Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Poorly Pup

This is for my friend Iz who reminded me yesterday that I hadn't written a blog this week.
"I find them very comforting," she said. "I think it's because I realise someone else thinks the same way as me."

Certainly when it comes to dogs we do. All my friends know what a huge part of my life Mollie is. She has been with through so much with me for the last 15 years - shortly after she arrived, Pip was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Moll kept us going then. Later on he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Once again Moll was there. And when he died - well, life would have been so much harder without her.

True, she has a heart murmur and possible arthritis so she's on medication but so far, apart from a few blips, she's been her resilient self. But since lockdown she has really slowed up, and didn't appear to be enjoying her walks much. Which has meant I haven't, either.

To those of you who don't have dogs, a walk alone is completely different. Our four legged friends might not speak (much) but they are such amazing company, and you never feel alone with a dog. OK, she has her maddening habits like eating anything she can get her jaws on, and increasingly wanting to sniff rather than walk, but none of us are perfect. And at least she's never had a habit of running off which must be very worrying.

Anyway, last Thursday I could see she was really struggling, and since then she's made it clear she just didn't want to walk. My vet said don't push her so she has been on a very short walk round the block (5 minutes rather than half an hour) and the hour long afternoon walk is again either 5 minutes or maybe 15. It's heartbreaking, seeing her struggling. And, selfishly, I really miss her striding out exploring with me. Solitary walks are a constant reminder of her absence. A visit to the beach at Helford at the weekend had me in floods of tears as she wasn't there to share it with me for the first time ever.

Today she is a little brighter but it is very hot which isn't good for dogs, particularly older ones, so having had a little walk this morning that will probably be it.

It's not an understatement to say I have been in mourning and I've cried more in the last week than I have for a long time. Our pets occupy such a special part of our hearts, and when you live alone they are even more special. My days are structured round my time out walking with her, and during lockdown this has become increasingly important. She was my only contact at first and the only being I can touch.

So now it's a question of having to accommodate her decreasing energy with my high levels - I have to think of us both. She is having a heart scan tomorrow which will determine the state of her ticker, darling girl. Maybe she will be able to do slightly longer walks, maybe I have to do those without her. We will see....

So think of us both tomorrow, please. And keep fingers crossed....

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Touch and Stress Container

Like most of us who live on our own, I am desperately missing the sense of touch.

I realised yesterday that it is nearly three months since I last had a cuddle. Since I actually touched a human being. And for many others it's a lot longer than that. Writing it down, it seems incredible that I have survived without this fundamental sense - as all my friends know, I am a tactile person.

But oh my god I miss it. I was watching Normal People on Monday night (it's so achingly good that I am trying to ration myself to just watching it on Mondays so I have something to really look forward to) and as they are touching each other most of the time, it was agony. I had to hug a cushion very hard and pray that it won't be too long before we can have physical contact again.
But it does all add to stress levels in what has to be the most extraordinary time most of us have ever encountered. I'm doing a course on Mental Health First Aid on Friday and as part of that, we will talk about Stress Containers. This is such a brilliant way of describing how we deal with stress that I thought I'd share it with you.

Basically, we all have stress in our lives but some obviously have more than others. The size of this container can be influenced by lots of things - bullying, abuse, being out of work, financial worries, relationship problems, health problems - etc. Those who are more vulnerable to stress have a smaller container, so it fills up quicker.

And when the container overflows, problems start to occur. So we all need to learn ways of turning the tap on so that we can let the stress out. Others the tap gets blocked, and the stress container overflows. It's such a simple idea but, like all the really good concepts, is spot on.

Talking to people we trust is probably one of the best things. Asking for their help. I know some people find it very difficult to ask for help but THIS IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. It is a sign of STRENGTH that you realise the situation and have the courage to do something about it. That is real bravery. And once you've made that first little step, it all becomes a hell of a lot easier. Believe me, I spent much of my teens and twenties receiving help. I have a degree in it.

