Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Farewell Nico.

Tt is five minutes until the grand leaving ceremony for Pepe Le Poilblanc who has been with us some years now, and is now leaving us for another publishing company where he will no doubt wow them with his going down in the lift impressions, and his tales of people with whom he has 'guarded pigs'.  Despite others of his persuasion filling up the hold at Pedantic, he was, truly, the only gay in our village, the nicest, kindest, sweetest and most natural person you could hope to meet anywhere.  I have to keep reminding myself that he's not dead, but only sparkling somewhere else, but the office is indeed very dead without him.

Work, as I've said a few hundred times before, is the new family.  Sad when you're from a broken home.


So it's out there.  Just.  I finally got Maggie off the path of the house in Chelsea and sent her forward to the present. Six months of Wednesdays and my first draft of Asylum is finished. My daughter read it, my ex husband read it, my ex lover read it, and I'm waiting for my office wife, and the all-mighty, all-knowing Publishing Director at Pedantic to read it.  It's nerve-wracking.  I'd rather take my knickers off and walk down the street that take that first step into showing work that someone may or may not like.  My ex was shocked at his own portrayal saying I got him bang to rights, which actually wasn't the intention.  My daughter thought I didn't need the baby or the other sister, which may be Freudian, and my ex lover wondered if he were the taxi driver (he isn't).  But these people either love me or hate me, or a mixture of both and their opinions are all slightly touched by their relationship to me which in some cases is deeply troubled.  At work, it's a professional reading it.  A professional who may not want to hurt your feelings, but may still think it's weak or even bad.  That's a tougher audience to please.  But what's a book if nobody reads it?  I couldn't give a stuff about publishing it, because if working in publishing teaches you anything it's that getting a book to a publisher doesn't mean anyone reads it, often not even most of the people working for the company.  It's not a mark of your worth, but it is the point of doing it - letting it be seen.

So while I'm waiting for comments, I've gone back to Jennifer, whose tale is tame compared to Maggie, and she - like  me - is a bit lost.  In a limbo of not knowing what her story is, where she's going, what's happening to her.  I've taken one of her daughters already and it's up for grabs where her mother is.  I started it with a clear idea but didn't like the first draft - it was too melodramatic, so I'm toning it and her down.  One day it will suddenly take shape and show itself to me, like Maggie's did.  But at the moment, I'm living with the two different women in my head, already missing one, and slightly irritated by the other.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A new term.

There was a commotion on the doorstep as I left for work this morning.  Mr and Mrs Posh-Posh moved in last year and I expected to see their children given that it was their posh dog who was barking but instead it was a woman who I assume is Mrs Posh-Posh's sister, her Scottish husband (Posh Scot obviously) who looked at me as though I were the one standing on 'his' path, rather than the other way around, and three sprogs in too large blazers with fake badges on the pockets.  You know what I mean, the badges for schools that have twee names and were begun in 1993 to cater for the over-entitled classes who are afraid to send their over-priviledged kid to the local state.  The Unicorn, or   - in the case of my own kid - The Harrodian.  Not that I was afraid, no rather it was the other way round.  I don't think the local kids were ready for my martinet of a daughter and feared she might incite a coup.  At The Horrodian (sic) she fit right in.   First thing I did, as with all the other kids, was teach her how to fake my signature.  The next six years passed with only minor events, and one or two visits to the headmaster (smoking, truant, no hard drugs).

But it made me choke, seeing the kids in their square shouldered blazers and summer print dresses, and long shorts.  It's going to be a scorcher of a day, but there was condensation on the windscreen this morning, and I needed to pull the quilt over me in the night.  At seven thirty there was that open fridge door chill, albeit with the promise of sun to come - a slight autumn haze in the sky, and there were these little things obviously going off for their first day of school and nursery.  A new term.  The start of the new year, I always and still think.

Almost thirty years ago, that was me, holding a baby in my arms, with two more bedraggled and beribboned with new clothes and hats on elastic to grow into.  They were my children, off to Bassett House, and Glendower, and Pembridge Hall, carrying lunch boxes and sports bags and apples with stickers on them.  And now I'm the mad old bat next door.  I heard one parent jaw to the other that 'Baudelaire was going to Bassett House' where my children all went.  (Okay not Baudelaire, but Bo which is just as ruddy pretentious)' so I guess he'll be in his blue blazer with the intertwining initials and the cap doing the walk I did myself thousands of times.'  When I moved into our house, we were the aspiring middle classes, gentry-fying the neighbourhood, grabbing it from the Gladyses and the Ernies who skipped happily off to a distant suburb where they could buy a small mansion for the price we paid for their terrace.  But now, it's the upper-classes who can afford it.  The ones with family portraits in oil and furniture 'inherited' along with the money from their upper class parents, who "might as well' go off to India for a month when Mr Posh-posh gets made redunsant, and who  see 'Mummy and Daddy' every weekend in the 'cuntry' after spending millions to do up the house to their standards - mostly plate glass floor to ceiling windows that they hide behind with shutters and curtains and steel grids, which they're rarely there to enjoy.  But you can bet that Daddy doesn't wash their car, cut their grass, or live in a semi-detached in Abingdon, as mine did.  We're the new Gladyses and Ernies.  The Posh-Poshes will eventually push us and our pink staircases out and turn the whole street into Mouse Ear Grey and glass.

I like my life, but oh I miss the old one.  I miss being a young mother with a waist.  I miss my little children even though my big children are great.  I miss being the new girl.

Monday, 2 September 2013

More in the pink

One of my friends saw the covered table with the paper flowers on it and asked if I was having 'children' round.  I guess she thought it looked childish.  Good.  I still want a Barbie Dream House, I guess.  In continuation of the Barbification of the house, I lifted the hideous red carpet and had a man with teeth like pegs in to paint it with a pink stripe up the middle (same colour as the loo floor - seemed a shame to waste the Designers Guild floor paint.  I should have known that a man who doesn't take care of his teeth might be equally slapdash with his idea of 'neat' because this guy does not know how to colour within the lines, nor how to measure distance as the stripe is ever so slightly off to the left.  When I took the tape off it was full of smears and leaks, but by that time he had already disappeared for a week and fitted the carpet to a metal strip that didn't keep it fixed.  Enough.  I decided I could fathom the mysteries of Frog Tape myself and touch it up as and when I feel like it.  Barbie isn't planning on a visit any time soon, and we don't care that much.  I quite like it.  It's fun.  My friends house is a shrine to minimalism and stuff lying around because they're so minimalist that there's no where to put it.  I prefer mine.  I like clutter, I like pink, and I like paper.  The problem is that you do one thing and set off another ten that need doing.  I have more plans than time to do them.  I feel like a kid with a pot of poster paints and a big blank canvas that I can do whatever I like with - cover it with wrapping paper, draw on the walls, nail shoes to the wall and use them for keys.  Oh yes.  You can't see those in the picture.  They're from Nigeria, and I got them from the friend who thinks my house looks like Playschool.

