Friday, 27 February 2015

Our proud heritage

     Before you read this, you probably ought to read this*. I was vaguely aware of this taking place, but not really all that well informed. My fault? Maybe. Or perhaps sometimes, professionals working in a field become so well versed in a subject that they forget that those outside the inner circle don’t share their knowledge and expertise, and miss an opportunity to reach out to people.

     *If you can’t be bothered to read the whole of that post, in essence, English Heritage is being split into two bodies: English Heritage, which will cover the whole ‘heritage theme park day out experience’ that most of us involve ourselves with now and then; and Historic England, which will cover what I suppose could be termed the ‘professional’ side of things: planning, advice, protection of sites & buildings etc. It has... implications.

     The changes have been known about for some time, but were officially launched yesterday, and they might seem distant to most people’s lives, if you’re just an average person (or even a twatty blogger). They probably won’t impact on a lot of people’s lives in an obvious or immediate way.  As long as we get to visit the sites, have a cup of tea & slice of cake, then depart home feeling proud of ourselves for doing something Very Grown Up And Educational For The Kids, nothing is really changing. So why then am I blogging about it?

     Because this move, this splitting of English Heritage, will change things. Across the UK, there has been a shift in attitudes, from the top of government downwards. Under the guise of making things simpler and more business friendly, huge amounts of planning regulations have been removed, and the old protections and guidance have gone. This, combined with cuts to local councils, has ensured that the very people who know the importance of historic sites such as Oswestry Hill Fort are redundant, often in terms of the powers they have to prevent irrecoverable damage, but increasingly, because their jobs no longer exist.  Professional advice is being downgraded, rendered insignificant, changes are being made that reverse years of legislation that was considered important enough to be created in the first place. Purely to balance the books.

     The changes that are coming into force are short-sightedness at its most pernicious and damaging. To save a few pennies here, a pound or two there, vast swathes of our historic environment, our heritage, our history, is being put at risk. Thousands of years of history, to be ploughed by bulldozers, razed down, and some temporary modern convenience installed, purely for this government to twist a few more figures, invent some statistics, and ignore the appalling lack of foresight they demonstrate.

     This stuff matters. And because people like you and I, dear reader, don’t get to hear about it, we don’t know it’s going on. We might see a one off story in the local paper about a petition to save one small cottage, but we don’t see the larger picture of what’s happening across the UK, because it’s assumed that it’s not really a story that would interest the wider public. It’s one for the academics, the historians, the archaeologists to tear their hair out over, because they’re the ones who Know This Stuff, and they’re in charge of All That Kind Of Thing.

     Here’s the thing, people. It’s not their history. It’s not my history. It’s our history, all of it, everyone’s. And from what I see, it’s under threat, and people like us are in danger of letting it happen, because we don’t appreciate what’s going on. We see a brief clip of Sajid Javid spouting a brief soundbite about communities and engagement blah blah blah, our eyes glaze over, and then we perk up when the weather forecast comes on. Yes, I know I’m a history obsessed moo, but this stuff is important - the fact that we have such an embarrassment of heritage in this country doesn’t mean that losing the odd corner of it here and there should be ignored, disregarded, or even tacitly encouraged by some.

     ‘Our heritage does not belong to the government. It belongs to all of us.’ Another soundbite from Javid again. You would think I should be cheering him on, as he’s saying exactly the same thing that I am. But I can’t. It’s the old story. If someone tells you trust them, that should be the very last thing you do. If he truly believes that our heritage is ours, not theirs, then why is the government so set on a course that seems to me to weaken our heritage, not strengthen it? If it belongs to all of us, then why are the government taking such drastic and potentially irreversible action? And one has to ask why is the government seemingly so set on removing the protections and professionalism that is fundamental to the preservation of our history, our heritage, and our ability to engage with and learn from it? Once these things are lost, they can’t be replaced or restored. Skills and experience gained over many years for the love of the subject will be gone, just like the material heritage will be. The politicians will tell us they cannot afford the funding. I know we cannot afford the loss we will incur when the full effect of this is felt.

     So what do I suggest we do about it? Good question. At the moment, I don’t know. Watch this space…

Thursday, 19 February 2015


      There are lots of things in life I dislike. Cucumber. Walking barefoot on sand. Hoovering. Quite a few things I hate too, and I’m not going to start listing those because you have homes to go, careers to chart, and children to raise. I’ll just tell you one, the one that makes my heart plunge lower, faster, and more lurchingly than any other. Fenland. I can’t say it without sneering. Typing it makes my fingers itch. And of all the many unlovely towns and villages that make up the land that is Fen, the worst of them all is Wisbech. Fucking Wisbech.

