Monthly Archives: August 2013

Z is a self-control freak

It was entirely natural that I’d be low, that I’d have several days at a time that I could barely cope – a casual word was enough to take me into a state of misery and I hid it as well as I could.  I became relentlessly efficient and I was a bit scary, I think and my family didn’t quite dare try to stop me, though I know they were concerned.  Ronan wrote to me a very sweet letter from university, suggesting I listen to music as he thought I would find it helpful.

This all was an entirely natural reaction to a stressful situation and that was all I thought until I read that interview with Hugh Laurie – you know, the one when he described how he was at some event, I think it was a demolition derby or something like that and there was quite a scary crash and, rather than being either thrilled or scared, he was bored.  He also realised he dreaded the future, self-diagnosed depression (being a doctor) and booked himself in for counselling.  ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘I’d certainly be bored at the thought of a demolition derby, I’m scared to look ahead, can’t bear to look back and I’m not depressed … oh, wait.’  And I gave that entirely new idea some thought – and decided that it was a label, nothing more, and it didn’t matter one way or the other.  I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to talk about or get advice on and the thought of explaining myself was too exhausting to contemplate.

I did what I could when I could and retreated into myself at other times.  I didn’t look forward or back, I couldn’t cope with either and made no plans that weren’t absolutely necessary.  I expected the worst, because I couldn’t bear disappointment and it meant that I often had a pleasant surprise when things didn’t go wrong.  I learned to gain great pleasure at every little thing that I could and enjoyed every moment of happiness.  I listened to music constantly, but I had a very limited range that I could bear.  For a while, I listed to two CDs over and over, one of Bix Beiderbecke and one of music by Prokofiev, particularly the Lieutenant Kijé suite.  I don’t know why it was those two – I liked them but they were undemanding and caused no stress, I suppose, was a lot of it.  And I was used to it and the periods of misery became less and I felt safe in my surprisingly cheering realistic pessimism.

Weeza phoned one evening to tell me that her friend Kavitha was getting married and was travelling back to India for the wedding and had invited her.  I felt a flash of envy – until she asked me if I’d go with her.  “Yes!” I said instantly – and that trip did me so much good.  The wedding itself was marvellous of course, but the second week we travelled to Kerala and had the most wonderful, relaxing time.  We did nothing that wasn’t enjoyable and spent money like water, relatively speaking (the first hotel had cost £60 for the week, the hotels for the second week cost £60 per night – though I should point out that this was for two).  I would love to go back there – I’d adore another trip on the backwaters and we didn’t have time to visit the Cardamon Hills.  That visit, ten months after my mother died, did a lot to heal me.

All the same, it was in July 2006 that I suddenly realised I wasn’t afraid any more.  And it was only then that I understood what a cloud I’d lived under, and I told Eloise about it.  For years, I’d wished I could die, not by my own hand but inexorably (if I’d become ill I’d probably have changed my mind pretty smartly, but that is how I felt at the time).  But I was over it, I was happy, I could contemplate the future and felt cautiously hopeful.

I had, by then, also learned to lean on friends, to ask for help and admit when I was struggling. I also gave some thought to my adamant rejection of medication and recognised my need for self-control.  I am not a control freak, I love and accept people just as they are and was genuinely upset once when a friend said (not at all in a critical spirit) that he thought I wouldn’t suffer fools gladly.  “I love fools,” I said, “I’m such a complete idiot myself, it’s very comforting not to be the only one.”  But (not that I remember her, she died when I was a small child) my grandmother was an alcoholic so the danger of addiction is something I’ve always been aware of.  I’m terrified at the thought of a chemical addiction, one that willpower cannot overcome.  I’ve had a general anaesthetic once and woke complaining of cold feet.  I could hear myself but not control what I was saying and was so embarrassed when I woke again, found a stack of blankets on my feet and realised that it wasn’t a dream, I really had been dreary enough to whinge (I never yelled in childbirth, obvs, I was entirely stoical).  That’s much of the reason I chose not to be sedated when I had my replacement hip operation.  I didn’t want to risk that happen again.

