Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Things going swimmingly...

Not been on here for a while - busy busy busy, away in The Toon, and feeling generally uninspired as to what to write about. Not sure I'll put that on my CV when it comes to my aspirations to best selling author-dom, but hey it's true!

My last post inspired quite a few comments - thanks to those who posted on here, on Facebook, or sent me an email. I really enjoy the feedback so please don't be shy. And don't be guilty either - I definitely wasn't saying that electronic communication is bad, or even a poor substitute for the face to face kind. It's an added extra that many of us are grateful for and couldn't imagine being without nowadays.

My post was prompted by and more concerned with the mystery of not always knowing when you are seeing someone for the last time, and how so often it is times of sadness that force us to renew contact. Family funerals are the obvious example - all those aunts and uncles, distant cousins, and promises to meet up again "another time, let's not leave it so long..."

I was pondering this on the tube today - as you do - when I found myself glancing over someone's shoulder at an ad in Metro. If I'm honest I can't quite remember what the ad was for - but I do clearly remember it showed a group of swimmers. Swimming in lanes in a swimming pool. A whole load of thoughts crowded into my brain and I missed Waterloo Station in the rush to find a pen and make some notes. Fortunately I was getting off at Southwark today ;-)

So what profound offering do I have to share? It goes something like this...

Before my surgery I used to swim. Proper swim - like 50 lengths at a time, a couple of times a week at one point, swimming swimathons, raising loads of money, keeping fit and loving it.

Except it could be quite lonely at times - and the picture in the metro brought back memories of hacking up and down the lanes, counting strokes, lengths, fit guys (ahem...), to pass the time till the hot shower. I took stroke improvement lessons, learnt to breathe properly, bought goggles, a swim hat, speedo swimsuit - things got pretty serious.

How different it was from my experience of swimming as a child and young person. Back in the day you'd jump in without noticing the chill, splash around with your friends, pick up tips from others who could swim better and learn to breathe from being dunked. I learned to dive by copying someone who knew how to do it, as we whiled away many a happy afternoon in the pool, not in the least bit bothered by the time or the cold or promises of hot chocolate.

Crazy how comparisons can hit you at times - maybe it's me that's crazy but if so I blame my brain. Whatever it is I was suddenly struck by how for me this sums up a lot of life today. Many of us are oh so busy ploughing our lonesome furrow, counting the hours, days, weeks till the next treat be it the weekend, a holiday or just an evening out. If we need to learn a new skill or how to do things better we seek out professional advice, take lessons, search online. Google is our friend.

Sure this makes us efficient. We use time well, multi-task, upskill. But what do we lose in the process? The joy of living in the moment maybe? Learning from friends who've been there, done that. Messing around, having fun, enjoying a laugh.

Of course we do still learn from friends - we have mentoring schemes. We live in the present - after we've been on a course or attended a seminar on how to. We mess around and enjoy a laugh - the comedy night or drinks in the pub are in the diary (but if we're honest maybe we're going 'cos we feel we ought to - actually we're so tired an evening on the sofa in front of reality TV is way too tempting).

Yesterday - even before I saw that advert and thought about all of this - I was on the brink of closing down all my social networking accounts and taking a hammer to my hard drive. The frustration of email "outage", the news that even when I am logged out Facebook's cookies are tracking my every move, the annoyance you feel when you need something from someone and they don't respond. A whole new power game - or shift - that never existed in the days when we splashed around with our colleagues in the typing pool.

I can pretty much guarantee some of you reading this reckon I am a dinosaur. But I'm not sure that matters to me any more. Perhaps that comes with being sufficiently aware of the benefits and pitfalls of SNS to see them like any other tool - useful but dispensable. We proved that last week and frustrating as it was we got by - even talked to each other ;-)

There are evenings when I sit and check my email, Facebook account(s), Twitter, Google Plus and texts. I don't always have time to reply to - or even read - all the messages. I'm engaged and entertained to a certain extent but often miss that programme I meant to watch, don't get around to that job I meant to do, that call I meant to make. Or I find myself going to bed wishing I'd read another chapter of the book I am currently enjoying. Sometimes I can't sleep - my brain won't switch off and it's impossible to relax. I never felt like that when I'd spent an evening at the pool. Even if I had swum my 50 lengths on my own.

Whilst I've been writing this TweetDeck has alerted me to perhaps 80 new messages. Each one of them interesting, valuable. A communication from someone known to me whose opinion I value. I've also had several emails and carried on a text communication with my mum! I've not checked Facebook but can pretty much guarantee there will be a dozen status updates since I last logged on! I don't know what to say to that - it just feels like communication overload.

This post has been too long and there is more to say but time to leave it for tonight - need to switch off and get back to Jane Eyre ;-)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Friendship and Gary Barlow

The email system in the office is still down. Obviously there is work we can do - meetings to attend, reports to read - and write, phone calls to make and of course the ubiquitous desk tidying. Paperless office? I don't think so quite yet.

Working from home it's slightly more problematic so having pretty much cleared today's priorities I reckon it might be time to take a few hours flexi. The shops are open, tea and scones are calling, but before then there's time to blog.

