Tuesday, 20 June 2017

HEDGEHOGS AT DUSK



It's been a long time.

It's been many summers. Too many summer nights snufflefree and still.

But they're back! First an oval of shadow on the lawn. Then a shuffle, a ripple of spikiness along the flower borders.

I know they are a pair. One night at the start of the current heatwave, I met the first one on the lawn where it had crept close to observe me as I leaned, steadying my camera against a tree trunk, trying to capture Jupiter's string of moons in the southwestern sky. The other was waiting for me on the patio, smaller, with mischievous eyes. The second one was less interested in a peculiar human stargazing, more in gazing at the goodies the departing birds had left unpecked for the creatures of the night.



Hedgehog numbers are declining on these islands. They are now a rare sight in British gardens. Fewer than a million remain, down from nearer thirty million when I was born at the dawn of the Sixties. A third of that catastrophic loss has been just in this past decade. These little souls are survivors of this long slow bereavement of the English countryside. I feel unutterably blessed.

Once the birds have flown off and the heat of the day has decanted itself down the thermometer into the soft melt of dusk, I wait to lionise them with dried mealworms, crushed sunflower hearts and peanuts. I top up the bird and bee baths as the sun dissolves into pastel glad-rags of coral and titian on the western horizon. Someone else has need of the nocturnal libation.

I wait. I wait, holding my breath to catch the rustle of their coming. Footfalls across the lawns, threading through hedges, triggering security lights, trembling the dreaming heads of daisies.



Then they're here! Noses badged with leaf litter, eyes more accustomed than my own to the gloaming. Above us, bats skip and soar under the trees and out into the crepuscular backcloth of cloudless sky, tiny Pipistrelles skittering through twilight. Their nationwide numbers too are in steep decline. The hedgepiggies and I, below, must celebrate and survive today and hope for tomorrow.

Before my head hits the fridge-cooled pillowcase, they have melted back into the sweltering South Yorkshire nightfall, making unspoken promises to lighten my life again tomorrow night, and the next, promises I hope against hope they will be cherished enough by humankind to be able to keep.



Monday, 19 June 2017

ANTIDOTE TO THE TOXIC TIDE

Another outrage.

Another day when love has to be stronger and more creative, wiser and more resilient to show that hate can't win.

Another day when indifference and silence is a mask for complicity, smugness, cynicism.

Today my heart breaks for those families and friends in our country, fellow human beings, innocent citizens who were murderously attacked in the midst of life, terrorised in their community, by blind hatred outside their mosque in Finsbury Park.

I stand with my friends, beloved Muslims with whom I mourn at this latest horror.

I know and love people of every kind, friends rejoicing in a rainbow of colours, beliefs, persuasions, personalities, gifts and orientations. I hold them all precious. Friends of endlessly rich variety, each worth the world to many and to me.

I wish all my beautiful friends the strength to hold on to your unique loveliness.

Those who try to divide us in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways will never win.

Love, respect, empathy and compassion are our best antidote to the toxic tide of hatred that seeks to rip our hope, humanity and peace away.

Blessings.


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

THOSE TOMORROWS - in memory of Manchester


You can't unsay one word you've sown
You can't call back the shade you've thrown
Unfling one fragment of shrapnel flown

Can never recoil from the hatred snarled
Or bask in a bubble in a broken world

You can't backpedal once the tree is split
Unspill the milk when you curdle it

You can't retract and you can't retrace
The spiral down from this burning place.

The coward whimpers.

But courage cries:

My broken won't weaken to bitterness
My shattered won't melt into caring less
My outrage won't turn me to hate or hit
This awful day
I will live through it.
I will not be changed by revenge or rage
Nor fold my arms nor turn the page
I won't be diminished by fear or dread
Betray the innocence of the dead.

I will make those tomorrows they can't now see
As full of true love as they'd want them to be.



Link to Fundraiser to support families of those killed and injured in the Manchester Arena attack





Monday, 22 May 2017

YOU CAN RING MY BELL, or THE DOORBELL THAT DOESN'T

I love my doorbell.

You see, most visitors refuse to take this notice seriously:



Campaigners. Odd jobbers. Chancers. Passers-by.
Maybe some don't notice my notice.
Maybe some can't read.
Maybe some don't care.
Maybe some think "Me? I'm harmless! This can't apply to ME!"

So they march up and hammer at my door anyway.
If I'm lucky, they ring my bell, too.

It isn't so much a doorbell. It's more of a dumb-bell.

Its buzzer button is next to the side gate that leads into the back garden.


There's a narrow rectangular peephole in this gate that looks mysteriously like a letterbox. If somebody comes to the gate, they can peer through it and scry into the easternmost reaches of the conservatory. If I flatten myself against the back wall, just where the old back door now acts as a portal between original house and newer conservatory, I'm invisible to doorstep invaders. Saves the bother of a foil hat and dark glasses!

My doorbell isn't connected up to its voicebox any more.

Parts of its innards lie tucked away inside the little back utility room. In there, its ancient workings live above the washing machine, which disgorges fluffy water down its pipes and hoses through the wall into the drain that still dreams it's outside the back door. But that drain's actually inside the conservatory now. So when it pumps out its rinse-water, scented with camomile and jasmine, it fills the glass palace of morning light full of its sweetness.

The doorbell's jangly bits above the washer are in a little soundbox near what used to be a little window looking out onto the garden. These days if you want to see the garden from the utility room, you have to look through the conservatory first.



My doorbell, like me, isn't fit to function fully any more.
Charmingly, it continues to *look* like it does.

When I first moved in, I planned to repair it. Get some wire. Buy a battery. The usual technical stuff.

But I never had the heart for it.

