29 October, 2016
So our cat, Bugsy, got traumatised and ran away in late June. It was my fault, I’d taken him down the road-to-hell-paved-with-good-intentions, to the local vets, he never recovered. Once he got out of there (alive), he legged it and was only ever heard of behind distant neighbourhood fences, from that time on. Fact of the matter is, I was as traumatised as him. First of all, watching him held down having his fur shaved off for a blood test, then paying for the bloody, blood test. Bad so far, but not a patch on what was to come, I was given an estimated price for his ongoing treatment; a thyroid operation at roughly £20,000 ( in used dollar bills). Then a price for his rotting teeth to be replaced with a gleaming Hollywood smile (£1m in uncut Angolan diamonds). I left the building trying to evaluate exactly how much that cat meant to me and to the kids. I called my Mother, the animal lover, about it hoping she’d transfer her £2 a month donation from the PDSA into my own “save the cat” fund. Unfortunately, last time she’d petted him she’d got bitten by fleas, so her kindly suggestion was that I have him put down – for his own good.
By the time we returned from our summer holiday, in September, there had been only one sighting of him in 9 weeks, I told the kids he must have found another family and totally dumped us. Asha was particularly sad, as Bugsy used to sleep with him most nights. My Mother asked if we’d seen him since we got back, and kindly advised me that cats often disappear when they’re going to die, apparently, they prefer to die alone, she said. I tried to remind her that he had a thyroid problem, not pancreatic cancer, but she wasn’t having any of it. Then she helpfully reminisced on all of the pets she’d had since childhood (she’s 90), and told me how each one had died.
Uncharacteristically, I was hanging laundry on the line on a sunny mid-September day, when I looked over to the long grass at the side of the garden. Technically this long grass was once the lawn, but Sami can skim valuable seconds off his grass cutting chore by letting the edges encroach. I could see a black thing curled up in the sun in the long grass. I left the laundry and went over to it, a skinny, visibly ill cat woke up and tried to stand on very shaky legs. I almost didn’t recognise it as Bugsy it was so weak, not the killer beast I’d been so used to. I hadn’t realised rotting teeth mean death to a cat that can’t eat the lickle creatures it catches. But he had the tell-tale shaved fur patch that the vet had inflicted on him. So the kids and I began to feed him small amounts, round the clock. Friends helped out when I was at work. My mother advised me if he didn’t gain weight, then I should have him put down, for his own sake. But he fought for life and each day I saw an improvement in him. My son Asha, was upset that the cat didn’t know him anymore, wouldn’t come in the house or let him play with him. I tried to explain that starvation affects the brain and he would need to rebuild his trust with us, after all, how could Bugsy understand why we’d abandoned him. I felt like taking him to an animal shelter, he was one of those typical abused animals, who will come for food, but is totally wary of humans. Except, this abused animal was mine and I’d abused him. I found myself at the back door in the middle of the night, worrying about him and calling him in, but he never came to me. After a couple of weeks, he’d made good progress physically and he was coming right up to the back door to be fed, although he still wouldn’t come in.
One morning, I opened the door to feed him and found another cat, sitting on the step next to him. They were exactly the same in colouring, equally black, but the new one was a huge, confident, regal cat. I looked from one to the other, again and again. Then, to that enormous Prince of Cats, with the shiny fur, staring up at me as if he owned the house, I said, “Where the fucking hell have you been, Bugsy?”
Bugsy meowed a simple, “Fuck you” in response and wandered past me to Asha’s loving arms.
13 May, 2016
“Hey Hari, a really great thing happened.” it’s my boss, Shaunaka, in my office. When he says, a-really-great-thing-happened, it could mean absolutely anything. Perhaps there has been an EU turnabout on some policy that he has orchestrated (and I have organised) across fifteen member states, a lottery grant for a few million pounds (which I will manage), perhaps lunch with the Dalai Lama (which I won’t be invited to); or he might have found a new second-hand rug in the antiques market. He likes rugs. He used to design carpets and custom-made silk rugs, in his own individual celtic designs, beautiful knots, emblems and crosses of old family trees. I often wondered what those carpets looked like in real life, not through Shaunaka’s colour blindness, the pinks he saw as beige, the blues he mis-read for green. I bet his customers showed them off to their expensive friends as one of those technicoloured “designer” items, while he believed he was delivering something subtle and muted.
This day, and this was many years ago when I was young and enthusiastic, someone had sourced some Sanskrit volumes for the library, a really great thing has happened.
“So, someone reliable needs to go and collect them.” He says smiling. “From India.”
