Monday, 1 December 2014


Just very quickly.

Work has been hectic, the last few weeks.  November is a busy month anyway, with the run-up to the Christmas programme, plus the exhausting World Travel Market.  I promptly went and added to the demands on me by adding one of my own and signing up for NaNoWriMo.  I didn't "win" it, but I'm 36,000 words into a new story, which I wouldn't have begun at all if I hadn't decided to try this.  So that's not bad for someone who's been fairly run off her feet.

I've also done most of my Christmas shopping and seen some excellent ballet and dance and a very good (if sad) play, and completed a couple of small projects at work, as well as doing all the day-to-day sales things.

On Friday I finally reached my longed-for spell of annual leave, the one that was postponed from September.  I really am very tired, and I went to pieces rather on Saturday; did virtually nothing except play with the kittens and go to the laundrette, and had a nap in the afternoon like a convalescent.

And so to today, and packing a suitcase, for tomorrow at silly o'clock I am off to Cyprus for a week.  Holiday!  It's warm and sunny out there and I have a bathing costume, a couple of fat novels and a couple of notebooks.  Bliss.  Have a good week!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Just now...

Just now
The world may feel strange
The light and the darkness both
May seem
A trifle unreal.
You may be
Sleeping suddenly deeply again
Or lying wide wide awake
A staring mind in the night
Until the sun rises.

Just now
It may be hard to believe
That anything will ever feel
Comfortable and at peace again
Every breath you take now
Is ill-at-ease with itself.
You may be
Crying inside, or be
Too exhausted for
The effort of tears.

Just now
Each day is a new task
The effort you did not know
You were capable of making.
Just now you may
Want to be left alone
Or long for your friends, and fear
Above all else, solitude
And the void it brings.

Just now
I hope and pray
You'll have the support
You need; just that much,
No more, no less.
You have
The right to go through
The darkness, this night, with
The tools that work best for you.

And you may feel
No-one can ever know
What this has cost you,
This journey up
From the depths, to the moment when
Your head breaks the surface
And you can breathe easy again.
You are such strength
As others dream upon
And you will come though this.

It may all seem
Strange beyond belief
But you will live.
You will sleep sound again
You will find reasons to carry on again,
And smile, and breathe, and think,
No longer only to weep
Though that may be all you know
Just now.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Melissa Hamilton in "Manon"; wow...

Isn't a "Manon" a kind of chocolate?  Something with praline and whipped cream enrobed in fine belgian choc?  Delicious.

"Manon" the story is not exactly delicious; it's bittersweet even at its happiest moments, and deeply tragic by the end.  At the moment the Royal Ballet are doing MacMillan's magnificent version and I've been twice, sad balletomane that I am.

I went with the DipGeek, a planned outing; we saw Laura Morera and Nehemiah Kish, innocent and unhappy as the lovers, and Riccardo Cervera as an insouciant Lescaut.  But then on Monday I managed to get a returned ticket, to see one of my current dance idols, Melissa Hamilton, making her debut in the lead.

So if I am a sad balletomane? - so what.  This was something not to be missed.  And boy, do we have a Manon here!  I know I'm one of her fangirls, but Ms Hamilton simply seized the part with both hands and made it her own.  I was completely blown away.

She was going absolutely flat-out, technically - not a foot wrong, not a risk fudged - while dramatically, emotionally, this was as subtle and truthful an interpretation as I've ever seen.  Her performance was alive with flickering feelings, right to her fingertips.  She brought out little nuances, like the way the innocent girl, arriving in Paris in a pell-mell hurtle of excitement, cannot resist trying to show off her pretty new frock to her brother - only to realise within minutes that next to the glittery finery of the local whores she looks provincial and frumpy.  And bang! she goes, like the kid she is, straight from unthinking happiness to frustrated dissatisfaction.

This was a very young Manon, in love but also very much swept up with being in love, and visibly steeling herself to the touch of Monsieur GM with his creepy fetishes and bullying dominance.  Right through Act One there was a vividly real sense of someone trying to keep abreast of things, trying to make decisions on the spur of the moment, trying to stay ahead without really knowing what she's doing.  Circumstances keep changing, complications keep arriving, and she is too un-worldy-wise to realise she cannot have it all, despite the deepening mess, until it is horribly, painfully too late.  By the end we were going full-on for raw danger; the famous flips and plunging lifts of the last pas de deux were taken right to the line, as they need to be, to give the last scene the utter desperation it needs.  Seriously; it needs to be scary, that scene, and it was.  I haven't seen a Manon come that close to dashing her brains out on the stage for a while...

She had an excellent Lescaut in Bennet Gartside, who I didn't know would be dancing this role until I opened my cast sheet; that was a nice surprise to arrive to.  He's matured into a terrific actor and still has the dancing chops to pull off a superbly naturalistic, tumbling drunk scene, making all those horrendous off-balance leaps look easy - and phenomenally real.  If anyone in the company is going to step into Gary Avis' shoes in time, Mr Gartside might be the one to do it.

Mr Avis was excelling himself as usual (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) as an utterly repellent Monsieur GM.  I wouldn't ever have expected to say this as a compliment, but he was rape culture personified.  Through great chunks of the brothel scene my eyes kept straying from the merrymaking of the whores and their clients, to watch the interactions between him and Manon.  This was a real relationship, subtle and full of tension, a constantly-shifting unadmitted power struggle going on.  One got a very clear sense of what has happened to Manon in the last few weeks, and a real premonition of what might have happened in the succeeding months, if she hadn't taken another spur-of-the-moment gamble and tried to have it all.

I would have liked to see Miss Hamilton paired with a more emotionally responsive Des Grieux.  Matthew Golding certainly seems to be a strong, safe partner (& my god, you need one with some of the lifts in "Manon") but his acting was a bit one-dimensional for my tastes.  Mr Kish, a couple of weeks before, brought a low-key sincerity and an air of innocent, well-intentioned sweetness to this foolish young man; one watched his characterisation and thought "By gum, Des Grieux is an idiot" but one also felt for him desperately.  I didn't really feel for Mr Golding, and that's a pity. 

