Life and death in four short days

It was going to be a bit of a celebration; old friends reminiscing and enjoying each other’s company. Monday morning was a bit of a struggle. I was a bit too late getting up for my 7.10 taxi. It’s no good being in a hurry when it takes over twenty minutes to dress in preparation for an epic journey. The art of putting on a winter coat whilst in a wheelchair (and in a flap) can be infuriating at the best of times but when one is being watched over by a fairly clueless cab driver, my head does well to stay in place.

Still, I was ready for the 8.59 to Charing Cross. It was packed with commuters jammed into a silent carriage seething with Monday morning regret at the prospect of a week’s work.

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Not quite but you get the idea

Most of the travellers carried a little too much weight. This is the legacy of long commutes and the need for snack food. I don’t blame them. Then, as we pulled into Charing Cross at least three kind souls offered me a broad smile and asked if I would be ok to alight from the train.

A nice touch. Nice people.

The weather was atrocious. Cold rain and a colder wind. I was hoping London would be basking in a pale watery winter sun (as the weather forecast said) but it was totally miserable.

0ee9befb0de69a3480c8d38fc0213ad9I’d spent the weekend creating home-made mince pies and apple pies to offer to anyone homeless I saw in London. But I noticed that Hungerford bridge was deserted apart from a few hardy commuters preoccupied with the obedience of their umbrellas in the vicious wind and rain. So it was taxi to Euston. I saw no-one in shop doors.

I had anticipated a leisurely roll, giving out pies, sherry and seasonal cheer to many of the regulars I usually chatted to between the two stations. But I ended up arriving at Euston two and a half hours before my train.

What about all my pies?

thumbnail (1)One of the station cleaners was happy to take one! A Guardian crossword and a cup of tea later, I decided to say hello to the assisted travel team; nice warm waiting room. I gave them a dozen mince pies. They weren’t expecting that but I use them a lot-they’re brilliant and I told them.

At the Liverpool end I did likewise. The Liverpool weather was bitter and bright.

thumbnail (5)I found quite a few people to give the rest of my pies to. Some even enjoyed a drop of my sherry. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

thumbnail (2)But after the ferry and the roll up to Kenilworth, my battery light was flashing. So where did the battery finally pack in? Only half way up the ramps into number 28. The grab rail came in very handy as did the wonderful people next door.

With wheelchair rescued and unloaded, I warmed up in the tropical heat of Dad’s house. Now that was a journey. It had a “skin of the teeth” feel to it but I was there, with beer and whisky.

Next morning came the hammer blow. My old friend George had always been the one to organise our get-togethers. He liked to assign some obscure collective noun to the gathering. This was to be the encrustacean of barnacles. But as my mobile sounded with a new number, I had my usual sniff of suspicion.

“I believe you’ve had an accident that wasn’t your fault?” was the expected response to my stern protracted hello. It was the news that George had died suddenly the night before.

Scan_20171216 (2)I have only one word to describe my reaction; numb. I will elaborate about the life and times of the great man in a future article but for now, I’m still coming to terms with it. My brother and Rose came later, as did my cousin Pat and Denis.thumbnail (7)

 

We all still met on the Wednesday to pay our respects to the man down. We were able to give some comfort and support to his partner, Kevin. We also took comfort from our own company, sharing some of our memories; many of them happy times. There was a lot of love.

The journey home had a couple of hitches. Again, I’m so grateful for the kindness of others. The taxi operator wanted to help by offering a hackney so I could stay in the wheelchair. But the driver was unsure if his ramp would take the weight.

I ended up in an ordinary car with only half an hour to the train. No problem, I had a whole two minutes to spare as I wheeled quitely on the soft carpets of Virgin first class. The stroll from Euston to Charing Cross was cold and glorious. The late afternoon light set the grand old institutions of studentville and theatre land in a soft haze of gentle glory.

thumbnail (6)Trafalgar Square welcomed me with intensity of the sun itself.

I was reflecting. George loved cities.

The last hitch was fixed by a kindly bus driver who politely asked the bunches of young students to make room for me. They did.

Kind people, old and young.

Thank you for reading.

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The barmy army

Yes, I’m in Cyprus. It was my flying wheelchair debut. And I needed an army. Even the taxi driver needed to call for reinforcements. At six thirty in the morning, he turned up in a mini-bus. Despite all my aerobics; step up, step down, feel the fail, I could not scale the giddy heights of  the passenger chair.

events-theme-parks-days-out-airports-8-seater-taxi-minibus-take-wait-12793805-1_300X225Back up arrived at 6.37 and I was off.

