Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

Dancer

Posted: October 8, 2017 in Blogs
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My very first memory of dancing as a kid, sits high up on the pedestal of all time dance experience, and I’ve done some serious dancing. I’m not talking about anything pretty, no ballet, ballroom or Billy Elliot prowess. This memory, it may not be my first experience, because I remember little from growing up and I’m sure there were times when I was two that I boogied round a room with the enticement of some adults. What I remember is not a hint of recollection or a reproduced story, it is as real to me as climbing into a giant speaker and feeling every single amazing vibration.

My wonderful Mum may be the key to my appreciation and love of dancing and I might not have really thought that until the other day, when we were having a conversation and she told how much she loved to dance. I don’t think I ever knew that and it nudged me into thinking about it. Perhaps the experience of which I speak was just a catalyst in an inherent prophecy but I like to think it shaped me into the stomper I am today. My Mum had and probably still has, stacks of vinyl and her love of music has always been clear. When my brother and I were young she used to play records and we’d all dance around the living room. The one that sticks in my head is Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear; worth a visit to YouTube to set the scene, if this anthem from the 1960s is not familiar!

I can only imagine what it might have looked like to an outsider. There were no moves, no routines but just pure, free-spirited wobbling of arms, legs and heads combined with copious amounts of smiling. Despite this early baptism of fire in the dance world when I got to 15, I just didn’t know what to do with it. I remember going to my first ever ‘club’ night for under 16s (all you old Cambridge peeps remember the High Life don’t you?!), and quite literally contemplating what it was to dance, ‘what do you actually do?’. This is in the era of N-Tance, Set You Free, so you would think you’d need no further suggestion. I don’t remember if I made my peace with how to dance that night, I only remember my Mum picking me and my friends up in her white Peugeot 205 and being stopped by the police on the way home.  The look on the Policeman’s face was priceless.

My path to dancing via clubbing took on a more direct route without much initial interest from me. I tagged along to a night with a couple of friends, who after a few times lost interest. For me however, my fire was fuelled and I tumbled, like the ungracious gymnast I was, in love with it. I remember over-thinking it terribly, how people come together in a place, a room and writhe, wriggle and throw themselves around to a beat, how unjustifiably weird that was. There is something very tribal about it, something that takes over, all-consuming and powerful. I love that everybody’s dancer is like a fingerprint, you never get the exact same one. There might be elements of style that ingratiate a body but ultimately the differences are always detectable and much like a person’s gait you can tell who the dancer is across a room.

I think you can be influenced by a person’s dancing though. At one of my regular haunts at the Corn Exchange I came across a girl that you could have quite legitimately transported back in time to my living room with my apparent crazed, dancing family members and she wouldn’t have been out of place. She looked like a cross between Bambi taking her first steps and someone trying to balance on one of those rolling log things. She was so unbelievably smiley too. I spent some time with her, perfecting her moves and her influence is at the core of how I dance today, I see her in my mind still.

Dancing for me has long been a platform, much like sport has, from which I feel totally at ease with myself – I make sense on a dancefloor. Which I understand is the complete opposite of how a lot of people feel about dancing! If I have to go to any other situation with large groups of people and potentially feel in the spotlight or have to converse sensibly, I crumble. When the music is loud and good, I can dance and I don’t care about anything else. I think other people can sense this oneness as well; my favourite and best ever received chat up line was this, “I really want to talk to you but you look like you’re in your own world.”

These days my dancing avenues are no longer lined with trees and it makes me sad. Sometimes the desire for it is so strong, that it hurts. I miss my dancer friends who are far away or now parents. I miss the people that understand what it is to be a dancer. I want to go out and dance but I may have to put some aged Global Underground CD on and dance around the living room, like Bambi on a rolling log instead.

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After spending, what seems like an eternity, recently writing up College work, something I haven’t done for over ten years, I’m craving words for fun instead. I’ve solemnly sworn not to leave it so late next time and will practice the failsafe method of sending to Mum to check pre-submitting. This will prevent the prevalence of humdinger mistakes because, apparently ‘legions’ are very different from ‘lesions’, although perhaps both can be of an aggressive nature. During this time, I was tied to my laptop and wedged firmly at a kitchen table, generally over the weekend. I had to miss out on the sunshine, social interaction and Saturday night TV. In place of this I took part in the tried and tested, write a line, eat a biscuit. Write another line, make a coffee. Ooh a paragraph, time for a sandwich. So not only am I Vitamin D deficient, I am grumpy and chunky.

Since submission I’ve tried to address all of the above. Cycling to work and sunbathing – check, what to do about the grumpy? Well I never thought it would be me that could say salvation could be found in Saturday night TV. My guilty pleasures of The Voice Kids and Pitch Battle are rather annoyingly at the same time but catch-up TV is an immediate solution to this hugely important conundrum in my life. I am not a good singer, despite having some musical ability when I was younger, I don’t have much of a natural talent for it. I’ve been told by many that anyone can be taught and learn to sing to some degree but I don’t think I could ever get past the memories of grade music exams where I try to sing a note and it’s just a wild stab in the dark at the subsequently murdered music scale.