But by and large it was a tremendous performance.  As usual all the bit parts were beautifully done.  As usual Gary Avis acted his socks off.  And as usual Miss Hamilton left me stunned, by her wonderful dancing and her heartfelt dramatic instincts. 

The rest of my week has been busy at work and I am tending to flop at home.  I'm still very tired.  I've just been for a drink after work with the Press Office team, followed by pizza and salad 'cos it's Friday.  My internet connection at home seems to be okay tonight, after being distinctly off-colour lately.  And I have kitten-sitting duties this weekend.  So things aren't too bad at all, all things considered.  And now I am going to bed.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A day out, and enjoying the little things

Yesterday, for a change, instead of doing my grocery shopping, cleaning, running the washing machine, etc, as per any normal Saturday, I decided to take myself off for a day out.

That makes it sound rather momentous, which I suppose it isn't really.  But in an odd way it felt as though it was.  Life is short and sometimes hard, and at the moment there seem to be so many troubles and disasters in the world outside my own little life, most of which I am powerless to do anything about.  On Friday one of my colleagues quoted "Firefly" at me, and the knowledge that I'm working with a fellow-Browncoat made me grin for about the next hour.  Little moments like that can uplift a day, and sometimes, at times like these, one can simply miss them as they pass by.  I don't think it is hiding one's head in the sand, to want to see some good amid the gloom.  The pleasure those simple few words gave me outweighed quite a few rough moments during the working day, and it reminded me how seldom one indulges oneself to stop and look at the good things as they flash by.  I want to find things to give me hope and moments of pleasure, to counteract the knowledge of so much violence and cruelty, so much sickness and sadness.  To have those tiny flickers of satori, even if of the most simple and minor nature.  To say "Give me some happiness, give me some tiny epiphanies, as I slog through this week, this month, this year.  Let my life be about the journey, not the goal; let the journey not be devoid of good things, and let me have the time and the energy to notice them."

So I didn't do any of my duties, I was self-indulgent, and I enjoyed the simple things.  I had a lie-in with a book, and proper coffee and hot buttered toast for breakfast, and then a leisurely shower with some new smellies from Lush; and I went to the V&A.

Part of the Tube was out of action, so I took the bus to Hammersmith.  I sat on the top deck and watched autumn leaves go by, and people on the Chiswick High Road doing their shopping or having coffee out.  It had poured first thing, but by late morning it was bright and sunny, and all the cafes and restaurants seemed to be doing a roaring trade.  At Hammersmith I changed onto the Piccadilly Line and went through to South Ken, and went and had an early lunch at the Kensington Creperie.  My neighbours at the next table were French, and terribly Gallic with it, noisy and emphatic and talking with their hands, which certainly added to the ambience.  I had a savoury crepe with sundried tomatoes and olives and pesto and cheese, a glass of cold lager, and then (because I am a pig) a second crepe filled with cherry jam and dark chocolate chips.  At the other neighbour table were a group of students all eating dessert crepes and huge ice-creams, all of which they religiously photographed and tweeted before eating.  They weren't as talkative as the French group, but at one point I did hear one of them say "So are we going shopping or are we going to meet Lee at the Natural History Museum and help him pick up girls?"  The general consensus seemed to be for shopping.  I wondered why Lee needed help picking up girls in the NHM?  And is the NHM a pick-up shop? - have I been missing a trick?  I wonder which museum is the pick-up shop for forty-somethings?   

I walked up the road belching in a most unfeminine manner, and had an afternoon of Constable paintings, Indian sculptures and wonderful fashion.  No pick-ups in the V&A, just lots of food for the mind and the eyes.  The current Constable show has a lot of his little oil sketches, which are marvellous, and a lot of instances of a preparatory sketch, an oil sketch, a full-size study and a final painting, all shown side-by-side; fascinating.  There are also a lot of his copies from other artists, including a drawing he did when he was about 18 which is endearingly bad.  Even Jove nods, and even John Constable had to start somewhere.

I wandered after that through the big galleries of historic Indian arts and crafts and scultpures, and finished up in the fashion section.  It was too late by then to go round the special display of wedding dresses through the ages, so I just went on mooching.  There's something very satisfying about seeing perfect cutting and elegant styling in something like a suit or a coat; and of course the party dresses and cocktail outfits and so on are always gorgeous.  At the moment one of the 1940s cases has two Utility suits, one for a lady and one for a gentleman; it's salutary to realise how elegant, to modern eyes, this supposedly unflattering clothing seems.  I would have had a deal of trouble, in times of rationing, being a distinctly larger lady these days; just to make a neat knee-length Utility skirt for a big pair of hips like mine would need an extra half-yard compared to a "standard" size, and that would have meant saving up coupons a bit longer.  But when one tends to dress, as I do, like a parrot, with eclectic colours and patterns and styles thrown-on anyhow, it's fascinating to study the careful colour choices, precision of cutting, and clarity of line and silhouette of earlier fashions; and maybe I can learn something from them, too.

Then home, with very tired feet.  My new shoes (thank you, Hotter!) are wonderfully comfortable, but even in the best footgear Museum-foot strikes eventually.  So I finished off my indulgent day by eating a big bowl of noodles and an apple, writing up my diary, watching a little idle tv and having an early night.  I then slept for over ten hours.

It's no good pretending otherwise; I am tired.  This has been a stressful, draining year for me.  Over the next few months at work I need to get my head round the changes in my role, and in my spare time I need to focus on getting some rest, eating healthily, and doing things that make me feel happy rather than duties that make me feel harrassed and strapped for time.  And carry on with my writing, of course.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Encore une fois

...I am slightly tipsy again.

My excuse this time is the leaving do of another colleague I'm fond of; Amazing Hair Woman. Who is off to spend nine months in Baku organising some kind of massive arts festival.  It's a simply brilliant opportunity for her, but she will be missed.

