Obligatory Referendum Post

There are so many arguments, so much misinformation on both sides of this debate that I feel for a lot of people it comes down – at heart – to an emotional decision. Do you want to be part of Europe or not?

Now, I value sovereignty, and I love this country, and I can understand the view in favour of leaving Europe for that reason.

But at heart, I look at the UK and I see a nation which has never been closed. I see people from all walks of life; from all backgrounds. We havebeen a cultural melting pot since the Ice Age ended and the waters rose, and the “native” Celts were joined by Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Romans, Vikings, Normans. Waves of migrants since before the start of written history. It’s in our blood. It’s in our myths and legends. It’s in our NAME.

United. We’re stronger as group of four than we were alone. We’re better when we set aside our differences and work for a common cause. And I look at this debate and I see no difference between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

I see elected representatives from across Europe working together to unite disparate people and give us common safety and security. I see solidarity. I see hope for a peaceful future. I see cultural enrichment, as our traditions are passed on an explained to new generations, and have the freedom to grow and evolve with us.

I look at all of this and I think: What is patriorism? Is it a love of who I am and where I hail from? Is it a blind devotion to a set of laws and morals which would be anathema to generations past? What makes a person British? Is it Europhobia and distrust?

Or is it tea and crumpets, umbrellas on standby. Is it cream teas and castles. Green fields and rolling hills. Maypoles and country fairs. Cider, and beer, and ale, and wine. Freedom, and hope, and stubbornness and sarcasm, and a dry, endless pessimism which belies inner strength.

I don’t think any of those things will be lost to Europe. Rather, I believe they are the greatest treasure we hold; one which can only grow with the sharing. I am English. I am British. And I am European and I want to stay that way.

I’m voting Remain, because in my heart, I think that is the most patriotic thing I will ever do.


Mirror Image

You know, I’ve always had this weird obsession with reflections. That’s possibly overstating the matter, really, but I can remember reading Through the Looking Glass at a young age, and the whole concept really resonating with me. Everything being reversed. That disorienting sensation where things are on the wrong side. For years I’ve looked at reflections – in mirrors, windows, puddles – and imagined a mirror world, where everything is the other way round. Back to front.

Which is a neat sort of image to open with really, because it turns out (to my own surprise) that today is International Letfthanders’ Day. I wasn’t aware that it was a Thing, but hey. It is! Unite, my fellow lefties!

Most likely, the connection doesn’t make sense at first. But really, the more I think about it, the more I see how linked those two thoughts are. Being left handed in a world where more than 90% of the population isn’t, you quickly learn to adapt. Some with greater ease than others, to be sure, but you do work things out. You manage. Maybe you never even consciously think about it most of the time, because that’s just how things have always been. It’s still there though.

I will admit, I did roll my eyes when the Lefthanders’ Day thing popped up. Because… it’s just a hand, you know? I don’t usually see a big deal in it. Most people use their right hand, I use my left. No problem. And then I started thinking, and looking back over my childhood (always a dangerous pasttime, that), and I realised that no, maybe there is something in this after all.

Being left handed is a lifetime of micro strategising. It’s adapting to a world which was made for people who work the other way around. It is, when you get right down to it, like growing up in the mirror world. Where everyone reaches for something on the opposite side to you. Where you need that extra second to go: “Oh, no, the handle/pen/mouse is on the other side.”

Of course, being an adult, that’s mostly instinctive. Being an adult in my own home it’s also mostly unnecessary. I leave my kettle with the handle on the left. I own left handed scissors and vegetable peelers, and a tin opener which works for both hands. The rest I learnt to deal with years ago.

It’s childhood really, where it can be a problem. Which, if you look at the Wikipedia page for International Lefthanders’ Day, is  sort of the purpose of having a Day (with all the emphasis of capitalisation that it implies) in the first place.

