Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Ramblings: Interruptions

I've been a bit less prolific in my blog writing the past few weeks but I'm still here. It's due to a number of reasons but thankfully not an interruption of the mental health kind.

1) The perennial dodgy neck which leaves me avoiding the computer

2) I've been writing a bit more fiction and am embarking on a few projects with writing which have used my time up

3) I'm about to go on a little holiday to London and then Brighton. Nothing too exotic and I'll be back next week and posting more stuff, hopefully refreshed by sea air and with a few tales to tell.

I will keep on blogging however well the fiction goes along. You won't get rid of me that easily.

Ramblings: Private Dancer

I’ve had long periods in my life where I’ve dated frenetically, meeting disappointing man after disappointing man and leaving some men disappointed myself, I’m sure. Occasionally I’d meet one I was keen on and find the feeling wasn’t reciprocated. I also hated having to rebuff people I wasn’t keen on. Dating is a disheartening activity. All those hours spent perusing internet profiles and getting scary pictures sent to you of things which no one should be subjected to seeing. It’s always the men with the most peculiar looking genitals who seem to think its ok to send unsolicited dick pictures. I ended up with a hunchback from spending hours over the laptop and a case of dating burn out.

If you got past the stage of both liking each other’s profiles, both wanting the same things and it was decreed that meeting was a possibility then there was the phone hurdle. Speaking on the phone could be a minefield too. All those brief witty typed comments don’t always translate to the person on the phone. People have weird accents, ways of speaking or are actually much less interesting than they first appear. Extricating yourself once you get to the phone stage can be a tricky thing. Then of course comes the meeting, whether on a civilised date or a more sordid rendezvous. That involves planning and safety checks, dressing well, maybe some light depilation and conditioning your hair, only for you to find he doesn’t resemble his pictures at all. They often would clearly have fumbled through about 200 old photos to find that one photo from the 1985 wedding they attended in which they once briefly looked halfway decent. Either that or they’d have originally sent a picture of themselves when they were 10 stones lighter, 10 years younger or with 10 hours worth of Photoshop manipulation applied.

Ultimately I met Paul quite randomly and abandoned the dating sites without a backward glance. I was relieved. I’ll describe a week of dating from a couple of years ago.

Date 1: Mike. He described himself as age 35 and very masculine. He stated that he disliked very feminine men. He was actually 43 and so camp that he made my teeth itch. Camp is perhaps the wrong word. He was prissy, waspish and uptight. His pictures had looked nice, all from the waist up and wholesome. He was quite handsome. I understood quickly once we met why there was no picture that was a full body shot (clothed, I mean). He had an immense bottom. It was completely disproportionate and quite bizarre. You could have housed a thimble collection on it. He met me in the town centre and we had a drink. It wasn’t much fun. He was so brittle that conversation was difficult. He vented a lot of spleen about a recent ex which was nice and eventually the evening ended. He offered me a lift home and I accepted. He seemed safe enough.

We arrived at the car park and got in his low red car and I wondered what was wrong with him. The atmosphere was growing cooler and he was getting more uptight and huffy. Eventually he spat it out.

“You’re the only person who has ever got in my car and not commented how lovely it is. I think that’s very odd.”

“Oh, ok. It’s lovely.”

“It’s more than lovely. It’s a top of the range Ferrari. It’s very very expensive.”

We didn’t meet again. Not my type of bloke at all and I really hadn’t noticed. He’d have had to be driving a motobility scooter for me to even notice it wasn’t just a normal car.

Date 2: Simon. Simon was 48 and really was 48. He looked like his pictures and whilst he wasn’t handsome, he certainly wasn’t ugly either. I travelled by train to meet him and spent the most excruciating evening with the loveliest man ever. He was really very sweet and gentle. He was caring and considerate, fascinated by me and seemed very keen. He was also incredibly dull to talk to and I didn’t fancy him at all. This was the worst case scenario. I needed to escape without hurting his feelings and give no signals whatsoever that I had any interest in him, whilst still being nice. I rose to the challenge, feeling like a complete cad. He got my signals and at the end of the evening didn’t try to kiss me and suggested that he thought he’d like to see me again but was guessing I wouldn’t be keen. I was gentle but honest and went back home on the train cringing.

Date 3: Sergei was a Russian ballet dancer. That was what his profile said and I believed him. He was 40, very handsome and sent me a series of pictures of himself shirtless. He had a six pack and pectorals and I briefly wondered if they were faked. I had to meet him. One problem was that he had no height listed on his profile and was cagey when I asked him. We agreed to meet in a bar. He was very short, of course. Tiny, in fact. He was wearing shoes with a huge heel and very thick soles which made him come about up to my shoulder. He was kind of sweet though and his accent was amazingly sexy. He was incredibly flirtatious which was fun. I also believe he was a dancer too. We did meet again but only once. He spent a day with me and his posture and continual movements sent me crazy. Everywhere we went he’d be tapping a foot, bracing his spine or moving a limb gracefully. I could cope with the shortness but with my terrible posture I looked a state next to him. It was also a little bit like Chinese Water Torture to hear the continual tapping of a heel. The pictures of his abdomen were real, by the way.

