Swans for Breakfast

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Sunday on the Riviera. Mid March, I suppose by now we’d be calling it spring. But, you know, there wasn’t a proper winter, so it’s sort of snuck up on us. And now, if it isn’t raining or cloud covered it’s blasting sunshine.

For the first time in a long time I took the dog up Tottenham Marshes, or at least just beyond the allotments and had a sit in the sunshine.

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I hesitate to say I was meditating, but I certainly found my sitting bones and sat quietly while the dog snoofled around.

During whatever goes on in winter we always get a few more people on a weekend up here, but if it is sunny it will get really busy, and there are hazards in the park with the dog, so although we played early this morning the afternoon walk had to be somewhere less populous. I was feeling a little fragile, not really up to totally policing the entire situation so was fully intending on short changing the dog and just going to the shops and back. However, on the way there we passed the entrance to the marshes, the one that doesn’t go along the canal, and I thought it would be safe enough to go a baby walk there.

What you can see in the photo are a series of fences and that orange dot at the top is a post for a life saving ring. Between the fences are the canal and a run off/river then beyond that bank, reservoirs.

Despite all the water we have been safe from floods this winter. I’ve kept an eye on it. I was registered with the Environment Agency for flood warnings but had to unsubscribe from warnings because I got fed up hearing from them and then looking out the window and seeing the water being a bit more choppy or more or less the same as usual. If there had been any risk it would have been from the sewers, and happily they know this, and there was a fleet of Dyno Rod vans who came for a visit a few months back.

Poppet was in her element. Lots of men in high vis hanging around in the street just waiting to say hello to her.

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.

Now Wait for Last Year

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…was the first Philip K Dick book I ever read. Kenny McBeth lent it to me. I was somewhere between 14 and 16 years old, and had never read science fiction before.

This seems as good a time as any to break it to you that I am neither going to give you a round up of last year, nor am I going to tell you what I’m planning for next. No. We do enough time travelling as it is. Lets take a while to stare out the window.

My current view. Lovely, isn’t it?

And what a lovely view it is and has been for the past week and a bit. Julie generously gave us her house for a fortnight while she Xmassed and New Yeared up in Scotland, and I have spent an inordinate amount of time staring out this window. Or less staring and more gazing. It has been a very literal change of scenery.

Also good for staring/gazing at is fire. There is an open fire in the sitting room and Julie had left us logs and kindling.

This is not a stock photograph. IT’S A REAL FIRE!

I used to know a fireperson. I say ‘fireperson’ advisedly because she was a lady fireman. And this was years ago, and even now, you don’t get many of those kicking about. I didn’t know her well but I found myself sitting next to her at a party once and decided to tell her about a house fire I’d seen in San Francisco. She was, and very well may still be a very quiet woman, but she was suddenly VERY interested. Her immediate question was “How many engines?”

Here’s a pro storytelling tip. Try and notice shit. This is my worst quality in story telling skills – I have a dreadful memory and no eye for those sort of details. I was far too busy watching a big building MADE OF WOOD go up in flames to count fire engines, but her question made me realize that would have been a good thing to have noticed, too.

***

We did NOTHING for NYE. Not unless you count going to see a flat, walking on the beach, getting underwear and shoe soaked on the way home, spending the avo with Collins and Collins, two of our Brighton Besties, and being in bed by 8, listening to The Midwich Cuckoos on iPlayer til about 10 when I zonked out and Ten left me to it to go commune with the Hackspace via hyperspace.

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The evening before we’d had a few people over and the Gorgeous Gregorie brought over all sorts of bakery.

Gregorie CLAIMS he is a ‘shop girl’ but really he is a BAKER (Well, REALLY he has a show where he does Judy Garland’s audio diaries)

My ‘cookery’ involved doing things like putting a lot of pretzels in a bowl with chocolate peanuts. DON’T JUDGE ME.