I do have some good memories of a happy singing time. When I was about ten I started a new school, which was probably the making of me, even if I didn’t end up in a West End show or a world-renowned singer. On my very first day I remember holding hands with other small people, similarly ridiculously dressed in pink and grey gingham, swinging our arms quite vehemently and singing ‘Bind us together Lord, with cords that cannot be broken’. The religious connotations were not my favourite thing but even then I remember the feeling of being part of something, of community and of the exhilaration of singing my heart out, however out of tune. This was just morning assembly and when I reached the music lessons where we all crowded round a piano being commanded by the cheeriest, red-faced, curly-haired lady I’d ever met, I experienced euphoria at Waltzing Mathilda.

These days I tend to get my community fix from my hockey team and work, until recently I never really thought about the amazing virtues of singing. It’s something I’ve always admired and secretly wished and wished I could be good at. The idea of performing, even when you have oceans of talent, would be terrifying to me. I suppose that is the reason I turned to DJing for a time; it was a safe way to perform, to be in the spotlight but with an element of control and manipulation! I wasn’t really much good at that but I still had a go and ‘performed’, it was such an amazing experience. I am quite simply in awe of good singers and even more so of young children who, as illustrated in The Voice Kids, have the ability to rouse an audience and portray things beyond their years.

I seem to have developed an unhealthy obsession with Pitch Battle too, my favourite singers being the gospel choirs and acapella groups. It probably stems from the former obsession with Pitch Perfect and I’m pleased to see the Musical Director embracing the TV show. I share the opinion of one of the judges, that what really adds to a performance is when you can see how close knit the group is. My favourite part so far being the riff-off with the theme ‘Happy,’ between a gospel choir and another group who didn’t hesitate in singing gospel at the gospellers. I can’t see myself ever getting bored of this 18th century hymn, and throw in Lauyrn Hill, Whoopi Goldberg and some serious hand clapping, we can all exclaim ‘Oh Happy Day’!

I can’t help thinking that if we all got up every day and joined in on a rendition of Joyful Joyful the world would be a better place. Music has the power to alter us, for better or worse, take us to the highest heights or terrifying lows. The singing though, the expression of it, even if it is sad, is a beautiful thing. For now, I rely on the voices of others because all I really have is words and Songs Without Music.

  

Dry 2016

Posted: December 19, 2016 in Blogs

Unless something very wayward happens over Christmas and in the build-up to New Year, I am looking a year of alcohol abstinence squarely in the eye. I’ve got roughly ten days to hold its gaze and I have every confidence in my imminent success. What then? Some friends have shared their amusement at the thought of me taking on board alcohol with a significantly decreased tolerance level and most assume I will drink again. I’m not so sure though.

I can honestly say I’ve not missed drinking alcohol. Before you wonder that I have become a wallflower and avoided any such relevant situations, I have been on a ski holiday, celebrated a birthday, been out with my hockey team, been to the pub with friends, been out to dinner and many other things that one might do in a year of life where alcohol is generally the expected common ground. As an experiment my results have proven very interesting! In truth I have not found it hard at all and when lots of people have asked me about being close to giving in to temptation, my answer is not as typical as might be expected. I have managed nights out without any hint of giving in, but when my Mum offered me chocolate liqueur on ice cream as the grand finale to my birthday meal something inside me waivered! Saying no at that point was hard but I did.

In the past when I have opted to drive on a night out or simply chosen to not drink for whatever reason; a hockey match the next day, an early start or just because I can exercise my right to say no, my decision has been met with scorn. People generally don’t get it. They might try to persuade me into the steely claws of a cocktail’s grasp, or even be heavily critical about my obvious insanity. It can get a bit tedious fighting my corner. However, when I have an ‘excuse’ and my explanation is rooted in dry 2016 most people are suddenly filled with admiration. When it’s a choice society may see it as odd, crazy, weird and totally undoable. When it is turned into an achievement and in their eyes a huge feat of personal accomplishment, suddenly I become a hero to them! This is what I have found most interesting about my alcohol-free year.

I understand that some people like drinking; they like the taste of alcohol, they like how it makes them feel, ultimately, they enjoy it overall. I’m fine with this but I don’t share this experience and I don’t see why I should do it because everyone else does – this seems more to me the definition of insanity! I have quite a bad allergic reaction to a lot of wine and some spirits, I am told it is the sulphites. I used to drink it and try and power through some of the ill effects. This to me also sounds a bit like madness – I don’t see people with nut allergies seeking out their next thrill by making a date with a Walnut Whip (the most sadistic nut) and an EpiPen. In general I don’t seem to get a consistent feeling of elevated confidence or fun – I just feel bad about myself. As anyone close to me will know It’s not unusual for me to be able to go out and dance all night or shock horror be able to converse at a basic level, without drinking. It would be nice if this could be more widely accepted.

