Wednesday, 28 July 2010


Chance encounter with
Rose sleeved and protected;
Friendship will blossom?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


The sun and moon hang opposite one another in the sky, sparring partners constantly challenging one another for ascendancy. The moon is rising as the sun retreats, and so the harsh hot rays will soon give way to a calm cool glow.

Our species hurls itself towards extinction. All creatures have their time; as we followed the dinosaurs another life form will dominate when we fail. Perhaps the cockroaches will be preeminent. My money is on the corvids. Ravens, rooks, crows, jays, magpies, and jackdaws. They're the brightest of the bird species: self-aware, cooperative, problem solving and tool making.

Odin's ravens (thought and memory) flew out each day and returned to keep him informed about the world. Perhaps they travel still; learning from our follies readying for their time. Native Americans speak of Raven causing the world flood before bringing back the land; thus ending the age of animals, and beginning the age of man. This time man will make the flood. What will happen thereafter?

Think on that next time a corvid stands its ground and pierces you with a beady knowing eye.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Thump, rattle, and rustle

Wasps have taken up residence in the brick cavity under the living room window of my London digs. It was dusk when I spotted them coming in to roost for the night. It was fascinating to watch them line up on approach like planes coming in to land at Heathrow, but miniaturised and speeded up. As each landed there was a plinking thump, rattle and rustle. The noise was quite loud and very unnerving.

The landlady is getting a man in to get the wasps out.

Meanwhile all windows are battened down, and we bake like loaves in the oven.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Adopt a languid pace

London teems with peacocks, soaking up the sights and the rare English sun. Frustrated ravens and kingfishers weave between them, hurrying ahead, too caught up in their internal mindscape to adopt a languid pace and take in the urbanscape.

The RSPB have set up camp at the base of the Millennium Bridge. Above our heads perch real live peregrine falcons, high up on the Bankside Tate chimney. A dozen telescope eyes wink in the light, focussed on the predators, and passers-by stop to have a gander, chuffed to see real wildlife. The grown-ups duck down and crane their necks to see the birds through the scopes. Their kids flock together and lark about. The older teenagers brood, grouse and snipe. A bald old coot is bending the ear of anyone who stands still too long, regaling them with the feeding and breeding habits of the birds above. The RSPB have a stand decked in bunting where they hawk their wares: annual membership £36; cuddly toy peregrines £7. A young child holds one in her clutch, her mum quails at the prospects of tears and pulls out her purse.


I saw the perfect personalised number plate while driving yesterday : D1 NYL

I'm stuck on the Leeds-London train this morning. Ripening heads of wheat bow for the benediction of the sun outside the carriage window. I should be seeing Islington blur by as we steam into Kings Cross, but delays beset our journey, and we are still deep in the countryside.

The train jerks into life, picking up speed. The intercom announces that we're 30 minutes behind schedule. Public transport stutters and a thousand people are late for work.

I'm mesmerised by the railway tracks paralleling our own as we barrel towards the capital. Seemingly stationary, the rails flicker and gleam with reflected light. Periodically they swoop away, allowing a platform to intrude between us, before snaking back to cosy up as though we'd never been parted. Oh fickle rails.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

An episode of 'The Jerry Springer Show'

I was in the garden one day, I must have been about 15 years old, and mum was nattering to the next door neighbour. My ears perked up when the neighbour asked mum whether the test results were back yet. I had no idea until then that anything was amiss, although we had had a record number of takeaways that week.

It turned out that my mother had discovered a breast lump and was waiting for the results of a biopsy. She told me this a bit later in the day, saying that she hadn’t wanted to worry me unnecessarily. I learnt that my grandmother had breast cancer as a young woman, and that my great-grandmother had died from the disease. Mum's test results came back a week or so later and the lump was just a fatty deposit.

I went to university and graduated. While I was job hunting, my grandmother collapsed and was rushed into hospital. Within a few weeks she was admitted to a hospice, and two weeks later she passed away. We were told that her body was riddled with metastasized cancer.