Am going to try and exercise a bit of self-cntrol, anyway, and not ramble about any of my colleagues.

It's been a busy couple of days; my weekend already feels a long time ago.  I had a very domestic Saturday (cleaning, cooking, sewing, grocery shopping, honestly I'm a bloody paragon of Victorian virtues).  On Sunday I had a further list of useful sensible jobs to do; but it was such a beautiful day that I thought "The hell with this" and instead I went out and walked into Richmond along the Thames path.  I picked blackberries and took photos, and strolled in the sunshine, and when I got into Richmond I got fish and chips, which I ate out of the paper, sitting on the Green.  Then I bought some more groceries in the health food shop, and came home to cook my blackberries.  So I still got a bit of the domesticry crammed in.  But mostly it was a day of slow, peaceful strolling along the river.

It was the kind of perfect autumn day when the sky is clear brilliant blue and the Thames is silver, and it's warm but not too hot, and the leaves are just starting to turn.  The thorn trees were scarlet with haws and the air was full of the sound of robins whistling. 

It was late enough in the season that the berrying was quite thin pickings.  I had to walk slowly, searching with a steady gaze; half switched-off, half-meditation.  I could feel my mind emptying of all my worries and concerns, settling into a state of empty calm, at one with the yellow leaves, the cobwebs and silky heads of old-man's-beard, and the singing birds.  I strolled and gazed, and picked a berry here and there.  By the time I got to Richmond I had almost a pound, but I don't think there'll be any more to be had this year. 

I didn't see any sloes; but I've made damson gin this year (always assuming it turns out okay) so maybe I can manage without sloe gin as well.

But anyway, Amazing Hair Woman has gone the way of the Redhead and La Francaise and The Lovely Paul, on to fresh fields and pastures new, and I am sticking around.  I have work again tomorrow, so I had better stop daydreaming about how nice it was being out in the sunshine and the fresh air on Sunday, and put myself to bed. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

A busy couple of weeks

By gum, I am full of pizza.

Thank the Gods, it's Friday.

It's been a hectic couple of weeks and I am worn out.  I should have been on annual leave right now, and in Greece, for a fortnight; but things have worked out differently in the end and I'm here instead.

I hardly know where to begin.  There are things where I'm not sure how much it's okay for me to say.  I was interviewed for my job, and I've been told verbally how I did, but not officially in writing.  Some of my colleagues are in the same boat and others haven't been told yet, some of them because they've only just been interviewed.  In theory the new structure for our department is formally anounced next week; so I think I should probably do well not to talk about it until then.

The whole business of getting thus far has been horribly drawn-out.  Different departments started their restructure programmes at different times, and some aren't as advanced as ours.  I cannot wait for it all to be over, and I'm sure I am not the only person who feels that way.  I understand the need to do this, I even agree with it; but it's no less exhausting and depressing for that.

Meanwhile, I've had a good week in other ways.  I got some things done at work that I wanted to get done, wrote most of another chapter at home, of something that had got bogged-down, and had a couple of drinks with some colleagues tonight followed by a very self-indulgent pizza supper. The weather has been bright and cheerful too, and the first autumn colour is staring to gild the streets and the gardens, and the Gardens too.  The autumn festival, the Intoxication Season, is excellent, too, with some really good displays and a terrific programme of talks at the weekends.  The autumn theatre season starts next week for me, too, with "Manon" at Covent Garden with the DipGeek.  I am tired-out, but on balance it's been a good week, at least on a personal level (the international situation doesn't bear thinking about, but this is not a socio-political blog).

I think the worst thing that has happened to me was this morning, when I went to a colleague's baby shower and unexpectedly the chap I've been trying not-to-have the crush on walked in.  I was so taken aback I could hardly look at him at first.  Then there came a moment when he was nearby, taking some grapes from a dish, and I wanted to say something sensible and friendly, something that would signal that I just want to be friends; but my eye fell on his hands, as he stood there peacefully picking grapes from the bunch, and my idiotic brain was completely paralysed by the sight.  All I could think was damn-you-have-such-attractive-hands...  Nothing intelligent occured to me at all; nothing that was adult and friendly and devoid of embarrassing overtones.  I am hopeless.

I do accept, rationally, that he isn't interested in me in the way I am in him.  But my irrational hind-brain is rushing about in bearskins howling, it would seem.  Damn it, calm down, you.

Apparently his office is being moved, though; he's going to be in the same building as me soon.  So I will have plenty of opportunity to teach myself to be calm and adult and a good colleague, and not a mad hairy crazy cavewoman.  I vow to do better.  After all, good grief, I don't even know if he's gay or straight or any one of the myriad nuances in between.  It simply won't do to be cavewoman Ims, acting out and jangling my beads and waving my fancy flint hand-axe.  He's a nice man, he deserves better than that; and so do I.  Friendship's the thing.  That fing wot grown-ups do.  You can do this, Ims.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Tired and in reflective mood

A while since I wrote; life has been busy and work has been hectic. 

I'm pretty tired today.  I went down to Dorchester and back yesterday, to go to the wedding of two very dear friends in Tolpuddle. 

It was a lovely wedding, and because I was booked on a train home fairly early in the evening I was able to leave before the drinking got too serious or the crowd got too overwhelming.  I even got to have proper conversations with two interesting people (as well as the bride and groom, obviously!), which is quite satisfying for someone who looks at a mass of strangers at a social event and wants to run away. 

It seems that my long-term policy is paying off gradually, over the years; accepting that I am shy and that's my nature, and then finding things I can do, like have a chat to one person instead of trying to socialise with everyone.  I envy the sociable; all sorts of things in life must be easier for them.  But I am what I am and I too have my strengths. 

I remember the glory days of Playcraft and how much I enjoyed get-ins and get-outs, and after-production parties; I had no problem with those crowds, but that was working with people I knew, doing something we all loved, and making whoopie afterwards.  A party with a crowd of people almost none of whom I had ever met before was a different matter entirely.