Z looks back – which has never gone well in the stories

2001 and 2002 were exceptionally difficult years, for work-related reasons as well as my mother’s health.  She was in quite a state of agitation and so was I – you know, the tight band round one’s head and all that.  I relied on trying to keep it steady – never dared relax because the re-tightening was too hard, but any increased stress was almost unbearable.  All the same, somehow I was still seen by outsiders as steady and reliable, someone people could come to for help and some sensible suggestions when asked for.  And indeed, I was still able to think straight and I’ve always been good at negotiations.

What I’m not good at is managing when someone negotiates with me, we agree a course of action – and I never believe in forcing through a course of events, an agreed settlement that saves face for the person in the wrong or acknowledges faults or adjustments on both or all sides is far more likely to work and I’m very willing to compromise, even when I don’t need to, as a demonstration of goodwill – and the other person makes no attempt at all to keep their side of the bargain.  That is not easy for me to deal with.  Now, of course, in a similar situation (work-related, that is), it would all be in writing and there would be reviews, but it was more relaxed then.  Anyway, it all ended quite messily, but at least the debris could be cleared away and a fresh start made, and I could see a clear way forward and, with more truth than modesty, I was the best person to lead it.  This was for a specific reason, the person who should have done so had dropped dead.  Since he and his wife were close personal friends as well as my colleague, this was an awful blow.

My mother’s hip had dislocated spontaneously six times, following the fall when it had originally been damaged, ie seven times in seven years, but the final dislocation was the last straw.  I’d said after the third or fourth occasion that I thought she needed to ask for it to be replaced or pinned, but she said she didn’t want another operation – and no one doubted the surgeon’s judgement in saying she didn’t need it, this wasn’t unreasonable.  But she finally went back and saw him again and he acknowledged that it was cracked and had been all along.  She had a new hip and made a remarkable recovery and at least that improved things for her.

In view of all that was going on at home, it might have been sensible to give up outside things, which were all unpaid.  The family would have liked me to, but I didn’t.  There were a couple of things I’d have been glad to unload but had no one to take over, another one was a commitment I couldn’t drop, as described above, another was very enjoyable and comprised much of my social life.  The other thing was that being at home all the time looking after my mother would have dragged me under.  I needed things to engage my brain, to force me to look outwards and I needed to feel valued.  I can see that it was selfish of me and I still can’t tell if I was unreasonable, but I was never too good at acknowledging when I needed help.

I think I’ve written before about the time my mother was in hospital and her condition diagnosed, and that she had a surprisingly wonderful final six months when, knowing what was wrong and that her time was limited, we all made the most of the time and were very supportive of each other.  I think I’ve touched on the circumstances of her sudden decline and peaceful death and her remarkably complicated funeral.  I’ve never told you about how long it took me to get over it.  If I’d known it would take more than three years, would I have asked for help?  Who knows.  I didn’t, anyway.  I didn’t even tell anyone until I came through it.

Lovely, lovely, lovely local garage

Good news and bad today.  The day started quite cheerily – well no, it started at 3 am which is far too early but, not for the first time, I discovered another insomniac friend about on Facebook and we had an online chat for a while and then I went back to sleep.  I don’t always use the internet when I can’t sleep, before you tell me that’s keeping me awake.  I am in for two or three wakeful hours whatever I do, if I can’t get back to sleep quickly, and I might as well accept it.  So I lay and let my thoughts drift unstressingly, realised I wasn’t going to sleep, put the light on and read and only then checked what was going on in the world.

The cigarette lighter in my car had stopped working – not that I’ve ever used one as such of course, and nowadays they are, I see, called ‘power outlets’ anyway.  Inconvenient when I want to use a satnav or charge my phone, so I trotted into the local garage and arranged to take the car in this morning.  While they had it, I went to the butcher’s, then down to the library.  I read for a while on a bench outside in the sunshine and then went to retrieve my car.  “It was only a fuse – no charge,” said the mechanic.  I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else, they’re so helpful, the kindest old-fashioned service and the only independent petrol station left in the town – though we’re lucky to have two places to buy fuel still, many town centres don’t even have one.

