Monday, 31 December 2007

That New Year's Eve Thing Again!

It's New Year's Eve again. We have made no arrangements at all - in fact the only thing I want to do at this moment is - and this may sound a bit odd - to find a horse to look at, and I'm really lucky, to stroke.

Must be going mad.

But then I've always hated New Year's Eve and the ensuing, often enforced celebrations. I don't drink so the thought of spending the entire night surrounded by pissed people is less than enticing. And that's before I even think about the whole wretched cancer business.

Yesterday I went out for a long gentle walk around a reservoir somewhere in Bolton to try to shake me out of the most ludicrous sadness I appeared to have woken up with. The walk was beautiful, and even when it turned into a muddy, climbing along gates and under fallen trees kind of affair, I wasn't out of breath, or ill at all. Which started the tears again for some weird reason. Thankfully everyone is still being really patient with me... if anything, I'm the one I'm annoying the most!!!

Anyway, sod the New Year's Eve thing - I promise to make more of an effort next year and the years after that - all 50 of 'em (I've put in my order to the powers that be for a long healthy life followed by drifting off in my sleep one night in my 80s or 90s).

I will go with the sentiment though - to say to everyone, remember to love yourself and your life, and to make time to do useful and purposeful things that make you and others feel good.

Happy New Year 2008, and the most heartfelt thanks to all of you who have been listening to me, and responding so positively to my pleas for support.

Here's my list:

1. Survive lung cancer and become fit and healthy again. And look after myself properly from therein after. Spinach isn't that bad.
2. Work on staying positive and not being such a miserable bastard! Although to be fair, it's only 2 and half weeks since my diagnosis.
3. Keep writing and doing the PhD. Finish the novel by the end of 2008.
4. Keep on riding horses and improving so that I can get one eventually.

Friday, 28 December 2007

It is cancer...

Funny old thing this living - this sentient awarenes of our own mortality. It's a bit of a bitch really - a double edged sword. I've been face to face with my own mortality on more than one occasion but this threat, from so deep inside, has to be the most frightening of all. By a long shot.

And a lot of people have to face this everyday. It isn't just me. I want to say to anyone out there who stumbles across this blog, who has just been told they have cancer, or that someone they love has cancer, that it gets easier - in your head I mean. You have to acknowledge that it is so terrifying at times you feel you are going to implode with the stress of it all - full fight or flight mode but nowhere to go. But eventually - I phone my friends now, for this - you can talk yourself around again, to see that this is not the horror it used to be. That medicine, combined with diet and a positive mental attitude, means we can survive this.

So what's new?

The biospy reports are back and it is non small cell - that is cancerous but slow growing. In the grand scheme of things it's a bit of a lucky break.

They want to see me at the beginning of January and start 'radical treatment' immediately. They are talking about chemotherapy to shrink it and then, when it is small enough, they can cut it out of me. The prognosis is still very very good.

And I'm proud to report that I am getting much braver about needles (which is just as well really isn't it?!). When the PET scan people rang to give me an appointment for next week, they said we have to give you an injection, and I was like, what? Just one? No intravenous?! Fabulous! The woman must have thought I was going mad!

And the chemo thing is by intravenous for up to 3 hours, and you know what? I really don't mind at all. Whatever it takes really. That heart-pounding, chest heaving terror has gone now, and has been replaced by a much more manageable sense of sadness and resignation - resigned to the fact that this body is going to have to suffer a bit in order to livestrong. And livestrong I bloody well will!

So I have decided that this is not going to kill me. Not by a long shot. All the bloods were normal. I'm otherwise very healthy and people beat this thing all the time.

This is something I need to keep telling myself. Until it becomes a fact in my mind that I have nothing to fear because I am going to win this battle. And grow old the way I'm meant to.
And yet the tears come on a daily basis, and I have to just let them come, and then they subside.
Oh Bugger!
So the plan is to get writing again. I'll have lots of time on my hands and probably, I'm guessing, a deep need to escape the places I'm going to be in, physical and mental. I could do worse than immerse myself in the life and language of my beloved Andalucia!!!

Once upon a time....

Monday, 24 December 2007

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

This is my favourite Christmas text of all time. I listened to it every Christmas as a child, and read it to mine. I'm sure it's out of copyright, so hopefully it is okay to share with you all!

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
'Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!'
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
And so, from me, Happy Christmas to All, and a Prosperous and Healthy 2008 (and beyond!)

Sunday, 23 December 2007

some thoughts

I always wondered how on earth people dealt with the news that they have cancer. Now I know. Or at least I am finding out.

The Armstrong books arrived yesterday, and I am half way through reading the first one, It's Not About the Bike. I won't lie. It isn't an easy read.

It's not easy to read because at this stage I know next to nothing about what I have. I don't know what I'm fighting - what type is it? Is it aggressive? Will it hurt? Or rather when will it stop hurting? I need to 'go back to school' and learn about diet, positive thinking, cancers and the drugs we have in our arsenal.

Yesterday I went out to the supermarket, and then to Nic's for a brew. It was a positive day and I was bright. More phone calls from Canada - this time Michelle, the cousin I grew up with as a sister until I was 7 and moved to the UK.

Today I woke up at 5 am in a blind panic. The pain was pretty unbearable in my left side and I went down stairs to warm the wheat-packs again.

Two things:

1. Fear: "I thought I knew what fear was, until I heard the words You have cancer. Real fear came with an unmistakable sensation: it was as though all the blood in my body started flowing in the wrong direction," writes Armstrong. How well he puts it - I can do no better. I think perhaps fear is going to be my biggest enemy. It's a hard one because it doesn't allow the mind to respond to logic once it takes hold - it cripples your thinking and leaves you cowering and gasping for breath.

So I put music on and dance now. I sing loudly. Anything to shut the fear out. I will not allow myself to be debilitated by fear, and I think Armstrong took the right approach by finding out all he could about his illness. I have decided that once the diagnosis is complete I will learn all I can about my particular case.

And then we fight.

2. Friends: What comes through in Lance Armstrong's story so far is the people he was surrounded by. People are sooooo important. The phone calls pick me up enormously, and being alone for too long is not good at all. It is difficult for me to admit, after being so independent, that I need everyone's support beyond measure. How do people survive this? Because they have support. Because they stay positive and they can only stay positive by having positive people around, constantly reminding you that this is going to be ok.

3. Mind: I know I said 2 things, but this is equally important. My mind tries its best to stay off topic - forget about things for a while. But half way through a film, you think, "I wonder how bad chemo will be?" At dinner time, mid swallow, you think, "I don't want to die." At bed time I imagine the tumour shrinking, being washed away like an island being eroded by the sea.
"Please go away," I tell it. "You really can't stay in here because you are hurting this body, and this body chooses to live."

This is bloody ridiculous. I haven't asked "Why me?" because there's no point. Why anyone? And no anger. I have no one to be angry at. There's just sadness and fear, and a hoping, wishing, praying, trying to believe-ing that this is all going to turn out fine, and I'll look back in 20 years and laugh at the absurdity of it all!

So... keep it coming - the success stories, the words of comfort, the pull-yourself-togethers, the fight fight fight thises - I need 'em all.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Light Reading...

It's Friday - not that I've been losing track of time or anything ha ha!

The telly is working again - hallelujah! Although having said that I'm on the computer and the kids are parked infront of The Chronicles of Narnia!

Hubby ordered some books for me yesterday - a little light reading jejeje - we have;

It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong (recommended by Nic)

Livestrong: Inspirational Stories from Cancer Survivors - From Diagnosis to Treatment and Beyond by The Lance Armstrong Foundation

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind: Complete and Unabridged by Joseph Murphy (as recommended by Anna)

Cancer Positive: The Role of the Mind in Tackling Cancers by James Colthurst (because it looked useful)

Not my usual reading material but needs must and all that.

Had a lovely surprise today when the phone rang and it was Desiree and Celia in Spain, with loads of happy stories of successful cancer treatments.... And yesterday a call from Canada from Brenda. I'm so lucky to have all these people who care about me, and it is amazing how much help all the calls, emails and comments are at times like these. I get up in the morning and think, Oh Shit, and then I get online, or someone calls, and I feel better instantly.