I can only imagine what she's going to think.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Soft pleasures

 It doesn't look much, I admit, but I've just picked the first decent crop of tomatoes - the tiny ones are snowberries and are really sweet and delicious.  The larger yellow ones turn peach on the vine and taste like nothing you can find in the supermarket.  The red ones are brandy wine, also wonderful and the green zebras, sharp and zesty.  There was a time I'd have been more excited by buying a pair of shoes that picking a few tomatoes, but those days are gone with my thin thighs and the ability to balance.  There are times when I'm sitting out in the garden under the tree, and Bf looks over at the neighbours fig tree and says he'll need to cut it back, and just that makes me love my life.  Is that sad?  If it is, pass me a hankie and let me weep into it with contentment.  Of course I'm superstitious saying this, fearing that stopping to enjoy the view will bring a thunderclap down on my head and knock me off my perch right back down the mountain, but what's the point of climbing if you can't enjoy being up there?    I didn't get a picture of the Persian rice cake, or the Bisella, or the cheese cake cup cakes made from apples from the tree and blackberries from the cottaging capital of West London, aka Wormwood Scrubs, where I noticed an awful lot of single men sitting around on benches who, I'm sure, were there for pricks of a different kind.  Shame.  It used to be such a nice place to walk around in, and now it just feels sordid and unsavory, though I wish them luck amongst the brambles and the Rotwielers.  It can't be comfortable.

Monday, 5 August 2013

One little frog

Today I cried for only the second time since the pills kicked in.  Speaking as someone who used to blub at the Cancer adverts, pictures of my kids when they were small, and even the thought of Truly Madly Deeply, five months is something of an all time record.  And yet there I was, at work, sobbing.  Le Petit Frog is hopping off to another pond, and leaving me, like my ginger cat, bereft.  Lest you wonder why the cat cares, well his beloved frogs are of the small, spotted, hoppy variety, 17 of which he's brought home in the last months, legs and feet awebbed and waving, and in so doing, depleted the entire frog population of the neighbourhood.  We lost three, but all the others have been repatriated to other homes in the vicinity of a pond, by means of the tupperware box that has now been named the frog box.  Bf carries them tenderly to a nearby park by the council estate of White City, where he sets them free, often being watched by a gaggle of drunken Polish workers - migrants of a different sort, who must feel the English are very bizarre.

My Frog, though, is my dearest colleague who is also leaving us after almost 5 years, for pastures new, and life in our pond will be very much depleted, as he really does bring a smile to my face every day, and brightens up the office.  I've said before that work is the new family, and it's always gutting when one of your dearly beloved family leaves the nest (okay, mixing my metaphors here).  Not one for gushing, I am bereft to be losing my office son.

However, the second reason I cried recently was when I heard that my real family may well be increasing, albeit second-hand.  Apparently, my husband is trying for a baby.

With another woman.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Day four in the slaughter house.

I killed five times this morning. 

The old are easy. They don't move get around much, or move very fast -or at all sometimes.  Instead they snooze contentedly away, not stirring even when disturbed, their worst already done. You can despatch them easily and whack them while they're asleep.  They don't even know what's coming. The babies are the hardest as they're lively and all over the place, but they're the ones you want to kill first.  Get them young.   I have no mercy. As I kill I feel victorious, not even appalled any longer by the carnage I wreak. I kill with my bare hands and wipe the blood off my fingers without feeling so much as a qualm, then I leave their bodies where they fall and walk over them. The killing is the easy part. It's what to do about the silent ones, the ones who hide in the dark, the left behind...

I didn't see the threat at first. Live and let live, I thought when it was just a scarf here, or a jumper there. But then it was the Turkish carpet. The Betty Jackson mohair coat. The cashmere sweater. The cashmere sweater (s). The camel hair scarf. The red LK Bennett dress. So many sweaters and dresses that I've started to wear them holes and all, like it's a fashion detail.  But still they came -on and on and on and on through my vast collection of clothes I don't wear and which don't even fit me and yet I hold on to them, now just a haven for destroyers laying waste to everything they touch. Moths. The quiet invasion.

But I too can be quiet, carrying out covert operations on walls where I simply crush them with my thumb. I gently shake the row of coats hanging outside my bedroom and if anything flies out I snatch it in my hand, but most of them don't fly, they just cling on, dopey with a belly full of silk, and I pinch them into oblivion. Others require more force, a rolled up Chelsea flag, and a mop. The mop sweeps them off the ceiling and crushes them at the same time, while the tip of the Chelsea flag, gets right into the cracks where they hide and obliterates them like Tottenham fans. I learned the hard way that clapping the between your palms only sends them up and off in the draft of air the force creates where they flitter off into the camoflage of soft furnishings.

I killed ten yesterday. Twelve the day before and twenty one the day before that. But still they come. My house is a moth factory. Now the internet tells me I have to wash all my clothes at high temperatures or dry clean them, or even put them in the freezer – though I've barely room for a box of Cornettos in there, let alone fifty black dresses. I also need to take all my clothes outside into the sunshine (what's that?) and brush them, then wash all the walls and vacuum the entire house, including drawers and closets - clean like it's 1957 - then throw away the bag because they'll eat the dust and fly back out again. Finally I'm told to put all my clothes in moth-proof bags (make a mistake and what you are effectively doing is making a moth house and giving them a nice big enclosed feast to enjoy until you release them later). Dear God, can't you just smite them, or drown them in the Red Sea or something? Furthermore I'm going to have to redecorate since the walls are like a bedroom in a Greek hotel – covered in splodges and smears, black, red and sometimes, perfectly moth-shaped where their dusty shadow is impregnated in the paint.  Frankly it's getting hard to tell the real ones from the corpses. Still, this morning's killing spree is over. Until tonight when I'm back in assassin mode, ready to strike again.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Love in the field

Today I let out a whoop in the middle of the office.  The last time I made this noise at work was when got an American publisher for my novel.  It was a very long time ago.  So what was the cause of this sudden and unusual outpouring of joy,  you may – like my astounded boss – be asking?  An offer for the latest (unwritten) novel; a lottery win; a promotion?  No, none of these.   What gets me excited these days is Frank, followed by Lampard over a large number 8 and the news that Chelsea are offering him another contract.  Frank who?  I hear you ask, as well you might.  As little as three years ago, I’d be yawning with you, but since then,  I came down with a chronic illness.  I caught football.

