Monday, 31 March 2008

Sprung Feet

On the radio today was a programme called ‘Go For It’, a children’s programme with the presenter Barney Harwood. Today they had several children in talking about grief and loss with the children’s poet laureate, Michael Rosen, who had lost his son to meningitis. I sat with my hands over my face trying not to get tears on my keyboard (a recurring hazard these days) listening to them so sweetly grappling with the intricacies of grief. One child turned to the poet and asked with such sincere worry ‘Are you alright?’ The poet blinked and really, really thought about it. ‘Yes’ he said. ‘Thank you…thank you for asking.’

Yesterday I was feeling a bit anxious as my Mum heads off on her ‘grand European Adventure’ in a couple of days. I feel quite mollified as it has usually been me disappearing without a second thought to ‘somewhere else’. Quite a different thing when shoe (even with new insole) is on other foot. Anyway, to pull myself together I went, on my new springy feet, shoes full of foam, for a long walk in the hot spring sunshine. It was marvellous. My legs felt half my age….and I was thrilled. Unfortunately I shouldn’t have gone quite so far and for quite so long without checking the foam fitted the shoe properly. After a couple of hours I had more blisters then foam, and collapsed annoyed on the banks of the Cam unable to take another step. I called a friend with a bike who came to the rescue but now I can’t wear any shoes except clogs. Hopeless.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Getting In Step

I have a dark and painful family secret. I finally can take the shame no more . It is time to drag back the blackened curtains and let the light come streaming in and so, with immense (even if I say so myself) strength of will, I take a first step towards releasing myself from the terrible burden…..

...which is why I find myself today standing in a pair of shorts and a sports bra in front of a woman who is playing with my instep. As this is Wednesday afternoon and no liquor is involved I am afraid all of you leaning closer into the computer screen are going to be disappointed.
I have ..oh God! I can’t say it.. (gulps).. I have ..flat feet.

‘You also have,’ says the woman squeezing my hallux, ‘cocked up toes and slightly knock-knees.’

This woman has perfect knees. Her toes have A-levels. God! In her eyes I am Neddie Seagoon from The Goon Show. How the hell did I cock up my own toes? Can everyone see I cocked them up? Even in shoes?

'Eeeee yacka boooooo!' I say She is prodding my lateral malleolus.

‘£90’says she stuffing my shoes with foam and patting my deltoid.

Outside and yes, I definitely feel springier. Possibly because my wallet is a lot lighter.

Saturday, 22 March 2008


OK so no blog for a while..sorry… It has been a combination of having soggy brain and the fact I got wimpy after seeing an interview of Upcoming Handsome Norwegian-English Author in a Sunday paper. In the article the young chap (interesting childhood, overcoming some adversity or other, speaks at least four languages) sat looking moody with the sun streaming through his (slightly receding) golden curls whilst the journalist twittered on about his sexiness, intellect, his ability to articulate humanities something or other. None of this did more then make me hiss with usual defensive silliness, ‘ different if he were a WOman', but then the journo turned to .. his remarkable collection of books..from Homer to Herrmann Hesse, Chaucer to Zola to Lovelock yadda yadda. At that point I looked at my bookshelf, which resembles a shelf in a youth hostel in Prague or the airport shop downstairs in Lusaka airport. Errr...books are expensive and hard to travel with and ..well I am prone to reading fast scary thrillers for a fast scary thrill and the print is larger and. etc and ad infinitum .(you get the point) I felt small and silly. I haven’t even got a decent TinTin collection yet.

All excuses aside I do not read enough. Basically I know diddly squat in this world..and there is a great deal of diddly squat one should know. And to top it off I don’t even speak my own language that well. How can I be so impertinent as to want to write??
Basically my conjones dwindled.

However I have sulked quite enough now and so with apologies for the fact this may happen now and again, here is more of my witless ramblings my darlings!

