Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Earth is Breathing Again

I opened my window today to blue skies and a warm breeze. The hilly landscape that I can see from my window seat is green and scattered with grazing sheep. Birds soar; there is hardly any sign of human life, but for the silent queue of people waiting for the pharmacy to open. The air that I breathed today felt fresh, and, did I imagine it? Unpolluted. It seemed that the earth was breathing again. Due to Covid-19, there are fewer planes in the sky, (When was the last time you heard one?) and fewer cars on the road. When this ghastly phase has passed, can we somehow, keep things cleaner, so we can all keep breathing better, and longer. We do so take our air for granted.

Our car, that we recently bought a new clutch for, has packed up. It refuses to move from second gear. The nation, like our car, seems to be refusing to accept that they must stay indoors to beat this ghastly virus. Here in Snowdonia, record numbers of walkers were out climbing Snowdon and otherwise ignoring advice not to go out and about, or travel to second homes. The current crisis has been compared to the Second World War - food shortages and the like - but would people have snatched up all the bog roll then, or selfishly disobeyed orders to stay at home or only go out if necessary?

In other news, I have continued my cold showers and open sea, cold water (sans wetsuit; with cozzie only) which is, as I have previously mentioned meant to reduce inflammation and increase white blood cells. It is certainly invigorating. The fam and I had a wonderful hike up our local mountain today, and we were actually hot afterward: the day was practically balmy, as opposed to barmy - the state of mind of throngs of people descending and ascending Welsh mountains in recent days. The few walkers we met kept the requires 2m distance. I continue to produce a fair amount of paintings in-studio and editing continues on my third book. As to Covid-19, it's horrid, but this too will pass.

A recent video of me swimming in an ice-cold sea in bikini and wellies (it was rocky, I was rolly).

Saturday, 14 March 2020


I have been determined to swim all year round in the sea this year and today I finally achieved my promise to myself. A friend introduced me to a group of swimmers who swim through the winter in cold waters. They are called the Bluetits, adorable, no? Today I bolted my coffee, got out of my warm bed and drove ten minutes to the coast where I took the plunge into a freezing cold sea. My tactic was to bolt in and keep on going until I began to swim. I made it, for a minute at least. It was invigorating, and, I think strengthening, if a little bonkers.

Advocates of swimming in cold water say that it increases white blood cells and fends off diseases, presumably by boosting immunity. I boosted my confidence and attracted a small amused audience at any rate. I felt pretty great afterwards. The water was a bit shocking, but I am going to continue with this jape, at least once a week.

There is a Dutch dude who is super fit, and goes by the nimble name of Wim Hof. Wim likes getting most of his kit off before delighting in swimming in freezing waters, or just hanging out in the ice for extended periods of time, or just rolling around in the like an unclad toddler making snow angels. Google him, he has to be seen to be believed. As do I, which is why I add this little video so you can stare agape at my winter sea swimming japes.

In other news, painting at the studio is going well. I have produced a number of abstract works in acrylics and oils. My three youngest children come in with me on a Friday and produce wonderful paintings and drawings. I am also working on the second book in the Big Men’s Boots trilogy. Life after cancer is good.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Grit and Green Gloop

I've just made and drunk the most startling green drink. I won't bore you with the ingredients, except to say, you'd want to approach it gingerly, the Incredible Hulk would be attracted to it, and it would repel vampires. My children screamed and ran away when they saw me drinking it. My middle son looked as though he was going to chuck up his dinner when he saw what is supposed to make me thinner - not really, that just rhymed. It's good health I'm after, after all that surgery and chemo cocktails, that are really mocktails as in mockingtales not sans alcohol cocktails, that are all tail and no ****. A crock basically. They really call those chemo bags chemo cocktails, on account of them being mixed just for you. Besides, the road marked Care What You Weigh is peopled with crazies and guarded by the hounds of hell.

That's not all. I also did a Grit class today. No, I did not learn how to remodel a driveway. I am on a mission to remodel myself, given I am miles away from what I looked like when I was an actual model. Truth be told, all that cancerous not being able to move much over 2019/20, plus (size) the eye-popping, hip expanding, family frightening, steroids, have left some heft. And so it was that I turned up at the desk at my local gym today, where I was asked by an amused staff member whether I'd ever done Grit before. I thought of some of the folks I've had to deal with this week and almost replied, "Yes, I do it most days," but I figured he'd take that kind of quip as a fib. The staff member continued to grin like a loon. "Are you being friendly or smiling because of what I'm in for?" I asked. "Both," he said. "Do you have any issues with blood pressure?"