Because when I look back on my childhood, there’s that little undercurrent all the way through. It’s the green and yellow handled scissors which were always blunt, because there were so few lefties to use them that they never got replaced. (I learnt to use right handed scissors in my left hand – other solutions include really sucking at using scissors until you get proper ones, or just using your right hand to cut with.) It’s the moment when everyone else in year four was writing with a pen, and I was told I couldn’t because I made a horrific smudgey mess of everything I wrote – if you’re left handed, writing left-to-right is a bit of a bother. I can remember very clearly – even twenty years on, nearabout – the day that someone told me to turn the paper so that I wrote towards myself instead of horizontally. It was a revelation. It was a chance to not be the Odd One Out. To not be held back because teachers just didn’t have any practical advice for someone not being the same as the rest of the students.

Plus this is so damn comfy, you know?

Seriously. A revelation. Revolution, even, if I’m feeling Punny.

I mean, it’s pretty sad, in a way. Because I can recognise that it’s not a big deal. We’re not talking serious, life-changing stuff here. And yet I remember that. I remember feeling different, just because of the hand I use. I remember sitting in lessons and having problems because I would knock into the elbow of the person next to me if I wasn’t careful. If I didn’t sit on the left. I remember that frustrating moment where I picked up a peeler and I couldn’t use the damn thing because the blade was on the wrong side. I remember my frustration with the brief, short stint I had learning the piano because my right hand just wouldn’t do the fiddly bits. I remember PE lessons where I was just plain backwards to everyone else. Holding the bat or the racket in the wrong damn hand.

I remember going into hospital for problems in my teens, and having a cannula put in my left wrist, and feeling completely helpless because suddenly I couldn’t move it properly, and there went my ability to do pretty much anything. I’m a writer, and could no longer put pen to paper. It was hell. (These days I make a point of getting them to put it on the right side. That there is a “these days” for that statement is something of a bugbear of mine, but never mind.)

And I remember the jokes. The stupid, irritating jokes. Not often enough for me to class them as anything other than an irritation, but there, all the same. The implication that being a leftie is weird. That I’m awkward. That I’m clumsy. The constant “bad handwriting” association. The weird looks when I pick up knives and apparently “just look awkward”. To be honest, the fact that it’s anything to comment on at all, outside of making adjustments for it. Why does it matter?

Because, you know, kids aren’t stupid. I mean, you tell a child often enough that they’re different, and they’re not just going to gloss over that fact. When you make a fuss about a child who smudges their writing and don’t offer a solution, you can’t just expect them to be okay with that. I had years of feeling self-conscious about my handwriting. To the point where I would apologise for it before anyone even saw it. To the point where, these days, I have this compulsion to show my handwriting to people just so they can comment on the fact that it’s tiny, not scruffy. To get that validation that I overcame the problem. It’s a minor insecurity which never went away.

And I’ll be honest, I’m not even that left handed. In some respects, yeah, I am. I do most stuff with my left hand. But I don’t have a different setup for my computer – I use a mouse in my right hand. (I type slightly weirdly though because my left hand does most of the work.) I eat “right-handedly”, whatever that means, and I can use my right hand for stuff when needed. I have a degree of ambidexterity. There are plenty of people out there who struggle to adapt as well as I can. Who need to change keybindings on their computer to make things work. Who really need left handed scissors, instead of liking them. Who grow up feeling short-changed because they were born on the wrong side of the mirror, and everything is back to front – and instead of helping, people just make idle jokes associating lefthandedness with clumsiness or being “wrong” in some way. “Cackhanded” is one of my least favourite words, for that exact reason. (I also super hate “southpaw” but I accept that’s a personal bugbear and lots of other people like the word. For me it’s like a tic. I hear it, and I want to thump someone. I have a HAND. I do not – and am not – a fucking PAW.)

I guess the point I’m trying to make is this. Left handedness isn’t something I really think about until I’m reminded of it – and then the floodgates open and I realise just how many things irritate me on a near-daily basis which I’m so used to tuning out that I seldom think of it. It’s cash points having the Chip and PIN reader on the right hand side, so I have to stretch to do it (that was worse when cards still had signatures, btw. Super fucking annoying trying to fit in the awkwardly-placed gap). It’s those study chairs at colleges and in sixth forms having the desk attachment on the right arm (although the 90 degrees trick for handwriting helps there). It’s so-called ergonomically designed utensils being shaped so as to be nigh unusable. It’s the oven controls being placed in such a way that I have to stop myself reaching over the hob in order to turn the temperature down. It’s every till I ever used while working in retail being geared for right handers.

