Thursday, January 28, 2021

Getting Back To It

It was with some relief that I returned to work this week. As I'm working from home and it involves sitting at a laptop, this is something I can do without worrying about being asked to lift anything heavy. The heaviest thing I lift is the kettle (filled to the minimum required for a coffee boost). I may still be banned from doing any yoga, digging or anything interesting, but I can still use my brain. 

And my brain is glad that I can because it was getting impatient. I could almost feel it itching with ideas and plans, which is always a good sign I'm recovering. That said, one podcast recording, one meeting and an afternoon of emails completely wiped me out, leaving me yawning and barely able to hold a crochet hook by 7pm. 

I'm so much better that I was even allowed out for a walk all by myself last week. True, I did try leaving the house in my slippers (got 3 paces out of the door and realised what I'd done), the pace is slow and the distance not far, but the joy of being able to get out into the air is not to be underestimated. 


And then it snowed! And got very icy! A fear of slipping kept me from going outside again for 3 days - I really do not need to fall over right now. Although, I managed to almost take a tumble in my own home by getting my foot tangled with a phone charger cable, so maybe I just shouldn't be allowed to stand up on my own. Or at least move from my seat without supervision. Sadly N wasn't taken with the idea of being my personal watchdog - "mind out for the wool! There's a pile of books to your left!" - on the grounds that he has a proper job what pays the mortgage. 

He has promised that we'll take a trip up to the allotment at the weekend though, so I can't complain about him. 

So far in lockdown we've had surprisingly few rows. The most recent involved him playing The Idles very loudly while he hoovered and I dealt with laundry upstairs. I loathe that band. I mean, really hate them. They make me want to tear off my ears and beat the lead singer into silence with them. I don't know why, I just do. So I did the only reasonable thing and sat upstairs, seething, until the album ended and I could go back downstairs and tell him to put his damn earphones in.


It could be said that he was reasonable in asking why I hadn't mentioned it at the start, instead of waiting until the end, by which time I was in the right frame of mind to throw things (I didn't, credit me with some dignity, if not rationality). But I was not in a mood to be reasonable. At least, not until several hours and a bottle of wine later. 

This morning saw a lovely doorstep visit from my son and his boyfriend. They delivered and received belated Christmas presents, and he received a pile of post he hasn't thought to have redirected. That is something he's going to have to deal with soon as they are moving up to Sunderland at the end of Feb. I am trying to gather the tatters of my rationality around me about this - he's not moving to Australia, the house they're getting has a spare room for visits, he's healthy and happy - but it's a close thing. 

Not helped by my recent afternoon organising all my photos into neat digital files. I tumbled right down memory lane to the time when it was just him and me, and the places we visited, the hills we climbed and the books we shared. Lockdown or no, I will be giving him a hug goodbye before he goes. 


In other breaking lockdown news, I took a pair of scissors to my fringe in between meetings on Tuesday and instantly regretted it. Usually I trim mere millimeters off so it rests just below my eyebrows, hiding my massive forehead and enabling me to see, but I'd got fed up with seeing all that hair, so grabbed the blunt kitchen scissors and hacked off a centimetre, without factoring in the spring-back effect. 

Oh dear. Released from the weight of itself, the rest of the fringe has sprung up even further, leaving me looking perpetually surprised and slightly lopsided. I find myself tilting my head to one side in Zoom meetings, trying to disguise it. It'll settle down and grow back again, I know but my eyebrows are seriously traumatised by the sudden exposure and my neck is developing a crick in it. 

Really, it's just a symptom of wanting something to change and I'm craving a bigger chop to my hair all over. I'm thinking to the ears, nothing too drastic (I shaved my head once in the mistaken belief I would look like Winona Ryder with her pixie crop - I very much did not), but enough to rid me of all this hair. I keep picking up scissors and putting them down...N may have to hide them before the week is out. 

My attempts at sourdough have all failed miserably. The starters I started refused to develop, lying sulky under a sour brown liquid and giving off a smell that no mother could love. I do not have much luck with bread making under normal circumstances. My loaves always resemble dwarf bread (see Terry Pratchett for that running gag) and could potentially be classed as weapons if dropped from any height over 2 foot. So I called it a day on that Earth Mother dream and ordered some instead. I will feed back (pun fully intended) if it's any good. 

I did once think I'd be an Earth Mother sort of person: keeping chickens, baking bread, hoard of angelic children being homeschooled around me. Then I discovered that chickens smell (and are quite deranged), I can't bake a bread worth eating and children really get in the way of your reading time. And I don't think clogs are acceptable footwear. Besides, I'm not a one for labels - they always seem too much to live up to. 

