The World Shrinks to the Shape of a Day

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How our lives have changed!

In the space of a month we have gone from leading our carefree, ignorant lives, pottering, shopping, taking a train ride, going to the pub, going for a meal, visiting our families, having visitors, going to the cinema or to the theatre, participating in gym classes, getting together with friends or  pursuing our hobbies to leading much smaller lives.

We write lists of jobs.

We clean. We turn out cupboards and sweep the garage. After time, the initial enthusiasm for cleaning begins to pall.

We garden; weeding, mulching, pruning and tidying. I long for the distraction of browsing in a garden centre.

We walk.

We watch TV. We catch up on programmes we missed or dismissed. We try a live-streamed pub quiz. We instigate a ‘movie night’-a leap of faith for Husband, who is film-averse. We watch a favourite, local singer-guitarist broadcasting from his living room.

We video message.

We listen to the news or watch it.

We pursue whichever activities we are still allowed to do.

We are the lucky ones. We have a garden, one that still requires a great deal of work. But the garden centres are closed and we must make do with whatever we can, splitting and dividing plants or moving things around.

We chat over the fence to our neighbours, keeping to our distance rule.

We make the most of our allocated daily walk, the local streets having to replace our favourites like the 12 mile sweep of beautiful Bournemouth Bay or the New Forest national park. We discover interesting or unusual sights over garden walls or in windows, becoming observant, critical or appreciative.

We cross the road in avoidance tactics-are we the only ones to do so? It seems so… We salute walking strangers, smile in acknowledgement of our shared predicament.

I bake things. We eat them. We make creative meals with the ingredients we have, or the odd items we found while cleaning out the cupboard, keeping shopping expeditions to once a week. We take turns to run the gauntlet of the weekly supermarket shop, having taken pains to write a comprehensive list, fearful of having to return before another week passes.

I exercise, using an online Pilates class. I become religious about my Pilates class, performing a morning ritual of moving furniture and rolling out my yoga mat. I grow to like my online, nameless teacher and look forward to her calm, gentle tones instructing me. ‘Well done!’ she says and I almost glow with virtual pride.

We take pleasure in the small things and are grateful for what we have-a comfortable, roomy house, a garden, healthy meals, communications from our family.

We are humbled by the heroism of so many in the face of such a mountainous catastrophe.

And we mourn for lives lost and devastated by this, the abomination of our era.

Our Lives in their Hands

We are all in others’ hands. From before we are born, to being brought up, to getting an education, to driving our cars or stepping on to a bus or train, to earning money, to visiting the GP; in every single area of our lives we depend on others for our safety and wellbeing.

I watched a news report from Syria, in which a sick baby, afflicted with a hole in his heart had to be rescued from his incubator when the hospital treating him was bombed. The young paramedic carried the baby, drip and all. in his arms and held him during the bumpy ambulance ride. The baby gazed calmly up into the medic’s eyes and reached towards his face. After this journey the baby needed to transfer to another ambulance and a swap of personnel. This young child remained calm and trusting as he was passed from one pair of arms to another.

The extent of our dependence on others is never so stark as when we fly, stepping into a vehicle and surrendering ourselves to the mercy of the pilots and crew.

Trust in each other has to be the most important factor in conducting our lives. On an international scale, when we as nations don’t trust other countries, this is where conflicts are likely to arise. To behave in sneaky, underhand behaviour leads to double-dealing and confrontations. How much better to be open, to allow free movement and to share knowledge.

You could live on an island, become self-sufficient, never communicate. What kind of life would that be? Those currently in quarantine from the Coronavirus and others incarcerated on a cruise ship and isolated from the rest of us are finding life dull and difficult-even for two weeks; and this is with the benefits of internet communication. The admirable ‘Abels’, trapped in their cruise ship cabin are passing the time by becoming media stars. Elsewhere there is quarantine blogging from bored internees.

We are off to Thailand. We’ve deliberated long and hard, consulted others, read up [probably too much], prepared, acquired masks and gels. We’ll comply with any checks and instructions, steer clear of crowds, wash our hands. We’ll go to our destination and relax. We’ll be depending on others-and so will everybody else…

Fiction Month. Extract 4.

