A favourite quote and a way by which to approach life.

Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Honk if you're a goose

Early yesterday evening I drove up to the coast at Druridge Bay, which is the most beautiful place, with a wonderful stretch of golden sand that goes on and on and on. To the west of the beach are farmers' fields, countryside and a few villages. I went up there with my dad and we watched the light change as dusk approached, followed by the dark night sky (even at only 5:30pm). Occasionally you'll see a couple of barn owls up that way, but last night we saw enormous flocks of geese come together to make one huge flock that must have comprised several hundred geese all together. They swooped and rose in multiple Vs, honking to each other all the while, like a stadium of football fans who were heading off to the pub in celebration of a win by their team. It was like they were shouting out to each other, 'Come on boys, this way! No, wait, this one's nearer! Hang on, I've heard of this great pub just down there! Way hey! We won! We Won! We Won!' It was an amazing sound, and a awe-inspiring sight. I wish I'd had my camera with me.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Taking liberties

I was woken this morning by the sound of the television mumbling away in the living room. This is a little unnerving when you live alone and you know that you've been tucked up in bed asleep. Once I'd come round enough to realise that the TV was on and I hadn't fallen asleep in front of it, I staggered out of my pit and wandered into the living room, whereupon I discovered Imposter Cat lounged comfortably on the settee again. Obviously, feeling very much at home now, Imposter Cat had decided that a spot of breakfast news on the telly was just the thing for a Sunday morning. I disagreed, especially as this decision had been made by an uninvited guest. I reached over to get the remote control, which caused Imposter Cat to lose his concentration on the TV, and, I have to say, he looked most disgruntled when I turned it off. Then it was as if he'd suddenly remembered that he wasn't supposed to be looking quite so comfortable, and he slunk off the sofa and scurried out of the cat flap. I went back to bed. However, Imposter Cat was stretched out on the sofa again when I got up for the second time this morning, though he didn't look quite so comfortable to have been discovered slobbing out for the second time in one morning. He made a sharp exit, but stayed sat outside the cat flap while I fed Zach, looking as though he was wandering when he'd be able to come in and steal Zach's food. No more imposition as yet, but I'd lay bets on Imposter Cat making a reappearance before the day's out.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Tommy Crotchet

You may remember a couple of weeks ago that I was very excited at having 'bought' a new car on the motability scheme. Well here he is. It's not the best photo in the world as it was already getting dark when I took it, so I may post a better picture when I get around to taking one. However, I wanted to share with you what my new car looks like. It is a dream to drive - really smooth, quiet when running, the seating is quite high for a small(ish) car, so visibility is good, and I'm loving all the gadgets it has. It has so many fancy gadgets that I wouldn't be surprised if it had world domination potential ;oP
After a huge amount of deliberation I eventually decided upon the name of Tommy Crotchet for the car. I'm a firm believer that cars should have names, after all, ships and sailing dinghies are given names automatically. The plan is that, if Tommy Crotchet's name is to be shortened at any time, which I'm sure it will, he'll be called Crotchet, rather than Tommy, seeing as he's a Nissan NOTE.
I've had great fun driving around over the past couple of days, and I'm very much enjoying have a significantly bigger engine than my previous car (Wellington) had. Wellington had a 1 litre engine, where as Crotchet has a 1.6L engine. The acceleration is so much better, which feels so much safer turning right on big roundabouts on busy roads, as Wellington could never get good enough acceleration on these occasions, and I'd often get beeped at when I'd pulled off the roundabout into the right hand lane. Anyway, enough of that. All in all, I'm just loving it!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Imposter Cat

Apologies again for the rather long time between postings. I've had a busy week finishing off the final assignment for my OU play writing course, but that's all done and sent off now, which makes me a very happy bunny (hoppity-hop). I'm also very happy because I collected my shiny new car yesterday, which is just gorgeous, and I love it, and I've called it Tommy Crotchet.

Anyway, I was going to write about Imposter Cat.

Zach (my cat) has been rather put out recently by the sudden appearance of Imposter Cat. I don't know where its home is, or which of my neighbours he owns, but a very long-haired, long-bodied, black ball of fluff of the feline variety has been coming in through Zach's cat flap. Imposter Cat has also been eating all of Zach's food, which has meant that Zach has become rather hungry, and also a little nervous when he's eating in case Imposter Cat comes in and tries to push him out of the way. This hasn't happened yet, but Zach looks like he's thinking this worry to himself.