I was so sorry to hear that the woman I was due to share a room with when I go to Holland in the autumn won’t be able to come after all.  She has quite a serious back problem and travelling will be impossible, even if she doesn’t need an operation.  Although we’d exchanged emails and phone calls, we’d only met once – when I say that I’d told her about this blog, you’ll realise that I liked her very much and I hope we will not lose touch (she told me today that she reads it sometimes, which is kind).  The upside, as she said, is that I’ll have a room to myself on the trip…and I won’t be in the least lonely, it’s the sort of visit where you can be alone but never have to be.  I’ve been to several places with the Nadfas I belong to and I’ve always had a brilliant time.

This morning, I’m listening to Benny Goodman.  I love the way he plays his clarinet, as if it’s part of him, incredible virtuosity that seems completely effortless.  Take a look at this and you’ll see what I mean.

And from nearly forty years earlier –

From t’internets, mostly

More from my current favourite website.  Go to the linked site, click on the Streetview scene and click on the arrow on the road.

I like Shearwater very much, especially the album Rook.  They’ve got a new album coming out soon, which looks promising.  Here’s an extract – if you click on it, be warned that the music starts at once.

I’m going to listen to more music – I haven’t been so much in the past few weeks and it’s good for me.  Today, I’ve been listening to John Adams.

Z might as well get the ranting out of her system. Sorry.

My mum was married for 22 years, widowed for 6, married for 10 and widowed again for the last 16 years of her life, 15 of them spent living here, in the annexe next door.  It was not particularly successful, she never adjusted to it, mainly because she felt at a disadvantage.  People were being friendly when they greeted her “You must be Zoë’s mother!” but she disliked it because she felt it made her an appendage to me.  She made her social life revolve around new Norwich friends on the whole so that, when I met them, I was Jane’s daughter rather than she my mother.  She had, of course, loved being a wife most of all and never stopped missing the married life she had lost.

The last few years were particularly difficult because she was unwell and, in addition, had a damaged replacement hip joint.  The damage having been undiagnosed by a very experienced surgeon who should have known better, she suffered repeated dislocations.  She went to various specialists who were unable to diagnose her illness.  It was concluded by everyone except her family and her own doctor that she was attention-seeking, had psychological problems, even that she was deliberately causing the dislocations and that, as she became thinner, that she was cutting out various foods because of faddiness and obsession.  None of this was the case.  She was difficult, yes, and she did become quite obsessive, but this is entirely understandable.  When you’re ill and you’re told you’re not, when a food makes you sick and you’re told you’re picky, when your hip dislocates, which is total agony and requires total bed rest and then recuperation with all the precautions of having had a new hip, yet it’s clear that the nurses have no sympathy at all (uncaring nurses are nothing new, there were plenty of them over twenty years ago and they are the dark side of a wonderful profession), it doesn’t do much for your peace of mind.  She became convinced all her problems were caused by abdominal candida (thrush) and told every doctor she saw all about it, ignoring my suggestions that she didn’t sidetrack them but let them come up with a diagnosis first.  It misled them, not into thinking that was what was wrong, but into the belief that anything wrong was in her mind.  Tests didn’t show the cancer already somewhere in her intestines, and they never tested for an ulcer, not until her last visit to hospital.