What happened to me? I was a food writer, more concerned with fancy restaurants than fancy footwork, happier in the kitchen than on the touchline. I thought silverwear was cutlery and the only time I went anywhere near Chelsea was to buy something frivolous from Heals.. Throughout my sons’ adolescence when they were avid supporters and went to matches whenever they could, I was a sex columnist whose interest in balls had absolutely nothing to do with kicking them.  So how did I turn from an edgy and discerning forty-something, with more shoes than Imelda and a wardrobe consisting solely of black natural fibres, to a woman who actually owns, and worse, wears a shiny blue and gold, polyester Chelsea Shirt.  And matching lucky pants?

You can blame it on love, or lust, at least initially.  When I met my current partner he was already romantically involved with Madame Chelsea and her merry squad of dwarves, - I mean athletic yes – but some of those guys are seriously short; and just as we women spend those first months in a relationship frantically trying to hide our crazy, you also pretend that there’s nothing you’d rather do that freeze your Arsenal off in a stadium on a cold Saturday afternoon. On our third date he took me to a match, put his hand on my backside as he was ‘steering’ me through the crowds into my seat, and the rest is history, an FA Cup, the ‘double’, a Champions League Trophy, three – soon to be four managers, and Drogba’s final goal.

David and his real mum....
Yes, I admit.  Drogba played a bit part in my sudden conversion.  The ground had been laid by my sons and their Russian Doll kits going from age 5 up to around 15, the flags, the programs, the match stats, and the seriously cute Ruud Gulitt.  However, I was banned from matches when they were young for my tendency to try and sing along with the songs.  They also accused  me of being a jinx, because the team lost every time I attended a game.  Thankfully my years as a supporter’s WAG changed all that, or I may well have been sent off at that very first match, but we beat Cardiff – 4-1.  That’s four opportunities to kiss and hug someone you don’t know very well in front of 41,000 witnesses watching ‘fit’ men running up and down yards from your face. Win win win.

However, just as in the beginning I was pretending that I loooooved football, my partner too hid the depths of his obsession. Though he struggles to say he loves me, he had no trouble expressing passion for the – even to a converted me – deeply unloveable John Terry and goody two boots, Saint Frank of the Lampard.  He could wax lyrically about goal averages and vintage players but just about manage to tell me I looked nice if I turned up in a tight attacking dress with a deep cleavage defence.  However, back then I didn’t know he also followed the youth team and even the ladies team, and not because of their legs.   Now he makes no attempt to hide the fact that when he’s ‘answering emails’ he’s really on the Chelsea Website, but I have had to tell him there’s a limit when he starts quoting statistics.

Nevertheless, I do now turn straight to the back page of the paper for the sports section, and every other week -sometimes even on a school night, -there I am in my seat, just behind the placard-bearing, Mrs Lampard-is-a-Legend in the stadium.  I not only gained a lover, but also season ticket.  As well as the Premier League football shirt and scarf, three flags and a Chelsea chef’s hat, I have the football thermals, the all in one rain poncho and a pair of leather trousers especially to keep me warm on the terraces.    I know all the words to  ‘Down at the Shed’ and I clap and give the open arm salute to the Liquidator. Where I once refused to be interviewed by Chelsea TV before an important Premier League match because I had no idea who we were playing or the name of anybody on our team, I now recognize them by number . It took me six months to work out that when the linesman waved his flag it indicated the direction of play, but I can now explain the offside rule.  I am probably the only woman in the country to have a soft spot for Ashley Cole despite his penchant for sexting his block and tackle.  I confess even dreamt I asked David Luiz out on a date though, I’m old enough to be his grandmother.  And he accepted.  That’s what makes it a dream.  I was so happy I woke my partner up at 5am to tell him about it.  He wasn’t shocked.  Gosh, even I might have a sex dream about David Luiz, he said.

And now they’re keeping Frank for another season.  My Europa League Cup runneth over.  Nothing beats the sheer excitement of being in the stadium, cheering and jeering with tens of thousands of my closest friends.  Of course the language can be vicious, but where else can you go from fully expressed, absolute despair to unbridled exhilarated shrieking joy in the space of three seconds?  And all for something – true blue supporters look away now – that in the great scheme of things doesn’t really matter?  Okay, yes it matters,  but it’s not eviction, redundancy or terminal illness.  It’s just two hours of sheer escapism.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Life on the Outside

If things had been different today would have been my thirtieth wedding anniversary.  It seems inconceivable that I’m old enough to have been in a relationship with anyone for that length of time – more than half my life.  Or it would have, if it had lasted this long.  Five years ago I was sitting on my sofa when on a whim I pressed call on my husband’s phone and got a woman rather than the man whose name had flashed up in the message and confirmed my suspicions that the relationship he claimed was over, wasn’t.  It’s sad.  A heaving, mostly dormant, volcano of sadness that now and then erupts, though it’s been quiet for a while.  But anniversaries will stir things up.  And there’s the temptation, sometimes irresistable, to torture myself with thoughts like – we would have been married thirty years, but they probably have their own anniversary that goes back a lot further than the end of our marriage.  I could track that too, since I know it was his birthday and he’d gone to Switzerland, and his conscience pocket dialled me from the airport as he was walking with her and talking.  But those thoughts, those memories don’t do anyone any good and it’s best to leave the past in the past.  I know that some of my sorrow is for the loss of a dream, the loss of the fantasy of the ‘us’ my husband and I saw ourselves as for many of those years.  We were a unit.  An unequal unit, to be sure, and one that in the end broke down and couldn’t or wouldn’t be fixed, like an obsolete appliance which you could still get parts for if you bothered, but  decide to chuck out because it’s cheaper to buy a new one, a better one.    I do still find myself wondering how it all happened, how it all went wrong, and how it can possibly be the case that we are not together any more when he was my life for much of it.  But then days go past, weeks go past, months go past and I hardly think of him, and now when he’s in the house seeing the kids, I find him awkward and in the way – an inconvenience in this home we built together and which he left me with, discarding it at the same time as me.  I don’t see his ghost anywhere, or if I do it’s a benign one that just flits in and out and doesn’t rip my heart out with it.  I don’t cry anymore when I remember something poignant because I don’t remember anything poignant that often.  The new reality has swept the old fantasy away and my life at home is mine, shared with someone else lately, and together we have rituals and habits that we’re building which have superceded the old ones, and are in some way better, more satisfying than before in my married life.  I miss things, of course, but they are becoming harder and harder to recall, and when I do I remember all the things I don’t miss.