Friends, after all, have twigged the basics of chronic illness after all these years. Real friends invariably check with me first, to make sure I'm prepared and well enough for a visit in person. In person can be exhausting and excruciating when you've got M.E. Friends know my health limits. They understand the energy it costs me to talk, make cuppas, have a slice of chocolate cake ready for sampling, bat words back and forth, laugh, enjoy a friend to the full. They know how drained and sick it may leave me later once they've left. They'll text or email first, to be sure I'm up to it, even for a short time. Because they care. They don't bang on the door at random times or ring the bell.

They know it doesn't, anyway. Ring, that is.

Quite simply, that's a little slice of heaven on this earth.

I sometimes open the door, on a good day when I'm able, when the postie knocks, or the meter reader, or the delivery courier, only to find them not standing outside the door, but further along the house wall, trying to look over the gate where they've just pressed the button. I frighten the shivering shenanigans out of them by appearing from behind them when they were just convincing themselves nobody was at home.

So, I love my doorbell.

Precisely because it doesn't do what's expected of it.

It takes the world by surprise.

But, thankfully, not me!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

I'D RATHER BE CALLED UNCOUTH THAN COUTH


I'D RATHER BE CALLED UNCOUTH THAN COUTH.
COUTH'S PERCHED ON A PEDESTAL VOID OF TRUTH.
MUCH RATHER BE SCORNED FOR MY LIBTARD HEART
THAN BE SNEERING SUPERIOR SET APART.
I'D RATHER STILL THINK AND CARE AND FEEL
THAN TICK ALL THE BOXES, THE LIQUIDISED MEAL,
TOP TABLE, TOP DOLLAR, MEAN NOTHING TO ME.
SPEECH NEEDS TO BE KIND IF IT'S MEANT TO BE FREE!
IN AN AGE CRAMMED WITH ISMS, A CATALOGUE
OF OPINIONS NICKED FROM A NODDING DOG,
DUMBED-DOWN, PSEUDO-'NORMAL', TABLOID AND TOFF,
IT'S TIME WE WERE FLINGING THOSE BLINKERS OFF!
WHEN JUDGING AND HATING END UP AT THE PROW,
IF YOU CATCH ME SEAL-CLAPPING, PLEASE - SHOOT ME NOW!


Monday, 15 May 2017

RACE TO THE RAINBOW BRIDGE (Flash Fiction)

No idea how I made it here. Without my shoes! Last thing I remember is the vet's voice:

"I'm sorry. We did all we could."

Here's his lead. In my pocket. I fly that dog like a kite. He weaves in and out the bollards and lampposts like French knitting.

I know it's here somewhere in the wood. Our wood. Mine and my lad's. Between the Horse Chestnut and the beck. Between the dell and the darkness. The Rainbow Bridge.

I'm scuffing leaf litter from my paws. Everything's gathering on my soles as I run. Seeds, dead things, lichen, carapaces. Did I say paws?

If I can make it there before he comes, bounding, baying, I will throw myself in his path, block him and baffle him from crossing. He'll mop my tears with his loppy tongue. He knows me better than my shadow. Better the shadow than the space.

I'm limping, now. Thorns and nettles. It must be here. Has to be! What if he's there already? Now I'm sliding down scarps, colliding with hazel and bramble. Ricochet echo off the wind turbines. Scent of oilseed chasing us across the folded fields. That copse where the cuckoo surprised us.

My feet, finding themselves in my shoes again. The carpet with the corporate logo under me. Worming powders and pet insurance.
"He was lucky to find his forever home with you."
I was the lucky one.

Staggering, now, not haring down all our dreams. Our old walk feels wrong. Tilted, somehow.  Leads were never meant to be so slack. Collars so empty.

How can I ever go home without him?

Friday, 12 May 2017

#MILLIONSMISSING FROM THEIR LIVES WITH M.E (M.E. AWARENESS DAY 2017)


In the middle of living my happy, busy, joyful life, a monster called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis came and ate me whole.

The M.E. monster stole my work, my home, my income, my social life, my health, my independence, my spontaneity, my possibilities and a big chunk of my future.

I spent years blogging about it here:- M.E. Myself & I Ask You (Joyce's other blog about living with M.E. and Type 1 Diabetes) if you want to know more about my journey.

Today is M.E. Awareness Day worldwide.

Today, millions of people with this devastating, life-changing disease, are uniting under the #MILLIONSMISSING  banner to raise awareness of M.E. To fight the willful misunderstanding, underfunding and neglect patients have suffered for decades, from the medical establishment, the media and government.

For years I pushed through, blaming all my pain, bone-crushing exhaustion, vulnerability to infections, heart arrhythmia, unsteadiness, sickness and cognitive dysfunction on my diabetes. But it wasn't just the Type 1. Autoimmune illnesses love to flock together. M.E. had decided to join the party too, to move into my central nervous system, my immune system, my brain stem, my whole body.

One of my social media posts for M.E. Awareness Day 2015

Nobody knows how all this started. One day, we will. I had M.E. symptoms back as long ago as my teenage years, with periods of boom when I felt fine, and bust, when I was totally unable to function for months on end.

It worsened in my 30s when I was working in South America and contracted giardia, a common M.E. trigger. It worsened every time I crashed and tried to struggle back to work and life. I had severe shingles in my head (not "all in my head") 4 times in 8 years as my body struggled to cope with the onslaught of being attacked mercilessly from within.

Then, in October 2005 I collapsed in the week I had the flu jab. Sometimes over the years, the flu jab has made me very ill, other years, less so - a vaccine lottery, for me! That year, whatever the trigger, from that moment, on a Sunday morning before work, life as I knew it was over, in spite of my best efforts to continue as before. My body, my brain, the me with M.E., would no longer co-operate and in 2007 I had no option but to accept early ill-health retirement and put my life into limbo.



All my GP and the NHS could offer was a dose of CBT & GET (from the now resoundingly discredited PACE trial) which made me and so many others worse. In the end, the occupational therapist forced to administer this torture at one of the government's so-called "Fatigue Clinics," knowing I knew as much as she did about CBT and much more about coping with chronic illness long-term, looked at me and said apologetically: "You really *ARE* ill, aren't you?"