“Great, we know lots of people in India who could do that.” I reply with casual disinterest. Shaunaka is the Director of a graduate centre for Hinduism at Oxford, he knows a lot of people in India.
“Aren’t you going on holiday to India, this week?” He replies.
“Nope.” My comeback is emphatic, “I lied about that, I’m really spending three weeks at home decorating my house.”
“Ok,” he pauses, “Just that you don’t have a house.”
“Yeah, well, I might get one.”
Ignoring any idea that I might not want to do this, he continues, “So, there’s a sadhu who wouldn’t part with the books for years and now we’ve had a message, he has agreed to talk to us.”
“Okay, a sadhu.” I repeat slowly. A sadhu is a holy man, a renunciate. Any genuine sadhu will not mix with a young western women. This is not the world of Maharishis with money, cars and that ilk. This is the world of deliberate material rejection and spiritual attainment.
“He lives in a hut. Next to a Tulasi grove behind Radha Kunda”
“Are you serious?” I am serious now. I am not questioning his vague directions on how I find an old man, three thousand miles away, who probably hasn’t ever seen a landline, let alone a mobile phone. I know exactly where Radha Kunda is and what that means. In India, there are a billion significant places of worship, from palatial temples to a tree stump on a filthy path, the place is alive with belief and superstition. Of these billions of places, there are a few universally recognised holy places. And a small place called Vrindavana is one of the most sacred. Only 40 miles west from the Taj Mahal, but well off the tourist map, or off the western tourist’s map at least. A place of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of visitors, the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna. Within the district of Vrindavana, is Goverdhan Hill, a place so holy that pilgrims may even travel through it by what is called “dandavats parikrama”. This means that they will lie down fully with arms outstretched forwards and pray (dandavats), moving along the pilgrim path in these single body length motions of prayer, instead of walking. These are the lightweights; the serious devotees have a pile of stones next to them and will lie down 108 times in body lengths of prayer, dropping a stone from their finger tips each time to mark how many they’ve done before moving forward one body length and repeating. It takes them months to finish the 21km path, they must sleep wherever they are on the road and continue each day. When they are done, many of them simply start it again. That is how seriously this place is regarded. And along the pilgrim path, there are a number of holy water ghats and tanks (kunds). Of them all, there is only one called “Radha Kund”, or Radha’s pond. A sunken square water tank, a Kunda, about 30m square with wide stone steps on two of its sides, it’s deep green water hiding giant turtles who surface soundlessly from time to time. Built up around it are hundreds of ancient temples and shrines. It is the bathing place of the goddess Radha, created for her by the god, Krishna, entirely to please her. A place utterly revered, considered the holy of the holy in India – not a place for me to stroll up and buy a few books. Well, not without turning more than a few heads.
“Ok, then,” says Shaunaka, as if it’s all settled, he goes to leave. “Oh yeah” he turns back before he goes, “The sadhu took Mona Vrata 30 years ago. He is very highly respected, so make sure you do it properly.” He finishes with a customary flourish, pulling the rug out from under my feet, after the deal is done. I purse my lips and stare silently at him until he edges out of my office, smirking. “Mona Vrata” is a vow of silence. He wants me, a white, western, unmarried woman to go to Radha Kund, find a sadhu who lives in a dirt hut behind a kund, and buy his prized rare books, in silence. And, I am to do it “properly”, whatever that means. But I do know what that means; that’s why he’s asked me to go.
A week or so later I arrive at Goverdhan Hill, just before dawn with an aquaintence as a walking partner. I don’t remember who, but it is a long walk if I do it “properly”, and totally unsafe to think of going it alone. We get out of our taxi, remove our shoes and kneel in the dirty road side, touching our head to the ground in reverence – of a hill. We set off down the main road. By dawn we are at the palatial old buildings of Kusam Sarovar. A series of beautiful, three storey sandstone tombs, ornately carved for long
forgotten kings and queens, it has huge bathing ghats in front. I have swum in the murky holy water here many times. We stop to say gayatri, the silent morning prayer to the Surya, the god, as that perfect ball of orange heat appears in the sky. The once damp, cold path will be burning our feet in just a couple of hours.
It takes about six hours of brisk walking to get to Radha Kund, if you do it properly. Added to this are detours to bow in temples, visiting the many other kunds, paying respects at shrines, and pausing to acknowledge significant places from ancient stories (sthalis) we pass – God’s footprint in a stone, a special tree, many must be respected if I am to do this properly. Priests offer blessings with dabs of sandlewood paste on our foreheads and we drop rupees into empty donation boxes in return. We pass through lively villages, serene countryside, see wild monkeys and abandoned palaces. There are no food stops, this journey is done fasting, or a partially fasting, depending on the lunar calendar and the month of the year; I know, because I’m doing it properly. I wear a cheap cotton sari, I carry my shoes in my left hand, my meditation beads in my right and a bottle of water under my arm. I have a small change purse hidden in the 6 metres of folded sari, rupee coins to offer to widows and sadhus along the way. On this journey the poor must be properly acknowledge and respected with donations.
