Sunday, 5 November 2017

I dream of being somewhere as chichi as Fawlty Towers

Tomorrow morning, I was planning to donate a small piece of my uterus to the NHS. This would have required me to leave home at an hour that is not so much godforsaken as one that God has shunned and is really rather sorry he ever invented. To ease the pain of this early start, I booked a hotel room close to the hospital.

Unfortunately, the operation had to be postponed.

After I explained to the nurses that I'd already made a (non-refundable) hotel booking, they managed to get me a pre-surgery appointment for tomorrow morning, so that I wouldn't lose the money I'd forked out for the room.

So, tonight I am in a hotel near Paddington station.

Good points about the hotel:
  1. The receptionist. He is the only reason I haven't fled this foretaste of eternal torment to seek out the comfort of a damp bench.
  2. The wifi. It's free and pretty fast. Which is just as well, because the TV reception blinks in and out (and nobody wants that during David Attenborough).
  3. The bed. It hasn't broken. Yet.
Now for the bad stuff.

The aforementioned receptionist informed me that I was on the fourth floor. Naturally, there is no lift, just a winding series of narrow stairways. The receptionist kindly offered to carry my bags for me. I am not proud. I said yes.

The first thing I noticed about the room was that the bed takes up about 75% of the floor space - and not because the bed is big.

The second thing I noticed was that it was a bit noisy and a lot cold. On further investigation, I discovered that this was because the sash window cannot be closed, due to it missing the fastener that allows you to shut it properly. You know, insofar as sash windows are capable of shutting properly. There was just a lonely-looking screw sitting there, helpless to prevent the force of gravity from pulling the upper pane open.

As a bonus, someone had left a half-eaten cake in a sandwich bag on the ledge outside the window.

I looked into the en suite bathroom. It is, to be blunt, a cupboard.

You may notice that a certain piece of bathroom furniture is missing from this cupboard. I know I did. I panicked. WHERE, FOR THE LOVE OF ZEUS, WAS THE BOGATORY?

The answer, it turned out, was "In another cupboard across the landing". There was a bonus here too: the last person to use the toilet appeared to have eaten a lamb dhansak and neglected to inform the staff that they hadn't cleaned up after themselves. Probably because there was no toilet brush. Probably because there wasn't enough room for one.

I told the receptionist about the window. He apologetically explained that he wouldn't be able to fix it but promised to put a heater in the room for me. This he duly did, schlepping back up to the fourth floor while I went out for a stroll.

I returned to a toasty room. Feeling mildly cheered, I decided to take a shower and have an early night.

I rapidly changed my mind after I started running the shower. As soon as I turned the controller away from the "cold enough to preserve a mastodon" setting, the water slowed to a sad dribble. If this place has a water pump, it is incapable of getting hot water to the fourth floor. Perhaps it feels too old and knackered for such crap.

Well, me too pal. Me too. Some people (read: masochists) may find a cold shower deliciously bracing, but I wasn't one of them even before I got all middle-aged. Besides, who wants bracing at 9.30pm on a Sunday?

I ran my greasy hair under a "probably about right for keeping your milk fresh" setting and decided to have a cup of coffee from the grubby tray on the bedside table that was not at the bedside. It was next to the door. (In fairness, that is quite close to the bed, but only because it is impossible for anything in this room not to be.)

I looked behind the not-at-the-bedside table for plug sockets.


There are only two plug sockets in this room, semi-concealed behind the wardrobe. I ended up boiling water with the kettle balanced precariously on the duvet. Like so.

I have now drunk my instant coffee, got the window as close to shut as I can, and am preparing to bed down. 

I tend to need several bathroom breaks during the night. Naturally, I did not bring a dressing gown, because I was expecting a fully-equipped en suite.

I don't know if the people in the next room have similar bathroom habits.

