a teacher is to email them. I get it to an extent. They have a job to do which can't get done if parents are constantly needing five minutes of their time. But it feels like yet another road block in the communication stakes. And the homework is now all online even the 'to do list'. Again, yes it's efficient but it's also very stressful for a child to log on (when you can remember the lengthy pin numbers and passwords that come with,) and see an endless list of tasks which suggest power-points and tables they haven't even been taught how to use yet. Stressful for them and stressful for the parents trying to help them. Planned meetings with tutors are limited to five minutes per student. We are already teaching our children to be slaves of technology and of time yet the news is full of reports suggesting that children don't know how to cope with the basics of life anymore like cooking or crossing the road safely because they're glued to the latest connection for social networking. Text-talk has already replaced the art of conversation.

Human Encounter. Do you remember what one of these looks like or are we too busy sticking plugs in our ears and staring at screens to comprehend the world beyond technology? Are we seriously becoming a society who can only function via computers and automated-time-saving-services? And if so, who are we saving this precious time for? Certainly not for the family. Family time has been hacked to death in our 24/7 want-it-now-or-I'll-go-elsewhere-self-imposed-culture of instant gratification. A perpetual cycle of supply and demand, a merry-go-round that can only get faster until your head spins and you're screaming to be thrown off. Let's hope there's a grass verge when you land but I'm guessing they're probably won't be.

We are deceiving and cheating ourselves in the name of progress and we're not even aware of how much. Dating Sites. Profiles. Perfect Matches. For the very people who spend their days saving time but have no time to find someone to share that time with. Missing out on those glorious moments of serendipity, those chance encounters that come from opening yourself up and engaging with the world, by taking a wrong turn, or getting on the wrong bus or hey! missing the bus altogether. The agony of waiting for that special call, the heartache when it doesn't come and sometimes having to think on your feet and make an excuse when it does. The joy of the ride for the hell of it.

You can stare at a profile until you're blue in the face, take selfies instead of stopping a passer-by to take the picture for you, you can tick boxes to your heart's content and complete the transaction in record time - and very well done if you do. But it will never replace the fundamental skill of communicating meaningfully with another person. Not just with words but with body language, facial expressions or simply with what cannot be said or articulated in the moment - the gaps between the words, those slivers of silence that have the power to blow us away.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

On Parenting.

I hope you've enjoyed your summer?

Our house has been going through a lot of changes mostly to do with milestone anniversaries and birthdays plus offspring starting secondary school or preparing to fly the nest for University -
It can't be that time already?
The salt and pepper streaks in my hair say otherwise.

It's fine. And as it should be. But it occurred to me that our eldest is about to embark on her new life with everything to look forward to whereas suddenly mine feels very much behind me.

 I find myself smiling with empathy at younger parents struggling to cope with pushchairs loaded to the hilt with essentials knowing it probably took Operation Desert Storm just to get out of the house. I listen to children screaming in supermarket trolleys as anxious mothers/fathers try to pacify and cajole them long enough to get through the checkout and recognise the glazed expression, the dishevelled clothes and the straggly hair as my own once upon a time. To be fair I am still capable of looking this way but that's by choice.

I have to tell you though, I'm loving this new found freedom from school runs. I haven't escaped entirely from taxi-service, not yet, but I can smell life beyond parenting for the first time in many years and it smells good. I've studied my husband's tired face and scrutinized the puffy-eyed dough-y-ness of my own trying to remember what we looked like before life got hold and shook us about. What we looked like and who we were. The before and after images bore no resemblance whatsoever to those elasticated nimble youths. In those odd moments when we've found ourselves alone and able to hold a conversation without the input of a third or fourth party has not been unlike two shell-shocked soldiers in tin hats raising their heads briefly above the parapet before sinking back down into the mire.