Not all weeks were like that and I’d often pursue a series of date in a mad rush of energy only to become tired of it all and give up again for a few months. Modern life can be tough. Good luck to all those out there seeking love. It’s a real lottery but one worth putting the effort into. You’ll get some good stories to go with the mental scars.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Ramblings: Sweet Dreams

I’ve always been a prolific dreamer. Not daydreams or optimistic fantasies. I seem to have lost the ability for that as I get older and more haggard, but night time dreams. As a child I was known for my night terrors. I’d often wake up to find family members looking at me oddly, only to realise that I was sitting up, staring blankly and screaming loudly.

The dreams carried on through my teenage years and I’d have fantastic complicated nightmares which rambled on and on. The screaming carried on too and I’d wake up startled and clammy, knocking over lamps, water glasses and even snapping light switches as I violently pulled on the cord over the bed. Partners often found this disconcerting. I can’t imagine why. It can’t be that bad to sleep next to someone who wakes up, sits bolt upright like a heroine in a Victorian horror story and lets out a blood thirsty screech, can it? The thing that seemed to always annoy people most was that I’d then instantly go back to sleep whilst they were left awake and puzzled.

I carried on dreaming throughout my twenties: recurring nightmares, fragmented nightmares that would carry on when you went back to sleep, realistic dreams and fantastical ones too. The advent of going a bit madder in my late twenties bought with it prescriptions for anti-depressants with labels warning that they could cause vivid dreams. I already had those didn’t I? That didn’t seem like a worry. I was more concerned about the warnings about increased sweating. I didn’t want to ruin my clothes.

The dreams, however, became more vivid. Now they were Technicolor, absurd and often relentless and initially I’d wake up exhausted and bewildered wondering if they were dreams or reality. I learnt to keep a clear bedside table. My partners learnt to dodge and to sleep with one eye open, prepared for the shouts and yells and on a few memorable occasions for me jumping out of bed and running out of the bedroom in blind panic. Paul commented on me smoking in my sleep recently. I apparently sat up in bed and smoked an invisible cigarette, taking long drags and flicking imaginary ash into my cupped palm. It kept me happy. There’s worse things I could have done.

It settled down in time but I still have nightly dreams. Rarely a day occurs when I don’t remember a dream suddenly at some point during the day. The first coffee of the day is also a time for me to trash the previous night’s dreams. I hate in when people say “I wish I could recall my dreams.” Be careful what you wish for. If I could give them mine I would.

The issue is that my history of vivid dreaming has left me with no interest in other people’s dreams. I think dreams are the brains way of burping or vomiting when it gets too full. They’re about as interesting as a plateful of vomit too, mostly. An example: I dreamt about a stranger who was on fire in my kitchen last night. He was burning his own head on the gas ring and staring at me and as I tried to turn off the cooker more rings came on and he burnt more. It was quite terrifying but essentially very dull and easy to evaluate. Whilst cooking my dinner I’d accidentally turned the wrong gas ring on twice before hitting on the right one. That tedious fact lodged in the gullet of my brain and I hacked it back up in the night. Sadly my twisted brain decided to add a scary man’s head to the scenario but it would wouldn’t it? I think he was a character from a creepy novel I’d been reading just before I slept.

When people tell me in detail about a dream it’s hard for me not to develop a glassy eyed stare and drift off. If a novel has a dream sequence I skip it with a yawn. I feel cheated if a filmmaker rolls out the weak device of it all being a dream and count myself lucky that I didn’t ever watch Dallas on TV or I’d have been really cross when Bobby Ewing jumped out of the shower (Google it if you’re too young to remember, it’s a great example of terrible and lazy plotting).

I anticipated problems when meeting my last therapist who’s a psychoanalyst. The Freudians love a dream. The stereotype is of the patient lying on the couch and the analyst explaining that their dream about a frog meant that they secretly wanted to have sex with the newsagent. I knew there wouldn’t be a couch (it’s on the NHS) but dreaded the dream stuff. Thankfully he respects my boundaries and we rarely mention them. If it does crop up, I briefly outline one and then mark him out of ten when he interprets it. He generally gets above a six and doesn’t seem to mind this. We get along.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Ramblings: That Boy Needs Therapy

Am I the only person in the world who finds breathing exercises really stressful? The action of concentrating on my breathing makes me breathe oddly, making me panic. I end up breathless and fretful. Waves of claustrophobia come over me. Relaxation makes me tense up. Whale music makes me want to scream as does any supposedly soothing harp-related cacophony. I can’t abide lavender oil; it just gives me flashbacks to the late 1990s when I was burning it like an apache sending smoke signals in the hope of curing my acute on chronic anxiety. I really needed prescription medications and now, one sniff of lavender and I go right back and start to get edgy.