It's probably all this being stuck indoors that's doing it, so going to make an effort to get out more. I've been using a wheat-pack to keep my shoulder pain at bay so been asking everyone if they have a microwave I can use when I visit! Except everyone's at work. Bugger!

On the plus side, pain is bearable and no one has stuck any needles into me for a couple of days :)

Quite a boring post today methinks. Stuck on level 71 of Boxworld and can't access the cheat page for some reason so slowly going mad trying to figure it out...

Hope you've all done your Christmas shopping - thanks to the Internet, I've managed to do mine without getting cold!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

on and on we go...

I don't know what happened yesterday but I completely lost the plot for a while. Quite a while.

And I'd been doing sooo well! Humph!

Today I'm feeling better. And then the satellite dish stopped working, and I thought now that really is taking the piss. A tumour and no telly.

Fear really is a terrible thing. Worse than the pain... well okay, but it's a fine line. The team have reviewed my case - no biopsy results as yet - they want a PET scan doing in a week or so... what does that mean? They said it was to make sure it was localised but now I'm terrified of what else may be lurking. On the plus side I get to be radio-active for a while.

*Deep breath*

Apologies to those people I keep ringing just for a chat... "Please keep telling me I am going to get through this..." Everyone says just tell me if there's anything you need.... and what I need is a constant stream of people telling me that I am going to live through this. And ride horses again, and maybe even own one, one day. That I will go to Spain a dozen more times, and see all the places I never saw in the world. Big world out there.

*Crap. BREATH!*

I started reading the Roy Castle Foundation site yesterday and it freaked me right out. Not doing that again!

Haven't written any of my novel but did hear a fascinating article in Excess Baggage on Radio 4, about Dervla Murphy. She writes travel books and said she started off trying to write novels but found she was a much better travel writer. My PhD supervisor said my novel was reading more like a travel book, so maybe it's a good thing. I don't know. Keep at it and see what happens I suppose. At least I've actually done a bit of research - hurrah.

And now what? Sit around and wait for the PET scan thing. My friend said I'd be getting my own barcode the number of scans I've had! Part of me worries that I really am in a bad way if they're ordering all these tests, and then a faint glimmer hope thinks maybe it's because I'm only 38 and they'd rather I didn't die so they're being really thorough...

Positive bloody thinking is so hard at times. I try. Really. And I haven't cried today which is something I guess. Besides, my eyes can't take any more after yesterday!

I've been through some shit in my life, I tell you, but this really takes the biscuit! Nic mentioned a book about a cancer surivivor who went on to win the Tour de France so going to read that. Focusing on the good stories.

Listening to Gypsy Kings, "El Camino, mi camino, el camino del verano, porque soy un vagabundo, yo me voy por este mundo..."

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Trying to get a piece of the Gremlin

I don't know where to start with this post...

I had a needle biopsy. Hmm.

Good news: Didn't have to drink any dye and no intravenous - Hurrah!

Bad news: They had to cut a hole in my shoulder with a scalpel...

Good news: Local anaesthetics are amazing these days. Didn't feel a thing!

Bad news: They couldn't freeze anywhere below the skin, and they had to stick a finebiopsy needle right into my lung.

More bad news: Right through all the nerves that are causing all this pain just by being next to a 3cm tumour - Yeouch! If I hadn't had to hold my breath JJ would have heard the scream in Bangkok, but luckily it was contained inside my head.

Even worse: So there I was lying face down, clutching my knees with what felt like a giant arrow sticking right through me, holding my breath for the doctor while everyone left the room to scan me again.

"Where did you go?" I said in my head. It was a very tiny voice I noted, like Kate Winslet at the end of Titanic. "Oh God. Please come back!" I was trying to do all those relaxation things - and I found I could relax everything but my upper body. My little ole heart was totally freaked out and tried to run away all by itself.

And then they came back and some beautiful person held my hand, and there was a bang (I knew this was coming) and the needle grabbed a chunk of something... and they checked it... and then out came the needle. (lots of 'ands' - poor writing - take note!)

All over - Phew!

Good news: My lung did not collapse, and I didn't even cough any blood up. A chest X-ray an hour later showed it was all ok - no leaks - and I went home to be watched carefully for 24 hours. I've never sat so quietly in my life!

Nige had to go to work afterwards, so huge Thank Yous to Fay, who came and did the first shift, followed by Nic (my own paramedic on hand - I am sooo spoiled!), and then Anita. They helped me stay calm and bright, and soon I was off my cake on Co-drydamol and Neurofen, so it was okay apart from the breakthroughs between doses. Oh, and my mother who has been cooking for us all every night! Christ - everyone really.

But today I've been great. It hurts but not enough to need pain-killers, and have even managed to blog! No idea if it makes an ounce of sense mind you...

*I do hope they got a piece of the little gremlin cos I really don't want another one of those biopsy jobbies!*

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Aqui Estoy!

Hard to follow at post like that, eh!

But Aqui Estoy - I am still here!

In response to Zinnia's comment to post below - yes, it has been a rough few days - really rough, but you know, it is amazing how fast you get your head round stuff like this. And I want to say to anyone else who gets news like this, that you just have to be positive and not let the fear demons get you.

My aunt rang me from Vancouver Island, and she really gave me a sense of inner calm. She's just come through this herself, and the more stories I hear of people fighting cancer and winning, the better I feel.

And I am not alone. That means soooo much.

And the 'signs' that this atheist doesn't believe in - ha ha - have been coming thick and fast... to make me laugh, and smile, and shake my head in disbelief...

1. A couple of weeks ago I had a weird dream in which I found myself on a little rowing boat on dark still waters. Death was with me, complete with his cowl and scythe. It occurred to me that there was no fear at all. We chatted for hours, like old friends, and though I can't remember what about, in the morning, as the darkness gave way to the sunrise, Death set me down on the shore and said he'd be seeing me, but not for while. I thought it was about the gallstones, but obviously my subconscious was telling me I'm not going to be crossing the Styx due to this tumour.

2. When the news was first delivered, the cancer nurse asked me to write down her number, and the only paper I had was a post-it pad from the Roy Castle Fighting Lung Cancer organisation! Uncanny.

3. I did a spread using the Mah Jongg cards I have. I don't do it very often and it is has never been wrong so far. The first card up in the centre was the Unicorn - recovery from ill health and looking to the future! The rest of the cards said an unusual freak event followed by care from friends and family, and the problems were ill health and a stroke of bad luck with the solution represented by The Woodcutter (who hacks through entanglements) and The Phoenix (who rises from the ashes). And in the end, it said recovery and a new phase of life begins. The final card was another Unicorn.

So even the coincidences are right on the money!

Pain is still bearable so it could be so much worse. Fingers crossed they can get it with the needle tomorrow and biopsy it, but today I am listening to Flamenco and feeling very positive. As may father-in-law put it, I'm in a very long dark tunnel, but there is light at the end of it, and no truck coming the other way. And then my dad added that everyone was walking through it with me...

.... *fillin' up*

Er... better get on with that novel now. I've had so many excuses for so long, and now I can't go to work for a while, I can use writing to cure myself!

Will keep you all posted whether you like it or not!!!!!

Thank you for all your positive vibes... keep them coming, please XXX

Friday, 14 December 2007

... but looking on the bright side...

Things have been a bit weird this week. I'm not sure if it's really appropriate to blog about this, but then my father-in-law said, "You haven't updated your blog since," and I thought, yes - I do need to talk about it - so I am...

I had the results of the CT Scan really fast. Next day fast. And then you kind of know that something is not quite right.

My gallbladder surgeon called me in the very next day. He had that smile that medical people get just before they drop a bomb.

"I've cancelled the gallbladder operation," he said. And then those words... "I'm so sorry..."

It turns out that the pain in the left shoulder and arm is being caused by a 3cm pancoast tumour in my left lung. The surgeon said he thought something was wrong - a lot more wrong than gallstones, and so he ordered the CT scan to make sure. And thank God he did.

I saw the lung specialist yesterday, and he was very positive. He said worse case scenario is that I have lung cancer and cancer in the lymph nodes, but it isn't in the bones, and it is treatable.


I am focusing on this, and being as positive as possible. After all, I can't let this beat me, and I intend to fight it all the way - if anyone knows about visualisation techniques for cancer, do let me know :) Apparently it can be really good in conjunction with surgery/chemo/radio etc. I'm willing to try anything!