      In this, the last extract of my new novel, ’til It’s Gone’, a sea captain, Hooper is taking the undercover researcher, Uzza to the poisoned ‘Wasteland’ to research a disease. During the voyage Hooper becomes fascinated by the sight of Uzza writing with pen and paper…

After dinner Hooper went up on deck to check that the mast and rigging were secure and to scan the horizon and coast manually, a task which instrumentation had replaced but which she continued to undertake herself as a safety measure. When she returned Uzza was again writing in a small book, an activity which fascinated the mariner as she had seldom seen anyone using a pen and paper except in footage from history lessons as a child.
“Why do you write” she asked her passenger, “when technology has replaced manual writing?”
Uzza finished the line she was writing and looked up. “Our ancestors would consider it a paradox, but paper has become the means of messaging that is most secret. Since communication became restricted to PAM, broadcast, V-meet and voice-technology there is no other secure way to record data, observations and conversation. Think about it. Surveillance has increased beyond calculation in our lifetimes. Here at sea we can perhaps enjoy a relative degree of privacy where a signal may not reach but on inhabited land there is no such luxury. Life for most is lived under a scrutiny so ubiquitous it is akin to living under a microscope. Paper can only be seen by the person who has it. Paper can be destroyed.”
“Where did you learn it?”
“I taught myself to write from watching history footage. It is not so difficult, although of course it is laborious in comparison to voice recording!” She bent her head to the notebook, signalling an end to the conversation and continued to make lines of marks on the paper with her pen.

In another day they were far enough north to need to make preparations for disembarkation. Hooper stood Fulmar out from the shore, far enough to be free of the poison zone but near enough to be able to get Uzza dressed and masked for her expedition. She would need to don the protective gear and wait outside while the yacht pulled in. Hooper explained how she would stand Fulmar as close as possible to the remains of the jetty using the small bio-motor, giving the woman as much of a chance as she could to step up on to it.
“But it has not been maintained” she advised her, “So you must be very careful to tread on the firmest parts. If you fall into the water it will be certain death and I cannot save you. The water will poison you in minutes, your skin, your lungs, your…”
“Yes, yes I realise, thank you.” Uzza frowned in irritation, anxious to be getting on with her project. She had a small bag containing vials which she intended to use to collect samples. She peered out at the shoreline. “What is that, Hooper? Is a factory of some kind?” She pointed to an enormous structure consisting of once tall, grey chimneys, crumbling warehouses and the skeletal remains of high scaffolding.
“It is the ruins of an old fossil fuel processing plant” she told her. “They used to call them refineries. The oil would be piped from the wells across the land to the coast then prepared for use before being shipped on flat vessels they called tankers, which then used vast quantities of the fuel to transport it. It seems a nonsensical process to us now, but it was all they knew.

This is the final sample of ‘Til It’s Gone’. Any feedback comments are appreciated. Updates on publication will be posted on ‘Anecdotage’. [Normal service resumes next week!]

The Dairy Discovery

During November, while Fiction Month trundled along collecting some new readers of ‘Anecdotage’ I made an interesting discovery.

Of course we should have been pootling merrily along the Rhine on a swish, indulgent river cruise boat swigging German beer, scoffing wurst and carousing. We should have been exploring hitherto unvisited [by us] cities, wandering cobbled streets, photographing, sampling, learning. We should have been undertaking what was to have been our very first cruise-type holiday. But this was not to be.

After the long, hot, dry summer of 2018, the mighty Rhine has not sufficient water to float the cruise boats down it’s length. We could have continued the trip using coaches but what would have been the point? We have a perfectly beautiful road vehicle of our own.

At the beginning I was stunned. This was to have been Husband’s celebratory birthday treat and felt I’d failed him. We booked a short break to Vienna, missed on our spring jaunt [detailed in a previous Anecdotage post]. Then the evening before our departure Husband became ill with a virus. We cancelled. Ho hum…

Now I’m on a different journey, exploring, having made a discovery. In an idle moment, whilst reading an article about raising infants as vegans I learned that I may have become allergic to dairy products.

Now for a number of years, [since having been diagnosed with UC-another story] I’d come to assume that the skin disturbances I’ve battled were associated with the disease. But the article suggested that dairy products could be the cause.

Hmm… I consume a lot of dairy items. I’m a fan of natural yoghurt, take milk in tea and coffee, love cream and am pretty much a cheese-aholic. I cook with cheese, milk and yoghurt and I am inclined to whip a chunk off the Cheddar for a quick snack. Becoming dairy-free was going to be a major undertaking!

I started with milk. I began that same day by trying ‘Koko’, a coconut based milk on the vegan shelf in the supermarket. In coffee it was palatable. In tea it was overwhelming, rendering the tea most un-tea-like. As an addition to soup it was fine.