‘What’s the point?’ Someone asked me. Well, a lime and soda generally costs less than a whole English pound, add that to never getting a taxi and you do the maths. There’s also calorie maths to be considered, no wine equals more wine or a pudding! Feeling healthier and no hangovers for a year; that’s addictive stuff. The challenge to what society considers normal is the bigger point for me. Anyone can go out and have a good time sober if they challenged their own perception of it. I’ve had moments of mental elevation observing drunk people, sounds snobby but I just mean it is very eye-opening. At a time when the NHS is struggling to support our lifestyles because we are too fat and too drunk, we could all lend a hand by not drinking so much. Dry January is a snapshot of your life – I challenge you to dry 2017! It’s very liberating.

New Year’s resolutions can be a bit wishy-washy and now that dry 2016 is nearly over I am wondering more and more about 2017. Some very wise people tell me I should try adding to my life rather than taking away, which made me think. Then I thought some more and actually not drinking does add to my life! Maybe I will learn Spanish or something in addition. I have signed up to Veganuary but if I was taking my own advice being Vegan for January would be somewhat easy and maybe vegan 2017 would be more notable. For now though I’ve got one last hurdle to jump; the tradition of champagne breakfast on Christmas day. At least my Mum has made me my own brandy-free Christmas cake.

 

 

This week brought an encounter with rain, thankfully we managed to get out first thing while it was still dry. During the course of the afternoon however, the drizzle set in. Polly and I had a bit of a duvet day, watching films and cuddling on the sofa. A few times I would tentatively open the door to the garden and utter encouragement, this was met with fairly obvious disdain. Staffies don’t like wet weather! When we started to get cabin fever I took control of the situation, grabbed harness and lead and convinced both of us a walk and more importantly a toilet break for Polly, was just what we needed. A few steps beyond the boundary of dry and relative safety and Polly began screwing her cute little face up, squinting in horror and shaking off what she considered a deluge of water. I was just about to soothe her with kind words when she began backing out, of her harness, and mentally from this ridiculous idea. Brakes on, it was obvious we weren’t going anywhere. Back to the dry and loafing. Later that evening, before bed, I had to insist on some garden time before bed – this dog has bladder control far superior to mine.

During rainy times or moments of idleness Polly likes to watch birds and squirrels, the latter being her favourite. This extends to out and about on walks where she carefully looks out for cats too. I find it amazing that she remembers which gardens she has previously spotted a cat, on walking the same route she gets excited in advance and then storms the garden path. Mostly the cat is no longer there and she leaves disappointed. I have learnt to hang on extra tight in the park where there are squirrels a plenty and I wonder that If I let go we might end up with a dog in a tree. I previously mentioned feet chewing – this is a popular pastime. Sometimes after some dedicated effort, there’s a little collection of droplets of drool on the floor around her, such a delight.

When I talk to people about dogs the commitment and time needed often comes up in conversation, which absolutely cannot be denied. What people often fail to mention are the subtler changes to your life that you must accept. When Polly is around I have to abandon the wish to watch any kind of dog programme because she feels the need to serenade, join in barking and generally communicate with the TV. Not only that but housework becomes more challenging. The vacuum cleaner becomes a source of absolute focus and Polly feels the need to defend my life from its apparent savageness. It’s quite sweet really, I don’t know anyone else that would go to such great lengths for me! Retaining any kind of personal space is also a whimsical idea. The other day I sat on the step outside in the garden to eat my lunch and along came Polly, plonked herself down next to me, leaned into me and occasionally licked my neck and ear, pretending not to be after my food. Sitting down anywhere results in her head resting on my leg. Many times I have woken up in the night and the bed has been completely taken over.

The rain went and the sun returned, however our new routine was met with sabotage. Polly rebelled against the regime and refused to come running with me in the morning. I feel bad for making her share my exercise; then I remember that most of my clothes have white Staffy hair woven into the fabric, and that we are in the same sharing boat. Still, I let her off and we play in the garden instead, by the afternoon a walk is allowed and we come to a truce. When we walk I love watching Polly’s reaction to people – she just loves them and even another person across the road induces tail wagging and wiggling. She would say hello to everyone if she could.

We’ve come to the end of our two-week adventure, I’ve laughed and smiled a lot and shouted a bit too (only because of the hedgehog!). As expected I’ve developed some more ridiculous nicknames that I regularly interchange, to include: Poll-dog, Whippy-tail, Itchy-dog, Pollster and Sleepy-dog Sleepy-dog (you have to say it twice!). I’ve probably had more conversations with this loveable hound than I have real people in the time we’ve been glued to each other. I will miss her terribly!

