The poor glass man

I did my talk to students yesterday and it was grand. I can do the talking. But the content matter hit me, all that revealing of vulnerability. Alternatively, I drove there and back and I talked to 150 medical students. I’m amazing. Go me.

When I came home I was jittery and unsettled, a bit removed from the world, so I took the trusty hot water bottle and headed to bed. Then a phone call from the office of the glass repair people. “You’re wanting the glass in your door fixed? We have someone outside number 11, is that not you?” “No, but I’ll stick my head out the door and find him.” The chap did the measuring he needed to do and my fetching pjs were not mentioned.

Isn’t it the cutest thing? Perfectly designed for feeling better.

I wasn’t meant to be here today, but the spinning head and exhaustion meant that I turned off the alarm, just remembering to send apologies. I slept and slept. Some time after waking up I began to feel human again. At one with the world. Ready for a shower, and even a hair mask. No, not a woolly number, a purple coating/ thick shampoo like substance that stays on for a while to get rid of the grubby looking yellow / enhance the natural beauty of my shining white hair. I applied plenty of gunge.

And then the door bell rang.

The self same unexpected glass man. Yesterday he got me in my seasonal pyjamas; today, a purple dressing gown and matching hair.

I did not look this good.
Image from timtadder.com

As he left, I promised to be dressed the next time he comes back. I’m really not sure that helped the situation.

He may never come back.

The January disillusion

I’m prepping a talk on living with a chronic illness for medical students. I’ve been doing this for some years, updating annually. It’s a completely different experience from applying for welfare ‘benefits’, but it has the similarity of making me stop to think about my health, what I can do and what I struggle with. And how my normality has changed significantly since 2006.

I bet your life has changed a bit too. The medical students are in their first year- many of them will have been in their first year of primary school in 2006. Nothing remains unchanged. Except, it seems, my ability to be surprised by my ME. It’s unpredictable and inconsistent, and I am still surprised by that.

A few not busy weeks, some dry, bright days & a family keen to spend time together doing wee walks had me feeling like an outdoors sort. The walking boots saw action in the local forest, by the river and a new to us park. What fun! This is the sort of thing normal folk do! Teenagers, voluntarily walking with their parents! What’s not to like?

No mention of politics today

Now it’s a dry bright Sunday afternoon and I am home alone. My people and the bouncy dog are out without me, because today my legs aren’t up to much. This entirely predictable normality is a surprise (you know about my cognitive problems, right?) and a disappointment. I wasn’t thinking I was ‘better’; I was beginning to hope that I could do things without ridiculous pay back. I wasn’t foolhardy, I was resting before during and after, but still I had hope.

I should have known better. The football fan in our house always says it: it’s the hope that kills you. Time to lower my expectations again.

Hope, dammit, hope

And so it came to pass that when asked to choose between an incompetent, racist liar and just about anyone else, an overwhelming majority of English constituencies chose Johnson and his mates. I don’t live those peoples’ lives and I don’t know why they made those choices. I’m pretty sure the result will be further reduced public services, widespread racism and even less support for the most vulnerable in our society. And cursed Brexit. There are no glimmers there. No upsides to the English vote.

Late night trolling from the seasonal decorations

I refused to go to bed so hurt. I’d just lie there and seethe. I put more wood on the fire, poured some wine and waited. I have no idea what was going on the novel I was reading with one eye. There was the possibility of interesting developments in some of our local battles. The first NI result was due about 1am. I wasn’t going to go to bed without at least a positive trend to cheer me. I could not have believed that Girl1, Spurs Fan and I would be finally making it to bed at 4am, relieved. Even happy.

NI politics can be bitter and deeply boring. The same old same old, everything being the fault of them’uns. Last night the two biggest parties saw their vote reduce across the region. They held on to the ‘safe’ seats, but there were significant upsets. Alliance won North Down, and increased their vote in nearly every constituency; SDLP, had enormous victories in Foyle and South Belfast; and a veteran DUP MP was ousted by Sinn Fein in North Belfast. That campaign was the most nuanced I’ve ever seen from SF, in the face of horrible personal attacks. After the traditional recount in Fermanagh South Tyrone, Sinn Fein held on to seat by 57 (in 2010 the majority was 4. 1,2,3,4. Never let anyone tell you your vote can’t make a difference.)

Happy? Hopeful? Seeing the potential? Crossing fingers and toes?

