In Praise of Shitty Weather

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Friday was ridiculously hot. It was Zone 1 London in the summer hot, with that intimation of hosepipe bans and the feel that it could be one of those summers where fans sell out and people start whining about it being TOO HOT.

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I don’t like to be a curmudgeon, and while my mind is of a cloudy turn, my body certainly behaves better in the warm, but now that we’ve moved house a fair few things have changed in the daily routine. On the Tottenham Riviera we were on the ground floor, it  was Zone 3, and on a river, and I didn’t have to have Pops on the lead for most of any outing. Here, we are in the microclimate of the centre of town, up four flights, and the parks are often FULL at the first sight of sunshine. Full, that is, of HAZARDS.

By ‘hazards’ I mean children, people eating, people trying to have some alone time lying down quietly, that sort of thing. All things a Bobbins likes to either actually disturb or threaten to disturb, which amounts to the same thing in terms of having to police her.

In the shitty weather we doggy types get the park to ourselves.

On Friday it was extremely hot and Poppet did her new thing of having to have several lie downs all the way home as well as a couple in the stair. And that was for the morning play. By the afternoon it was baking so hard and the park was so populous that there was no chance of play, and even without it she still played ‘old dog’ all the way home.

When I first got her she was estimated by All Dogs Matter as being about a year old, and thought to have been made to mate on her first season, the beginnings of her white muzzle being thought to have been caused by the shock of this too early breeding. By the time we were on the Riviera and we had a vet appointment she was nominally about four, and he said there was no way she was under seven. Usually if people ask her age I tell them I don’t know, that she was adopted, and I give them the parameters, but if I can’t be bothered or if I think they are really not interested (a lot of people ask a dog’s age, it’s a ‘thing’) then I’ve just been saying “seven” for the past couple of years. Despite her greying muzzle, I’ve continued to argue her youth, but now she’s doing the lying down thing I’ve revised it upward. Her age of convenience is now firmly ten.

Anyway, the weather didn’t do as threatened, and we are now back to the shitty weather we also complain about. However, today it didn’t take a moment to get her out and running about, and we had the park pretty much to ourselves and yesterday was the same, even though this is the weekend. I don’t begrudge the sun seekers their pleasures, but I am going to have to figure out a way around them with the dog.

I was going to write this yesterday but we got waylaid by a chap called Roland and his dog Crunchie. I’m shit at remembering names, but Roland is my brother’s name, and Crunchie is an excellent name for a dog. She was crunching on a stick when we met her. We also know a Harry and Barry, but I have no idea which is the man and which the dog, so knowing their names doesn’t help at all.

Breast Up, Back Down

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In a previous iteration I was pretty active for a non sporty type. Like, I started swimming regularly because there was a laundry at my local pool at St George’s. A large load bought me a 40 minute swim. I don’t hate laundrettes, in fact, when I was a kid my mum was friends with the lady who worked at the laundrette and I got to see backstage, which I found entrancing. I pretty much love the back stage of any kind of an operation, and perhaps my love of it started there, in the dusty and oily back end of banks of driers.

Anyway, despite my lack of hatred, if there is a swimming pool actually attached to a laundry it would seem churlish to ignore it. So I swam there regularly. It’s a 33.3 meter pool, and I know I started off at 8 lengths. So that was 266.6 meters. The amount of lengths shot up over what turned out to be quite a short time before I bought my first washing machine and turned to my next fad, weight training.

Now I’m back in the pool. Not that pool, and neither the pool of life, but the pool of Ironmonger Row. Knowing I’d benefit from monitoring my progress I looked up the pool length and have been keeping a note of my progress. It’s a 25 meter pool, but I’ve had three nominal total body replacements since then, all those cells ageing and mainly on the wane. I’ve gone up two dress sizes and now have a much less active life. My aerobic fitness has plummeted over the past two years and I’m leery of getting fat clothes, but look awful in the stuff I’ve already got, and that’s if I can get any of it on. In reality I can theoretically wear about a fifth of my wardrobe, and that’s mostly socks.

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I actually moved house deliberately to be spitting distance to a pool, but it has taken me a few weeks to get around to actually swimming. First off, I had to get a swimming costume that was realistically big, and then I had to do all the paperwork that is involved in getting a concession sorted out. And then I had to get over myself for having done it a bit wrong and being angry with the man who gave me the hard sell for the membership option.