     This presents us with a bit of a problem. Because Alistair is from Wisbech. And his family still live there. I love them. I love their house (oh my days, it is amazing and old and  beautiful and you would not believe the amount of work they’ve done to restore it which has been totally worth it, and it is a fascinating building in every respect) but still. It’s Wisbech.

     The town itself has been dying on it’s arse for as long as I can remember. First the small family run shops closed. The chains moved in… and moved out. Now it’s a fairly grim market place/car park surrounded by 99p tat shops, charity shops, beer cans and brittle, dying Busy Lizzies in hanging baskets, which only serve to throw into sharper relief the dirt and decay. And through the centre of the once thriving Georgian town, the thick, muddy river oozes sluggishly, as though even normal water doesn’t want to be there.

     Not a place to linger. Not a place to explore. But a while ago, it was my father-out-laws birthday, Alistair’s brother was back from Thailand for a week, and Alistair had offered to help clear some old trees and bushes at the bottom of their garden. So we were Fenbound. And for some reason, it occurred to me that I’d never visited the church in  Wisbech, despite spending too much of my life in the Fens, and maybe I ought to put that right, have a bit of a nose, see what I might find.

     There were a few small inscriptions around the outside of the porch, some quite simple,

 some worn away, 

one that looked rather professional. I smiled as I admired the neatness of it, and then tried the door. It was locked. Of course it was bloody locked. This was Wisbech. Then, seemingly to sum up the bleakness of this dirty old town, I glanced at the floor, and saw this.

     Sighing inwardly, I turned and retraced my steps, back past The Out-Laws house, and further out of Wisbech, to a little place that had been mentioned to me as possibly being of interest, just off Leverington Road.

     It’s got an interesting history. Just three acres of land that was for a time, the Wisbech General Cemetery, and mostly used for non-conformist burials. Laid out in a formal garden pattern, with gravel paths, lawns and shrubs, as was the fashion of the day. Between 1848 and the start of the 19th Century, 6,571 were buried in this place, many of them with no memorial, and the majority in multiple graves. It hardly seems possible when you wander through it now. 

The cemetery went into decline after the new Borough Cemetery opened, and finally officially closed in 1972. Nature reclaimed the site, and trees sprang up, bushes became overgrown, there was almost no way of crossing from one side to the other, the previously neatly laid out paths obliterated. Headstones were damaged, broken; the chapel used for funerals fell into disrepair. The dead were left to rest in peace, the living finding it impossible to access the site.

     But in 1992, the Friends of Wisbech Cemetery were formed. And slowly, gradually, they have effected a transformation. The site is still wild and overgrown, there are few pathways to navigate, and viewing some graves requires nettle stamping and bramble straddling. Managing the site as both a cemetery and an important wildlife habitat requires a huge amount of skill and balancing.

     But I liked it. I liked it very much. By sympathetically clearing a little of the undergrowth, they’re allowing light to shine again on the people buried here, so they are no long forgotten. But at the same time, this little corner retains a sense of wilderness, of nature, of the variations in seasons, but also renewal. In the midst of death, there is life. Just a small little corner of Wisbech that has an aura of peace, tranquillity and thoughtfulness. I felt it restored a little peace of mind. And that’s not something I ever thought I’d say about Fenland.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A marble-hearted fiend

     Here goes then. No preamble. No leading in joke. No relevant quote. No beating about the bush. No gentle introduction. No faffing about. No procrastinating. No long rambling anecdote. I’m just going to say it.

     Gratitude is exhausting.

     Not all of the time. Not in every human interaction. Not in each exchange, taken individually. But in some cases, it can be.

     When The Black Dog decided to pounce on me again towards the end of last year, there was a fairly standard pattern I followed:

     Boiling piss anger at myself, my brain, you, her, him, that bloke over there with the hat, the teenagers on the bus, Uncle Charles, Queen Victoria, the boy I sat next to in Yr9 Geography… just everyone.

     Brainswimming horror at the realisation of just how badly I had been behaving recently.

     Wearied trip to the GP to demand more drugs, and be admonished for not having come in sooner.

     And then, the retreat.