So - friendship. Been thinking a bit about this lately and in particular a quote from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet

"And let your best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also."

Years ago a dear friend gave me a copy of the book, with this inscribed inside it. I'm so sad we are no longer in touch as he shared a very low ebb and I'd have loved to share the floods with him over the years. Perhaps by the miracle of the internet he'll find this and get in touch - I am sure you know who you are!

I can't remember the last time I spoke to him. We definitely didn't say goodbye. I don't suppose either of us knew that our last meeting would be the last meeting for what is now thirty years. If we had known then what might we have said to each other?

Think back to your last day at school, at college, when you left a job. All those "not going to say goodbye" conversations and nowadays "we'll keep in touch - see you on facebook".

Years ago of course there was no such option. It came down to a phone number and a house address. Someone moved, you didn't hear or lost the details and that was that. If you felt brave enough you might phone their mum - in those days you seemed to know your friends' mums as a matter of course - but so often time slipped by and the friend became someone you used to know.

Going back to that quote now, over the past couple of years life has again been at a pretty low ebb and I've shared a lot of that with my friends. I'm grateful for people's time, attention, love, care, support. Now that I can feel the tide coming in again I'd like to do the same but how to do that?

Hospital visiting can be harrowing - for the patient and the visitors. Of course when someone is unwell our instinct is to want to go and offer support and company. But I'd like to start a campaign for Well visiting - though I don't see that particular name catching on.

Lately I've thought about dropping in on friends just for an hour, for a chat, for a cuppa. But each time I find myself thinking "they'll be busy, the time won't be convenient, they'll be at work, making dinner, bathing the kids, watching TV...." I might text or FB instead but what if we didn't have the technology that enables us to do that? We tell ourselves it's a good thing - we can keep in touch so easily - but isn't it touch without the touch?

Think back for a moment over your friendship group - are there those that you haven't physically seen for many months or years? The last time you saw them did you realise it would be so long?

I'm going to explore this a bit more later - I've heard it said that for many people friends are the new family. If that is the case how does friendship work, who are our friends and how do we manage the plethora of friends that social and job mobility bring into our twenty first century lives? If life were Google Plus who'd be in which circle?

For now I need to move on - and of course Gary is there in the title. (Not just because hits on here have dipped and I know he'll attract some attention...) But because he's one of my dinner party guests and I'm starting to think what I might ask him to kick start the conversation as I introduce him to the others. The general consensus from a straw poll seems to be he's undergone something of a transformation from being the chubby one in Take That to the Elder Statesman of pop music - and that he is seriously hot. Agree? Disagree? Post your comments and what you'd like to ask him!

But for now - to friends old and new - if we've not spoken for a while I'd love to see you, let's make it happen!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Dinner Party!

Saturday night and yet again we've been enticed into ITV's televisual offering. Under the guise of the X Factor a parade of hopefuls have appeared on stage and screen, hoping for their fifteen minutes - or perhaps their lifetime - of fame.

I do find it entertaining - no question about that. Sure the music doesn't showcase new songwriters but I quite enjoy the covers. Every now and again a song will bring out those goosebumps and you realise just how gifted someone is.

What I don't like is the way in which some make it to perform in front of the judges even though they are clearly not gifted or talented. Not sure how many people know this but there are several rounds of auditions before you actually get to appear in front of Gary, Kelly, Louis and Tulisa. I know as I met someone who made it to Bootcamp.

So why do the people behind the scenes allow someone who clearly does not have the X or even the Y Factor on that stage? Well obviously - for entertainment purposes.

The cruelty involved here really does bother me. Anyone making it to this stage surely must believe they are in with a chance, and some are. But others are simply here to be held up to public ridicule - with family and friends waiting in the wings oblivious to the humiliation hovering alongside them.

Sure it's manufactured music - look at last year as a classic example. Five lovely lads were rejected, reformed into a band, came third in the competition and tomorrow they will be number one in the charts with the fastest selling single of this year. Who am I to say they don't have the x factor - but I can't help challenging the process!

All of which brings me back to what I had planned to write about originally!

The last couple of posts have, by my own admission, been a tad heavier than I ever expected or planned them to be. The tax campaign and situation in the middle east don't make for easy reading - I know that. So I'm thinking back to a comment from a dear friend a few posts back - suggesting I blog about my perfect dinner party. Six guests - who would they be and what would we talk about? I guess what we eat might be of interest too?!

Not much time tonight to fill in all the details so I'm going to start at the beginning - put together a guest list and maybe over the next few days and weeks I'll fill in the menu and the conversation.

So - who to invite? I'm assuming guests can be here on earth or passed away so at the top of the table I'd simply have to have Martin Luther King. All this stuff about his life and loves the past week - how does that make him feel? How can it possibly take away from his amazing achievements and how does he feel about the possibility that it might?

On his right it has to be a lady - keeping the male/female dinner party protocol going! So how about Beyonce? Since I saw her live a few weeks back I have been in awe of her beauty, her talent and her graciousness. Something tells me she has more to offer and since the demise of Michael Jackson is there another global superstar of her calibre? I doubt it.