Ten years later, here I am. To put a positive spin on it, I have been worse than I am now, both bedbound and housebound. Even now, though I can occasionally get out into the local countryside or a hospital appointment, this often leaves me so drained and poorly, (with the classic M.E. post-exertional exhaustion) that it takes me days, weeks, or months to recover.

On a better day, I can fill my life with joys, subtly different from, but just as valuable to me as what I treasured before.

Writing.

Researching.

Photography.

Reading.

Dog-sitting.

Birdwatching.

I am one of the blessed. Others become bedbound and never see the light of day again. Children. Men. Women. Just as I was often convinced I would not. Without the support of a loved one, my dear mum, there's no question. I wouldn't still be here. Too many are not.

Today I give a huge shout-out to all my fellow #millionsmissing all over the world. Those and their carers strong enough to join physical demonstrations to raise awareness, hope, understanding, funds (including the excellent biomedical research championed by INVEST IN M.E.), resources, research and, one day, a cure. A shout-out too, to all those who can't be there with their broken bodies, but who, like me, stand shoulder to shoulder in spirit with the rest from our homes and our beds.

The monster can't keep us down. It tries its hardest, though, every day, in somebody's bedroom, darkened, unseen, mocked, forgotten.

There are #millionsmissing - but finally the lost are finding a voice.








Wednesday, 10 May 2017

HAPPY WINGS: A HOUSE SPARROW'S TAKE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

You wake up. You feel great. Your feathers feel lush. Your beak's full of tasty.
Sunshiny! You feel all sunshiny!
You've got your happy wings on!
Your family's chattering inside the hedge.
You enjoy trips out to the feeders.
Those sunflower hearts, though!
Gourmet mealworms!

Aren't we blessed? The right to flutter! Freedom to soar!

Have you seen our eggs? Some have already cracked. Disaster, I thought! But you should see what came out! Fluffy, funny, downy darling nestlings! We did that! Aren't we clever? And lucky! And special! And unique!

Can't be doing with social media, fakery, trolls.
They try to crush your happy wings. You don't feel so great, so special, so blessed any more. It brings you down off your happy perch.
They say you're wrong, you're stupid, you're the wrong shape, born in the wrong nest, hang with wrong flock, fly with the wrong partner. The world's ending, the elite's still eliting. Your spirit sinks down into the tips of your claws.
Social seedier's better.

So I had a little preen under my wing.

Having a little preen under my wing

Then I looked in a puddle. Had a drink. Saw I was still wonderful me. Me with ripples.
The real world. My world. No malevolent meta-meddling here. Here the sun shines. The rain rains. The wind whoofles through your plumage. Always a song to sing. A chippy chirp to cheep. Or you can be quiet. Let all the other birds be birdy-licious in their own ways. Like a noisy dawn chorus of diversity and joy. Every colour of every rainbow. And some you can't see but feel in your feathers.

You have to keep an eye out for the birds of prey, but back home in their nest, they're just like me with a family to feed. Not an axe to grind. So I don't take it personally.

My happy wings are perfect for me. They don't fit anybody else.

Spring is busy being beautiful.
And so am I.



Tuesday, 9 May 2017

HERE BE NO DRAGONS

Here be no dragons
Though stiffened necks nod
Over greenbelt and wildwood

No breathing integrity 
Of flame and tongue
Here be duplicity

Wolfing up landscape
Flogged to the fattest
Fracking our green

Blindfold off the cliff
St George with his breastplate gone
Bare to the drill

Monday, 8 May 2017

LOST PROPERTY (Humour/autobiographical)

(Image courtesy of Clipartfest)

Now I'm kept on a short leash by chronic neurological illness, it's easy to romanticise how I used to be a giddy gadabout.

Freedom to
- go on open-ended adventures,
- cycle down hills,
- wander around graveyards scanning masons' chiselled lettering on memorial stones for names of my ancestors,
- go on a summer jaunt to the coast or the capital,
- take a trip to the countryside, a museum, a gallery, a shop full of clocks and mysterious antique curiosities, a West End show, a Wednesday match, a weekend under the stars.

I can't pretend that's freedom I don't miss, even now. I can't just shrug and settle for memories.

Lots of these adventures used to begin at Sheffield Midland Station.

Two occasions spring to mind that have my rosy recollections face-planting with a down-to-earth kind of thud. There were, in reality, times when I wasn't really safe to be let loose on the world!

One of those times, I was in a queue in the main ticket hall at the station. I was juggling my purse, my luggage, a cellphone the size of Scafell Pike, shuffling forwards behind a snake of fellow commuters doing a slouching conga towards the ticket window. Nothing to see here? In fact, I was soon seeing a whole lot less than usual!

Somehow, under the harsh fluorescent strip lighting glaring from the ceiling, my contact lens parted company with my right eye, which was, at the time, attempting to protect itself from the ferocious flicker offensive by pouring out more tears than when Scott and Charlene got married on 'Neighbours' the week before.

I looked down at my chest. I felt gingerly down my front for the prodigal optic. Nothing. I blinked. I squinted. Nothing. At my feet, a sizeable rectangle of jute carpeting at the entrance to the ticket area. I dropped to my knees, feeling about for the recalcitrant lens, narrowly avoiding having my fingers trampled by travel-focused Dr Martens and kitten heels.

I never did find that lens. I wondered for years whether a passenger breaking their journey from Edinburgh Waverley to London St Pancras might some day see a flash of convex glass winking up at them from the Network Rail logo on the matting and wonder who once lost it there.
That would be me.

The second occasion of note at Sheffield Midland was during my days as an undergraduate, shuttling between my parents' home in South Yorkshire and the breezy platform at Leicester, the city where I studied English Lit. Most trains would pass through Nottingham, pulling into the station platform forwards before reversing out as if heading back in the direction from which we had already come. That in itself caused me several heart-stop moments in my greener days.