     Always, the retreat. Into myself, away from real life, that rude and impertinent impostor. I kept up contact with people on twitter, and facebook to a lesser extent. But emails, phone calls, and seeing people, nup. Especially those closest to me.

     Which you might think is not the best course of action to take. The advice for people with depression is always to talk. Keep talking. Talk to people about how you’re feeling. Let them know what’s going on with you. Let them help.

     And that’s where we hit the problem. No one can help. No one. It’s not you, it’s me. It’s my illness. And what fixes it are drugs. Not emails. Not phone calls. Not having a considerate friend call round. I know that people have the best intentions. I know they are doing it because they care. But it doesn’t help. When I feel bad, I don’t want to talk about how bad I’m feeling. I need instead to be distracted. I don’t need to be reminded of how bad I feel. What I want to do when people try to help is shrug, and say ‘meh’. Because I don’t feel better for the help.  But of course, I can’t do that. Because if I did, then the person trying to help, my helper, would be hurt, confused, bewildered, thinking ‘But I did a nice thing for you! I tried to help you! I want to make you feel better! Even if you’re down, at least you know that someone cares!’

     And then I would feel worse, for hurting someone trying to help me. I would feel guilty, and filled with more self-loathing at my presumption that my feelings were more important than theirs.

     So instead, I fake gratitude. I fake a smile, and give a double thumbs up. But inside, I feel worse. Because someone tried to help, they didn’t, and now I’m faking feeling better. When I don’t. Which is another thing to feel bad about. My energy reserves – already running on fumes – take another slump.  So, with the best of intentions, my helper has made me feel worse. See? Gratitude can be exhausting. And I don’t need the weight of someone else’s feelings when I’m already down.

     I don’t push people away to be hurtful. It’s not me lashing out. All I’m doing is falling in on myself, just for a while, until the bleakness goes.

     I push you away because I care about you. Because I don’t want to hurt you. And then to be told that I am hurting you… again, it doesn’t help. I know I sound selfish. I know to most people it probably doesn’t make sense. I know it hurts you to know that I’m down, and that you’re trying to improve things for me. I know you think talking will help. But by pushing me into a situation where I feel either I have to fake gratitude, or be made to talk when I’m not ready to, the opposite is achieved. I know you care, you want to help. But the best way of helping me, is to not.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Bad Wolf

     You know how, you notice something, once, and then suddenly it seems like it’s everywhere? I’ve been having that the last ten days or so. Generally, it’s jokes. A deliberate spelling mistake or trans positional error, and then the punchline…. ‘AHAHAHAH…. Dyslexia.’

     Lighten up. It’s just a joke. Bloody hell, why are you being so precious about it? Well, it’s likely I’m about to get The Rage about this. Because Alistair is dyslexic. Not mildly, not moderately, but severely dyslexic. And I do mean severely. He’s known from a very early age that he is, and it pretty much closed off school for him. It’s not like it is now, where a diagnosis will afford you access to specialised help, support, learning aids etc. he was told he was dyslexic aaaaand… that was it. No further action taken. Left to flounder. Struggles ignored. Put in a box. A box marked ‘THICK’.

     So that’s how he thinks of himself. Thick. Not dyslexic. Thick. It doesn’t matter all the things he can do, all the skills, talents, and generally all round glittery unicorn pube qualities he has. As far as he’s concerned, he is THICK. And if you think of yourself in that way, then of course, you don’t have much confidence, it affects pretty much every relationship you have, and how you see the world. And that’s where Houston, we have a problem.

     Because I do words. I read, write, revel in words. Words are my first, my last, my everything (not really, but that sounds quite good, so don’t pick me up on that). And it’s quite hard on both of us that a wordjunky and a dyslexic happen to be together. It’s hard on me, because as far as he’s concerned, writing is Not Important. He doesn’t read anything that I write. No matter how well things are going, what comments & praise I get, I never talk to him about it, because, in his own words, he ‘doesn’t give a fucking fuck about [my] writing’. In the same way that I don’t understand his ability to design and build a hot tub, he just doesn’t get writing, and the power of it. So, if I say to him ‘I was talking to X about writing last night…’ he shrugs, looks bored, and mentally checks out. And that makes me feel like shit.