In the afternoon, we reach Radha Kund and take time to make the journey around it’s many pilgrimage places. When we have finished, we rest watching the green water for turtles, I look around for the path behind the Kund, for a hut or derelict building where the sadhu lives. I can’t find it and I don’t have an address, merely his name. I approach a local woman and say his name, moving my arm to show I am trying to find him. She stares at me, in my sari, with my sandlewood paste on my forehead, the grubby feet of one who has walked the 21km of Goverdhan pilgrimage barefoot. I ask her again and she bows her head, mumbles and vaguely nods in a direction. I realise she doesn’t want to tell me where he lives. In her eyes, I can see I am the equivalent of Julia Roberts in that weird stretchy dress in Pretty Woman, thigh high black boots, a prostitute visiting their local holy man. I go in the direction she has said and ask a man, he smiles bemused, like the hotel manager in the film; not entirely against prostitutes, but surprised to find one here. He points to a low hut, with wild Tulasi bushes growing in front. “Tulasi”, or “Holy Basil” as we know it in the West, is considered a natural marker of a sacred place in India. I walk over but I know I cannot cross the threshold into his “garden”, a dry dirt area in front of his hut; to knock on the door is a sign of familiarity and utter disrespect. I am being watched, the equivalent of net curtains are twitching all around the Kund. So I stand outside the makeshift gate to his dusty garden and wait, looking at his house. I have no idea if he’s in or not. I must simply wait patiently, till someone comes. I am prepared to wait and hour or two, out of respect, then, if no one comes I can ask after him locally and return the next day, to wait again. I must never cross that threshold without invitation. After some time, he appears beside his hut, he looks confused and rocks his head side-to-side, the customary Indian signal for what do you want? I say the names of the books, the Vedantas and Sutras I have been sent to buy, I say the word “Oxford” and he signals for me to wait inside the garden. Radha Kund waits, watching too, I can feel it. I must do this properly. After about half an hour, he comes back, he lays a cloth down on the bare ground and he offers me a metal cup of water (which I must accept and drink). This is no rom-com picnic, the cloth is for the books, to protect and respect them, not for me. We crouch either side in the dirt, examining his prized possessions. He shows me the titles and publication dates, they are in good condition, but even if they weren’t, these are years out of print, I will not see them again, they will not appear on any open market. They probably didn’t ever have a print run, just a few copies produced at great cost, a very long time ago, now all but destroyed by the climate. They are in Sanskrit, I can’t read them, I guess the titles and he nods when I have the right one. We silently negotiate the value, he draws numbers, in Hindi, with a stick in the dirt. He returns to the hut and comes back with other tomes, some of them I am interested in, some of them not. Eventually, after hours or deliberation, we come to an agreement, it is done. He excitedly wraps the books in layers and layers of different cloth and ties them up with home-made string. This is not a seller of tat in some bazaar, where I knock down the price. These books are probably both priceless and worthless, in India and in the West. They are lost in a dying culture, but they will be well preserved and much valued one day, where I am taking them. I do the deal with proper respect and give the holy man what he asks for each volume. Then, because holy men must be respected with donations, I donate to him generously, on top of the payment. He smiles and I leave, offering respectful pranamas – folded palms. As I walked away, I looked back and saw him watching me and noticed how happy he looked, really happy. I was surprised. His face, smiling in the sun, slightly looking up is my strongest memory of the whole thing. In my youthful naiivity, I had no understanding of the demands of older age, the necessities of life that may have forced him to part with his most precious items, to a stranger from the West. But I remember him smiling, so genuinely that I think it meant a lot more than that to him, like he’d been praying for a solution that was somehow resolved by preserving that legacy of knowledge, in Oxford’s archive-quality care. I pass the man who gave me directions, he has watched the whole lengthy transaction from a distance, he nods toward me. I pass the woman, she smiles and nods with respect at me this time. I have done it properly.