But nevertheless I had a tear in my eye this morning as I visited the past for a few seconds and remembered the man who I worshiped and adored and who also, for a time, worshiped and adored me.  He didn’t listen to me, or engage much with me, but being a revered object still has its pleasures.  I wanted so much from him but it was like squeezing fruit after its already been through the press – there just wasn’t enough juice left for me, it all went on his work, his quiet contemplation, and latterly his girlfriend.  I’m still sorry we couldn’t make it work.

However,if I hadn’t pressed dial on his mobile phone, would we have weathered the infidelity and gone on, and the affair petered out, or would it have been years more of agony that had already, by then, brought me to my knees?  I’ll never know.  What I do know is that I wouldn’t have gone to Brazil, twice.  I wouldn’t have gone to Syria and seen it in all its beauty before the war broke out.  I wouldn’t have swum naked in Croatia, or paddled in hot springs in Turkey.  I wouldn’t have heard a pair of cuckoos calling to each other from a shoulder high field of rape on a May day in the countryside, or watched oyster catchers paddle on a river estuary, or seen flocks of red emperors and painted ladies in a walled garden in Sussex.  I wouldn’t have seen a magnificent sunset in Dorset, or heard Patti Smith live in a field, or tramped for four hours through Britain’s only temperate rain forest in Lyme Regis.  I wouldn’t have spent a fabulous weekend in Paris, or had a birthday party thrown for me in New York.  I wouldn’t have danced with gay abandon with seven handsome gay men at two weddings, had my hair put up and my make up done by a professional, flown on a private plane several times, and be soon looking forward to a helicopter ride.  I wouldn’t have had the special time alone with my eldest daughter after her father left, or my younger son when he came back from travelling and brought his girlfriend home to live with me.  I wouldn’t have the good relationship I now have with my youngest daughter which has been transformed from mutual snarling to friendship.  I wouldn’t have three little cats, or a new bed, or the job I’m doing now.  I wouldn’t have Julian, younger, handsome, slim and kind, living with me and peeling an orange for me every night.  I wouldn’t be a Chelsea season ticket holder, and be exhilarated at the last match of the season.  I wouldn’t have driven round Puglia and practiced my Italian.  I wouldn’t be the me I am now, and I like that me a whole lot better than the old me.  And I like the life that comes with it.

I should be celebrating instead five years of emancipation.  I used to sit on the bus with my hands clasped, holding my own hand, thinking - it doesn't matter if he's gone, because I'm here.  I didn't believe it at the time, but I do now.  I'm here and I'm okay.  Better than okay.  I'm pretty damn fine.

And so here’s to it.  If I drank, I'd raise a glass to it.  

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Dry conversation

Here’s what I’ve discovered since I’ve stopped drinking.

I don’t like parties.
I don’t even really like people, or at least new people all that much.
And I don’t like going out.

What I liked was drinking .

I liked parties because you could drink at them.  And drinking at parties made people bearable, and new people tolerable.  And going out?  Well that was fun, because when you were out you could drink and a glass of wine, before during and after even the dreariest of plays, became watchable; a bog-standard pizza, enjoyable; a bowl of nuts, dinner. 

But here’s the thing.  Without drinking, a bowl of peanuts is just a dish of other people’s pee-tinged fingers, with extra salt.  And people?  People are boring.  Me too.  I’m supremely boring.  I actually have nothing to say.  Niente, Nada, Ma Fi Shi – nothing in several languages, none of which I’m fluent in.

Ab.  So.  Lute.  Lee. 
I’m duller that a gluten free scone, but less elastic.

Just like that flat, rubbery, gluten and taste-free scone, you need a lot of cream and jam to make it palatable, though in my case it’s alcohol.  Only fuelled by vodka, do I turn into anything remotely interesting and equally springy, and as for you – well you don’t stand a chance.

People ask you 'for a drink' and you really need that drink to get through the evening.  It's not the same with a herbal tea.  'Would you like another?'  Nah, not really.  Tea gets your bladder going, not the conversation.  Sober, I really, really don’t want to listen to you talk about your job for twenty minutes, and then spend another ten telling you what a valuable service you’re providing because you’re a psychotherapist, or a teacher.  I don’t care a damn about your kids and you really don’t care about mine, nor should you.  I pushed them into the world and love them dearly, but they’re not that scintillating a specialist subject.  I could tell you about my cats, who are cuter, but I really don’t think you’d be interested.  Me, on the other hand, I’d rather see pictures of yours, or watch videos of them doing silly things on YouTube than listen to you drone on about Caspian’s fricking exams, or Cunninglinga’s first from Oxford.

No wonder I drank.  But it's only now that I realised that the reason I was so keen on drinking at anything involving people was to avoid the crippling anxieties and numbing dreariness of actually having to socialise.  Now I walk into a party sober and I’m a crackling ball of static anxiety.  I used to see glamour but now I just see trial by people everywhere, all of them talk, talk, talking.  I can chit chat for Britain but I still don’t say anything worth listening to, and so of course nobody really wants to talk to me.  They’re sucking the oxygen from someone more influential, with more of a schpeil than I can muster, huddled in clumps of the dull and duller and prettier and thinner.  Alcohol didn’t slim me down or soft-focus my edges, but it did at least make me forget I was fifty, fat and tongue-tied.  Now I’m as dry as Sharjah, and all I want to do is run home to a choc ice and an episode of The Good Wife.  In the past, I reached my hand out for something from the tray, knocked it back and chased it down with another.  Then filled with the rosy glow of cheap Merlot, I’d saunter forward, insincerely admire somebody’s frock, or their hair, or tell them that they’d lost weight, ask about the effyousee king kids, and laugh till my face went as red as my teeth.  Now I just flounder like a beached whale, and there are just not enough bubbles in a glass of sparkling water to lift me into effervescent conversation with someone I’ll never see again and who has forgotten my name before they move off to speak to someone they ‘just must talk to’. 