My Mum’s friend P had her 70th birthday party today. The sun shone through the sleet and the band played and there was wine and food and a wonderful bunch of people from many generations. P herself is the very model of the vogue creed of late that '70 is the new 50'. She is small and blonde and fit and furiously active. My brother picked me up (literally – I was in a bad mood until he force-fed me the new KitKat. Damn that boy is a sweetie!) from Kings cross and we met my sister who I thought was over-vicaring just a little, even given it was Easter. She was not in uniform but both earrings and large pendent were heavy unsubtle crosses.
'Lord!' I said
'Yup!' she said.
Her son, the magnificent K, towered above the crowd. He turned 18 on Friday. (He is going to end up in one of those articles about New Handsome Upcoming Somebodies…I shall still be annoyed) My Mum and J were there too. Mum had bought a photo of her and the birthday girl from back in the mid 60’s. Mum had had to escape South Africa to UK and P had been there, a sanctuary of fire, wit and tough love. They sit in the photo, both with babies on their laps. P's hair is in a ponytail and she wears thick-rimmed glasse. She sits forward almost laughing, almost leaping up. My mum with her hair in a chignon and a Pears Soap baby face is also smiling, easy, relaxed. I have rarely seen her in a photo from those tough times looking so lovely. Thank you P and Happy Birthday!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Get Knitted

‘Control’ is a film that has been much acclaimed in the past few months. It is about the gifted but tormented lead singer of a band called Joy Division who hanged himself at the age of 23. (Did I conjucate ‘hanged’ correctly? )

This is a miserable film about a miserable band in the miserable end of the 70's, in a miserable England. The director (who I presume is young and very ‘street’) films in black and white which, given that Macclesfield where the woeful story is set is already grimly grey (with touches of rust and urine yellow), I feel is an unnesscesary affectation and a tad pretentious. The lead actor is wonderful but we learn nothing about the character apart from the fact he was tormented and miserable and hanged himself at 23. This was an extraordinary man-child but perhaps all we can really know of him is in his music. I felt the film too 'crafted' and therefore soulless and I learnt nothing about him or anyone else ..apart from the director of course… (very ‘street’..did I mention that…)

At the end of the film I looked down and found I had knitted an entire front left side when I should have knitted an entire right side. As this is the same sodding waistcoat I have been trying to knit since Christmas I had an episode of knitting rage. This is quite dangerous as one is holding knitting needles whilst jumping up and down and swearing . I managed to puncture my pilates blow up ball. I wonder about perhaps learning another craft…something simpler. I do like the smell of play dough…..
Man!! Friday nights just don’t get better then that….

To make up for being a knit (did ya see what I did there?!) I end the weekend at an exceptionally interesting lunch with a fascinating Dutch historian who is currently involved in helping to clean up and resurrect the Zambian National Archive. We talk about this remarkable work for a few minutes then spend the rest of the three hours discussing the bizarre dating habits of the English. She is as baffled as I and she has a doctorate, so there.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Eye Eye

Ahh..the sights and smells of the Addenbrookes Eye Unit eh? The first hour’s wait is always the most charming..all those pleasant, relaxed patients chatting amicably, the serene staff, the accessible corridors and comfy seats..oh hang on. Actually that was the second hour when I fell asleep. The first hour was ..well the opposite of that. Plus it was paediatric ophthalmology clinic day. Dozens of toddlers and visual impaired people is not the best mix but it can be pretty funny.

Anyway turns out that there is nothing more wrong then usual in my eyes. What happened was probably a complication of the cystic macular oedema, a cystic rupture and the pain and sensitivity..well that just part of the two for one offer you get with RP. After several tests I finally am sat across from a pale, thin, blonde woman in a pigtail. (She may not have been quite as blonde as I think only my eyes were still full of yellow gel from the previous tests.) She is young. For some reason this makes me feel ‘fobbed off’ which is ageist I know. She can tell me absolutely nothing and I can feel her wanting to glance at her watch. Its lunchtime.