At this point I learnt more about my grandmother’s experience of breast cancer. Shortly after the birth of her first two children (aged 31) she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a radical mastectomy and radiotherapy. Twelve years later (aged 43) she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast, and again had a radical mastectomy and radiotherapy. As a child I never questioned her odd body shape. She was overweight which masked her missing bosom and lymphedema.

In the years after my mother’s first false alarm she had a number of subsequent lumps biopsied and each came back as benign. I was 25, and mum was 48 when she called me with the devastating news that her most recent biopsy had revealed a malignant tumour. She opted for a bilateral mastectomy, and had a course of chemotherapy. A year or so later she had a TRAM flap breast reconstruction. Genetic tests for the BRCA1 & BRCA2 genes became available and given the family history my mum decided to get tested. The results revealed she had a BRCA1 mutation which my mum was prepared for, but what took her by surprise was the discovery that there was also an increased risk of ovarian cancer. To minimise the risk of ovarian cancer she had a prophylactic oophorectomy.

Three years later, aged 28, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which to my mind answered the “have I inherited the BRCA1 gene?” question. My parents were devastated, with mum particularly distressed that she’d passed on the defective gene. My partner didn’t cope so well, but stuck with me. As a young woman, hoping to start a family, I opted for a lumpectomy, and had chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. To help my other half cope, I suggested we sell our home and rent somewhere close to his place of work, which enabled him to pop in and check I was ok when I was incapacitated with the chemo. I took the minimum amount of time off work, two weeks off after surgery, 3-4 days off after each dose of chemotherapy, and my radiotherapy was scheduled so that I could leave work mid-afternoon for the 7 weeks of daily treatment. I gradually recovered, and we started planning our wedding for the following year.

On the eve of our wedding mum was rushed into hospital, seriously ill. A few weeks later she was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer, quite rare but similar to ovarian cancer. We were told it was inoperable and terminal, and they started treatment with chemotherapy. It took several months, but eventually my mother started to recover as the cancer was pushed into remission. A year later the cancer returned, and while we hoped the chemotherapy would be effective a second time it gradually became apparent that it wasn’t working, and slowly mum deteriorated. A few months before my mother died, her sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

My husband’s coping strategy was courtesy of a slightly familiar grouse. Drinking at work got him fired. After my mum passed away, and without the stressful job, I had hoped he would be able to return to a sober lifestyle. When that didn’t happen I pushed him into a residential rehab program. He came out of that dry, but a shambling wreck of a man, cold and detached towards me. Within a month he demanded a divorce, and not long after that he told me he was setting up home with a drug addict he’d met in rehab who was expecting his baby.

As my life came to resemble an episode of 'The Jerry Springer Show', distraught with grief and a broken heart, I left London to return to my family in Yorkshire. I lived in York for a year, until a romance brought me back to London. Ironically that fizzled practically the moment I’d finished unpacking. I stayed in London, got my old job back, and settled down.

Ovarian cancer finally claimed the life of my aunt three years after my mother. Nine months later, shortly before my 36th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the opposite breast. The cancer had metastasized, spreading to three lymph nodes. Treatment was lumpectomy, lymph node clearance, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The prognosis is on the glum side – the 5 year survival rate is about 60-70%.

At the time of my diagnosis I was living alone in a flat in central London. Realising I wouldn’t be able to manage the four flights of stairs during chemo, and having no support network in London to help me, I retreated to Leeds where my family live. This was the second time that cancer had cost me my home.

Ten months later I was recovering from the treatment and discussing my return to work when lymphedema developed. This felt like the final straw, suddenly I was no longer coping, my horizons closed in, and I could see no future I wanted any part of. It has been a slow and difficult road back from that place, carefully navigated with help from a clinical psychologist. I returned to work on a part time basis four months ago, splitting my week between Leeds and London.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The reality of my situation

I’m nearly at the end of my two week vacation. The second week has been spoilt somewhat. My team leader texted on Tuesday asking to speak to me. It was Wednesday before we actually managed to catch up, so I spent a day uneasy, wondering what was so urgent my holiday had to be interrupted. I was told that I’ll be put on the rota starting the Monday I return from holiday. The call was a courtesy to let me know.