If they do, I hope they don't mind seeing me in my pants.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

An unlikely saviour

I was in my late 20s. I had spent my youth as a good Christian girl but, having lost my faith and moved to the den of vice that is London, I decided to do all the things that good Christian girls don’t do.

Among other things, this involved a lot of drugs, legal and otherwise.

One drug that was still legal at the time was GHB. I loved it. It gave a nice buzz and, I was told, increased your metabolic rate. For a young woman who liked getting high and worried about her weight, it was ideal. I mean, it’s basically a cocktail of paint stripper and drain cleaner, but who cares? IT GETS YOU HIGH! IT KEEPS YOU THIN! (OK, so it also gives you terrible acne, but two out of three ain’t bad.)

Because one of its effects is a raging horniness, GHB was sold in sex shops. I spent an inordinate amount of time (and money) in one particular sex shop in Soho.

Billy was one of the guys who worked in the sex shop. He was in his late forties, greying, moustachioed, and with a Yorkshire accent heavy enough to anchor the Knock Nevis.

The Knock Nevis: heavy anchor required.

I adored him. He adored me. We chatted while he worked and went to the pub together during his breaks.

Billy watched me as I went from a giggling, tipsy customer who came into the shop with her buddy, to a more haggard and heavy GHB user, to a solitary shopper who slunk in asking where the nearest coke/crack dealers were.

One evening, he took me to one side. “Rachel,” he said, “you’re a nice girl. But I’ve seen a lot of nice girls come in here, who’ve ended up living on the streets, selling their arses for a fiver. That’s where you're headed.”

And that was the most frightening thing anyone has ever said to me.

Billy wasn't the first person to express concern about my drug use, but coming from someone who had worked for years in the heart of Soho, it meant something. He knew what he was talking about.

Billy stopped serving me GHB and refused to tell me where the local dealers hung out. He instructed everyone else in the shop to do the same.

Me? I stopped drinking and got clean. Billy’s words played a large part in that.

Monday, 25 July 2016

A Double Row of Shaving Brushes

He bought fourteen of them: seven for him, seven for his wife.

'What?' he said. 'They were on special offer.'

'The only problem, darling,' his wife pointed out, 'is that they're identical. How will you know whether or not the bristles you're running over your face in the morning were lathering my armpits eleven hours earlier?'

He pondered this, stroking his (smooth, stubble-free) chin. 'I shall label them' he announced, and immediately left the house in search of a stationer.

That afternoon, he lined up the brushes in two neat rows: a mini-platoon of brushes bearing a small red sticker, facing an equal number of green-stickered comrades.

His wife nodded approval. 'Red and green. Like it,' she said. 'Which am I?'

'Whichever you like,' he replied. 'I avoided pink and blue,' he added. 'I know how you feel about pink and blue.'

'Quite right. Thank you.' His wife picked up a green brush. 'I'll take red,' she announced.

Neither the stickers nor the rows lasted long:  wet hands rapidly wore away the coloured dots, and his wife had never been one for keeping things tidy. So he was never quite sure where his morning brush had been. And, despite several furtive Google searches, he never worked out how common it was for women who objected to pink and blue also to shave the many, intimate body parts that his wife did.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Earth addresses the Convocation of Planets

Hello. Yes, Earth here, Sol system. Sorry it's been so long since I attended the Convocation. I've been feeling ill; got some sort of autoimmune condition. Nonsense happening all over my crust.

Oh don’t worry, it's not catching. The pathogens – well, I call them pathogens but they're really part of me, I'm afraid – haven't learned to jump that far. Not yet, anyway.

What's that? Oh yes, quite right, Moon, they have jumped to you. I'm afraid they've got you in their sights too, Mars. Yes, that thing rolling around and tickling you? That's made by them, but it's not one of them. Well yes, I suppose it is entertaining for you, given there's nothing else going on in your part of the system, but believe me, you wouldn't want billions of the creators of that little vehicle swarming all over you. It's a nightmare. Luckily for you, they're a long way from being able to survive on you for any period of time, even if they've managed to land things on you. Well, I say that, but they move very quickly. It only seem like yesterday they climbed down from the trees – my beautiful trees! – and started walking upright. Which was a bad idea; I thought so at the time. Their spines clearly hadn't evolved for that kind of movement. Mind you, them moaning about their back pain is the least of my worries.