It’s teenage me getting flack from the teachers when I cut my left hand on a glass bowl and they didn’t believe that I was unable to write my homework. Because hey, it was my left hand. (Not even joking about that one. I went in with my hand bandaged and the response was “use your right hand”. To take notes. In a GCSE History lesson. Yes I am still bitter. No, I wasn’t able to take notes.)

I am a leftie who spawned another leftie. So some of these issues I’m starting to see from the other side, too. I see my daughter writing with a super awkward grip on her pencil. I see her struggling with scissors (I made sure to buy a leftie pair so she had some with blades that actually cut). I can already foresee future hurdles as she moves outside of my leftie-friendly home into a mirror world which really doesn’t give a lot of allowance at times. I wonder if I should present her with the same challenges I had, so that she learns to adapt young. In a sense, she already has – my right handed computer setup means that she, like me, will grow up able to use regular computers without issue.

There’s a correlation between left handedness and creativity. I think the general public assumption is that it’s genetic, but really, I think it’s as much growing up in the mirror world as anything. It’s a lifetime’s experience finding solutions to the problem of everything being back-to-front. A childhood adapting to the almost limitless minor inconveniences of the world around. Of the locks on every single locker being on the right hand side of the door. Of fumbling your own way to writing legibly. Of manhandling implements so that they work backwards. Of being super glad to live in the UK when you learn to drive because ha! At last, something which seems tailor made to me! (And then not being able to drive any more, but oh well.)

So, ultimately, on International Lefthanders’ Day, I want to stand up and gesticulate wildly. Not so much to celebrate the fact that I’m different (although at one time I did pretty much do that about being a leftie), or to make out that I’m super hard done by (although, again, I was a teenager, so I had that phase about leftiehood too). It’s more just… if you know someone left handed – particularly a child – maybe take a minute to appreciate that all those little obstacles do add up. They’re small hurdles, but they can have an effect. A lifetime of hopping over them adds up to a lot of extra energy spent. And maybe there are some hurdles which don’t need to be there.

My daughter is not the only leftie in the class. There’s a stupid number of them in her year group. Nine in one class, eleven in the other. It’s amazing. She won’t spend her primary years being the odd one out. And that’s good. But that’s also not the case in every school. Not every child is in such good company, and sadly, some children are subject to bullying or put-downs because of it. To struggling because of illegible handwriting. To finding it hard to use scissors or computers (ever important in our technological age). Is that really how things ought to be, in this day and age? Should we be letting children grow up being othered just because of the hand they use? It’s all rather Lilliputian, to my mind. Surely we can make the world a more adaptable place. For everyone.

The Greatest Gift I Never Used

So, yesterday was Father’s Day, or Fathers’ Day, depending on where you place that apostrophe. Covering my bases here.

I’m lucky. I have a great relationship with my dad. We’ve always gotten on well, and we have similar temperaments. I understand him. Plus, he’s kept all the stuff I don’t have space for but don’t want to throw out for the past ten years now. I think that counts for a lot.

I spent much of yesterday sat in his back garden, digging through the shed which has been home to some of my childhood treasures for a decade now. I didn’t plan things that way – when I moved in with him, age 18, it was a temporary fix to the problem of trying to move my sister and I from two large bedrooms into one smaller one. My divided childhoods merged into one house which didn’t have space for them both, and although the plan was to sift and sort and compress, that kind of never happened. Boxes of books and trinkets and treasures were placed in a shed which they never came out of.

Other things took over. Health, and the spiral of trying to work out what was wrong with me, and then before I knew it, I had moved out, and was thrust into the world of motherhood. The two-part childhood, which I had never resolved into one piece, had to wait. Part of me was in that shed, or in the loft. Growing dusty and damp; coated in cobwebs.

And now I’m here. Here as an adult, somehow, looking back on boxes which I’ve held in my heart for years, but not in my hands. Things I never grew out of and let go, but were left behind nonetheless. I’ve always had an obsession with nostalgia, and the past. I’ve spent over half my life trying to make sense of who I am, and I’ve always fallen short of the answer. It came to me, yesterday, that part of the problem is how much of me doesn’t add up.