Just after turning onto the Gatwick spur, it’s always a thrill to see a big hunk of jet soaring into the dawning sky.

gatwick-three-image-block-02Once into the timeless chaos of the south terminal, I had a bit to do. This was new ground. While it’s quite close to the ground, my chair is a great observation tower. I’m at the eye level of children yet I see more of the adult world unfolding before me.

The relentless charge, the encouragement of the slow, (“Come along Tipsy we don’t want to miss the big big plane!”) the shortened fuses and the constant avoidance of eye contact.

The halls echo with the reiteration of gates and times. This was the most barmiest of armies. It had no leaders; just a host of barking sergeants worshiping the great god Departures.

My own personal army were more focused. I was briefed by the coolest of dudes at check-in. The strategy was clear. He promised smooth transitions.

The security minefield gave me new manoeuvres. I watched the faceless passenger forces, tutting and grumbling at the draconian security rituals:

“Do you have to put your shoes in here?” “No madam, just your personal effects.”

“It’s a bit too personal if you ask me.”

people-passing-through-security-screening-at-gatwick-airport-england-ECF36CThe old foot soldier gave the unmistakeable smile of familiarity. It was 7.40 am and he had a day to get through. Courtney from South Croydon was not even worth a polite but assertive reminder about protocol and safety. I had my own personal checks. These troopers were quiet and efficient. But when the second one shouted “Whose bag?” he didn’t acknowledge me until I shouted

“Down here!”

You have to remember, if you’re in a chair, you’re below the radar. Once through into the lawless society of the departure lounge, I liaised with more of my army. Every detail was discussed and agreed on. Sound. There was an hour before the gate. Costa, bacon roll, tea. Boots the Chemist  to replace the cleansing foam and anti deodorant that I lost at security and a visit to the loo.

At the gate, I was met by the hands on force. They were going to get me on. I can’t remember the woman’s name but in the cold artic environs of Gatwick, where a soulless cast plays out their own personal drama, a kind, reassuring voice goes a long way.

Once in a seething check-in hall at LAX, the battered Continental Airlines staff had started to shout back at the hordes of fat feral angry bears we know as American travellers. The only thing to do was to lead my group of seven rather intimidated fellow British passengers to the desk through the baying grappling pack.

I was polite to the red faced, bulging eyed check in girl. I was thoroughly English; like Roger Moore at a bus station in Bangalore. She was kind back and gave me a window seat.

I was feeling the same at Gatwick. it doesn’t take much effort but what a difference it makes. I was strapped into the narrowest ever wheelchair and bundled on board like a trussed turkey. (Appropriate terminology.)

IMG_2795Encouraged by the fine vocal support of my personal support team, I sat down by the window. It’s that feeling of being in a place I never thought I’d see again. I was there. Double wow. Look what the army had done for me.

Next stop Istanbul. My word, the place is massive. Here the army got really barmy. I was transferred off the plane into some form of wheeled thing. A Turkish land tank?

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Some form of meat wagon? That’s not me by the way.

It was an unceremonious affair. I was hauled onto the cabin chair where my knees and ankles kissed every seat.

There was no English. No articulate instructions regarding my ease of transfer to an ordinary wheelchair; just a hefting via the armpits and a dumping into the chair.

The man pushing me to the waiting area had no time for the meandering hordes of headless passengers treading the thinning carpets of a world size hub. There was a curt call and it was move or be moved. All the time I watched the exhausted infantry. This was a true hub.

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It’s all a blur

Neither starting point or final destination. Their blank faces scoured the departure boards. Couples argued in tongues over hand held airport maps. On the back of each was a beaming Turkish air stewardess gesturing at some unseen delight, exclusive to those who choose transit through this jungle of jungles. They were mostly inaudible. The night of the living dead had come alive.

I was shunted onto a full plane bumping every available elbow. No-one minded. This was the Friday night party plane. The mainland Turks were off to party in Cyprus. The mood was upbeat and the cheese sandwich soggy. I had a beer.bee

At the end I was reunited with my chair and fast-tracked through customs. I’m still a traveller. I may have lost some independence but the army stood up to the line and got me through.

Thank you for reading.