More than once I'd register the unnerving reversal of direction and leap from my seat to button-hole a passing guard, stammering my fears along the lines of the old Music Hall song 'Oh Mister Porter'; "I want to go to Birmingham and they're taking me to Crewe!" Or, as I imagined, back to Sheffield Midland, thus missing my lecture at Leicester University. The guard would roll his eyes at this common passenger panic trigger:

"Of course you're on the right train, luv. Always happens, you know. Tickets, please!"

It always did happen. I never did get used to it.

I never quite recovered, either, from the moment my last shred of dignity (dignity - what dignity?) fell away on Platform 1 of Sheffield Station circa 1982. The Eighties were a nadir in general due to my vague nods in the direction of fashion. As if corkscrew perms, shoulder pads and blue eye-shadow weren't enough humiliation, there was my underskirt. My pink nylon underskirt with the elasticated waist and the hem of greying lace.

I loved that underskirt. It had done me a lot of service. That underskirt had almost earned its long service medal and retired with a carriage clock and a nice little pension. But before it could rest on its laurels, there was "that incident on Platform 1."

I knew the waistband was getting a little "tired". The elastic wasn't so elastic, any more. That day, as I strolled from the concourse onto Platform 1, I felt a distinct slackening around my midriff. My mid-length skirt covered a multitude of sins. I wasn't certain if it was my knickers, my underskirt, or those 'serviceable' taupe tights that might be threatening to wrinkle around my ankles. I was only aware of an impending sense of doom.

I quickened my steps along Platform 1 towards the Ladies, to snatch a moment of privacy before my train arrived to adjust whatever undergarment was slowly but surely migrating down over my hips.
The passengers on Platform 2, parallel to my platform and adjacent, were obscured, thankfully, I thought, by the length of an intercity train with many carriages.

My underskirt, however, had scented its moment of liberation at that point, and would wait for no man. Or woman. Or, indeed train.

As the elastic finally gave way and the underskirt slumped like a puckered pink wreath around my feet, I followed what now seems an unthinkable impulse to step out of the thing. I did so with some magnificent hauteur, I like to think, or I would have done, if I hadn't almost tripped over its loop of textile smugness as I strode on towards the shelter of the conveniences just as the intercity locomotive pulled away from Platform 2, leaving me exposed to the gaze of all humanity.

I know I missed my own train before I finally re-emerged, hoping my audience on Platform 2 had dispersed to their various onward destinations.

No. I didn't stoop to scoop up the forlorn underskirt. It may still be there, along with my lost right contact lens, in the great Lost Property Office of memory, or imprinted on the traumatised mind's eye of some unfortunate punter on the 2.47 to Bristol Temple Meads.


Sunday, 7 May 2017

TIBETAN TEMPLE SENTINELS & TAP DANCING BLACKBIRDS


The Lhasa Apsos I'm dog-sitting are having a wonderful time! This Sunday, they're doing what comes naturally, fulfilling their ancestral role of temple sentinel, whistle-blowing on intruders.

Lhasas are a breed that originates in Tibet. Kept as watchdogs in Buddhist temples and monasteries, their hearing is incredibly acute. When they catch wind of anything they think the temple inhabitants really need to know, they tell you, in no uncertain terms. Woof! Woof! (and in case you're in any doubt) Woof!

If necessary, they'll strut outside to prove they mean business, stubborn, independent, self-possessed. Somebody has to be told! If they were to catch up with the offenders, there would likely be much licking and wagging, rather than an international incident.

These days, the intruder may not be a stray Himalayan antelope, bear or lynx, a visiting dignitary or the Dalai Lama dropping by for a steaming cup of Po Cha.

At my house, interlopers might be no more than busy Blackbirds tap dancing on the conservatory roof!


The Lhasas are mesmerised by the constant comings and goings of the parent birds as they make their Spring food-gathering forays on behalf of their nestlings. Heads tilt, ears cock, eyes track overhead silhouettes of unseen strangers chasing one another across the opaque slats.



The sheer bare-faced effrontery of these winged trespassers! How very dare they? Toe tapping back and forth, disturbing the tranquillity of the Lhasas' monastic sanctuary!

Now the dogs are resting after their action-packed shift. No Tibetan silk brocade cushions for these honoured temple guards, but they're much too well-bred to complain!




Saturday, 6 May 2017

HE CAME AGAIN TODAY

He came again today.

Lingered opposite my window, segmented and framed Piet Mondrian-wise by the grid of panes.

Eyes flick from his handheld gadget up and down my street, swinging right through me like a feather-light axe.

Looking for someone?

Pacing the pavement, holding his scrolling screen like a dowsing rod.

The wifi hotspot sizzles round him, riffling the interwebs in and out of his shadow.

Secure connection.

His fingertips, sensitive as some sightless masseur, skitter through cogs for settings, email, like, share, tweet, read more, meme.

Then he's gone again.

Till next time.

I will glimpse him, breaking his stride to gather the googleable, the encrypted out of ether.

Wondering if he sees me seeing him.




Friday, 5 May 2017

SWEETS FOR MY SWEET (Short story/fiction/romance)