Don't get me wrong. We will never regret having children. They have brought us more joy and enriched our lives beyond imagination but let's be honest, they are Locusts. They swarm into your life and zap you physically, emotionally, mentally not forgetting financially, stripping you bare of any and all assets before swarming off again leaving you to sweep up the debris that was your life. What began as yours and mine soon becomes lost in the realms of 'Have you got any cash for the school trip, for guides, for this, for that, for anything!' You lose track of what you had in your purse and rejoice when you find a £1 coin at the bottom of your bag. (That actually happened yesterday and brought me close to tears of gratitude.)

I'm not going to go down the heartache or the worry road. It's part and parcel and in the contract. No, I never read the small print either. Probably for the best.

The biggest eye-opener has to be finally understanding what my own parents went through. I'm the third of four girls and our Mum has been bed-ridden with Alzheimer's  for over five years now. In some respects I'm not surprised. She must have been exhausted with the constant back-chat, hormones, love-sick dramas, school reports, teenage angst and anything else we trailed in our sorry wake.

I hear their words coming out of my own mouth these days. I hear myself and can't quite believe that life has turned full circle. I also know my words are falling on deaf ears as they did on mine and no amount of; ' When you have children of your own...' will ever really resonate until they do have children of their own at which point I'll do what my Dad does now and laugh and laugh at the wondrous irony of it all.

One down, one to go. The odds are slowly coming back in our favour.

If there is such a thing as Karma I want you to know that if I haven't paid in full already, I must be getting pretty damned close.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

A Peek Inside The Red Tent.

Many moons ago when I first seriously gave thought to writing, I trawled the internet looking for other writerly folk to connect with. I also looked for publishers and agents, convinced that by leaving bright witty comments on their posts I would ensure my rise to everlasting fame. The truth is I have made some very good friends within the writing community but conversely, over time, it has become less important to impress and more important to maintain relationships on a genuine, meaningful level.

One of the most fortuitous meetings I've encountered has been through Women Writers on Facebook and a splinter group which developed from there. The splinter group, which is smaller and far more intimate is worth it's weight in gold for the knowledge, humour, wisdom - and above all - trust, that has evolved between us. None of this happened overnight of course but through a culmination of time, patience, tolerance and respect. True friendship, like metaphor, cannot be forced. We share snippets of our work. We also share problems and stories of our lives. Intimate, precious gems unearthed and shaken out for the greater good so we might grow as people and as writers.

We herald from far flung corners trailing a rich, diverse history and cultural background. Each one a jewel forged by her life experience. There is strength and honour in being part of such noble company which does not impeach upon autonomy but rather welcomes that very quality with open arms. Above all, we come together to learn and exchange ideas and have become a fellowship of sorts. A tradition normally confined to the romance associated with smoking jackets and secret gatherings in upper rooms.

Our room is not upstairs, nor is it down but exists in a virtual form which is again fortuitous because this room can shape-shift between the solid and the imagined to become anything we want it to be. For me it takes the form of a Bedouin tent filled with sumptuously soft cushions, drapes and a scattering of opulent rugs.

Not all of us share the tent space at the same time. Like the room of requirement it's there when... well, required, at any time of the day or night. If one of us calls for assistance someone always emerges like a travelling Muse from the desert storm. For there is magic at work within this place. Magic and empowerment.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Harpur and Finch

 There is nothing more pleasing than to dawdle and browse amongst beautifully displayed vintage merchandise before enjoying traditional tea poured from an authentic china pot. Imagine my delight when I encountered both of these favourite pastimes at the newly relocated Harpur and Finch,  in our very own market town of Ilkeston.

Chock full of  nick-knacks arranged to entice and draw the customer; entering the shop is like walking into a bygone age where polite society is alive and well. How sweet it is to wander towards the tea-room lulled by the gentle melody of 'La Mer' floating unobtrusively in the background and have your order taken by the delightful Lindsey, resplendent in Edwardian style pinafore.

Upon her return bearing china cups, a china pot and silver tea-strainer - without a tea-bag in sight - the seduction is complete. My daughter was thrilled to receive her strawberry milkshake in a tea-pot too and took great delight in pouring it very carefully into her perfect china cup with saucer.