I realise this is difficult for most of you to relate to; you're largely lumps of rock or gigantic balls of gas. In fact, has anyone else evolved conscious life forms? Just three of you? And how are you finding it? Yours did what? Oh dear, I am sorry. Yes, I can see the hole from here. And they're gone now, you say? Gone where? Oh, just … gone. That's rather sad but, you know, probably for the best.

Pardon? Right. So yours went through a phase like mine but got past it? So what are they like now? Fewer, but peaceful? That's nice – gives me a bit of hope.

And what about yours? Just started making tools, eh? Oh you are in for fun.

Look, most of them are all right. The ones that don't walk upright – there's loads of them, different kinds – they just get on with their lives, reproduce and die. Well, OK, a lot of them eat each other, but sadly that seems to be part of the system I've developed. I really didn't mean to. 

Even most of the upright ones are decent enough, though they're not very nice to the not-so-upright ones. Arrogant, really. It's just that there are so many of them, and they have a tendency to huddle in tribes and look at other tribes as if the others were a disease and they were the immune system. So they attack each other. 

What's that? Oh, mostly with words, which is unpleasant, but also with laws, which is more unpleasant. But the thing that really worries me is when they attack each other with weapons. That's painful. And they create new, more powerful weapons all the time. Excuse me? Yes, exactly – the sort of weapons that did that to your face. I really am sorry about that, by the way. Does it still hurt? Good lord – right down to your mantle? Blimey. Well, I'm glad it's getting better. My lot appear to have pulled back from that for the time being, but – as I say – they move very quickly and things are changing all the time. So who knows? I can't say I relish the prospect of that kind of pummelling.

But do you have any advice? How do I get them to understand that they're all a part of me? Yes, please, by all means – if yours have moved beyond that phase, tell me what you did. Oh. Right. You let the violent ones evolve out of existence. Lots of casualties along the way. Hmm. And how long did that take?

Ah. I see.

No, no, it's not that I think they're going to destroy me completely, though they probably could. It's just – I'm not sure they'll last that long.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

So what now?

Even being here feels like an admission of defeat. I tell him this, in his Harley Street office, when he asks me what I want. I tell him I've spent half my life trying to accept my fat face, and I've failed. So I'm here to find out about buccal fat removal. I'm not sure whether it's the right procedure for me but I'd like to discuss options.

From what I can tell, Mr [X] is a respected cosmetic surgeon. His CV – with qualifications from both Oxford and Cambridge – is simultaneously intimidating and reassuring. He sits in an armchair at right angles to me, legs crossed, his posture relaxed and confident. He has my registration form in front of him, my extensive list of medication scrawled in tiny letters to fit into the space provided. He knows I'm a transplant patient, on a bucketful of pills that suppress my immune system and interfere with wound healing, together with a supporting cast of other pharmaceutical delights.

He hands me a mirror and asks me to point out the parts that bother me. The familiar feeling of disgust rises as I lift the glass to my face. I'm braced for this: after all these years it's as automatic as a knee-jerk reflex. I draw a circle around my incipient jowls with an index finger.

Mr [X] kneels in front of me and pushes my cheeks upwards with his hands. 'Would having this shape be enough, or do you want less fullness higher up too?'

God I look good. I should hold my face like this all the time. 'I'd be happy with that,' I tell him, 'though it'd be nice to be thinner further up as well.'

He takes the mirror from me, puts it back on the table and resumes his pose in the armchair. He tells me what buccal fat is, describes the procedure for removing it, the results of the operation (variable but subtle) and the risks it entails. The infection risk would be significantly higher for me but, in any event, buccal fat removal won't give me the result I want. That, he explains, would require a combination of a face lift and liposuction. He goes into some detail about this, too, before telling me that he would be unwilling to perform the operation because, with my level of immunosuppression, the risks would be too great.

