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Blog 29 of 40 - Etch a Sketch

I used to spend hours patiently turning the knobs of my etch a sketch a fraction at a time, scraping all the iron filings, so I could see the mechanism inside to see how it worked.

My little brother and I mostly got on well and would play harmoniously for hours, but sometimes we'd get on each other's nerves and that led to us fighting as most siblings do.

One morning my temper got the better of me and I hit him over the head with my etch a sketch (I was about 6 years old and my brother was 4). As children we are very impulsive and don't tend to think beyond the very moment we're in - but as soon as I'd done this, I instantly regretted it as it smashed open and the grey dust filled the air.

The living room soon resembled a lunar landscape - picture the TV series Space 1999 and you're pretty much in our living room in that moment.

The mess was extensive - it looked as though all the colour had been sucked out of the room which was caked in grey aluminium dust, (as was my brother's shoulder-length golden hair).

We both went eerily silent as we knew I was in big trouble - this mess was too big for us to cover up or deny, so we just sat quietly and waited for mum to wake up. Despite the mess, two small children looking very grey and sheepish, must have been a hilarious sight.

I don't remember mum being that angry afterall, the anticipation was worse - but my punishment was to share a bath with my brother, which didn't bother me too much and I had truly learnt my lesson by that point. 

For my brother's birthday this year I had an etch a sketch birthday card specially made for him. I laughed my head off as I posted it. He texted saying that he blames that moment from our childhood as the reason he's now completely bald.

My parting advice to children is to play safe and remember that your little brother will probably be taller than you one day - so be nice to him!

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Blog 28 of 40 - Peeling potatoes to Bronski Beat

It felt as though as soon as I was tall enough to reach the kitchen sink, I was handed a potato peeler that became my daily companion. I'd carry my single tape deck ghetto blaster (my sister got the twin-deck one with high-speed dubbing) from my bedroom to the kitchen.

I'd stick on my mixed tape of Tears for Fears, Strawberry Switchblade, Toni Basil and Bronski Beat. A particular favourite was the track Why? from Bronski Beat - which enabled me to get through the 5lbs (2.26kg) of potatoes in a flash.

 

I'd sing and dance along as the blur of peelings grew in front of me. We had potatoes with pretty much every dinner as they were a great, economical way feed many mouths. The endless potato repertoire on rotation were mashed, boiled, fried, baked, chipped, we'd also have stovies which is a traditional Scottish dish.

In the summer we ate local Ayrshire potatoes for the whole time they were in season. We used a machine that'd scraped the flaky skin off, but we'd then need to scrape out the eyes with a knife - so there was no escaping the burden of potato duties in our house.

I rarely peel potatoes nowadays, I leave the skins on - as I think I've already peeled my quota for life. As I came in from work today and turned on the radio as I always do, Jimmy Somerville's falsetto voice echoed around my kitchen and I had a little dance for old times' sake.

I'm not going to be mean about Jimmy and compare him to a potato as many other people have done. To me he will always be someone who helped me pass some mundane hours from my childhood quickly.

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Blog 27 of 40 - The invisible passenger

When I was about 4 years old one of my older brothers passed his driving text. There was some gravel-covered wasteland next to our house and he wanted to put his clapped out old mini through its paces - so I was brought along to accompany him on his quest.

The passenger door didn't close, so he told me to hold it shut. Now, I was a slip of a thing - much smaller than the average 4 year old, so I held on for dear life as he practised wheel spins and hand-brake turns. I can still see the clouds of dust in my mind's eye and hear the revving of the engine.

Within the adrenaline-fuelled excitement, my brother paused and looked over to his left in horror only to realise that I was no longer there. In the blink of an eye my little arms gave out and the next thing I know is that I've been propelled from the car and am tumbling along the ground like a rag doll. 

My brother stopped the car and ran up to me pleading 'don't tell mum, don't tell mum'. This is the moment in a cartoon where birds fly around the head of a dizzy and dazed looking character. 

He took me to the sweet shop and bought me a tube of smarties to guarantee my silence.

When I think back to moments like this from my childhood - I wonder how I am still in one piece. I laugh at the shenanigans my siblings and I got up to and shake my head at the madness of it all.