All photos from a handful of the museums, galleries, hills and beaches I've visited with the Kid. Yes, I am milking this.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Just Waiting

This is the first morning I've woken up feeling even vaguely human and not covered in a thin film of sweat that made me want to scrape my own skin off. 

Yes, last Tuesday the universe looked at how my recovery was going and decided to throw an infection in to see how I reacted. That morning I'd woken up and thought "well, that's a bit odd" as I scrabbled from under suddenly oppressive covers and felt the room ever so slightly tilt on it's axis. Being me, I shrugged this off with a couple of paracetamol and got on with my big plans for the day, i.e. moved from the bed to the sofa, via the kettle. 

By mid afternoon my temperature was spiking around 37.7 (that's Celsius for all you non-metric fans) and I was shivering under 2 blankets on said sofa (a piece of furniture I'm really growing to detest as I spend so much time on it and it begins to feel more like a prison). Wednesday, I caved and phoned the doctors, who promptly sent me to hospital for tests and, 4 hours later, confirmed that it was indeed an infection, go home and take these mega anti-biotics. 

Since then I've done little apart from lying upon the detestable sofa, watching reruns of Poirot and Miss Marple, feeling my brain atrophy between hot flushes. I tell a lie, I did spend an hour one morning weeping gently because I couldn't find the new jar of peanut butter. When I finally did, hidden behind a jar of jam, I spent another 10 minutes weeping gently in relief. That is the level my brain is at right now. 

Reading is right out. I've managed The Dark is Rising, The Living Mountain and The Box of Delights, but anything else is beyond me. A friend dropped round some books and I'd ordered myself Ring the Hill, but I can only manage a page or two at most before going back to doom scrolling or sleeping. 

N's refrain this winter has been "you are ILL, will you please behave like you're ill". This is the first time in years when I've been afforded that luxury and it's been a massive relearning. That there is someone else in the house who can do the hoovering, cooking, emptying of bins, get the shopping in, rather than a minor whom I'm supposed to be looking after...well, it's taken some adjusting to. 

The plus side, apart from arms made colourful by various attempts to draw blood from my stone-like veins, is that the world feels very distant and news isn't sending me into a tailspin. I wonder if this is how alien life (if it exists) feels, looking down on us? "Would you look at what those stupid people are up now? Good grief, it's chaos down there!" "Yes yes Xerbaital5, humans are crazy like goital fish, now, put down those knurd-glasses and come to the table, your frimpt is getting rubbery."

All that being said, the situation over those preposterous and pathetic “free” school lunches which amounts to nothing short of a scandal. If you’re as angry as me about it, you can donate to Fareshare ( an organisation most definitely not lining its own pockets. 

I am quite proud that, despite all of this, I have manage to stick to my pledge of no-gluten. Well, mostly. But honestly, if you're going to leave a tube of Pringles out right near where I could stumble and, reaching out to save myself from a fall, find my hand wedged into the tube and coming out clutching several that then, due to the motion of the stumble, find their way into my mouth, what do you expect?

And yes, Pringles are covered, covered I tell you, in wheat flour. Which seems especially cruel of the makers. A surprising amount of stuff is. 

And through all this, I'd love to tell you that Mabel has been a constant, purring presence by my side, keeping me company and generally being a lap cat. But this is Mabel and lap cat she is not. I get 5 minutes purring, nudging attention in bed in the morning, and then she's off out exploring. Or chasing off the persistent tabby that comes into the garden. Or launching ambushes on Big Old Thor. Or sitting on the fence, like a furry watchful guardian, monitoring the comings and goings of our neighbours. She's even taken to leaping up the fence when she hears R next door coming along his garden path, so she can meow down at him. 

I'm not sure R likes this as he never says hello to her. Thor certainly doesn't and will rush out when he sees her up there, uttering his strange hoarse croak that's supposed to be a meow, telling her off for her daring. 

As you can tell by the length of this nothing-in-particular post, I am now feeling much better. After a few days of feeling really ill, a few more of being at the Laurie Lee level of melodramatically-ill,  I now feel human again. Lee was a master of sickroom melodrama, well into his old age and there's an hilarious passage in Cider with Rosie where he imagines the celebrations in the street at his recovery. 