Now that I have more time on my hands I can spend much more time dedicated to dog.  Currently I’m looking after my favourite dog, for two weeks. This is an account of the adventures of Polly, well, the two-week adventures of Polly. It’s easy to wonder how much a dog can actually get up to every day, especially one that spends a large proportion of time chewing her own feet and nibbling her knees. I think it’s important to remember quality over quantity, as I might have eluded to before, a dog’s life is all about having fun, eating and sleeping, a motto that so many of us would be keen to live our lives by. Polly’s current snapshot of life is one where she is draped half out the French doors, basking in the sun. Soon I may have to put a stop to this kind of high level relaxation and douse her in sun cream, or I might have an overly pink Polly.

Three nights in and Polly is helping me with my fitness training. Truth be told, I feel like it is one of those situations where you highlight a quality in someone else that is actually similar or more befitting for yourself! With time on my hands, a lack of routine and access to healthily stocked fridges, and I don’t mean carrot stocked, I’m feeling a bit fatty unfitty. Since I last saw Polly I think she might be feeling the same! So I’ve created us a new routine. Every morning we go running. Polly is quite strong on her harness and actually it is far easier to have a little jogette, where she trots at an amiable pace beside me, it saves my arms from her tank-like storming ahead. I don’t run at my full speed and we only do half the distance I normally would and she manages it with ease.

I have to admit to being a bit obsessed with tiring dogs out, especially if you have to leave them home alone for a bit. I’m pretty sure when I duck out and leave my current partner in crime, she just sleeps. When we get back from our run she sleeps on the sofa in the most contented fashion. Only the rustle of my breakfast will rouse her, whereupon she plods to the kitchen to investigate. I feel like at that point some very complicated statistical calculation happens in her head while she works out if it’s worth hanging around or not. If not she plods back to bed and continues her slumber. Occasionally, during the course of the day, we have a recurring interaction where she brings me toys and howls and growls (in the friendliest and most enticing way!) in my face. I also like to poke and rub her tummy, in return she embarks on licking me to death and mouthing my arms.

This bank holiday Polly watched a hockey match, I’m pretty sure it was her first time, and probably her last. We had to keep a distance because if the players and the ball got too close, despite us being safely behind a barrier, she would bark and seemed desperate to join in. I don’t hold it against her, I’m rubbish at watching sport because it just makes me want to be involved, spectating is a mug’s game! Still it was an adventure and that’s what these two weeks are about after all. Now it’s Monday though, the levels of adventure have dimmed significantly; I am privy to a lot of snoring coming from around the corner while I sit and type. Still, I guess we’re not too different to the rest of the nation and tomorrow is another day.

So far we’ve met some lovely people and dogs – I love dog people! We’ve also had one not so fun encounter. Today we met a mature German Shepherd and a 13 week old Staffy puppy – a duo that Polly warmed to instantly. She can sometimes be a bit scared around moody or full-on dogs, but as soon as she senses there is no threat she goes into full on play mode – which she initiates a bit like a bull in a china shop. Other new friends include a dopey chocolate Lab and shaggy Collie thing. We did meet another Staffy lady who wasn’t so friendly, she lept out of her garden and terrified poor Poll-dog who was just walking along minding her own business. She really is such a sweetheart and wouldn’t hurt a fly. Actually that’s a lie, I’ve seen her eat a few!

My favourite part of the day is the early evening and bedtime routine. After dinner is done with, Polly and I share the sofa – it’s furthest from the TV but I can’t resist having her head resting on my leg or burrowed behind me. There’s quite a lot of snoring and her face goes all squishy and even more loveable when she’s sleepy. When it’s bedtime and I get ready, she lays on the bedroom floor while we both farcically pretend that no bad habits of dogs on beds occur. I get into bed and she whines at me like I’ve forgotten something, whereupon she jumps up. Polly doesn’t just sleep on the bed though; she has to be under the covers like a person. She digs up the duvet and skilfully dives in my head end and wiggles down to my feet. We sleep top to toe and when I wake up in the morning she has her head and two paws out the end of the duvet. I can’t help but crease up and smile. She is not an early morning dog! She stays in bed while I get up and start the day, it takes her a while before she can face her doggy world.

Last night didn’t go so smoothly though; I ended up wrestling a Staffy and a mutant hedgehog, shouting all the way, upsetting the neighbours probably! I let Polly out last thing before bed and all hell broke loose, I thought another dog was in the garden there was so much barking. It wasn’t a dog or a dog fight, it was Polly versus the biggest hedgehog I’ve ever seen. It took a while for that to unfold though because the garden is dark and split level and full of trees and shrubs and I couldn’t see what was happening. I remembered where torches might be and I raced to find three – but I struggled to turn on one – It seemed you needed a degree or to be a Krypton Factor mastermind. Once I managed that (it took a while) I went foraging in the garden, in my pyjamas, to unearth the drama. Henceforth the wrestling begun, Polly intent on savaging a football sized hedgehog who was obviously winning, doing its hedgehog thing of stillness and prickles. Polly doesn’t wear a collar in the house – she gets dressed up for stepping out but she has very sensitive skin. I therefore had little to grab except Staffy, so I wrestled her! All the noise had pretty much every dog in the neighbourhood barking and I was shouting. It must have been the soap opera equivalent in the dog world.