Moving round the table we need another guy and of course it has to be Gary. Mr Barlow is becoming something of a national treasure - following his success with Take That and more recently the X factor (see above...) he used to be the chubby one but his newly chiselled cheekbones are taking the nation by storm - look out for more about him in the coming days.

Another lady - and moving away from the world of music to that of film it has to be Meryl Streep. I waivered for a millisecond there as there are some English Dames that I did consider. But "The winner takes it all" won it for Meryl - and so much to ask about life and love and Mr Bond before Daniel Craig ;-)

He of course was a candidate for the third male seat - I make no secret of my admiration for his fine acting abilities (not to mention that body as he emerges from the surf in Casino Royale...). I hope he will forgive me but I feel the need to diversify the guest list and bring in someone who will add a different dimension to the conversation. I've spent a fair bit of time thinking about this one but all things considered I reckon I will go with Usain Bolt. Don't suppose any of you saw that coming and in looking to the world of sport I was of course drawn to David Beckham (obviously for his views on family life), to Jonathon Edwards to discuss things from a faith perspective, and Gary Lineker in the hope of some cheese and onion freebies. But Usain Bolt's battle with scoliosis and achievements in spite of it inspire me and I'd love to talk to him.

So who joins Martin Luther King, Gary Barlow, Usain Bolt, Beyonce and Meryl Streep for dinner? Another female naturally and I am going to opt for Aung San Suu Kyi. I don't pretend to begin to understand what her life must have been like, but I want to know more.

I'm actually quite excited at the thought of this gathering - thanks to Fang Fang for suggesting I put my mind to it. I'm looking forward to imagining what we might talk about so watch this space!



Breaking the Silence

Two days since I posted - can't let this go on and yet really can't think what to write about.

Not that there aren't a zillion possible subjects. It's more that any which one of them would unearth a whole heap of issues, and identify those who may at this point in time truly not be ready to be outed in a blog. Even a blog such as this with a relatively small number of followers and page views, highly unlikely to be featured in the tabloids or glossy magazines.

Which of course is one of the reasons why I'm hesitating about writing my best selling novel. I've said this before but budding writers are told to write about that which is real to them. About friends and family, about things that make us laugh and cry, about issues we worry about or cause us to lose sleep over.

How do you do this without someone reading and realising that actually that person is them? Flattering maybe to recognise yourself as the leading character - but what if you don't like them much? Or perhaps to see in a supporting character aspects of your personality that you are less than proud of - does that encourage you to accept them? Or make you more determined to sort them out - and does it matter?

There must be a skill involved - a way of using life's experiences to construct a story that won't cause offence to anyone. But perhaps the more you worry about that the harder it gets. Maybe the thing to do is keep on keeping on, writing what you will and worrying less about how it sounds to others. Don't hold back and keep quiet, instead Break the Silence ...

And having said all of this there is now little time to write about anything of any consequence. Except - today - I heard someone talk about this very subject - Breaking the Silence.

This guy was an Israeli soldier. He spoke honestly, openly and vividly about what it was to control the Palestinian people by force. His admissions made my blood run cold.

It made me think - as did the conversation I had on the doorstep yesterday - that sometimes we don't take the time to explain things simply enough.

It's not as though no one has heard about the Middle East. About the rocket attacks, suicide bombs, settlements and security barrier. But how many people understand what's going on there? I find it hard to explain and I've not only worked at Christian Aid for 8 years but visited the West Bank myself.

I'll write more later but for now all I want to say is this. For four and a half decades, over four million Palestinian people have lived under military occupation. When we talked about people being "pro Palestinian" at lunchtime today this ex-soldier challenged us bluntly "after four and a half decades, where are the pro Palestianians"?

To my mind nothing can excuse an act of terrorism. But how can we ever begin to understand what it is like to be constantly harassed by an occupying force; to be separated from our land and family by an 8 metre high concrete wall; to be stopped and searched at checkpoints including flying checkpoints that spring up at random places; to not be allowed to use certain roads; to have your water supply under the control of an occupying force; I could go on - and I am sure that I will do another time.

The ex Israeli soldiers who are Breaking the Silence and speaking out are putting themselves on the line. Risking the disapproval of friends and family, way beyond that you could expect by writing an amusing story on a blog. Lots to think about, talk about and perhaps even to pray about.

And then to better understand and share with others; as the lovely lady on the doorstep yesterday said "if ordinary people knew about this then governments would have to take action"

Amen to that.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Taxing Day...

Today was frustrating, that I cannot deny.

After the sterling overnight efforts of our ISD staff some semblance of normality was briefly restored this morning. First the intranet and then email were available; the enforced coffee breaks, meetings, visits to garden centres and other diversions were brought to an end as staff took up their usual positions in front of laptops and PCs - hallelujah!

Our joy was to be short lived however as after an hour or so all was not as it had seemed and it became apparent we were offline for another day.

We worked around - as you do. We still had Skype, personal email - not for sending sensitive information obviously, and, of course, the phone! I found myself apologising to our amazing receptionist who had to transfer me to all my colleagues - their extension numbers being on the intranet - but her buoyant upbeat cheerfulness was an example to us all.

All of this however is simply by way of preamble and has nothing whatsoever to do with why I am angry. There's really no point worrying or stressing over things we have no control over, so my main thoughts have to be with those colleagues who are charged with putting things right.