I've managed a short walk outside this week. The clouds were a bobbly blanket across the sky and reflected in the water, the air felt sharp and damp, and it was just good to be outside. N was distinctly uninspired by the murky canal, lowering grey skies, bare branches and sloppy paths. "It just all looks dead." It's not dead at all, of course - as I pedantically told him. It's all just waiting for the right moment to start the business of life again.

There's a metaphor in there somewhere, if only I could scramble the brain cells together to find it. 

This is quite my favourite bridge over the canal - I love the brickwork for some
reason - and the end point of yesterday's walk. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Planning the Plot

After having got a lot of frustration off my chest with my last post (although I'm still angry about diet culture, but that's not today's topic), and with still being very much confined to barracks, unable to get to the allotment recently, I've been trying to satisfy my desire to be up there and working on the plot by planning for it instead. 

Sometimes it's hard to believe that I've had it 18 months already. When I first saw it, I realised that I'd basically been let a meadow and told to get on with it. Even a rotavator couldn't cut through the grass. But plots are hard to come by and, after waiting 2 years, there was no way I was going to turn it down. 

A lot of it is still meadow with 6 beds dug into it and the large fruit cage area. N likes the grass and there's no mistaking that it's a haven for insects. Unfortunately it's also a haven for bindweed, which basically uses it as an evil highway as it inches it's way towards the veg. 

Being a bit anti-herbicide (i.e. I've read Silent Spring - no good can come of them), there's nothing for it but a great deal more digging. The top 2 thirds of the plot will be slowly but surely cleared, much as I have been doing with copious use of membrane and spade. Sometimes there is nothing for it but graft. 

I ran wild on the Higgledy Seeds website, ordering masses of cornflowers, nigella, calendula, candytuft, cosmos, chrysanthemums, gypsophilia and sweet peas to create the wildflower/cutting flower area that'll bring all the bees and butterflies to the yard. It was a real boost to the senses to browse that site and if you're thinking of supporting an independent seed merchant, I heartily recommend it. But get in quick. Ben, the owner, recently announced that he's restricting sales this year to keep his vision for the business rather than watch it spiral out of control. A brave decision, I think. 

Speaking of keeping visions, its still important to me to keep the plot as wildlife friendly as possible, so not all the grass will be going. The final third of the plot will become a mini-orchard with apple, plum and cherry trees with enough space for 2 of each. The grass can remain down there, and once I can clear the remainder of the fallen and falling elder, I'll start working on that area, making space for the saplings to go in, as well as creating space for the shed.

Oh yes, this year I am determined to get myself a shed. It feels ridiculous to keep lugging tools up there only to find that I really need something I didn't have enough arms to carry up with me, or driving the car the 2 minutes so I can take up more than 2 tools and a rucksack. Plus, I want somewhere to store a deckchair. What is the point of all this work if you can't sit and stare at it in comfort? 

And as for what will be growing (apart from flowers and trees)? I made the executive decision that there will be NO runner beans this year after 2020's over-beaning. Yellow courgettes, borlotti and black beans, asparagus, raspberries and rhubarb. Rocket and other salad stuffs, big indulgent tomatoes. Leeks, potatoes and onions. Calabrese and purple sprouting broccoli, sprouts and red cabbage. There will only be a couple of small squash as N doesn't like them, so it's silly to grow big varieties just for me. 

I think that might be enough. 

Rather than winging it, I've got myself a special allotment diary and have been putting in seed buying and sowing dates. That should mean that we avoid gluts and I no longer miss prime planting windows for the foods I love. 

Right now, of course, this all feels very far away. The sky is sending down the occasional flurry of snow and when I stand up, I'm reminded of how removed I am from optimal health, let alone physicality. But then I see the delicate green tips of bulbs pushing through the ground and am reminded that all the seasons swing round again and it won't be long before I'm back up there, smelling the earth crumbling between my fingers and watching things turn green in the light. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

December Reading

 Wow, December was a booky month! I honestly didn’t expect to read so much, given my hospital stay and the lack of concentration that always follows an anaesthetic. 

There was a lack of concentration but I channelled that into some children’s books, feeling the urge to spend time with Mole and Ratty (Badger is my absolute favourite character), Sylvia and Bonnie. I also felt it was time to find out what all the fuss was about with the Dark is Rising. If you’ve missed the fuss, this episode of Backlisted should explain it. 

Laurie Lee was a hefty dose of that dangerous thing, nostalgia, Sense and Sensibility a delight, One Good Turn a bit of a slog (why was Jackson such a wuss with bloody awful Julia?) and Allingham is quickly becoming my favourite crime writer. 