I love the advice people give you when you’re feeling mentally ill. Burn oils, take up sports, have a massage, go out more, do yoga, work harder or buy a dog. Try not to think about it. Don’t talk about it. Drink more water. Eat better. One friend advised cold showers when I was so depressed that I couldn’t dress myself. I think that was popular in asylums in the 1920s but has been superseded now. People mean well and I appreciate advice and support but sadly I’ve also come across some misguided or downright dodgy mental health professionals too.

The first was a counsellor I was referred to by my G.P. We didn’t start well. I wasn’t keen to see her anyway and would have preferred a prescription for Prozac and Valium. She was from the school of the old cliché of patchwork skirts and cheese cloth peasant blouses. We didn’t see eye to eye. I turned up once a week for 8 weeks and talked to her. She repeated back what I’d said with a different inflection or a vague question attached and I failed to see the point or where this would get us. In desperation she told me I should relax more and we needed to discuss my anxiety and look at how to control it. This sounded better. I like practicality. She suggested I lay on the floor. I looked at the floor and suggested she Hoover it first as it was a bit murky and my clothes were clean on. This earned me a glare and a sigh.

She then suggested I talk about a body part where I felt anxiety and I offered up my stomach. She told me I had to play the part of my stomach and say “I am C’s stomach” and then she’d ask me questions. I blushed but did it anyway.

“So, C’s stomach. What colour are you?”


“Why are you pink?”

“Stomach’s are pink. I’ve seen one in the operating theatre. That’s what they look like. Pink.”

“You really aren’t going to play along are you?”


“You really don’t like me do you?”


I never went back but at least we achieved some honesty in our brief relationship. The G.P. gave me the pills and I got better, for a time.

In years to come there was the grumpy psychiatrist who refused to look up from her desk ever and would shout me into her office by my surname. Then there was the Stepford wife lookalike psychologist who told me that to cure my borderline OCD all I needed to do was leave a minor strategic mess somewhere each night, such as a dirty cup in the middle of the lounge floor. Wow. If only I’d met her years ago. There was a psychiatric nurse with a rat’s tail like ponytail who when I said I’d had migraines since age 8 asked “So, what was the bad thing that happened when you were 8?” My answer of course being “The bad thing that happened was that I got a very very bad headache.” How about the work related counsellor who told me to stop all my antidepressants as the doctors were quite wrong about them all? Unsurprisingly she got a stern talking to from me about professional boundaries and lack of medical knowledge.

I have to redress this and say that over the years a few remarkably talented individuals have really helped me to get back on track when things were dire and without them I’m not sure what kind of train wreck I’d be now. I’m all for therapy, just keep the bad ones away from me. Keep offering me your advice too. If it’s rubbish I’ll smile sweetly and ignore it.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Ramblings: Older and Wiser

When you’re young and impressionable it’s amazing what you think is impressive. I look back on the people I idolised as a teenager and realise they definitely had feet of clay.  The same applies to the boys I fancied. I always fancied boys at school who were a couple of years older than me and the mere fact of their age made them seem somehow advanced from where I was at and imbued them with glamour. The reality was, I’m certain, very far from that.

My first boyfriend was a year older, drank and smoked (although it turned out I was better at both these activities than him), had already tried sex and was studying drama at college whilst I was in the sixth form at school doing A levels and still quite naive. It turned out I was terrible at doing A Levels and managed to flunk three and when I went to see him in a college drama production he was toe curlingly  terrible at acting. He somehow seemed sophisticated until I scratched away the surface a tiny bit and realised with a lurching stomach that he was just embarrassing and hastily extricated myself from him.

There was an older boy I’d see around the bars and clubs who I fancied like mad. He was tall and slim and was studying art at university. I was 17 and he was 20 and his status as an independent living student made him seem intensely fascinating. He was a Goth (the first time round, it was the 1980s) and wore tight black trousers and had his hair moulded into a huge burgundy quiff. To me he was amazing looking although if memory serves me correctly he was really just a bit weasly looking with mean little pointy features.

I managed to attract his attention eventually after a lot of strategic loitering around and we ended up kissing in a nightclub doorway. It was a bit of a limp passionless kiss which should have told me all I needed to know. I accepted the offer to go back to his bedsit in a rundown part of town and we walked there at 2am, both a little drunk. I metabolised drink quickly so my rosy glow was wearing off and I remember feeling a little nervous. I’d never gone back to a strange man’s flat before after just meeting him. In my head it was all safe and fine as I’d seen him around for months anyway so we were practically good friends. I had no sense of danger.