A smart smack to the head with a misdirected ball thrown in the park gave me the perfect excuse. Ok, it smarted, but it wasn’t that, it was the way the fibro tickled the shock into a nice entrenched neck pain, followed by a fire storm down my shoulders and upper back, and then a few hours later my lower back and a kind of sciatica thing all the way down to my left foot. Pain killers be damned, this was going to have to be worked off physically, and swimming was just the badger for the job.

I have a fear of new buildings. Not ‘new’ new buildings, just any building I’ve not been in before. So there was an element of loin girding, but however they are laid out at least swimming pools generally have an internal logic which can be tentatively predictable. I wore the swimmie under my clothes and packed all the things I needed, managed to get into the changing room without having a nervous breakdown and stripped off and had an acclimatising shower. The interior of Ironmonger Row has been recently refurbished and is reassuringly posh. There were steps to get in to the pool so I didn’t have to out myself as a less able bodied type of a person, and the water was acceptably warm, so none of the embarrassment of spasming and drowning, then. Good.

All I had to do now was swim. I have to be really careful about triggering migraines and other fibro related aches and pains which can go on, like the ball thing, to tell epic tales in my body, so I reckoned on 15-20 minutes. I counted my lengths. First go round I did 50 meters, rested for five minutes, did another 50, rested, did another 50 then called it a day. I did that two days in a row, rested a day and then did 100/100/100 LIKE A DAMN BOSS!

Even when I was nominally well I had a problem with headaches, so I had a physiological strategy – breast up, back down, thus saving my neck from undue strain. This strategy is good when everyone is lane swimming PROPERLY but not everyone does, and going backwards into gaggles of chatting people is a drag, but everyone was civilised and the pool wasn’t overpopulated. I could relax. I could relax and trust life.

Over the course of my previous swimming patch I’d noticed a tendency to think while swimming, and a sense of not having refreshed my brain the way I’d refreshed my body, so, it being the days of the Louise Hay and other ‘gurus’ I decided to do affirmations. “I relax and trust life, money comes easily to me” scanned for the breast stroke, and I can’t remember what I did for back. Now I just count. Not all the time, but 10 years or so of meditation means I really don’t have to sweat ‘just swimming’ but after the first go round I noticed that it was third bunting, hoist, steps, end of pool, which was just over 8 strokes of backstroke the speed I was swimming at, so bunting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 flip, stop.

As long as the alternative is drowning, swimming lends itself well to an approximation of a meditative state. Swimming is neither eternalistic by nature nor nihilistic. It is radically embodied and totally existential.

When I was at school you always had to really hurry to get dressed after swimming. I really hated it. Claggy clothes and hair clinging coldly to skin, all to rush to a lesson I doubtless had no interest in anyway, and under the apparently watchful eye of our resident pervy gym teacher.

Now I am an adult and no one is the boss of me. I take my time washing and drying, resting and mindfully taking the next thing I need out of the locker and ultimately packing everything away in a sane methodical style. The building mirrors my own carefulness back to me – here is even a bank of five hair driers awaiting use in the most civilised manner just before the exit.

A couple of days later and I dial it back to 200 meters in total.

I’m back in the swim.

Eye Eye!

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Forgive me, readers, it has been some time since my last confession. If you are friended to me on the face book you will know that I have been moving house and beetling up and down to Brighton, to boot. And that I have had horrible deprivations on the broadband front. I’m still tethering, here, so bear with.

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I’ve moved to Old Street, just round the back of the eye hospital.

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And just round the corner from the Ironmonger Row swimming baths. I haven’t gone yet, but I’ve taken the precaution of buying a voluminous swimming costume so as not to frighten people.

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This isn’t really the East End as such, but it is safely back in the warm embrace of Arsenal. Even though I don’t give a rat’s ass for the footie, it was still odd being in the realm of Spurs. Why should it matter? It doesn’t. It doesn’t matter.

Still.

Even so.

So I decided that I was going to style myself as being ‘in the eye of the storm’ being the still point that I am, and living round the corner from the eye hospital and it’s lovely bonkers clock, and on my way to photograph it I saw this monster of a building.

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I wouldn’t mind, apart from the general fright it gave me, but it turns out this is the children’s eye hospital! A whole façade dedicated to the sort of thing that could put your eye out. THE TRAUMA. And it isn’t even right next to a psych wing.