'Well I guess I'd better grow a pair of ovaries and accept that I'll always have fat cheeks,' I say. 'Or become anorexic,' I add, 'but that doesn't really appeal. I like food.'

Mr [X] smiles warmly and rubs his own (gloriously slender) cheek.

I stand up and thank him for being forthright and professional. We shake hands. As he opens the door, he tells me he won't charge his usual consultation fee. 'We've only had a little chat,' he says. And I suppose we have, though our conversation was far longer and friendlier than my rendering of it suggests. I am touched and surprised by his largesse.

It is raining outside, so I put up my umbrella and start walking back to Charing Cross station. I joked with the surgeon about anorexia. What I didn't tell him is that I was anorexic in my twenties, with a sideline in bulimia on the occasions when I actually had food in my stomach to puke up. My eating disorder was driven in large part by my desire for a thin face, but even when I was a dangerously underweight five stone ten, it was still disproportionately large. Had I bleached my hair and worn black and white stripes, I could have got a job as a belisha beacon.

It is rush hour: the streets of London are filled with people scurrying through the downpour, using umbrellas and hoods to protect themselves. Others improvise: in a doorway, a woman smokes a cigarette, an upturned Prêt-à-Manger bag jammed on her head as a makeshift hat. I weave through the crowds, lifting and lowering my own umbrella to avoid stabbing eyes out with the spokes.

Why can't I accept my face as it is? I wonder.  Am I really that shallow?

It's an unsettling question because, on this issue at least, the evidence points to a resounding 'Yes'. And that's not how I like to think of myself.

I know I'm not monstrously disfigured; I simply have a plump face that time and gravity are beginning to drag earthwards. I hated my cheeks ten years ago, yet I know that if I look at photographs of my 35-year-old self, I think I look okay. Unfortunately, that doesn't help: I was unhappy then, and retrospective approval isn't going to change that. By the same token, knowing that a 55-year-old Rachel may look approvingly at photos from 2016 doesn't make me feel any better now.

How can I learn to accept this? I ask myself. It is not a foot-stamping rhetorical question; it's a request to my subconscious for aid. Our reserve option – the one we'd trigger only if all else failed – we've just been told it isn't viable. So what now? Help me figure it out.

As I reach the Garrick Theatre I hear a loud voice followed by cheers. I glance towards the noise and glimpse a crowd in Trafalgar Square. Probably something to do with Brexit – I hazily recall there was to be a pro-Remain rally in central London this evening. So much turmoil in the world around me and here I am, consumed by a pseudo-drama concocted entirely by my own mind. I am too tired for self-recrimination, but also too tired to join the demonstration. I keep walking.

My train pulls out of the station and stalls halfway across Hungerford Bridge. The driver of the train in front of us is having trouble closing the doors, so we're stuck here until he moves. Meanwhile, in my head a train of thought starts inching forward.

Maybe what I need to accept is not my fat cheeks, but that I will never be happy with them. Perhaps I need to accept that I may always feel a degree of revulsion when I look in a mirror.

It's a depressing prospect, but at least it sounds achievable.

The driver in front of us has solved his door problem and we're rolling again. So is my train of thought.

If I can accept the disgust, then maybe I'll be able to get some distance from it, see it as nothing more than a series of thoughts, emotions and sensations. And perhaps that, in turn, will start to loosen this noxious plant, however deep its roots have grown.

A glimmer of hope lights up. It is dim and my gut tells me not to cling to it, not to snuff it out with expectation. But it's a possibility. Maybe.

The train has picked up speed; raindrops lash against the windows and commuters sway as we lurch around bends in the track. I try not to cry, but a few tears squeeze out and start trickling. I wipe them away with a tissue.