It wasn’t surprising that she turned to alternative health practitioners and she certainly received sympathy there.  She was paying enough for it, after all.  Some years previously, she’d gone to an acupuncturist for help with her migraines and he did help a bit for a day or two at a time, but  there was no cure and, at the start, he’d told her that, if it was going to work, they would be greatly alleviated after a few months.  So, since they were still as bad as ever except in the days after she visited him, she stopped going.  In those last few years, she tried practically everything else.  I’ve forgotten most of them, I drove her to Diss monthly for a couple of years but I can’t remember what snake oil she was being sold there.  The woman 30 miles down the A12 was a nutritionist and we went there for years, my mother coming away with small bottles containing things I’d never heard of, to measure out, drop by drop and take religiously every day.  She visited health food shops – the most dubious seemed to be liquid oxygen (because you apparently don’t breathe enough of it).  The most shocking charlatan was the kinesiologist who held her arm, said the name of a food and pressed the arm.  If my mother was unable to resist, she was allergic to the food.  Thus, she cut out most of the foods she had been able to eat.  Kind and reassuring was the reflexologist she tried last of all, whose foot massages at least relaxed her.  Then there were the healers, including a faith healer she sent money to.

Some of these people acted in good faith, but not one of them said she really should go back to the doctor, because she was getting worse instead of better.  I remember the shocked and sympathetic look on the face of the nutritionist, the last time we left her house.  She knew very well my mother was desperately ill and was sorry for her, but she still took her £35 for the consultation and sold her the little bottles too.  The reflexologist assured her she had a kidney problem and could be helped by the treatment, only a few days before she was diagnosed with her advanced pancreatic cancer, the secondary cancer that had developed from the one that hadn’t been spotted during many tests and that had probably been present for seven years.

Once it was proved she actually had something seriously wrong, she couldn’t have received more kindness.  The nurses in that ward were lovely.  And she had a wonderful last six months in the circumstances.  The only treatment was palliative – she had a stent fitted to open her bile duct, constricted by the growth on her pancreas, she had a blood transfusion and treatment for the ulcer.  She came home and became surprisingly well, weaning herself off her painkillers, able to drive again and eat well, though she wasn’t able to stand and cook and I prepared all her meals, as I’d often done anyway over the years when she wasn’t up to it.

You can see, perhaps, why it upsets me that she was never offered sympathetic professional help for the distress she was in, why I’m deeply sceptical about alternative health remedies that have no proven benefit at all, and about practitioners who keep taking your money without ever admitting that they’re not actually curing you or even doing much to alleviate the symptoms.  And the effect on me and my family was dreadful too.

Z’s bedroom is unusually tidy

I emptied my wardrobe and was pleasantly surprised by some of the things I found that I’d forgotten I owned.  Having put back the things I’ll keep, the clothes that are too big are now on the spare room bed and now I have to decide what to do with them – some of them, I really like and, if I can find a dressmaker, I might have them taken in.  But I know that the line sometimes just doesn’t work – and anyway, I don’t know a dressmaker.  I’m not trying it myself, alterations are tricky.

What I can’t work out, however, is why the wardrobe is still full.

And – heh

Rather unusually, Z rants

I’m feeling a bit stroppy at the moment, not because of anything going on in my life but as a result of reading the papers, and not even matters that are really news – because I steer clear of political and current affairs on the whole, this being not that sort of a blog.

Two items in particular have caught my eye – one, that nearly 200 women a day are admitted to hospital in this country, suffering from prescription or over-the-counter drug poisoning caused by painkillers, tranquilisers and anti-depressants.  Many  women have been addicted to prescription drugs for years – I remember a while ago, a friend who’d been through marital breakdown and come out the other side, saying that she was now happily single, relieved to be free, enjoying life – “Still can’t kick the happy pills, though,” she added.  Another who, when desperate with a sick husband, elderly mother in failing health, son whose wife had left him because she was bored, taking their daughter with her, went to the doctor and, instead of being told ‘Of course you’re depressed and anxious, with what you’re going through, that’s normal,” was prescribed anti-depressants that she’s been addicted to ever since, though they’ve long since stopped any beneficial effect unless she ups the dose.