Dreams

The dream had me there. In a sea of rich air I trekked slowly up the Old Lady’s backbone. A kindly breeze mopped my dampened brow. Tiny little flecks of life darted around my head, tapping and tickling my resting ears. They rested, free from the thrum of the urban circus. It was a kindly slope. After the first joyous glimpse of the majestic peaks, it was time to walk. Below lay the undulating screen of Llyn Llydaw. A glittering sun played chase with the ever-changing ripples, stroking its dark smooth mane.

The outline of the horseshoe sat permanent on its surface. I was being watched from beneath and above. As the grassy track gave way to the cold hard slate, the gradient grew. Now I was paying. I was wanting fitness but achieving exhaustion. I flashed back to every other time I stood in the same spot feeling the breath shorten and the muscles tighten. This was the price for beauty. This was its joy and its penance.

Over the final ridge I joined the railway track. Straight ahead was the final push. There was a collective chorus of  short desperate breaths. The aching limbs of the Snowdon pilgrims left no time for conversation. We were fighting the mountain.

At the summit the joy returned anew, coursing through my laboured frame. All around lay the familiar kingdoms; known well but now viewed from my exclusive eyrie. Anglesey, small Welsh towns, the Lancashire coast and the whole of Snowdonia glistened in the late Summer sun. This was rare.

Many times before, I had ascended into the damp grey of a northern winter. I’d be enshrouded in a cocoon of swirling cloud battered by the rage of the season’s wind. But that was the dream. That was the great giver of joy and satisfaction. A challenge to be taken time and time again.view-from-snowdon-s-peak

And now, the front door is my mountain. But I can still burst through and feel the wind. I do not cry. For my dream is not a dream of desire. It is a dream I have lived. My sixth age may have come too early. I have glasses on my nose, pouch on one side and a crack in my big manly voice. But I have sought the bubble reputation and I have sighed like a furnace.

To the able bodied; do it while you can. Walk far, climb mountains and appreciate the pleasures around you.

Thank-you for reading.

Villains and fools

The word villain itself leans towards the lighter hearted end of deviance. We often think of pantomimes and the outrageously dressed perpetrator of evil and skulduggery inviting the boos and hisses of an over excited raucous audience. With tightened throats and twisted faces, they sneak about the stage “hiding” behind the heroes.

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“Behind you,” scream the children, wound up by thoughts of Christmas and chocolate. The movements are exaggerated, the expressions are false and next to each group of children is a miserable adult regretting their choice of sitting in this theatre of hell rather than braving cold weather and crowds to finish off the Christmas shopping.

Further afield we have romantic images of highwaymen, buccaneers and do-gooding bands of merry men gadding about the country in cocked hats charming the very ladies they rob. But this is just a fancy. Dick Turpin murdered people. And we have no idea about Robin Hood.

5-dick-turpin-smTrue, the Oxford English Dictionary makes reference to a treacherous character in a story or play whose part is a necessary part of the plot so who knows?

Now, the media may liken controversial figures to a pantomime villain. These are people nobody seems to like yet they’re still splashed all over the newspapers. I try not to take any notice of them but on this occasion, I will pick out a few as targets for my own contempt. Where shall I start?

Katie Hopkins; everyone’s favourite bitch. A vain shallow excuse for humanity.

lmm9mShe rides an embarrassing bicycle of feigned outrage, targeting the weak and the vulnerable. She courts popularity with the ignorant middle classes, vaunting a common patriotism with bigots and philistines. She will say anything to grab attention, hiding her pernicious comments behind a thin veil of perceived public opinion.

She preys on our secret prejudices. We all have them but most of us are big enough to over-ride them with a proper sense of fairness and generosity to our fellow human beings. Yet she tries to turn these qualities around to incite pride and covetousness.

Is she a direct descendant of Matthew Hopkins, the notorious witchfinder general?

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He toured East anglia to rid the villages of those who dared to be unique or  eccentric. They were burned as witches. He luxuriated in the gratitude of the village elders.

The latter day Hopkins picks on the weak calling them scroungers or criminals.

“Close the borders. Were full,” she cries. Political correctness is lambasted with calls for common sense. Political correctness? Isn’t it just a branch of the common courtesies we exercise as normal human beings?

Nigel Farage; a self styled hero of public decency and sensibility.

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This lad, who drinks pints and smokes fags was naturally privately educated. He has as much in common with the man on the street (sorry, person on the street) as I have with the stub of Castro’s final cigar. Like Hopkins, Farage is a predator. Somewhere inside all of us may be a shred of distaste towards anything different or alien.

