Friday, 4 August 2017

Go Fred Go

It's a year since i held the little boy below in my arms and said goodbye.  bad tempered, semi feral and averse to touch unto his last breath the vet had to corner him in my lounge to give him a sedative prior to the final shot.  he hissed and spat, tried his utmost to bite our hands before giving up the battle and letting me gently embrace him as the light left his eyes.   For the first, and only, time i was able to groom that amazing coat, fluff up the plume of a tail, tease out the tangles, touch the tummy, bury my face in that pelt without risking an eye.  he was a manky cranky, but he was MY manky cranky and i loved him to bits.

Over his lifetime we lived in three different homes, starting off in the grime of the inner city, moving to the idyll of Lindisfarne and then a supported housing scheme in Hexham where he charmed the socks off the old ladies who forgave his foibles in order to tentatively fondle his ears.   we shared fifteen years of tears and laughter.  he provided a fair amount of the former during his angry, early years when leaving homelessness and aggression behind, and an abundance of the latter once a veneer of civilisation was accommodated and  his inner kitten set free.   there was going to be a furry shaped void in my home, on my bed and in my heart that would need filling.  
With emotions raw and bank balance depleted by vet costs, committing to another fuzzy feline felt premature but i was missing the company, the spirit lifting greeting of a little face snuffling my hair in the morning or running down the stairs tail aloft to challenge anyone entering his domain as though Attila The Hun was at the gates.   it was inevitable that conversations about fostering with Cats Protection would flower into action. a few emails and phone calls later..... enter stage left The Indomitable Fred.   

Starved, sick, scared the plan was he would be with me for a couple of months to gain weight, heal, regrow lost fur and muscle then find a loving family to provide him with a forever home.  he gets rescued, i get a furry and my heart isn't broken burying another one..... simples !!!   if ever you want to make God laugh.... tell Him your plans !!!  a year later The Fred is still warming my feet through the night and greeting me with slobbery, toothless kisses in the morning.   he may look like a bonsai panther but his health issues haven't resolved and he will never be totally well, flu flares attack at the slightest change of routine or diet and he becomes a snotty, sneezy, listless, little old man overnight, making re-homing him a risky prospect.   so it's been decided by those with The Power that he stays with me for the months or years left to him so he can live out his days quietly and stress free.  If reincarnation were proven, and we had a choice as to what our reborn creature could be, i would come back as a cat but i would have to be MY cat.... stuff The Law Of Causality we are talking theoretical here.   
His vet costs are considerable and will be ongoing as medication and regular blood tests are a necessity to keep his poor health under control and if the past year is a guide there will be rushed trips to treat flares and tummy problems, a post malnutrition inevitability.   to help cover the cost Cats Protection have set up a GoFundMe campaign page. (click the link below.)   can you help spread the word for me by sharing on social media or making a donation?  If we raise £1000.00 it should cover him for a year, and it may be his last year.   he will be able to stay with me until the medication ceases to keep his symptoms under control and he becomes the next furry to die in my arms, safe, loved, nurtured as all creatures deserve. 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Wandering Star

"Born under a wandering star", "gypsy blood in the veins", "she has itchy feet", these are just some of the maxims that attached themselves, justifiably, to my lifestyle when young. for 5 years i lived on my wits and a thumb hitching around the UK living wherever i landed for a while then moving on.    there is a certain, indefinable  dawn light that sparks within me the need to explore the next place. it's a physical and visceral response that engages all the senses and demands instant gratification.   it was easy to succumb when my universe could fit in a backpack ready for an early morning motorway hike and many times people would wake to find the jeni had vanished during the night.   alien abduction theories abound because thoughtless hippies failed to leave a goodbye note when following their muse.
When marriage and children called time on travelling the lure of the west wind was quenched by regular holidays in little villages and pretty towns.  we would find caravans in farmyards, broken down cottages lit by gas lamps, half derelict chalets with lambs in the garden and giant spiders in the eaves.  my boys drove tractors, teased kittens deep within a barn filled to the roof with hay bales, flew hawks, climbed mountains, pumped water for a week at a caravan with no amenities, descended into the darkness of old mines and were among the first to sail through the magnificent Enniskillin Marble Arch Caves.   an estate car replaced the rucksack but the sense of freedom with the road under the wheels was equally fulfilling and adventures found us at every slip road.
Disability decided to come knocking too soon and i was, unfortunately, at home and receiving visitors that day. the wings were clipped, travelling days done, call of the wild stifled, the eagle had landed and wouldn't be lifting off ever again, and do you know, to my immense surprise, it wasn't so bad.  the walls didn't slowly close in and smother me, the itching didn't turn into incurable MRSA of the toes, the stars continued their circuit uninterrupted, the gypsy blood kept on pumping and i discovered that the most unexplored of territories doesn't exist out there it exists in the unfathomable, unbounded, cosmic depths of the imagination and can be retrieved at will.   while i was busy doing stuff, going places, discovering the new there wasn't time or necessity to train the mind to turn inwards and travel the road of visualisation.   all those years and i hadn't known that those with the most locked in bodies could be the freest in spirit and imagination.   
Through photographs and internet searches i have accompanied my family on holidays around the world without enduring budget airlines, excessive temperatures, towns teeming with tourists.   via YouTube and iplayer there have been vicarious visits to some of the earth's most inaccessible extremes, off limits to the casual tourist. walks in the Siberian permafrost, views of  lava pouring out of Iceland's volcanoes, tears wept over the dying coral of The Great Barrier Reef.  some of the world's most imaginative writers have introduced me to alternate universes, flung me at the speed of light to the stars of unknown solar systems, accompanied me on road and rail journeys to exotic locations. all without leaving the comfort of my home and accessible on a whim at any time of the day or night.   