 “Max! Where have you got to this time?”
Harry could only just hear himself above the crash and rumble of the waves below and the breeze buffeting and flattening the grass on the cliff top. It was chillier than last time he had been here, but at least the rain the weatherman had forecast had stayed away. Max was nowhere to be seen, as usual.
The trouble was, thought Harry, Max always followed his nose. He seemed to remember every winding path through the thrift and samphire above the little seaside town where he had holidayed every summer of his life with Harry and Maureen. Now he was eager to revisit them all again, haring back every so often to sniff the air and lick Harry’s hand apologetically before lolloping back to pick up all the private messages other doggy friends had left for him over the two years he’d been away.
When Max was a puppy, Maureen used to bring tasty liver treats in the pockets of her mauve fleece jacket to tempt him back from the exciting adventures he was enjoying down in the gulleys and caves along the shoreline. He could always find something more interesting to do than come running back to his master’s voice.
Harry, you old duffer, Max knows you don’t mean it!” Maureen would say. “I bought you that ultrasonic whistle but you always forget to pack it! Lucky I remembered his favourite snacks. His tummy always wins in the end!”
Maureen was right. Max would always come bounding back up even the steepest path when treats were on offer, panting and smiling to get his reward. For that moment, he forgot about the special smelly seaweed and whatever the gulls had left on the rocks. Sometimes he brought some of that back on his nose or his paws but Maureen always had a packet of those wet wipers to clean him up again.
We can’t go back to the guest house with all that flotsam and jetsam on us, can we, Max?” she’d say.
Harry chuckled as he remembered how she had used the wipes to tackle a huge blob of rum and raisin ice cream on the back of his own jacket. He’d blamed that on the gulls, too, until Maureen poked him and said:
Harry! It’s not the gulls. You’ve only gone and sat on your cornet!”
They’d had a fit of the giggles, then, just like they’d always done together since they were teenagers. They shared the same sense of humour. That’s what made Harry notice Maureen at the dance all those years ago; her sparkly eyes and the way she got his jokes and made even funnier ones of her own that made him howl with laughter.
Harry blinked, disappointed with himself.
Silly soft old sausage,” Maureen would have said. It was no good keep dwelling on those last precious few months over that awful winter and getting upset.
You need a holiday, dad. It’s no good moping about again in the house all summer. Anyway, you and Max will have lots of lovely walks on the promenade and then there’s the crazy golf and the café that looks out onto the seafront. I’ll phone Mrs Archer for you, if you like.”
Kathy was right, just as grown up daughters seem to have an annoying knack of being. She was a lot like her Mum, too, practical and sensible where Harry often seemed in a muddle and a dream.
I’ll do it myself, love. Max needs the exercise, the great hairy lump, now he’s an old dog.” But when Harry booked himself into the pet-friendly guest house where he and Maureen had always stayed, he was determined not to avoid their familiar well-loved walks. Where was the fun staying on the flat bits? That was for old codgers! Even when the doctor told him he had diabetes just after he retired, Harry was determined everything would be just the same. His own dad had “had sugar” as they used to say back then, and Dad had carried on regardless till the day he died.
Mr. Collinson,” his new young consultant had said more recently, “now your pancreas isn’t working quite as it should, it’s important you get some gentle exercise to help the insulin to do its work; just remember always to carry something sugary with you in case your blood glucose drops too low.”
Harry had been hopeless at timing the injections at first, when they told him tablets were no longer enough to control his diabetes. Sometimes he would go a bit wobbly and sweaty and Maureen was always the first to notice.
Do you need a sugar tablet, Harry? I think you do; you’re getting a bit argumentative and wibbly wobbly, you know.”
Sure enough, Maureen would fish out the packet of special glucose tablets from her pocket or her posh handbag if they were at a dinner dance or a café, and Harry would soon feel better and raring to go again.
You’d forget your head if it wasn’t nailed on with glue,” she joked. “Lucky I remembered to bring the spare packet with me.”
Harry heard Max’s barking coming up from the path that descended steeply to the shingle strand where the limestone caverns dotted the coast like a doggy paradise. At least he hadn’t fallen in a rock pool, but what if he was stuck on a ledge? Harry imagined the big yellow rescue helicopter whirring overhead and the photos in the local rag showing a soppy old Golden Retriever with a silly smile on its face getting winched to safety with the locals and holidaymakers whooping and applauding.
Harry had always tried to keep himself as fit as he could. A few years ago he could have shimmied down there and been the hero himself.
You’re always my hero, you old softy,” he could hear Maureen saying.
Harry felt in his pocket. His fingers closed on the neat embossed tin with ‘Best Dad in the World’ on the lid. Kathy had bought it for him as a holiday present to keep three whole packets of glucose in. It felt very light. Then he remembered putting the packets on the bedside table ready to pack into the tin in the morning. They must still be sitting there, along with the wet wipes he was going to put in his pockets for the usual little mishaps Maureen always dealt with so sensibly.
Max! Come on up! Time to go for walkies back to the cottage!”
Shouting made Harry realise his voice was going a bit funny as though his cheek muscles and his tongue were made of rubber and when he looked where the gulls were wheeling over the sea, they were mixed up with little swirling spots and squiggles like bits of burning paper blowing up from a bonfire. He was starting to feel quite weak and shaky and although the wind was cool and bracing on the cliff, he was getting so sticky hot he felt he wanted to peel off his jacket and sit down on the ground.
As though he was a million miles away, he could still hear Max barking above the sound of the waves that seemed muffled, somehow, as though his ears were full of singing cotton wool.
The familiar woofing started getting nearer and nearer.
Good boy, Max. I’ll be up in a minute, I’m just having a little lie down,” Harry heard his own voice saying, as if he was a stranger with detachable lips. He couldn’t remember actually laying down, but his body had taken over somehow, trying to conserve his energy for fight or flight. He had never ever let his blood sugar get so low before, or rather Maureen hadn’t. She always saw the signs long before anybody else even noticed, including Harry himself, and brought out the sugary lifesavers.
Then something warm and wet was tickling his hand where it lay palm down on the prickly grass that felt like little spiky tufts of that artificial stuff greengrocers used on their stalls. His brain was whizzing round trying to make sense but he felt so weak he could only think of giggly silly things as if he was drunk. He hadn’t been drunk more than once in his life when he was just a tiny bit tipsy at a neighbour’s wedding as a very young man. After he met Maureen he never bothered with more than a glass of shandy, so how did he know this felt like being drunk? He remembered then the glossy leaflet the nurse at the Diabetes Centre had shown him describing the symptoms of a ‘hypo’ attack when your blood glucose is too low.
Be careful as people can sometimes mistake a hypo for being drunk,” the leaflet had spelled out in large underlined capitals.
What if somebody found him like this and called for the police? The tickling got even more slobbery on the back of his hand and he could hear a woman’s voice, now, close by, though his eyes wouldn’t seem to open to let him say hello.
Are you alright there?” The owner of the voice was kneeling by Harry’s head. “Well, obviously not. Are you diabetic, by any chance?”
Harry managed to nod, but he wasn’t sure which way was up and down, so his head ended up flopping around in a way he hadn’t quite planned, but he did manage to tell the lady his name.
Alright now, Harry, you’d better have some of these jelly sweets,” the lady attached to the voice was saying, very gently but matter-of-fact. “First we’d better see if you can sit up and swallow properly or I’ll have to call for an ambulance to get you off to A&E. Thank goodness I have this terribly sweet tooth and I carry a big bag of jellies with me whenever I go for a walk. I’ve just been exploring those caves. I felt rather like a smuggler! My grandson calls me Dora the Explorer. Cheeky monkey.”
The voice went on saying soothing, funny things that kept Harry chuckling and concentrating. She helped him sit up and as soon as she was sure he could manage them without choking, she fed Harry some of her jellies. At first his mouth was so numb he couldn’t taste anything but soon the different fruit flavours came through. Gradually, he began to feel much better and they sat at the side of the footpath, with Max trying to sit between them, begging for a sweet of his own by putting his paw on Dora’s wrist.
Quite an intelligent dog, aren’t you, Mr Max?” said Dora as the three of them made their way back along the cliff top path.
If he was clever he wouldn’t keep going AWOL and leaving his lord and master stranded miles from nowhere,” joked Harry, “but he’s sharp enough to know which side his bread’s buttered when he wants something.”
They both laughed as Max nuzzled his nose into Dora’s pocket.
He knows which side pocket the sweets are in, you mean,” she chortled. Harry found himself rather taken by Dora’s laugh.
How did you know I was a diabetic?” Harry was suddenly curious. Dora smiled.
I’m a retired nurse. Endocrinology was my specialism so I’ve worked in a lot of diabetic clinics in my time. I used to come to the little fishing village in the next cove every year with my husband Stan. When he passed away I decided I just couldn’t face the same old same old. I started coming here when I needed a break. I love walking the cliff and exploring the caves. Usually I have the place to myself but today Max kept running up and barking at me. I realised he must have somebody waiting with a lead somewhere so in the end, when he wouldn’t be shooed away, I thought I’d better climb back up here in case he got lost or stranded when the tide came in. Dog’s know, you know.”
Max knows when he’s onto a good thing, that’s for certain,” Harry smiled as Max managed to tweak a jelly out of Dora’s pocket when she wasn’t looking.
I mean some dogs know when their owner’s in trouble; sort of a sixth doggy sense. You can train some dogs to alert people when they start going hypo, or get help if they are prone to seizures.”
Harry grinned and patted Max’s head.
Can’t teach an old dog new tricks, eh, Maxy?”
But he wasn’t so sure about that any more.
A few summers later, after endless emails and long phone calls and meetings in country pubs with Max in tow, Harry and Dora were walking on the cliffs again. They stood for a moment, close to each other, in the special place where Harry had had his little lie down, as they always called it, just listening to the seabirds squealing and crying as they rode the air currents over the ocean.