There was a time I would have ended up backing out of going to my friends' wedding altogether, because of that.  But as I say, I have been working on this for a long time, this business of finding coping strategies for being an introvert.  And it is working; because instead of hating it, I'm genuinely glad I went. 

It was a lovely wedding.  The bride and groom were radiant, and very elegant.  The weather held fine, dry and warm and mostly sunny, the church and the reception venue were both lovely, and the wedding ceremony itself was touching, a nice blend of very traditional and some individual notes.  The flowers and other styled things all looked great.  There was a lot of very pleasant bubbly to drink, and plenty of olives, cherry toms and cheese straws to eat with the drinks.  I had to leave before the sit-down meal started, but I got a Cornish pastie for the train back, so I was okay.  It was nice.

My other big bit of news is that I have an interview on Tuesday for the new role that my current one is metamorphosing into.  The job is actually changing in exactly the way I would have liked it to, if I'd been able to cherry-pick the things I'd like to do more of.  So I do hope that interview goes well!  The restructure at work is slowly beginning to get sorted out, at least in our section.  It's a protracted business, though.  Some departments have only just begun on the consultation stage.  But, as I was trying to explain to another friend a few days ago, it's surely better in the long term for this to get a bit dragged-out, but be done properly, or at least as well as it can be, than for it to be rushed, and possibly bodged, because the people at the top making the decisions are scared of missing deadlines they themselves set.  Whatever happens, in a situation like this, junior people like me are going to feel scared and uncertain.  At least this way we can have some hope that the final result will achieve some useful goals.

In the meantime life and work go on, steadily, and it's good to have plenty to keep busy with.  I've just acquired a nice task, drafting text for a new leaflet and searching out a range of possible illustrations.  Just the kind of thing I love doing.

There's been one piece of really awful news, though.  A colleague from the Jodrell lab, a gifted scientist who was highly respected in his field and much-liked at work, has died very suddenly.  Nigel was a lovely bloke, and I'm so grieved for his poor family.  He used to run our Christmas choir.  It just won't be the same without his enthusiasm at rehearsals, and his very beautiful voice in the final carol service. 

I've seldom met anyone who had such a talent for helping people find the music in themselves and bring it out.  A lot of very musical people are downright snotty about the well-meaning amateur singer with the strong but not-very-good singing voice (i.e. the likes of me).  Nigel was tirelessly encouraging, and never, ever, sniffy; he always found something good to say, even if it was only "You've got all the words right!"
I wish I'd told him how much he helped me feel better about my rather odd voice, simply by helping me try, and not blenching at the initial sound as others have done.  Now I'll never be able to do that.   I'm sad to remember the inner prompting in me that told me not to talk to him because he couldn't possibly be interested in anything I had to say.  What a shitty little inner prompting that was.  Doesn't everyone like to be thanked for their help? 

It's really very stupid, and in a strange way almost selfish, to refuse to thank someone for their kindness or their support, on the grounds that they wouldn't demean themself to pay attention.  It's hiding one's own sense of inadequacy behind an assumption of arrogance on the other person's part; and I don't believe Nigel was ever arrogant, so how stupid and how mean to have behaved as if he was, merely out of cowardice.

I say to myself, wake up, woman!  Life is ephemeral!  It is fragile and very short, and can be cut-off still shorter without any warning.  So befriend those you want to know better, love those that you love, and don't be ashamed.  Be good to yourself and to others, and be kind, in memory of the kindness of those now gone.  Live well and embrace life; embrace all things.  If an inner prompting tells you "Don't!  You mustn't!" about doing anything that is in essence good, then question that inner prompting closely, and be prepared to ignore it, no matter how scary that feels.  Don't shut yourself away inside with your private fear and pain and let them grow until they use up all the oxygen.  Seek happiness; and open the doors, and live in the world. 

I think of the chap I like; of the crush that has now settled to manageable proportions again.  I think of how interesting he is, and how ridiculous it is that having a crush has led me to hide from him and not to seek his friendship, although he's someone well worth knowing.  I want to go to him and say "I'm so sorry if this is embarrassing.  But I wish I could get to know you better.  You're interesting and I like the way your mind works; I appreciate knowing you so much.  I'd like very much to be friends."

But I'm not going to be able to do any such thing!  That's going way beyond thanking someone for their help.  It's just not done to say something that could be so embarrassing to the other party.

So much for that challenge of working on my shyness.  So much for opening the doors and living in the world.  I want to reach out; but I just haven't got the guts.

I'm tired.  Maybe it will seem better in the morning. 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Epic fail, plus sewing projects

I've been pretty busy at work this week, and this afternoon I managed to lash something up on Outlook.  I'd had a personal email I wanted to answer, from one of my best friends; I dashed off a quick reply and sent it; and it bounced.  No idea why (computers are weird).

So, irritably, as I was trying not to take extra time over it, I went >select all > copy all > new email > paste, entered the first two letters of the intended recipient's name into the "To" box and clicked enter as her name came up, and sent it.  Only to see, next moment, that I had sent it to the wrong person.  Said best friend's name begins with the same two letters as a colleague at work's name.  I email her a lot (because best friends, yup?); but I also email him a lot (because colleague of vital importance).  It turns out they are running neck-and-neck in my contacts list for that initial.

I tried to recall the email, but in the thirty seconds or so when I was still sitting frozen, staring at my screen and thinking "No... no... noo" he had already opened it.  "Recall email" doesn't work once the email has been opened.  Oh sh*t.

Scream at computer.  Write hasty grovelling & embarrassed apology.  Cross all available digits and wait.

I imagine he was still reading, and thinking "I don't need to know this, and my mother is not being a goose about my wedding - my wedding?!? - and why would I need lace and jam jars?" and contemplating how to tell me I'd cocked up, when he got the apology.  He was, of course, a complete gentleman about it, so it isn't an absolute disaster. 