One week in and we’re still the best of friends, even though Polly chewed through her lead in the time it took me to lace my trainers and obviously the hedgehog drama has not done enough to make me fall out of favour with her. Dogs really are amazing, for me it’s the only time in my life where I really appreciate the bad bits, they make all the good bits incredible and I realise the not so good is also really quite fun! What will happen next week I wonder; look out for the adventures of Polly part two…

The Oubliette

Posted: June 18, 2016 in Blogs
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A long time ago, when the world and I were not in cahoots, I confessed to my mum about how awful life was for me. The enormity of this simple act plagued me right up until the moment and what followed was nothing short of euphoria. That lasted for less than 24 hours, then I was straight back to the pain threshold of what I could tolerate. It was the first step into a new life though, that would get better and better. Telling someone how I was feeling did not make it all go away but it did give me light at the end of the tunnel. Looking back, it was more like the most overgrown, inspirational beacon. I always remember my mum’s advice; the power to change things was mine alone. Sure, talking about things helped but it was ultimately me that dragged myself from the oubliette and knocked on the world’s door once more. I didn’t do it on my own; I was supported in many ways and it was quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever done and, it took me a year!

While that was only a chapter in the story, and what followed was a journey of ups and downs and of course mistakes, I never revisited that darkness. I felt assured by my experience of rock bottom at twenty-one; whatever life was going to throw at me I could handle. A few of my friends valiantly battled similar things in their lives a bit later on – when perhaps they lost the structure of higher education, or moved away from family or pondered their future careers. I myself did jobs I didn’t like and my CV could be described as ‘flighty’! Now that I am approaching four years working for the same organisation I am rather proud of my staying power and also that I am there not because I need to be but because I want to be and I care about what I do. Actually that previous flightiness has amassed a broad skillset that I utilise all the time in a chameleon-like fashion.

I recently met up with a couple of good friends, whom I trust and respect wholeheartedly. I’d perhaps previously hinted at and talked of, some of my more recent difficult experiences but not fully divulged the detail. I once again found myself on the brink of confession, the wall came down, the tears deluged and the words obediently followed. There were some shared tears; it’s always best to approach pregnant, hormonal friends for this kind of solidarity! I was listened to, I was cuddled and I was understood. That’s all I really needed and I felt so much better. Of course my mum has already had several of these experiences, in which I phone her up in tears and unburden myself through sobs and jolty patterns of English. As much as this has happened and I feel better initially, I know that right now I’m back in the oubliette with no ladder, no plan, no light and on one to piggyback me up to the trap door. I can hear people shouting from outside though; trying to help me and offering advice.

Sometimes, when you don’t know what to do, it’s best to do nothing, for a bit anyway. Another bit of award-winning advice. Well in the oubliette there’s definitely nothing to do, except sit on the floor in the darkness. In the real world it is books that rescue me, they are (not my words!) ‘a suicide postponed’. Escapism yes, identifying with people too. Bringing characters into your life that you wonder about while you’re making dinner, that you long for when they are not there. When they end though I am bereft and out of some sort of bizarre loyalty I have to wait a time before moving on. Feeling all sorts of shades of sorry for yourself does have some advantages, it does make you appreciate even more, when good things happen, even if they make you cry! Another good friend invited me to take part in some village celebrations for the Queen’s birthday. I watched her and her daughter play in a cobbled together but very talented, Ukulele band. Stick with me, I haven’t been taking drugs! I knew no one from the village, except her family but I felt an overwhelming sense of community and I felt privileged to be included. Now I’m not pregnant and hormonal, just very emotional, and when they played ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ and Let it Be’ I battled with an internal wrecking ball and cried silent tears.

I am privileged. There are so many people around me, supporting me, talking to me, helping and guiding me. Friends and family who let me stay in their houses, friends that seek me out when I push them away, friends far away that ask me how I am doing every day, friends that miss me when I’m gone, friends that cry with me in their kitchen and most of all there is mum. Mum who is at the end of every tearful phone call and doesn’t ever judge me. Mum with endless advice and support. Mum who daydreams about what she would do and say to the perpetrators that shadow my life. I am not alone but as aforementioned I am the only one responsible for my life. I have the power to change it, to steer it’s course and to rebuild it when it gets broken. I know though that it takes time. People are starting to throw ropes down into the oubliette; lifelines for me to climb. I’ve got no upper body strength though and I just fall down and get bruised. There’s a way out of here though, I know. I just need the strength and valour to find it.