What else can I say? Everyone has been so wonderful, and I send out my thanks to those of you who know me - who have sat for hours listening to me sobbing, and held my hand to get me through the fear. I feel so sorry for my family... I hope I'm not going to be too much of a burden on them.

On the bright side, the lung specialist said we got it early, and that although the road ahead is going to be rough, it is do-able. Lots of people have open-chest surgery and survive so there's no reason why I shouldn't. And what's a bit of pain in the grand scheme of things? I'm in pain all the time anyway so should be getting good at dealing with it! And ginger - ginger is good for nausea...

I have to be brave, I tell myself, and I will get through this. [Repeat until it sinks in.]

It is an awful thing but laughter is a good medicine so do feel free to send me jokes ha ha.

Now is not the time to be frightened of a few poxy needles. We have much bigger fish to fry. I'm having another CT scan on Monday with a needle biopsy - so that'll be fun. I think the CT scanner is going to become quite a regular occurrence, and as for the old surgery, well, let's deal with that when we get there, eh.

At least I haven't been given a death sentence. It could've been far worse.

So... I'm officially off work for the time being, and as I say, people have been absolutely fantastic. I think I just need to keep hearing all the positive stories of recovery, and the cancer nurses are fab. They are at the ready with the hankies and I even got a cup of tea yesterday. That's when you know you're proper poorly!

I'll keep writing. It's good to talk about it, I think. It's good because it keeps me telling myself I am going to survive this.

Wish me luck for the CT Scan on Monday - fingers crossed they can reach the little bastard to get a biopsy.

Will keep you posted!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

"Depending on the reason for your CT Scan, you may be required to drink a small amount of contrast dye OR have a small injection..."

Yesterday was scan day. It marked another mile-stone in this adventure into medical procedures.

I arrived at the hospital gagging for a drink, having been up for four hours and nil by mouth, so was pleased when the old lady next to me in the X-ray department said the nurse would bring me a glass of black-currant if I asked her. "It isn't very nice, mind," she added with a grimace. "It's not Robinsons."

It certainly wasn't.

It was gastrografin: a cocktail of:

amido(dia-)trizoic acid (that can't be good for you!)
disodium edetate (or this?)
saccharin sodium (what's this? fake salty sugar?!)
polysorbate 80 (I give up)
anise oil (YEUCK!)
and purified water.

It tastes foul. Mouth was indignant and throat constricted. Brain said get on with it, but stomach analysed first millilitre and decided it wasn't good for us. WTF are you doing? it screamed, and sent it back with added bile. Brain said shut up - it's better than an injection! So somehow I kept it down.

It is worth noting that no one else was complaining so I told myself to grow up... although the old woman emerged with a strange look on her face, gave me a half-hearted thumbs up, and staggered off down the corridor.

The scanner itself is not a problem. A marvel of technology, it has loads of magnets that whizz round inside the scanner. It is very loud once it gets going, like sticking your head in an aircraft engine turbine. But it's a ring the bed moves through rather than a narrow tunnel, so I figured I can do this. No problem. And then Nurse came at me with the cannular.

Now I'm bad enough with injections and blood tests, but having a line in is horrendous.

"You'll feel a small scratch," said Nurse.

Why do they say that?! It is not a small scratch at all. I'd rather she yelled Pin Pin (you'll have to listen to Russell Brand's Radio 2 Show).

So there I am, laying on the couch with my arms raised above my head, and the most horrid pain in my arm where the cannular is sited, thinking it must be hurting because of the stuff going in. The nurses go and hide behind their lead-lined room, and the magnets go into spin overdrive, deafening me. I'm singing, "Quiero volar, volar muy lejos..." [I want to fly, fly far away...] and get stuck on this one line because the rest of the lyrics have jumped ship.

Through the whirring and whizzing I hear; Breath in. Hold... ... ... ... And breath. Over and over again.

Fifteen minutes later another voice comes through the speaker saying, "We're running the fluid through now. You'll feel as though you have wet yourself, but you haven't."


And then it comes through. Stuff travels amazingly fast around the body once in the blood stream. It's not something I've ever noticed before, but even as Nurse is finishing her sentence, I do indeed feel as though I am sitting in hot pee. And there is a weird heat everywhere. It doesn't hurt at all, but it does induce a bit of panic as Brain and Body demand to know what's going on. Someone described it as feeling like your bones have turned to molten copper, and you know, it wasn't far off.

Another fifteen minutes later and Nurse re-appears to remove the intravenous cannula. All done.

Except my arm hurt for the rest of the day, and I've since discovered this isn't normal. You aren't supposed to be able to feel a cannula. I always wondered why everyone else looked so at ease with their drips, while I couldn't bear to have a line in, due to the intense pain. My friend who is a paramedic says I might want to mention it to my surgeon, given I'm going to have a line in after the operation next week. And it will hurt. A lot. Can't wait. Combine that with the drain and I'll be in pleats of laughter, eh.

I drove home (no one told me not to, and I didn't read the patient info on-line that says, Do not drive afterwards). I was sick for the rest of the day, in a dry-retching kind of way, and had stomach cramps until about an hour ago.

Still. Umpteenth thing down, and two to go: Preop day, and then the Big One just in time for Christmas.

But the old woman in the hospital had cancer of the oesophagus, and the other woman who was may age had had breast cancer, and now had bone cancer, so I should thank my lucky stars that all I've got is gall-stones, cysts, and dodgy bright patches, that hopefully - fingers crossed - the surgeon can fix.

And then I can recover and get back in the saddle - I sooo miss the horses!

My students sent me a get well card too, which was lovely, and I'd just like to say thank you to everyone who has emailed, or phoned, or come to visit my miserable arse at home. It has helped so much. Thank you all!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

5 things...

what are good and not so good - to steal Mr Mayhew's format (hope you don't mind Jon but too ill to think straight at the moment, let alone be all inventive and original)...

Not so good things in no particular order:

1. CT scan next week - scary!
2. Operation 5 days before Christmas - even scarier!
3. Christmas is coming and I can't do a thing about it.
4. We can't find a Nintendo Wii anywhere (at normal price from normal shop) - boo hoo!
5. Still sick - haven't written a bloody thing - have not left house in ages unless to go to doctor and/or hospital - am in limbo!

And on a brighter note...

1. The dishwasher is fixed - hurrah!
2. I'm reading loads.
3. Husband and children are healthy.
4. It's nearly Christmas.
5. Soon I will be better.

Hope everyone is well out there in yonder ether world...

Friday, 30 November 2007

Repair men, hospitals, and Cute Puzzle Games (Grow)

It's been a long and slightly stressful week, but it's Friday, so nearly through it.

The new face of Repair men!

The dishwasher packed up a while back after 11 months which made me rant on about the quality of goods these days and how nothing seems to last. Why, oh why, do we have to buy insurance against breakdown after only a year? Is nothing built to function for any longer than that?! In the current of climate - no pun intended -of recycling and protecting the earth's resources, would it be too much to ask for stuff to last longer than 12 months?!

Anyway, we're still under warranty so the repair man came to fix it. He arrived with a brief-case akin to something 007 might have, a tool kit that fit neatly into the size of a wash bag. A very smart, black wash bag.

I was amazed. Gone are the days of the fix-it man with an industrial sized hold-all full of dust and strange looking implements - now they arrive with wireless broadband, a handful of megabytes, and a hard drive to die for. Again, no puns intended. I am ill after all, and he was my dad's age.

So he plugged stuff in, and the machine told him the day we first plugged it in... how did it know that? I couldn't even remember that!!! It also told him, in a kind of Dishwasher/Dr Doolittle speak that it had a poorly circuit board and that's why he couldn't heat up the element. The element, it said, is fine. Another dishwasher 007 will arrive next week to replace the chips. Technology eh!

All very clever stuff. I think. So he printed off a receipt for the work, and all the diagnostics, and I thought, if only the doctors could've been so quick diagnosing me!

Speaking of which...

I saw the surgeon on Wednesday, after 3 weeks of the recommended low-fat diet. I realised by the end of day two that my diet wasn't particularly high-fat in the first place, so carried on as normal with two changes; semi-skimmed milk and low-fat spread. Symptoms continued as usual until I ate some birthday cake with the youngest and then it really did hurt!