I walk for two minutes through Radha Kund, the ground feels damp again, it is cooling quickly at the end of the day; charcoal fires are lit, burning smoky warmth into the cool evening. Sunset is coming and silent evening prayers will pay a respectful good-bye to the sun god, Surya as he travels, full circle towards morning again. We have come full circle too, we have travelled the right way, around the sacred sites, around Goverdhan Hill, respecting its divinity and its inhabitants. According to the ancient scripts in my arms, we are also changed in divine ways from the experience. We reach the main road and walk along, looking for our taxi from this morning. Sure enough, he has stayed all day waiting patiently, properly, where we left him, just like he said he would,. We kneel in the dirty road side, touching our head to the ground in reverence – of the hill. We set off down the main road leaving Goverdhan Hill behind us. Properly.
22 April, 2016
I sit bolt upright in bed at 2am. My subconscious has processed what the Dr was saying, 5 hours ago in A&E. Sami’s concussion from his bike accident is passing, he can leave in an hour or two, but there’s something else;
“The CT scan has shown cell growth in the left ventricle of his brain.” The Junior Dr. tells me earnestly. Initially, I am relieved; I have been pushing my GP for over a year to get a neurological exam for Sami. I recently got a referral appointment, but my GP has made it clear I don’t have enough evidence to get very far in the NHS.
“It’s great, we have something concrete to go on, physical evidence.” I reply
“Yes, yes, it’s definitely a good thing,” Dr. Young replies a bit too eagerly, a bit too reassuringly.
With hindsight, I realise we were having the classic it’s-nothing-to-worry-about conversation. The slow moving cogs of my own brain have clicked through the night and finally worked it out for me, “cell growth in the left ventricle of the brain”, can also be called a brain tumour. I had a bit of medical training, years ago and I remember random bits and pieces of it. Cell growth can also be described in terms of degradation of DNA. So, if you imagine a cell has a tiny spiral of DNA which is repeated in a continuous chain, billions of times. Each time that cell reproduces (dies and replaces itself), it replicates the entire chain, except it loses one DNA spiral each time. As the DNA chain shortens in length so we experience aging, our skin slackens, our bones dry out etc. This is what aging actually is (and why skin creams called “Age Renewal” don’t work at all). There are only two places you find perfectly replicating DNA chains in the body; the first is in the testes – because to produce a child, it has to be born with a perfectly long DNA chain, otherwise it would be born aged. The second place is in cancer cells. They perfectly replicate, they’re sometimes known as “eternal cells”, while all the so-called normal cells around them deteriorate. They have other functions too, but this is how I understand “cell growth in the left ventricle”. Cells are definitely not supposed to be spontaneously growing in there. I sit up the rest of the night, classically terrorizing myself on google. There is between 5%-15% survival rate at 5 years post treatment – a combination of surgery, chemo and radiation therapy (which leaves lasting detrimental effects on surrounding brain tissue). Not good. High fat, vegan diet (surely, a contradiction in terms?) has been shown to be helpful. He is veggie, so I plan to move us into ultimate vegan health over the next few weeks.
I drive us 5 hours back home the next day, in pieces, hiding my bursts of grief from him behind my sunglasses. He drivels on about the Tour-de-France for five hours, next to me, oblivious. I email his teacher, she writes back “That’s not good, let me know if I can do anything to support you.” I fall a 1000 feet through the floor reading her reply, couldn’t she have written, “We get his all the time at school, it’s perfectly normal in teenagers”. I leave a message for our GP who’s not in the surgery for another 4 days. She calls me within two hours and my heart drops another 1000 feet, she’s on it, chasing scans, being incredibly competent. This is not routine.
I watch my son struggle with basic tasks like walking through doors and answering my questions. I’d been so frustrated with him before, but now I see his neurological impairment, it explains a lot; his outbursts, his inability to be on time, to function at school or communicate. When I drop him at school the next day, he says, “I hate being late for school”. I stifle a laugh; he is late for school pretty much every day. It’s the school’s and my biggest irritation with him, clearly, something is pressing on his brain, because this statement alone is utter madness.
By 9.30am, I am still in the car but I haven’t even finished school run. I cancel my clients for the next two weeks and park at the side of road, in teary devastation. There’s nothing else for it, I have to call Kiki. I have tried not to call her, because over the years we have shared way more trauma than anyone should. We are not friends who do coffee, or go shopping, or remember each other’s birthdays anymore. We might send a text – which invariably sits without a reply. Or, “like” each other’s stuff on Facebook and keep up in vague way, meaning to see each other more than we ever manage. But if one of us phones, like makes a proper old fashioned voice call, we know it’s serious and we pick up. Two hours later she is sitting in my garden, fag in manicured fingers, tapping on her phone as I explain.
“So, what are you going to do?” She asks, pressing “dial” on her phone, as I reply.
“Dunno. Er, wait till Friday then call the GP back?” I say, making it up on the spot.