I woke up in the middle of the night about a week ago almost convinced that someone was in the house. I know Zach's little padding footsteps, and the tappety-tap of his claws on the wooden floor, but the sound I heard didn't equate with what I know to be Zach's movements. After lying awake for a couple of minutes wondering what to do, I became aware of a very catty smell. Zach doesn't smell, so at first I wondered where he'd been or what he'd been up to to get to smelling like this (funny how this kind of thing can distract you from the thought that you might be being burgled or close to being murdered in your bed! ;oP ). Anyway, I turned over (I'd had my back to the door) and saw four yellow eyes shining back at me through the dark. This was something of a surprise, but also gave me answers to both of my queries. I wasn't being burgled. Zach hadn't been rolling around in smelly muck. I had an imposter of the feline variety, but it was in my bedroom! Imposter Cat was sitting in the middle of the bedroom, whilst Zach was standing at the door making strange 'get out of my house' yowls and hisses. I turned the bedside light on, at which point Imposter Cat got very scared and didn't know whether to look scared at me or scared at the cat. Actually, it looked so scaredy that I wanted to comfort it, but my movement towards him/her scared it silly and it risked rushing past Zach and made a sharp exit through the flat and through the cat flap, back into the wet outside world. Zach looked rather pleased with himself, if a little put out at Imposter Cat's intrusion onto his property.

Two mornings later, when I got up and walked into the living room, Imposter Cat was lying stretched out on the sofa in the living room, and was looking rather too comfortable for one in someone else's house into which they hadn't been invited. He stopped looking comfortable as soon as he saw me, and scurried as quickly as he could out through the kitchen and dashing through the cat flap. (As an aside, how come cats don't seem to get headaches from diving through cat flaps at great speed?).

As Imposter Cat is making such regular visits (and I've just heard him poke his nose through the cat flap as I type), and gobbling up Zach's food each time, I've had to move Zach's food dish into the hall - the furthest point from the cat flap before reaching my bedroom. This seems to have stopped it coming in so much through the day - when I'm in, at least. Who knows what cats do when they can't be seen by humans - but I have heard it creep in and then crunch noisily on the food in the bowl outside my bedroom door. And the give away that it's not Zach? He's usually asleep on the end of my bed. What cunning powers of deduction I have, don't you think?

So anyway, Zach's been rather upset by the whole thing, as I'm sure you can imagine with cat's being so terratorial. In fact he came sauntering in the other day, through the cat flap, through the kitchen and into the living, and he had that look on his face which says, 'I'm a cat and I need a new experience. What shall I do? I've tried tasting houmous. I've tried licking the bathroom radiator. What new experience would be good to try? I know, I'll pee on the wall.' That is exactly what he did - he made his way across the living room, giving over an air of 'I'm the king of this castle, just let me show you,' and promptly peed on the wall under the window! This is something he's never done before and I certainly hope it's not something he'll decide to do on a regular occurance. I'm so pleased this isn't an activity that we humans do to mark our territory. I'm much more in favour of putting up a fence around the garden and having a front door, than peeing on our property's perimeter.

I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do about Imposter Cat. At the moment I'm hoping that it'll just stop coming in and making Zach all nervy, but I'm not convinced that strategy is going to work. I may have to come up with a cunning plan.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Blue chickpea