My anger is directed elsewhere and needs some background.

A lovely lady came to collect a little red envelope today. For another charity obviously, but a very good cause and we fell into conversation as I asked her to wait whilst I gift aided my donation. After all, I had time to talk ;-)

We chatted about the highs and lows of house to house collecting, my employment with Christian Aid came up, she said how much she loved our slogan "We believe in life before death".

I introduced the concept of Poverty Over, Christian Aid's vision that the scandal of poverty can be eradicated in our lifetime. We moved onto taking action as well as just giving, to the ways in which campaigning can make a difference and is necessary to achieve our ambitious vision of a world without poverty.

And somehow, quite naturally, the Trace the Tax campaign came up and I explained how multinational companies don't have to declare how much profit they make in each company they do business in. So for example mining companies in the Philippines don't pay the tax which could fund education or health care for many children and families living there.

The lovely lady was aghast. And so was I. Sometimes it is only as you explain this to people who didn't know it before that the injustice hits you again. I was really really angry.

We talked some more and I'm almost embarrassed to admit what she went on to say. "If ordinary people knew about this and did something then the government would have to take action - I never knew".

I thought of our marketing, our advertising, all that we do to get the word out. What are we doing wrong? But it's oh so easy to think what "we" can do and not what "I" can do. My blog's been getting a lovely lot of attention lately so maybe by popping this on here a few more people will know about it and join the fight to end poverty.

About £160 billion a year is lost to developing countries every year through tax avoidance. That's almost twice the amount they receive in International Aid.

So a taxing day, and I am angry about this injustice. But if it made me share with you then it was worthwhile.

Down Day

I hope I haven't come across as critical today.

I really appreciate the work my colleagues in ISD are putting in to get our systems up and running again tonight. If I were in the office tomorrow I would bake them a batch of cupcakes to say thank you. It's hard to imagine a more stressful situation to be in - struggling to put right a situation that is affecting the productivity of countless colleagues, all of whom have deadlines to meet and a mountainous workload as they seek to do no less than eradicate worldwide poverty - no pressure then.

But - maybe - it is time to pause. And breathe...

I find myself asking the question - again and again - have we become too dependent on technology?

But I'm not sure if we have, after all if something works for the common good, is accessible, available, affordable - why not make use of it at every given opportunity and hey - why waste time backing up with handwritten notes (for example) if actually the new reality means that all our work is available wherever and whenever we find ourselves.

I don't want to be laying blame as I don't doubt for a minute everyone in ISD does their darndest to ensure situations like this don't arise. What I do want to do however is try and unravel how the rest of us can ensure we are prepared for days like today. The sense of frustration has been aired on Facebook and Twitter but I don't see anyone angry at the organisation or colleagues - rather there is a general sense of concern that we should find ourselves in such a situation.

So I'm interested to hear from all you IT geeks and nerds out there. WWJD? What would Jobs do? Dropbox has been suggested to me as a way forward - store any documents I need to work on urgently in a folder and access from anywhere in the world.

If you are in the office on a day like today then of course you can hold impromptu meetings; catch up; tidy up; make good use of the time networking and doing all those things you have been meaning to do.

If you are working from home - having opted for peace and quiet to finish work on an important document - the situation is more complex. Clearly no point in travelling to the office to sit and do the above - but no opportunity for those actions either. I had a pleasant enough day at the garden centre but of course I am now seven flexi hours (that I hadn't budgeted for) down ;-(

I don't have the answer - just a whole load of questions. And I find myself thinking back almost thirty years to when, sat at my desk with a dictaphone, I would mutter "letter to Mrs Jones...." and send the tape to the typing pool....

Times have indeed changed. For the better I'm sure ... but for the best?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

To work or not to work...

I've started to write this post without a title - which is unusual for me. Generally speaking the subject comes to mind, I might put a quirky twist on it (Catching Butterflies being one - hello to the person who obviously hadn't actually read that post when they commented on it...), and out pours the stream of conscousness...

Today is different. I am simply unable to compose a subject line that adequately expresses my frustration with the situation without over dramatising it. After all, no one has died.

What has died however, is the internet connection to the office. Having woken up early and settled in front of the laptop to crack on with a serious piece of work I first spent an hour faffing and fixing, thinking it must be our connection here and silently cursing Virgin media and their promises of 50 megabytes a second.

A couple of unanswered emails, a one sided Skype chat and a phone call later I discover the problem is at the office. No internet. None, zilch, nada.

The document I need is on my desktop at work. I emailed it to myself last night so that if "anything happened" it would be in the system and retrievable from any computer. Only it isn't.

Setting aside the frustration - guess it just means working this evening or whenever things are up and running - there is now the moral dilemma. Working from home until a meeting at 1pm how am I supposed to use and account for my time?

If I were in the office I'm sure I'd be making good use of the time tidying up, reading, chatting to colleagues. Sat here I'm seriously considering popping on a load of washing and getting to grips with my roots!

Technology is a wonderful thing - as we so often say. But this absolute dependence on it is not without its issues, and for the sake of my blood pressure I think I need to get away from the computer and into the bathroom ;-)

And hey - suddenly we have a title!