He also knows that we hold a sense of justice.

“Form an orderly queue and only take what you’re entitled to.” Oh it’s so British isn’t it? Can’t you just feel yourself itching to burst into a rendition of that great patriotic dirge that we call Jersualem?

Why should we stand for  giving anything to anyone who exists beyond the waters of our sceptered isle? Of course most of us are level headed and realistic enough to understand that the world is a complex place and it’s not just a question of keeping everything to ourselves but some are lured into this over simplified utopian vision that will ensure we keep our lush fields, our village greens, the sound of leather on willow if we keep out Johnny Foreigner and his stinking garlic breath. Well just look at the in-fighting within the party itself. Enough said.

The drink awareness campaign:

b5f14891065b39cbc4877e6729a225fcAlcohol ruins lives. It affects health and can lead to premature death. This costs the NHS billions every year. I’ve seen how drinking can lead you into the downward spiral that drags along your respect, finances, relationships and well being. There’s nothing wrong with highlighting the dangers of drink. But what about those of us who like a drink? Sometimes we drink too much. Sometimes we make a pledge of abstinence that lasts until opening time. Are we that disgusting to normal civilised people?

For me, it’s about control. I know when I may be drifting. I know when to slap myself around the face and get a grip back on to reality. Some poor people can’t. So, what is the hush hush softly softly little ear worm approach of the drink awareness campaign going to do for them? And that brings me to the reason for placing this worthy campaign into the villain category.

I don’t like little voices on the radio and friendly little images on social media implying that I’m guilty of self-centred weak indulgence just because I look at an empty wine glass and charge it with a little night cap. Filling one’s days with intersets and causes; looking at the news and caring about the world, work far better than the soft voice in the background. Villains get things wrong. Cajolement and guilt spreading is the wrong approach. It’s an easy approach but I don’t respond to it. Why don’t they big it up like the anti smoking thing?

Premiership footballers:

00BE66AB1000044C-0-Everton_legend_Duncan_Ferguson_s_record_is_keeping_the_club_in_N-m-13_1485170656229It’s an easy target. For me they are the purest of villains. The pitch is the stage, the stadium the theatre and the crowd the audience. Fake tackles, diving, feigned agonising injury and the histrionics of the pitch side managers make for many fine performances.

Then once it’s over the villainy really starts. the villain admits nothing. They were badly done to, we wuz robbed, the ref was on their side or Sammy the goldfish was swimming backwards this morning.

As with all villains, the complaints and the excuses get tedious. How can we take anyone seriously if they’re paid a king’s ransom, have luxury cars, sport the latest in tonsorial trends, gamble recklessly, pull some right crackers and are as thick as shit?

I love football. I am an Evertonian. It has been good for me. I’ve travelled the country, felt a sense of belonging, been outraged by basic human behaviour and learned to live with disappointment. Don’t knock it.

Who else is a villain?

How much time have you got? Michael Gove; small malignant and downright dangerous. Bo JO; a complete toffee nosed arse. Jeremy Clarkson; the classic public school bully. Ironically, he was a victim himself of bullying at Repton. His parents were desperate for him to cross the social divide but he was deeply unhappy.

Certain OFSTED inspectors who have crossed my path; self important and devious seekers of vainglory.

92cd7a5cc2e6515d25eb239756004691e8576e8fIf they really cared about education, they would have sayed longer in the classroom. Glorified failed teachers. I don’t care who I upset here. I have twenty two years of constant classroom hours behind me yet others saw fit to ignore my wisdom and experience. Yawn!

Jeremy Corbyn; silently waiting by the edge of the stage, ready to throw in the occasional stink bomb. Jacob Rees Mogg; another public school turd with an eye to punishing the punished.

6d46fabb12fee5d339ef40dc57fa8838Some of us never had a chance; dragged up on a sink estate with 90% unemployment and at the mercy of the disdainful middle classes and beyond. Mogg woulnd’t know community sprit if it jumped on him. I expect if it did he’d steel himself for a jolly good rogering.

Me; for having the audaclty to express my humble opinion on such luminaries as previously mentioned. 

Have you ever noticed how the privately educated think that those at the impoverished end of society actually deserve to be there? So they should be punished. Nasty little vermin, scrounging off the state, claiming rights whist eschewing responsibility. They breed like flies and expect everything to be provided for them. Some obviously know how to play the system but let’s compare; current hot topic? Tax avoidance.