A dog was barking somewhere on the beach. They could hear its owner calling it and whistling for all he was worth. Dora squeezed Harry’s hand tenderly the way she did when words weren’t quite enough. They thought of Max, always running on ahead, nose quivering towards hidden horizons, but always coming back when Dora rattled the liver treats that she kept in her pocket next to Harry’s special sweets.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

THE DOGGONE DELIGHTS OF DOG-SITTING

Let's be honest.

We all know when I say I'm dog-sitting, it's really the dogs who think they're sitting me!

There really aren't any drawbacks to dog-sitting, only delights.

Well, handing them back can be a bit of a wrench, of course. But just seeing them happy when their owners return is enough to sweeten that parting. Makes for a woof-woof win-win.



Even the occasional puddle and the odd yap at unfamiliar noises in the night just add to the joys of having furry friends to stay for a week or two.

It's always good to have some expert canine company on hand to do the honours when:

a) the neighbour's hanging out her smalls unsupervised

b) the postie knocks and is reckless enough to push anything edible through the letterbox

c) the birds get just that bit too cocky on the patio

d) you're reenacting Bananarama's dance moves and singing 'Robert de Niro's waiting' as you make lunch!


Poor old Drooper the Wood Pigeon with the wonky wing has been chased off several times already this morning. The Lhasas sit, all butter-wouldn't-melt at the back door, waiting for Drooper to tuck in to the mealworms. As if at a hidden signal, they spring out at him as one, shoulder to shoulder, barking for England.

Drooper won't take the hint, though. Not our Dynamic Super Droop. He sits on the clothes post, wing trailing, until a crescendo of woofs drives him off back up into the Ash tree again to await the next kick-off of that extreme sporting contest of Dog v Pigeon.
Little does he know.
They'd likely only lick him into submission if they caught him.

I was watching a comedy show the other night, with the dogs. As I was rolling about helpless with tears of laughter streaming down my face, one look from a puzzled Lhasa told me they thought I'd completely taken leave of my senses.



That's the doggone delights of dog-sitting for you.

With one quizzical cock of the head, they can remind you to act your age not your shoe size.

Then, legs splayed, tails in the air, they can invite you to play, not to take life too seriously.

Some say laughter's the best medicine. I like to take mine with a dose of dog to have maximum therapeutic effect!


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

SWEET HONEY FROM THE COMB


I'm rather excited this morning!

My very first jar of raw unpasteurised golden honey from British bees has just been delivered to my door!

I avoid all sorts of sugar as a rule, but I still sometimes make dairy-free, gluten-free cake with 85% chocolate icing, using cocoa, coconut flour, ground almond and coconut oil, sweetened with honey so I can satisfy my inner chocoholic (and a growing number of friends who are eager to get their fix too!) with a treat from time to time that has almost no impact on my blood sugar or any worsening of neurological symptoms.