I can't speak for others, so I will briefly list my ways of coping. Writing - this helps - my novel, journalism, or a journal. It doesn't matter what you write really. Walking - this is one of my favourite things to do. Reading - nothing like getting lost in a book (other than writing one of course. That is the best thing ever.) Hugs - well, those are off limits at the moment so moving swiftly on, cooking and enjoying new recipes. Eating on your own is bloody boring but I do try and experiment a bit. Planting stuff in tubs: watching things grow. DIY. Helping others I find helps me too. It gives me a sense of purpose and when we're feeling low it's all too easy to lose that sense of purpose and so we feel useless.

And I think lastly it's being kind to myself, as well as others. It's so easy to beat ourselves up because we haven't done anything with the day, because we lack motivation, because our confidence has crashed. We're feeling really low. We feel really stuck in our lives, a failure, can't see the way ahead. (I've been through this all too.) But really we all need to cut ourselves a bit of slack. And try and turn a negative into a positive. For instance, instead of 'I didn't sleep last night, try thinking, 'I had a bit of a wakeful night but I read for a bit and listened to the radio and eventually I dozed off again'. This takes a bit of practice but it really does help.

Celebrate the small things - getting out of bed is a good start. Talk to or ring someone who will make you feel better (some don't as we all know). Write an email to a friend or send a text. Having a walk. A bike ride. A swim. When you feel rubbish, celebrate the small stuff. But please, if you need help, take a deep breath, and ASK. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Bad Hair Day (literally) and Book Updates

Oh dear. Is a polite way of saying what I thought when I looked in the mirror this morning. I should explain that I rarely DO look in the mirror. I am probably the most un-vain (is that a word? it is now) woman in Britain. I only have a quick look to drag a brush through my hair and put my contact lenses in. At the moment I can't wear my lenses as my eyes are too dry but that's another story.

Anyway, as I was saying, I decided to give my hair a quick snip last night before going to bed. And no, I was quite sober in case you're wondering. The last time I did it, about four weeks ago, I didn't make too much of a mess of it, so I set to last night with a snip snip here and a snip snip there. I have to say rumpled chicken came to mind when I washed and brushed what was left of my hair. Oh well, I thought. There's no one to see it and it will grow. It's just a question of what it will look like when I grow it out. And there's a lot more grey, I noticed. But I can't do anything about that either so - onwards, dear reader.

The good news is that I finally finished the first draft of my novel on Friday and as a result was shattered all weekend. But a good sort of shattered. Not an Am I Sick sort of shattered. (Though of course that did occur to me as well.) So I'm giving myself a few days off before starting on Draft Two. And once more being everlastingly grateful that I have this world of mine to escape to.

Today, as we know, we have more freedom to go out and walk which is music to my ears. What is not music is the fact that people can drive as far as they want, so those of us in Cornwall are terrified that some may think they can come down to Cornwall on holiday or to their second homes. PLEASE DON'T. We would love to see you when it's safe to do so but it really is not right now. There are no camp sites, pubs, restaurants or cafes open either, so there would be nothing to do when you did get here. So please stay away for the moment.

But if you're planning a holiday towards the end of the year, or live here anyway, and would like some inspiration, I am having a lockdown sale of 10% off all my books. I keep stock here to sell when I do talks but all my talks have been cancelled for obvious reasons. So now is a good time to plan what walks you would like to do, inspired perhaps by your favourite authors. (Not me - I refer to Winston Graham, Du Maurier, Rosamunde Pilcher and many others.)

On that note, I see it's clouding over. But the forecast is set fair for the next five days. So enjoy the weather but please keep safe, be careful and keep well.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Big Things and Little Things

Some days I see no one. I talk to people on the phone, and sometimes via video calls but sometimes I find these calls unnerving. I can't exactly explain why, but I think it's because, as the days and weeks go by, I am becoming more and more introverted.

This is both a good and a bad thing. It makes lockdown more bearable, but it also means I am withdrawing from everything that is good for me on a social level. But then, so are many others, and if anything makes lockdown a little easier, that's no bad thing.

But I digress. The first thing to say is that I have finished the first edit of my novel. This has been a huge amount of work and I have loved it. It gives me focus, a reason to get up in the morning. It is an escape and keeps me sane. So for that I am so grateful. And, after this weekend is over, I shall start on Edit Two where I shall look more at the actual writing rather than the structure of the novel which was what I have been addressing. It's a times like this that I am so thankful to be a writer. In the absence of a partner by my side, or physical friends, it is wonderful to have them in my head.