But it is utterly mortifying to do something so bloody stupid; and if I can do it once, I could do it again.  And I could do it in far worse ways.  It's really shaken my self-esteem to make such an idiotic mistake, just because I'm tired and stressed and trying to do something in a hurry.  I thought I was an efficient, professional person who didn't balls things up.  Ha-bloody-ha, so much for that idea.

I suppose it is good for one, to be reminded that one is just as capable of making a really imbecilic mistake as anybody else.  If even Jove nods, then common-or-garden mortal Ims is bound to, and it's a kind of mild hubris to think I can't.

I still wanted to weep for a while afterwards, though.  Epic bloody fail, woman.  Epic.

I came home, ate felafels, felt disconsolate and incompetant, and watched "Great British Bake-Off", which is schadenfreude of the first water in such situations.

I've been trying to cheer myself up, since then, by getting on with some of my sewing.  I bought a dress in the sales for £11; when I tried it on in the shop it was one of those garments that don't quite work, but I could see it had the potential to be something rather smart, with a little help.  So I bought it anyway, and am adjusting it.  I've taken off the sleeves and taken out the zip, and I'm refitting the waistline and the bust darts, and turning the edges of the shoulders under to make it sleeveless.  It's a really unusual fabric, a screen-printed design in grey with green orchids.  I think it's going to be rather snazzy when I finish.

I'm also engaged on cannibalising two other old dresses to make a third; when finished this will have a rather 1920's cut with no waist at all, cap sleeves and a harlequin-patchwork panel down the front.  And I'm converting a black evening dress into an evening top as a present for the DipGeek.  Lots of sewing, then; and when I turn out my winter things I'll probably find more jobs there, too.  I don't have a sewing machine, so this is all hand work.  Luckily  I find needlework very relaxing of an evening.  I feel much better now.  I've almost got over the email fiasco >whimper<

Friday, 22 August 2014

Letter to Boots; latest developments (plus a sad goodbye)

I had an email reply from Boots The Chemists' customer service team. It came quickly, it was courteous, and it didn't contain any spelling errors or dodgy grammar.  So far, so good.  I was told that they were sorry I'd been having trouble finding the product I wanted, but not to worry, because it hasn't been discontinued.  Again, so far so good. 

Instead, they've been making some "changes and improvments" to it.

Ah.  Now that could be a good thing or a disaster, depending on what the changes are, and whether they really are improvements or not.

They gave me the correct product code, which should help, and said any Boots staff member should be able to assist me when I next want to find it.

Well, at the moment I still have a supply, thanks to my display of embarrassing hoarding-for-the-rainy-season behaviour in Hammersmith.  When that runs low, I will take this product code and go to look for these "changed and improved" sage capsules.  And I hope I find them.  And - since apparently "It's a good product, let's not mess around with it" is seemingly not the way business works - I hope I will find that they are improved. 

Good customer service, though, Boots. Fast and efficient.  10 out of 10 for that. 

Otherwise, it's been quite a busy week at work, and I've been doing some sewing in my lunch breaks and some writing in the evenings.  Then yesterday evening was Farewell Cake, followed by leaving drinks at a local pub, for the Redhead, one of my favourite colleagues.  She's going on to what is, for her, a dream job, so I can't begrudge her departure.  But I'm going to miss her; she's been a delight to work with.

It was a good evening in the pub, anyway.  Sometimes I sit at these things silently nursing a half of cider and feeling as superfluous as a spider's ninth limb.  This time there was a lively group and lots of people I get along with were there.  I ended up having a long intense talk about the theatre and what a great thing it is, with two people I like very much, my boss Daryl and the lovely Mr Dapper, the Man With The Answers.  It was good to get Mr Dapper, who is normally quite a quiet chap, into a proper conversation; and a couple of gin-&-tonics helped me to feel less crucifyingly shy talking to him.  He may be quiet but he's a very interesting man.  All silly crushes aside, I do enjoy his company and conversation; that kind of quiet, measured intelligence is worth its weight in gold. 

Then I had a catch-up with my previous boss, dear Paul, who seems to be busy as very 'eck but thriving on it.  Then some more frivolous conversations about random things, ending up with us going back to theatrical subjects and comparing notes on "my strange roles in school plays" - a tree, a hamster, a rock, a rose-seller, one of Emperor Ming's harem...  Sadly by this time Mr Dapper had left; I suspect he may have played the odd tree or hamster in his time.  The Redhead had got rather squiffy by the time I left, and I gathered this morning that she'd not got home till pretty late.  But she still came in to work today and spent all day writing up handover notes and training people on covering her role.  Good woman.  She leaves a gap.

Bank Holiday weekend now, anyway.  Have a good one, everyone!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

An open letter to Boots The Chemists, or A Cry In The Wilderness...

...because believe you me, the perimenopause is a wilderness.

Last December, in the weeks after that nasty bout of gastroenteritis, I began to be woken in the night by my body temperature suddenly soaring.  The first two or three times this happened I thought I was having some sort of feverish nausea flare-up.  I would stagger to the bathroom and crouch there expecting to throw up any minute.  Of course, it was nothing of the kind.  It was the long-dreaded development of another of the major symptoms of the run-up to the menopause; night sweats (I was already getting hot flushes, but finding them less hellish than I'd been led to expect - unpleasant, but quick to pass and hence manageable most of the time).

By mid-January, I was being woken an average of six times a night, running in sweat and boiling as if in a high fever.  I don't know why it started then, whether the gastroenteritis had triggered something, but there I was, sweating like a dog, throwing off my bedcovers and then having to wait until I had cooled enough to wipe myself down and try to get back to sleep.  Basically, from mid-December onwards I did not have a single uninterrupted night's sleep.  I was functioning on about four hours instead of seven to eight..

I don't believe in sitting and bewailing your lot and not trying to do anything about it, so I started trying various herbal remedies.  Red clover had no effect on my symptoms, black cohosh made me nauseous; and then I discovered sage.  Specifically, after working through the three brands on the market, Boots own label sage leaf capsules.  Their effects were little short of miraculous.