I feel as though I'm the human equivalent of a weeble toy and the words from that advert are the theme tune to my life  'weebles wobble, but they don't fall down'. 

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Blog 26 of 40 - Sundays with Martha

Sunday in our house was family day. On Saturdays Martha was allowed to go out with her friends in the daytime, but we agreed that Sunday was always for family.

Every Sunday Martha and I would go for coffee in a local cafe. Shoulder to shoulder we'd browse through Style Magazine commenting on the latest fashions and laughing at the satire of the Mrs Mills page.

On my very last Mother's Day I woke up to Martha welcoming me with a takeaway coffee and a copy of Style Magazine. Later in the day she painted my nails in pastel colours which you can see in this picture:

Today I met a dear friend for coffee in a local cafe and we shared wonderful moments from our own lives.

This quote from one of my favourite books 'Tuesdays with Morrie', sums it up for me pretty accurately:

“I give myself a good cry if I need it, but then I concentrate on all good things still in my life.” 
― Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

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Blog 25 of 40 - A 1970s Livingroom

Woodchip wallpaper, painted in a shade of browny peach. A brown velour '3-piece suite' as they were known as where I come from. A burgundy shag pile carpet (that I'd skim my feet along to give small electric shocks to my younger brother). One wall of varnished cork tiles, around the fireplace adorned with brass plates, mirrors and ornaments. 

An endless stream of visitors - family members, neighbours, police (we lived next door to a police station and they were always in having cups of tea), priests frequented our house too and I remember once being given the task of whitening their 'dog collar' using Jif (now known as Cif for some reason), one of my sisters used Jif to whiten her teeth, but that's a story for another time.

Constant chatter filled the air - no stopping for breath, apart from to take a long drag from a Craven-A or Superking cigarette, then the drone of chatter would carry on all day and into the night. One cigarette being lit from another in an endless chain during all waking hours.

Toddlers would stumble around being fussed over by everyone through the haze of smoke. We weren't allowed to open the windows in case it caused a draught. I'd watch fascinated as a cigarette would hang from a chatting lip with 2 cms of ash precariously about to make its descent. 

My siblings joke that we came into the world as children and left home as smoked kippers. I've got chronic asthma and spent most of my 4th year in an oxygen tent in hospital - but never was that correlated with living with about 10 chain-smokers! I've never even taken one puff on a cigarette, but in respect of passive-smoking, I probably smoked 60 a day for the 17 years I lived at home!

Funny to think that you used to be able to smoke on planes and now you can barely take a bottle of water on board.

Back to 2017 now - I'm off for a walk across Port Meadow among the wild horses to fill my 1970s lungs with some 2017 fresh air!

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Blog 24 of 40 - The rhythm of life

The very last film I ever watched with Martha was the French film Untouchable - based on a true story about a wealthy quadriplegic, Philippe, and his carer, Driss, an ex-convict.

Martha had come home from school raving about it as they were watching it as part of her French lesson. She thought I'd like it and as most parents know - when your 15 year old is offering you something, you should take it (as moment to moment - you never know where their mood will take them). Any quality time spent without bickering or doing the 'good cop, bad cop' routine on them is a welcome relief. 

So we snuggled up together on the sofa, her mass of curly hair getting in the way of the screen. When I tried to move it, she shirked away, irritated letting go of my hand. After a few seconds she'd forget she was annoyed and entwine her fingers in mine again. In my memory, I can still feel the texture of her hair now, the smell of shampoo.

Martha's hand entwined in mine

Martha's hand entwined in mine

I really loved the film - Martha knew my tastes so well. 

I tend to like quirky films, or those based on true stories, slow-paced, poignant films full of depth and insight. 

The one scene that stands out is a dance routine by the actor Omar Sy which is absolutely mesmerising (I could watch it on repeat as it always makes me feel buoyant and inspired).

There seems to be such freedom to how he dances, an innate sense of rhythm and timing.

 


I haven't watched the film again since that day when my girl was still safely by my side, but maybe I'll watch it on Mother's Day this Sunday as an homage to her in gratitude of the beautiful memories.