Sadness, disappointment and hope mingle. 

It's still raining, but we're moving.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Buffy goes to Highbury

It was largely agreed that Miss Woodhouse's party was a resounding success, right up until the moment when a large object smashed through the drawing room window and landed with a thud on the buffet table.

Emma's face was crestfallen as she hurried over to the mess. 'No no no,' she thought to herself. 'This is not at all the impression I wanted to make on Mrs Elton.' Fragments of glass were strewn across the carpet and a sharp breeze entered through the now uncovered window. 'Does nobody appreciate how hard it is to get a glazier in Highbury?' she muttered.

Her startled guests made their way over to the buffet table. They were led by Mr Elton, who pointedly avoided looking at Harriet Smith as he passed her. Before long, the crowd had gathered around the object whose intrusion had interrupted their evening.

It was human in shape, except that it was far larger than the average man, with green and scaly skin, and large spikes on its back and elbows. 'I say,' exclaimed Mrs Elton. 'My friends in Bath will be most amused to hear about this. I never expected such extraordinary entertainment, Miss Woodhouse.' Emma's face fell even further, and she looked to Mr Knightley for assistance.

'I shall fetch a broom,' announced Mr Knightley. 'Come, Miss Bates, you shall aid me.' He strode from the room, followed by the spinster who, for once, had no comment to offer.

The partygoers were so intent on the strange sight before them that nobody noticed when a young blonde woman entered the room clutching a small sharp stick. The woman pushed through the throng and examined the scene.

'Excuse me,' said Emma. 'Who are you?'

'Hi. I'm Buffy.' She gave Emma a sheepish smile. 'I'm really sorry about the mess.'

'Do you mean to tell me that you are responsible for throwing this dummy through my window?'

Buffy frowned. 'Dummy?'

Emma held out her hand towards the buffet table. 'This thing.'

'Oh that. That's not a dummy. Well, he wasn't the sharpest tool in the cupboard, but no – that's a body. Of a demon.'

Mr Elton drew back and, forgetting for a moment that he was not a Papist, crossed himself.

Emma sighed. 'Don't be ridiculous, Miss … Buffy. Do you have another name?'


'Miss Summers. I demand that you explain yourself. Preferably without resorting to absurdities.'

'Right. I was on my way here, to this party, when I found this guy outside. Anyway, we got into a fight, I kicked him, and he flew a lot further than I was expecting. Never mind though, he's dead now.'

The body on the table groaned and raised its head. Emma and her guests drew back and gasped. Buffy raised her stick and stabbed the creature in the throat. It let out another groan and its head fell back onto the table. 'Like I say, dead.'

'But what are you doing here?' asked Emma.

'She's from the former colonies,' said Jane Fairfax.

'That would explain her outlandish attire,' added Mrs Elton.

Buffy shot a withering glance at Mrs Elton. 'Hey, corset lady, I want your opinion on fashion, I'll ask for it.'

Harriet Smith smiled. 'I rather like this Miss Summers,' she said.

Emma crossed her arms. 'I'm still waiting for an explanation.' 

'Right. Quick version: I've been sent here to kill a vampire. I hate to break it to you, but one of your guests here is a creature of the night.'

Emma raised her eyebrows. 'So let me get this straight. You kick a half-dead demon through my window and now you want to kill one of my guests. I can see why you have to turn up at parties unannounced. I can't imagine you receive many invitations.'

'Oh, you'd be surprised,' said Buffy, and began peering at the people standing around her. She walked slowly towards Mr Elton, narrowing her eyes.

'I recently had a very bad experience with a clergyman,' she said. 'Had to cut him in half with an axe.'

Mr Elton laughed nervously. 'You can't possibly think that I'm a vampire,' he said. 'I'm a pillar of the community.' Buffy's eyes narrowed still further. Mr Elton continued: 'Really, young lady, your search will be much more fruitful if you look to people who are less – respected, shall we say.' His eyes sought out Harriet. Buffy's eyes followed.