Before long I was pumping iron, as my heart pumped harder than a whole house party from 1993. I wielded a weighted barbell and just, well, weight, and also swung weighted discs between my legs, as if I was going to shotput at any moment. Leaping lunges and sideways press-ups were also de rigeur. Or irregular, in my case. I also had to make like a beetle with a two-second memory - hand and foot going forward, centre, backwards manoeuvre. Most people in the class were young and fit. I just looked like I was having a fit. I emerged with a face the hue of beetroot. Everyone else looked normal. The instructor looked amused, but at least he wasn't grinning like a nutter.

I now feel crap, and seem to have a cold coming on. Thus the green gloop. I shall have to retire for bed with a stack of books and a hot toddy. Darn, I've foresworn alcohol for Lent. Can the rules be bent? It's medicine right? I'll put lots of ginger and honey and...
Here's a painting I did last week. Lots of green there too.

Monday, 27 January 2020

Debate, Not Hate - #Holocaust Memorial Day 2020

As we remember the holocaust today, I have been struck afresh these past few days by Prince Charles's erudite and sensitive speech, delivered recently  at the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020. This part in particular seems most pertinent:
"All too often, language is used which turns disagreement into dehumanisation. Words are used as badges of shame to mark others as enemies, to brand those who are different as somehow deviant. All too often, virtue seems to be sought through verbal violence. All too often, real violence ensues, and acts of unspeakable cruelty are still perpetrated around the world against people for reasons of their religion, their race or their beliefs. Knowing, as we do, the darkness to which such behaviour leads, we must be vigilant in discerning these ever-changing threats; we must be fearless in confronting falsehoods and resolute in resisting words and acts of violence. And we must never rest in seeking to create mutual understanding and respect. We must tend the earth of our societies so that the seeds of division cannot take root and grow. And we must never forget that every human being is be-tselem Elokim, “in the image of God,” and even a single human life is ke-olam malei, “like an entire universe."

Since the referendum on the EU in 2016, our society, if social media is a temperature gauge, has become increasingly bigoted and intolerant of those who hold differing political beliefs. People, human beings made in the image of God, are decried in the most appalling terms. Those who voted for Brexit are condemned as migrant hating racists, on the kinder end of the scale and far, far worse on the other end of it. There is reported hatred on the ‘other’ side too, though on social media I have not personally seen it. Moral high grounders many of whom have likely never seen the inside of a council flat, much less been on an estate, had a free school dinner nor seen a food bank, but nevertheless speak on behalf of 'the poor' dole out hatred to those very poor who might well have voted for Brexit, or anyone else who does not agree with them. Such ironies are beyond those who litter social media with their propaganda sites while, immune to their own bile, they ignorantly and shamelessly use the kind of bigoted hate speech that they label and accuse voters from 'the other side' of.

Out there in the real world, beyond media bubbles and cushdie town houses (guilty!), the people that those who hold the 'correct' view, seek to protect as they loftily espouse their righteous ideals, often, I suspect, for effect, are struggling to get their children adequately educated in a system that is failing them (they can't afford private) or are battling illness, divorce, poverty, the NHS, the social care system and so much else. They don't have time for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram (blogging even!) or any other forum on which to carefully craft their tribalised thinking (often not usually their ideas at all) and their lives. In this world of facade, let us all remember living and dying, tolerating and loving, and seeking change in debate rather than strengthening hate.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Leap of Faith with #PTSD

I've just sat down to work after watching my three youngest children at their regular climbing wall sessions. Watching children learn, develop and extend themselves never ceases to amaze me. As I walked around the zones, I chatted to a young girl who was waiting to do what is called, 'The Leap of Faith' - which requires, after roping up, jumping out to an aerial swing before being lowered down. Nervously, she shared with me that she had sweaty hands and was worried that as such, she would not be able to grip the swing. She reminded me of myself, of my own sweaty hands and fears. But of my being brave too. I climb mountains, swim in deep sea, and generally take new opportunities that push me beyond my perceived capabilities - over the years, this pushing through has taken the form of chairing a charity for which I organised major events and did fieldwork; running (small) companies; engaging in public speaking; doing an MA; writing and promoting books, writing, producing and directing plays and arts events - all these things terrify me but I nevertheless do them. With each endeavour fear rises up like Snowdon, and, face like flint, legs and belly like jelly - hands slick and a quiver too - I have to start climbing all over again. I've been fighting #fear all my life. This has sometimes made me quite scary, you have to be, to face fear down, or so I thought. I put on a smiley-face now, along with the brave one, which likely makes me look like a clown. I act like one too.