The surrounding d├ęcor of cottage doors turned at right angles to create nooks and crannies filled with charming arrays of stacked tea-cups-ready-to-topple-but-not-quite, all added to the general feel of having tumbled down the rabbit hole into an enchanted realm.

As with all good things, the tea was drunk too soon whilst listening to the hum of conversation from other customers and having said farewell, we idled back through the shop not quite ready to meet the real world just yet; and lingered a while captivated by the elegance.

I rather envied the proprietor's ability to persuade her audience they have entered a magical kingdom because we certainly felt that we had and my daughter has chatted about nothing else since.

 It's not often I feel compelled to report on a retail establishment but this is an exception and I for one can't wait to return and be inspired again - perhaps this time over lunch.

Plus there was a certain decadent item which caught my eye...

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Choices We Make.

My sister and I were having a conversation about life, the universe etc... We have a lot in common at the moment for many different reasons and agreed that when we're feeling down it's hard to remember a time when we felt happy in the same way that it's hard to remember what it's like to be well when we're feeling physically ill. Most people reading this will recognise one if not both situations and again, many of you will have encountered and recovered from one or the other in your lifetime. Some of you will have re-visited these scenarios more times than you care to remember until illness, both mentally and physically, becomes the status- quo and the concept of being happy is relegated to distant unattainable memory.

I have personally spent a considerable amount of time in both of these houses, so much so that when a friend posted this picture on Facebook I had to look at it several times so moved was I by the artist, Celeste Roberge's , depiction of what grief feels like.

Because that's what we're talking about here: INTERNALISED GRIEF.
 The kind of grief which has the ability to debilitate, twist and cripple our poor selves beyond recognition.

Grief can affect us all in many different ways and it's not necessarily always about the death of a loved one in the physical sense. Loss of any kind can and does impact our lives more than we realise until sometimes, the burden is just too great. 

Here's a few examples of different types of loss:

  • Self-respect, Integrity, Self-esteem, Self-worth
  • Loss of identity
  • Unexpressed love, Un-lived moments, Wasted time, Denied capability
  • Impossible expectations
  • Loss of dreams, loss of lifestyle
  • Loss of professional identity/job, loss of reputation, loss of independence
  • Body image, health, accident, surgery, illness, loss of function/control
The loss of function (speech) resonates for me in particular but I could check the box for all of them as I'm sure you could too whilst adding more examples of your own. My speech has returned but I sound very different to my old self, a phenomenon which still gives me cause for daily concern and brings our discussion on to:


For me, it's about being afraid to speak for fear of how I will be perceived but we can also equate fear as being a close relative of grief and loss in all their forms. 
  • Fear I've wasted the best years of my life.
  • Fear I'll never find a way to get back on my feet.
  • Fear I'll never fully achieve my true potential 
  • Fear I won't ever feel at home in my own body again.
  • Fear I won't have the confidence or ability to enter the world again.
  • Fear that I will enter the world again only to be rejected by my countrymen because of their perception of who I am.
  • I'm frightened now writing this, wondering how it will be received yet knowing I have something to say which might benefit somebody who happens by because what I've learned is this: 

We have a CHOICE. All of us. No exceptions.

I've been on my knees for so long - sometimes it feels like my whole life - crushed by the weight of grief, pain and such a deep sense of loss to the point where there no longer seemed to be any point to anything, any more. All those individual stones in the sculpture had cemented into one large bolder. I was stuck in the whirlpool of grief with no way out. Even the breathing exercises I had been set by the psychologist were beyond me. Instead of helping they merely served as a reminder of yet another example of where I fell short. 

It wasn't until I started swimming again that I found my stroke and my breath. Perhaps this was the turning point, I don't know because change has been gradual. It must have helped though because I was faced with a financial dilemma a few weeks ago which offended my sense of justice so greatly I turned my back and chose the harder path knowing it was the right path. How do I know? Peace of mind. I recognised the existence of one of those stones weighing me down as the decision I needed to make. The difference between looking over my shoulder or going it alone. I already feel alone so I removed that particular stone, examined it for what it was and then I discarded it. It wasn't easy and it is only one stone, one pebble amongst the many but I felt better the moment it was gone. I realised I had both loved and loathed the pain that was keeping me where I was.