I am not talking about people who suffer from clinical depression or mental illness, but ordinary people who are, for a while, in desperate straits and, instead of being helped to cope, are drugged instead. I’m highly sceptical about any drug that is prescribed just to get you through a difficult and stressful time – and I’ll include HRT while I’m about it.  Some people go through early menopause and some people have extreme symptoms.  The rest of us don’t need medication.  If you want it to stave off ageing, fine, that’s quite understandable if you’re in your forties or early fifties (earlier is certainly unusually early) but if you just find the hot flushes inconvenient, bear in mind that you’ll get ’em anyway, just as soon as you come off the meds, and you’ll be in your sixties by then and it’ll be just one more symptom of ageing that you can do without.  On the other hand HRT is not addictive and too many of those other drugs are, and have dreadful side effects.

And if you’re agin prescription pills, what about supplements?  Companies that sell vitamin and mineral pills are being taken to task for unproven and unrealistic claims, and about time too.  It’s even being discovered that those who take supplements regularly are likely to die earlier than those who don’t.  And I’m not a bit surprised.  Not that I think everyone gets all they need from their diet, but because those who buy into the spiel are the ones who already take care of themselves – or the more intelligent intellectually but pretty stupid ones, who don’t.  That is, a young person who smokes, drinks too much, lives on junk food but knows that’s daft and believes a multi-vitamin pill undoes the damage.  It doesn’t.  Just eat better.  It’s not hard.  The other group comprises those who already eat sensibly, sometimes excessively *sensibly* (cutting out major food groups and chomping on loads of indigestible raw vegetables?)  but take all the supplements going into the bargain.  They’re the gullible ‘worried well’ that the supplement-producing companies rely on.

I’m pretty fit and well on the whole, and I’ve taken supplements in the past and would again, but only for a specific purpose for a limited time.  For example, when I was a little anaemic and not allowed to give blood, I took a liquid iron supplement.  It was fine for a couple of weeks and then I wasn’t able to bear the thought of taking it any more.  The same happened next time I took it, after an operation when I’d lost some blood.  I wasn’t able to finish the bottle.  I took it that I didn’t need it any longer and the supplement had done its purpose. But taking them all the time for years on end is not natural, it’s overdosing and I’m not at all surprised that it’s now being found to be harmful.

Be sceptical, know that if you’re being charged money (or the NHS is) then someone is making a profit out of it and if you believe their claims without completely disinterested and objective evidence, you may be led up the garden path.  Without a paddle (if English isn’t your first language, please ignore that completely bewildering mixed metaphor).

Possibly the worst photos ever

I did think of you, darlings, but possibly not hard enough, because I took two quick snaps as the pig was taken off the fire and carried to be carved up.  This evening was the Cyder Fest and Hog Roast and we’ve had a jolly good time.  Even the cider was a bit more drinkable than some years, when its acute acidity sizzles paint straight off and one hardly dares think what it’s doing to the lining of one’s stomach.  I drank two glasses of it, undiluted with lemonade, which isn’t something that often happens.

I went to the village hall in the Next Lovely Village in the morning to help chop vegetables and discovered after half an hour of cutting up courgettes that I had a green thumb.  I thought it was the skin, permanently marked, but when I got home I discovered that a good rub with a nylon scourer shifted it.

We used to be very much part of NLV’s social life and this has slipped in the past few years, hard to say why.  But it was such a pleasure to see so many old friends, and their children too, all around Ro’s age – it’s such a popular event that they try to make it back home for the party.  None of ours were able to be there this time, though they enjoy it too.  I can’t remember why we couldn’t make it last year, though we normally go.

I helped cook the veggie paella in the huge paella pan, at least 2 foot 6 in diameter, that came from a village ironmonger’s in France at a ludicrously cheap price a few years ago, but I didn’t take any pictures of that.  The pig is not that visible either, but you can get a feel for the occasion and imagine how totally delicious it was.

In addition, a random picture of the lily that came into flower today, despite the heavy overnight rain.  Or maybe because of it, who can say?