so.... when you come back from your holidays this year with a sim card full of photos don't feel you have to hide them from your housebound friends and family, you might find they would be delighted to accompany you on your adventures.   add plenty of pics that include familiar faces if you are sharing with the elderly, especially if there are grandchildren in the mix.  print some out so you can leave them with granny and granddad to be shown off to visitors.   oh.... and remember, you might find a smartphone adequate but elderly eyes don't cope so well with a small screen.   borrow a tablet if you don't have one and show granny how to swipe, it's wonderful to see the eyes light up as your memories become theirs.    

Monday, 12 June 2017

Postie People

Four years ago this was the view whenever i left my island home to go shopping. a three mile causeway punctuated by diving birds, sensational sunsets and drifts of sand. i miss the coast, though my family and friends don't miss having to consult tide timetable prior to visiting.   miss the deadline and the best scenario is your car ends up under six foot of salty water.  worst scenario??? it sails off into the sunset heading towards Norway.

On moving inland it was inevitable that the sea would be a big miss. being Bournemouth born and bred  the cry of gulls was a permanent accompaniment throughout my childhood, add in twenty plus years on Tyneside and my veins run with brine.  

Another anticipated miss was coffee shops. there's something satisfying about being wedged into a corner with a large cup of coffee and the newspaper, surreptitiously watching the world and it's residents coming and going, attending to their daily routines, interacting with other humans, unknowingly performing for an audience of one.   The village is made up of one hundred and fifty souls, 330 bird species and 650,000 tourists a year so there was plenty of entertainment for a dedicated voyeur. 

What i didn't see coming was how much i would miss the simple pleasure of posting a letter. because everything in the village is clustered around a tiny main street on a good pain day i could reach the post office, post my letters, buy a Guardian, stop at Pilgrims Coffee Shop for an hour, buy birthday gifts from their craft shop and then it was a matter of steps to my back door.   a universe on my doorstep.   it wasn't until moving that i realised how very satisfying the simple act of launching an epistle into the void could be and how much i would miss it once it became an impossibility.   

So....this little blog post is to thank my unofficial posties (you know who you are).   you lovely humans who deal with my letters, parcels, comics to granddaughters, Love Film Movies, cheques, Postal Votes, birthday gifts and all things Royal  Mail related.   it may seem a small thing but to me it's a huge benevolence.  thank you so very much. xxxx

Saturday, 20 May 2017

PIP ain't What You Say

It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it,
It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it,
It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it,
And that's what gets results.