In deciding to have nothing, I found I had gained everything. 

That decision was a tiny pin prick of light of me taking back some kind of control over what happens: a conscious choice between continuing to drift or taking up the oars and beginning to row. Soon there will be another pin prick and another until they begin to join together and a stream of light will force itself through.

If I had to describe my posture now in comparison to the sculpture in the picture, I would say that outwardly not much has changed except now I have one foot planted firmly on the ground and a foothold is all you need.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For.

There's been lots of time to think.


Too much, maybe.

Recently the thinking has overtaken the reading and the writing. Neither having much to offer in comparison at the moment.

The kid's are off which makes a difference. Routines go to pot. If you can call my daily spending of time a routine. I've even made jokes to myself via Twitter about the benefits of doing nothing - Was it Jung who spurned a ladies appointment because he had marked the time in the diary as his own? She saw him later, dawdling by the river, doing nothing special to her mind: but of course he writes it differently.

I have exactly what I wished for - Time. To. Read. And Write.

So what's the problem?

There isn't one, per se.

Some writing has in fact been done. I am aware of deadlines though not any set by an agent or editor. More to do with life getting on and you know, not getting any younger, better crack on, love.

I withdrew from CBT therapy recently. It wasn't for me, too focused, too disciplined. I need time, it seems and allowing it to pass me by is actually more therapeutic than the ticking box variety. I never was into ticking boxes. The world has gone tickey-box mad to my mind. I tell my children that being happy is more important than wealth but I fear they might not escape the bureaucracy if they do not learn to understand the dance.

I understood the dance but couldn't find a way out until fate played a part in my escape. I'm not complaining, merely making an observation. I'm both disappointed with myself for not having the strength to change beforehand and proud to find I have more strength now than I ever thought possible.

Cause and effect. Simple. Just like writing except this is real life.

I'll take it though, regardless of personal cost. I made my pact and can now smile as I lay a coin in the leathered palm of the ferryman.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sink or...

Lady Behind Counter: Hello, how can I help...?

Me: Hmm...

Several minutes, hand signals and garbled speech later, I arrived in the new Changing Village.
Unisex, to you and me.
Luckily, this session was ladies only.

The pool looked the same. My body... not so much. I decided to take it steady and see if there were any muscles left which might remember what swimming felt like. A couple of laps in and I stopped to catch my breath and spit in my goggles. The challenge was on. It was one thing to tootle along chatting to your girlfriend, blocking the lane as you go, trying to keep your hair dry! Quite another to see goggle woman speeding towards you daring you to play chicken.

Unwritten rule of the swimming pool:
Goggle swimmers will always win.
We are focused.
We mean business and waste no time between laps bobbing around the shallow end chatting about diets.

I set off and stopped almost immediately to un-steam my goggles.
Well, it has been a while.

Eventually I found my rhythm (always struggle to spell that word,) and the water parted at my command. Breast stroke, naturally. There were too many women clucking in every direction for me not to be able to see where I was going. Every now and then I had to tread water until a suitable break in the traffic opened up. I felt like Nimo's Dad swimming against the tide of a school of fish, just trying to get home.

I got kicked a few times, as you do. Unintentionally...
Man, it felt good to be back in this weightless foetal world, feeling every pull, every strain unknotting - uncoiling, months - years worth of stress.

Inhale - stroke - exhale - stroke - inhale - stroke... until I didn't have to think about it anymore. As natural as breathing which is strange because that's been the most difficult task of late.

The pool thinned out. The Cosmetics already heading for the showers.

I turned on my back and kicked in. Arms thrashing wheel-like. I was superhuman. Even the life guards could see this woman did not need saving. She was swimming for her life and winning.

Forty lengths later I climbed out the pool, exhilarated.
Ignoring the swollen-red indents around my eyes, I gave in to gravity as the weightlessness left me to drag myself slug-like but victorious, back to the changing room.