 

Sweet Relief

Posted: May 20, 2016 in Blogs, Uncategorized

Someone very learned recently told me, and a roomful of others, that one of the most powerful emotions is relief and that this is true for both man and beast. I had never really thought about it before but if someone had asked me I would probably have said it was anger. Thinking about it some more, anger probably is the release that is the relief and their interlinked nature is quite obvious. Analysing it further, as this brain of mine has a tendency to do, on a daily basis we set about finding relief from various situations that make us uncomfortable. I don’t mean that we are all in a constant battle against pain and suffering more that is natural for us to alleviate ourselves, in many ways, some more healthier than others. Some physical, some emotional and some that we have paired together.

This here blog is exactly what I speak of; it’s three in the morning and I can’t sleep. I don’t think it’s because I’m pondering relief either! I write this though, because it eases the pain of what is keeping me up at three am – which is another totally different blog. This is my relief. I remember a story my mum told me about when I was little; I may have confused some detail but in essence something in the house made a startling loud noise. In my five-year-old terror I physically reached out for something to console and comfort me. What I found relief in was my shoe abandoned on the floor amongst a scattering of toys. I think we laughed about how very odd it was that I didn’t seek human comfort, but then I am a Pisces and we do love our shoes!

Right now I have a sore throat that feels like I’ve swallowed a siege of razor blades. After suffering a cold and then a second infection and losing my voice over two weeks ago I still haven’t managed to shift a constant sore throat, that is now worsening by the day. I’ve just eaten five throat sweets in this my quest for relief and I’m moaning about it on here – something that by sharing I feel will help me! Also, tonsillitis has quite recently been in the offing at work, maybe that’s what I have…the thought provides me with some immediate relief from worry. Anyway, you get the picture, life is one big pacifying quest.

On the home page of my website I quite boldly state that I am a compulsive eater, which I suppose could be thought of as a strange way to define oneself. The main reason I say it is because for more years than I care to remember the secrecy of the thing held so much power over me. Now as I’m sure any addict will tell you, merely admitting you have a problem does not simply make it go away. That admittance, the acceptance of self, is the beginning though, the beginning of relief. Ironically stuffing my face of literally anything I can find (and yes I’m including flour or stuff I’ve thrown away in the bin to stop me eating it!) is the relief I provided myself from emotions I simply couldn’t deal with.

People do it with all sorts of things, we all have our crutch. More commonly in my circles it’s alcohol. I’ve never really had much success with alcohol, many of my friends lay claim to this confidence building wonder drug that leads to hilarity and deepened connection with people. When I was 18 it just highlighted everything I hated about myself and made me more and more miserable. I’m not in the habit of hating myself these days but I still don’t get the drinking thing. Then of course there’s drugs, gambling, sex, exercise – the list goes on in a never-ending fashion. Whichever behaviour it is; it becomes a habit when we learn it makes us feel good and we reach out for that thing.

I have always wanted to be more accepting of my emotions, have more of a handle on life and generally be a bit more stable in the face of hard times. Do people really exist that can feel anger, jealousy, anxiety and fear and just feel it, without seeking some external relief? Without eating, without gossiping, without withdrawing and without shouting! I’d like to be one of those people that just accept ‘ah, that’s anger’ and sit with it. In the meantime, I’m all for acting boldly today, to change things that no longer make me happy.

Next time I am so thirsty that a swimming pool amount of water would struggle to quench my thirst, I’m going to really enjoy it. I invite you to really relish the next time you wake up when you really need the toilet, but it’s so comfy and warm in bed! Just enjoy it, because everyone needs a bit of relief.

 

Cooking on Gas

Posted: May 7, 2016 in Blogs, Uncategorized
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Van life preparations have begun for the summer; very exciting. Last week I had to replace my gas bottle in Vanda. It ran out whilst making one of my last cups of tea during my final week in November 2015. I used a camping stove to make a few more before moving into a winter bedsit! Vanda is too cold in the winter but now I have the remaining days of May before returning fully to my minimal nomadic lifestyle. I had half thought that the draw of four walls, a washing machine, WiFi and an on demand hot shower might make me want to stay when the end of six months came around. I couldn’t have been more wrong as I can’t wait to be back out and on the road.