Monday, 12 September 2011


Woo hoo and wow!

I had no idea so many of you lovely people were reading my blog - thank you all so much. I am touched and overwhelmed - I didn't know that you could see the page views on Blogger and when I did I was just so surprised - thank you.

If you are reading this please do consider saying hello - I have tweaked every setting that looks as though it might be responsible for making your posting difficult or impossible! And you could consider following too? That would be so kind!

I was saying to someone only today that if anyone were to ask me what I'd like to do when I grow up the answer would be "I'd like to be a writer".

I realise at 52 years old it's rather late in life to be thinking what I want to do when I grow up - but on the other hand it's not just late in life but the first time in my life! Up until now life has pretty much rolled out ahead of me full of opportunities and possibilities but with many of the choices already made. Passed O Levels, studied for A Levels, started work, etc etc etc... but what did I really want to do?

By the time I realised I wanted to be a journalist it was too late - for some reason the cut off age appears to be thirty - don't get me started on why that might be, as clearly those of more mature years have weaker observational skills and less in the way of ability to record what they have seen? Or possibly not...

I can't begin to recall how many books I have started. Reams of paper double spaced with wide margins, now stored in leather look boxes in an upstairs cupboard. Endless documents password protected on computers no longer in use (and passwords long forgotten...). Not to mention the dozen or so half formed in dreams and daydreams, flashing across my consciousness every moment of every day.

The chances of being published were always remote. Purchase the writers yearbook, get an agent, submit manuscripts and be prepared for endless rejection. Sound advice but makes giving up the day job seem like a very poor idea.

And then along came the internet, the blog, and an audience - thank you! Not the tens of thousands necessary for a best seller, not for now the kudos of a pastel cover, with swirly writing and chick lit image. Not for now a signing in Waterstones with burly bouncers and hysterical fans (Hang on - am I confusing fans of chick lit authors with those of boy bands? Do forgive me)

Start small has always been wise advice. This way there is little to lose. A few evenings in front of the laptop with a glass of wine. A few less than complimentary comments maybe. But hey - I still have the day job!

So today's post has turned out to be about very little other than what it is to write - which means that is what I shall so tomorrow!


Sunday, 11 September 2011

Twice in one day...

How exciting - I have another follower! Welcome!

I'm also enjoying the comments - here and on Facebook, and also in person and by Skype/Twitter/text - thank you!

Back in the day this blog was just - a blog. Then it sort of got taken over by my scoliosis story. No - scrap the sort of - it totally got taken over by my scoliosis story. Days and weeks stretched into months, and eventually more than a year, as I painfully documented my progress and recovery. And I know - because I have been told and because I am not stupid - that it did not make for particularly happy reading.

With thoughts of further surgery pretty much on hold for now it's nice to have the freedom to write about things that don't involve doctors, operations, high dependency units and hospital politics. (Makes me wonder how the script writers for Casualty cope but I guess they get paid for it...)

Which takes me back to the earliest posts on lookingforlinda and that feeling that writing on here is somehow baring my soul, opening myself up to criticism and probably going to end in tears.

The irony of course is that the hundreds of thousands of tears shed over the past 18 months have indeed made me stronger (what doesn't break you and all that...) Along with the freedom to write what I want is a strength to cope with what others might say. If you can survive scoliosis surgery and recovery believe me you can survive anything.

I had a philosophical sort of thought on the loo today (too much information? sorry - feel free to comment and say so ;-) )

It was along the lines of what you often read in the tabloids when they interview those who have survived life threatening disease such as cancer or a heart attack, or who have been involved in a dreadful accident. People often - make that always? - describe a new found appreciation of life, a confidence, a desire to make the most of every day.

For around 18 months I've felt an abject failure for not feeling like this. I'd wake up depressed and dreading another day of pain, made all the worse by wondering why I hadn't experienced that transforming revelation that made the sun shine brighter, the birds sing sweeter, and every cloud disperse on sight to reveal a glorious technicolour rainbow (possibly with Jason Donovan sliding down it to make all my dreams come true...)

What I hadn't factored in of course is Time. Time with a capital T for paTience, with a capital I for frIendship, with a capital M for eMpathy and a capital E for lovE.

Thanks to those friends who were patient, who loved and empathised I clawed my way back to a new reality. Not to normal - I could write a hundred posts on how and why that never was and never would be a word to use when someone is recovering from major trauma. But that new reality does indeed include a fresh appreciation for life and for living - I just wish someone had told me at the time it might be almost two years away!

And so - to round off a ramble. This blog is now more about where we are going than where we have been. But it's not what it would have been when I set it up, had I not been where I went for a while.

I'd really like others to join me on the journey now - not to offer sympathy, support or encouragement, just to laugh along with me. To suggest subjects to blog about (and yes, skirts and dinner party guests are on the list..!), to comment, complain and keep me writing and blogging till that big break comes and I meet you all at my book signing in Selfridges :-)

Not the chirpy post I'd planned but I guess that's the way it is -I caught another butterfly, not the colour I expected but in it's own way beautiful maybe ...

Linda x

This being woman...