I forget, because I am trying to be a grown up, to shout, ‘what would YOU do if it were you? I need answers! I want it to stop. Make it stop!’ at her. I forget to lie on the floor and shriek with rage and demand cocaine based pain relief. I forget to demand to see someone over 30. She gives me the usual tired smile and metaphorical pat on the shoulder. I thank her politely. I go home.
Later I am being bored to death…sorry..chatted up by the taxi driver when I notice he has gone quiet. I glance up and se him looking at me nervously in his rear view mirror. I had forgotten about the yellow gel. I grin evilly hoping my vampire look will forever stick in his chubby mind..

Monday, 10 March 2008


I finish my shift at Citizens Advice Bureau and head out into the wind whipped rain, my head down and all my thoughts on how behind I am on the script writing and then I notice that there is smoke all around me. I step up out of the underpass my heart racing, I can hardly see through the smoke…where’s the fire? I spin around… must be massive…..where are the sirens..where are the panicking crowds?
I can hardly see through the smoke….then the hackles on the back of my neck rise. There is no smell of fumes, noone else is fazed, noone else turning around and around scanning for a fire like a demented derivish. Just me. A woman walks past giving me a very wide berth. My sweaty forehead goes cold as I realise that there is no fire. There is just something terribly wrong with my eyes.

What has happened..? …I don’t know but I run for home and I refuse to look anywhere but straight ahead. I look at the road, just at the road..then at the pavement and then just at my door and then just at the phone. I don’t glance around afraid of what I won’t see. My hands are shaking and I have to practice my phone voice several times before calling the Eye Clinic and speaking to the Sister. She gets an emergency call half way through speaking to me and while she deals with it I realise I have to calm the hell down. My eyes are defogging a little and I am not in pain..just a dull ache in the back of my left eye. 'Come on,'I think to myself. 'You can deal with this. Your retinas are a mess anyway..this kind of thing is bound to happen. Don’t freak everyone out. Stiff Lip Upper and all that.' ' The Sister and I think it’s a bleed. Maybe even just the odema..there is no point of rushing to A and E. (Thank god as I have nomoney for cab fare and wouldn’t be able to see the cash point anyway..) I breathe and watch the clouds shift slowly inside and out.

So I am booked in for a check up on Wednesday. There is nothing else to be done until then but take some pain killers and rest my retinas. This is enormously frustrating as I want to work but the computer makes my headache worse so I give up and I do sleep and I dream of nothing. When I wake up my sight is clearer and I am so relieved I do a little jig around a martini.

By the way just so you don’t feel sorry for me (which will make me spit and is not the intention of this ridiculous post which was originally going to be a witty anecdote to the gloom of child battery of previous entries but just got trumped by events…you were right my darling Cuz. Enough already!), I am going to Toronto in Spring so there. The adventure continues even with the occasaional eye blips! More on that after Wednesday..

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Ga Xao Xa Ot

It s Sunday evening and the batteries in my eyes need replacing after anther few hours transcribing and fiddling around with interviews on this computer.
It’s been a strange week. The Middle East a suppurating sore on the radio and the bizarre ghoulish discoveries at the old children’s home in Jersey. That story…..! I think back to how helpless we were as children at boarding school; parents 5000 miles away, letters checked by staff and no access to money or phones… I know how out of hand some of the house matrons got knowing that there would be almost no come back for the odd Chinese burn, an occasional slap, the sharp tug of hair, the cold words and constant threats of more violence or isolation. Who believes a 10 year old? And that was in the 80’s in a well known and respected school. How much worse for a child alone, in care, without even a relative to whistle blow. Those poor kids.