This deserves a lot more time than I’ve got right now. Because YOU KNOW HOW BUSY I AM! Anyway, I’m not busy, but I am knackered, so. As you might imagine a few people took photos at End Of. and this is a snippet of Alison Moyet!

Alison. Moyet. YO!

Good Morning, Sunshine!

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Apparently this has been the wettest winter in 200 years. I’ve certainly been migraining more or less solidly since the August Bank Holiday, and the past couple of days of sunshine have been a welcome respite.

When I surface I take a look around at what is going on and hope to God there’s nothing I need to have done, need to be doing, should have done, ought to have done…

Yesterday I did a bit of paperwork. Not very exciting, but also, pleasingly, nothing too terrifying came to light.

In homing pigeon news, you may remember I’ve been trying to swap flats for the past several months. I fancied a move to Brighton, but it is so hard to get a bite. I tried to juggle a three way swap or two, but it really wasn’t happening, so I’ve gone back to my roots (or, you know, one of my roots) with a swap to Old St.

Home again, home again… jiggity jig.

As they say in Blade Runner.

It’s good because the location has a precise set of qualities. It’s not in the crazy of Hoxton etc, but it is walking distance to it, it’s central, but being just north of City, also quiet, and AND and it’s about 100 yards to the nearest swimming pool, the famous, and infamous, Ironmonger Row baths.

It is not an utter done deal, but both my swapee and I have filled in our respective forms and handed them in to our local authorities. Now we have to wait. They will want to come round and inspect, but there’s nothing for them to see in either flat, so unless something unforeseen happens, I will be moving early/mid April.

It’s not the same as Brighton, but it’s not a bad second best. And if and when I want to turn around again I will have a good bargaining chip of a flat. I’d have thought the Tottenham Riviera would be a good swap for a person from not London who needs to live in London but doesn’t want to be in it… but it seems that’s not how it works. When people move to London they largely want central.

So be it.

But in the meantime, my plan is to get swimming and lose the astounding TEN KILOS I have put on since moving here. And recover some aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is kind of shit value because you have to keep it up, but living five floors up without a lift ought to do that on it’s own, so that’s a bargain right there.

Poppet, of course, won’t have the wonderland of bread to eat – the buffet laid out by the bird feeding public on the towpath – so she should become more svelte as well.

Only thing is, I want to get on with it now. I am itching to start filling boxes.

Of Beds and Bedrooms

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Being somewhat criptastic. Or spoony. Disabled? Certainly I have the dread Invisible Illness. I have spent the past couple of months in bed. I have also spent this morning, in a short window of relative wellness writing to my MP and encouraging others to do so too, on the subject of the reviled Bedroom Tax. For those who don’t know about this it’s a measure apparently designed to help families move into under occupied public housing -which seems fair, right? The way it works is by docking Housing Benefit for low income or non working people so that they can’t afford to live in their homes. This has had two main effects that I can see – first of all, claimants who have what is designated as a ‘spare room’ are pushed to move into private rented accommodation at whatever cost and inconvenience that entails only to have to claim a much higher rent for less space. The second thing is that this affects families with disabled members disproportionately, since they often have extra room for various reasons (storing equipment, quiet area for Autistic kid, bedroom for someone who might otherwise share a bedroom but can’t because of illness) and their home is often specially adapted for disabilities (ramp, grab rails, non slip flooring). I am not personally affected by this ‘bedroom tax’ but as a disabled person of some description I have been affected by other measures this Govt has taken in it’s war against the poor and disadvantaged, and I don’t like it.

I can’t bring myself to write a straight political post, it’s not in me. And there are plenty out there who are doing so anyway (here and in more detail here. If you are in the UK and your MP voted against repealing this punitive and pointless legislation or, maybe even worse in a way, if they were Labour and they failed to bother voting then do please write to your MP here. It’s the work of moments, really easy, and if there is ever going to be any point in voting for these lazy half wits again we need to remind them who’s actually boss. WE ARE.