During my limited handover of Vanda from the previous owner, who crafted her interior himself, he had explained the need to remove the shelf in the cupboard to get the gas bottle out. My vague recollection of this led me to believe this would be my biggest problem. Not so however! I thought gas was gas but it turns out not – you can’t go to a shop who stock one brand with an empty bottle of a differing brand. I have so much to learn! When I questioned my family members, people who know stuff –compared to me, totally clueless, they assured me the gas bottle was a sort of quick release mechanism. In the end mine needed a spanner – typical.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. First the trip the gas shop; new territory. I expected maybe a nice young man that would shoulder all my gas bottle problems and fix it all up for me. I was greeted by a middle-aged lady who looked and acted like a cross between Patsy from Ab Fab and Phoebe from Friends in the ‘what could have been episode’, where she is an angry stockbroker. I asked her to come to Vanda in the car park and take a look, as it was clear from my babbling that I knew nothing of what I spoke of, and neither did she. Except en route she had to answer her mobile, where she berated a gas engineer who was at an elderly woman’s house. Meanwhile I stood around looking more and more helpless. Eventually the conversation stopped long enough for her to decide that we could return to the shop for a spanner. She was on the phone again as we walked back and there was a surreal moment where she collected a huge flag from a display BBQ and carried it in with us to the shop.

I was beginning to think I’d stepped into an ulterior universe, when the blurry edges of my experience started to sharpen. I take the van around the back of the shop and we contemplate size of gas bottles, types of gas and some weird adapter thing that will mean I don’t have to use a spanner. Before all this can be sorted I need to remove the old bottle and attach the new and because the shop people are not gas engineers, they are not allowed to do it for me. They can however, talk me through it. I’m not the best at following instructions. At hockey training I can’t follow anything the coach ever says – I just watch people in front of me do the drill and then I know what I’m supposed to do. The thought of this tyrannical gas lady instructing me was terrifying. Just like my hazy experience, she did soften and despite my dyslexic brain I managed to follow direction and get the gas bottle swap done. There were some comedy moments with hot cups of water, gas rubber hosing and the poor lady struggling to climb in and out of Vanda with a bad back.

What an adventure! Next is a habitation check to get my water heater fixed and then Vanda and I really will be summer ready – good to go and cooking on gas.
 

February the first

Posted: January 29, 2016 in Blogs
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Days go by and still I think of you. I used to have this track, by Dirty Vegas, on vinyl. Now long gone as a result of the minimalist purge – sold at a car boot I seem to remember for a matter of pence. I find it nostalgic at best, haunting at worst but undeniably good. It’s about loss and pain, all taken from the perspective of the listener. I’ve heard lots of people say, ‘There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of…’ I wonder if this is really ever true, can we really spend the rest of our lives remembering loss daily? I don’t think so. I find the less finite, vaguer first sentence of this paragraph more apt, because yes no amount of time will ever pass before I forget. Unless Men in Black burst into my life with their flashy memory thing.

Of course some days you remember more than other days; birthdays and anniversaries. I tend not to remember one day to the next that well, what I ate for breakfast, where I went last Saturday who I was out with such and such a night. The memory of loss pops up in my day, like an unwanted gremlin weighing me down. It traps you like a foot in the door of happiness, threatening to let loose a whole host of emotions that lurk in the dark. I will never forget the first of February, four years ago. I can recall detail after detail but by way of an out of body experience. I’m getting ahead of myself though; this story starts with a moment in time for 12 year old me.

I met Henry when I was 12. I was unceremoniously driven, without explanation, to ‘neutral’ territory. If memory serves I believe it was a hotel room. There was an expectation that I needed to behave in an adult fashion, be grown up in my approach to my new baby brother – in this the first I knew of him. 12 year old me never realised that 17 years down the line I would have to take on a level of responsibility well beyond comprehension of human ability. Children are very accepting. I never realised how much of my childhood was hard or odd, it just was. A shaky start some might think, but in those early years, despite childhoods spent in Nigeria and the UK we spent a lot of growing up time together, along with three more new additions. I had every reason to take a dislike to all of them but I didn’t.

Buddhists encourage teaching and meditation on death. They view it as a natural process, reminding us of the impermanence of life and in turn teaching us to value and cherish life. I’m quite a cynical person and I imagine too much study of all things deathly would be detrimental to my sanity. However, I can’t help thinking it would have been useful to be a bit more prepared. What does one do when someone dies? Well, I’m not sure it’s gospel but this is what I did.

I folded in on myself quite literally, like a creased pancake or a sunken cake. I crumpled on the bathroom floor while on the other end of the phone. I’m sorry were the only words I could form. I somehow mustered enough conversation to agree to be the messenger for my dad, my brother and aunt I would have to tell. I hid, struck still like a rabbit caught in headlights. Hoping that someone would find me, in the toilets at work at 8am. Please don’t make me come out of here and tell someone, admit this awful truth that can’t be true. All too soon I can no longer bear this pain on my own. At the sight of a human, I do the folding in on myself thing again. Later people will tell me they saw death on my face – that mine was not a face of a person ok. I was given tea and biscuits in a quiet room. I took on responsibility like morning reveille, alert and business like, informing family. I was driven home. People were kind in gargantuan form and silent just as much. What do you say? I still don’t know.

