Sunday, 28 February 2010


Okay, first the bad news:  The Weigh-In.  I never normally do this, but I need to know where I am.  So here it is...
 Just under 11 stone. Ouch!
Okay, so then I went for a short walk, because the pain has eased off a bit and I am feeling better...

The proof.  (Excuse the rather mad eyes!) It was pouring with rain, but I don't mind that much.

The woods were badly flooded. But the track was very muddy and soft, which was good for my painful feet.  So I feel like I have made a good start.  Thanks to everyone for their good wishes.  I am aiming for better health and less pain rather than weight loss.  If I  get that too, all the better. 

Saturday, 27 February 2010


The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough, one way or another.  I am currently feeling very exhausted and short of emotional resources.  The old ego has taken a few hits.  It all came to a head on Thursday, when I was getting ready to go to a funeral.  We had driven over to Oxford the previous evening, and were coming back directly the wake was over, so were travelling light.  I got my trusty old black skirt out of my bag and put it on.  Or rather, tried to put it on. 

The penny dropped.

Now, I admit I don't wear a smart black skirt that often, but when I had finally shoe-horned myself into it, the image that looked back at me from the mirror was decidedly anatomical.  I have put on quite a bit of weight.  This is not a good look for a woman of a certain age, who will only look as if she is stuck in a time warp that includes electric blue eyeliner and a mullet perm.  It looks, frankly as if you think you are still twenty, and are trying to get into the same size clothes you wore then.  It looks like denial.  It looks desperate.

But the rest of my clothes were three hours drive away.  Luckily, I had a decent long coat I could put over the top to cover the bulges.  But it was a distinct call to arms.

Like most women I have issues with my weight.  These are not helped by not being able to exercise.  I admit I was never exactly Paula Radcliffe in the first place, but lately getting up and down stairs has been as much as I can manage.

Twelve years of ME has taken its toll. I am now worried about getting into that downward spiral where I can't exercise, so I get sicker, so I can't exercise, so I get sicker....  Osteoporosis, obesity, muscle wastage and heart disease will soon be on the horizon.  While I was comforted by the fact that when I looked at the label inside my skirt, it said size 14, and I have been a 16 for a good long time now, this is a wake-up call.

Time for a strategy.  I have spent today with my notebook, setting goals, working out what I can do over what period of time, what I could eat to lose even a few pounds.  My first goal is a simple one.  Lose enough to loosen my waistband just a little bit.  Enough to be comfortable.  And try to move once a day.  A short walk or a few stretches.  I'm not setting out to train for a marathon.  It's baby steps.  And its tough.  Its a delicate balance, not to overdo it and make myself very ill.  But I hope that if I can start moving a bit more, the pain in my wasted muscles and joints will ease a little, and I will feel better about myself.  And that will encourage me to do a tiny bit more.

All the diet and self-help books say, tell people your goals and they will support you.  And hold you to them.  So I am asking for your support.  Your positive vibes.  Help me get my waistband back!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Nazi Mother Syndrome (Beware: Incoming Rant)

A sketch I did in 1987 of me with my nephew, Joseph, who is now 27.
I am not a mother.  I sort of chose this path.  It was a conscious choice, but it was also something that just happened that way.  I've been too ill for the last 12 years to consider it, and now a) its pretty much too late anyway, and b) I am too aware of all the little things I'd be giving up, like being able to shut the loo door.

But occasionally, I become the victim of what I call NAZI MOTHER SYNDROME.  Its not often , so I admit I am lucky.  Unlike one friend who, when he mentioned to a colleague that he and his wife had no children, was asked, 'Is your wife very ugly then?'

If you are child-free yourself, you will know the symptoms.  It comes in two forms:

1) Sympathy.  That patronising look you get.  Along with the manifestation of the halo.  'You'll never understand because you aren't blessed like we are'.  Or worse, 'you'll understand when you have a baby yourself'.  This really sticks in my craw because it assumes that being a mother is the only justification for a woman's existence.  It is inevitable.  Er, no.  Just because I am child-free, doesn't mean I have less value than you.

2) Martyrdom.  'Oh, we can't come till three because little Chlamydia has her pony club that day, and we have to take Peregrine to his Thai Boxing for toddlers, and then there is the piano lessons and the ballet and the rugby and the swimming and...' WHEN DID IT HAPPEN THAT CHILDREN BECAME ALLOWED TO RUN THEIR PARENTS LIVES?