“Hi, Can I see a paediatric neurologist this week?” She asks whoever she’s talking to, “Ok, if you don‘t have one, where can I get one?” She speaks to them as if she’s booking her Waitrose delivery slot. Within fifteen minutes we have a next day appointment at The Portland Hospital. I’d say we were booked into see a top Neurologist, but there was a bit of confusion with the phone signal and she accidently booked him in with an Urologist, first time round. (The amount of laughter we got imagining a Doctor sticking his finger up Sami’s arse, looking for his brain, made it well worth the mistake though). We agree to meet at the Co-op in Woodstock at 5pm. She is taking over, she is scooping me up, driving to her boat in London, making appointments, buying food. She is my knight in shining armour because she knows how to be good in crisis. She’s had more than a few.
Sami disappears after school for an hour instead of coming home. “Neurological impairment”, I think as I wait, unable to contact him. When he finally appears, he explains he’s been at his weekly, Tuesday after-school club. School call it “Detention”. I understand better what’s going on with him, all this time he’s not being an annoying little git, he can’t help it, he has “Neurological Impairment”.
At 6.15pm I text Kiki to say we’re in the Co-op, he’s hungry.
“What just standing still, staring into space?” She texts back immediately; neurological impairment is clearly on her mind too.
“No, not staring. We’re in the Coop, he’s STARVING.” I reply, checking the autocorrect this time. I look at the basket he’s been filling; four cheese sandwiches, a stuff crust pizza, a loaf of bread, a jar of Nutella, two bags of Wotsits & a Mars Milkshake, veganism will be more challenging than I thought. I grab a bottle of red and a big bag of chocolate buttons, (I don’t feel like cooking) and jump in her massive BMW.
Kiki is a godsend. Years ago we were a vacuous pair, who sat in bikinis by an expensive pool in Thailand, complaining about our fat (they were actually flat) stomachs, wishing our idiot boyfriends would marry us. We imagined our futures with happy little children, who would do well in school and oh, drive us mad! Our Bridget Jones years. Then we grew up. We lost the boyfriends, traumatically. We survived emergency births, ectopic pregnancies, seizures, operations, traumatised toddlers and a few bouts of Post-Traumatic Stress each. Incredibly, we’ve both ended up as single parents with three young children. Mine, a grief inducing, mid-pregnancy divorce – well, that’s what we thought until her husband dropped dead during her third pregnancy. Yes, she’s trumped me at every turn over the years. I am in safe hands because she gets it, she knows exactly what I’m going through and what to do.
We sit in detached luxury, neither of us give a shit about our surroundings. I have a bottle of red, she has a new packet of Marlborough Lights. I feel helpless, like both my arms have been amputated. Sami is behind us, headphones on, watching the Tour-de-France on the iPad. I take a sleeping pill that someone left behind in my house, a long time ago; I give her one too. For the first time I sleep through the night.
I decide to wake her around 11.30am. I notice my bag of chocolate buttons are lying open, next to her bed, thieving cow. Sometime after, she stumbles upstairs to the living room, blonde hair looking like a straw mat, and joins Sami and me. She is covered in brown stains, so I don’t say anything.
“Sleeping pills”, she says, casually lighting up. “Effing strong aren’t they? I woke up in the night with my hand stuck in a bag of melted chocolate buttons, but I couldn’t quite get up and wash. Looks like I’ve shat myself in there and smeared it around the master bedroom. I’d better text the cleaner and forewarn her, eh?”
“Yeah, better had.” we reply casually, as if this is an everyday problem. Then she urges Sami to photograph it for Instagram.
Couple of hours later we arrive at Great Portland St and she dumps her beast of a car in a private car park, somone will park it for her. At The Portland I offer my credit card to the receptionist and Kiki pushes my hand away, blinding the receptionist with the glint of her triple platinum Amex.
“Hey, you’d do it exactly the same for me,” she says. This is not entirely true, I imagine what me doing it for her would look like. They’d be a lot more buses & trains, and a Travelodge (in Hackney). She’d probably have a panic attack discovering there were thousands of people travelling on the Underground, right under her Gucci pumps in Sloane Square.
We sit with the Consultant Neurologist and both stifle school-girl giggles when he says he wants to examine Sami. (At this point Kiki makes a swift exit under the pretext of Sami’s privacy, but I know she’s going for a fag and a Costa). It’s ok, the physical is all above board, he is a Neurologist, not a Urologist – I checked his badge when we arrived. Later, I send Sami out, so I can discuss the CT scan, without him knowing about the tumour.
“Have you seen the Radiologist’s report, on the CT scan?” Dr Neuro asks me.
“No, I haven’t been shown a thing.” I reply.