I punished myself with guilt. Why wasn’t it me? I found ways to believe it was my fault; the resentment I had felt towards my dad was a poisonous karma attacking him. Seeing the effect of loss on other people is by far the worst thing in the world, I would rather suffer the loss for everyone than see the damage it bestows on them. I believed that I was strong, the funeral was just another part of this surreal play that I could continue acting in. I didn’t even have a tissue and I sobbed uncontrollably from start to finish. I vowed never to love anyone because they would just die and leave me. At this point I’m still not sure that I understand that life can end, that we can just expire and that’s that.

Henry was 17, he had a rare form of childhood cancer, one that was rid from his body with chemotherapy and surgery. He was given the all clear. When it comes back, this cancer, it’s even more aggressive. I’d say I miss him every day but I don’t – but days go by and still I think of him. He was brave, responsible, honest, laid back, practical, so kind and so incredibly cool. When things get tough, I remember his courage and when I feel misery I remember the chance I have at life, one that can all too easily be snatched away. Most of all I remember loss, and I will never forget.

you are still a whisper on my lips
a feeling at my fingertips
that’s pulling at my skin 

you leave me when I’m at my worst
feeling as if I’ve been cursed
bitter cold within

 

 

 

 

 

Other People’s Houses

Posted: January 9, 2016 in Blogs
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So far in 2016 I have looked after four dogs in three different houses. Some people find it hard to understand, but I enjoy it immensely. In the summer of 2015 it was often a necessity and sometimes a luxury, to take a break from full time van life in an actual house. Despite having a small place of my own over the winter, warm, Wi-Fi and washing machine complete I am still spending plenty of time in other people’s houses. I suppose if it was just me, rambling around in a strange house, it would be odd. With a dog, or two, it’s not; they are my priority focus. Working all day with dogs has been my substitute for not being able to have my own. But looking after dogs in houses, in their houses, is very different to caring for dogs in kennels.

I am now at the stage where I keep finding myself in familiar houses, coming back for more! I might be in the kitchen and go to the drawer for the tin opener and have to stop myself and ask myself, “Which house am I in?” before I manage to locate it. I like to think of it as a break in routine. Now I am someone that thrives on routine, but at the same time I hate monotony. It’s a win win situation! I am also quite nosey, so I enjoy finding things for myself. That’s not to say I’m rifling through people’s drawers! What I mean is, I find it interesting how other people live. Why they have what they have and don’t have in their houses, how it’s arranged, as well as what’s stored in the fridge.

Different folks, different strokes – always apply! Personally I would never keep honey, bananas or onions in the fridge, that’s just weird. I would never leave ketchup or HP sauce out of the fridge, that’s weirder. I like houses with cafitierres and fresh coffee or even better a coffee machine I can work. I like under-floor heating and dishwashers. I don’t like weedy curtains and wearing an eye mask to bed. I’ve come to terms with dogs that sleep on beds. I like dogs that run. I’ve met so many that are not early risers; they laze in bed while I get ready for work and some I even have to force out the door in the morning. I like it when people leave me cake, I don’t like it when there is too much nice food that I eat and then have to replace, sometimes twice. I like trying out different washing powders!

It’s not just the in the house bit either, there’s obviously the walks but I also spend a lot of time pondering where I might like to live, If I ever become a proper person and buy my own house. Location wise, I don’t like being too close to a shop but I don’t like being far away from shops generally. I hate on-street parking and front doors that open into the living room. I hate commuting so I like being close to work. I feel like I’m trying before buying in so many aspects. Maybe what I like most is that I don’t have to decide; I get to live all these different lives in different places without being tied down to specifics. It’s very freeing. In fact I’ve been asked how I don’t find it unsettling but if anything, the idea of the same house, everyday and the same routine sounds unsettling to me! When I was young I used to move my bedroom furniture around, a regular occurrence. Otherwise boredom would set in.

As much as it’s fun, it’s a huge responsibility; other people’s animals and houses. Being of an anxious mind set I can let that run away with me easily. I’ve often been standing at front doors, keys in hand, checking they are the right keys and also testing that I will be able to get back in again, for several minutes before being able to actually leave. I am also an absolute soft touch – even when I know a dog is used to being left I absolutely hate doing it! I often take time off to keep dogs company or be able to walk in the light. One thing I can’t complain about is the dogs themselves, all with their varying personalities and energy levels, they are so well behaved. I shouldn’t speak too soon I guess but I have managed to avoid most dramas; loose dogs, being locked out and vet trips. I’m sure a time will come.

Right this minute I am listening to a snoring, tired Staffie. There has been somewhat of a toy massacre and an element of tidying will need to take place – this, my biggest worry for the evening. Other than that there is food in the fridge, the heating is on, I have the pick of Sky TV and a comfy bed to look forward to. It’s a hard life.