On the plus side, all this nausea etc., means I'm steadily losing weight so will be sylph-like and elegant at the end of it all, hopefully.

So the surgeon decided I need a laproscopic cholecystectomy on Dec 20th. YIKES!

He's Russian and appears to have no sense of humour. When he proceeded to tell me about all the little things that can go wrong, like death, and that I need to take it very seriously indeed, I said I really didn't need to be told that. He said, "No. I think you do."

I began to wonder if many people have complications, and asked him how many times he's done this procedure.

"A few." Face straight as a scalpel.

I said, "How many is a few? A thousand?"

"I might never do a thousand in my career," he said in his Russian tones.

"Three?" I asked, panic rising. "Have you done more than three?!"

"Yes. More than three. A few." Unshakable, but then I guess that's what I want in a surgeon. Serious. No jokes. Getting on with the job at hand efficiently and effectively, and that includes dealing with a grown woman who is crying like child who has enough sense of the horror to befall her, but not enough to stop the panic spreading.

I told him I didn't want a drip in, and that did they have to the drain thing, and that if they did, I might freak out and want to pull it out.

He said, with all the seriousness and forcefulness of the Siberian out-back, that he "would not operate unless I was going to co-operate." I said I was only joking - that I wouldn't do anything stupid, and but then he mentions the words "urinary catheter" and started to sob again. And you know, besides the pain, it's the indignity of it all. I have very startling memories of a living room floor, a fire-place, a midwife armed with a piece of plastic tubing, and no drugs whatever. "Not that again," I pleaded, "Do the drain thing but not that while I'm awake!"

"I vill try to have zat removed before you wake up," he said, and almost smiled.

So date all set. In hindsight, the very fact that he mentioned the words "when you wake up" is encouraging, and I've been on-line reading the British Medical Journal's article on Laproscopic Cholecystectomy - I'll spare you the link - and the figures were pretty good. Starting to think I can do this. Well not a lot of choice really!

For the interested - here's a little diagram.

And if you're still with me, and now need a bit of light relief, you could do worse than to pop over to the Eyemaze website and play cute puzzle games that are very rewarding when you work them out!


is a wonderful website full of adorable games. The idea is that you click on items in a specific order, and watch how everything interacts with everything else. I love it!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Beautiful words: the book thief by Markus Zusack

A while back I bought a book in WHSmiths because a) the cover caught my attention, and b) it was on a 3 for 2 offer shelf. (Lessons to be learned here, fellow writers, I'm sure!) It then sat on the bedroom floor in one of many TBR piles for a couple of months until I came off work sick a couple of weeks ago and wanted something to cheer me up.

I begin to read. There is a prologue. 'Death and Chocolate' I read on. "Here is a small fact - You are going to die." Oh Great, I thought, but then I don't know why I thought a novel narrated by Death would cheer me up?! I didn't want to keep reading, but he drew me in. I couldn't help but like him, this narrator, with his scythe and his black cowl.

Set in Germany in WWII, Zusack tells the story of a young girl named Liesel - our book thief. It is a story about language, about the power of words, and about the horrors of Nazi Germany, of learning to read, of growing to love books so much that you will risk your life to rescue just one of the condemned from the embers - the Nazi Party even as you dig, standing so close to you.

This is not a book to pick up and plough through, rather one to be digested at regular intervals, like chocolate. And words have a physical presence in this novel, they have actions and weight attached to them. They are "thrown down" at people's feet. When Liesel is learning to read, trying to match the written word, to her Papa's voice, "the soft spoken words fell off the side of the bed, emptying onto the floor like powder."

It is a novel to be to be savoured rather than gulped down, despite the fact that the content may make your throat constrict at times; the lines of Jews - "Stars of David were plastered to their shirts, and misery was attached to them as if assigned," walking, staggering, being beaten towards Dachau.

I'm still only half way through so I can't tell you how it ends. It might not be very happy, after all, Death is narrating, but I highly recommend it to anyone who loves words, and books. It will even teach you how to swear in German!

the book thief by Markus Zusack is available from all good bookshops. It is available in an adult edition and a teenage edition. (I have the adult one and have no idea if the text is identical or not.) For an extract, more about the novel, and links to buy, visit here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Facebook - What's it for again?!

I just checked into face-book to a host of odd invitations...

1 x do I want to be a zombie
1 x do I want to play vampires
1 x IM request (use msn why can't you?!)
1 x join a club request
2 x family requests

I'm still not sure I get this facebook thing. I hope people aren't too mad when I choose to ignore all the applications, but life's too short and I've got a novel to write...

I like the drinks thing though! Virtual drinks are so much better for my guts than real ones!

p.s. all the bloods were normal so very relieved and just waiting to see the surgeon.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

New experiences/an interesting week

I've had some lovely emails since I got diagnosed with gallstones - people who've had the same problems and recovered (thank you sooo much for those ones!) and people just wishing me well (also extremely welcome!), but one emailer was laid up for some years after a motorbike accident, and she made an interesting comment about learning from it.

It's made me think. What have I learned from this experience?

1. That the house doesn't run itself and unless I am there to rant on and on, only the very basics get done.
2. That daytime telly is crap, even with Sky.
3. That I really miss riding. So much I can't bring myself to look at horse at the moment.
4. That guilt is a terrible thing; not doing enough with the kids/hubby/my writing/the house/my students/gymnastics etc etc. It takes me all my time to make it to the supermarket before having to curl up with a hot wheat-pack and self-pity.
5. That the old adage, "You haven't got anything if you haven't got your health" is bloody well true.
6. That I HATE not being able to run around like a stressed out lunatic - that's who I am, and I miss it. Learning point is that maybe I should get less stressed about housework - after all, nothing that bad has happened so far (to the house).
7. That one's ability to bear pain does increase. You start to develop little breathing techniques and stuff, and learn to 'ride' it.
8. That I really don't want to die just yet. This may seem obvious but being sick and not having the results back from the gamut of tests is wreaking havoc with my head.
9. That my job has been far more stressful than it needs to be, and I'll be prioritising family over it from now on.
10. And finally, that I do want to finish my book, and that the thought of dying now and leaving all that unfinished business behind is almost as upsetting as the thought of leaving my kids.

I promise that when I get better I'll do more with my time, and do it better!

Wednesday I was all positive in the morning, and then I had a blood test. By a student nurse, and I know she's got to learn, but she made two holes in my arm before announcing that all my veins had collapsed and that she needed help. As she ran from the room it got really hot all of a sudden, and my head started spinning. I've never had that happen in my life. I had four nurses cooing over me on a trolley asking me if there was any chance I might be pregnant. With a gut full of gallstones I hardly think so, says I, and eventually they let me get up and crawl under a rock to lick my wounds. The following day I had to go again and this time another nurse did it - without any problem at all.


So now we wait again. This week feels like a month, and I've missed doing anything for both my girls' birthdays. Oh woe is me! Fed up fed up fed up fed up.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Musica pa' la mañana! Los Aslandticos and Tomatito

I'm off sick which is crap. I've got blood tests to look forward to. Humph.

But received feedback from the first chapter of the novel from my supervisors and it wasn't all bad/negative. The plan (my plan that is) is to just keep going, knitting all the bits together until I have some sort of whole. At least now there's lots of time to write since I haven't got the energy to do anything else.

On a happier note - it is a musical morning and this is what I'm listening to;

The first is called Que Trata Andalucia. Reminds me of the costa I love soooo much :)

... and ... the second is De Momento, and has the line La vida pasa de momento - Life passes/happens in the moment. Quite apt at the moment... seize the day, live in the moment, etc.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

light at the end of this tunnel

This blog is starting to turn into some kind of medical moan site, so this is the last I'm going to say on the matter of my ever decreasing health!

A very kind family friend, who happens to be a GP, rang me last night and has put my mind at rest, finally (it took her over an hour). I'm no longer thinking I've got something really nasty and/or terminal, and instead, am looking forward to getting rid of this offending piece of kit (i.e. gallstones).