And does it make you happy?  No.  It just makes you stressed.  And it probably makes the children stressed too, because they never have time to be themselves because they are too busy learning to be what you want them to, because you are afraid of the guilt you will suffer if they turn around at 27 and say 'you never let me go to xxxx classes' which, for your information, they undoubtedly will about something because the definition of being a mother is always getting something wrong. (My mother has been telling me this for the last forty years, and after three kids I figure she should know.)

When I was a kid, you got taken to Brownies or Cubs or whatever permutation of a pseudo-military children's group your parents believed in.  Posh kids got music lessons.  And maybe ballet lessons.  But that was it.   The rest of the time we were left to our own devices.  We feel that we have to ENTERTAIN our kids continually now.  They can't be by themselves.  They can't do their own thing.

And worse, the kids' appointments entirely take over some parents' lives.  I know people who work harder outside of  their employment than in it, just from constantly ferrying their pre-adolescent kids to various activities.  They are never in.  They dread the holidays because there is always something they have to take their kids to next.  They never see their partners, except to waive at as they pass through the front door, one on the way to a drop-off with one child, the other on the way home from a collection of the other.

So why should I have to organise my life around your kid's riding lessons and recorder club?

Why should I listen to you talking about NOTHING ELSE except little Peregrine and Chlamydia because you haven't the sense to say no occasionally and have something else in your life?

I know there are lots of parents who will be mortally offended, or who will say, 'you don't understand because you are not a parent'.  True, but this is another symptom of Nazi Mother Syndrome.  The assumption that just because I do not have kids, I don't have any experience of them, nor do I have any capacity for empathy, emotional intelligence or rational thinking.  I understand guilt.  And I watched my sister struggle with the practicalities of having three children under the age of three, all in nappies, so believe me, I've seen how tough it is, and I have nothing but admiration for anyone prepared to do it.  I just don't see why people who make that choice should expect to inflict their decision on me.

There is a price to be paid for choosing to be child-free.  I mourn the children I will never now have.  At times it is heartbreaking.  But I know my own capacities, and its the right choice for me.  I don't evangelise about it.  I don't inflict it on other people, and I hope they will do the same for me with their choices.  I have qualms about publishing this post, because I know it will attract criticism.  All I can say is, before you snarl back at me, open your mind a little.  How do you respond to a child-free person?  Really?

Okay, rant over.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

What I've been up to...

Lately I've been making jewellery...

 ...going to the beach with my friend Yvonne...

...and making scrummy apple cake...

...num num num....

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


I love this post.  I think if we all thought this way about our lives, we would have no trouble saying no, no trouble throwing stuff out instead of hanging onto it because it was a gift (even though its hideous), and no trouble being good to ourselves.  Maybe since its awards season, we should all walk up the red carpet and into our own exclusive club!

A New Threshold

(A new horizon - bluebell woods outside Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway)

I feel like I have walked through the Veil into another world in the last few days.  Huge breakthroughs emotionally and with the book, as well as the 28th anniversary of my father's death in 1982.  A poignant moment that as proved to be turning-point.  I feel like I am in a new phase of my development, my healing.  Yes, it was a bit like being hit repeatedly with a cast-iron skillet.  Yes, I do feel a bit eviscerated.  But in a good way. 

I feel optimistic, encouraged, ready to move forward.  Its like the old saying, 'you have to suffer to be beautiful'.   That's probably rubbish, but if you want to be beautiful on the inside, to yourself, then sometimes you have to go through it a bit.  I know its just the beginning of what I expect to be a long and potentially painful process.  You don't change lifelong behaviours easily.  But its pain/change for the better and that's what counts. (Actually, that makes me sound like a bit of a masochist, but you know what I mean!)

(Incidentally, thanks to my friend Tim for his comment about not being defined my my illness, which has stuck right in there like a porcupine quill and really got me thinking.  Thanks, Tim.)

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Valentines Day is coming...

The Beauty of the Galloway shoreline
The other day I read about an idea which I think is wonderful.

Before I was married, Valentine's Day was a real bugbear for me.  I never got a card.  It was really upsetting.  There's little worse than sitting at home on the big night alone, humiliated and unloved.  So when I met Pat, I made sure he knew that one of the basic rules was that I had to have a Valentines Day card.  Period.  No debate. Non-negotiable.