I got my first computer with internet connection back in 1998. I was studying my first course with the Open University and a computer was required for the course, but I very quickly found my way into the world of the internet. At the time I was pretty depressed and needed as much support as I could get, and after a short while found my way to Healthyplace.com - a large American site with information about a multitude of different mental health problems, but also, and most importantly for me at that time, a large community in their chat rooms of people at various stages of difficulty with mental health problems. At this time of my life I spent much of my time hidden away in my flat, afraid of the outside world, and desperately lonely, but through the discovery of these chat rooms I was able to partake in the world in some way or other and also get and give support at the same time. As I guess you get in all open chat rooms, there were the occasional cranks who'd turn up, but the majority of people there were genuine and I made some very good friends. One of these friends was someone who went by the name of Blue chickpea, and who turned out to live only two streets away from me! Blue chickpea turned out to be called Janine, and was a few years younger than me, but we got on well. Like me (at that time), Janine struggled with self harm and was a member of a closed group online for people who do or have self harmed, and she asked me if I'd like to join. She put my name forward to the moderator and before long I found myself in the middle of a lively, and tremendously caring, bunch of folk dotted around the UK (and one or two ex-pats). Although I haven't self harmed now for almost five years, I'm still a member of the group, which is a bit like a family. This group has its own chat facility and one night, several years ago now, I was talking to Janine in there after a particularly rough day and I'd harmed myself. It needed medical attention, but unfortunately the attitudes of most A&E staff towards people who self harm is one of derision, anger and time wasting, and these attitudes make you feel even worse and your self-loathing even stronger at a time when your self-esteem is somewhere around zero. It's a time when you need support and understanding, not berating. Janine knew the attitudes I'd face and she knew of the state I was in. She also knew that I was really quite agoraphobic too, which would compound any other fears of going to A&E. It was three in the morning and she offered to come with me. She came round, and this was the first time we met person-to-person, rather than online. We got a taxi to A&E, and all the while Janine talked to me to keep me focussed and calm. When we got to the hospital Janine booked me in; she came with me to the triage desk and later into the room with the doctor; she both distracted me and comforted me in the waiting room; and she stood up for me against the hostility of the medics and nurses who were on that night. Janine made me feel that I was worth standing up for. She believed that I deserved to be treated with care and given support. Janine made me feel valued. She was a good friend.

That was only the first time we met irl (so to speak). We met on many other occasions too, but that time meant something particularly special to me. However, Janine was something of an inspiration, because, as I've already said, she had her own difficulties and struggles, but she'd turned herself around. She'd turned her whole life around. She'd gone back to college and got excellent grades in A-levels/HEFCs; she'd broken free of her self harm; she'd got into university and was achieving well beyond what she'd ever dreamt she could (we all knew she could though).

Janine died very suddenly and unexpectedly just before new year.

It was her funeral today, but I couldn't get there.

The world has lost another truly wonderful and inspirational person, and again at such a young age.

Sleep now, Janine - Blue chickpea - and rest in peace.

Sunday, 13 January 2008


I wrote this a little while ago on one of the many occasions that I've been an in-patient. I have, for several years now, been MRSA positive, though luckily I have not had sepsis from it (although I have had sepsis from another nasty bug - enterobacter claocae). Because of my status of being MRSA positive I am, what they call, barrier nursed, meaning that I get a room on my own (there has to be an upside to having MRSA) and whenever anyone other than my visitors come into the room they have to put on apron and gloves. The following is a little snippet of something that might one day turn into something longer, but it's about the experience of being MRSA positive and that isolation.

I have an invisible room-mate – a companion with whom I have nothing in common, except the space we occupy. Being invisible she is very easy to accommodate, so I put her up and ignore the bad press she gets. She is reputed for beating the frail and elderly, attacking vulnerable children and further wounding the already wounded. She is a cowardly monster in her choice of victim.
She has done me no harm, though we do not interact much and, for the most part, I forget that we share this space. It is only when medics and nurses, domestics and phlebotomists enter my room, clad in their protective armour of plastic aprons and latex gloves, that I remember I am not really alone. Only then am I reminded of her potential violence.
It is hard to imagine my silent companion as a killer, despite hiding in her anonymity as Mrs A. For all who do not live in this room with her however, proceedings must be undertaken with extreme caution, lest she escape and run rampant in the world beyond my door.
For now she can stay with me here, not that I have a choice as she holds me hostage – both of us in this isolation together.

Thursday, 10 January 2008


This is an immediate follow-on from the previous post, and it's an extract from one of my hospital diaries. I'm going to be reading it out in my talk tomorrow as an example of what it's like to need to go to intensive care ... and the fear. It is taken straight from my diary as written, with no alterations.