The bedroom tax debate full list of Labour non-voters, all 47 of them:
Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth
Bob Ainsworth, MP Coventry North East
Douglas Alexander, MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire South
Jonathan Ashworth, MP for Leicester South
Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood Clp
Hugh Bayley, MP for York Central
David Blunkett, MP for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough
Gordon Brown, MP for Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath
Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda
Ann Coffey, MP for Stockport
Huw Irranca Davies, MP for Ogmore
Geraint Davies, MP for Swansea West
Gloria De Piero, MP for Ashfield
Jim Dobbin, MP for Heywood and Middleton
Frank Dobson, MP for Holborn and St Pancras
Brian Donohoe, MP for Central Ayrshire
Frank Doran, MP for Aberdeen North
Clive Efford, MP for Eltham
Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead
Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West
Mike Gapes, MP for Ilford South
David Hamilton, MP for Midlothian
Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking
George Howarth, MP for Knowsley
Lindsay Hoyle, MP for Chorley
Siân James, MP for Swansea East
Alan Johnson, MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle
Tessa Jowell, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood
Gerald Kaufman, MP for Manchester, Gorton
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham
Ian Lucas, MP for Wrexham
Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden
Alan Meale, MP for Gateshead
Meg Munn, MP for Sheffeild, Heeley
Jim Murphy, MP for East Renfrewshire
Pamela Nash, MP for Airdrie and Shotts
Dawn Primarolo, MP for Bristol South
Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham, Deptoford
Anas Sarwar, MP for Glasgow Central
John Spellar, MP for Warley
Gerry Sutcliffe, MP for Bradford South
Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham
Joan Walley, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North
Dave Watts, MP for St Helens North
Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton, Test
Shaun Woodward, MP for Se Hellens South and Whiston

Here’s what Lib Dem MPs did on Labour’s motion to abolish the #bedroomtax

Absent

ALEXANDER, Danny, Mr
BIRTWISTLE, Gordon, Mr
BROOKE, Annette, Ms
CABLE, Vince, Mr
CLEGG, Nick
CROCKART, Mike
FEATHERSTONE, Lynne, Ms
HUPPERT, Julian, Mr
KENNEDY, Charles, Rt Hon
LAWS, David, Mr
LEECH, John, Mr
LLOYD, Stephen, Mr
MULHOLLAND, Greg, Mr
REID, Alan, Mr
SANDERS, Adrian, Mr
SWALES, Ian, Mr
TEATHER, Sarah, Ms
THORNTON, Mike, Mr
WARD, David, Mr
WILLIAMS, Mark, Mr
WILLIAMS, Roger, Mr
WRIGHT, Simon, Mr

Aye (voted with Labour)

FARRON, Tim, Mr
GEORGE, Andrew, Mr

No

BAKER, Norman, Mr
BEITH, Alan, Rt Hon
BRAKE, Tom
BROWNE, Jeremy, Mr
BRUCE, Malcolm, Rt Hon
BURSTOW, Paul, Mr
BURT, Lorely, Ms
CAMPBELL, Menzies, Rt Hon
CARMICHAEL, Alistair, Mr
DAVEY, Edward, Mr
FOSTER, Don, Mr
GILBERT, Stephen, Mr
HAMES, Duncan, Mr
HARVEY, Nick, Mr
HEATH, David, Mr
HEMMING, John, Mr
HORWOOD, Martin, Mr
HUGHES, Simon, Mr
HUNTER, Mark, Mr
LAMB, Norman, Mr
MOORE, Michael, Mr
MUNT, Tessa, Ms
PUGH, John, Mr
ROGERSON, Dan, Mr
RUSSELL, Bob, Mr
SMITH, Robert, Sir
STUNELL, Andrew, Mr
SWINSON, Jo, Ms
THURSO, John, Mr
WEBB, Steve
WILLIAMS, Stephen, Mr