We entered his bedsit through a dingy hallway which smelt of mould and garlic and walked into his flat. He’d decorated the flat with his own art projects. I thought they were really avant garde. In retrospective, they were merely pretentious. There were a series of Barbie dolls with knives through their heads stuck to the wall. He’d carved a pattern of Jean Cocteau style faces into the peeling paint around his fireplace and there was a life size shop dummy of a woman in a leather dress with an axe in her head. More alarmingly, there was a picture of Myra Hindley on the back of the kitchen door. He also had a lot of kitsch items such as 1950s kitchenware, which I liked a lot, and I realised as he minced about the flat making me a coffee, that he was actually really quite prissy and uptight. I had no worries that he was a violent serial killer with a dark side. The whole set up of the flat was an outward exhibition of an art student posturing and showing just how shocking he could be if he only tried really really hard to shock.

We sat and drank the coffee and I soon realised that far from the moody and mysterious stud I’d pictured him as from afar in the bars, he was shy and nerdy. He was actually painfully shy which made things difficult. I’d decided by this point that I was quite going off the idea of sex but would probably allow a bit of mild below the waist action should he ask nicely. It didn’t occur to me to just leave and go home.

We sat in awkward silences punctuated by stilted conversations. Every now and then he’d say: “So...is there anything you fancy doing?” I think i knew what he wanted me to say.

To which I’d reply coyly from under my dyed black fringe of hair: “Talking is good.”

He must have been going crazy. Eventually he overcame his shyness and disappeared off to the bathroom, coming back into the room in a huge pair of old man’s flannel pyjamas. I was a little disconcerted. He sat shyly on the edge of his bed in his baggy attire which smelt of dead old men and eventually plucked up the courage to kiss me again. I noted very quickly that he’d also taken the opportunity to pull something small and pink out of the fly of his pyjama trousers.

I sorted that out in five minutes flat and was soon washing my hands and on my way home, thankful to be escaping. I was still very miffed when two weeks later he still hadn’t rung which was absurd anyway seeing as I hoped never to see him or his pyjamas again. I’m so glad I don’t have to be a teenager again. At least I’ve learnt to say yes or no now of my accord.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Ramblings: Private Acts

I'm well known for my willingness to share. Ask and I'll tell. In fact, ask me not to tell you about something and I'll probably still tell it anyway as you frantically shove things in your ears and scream "Make it stop!". There are however, some things which are sacred and private and shouldn't be shared.

Four years ago I had a six month relationship with a public school teacher who was a couple of years younger than me. He was bright and articulate, well presented and faintly amusing at times. He had a lovely tweed suit and a nice collection of nic nacs. He could also be irritatingly childlike and had an immature sense of humour at times. To be honest our backgrounds were very different, he was devoutly religious and he was also incredibly sensitive. It was never going to work.

I was really puzzled by the whole idea of boarding school. It horrified me when I visited his quarters at the school where he worked and lived in. I didn't have idyllic fantasies of jolly japes in the dormitory, midnight feasts and pillow fights. I imagined a horrifying lack of privacy and a terrible amount of having to join in with things you really didn't want to join in with. I'd question him often about what went on there (what they ate, how much freedom they were allowed, how often they were allowed to leave the school, what happened if they got caught smoking etc.) He was puzzled by my puzzlement and having gone to boarding school himself thought that my being perplexed was perplexing. 

Sometimes there are huge signs which present themselves to you in life which you really should stop and take heed of and there was a gigantic sign right at the very beginning. He used the toilet in front of me. I'm not talking urination, us men have to suffer the indignity of shared urination constantly. Woman wouldn't put up with urinals, that's all I'll say on the mater. They have that one sussed. It was far worse than that.

We met for the third time after a couple of lukewarm dates but I was starting to quite like him and trying hard to convince myself that I could find him attractive enough to have sex with, when it happened. He disappeared upstairs to "use the bathroom" and was gone a long time. I carried on watching TV, made a coffee and then remembered I needed to get some papers from my office upstairs for work the following day.

Walking along the corridor upstairs I was horrified to see the bathroom door wide open and him with his trousers round his ankles, pink faced and trying to push a hearty stool out. I was stricken and stood frozen, thinking to myself, "Oh how hideous! He forgot to lock the door!" and scurried off, hoping he hadn't noticed me noticing him.

It turned out I was wrong. Apparently he hadn't forgotten to lock the door (or even close it). He did the same thing the next time we met and the time after. Cue a stern conversation. Apparently, growing up in boarding school, followed by shared University accomodation followed by life in a public school gives you no sense of privacy after all. I was right about how horrific and dangerous it all was. You become the sort of horror who inflicts witnessing your bowel motions on others.