I think I ran out of fear. I wonder if this is normal - that you can only wind yourself up so much before something gives and you become passively acceptant of whatever happens. A que sera sera approach, you know? Or one could crack up and lose it altogether I guess, but nope, my body has gone with the (pardon me) 'fuck-it' reaction; if we die, we die and if we don't then hey, that's a bonus. (Dunno why I'm a 'we' suddenly? Security in numbers? Not going through it alone?!)

So. I have slowed down and am going to accept it. Here's 5 things I'm looking forward to;

1. Having energy again and not being able to sit still.
2. Doing things with my kids and hubby instead of waiting for them on the sofa.
3. Riding again. I so miss the horses.
4. Being pain free, and nausea free, and getting through the post-op ouches. Hmm.
5. Christmas! Finishing the first draft of the novel. (Okay, so I can't count!)

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

No further ahead and the dangers of googling medical problems

Been to see the surgeon today.

He doesn't want to rush into surgery for gallstones when he doesn't think the shoulder pain on the left is related. Thinks it could be stress. Needs more data.

Am partially relieved but still wondering what the blasted pain is about. Now on a reduced fat diet for 3 weeks, liver function tests, god knows what else.

Stress? It can do that?!

Need another trip to Spain! De-stress meself a bit!

Google is a bad thing when it comes to trying to diagnose yourself - and it doesn't help when the medical profession, in whom we are supposed to put our trust (and lives, let's face it), can't tell you anything. It makes you go looking for info, and thinking the worst.

Am going to be very patient and wait for the rest of the test results while putting any thoughts of surgery out of the window... after all, I found an article about flushing out gallstones with olive oil and clay or something, and if it's on the net, it must be true - mustn't it?!

Hope everyone out there is healthy 'cos being poorly is crap :)

Monday, 5 November 2007

Doctor Doctor

I've waited a week to see my GP (granted that's my fault for wanting to see the sameGP due to some mis-guided notion of continuity of care) and guess what? No test results are back yet.

So I ended up explaining what was on my own scan and looking for cooing "It'll all be okays," only none were forthcoming. So I asked to be referred to a private hospital, and the receptionist made me feel more at ease than anyone I've so far spoken to, plus I have an appointment with the surgeon on Wednesday - this Wednesday.

I'm feeling a bit miffed that I've had to wait since July for a correct diagnosis with what have been text book symptoms. Actually the Doctor said that pain in the left shoulder and arm, and left chest, were rare, but I've been googling (as you do), and according to anecdotal evidence, it's more common than they'd have you believe. I'm only saying all this because if you have persistent pain, and you know something is wrong, I'd urge you to keep on and on at the doctor until they take you seriously! The only reason I questioned the diagnosis of costachondritis was because I met a woman at work who had the same left sided pain I did, and it was gallstones. I could've been 'getting on with it' and living on Ibuprofen for another year or so!

Fingers crossed we get me sorted so I can finish me novel and all that!

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Half Way!!!

I am most pleased to report that my WIP has just reached the 50,000 mark. Which is interesting as I've only just started Chapter 2...

So what's going on?

The research trip was invaluable, and I'd recommend it to anyone who writes. It has brought my ideas together and I realised that the struggle was in finding the right voice for the novel, but also, the form and structure. The word count consists of a mass of pieces that will need to be stitched together carefully if I'm to get away with it - but on the bright side it fits in beautifully with whole PhD thesis; hybridity in form and content.

Or maybe I'm just being a pessimist and thinking I better crack on given what's lying up in wait for me (an anaesthetist, surgeon, nurses... argh!). Whatever, something has clicked into place.

In hindsight, here's 5 things I've learned/discovered from undertaking a research trip:

1. Note-books are crucial.

Write down everything; tiny things, insignificant things (how much it costs for a coffee, what the light switches look like), obvious things (the weather, the view). Use all your senses - smells, the feel of the wind on your skin, the sound of people's voices. I filled three notebooks and attempted some naive water-colours. They have become invaluable now, as the notes I made, and the things that they reminded me of, (about what I wanted to say, to show, to share, that I also wrote down), have become the basis for the novel.

2. Collect data.

Because my novel is set in Spain, I collected newspapers, bought novels and language dictionaries. I was conscious throughout the entire trip that I was there to absorb and collect, so no wonder I was over on my baggage allowance. Photographs have also been invaluable, when I want to jog my memory about a particular day, or place, I can call up the images and then try to paint that picture in words. I collected music too, as traditional local music is an important part of my novel.

3. Talk to people.

People are the richest form of data we have. I spoke to as many people as I could, listened to their stories. When writing about a place, local people often have local knowledge and can tell you all the quirky stuff that remains embedded in the oral tradition.

4. Let the research mull.

I left the writing alone for a couple of weeks after the trip, and let it all sink in. At first I felt quite overwhelmed by all the info I'd accumulated, and I couldn't see the usefulness in anything. But then the dust settled and things began to come to the surface, to make sense. I felt doors opening up in the writing that had been closed before.

5. I can't think of a fifth thing.

If anything, it's come as a bit of a surprise just how beneficial the research trip was, in terms of; getting ideas; developing existing ones; gathering practical information (dates, places, weather etc.); coming to terms with the project and my intentions.

Perhaps when the novel is in its final stages, I'll need another one! Just to make final checks you understand, and not to bathe in the Med, and ride across the hills!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Saturday already!!!

Time is ever paradoxical. On the one hand it barely creeps along, especially as I sit here feeling like an invalid (interesting how that word is made up - in-valid - like in Gattaca) waiting for the doc's to see me, to tell me what they're going to do about my tummy rocks, and on the other hand, it's just racing by. Saturday. Already.

5 things on my mind:

1. Gallstones (obvious that one really - although technically in the gall bladder)
2. House-work (Struggling to get it done at the moment as bending hurts - loads)
3. Food (am very hungry and waiting for my knight in shining armour to arrive with a late lunch)
4. My Novel (excited - want to write write write and wish they'd all bugger off so I could get some work done)
5. Yachting - they're all going tomorrow to play and I can't cos of tummy rocks Boo Hoo!

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Just a little distraction...

The new first page
... is all I needed so have;

1. Printed out all those fragments, some as long as 3,000 words, and counted up a total word count. It's bigger than I'd imagined!
2. Started at the beginning with a new page 1 for a totally new approach. You can ignore the first page I put up what feels like years ago in that first page challenge as it no longer applies.

Am very excited and working hard!

And it takes my mind of the impending surgery thing. *Quaking in boots* :)

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Los Aslandticos - something more cheery!

I discovered Los Aslandticos on the Spain Channel. I love 'em!

After the previous post I needed something more cheery. So here it is. Disfruta!

Check out this video: Se ven venir

Oh dear - turns out am Proper Poorly!

Gallstones - well, prettier than Gallstones!

Gory Bits

I went for an Ultra-Sound scan yesterday. We were looking for gallstones. And we er found some. Seven to be exact. And BIG ones! And all because of a chance conversation at uni, in which I was wittering on about my costachondritis! Might never have known! Might have found out when my gallbladder burst and I er... died.

Rather more worryingly, we also found some 'bright bits'. Apparently tumours are dark bits, so a sigh of relief there. Nevertheless, there's a big bright bit on the liver, and another on the kidney. I'm saying the liver, instead of my liver in the faint hopes that it has psychological value. But should I be, like, totally freakin' out right now? Would you be?

Perhaps a tad.

So looks like surgery. Ouch. I had my appendix out when I was about 9. I had an attack of cramps that just wouldn't go away and ended up in casualty. The examination, incase you didn't know, is rectal, and if I wasn't impressed with this development, I was even less so when I got rushed to theatre. I think I turned into a small banshee, and took out three nurses before they finally knocked me out. It burst on the table, and I was screwed for days later. Embarrasingly I was the worst child patient ever. I wouldn't keep a drip in (still can't abide them as am needle phobic) and cried the whole time. But - I did get lots of pressies and the pain I'd been in for over a year had finally stopped, which made up for it. I thought I never want to be in hospital again even if they did save my little life.

But then I got attacked by a German Shepherd when I was 12. It got me by the throat before finally arriving at the back of my neck where it got a proper purchase and dragged me 200 yards. It had quite a good chew before someone rescued me, and I remember waiting 4 long hours before someone sewed me back together. All those feelings of being totally out of control came flooding back. And it really, really hurt! I thought, shit - I gotta take better care of myself!