Teller: Noes
Liberal Democrat WILLOTT, Jenny

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Now then. Back to the world of me and mine. What’s weird about getting a bit better is that it doesn’t necessarily make a person feel  better. When I first got ill, or should I say when I crashed so hard I could no longer ignore the multiple systems failures occurring around my body and mind, it was really very very bad. I lost all sense of who I was – I’d forged my identity through work and socializing, like many do. I wasn’t in a relationship, didn’t have my dog, was just totally incapacitated. Actually, at first I felt a bit scared, but my brain was really foggy so I didn’t really feel much at all for weeks and weeks, running into months. Also, one of my major things was some really weird stuff going on in my back which had been giving me referred pain – so, in fact, my migraines were at a peep. I was mainly a vegetable. After a few months I took a little job backstage at the Shaftesbury Theatre with the idea that if I was used to working every day over the summer I could go back to teaching that September without too much trouble. Unfortunately, because of one thing and another, a shitty doctor, a prescription med that made me go quite mental, for a start, I missed that moment, and also couldn’t continue with the theatre work either. Between inappropriate care and medication and the continuation and exacerbation of various symptoms I actually got worse. The brain fog faded somewhat, and the back pain was less incapacitating, but the migraines got worse. A lot worse. 16+ a month is the definition of chronic, and I was starting migraines during migraines, and was lucky if I got a handful of days a month not in writhing pain. This went on for several years. A few months ago I started getting Botox treatment, and it is helping a bit. What it does is make a bit of distance between trigger and pain which in turn helps the triptans to work. I am still taking as many most of the time, but I had quite decent breaks in the summer, so when the weather hit, I actually took it pretty badly. I’d got used to being able to write, and Pattern Recognition went down well at October’s Have A Word. And they asked me back for March, so I started writing a second piece. Then the pain and the brain fog and the usual crap kicked in, but I’d had this taste of being normal and I’d liked it. Some of you who know me on facebook saw that I was really beside myself on Monday, because I had a really massive unmanageable day of pain – absolutely nothing by comparison to the endless days and nights I used to get, but now I’m not used to it, and it frightens me half to death. It’s like although the medication is all about giving me a higher pain threshold I actually have a lower tolerance to it when it comes.

Nobody Died

When I first got ill I did have a friend who berated me for having time off, and who tried to persuade me that I should use this strategy or that to get back in the game, but at that time it was impossible anyway, and what I needed to do was to rest. I moved house and learned more about pain management and meditation. Eventually, having become effectively housebound I got a dog. You didn’t know I had a dog? Here’s my dog.

She likes yoghurt, and then, for desert, she likes the carton.

I also acquired a boyfriend, no mean feat when you never really leave the house, and haven’t socialized live for several years. Then I moved house again. The first move was a transfer – my HA accepted I needed to move on health grounds, and I was grateful at first, but then after 8 years I found I wanted something else, and the tech for swapping within public housing had evolved. (Years ago you could swap, but you had to go to the council offices and look at lists – no pictures, no real details, just lists of people usually desperate to get out of whatever version of hell they were living in – nobody at that time moved just because they wanted to.) Now, of course, it’s all online. You can upload pictures, you can set up some limited search parameters, and you can swap not just because you  have to for work reasons, or because you hate your neighbours, but because you want a change of scene or a different kind of home or locale. It’s quite civilized really. I wanted somewhere quieter, and I got it. But what I wasn’t expecting was to totally fall through the floor physically. I became unutterably ill after the move. Maybe this is why I am so sympathetic towards people being forced out of their homes. I elected to move, the new place was better for me, I could afford the move, I had no dependants, but even so, the upshot was that I became extra ill on top of my ‘normal’ level of illness, and I had to ask my boyfriend to look after me, look after the dog, do everything, basically. After a few months of spiralling out of control with inadequate health care – zero continuity except for my neuro, and a lot of difficulty getting any comprehension of what my problems and needs were I finally thought “fuck it” and attempted suicide.

As you might imagine, this took some getting over as well. With a massive bolster of psych drugs and a bit of  attention to the physical side of things I got a bit better. I started having the Botox treatment, and began managing a small kind of sustainability of daily routine in my life. If I didn’t have financial support from my family I wouldn’t have managed any of this – and bear in mind both my parents are elderly and pensioners, so taking £500 a quarter for Botox is something that can’t go on forever, but I’m hoping a year’s uninterrupted use will have some overall effect.

So yeah. Yesterday’s vote. Very bad news. Moving house is recognized as being up there with divorce and bereavement in terms of stress, and I only had my own illness to contend with, and I didn’t have financial issues or children to deal with and I did have support. Imagine any number of permutations where you have extra stress on you and you’re being forced to move out of accommodation that does work for you into accommodation you will never be able to afford on your own, might be less easy to get to work from, you might have to have your kids change schools, you, your partner or your kids might have sickness or disability issues that can’t hope to be addressed in private accommodation and you have a glimpse of why the Bedroom Tax has got so far under my skin.

A Woman of a Certain Rage

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So much to tell you. Not that anything has happened in ‘real life’, since now is very much the winter of my discontent, as it is every year for about 9 months. This needs to be addressed at some point, it’s just not sustainable. But it can’t happen this year, I just have to stay where I am and tough it out. Ill as I am right now, I’m not as bad as I have been, and as I am, here, in my pain and unending uselessness, it amazes me I have survived it at all, year on year on year.