As a mother, I try very hard not to communicate any residual fear to my children (Will the fear, like oil reserves ever dry up? Will I ever be the sheik of shriek?) though I am still sometimes hypervigilant with them - hovering for instance, during risky stuff, like a demented beaky bird when I should just fly off and let them fly. I am still sometimes overly reactive if one of them falls over or cries out - their cries soon drowned by my own well-crafted ones; I try not to worry about them missing out in some way, as such I have to take off my Big Chief Interferer Bonnet on a regular basis; I manage worry when they are away or out of my 'control' with 'get a grip woman' talk - courtesy of my patient and statistical husband, or indeed myself - I have faith reserves that I can summon up, but this takes effort - like pumping breast milk in a restaurant behind a scarf; whereas the fear reserves spring up so easily instead, drawn as they are from vast reserves of deep pain and trauma laid down when I was little but built upon by the (actually, two) earthquakes I have been in, the (past) abusive relationships and the near death experiences I have had. It is always a battle not to look back, not to sorrow, not to regret, not to look down, but, face like flint, to drive forwards. Having a superhero disguised as an engineer for a husband helps. As for the four children - don't tell me there is no God.

I'm not sure of the exact cause, but I've suffered from #complexPTSD since I was a child.It could have started when my mother took us from Spain where we had been living, back to Zimbabwe where she told us we would never see my father again. Soon afterwards she introduced us to a stepfather who assaulted me violently on a number of occasions - the welts that grew on the inside were far worse than those on the outside of my girl's body. Or it could have been the sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of my mother's sister's husband. A sensitive, artistic, truth-seeking child, I was not allowed to speak of these traumas, which in any case were denied. The fact that I spoke out about or reacted to what had happened in my family of origin meant that I was the object of more punishment, ostracisation and blame. Compounded by all the blame, #PTSD was my closest companion and my deepest shame. I still shake, and the small hands that used to pour sweat still get clammy on occasions. Given these events took place in an environment where I should have been cared for caused deep chasms of remembered trauma - painful events of the past were faultlines, as deeply grooved as African earth in the dry season. Trauma, pushed deeply into my body, nevertheless manifested in the present, throwing up migraines, vivid nightmares, extreme jumpiness and hypervigilance, that in my teens and twenties, developed into anxiety, depression, sleep and eating disorders and drug and alcohol dependency - having my eldest son put a full stop to penultimate thing 1 and mostly, thing 2 - though I'm best off avoiding those kinds of parties. Like long-gone fags, you always fancy one, but they're a smoking gun.

A master of disguise, and my actor father's daughter, I tried to hide all my symptoms, especially the shaking and the sweating, of which I was deeply ashamed; I took on the cloak of self-loathing that my parents and sister gave me and hid under it, disguised as many things, (you would never have guessed, oh how 'I' hid.) None of these guises of me were the bright, authentic, God-created/ive me, she only emerged years later after I began to escape. E'gads, perhaps she's not here yet lads. Get on your ponies and flee! My sister, who has been quite open about wanting to be the only daughter, delighted in provoking me and making me weep; she thought it was hysterical that I was so easy to terrify, and took great delight in scaring me in various ways; I was so satisfyingly and easily terrified to tears. I learnt quickly to try and hide any weaknesses. As I grew, I learnt coping mechanisms - humour became a tool - I fended people off by being sharp-tongued. Outside of the family I found comfort in friends and the families of friends, in unsuitable boyfriends. As a young adult I developed all the physical symptoms that come with complex PTSD, myriad physical symptoms, including an irregular heartbeat and digestive disorders. Nevertheless I was an intrepid adventurer, but let loose prematurely on the world and without any family lifeboats, I took risks, some of which nearly killed me. I learnt to be 'very strong', to never ask for help or money (from the age of fourteen I was earning my own money), not to trust people, to cope on my own, and to be wary of intimacy.