However one cannot stay under one’s duvet whimpering (well that’s a lie..of course one can.. that was whimpering –ist, sorry). Anyway the sun came out. I had a lovely weekend and I am still feeling a little smug after getting the right proportion of fish sauce in my Ga Xao Xa Ot chicken on Friday night. (What a bloody show off!!) An old school pal came up for a couple of days bringing wedding photos and gin. She's been living in a huge semi-derelict house at the very end of a valley near Bridgend in Wales. It is a wonderfully romantic, dramatic place with the hills rising up behind the old ramshackle 3 story building which glowers down over the town beneath but they can’t afford to heat the bloody place and she had forgotten what it was like to be warm. The prospect of a hot bath fair made her swoon. Anyway that was all the excuse I needed to put jack up the chilli in the Vietnamese chicken and invite the neighbours over.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


Cambridge did itself proud today, bright and sun full and sharply chill with high, blue skies. It felt a little treacherous looking out of my window at it all, sitting with my headphones on and listening to play back of the interviews I had taken one night on the banks of the Kafue river in Zambia. The bush is noisy at night. Tree frogs, crickets, night jars, jackals, hippo and a far off lion sing, hoot, shriek, giggle and call in my headphones as I look out on my green and brown square British garden with Dennis the Squirrel making V signs at the pigeons. That squirrel! I should make him listen to this racket…he would pass out.

The past few days I have woken in the grey light of morning not knowing what country I’m in or how old I am. It is neither a nice nor a nasty sensation….just a disorientation. a feeling of being spun around in a whirlpool and not being sure which way to rise to the surface. It only lasts a moment but it is with relief I find myself this side of puberty. I have had it before after stressful travel between old homes and identities and it usually goes after a week or so but it is a remarkable sensation. Then again..I could be barking bonkers. It happens you know. Perhaps I am not wearing headphones at all………oh dear…

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Zambia 2. Munali

I am standing in front of eleven blind and visually impaired teenage boys. Watching my clumsy attempts at warm up jolliness is the PEO…the Provisional Education Officer (Special Needs) who has accompanied me on this venture on behalf of the Permanent Secretary for Education without who’s nod I would never have got to do these interviews at Munali Secondary school. This was a school of note and was set up in the 50’s with a resource centre for disabled children. Now, integrated into the main school, they have about 15 VI kids and over 40 deaf children in this particular year group. They have a dormitory originally fitted out for 90 kids and now sleeping over 200. Special needs teachers are scarce and the resource centre is lacking in basics. The secondary school is split into girls and boys but there are no girls sitting in front of me. I am disappointed and ask why the one visually impaired female student chose not to come along. Noone wants to comment.

All the boys are waiting. There faces are turned to my rustling as I fiddle with the mikes. The PEO in a beautiful suit watches me in my sweaty T-shirt. He looks unimpressed.
I get their names and promptly forget them. I tell them what I am doing and ask for comments. Nothing.
I ask if anyone would like to talk about their sight loss. The room fills with silence so profound one of the deaf kids in the corner giggles.
I finally have a bit of luck when one lad starts to talk abut his hobbies and hopes. He started a press club at a previous school. He has passion to become a journalist. I am thrilled. Inch by inch I pull like teeth a little from about 4 boys. J is an albino lad but has a girlfriend. The others hoot with respectful laughter. There are a couple of Manchester supporters.
However it is grinding down again so I begin to wrap up. As soon as I have turned off the equipment the boys start asking questions. What are the job opportunities in UK for blind people? They are shocked to hear over 70% of working age blind adults don’t work. I tell them that there are blind racing drivers, travellers, journalists, politicians. They perk up. I tell them about blind and visually impaired sports. There are blind football teams. The boys clap with pleasure…and confusion. But how do they find the ball..?
They want pen pals. They want resources… we chatter on and I realise I have 10 minutes to get to my next meeting and drop the PEO off at the ministry. And we have to go via the beautiful head teacher’s office to sign out. She is young, stunningly elegant, dressed in African night blue with a crafted embroidered turban. Next to her and the PEO I look like a medieval cow herder. The PEO says ‘Madam, look carefully at this one.’ They look at me. ‘Now, he says, you would never know but this one is blind too!’ They both gaze intently at me. I try and look appropriately journalistic and yet perkily blind. They continue to stare. I wonder if I should do something ‘blind’ like knock over my drink or walk into a wall. My smile is a bit forced. ‘Well done’ says the head teacher and with a perfect hand waves me out the door.