Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Red tulip

Red tulip

Monday, January 30, 2006

Four things

I've been tagged by Zhoen. My first meme.

Four jobs I've had

1) Library Assistant in the local public library, checking books in and out, shelving, earning money while I studied. The only job I have had where I have needed to deal directly with the general public, full on, all the time.

2) Packing oranges into crates in a local fruit packing factory. Student job again. Handling oranges all day long meant that after a few days the oils in the skin of the fruit would start to soften the skin of your hands - better than a beauty treatment. However, it didn't do much for the nails which were always getting broken lifting the crates.

3) Assistant in the press office of a wealthy international philanthropist. Stressful to the point of idiocy sometimes, pressure and long hours, but I did get to do a fair amount of really interesting foreign travel and through working for short spells over the years in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tanzania, etc etc, I saw much more of real life in these places than I would have done as a tourist.

4) Secretary/PA (in various organisations). It's what I am reasonably good at and a way to earn a living. I have plans for other things in the future though.

Four Movies I can watch over and over

I want to list far more than four. I'm definitely a movie buff.

1) Calamity Jane. My mother took me to see this, I couldn't have been more than 5-6 years old. I still think Doris Day has a great voice and the songs are so infectious.

2) Crash (the Paul Haggis film). How life works. How people are.

3) Zorba the Greek. The joy of life. The dance.

4) Etre et Avoir. (To be and to have). Infinitely touching documentary film about a small French country primary school, its pupils and its teacher. The sort of schooling I wish I'd had.

Four Places I've lived

1) Colchester, Essex, UK: First 18+ years. I get nostalgic for my childhood haunts from time to time but I know I really wouldn't want to go back.

2) Paris, France. Planned to stay for maybe one or two years, in fact stayed for nine.

3) London, UK. Where I went initially when I left home, and where I've always returned to over the years. London could almost count for 3 places in itself. I've lived in North London, West London and now South London. Each area has been very different from the rest. I plan to leave next year and move to the West of England.

4) Portsmouth, UK. Briefly, but not happily.

Four TV shows I love to Watch

This is difficult because I don't watch much TV. However ....

1) Any BBC nature programme with Bill Oddie. Don't know if non-UK readers know who he is ...

2) Thirtysomething (which I used to watch religiously when I was thirtysomething)

3) The recent BBC version of Bleak House.

4) The Day Today. Channel 4 comedy programme sending up news and current affairs programmes.

Four Places I've been on Vacation

1) Egypt
A Nile cruise. The poem I posted here brings it all back.

2) Israel
About 10/11 years ago, a week or two before Rabin's assassination, so it's taken on a particular significance in my memories.

3) Yugoslavia (as it then was) .
Wonderful, wild, remote. Friendly hospitable people.

4) USA. Grand Canyon/Bryce Canyon/Zion National Park/Las Vegas
I found the geography and scenery of the whole area totally beautiful and stunning and I'd love to go back.

Four Blogs I visit daily (the days I am online)

Lots and lots, definitely more than four a day!

Four of your Favourite Foods

1) Sushi (real or vegetarian)

2) Ice cream - lots of it, any flavour but am particularly fond of coffee

3) Cote d'Or dark chocolate with whole nuts

4) Warm, fresh-baked bread with lots of unsalted butter

Four places you'd rather be

1) Montana (this state, which I have never visited, has haunted me ever since I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance and then saw A River Runs Through It)

2) At the cinema

3) At a live music concert

4) Hiking along the Black Mountain section of Offa's Dyke, along the ridge of the mountains, on the border between England and Wales.

Four Albums You can't live without

1) Vaughan Williams Concert - Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Includes Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and The Lark Ascending.

2) Indigo Girls - Indigo Girls (current favourite - discovered them 16 years late). Great harmonizing and one of them (Amy?) has a raspy, throaty, sexy voice that I find irresistible.

3) Mary Chapin Carpenter - Stones in the Road .

4) Bruce Springsteen - Greatest Hits.

There are so many CDs I've left out, including some classical (Brahms 4th symphony, Mendelssohn/Bruch violin concertos). I almost put in Jeff Buckley's Grace but this would have been only for two tracks, for his version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and also an unearthly, beautiful rendition of the Corpus Christi Carol. So in the end, The Boss won. His music has accompanied me through a lot of my life on and off.