'Some people don't understand why I'm reluctant to go down to ITU. Can't they comprehend the fear? Can they not understand that going to ITU is terrifying, because you know that they're running out of options to keep you alive? I know that's why they want to take me - to keep me alive - and I understand that at the time too, but it's horrible and the things they do to monitor you are painful, and all the time all I can think is that I want to go to sleep and I want to be alive, but I can't have both those things at that one time unless I deteriorate that little bit more and they put me to sleep ... only then there isn't the guarantee that I'll be alive when I wake up.

'Desperate for breath. Desperate for sleep. Desperately trying to stay alive. Trying not to panic. Trying not to cry. Trying to get comfort for my fear from those around me who cannot assure me that everything will be alright. The best advice they can give is that getting upset can only make my lungs worse, and they will do all they can for me. Breathing is hard, lungs hurt, interventions to monitor are painful and obtrusive, fear grips as medications fail to help, nurses try to comfort and get the SHO, who looks afraid and sends for the registrar, who is obviously concerned so calls the consultant, who knows he can do no more here so contacts the anaesthetist, who comes in a swathe of green cotton and a small entourage behind, and they all look worried and take me downstairs to be prodded and poked and have more monitors stuck on me and needles into me, and it doesn't matter where they go, or how much it hurts to get them in, they just have to do it to keep me from dying. All the while I'm surrounded by all these people I'm completely alone, because I can't breathe enough to tell them I'm scared. I plead with my eyes for them to help and for them to stop, and I know it's a contradiction, but I want both those things simultaneously. Death doesn't frighten me, but dying is horrendous, and feeling alone whilst dying is terrifying. Maybe one day I'll be ready for it, and not in a way that is just exhaustion and the inability to keep on fighting, but right now I'm not ready.

'God's in it all somewhere, I know that ... I just haven't figured out where yet.'

Preparing for a new experience

In amongst the hubbub of Christmas preparations I received an email from the chaplain at the hospital that I usually get admitted to. He asked if I'd help him out by giving a talk to a group of potential new chaplaincy visitors about the experience of being ill and of being a patient in hospital. After all that the hospital and the chaplaincy team have done for me I thought this was a good opportunity to give something back. I have plenty of experience of being ill and being a hospital patient so I'm well qualified ... except that I have virtually zero experience of public speaking. I'm rather nervous, but I'm also strangely looking forward to it, and I think I've worked out what I'm going to say, which is even better. I'm going to attempt to use PowerPoint for the first time, after spending much of last night working out (I hope) how it works and how to set up a presentation. I don't want to be too presumptive in my skills, but PowerPoint seems quite easy ... though I might just have given my presentation the kiss of death by saying that.

The talk I'm giving is to last about half an hour, with some time for questions as well. As I say, I'm a little nervous about it, but I'm hoping that what I plan to say is interesting and won't have them fidgetting in their seats desperately wishing for the end.

I'm not going to write out here everything that I'm going to say tomorrow, but I thought that I might share some of it with you, perhaps in installments. I'll start with the next post.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

On a cheery note

I've been eligible for motability for quite some time, but haven't made use of it as I have my own car already - a Toyota Yaris. However, it's seven years old this year (I've only had it for 4 years though), and in a couple of months it'll be due all those horribly costly things of MOT, service and insurance, so I thought that now would be a good time to consider getting a motability car. I contacted them a long while back and was sent their info so I've had a while to read through it, think about it and look at some of the vehicle options available to me. I decided to go for it.

After a lazy Saturday morning I decided that, having made a short-list of cars I might like, that it was time to visit some garages to have a closer look. I ended up having a very close look ... so close I ended up test-driving three different cars :o) One of the cars I tried was the Mazda 2, which I liked very much - it was light and nippy, and responsive - but to get one with lots of the nice little extras like air conditioning, alloy wheels, split rear seats, remote controls for the stereo system, I'd have to pay a deposit of £995, which I couldn't afford. The other option from Mazda was the M3, which came with all these nice little extras as standard and no deposit was needed, but although I liked it when I drove it, it felt rather heavy, and actually I the gears didn't feel very precise either.

I went to the Nissan garage. I test-drove the Note and loved it. I first of all tried the 1.4L Note Acenta R, which, like the M3 has all those nice little extras, but also has the rear sliding seat like the Yaris (thereby making the boot bigger) as well as a fair few other features too. Then I discovered that, still with no deposit required, I could get the 1.6L Note Acenta R, so asked for a test-drive for that. They didn't have any of these available to drive, but they did have the 1.6L Note Tekna, which is the top of the range in the Note series. This has even more 'nice little extras' and it was a dream to drive. What's more is that, although it required a deposit it was only £99.