He turns the screen towards me; there is a message from the Radiologist, it lacks any tone of urgency. It mentions a “density” in the left ventricle, it suggests it’s a shadow of the Medulla Cortex accidently picked up in the scan. There is no mention of “cell growth” or “possible tumours”, only a recommendation, again without any urgency, that it’s checked with an MRI.
Between us, Dr Neuro and I deduce that Dr Junior, in A&E, saw the scan and interpreted it himself without reading the radiologist’s report. I no longer feel my son is at risk of cancer, or is dying of a brain tumour. I am angry at what this has cost us, not even financially, but in human emotion. How I would have remained in that traumatised state for three, maybe four weeks, if I hadn’t gone privately. But overall, I am entirely relieved Sami is ok. The sun is shining, my son is not dying and my life is fine again. The lift is full, so we watch fondly, as he almost falls down the stairs on our way out. “Neurological impairment” is no longer an option.
30 March, 2016
He left me in Heartbreak Hotel. It was on a Thursday around 8.25am, there were words. His were insolent, mine shouted, he threw something and left. A thumbs-up, mocking me as he walked down the road.
After what felt like eternity (about 4 days), things did begin to change, as I reflected on the past, the good times and all that I missed about him.
I noticed a lightness in the air, I think it’s actually called “fresh air”. It eased away the memorable odour of my teenage son, happily riding his bike-machine, hard, two hours of sweaty training in my house each afternoon. Oh, happy days. I fondly remember how we shared my kitchen, him speaking loudly, almost shouting above the noise-cancelling headphones he’d taken from my bag. “Get me a drink bottle”, he used to say, as I tidied up, cooked dinner and got ready to go back to work.
“Not that one, I want the blue one” he’d shout urgently across the room.
“This one is blue”, I’d foolishly reply.
“The other blue one”, he’d say, understandably irritated with the delay. He’d often do another 60km on his machiney-thing, before I’d found the right bottle, in his used sports bag, in the back my car, under his bike; then 15km while I washed the rancid liquid out and freshly filled it for him.
I remembered our happy evenings going to the Redbridge race track on a Tuesday night. The anxious hour I’d spend waiting at the school gates, terrified he’d been abducted by a pedophile, when he didn’t appear with the other children. As usual, his phone would have been unfairly confiscated during a lesson, rendering him unable to call, or text, to say he’d be out after detention.
And even though we set off a bit late each week, we’d chat for hours and hours in the car, as we queued round the M25 at rush hour. His inspirational mind would find new routes to try and get us there on time.
“Turn right. Now.” He’d say unexpectedly.
“Where?” I’d reply
“Back there?” Him, incredulous that I’d screwed-up again. He was right, he could have probably driven so much better than me; 13, so young and so gifted.
I still find it difficult to walk past bike shops, without spending excessive amounts of money. I remember the anxiety he’d be in when he found an expensive gadget he desperately needed. He would worry (me) day and night for it and sometimes secretly buy it with my bank card. The bike shop staff were always so friendly, I’d often pop in early on a Saturday morning, before a race, to replace a part he’d lost.
“Replacement heart rate strap? That’ll be £56”. They said in January
“Replacement heart rate strap? That’ll be £56”. They said in February
“Replacement heart rate strap? That’ll be £56”. They said in March
“Replacement heart rate strap? That’ll be £56”. They won’t say in April. I hope the shop stays open without me.
Another interesting thing I’ve noticed since he went is the TV changes channels. I had no idea our TV did this; I just assumed it was stuck on one channel, broken, waiting to be replaced. The kids tell me that there are hundreds of other things you can watch on a TV, apart from reruns of the Tour de France. (Who knew?). You’ll need a remote control device to change it over, you find it moulded to your teenage son’s hand.
I’ve been wandering through Heartbreak Hotel and I discovered it’s actually ok. A three star, seaside type B&B (without the sea), happily providing an Easter holiday experience for my two remaining guests. They check in and out with me, telling me they’re here or when they’re leaving; they recommend it to their friends and persuade me to fit a few more in, even though the rooms are all full. My guests show up at the agreed times for meals and pick from a limited choice, of bored daily offerings, what they’ll have each mealtime. (They say please and thank you when they do this). If they need something, they come to reception and ask for it, there’s no facility to charge it to an unknown account. We limited room service (for guests 6 months old or younger) and full laundry facilities are provided solely for the guests’ use (management takes no responsibility…..).
And if you don’t like it, or the facilities it offers aren’t good enough, you can just check out, with your bag, without a good-bye. Like you did.