I'm not asking the menopause to not happen, I know I have to go through this experience (unless I get hit by a bus, which I'd prefer not to have happen).  I just wanted not to be woken multiple times every night.  Work was already busy and stressful enough without this.  Battling on, on around half the amount of sleep you need, gradually frays the nerves and saps the stamina, and leaves one increasingly desperate in the face of every minor difficulty.  I had begun to wonder if I could survive several years of this.

Within three days of starting to take the sage capsules I had my first good night's sleep in four months.

It got better.  Not only did my system settle into giving me only very mild night sweats, with the ones bad enough to wake me happening about once a week instead of repeatedly every single night; on top of that, my hot flushes got easier too.  They went from "nasty but bearable-I-guess" to "mildly irritating".  And with improved sleep I found my moods improved, which in turn made everything more manageable. 

Work remained hectic and stressful, and there were other troubles on my plate, in particular the horrible business of having to flatshare-hunt and move in June.  But gradually, slowly slowly, I began to cope with things better, and all because I was getting enough sleep; all because of this little capsule with the musty aftertaste that I was taking twice a day.  It felt as though I had got my life back.  I got moved, I got settled-in, I kept my head above water at work, I began to see friends and to have enough energy to do simple things like going to the flicks at the weekend or having a walk in my lunch break.  I could imagine a future in which I coped with things and didn't feel at my wits' end the entire time.

In short, I felt human again.  I felt normal, healthy, and like myself.   

But then, a few weeks ago I began finding Boots branches didn't have it in stock anymore.  The label had vanished from the shelf in each store, as well.  When I asked members of staff for help they were pleasant and friendly but knew nothing, and none of them could tell me what was happening.  When I found my sage capsules one weekend in Hammersmith I panic-bought the last boxes they had in stock, several months' supply.  But yesterday, finally, I spoke to a member of Boots' staff who was prepared to commit himself: "If it isn't on the shelf and it isn't showing up on, it's been discontinued".

I want to scream; other brands are more expensive and less effective (I've tried both the other brands I can find, H&B and Vogel).  It felt as though Boots had saved my life; and now it feels as though they've taken it away again. 

Please, Boots The Chemist, listen to this one despairing perimenopausal voice!  Boots, why would you do this to me? - why would you do this to all of the women using that particular product? 

If you've ever had to struggle on, trying to get on with a normal life for day after day on an inadequate amount of sleep - & I know that anyone who's had children knows what this feels like, for starters - you will know how tremendously difficult it is over time.  The smallest challenge becomes a horror, and real pressure is an out-and-out nightmare.  The most trivial things start to feel overwhelming, like a job being postponed, a friend bugging you to do something, a kindly rebuff...

I look back on the person I was becoming, in February and March and April, withdrawn and ill-tempered and on the verge of tears much of the time; I think of what a pain in the neck I must have been to my friends, to my family, and especially to my poor patient colleagues who had to deal with this frazzled hag on a daily basis; and the thought of going back there makes me want to weep.  Please, please, don't do this to me!

This is not a product one would buy once as a treat and then not get again; it isn't a nail varnish or something.  The perimenopause lasts several years on average, and if one finds a product that will help with the symptoms, one is going to buy and use that product loyally throughout that time.  I would potentially have spent £18 a month in my local Boots branch, for the next two or three years minimum.  And I can't be the only one.

I'm not a powerful voice in the blogosphere, I know, and I'm not calling for a boycott or anything, anyway.  I've written to their customer services to plead for a change of heart.  And I am repeating that plea here.  Please, Boots, bring back my sage!  Let my friends and colleagues and family know a sane woman who isn't hiding and crying and close to despair all the time.  And let me keep this simple, humble, blessed benefit of getting a night's sleep!!! 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

SF and the deeper layers

I've been thinking about Science Fiction.  As you do.  Specifically about just what tremendous fun "Guardians of the Galaxy" was.  I've found myself, since then, trying to figure out why it worked so well, given that a lot of the ingredients had the potential to be solid cheese (ugh, bad metaphor there, sorry!). 

It's partly the fact that I confess I went along with not-very-high expectations.  I don't normally read comic books, and haven't done since I was about ten.  So I had no idea who Star Lord, Gamora et al are, and no investment whatsoever in what happened to them.  I'd seen one trailer that made the whole thing look like standard loud, entertaining, switch-off-your-brain twaddle in the vein of "Transformers" or "Godzilla".  It sounded good fun, though, and I love my SF, so I was happy to go when the DipGeek suggested it.

And of course it's got a good deal more going for it than any "Tranformers" movie ever made.

Should I say "spoiler alert!" at this point, I wonder?  Surely anyone who reads this blog knows I love my SF; surely if you do too, you will have gone to see this cracking film by now.  But if you haven't yet, be aware that this is not a spoiler-free zone.

GotG does have some weaknesses; notably, the two female characters are distinctly short-changed in terms of character development.  I spent quite a while waiting for the moment we'd discover Gamora was double-crossing everyone; only to find she wasn't.  She really had decided to turn spontaneously into a goodie after around five minutes' screen time.  There wasn't really much nuance, much less background story, to her decision that working for a would-be genocidal murderer wasn't to her liking or her conscience.  I mean, it's an understandable decision; but one still likes to have the backstory even so.  She came off better than her adopted sister Nebula, though, who literally has nothing to do but pout and growl, before going headlong into her one spectacular fight scene. 

As a woman, of course, I know I ought to be too-much enraged by this to accord the film's good points my attention.  But said good points were legion; and although it was done a little hastily, Gamora was given a chance to be more than a high-kickin' cliche Strong Woman, too.  She had self-confidence and a sense of humour, moments of anger and confusion, and a generosity to the other characters that was shown to spring from comradeship rather than romantic interest in anyone.  This is all progress.  Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is equal representation.

Speaking of progress, I loved the way Peter Quill was treated as easily as much eye-candy for the audience as Gamora was.  Yea!  It turns out Chris Pratt strips rather well.  You'll find no objections here to a little gender equality in the objectification stakes.