So I go home.  And have a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits, and catch up with a BBC4 Scandinavian Drama.  Me the cats, and my partner who, apart from the opposable thumbs could give them a run for their money in conviviality.  Boring, temperate, anti-social dry, domestic bliss.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Dinner by Herman Koch

I heard about this novel from my Dutch friends who raved about both the novel and the author – Herman Koch – who is a bit of a celebrity in his native Holland, and an actor in the long running satirical comedy series Jiskefet.  Okay, Dutch and sense of humour?  Maybe not so much - it's a bit like recommending a French bathing product.  Nevertheless,  when I picked up the book I still expected it to be amusing and it didn't disappoint.  But it’s also much more than that. Yes, the dinner is beautifully observed and bitingly funny - but it also leaves a disturbing taste in your mouth.  Even as you’re laughing, you’re uncomfortably complicit in the dark tale that unfolds over the course of the meal shared by two brothers Serge and – the narrator - Paul Lohman and their wives.

The couples meet to discuss their errant children and even before they arrive at the fashionable restaurant, Paul’s internal musing on whether to shave, or not to shave, raise a smile of recognition in the reader; even if the reader is me, a woman, who has – despite all claims to the contrary, and the nickname of Wolfgirl – no experience of facial hair.  What I do have professional experience of, however, is restaurants.  In the past I’ve eaten, not merely for recreational purposes, but for three years it was my job to eat out for the FT. This novel wickedly sends up the preoposterous rituals of dining in a high-end restaurant where people go to see and be seen and the food is presented with religious ritual and pomp.  When Koch begins to describe the absurd posturing of the maitre d’, the listing of specials, the over-eager replenishment of the water glass, the wine-tasting, you think for a second you’re reading A.A. Gill at his best – and worst.  This is especially true because Paul, our hapless diner, is just, well not to put too fine a point on it, not very nice.  His brother Serge however, a well-known politician, is worse.  At first you can’t help but sympathise with Paul for having to live up to this pretentious, more successful, prig.  But, of course, that’s not the whole story…

I’m not giving too much away when I say both the evening and the families soon begin to unravel, revealing a very sinister act that soon shows both brothers in their true light and raises the questions about nature vs nurture that all parents ask themselves.  How far would you go to protect your children?  Do you think your children could ever be capable of a horrific act?  Surely not?

One night, many years ago when my son aged around 13 was at a sleepover with a nice Catholic boy whose parents were remarkably down to earth for the chi-chi little private school they both attended, my husband and I were awakened in the middle of the night by furious ringing on the door bell.

Every parent knows that this is never a good thing.  As we hurriedly dressed and rushed down two flights of stairs to the door, I did a quick inventory of the children; the smallest was asleep, the elder boy – who followed us down to see what the commotion was about - was obviously safe.  My elder daughter was out with friends god knows where, and of an age to raise anxiety, but at least the younger son was okay, tucked up in the house of God in West London.  My heart was racing as my husband opened the door – we had already seen the silhouette of two men in black wearing helmets , but nothing quite prepares you for the anxiety of a policeman’s knock in the middle of the night.  You immediately think a child must be dead, then a parent – and under grizzly circumstances.  Why else would they send a police delegation?  What I certainly didn’t expect was to see my tear stained son’s face, cowering behind the officers.  Apparently, after the holy family had gone to sleep, their son and mine had let themselves out of the house and been caught tagging – writing graffiti on a wall near his friend’s house – in junkie heaven in Paddington.  Tagging!  My husband and I repeated weakly.  The child didn’t even have the sense to really ‘tag’ but had helpfully written his own name.

We took him inside gave him a sound talking to and sent him to bed.  Then as my husband and I went to bed, I expressed a profound relief.  ‘I know,’  said my husband, ‘part of it was shock, but I just wanted to laugh.  I thought he’d robbed a house or been caught selling drugs or buying them or something.’ 

Well, suffice to say that the kids in The Dinner are involved in something more serious and sinister than daubing on a wall.  We grounded our son who was sensible enough to know that having the name Hussein, even then, was Not-a-Good-Thing and that the only reason he got off with a caution was because he talked posh and went to a private school.  The Catholic kid prayed about his crime with his parents, and later became a pot head and was expelled from the school.  

What happens here?  Well, it’s a little different, and very morally ambiguous.  And if this book doesn’t send you racing to Google genetic illnesses as you race through the pages to the end, then I’ll eat my napkin.

And if you find one that matches let me know because despite spening a whole morning on the web researching(when I should have been working), I didn’t find one – which as far as I’m concerned, is the story’s only flaw.

Monday, 22 April 2013

I'm on fire

I’ve burned for lovers, and had my fingers burned as a result. I've burned with longing, with desire, and with fever. But now I just burn.  I wake in the morning and my arms are on fire.  On a bad day it creeps into my chest.  On a really bad day, it wakes me up long before the night has even ended and I lie there feeling like I’ve been scalded, tossing and turning.  On the worst of days I’ve groaned with agony.  It’s hard not to think about those times when I open my eyes it’s there at 6am, waiting for me.

Anxiety, I’m told by Dr Google and a score of other people who can’t spell and who’ve seen countless specialists and had heart scans and investigative procedures and found nothing.  This doesn’t put my mind at ease.  I can still imagine a hundred and one diseases that I might have, and frankly – even the catch all of ‘anxiety’ isn’t any comfort.  I don’t even know I’m anxious, and then I am – about the bloody burning.  Seems madder than ever to be anxious because you’re anxious about the symptoms of your anxiety.

Damn it.  I meditate.  I sit and breath like I’m a human ventilator, and my breath is all that’s keeping someone alive (well in a way it is – me) and I visualize, and I chill, or with burning arms, I try to chill.  But no, it’s still there, invisible sunburn, searing me like a steak with no fat. 

Though I’ve plenty of that.

Maybe it's the menopause, I've been told once or twice as though that would be a perfectly reasonable explanation.  I asked my doctor.  She didn't know, despite being one of the people who offered the diagnosis.  She shrugged.  The big M is the catch-all for hysterical symptoms - we haven't come far since men attributed anything resembling neurosis to the uterus.  As if that somehow makes it okay.  Yes, sure, you wake ten times a night in a burning sweat and it's all fine - what are you worried about?  It doesn't matter if you haven't slept for a year, it's just the menopause.  No it's not, it's the fricking womenopause.  If it happened to men there would be a Government Health Campaign and a screening process - and possibly a treatment that didn't put you at risk of cancer.

I've never had the menopause before so I can't judge.  Neither can my GP who is twelve and barely through puberty.  It doesn't seem to over-concern her this time when madness is expected and correspondingly perfectly normal, but it's something that every single women will face unless death gets her first.  We won't all be mothers and we won't all be wives.  Some of us might still die without ever having sex, but even if you don't use it, you still lose it.  The menopause is coming to get you.  What isn't coming is sympathy.  It's natural, you know, so you have to suck it up or look like a cliche of a woman who's past it, who's shut up shop, who can no longer be considered fertile, and therefore desirable.