As I looked over my old things, I started to realise how disconnected they were. Two worlds which never met. I have memories which I can’t place, because there is a section of my life which doesn’t follow the linear narrative of the rest. I can draw a line in my mind, connecting all the things I did with my mum, but my life at my dad’s didn’t run parallel. Those weekends and holidays existed in a different world – one where I didn’t have to wear the mask I wore during the week. There was no school. No homework. No anxiety. It was my sanctuary – and it existed outside of the rest of my life. A little bubble which protected me, but never integrated. As I looked back at my treasures yesterday, I realised that while I can put ages and dates to most of the things I boxed up at 18, I can’t do that for the things which had been in that room at my Dad’s house all along.

They exist in a part of me which escapes time. Weekends and summers blur into one. A decade of my life which doesn’t quite fit with the rest. Ten years of a part of me remaining static, while the rest of me grew and changed and matured. Treasures and trinkets which have so many memories, yet no age.

And the reminder of when my lives started to merge again lies in an envelope. That brief, strange few months when my two lives crossed in the other direction. When I would drive, once a fortnight, to spend the weekend with my mum, and then return home. And it’s funny really, because I had forgotten those months even existed. Forgot that part of me had even been there, until a black envelope reminded me of the Christmas when I had been free, and mobile, and ready to embark on a life where I could merge those two lives into one in my own time.

The greatest gift I never used was for a day at Brand’s Hatch. Before I had a chance to go, my licence was gone. The seizures had stolen my mobility, and that future. And in a way, they stole my past, too. Because there it stayed, in boxes. Left tucked away, while life took me further and further from the girl who never let go of them.

Further, but only in time. Because the thing which struck me most of all, as I looked over my old treasures, was how much I am still that girl today. The chaotic mix of things I owned and treasured all match the loves and interests I still hold dear. Books, a telescope, a typewriter, jigsaw puzzles, cut-outs from computer game boxes. Memories of hours spent making miniature worlds. Piece by piece it slots in place. And it’s funny, really, that I spent so long trying to make sense of who I was, when I never really changed at all. I’ve spent the last twenty years in an identity crisis of one sort or another, and as I slowly surface, I think I’m finally ready to start letting go of some of those boxes.

I don’t need to keep them all, slowly rotting in a shed or in a loft. I’ve had them all along. I’ll keep my black envelope though. It’s too easy for me to forget those few months where both halves of me came together again, and allowed me to grow into my future. And who knows. Maybe one day I’ll go to Brand’s Hatch after all.

Cold White Light

When I migrated this blog over here, I don’t think I had a very clear image in my mind as to why, exactly. I knew I had something I wanted to say, but I wasn’t really sure what that something was.

Well, it would certainly be expected and mundanely appropriate for me to announce with a flair that I have now discovered that purpose. Unfortunately, I haven’t. And the more time goes by, the more I realise the inherent truth in that. Not everything has its epiphany moment. Oh, we all have our moments of self-discovery, and the epiphanies are the easiest to spot and to share, but sometimes, the most important and fundamental realisations we can make about ourselves take time to arrive.

If an epiphany is like a light turning on in our heads, the slow-burning, life-changing ones are more like a dawn. Hear me out. Dawn doesn’t start when the sun breaks the horizon, filling the world with a new day. It’s not a “no sun/YES sun” kinda deal. It started long before those first bright rays crest over the hill, or peep past the tops of trees or buildings.

Dawn starts when the world gradually turns away from night. When the sky takes on a lighter sheen, and the stars begin to fade into the background. And that light isn’t yellow and warm. It doesn’t shine brightly and joyfully. That light is cool, and white, and it inches over us so gradually that it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when it started. You don’t see it getting brighter – you just look back and know that five minutes ago, or maybe ten, it was dark. That now it’s less so.