IMG_2011 IMG_2010 IMG_2009


Today, I thought I’d go to Norwich.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have any work to do – I’ll have to do that as soon as I’ve written this and was busy well after midnight last night (technically this morning, of course) too – but the sudden urge to look at clothes is rare and best acted upon.  So I emailed Ronan to see if he was free for lunch, which he usually is, and we agreed to meet. I reckon I do him good, because otherwise he’d eat at his desk as so many do – including me, only too often, I can’t deny it.

Moorish is a jolly good name for a falafel restaurant, don’t you think?  A nice play on words.  And a nice meal too, with plenty of salad and fresh lemonade with the falafel.  And then I toddled on to Jarrolds to buy a few books (still can’t read like I used to, I can’t cope with fiction very well now, but persevering, five on the go and the prospect of finishing three of them in a couple of days), looked at clothes but – h’m, I don’t know, didn’t quite do it for me – and headed back to House of Fraser and found things to try on.  Going by eye rather than size, I picked up sizes 8 and 10 – one size 10 dress didn’t fit, though it went well enough over my hips, I think it’s because I’m so short that there was surplus material under the bust.  But the 10 and 8 trousers and 8 dress were fine.  I’ve not been that size before, ever – that is, not since my clothes were bought by age rather than size.  Of course, an 8 now would be a 12 in 1970, but all the same…

If I’d found more, I’d have bought it – two interviewing days and a wedding in the next three weeks, but the wedding will be ok if the weather doesn’t change markedly (I went to the groom’s sister’s wedding last year, so can’t wear the same thing) and the navy dress I bought today will be for the first interview day, with shocking pink the next day to startle the candidates out of pigeonholing me.  They’re all men, so haven’t the same leeway except, possibly, with their socks (I realise they may have googled me and be reading this, which is fine.  Showing initiative.  I don’t judge by appearances, anyway, though ill manners are damning) or their ties.

Ben is in my bad books, having suddenly lunged for a chicken, skinning my hand with his lead as he pulled, so I had to let go.  Fortunately, she got away and I shut him in the porch, very angry.  I locked the door to be sure he wouldn’t open it.  Later, R got home and I saw him get out his phone, sitting at the table outside.  The home phone rang.  “Why are you ringing me?”  “I’m locked out.” “Ah, sorry about that” – and I explained.  “Why didn’t you knock?”  He had no answer.  He’s odd like that.

Taut? Us?

Rog didn’t quite make it to the first comment on this site, Zig achieved that, but he did leave the 28,000th comment since the R-blade’s inception, back in January 2006.  Thank you, dear heart.

Browsing idly through readers’ statistics, I looked at the web browsers used and was quite interested to notice the change there has been over the years – well, since the last time I looked, which was quite some time ago.  It used to be almost entirely between Internet Explorer and Firefox, but now Chrome has a strong lead with nearly a third of users, with Safari second with nearly a quarter.  IE isn’t far behind but it seems that few people use Firefox any more.  Few visitors to this blog, that is, I don’t know if it’s indicative of people as a whole.  I’d have thought most of us would stick with the same browser unless we’re unhappy with it for some reason, but maybe that’s because it’s what I do.

Yesterday evening, there was a visit to the Tortoise Club and yes, it taught us a good deal.  Although actually, I’m afraid I was tired and quite disinclined to pretend even the vaguest interest in tortoises, so I settled in the car with several books, some snacks (we had to leave home at 7 o’clock and hadn’t got around to having dinner) and my phone with which to leave tortoise-related jokes on Twitter.

Edweena went to the club, was looked at and pronounced a healthy weight.  She mustn’t be fed for a month pre-hibernation, which takes place sometime in November, so I suppose we spend the next month or so giving her lots of treats.  On the way home, we debated where to keep her, which must be cold but frost-free.  I suspect it’ll be the larder, but we’ll have to make sure it’s a dog-proof box, I don’t entirely trust Ben not to pick her up and retrieve her for us.  Tortoises like to eat chalk, apparently, so we came back with a bag of it.  Chunks of chalk, that is, not sticks, though I suppose the blackboard sort would do at a push.