'Menopausal women' is a derisory term for the flabby, the permed, the thick of waist and ankles.

I'm definitely all of the above, except for permed, but I'm not sure I'm burning because of hormones waxing and waning.  But if I am, Mother Nature didn't think very far ahead with her plan for reproduction.  By rights we should all be dead by now and not having to suffer any of the ill-planned symptoms of age-related barrenness.  I suppose one could find out.  But there seems remarkably little import on helping women to understand or manage the menopause, and what does exist is buried in a ghetto of others like us whispering.

All I know is that I'm not having a hot flash. I've had those - they're totally different animals.  I'm taming something else here, without much success.  Though it's still eating away at me...

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

In the Monkey House

Meditation.  'Oh how lovely just to be able drift away and relax...'  Says my work wife.

But it's not like that at all, and nothing like I expected.  Sometimes you do, in fact, drift off to dreamy realms, and often I fall asleep, even sitting up.  But the idea is not to let your thoughts meander away but to simply notice them, and then draw your attention back to your breath.  Your breath, my dears, is not that interesting, which is probably the point.  What's more, when you concentrate on breathing it's remarkably hard to do.  You fall into the spaces between the breaths, the long silences between letting go of one and taking another, and sometimes those spaces seem vast and uncrossable, and taking the next breath an unbelievable effort, meaning you wait too long, and gulp it, snatch it greedily into your lungs.  And then your nose itches.  A nose that you didn't even remember you had although it's stuck there in the middle of your face, probably not (in my case) your most beautiful feature and something you try to avoid looking at, especially in profile because you look like a middle aged hen, but suddenly it's on fire, the only thing you can think off, demanding to be scratched.  You try not to.  You try to 'notice' it and then turn your attention back to the breath, that thing you do unconsciously every minute of your life, which is suddenly laboriously difficult.  If you give in and scratch your nose, you'll get a moment of relief and then your feet, those things you plant on the floor at your desk and don't move for hours while you're beavering away at the coal face of Facebook or work, or both, suddenly start to scream at you - 'move me, move me damn it' and once again, you draw your breath into them imagining them to be soft spongey lungs that can be soothed by filling them with oxygen - and sometimes they can, and other times they continue to feel as though they're in a vice and you're consumed by the desire to just move them, even just flex your toes - a desire so powerful it's the only thing you can think of.  If you're standing up, it's even worse. The longing to sit down is overwhelming, but somehow in the tube in the morning you can happily stand for thirty minutes without wanting to curse out everyone in the carriage.

This, apparently, is the point of meditation.  It's to notice your uncomfortable feelings, your 'barriers' and try and sit on the edge of them, and breathe, breathe, breathe.  Who knew I had so many barriers?  Since starting to try to meditate I've discovered I get very impatient with people talking at me, interrupting my revery, or my attempts to breath quietly, and my thoughts?  Well for a while I thought I had this meditating lark licked, as my thoughts would wave in and out like Radio 4 on a country drive, and it was easy to pull my attention back from them and sink into the breathing.  Until this morning when I sat on the tube ready to practice my usual three minute meditation and found I had a barrel of evil monkeys in my head, all jammering away at once, yacking at me about work, and chores, and worrying away at things, then worrying away at the fact that I was worrying and then worrying because I couldn't stop worrying that I was worrying.

Breath, concentrate on the breath.

But why are you so anxious?  Is it coming back?  Are you going mad again?  What will you do?  Take a Valium?  But I don't want to take Valium, I've just given it up.  Why can't I stop thinking?  Why am I so panic-stricken?

Breathe.  Breathe, damn you.

What am I worrying about?  Why today?  What's so different about today?  Nothing's gone wrong.  There's nothing particular to really worry about.  So why the hell are you worrying?


And then I gave up.  Maybe sometimes you need to think without being in a fight with yourself.  You need to think things through, even worry a little, process things, and if you give yourself permission to think, then you can switch it off easier?

By that time I was at Holborn, and the monkeys followed me up the escalator out into the street where it was pouring with rain.  Walking helps to shake them off.  But only temporarily.  They keep clinging to me all day.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Getting Ripped

Easter without chocolate passed quite nicely.  I spent most of it wrapped up on the sofa like an invalid, watching television, or so it seemed.  The cold is arctic and gets into your bones. Even in my big sheepskin coat which would enable me to play Hagrid in Harry Potter, or one of the Night's Watch in Game of Thrones (which is BACK - and a cause for excitement in my otherwise humdrum existence), the wind whistles up the sleeves and finds its way into your heart.  But the cold has matched my nestling nature of the moment, allowing me to luxuriate in sloth, punctuated by occasional  bouts of activity of the attic clearing - Paperchase visiting - Portobello Road walking sort.  My tomato seedlings still wave too and fro, waxing and waning with the occasional watering, or lack thereof, and the curly beech tree remains unpruned, ready to sprout its ugly shaggy hairdo the minute spring gets going properly, but there's time for the garden yet.

Boyfriend has returned home and I'm almost alone again.  When my youngest goes back to college on Wednesday it will be me and the cats and three unfinished art projects, with one yet to start - lots of good intentions but no actually action.  I'm enjoying it, this near seclusion, but only because it's a break from the norm.  When it was just me this time last year I hated it and lived from weekend to weekend when the boyfriend arrived and seemed to breathe life into the house, but it wasn't really life, more of a forced activity.  The two of us on our best behaviour, devoted to 'doing' stuff, with no idle nights in front of the tv - everything was orchestrated and timetabled - films agreed during the week, with times in the diary, dinners planned, shopping planned, food in the fridge, walks itinerised and every second, or so it seemed, accounted for.  And then he'd go and it would feel, to me, like falling into a limbo of waiting.  Not waiting for him, but waiting not to be alone again, as though he were the wind and I was some sort of becalmed ship needing his presence to spur me into action.  Ridiculous really.  I've grown up on my own, lived on my own, and very much know how to manage my own company even if I've heard all my own jokes already, but it has really taken the presence of the boyfriend over the past three months to reintroduce myself to the joy of my own space - because it's the exception not the rule.

When he isn't there, I might take it easy and watch a rom com or a foreign film I know he wouldn't fancy, or I might decide to clean up the house, or start painting or writing, relishing my own company, eating nothing or something low in calories - no manly carbs or thoughts of vegetarianism.  And when he is there we dawdle and sleep and doze and settle down for BBC4s current Scandinavian broadcast, the time no longer meted out in slots to various pastimes, but fluid and domestic.  Of course we still go out, but there's less of rigid schedule.  We are simply together, doing stuff.  I like it.