I moved on to soya milk. In coffee it was creamy and delicious, adding a chocolatey taste. That it also added a chocolatey taste to tea was less encouraging. Soya yoghurt, however was a triumph and  possibly more delicious than dairy yoghurt. The next test of almond milk proved the best solution for tea [although it can’t match soya milk for creamy coffee].

I turned my attention to cheese. Tesco provided a small range of vegan cheesy options and I went first for a cheddar-like block [Violife]. It was bland and rubbery-a little like processed cheese; neither disgusting not delicious. A lump of ‘stilton’ tasted quite nasty and smelled like dung, pervading the fridge with it’s noxious aroma. It had to go. But it is early days and I am continuing my quest.

…and the results? Startling. Within 48 hours my skin looked and felt drier and clearer, and continues to improve. My hair, which was oily enough to need washing every day has become drier and my digestive system [sparing details] is altogether calmer. It’s enough to keep me on the dairy-free path, but I’m in mourning for crisp, nutty, tangy, roof-of-the-mouth-tingling Cheddar. Any suggestions?

-Oh-and just think-if we’d been on the river cruise I may not have been idly reading the news and found that item on raising vegan children and still not have known about dairy allergy-so there you go…

Sensual, Slow and Unsupple…

At the beginning of this year, 2015, I took up an activity I never in my entire life intended or expected to dabble in; yoga. I’d always been dismissive in my fit, running and aerobics years, feeling that static activity such as Yoga or Pilates was both boring and pointless.

Nobody was more surprised than I. But there were a number of reasons for placing a tentative toe on the yoga mat, which were as follows:

1] I’d been diagnosed with a chronic disease during the latter stages of 2014, resulting in two months of exercise stagnation. I needed to make a start on some kind of return to fitness. Yoga, I thought might provide a slow way in.

2] During my enforced incarceration due to illness the gym I’d been attending closed down-an event that seemed grossly unfair. It shut when I wasn’t looking! I had to find somewhere new and something new to do.

3] I was also curious. Yoga began to develop over five thousand years ago in Northern India and since then has never gone away. Today more than thirty million people practice it, so I figured there must be a benefit to contorting your limbs into a tangle or placing your feet behind your ears.

The ideas I’d formed, as you can see were stereotypical and skewed. I’d considered that since I found it uncomfortable even to sit on the floor with my legs crossed I’d never accomplish that pose with feet on either knee-and I was correct! I haven’t.

But I have discovered benefits. For a start, it seems indulgent to lie down on the floor and think of nothing except your breathing and ‘how you feel today’. [This is how we start]. Many of the slow movements and the poses concentrate on flexibility. Others are designed to improve balance and stability-much like Pilates. Flexibility and balance are two abilities that have a tendency to deteriorate with age, so to me it makes sense to try and maintain them.

In the class we are all ages, sizes and levels of fitness. There is no element of competition. The teacher is a slim, supple sprite who is able to contort herself into any imaginable shape; but she has no expectations of her pupils. We follow as best we can and if our limbs fail us there are alternative ways we can arrange them. That very lack of rivalry, the slow, undemanding moves from one position to another is what provides the satisfaction and sense of wellbeing.

There must be something in it. At the very least, if I am walking on the beach and need to stop and empty my shoe of sand I am able to remove it, tip out the sand and replace it on to my foot while standing still unaided on the other foot. [Fit ex-footballer and rugby player and cycle-freak, Husband cannot do this!]. It is the result of practising numerous ‘tree’ poses.

‘Guler sharsener’ says the teacher, or ‘namastay’ or some such exotic sounding phrase. Who knows what it all means? And does it matter?