Martha's baby hand in mine

Martha's baby hand in mine

 

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Blog 23 of 40 - Anyone's Child

I've spent the day in Bristol with some of the other families from the Anyone's Child Campaign. As I look around the table, there's a 'knowing' look in our eyes, an understanding of what is really behind our façades. There's a grace and humility that is difficult to describe without experiencing it for yourself.

We are united in our collective grief - there's a powerful atmosphere of determination. Some have been campaigning on this subject for over 20 years and have now become experts as a result of the 2 decades they've travelled along this road. 

New families are now joining our campaign regularly - a bitter sweet reflection of what brought us together, showing the true nature of the world we are currently living in. Their recent losses hang in the air - but slowly and gently they bravely share their stories and talk about their respective loved ones.

It is so important to feel understood in these moments. To feel heard when it seems as though nobody in the world could possibly be listening - is reassuring.

In time we see their shoulders lift and their broken voices become resolute as they gather themselves and the wheels of their lives start to slowly turn again.

There are tears of sadness and there are tears of joy, but together we support one another and carry on because Anyone's Child was our child.

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Blog 22 of 40 - Aftermarth

I managed to sleep for 6 hours before the remnants of adrenaline from yesterday stirred me awake again. Updates were coming through on my phone throughout the night. As I now sit quietly contemplating yesterday, I can see the heavy rain bounding off the road outside the window of my Oxford home. 

Yesterday was interesting in helping me to gauge where all this is getting to. The dialogue is changing and people are getting the point of why all drugs need to be legally regulated.

In the 3 or so years I've been campaigning, I've found myself needing to defend my point less and less and that shows me that the tide is changing.

Professor David Nutt produced the following table which shows alcohol to be the most harmful substance and ecstasy to be the 4th safest.

As a society, we still have a long way to go with regards to educating people about using substances, but I believe things are heading in the right direction.

10 people die every day in the UK from a drug-related death, despite this the government says that what's in place is working. If that's a success in their eyes, what would a failure look like?

 

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Blog 21 of 40 - Nerves

I'm sitting in the basement of Waterstones on Tottenham Court Road in London. I'm being interviewed on a live podcast by Decca Aitkenhead. This event has been organised by LEAP UK for the Anyone's Child: Families for Safer Drug Control campaign.

I've just spoken to a researcher at BBC Newsnight as they've asked me to go on the show live tonight. Strangely, live interviews are easier than pre-recorded as you know that you've only got one chance to get it right - so the adrenaline kicks in and you somehow find the right words (well, hopefully). 

My stomach feels a bit queasy at the thought - although I've been interviewed probably about 150 times now,  I suppose my nervousness is really a resistance to the truth of my own story. It's painful, but I do it, because the thought of another parent becoming me is worse.

I'm about to do interviews with The British Medical Journal and Closer Magazine as it's so important to reach different readerships and to help to promote this problem as much as we can. I'll report back tomorrow, so wish me luck!

Here's the clip:-

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Blog 20 of 40 - Unexpected Friendships

I was invited to talk at a drug policy conference in Washington D.C. in November 2015 with a charity I support, Anyone's Child: Families for Safer Drug Control. Whilst there I met another mother called Donna May who had lost her daughter Jac, in 2012. There's nothing quite like it when you meet another bereaved mother. Surprisingly I've found that apart from our respective losses, I seem to have very little in common with many of them, but when I met Donna there was an intuitive connection - one that needed no declarations, no polite words of sympathy.

I have a deep respect for all bereaved parents as it is a treacherous road to tread, a lonely and barren landscape of haunting images and 'what ifs' reverberating through the fog of adrenaline-fuelled pain. With Donna I sensed a determination and strength that seemed to mirror my own. Neither of us felt like victims and both of us were using the pain to motivate us into taking positive action, in order to try to save lives.

Here's a clip of Donna and I speaking outside The White House (5 mins in).

Through our respective understanding of what it's really like to be 'us', we formed a bond on behalf of our girls - Jac and Martha.

By coincidence I found that Donna was also using Jac's converse trainers as a poignant symbol of her absence as I had Martha's. By carrying them with us - we take the steps they cannot, we tell the world that there is no-one to fill them now, but most importantly:

We speak for the dead in order to protect the living.
Martha's shoes

Martha's shoes

 
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Blog 19 of 40 - You look like Super Mario

Martha's little cousin from Scotland came to stay with us for 10 days in 2013 along with his mum. We were lucky with the weather in early July of 2013 - long summer days spent mooching around Oxford. We went to the Oxford Castle prison Museum and jokingly put Zak in the stocks - shuddering as we thought about the Victorian child prisoners who were kept there.