Mrs Elton sighed. 'Truly, Miss Summers. Do you honestly believe my husband to be a craven, blood-sucking beast?'

'Yeah, I do,' replied Buffy. 'But he's not a vampire. Just a weasel. You're safe for now, preacher boy.'

Buffy moved on and crouched next to Mr Knightley, who knelt on the floor, sweeping up the glass. He stood up, brushed himself down and held out a hand. 'Mr Knightley,' he said. 'Pleasure to meet you.'

Buffy shook his hand. 'I see you got the clean-up job,' she said. 

'It's really no trouble at all,' he replied, 'I do like to be helpful.'

Emma walked over from the table and touched the man's sleeve. 'My dear Mr Knightley, you've cut yourself.'

He looked down. 'So I have. Not to worry. I shall clean myself up later.' He smiled broadly, his perfect teeth glimmering in the lamplight. Only they weren't entirely perfect.

'You been sweeping up with your mouth?' asked Buffy.

'Excuse me?' said Mr Knightley.

'Only I can't help noticing you've got blood on your teeth.'

'Oh dear,' said Mr Knightley. 'I was hoping it wouldn't come to this.' His forehead furrowed; his eyes turned amber and feral; his still bloody canines grew until they protruded below his lips.

Mr and Mrs Elton fled from the room; the remaining guests huddled by the doorway. 

'Where is Miss Bates?' cried Jane Fairfax. 'We must find Miss Bates.'

Buffy punched Mr Knightley in the face, then kicked him in the chest, sending him careening into the opposite wall. He got up and charged at Buffy. A flurry of punches, kicks and chops ensued. The flurry ended with Mr Knightley holding Buffy in a close grip and preparing to bite into her neck. Her stick lay on the carpet behind Mr Knightley, far out of her reach. Harriet picked it up and kicked Mr Knightley in the back of his right knee. He let go of Buffy and fell to the floor. Harriet threw the stick to Buffy. She caught it and plunged it into the vampire's heart. He exploded in a cloud of dust.

Buffy rubbed her hands together and grinned at Harriet. 'Thank you,' she said. Harriet replied with an awkward curtsey.

Miss Fairfax entered the room dragging a barely conscious Miss Bates, who was mumbling to herself: 'Always thought him such a gentleman, terribly handy with a trowel, shall never recover from the shock…'

Mr Weston coughed. 'Indeed. I should never have believed it of Mr Knightley,' he said.

Emma's face was more crestfallen than ever. 'And yet, only now, I realise that I loved him,' she cried.

Buffy sighed. 'You were in love with a vampire? Tell me about it, sister. Been there, done that, actually got two T-shirts.'

'I suppose I ought to thank you,' said Emma, 'but whatever shall I do without him?'

'Not bleed to death when he's thirsty, for a start,' said Buffy. 'Look, I know it's hard, but you'll find a way. I had to send my boyfriend to Hell once. That was tough. I mean, he came back and it was all OK in the end, which I don't think is going to happen here, and I'm really not helping at all, am I? I think I'll just – you know – shut up and leave.'

Emma sobbed.

'Back to the Americas?' asked Jane Fairfax.

'Something like that,' replied Buffy. She jumped onto the table and threw the demon's body out of the window. 'Oh, one last thing,' she said, turning around.

'What?' said Emma.

Buffy pointed at Harriet. 'You. I think you should have this.' She tossed the sharp stick; Harriet caught it and stroked it gently. 'You could save me a lot of work in the future by hanging around graveyards at night. Just be careful.'