But then nine years ago, after years of pain, I had to have my wisdom teeth surgically removed. Husband'd had his out and reported no problems whatsoever, so I figured I'd be fine. What fun! I came round on a trolley with lots of other be-gowned bodies in various states of consciousness and/or pain, to the sensation of having something being pushed up my backside - it turned out to be a painkiller which I couldn't have downed orally if I'd tried. As soon as I could sit up I tried to leave - worried that someone was going to try to shove something else into an orifice not designed for the purpose - but promptly fell over in a pool of freshly vomited up blood. So I got to stay a few hours longer. One of the nurses enquired, "Fanny or Face?" as it was wisdom teeth one side, and gynae on the other. Then we watched in horror as one of the 'Fannies' reacted badly to the anaesthetic and was wheeled away amidst a circus of medical staff.

It got worse when I got home and er... overdosed on a cocktail of painkillers and started hallucinating. I couldn't understand why my hubby was climbing up a rock face in his underpants when I was on the ground heaving and wretching. Talk about being at your best - stark naked, spewing up fresh blood and screaming as the stitches popped one by one. I can't believe he still married me after that sexy little episode!

I just can't seem to do these things simply. Even when I gave birth to my youngest at home (read no pain relief), I had to get a retained placenta and bleed out all over the living room, with what can only be described as entrails trailing. Super midwives sorted it all out with a catheter (ouch) and a bit of 'in up to elbow' (triple ouch) and I lived to tell the tale. And they didn't have to hospitalise me either. Phew!

So perhaps these things are just sent to try us, and I'm being daft worrying about all the shit that can go wrong. And the pain. Let's not forget that it's gotta hurt having bits cut out. And I'm suuuuuch a wimp!

Writing/PhD update

On the plus side it's made me realise that I better get the bloody book written just in case, although am obviously hoping that whatever gets me in the end, doesn't get me until I'm a ripe old age. I've counted up everything I've typed so far, and there's a whopping great 45,000 words. This is a huge relief as my supervisors want to see me prontito and so far i've only given 'em 1,000 words and I had promised them the first draft by October. Hmm. Now who was being ever so slightly over-optimistic there! I didn't factor in the summer holidays with the kids, a two week trip to Spain, or teaching a new course.

But 45,000 words. And note-books. Endless note-books. Woo hoo!

And I've been vindicated. I haven't been rolling on the floor screaming because I'm over-dramatic, but because I have ugly little rocks in me tum, and bright things on other vital organs. Wonder if I've got costachondritis as well?! Now that would be unlucky!

I'm off to down more Ibuprofen and plan lessons to take my mind of all these pleasant thoughts!

Have a great day, and be healthy!

Friday, 19 October 2007

Natasha Ratcliffe - Contemporary Art Medals (aka Gorgeous Little Objects)

Natasha Ratcliffe, (a friend of ours but no relation) is an artist who makes Contemporary Art Medals. I think they're wonderful and have posted some pics below from the National Art Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria, where Natasha has been studying. In 2005 she was awarded 'New Medalist' by the British Art Medal Society.

The medals are designed to be held in the hand,
and are very beautiful. Preciosa.

One of her pieces was bought by, and is on display in The British Museum. See here.

To see the full range of Natasha's medals, and her other art work,

please visit the Natasha Ratcliffe website.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Armed America - responding to Paul

I think I may have offended Paul, who has left a comment on Armed America - Scary Americans.


I started to post a comment back, but then thought, no. It's time to get on my soap box about this one. After all, we can all whinge on about how we don't like something, but what you need, is to do a wee bit of research. To kind of - put your (well my) money where my mouth is, as it were. So I did.

Firstly, I take your point that you are a human being, and that you should have the right to life, food, and shelter. I also agree with you that guns are used for sport, hobby, or hunting - although the word hobby strikes me as a touch innocuous to describe firing off a bullet that travels at roughly 1,705 mph, and has a tendency to cause absolute destruction when it stops - but anyway, I have no problems with people shooting for sport, or hobby, or even for hunting if it is necessary for food.

However, you quickly move on to the right to defend yourself. And here I have a problem. Yes, the criminals have weapons, but the way to eradicate fire-arms as used in criminal activity, is not to arm everyone, but to arm less people. And it isn't me saying it either;

"Homicide rates tend to be related to firearm ownership levels. Everything else being equal, a reduction in the percentage of households owning firearms should occasion a drop in the homicide rate".
Evidence to the Cullen Inquiry 1996:
Thomas Gabor, Professor of Criminology - University of Ottawa

From:Gun Control Network

Okay - so the Gun Control Network are probably going to be biased aren't they? So I thought I'd look at the other side of the argument. I'm not too bothered about sporting usages, so all I'll say on that is I can see the ingenuity of the fire-arm, and target shooting can be fun, but the fact remains that the fun is being had with an object that was purposely designed to cause injury or death. It isn't like the wings on a military fighter jet, that evolved from the dream to take flight like the birds. It's more like, we've invented to gun and everything is dead - wonder what else we can do with it? Gun use evolved to incorporate sport, but hunting and war were always it's primary concerns.


Okay. So you want to protect your family, and your property, from criminals - who are also carrying guns (er... because they know you are too so they aren't going to bring a baseball bat, are they?). What are you going to do if someone is stupid or desperate enough to break into your house? Are you sure you want to shoot them? They might not be armed with a gun.

As de-sensitised as Americans are towards guns, it is worth remembering that guns make a real mess of living tissue. A bullet travels at around 2,500 feet per second over 100 yards. That's 1,705 miles per hour. This is what bullets do;

Bullets produce tissue damage in three ways (Adams, 1982):
1. Laceration and crushing - Low velocity bullets, as in handguns, that travel less than 1000 fps do virtually all their damage via crushing.
2. Cavitation - Cavitation is significant with projectiles travelling in excess of 1000 fps. A "permanent" cavity is caused by the path of the bullet itself, whereas a "temporary" cavity is formed by continued forward acceleration of the medium (air or tissue) in the wake of the bullet, causing the wound cavity to be stretched outward.
3. Shock waves - Shock waves compress the medium and travel ahead of the bullet, as well as to the sides, but these waves last only a few microseconds and do not cause profound destruction at low velocity. At high velocity, generated shock waves can reach up to 200 atmospheres of pressure. (DiMaio and Zumwalt, 1977) However, bone fracture from cavitation is an extremely rare event. (Fackler, 1996)

See Gun Tutorials for full article.

I have to take issue with you when you say I am a criminal if I support the banning of guns. The banning of guns does not imply the end to the right to defend yourself and your property. Gun laws are extremely stringent in the UK, and we have no right to bear arms written or otherwise. If someone breaks into our house we call the police. If we are at home, then we might leave the house, or failing that confront them with a vase. You don't really need a gun. I take it you read about John Smeaton, the Glaswegian who confronted a terrorist. Yes. A terrorist! Mr Smeaton and a few others gave him the hiding of his life and then handed him, still smouldering, over to the police. No guns. Not a single shot fired.

Of course the other thing is, here we kinda know who is who, because if someone has a gun, and they aren't an armed police officer, there's no mistaking that you're probably dealing with a criminal, and not Sandy from down the road who just popped in for an iced-tea brandishing an AK47 and a gold bikini. You see we don't always get the best image of 'Americans and Their Guns' here in the UK.

What disturbed me most about those images referred to in my blog post, was the fact that guns were so everyday, so ordinary. There were a range of human beings celebrating their prized possessions, posing with them while their children are in the room. It keeps the culture going, that's for sure. There's no sign - no recognition that these are weapons not toys, or trophies. Safety catches are notoriously crap. Some are even made of plastic! See Violence Policy Centre – An agenda for genuine gun control. The dreadful truth is that these things can, and do go off. When you least want them to. With a bang. And the soft mass that is your child's head is not going to come off to well should they be investigating mom and dad's toys.

The statistics kind of speak for themselves;

In 1996, in the USA, 138 children (14 or under) died from unintentional gunshot wounds.

The minimum age to possess a firearm in the US is 18. Rifles and shotguns have no age restriction.

The most common age to commit gun crime in the US is 19. 18 is the second most common.

In the period 2005/06 there were 21,521 firearm offences in England and Wales. Of these, 5001 resulted in injury, and there were 50 homicides - down from 78 in 2004/05.