Fools.

For years, our TV and cinema screens have been awash with fools. Frank Spencer, Corporal Jones, Harry Worth, Laurel and Hardy and so many more. Falstaff, Feste and Bottom are famous Shakespearean fools. They bumble around giving light relief in worlds full of tragedy and sorrow.

A fool however, is a far more complex animal. Some fools carry the air of the clever. Their devious machinations may bring glory and riches. They may attract respect and admiration from great deeds of derring do. But their persona is shallow. Despite their appearance they are not actually clever. Fools live for the present. A fool seeks passing approval. They can twist the truth and miss the truth. They assume the gravity of their self-perceived status will exude a sense of truth and veracity. It is indeed a foolish notion to believe that your word alone is worth belief.

What fools do we have?

Let us start at the top.

Prince Philip:

prince_philip_launches_bizarre_four-letter_outburst_1One should engage one’s brain before putting one’s mouth into drive. (I don’t use the word gear because he has probably driven automatics.) The dear prince belongs in Dad’s Army along with Jones and Mainwaring. Together they have a collective pomposity with various mixtures of short sighted prejudice.

I respect the elderly; I too am on that road. I respect the way he has stood faithfully by the queen, accompanying her on her queeny duties. But he is a bumbler. For years and tears, the gutter press have stalked him, waiting for his famous indiscretions. And he hasn’t disappointed.

The same can be said for other royals. Remember Fergie? She bordered on the villainous. More fool her for thinking that status alone earned respect despite her naked greed and ambition.

One step down brings us to Theresa May:

Theresa-May

Oh how the tories roared with mocking laughter at the disastrous tenure of Gordon Brown. And oh, how the tables have turned. Anyone resigned today Theresa? One hint of knee touching and they’re off. Will there be further investigation?

What did Fallon, Green and poor little tubby Charlie boy do? For years now he has taken every opportunity to get his sad little plumy wumpy face on the television to squeak at length about the vagaries of representing England’s biggest passenger port; his shifty little eyes twitching at the though of the Calais jungle. “Yes it may have been destroyed,” he whimpers.”But now they live in the trees like monk…..oh I’d better not use that word; you know, the consequences.”

Let’s interview Theresa:

Mrs May, what did you mean by strong and stable?

But you misheard me Mr Interviewer, I meant long and sable, like my coat.

Can you trust any member of your cabinet?

Yes, most definitely. I can trust the smiling Bhudda.

Sorry?

Yes, the cabinet in my living room. The bhudda sits on the second shelf. Oh how I love it’s little fat face and tubby tummy.

Long pause as interviewer tries not to giggle.

Mrs May, do you know what sectioning is? I mean do you possibly think that soon you will be sectioned?

Of course I know about sectioning. It’s dividing society into two sections. The wealthy who can get away with blue murder and the workers who we screw until they scream.

And the disabled?

Don’t worry, we’ll get the bastards.

It’s a case of a long line of fools. Duncan Smith, scourge of the disabled. Amber Rudd, posh and clueless. Tracy Crouch; I don’t doubt her sincerity but to actually criticise those with very little for owning big screen TVs and subscribing to sports channels? I could go on. Simon Cowell, Johnathan Ross, that long haired cocaine sniffing excuse for humanity whose name escapes me, police commisioners, press chiefs and………..wait for it……….The upper echelons of the BBC. Every day we are slapped in the face by fools.

Now have a look around you. Ignore the idiotic icons of screen and media and focus on the fools within your midst. Slowly but surely I’m shaking off the fools around me. I do not suffer them gladly. They don’t make me laugh; they make me crawl with contempt.

Fools have labelled me as useless, as beyond help or hope. Fools think that my disability has banished me to the fringes of society where I rely on others as I become some nasty little twisted bit of poison saturated with resentment at everyone who is able to walk.

theres-a-growing-number-of-homeowners-trapped-in-negative-equityThere is a clouding of the past. For years, as my physical state has deteriorated so has my credibility as a person. I am no longer able to make decisions and therefore I’ve never been able to make decisions. I can no longer work with my hands so therefore I’ve never been able to work with my hands. I can no longer work because I’ve never been able to work. Like my history, all notion of my worth as a human being has evaporated.