Do you think I should teach cookery? Maybe I should. The world needs to know all about chocolate peanuts and pretzels

Alice told travelling yarns, and at one point Chim and Ten took the dogs out and I demonstrated how I get Pops totes excited about going out through the medium of whispering and saying key words. Gregorie, who is proud to be ‘Bri’ish’ (he’s French) was appalled.

Anyway, that was our social event. I literally invited people to come at 7 and leave at 10, which is, in fact, what they did.

I take my bedtime seriously, yo!

***

So, back to yesterday. The flat we went to see involved going past Julie’s first Brighton house. Much as I like the blue, her house was known as ‘The Pink House’ so it was kind of sad to see a change of colour.

Don’t it make my pink house blue?

The Pink House parties were legendary back in the day. I believe the neighbours all pretty much loathed her. Not just for the prodigious partying but also for the fact that she punched a hole in her roof and built a balcony which, due to a mixture of the height of the building and the location of the house on the brow of that bit of hill, looked down over everyone else’s gardens.

The flat we saw was very small and a serious fixer upper, but the location was perfect, and also there was a bonus of a shared well kept garden. For the win, but we have to wait for him to see the Camden flat for a possible three way swap. Tenterhooks!

We took the route avoiding the worst of the hill, something I’m making my business to do, since the whole place is rather more aerobic than I am used to. Passing the trees I mentioned in m’last post we spotted a notice about the flotsam trees.

You can clicky through to the website of ONCA gallery and find out ALL THE THINGS

When I shared the post on fb, Trill told me that they were there to raise consciousness about the rubbish on the beach. Depending on what you are reading this on you might not be able to read the text, but the three trees worth of flotsam was collected in one day by one person.

***

Today we start getting ready to go home. Julie gets back on Friday, and we have appointments and stuff to get on with in London, so we’ll need to get on. It’s been lovely here, the time has flown.

THANK YOU JULIE!!! SORRY ABOUT MELTING THE PAINT ON YOUR SUGAR JAR BY PUTTING IT IN THE DISH WASHER!

And finally…

Bob found a sponge and brought it all the way home.

Poppet is entirely confused by these sponges. I think she thinks they should be edible, I also think they seem a bit like salted soft toys, which, putting it that way, I can see the appeal. At any rate, she brought this one all the way back to the house and wouldn’t let go of it til we were indoors and Ten picked it out of her maw.

Solstice and Shenanigans

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Seasons greetings, whatever theological or tribal stripe you may be, on this, the Solstice, the nadir of the year. It will reach it’s very zenith at 17.11 GMT. Unfortunately, that does not mean that sunny days are ahead. They are, but they’ll be a long time coming. We will have to content ourselves with incremental increases in daylight hours.

Here is a beautifully crafted art work of festive cheer from Poppet’s oeuvre.

And here is a weird Victorian Christmas card.

In time travel news, here’s a picture from July 2012, but it is just as apt this very day, since WE’RE OFF TO BRIGHTON, YO!

However, just because we’ll be away from home, it doesn’t mean I won’t be cracking on with my new hobby, LEARNING ALL THE LANGUAGES.  I can’t remember who put me onto it (WHAAAT? it was all the way back a few DAYS I can’t be expected to remember EVERYTHING) but I am now big into duolingo.com which is a free software for learning languages. Not ALL the languages, but SOME languages. I am currently virtually fluent in Spanish as long as I only want to talk about apples, bread, water, milk, eating, drinking, a man, a woman, a girl and a boy. Still, I reckon I could get by on that. But there’s more! So much more. And it’s a bit like playing a game. I’m very excited.

Ten has just taken Poppet out for the shortest walk in the history of going outside, and I can hear him telling her she will have SOOOO MUCH FUN today, but I’m not sure she’s interested in tenses.

Gotta get ready to travel – in the meantime here’s a little tumblr I made the other day elaine4queen.tumblr.com/day/2013/12/14

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

***

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.