I should have seen the signs and ended it there and then but I didn't. I did however set ground rules. I may be a nurse and may have seen a fair amount of grisly things in my time but if at all possible I find it best if friends and family and lovers keep their bowel motions as discrete as possible. I don't think that's an unfair manifesto, do you?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Ramblings: Dying to talk to You

(I've written this piece for a work project but thought I'd also put it out on my blog. Hope it's not scary reading for anyone.)

When people ask me what I do for a living, I’m always tempted to just say “I’m a nurse.” It’s easier. If they go on to ask what kind of nurse I am, then that’s where the awkwardness sometimes begins. When I tell them that I’m a specialist nurse who works with dying people then they tend to react in one of three ways. Firstly they might change the subject very quickly, a glazed look in their eyes. Secondly they might offer a platitude about how special I must be to do my job, effectively ending the conversation, as well as making me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Thirdly, they may show intense interest, throwing question after question my way. I like the third group of people best of all. They seem like a sensible group. I understand the others, though. It’s their prerogative. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable and we all have our histories and motivations.

I was a bit like most people when I was younger. I knew death existed but it certainly wasn’t something I ever wanted to contemplate. The idea terrified me. I started my nurse training aged 21 and was very quickly exposed to the fact that people die. Strangely this shocked me and I felt ill equipped to cope. I saw sudden unexpected deaths and slow gentle deaths; deaths denied or embraced; deaths which were graceful and peaceful and deaths which were a little more turbulent. I saw mourning in all its forms and rituals from the stiff upper lipped and apologetic, who didn’t want to put anyone to any trouble, to the open outpourings of raw emotion.

It all intrigued me and my thoughts often turned to why it was all seen as so shameful and taboo. We’d bustle around people, avoiding them, blocking them from talking by being too busy with tasks to be interrupted. There seemed to be two basic rules underlying our behaviour: Firstly, death was a final failure in medicine. People had to kept alive. It was an embarrassment if we let people die. Secondly, the dying were somehow different from us and as such frightening and to be avoided. We needed to avoid talking about it. We might say the wrong thing or make it all worse. I found myself nervous around people who had life limiting illnesses, coyly avoiding the subject that I was hoping they would avoid too.

I recall meeting a young woman with recurrent untreatable cancer who made me feel very inadequate. I was a young and eager to please student nurse. We’d talked a lot and got on well and then her diagnosis came to light. Suddenly I found it harder to talk to her. I was petrified of her asking me something or talking about things which I felt unable to address or respond to. In reality, I’m sure now that she expected no revelatory answers from me, just a listening ear.

I’m older and I think differently now and so does medicine, thankfully. It took experience and ageing to make me see that we’re all dying, just at different rates or times. The hardest fact to come to terms with was that however hard we evade it, it’s an inevitable and integral part of life, not a separate add on. So why don’t we talk about it? Why does society deny its existence and does this ultimately cause us harm?

I see and support patients now who have life limiting illnesses and interact with them one to one, trying to alleviate any distress and make things better in any way I can. I invariably can make things better, even if only in the smallest ways and approaching death doesn’t have to involve suffering and trauma. If I can’t help I usually know someone who can, whether it’s a specialist financial advisor, a psychologist or even a home help or a simple piece of household equipment. One thing this job has taught me is that the scary conversations we don’t want to have with people are usually much easier to instigate than we think.

Life in modern times is complicated. We have so many choices and a higher level of freedom and choice than ever before and this applies to our manner of dying too. The diversity of human wants and needs means that we all have our individual preferences and desires. We have more complex family situations; our relationships, our beliefs, our finances and our living arrangements are all unique. This should apply to the circumstances of our deaths too. Indeed, these factors influence what will happen when we die. One size isn’t go to fit for all and unless we make our wishes plain we can’t always hope to have our needs and wants accommodated.

They’re difficult questions which we tend not to consider, especially when we’re relatively well and death is an elusive presence which we believe won’t happen to us. It’s hard to think about a world without our presence but unfortunately it will happen one day and we need to prepare. Talking about it can be surprisingly easy, much easier than you’d think in most instances.

There are lots of things we can think about. Who will care for those important to us if we can’t? Whose responsibility will it be to sort out our finances? Who will speak out for us and advocate what we want if we can’t do that anymore? Where would we want to be if we were nearing the end of our lives?

These questions became very important to me in my own life. My father died four years ago after a long illness and throughout his illness it was the unspoken rule that we didn’t acknowledge that his death was approaching. We didn’t sit down and formally discuss it. We didn’t labour the point that he was dying; he knew that all too well and was rueful of the fact, adjusting to it slowly as people often do. There were things we needed to know and things he needed to tell us and we must all have worried in our own ways about what the end point would entail. We didn’t want to think about it but unfortunately thoughts aren’t easy to suppress and when an event is coming towards you at alarming speed you can’t avoid it forever.