When I think back to those days, they're like a dream - strawberry picking at Medley Farm, ice-creams from G&Ds, languorous evenings spent eating out on the terrace - one evening a hot air balloon popped up from nowhere, very close to us as we were eating dinner. We also gathered on a Sunday in my kitchen to watch Andy Murray winning Wimbledon.

We headed off early to London one day to visit Ripleys Believe it or Not Museum on Piccadilly and had lunch afterwards at Wahaca in Soho which Martha always loved.

Little Zak literally worshipped the ground Martha walked on, but he was 6 and Martha was 15. She loved him dearly, but he'd follow her everywhere and she found this irritating after a while. She escaped early one evening to have a shower and he studiously sat outside the door on the hallway floor waiting for her to come out. When she did, she almost tripped over him and ran past him up the stairs wrapped in a towel and Zak said 'Martha - you're a skinny wee freak' in his cute Scottish accent - Martha grunted from upstairs at this.

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He didn't mean to upset her, he just said whatever came into his head in order to get Martha's attention. The more he tried, the more Martha got annoyed. I'd speak to her and explain that he's just a little boy that wants her to pay him some attention. She understood - but was at a stage in her own life whereby she was struggling with self-image and was trying to work out her place in this world.

When she came back downstairs she was wearing the outfit you can see in this photograph and Zak said to her 'you look like Super Mario' - we all burst out laughing, apart from Martha who rolled her eyes and grunted past him again.

Despite this, the trip is one I think back to with fondness as it was abundant with incredible moments spent with precious family. Two weeks later Martha died. 

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There are few sights in life as heartbreaking as a child mourner. The gloomy figure of a small boy, his beautiful face looking perplexed as he watched his cousin being buried. Here's a photo of him scattering silver stars into Martha's grave with me at her funeral. When he came back to visit the grave a few weeks later - he looked confused and asked 'where's the hole'? 

So many people are affected by the absence of one person. Zak was so shocked and unsettled for months afterwards. He kept asking his mum to play a song in the car that Martha loved: Bridge Burn by Little Comets, he'd then sing his little heart out. 

He still talks about Martha and it's obvious he still misses her. He's 10 now and is such a beautiful boy. I love spending time with him - he's unintentionally funny and so innocent and sweet-natured.

Sometimes all you can do is sing along with life and appreciate what you still have left.

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Blog 18 of 40 - Slow down, it's Saturday

Saturday is probably my favourite day. The first morning of the week when it isn't about 'up and out', feeling sleep deprived or frazzled. I'm listening to Mary Anne Hobbs on radio six music in the background as I slowly put the remnants from the week back in their proper places. around my house.

On the whole, it's been a good week - no drama, no shocks or surprises, just a normal week where real life can take hold.

I'm preparing for a friend who arrives from Canada later today, I'm going to show her around Oxford and see where the flow of the day takes us. It's an easy city to walk around - it's impossible not to be impressed by the majestic backdrop of the dreaming spires.

Later we're going for an early dinner in Jericho and after that, who knows.

That's what I love about Saturdays - the serendipity of 'lets just see', some of the best moments in my life have been those which were unplanned and spontaneous.

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Blog 17 of 40 - Bad Hair Day

OK, you'll need to trust me on this one. I'm about to take you on a peculiar and quirky journey - but bear with me. Now in 2010 The SunStroke Project represented Moldova in the Eurovision Song Contest. This is of no significance to me, it's not something I celebrate every year like some of my friends (you know who you are), but for some reason Martha started going on about someone known as Epic Sax Guy.

I'd hear this weird repetitive tune around my house played on repeat as I'd eventually shout 'enough Martha'. I'd hear her giggle echo down the hallway - but I didn't really understand what was going on. I discovered that this was accompanied by a dance Martha would do whilst maintaining a very straight face (which was unusual given how odd the dancing was). The dance was as though the kids from fame, had taken dancing lessons from the pink panther

This was around the same time that flash mobs seemed to be the latest craze. Martha eventually unveiled to me, what it was all about. She had started doing a flash mob (of one) - she'd stop in the school corridor or outside the shops where we lived and re-enact the dance that Epic Sax Guy had become infamous for.