Each person in the team spends a week on the rota. If something goes wrong out of hours, the problem will be escalated to the on-call person. I’ve been very concerned since it became apparent that they intended to include me in the rota. I could get a phone call at any time during the evening, night, or weekend with a problem so intractable that it has to be escalated.

I’m going through life at the moment trying to act as though everything is ok, that I’m fine, and fully recovered. The truth is that I’m barely getting by. I fill my personal time with tasks in order to keep my mind away from the reality of my situation. I use a variety of coping strategies to try and stay in an emotional neutral zone, and I do everything I can to ensure I sleep well.

My fear is that by the end of a week of being on call 24 hours a day, I will be stressed out and sleep deprived by escalations. I’m at the upper edge of my coping envelope – if I’m pushed beyond that threshold, well, I’m terrified by that prospect. I know from experience that when depression descends, despair sucks you down to a place where there is no way out. Well, there is always one way out. The final egress. The turnstile that only goes one way.

I tried to explain this to the occupational health doctor, but he believes I should try three cycles of the rota, and if I don’t cope then they’ll look at taking me off it. I’m frankly astounded at his casual attitude. I suppose he can be philosophical if it turns out he’s wrong, but the consequences for me – well…

In my sleep

A rather supercilious customer services person told me that the B&Q timber cutting service is only for store bought materials, so I took my cupboard doors home. As so often happens, a solution came to me in my sleep. This morning I abandoned the useless Workmate, and used my solid dining table as a workbench. I was able to clamp the doors tightly enough to use the jigsaw to shave off the 12mm. It isn’t a perfect job, but I’m happy enough.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Torrents of the wet stuff

We have had a pretty dry spring and summer so far, all corrected in the last hour by torrents of the wet stuff being flung from the heavens along with thunderbolts and lightning.

♪♫♪ "Very very frightening me." ♫♪♫

Ahem. Got a little carried away there. The dog is glued to my heel, and the cat is hiding in the basement.

The afternoon was spent investigating how I’m going to shave 12mm from two cupboard doors I’m installing in the basement to cover the electricity meter & consumer unit. I can either take 3mm off each side of both doors, or take 6mm of one edge of both doors.

I bought a Black & Decker Workmate a few months ago, and I’d just like to state for the record that I whole heartedly regret ever laying eyes on it. I feel my fingers are at risk of being sliced off every time I have to unfold or collapse it. Whatever I’m trying to do the holes for the orange plastic material clamps are in the wrong place. The two wood surfaces don’t seem to be flat and level. Even with two ratchet clamps I’m not able to tightly secure whatever timber I’m cutting/sanding. For each task I’ve undertaken I’ve spent three times longer scratching my head as to how I’m going to secure my work than it eventually took me to perform the task.

Checking the internet, I discovered that the received wisdom for 2-3mm is to plane the wood off. I bought a plane, spent some time watching online tutorials, took the plane to bits and set it up properly, then went to practice on an old knackered cupboard door. It took a while to get anything resembling a reasonable technique going, and I’m going to have trouble clamping the doors securely enough to be able to get a decent straight finish.

Putting that option on the back burner (I really don’t want to end up with a pair of wobbly edged doors) I then got the jigsaw out, which the internet recommended for cuts of 3mm upwards. Again the primary issue was my inability to clamp the door tightly enough (there is nothing more disconcerting than a jigsaw kicking back.)

My practice door is only a third the length of the ones I need to alter so I’m quite dubious about both of these methods. I think I’ll take these doors down to B&Q, and put myself at the mercy of whoever is operating the timber cutting service. I’d just come to this conclusion when the cat & dog suddenly appeared in the basement heralding the arrival of the aforementioned storm. Perhaps not the best day to be ferrying timber from house to car, car to store, and back, so scratch the B&Q plan for today.