As it happened his wants and needs came to light in dribs and drabs. Life is often more random than we hope and formality doesn’t always facilitate the best communication. He let us know gradually, in his own time, what he wanted and we were able to respect what he said. It was so easy to talk about in the end that I wondered why we’d worried, protecting him as he tried to protect us, when in reality we were all avoiding what we needed to say. It wasn’t like in a Hollywood film. We didn’t have cathartic moments or major emotional breakthroughs. We dealt in practicality and pragmatism, a family trait.

He instigated amending his will and selling his collection of classic cars. He addressed his religious needs. He encouraged my mother to move forward, advocating outside interests and widening her circle of friends. A couple of lengthy stays in hospital lead him to state that he didn’t ever want to go back there if at all possible. This in turn lead us to ask if he wanted to be at home at the end and it lead to a healthy conversation about under what circumstances he’d want to be at home and how important this was to him. He informally set parameters for us and we were able to respect these, keeping him at home, ultimately, with community nursing care which eased him towards a peaceful and natural death in the place he loved to be, surrounded by the things and people he loved.

My mother is a realist and her experience of the respectful way we accommodated my father’s wishes surrounding his death have led her to be proactive and pragmatic. She has complex legal arrangements detailing what she needs and wants, her finances are orderly, funeral arranged. This might seem alarming and morbid to some as she’s in rude health and will most likely live a few decades longer, but to me it makes perfect sense. Although she would trust me to make the right choices it’s infinitely helpful to have some guidance while she’s able to provide it. I’ve made my own plans and wishes clear too and I also intend to be here for a lot longer too, if I can be.

Talking can be difficult. We’re all different and we all go about things in our own ways. There are ways and means of making your wishes known. There's a great group called “Dying Matters” who's campaigns inspire me with their simple approach and the availability of sensible advice which is accessible and easy to follow. I’m glad we now have more awareness and more resources.

If we do ever meet, perhaps at a dinner party or reception of some kind, then feel free to ask me about my job. I’m happy to talk or not to talk. I won’t impose on you or make you face things you’d rather not. I would however tell you that my job is a privileged one. I get to help people, am offered a chance to be a part of their lives in challenging times and meet some amazing people. I’m thankful of the opportunities I’m given.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Poems: Mesalliance

This poem is for my favourite vetinarian, a good friend who's helped me out through the odd crisis or two. I'm sure she doesn't often feel like this about her faithful pooch but I suspect she has her moments.


by Connie Bensley

I am divorcing my dog
He never cared for me: we were
unsuited. His lickspittle allegiance
lies wetly elsewhere, his easy bonhomie
bounces over others

I am barely acknowledged:
a mere opener of tins,
prison warder, valet
In front of other dogs
he is subordinate

I mean to dispose of him
by auction. He suspects this:
sniffs and sighs as I batten down
for the evening. (A window left ajar
and he's gone.)

The back-up plan involves garden work
He peers into my excavtions
glaucous-eyed and curious,
but feints and weaves at my attempts
to catch and measure him

Ramblings: Dib Dib Dib

I was reading in bed last night when a panic overtook me. It wasn’t an existential worry, a desperate regret or a fear of illness. I suddenly realised that I don’t have a gravy boat. The book I was reading mentioned a gravy boat and I felt a cold sweat as I realised I do not possess one. OK, I rarely eat meals with gravy; I’m a vegetarian. Who knows though? I’d hate to be caught out without one.

I find shopping a chore but am actually very good at it. I’m almost an oracle. You want to know where to buy a spotted neckerchief in mauve? A coffee table in the shape of Russia? A globe shaped drinks cabinet? An Art Deco dollhouse? I’m your man. Just ask. I’ll try my best. I suppose it’s my memory. I have a very good memory for some things (trivia mainly) and I spot stuff on my travels. They wedge in the murky recesses of my brain only to float back up when demanded.

I have a strange sense of needing to prepare. I should have been a Boy Scout. Their motto is “Be Prepared”. Unfortunately that’s the only Scout thing I liked. Hanging about with other children and doing outdoorsy stuff didn’t appeal at all as a child. I do feel a need to have things in the house in case of need. I have a cupboard full of picnic ware, various candles, kitchen implements galore. I have a latte maker (never used), a blender and a set of serving and casserole dishes which is unrivalled in the Western world. I have a nutmeg grater, a selection of cards for every occasion (birth, death, defeat, amputation, house move) and at least 40 mugs. You never know when you might be called upon to host a massive coffee morning.

My pill collection is quite impressive. Come to me with colic, diarrhoea, migraine, nausea or travel sickness and we’re good to go. My bag weight contributes to my sore neck. I have a vintage satchel which groans on my shoulder with the weight of items. Pens, novels, notebooks, tissues, pills, umbrellas, Swiss Army knife etc. You never know when you might need that handy little implement for getting a stone out of a horse’s hoof or might need to make a vital list. I suppose it relates to anxiety and control. If I’m prepared I can be in control. Sudden death or disaster will surely be less traumatic if I have a pack of Handy Andys in my bag.