Equally though, I like waking up alone and making myself a cup of tea in five minutes flat, instead of waiting like a princess for the boyfriend to bring that same cup of tea an hour later (after he's stroked the cats, and listened to a few tracks, and sent a text and freed a bee from the maws of Mrs Catty...) reading, daydreaming, trying to meditate...  It's like rediscovering the old me, the good old me who likes herself.

Crafty projects however have their drawbacks.  I came back from Portobello with a bargain trunk for £20, complete with lining in a very good condition and a shelf.  Only when I arrived home did I discover the trunk had ripped my brand new, definitely not £20 leather trousers to shreds.  Not such a ruddy bargain.

I know, leather trousers?  Really?  Me.  Yep I'm embracing middle age with seriously bad taste.  Shredded leather trousers, very S&M. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Telling pork pies

There’s been one massive change in my otherwise domestic goddess
existence.  From someone who was formally queen of the kitchen, I’ve
transformed into a woman ‘Who Does Not Cook’.  Since the great Crash of
Christmas Day, I’ve made a few salads, one apple and peach crumble with
ground pumpkin seeds in the crumble (very nice too – the bin enjoyed
most of it as I still think I’m cooking for twenty), several faux meat
dishes of the comfort food variety from Quorn, and the rest of the time
I’ve done an awful lot of pinging and become addicted to cashews and pork pies (the flavour cuts through the 'am felt that turns my mouth into that thing in the dryer that collects lint.

I have this kitchen that’s a shrine to the love of food.  Shelves of
much thumbed cookbooks that fall open automatically at some recipes,
and at others are stuck together with previously floured hands; gadgets
galore from a slicer (for cutting apples into air thin slivers and then
drying them slowly in the oven), a blender, two Magimixes, a Kitchen
Aid mixer and Duralit toaster, a panini press, a juicer, a steamer, a
coffee machine, and drawers full of things to slice, to core, to stuff
and to peel with.  My cupboards bulge with ingredients from the
cheating (packet hollandaise sauce mix and tins of pureed pumpkin) to
the rare (real saffron from Iran) and the luxurious (marron glacee).  I
have stock cupboards and baking cupboards and condiment cupboards and
lots of little jars with their contents inked on the front.  But in my
fridge you’ll find oranges, Halloumi Cheese, vacuum sealed Gnocchi and
several prick and serve microwave meals.  I should be ashamed.  I am,
in fact, slightly ashamed, but the truth is I’ve lost my taste for
cooking, even eating to some degree, and the thought of preparing a
meal for eight people, or even twenty-eight, which would once have
filled me with excitement and pleasure now just fills me with a black
aversion akin to dread and sets the trail of anxiety burning up my arms
(where thankfully it stays put instead of racing across my body and
making me writhe in pain).

It’s not just that I’ve fallen out of love with cooking, it’s more like
cooking has become a source of something closely associated with

Odd?  Indeed.  I’m not mad for nothing you know.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Cats and the Art of Sleeping

But good things have come from this.  Better than I could ever have hoped for, or even have begun to imagine while I was shivering in terror on my sofa, living from one home visit to the other from the great team of people who took care of me when I was discharged.  I'm made some big decisions, and banished some ghosts.  I've come to appreciate the comfort of home that previously oppressed me so very much and relish it as a place of safety, and comfort, and refuge.  That's not to say I stay in it all the time, but at weekends where the bf and I usually had a timetabled list of activities, at the moment I'm content to linger at home and potter, and think about doing the garden (though so far the weather is in some disagreement), and lie on my bed and luxuriate in sleep,  now that I finally can.  Saturday night has been an orgy - of Spiral,  and before that Borgen.  I have art materials spread out all over the dining table, and finished a suitcase for my youngest's birthday, and a photograph album for a new bride in the office.  I eat too many biscuits and drink Yogi Rose Tea which is the only one out of the thirty or so herbal varieties I've tried that doesn't taste like the pee of a very well hydrated nun, and I peel juicy oranges to rival Barbara in Billy Liar, to the disgust of the ginger cat who, another pleasure, often curls up on my knee, or lies beside me purring in sleep.  There surely can be little better therapy than watching a sleeping cat, unless it's watching two sleeping cats.  They sleep like they have a gift for it, as though it's a learned skill; an activity at which they naturally excel - the stretching, the curling, the little paws tucked in, or wrapped around their faces - just gazing at them makes me feel good about the world, and when one of the other falls asleep on my chest, I've been known to sit there for half an hour longer than I meant to just to enjoy the warmth of the furry little body.  This from me - former Cat Hater.

I know.  Look.  I know.  Cats, gardening, arts and crafts, Saturday Night TV - I might as well be dead, as I'm obviously brain dead, but the new me doesn't care.  I like it.  I'm wearing my Kalinda outfit today - PVC shirt, Shiny black patent knee high boots, short skirt, but with the Helen Mirren hair (but shaggy where as hers is short) and, sod it if the outward appearances don't match the inner reality.  For a year I was sitting at home in despair and nobody would have guessed that either, so if they don't realise that I put the red lipstick on for the cats, then go home to get into my pjs and watch a drama about Chicago Firemen, or muddle about with paste and paper, does that matter to any one but me.  I doubt anyone's looking.  We are all so invisible, even to ourselves.

There are lots of things to be happy about.  Not least the fact that, despite being suddenly in love with my house (partly it has to be said because I'm not alone in it since the bf is keeping me away from sharp objects and sheer drops) I've decided it's time to sell.  It's been five years since the husband left, and the kids are all finishing university and ready to get out there and on with their own lives.  They don't need a family home any more and I need to learn to live without the family in the home (not as difficult as you might think), and so in the few seconds before I fall into the 'am induced coma (which nevertheless features vivid and apocalyptic dreams accompanied by the need to pee every hour), I imagine my new place - squeaky clean and white and bright with nothing there I don't want, no noise, nobody talking at me, and everything just the way I want it, my make-up untouched (who took my Benefit eyebrow pencil?) my clothes folded and waiting for only me, me, me (who took my orange sweater, my Anthropologie silk shirt, my red dress, my purple LK Bennet?) and everything calm, peaceful and 100% tension free.  At least that's the theory.

I'm also working less since I realised that coming back to work was sending me backwards, not aiding my recovery but adding to my stress.  I've now discovered the wonderful word of a four day week.  It's bliss.  Discovering the world of the 4 day paycheck will be slightly less transcendental, but you can't spend it if you're dead.  So it's a compromise.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Happy Pills

I've been away for a while.  Away away, but now I'm back, sort of.  In a manner of speaking.