     And from his point of view, he feels like shit too. Because he thinks he’s thick. He thinks that the box he was put in from an early age means that so many worlds are closed to him. In fifteen years together, he’s read perhaps three books. It was genuinely painful for me to watch, seeing him struggle, mouthing the words, finger on the page to try and stop the words from dancing around, trying to concentrate on reading the word that’s actually there on the page, not allowing his brain to mangle it into something else entirely. Having to go back and read a page he’s already spent fifteen minutes on because he misread something. Asking me to read aloud some pages, because he found it easier to listen.

     And it reinforces his belief that he’s thick. Because he struggles with it so much. I help where I can, but he doesn’t want to even try, because it makes him feel worse. We had a meal out the other day with The Blondies, and after five minutes hard staring at the menu, he handed it to The Girl, saying ‘Come on then, read out the menu to me, I’ve heard from Mummy that your reading is phenomenal now!’ I’d just like you to consider that for a moment.

     I’d like you to think how it must feel. He’s 34. He has a job. He has a family. And he has to ask his six year old daughter to read a menu to him. Because he can’t. And it reminds him that he is THICK.

     Oh, but, of course. AHAHAHAHAH…. Dyslexia. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Five More Years

     Memory’s a funny thing. I’d swear blind that this evening is so much lighter than at six o’clock on this day five years ago. I remember it as being colder, darker, bleaker. In this place. At that time. Inside my head. Five years ago.

     I thought it was the end. I thought I’d said goodbye. I thought I had no distance left to run.

     Which just goes to prove that when you’re suicidal, you think complete and utter pretentious bollocks. The pain says it won’t stop. The pain lies. The pain can stop. The pain will stop. And not because your life has.

     The pain can fuck off. Depression is a complete and utter cunt. And just like an ex-boyfriend, you will keep bumping into it when you look and feel like shit. But he’s an ex for a reason. Because he’s a cunt. You’re better than that. So get thee to the far side of fuck, shitty brain chemistry. I’ve woken up every morning* for the last five years. Some days are super bouncy, hyper excellent. Some are black dog, wearing black, under a black sky, painting a red door black black black. Most are just… unremarkable in terms of events.

     But each day has happened, each day has passed, and each day has been lived. By me. Which, considering where I was five years ago, is one of those everyday miracles that occurs, and goes unnoticed, unremarked, unacknowledged, by anyone except me.

     Happy anniversary, me.

     Five. More. Years.

*Sometimes I skip mornings & go straight to afternoons.

Thursday, 5 February 2015


     One day, when I was a wee girl, I was out with my mum, brother and sister. We bumped into an old school friend of Mum’s, who looked at us three siblings (brother, curly black hair, blue eyes. Sister, wavy blonde hair, blue eyes. Me, straight red hair, green eyes) and said, in broad Norfolk tones ‘Wull, oi cun see that you hint strayed!’ Meaning the three of us shared pretty much the same face. Dad’s face.

     Big eyes, straight nose and stupidly broad cheekbones that the rest of our body hangs off. That’s us. That’s Dad.

     I got more than the physical inheritance though. I was the lucky one who also got Dad’s propensity to angsty bollockery, love of history, and easily moved to tearsiness. Along with an appreciation of crap jokes, crosswords, and terrible puns. Not to mention being a complete arse who will argue a point for faaaaar too long. When Dad comes to stay, sleep goes out of the window. You’ll find us instead,  at three in the morning, way too many wine bottles down, nose to nose, debating* some pointless issue that has no importance or relevance to either of us over an overflowing ashtray.

     *Shouting and telling each other to fuck off

      Overflowing ashtray? Yep. We both smoke. In fact, the first cigarette I ever smoked, aged 13, was in front of my parents. A roll up, ham-fistedly fashioned from Samson tobacco and Job rolling papers, in a hotel restaurant in Formentera. Watching Dad, I piped up ‘How do you actually roll a cigarette, Dad?’ ‘Like this. You have a go!’ So I did, to the horror of other guests (Woman at next table: He is TEACHING her how to ROLL. A. CIGARETTE). And Dad then suggested I try smoking it. So I did, again, to the horror of other guests.

     Kind of stupid of us both, really. Because we’re both asthmatics. And smoking and asthma… yeesh. Not the best of combinations. Dad’s much worse than I am, always has been, even before the fags and red wine came into his life. He’s always had a weak chest, a hacking cough, not coped well with extremes of heat. Part of the reason why my parents moved out to Spain when they retired, to get away from the damp, the cold. But still, the fags and the asthma remained.