Whatever has happened lately has been what’s happened online.  Over on facebook I’ve become involved in a fundraising event, and made a tumblr site End Of. There’s going to be a proper website very soon, but I got the tumblr up and running within four days of the original idea, and while it is, as Terri might say, ‘quick and dirty’ people seem to like it, and it’s somewhere to collate stuff and put info for the meantime. On the facebook page I got trolled by someone who said tumblr was the Betamax of the online world. I suddenly felt terribly protective of tumblr! Poor tumblr, what have they ever done wrong?

I made this to prompt someone else into doing a ‘proper’ design, or just inspire people to make their own and share pictures of them ‘in the wild’. Only afterwards did I realise I’d done the graphic on a ‘wife beater’.

Anyway, I had to stop engaging with the crazy because s/he was clearly only going to feed off any responses. In a discussion afterwards I was describing myself as a ‘woman of a certain age’ to someone else on the team, and NEARLY wrote RAGE instead.

While I find it fairly easy not to get involved in other people’s anger issues, I’ve got my own to deal with. Again, sort of IRL and sort of not… almost from the get-go anger has been a major topic in my therapy. I say I am irritated by someone, therapist suggests I am angry. I wonder if it can be true that I am so out of touch with my feelings I need someone else to tell me what they are?

In other news, Hyperbole and a Half has been so quiet not because she’s been in a depressive impasse but because she’s been writing & drawing a book. I stupidly got my mum an e-reader last year and I’ve cut off my nose to spite my face because books were the obvious and usual gift idea for her, easy and appreciated. Now she’s gone all virtual it’s really hard to think of what to get her, so this was great festive timing on the part of H&1/2 because it’s a book you could only enjoy on an e-reader if you had full colour. And another good thing is that since my mum is phobic about the internet it will come as an entirely new thing to her. (Though, as well as favourites from her blog, there are new stories as well, so us devotees have something to read before we pack them up as Xmas presents).

Actressy friend, Clare Cathcart is going to be in this play which is so exciting. It’s on for ages and it’s in London so I can probably go to see it, even though there aren’t matinees, so I will have to time myself well to manage it, AND it’s been directed by Kathy Burke who is a total genius. I miss her being on telly, but she says she likes directing better, which is fair enough.

Mind you, my friend Ian is having a house warming tonight, and I’m blogging right now to distract myself from quite severe pain, so even though it’s quite near and I really want to go, the chances are against it.

Again. Need to get myself out of this country for these months in the future.

MASSIVE EFFING BORKDOM.

***

Quickly, before I go, here’s a tumblr collection I made the other day for you elaine4queen.tumblr.com/day/2013/10/30

Pattern Recognition at Have A Word (full text)

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HAVE A WORD – October 2013

Here we are at Have A Word… L to R Peter Daniels, who read an epic porny poem of yesteryear and yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, Ellis Collins, the promoter and envisioneer of HAW, Grégoire Aubert, who MEMORISED and delivered Judy Garland’s diary tapes, ME, and Alice Purnell, who had everyone in fits with her self depreciating humour – she even described the OBE medal she was wearing as a ‘badge’.
The photograph was taken by John McCullough, with Peter’s camera, as he pointed out to me, so obvs the camera gets top billing – well done camera, with your evil mechanical eye – where did I gain those ten years and mattress front? I’m much younger and skinnier in my mind’s eye.

and here is the text of my piece… (recorded version coming soon)

Pattern Recognition

Cayce Pollard is the dashing heroine of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Cayce is allergic to branding. This means that she has an unpleasant physical reaction to the sight of logos. So, she has filed the branding off the button on her jeans, and unpicked the labels. The stronger the logo, the stronger her repulsion.

Cayce, I wish that my ailments, like yours, were a kind of superpower. People pay good money to go to design school to refine and learn visual skills. But you cut through all that. You are hired, for good money, because when you see a new design you know whether it’s good or not. Not because you have training or aptitude, not even because you have “good taste” or what might be described, vaguely as an ‘eye’ – but because you are allergic. Your employers simply expose you to prospective stylings and watch for a reaction.