With apologies to Martyn Joseph for stealing a song title the decision has been made to combine various suggested blog subjects into just this one - for now.

Dry shampoo and skirts, along with hair, shoes, lipstick and a myriad more of life's little pleasures are all part of the joy of being female.

At this point of course I stop, reflect, breathe and wonder how many comments will berate me for such blatant sexism. Of course men are equally welcome to enjoy the benefits of these products. In fact only this weekend did I travel light for an overnight stay with someone who happily gave me the run of his bathroom shelf and whose moisturiser made me consider breaking up with Number 7.

But such gentlemen are they are the exception, and for the most part this post concerns us ladies, though I don't doubt it may interest some of the un-fairer sex (ouch...)

I discovered dry shampoo just a few weeks ago when a sample size was thrust into my hand as I fought my way across the concourse at Euston station. It sat unused in the bathroom until the Greenbelt Festival (where I will not pretend I camped - time and not water was at a premium).

My first foray into its use was reasonably successful. I squirted it into the roots after a shower, enjoyed the somewhat chilly feel on my scalp whilst trying not to wonder what harm it was doing to the ozone layer, and after a few minutes brushed it out and got dressed - tada - success! Refreshed and flowing locks framing my face and swishing around my shoulders. Eat your heart out Cheryl Cole!

And so yesterday, again pushed for time, I decided to give it another go. Being in a hurry I wasn't getting changed, just freshening up my hair and make up before settling on the sofa for an evening of entertainment TV. (I know what you're thinking - they really know how to live it large in Croxley Green - but that's just the way it is, sorry)

Success - until I glanced down at my M and S Limited Collection long sleeve T shirt. And realised of course that it looked as though I had the worse case of dandruff in living memory :-( Surely dry shampoo ought to include in the instruction panel - for use only when naked?

Which of course segues seamlessly into skirts - or not. I was wearing one, for a number of reasons. I feel something of a rebel for doing so if I am honest - when exactly did jeans become the weekend wear de rigueur for everyone from toddlers to septuagenarians?

My conversation on this subject with the sales guy in French Connection (who I am sure has a bathroom shelf to rival mine or even that of my generous friend...) brought up a number of issues worthy of their own post. So having said I would do one thing I am about to do another - such is the prerogative of being woman - and leave another subject for another day.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Catching Butterflies

I'm quite proud of this photo - I took it myself this summer at a beautiful tropical butterfly world in Honfleur, Normandy.

In some ways it has very little to do with what I want to write about. In other ways it sums it up perfectly! As we wandered around in the humid warmth admiring the beauty of the plants and flowers these stunning examples of one of nature's miracles fluttered around us (I know the theory - but exactly how DOES a caterpillar become a butterfly...?!)

With cameras and smartphones we sought to somehow capture their beauty so that others could share in the moment at a later date. The wonders of facebook and twitter, of flickr and online albums (which can even be printed) make it possible for others to see what we saw, to wonder and comment.

But capturing the butterflies - figuratively not physically - was an enormous challenge. They were all around us, fluttering their wings, teasing us by staying still for a moment and allowing us to believe we'd "got them" before moving on - up and away - part of our lives for just a millisecond and now to be forgotten.

And that's exactly how it is with the things I want to write about!

I mentioned this a few days ago, and was oh so aware of it today for some reason. I've had a pretty random weekend and at least a dozen stories must have crossed my mind throughout the day as possible "blog" material. Maybe I need a notebook - I've heard that songwriters have one on hand at all times to jot down ideas and lyrics? In the absence of a notebook I made a quick list on wordpad and it makes me smile to read it back now! hummus, skirts, columns, dry shampoo, ...plus one or two I will keep confidential for now to protect those who might be identified by their publication ;-)

So - a question! And I know most of you comment on Facebook and not here but please, if you are going to continue as a part of this journey (and if you do, and I get published, and famous, I will definitely make it worth your while - free books/tickets/drinks...) here is a question...

Would you rather read a blog on hummus? On skirts? On columns? On dry shampoo? Or perhaps on what happens when an M and S wholefood salad isn't properly sealed?

I'll happily respond to suggestions - but by this time tomorrow it is perfectly possible that another thought or ten may be clamouring for attention. Like those beautiful butterflies it's difficult to capture and share them but I certainly plan to do so!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


Thank you. Seriously, thank you!

For the comments, messages, tweets etc today encouraging and supporting me in my hesitant foray into the world of writing.

I don't intend to stop recording my journey of recovery from scoliosis surgery - don't panic those who've asked me not to! but yesterdays musings on Social Networking did take us in a new direction and I was nervous as to the reaction. Who do I think I am to have an opinion worth posting online? I rarely comment on someone's facebook status other than to "like" it or wish them a happy birthday/anniversary/life together. I shy away from controversy and in spite of having belonged to an online forum for almost ten years I rarely post anything controversial or against the flow. So today I have been thinking about that...

... and especially in the context of the post about growing in confidence. Hard to describe this -I'm very wary of saying too much as I'm still living in dread of whatever flipped into gear in my brain deciding it has had enough and slipping back into neutral. I can't explain it other than I guess this is what Happy Pills are supposed to do, but after 18 months of muddling along in a fog of anxiety and stress, and teetering on the brink of an abyss of depression, it's really rather wonderful to feel positive, alive and as if it's worth getting up in the morning.