A common question floating around at the moment is, What will you do once lockdown measures are more relaxed? As in, what have you learned? Well, I've always been busy, with work and socially. Obviously the busy-ness is much less these days but I have a structure to my day which I think helps a lot. And while I have no social life, other than on the phone or Zoom, it made me realise that I want to do more with my life and at the same time less.

Yesterday I helped out a friend who lives upstairs and as a thank you she bought me a copy of a gardening magazine, which contained a booklet offering free access to lots of gardens (not much good at the moment, but hopefully one day in the not too distant future) and SIX PACKETS OF SEEDS. I can't describe how delighted I was - and still am.

SO I started sowing some seeds, leaving the rest for another day. I had just finished typing the last words of my edit and wanted to save more of this planting treat for later. I've had a look at the magazine and also the brochure, seeing what gardens I might like to visit. One day. To be honest I've never been a great one for gardens - I prefer striding out to inspecting flowers, but I do love the colour and brightness that they bring to a day, and I get beyond excited when I see shoots coming up.

Which just goes to show that it really is the little things that matter. But then, when you think of it, growing things is pretty big stuff anyway. From a flash of an idea comes a novel. From a rough piece of timber comes a boat. From a seed comes a flower, a plant or a tree.

So here's to the little things in life. May they become strong and grow tall.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Book Swaps and other escapes

So, where do you go when you want to escape? I don't necessarily mean literally, but in your head?

I've always been an avid reader since the age of four. My parents both read a lot so it was as natural to me as breathing. I've always, also, read too fast. I'd love to be one of those people who savour books, but I can't. If I'm enjoying it, I have to tear through the next page, and the one after that.... and if I'm not enjoying it, I'm afraid I skip bits.

But my appalling reading habits haven't stopped a lifelong love of books. When the libraries announced they were closing for lockdown, I took out ten books, knowing that wouldn't last me long. But to my surprise, I find I've still got a high To Be Read List, healthily enabled by various friends.

Anne texted a few weeks ago to say she'd got Tom's Midnight Garden, a childhood favourite of both of ours and would I like it? YES! I'd told her I was re-reading several childhood books for comfort reading - Susanna of the Mounties being one. Which was just as good as I remember, and beautifully old fashioned, being written in the 1920s. So Anne dropped it round, while walking her dog round the block.

Last week she texted to say she'd got two more for me, so this time I took Moll round there. It's so lovely to actually talk to someone, face to face, albeit from two metres. Cheers my day up no end. This time she lent me Sweet Caress by William Boyd, which I'd read some time ago - the true story of Amory Cade, one of the first women war photographers. It's so well written and useful research for my novel, which features a young photographer. I couldn't put this book down, and as I'm going through a phase of walking at 3/4am for a few hours, it's lovely having something good to read to while away the wee hours.

I'm half way through Tom's Midnight Garden, which I find good for reading at night. it's not overly exciting and beautifully written, full of imagery and time travelling magic. And inscribed by the seven year old Anne, which makes it all the more special.

Corinne lent me several French text books as well as The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell, a fabulous writer whose books I will always read. And Fiona dropped round Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo - another amazing writer.

So, along with another pile of books for my book group, I'm OK for a few weeks. This might not be a big deal for some people but for me not having enough books is like telling a smoker she's run out of fags (I was one, I know how terrifying this is).

So thank you, all my other book loving friends, for enabling my escapism during lockdown. It is much appreciated.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Where's your blog? and Haircuts...

Yesterday I had two chat with real friends. You know - actually seeing them face to face - from a safe distance of at least two metres, of course.

Nowadays, and particularly when you live on your own, such instances are to be treasured. And this blog is due to a sharp reminder from Izz. "Are you OK?" she said, as we walked our dogs along North Parade - at a safe distance. "I haven't seen your blog for ages, and I thought, of my God, what's happened?"

I reassured her that I was OK, but I wasn't really sure what to say. Life ticks on, the days are curiously full - though I have in part my novel to thank for that. I never thought that anorexia would be a welcome release....! I collect the odd prescription, explore new solitary walks, learn French, do my counselling course, talk to friends on the phone, paint and cook.