Will this give the parties the kick they need to get back to thinking about actually governing NI? The Johnson government won’t need DUP votes. Alliance and SDLP will be there to provide opposition. The biggest impact our politicians can have is at home. The bigger parties need to get over themselves and get to talking about what will work here. We need to be active, to take responsibility for the sort of society we want to see here, to hold our politicians to account. We need to ensure oversight, to make sure that the scandals of the past cannot recur. Sam McBride has enough to be doing.

Flippant, random thoughts from very late night: Botox is actually distracting on TV, Mrs Foster needs comfier earrings, and a fleeting moment’s thought for my former MP who wasn’t accompanied by her husband for support. (He’s a senior civil servant and can’t be seen at political things in case we remember that their household has more than its fair share of responsibility for the chaos in the health and social care service, or something.)

Out of step with the Crawdads

It’s very easy to feel ‘wrong’ on the internet. To feel too old, too cross, not cross enough, too antisocial, too behind the curve, too behind the times, too naive.

I use social media to keep up, to be informed and entertained. I look at pretty pictures and read articles. Facebook for family and friends; twitter for politics, news and #broochwars/ @TheMERL/ high drama; Instagram for house renovations and decor, beaches and cute puppies. Serendipity. I get to choose what I engage with and what I let wash over me, whether I agree or not. How I react depends entirely on my mood. Generally, it’s all about me and the pups. But, even within my fluffy echo chamber, I notice when I’m out of synch with the majority of other opinions.

Clearly, social media can be a nasty place. One doesn’t have to be in the public eye to attract controversy or threats. Those who continue to take part in public service despite such horrors have strength that I don’t. That’s not my experience. Instead, I’m disagreeing in the world of bookclubbers. Yes, the folk who read books and chat about them. Who knew I could be annoyed by fellow book lovers?

I read a lot. I’m happy to share thoughts, recommendations, and consider other interpretations. Usually. I hated The Kite Runner while others raved about it, but that was before bookclubs could tell me multiple times a day how amazing it was. Many times, every day.

The book of the moment is Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Long, descriptive, nature writing takes a while to get used to, but is appropriate for the piece. Kya, the main character, suffers loss after loss, growing up alone and almost feral in the coastal marshes of North Carolina. She is let down time after time by those she loves or who have a responsibility to her. She is the ‘Marsh Girl’, an ‘other’, abandoned by most. I was gripped and read on with a lump in my throat.

But the book is trying to do too much. It’s being promoted as ‘a murder mystery, a coming of age narrative, and a celebration of nature’ and it’s failure to succeed at all three mars the whole experience. *spoilers ahead*

The murder mystery is what loses the book. It’s like it got grafted on in the editing process to add drama or structure. As if someone said, “Crime sells – could you kill off a horrible character?” The trial scenes are sparsely written, presumably to suggest that Kya has shut down with trauma or shock, but after the trial things just return to normal, no adjusting, no relief, no recovery. We stop knowing Kya before their trial and never regain that knowledge. I stopped caring, because it felt like the author had. I’d even accept that meant that Kya herself was deeply secretive and that nobody knew the truth of things (both true in context), but that still doesn’t make the story work.

The big problem is that about 100 pages before the end of the book, the truth becomes obvious to the reader. Tate, the clever, thoughtful one, should have known. I was looking forward to discovering how the main characters dealt with this knowledge as they made their lives together. But no. Nothing. Tate discovers the truth on the last page. Literally, the last page. I nearly threw the book across the room in frustration. Where I was expecting shared understanding and deep growth I got a ‘shock’ discovery and then nothing. Ah well, never mind. The end.

Perhaps that’s the point. Tate never really knew or understood Kya as well as he thought he did. She loved him and relied upon him anyway. She survived her whole life without anyone truly understanding her life, her decisions. Is that another betrayal? Is Kya still alone and isolated despite being apparently happy, settled and well off? Those are the issues that could have been explored had Tate been a reflective sort or if Kya had warranted any more thought. But the demands of the murder mystery plot seemed to take over the word count, leaving no room for the characters which drew us there in the first place.

There are many, many examples of excellent crime fiction exploring characters and issues alongside plot. Owens has not produced good crime fiction. Less reliance on the murder as plot device could have produced an interesting novel. Instead, I feel cheated and cross.

Not that anyone agrees with me. The book is selling loads and presumably Ms Owens is doing ok. Internet bookclubbers love it. I’m out of step again.