Mass-produced commercially pasteurised "funny" honey, found in squeezy bottles and convenience stores, which I currently use in my baking, is a far cry from raw honey fresh from the hive like this. Supermarket-bought processed honeys are too often adulterated with corn syrup and manufacturers sometimes allow abusive unethical treatment of the bees who labour to make the trickle of real honey that's in there!

So I've taken the plunge and sent for this raw honey, straight from the beekeeper. 

I'm even more excited now I've tried it! 

I've tasted nothing like this since I was a child!

Full of flavour, dripping with living beneficial enzymes like digestion-supportive amylase, natural vitamins, shot through with bee pollen, propolis and honeycomb. Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and all the precious life-enhancing golden goodness humanity has celebrated for thousands of years. Now more than ever, with bees under threat worldwide, I'm keen to embrace honey from happy, healthy, protected bees.

Raw honey has 82 g of nutritious carbohydrate for every 100 g weight, for all of us diabetic carb counters and insulin pumpers. There is some encouraging evidence that raw honey is beneficial to support health, including for diabetics, when consumed judiciously in small amounts, in terms of blood glucose control and lowered cholesterol. Of course, it's possible for studies to be biased, so we have to use our brains and experience to find out what's right for us!

You can read the bit in italics below after the asterisk (*) if you're interested in why I'm changing the way I eat and my personal food journey. If not, I'll just end here by saying that on flavour and service alone, I can highly recommend this honey from Local Honey Man (other raw honey is available!)




*I'm no health evangelist. That's why this bit's just added here out of interest for anybody who wants to know. I'm not recommending my food choices to anyone else, or suggesting my diet has in any way "cured" my lifelong autoimmune conditions. The improvements I've noticed in myself this past year are incomplete, but enough to persuade me to continue to eat in a way that supports my own health. Each person has to find out what's best for them, as we all do.

I'm fortunate that I shop and cook mainly for myself and my elderly mum, who has also seen improvements in IBS symptoms, heartburn and reduction of a constant cough from mucus overproduction. I don't have the additional concern of catering for other tastes within the family circle as many do, or coping with limited choices in work canteens. I rarely eat out, so this is achievable for me, even on a very limited budget.

Sick of 33 years of less-than-optimum type 1 diabetes control, even while following the traditional NHS party line advice on nutrition, carb counting, insulin pumping etc and even sicker of horribly disabling symptoms of myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E. aka CFS) for which I get no treatment from the establishment after their earlier intervention with CBT/GET at one of their UK 'fatigue clinics' which ended up making me much worse, I decided to make changes to my already low-GI, low-carb eating pattern.

So, for over a year now, I've been eating a delicious, varied diet free from eggs (which I can get away with eating if very well cooked or in baked goods, but not otherwise), dairy-free (cow's milk makes my stomach ache for hours afterwards these days), gluten-free (saying goodbye to other digestive woes!), nightshade-free (white potatoes, peppers, tomatoes) and avoiding other foods like onions and garlic that stimulate my already compromised central nervous system. 

Alcohol, too, along with most stimulants and opiate-based medicines, isn't well-tolerated by my hyper-reactive damaged CNS. No fun in that! Instead I drink home-brewed Kefir as a natural pro-biotic (usually in the form of delicious ginger beer!). Raw honey with all its natural benefits as nature's sweetener is the latest addition to my pantry!

There is ongoing research suggesting that leaky gut and the intestinal microbiota play a role in the pathophysiology of M.E. In simple terms, it may be that M.E. patients' bodies deal with certain foods poorly, allowing common triggers through into the bloodstream and brain that cause the body to attack itself in typically autoimmune ways. 

By eliminating such foods, I've had some better periods of resilience, energy and relief from pain than for many years, and my latest full diabetic check-up last month had the experts doing a double-take at the near-perfect results I had for my HbA1c, weight, liver function etc. I've even had to come off my medicine for high blood pressure (I'd been on 10 mg Ramipril for years)in consultation with my GP.

For me, this radical change came from my decision last Spring to commit for a trial period to following the excellent wise advice of UK-based Dr Sarah Myhill. Her website can be found here and her books Diagnosis & Treatment of CFS & ME: It's mitochondria, not hypchondria and Prevent & Cure Diabetes: Delicious Diets not Dangerous Drugs (aimed at Type 2s but also helpful to Type 1s) are available on Amazon. Dr Myhill's good sense and experience with patients leads her to recommend a mineral and vitamin supplemented elimination diet that overlaps in some aspects with the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP)that developed independently in the US to alleviate other autoimmune conditions like Multiple Sclerosis. 

I'm not one for bandwagons or fads. I'm a magpie gathering the brightest insights I can find to signpost my own journey. These approaches were the springboard and support for my own explorations of ways to cope with what can't be cured at this time.

I can only wish you well with your own health. I understand from the inside all the daily struggles these autoimmune illnesses can involve, for patients and their loved ones. 

I hope one day biomedical research and, at last, a cure, will be found for all. Meanwhile, I hope you find the right signposts to point you on the best path forward for you! 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

FROM SEA LEVEL TO ALTITUDE SICKNESS AND BACK AGAIN


Yours truly in Sucre cemetery, Bolivia, c 1991, with Mount Churuquella in the background

I never used to give altitude a second thought. Who does?

If you'd asked me how high above sea level my home sat, I couldn't have told you. I'd have had no idea.

I was born in a valley in the foothills of the Pennines. I've also lived in the highest capital city in the world, up in the Andes in South America. Life has its geographical downs and ups.

Sea level was something I hadn't thought about since Geography class.

Then in 1990 I moved to Bolivia to live and work for a couple of years. Suddenly, altitude became a thing in my life. It could no longer be ignored. There were those spectacular views of the mountains and the Altiplano, Bolivia's high plateau. Then there was altitude sickness.