Il cane innocente, Il giovane Montalbano, e mi sento male

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In ‘my life as a Hanna Barbera cartoon, the dog known as Ms Roberta “Poppet” Bobs stole my sausages the other day while I was answering the door.

piccolo cane innocente

Other dogs have a good line in looking guilty even if it’s just that they are skilled actors, but Pops just looked at the plate in my hand, hypnotised by her own pleasure, while I was telling her off, transparently thinking “Those were good, are there any more?”

She understands when it is in her interest to do so. Ten used to talk about perambulating the animal, but I think she’s sussed that one out, so it’s lucky I’ve become entrenched in The Young Montalbano so now we have a spot of Italian to spice up our linguistic feints.

I have tried watching Montalbano before, with The Snack Thief which I found slow and boring, and not about sausages at all. Whether it is the young handsome actor in the prequel or to do with the writing or the directing I don’t know, but whatever the reason or cunning combination thereof, I am really enjoying this series. I now believe I should be living in Sicily, and a quick glance at the weather forecasts tell me that I am right.

What is less appealing is that the town which plays Vigàta is apparently notorious for crimes against dogs, and for there being a lot of street dogs, for want of a pound. I saw a picture when I looked it up for daydreaming purposes which would curdle your blood. So, mixed reviews, there.

***

In other not unrelated news, I have been abed for a lot of the week. Ten’s been away so I’ve had to do what I’ve had to do, but I’ve rather run aground and today he is doing everything and I am most grateful. While I am unfaithful to him with Salvo he is dealing with the piccolo cane and the shopping and so on. I am so very sluggish and have been absolutely tanking the triptans. I only hope that today’s turn of the full moon sees off this current malaise, because I’m at a terribly low ebb, unable to get on with the writing project, and generally feeling crappy. So, sorry for lack of posts, but this is the reality of life in the hermitage right now.

What is nice is that Ellis has invited me to Have A Word again in March. Lets hope that I am well enough to write something by then… There’s another thing on, in April, again in Brighton, which is probably going to be called END OF, perhaps with some other words appended. It was only cooked up a couple of nights ago by Julie Burchill, and is going to be a fund raiser for a domestic violence charity. The spots are only 3-5 minutes, and I think perhaps it’s not for me, but I am glad to be in on it, it’s a great project. However, I also intend to get up to Scotland in the in just springtime, and I dare say I will need to be realistic about the wellness to travel ratio that I can cope with outside of the high days of June – August. I really do need to work out how to get somewhere warmer for a bit.

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

Flip Flop Tan, A Visit to Epping Forest, and The Imminent Scaffolding

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I wish I could like autumn more. I mean, I do like it in theory, but my body doesn’t. I’d come off preventative pain killers and was doing really well til the weather hit, and then I realized that wasn’t going to happen. If I could work out how to manage it financially I’d look into moving somewhere where the weather was basically UK summer most of the time, then I might even be able to work. I was stunned at how well I was when I was in Spain, earlier.

proudly prehensile… and a flip flop tan, to boot!

Also, I am saying a sad goodbye to this year’s ‘tan’. I do know that most people wouldn’t count this as a tan as such, but if you compare the blue lines where my flip flops have been to the regular flesh colour on the rest of my feet I think you’ll agree that I’ve done well. I’d just carry on wearing flip flops if I could, but even on a hot day there’s dew on the grass in the morning, and what I have discovered with my summer of the flip flop is that it’s not the cold that’ll get you, it’s damp. Any amount of moisture makes flip flop wearing untenable. I even wore my flip flops to Epping forest the other day without major incident, though they are not ideal off road footwear.

Multitasky Ian (feat Cam)

No, Poppet.