It was a joy to find 2 previously unread Pyms in the charity shop. Less Than Angels was excellent but The Sweet Dove Died a bit of a stinker as she’d obviously tried to bring her characters up to date. It didn’t work. Still, I’d rather read a mediocre Pym than a top Rushdie. 

52 Ways... was one of those stocking filler books (given to N by his brother) that actually has a decent point to put across (namely that bad things were done and buried by Britain’s empire) that got lost because the author fell in love with the word bellend, using it multiple times on a page. Listen, I swear like a trooper but it was tiresome even for me. 

But I want to focus on Roxane Gay’s Hunger. Such a powerful book. A meditation on her weight and the horrifying reason behind her rapid increase into obesity. That one act of male violence should derail a person is not a new occurrence. That the long-term, damaging effects should be so eloquently discussed is. 

"And then there was that terrible day in the woods. And I finally did say no. And it did not matter. That's what has scarred me the most. My no did not matter. ... I was marked after that. Men could smell it on me, that I had lost my body, that I wouldn't say no because I knew my no did not matter."

Having spent large chunks of my life as a big woman myself, I know that the journey to becoming big is a long one and often triggered by something else. A deep unhappiness, a traumatic event: something, somehow, has made you so fearful, so sad, that the only respite is food and we kid ourselves with every mouthful that food is our friend and food will keep us safe. 

This doesn't mean we are lazy or stupid or ignorant of good eating. We can make the right food choices, do the exercise, but something will send us into corners where we can't be observed as we eat the very things we've told our children are bad for them. We know it. We know how we look. And we are all too aware of how we are judged for it. 

"I am self-conscious beyond measure. I am intensely and constantly preoccupied with my body in the world because I know what people think and what they see when they look at me. I know I am breaking the unspoken rules of what a woman should look like."

Those unspoken rules! We're never free of them, not even when we lose the weight. It's never enough until it's too much. You can do all the exercise but that will make your thighs fat, not strong, in the eye of the world. You can cut out all the refined sugar but then someone will tell you that it's pointless unless you replace it with kale. Billions of pounds (money not fat) are invested in telling you that no matter what you do, it's wrong and only they have the answer. 

Except they don't have the answer because then how would they make their money? Diet culture is failure culture. If they find a cure, it will wipe them out and no be-yachted chief exec wants that. 

And their "answers" are predicated around the idea of control. Control this amount of bread, this amount of sugar. Eat this many syns, don't eat over that number of points. Make this smoothie, don't eat that solid food.

Diet culture is bullshit culture. 

"...the woman who clearly did not need to be there because she was no more than forty or so pounds overweight, dominated the session, asking intimate, personal questions that broke my heart. As she interrogated the doctors, her husband sat next to her, smirking. It became clear why she was there. It was all about him and how he saw her body."

And it's bullshit culture because it never even touches the root of why we might be overeating. There is not a diet in the world that gets you alone with a therapist, who does not judge, but who simply says "there is nothing wrong with you, nothing can hurt you now. I understand. Tell me." Yes, groups can be supportive but there was no way I am ever going to stand up in a Slimming World "Body Magic" session and tell my truth. 

I have said this time and time again, to doctors who smirk and think I'm being melodramatic, to thin friends who cannot understand because this is an experience they will never have, and to anyone who dares to use the words "fat and lazy" in my hearing: until we treat obesity as an eating disorder, we will never treat it properly. 

But it is easier to treat big people as stupid, as lazy and pathetic, a drain on society and somehow responsible for all it's ills. Big parents are told they are bad parents. Big women are told they are unfeminine. Big men are the butts of all jokes. It is easier to write them off or cut them open and install a gastric band. 

And it breaks my heart to know that. 

"To tell you the story of my body is to tell you about shame - being ashamed of how I look, ashamed of my weakness, the shame of knowing it is in my power to change my body and yet, year after year, not changing it. Or I try, I do. I eat right, I work out. My body becomes smaller and starts to feel more like mine and not a cage of flesh I carry with me. That's when I feel a new kind of panic because I am seen in a different way. ... In such moments, I see myself in the mirror, narrower, more angular. I recognize the me I could have, should have, would have been and want to be. That version of myself is terrifying and maybe even beautiful, so I panic...I stop...I do this until I feel safe again."

Of the Before and the After

The Potting Shed by Lore Pemberton.  On my Christmas  wish list, Click on the image to get to her website. I had planned to pop on here and ...