In 1999 there were 28,874 gun related deaths in the US (that's an impressive 80 per day) and in 2000 a staggering 75,685 people were shot and injured.

Since 1965, deaths due to gunshot wounds in the US have risen steadily from 18,671 to 30,708 in 1998, and since then has hovered around the 29,000 mark. It's still rather a lot though isn't it. Compared with 50.

Unintentional deaths due to gunshot wounds have dropped 2,344 in 1965, to 866 in 1998 - I'll warrant you that, but one has to ask why this might be... better education perhaps, people moving away from worshipping the gun and seeing it for the violent, lethal weapon that it is, regardless of what it's being used for at any given time. Maybe the recent tragedy at Columbine, Colorado, has made people take more notice and begin asking more challenging questions, such as why should it be a right to bear arms? Is there a guerrilla war going on that no-one has told us about?!

There have been 14 mass shootings (more than 10 people shot) between 1966 and 2002. Of these, 1 was in the UK, in Hungerford, when a farmer took a shotgun to the village, and 7 in the US. Of these 7, 6 involved legal weapons, killing a total of 101 people.

And size does matter!

The USA has a population of 301,139,947 people in an area 9,826,630 sq. km. That's 32 people per sq. km.

The UK has a population of 60,209,500 in an area of 242,514 sq. km. That's 246 people per sq. km.

So there's fewer of us, but we are a lot more crowded. And we don't, as a nation, see guns as a trophy, or a hobby. We don't feel we have the right to blow a huge hole in someone just because they were rude enough to threaten us, or our property. (Though we might knock 'em over the head with a vase - carefully so as not to actually kill them.)

On a final note, in response to your second comment. I have seen guns, yes. As a teenager I was held up at gun point by a boy who thought it was big to dress up in military greens and point guns at girls. I've seen guns poking out of pockets in Spain and of course their police are armed. As in France. I've seen rifles for hunting, and almost went clay-pigeon shooting once. I still don't like guns. And I like them less in the hands of my premenstrual and/or pissed neighbours.


Number and Rates* of Firearm Mortality—United States, 1965 to 2004 (pdf)

UK Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2005/2006 (pdf)

Violence Policy Centre – An agenda for genuine gun control

The Gun Control Network

The Internet Pathology Laboratory for Medical Education, Utah. Tutorials - Firearms.

Not to be Biased...

The National Rifle Association (UK)

The National Rifle Association (USA)

The Gun Information website has 30 Reasons to Oppose Gun Control. It makes interesting reading. It's worth a read.

*Clambers down from soap-box and is amazed at how much work I have to do... and how little time I have left to do it!

I hope that puts my point of view in perspective.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Lurkers... You know who you are!

I thought I'd just say a special hello to all the lurkers out there...

You know you've got lurkers when people stop you in the corridor and ask you why you haven't posted anything on your blog for ages. People who you never thought read your blog in a million years!

Not that I'm complaining! I love my lurkers! At least it means someone reads all these internal ramblings made public! I think the name needs reviewing because all the images of 'lurkers' are er... a bit scary. And the lurkers who've approached me have been very lovely people, thank you very much (and big sighs of relief!). So maybe 'silent readers' might be nicer?

And I too, have been guilty of lurking... er, silent reading. I lurked for years at Topsyturvydom, reading without saying anything. I didn't know what to say, to be honest. It seems so permanent to type into a text box - to hit POST. What if it doesn't come across in the right way? What if I sound stupid? So I lurked, until eventually I summoned up the courage to post. And not worry how daft/inappropriate/surreal my comments might be.

It was very liberating!

I recommend it!

So here is a challenge to all those who may lurk. Please post a comment. Even if it is only an anonymous 'hello'.

No really, please do, otherwise everyone will think I've been hallucinating again, and that there aren't actually any silent readers, and er... it's all in my little head!

I shall be waiting for the comments to roll in....


This is fun! Ali G interviews the linguist Noam Chomsky. Enjoy!

Friday, 12 October 2007

A Novel Breakthrough!

It has come to me.

In a flash of inspiration.

Over a cup of tea with an old friend.

My novel.

I know what it is going to be now. That's why I haven't been able to write it, because I knew what I wanted to say but I didn't have a structure to hang it on.

At last a little seed was planted and has flourished into a wonderfully organic shape full of avenues and twists and turns, with lots of places to stop and take in the view, the sights, the sounds.

I'm Soooooooooooo excited!

Hay un camino enfrente de mi lo que puedo coger... and I can run with it now, following the path wherever it may lead, safe in the knowledge that I won't get lost along the way!

Watch the word count because I've a feeling it's going to start moving again... very soon!

Thursday, 11 October 2007


Sun, Moon, and Talia (1638)

Taken from Nogginworks

Haven't posted much this week. Had I have posted it would have gone something like this...

Knackered. Been planning and teaching and taking Ibuprofen for my costachondritis which still hurts loads.

Although I did have a riding lesson on Monday which was - as ever - great. I rode a horse called Pete who makes me feel like I'm learning to ride all over again because he's so big and has huge movement, so that trying to sit to his trot feels like trying to sit on a pneumatic drill... or something. Hmmm. Also, when he spooks, instead of cat leaping to the side - up and away - he does this kind of cowering thing, so that all of a sudden, you find your arse 6 inches above the saddle. I thought he was falling over because I couldn't see his legs. Strange wee boy!

Today I've been teaching the teachers (which is really quite enjoyable I must say), and we've been looking at Fairy Tales - the history of them, how they've developed and morphed and all that. I find it fascinating that fairy tales were quite gory and sexually explicit, and took great pleasure in reading them Giambattista Basiles's Sun, Moon, and Talia from his collection Il Pentamerone which you can read at Sur la Lune. It's the original 'Sleeping Beauty' (if indeed 'the original' anything exists!). The King has a daughter, and the soothsayers give the bad news about the spinning wheel, and of course she grows up and pricks her finger, and dies... but from there, it all gets a bit, erm, well, heavy. The daughter is laid out in a castle (okay), and the handsome prince comes riding by... except he's a King AND he's married! And she is unconscious. And he climbs through the window and... in the words of Giambattista, "...the King saw her, he
called to her, thinking that she was asleep, but in vain, for she still slept on, however loud he called. So, after admiring her beauty awhile, the King returned home to his kingdom, where for a long time he forgot all that had happened."

But I remembered a version far more explicit. I thought these students are going to think I'm a right pervert here because I've told them that he saw her, fancied a bit of that, and helped himself. I read on...

"Meanwhile, two little twins, one a boy and the other a girl, who looked like two little jewels, wandered, from I know not where, into the palace and found Talia in a trance. At first they were afraid because they tried in vain to awaken her; but, becoming bolder, the girl gently took Talia's finger into her mouth, to bite it and wake her up by this means; and so it happened that the splinter of flax came out. Thereupon she seemed to awake as from a deep sleep; and when she saw those little jewels at her side, she took them to her heart, and loved them more than her life; but she wondered greatly at seeing herself quite alone in the palace with two children, and food and refreshment brought her by unseen hands." (sur la lune)

I thought, that is soooo not what happened! "Wandered in from I know not where"?!!! So I did a quick search online and I found it... the unsanitised version. The whole thing is here but basically... the bit we're interested in reads:

The King has found poor Talia and "He called to her, but she would not wake. As he looked at her, and tried to wake her, she seemed so incredibly lovely to him that he could not help desiring her, and he began to grow hot with lust. He gathered her in his arms and carried her to a bed, where he made love to her. Leaving her on the bed, he left the palace and returned to his own city, where pressing business for a long time made him think no more about the incident."

Aha! The beast! Wonder what Disney would make of this? It continues:

"But Talia, who was not dead, but merely unconscious, had become pregnant, and after nine months she gave birth to twins, as beautiful a boy and girl as ever were born. Kindly fairies attended the birth, and put the babies to suck at their mother’s breast. One day, one of the infants, not being able to find the nipple, began to suck at his mother’s finger. He sucked with such force that he drew out the splinter of flax, and Talia awoke, just as if from a long sleep. When she saw the babies, she did not know what had happened or how they had come to her, but she embraced them with love, and nursed them until they were satisfied. She named the infants Sun and Moon. The kindly fairies continued to attend her, providing her with food and drink, which appeared as if delivered by unseen servants."