'Why thank you, Miss Summers,' said Harriet, but it was too late. The young blonde woman had leapt through the window and disappeared into the night. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Yoga troubles: a straw poll

The scenario

You are at your very first yoga class. You felt a little queasy on the way into the leisure centre but now, sitting on your mat, you feel really quite vomitacious.
The teacher asks you if you have done yoga before. You say no and explain that you are feeling a little unwell and may have to leave. She asks if you are worried about something. You shake your head, even though the truth would be "yes, I'm worried I'm about to re-enact the pea soup scene from The Exorcist".
As the yoga teacher makes her way to the front of the class, you are overcome by a fit of dry-heaving. You get up and fetch your bag. You are still retching, only now it is not so dry.


Which is the greater social faux pas?
A. Dashing out of the class to make sure you get to the toilets in time, leaving your mat for somebody else to put away?
B. Rolling up your mat and puking on the studio floor?

Readers, I took option A. I think it's safe to say I was not in a position to make a good first impression. I have, however, learned two things:
1. I care far too much about what strangers think of me.
2. I need to stop buying coffee from the Costa machine in our local Co-op. Seriously, it's not the first time I've felt grim after drinking that stuff.

Friday, 23 October 2015

In Praise of Hopelessness

Friends: if you ask me to meet you and I say no, it isn't because I don't want to. It's because long experience has taught me that unless I can get to our meeting place within half an hour, chances are I won't be well enough to come and I'll let you down. Or, if I do make it, I'll need a couple of days to recover.

If you know me (or have read the rest of this blog) you'll know I've had three kidney transplants. I've never had very much energy: whether this is connected to my kidney problems, 25 years of immuno-suppression or is something entirely separate, I don't know. But it's got worse over time. I sleep 10-12 hours a day - sometimes more. When I'm awake, I'm mostly foggy-headed and tired.

I've also had back pain for the last 15 years or so. Despite spending thousands of pounds on different treatments, this too has got worse. There's nothing structurally wrong with my back and the pain specialists at my local hospital say that I'll probably always have it. The exercise regimes prescribed for me sometimes reduce the immediate pain but have not produced any long-term improvements.

At this point, I'd like to say that yes, I know I have a lot to be grateful for and yes, I know that many people have things far, far worse. Including some of the people who are likely to read this.

But the pain and the tiredness have increasingly restricted my ability to live the life I want. When people say "I hope you feel better soon", I know they mean well but it feels like yet more pressure to achieve something that I have been chasing fruitlessly for almost two decades.

So I'm giving up hope.

To devotees of positive thinking, this sounds defeatist.

It really isn't.

I'm giving up hope because I'm tired of bashing my head against the walls of reality and blaming myself for being unable to punch through. 

Because I'm tired of fighting to maintain a hope that is tantamount to delusion.

Because as long as I'm gazing over the rainbow and dreaming of Oz, I'm not making the most of Kansas.

Because as long as I'm yearning for the landscapes beyond my prison walls, I'm not seeing that my cell is actually quite spacious and comfortable. I'm not seeing all the things I could do in here. I'm not contemplating the possibility that, even if I can't do very much, maybe that doesn't necessarily mean I'm a waste of space whose life is worthless. (My mind really rebels against that idea: THOU SHALT ACHIEVE, DAMMIT!)

Because sometimes the best way to hold things together is by letting an unsustainable reality fall apart.

And because, sometimes, giving up hope is the most optimistic thing you can do.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Call My Bluff: 'deskill'

My writing group has disbanded for the summer. At our last meeting, we played Call My Bluff. I wrote this definition of 'deskill'. If you're a big fan of Margaret Thatcher, you may not like it. Or you might. Who knows?

* * * * *

The verb 'to deskill' was coined by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, who was horrified to see that members of the working class (and even people from the North) were rising through the ranks of society to take jobs that properly belonged to their betters.

I may be a grocer's daughter, but daddy was a very big cheese in the world of food retail, and his Granny Smiths were enormous too. No, no, Denis, don't make the Cox joke.

She realised that if nothing were done to stop this, it wouldn't be long before Parliament was overrun by MPs who were the children of secretaries. Or worse - miners.

She devised a plan.