I'm laughing as I type this as I think of Martha holding a pretend saxophone and mastering the weird hip movements with alarming precision - with a silly teenage dedication that she could have put to better use.

Before I let you feast your eyes, be warned that you can't undo some images - the hairstyles..., the outfits..., the stage setup..., the very dramatic intro...  I'll stop teasing you now and pay a little tribute of thanks for the memories and happy tears to Epic Sax Guy.

P.S. If like Martha, you can't get enough of Epic Sax Guy, there's also a 10 hour version here, but click the one above first to see the 4 minute version.

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Blog 16 of 40 - The Jolly Pedlar

I'm back on my bike after a week recovering from a trapped nerve! I took it steadily for the first couple of days and didn't push myself too much as my back still feels a bit delicate. But I'm now up to my usual speed, whizzing about Oxford again - it feels great to get my heart pumping and to arrive out of breath. I don't get to the gym that much these days, so these little bursts of energy are important to get my fitness levels up a little bit.

The blossom is in full bloom and Oxford seems quietly content as it showcases its new spring collection. I feel as though we all breathe a sigh of relief at this time of year as we start to shed our winter clothes and let our skin feel the breeze again.

I cycled 10 miles yesterday: getting to work and back and then cycling across town to a pub for dinner last night. En route I cycled underneath the Bridge of Sighs on New College Lane (which due to a lack of distinguishing features showing any signs of modern life, has been used a lot over the years to film all sorts) including Inspector Morse and now the TV series Endeavour. 

It's like cycling through pages of a history book and even after 27 years living here, the city is still revealing new things to me. At night I have a different dialogue with the City as the street lamps cast spooky shadows and the quiet echos from empty alleyways bound around me, making me feel a little bit scared, so I pedal faster to get home.

When Martha was about 7, we moved to live nearer her primary school so I could give up the car and cycle everywhere instead. We'd hold hands as we cycled along the cycle path after school and talk about how our respective days had gone.

Martha used to feed the cats of a couple of neighbours who paid her to do this when they went on holiday. She was obsessed with animals as many children (especially only children) are. She saved up enough money and bought herself her first city bike - I've kept a hold of it - it's old and rusty now, but here she is when she first got it, looking very proud.

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Blog 15 of 40 - From Paris with Love

I really do believe in the gift of bereavement. I attribute so much of my healing and a lot of the laughter over the past couple of years, to the beautiful road I have travelled with so many incredible people who poured out their love and kindness into my shattered heart, watering me from my very core and helping me to flourish in my new life without Martha.

A beautiful tapestry so vibrant and iridescent - containing new depth and understanding, incredible moments in human kindness, bringing a quality to my life that I probably would never have accessed had I not lost my girl.

Now, don't get me wrong - if you could wave a wand and return my Martha to me this very instant - I wouldn't hesitate (that goes without saying), but I want to also stress that through the agonising pain, I have gained a lot.

I've discovered what I am capable of - within me there seems to be a profound intuitive perspective on what's important in life. There are many answers there, where uncertainty and insecurity used to reside. As well as my inner-voice, I have also found the ability to express myself by telling my story and although I still struggle to perceive myself in this way - on behalf of Martha I am determined to share what happened with the world until change happens.

One of the most thoughtful gifts I have been given is this beautiful little film made by one of Martha's friends. The gift of bereavement indeed.

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Blog 14 of 40 - Holi Festival

I was invited to a Hindu Festival of Holi last night. I wasn't sure what to expect, so a friend picked me up and we headed to the Asian Cultural Centre, off the Cowley Road in Oxford.

As we parked the car I could hear the call to prayer coming from the Mosque next door. My mind was instantly cast back to a trip to Cairo in 2007 for Martha's 10th birthday. We stayed at the Conrad Cairo Hilton right next to the River Nile.

On the first morning as we opened the curtains she innocently said 'look mummy, the river Thames', in her squeaky little voice, making me laugh. 

As we explored the city the haunting, melodic tones of the call to prayer intermittently drew our attention away from the bustle of this amazing city.