After my flurry of visits abroad I’d got rather mired in the Tottenham Riviera, and it was great to be asked on a day out to Epping with my friends Ian and Al and Al’s little boy, Cameron. Ian did the driving, and we arrived at the bit where the bikers congregate. I would have liked to have taken some pictures, but, well, bikers. Friendly enough but lets not push it. There’s a little cabin where fried food and hot brown beverages calling themselves ‘tea’ and ‘coffee’ are sold. These are seriously muck, but the bacon sarnies are just the job at fortifying you for a woodland walk. Poppet had a fantastic time eating horse poo and wallowing in stinky water and running about like an idiot. Cameron had his BMX bike with him, so we could walk quite far without Al having to carry him, which has been a feature of our walks thus far. For the past few years Al has actually had to carry both Cam and a bike a fair bit, so it’d just as well he’s a gym bunny.

Al and Ian are the people I see most, and do feature in my “should I move?” scenarios. I’ve been all over the place with the home swapping thing this summer, and I’ve had to wind it down now. Partly because it was taking up too much of my head room, and partly because time is passing, and my window of relative wellness is becoming smaller as we move towards the winter, and November is the scheduled time for the scaffolding to go up, probably for several months, while we get new windows and roofs and they replace our heating systems. This should effectively trash what decor there is here, and so between the unsightliness of the scaff and the likely wreckage indoors I can only see the keenest person looking past all that. So rather than field inquiries over the next while I’ve left the profile hanging with just central Brighton as a preferred swap. It’d take me away from easy striking distance from Al and Ian, but nearly everyone wants to visit Brighton, and of my friends who have bought, most have two bed flats, so I can visit THAT LONDON as they call it, and also reconnect with my Brighton friends. Anyway, we mustn’t hold our breaths, since I’ve rarely had a bite from a Brightonian.

In the meantime, Have A Word is coming closer and closer. I’ve done a bit of writing but must do more. It’s mainly about picking blackberries, but then, what else is there to write about? Hardly anything. Blackberries it is.

30 Things Meme – Invisible Illness Week (Small Life)

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It’s coming up to Invisible Illness Week so here’s my response to the 30 things questionnaire you just clicked through to (well, if you didn’t it’s there anyway, just like the tree that fell in the forest).

just like that

1. The illness I live with is: fibromyalgia and chronic migraine. Some say chicken, some say egg, either way, it’s bodily pain, exhaustion, insomnia, anxiety and severe headaches, lots and lots of headaches.

2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: Not sure. about 8 years ago. Never sure about dates and things. I am supposed to keep a record of all sorts of things, but in reality I am too ill to manage that sort of paperwork.

3. But I had symptoms since: Probably birth. Colic is now seen as a precursor of and a kind of migraine, ‘growing pains’ are now seen as a sign of fibromyalgia. I also suffered headaches as a kid, was put to bed with an asprin and dismissed as ‘attention seeking’. If pain really got you attention, I think I’d have noticed by now, and from my pre-crash experience (about 10 years ago now) I know that there are better and more effective ways to get noticed.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: Having very few choices about anything – from what to eat to where I can go or what I can wear or who I can spend time with. At the moment I am struggling with the fact that I can’t, and haven’t been able to for some time, decorate my home or even put pictures up.

5. Most people assume: I’m ok, I suppose. And that nothing they can do can help and that whatever I am doing is what I want to be doing, and however I have things or do things is how I want them. I remember a visitor being surprised at how few pictures I had up. Rather than ask me why, as a formerly active visual artist and someone who has a huge collection of images in frames, I might not have them on walls, she regaled me with tales of her own decor preferences and activities.

6. The hardest part about mornings are: Mornings are the best time of the day for me but I know that all the spoons will be used up by the time I have eaten and bathed, and if I do do something, go to an appointment, do a task, then I will be paying not just the rest of that day but for several days hence. So I suppose the hardest thing about mornings is knowing that even if I feel okay for a little while it won’t be for long, and I have to get through the day somehow  – and having done so I won’t be any further forward with anything.

7. My favorite medical TV show is: None. I don’t like medical shows. People may think that I am interested in ailments, I’m not. I like murders and comedies.

8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: My heated blanket.

9. The hardest part about nights are: That if I am awake I will be in pain, and that the night will feel even more endless than the day.