Cayce is a “cool hunter”. This sounds old fashioned in 2003, by the time Gibson is writing and is definitely a term with a use-by date. So why use it? The book isn’t set in the future, it’s sci fi credentials are more of a ‘what if’. Science  fiction writers, have lots of rules about what ‘can’ happen in any given scenario so it’s enough to give her this ‘allergy’ and bizarre occupation and let the story roll. ‘Cool hunter’ in Gibson’s hands is a kind of linguistic branding. He’s not here to sell us cool hunting.

Like Cayce, I snip off labels, but that’s because they make me itch. Labels, washing instructions, sometimes even stitching. But it’s true, nevertheless, I don’t like to advertise a brand. And I do have a keen eye. As we all do, when we are sensitised. It can be taught, but it’s also in our genes.

It only takes a short while, for example, when picking blackberries, to not only recognize the best ones by eye, but also by touch. Those small ones may be black enough but their skin is too taut, they haven’t matured, they are going to taste bitter. They take a little more effort to pick, too, being recalcitrant to leave the vine until their incubation is complete. Very voluptuous ones come away with the softest sigh and often leak quietly onto your fingers, but although they are sweet they don’t keep at all and if you make the mistake of putting them in with the rest of that day’s pickings the whole crop becomes sticky and muddy. Best to eat them as you go along. Blackberries’ blood shows red on your fingers but wipe those fingers on your clothes at your own risk – the brackish black will stain forever, marking the tale of your feverish wipings between pickings and gobblings.

In my sick bed I listen to Pattern Recognition, the BBC’s adaptation of the novel, being read by Lorelei King. Fiction is the simplest iteration of gender reassignment – Gibson writes from a female protagonist’s POV, King reads it out – as a woman. The naturalness, to the ear is seamless, a sleight of hand. The spoken word is only one iteration from the page and it fires your aptitude for pattern recognition just as well, and the ability for you to visualise – here I am a woman, here I am a man, here I am a well person… here I am an action hero.

Karl Marx says “Every schoolboy knows” that any culture contains within itself the information for reproduction. As in the petri dish so in society. We recognize a pattern, we reproduce a pattern, we are the pattern. Spatially or over time, From ‘how to get up in the morning’ to ‘how to run a society’ from how to conform to a subculture to how to scramble eggs. From bacteria to computer programming. We recognize, we reproduce. All intelligence involves pattern recognition – from monkeys to machines.

I reproduce the conditions of being myself as I am now. What is stopping me from stepping out of this body and having another life entirely. Nothing indeed, if I step into fiction.

Early September the last gasp of blackberries struggled to the fore between their picked or rotted siblings. Only a couple of miles away, further out of London, the season was just beginning, the berries still green. The second week in September I was in Brighton, and though there were some manky berries on the vine, there were plenty of ripe ones, and some still red raw unripe. The end of the season looms, and much like the Marks and Spencers sale – a lot of dingey items you’re sure were never in the shop before hanging sadly, rail after rail, frumpy and saggy, unappealing to touch or eye.

Attuning to choosing something ‘just right’ is something even a very small child or an amateur can do very quickly, like learning to cook pasta ‘al dente’ though this is to the eye and the finger rather than to the tooth. Our bodies reproduce one skill another way – I learned to touch type – my fingers spider across the keyboard as if each one of them had an eye. I move quickly between the bushes, not like the weekend pickers, out to amass enough to bake with or freeze or share with a large family, I only want a handful a day for my porridge. I’m looking for that perfect ripeness. All the while learning to avoid the thorns and their bullying friends the nettles. But thorn and sting avoidance has less to do with pattern recognition than the picking itself does; that is to say, choosing berries. Recognizing patterns. This discernment allows us to prefer one brand over another because we are, and have been for generations, well adapted to refinement in and of itself.

Technically, pattern recognition is about any manifestation of phenomena – both in nature and in culture. Pattern recognition refers to something called ‘machine learning’ which is why it’s no leap to having your own robot secretary deciding which emails are really for you and which are spam, and which can inform your provider with tailored ads or your government about any nefarious plans you may have to take a set of tweezers onto an aeroplane. I find the Wikipedia entry on pattern recognition almost entirely unintelligible. It’s nice when a novel gives you the sensation you understand something important about a subject, I think. It feels effortless, like all good design.