But more importantly than all this trivia, I've been wondering about why it is that the Marvel films get it right, when so much good-fun SF doesn't.  Good-fun SF is good fun - and I like my good fun; but sometimes it's a genre that can go so much deeper than fun.

I think part of it is the fact they take themselves seriously, but in a very specific way.  There's no pretence that the themes are serious; we aren't meant to be getting seriously worked up about the possibility of an invasion of Dark Elves or Chitauri.  It's just an action plot.  There's no assumption that the characters need to be serious and po-faced about things, either, indeed far from it.  There are plenty of jokes, and the characters are treated lightly.  They're allowed to have a sense of humour and to laugh at one another and themselves.  But the humour isn't shoe-horned in; it derives from who these people are and how they relate to one another and to their world.  In other words, it's like a lot of the humour in my life and yours, which makes it real and grounding, instead of an irritating phony fiction trope - "Oh, in this kind of story the characters always make one-liners, so ours must too".  Things are witty and sparklingly light, but not camped up, and the humour is not played as the scriptwriters tongue-in-cheek laughing at the audience and at themselves for pandering to them, but as a recognisable part of the behaviour of real people.

There are plenty too of what I understand are known as Easter Eggs - which, bear in mind, would be called "prefigurings" and "motifs" if we were in the land of Literary Fiction (& that leads me to another thing I get exercised over, namely the cultural snobbery of dismissing certain genres, like SF, as being inherently of lesser worth than certain other genres like LitFic, when they are nothing of the bloody kind, even while holding to a doctrine of cultural relativism and "no such thing as high and low art"; but I'll leave that for now, since I'm trying not to ramble here).  Existing fans will pick up on these prefigurings and inside-jokes straight-away, and will know all their subtle possibilities, but newbies like me can still get plenty from them too, because they're always introduced with a certain care.

I think that care is part of the secret.  Marvel take care.  They appear genuinely to love their material.  They choose their scriptwriters and directors with care, they obviously put an enormous amount of spadework into getting perfect casting, and they take care of their stories.  They seem to want to please both the new fans and the long-standing ones, and to be prepared to put in some effort to try and achieve this.

And on the seriousness front, they're prepared to take the risk of going beyond the thinness of a quick-and-easy comic-book characterisation, and drawing on something rather deeper.  Look at the Marvel heroes who've popped up so far in the MCU; there's a strange resonance to their activities and emotions.  They're like Wagner's characters or those of Tolkein; they are like fairy-tale characters and biblical characters and the characters we meet in our night-time dreams.  They're archtypes, or blends of them.

We've got the True Hero, the Reluctant Hero, the Wounded Hero, the Seeker Hero and so on.  We've got the Right-Hand-Man, we've got the Outsider.  We have Brothers Who Are Eternal Enemies, who are also the Trickster and the Honest Man.  We have the Warrior Woman and the Wise Woman and the Fallen Woman Redeeming Herself (one could easily see Natasha Romanoff as a Brunnhilde/Kundry fusion, for example).  We've got some Fallen Heroes, trying to redeem themselves, too.  We even have Sleeping Beauty, for goodness sakes', in fact we've got a couple of them - and Sleeping Beauty No 1 is also the Wounded Hero, and Sleeping Beauty No 2 is both the Wounded Hero and the Fallen Hero. 

And then this morning I open facebook and find that DipGeek has sent me a link to a fascinating article pointing out another interesting resonance to the films of the MCU, and especially GotG.  You can find said article here; it's well worth a read, and I agree with the author (and not just on the fact that "Firefly" is some of the best SF ever).

The other main thing that has been going on here this morning was rain, and plenty of it.  That's now eased off, and been replaced by wind, and plenty of that.  So I'm just going to get myself a cup of tea and a bite of lunch, and then I shall spend the rest of this afternoon writing.  I have, as usual, a string of half-finished projects.  I want to make some headway, and I've picked one to try and finish, so I'm going to work on the western.

Enjoy the rest of Sunday, wherever you are!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Whole lot of random goin' on

I got in tonight after a hot busy and frustrating day at work - which is better than a hot boring frustrating day, don't get me wrong here - but oh, it was a maddening day!  Something I have been waiting ages for is proving painfully difficult to achieve, and it's setting me more and more behind in my own job with each passing day.  I sent the person who has it even worse than me a marvellous picture of a dreadnought (HMS Agamemnon, 1915, to be precise) as consolation, but I doubt if it made much difference to him.  I'm the one turned-on by Edwardian battleships, not him (I blame my brothers).  But anyway, the day wound to an inconclusive end eventually, and I picked up my bag and came home.

Poured myself a large G&T and cooked supper.  Logged on to facebook and found a bizarre collection of glorious holiday snaps and horror stories.  Eeech, what a world.  I want more of the happy and the Cornish sunshine, and less of the grief and struggle.  Not just for myself but for all of you.

That's probably the gin talking; apologies if so.

I found a bunch of theatre tickets had arrived in the post today; yippee, ballet galore.  The opera ones are yet to come, likewise theatre and concerts.  But the ballet tickets are one major element in place now.

I'm preparing for my autumn, you see.  One can feel the first nudge of it in the air, mornings, and the first scent of it too, musty and fungal and sweet, as though someone had devised a new kind of incense made of rot.  Come autumn, I need a full programme of Kulchah to keep me going through the cold dark days of winter.  Though I will hope to go away somewhere for my birthday (& to do it successfully this year instead of being spectacularly & messily ill as I was last year). 

Supper was a good one.  Last Friday when I had the chance to enjoy that rather spiffing & classy afternoon tea with my colleagues, one of the things I was chatting about with a certain very lovely chap was the question of whether or not one could take home the unused sandwiches in a doggy-bag and make a kind of savoury bread-and-butter pudding with them; slice them into a baking dish, soak in egg + milk, and bake.  We agreed it would probably work.  I realised afterwards that I was thinking of strata, which I remember having on holiday in Italy at some point, and which is pretty much exactly that, but with a rather more select choice of fillings (i.e. crab and prawns and buttery onions, not ham and cucumber and egg-&-cress and salmon).  I forgot to ask for my doggy bag, anyway; but ever since I have been thinking at intervals of the singular deliciousness that is egg and bread cooked together; strata, eggy bread, egg-in-a-basket, bread omelette, bread pudding, croque monsieur, croque madame...