The household paraphernalia is all the fault of Ikea. Entering Ikea, a mystical force comes down upon you and invades your brain. I suspect they drug the food or air. You enter that strange hinterland, a normal person, and leave a dribbling wreck. For a starter, you’re cut off from all sensible influence as you can never get phone reception in their giant shed. You then shuffle round following the prescribed route of arrows and woe betide anyone who deviates. It invokes small riots. Suddenly, at the peak of exhaustion, you enter “The Market Place”. A strange mindset comes upon you and you forget everything you ever knew.

Browsing through the goods you decide you need a set of Mason jars for your dried foods, a baking set for baking day, a jug for Pimms, a cocktail shaker for those lazy afternoons on the sun lounger. You desperately need a cake stand, a cheese board and a tea light holder. In short, you believe in a life you don’t have. You lose the ability of reason; the ability to think: I don’t cook, am teetotal, never sunbathe and lighting tea lights is a total ball ache. I still buy them

I think I’ll go and look at my griddle pan now. It’s just a shame I forgot to buy any food to cook on it. Food is a frippery, you can do without that. It’s good to have pristine never used cookware though.

Poems: The Very Happy

I've mentioned before that I mistrust the inanely happy. Those constantly smiling people worry me. Either they know something good which I don't or they've failed to learn anything at all from life about all the bad things. Either way, this amusing little poem has made being awake at 6am on my day off work more tolerable.

The Very Happy

by Janet Fisher

                             always have kind grins
when they catch themselves in the mirror
running their fingers through their hair.
Nothing is too much trouble. Though
they've planned to spend the day sunbathing,
when they sense you need to talk
they'll listen seriosuly, offer good advice,
the sort they'll never need themselves,
If you break your leg they say how lucky
it wasn't your neck, and if you break your neck
they teach you to paint with your teeth

Monday, 5 March 2012

Poems: The Case of the Distracted Postman

I love this quirky little poem. It makes me smile

The Case of the Distracted Postman

by Connie Bensley

The postman is in love
and all of us are bearing the brunt.
My newsletter from the Secular Society
went to the Vicar. The Vicar’s bank statement
arrived at Number 33, who steamed it open
then put something extra in the collection
on Sunday. Coarse seaside postcards
have caused offense to Lavinia, who was
in mourning, and I personally was expecting
a love letter rather than
the Bus Timetable, copies of which
I keep receiving, day after day.
We are getting together to offer him
counseling. Every day he is seen
Staring into the pond, his disordered letter-sack
trembling on the brink.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Ramblings: Messages from the Other Side

There are many reasons I’m grateful that I’ve given up drinking now. My moods are better, my liver is cleaner and happier and the risks of cancer are lower. I fall over less. More importantly, I can no longer send drunken texts.

I was planning on patenting an invention, a mobile phone with built in breathalyser and finger alcohol level analyser. One glass of spirits too many and the phone would detect drink in the sweat or breath and lock you out barring all but 999 calls and desperate pleas for help to a nominated next of kin. This would of course stop the one eyed drunken texts to the ex, the friend you’re a little bit miffed with or the misguided social networking update telling the world about a grisly one night stand you’ve just had. I would miss those updates though. I enjoy a good drunken Facebook rant or a vitriolic drunken relationship breakdown broadcast for the world as much as the next man would.

My problem was that I could be a spiteful drunk. I was generally happy when tipsy but I had a line and once it was crossed a whole arsenal of mental knives sprang out, poised to wound. They were usually pointed, cunningly, at the keyboard of my mobile phone. I’m generally mild mannered. I rarely suffer fools but I try to be nice and try hard not to wound or hurt. Not so when drunk and in charge of a phone.

I recall (vaguely) several years ago, sitting with my tongue poking out of one side of my mouth, one eye closed, so I could focus, tapping away. I was awash with vodka and slumped on the kitchen floor, back leaning haphazardly against a worktop. The text went off and I passed out.

A hideous creeping horror overtook me the next morning as I blearily checked the sent items. It was sadly true. I’d sent a recent ex a vitriolic text. I immediately sent an apologetic message, desperately trying to retract and explaining my shameful drunken state.  A message came back:

“I don’t believe you were drunk. Your grammar was perfect.”

OK, my message had contained apostrophes but they always do. It had taken me half an hour to find the apostrophe on the keyboard and I’d had a nap in between but hey ho. I bitterly regretted that message. Not enough to stop me though.

Volleys of texts to exes, a message telling a friend I hated her choice of boyfriend (I did), odd random comments with no meaning but much shame. It was hopeless. One drunken night I hit upon a plan. I’d hide my phone. This worked as well as you’d expect. I’d hidden it and unsurprisingly, I knew where to find it too.