Remember this song?  Banarama?  oh go on you do, or maybe i'm ageing myself here.  i dare you to click the link and have a little listen.   i DOUBLE dare you to play it just before you want to go to sleep tonight. No?  OK, i wouldn't either.   it's one of those tunes that goes round and round and round the head all night like a herd of monotonously, bleating sheep mocking your sleeplessness. Why did such an inane, piece of anti-music from thirty five years ago insinuate itself into my head you may ask?  well, weirdly, you can blame the DWP's disability benefit PIP for this momentary culture lapse.
Application for Personal Independence Payment, AKA PIP, hinges on a thirty four page questionnaire comprised of multiple choice questions, each one needing a full explanation of how an aspect of disability affects every day life with a justification of the answer by making reference to hospital, physio, occupational therapist, social care, G.P. etc.  the guidelines from Citizens Advice came in at FIFTY SHEETS of A4 paper. can you imagine the time and expense if you have to use a public library for internet and printing?  by spending an hour or more a day it took me three weeks to complete to my satisfaction and i still spent the nights after it had been posted thinking of what had been left out.   How well this opus is crafted has a huge bearing on the success or otherwise of a person's claim as the face to face part of the assessment is built on this foundation.   the assessor doesn't know the relevant questions to ask or the appropriate healthcare person to contact if it's not in the form.
Despite a great gap in schooling whilst a child in hospital leading to an abysmal knowledge of grammar and punctuation, a lifetime reading while others were out playing has given me a reasonable ability to put thoughts down on paper, so though i found the PIP forms daunting i think i was able to give a fair representation of the difficulties disability causes me by constantly singing to myself  "PIP ain't what you say it's the way that you say it, that's what gets results"  with every flourish of the pen.  but what if i had a learning difficulty, or suffered severe anxiety, or had attended a troubled school with a large number of disruptive pupils who made learning a mountain to be scaled?  what of those who don't have a supportive and encouraging friendship circle like mine to keep the spirits high, share the trepidation of losing vital support and open all those brown envelopes that i was afraid to approach when they landed with an ominous, cryptal thunk on the door mat ? (a HUGE thank you to all of you)  these are the people you read about who are finding themselves adrift in a system that is supposed to assess disability but ends up making that life sustaining judgement on intellectual ability.

Me ?? i used a mix of Citizens Advice guide notes and Fightback4justice online. without them it's doubtful the result would have been so positive, high level mobility and high level care for TEN YEARS !!!  the body may be reliant on a wheelchair but the spirit is flying high.  At some point during a long and sociable life it's inevitable that you will come face to face with disability or chronic illness whether personally or via close contact with a friend, neighbour or family member mired in the turmoil of health turned hostile. like a good gender neutral scout it's best to "be prepared" and aware of the pitfalls of trying to apply without backup. the two online groups above are an excellent source of information and for a nominal monthly charge give access to examples of well filled in forms, advice and support. may i suggest that unless you have a reliable crystal ball to reassure you that your future doesn't involve brokenness of mind or body that you add them to your address book, who might need them one day.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

PIP'd To The Post

A mummy duck was leading her babies up a river when they came to a small weir. judging it low enough for them to climb she led the way up and over.   the first born, larger and stronger than his brethren, followed her without any problems quacking and waggling his superiority.   the next few chicklets followed more slowly and with more difficulty, each taking several tries and an equal number of failures before, with supreme effort, they launched themselves into the upriver flow and mother's  downy embrace.   the last duckling was much smaller and weaker than the others, so when his turn to swim against the tide came he paddled and dabbled,  joggled and bobbled but couldn't make the necessary leap.   mummy mallard quacked encouragement until finally, reluctantly she turned from her floundering, drowning duckling and swam away.   the little fluffball in a total panic raced toward the river bank and scrabbled onto the tow path and RAN past the weir and back into the water, bypassing that impossible barrier entirely, to rejoin his family.

That's pretty much how it is living with a disability, particularly if you live alone.  no matter how much pain, stiffness or weariness accompanies waking each morning the ordinary tasks of daily existence eating, washing, feeding the cat have to be accomplished.   every moment of every day holds fast flowing rivers to cross and weirs to climb without enough feathers to stay afloat, so we have to haul ourselves out of the water and improvise.   

Albert Einstein's  apocryphal saying, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result" was clearly learnt young by our little duckie.   he would have come to a soggy demise in that river if he hadn't stepped out onto unfamiliar territory and used his feet to walk rather than paddle, it was by going against his inbred nature that he was able to survive.

How, you may be asking, does this birdie allegory apply to an overweight, ageing wheelie?  well, unlike our feathery friend i failed the Einstein test during my PIP disability benefits assessment.  instead of leaving the comfort zone of cup half full thinking and following the path of the whinge-fest to gain sympathy and points, i shot myself in the foot repeatedly by being Miss Positivity.   

I started well. recalling research and the brain picking of advocacy groups i remembered the injunction to "consider your worst days." "qualify everything you can do by explaining what you can't." "don't put on a brave face" etc. etc. etc.  eventually, inevitably during a grilling the interrogatee will say anything to make the cross examination end.  i now have an insight into why people confess to crimes they haven't committed.   but after TWO HOURS of questioning i went onto auto pilot, instinctively putting a favourable spin on the many difficulties of inhabiting a broken body.  turning tragedy into comedy, struggle into triumph.  tears into laughter.