So tonight I made myself a kind of Greek-inflected cousin of these; Croque Kyrie, I suppose I could call it.  Delicious, dead easy, and I imagine it would also work well with the splendid substance that is Genius Bread, for my coeliac friends.

Went down very well with the G&T, too.

For each person, you will need:
2 slices off a sandwich loaf
2 eggs
some feta cheese
olive oil
a tomato

Beat the eggs thoroughly with some pepper and pour over the sliced bread in a flat dish.  Leave to soak for half an hour minimum.  Sandwich two slices of the soggy eggy bread with a thinnish slice of feta cheese and press down hard.  Yes, you will get eggy fingers.  Tough.  Wash your hands.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a frying pan; get it good and hot to start with.  Pick up your gooey eggy cheese sarnie and slip it into the hot oil.  Fry for five minutes on a fairly high heat, then turn the heat down to pretty low and turn the sandwich over carefully with a spatula.  Continue cooking on the other side.  Turn again after a while.  Turn it two or three times altogether; gently does it each time.  The idea is never to let it burn but to get all the egg cooked and the cheese all melted and delish.  Part of the way thru', put in the halved tomato, skin side down, beside the sandwich, and fry that as well.  Ideally you want to get the tomato just slightly blackened on the skin and volcanically hot inside.  Serve hot, with some olives for an additional punch of flavour.

Incidentally, this would make very good hot canapes if you cut it into 1 inch squares.

After that I watched the cricket highlights from Old Trafford.  YEAH.  OKAY.

Not only are England doing okay in the test match but it's been a good week culturally as well.  Last Thursday I went to see "Guardians of the Galaxy", which is rollicking good stuff, thoroughly exciting, almost unnaturally well-cast (a Marvel speciality, this) and looks fantastic as well.  Last weekend I went to a wonderful show at Dulwich Picture Gallery, "Art and Life", with some stunning pieces by Winifred Nicolson, one of my heroine artists.  I've also seen "The Immigrant" recently on dvd; that looks tremendous, too, and it's brilliant as well - but heart-breakingly sad.  And finally I've been getting on with some sewing and I've written about 4,000 words on the western story.  Add in that excellent posh tea as well and it's not been a bad seven days.

And since I haven't seen the crush since then, except briefly in the distance, I am getting over the hiccough of seeing him last Friday, too.  Bless him, dear man.  I am determined to put this behind me.  I really don't want to cause him a problem (he's a very nice chap & I'd hate it if I did) so this is just as well, really.  I vow to let it go.  I will let it go.  I will.  I swear.  Or at least, the gin swears.  Gin is much given to that, after all.

And tomorrow is Friday again.  Good grief, where do the weeks go?

Sunday, 3 August 2014


(I had a very nice Posh Afternoon Tea on Friday with some colleagues.  Good tea; I had an excellent Darjeeling, a lovely clean clear taste, and no-one bugged me about my not having milk with it, hurrah! (why spoil decent tea with milk?).  Also good sandwiches - especially the smoked salmon and the cucumber with capers - good scones, some very good cakes, even a glass of Prosecco to finish off with.  Lovely.  But oh, my heart; the chap I have a wee crush on was there.  I know I'm being silly; it's always good to see him, even now when I know he's not free.  He's an intelligent, articulate, interesting man with an immensely likeable sense of humour.  I enjoyed having the chance to chat a little and to get to know him just a scrap more outside of work-based conversations.  But because I'm not yet over the crush, I find I'm still painfully shy around him.  I wrote this afterwards.)


Let no-one say
That shyness is a blessing
Or an attractive thing.
Shyness is a cord around my throat
A tremor in a healthy hand
A blind spot in the vision
An earthquake in the stomach.
Let no-one say it's charming
Who has not felt
That nausea of dread
At being among
Strangers, or friends.
Or seeing that chap you like
Pass by, when you've not
Had a chance to prepare
Anything at all to say.

Shyness is a fever
With no external symptoms,
Shyness is a wound
With no external scars.
The shaking hands,
The quaking heart;
Shyness is me psyching myself up
To go into that room
Full of my friends;
Losing a little more hope, each time
I see you pass by;
And never having
Anything at all to say.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A good weekend (just briefly)

I have had a good and a constructive Saturday, and a slightly less constructive Sunday. 

Saturday, I ran the washing machine, had croissants, nectarines and decent coffee for breakfast, did some random shopping, had lunch out, did some more sorting and tidying at home, cleaned the bathroom, had a nice cool shower and a good supper, watched "Serenity" and went to bed.

Today I completely failed to do a software-related thing online that involves knowing what you are doing and what software you're running.  I am a pig-ignorant hick and know neither, so I got nowhere.  Then I had a long depressing telephone conversation with my mother, who is having some very unpleasant leg problems, and after a late lunch came a somewhat better afternoon.  I stuck my creative cap on and hauled it down firmly over my ears, and got some writing done.  Not very much (maybe 1500 words in the end) but that's a lot more than nowt.  I also mucked about on tumblr and facebook and looked through Fantastic Mrs Fox's lovely photos of the Chap Olympiad (which looks a lot more fun than the real thing, I must say).  And now I'm off to bed again. 


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Not some enchanted evening

It’s the afternoon, and 
It’s a quiet moment, and
Your eyes meet
Just for an instant,
Then you both look away.
It’s that moment, across
A crowded room
That leaves you
Why did I look away? - and
Why did you?

Monday, 7 July 2014

Just quickly

I'm moved (oof), I'm a good way towards being unpacked (OOF) and I now, with a little help, have internet access at home again.  Hurrah, I progress.  I'm pretty tired, mind you; but I progress.