Life takes us on many ups and downs. If we let stories dictate what we should be feeling, we expect epiphanies. Sudden dawns, which spring from the darkness to fill us with all the energy of a new day. Love. Happiness. Achievements. All the good things are portrayed as a sudden uplift – a washing away of all our problems. Or a bridge which helps us walk above them. They don’t tell you that sometimes the first thing you notice is that the stars are fading into a sky which can’t yet be called blue.

The truth is, so often there is no sudden rush of knowing. We just muddle along, and then we look back and realise with hindsight how much brighter things are than they were before. Maybe one day that sun will crest the horizon and I’ll bask in the warmth of its rays. Until then, I think I’m content with knowing that it’s no longer night.

In Dependence

If there is one thing about me that close family and friends can affirm, it is that I am stubborn to the point of bloody-mindedness at times. We’re not just talking a little bit stubborn, we’re talking full on, cut-your-nose-off-to-spite-your-face levels of the stuff.

And one of the things I am stubborn about is not needing help.

Of course, there’s no escaping the fact that over the course of my life I have needed a lot of help, in a lot of different ways, but then, that’s one of the reasons I hate it. Because I am someone who hates relying on other people, who hates to be incapable of doing things.

And yet, here I am, edging out of the mid-twenties and into the late, and I still, regularly, am utterly incapable of doing some things for myself.

Driving. There’s one. I had my lovely pink license for all of ten months before it was taken away again with the promise that I could have it back if I was good and stopped having seizures. Well, here I am, eight years later and in that time the longest I’ve gone without a fit is one month. It was probably a February.

Baths are another one. Seems kinda silly perhaps, but if I want to have a bath, I need someone else around, to check on me. As a result, in the last year I have had one bath, and that was me taking a risk. In my flat there is only a shower, to avoid temptation.

Cooking, too, is an area in which I sometimes come unstuck. If a seizure strikes at 4pm the oven doesn’t even go one, and one of the emergency ready meals in my freezer acts as stand-in. I’ve thrown away unopened packets of meat because they went off the day after I had planned to eat them and on that day I was unable to cook them. Likewise, there’s always at least one onion in the bag when it gets slung out, because I buy as though I am capable of cooking them more often than I actually manage.

The elephant in the room of course, is what I turn into while I am having a seizure. Perhaps surprisingly, given the post history of this blog, it’s not something I talk about a lot on a day-to-day basis.  When I do, it tends towards evasion and sidestepping. “Oh, I manage,” or “The children are really good about it actually,” or “I just got used to it really.” We make do. We manage because we have to. I don’t need help.

Except, when the seizures start, when my knees buckle beneath me and I fall down, pretty much the only ability I retain is to more or less keep myself from spilling out of my clothes. (Seriously, the number one thought and motivation if I have a seizure in public is “I will not let anyone see my bra”. Any control I keep over my arms and legs gets spent on that. It mostly works.)
There is no walking, there is no talking. There isn’t always seeing. I am fully dependent on those around me to keep me safe, to protect me – usually from myself. It doesn’t matter that I am a fiercely stubborn person, the kind of person who will carry shopping so heavy that it wrenches my shoulders and refuse to let anyone help me. That I will sit and struggle with something alone rather than admit that I maybe don’t know what I’m doing and need advice. When I have a seizure, any and all agency is stripped away.
It would be poetic, perhaps, to say that my stubborn insistence on doing things myself came about as a result of that dependence. I mean, it would also be a lie, but it would be the kind which sounds good. In all honesty though, I am the student who rubbed out the pencil notes in her English GCSE set texts that had been left there by previous year groups, because I hadn’t written them, so using them would be cheating.  Where other people work together to solve problems, I hide myself away and refuse to talk about them until I have worked it out by myself, usually meaning that it takes me ten times longer.
This, then, is the true cost of epilepsy, of seizures. I don’t count it in bruises, or in hours lost (although they would also give a fairly impressive tally). I’ll talk all day about the physical toll with no worries in the world. I can handle that. I can fall down, and get up again and dust myself off and have a bit of a laugh. It’s an inconvenience, certainly. It bloody well hurts sometimes, too.
But a cost isn’t something you joke about. It isn’t the running gag. It’s the thing you hold close to your heart, safe from the sight of others, and also, incidentally, right where it can sit and sear through your emotional defences.  Epilepsy means something different to everyone. And for me, at its core, it means depencence. It means, on some level, I rely on other people to live, and there’s a good chance I always will. That’s the cost. I carry it with me everywhere. The knowledge is a ball of fire, and it burns.