Friday, 9 July 2010

More important priorities

Leeds holds a consultation about its proposed "Dog Control Orders"

If you live in Leeds, please visit the website, and submit your response to the proposal. In addition to doing this, I emailed the Leeds Councillors and MPs:

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Subject: Leeds Dog Control Orders Consultation

Dear Elected Representatives for Leeds,

I have taken a moment to fill in the online Dog Control Orders Consultation, but as I feel strongly about a number of issues raised by this consultation I thought I would take the extra time to contact you all directly.

In these straightened times it does not seem a prudent use of Leeds City Council’s finite financial resources to contemplate new schemes when every taxpayer penny is desperately needed in front line core services. If these Control Orders are adopted there will be a cost – putting up signs, training council officers on their new powers, conducting a public awareness campaign, employing people to enforce the new measures, plus the cost of issuing fines and pursuing non-compliance in the courts. Don’t we have more important priorities for our public funds?

Councillor Tom Murray is on record as saying that "Irresponsible dog owners are a problem, blighting parks and streets with the pet's mess and failing to properly control their animals.” This is a contentious opinion.

As a responsible dog owner I visit a city park every day to walk my dog, getting some exercise and appreciating the outdoors in the process. I would hazard a guess that dog owners are probably the only section of the community who use a park every single day, in summer and winter, fair weather and foul.

I principally walk my dog in Middleton Park, Roundhay Park, Temple Newsam, and Golden Acre Park. In my daily perambulations I have not seen this “blight” that Coun Murray speaks of. A dictionary definition of blight is “something that impairs growth, withers hopes and ambitions, or impedes progress and prosperity.” I would suggest that unemployment could be described as a blight, but dogs being walked off lead supervised by their owners does not constitute a “blight”.

Like all responsible dog owners, I clean up after my animal, using the dog bins provided. If the council has any spare funds then, instead of control orders, perhaps it would like to consider increasing the number of dog bins, and have them emptied far more regularly. Fines for failing to clean up after a dog already exist, the proposed control orders add nothing valuable to this.

Unless the council can come up with substantiated and quantifiable statistics of issues caused by off-lead dogs then there can be no rational argument for imposing costly new regulations in the midst of a recession.

Please spend our tax money on core frontline services.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Just "BE"

I’ve taken to sitting up in my loft.

Last year I got floor boards installed as the builder said it would make a great storage area. It is an old leaky slate roof. Every now and again I hear a thump on the bedroom ceiling which indicates another lump of compo has lost its tenuous grip on a slate and succumbed to gravity. The slates need taking off then re-laying over felt. Some steels, a couple of velux windows, insulation and plasterboard and I’d have a fantastic extra room. However budget constraints mean I put buckets under the drips, and wait for that magical lottery win (must remember to buy a ticket.)

I went up there to check whether everything was ok, and ended up running the vacuum cleaner around to hoover up some of Leeds’ industrial history – black soot - which on windy days drifts down from rafters where it has lain since the days of tall chimneys and woollen mills.

When I finished I sat at the loft hatch with my legs dangling over the landing, ready to swing onto the ladder to come down. It was a hot day and I was a little tired from my exertions. I thought I’d just sit there a minute and cool down. As I sat there in the gloom I found my thoughts drifting aimlessly, admiring the geometric patterns made by the purlins and rafters, seeing the tiny twinkles of daylight inveigling through the cracked tiles, listening to the wind rattle the slates, birds landing on the roof, children playing next door, and cars passing in the street. I was totally captured in the moment. Whilst visually static, there was a constant play of sounds. Time flew by, and it was with a sigh that I eventually forced myself into action, down the ladder and back into the real world.

I’ve been back up a couple of times since, and the effect is undiminished. It is very relaxing. My fears, frets, and to-do lists vanish. I no longer need to “DO”, I can just “BE”. I hereby add it to my list of coping strategies. The loft and I – we’re going to be great friends.