I wouldn't have wished the said 18 months on my worst enemy. I've yet to read my blog posts from that time and promise myself often that I will sit down with a large glass of wine and a larger box of tissues and plough through not only the ones on here but those posted elsewhere in the really deep and dark times. I've not yet had the courage to do so but maybe that time is coming - as I'm growing stronger and in confidence.

But in spite of the utter horrible hideousness of it all - and I know this is a typical cliche - I know I am stronger for it. I've been places I never knew existed and survived.

Writing now comes very naturally, as an outpouring of all that I think and feel. At times it feels as though the words that are to find their way onto the blog are actually there with me all day, floating around in the ether and waiting to be caught and transferred to the page. That may sound fanciful but stories are there too - dozens of them. Books, novels, short stories, poems - all demanding attention and exposure to the light.

Can you sense the "But..."? Well here it is now and it takes us right back to what I said at the beginning - who am I to have an opinion? Blogging the facts is one thing, "proper" writing is something else surely?

I have a friend - well several - who are much cleverer than I am. Or are they? They know more - I am in awe of their knowledge and ability to construct arguments and debate issues. In awe to the extent that I rarely speak up or challenge them - though with hindsight I often wish I had done.

They seem to know all there is to know about politics, economics, history, technology, physics, etc etc etc etc... for years I have tried to keep up and with my head in the state and space it has been recently I've felt like I am drowning in an ocean of ignorance.

But slowly I am surfacing and taking gulps of air. Realising that those subjects aren't the only ones worthy of discussion. Millions of us live our lives knowing little of economic theory but managing a household budget, with a limited knowledge of technology yet adopting new innovations on a daily basis as we master phones and tablets and TVs and food processors. We might not have a degree in physics but we understand what makes people tick, and even if we can't reel off a ream of historical data we understand the impact of background and upbringing on our children. Our knowledge is personal, relevant and insightful and instead of being ashamed of what we don't know I vote it is time to stand up and declare what we do.

So perhaps this blog will take a new turn - I certainly have something in mind for tomorrow. I'm making no apologies for the lowbrow approach -I just hope that you enjoy the musings, join the conversation and, if you would, join in either here on Facebook.

Thank you and, for now, goodnight ;-)

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The social side

Facebook. Twitter. Google Plus. MySpace. (anyone remember MySpace - I met someone on there who's still a good friend - want to guess who that was...?)

This then is SNS. Social Networking. I remember the day I first heard about it - someone in the office mentioned it as "the next big thing" but I didn't quite grasp how big.

Today one of my FB friends asked a question about why we share as we do. Is it about a neediness? About boasting? Showing off? Wanting to be "liked"?

I can only speak with authority from my own experience - and to an extent my observation of how my "friends" use these networks. But I confess to being shocked by some of what shows up on Twitter, and by the comments on the Facebook pages of those I am connected to less directly.

Putting that aside for another day - what of the interaction with those that I follow and who follow me, those I like, have befriended? Is social networking the evil some make it out to be? To be avoided at all costs? I don't think so.

Much of this blog has been about my journey through scoliosis surgery. Without online blogs, forums and groups where would I have found one let alone several hundred women who have faced similar hopes and fears in the face of such a huge operation?

I know of people who live alone, bereaved or unwell, who find online a community to talk to, share with, receive from.

Twitter in particular has broken down the barrier between "us" and "them" when it comes to the worlds of TV, music, the arts and celebrity. And it offers a direct means of communicating with and hearing from those on the ground at times of unrest, conflict, tragedy.

All of this has of course been documented elsewhere and in more depth. Today's blog post was simply prompted by the friend asking if our status updates demonstrate a neediness. Perhaps they do - but if that means that it is met in some way then is that such a bad thing?

Would we prefer to go back to the days before blogger, the internet, social networking and suchlike? Some may dream of halcyon days when back doors were left open and neighbours drank at each others kitchen table but for how many was that the reality?

Weren't there really rather more people sitting isolated in front of the TV, perhaps not having spoken to another soul all day, or if they did not having been able to share what they really needed to for fear of seeming out of order or inappropriate? (Did the postman really need to know about that marital disagreement or was it quite simply TMI...?)

Going back to my earlier comment on what I've observed on some Facebook pages, there is clearly still room for plenty of inappropriateness. But for the most part there is a place to take our questions, our thoughts and our ideas (that marital disagreement would have been right at home on Mumsnet).

Social networking allows us to share achievements we are proud of, to congratulate our friends, to ask for advice, to meet people (perhaps even a life partner...), to allow others to comment on our blogs, on music or films we enjoy. It keeps us company late at night, in the wee small hours, in times of illness or when away from home. It unites families and friends across the world, reunites us with those we "used to know". In short it is surely an enormous force for good. Like anything else that can be perverted, subverted, abused. But that doesn't deny its huge potential and I wonder if anyone reading this would seriously want to turn back the clock?

I'm writing this whilst England play Wales at Wembley. I used to knit, or read, or catch up on chores at such times but tonight I can at least sit in the same room as the men. Watching many TV programmes is made more interesting by watching the Twitter thread to see what others are saying about it too (#RedOrBlack vs #Corrie ?!)