Bit of a change from, "And the prince kissed her and she woke up, and they lived happily ever after" isn't it?!!! It gets even worse when the King's wife finds out about his affair with the unconscious woman in the woods, mother of his children, but you can follow the links to read it if you want to!

So. Fairy Tales. Gore. Sex. Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber doesn't seem half as shocking now does it?! Although her take on Red Riding Hood, when the wolf and Red get jiggy with it, might still turn a hair or two!

So that's me. Fairy tales. And after that Little Women and Anne of Green Gables at such a cracking pace it's making my head spin. God knows how the students are coping!

And er... my novel. yes, well. The old PhD. Los estudios mios. It cries to me in the night, my poor novel. It speaks to me in my dreams, (in Spanish cos it's dead clever like that), and it says, "Please write me. I need to be written!" Escribeme, por favor. Necesito ser escrito! Before I forget all that needs to be said, before I lose all these wonderful ideas... and er... have to go back on another research trip.

Oh! Now there's an idea!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Free Burma

Free Burma!

Running on empty - already!

It's all go! Back at work this week, and it's only Thursday and I'm already running on empty.


So far, so good - nice students, nice rooms to teach in, and with my new found "I refuse to get stressed about anything" attitude, everyone at home is happy too!

Bet you're wondering what happened to the health kick... well... erm... apart from swimming and riding in Spain, I've done bugger all I'm afraid. This costachondritis thing has put a stop to it all. Thwarted at the outset! And on a diet of Ibuprofen and anti-nausea tablets. Lovely.

And now I'm teaching again, I'll be lucky to have a riding lesson! I have this awful feeling I'm going to be reduced to the academic equivalent of a couch potato once more, with squared pc eyes and a bottom molded to the shape of my office chair. Is that molded or moulded? Hmmm.

Right then. Off I go to sort out tomorrow's lesson. It's half six and all I've eaten is a nectarine. At least it'll be good for that stone I wanted to lose!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Bookish Tag from JJ

Total number of books...

Oh Dear. Do I really care to admit to this one? Before I moved to Spain I sold around 2,000 books and took around 200 with me. In Spain I acquired more and refused to part with them (they were mostly replacements from the second-hand English Bookshop in Torremolinos!). Looking around the office and not counting the four fully laden bookcases around the house, there’s about 2,500 here now.

They are reasonably organised into categories:

Literary Criticism/Philosophy
Big Books with Gorgeous Photos with titles like Earth
Layman’s Science books on Chaos Theory, Space, Physics etc.
Primary Teaching Text books and Materials in 15 subjects!
Atlases and Maps/Geography
Auto/biographical Non-Fiction
Creative Writing handbooks and teaching materials
Language Dictionaries (I think I must collect these)
Children’s Literature
Grammar and Phonetics text books
Religious Philosophy
Arts & Crafts/Woodwork/Gardening/Origami

Plus every copy of Mslexia and over 10 years’ worth of Writing Magazine, various climbing magazines (in French for some strange reason), and now *hangs head in shame* Horse & Rider and Your Horse

Last book read... (finished?)

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo. I loved this novel in broken English that takes a look at cultural differences and language).

But currently reading Horseshoes and Holy Water by Mefo Phillips (two mad sisters travel from England to Spain on their horses), The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabelle Allende (and Cuentos de Eva Luna alongside it). And will be reading 12 children’s novels and Il Pentamorene which you can find at Sur la Lune.

Last book bought...

...naughty girl here bought 4 in one hit. Last purchase was made in a bookstore in Malaga (in the libreria). I got;

Déjame ue te cuente by Jorge Bucay – a novel – “The stories that taught me to live” (Los cuentos que me enseñaron a vivir).

Teoria del Majaron by Alfonso Vazquez – a look at the lifestyle and traditions of Malagueñan life from the perspective of the Majaron

Diccionario Del Habla Malagueña documentado por Enrique Del Pino – a dialect dictionary Spanish-Malaga

Los cuentos de Eva Lune by Isabelle Allende – as an exercise to see if it’s any different reading her in her own language and not in translation. Have feeling I will need more than a Malagueñan dictionary for this one!

5 Meaningful books...

Oh God! It’s like Desert Island Discs. Where to begin? Which to choose and which to leave out? Only 5?!!! Okay Okay! I’m having trouble deciding what Meaningful means so am going for the first ones that spring to mind.

In no particular order…

Watership Down by Richard Adams. It was the first really thick book I ever got through. I stubbornly read it when I was 9 despite being told it would be too difficult. I loved every page of it. It was adventure, life, survival, love, spiritual, funny… And I was uprooted as a child and it made me realise it was okay to change where and how you live.

Mister God, This is Anna by Fynn. Powerful children’s novel which moved me and educated me, and made me want to move people with words in the same way. Still no idea if it is a true story or a made up one? Any info gratefully received!

The Dhammapada and The Tao de Ching have equally been influential in my life. I try hard to aspect the wisdom of these two ancient texts and have found them to be a great comfort over the past 20 years.

Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia M. Axline – a true story about a special boy who goes from being a child who refuses to speak to a well-balanced adult genius. I had a few issues growing up (don’t we all) but this book helped me to see that it was up to us to take responsibility for our own predicaments, and that it was okay to be helped by really lovely people.

J. Krishnamurti: A Biography Pupul Jayakar – what it says; a biography of Krishnamurti (not to be confused with the Hari Krishna movement!). He was an amazing individual who was highly spiritual and travelled the world giving talks. His own books are devilishly difficult and I find myself with an understanding that evaporates the moment I stop reading.

My favourite episode in the book is where Pupul, the author, is with two friends, travelling with Krishnamurti in car. They are on country, mountainous roads in India somewhere I think, and they are discussing how much their ‘awareness’ has developed. They tell Krishnamurti excitedly that they feel everything now. And then, BANG! They hit a deer in the road full on. And Krishnamurti says quietly from the passenger seat, “Ah yes, I see how much your awareness has developed!”

Books are important to me but I am coming to understand that it’s the fact that they communicate with me that makes me love them. Each one has its own voice from the dry academic to the hilarious and mischievous Bill Bryson.
They teach me, unnerve me, make me laugh, cry, shout, giggle, and sigh. Some stay with you for a life-time, others pass through once and once is enough!
Books can't replace people but when there's no one around to chat to, they are a comforting voice in my ear.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The Benefit of Research

Finished for the Day

It wasn't a holiday. Before I went I also insisted, "This is NOT a holiday! It's a research Trip. But did they believe me? I packed note-books and pens in with my bikini and riding hat. A box of paints nestled in amongst the gaiters, and a copy of A Concise Dictionary of Chinese-English For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo was suitably protected by a beach towel. It was a novel I would race through over the first days.

And I arrived in Spain.

Casas Blancas

To a little hotel in Mijas Pueblo.

And I was home again. *Big Sighs*

So for the first four days I rode Andalucian horses across the hills and galloped along the dried out river bed, and in the evening I found myself filled with words and sounds and images I wanted to capture.

So I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. And now I now where I'm going! With the novel at least!

I think I was sceptical before leaving the UK that I would actually do any writing but I was wrong. And I can't pinpoint what it was exactly that got the words flowing again. Perhaps it was the warm salted air drifting inland off the Med, or the brilliance of the sun on white-washed houses edged in yellow, caressing my skin as I walked around town. It may have been the sound of Andaluz, dialect slowly emerging from the depths of my mind. But it might have had something to do with being in the car with my friend, a local woman, who drove along winding mountain roads, steering round bends with her knees to blaringly loud Spanish Rap that frightened me beyond measure. I thought, "I'm go to die on the Mijas Road in car and my book will never be finished!"

So I gathered materials for my research...

Our first house in Spain

Cooking Sardines on the Boat

Could this be the reason I was 2.5kg over and had to pay 18 Euros?!

On I go with the novel which is evolving each day, with every new thing I remember; cultural differences, the beauty of Andaluz 'speak', that feeling of really being alive I have in Spain, the people so open and friendly... the music, the horses.... Christ, I could write a book about it ;-)


Teaching starts up next week and I shall be walking that old tightrope between work, study and family. And riding. Un doble Humph!!!


And of course I went to the Beach!