These days, I've noticed that Valentines Day is becoming increasingly commercial (like everything else) and the pressure is on to buy your loved one more and more stuff, and the more you spend the more you love them.


I get a little card and I am thrilled with it.

But the idea that I read (and I can't remember where but I think it was on Patti Digh's wonderful blog, 37 days) is that the world needs more love, so widen your circle.

Love the world.

So instead of buying your loved one yet another bottle of perfume that will sit on the bathroom windowsill gathering dust and going sour, why not do something really loving with the money? (And do it in the name of your loved one, of course).

Donate what you would have spent on a gift or fancy meal (with a price inflated to rip-off proportions because of the date) to the victims of Haiti, or the NSPCC's Full Stop appeal.

Spend some time with an older person.

Do some chores for a young, harassed mum.

Spread your love around and make the world a better place.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

In Memoriam

William Henry Harrop
3 February 1930 - 16 February 1982
Today would have been my father's 80th birthday.
We still miss him.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


picture from

Certainty worries me.  People who are certain frighten me.

I used to be certain.  I was 16, a vulnerable teenager brainwashed by fundamentalist Christians.  I went around telling people they would burn in hell if they didn't turn to Christ,  This did not win me many friends, as you can imagine.  Imagine saying that to your mother when she has just lost her husband? Nice.

Luckily bloody-mindedness came to my rescue.  One night I was supposed to lead a prayer meeting, but I went down with a migraine.  If you have ever had a real migraine, you will know that I was not capable of getting out of bed, let alone leading a prayer meeting!  Between attacks of vomiting, I rang the church leader who was hosting the meeting at her home to explain I could not come.  She was very angry.  She told me it was my duty to Christ to turn out. She was so certain.  So the Church and I fell out.

Since then, I have learnt that certainty breeds bigotry and violence.  The Pope is certain that gays will burn in Hell.  He doesn't want them to have equal rights.  Or rather, he wants some people to be more equal than others.  Its the thin end of the wedge. 

Anyone who holds extreme views risks this.  A fundamentalist atheist like Richard Dawkins will tell you its all religion's fault.  And he is terrifyingly certain of this.  He would ban religion just as surely as the Pope would outlaw homosexuality and the Chinese would like to eradicate the Tibetans.  His views hold just the same seeds of violence and distrust.  There are so many people who are absolutely SURE in this world that they are right. From Islamists to animal rights activists and anti-abortion campaigners.  And Jeremy Clarkson, and you just KNOW he is right about everything!

Open your mind.  This world holds a myriad of possibilities.  There is not only one answer.  Its hard on your ego to admit maybe someone else has an answer as good as yours.  But it makes the world a gentler and frankly more interesting place when you do.

Monday, 1 February 2010


Julie Walters as Mo Mowlem in 'Mo' 
Picture Channel
Last night I watched Julie Walters' bravura performance as Mo Mowlem, the politician behind the Good Friday Agreement, whose struggle with a brain tumour was played out in public.  One of the points made by the programme was that it was impossible to say how long she'd had the tumour, which affected her behaviour and personality in profound ways.  Mo had to struggle with the question of where the tumour ended, and the real Mo began.  In the last scene, a colleague tried to explain to her, as she lay in a coma, that it really didn't matter.  That she was who she was, tumour and all.

This seems to me to be a profoundly important question.  Who would I be without the ME and the lifelong depression?  Really, the question doesn't matter.  You can't take those things away, because they are indelibly there, part of my history, and therefore part of who I am.  It only becomes and issue when you hate the illness, and believe me, there are days when I really do hate it, as if it is a separate thing, a monster I carry around with me on my back.  But it isn't.  It is part of who I am.  Accepting that is crucial.

And this is why.  Gestalt therapists talk about The Paradoxical Theory of Change.  Which basically means, that change cannot happen until you accept where you are.  You can't get to Edinburgh, my guru, R, says, unless you know you are in Norwich first.

Virginia Woolf noted in her diaries that her own depression helped to make her the writer she was.  Would I be able to produce the work I do if I had not developed the ability to dissociate, to escape from my despair into stories?  I doubt it.

Mo Mowlem's question of where the illness stops and the essential self begins is a profound one about identity.  But I think we can only deal with it by accepting that we cannot separate our essential self from the things that happen to us.