In fact, it never existed. The certificates on my walls, the photographs of me on mountains and the stories of my adventures have all been fabricated. My chequered past, the failures, the triumphs, the hard graft, the playing hard, the loves, the losses and the achievements now belong in another world. A world of dreams. Oh what fools they are. My current circumstances do not define me. My history defines me.

Some fools I know are islanders.

coverThey live on an island. It is a small community with little satellites that are frequently visited. They see life from behind windows and windscreens. They are suspicious of strangers. If you think of a prison cell. The nature of that cell restricts what you can see. Through the bars of the window you may see the sky. You may hear the sounds of routine. It’s tunnel vision. You can only imagine the reality. This is the life of the islander.

There are other fools. They are foolish because they either forget or ignore what I am. Only a fool will equivocate the past to suit the present. Only a fool will assume my memory falters with age. Only a fool will think that they can hide truths from me in an attempt to manipulate my responses.

Well let me tell these fools:

I know people. I have not just dealt with people in set contexts; as customers, as victims, as parents, as colleagues or as subordinates. I was brought up on the streets of Seacombe. It was often brutal. I needed to be on my toes. I fought against expectations and prejudice to get to my dream job.

The people I knew and still know had similar battles. They are not fools. We are guilty of foolish moments but no-one has practised the art of deceit. I know of the tricks people play for their own gain and status. How can you fools possibly think that I can be fooled by economies of truth and embroidered artifice? My memory is lightning sharp. It’s not in some vague misty cumulo nimbus.

You may say what you like to suit yourselves. I may even nod in agreement. You may well steer around the potholes of inconvenient truths but as a fool, you only ever fool yourself.

10-surefire-ways-spot-liar-and-tell-better-lies-yourself.1280x600That negates all the forms of ingenius webs of deceit you have woven.

Take an iceberg. From the surface it may look a glorious mass of screaming bright white in the dazzling light of the sub-zero sun.

icebergBut on closer inspection, you may notice the creamy green stains of bird droppings peppering the shining surface. Then down below there is the great bulbous lump that bullies anything in its path. Fools look at the pretty bit; even though they may well know about the evil below, they will focus on what they can see. The iceberg itself is a fool. Perhaps it thinks no-one will notice or remember that down below it hides its true character. Fools fooling fools you might say.

Let me finish with the most foolish of all villains. An anagram of his name is pan turd mold. Can you imagine if Bo Jo is the next PM? The two of them perched on the garden wall over looking the world. They’re playing with their very own boys’ toys.

donald-trump“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” suggests Boris.

“I can’t,” answers Donald. “I’m saving it for………” And Trumpton wanders off into his own little dream. “Who?” shouts Boris. Trump looks back:

“Xi Xi,” he whispers. Boris is crestfallen. “Don’t worry Boris. once I’ve finished with him I’m all yours.”

“Any chance of an intoduction to your wife’s body double?” asked Bo.

Thank you for reading.         

 

I climbed a mountain

I used to love mountains. I’m not just talking about the real ones I used to climb. They were great tests of endurance and spirit. There was nothing to beat the exhilaration of getting back down to face the prospect of a ninety minute drive whilst saturated by Snowdonia’s extremities.

No, I’m talking metaphors here. At the risk of that cheesy anthem from the Sound of Music drifting into my…………oh no, it’s there, I’m referring to overcoming life’s obstacles.

climbMany times I’ve found myself slung on the stinking floor of a medieval oubliette. Surrounded by the filth and stench of defeat and humiliation, I have to scramble my way out fighting off the clamorous rats.

dungeon-demon_wideThey claw and bite at my spirit but eventually I emerge blinking into the cruel world. At least in the cold light of day I can see them. Then I wonder why I bothered. The world has as many mountains as bottomless pits.

But we were made to climb. I never tired of climbing. Yesterday’s plans were innocent enough. Monica, the kindly lady who was thrilled to give a loving home to Seymour had invited me round for tea. It was a chance to see my little old companion and observe how he was settling into his new home. I’d been forewarned of the steps but assured of an alternative rear entrance that involved a trip through the undergrowth along the side of the house.

“No,” I proclaimed. “I can do these steps.” There were three paved steps to get to the front door followed by three more inside the porch; an elevation of about three foot four inches. Just over a meter in new money. Now I have known about my diminishing capabilities with stairs for a long time. Even with rails, they present the improbable leading to the impossible. In the early noughties I agreed to have a new piano pupil who’s house was down a considerable flight of unrailed steps.