Until I took my own leap of faith and actually found a faith, not least, someone outside myself to trust, as well as my divine, ever-listening, ever-actually-hearing husband I did not begin to heal properly and to come to understand rather than ignore the confusing eruptions of PTSD. (Humorous Husband does so much hearing of me, that if I did not also make him laugh or talk politics and home-schooling and much else in-between, he might have thrown me out with the peelings.) I still manage my symptoms, but I did not seek help for PTSD specifically, nor fully understand what it was that I suffered from, until recent years when, having left my abusive family of origin a few years before I had to deal with them during a recent court case (which precipitated a phase of profound healing, beneath rock bottom - in those dark and scary fissures in my infant earth.) I only stopped 'being strong' when my mind and body finally reached their limit and began breaking down, only then did I get the specific and professional help I needed. Such is the armour that I have built up over the years that I still struggle to ask for help, even from those nearest and dearest. True healing lies, I believe, beyond the professionals, in my case, without and deeply within. Only we have the tools, 'they' can only do so much, though being able to voice things to my husband or close friends has helped enormously - and the occasional shrink though they're like gold dust, and often you have to do the gold-mining. My hands still sweat occasionally, as when I watch my own children climb a rock face or walk too close to a precipice, or even at sports days or when my daughter acts or sings or dances solo. They sweated slightly this morning - in memory or empathy with the young girl I was encouraging to jump - that girl who drew on her own reserve of faith and took the leap of faith. Her smile afterwards was sunshine to the soul.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Whack-a-Roddy Toddy

On account of a cold, I've just made myself a hot toddy with French brandy (tres posh!) cloves, cinnamon, clementine (Oh, my darling, oh my darling!) and lemons (Bells of St Clements). The toddy is whack-a-Roddy (Emspeak for doing the trick), and I'm feeling loads better, though how I will feel when the brandy wears off is anyones guess. I hope to distract myself later with an episode of The Crown. My son is an extra in it though I've peeled my eyes and still haven't spotted him. He's tall dark and handsome if you happen to see him and is in the Welsh scenes. Speaking of which, the Welsh scenes are political with a capital 'P', nationalist #Welsh sympathies are thoroughly addressed by a watchable but nevertheless comical Prince Charles, who is as PC in it as his initials. The accents on The Crown are a right laff, but they don't distract, they add to the entertainment. Has anyone else noticed, since the Prince Andrew debacle, how normal PA sounds compared to PC, though PA is not PC at all. I don't know what to make of the recent allegations against him, but I do think he should be stepping well back. PA, should not be able to address the public at all. I wonder what PC thinks. Wide and birth spring to mind. What kind of king will PC be? Should there a be a crown at all? It does seem rather quaint and outdated. Rather like the accents on #TheCrown.

Back to me and on to my knee. I've been merrily decorating the Christmas Tree with the nippers, and this afternoon, when I got up, something went above my knee and it wasn't the rest of my leg but something alien and super painful. I've never done my pin in, but this is stonkingly painful. I can walk around like a normal human, but when I have to bend it to sit...roof hitting...I yelled for Nurofen and my daughter came scurrying. I'm going to have to have another crack at weeing standing up. The last time I did that I was about four. Have you tried threading baubles? Bloody awful, trying stuff, just when you think you have them threaded, they bounce off petulantly and roll under the tree so that you have to practically knock over the whole thing to find them. Now there's a Christmas message right there. Tree looks good though. I'd take a picture for you but my phone is stuffed on account of the chemical sunblock I doused it in when, running late and having splattered some sunblock on my fizzog (I wear it all year round so that the wrinkles are kept aground, and not on my face) scribbled some make-up on, sans glasses so what I looked like was anyone's guess, I tossed it all into my bag and went running for a London bus without properly capping the sunblock. If all this is what being 50 means, I will need more hot-whack-a-Roddy-toddies, and minions, minions of minions to scurry around for me. Yes, please put the carols on...Hark the Herald Angels Sing, plea-ease, easy my dodgy knees...I think another toddy is in order.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Discombobulated but Bobbing Along

It’s a little over a year since I went to hospital for a hysterectomy and six months since chemotherapy ended, there was reconstructive breast surgery on account of dodgy lumps, summer last year as well. The years of preparation for the #1975Inheritance Act case I brought against my stepfather and my sister’s husband, the executors of my mother’s will, and the trial and settling of the case, are now also over - three and a half years of a part time job acting as my own solicitor to save money on costs – the costs that the other side have recently had to 100% pay, thanks to their persistent refusal to negotiate. These have been the dark materials that I would rather not have been part of the fabric of my life. But now that these matters are concluded, I have been trying to get my body (mind and spirit) back together again. It’s sunny outside, where I have just been for a walk/run combo based on an app that let’s you walk/run to build up your fitness. I staggered home, after the push me pull you (to run, pull myself along the quay), red faced but staggeringly triumphant. I am also hiking in the mountains, gleefully jumping around like the capricorny mountain goat I fancy myself to be. And (soon) swimming beyond the summer in the sea. For which I will need a wetsuit. Years from now, I fancy being one of those crazed grannies that down a shot of Vodka and then, legs bowed, run into the freezing sea, their hair on ice and their jowls billowing in the wind.