     A few years ago, Dad developed a chest infection. And being that type of man, refused to go to the doctor to get it sorted. Until Mum called a doctor to the house because dad hadn’t eaten, slept or smoked for three days because he was finding it too hard to breathe. Quelle surprise, his oxygen levels had dropped so low he was immediately hospitalised. Scary shit for my sister and I, back here in the UK. But he got better, slowly. And of course, was back on the red wine and fags as soon as he felt better. Stupid bugger.

     So how’s Dad doing now? Not great. He ought to be. He’s on holiday in Thailand with some golf friends. He hasn’t played a round for a while though. Because (and I will try to type this without crying) he’s in intensive care instead. The stupid bastard. Another chest infection, which he ignored. Until he hadn’t slept for days. Because he was struggling for each breath.  He did seek medical advice, and was told to go to hospital immediately. What do you think he did? Yes, he went back to his hotel room. Until he couldn’t breathe.

     He couldn’t breathe.

     And because the stupid bastard had left it so long, he didn’t just have a chest infection. He developed pneumonia too. So now he’s in an intensive care unit in a hospital in Thailand, breathing through a ventilator, hooked up to an IV drip, unable to talk, waiting to have an incision made in his chest to get his lungs drained of all the shitty gunk that he allowed to build up in there.

     I could wring his fucking neck, the stupid, stupid bastard. I could, but I can’t. Because he’s on his own, in another country, and I can’t talk to him. My sister and I are relying on texts and terse emails from hotel receptionists and friends who don’t seem to grasp just how scared we are. From the moment we first heard, the news has been mostly positive. He’s stable. The hospital staff are pleased with how he’s responding. He’s mostly been unconscious, but when he’s awake, he can communicate by notes. But no direct contact with us, obviously.

      I don’t want to say it; I don’t want to admit it. I’m doing everything I can to distract myself from it, by twatting about on twitter, listening to podcasts, pissing about on facebook, anything to pretend that this isn’t real, this isn’t happening, Dad isn’t seriously ill in another country that’s seven hours in the future. I’m laughing hysterically at things that aren’t funny, allowing myself to be wound up by stuff I don’t care about, and taking offence where none is meant. Being mawkish and self-indulgent, and writing twee vomit inducing bollocks. Anything. Anything than allow myself to dwell on reality.

     But the thought that is my constant companion, from the moment I don’t wake from the sleep I can’t find, is the same. Please don’t die. Please don’t die. Please keep breathing.

Monday, 2 February 2015

You are ill

     You are ill. You are becoming more and more ill. The illness makes you unhappy. The infection has taken control of your body, and you are living in constant pain. The pain makes you behave in ways that are not rational. But you can’t stop yourself. Anything to distract yourself from the pain.

     You are ill. You are scared, because you are ill. You are scared because you know you are not going to recover. Because you are scared, you cannot fight the illness. Because you are scared, you are not strong. The illness gets worse. The pain increases.

     The people you live with do not know you are ill. You are too scared of the illness to tell them. You are in too much pain to communicate. Your mind is a silent scream. Screaming in pain. Screaming in fear. But only you can hear the screams. The people you live with do not know you are screaming.

     You are ill. You know your illness is destroying you. You are scared, because you are ill. You are scared, because you are in pain. You are scared, because you are not strong. You are scared, because you are alone. You are scared, because you are screaming.

     You are ill. Your illness is hidden. Your illness is increasing. It feels as though the pain will never end. But still you keep it hidden from the people you live with. You love them too much to let them see what is happening to you. You love them too much to let them see how ugly your illness is. You love them too much. You need to protect them.

     You are ill.  But it is only you who are ill. The people you love are safe. You are protecting them. They are safe. Your pain is yours alone.

     You are ill. You are told you are infectious. The illness is contagious. The pain is contaminating the people you love. You haven’t protected them. You are damaging them. They will have to live with your pain. You won’t get better. They will get worse.

     You are ill. You are in pain. You will make the people you live with ill. The pain gets worse. You know there is a cure. You know how to make the pain stop. 

(EDIT: This isn't a reflection of how I'm feeling at the moment at all. It's something that's been going round and round in my head for the last two weeks as a result of a conversation I had with someone who really doesn't understand depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. It stung like an absolute fucker to write, but if it prevents  a single person with mental health issues from being told 'Your depression is harming your children', then GOOD. Never, ever say that to someone. Because it is quite possibly the most dangerous thing you can hear).