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This was the actual mountain

It was difficult but with the cunning use of a walking stick, I made it possible. Fast forward to now. After the first attempt at the first step, I wondered what on earth I’d done. How could it happen? Was a brief foolhardy moment of derring-do going to transform me once more into a brave mountaineer?

With my left arm supported and the used of strategically placed chairs, it took thirteen minutes to complete my climb. There were some dangerous moments when I risked losing all dignity resulting from a gentle stumble. The heady lush scent of the myrtle bush appeared to be calling me into its sharp twiggy bosom.

lagerstroI resisted:

“Away you wicked siren. You shall not feed off my optimism.”

At the summit, I breathlessly transfered to my wheels and all normality returned as I spent a delightful time fussing over Seymour with tea and cake.

The descent was more expedient. The awkward initial climb had given me the tools of familiarity. I knew my enemy. I made strategies. MS can take many things away; mobility, convenience, control and energy. But (imagine Mel Gibson with a formulated Perthshire accent and the backdrop a castle ruins with a roaring bonfire) “it’ll take away my life but it will never take my freedom.”

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Luvvie Mel, looking more like a reugee from Scotland’s abortive 1978 world cup campaign.

It was assuring to see that the decision I had made; a decision doubted by some, was a good one. In fact it was the best one and the whole satisfactory conclusion was achieved with the help of others. Here is the answer to the doubters.

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Thank you for reading.

A bit of muffin

What does the word muffin conjure up? Mules apart, national chain fast food and coffee outlets steer us away from it’s more lewd association to those oily fatty lumps of sweet, moist muck imbued with a hint of weeping blueberry. At over five hundred calories a pop, they’re not for me. I know these places are popular but there’s more chance of me parading down Wembley way in a red scarf than me setting foot in one of these plastic excuses of home cooked “goodness”.

There; mast, colours and nails flying firmly in the breeze. Other opinions of Costabucks and Burgerdonalds are available.

What is my type of muffin then?

Think food darlings; clear your mind of all else. Let’s move on to savoury cornmeal muffins. I say no more.

Ingredients:

(Should make 12)

90g melted butter

1 finely chopped onion

1 finely chopped red pepper (please don’t call it a bell pepper)

1 tsp smoked paprika or cumin (any other piquant spice or spice combination will do)

Maybe apinch of chilli?

150g cornmeal or polenta. (I actually used semolina.)

150g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

60g grated cheddar or crumbled chalky cheese like feta, cheshire or caerphilly.

2 eggs

400ml combination of milk and butter milk.

I used Greek yoghurt; 75% milk 25% yoghurt. It saves buying a whole carton of butter milk and only using a little bit of it before leaving the rest to create new life in the fridge.

If all else fails use all milk with a good squirt of lemon juice in it.

Gently fry onion and pepper in butter for 10 minutes or until they’re soft.

Mix the paprika, flour, corn (or semolina), baking powder, sugar, salt and cheese.

In a microwave or small pan, melt the butter.

Beat the eggs and combine with the milk before mixing it with the flour.

Add the onion and pepper and the melted butter. Spoon into a muffin tin. I use smaller sizes to avoid the creation of bricks. 

Bake at 200c for 20/25 minutes and check with the skewer method.

Best eaten warm.

They went very well with spicy dips or as a substitue for rice with a chilli.

Be prepared for a bit of a busy kitchen.

There may be a lot of containers to handle. I tend to write down an order of play and get the ingredients ready. Put things away and clean as you go along. If you have the space, don’t bother with any of this and inform anyone else who may be luxuriating in these little bombs of pleasure that they can do the washing up.

Thank you for reading.

Modern life

What goes through you mind when someone says “modern life”?

Do we immediately think of mobile phones, social media, gaming, massive televisions, streaming, downloading or perhaps the virtual platforms for BOTTOMs, hiding behind a life of screened tunnel vision to spit out their organic cranberry juice and vociferously rail against anything in the first sentence of an article they may find distasteful?

A BOTTOM by the way, is someone who Bangs On Thinking Their Opinion Matters. Is it typically modern to reject modernisms in favour of a simpler way of life following the path to some form of Amish style utopia?

One of my near neighbours is a family with two cars. I’ve never seen them walking on the street. I’ve never know them go out as a family. I’ve never seen them taking their two dogs for a walk. They’re a family of four but apart from the school run, I’ve never seen more than two of them in a car at any one time. Am I being a bit BOTTOMish sharing my thoughts in this way? After all, there is no way they’ll ever see my rather harsh inferences.