Four vehicles I've owned

1) Child's tricycle

2) Child's red bicycle

3) Ford Cortina

4) That's it. Living in London and Paris for most of my adult life where owning a car isn't essential I have taken public transport and got taxis, hired cars, cadged lifts, when I couldn't. Consequently I am a nervous driver. I will need to get a car though next year when I move out of London.

Four tagees
but only if you want to ....

Plus A N Other(s) - anyone else, blog friend(s), lurker(s), whatever, who would like to do this. If you do, leave a note in the comments below and I'll come and take a peek.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Light and shade

Light and shade

Thursday, January 26, 2006


The catkins have appeared again
on the hazel trees by the common,
bearers of dispatches
from the season yet to come;
I noticed them yesterday shivering,
quivering like lambs' tails
but dancing, yes dancing
in the cold, damp wind.

So in spite of the gloom and chill
that still pervades;
the gusts that rattle the panes
of glass today as I sit at the
computer, I have received
a coded message not
to abandon hope.

I have been told that we all
can dance in the greening time,
in Spring; there is no choice,
the seasons follow each other
inexorably. No escape.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Yesterday at dawn

Bird on a wire
Bird on a wire ....

Tree and moon
tree and moon ..

... and me.

Photographs taken at and near Langstone Harbour, Hampshire

No words at the moment, but pictures I can do.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A break

I am taking a break. I need to decide whether in fact I want to continue this blog, but even if I do carry on I need some time away from blogging right now, to put the focus on other things which need my attention, and to take the pressure off myself to post something even when I have nothing to say. I will still check out other blogs from time to time, so I am not vanishing entirely. I will post again around end Jan/early Feb. See you then.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Change of mind

I changed my mind and took the last post down, but may put an amended version back up again later (or not). Apologies to those who had already left comments; please do know that they are appreciated and valued.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Little fluffy clouds over Balham. Originally uploaded by Dave Cross.

At dawn
the leaves that remain
are sharp, serene silhouettes;
on the horizon,
a solitary star;

no sound, no wind;
for a split second
cold air and just
this star,
these trees,
these leaves.


But you need to know
that this takes place
in a busy suburban street
lined with terraced houses
and leading to the station;

seconds later a boy
revved up his motorbike,
and a neighbour
shouted and swore
at his disobedient dog.


Morning now claims
that one last star,
and the leaves remain
frail yet tenacious
an offering to the
next easterly wind.

May all living things be happy
her Buddhist friend would say:
the angry man
the boy on the motorbike
the disobedient dog
the fragile leaves

the solitary star
enfolded into the light
of the winter sun.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Thank you

Following my outburst earlier this week, thank you so much once again to all the commenters - you don't know how much your support, and the sharing of your own experiences, has helped. I will post at least some of my progress on the blog from time to time. It surprises me (well, maybe it doesn't really, given the stigma that still exists in this area) how much easier it was in some ways to tell you, my blog readers - most of whom I have never met - about my anxiety states than it has been to speak of it in real life.

One of the other things that has cheered me in the last few days was coming across Guerilla Gardening, (found here) the website of a group of people who go around planting and gardening during the night in public spaces that need it in various parts of the UK. Mildly subversive, inspiring, both worthwhile and zany at the same time.

Another has been to spend time at A la Recherche de l'Absolu. If you've seen the link on my sidebar and been put off visiting because you don't understand French, don't wait any longer. Jean, whose blog it is, is a wonderfully gifted and sensitive photographer and the photos on his site of the beauty that surrounds him in the the French countryside soothe the soul.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Battersea Park, December 2005

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What it's like (Updated)

This is about my anxiety attacks and has been hard to write but increasingly impossible not to write. I'm dubious about posting it, but here it is, though I may take it down later if my courage fails me. I'm probably hoping some demons might be exorcised through the writing process. I've never posted anything this revealing before and I feel very apprehensive but all I can say is that it feels necessary to do it.

Cliff path

It's so strange, when people who don't know me that well mirror back how I present myself, the words "calm" and "laid back" are frequently used. I'm a good listener, apparently, and people often confide in me. I have become a past master (mistress?) in concealment, and specifically in concealment of my periodic acute anxiety attacks.