Map of Bolivia with traditional costumes from the various regions, hand-painted on leather.
The background is an aguayo, a beautiful Bolivian woven cloth.


Altitude sickness feels a bit like being starved of oxygen while having a brain-splitting hangover in the midst of coming down with something you'd rather avoid. Even at its mild degree, it felt to me at times like breathing underwater, as if I were getting dizzy, short of breath, nauseous and light-headed from some invisible toxic gas made of sheer height.

Unpredictable, too. I spent time in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, where the highest airport in the world, El Alto, towers in at 13,327 ft. Most of my time was spent in the former capital, Sucre, which still thinks of itself as the capital, the beautiful 'White City.'

Sucre doesn't do self-effacing: "Sucre, tourist goal of the world" sign in the bus terminal.
Sucre is at a more modest altitude of 9,219 ft in the southern highlands of Chuquisaca. Shuttling between those two heights could trigger "soroche" as locals call this mountain sickness. Sometimes it affected you, other times you might escape. It was like your lungs and nervous system were bungee jumping into a game of Russian Roulette while playing 'King of the Castle'.

Me and a llama on the Bolivian shores of Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake.
Before *that* spitting incident (the llama, not me!)


Ever after, altitude mattered.

I never again reached those staggering heights with my living accommodation. But now I dwell at the highest point between Sheffield and Bawtry, another plateau of high land to the east of Rotherham and the beautiful Peak District. For all its claim to fame, it's at a measly elevation of just 479 ft. Still, everything local's downhill from here!

View west from Wickersley - on Rotherham's 'Altiplano'

To a Dearne Valley lass born and bred, these heights are dizzying indeed. Born in a village whose elevation was a mere 135 ft, sinking below 65 ft in places, lowest spot in the Barnsley region, I travelled down the valley side to the grammar school in another village which slumped to a piddling 88 ft on average. Now that's just plain lazy!

Other places I've lived and worked, but managed to avoid altitude sickness include:

Cheshunt, Hertfordshire: 75 ft
Bitterne, Southampton, Hampshire: 137 ft
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: 47 ft (near the flat East Anglian fens and my lowest dwelling to date!)
Oadby, Leicester, Leicestershire: 337 ft
Selly Oak, Birmingham: 478 ft
Ruislip, Middlesex: 164 ft

What about you?

How low (or how high!) can you go?

Bolton-on-Dearne cemetery: the village includes the lowest point of the Barnsley region inside its boundaries


Monday, 1 May 2017

MILK MAIDS AND BELLS OF BLUE

MILK MAIDS - the white version of HYACINTHOIDES HISPANICA, the SPANISH BLUEBELL

When I was little, I used to love finding white bluebells.

Bit of an oxymoron, but you know what I mean!

Now they're considered relatively rare. The native kind, at least, though in my childhood in South Yorkshire in the Sixties, I remember them as a treasure we would come across in some shady spot under the trees every year.

MILK MAIDS - WHITE BLUEBELLS IN WICKERSLEY WOOD


"Milk Maids," we called them in our family. A name passed down to me from my maternal grandfather who loved to ramble through the hilly landscape on the edges of the Peak District from his home in Norton Lees in Sheffield. For this quiet man, as for me, the realm of nature was a magical escape from the mundane, full of secret delights and familiar faces.

Milk Maids. The name made me think of nursery rhymes, bucolic bliss, young lasses carrying yokes across their shoulders, milk churns bumping at their hips as they went skipping through meadows knee deep in spring lambs gambolling and vaulting to celebrate a sunshiny May Day just like today.

Milky Maidens! My imagination melted them into the backdrop of countryside joy I discovered every time I stepped out from my back door in the Dearne Valley.

The invasive Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), often cultivated in gardens, commonly has white individuals dancing among the throngs of cerulean and lapis lazuli bells. Our UK native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) on the other hand, admit fewer of these albino beauties to their flock.

I may know more facts about bluebells now than I did back in the day as a little girl just beginning to meet the wonders of the world.

But nothing can replace that early exhilaration of meeting the Milk Maids in the shadowy vales of home.

I feel especially blessed this year. I have a bevy of Milk Maids growing under my Cherry Tree.

Yes, they're Spanish, not native.

They are exotic Iberian Milk Maids who whisper in continental tongues.

But they make my heart smile anyway.

BELLS BOTH WHITE AND BLUE, WICKERSLEY WOOD, SOUTH YORKSHIRE

Sunday, 30 April 2017

THE WAY TO FILL A DOG-SHAPED HOLE IN YOUR HEART

Lhasa lad

There's only one way to fill that dog-shaped hole in my heart. A dog! Or two!

I lost my soulmate Sheltie some years ago. I never once imagined living without a dog for the rest of my days. But chronic ill health, enforced early retirement and the financial restraints that brings had other ideas. I can no longer afford to give a dog the life with me that faithful friend deserves.

Instead, I dogsit. 
Just for friends, for family, sometimes for charity. 
The owners are people who know me, trust me totally, share their precious pets with me while they go on holiday.

Like me, these friends would never put their furry family member in kennels. So they bring them to me. I never ask for payment. The dogs' company's reward enough for me! Yet owners often insist on payment in kind, or whatever the going rate at a kennel might be, or a donation to my favourite charity, like INVEST IN M.E. RESEARCH

My long garden's big and secure enough to let dogs run and play to their hearts' content. The woods and walks are round the corner. I still have my old lad's toys and blankets to supplement their own if needs be.

Sometimes I'm just too poorly for a while and have to turn down prospective dog-sittings with regret. Of course, the various special regulars in question understand. But at times when I'm not house-bound or bed-bound, I take this delightful opportunity to put a little bit back into the doggy community, put a little piece of my heart back in place for a while.

This is one of those blessed times.

Here they are! My special VIP guests! (see pictures)

Mustn't keep them waiting.

As author Dean Koontz says:

"Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished."


Lhasa lass
Me and my own Sheltie lad,
Pinch Mill Beck, South Yorkshire c 2004.