10. Each day I take _approx 10 pills & vitamins. (No comments, please)

11. Regarding alternative treatments I: have tried a lot of things. I always listen when people tell me about treatments, because sometimes there might be something that actually helps, but mostly I just feel even more misunderstood and isolated – going to appointments of any sort involves travel and probably being extra ill for several days afterwards, and alternative treatments are costly too, so unless you are going to drive me to the appointment every week and pay for it too, then probably save your breath.

12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: Visible. I’d like to have Stigmata, something nice and visual. I used to get nose bleeds a lot, and the level of sympathy was off the scale – DUDES!  Nosebleeds don’t actually hurt!

13. Regarding working and career: I miss working, and I miss financial independence. I miss creating something in the world. I miss the social contact. I miss being an expert at something. I miss having a vocation, an actual reason to get out of bed in the morning.

14. People would be surprised to know: How angry and upset I get – I feel I daren’t express myself a lot of the time, I have few enough friends as it is without alienating them. I know it’s not anyone’s fault that I am unwell, but I do feel like I have to be on my best behaviour all the time – I even try to be bright and breezy on the internet for fear of bumming people out. I only write as much misery as I dare, but I feel much more. And that sense of having to be well behaved is a bit of a burden. Sometimes I do write ‘I feel crap’ on facebook, and I love it that people ‘like’ or say ‘aw’ – it’s amazing how much that helps.

15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: How little it really matters, and how little there is I can do about it.

16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: be of any use to anyone else ever. I love it when I can help someone with something. Especially when it involves something I know or am good at and can still do (not much, admittedly).

17. The commercials about my illness: don’t exist in the UK, thankfully.  I remember saying to a psychiatrist ‘will I be able to do that yoga pose if I take that drug’ – the ad was on the side of a tissue box. What rot. I imagine drug commercials are a lot like sanitary products ads, full of people who are busy doing cartwheels on the beach. I’m glad I am spared seeing them. Mind you, the anger might be quite aerobic.

18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: Making plans that have any chance of coming to fruition.

19. It was really hard to have to give up: yoga.

20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: blogging. It can be done from bed, it can be any length, and it needn’t be done at all. No one is let down if I don’t blog for weeks. It doesn’t take materials or much in the way of physical action, all I have to be well enough for to do it is to handle the screen time and string a sentence together, and even then I don’t have to do it all at once.

21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: go swimming.

22. My illness has taught me: compassion.

23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is: “Why don’t you get a taxi?” I have never been a big fan of taxi rides, the converations are tiring, and even being in a car in silence with someone I don’t know is tiring. They are too expensive, and they WILL give me travel sickness. If I am not going somewhere because it’s ‘too far’ I’ve already weighed up the logistics.

24. But I love it when people: find a way to include me.

25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: There isn’t one. No platitude from any quarter can help. Ten and Poppet and the internet people, they help, but sayings and quotes just piss me off.

26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them: you are entitled to your feelings.  

27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: “I never imagined that so many days would ultimately  make such a small life.”
— Franz Kafka, from “Diaries”

28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: Be there. Also, it’s helpful when someone offers me something specific – when you are in pain and maybe your brain isn’t functioning the last thing you want to do is guess what someone is prepared to do for you. Ask “Do you want a cheese sandwich” not “Is there anything I can do for you?” because there is, but I’ll be damned if I can think what it might be, right now even if I am lying here starving.

29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: Honestly, if I don’t do it no one else is going to do it for me. I am constantly supporting causes, even if it’s only ‘clicktivism’. What is horrible is that even high profile illnesses and disabilities don’t get the kind of support or research they need. Watching Pink Ribbon Inc shows how big companies and individuals spend so much money and effort fundraising without actually helping anyone. 

If a cause like that fails so resolutely, what chance is there for mine?

30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: perhaps all is not lost. If you did get this far, thank you so much for caring to. I feel like I should apologize for having wasted ten minutes of your time. If you did make it this far, here’s a little tumblr for your trouble – THANK YOU! elaine4queen.tumblr.com/day/2013/8/25