I slept on it ... but not much and only got about 4 hours sleep on Saturday night. Well it nice and bright, if rather chilly, on Sunday morning, so what better way to spend it than going back to the garage, test-driving the 1.6L Note Tekna again and then putting an order in? So that's what I did (opting for 'Emotion Red'!), and I'm stupidly excited. I have the lovely glossy brochure about the Note and keep picking it up and cooing over all the bright, shiny pictures, and getting more excited. I also have the dull grey brochure with all the technical information in it, and I pick that up too, and peer at the strange words and the baffling figures and try to work out what more of them mean (I do understand some of them, honest). In the end though I figure it doesn't matter, and I get all excited just because this bombardment of numbers and gobbledegook are all about the new car I'm going to be getting in about 3 weeks time :o)

I will spend the nights of the next three weeks either dreaming of my bright new shiny car (that will need a name, by the way), or unable to get any sleep at all ;oP I'm off now to do one of those two things.

Night all.

P.S. Did I happen to mention that I'm getting a new car?

Friday, 4 January 2008

A ray of sunshine

When I was thirteen I joined Newcastle's premier youth choir, Swing Bridge Singers, whose 'uniform' includes a bright yellow t-shirt, and whose ethos is one of fun, laughter, music, inclusivity, friendship, and six-part harmony (if you can include that in an ethos). There were (and still are) no auditions, no membership fee, no prerequisite that you should be able to read music, no parents' committee, and no register. It ran/runs off the enthusiasm of its members and its amazing choir master Andrew Scott, or Scottee as he's always been known.

Swing Bridge Singers was six months old when I joined, but last weekend we had a reunion celebration for its 20th anniversary, held at The Sage Gateshead. There was a single rehearsal for current members and ex-members on Saturday (29th December), followed by a party in the evening, and then the concert during the afternoon of Sunday 30th December. The first half of the first half of the concert was the current choir, who sounded fabulous, and whose joy of the music and the experience of Swing Bridge you could see on their faces and hear in the songs.

The a capella group Black Voices have done some things with Swing Bridge Singers in its recent history, and with Scottee in other musical capacities beyond SBS. Black Voices are also celebrating their 20th anniversary and agreed to take part in the concert last weekend, so they comprised the second half of the first half of it (if you get what I mean). Their collective background, as far as I know (check their website for more information), is that they are a group of nine black women based in Birmingham (UK) who perform in quintets rather than a nonet. They have extensive experience of singing gospel and spiritual music, and this is often reflected in their performances. They are currently singing many songs that highlight the memory of the British slave trade, and are celebrating the bicentenary of its abolition. They produce a deeply rich sound, and their music has both a passion and a zest to it that I've rarely seen.

The second half of Sunday's concert comprised a mass choir of current members of Swing Bridge Singers and its ex-members. Sadly only about 250 of the 450 who've sung in the yellow glory of Swing Bridge were able to make it, but we did have ex-members come back to Newcastle for the concert from Spain, Ecuador and Tasmania, such is the impact the choir has had on people and the place that it holds in their hearts that they should travel such great distances for a reunion! I was one of the few who had very little distance to travel, but Scottee and the Swing Bridge Singers are very special to me, and I have some fantastic memories of my years with them. I had some tough times through my teenage years, but Swing Bridge Singers kept a spark of life inside me and probably saved me from myself. I hope that doesn't sound too melodramatic ... it's not meant to ... it's just how things were, and merely a reflection on the special thing that SBS is and the special person that Scottee is (and he's still a good friend).

So Sunday's concert was great fun, brought back some wonderful memories, was very yellow as we all had special Swing Bridge Singers 20th anniversary polo shirts, slightly nerve-wracking (we sold out!), and it was great to sing the old songs again and meet up with past friends again. I'm waiting with great excitement for my copy of the CD of Sunday's concert. I'm told that the combined choir made a great sound, and whilst I have recordings of some of the songs by their original artists, it's always great to listen to a piece of music and remember taking part in the creation of the recording.

Signing off with warm memories.