Hmmm, now that’s something to think about. But I might be totally wrong so please don’t judge them. It’s just my impression. Anyway, I’ve not opened up this page to rant about the way people conduct themselves in the teenies.

Modern life has given me the opportunity to operate as a normal human being despite being restricted by a life changing chronic condition. Because I’m no longer able to walk, suffer a multitude of pains and ailments and face the prospect of a one-way prognosis, I have had to adapt. And some other people have also helped me adapt for which I’m very grateful.

It’s not just professionals who have helped; it’s been friends, relatives and myself. To put things in a nutshell, here is a list of the equipment which is helping me help myself:

Wet room, two powered wheelchairs, rollator, riser recliner, two grabbers, four walking sticks, special kitchen work station, bed rails, robot vacuum, an all terrain scooter, dishwasher, electric corkscrew, tumble dryer, laptop, smart phone, bus pass, disabled person’s railcard and the Times crossword. Some of these are standard stuff but all of them have been instrumental in keeping my independence.

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Heaven sent

Now for those who look back fondly at previous times. Think of the old British high streets with independent retailers sitting side by side. With staff waiting eagerly behind gleaming counters they offered good old fashioned service. We shopped every day for items that would be sliced, weighed and wrapped in proper brown paper bags:

“Morning Mrs Brown, how’s your husband’s boil?” our cheery assistant would ask. Before long, the whole shop would reverberate to a discussion of personal ailments.

uckfield-high-street-c1955_u1049Of course the time didn’t matter. The lady of the house didn’t work so she had plenty of time to chat to Mrs Perm, Mrs Wrinkles, Mrs Piles and Mr Bunnions who was now retired and thought it a good idea to get out and about as his wife’s flatulence was becoming stronger than the smell of the boiled lunchtime cabbage.

Television was restricted to two channels and at certain times of the day, both stations closed down. Oh so very very quaint.

maxresdefaultBeing a big believer in the power of history, I cannot knock such times. The past is a learning opportunity. I’m not sure how many people use it but it’s there nonetheless. But’s it made me grateful.

The modern shopping experience, based in huge retail areas with national big name commercial chains is often bemoaned for being cold and impersonal. The constant flood of crass piped music, plastic shiny displays, hypnotic shop lighting and wide grinning faces plastered on advertising hoardings may be a cruel truth of modern life but it gives me the chance to be part of it.

I don’t have to stay behind my four walls because any shopping trip would need the negotiation of steps into shop doorways and being dwarfed by the counter in my wheelchair. No, modern life means that I can get on a bus; they all have ramps and go to The Royal Victoria Place in Royal Tunbridge Wells and shop ’til I drop.

2677235615I can even eat and drink from the comfort of my brilliant chair. And no employee treats me badly because they know I have the power to email. That’s not true; I’m treated well because people are nice.

Ironically, I don’t go shopping very often but knowing that I can if I want is important. I don’t even have to leave the flat at all because of the wealth of online opportunities to blow my humble pension. Whilst my freedom and convenience are greatly enhanced, there are other factors of the twenty first century which are less positive.

Firstly my condition is getting worse. Life can be frustrating. My pain and limitations are not going away. The biggest fight is not to let sequencing and short term memory issues get me screaming with frustration. I deiberately do things to keep the brain active. Cooking for instance, has turned out to be a pleasure. It just takes longer because of lost threads. But it’s also a source of fatigue.

Oh yes, the fatigue thing: “It’s not just you who gets tired!” Let me refer them to previous posts. If one’s body is fighting an internal enemy which has a repertoire of brutality, stealth, sudden spasticity and issues a constant tissue of lies, (you need the loo, your legs are on fire; now they’re like ice, insects are crawling all over you, look harder beause I’m playing tricks with your eyesight, no you can’t do that because it’s the evening, etc etc) then you will know MS fatigue. Other forms of conditional fatigue are available but if you’re able bodied with no discernable problems other than being overweight or being tired after a day’s work, you do not know fatigue.

Yes, modern life for me and others has its problems. Taking a sideways step, politics and politicians appear to be entering a theatre of illusion and farce. Incompetent is the new competent. People’s expectations; yes, even those commoners on benefits, are reaching the sky.

Secretly, I’m hinting at future posts so I will leave it there.

Thank you for reading.