16 March, 2016
I’m slightly annoyed with myself about this having-to-get-another-job business. I’ve spent the past several years working part time, for myself, apparently as a therapist. My clients seem happy and I have many certificates which prove how qualified I am – I file these important qualifications in the recycling bin, partly so I can’t recount exactly how many weekends I’ve spent listening to someone teach me their version of “Shite Made-up Therapy”, or add up exactly how much it’s cost me.
I partially wish I’d made a better go of being self-employed and didn’t have to resort to a second freakin’ job, but to be honest , there’s a part of me which just wants to go to work and come home and forget-about-it-all. My “Ambition” is the one having the mid-life crisis here; it has veered way off course, it’s supposed to be driving me forward, but it’s gone to lie on a beach, drink tequila and when I try to call it to action, it simply doesn’t answer the phone. Or something like that. So, I’ve got a mid-life crisis plan. I’m going to sit on the sofa in the evenings and forget about everyone – ok, everyone apart from the three individuals squabbling over who’s turn it is to sit next to me, that is. We’ll see how it goes. The only problem I foresee right now is that I never sit on the sofa in the evenings, yes, life is going to be full of new challenges. The reasons, for my disinterest in the sofa, I’m sure you dying to know, are;
- I don’t watch TV, ever.
- If I sit on the sofa, my three kids immediately fight over who’s going to sit next to me because it’s such a novelty to have me there. Finding this really annoying, I get up and go do something less boring instead. They used to fight over who’d lie next to me in bed, when I eventually noticed (I tend to block out a lot of what goes on when they’re right next to me), I was naturally, incredibly flattered by their love. One of them went on to explain in no uncertain terms, that my fatness emitted the most body warmth, I was a veritable live hot water bottle that never went cold, hence they fought so vigorously to lie next me. Cheers.
So, I looked up jobs and found two. One I can work half a week and earn what I make by myself in three hours. The other was as a prison officer. I fancied being a prison officer (for three and a half minutes), I thought I could be firm but fair, understanding and empowering (obviously within clear boundaries – such as the iron bars of their incarceration between us). Then I got to the bit where it said there was a gym onsite and I imagined it was one of those sweaty, small, blokey gyms full of weights and machines and one tiny window; not a gym with brightly coloured mats, a view of golf course and a Costa Coffee franchise outside. So I gave up my passion for criminal reform and went for the other job. I have an interview, a chance to check if they’ve got a cafetiere.
The thing about mid-life crises is they get an incredibly bad rap, likened to a form of embarrassing madness which takes over a person and explains away alien behaviour that people can’t understand. It puts blame and belittlement on that person without making any attempt to understand what’s really going on, deep within them. And what is going on tends to be that they’ve simply realised they are really going to die one day and done a gradual reassessment of their life, culminating in a sudden change in their external behaviour which matches their more progressive, internal change of heart. It is generally connected to ageing, there is a turning point in our lives when we realise we don’t have time to waste, that we really don’t have time to waste and our values can shift considerably. I can’t say which way they shift, it’s an individual thing, but the beliefs and values, which were once so solid and so dependable in the make-up of that person, become liquid, they flow to new places and consequently, they do “change” as people. It’s a response to the way we routinely attach ourselves to value systems, inherent beliefs if you like, almost unquestioningly. It’s how we reproduce society; with each generation there are changes, but the basic core structure remains fairly unchanging. So we as youthful, rugged-individualists “decide” what the “right” thing to do is, and do it. Except we choose from a very narrow set of options, like say, which job, who to marry/live with, when to have kids etc. These could even be seen as blind-options, the sort of thing you use when dealing with small kids – “chips or beans?” You limit the choice, it makes life simpler. And we commit to those “choices”, fully supported by generations of societal evidence and organisation. I’m not saying this is wrong or anything, I’m just saying that most us don‘t understand what it really means, when we aspire for the trappings of maturity, the rites of passage – marriage, kids, mortgages etc.; Only when we actually do them for a while do we realise what they entail. I often compare having children to getting married, in the way that you spend so much time preparing for the “birth” or the “big day” and give almost no thought to the reality-of-the-reality, which lies beyond that initial gateway experience; you know, the one which lasts a potential lifetime.
Anyway, my mid-life crisis is relatively mild. I’ve always thought a lot about dying and consequently, I’ve always thought about how I’m going to maximise my living. Things which have shifted for me? I genuinely grade my crises by the fact that other people have kids dying of leukaemia. I find that sorts out a lot of my so-called problems in one, perspective-changing thought and it’s a relief to not have to give a shite about crashing the car, the bank account, or whatever this month’s trial-by-fire is. I have abandoned some of my core values; I just don’t rate them anymore, I’m not going to get into what they are, nor justify why I’ve dropped them, if you value them then I really don’t want to mess with that. Right now, I’m all for independence of thought and mind. Work it out for yourselves, because I’m off to Costa to top-up my compulsion.