Concussions, and other fun things

There are few things in life which I value quite as much as the ability to think clearly. Food, family, and somewhere to live are all up there, of course, but aside from the basic necessities of living, what do you actually have if you can’t think?

I don’t mean thinking as in contemplating the deeper mysteries of life and all that (although I am the sort who enjoys that too, now and then), just… thinking. Being able to sit and know where you are, know how you’re feeling. Anticipate the finer things, such as how you’re going to get up, go into the kitchen, and put that kettle on for a cuppa. And then being able to get up, and not stop and think “Um, I’m in the kitchen. What was I about to do?”

A handy mug of tea

This, Jemma. It’s called tea, and it rules your life.

Last Friday, I had a pretty bad seizure and, although I don’t really remember doing so, hit my head kinda hard. I know this, because there’s a nice, handy bruise on the back of my head to remind me every time I lie down the wrong way. Now, this is a good opportunity for me to get sidetracked and point out that this wouldn’t have happened had the people around actually known what to do when someone has a seizure, and believe me, I will, another time. But today, the focus is the aftermath. The why, as it were.

Continue reading

Purple and Me

I’ve always quite liked purple as a colour. It’s rich, and varied – almost more so than any other colour. It varies from lilac to aubergine, merging with pink in fushias, and touching on blues at the other end.

I wonder if that is something which subconsciously occurs to people who choose it as a colour to represent them. Today is Purple Day, a day started by Cassidy Megan in Canada to raise awareness of epilepsy that is well on its way to going worldwide. It’s an amazing feat for anyone, let alone someone so young.

Purple Day Logo

And it’s a day designed to bring people together, to spread knowledge, and increase understanding. It brings many disparate people together for that purpose, under a purple banner. Every year more countries recognise it, and Cassidy’s message spreads a little further. It’s an inspiring thing to behold, and I am proud to do my part, in whatever way.

This year, admittedly, that part is just wearing a lot of purple (and coercing The Girl into doing the same.) Next year I hope to be brave enough to go the whole hog and dye my hair purple and raise some money. But that’s the future.

Purple has more than one meaning for me, though. The asexual flag is not a rainbow, it is a gradient. Black, which represents asexuality. Grey, which represents grey-asexuality and demisexuality. White, for non-asexual (or ‘allosexual’) partners and allies. And finally, an anchor below them all; the purple stripe, for community.  Belonging.

The Asexual Flag


It’s a rich colour, a bold colour. It comes and goes in popularity but it never really goes out of fashion. I love it. I love it for its varied hues, for how there seems to be a shade to go with pretty much everything. I have purple clothes, cushions, jewellery, and notebooks. I even have a purple left-hand-friendly vegetable peeler, although that was more happenstance than intent.

It struck me this morning, how serendipitous it is that one of my favourite colours should also happen to represent me so well, no so many levels. Oh, certainly I think we all favour colours which reflect us on some level. But Purple Day started after my purple obsession began, and I’ve been on the road of grey-ace self discovery for less than a year.

So chance plays its part. But I think a lot of people are drawn to the colour for the same reason I am. There’s a shade of purple for every mood, every occasion, bold and pale, warming and cool. And it’s often seen as a non-conformist colour, too. As the poem goes: “When I am old, I shall wear purple.”

I don’t feel like waiting until I’m old. I’ll wear my purple now. Gothic days, modern days, conforming and contrary. For epilepsy, for community, and for identity. Loud and proud.