Punctuating the Years

I began as the third of three bullet points, like this:
• Child 1
• Child 2
• Me
Life continued in a small way, but developing, gathering commas, growing, learning, shuffling, crawling, walking, attending school.
School was a series of quotations. ‘Don’t be late’ ‘Do your homework’ ‘Read this’ ‘Take notes’ ‘Write that’ ‘Line up’ ‘Don’t talk’ ‘Sit up’ ‘Wear this’ ‘Don’t wear it like that’ ‘Too short’ ‘Too untidy’ ‘Get changed’ ‘Get ready’ ‘Sit down’ ‘Stand up’. Sometimes the orders were exclaimed: ‘Stand!’ ‘Sit!’ ‘Quiet!’ ‘Girls!’ Sometimes they were questioned. ‘Where’s your kit?’ ‘Where’s your book?’ ‘Where’s your homework?’ ‘Why are you late?’ ‘Why are you early?’ ‘Have you practised?’ ‘Have you finished?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Why not?’
I became a student. Student life was all about ellipses… We stayed up all night… We got drunk… We tried various substances… We got up late… We skipped lectures… We went on the pill… We had unsuitable liaisons… We had suitable liaisons… We shared flats… We somehow managed to stay the course…
The world of work seemed, initially to be a place organised into neat brackets. I rose [early], went to work [walk, train, tube, walk], taught my class [reprobates], went to meetings [tedious], received a salary [a relief].
I became a married woman, at which point I was hyphenated-a mere adjunct-even more so when motherhood occurred-. “What do you do?” I was asked-but before a reply was supplied-“Oh of course-you don’t work, do you?” They were the wilderness years-the 1980s-my ten years of hyphenation-stagnation; but punctuated with babies-[!]
They grew older. I returned to work, [brackets again] but harder {{{{more stressful}}}. There was ‘accountability’. There were computers [!] There were inspections [!!!] But there were also colleagues…who became friends…I took up running…and exercise classes…
I became an ‘unmarried woman’! … Moved house…Ellipse life returned… with interludes of exclamation! I was happy-or unhappy-by turns.
I met Husband, moved house again, changed job, settled, waved goodbye to the offspring, said hello to them again, [by turns]. Then a grandchild made an entrance! Grandparenthood was embraced with some bemusement-. Where had the years gone? Why so fast? How had all these events occurred [behind my back]?
Older age was here- The bonus-the consolation was retirement. I travelled. I read. I wrote. I followed pursuits I’d always wanted to. Bits of me hurt more when I exercised. I gave up running [for walking]. The return to work came back to haunt me in the form of chronic disease. I was diagnosed: it was all about the colon; which had deteriorated into a semicolon; somehow, for now it survives; even if-in the future-the colon gets discarded-after all, what is life except one, long series of ellipses?…

Journey to the Centre of the Colon-a gastric Odyssey [with apologies to Jules Verne]

I made a promise when I began this blog-the ramblings of an ageing female-that health issues would not be at the forefront of every post. Every now and then, however there is bound to be some blot on the fitness horizon and this particular blot appears to have eclipsed normal life like a blackout curtain.

In an ironic curve the disease I have eventually been diagnosed with is not at all age related, more an unfortunate plague of a far younger demographic. What is it? It is ulcerative colitis; nasty and incurable, yes, life threatening-well no, supposedly not, except that the odds of more sinister complaints are increased.

Whilst Fiction Month was running its [highly satisfactory] course the writer was undergoing many weeks of initial terror followed by exhaustion and desperation as the slow wheels of our UK health service ground along; well-meaning and efficient but over-stretched and ponderous.

During the past two months life has shrunk back within the walls of the house, where access to bathroom facilities provides a secure reassurance-for now, the only factor that matters. This disease, as all inflammatory bowel diseases [Crohn’s is another] is neither romantic nor noble, reducing us, the sufferers to the most basic of needs- a toilet and means of cleaning up. A walk, shopping trip or evening out becomes an activity to be undertaken with trepidation and vast amounts of planning, but mostly not at all.

With Christmas rearing up I fall eagerly on the reassuring presence of the internet while fantasising about strolling around Christmas markets, choosing ‘real’ items, stopping for coffees, enjoying the ambience of the ‘Alpine Bar’ that popped up in our local town [according to Facebook].

Between sojourns enclosed within the shiny, tiled cell of the lavatory I have enjoyed the luxury of unlimited research time, during which I have discovered the unfathomable ocean of misery that is undergone by those who suffer chronic illness. I am castigated by the small but dedicated carers that are my immediate family for doing this, but to me, ignorance can never be a pleasure. The more I know, the better I am prepared.

The GP [local doctor] who was my first port of call has kindly followed up with inquiries regarding diagnosis and progress but clearly is at a loss to know how to provide cheer amid the gloom. ‘You are on a journey’, she tells me and I refrain from advising her that my travel plans have reduced down to the few steps it takes to achieve the safety of the loo. She does mean well.

In all I have not failed to recognise that I am extremely lucky to have Husband-supporting without false cheer, and Offspring-resilient in her newly acquired nurse’s knowledge. Messages, however brief, from some of those who I’ve plucked up the courage to inform are more appreciated than they can know.

So far treatment cannot be described as an unmitigated success, although I recognise it is still ‘early days’ and that there are further options along what the doctor calls the ‘journey’.

I am learning to appreciate home comforts and I am catching up [via the wonder that is ‘Blinkbox’] on TV and film I missed when I was engaged in more worthy activities.

One tragic casualty has been my writing, the pursuit of which has escaped me. This may change-who knows? What a blessing we none of us know what lies ahead!