The pungent smells of oil perfumes in sandalwood and jasmine hung in the air, through the haze of the afternoon sun. Tiny trucks with precarious loads swayed on the dusty motorway that cut through the city. Elderly ladies whose faces looked like 1000 maps meandered through the traffic with tired donkeys.

Martha loved the thrill of bartering at the Khan el-Khalili Market and the stall owners looked bemused as this quirky little English girl negotiated a better price. We spent an afternoon at The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo which was incredible and concluded the trip with a visit to the pyramids at Giza as the sun went down. 

We didn't expect to love this city, it was a complete surprise to find it such a welcoming and exciting a place to spend a few days.


My mind returns back to Oxford, as I enter the room for the Hindu Festival. We are greeted by a lady who dips her fingers into an array of vibrant coloured powders and smears them down our cheeks. As I glance out the window I see the curvature of the stunning buildings outside, as a beautiful sunset bids the day farewell.

The night consisted of hearing from a selection of incredible female speakers, exquisite dance performances from Southern India, a Belly Dancing troupe and a Syrian couple showing us a traditional Syrian dance.

The food was a delicious array of home-made curry with all the accompaniments and quirky conversation with friendly strangers who talked about doing yoga with the cows they've bought under the 'right to graze law', (yes, you heard me right - bovine yoga!)

As we leave to go home we laugh at what a vibrant, funny and unusual night it was. 

I'm creating wonderful new memories, to add to those I created with my girl. I'm so glad I took her around the world showing her new horizons and stunning landscapes - enabling her to live a very fully and happy life during her 15 years and 9 months here.

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Blog 13 of 40 - A Mile for Martha

I told my story last year to a group of women in prison. A couple of them were so affected by it that they felt compelled to take positive action in honour of Martha - so they approached the Prison Governor and asked if they could arrange a sponsored event. To be honest, when they first mentioned it to me, I thought it was a lovely gesture, but wasn't sure if it would be possible in practice.

Fast forward to a few months later and I'm leaving Oxford to drive to the prison. It was a lovely, clear day in late July. On the M40 I move into the fast lane and go into 6th gear - the gearknob came off clean in my hand. I glanced down at the metal stick that faced me and took a couple of deep breaths - you're ok, it's ok, just stay calm and all will be fine. I thought, you really couldn't make this up - 50 female prisoners are all waiting for me, having spent months preparing for this day! Just breathe!

I tried to fix the gearknob back on, but the spring inside kept making it ping back off again. Obviously it wasn't the journey I had expected, but with concentration and calm I made it there, steadily, albeit a bit frazzled.

As I entered the wing of the prison where the event was being held, I was greeted by a corner displaying an exhibition of my work to explain why the event was taking place, there were photos of Martha and some staff and inmates were wearing 'Martha's Mile' t-shirts. I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing, they had also knitted teddies and hearts that they had sold to staff, inmates and to visitors during visitations.

I did a quick speech in the gym to a rowdy, but friendly bunch of women - they all looked so happy to be breaking the monotony of their usual routine with something a bit different. The atmosphere was incredible - just before the race began I glanced behind me at the start line and a few of the women were smoking; it resembled a scene from a Harry Enfield sketch and I laughed to myself thinking that Martha would have found this absolutely hilarious.

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The mile was around the yard, in the middle was a well-kept garden and a chicken shed - it felt very surreal. It all went brilliantly, and at the end I did a book signing, giving each of them a copy of my book that a generous donor had paid for.

A total of £555 was raised which will enable me to continue telling my story to help prevent another precious life being lost. These are the moment in my 'new' life that make it worth living for. I really believe that despite some of the hardships of life - life really is always worth it.

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Blog 12 of 40 - Fiat Sciatica

I walked in a daydream this morning to the local market near where I live. As I meandered along 3 people cycled past wearing luminous tabbards, a mum, dad and boy of about 10 years old. The mum led the way with the boy behind, and the dad bringing up the rear as they cycled through the driving rain on this Oxford morning. People are pretty hardy in this City, cycling all year round - it's worth living here for this benefit alone. I haven't cycled for a few days now and am really missing it, but think that It'd be too risky as my back isn't quite right yet. 