Did the assessor, who was a lovely girly, see through the bravado?  i hope so.  if i was given another chance could i maintain the pity me persona?   probably not.     did i talk myself out of too many valuable and essential points?  possibly, only time will tell.   one thing i do know for a certainty, i wouldn't want to live permanently with that helpless, pitiable, personality that i was recommended to portray.   the body may be dependant on wheels but the mind and spirit are free to fly if we choose the path of humour.

Sunday, 9 April 2017


Have you noticed that the concept of "legacy" has been bandied around a lot in the media recently?   whether it's a deceased celebrity, Olympic athlete, deposed politician or a potentially soon to be reposing royal it seems as though the memory of what we achieve in this lifetime is seen as the new immortality in the absence of a belief in a soul. Facebook has even started a Legacy function so somebody of your choosing can organise your page when you become a "friend" in spirit alone.  it's an understandably human trait to find ways of comforting ourselves that we aren't limited to a few decades spent with our feet on the earth, here for a moment and then gone with nothing except memory to mark our passage.   

A few special souls will make it into the history books but even they quickly become anachronistic, a sepia copy of a once vital life force, a fiction by the time of their great grandchildren.  it's no wonder we need the comfort of an afterlife whether through religion, fame, achievement. it gives meaning and motivation to make our time here count, to become the best we possibly can achieve.
I doubt any of us can honestly look back over a long life and have "no regrets".  the playing of Piaf or Sinatra seems more a rewriting of history or a fond illusion than a statement of fact.  a person who perceives their lifetime as sans wrongdoing or contrition is either a saint or a sociopath and since saints are on the Endangered Animal List these days that leaves only one other option.   my memorial song?  The Animals, "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good... Oh Lord please don't let me be misunderstood."   

What legacy would you like to leave behind, how would you like to be remembered?   few of us will have our name on a blue plaque, an entry in Wikipedia, a Foundation dedicated in our honour, most of us will be content with a moderately successful career and a few good friends.   me? i'd like to think the universe would remember me as being a kind soul.   but in all honesty ???  i think the abiding memory of jeni will be of books, cats and coffee !!!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

While Mortals Sleep

It began in the night, while most sensible mortals slept.   great white flakes floating down witnessed only by owls, the occupants of the occasional police patrol car and other random nocturnal creatures.  by mid afternoon it had turned to relentless, torrential rain hammering a tattoo on the roof, bouncing back high into the air with the force of it's landing.  up in the Pennines the deluge soaked into already sodden ground before racing down into the valley carrying branches from battered trees aloft.  in the early hours it  funnelled into the beck at the back of my flats, an angry, roaring, foaming, flood threatening to overcome the retaining stone wall.
Either the thundering of a thousand locomotives or the floodlights woke me.   there were men in the watercourse, water up to their armpits, wielding long spiked poles they were manically hauling lumps of tree out of the water, pushing the accumulated debris through the protective grating of the slipway, working with a frenzy as more rain dumped in the hills poured down into the valley.  eventually they managed to remove what looked like the bough of a mighty conifer and slowly, imperceptibly, as their exhaustion began to show, the water level began to abate, their movements slowed, the urgency slackened.

Later we'd learn it wasn't only the Water Board who worked through the night to protect our homes, the fire service, police, ambulance, coastguard were all called out to serve.   many homes were flooded that night, businesses ruined, animals trapped in fields.   as i watched those men, the windows around me stayed darkened, the world slept.   when my neighbours woke there was no evidence of the battle waged on their behalf, nobody to bear witness to those soaked, frozen, battered men.
Every night while you and i are tucked up warm and secure brave men and women put their lives on the line for our safety, i wonder how often they hear a word of thanks from those they protect once the drama is over and the world has moved on to its next distraction.   in this age of social media and electronic communication it takes just a moment to express gratitude, to build up and encourage, to say "thank you i haven't forgotten your actions when we needed you".   we seem to have become a nation quick to complain but slow to praise, jumping to condemn forgetting to thank, then wonder why the workforce is halfhearted and demoralised. The Australians have called us "whingeing pommies" since the late 19th century, it seems we have recently decided to live up to the reputation with a vengeance.   why has negativity become our default?     

Life throws various forms of storms our way, some major some minor, but how we choose to react to those called upon to assist us will impact on how willing they will be to step up and cheerfully raise us out of the mire whether we are in ankle or armpit deep.