20 March, 2014
Look! I’m on an advert for something awesome. I didn’t even photoshop it and make it up at all. I know, I know hard to believe. Find out all about this incredible type trauma therapy at Havening.org (or just read the bit I’ve written below the picture).
The first thing you should probably know is that I had to give up my job as a playground supervisor for this. I didn’t want to leave because I loved being a playground assistant. The problem was just that the deputy head didn’t understand that I subsidised my two hours working in school with a second income (known as my real job) as a hypnotherapist. So, when she refused to give me those 2 hours off to go to New York for a week and get certified in Dr. Ruden’s ground breaking Havening technique, I faced a difficult decision. Should I stick with my job working for £14 a week in a rainy playground? Or should I fly to New York in a heat wave, spend a few days at an inspiring conference on trauma, certify in the latest techniques, meet the inventors, their families, have a few days off browsing and boozing in the big apple with old friends? It was a tough choice, worsened by the fact that the deputy head had just offered me a third lunchtime hour each week, yes, she explained if I played my cards right, £21 a week was waiting right there for me.
Let’s talk about Havening. Ok, it’s really simple (no surprises there if I’m teaching it right?). So what you do is basically rub someone’s arms and their trauma goes away and doesn’t come back. I know, sounds dumb doesn’t it? There is actually a bit of science behind it, wanna know?
So, if you think of trauma being a red line memory at the back of the brain. It sits there sometimes quietly dormant, but doesn’t go away. Sometimes, it sits there noisily interrupting everything in your life, popping up in your thoughts all day despite your best efforts to subdue it. The idea is that this trauma is rooted in the amygdala area of the brain. To undo it, you flood the amygdala with your body’s own natural serotonin – by rubbing your face, arms or hands. It’s very simple. Sometimes, people also need to do other things such as hum tunes and count. This is done to distract the more conscious, working memory and to prevent people from getting too overwhelmed if their remembering the bad ole times.
Some of the problems I have treated with a couple of sessions of Havening in my clinic include; rape, assault, shock of discovering a dead body, bullying, a variety of phobias – (dental, height, spiders, jealousy). Blushing, IBS, child abuse – sexual and emotional, drinking, sex addiction, coping with suicide, bereavement, trauma from giving birth, facial tics, physical pain, upsetting childhood memories, abandonment. The list could actually go on and on, I’ve worked with so many different problems with this on adults and children.
The idea is that if someone comes with a range of behaviour that they’re unhappy with – be it feeling low, eating too much, remembering very sad times etc, Instead of treating those things as the presenting problem, you see those things are symptoms of a more fundamental problem (underlying trauma). The skill is in finding the root cause of the problem, which can sometimes be something quite innocuous to us as adults, but may have felt traumatic in our childhoods. If that root cause is treated, with Havening, then the symptoms cease and the person returns to a “normal” sense of well being.
You can do it on yourself too. I don’t recommend you do big traumas without a trained person to help guide and protect you. Sometimes the memories can feel incredibly powerful and overwhelming. But if you feel a bit stressed, then try this. Just rub your arms from your shoulders to your elbows saying “calm, calm, calm” in a gentle voice, but out loud, as you do it.
Ok, gotta go, my
kids, I mean My Public, await.
6 February, 2014
Liz Hurley issued an unequivocal apology in a statement from her press office today. It read:
“I want to apologise to Mrs Hilary Clinton and to the American people. The rumours circulating about myself and former President, Bill Clinton, are true. He is one of the few men I have not slept with. It was a reckless oversight on my part and one I regret deeply, now that I see how much publicity it would have generated for me.”
Miss Hurley later tweeted the names of other famous men she hadn’t slept with in a bid to prove unfounded the allegation that (former) President Clinton had been discriminated against. She tweeted:
@mennotyetshagged; Fred Flintstone, President Clintstone. oh god I’m sure there are a few more, they’re just not in the papers enough for me to remember their names. Oh, what about wasshisname, thingy, with the red shoes, er, Ronald McDonald, that’s him! Oh no, I did him, I forgot. Sorreeeee.
There has been outrage across America. Head Boy of the UK, Dave C., has held round-the-clock talks with the American Ambassador in London, in a desperate bid to repair the political damage this scandal has caused. He was quoted as saying;
“We’re all shocked, especially those of us who know Liz. I mean know her socially, only when our wives are in the same room and never leave us alone with her. Ever.”