My next great idea was to send an evil text then delete it so I didn’t have to worry about it. This worked even less well. I’d wake up the next morning with a nagging sinking feeling and then spend days trying to remember who I’d insulted or wait to find out by proxy.

One particular short term relationship of more recent times ended badly. Unfortunately, he’d had an intermittent minor personal hygiene problem which I was of course way too tactful to ever mention. I don’t recall sending the text calling him “Halibut Knob” after we split up but I certainly regret it. I just hope it helped him somehow and changed his cleansing routine.

I disapproved of a friend’s ongoing behaviour and selfishness and was planning on tactfully telling him and gradually breaking off the friendship. One innocuous text message from him plus a bottle or two of wine for me led to a rather more dramatic ending to it and a lot of harm to my reputation. Another (ironic) text telling a friend I thought she needed help for her drink problem didn’t go down so well either. Fortunately I stopped drinking soon afterwards.

It’s good to be sober. I was way too good at the psycho messaging. It’s not so good to be sober if you’re at a work’s party or a family wedding of course, in which case it’s mandatory to be drunk to get through it, or best avoided.

Ramblings: Pointless Sports

I’m totally smitten with Alexander Armstrong at the moment. He’s the posh totty comedian and all round lovely who presents the British TV quiz show “Pointless”. His tweedy looks and cheeky smile send me all peculiar. He also reminds me a little of Paul, which makes it all wholesome and above board. I’ve long had a mild hankering to go on a quiz show and my friend David is a big “Pointless” fan too. We’re both mildly tempted but apprehensive. I can’t decide whether to apply.

There are three problems inherent in this plan which are making me waver. 1) I might embarrass myself with a Tourette’s type moment and end up on one of those out takes show 2) I might embarrass myself by my unabashed and shameful flirting with Alexander 3) They may ask a question about sport, in which case I would fail miserably.

My knowledge of sport is second to anyone’s. I know next to nothing. I’ve never seen a sports match of any kind either live or on TV, haven’t played sport since escaping school (and even then avoided it mostly) and wouldn’t recognise most sports personalities if they stood next to me in the supermarket queue. Indeed, I’ve inadvertently met a couple of famous sports personalities in the past and didn’t realise either one was even remotely famous at the time.

Cricket is incomprehensible to me. The rules make no sense and it seems to involve people standing around in unattractive knitwear in warm weather. The language is bizarre and nothing seems to happen. I can’t understand why you’d want to stand still and try to defend yourself with a wooden stick whilst someone lobbed a solid leather ball at you at high velocity. Surely common sense would advocate running away quite quickly or calling the police. Mysterious.

Football mystifies me most of all. It’s like an odd tribal religion involving grunting, chanting and shouting. I hate the noise of it. It makes me think someone is about to throw a Molotov cocktail. It has a primitive horror to it which is so ungainly. Personally, I’d rather have a Cosmopolitan. I hate the inter-town rivalry that is pure nonsense. What is it with Nylon too? Like many sports, football seems to involve wearing a lot of nylon clothing. They must get terrible rashes from those cheap looking manmade fibres which seem to cost so much. Don’t even get me started on the jolly sporting nicknames, the cost of the policing and the effect on the traffic and parking. I can’t begin to describe my hatred of the whole footballers as celebrities thing either. It’s tawdry and dull. I’ll just point out that there has only ever one riot at a ballet and that was in 1913. See my point?

Rugby has incomprehensible rules and a weird playing style. I think they do it backwards or something. The men are quite cute but the washing must be dreadful after. They must get through some Vanish pre-wash. Tennis is terrible. It brings out the worst in people too (A.K.A. Cliff Richard doing an acapella sing song). Jingoism and misplaced nationalism abound and people get fired up over seemingly very little. Mind you, the male players do seem to display some nice buttocks but a quick glance and I’m over that.

Men’s diving and gymnastics always held a minor appeal for many gay men but the availability of internet porn has surely superseded that for most of us. I’m bored of the Olympics already. Please make it stop. It’s invaded everything and they’re even closing plays in London for the duration which is grim.

The thing I struggle with about watching sport is there isn’t a plot. It’s predictable and the scenery doesn’t change much. Two teams try to win, either one wins or neither wins or they both win. It’s in a field. Tell me why I should get excited? People have made far more interesting films, honestly. They have plots, scenery and dialogue.

As for my own sporting career: a dislike of pain, a dislike of excessive movement and a total lack of coordination make it an unattainable pastime even if I were remotely interested. It’s not even that I’m not competitive. I’m competitive in the right circumstances such as at job interviews or owning the best crockery. I don’t really need to try to prove I’m better than someone in Leeds or Lapland at repetitive physical motions to feel good. Now board games are a different matter of course. Just watch my friend Fran I and play Yahtzee and you’ll see my mean streak come out as we both reveal our slavering inner desire to win. Now, International Yahtzee...wow...that would be an amazing spectator sport.