I am not one of these people who can sit and watch television for long. Thirty minutes is about my limit. I wish I could just get stuck into a good box set, but I do find it very difficult to sit still and concentrate - unless it's my own book of course. So I keep busy.

I am learning new skills. At least, that's going a bit far. I have cut my hair and Moll's, though I have had marginally more success with Moll's than my own. Moll has been terrified of groomers all her life, and she got so stressed that the last groomer (a very mature lady who's been doing it for 30 years), said she didn't think she should do it any more as she was frightened of hurting her. This was about six months ago - maybe longer, so you can imagine how long her coat has been getting.

For Easter she was given some dog treats from Lidls and god knows what are in these but she ADORES them. I mean, she's one of the greediest dogs I've met but these are the heroin of dog treats, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor. So I thought I'd have a go at cutting her hair. I balanced a bit of one on my knee and snipped away carefully while she shook with anticipated delight at the prospect of this injection of delight. So focused was she that she didn't notice hair going missing.

I repeated this over about a week - which meant that she looked really weird when half of her was cut and the other half not - but we're just about there now. Apart from her bum, and who wants that interfered with? And she looks so much better and lighter in this warmth. Her spots show through and she is, I think, happier. And I'm £30 better off - and it means I can carry on doing it. So that's one bonus out of this strange time.

Like all - or most of us - I miss my friends. I am lucky in HAVING so many friends. I miss daily companionship. I miss cuddles. I miss walks and a coffee with my mates most of all. I try not to cry when others say that they are really rather enjoying this time. I try not to be jealous. I have my Moll. And for the moment, that's just how it is. I am so much luckier than so many. And I try never to forget that.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Be careful what you say, and Comfort Reading

This was taken on a local walk recently - while the world is in uproar, at least nature is putting on the most wonderful display, reassuring us that life does go on, in some fashion, and while it's frustrating (to put it mildly) not being able to go out and explore, to say nothing of writing the book that I'm contracted to write, at least it's cheering to see those blue skies and, in my case, paint my very small back yard.

Several weeks ago I read a piece written by an Italian journalist about what she'd learned from living in lockdown. One of the things I remember her writing was that you will find that some friends aren't who you thought, while the opposite can be true. I had an example of this last week when talking to several friends I've known well for many years, some of whom are married and have family living with them and were saying how lovely it was to all be together, have barbecues, great for the kids to be getting on so well etc etc.

Each word, in that last conversation, felt like a punch in the guts. I pointed out, eventually, that it wasn't so much fun when you're living on your own and don't have a partner, or children. (And for the many, many people who ARE banged up with family and/or a partner they really don't want to be with. For those who have lost their business, who aren't able to pay the rent, bills, and all the other terrible things that people are having to go through.)

My point was entirely lost, and so I ended the conversation feeling bruised, lonely and miserable. And while I am really happy that several of my friends are enjoying this situation - I think that's great - it doesn't make me feel any less lonely and isolated to hear about it. So please, when talking to friends who are less fortunate than you, please be careful. We are all anxious, over sensitive and downright wobbly right now.

To counteract that, providing inspiration on Easter Sunday, The Reunion on BBC Radio Four, featured John McCarthy, Terry Waite, Brian Keenan and Jill Morrell. For those that don't know, the three men were held hostage in Beirut for many years before being released, and I was working at WTN (where John worked) shortly after he was taken hostage, so I knew Jill Morrell and the awful uncertainties she lived through. I would advise anyone to listen to this brilliant piece of radio - it was full of gentle humour, incredible bravery, and showed the deep love and respect they all had for each other. When we're chafing at the bit about lockdown, think about being locked in a cell for four years with no one to talk to, no radio, no books - nothing. As Brian Keenan said, "We belong to an elite club, and Jill is an honorary member" which I thought was such a beautiful thing to say.

And finally, to also counteract these wobbly times, what are you reading? I have been dipping into old childhood favourites of my mother's. Susanna of the Mounties by Muriel Denison - what a joy! Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. I think A Traveller in Time will be next - any other suggestions?

Hope you're keeping well and safe everyone. Take care, please.