Artificial Intelligence is based on pattern and recognition of pattern. Like the loom, there is only one story underneath, the one of zeros and ones.. and ALL. THIS. STUFF. comes out of it! In living colour! Incredible! Even ‘Nothing’ can’t reproduce itself without completion and with that completion comes the notion of ‘one’ and therefore ‘other’. Straight away there are two units and the basis for a pattern. As every knitter knows.

I can’t live with patterned wallpaper any more than I can bear textiles with writing on them. Even in a foreign or imaginary language, my eyes scroll over and over trying to make sense. I’m the same with repeated patterns. There’s something about the sense of demand that bothers me – less a ‘leading’ of the eye and more of an insistent repetitive tug. My brother visited China and tells me westerners often suffer headaches from their stymied search for meaning in the signage around them. Welcome to my world, you travellers – at least you’ve got a ticket home to the safety of non headache world.

My car broke down and I abandoned it. I got ill. I stopped working. I got a dog. Clothes had to change their function. No longer did I have a giant motorized handbag come winter coat which I could slip out of in heels and office clothes. Now I had three or more outings a day with dog. I got her on Christmas Eve 2009. Happily, I had already acquired a repulsive but warm ski jacket from TK MAXX. It was cheap, it was super warm. I don’t ski, but guess what? Those hyper mobile arms for the skiing are also good for throwing a ball. WIN. However, when the zip finally properly broke I was relieved to get rid of the offending garment, printed in purple and gold onto taupe, with it’s indelible mud stain from pocketing grubby balls, and went considerably upmarket with a Helly Hensen parka. It’s a nice coat, and I don’t pocket balls any more, so it’s stayed nice. What I did discover though, was that because of the initials, HH, Helly Hensen clothing is worn by neo Nazis in Germany. This worried me, because what if I visited Germany in the winter, in my coat,  who’s to say I wouldn’t be read as a neo Nazi? Apart from probably having no corroborating visual clues – but what do I know, as a foreigner?

Although the point was probably irrelevant it still bothered me, and a friend suggested getting rid of the logo – which was when I realized how VERY branded this coat was. I don’t wear clothes which have their branding writ large, but this thing has it’s branding writ many. Every. Button. Counting… 1,2, only three different bits of branding on the inside of the coat, and my hands and eyes surmise 8 on the outside. 11. On. one. coat. ELEVEN. Quite subtly done, but still, I am a walking billboard for a fashion item while suffering what is known in the medical trade as an ‘invisible illness’. The juxtaposition between what is apparent and what is not is enmiserating. I wish. I had. stigmata.

On the last day of September I took the dog round the Paddock. The blackberries were almost entirely gone. There was the odd jewel high up away from the main bush, where the beads of dead fruit were desiccated, tiny and dulled. Their neighbours, the mounts from which glistening fatted fruit had been successfully plucked were similarly shriveled. Indeed, entire branches were dying back, brown leaved and frail, the sap having entirely retreated, while the non fruit-bearing branches were still vivid and green.

Having not lost the weight I’d intended to, I’d grudgingly bought a new pair of larger than I’d like trousers, the makers of which saw fit to add a small stitched label to the waistband declaring, in white embroidered letters on black “A true feeling of Authenticity”. I find myself a black felt pen and scribble the lettering out, feeling a little.. queasy.

It really happened

A Walk in the Paddock

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The Paddock

Took the dog out to the Paddock yesterday. Sounds fancy, but until I learned it was named that I used to call it “The Scruffy Bit”.

Things have changed over the past couple of weeks.

Dead on the Vine

The blackberries are nearly all gone.

These were hanging high up. For the birds.

Zoom but don’t touch

Blackberry bush die back

Rose Hips

And these rose hips are everywhere.

I love Virginia Creeper this time of year.

Autumnal

Virginia Creeper

And ‘Swinger’s Delight’ – Pampas Grass is a bit of random suburban gardening in what is mainly a small nature reserve.

Ooer, Missus!

A Postcard from Brighton

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victoria

VIC-TOOORIA, VICTORRRRIA… (CLICK THRU TO HEAR THE FALL)

battersesa

battersea power station from the train – destined to be upcycled

haw office

where the magic happens…

myf doorstep

flowers from chim’s allotment tastefully tied in a dog poo bag – waiting for myf to open the door of her new house (lovely)

nicky kitty

elderly cat rocks orange and white colour scheme at Nicky and Kit’s

feminism

it’s a good question, or is it?

tottenham hale

back to tottenham hale – that dog looks about as happy to be on a boat as poppet was recently.