Reading this through it seems very mundane and in no way ground-breakingly significant. But it's helped me to form my view having read my friend's question tonight. If Facebook shows a neediness then perhaps such a neediness is part of the human condition and we have done well to find a modern day solution. Part of the evolutionary process perhaps?

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Dreams of Home

Photo courtesy of Jonathon Watkins www.photoglow.co.uk

Pretty much every year I have been to the Greenbelt Festival there has been a rainbow. Probably because it always seems to rain, but also because we usually enjoy some sunshine too. This year was no exception but it's been a while for me to realise how significant it was to me and even as I write this the story is unfolding.

There's a song called Thunder and Rainbows that is very dear to me, I wanted to share the lyrics on here and as I googled them came across a blog where a dear friend of mine had shared them with its author. That author had found them immensely helpful in the context of grappling with the aftermath of a friend's injuries following a motorcycle accident.

For those unfamiliar with the song here is an extract

The light or the shade, concealed or displayed
Enemies, friends, opposite ends
Bitter or sweet, ruffled or neat
Feathers or lead, silent or said
Generous or mean, corporate or green
Vagrant or lord, the dove or the sword
Distinct or obscure, prosperous or poor
Devil or saint, we are and we ain’t

Intricate mysteries
Life’s secret code
Cul-de-sac signposts
On yellow brickroads
Ambiguous answers
The question’s still “Why?”
Thunder and rainbows
From the same sky

The singer/songwriter is Martyn Joseph, (though I suspect Stewart Henderson had a lot to do with those lyrics too), and in a nice kind of full-circle irony I was privileged to interview him as part of Christian Aid's presence at the Festival. On stage in front of 400 people we chatted about his life, his work, his influences and the importance of joining the fight to end poverty and injustice.

Doing the interview was for me a huge turning point, as was even attending the Festival in the first place if I am honest. The previous week I had said to a colleague that I was "sh****ng myself" at the thought of going - not that I wasn't looking forward to it but the luggage, the train, the taxis, long days, standing in a field in wellies - well, let's just say there were a few things to be nervous about! At least camping wasn't on the agenda - just pitching Dave's tent and seeing him settled was enough. (Enormously proud of my 14 year old who attended and worked at the Festival pretty independent of me!)

Compering the stage in our venue is something I did years ago and enjoyed enormously. I was looking forward to doing it again this year but Friday evening before the first performance I was to be found at the side of the stage almost unable to breathe, feeling very sick and welling up. It was make or break time - if I'd run away as I felt like doing I'd have had to go underground for the rest of the Festival and cope with sympathetic looks and words from my colleagues. Instead I was grateful for those who held me firmly by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and said "you can do it".

And I did. I won't pretend it was easy but it got easier and the interview with Martyn on Monday afternoon as the Festival drew to a close was an absolute delight. Unscripted and impromptu he was warm, amusing, friendly and bang "on message".

So where does this bring us?

The lyrics ring very true, anyone who's followed this blog over the past year or so (thanks for sticking with it!) will know there have been plenty of thunder claps along with the rainbows. But making it to Greenbelt again, resuming my "old" role, interviewing Martyn and seeing again a GB rainbow all combined to say something ...

I've pretty much decided not to go for more surgery at the present time. Instead I hope to build on the confidence gained last weekend and as my contract comes to an end look for a new and exciting position with more responsibility and decision making. I'm determined to build up my fitness too - just walking the length and breadth of the festival village made me realise how exercise helps our mental well being. The rainbow, that song, the interview, all reminded me that there's a transcendence to life and much more of it to be lived.

Whoah - way too long a post. Apologies all - laters!

Linda xxx

Change of Direction

Sunday morning, it's come over really dark and looks like it's about to rain. That's the morning on the decking with Charlotte Bronte gone, so sat on the sofa with last night's X Factor and resolved to catch up on the laptop. Something of a challenge when Gary Barlow's there to distract me from the messages and emails, but above all I just took a look here and realised it's been a loooong while since I updated the blog so here we go...

I've been thinking - and praying - hard about whether or not to go ahead with more surgery. Re-reading my last blog now I sound quite matter of fact about it - Mr Tucker says more surgery, so more surgery it is. But now I'm not so sure.

His reassurance that it would only be an hour or so in surgery, five days in hospital, and back to work in four to six weeks may seem okay in the light of all that happened last year. But presented with that news wouldn't most people hesitate - even for a moment?

So - starting to think about things in a different way now. Rather than how can I get rid of the pain, how can I live with it? Rather than stress about all the things I cannot do why not see how much I can? Rather than try and reduce or live without painkillers why not accept they do the job and knock them back with a smile?

I've yet to convey this change of direction to Mr Tucker, and at the moment I'm only taking faltering steps along this new road to see where it takes me. But watch this space and in the next post I fully intend to explain how it came about. But the distraction that was Gary Barlow has now been joined on Xtra Factor by the rather cute Olly Murs so that may be a while.

Oh - for those who have no idea who I am talking about (and those who do...) here are the gentlemen in question ;-)