Sometimes the black tide comes rushing in and sometimes it oozes in gradually and insidiously. Maybe someone says something I take as criticism and I go under, but usually an attack is triggered when I become overly anxious and stressed about some aspect of work, such as organising an event, meeting seemingly impossible deadlines etc. etc. Very easily overwhelmed by responsibilites and my own and others' expectations, I have a ridiculously excessive fear of making a critical mistake and letting people down because of it. Or of inadvertently doing anything wrong at all. And we're not talking brain surgery here. I work as a temp PA/secretary and have a few official-type commitments outside work. One of the reasons I have never attempted to climb any sort of career ladder is because I know myself only too well.

It's all I can do then even to carry out the basic necessities of life, with a racing heart, churning stomach, shallow breathing, and insomnia always present. It's like having my diaphragm encased in a metal vice, and I simply cannot physically breathe deeply at these times. I isolate, and every other area in my life goes on hold, I can only deal with whatever it is that is so worrying me. My home is neglected. I pull out of things I am committed to. I go to work, and obsess about work, and about things that might go wrong, checking, double checking, treble checking unimportant details and going over and over them in my head. To gain some respite I watch TV incessantly and fall asleep on the sofa in my clothes around midnight to wake at 3 am, or else surf the net for hours on end - anything not to be present. I pull my hair out. I used to drink to numb it all but I don't do that now.

Life becomes something to be survived. I know myself to be deeply and irredeemably flawed, damaged goods. Normal people surely do not react in such an extreme way to such generally (though not always) minor stressors? Meditation sessions are taken over by anxiety and I sometimes burst into tears in the course of a sitting. Prayer helps most. The 23rd Psalm becomes my mantra, even though I am of indeterminate belief.

These bouts can last hours, days, weeks. Some things help me get through. Maybe someone phones and at first I say I can't talk about it but then I do, or maybe I have a commitment even I can't pull out of and I go and feel better afterwards. I talk to someone perhaps who has an abundance of faith that things will always work out and some of theirs rubs off on me, and for a few hours I laugh and listen and behave like a normal human being, and then I think it is possible I am a normal human being again.

The real turning point is that I survive the particular ordeal I had been dreading, and I always do survive. Why I set such store on perfection and on being seen to be perfect I don't fully understand, nor why I think what I do is so important, nor why others' potential criticism and judgement have such power over me. Over-conscientiousness triggered by insecurities I guess, too deep-rooted to be combatted by logic or accumulated experience. HSP literature rings a loud bell with me, and according to the website's online test I qualify easily. After all these years too, habit and learned behaviour must play a part.

As my life starts to return to normal it becomes easier to breathe properly, and the other physical symptoms abate. Structure and self-care return. Music reaches me and I see and take notice of something natural and beautiful like a tree silhouetted against the sky, or maybe I read something and really take the words in. And I start to move and unfold, the paralysis leaves, and dammed-up energy flows back into other areas of life, and it becomes possible to place my focus elsewhere. I eat better and I connect and meet up with other people and make plans to do a few enjoyable things apart from going to work and being dutiful. I am again able to be content alone and with others.

But I know the tide will come in again and that this is the cycle I am caught up in. Quite honestly, I don't know who I would be if it wasn't there. I thought the passing of the years would deal with these attacks, but it hasn't, not really. I have tried therapy, briefly. I suppose I have simply become more accepting of them, and I think they are happening a little less frequently. Maybe I can settle for that.

Update: Cyberspace friends are good friends. I'm seeing a cognitive therapist at the end of next week for an introductory meeting with a view to a course of therapy. If this doesn't work, or isn't sufficient, I'll move on to another option.

I can't help but believe though that the therapy started a couple of days ago with the previous post. Bouts of acute anxiety have plagued me as long as I can remember and I've pretty much suffered in silence, certain that I would be unable to speak the words needed in order to communicate what was wrong, and that even if I could the response would be that of incomprehension. After all, I haven't been able to understand it myself. I am very grateful to have been heard here.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

First sounds

Silent grey dawn, then
a crow caws from the bare beech
tree; the year begins.