The Problem with Princesses

Well, I just got round to the frankly rather irritating task of hand-washing the Girl’s princess dresses. Actually, I did it in two batches (small house, and they all need to air-dry), but still. 
All fancy dress outfits these days require hand-washing, which isn’t really the issue for me. Fill a bowl in the sink with water, squish them in one at a time, and there you go. But afterwards, with two dresses scrunched on my draining boards awaiting hanging space in the shower (these things drip forever, I swear), I got to thinking.
I just washed away a swirl of glitter from one of these dresses, from a pattern glued onto the fabric. It looked lovely on the shelf, but I am all too aware that its days are numbered. When the glitter is gone, it will look a lot more shabby. 
Yes, sharp-eyed parents of Rapunzel fans may know that the purple dress
is technically sponge-clean only but, that didn’t work. It never does.
Most of her other dressing-up garments are similarly fragile. I gently tease the marks out of the polyester, because they are too fragile to go in the washing machine. That said, there is so little natural material in these dresses that everything comes out with remarkable ease. I mean, even tomato stains rinse right out.
Still, I look at her little collection of dresses, all about £15 a go, and wonder at the point of it all. None of them can stand up to thorough use – they all rely on little girls playing princess tea-parties and practising curtseys no doubt – but the Girl has a big brother, and a rather more enthusiastic streak. She is the Princess with a Light Sabre, or a Princess with a Sword (even if the “sword” is actually one of my scarves). 
She’s going to ruin the dresses long before she outgrows them. And, while I’m totally on-board for the sword fighting, I can’t help but think it’s a shame that her make-believe clothes can’t stand up to her make-believe ambitions. And seeing as I have a sewing machine, I’ve gotten to wondering if there isn’t something I can do about that. 
This grand scheme may all come to naught. But I’m definitely going to look into what I can do to make a sturdier dress that won’t rub off all over my sofa (seriously, there is purple glitter everywhere from this latest dress), and will let my daughter be the Sword-Fighting Princess she is in her head. Maybe I can even give it a scabbard. 
Watch this space, eh?

The Tea is Taking Over

I sometimes joke that I “live on tea”. It’s an obvious exaggeration, something I jest about as I make cup number six of the morning. Still, it has the ring of truth about it.

I know from past experience that if I don’t drink at least one cup of everyday tea in the morning, by the afternoon a bit of caffeine withdrawal has begun to kick in, and I’ll have a headache. I’m happy to stand up and admit my caffeine addiction – at present and for the foreseeable future it’s a relatively benign one.

For me though, tea goes beyond just a caffeine hit in the morning to wake me up, or to stretch out a long evening. I did a mini-stocktake earlier and discovered that in my cupboards I have twenty-one different varieties of tea, four of which I have in both teabag and loose-leaf form.

I even made a handy (and totally not-weird) list which I stuck to my kitchen wall. 

If you deciphered my handwriting, or if you don’t care, you can skip this next paragraph, because I’m going to list them all:

Everyday (+L); Rosehip; Breakfast (L); Cardamom; Earl Grey (+L); Rooibos, Green (+L); Morocco (Mint + Spice); Peppermint (+L); Cinnamon; Chamomile; Lemon; Lemon + Ginger; Jasmine (L); Apple + Cinnamon; Gunpowder (L); White tea with Elderflower; Green tea with mango and lychee; Blackberry blueberry + and acai; Cranberry Raspberry + Echinacea; Strawberry + Loganberry. The “L” stands for loose leaf.

I also keep a jar of instant coffee for visitors to drink, along with sugar and sweeteners. None of these three things are used by myself.

After totting it all up and writing it down, I got to thinking. Why do I keep so many varieties? Why do I drink so much tea, too? It’s not just the caffeine hit, because most of the listed blends don’t contain any particularly measurable quantity of the stuff.

When I was a girl, I can remember knowing that children had squash or water, and grown ups had tea. It was How Things Were. My family were not great consumers of alcohol, so I didn’t see them with a glass in hand. No, it was a mug. It was: “Oh, I’m gasping, put the kettle on!” When my mum (dash of milk, no sugar) visits, often first thing she does after the hello-and-hug is to ask for a cuppa.

To this day I consider it a matter of genuine embarrassment if I fail to remember how people take their tea (or if they prefer coffee), or worse, if I forget to offer to put the kettle on at all. It’s a social conditioning, a habit which I inherited, and which already the Boy and the Girl are mimicking, holding tea parties for their teddies.