On Christmas Eve I had the house staged like the  an episode of a Hallmark Holiday film where Santa is a real old guy with genuine whiskers and the magic of the 'holidays' turns the mid-west into one long string of illuminated reindeers - just like the ones I watched on a loop almost continually during the period between Christmas and New Year.  The tree was dressed, complete with some new glass ornaments I'd bought on sale in a shop in Holland Park that was going out of business, my bling profiting from the downfall of others.  That should have told me something.  I had my string of tiny handprinted stockings for everyone, including the three cats which I did because I thought it would put a smile on everyone's face.  The fridge was stocked, the menus prepared, the pantry groaning with goodies, the presents wrapped and under the tree in their usual festive ribbon wrapped in old copies of the Guardian.  There was also cake just for the kitsch of it.

So scene set.  The family arrive.  And then it begins.  Nothing quite goes right from the very first,there's needling, there's bickering, there are a few minor skirmishes of food war, the man and I are shunned in the sitting room, I think to give us privacy, but what feels remarkably like a good old fashioned shunning, turning me into the nuisance guest in my own house. And I'm tense, anxious, miserable until what starts as a creeping sense of doom that I can't shake off, rapidly - and I do mean rapidly - spirals into a crash just around the time I am putting the roast beef into the oven on Christmas Day, four hours late.  By New Years Eve I have seen a GP who tells me I'm 'embarrassing him' and gives me an 'am that might as well be asprin for all the effect it has, a therapist who tells me I should take myself off to the hospital and present myself, and a psychiatric nurse who tells me not to take myself to hospital (those are very distressing places), but promises me a referral on New Year's Eve, only to call me up half an hour later and tell me I lived outside her team's area, and referred me to yet another team who didn't feel my case was urgent enough and that it could wait.  By 8am on New Years Eve I was lying on a plastic mattress with sheets that didn't quite fit the mattress in the local mental health facility (I mean the Hallmark films would have been enough to drive anyone mad on their own, let alone emotional stress, but they are a fairly effective sedative) taking even more pills that end with 'am, at least one of which actually worked.

It wasn't too bad.  It was actually a relief to get out of the house and away from the strain I was putting on everyone, and the strain they were all putting on me.  I've stayed in worse hotels.  If the communal bathroom didn't have water pooling all over the floor, it could have a been budget spa, or an Eastern European Health Farm.  Admittedly one of the women sat in front of a laptop in the dining room all day talking to herself in very cross Spanish, and laughing maniacally at what I hoped was You Tube, but may well not have been.  Another didn't take her coat off and walked round carrying several bags, plastic carriers, and holdalls, all in black from her shoes to her Adam's Family hairstyle.  She also didn't sleep in her bed as I heard one of the nurses telling her she would lose her room if she didn't.  There was a short man who managed a fairly nice routine of show tunes on New Year's Eve while I lay in my little bare white room, covered with my coat for extra warmth, staring at the broken wardrobe and the pinboard with its single blob of blu-tac.  (No pins of course, no mirrors, no sharp things (even my keys were confiscated) and no wires, so I couldn't charge my iphone until one of my kids came in with a spare cord and I smuggled it into my room in my knickers.

I'm glossing over the rest because it's too awful to contemplate and too personal to share.

Three months on and I've stopped most of the 'ams and the sleeping pills and only take the anti-depressants which also end in 'am but are easier to stop than the others, or so I was told.  According to my GP, this is not the case.  She congratulated me cheerily and with astonishment when I told her I'd stopped taking them, and said:  'Those are very hard to get off, most people get stuck on them.'

The current 'ams make me sleepy, so I don't need actual sleeping pills now.  After weeks of being unable to sleep, or afraid to sleep, or afraid while asleep, I now can't get past 10 o'clock and invariable miss the last five or ten minutes of the current ITV/BBC4 thriller/Boxed set of Game of Thrones, which at least are better than Love finds Mrs Christmas (so my viewing has improved).  I'm back at work.  I went back too early to be told that I would be paid for the hours I managed to work (quickly rescinded) but nevertheless leaving me feeling that I would have to make an effort to normalise myself so as not to lose my job. So for a month, while signed off sick, I worked on average an hour less a day.  I quickly realised that I would have to take a cut in salary and a cut in hours to survive as every day I rode past the hospital in which I had been detained and thought about checking myself back in.

I lost some weight, though the nervous breakdown diet is not one I'd recommend, it's like the 5/2 diet but reversed.  I stopped drinking and haven't had as much as a sip of wine since Christmas Day.  I don't drink coffee, or tea, or eat chocolate and a few nights ago I sat in a room with sixteen strangers and listened to a raisin for ten minutes in an attempt to retrain my brain not to succumb to stress and negative thinking.  I don't even like raisins.  And it didn't have anything very interesting to say.

I've begun my daily guided meditation practice, though I've yet to get all the way through it.  Sleep - once a rare commodity that I prized more than life itself (well death and sleep are fairly similar) is now one in which I am overly wealthy.  I could sell my surplus to nightworkers and insomniacs.  So I listen and I fall asleep about the time I get to the chest as I work my way up breathing into my toes, never once having got further than the jaw.  Still I will keep on persevering.  I feel I have to make more changes than the just the recent  dying of my hair peroxide white.  It's not enough to be cosmetically different.

I learned a lot, some heartwarming such as the enormous support of my boyfriend without whom I would not have survived, and the random acts of kindness from people who had no need to offer me any.  You find out who your friends are when you think you have none, and the ones you did think you had avoid you.  Not that I blame them, but it makes a bad situation worse when your daughter puts on her coat and goes out two hours after you get out of a mental hospital without asking if you'll be alright (to be fair, I probably drove her mad as well and she had almost a worse Christmas than I did so I have to cut her some slack).  The saddest thing was how little most of my children seemed to care that I teetering on the edge.  At the one time of your life you would like someone to show concern and affection for you, it only adds to the depression to find it's not there and underlines everything you are telling yourself about how dispensable you are.  Nevertheless, I'm not complaining, it's a fact.  I got over it.  And I'm getting over everything else.  So far.  Today. This second.

Vanessa is suggesting we take the remainder of my Valium to the pub and have a vodka and tonic.  'Does that sound nice?' she asks.  I laugh.  'If you make it a bottle of vodka it sounds remarkably like my exit plan,'  I say, and she laughs too.  As I said.  I'm getting over it.