People with a working class background, or from the North, were to be restricted to trivial tasks. Lawyers should spend all day photocopying; surgeons instructed to scrub operating theatres with a toothbrush; and if these upstarts could be partially or entirely replaced by machines, so much the better.

What do I mean by 'northern'? North of Grantham.

'But how shall we sell this to them, dear Maggie?' cried the employers, puffing on cigars that had been hand-rolled by four-year-olds manacled to a workbench in Havana. 'Sooner or later, they'll notice what we're doing and go on strike. We need a positive spin.'

'I wouldn't worry about them getting involved in collective bargaining,' said Maggie, and cackled. 'But you're right - we need a neutral-sounding name for it.'

She sent her minions to the United States, to ask George W Bush for his thoughts, even though, back then, he was a young buck with a cocaine habit, and no-one had heard of him.

'Deskillification?' he suggested.

Maggie pondered this. No, that's far too long. it's not like there's a tax on syllables, though that's not a bad idea - write that down, Denis.

And so the word 'deskill' was born. Employers were not trivialising people's jobs, they were generously making them easier by taking away all the challenging bits and, wherever possible, giving them to machines.

Maggie was slightly worried that Mr Bush might one day rise to prominence and attempt to claim credit for the word, but reassured herself that nobody with that degree of ineptitudinessnessness would ever amount to anything.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

That awkward moment when the person you're talking to online tells you Louis XIII is her boyfriend. Yes, *that* Louis XIII

I lurk on various blogs. I seldom post, because that might result in me being drawn into a debate and I have a pathological aversion to anything that might conceivably be construed as confrontation, if you stand far enough away from it. In a bad light. While squinting.

A regular on one of these blogs refers to her boyfriend as Louis and her avatar is of a striking middle-aged man with hair (both head and facial) that does indeed make him look like Louis XIII. I assumed that the chap in the avatar was her boyfriend, that they shared an interest in Louis XIII and that they had a sort of role-play thing going whereby he styled himself (and, if the changing avatar pictures are anything to go by, sometimes dressed) like the Bourbon king. Eccentric, but cute.


The other day, in a conversation about books, one poster mentioned having enjoyed a series of supernatural romance novels. The regular poster commented that she had her partner were well into that. Supernatural romance fan (or "SRF' for short) asked, with some astonishment, if the regular and her other half had read the books in question, because they'd never met anyone else who had. (From this, you will gather that we're not talking about the Twilight series.) The regular replied that no, they hadn't, but that the two of them were fans of supernatural romance because her lover had crossed over some time ago. I felt saddened by this news and so, apparently, did SRF, who duly expressed condolences. The regular then explained that it was all right, her lover was Louis XIII, so he had died long before she was born.

At this point, SRF vanished from the conversation. Did they simply think, "I shall pursue this line of inquiry no further" or did they "nope" all the way to Antarctica? Who can tell?

As delusions go, this one is pretty harmless and seems to make the regular poster happy, so although I was a bit "Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay" about this revelation, it's not something that's going to keep me awake at night. (I hope you will forgive me for assuming that the relationship is imaginary and that she is not genuinely getting freaky with a dead French monarch. It just seems an awful lot more likely.)

However, I'm now left wondering about the man in her avatar pictures. I mean, unless photography was invented a lot earlier than I thought (or the regular poster has been time-travelling with a camera), he must have lived much more recently than the seventeenth century. So who is he? I'm reluctant to ask, because I rarely post on that forum and blundering in to put the question directly would be rather blunt. Or worse: it might lead to a debate, and we know how I feel about that. The thing is, his face is sort of familiar; I feel like I should recognise him.

Anyone know who it is? Stolen picture below. I apologise that it's so small - I can't find anything bigger. I realise that the head is almost certainly 'shopped onto the body, but the owner of the face must nevertheless have existed some time in the last century. I also realise that this picture was probably created by the regular poster and I feel a bit naughty using it here, but I can't think of a way of showing it to you without 'outing' the poster in question.