Since my diagnosis, I have been experiencing a kind of horror at being in this body of mine (more cumbersome, thank-you steroids and hysterectomy). After all, there was something of an alien spaceship growing on an ovary, that, left to it’s own vices, would have sent out ever more substations and cell-distorted aliens, to strangle the life out of me. The surgery took the tumour, but also the cradle that had nurtured my four children, and almost all that had led to them being there. I mourned these unseen parts of me that had sheltered my secret growing children, that unseen, I had nevertheless loved. Post breast surgery, parts of my torso were removed to patch up other parts. My body was then hystercectomally eviscerated. Still other parts of me were cut out – binned? Incinerated? Gone. Where? Torn asunder, I went through, the motions ordered (thankfully, of course), in a disconnected state. Doctors flashed statistics at me like a flickering black and white movie. Would I die? Would I live? For how long? I tracked along, zombie like, in a body that did not feel like it was mine. This was my body, my life-giving body, that had turned against me. And now, hysterically, the aftermath of the hysterectomy: full blown men-oh!-pause. My husband certainly pauses as he blindly approaches an occasionally slightly mental me through my brain fog and jitteriness. I am trying to stop being suspicious of my body where so many wars have been raging. I need to love its disparate parts again, and to nurture it back to life. There have been bleeding wounds, inside and out, stitched up. But what else, who else was stitched up? 

My mind has been over matter somewhere. Out there. Where? Scattered. It's been displaced, bobbing alongside, above? - my body, held together loosely, by a string. My mind has recoiled in horror from my cut out body and I need to get them reacquainted. Also cut out, during my year of illness, these past years, has been me from family of origin and from my grandmother's estate via my mother's will. I went straight from chemo in April to court in May. Tracking my illnesses like a dark shadow and periodically ambushing my mental health, these past few years, has been dealing with my sister’s abusive husband who represented the family leading up to and in court and seeing the orchestrated (by my sister’s husband) mendacious witness statements (How could they? is too tame a phrase) during the three and a half years of preparation for the #1975Inheritance Act case and the eventual (they repeatedly delayed) trial where my former sister, her husband, stepfather and brother, brazenly lied in and out of court so that they could get away with the estate and, as we tried to, and still argue: fraud. Court was jaw dropping stuff. You couldn’t make it up, though they did. My shredded emotions have been shelled by first my mother’s actions and then, her offspring, my sister, both of whom used their husbands to assault and attack me historically in case 1 and on-going (here, on this blog, weeks ago) in case 2. He has been stalking me online incessantly since 2015. I have a four year's full file of years of written attack from her husband, the last bit a death suggestion that only weeks ago appeared here on this blog. 

Though I won the 'battle against cancer' - does this war terminology help? Peace with my body and mind must now be made. I 'won' the court case too though it was not the path I would have chosen, I would have preferred for us all to sit down and discuss things, though that would have meant sharing as I argued (successfully) that we should do. It takes a while to wash your mind clean from all this ugliness. But what else was shattered? My spirit...I don't say soul...I think we are body, mind and spirit. My bewildered spirit has been a raft on a sea whose stormy waves have sometimes formed themselves into watery cliffs off which my little craft (not least my writing craft) tips and slips into the watery depths below, where all former beliefs, all I held true was buffeted again and again over all these life and death things. But it's over now. Chemo and court are done. The sea is stilled. The case is won. I prevailed. I sit on the beach now, discombobulated: like the Iron Giant, the several, severed parts of me are scattered here and there. See me cranking along: a torso, (a la the scene in The Holy Grail where the torso keeps fighting - Come On! Is that all you've got! Oh the laughs! Thank God for the laughs, the pulling myself together laughs that have always kept body and soul together. See me here, in search of my body and head. Putting myself back together again.