It’s a comfort too; a ritual which precedes writing sessions. Do I make a pot, or use a bag in a cup? Do I need the caffeine in the evening, or do I want to relax with chamomile? I have two teapots, a selection of large mugs, and a set of Cath Kidson teacups which are a treasured present from my Dad (milk, one sugar).

If I really want to get into writing, and I have the time, I make a point of getting out my little teapot and making tea with leaves. I set out the pot and strainer at a safe distance from my laptop, and refill when necessary. It breaks up the writing, allowing me to collect my thoughts now and then. I’ve gotten to the point where I associate certain flavours of tea with certain times of day, or occasions.

Everyday tea is for general drinking. A cup (or preferably two) to wake up with in the morning, and then a steadyish stream throughout the day. Early Grey is for a change, or when I run out of milk. Lemon and Ginger is for when I have a cold, and my various flavoured teas are for the evenings mostly, when the children are in bed and I can sit back and drink without the danger of it going cold without my noticing.

As for why I have so many? Well, if the fact that I located another flavour while writing this (Lemongrass and Ginger, if you’re interested) is anything to go by, it could be that I enjoy a wide range of flavours to suit my moods. It could be that I keep a wide range out of habit, to account for visitors and their preference. Or, more simply, it could be that as much as I am addicted to tea, I am also very good at buying it and then losing track of where I’ve put the boxes afterwards.

As a writer though, I think I’m going to keep telling people it’s because I’m creative and eccentric. We all need our little oddities, don’t we?

‘Tis the Season…

…To be piling on the anxiety, it seems.

I’m like it every year – every season, really, but particularly Christmas it seems, because there’s so much to worry about. Gifts to buy, and to wrap, cards to write and send, and now school events to remember, attend, send cakes/money for, and friends to consider.

And as someone who dislikes crowds due to social anxiety, even popping to the shops for a pint of milk can become a little daunting. I get home and want to curl up on the kitchen floor with a cup of tea, reassuring myself that I don’t have to go out again. Or I would, except that I do have to go out, because if there’s one thing I can rely on at Christmas, it’s that the stress of trying to be on top of things and remember everything will lead to me in fact forgetting more than usual.

So far, I have written half of my Christmas cards and posted none. And as I type this, I realise I went shopping earlier (with the Girl in tow) and despite writing “stamps” on the list, forgot to buy any. So that will be another trip out. Tomorrow, it can be tomorrow, and I’ll suck up the price of a first class stamp, sighing with relief that due to a bit of travelling around, I only actually have to post three or four cards this year. Or five. Could be five. Either way, hooray for not having a lot of casual friends, eh?

I’m riding the adrenaline rush at the moment and hoping the seizures don’t happen at the wrong time. I had two yesterday, and both fortuitously managed to be when my children were at school/pre-school and then asleep. I gloss over the note of fear which whispers into the back of my mind that one day, surely, the law of averages will spring one on me at a bad time. It’s a chiming worry which I never listen to, apart from late on those nights when sleep eludes me, and if I were a child again I’d want to turn to the comfort of a parent to reassure me that all is well.

That’s the thing about adulthood. I have to smile and reassure my children; all the while I’m fighting the urge to call my own parents and ask them the same thing. The single-parenting aspect gives me so much freedom – I went into town today straight from school and stayed there until I wanted to come home instead of rushing back, feeling as though time were ticking away – but the counter to that freedom is the anxiety that I’m an army of one. Help is on hand, but it’s a hand several miles away, to be summoned by a phone I can’t always use.

And for every person who helps me, I feel the nagging tug of an obligation to be repaid. A debt I owe, one which mounts with each and every favour I offer to repay in kind but never quite settle to my own satisfaction. Then looms Christmas, and I settle it on myself to repay at least a little with gifts and cards. Gifts and cards which must be bought, prepared, and given. All added stresses which I balance on my scales, adding and subtracting what I can do and what I have to let go. And for the let-gos, do I rush to catch up later, or call for help? My cycle of anxiety grows and multiplies.

Yes, ‘Tis the Season. To be Merry, to be Festive, and to smile brightly, all the while I am masking wishes for it to all be over so that I can try and find some time to catch up on the things I have not done, the things I forgot, and the favours I am sure to owe in the New Year.