There's a simplicity to cycling that is so satisfying. Sheer leg-power turning pedals to get you to wherever you want to go. You can easily predict how long your journey will take, it keeps you fairly fit, you know you won't get stuck in a traffic jam (and it costs nothing!) Although I need to stress that I'm not part of a the lycra-clad cycling brigade (no offence to anyone who is), I'm just more of the tweed and high-heels kind of garb cyclist.

It's great thinking time too, as the breeze bustles around me, it feels as though I'm casting the shadows of the day away. The rustling of the trees and the ever-changing sky are the backdrop to my cycling movie. It's powerfully therapeutic too. 

Are there any downsides,  hmmm...let me think, well in an entirely vain note, as the day goes on my hair gets a bit frizzy and in the summer months I have been known to arrive at my destination with the odd tiny fly stuck to my face (not a good look), and occasionally I get soaked (but not as often as you'd think).

As I arrived at the Sunday market, I stopped to let a small car go past before I walked across the road. I'm sure it was called a Fiat Sciatica - I double blinked through the rain and sleepy haze in my head - I'm sure that's what it said, but realise it's an unlikely choice of name by any manufacturer. My mind is playing tricks on me as the residual pain in my back throbs away. I've decided not to take painkillers today, so I can feel what's really going on. 

At the market I buy some purple sprouting broccoli, two leeks and a bunch of celery - I then pop to M&S to get a small bag of frozen peas for my back as I've graduated from the frozen apple pie I used the other day. Everything I've bought today is green. I wonder if that's because I watched some footage this morning of a river in Chicago being dyed bright green for St Patrick's Day (I'm serious - see here).  

This reminds me of the saying: There's nowt so queer as folk

As I'm writing this the frozen peas have numbed my lower back and it feels as though it's been for a filling at the dentist. I don't know if I like the feeling or not, but if it helps, it's worth the bother.

I'm sure I'll be able to cycle again soon and as 'the luminous family' showed me this morning, you carry on regardless, unperturbed appreciating the scenery that life presents you with.

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Blog 11 of 40 - Running on plenty

I don't really know what to write about tonight. I've been involved with three events this week and am sitting content and happy at this side of things. It all went well and my head contains snapshots of memories from the past few days. The tiredness doesn't bother me, I'm just relieved that everything went to plan.

I've told my story a handful of times this week. I know why I tell my story and I know what telling it does to me - I wonder if it's healthy or whether it's actually holding me back in some way. I don't think so - anyway, it doesn't feel that way.

When people say things like 'something shifted when listening to you', I feel a responsibility to help others as much as possible, regardless of how tiring it all is. I don't force myself to look back in a deliberate way, we all have those moments when something pops into our heads and we wonder why. So I don't ever question it. I accept it all, knowing that it's either for a reason or not, simple as that.

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I have a healthy regard for what is going on now in my life and try to remain focussed on 'what is', rather than 'what was'.

I take what is useful from the past and sit contentedly in this very moment.

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Blog 10 of 40 - Human Library

Tomorrow I'm organising a Human Library in Oxford. I found out about them a few years ago and after attending one, I was fascinated by the experience. I held one last September and everyone who came along left with an 'I didn't expect that' look on their faces. 

The Human Library is an international movement that promotes an inclusive way to challenge prejudice through social contact. Just like in a real library, a visitor to the Human Library can choose a book from a range of titles. The difference is that 'books' are people, and 'reading' is a conversation. These events give you permission to delve straight into a conversation with someone you wouldn't perhaps otherwise cross paths with. This creates a new understanding and challenges our original opinions and beliefs, often shaping change and making room for personal growth.

 
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I'm always looking for interesting and creative ways to open up dialogue in our communities. I like to challenge labels and stereotypes as we are all so much more than the labels society gives us (or the labels we give ourselves). The 'story behind the story' is where I always find myself as that is where the truth lies. 

Next, I'd like to organise a pop-up bus stop and invite elderly people and teenagers to talk. Both groups don't seem to have a voice in modern society, yet I find them to be the most interesting people to spend time with. Elderly people have so much wisdom to pass down and teenagers are the new generation who will be our future carers. They are the bookends of modern society - and us lot in the middle should be listening to them very carefully.

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