In Case of Emergencies...
Honestly, I'm fine.

(I've got my own Christmas grumbles but, much like the Christmas turkey, they'll stew and stew and be served up ad infinitum at a later date...)

But not everyone has problems that can be talked over with friends, family, partners....
Sometimes you just don't want to bother them, even if you do. Sometimes things are just desperate - and the period between Christmas and New Year can seem bleakest of all.

So, The Samaritans really can help. Even if it's just a friendly voice. Even if you don't think anyone can help.

I know.

A few Christmases ago, they helped me...

Gripes' Christmas Message

One of my favourite paintings at the National Gallery of Scotland.

The Wicked Fairy at the Manger (by U.A. Fanthorpe)

My gift for the child:

No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes. But the wrong sort –
The workshy, women, wogs,
Petty infringers of the law, persons
With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;
The bottom rung.
His end?
I think we’ll make it
Public, prolonged, painful.

Right, said the baby. That was roughly
What we had in mind.

Chez Gripes this year, Christmas is a secondary event. Far more important than this mere quasi-religious consumerist trifle is my sister’s birthday. This year she is coming to Edinburgh (yay!) and we are going en famille to the zoo. [In case you were wondering she has no kids and will be 44 this year. She is, however, a hard-core Primary teacher…thus the zoo trip, I suspect.] I wanna see the polar bear! Is it still green I wonder…?

Before this, of course, we have to get through Christmas. Blah blah, gifts, blah blah, food, blah blah, bloody awful episodes of Eastenders… And before we even get to that, we have to grit our teeth and visit She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named: Mrs Gripes’ Maw.

As “the lodger”™ -of almost seven years standing- I am met with quizzical looks and a degree of circumspection whenever I visit Mrs Gripes’ Maw. She saves her venom for her daughter. Sneers, swipes, and passive-aggressive snipes (along with gleeful tellings of the most recent deaths) are delivered and endured for the duration of the visit. The journey home is always fast- and the air in the car is always filled with Mrs Gripes making the air as blue as that from the exhaust of a M8 Motorvator Coach: ho ho ho-ly living fucking Christ on a bike, that woman is a cu.… (Oh you get the picture…)

And even before we get to enjoy the festivity of Mrs Gripes’ Maw, we have The Christmas Shop: Tesco Super-Duper Megalithic Warehouse of Everything Ever (except that one thing you need…), a list and an army of frustrated, sharp-elbowed shoppers, desperate for the last bag of sprouts (or else their entire identity and Christmas happiness will be but nothing- nothing -and life shall have no meaning and darkness shall descend upon the world…) to be followed by drinks with the Stupidest Neighbour in the World Ever! Could my life get any better?

Actually, I’m looking forward to it.

So -happy, merry, safe, loving Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Yule, Saturnalia, Tirupavai, Tohji-Taisai, Festivus …Christmas even, whatever - and (unless I cannot resist the urge to blog meaningless drivel over the next week/fortnight) I shall return to full Gripey glory in the New Year.

Love to you all! (has someone drugged me? Have I succumbed to Christmas cheer? Oh lawks a lordy…Nurse! More tinsel!)

Sleeping with me...

Last night, in my snot-filled insomniac way, I was thinking about all the women I have ever slept with. Not just the (poor) women with whom I have pawed, nibbled and frotted (although I was thinking about that too... *sigh* So few, so very few…comparatively) but those with whom I have simply shared a bed while making zzzzeds... Most of them were very accommodating; a few kicked me out of bed within and hour. And rightly so.

I have come to the terrible conclusion: I am a horrible person to sleep with.

Firstly, I can’t stand being cramped: I cling to the side of the bed like a mountaineer clings to the side of a cliff if I feel my space is being invaded. This is fine, but if you sleep with a cuddler –and most people I have shared sheets with have been cuddling types- it seems a little stand-offish to say the least. Should you invade my space still further and make me risk tumbling to the floor, my response is an assertive shove, some profound whining and if all else fails, to get up moaning, waking my sleeping partner and thus ensuring grumpiness all round...

Secondly, I am hot. Not in a "phwaor, you are irresistible" sort of way (*listens for voices of demurral and is deafened by the silence*) but in a "-Are you ill? Do you have a fever? Jesus, you’re on fire you sweaty bastard!" sort of way. This means that I quite often kick off the bedcovers (ensuring that sleeping partner gets a quick draught to the kidneys at best, a light bruise at worst) huff and puff, noisily... and worse: feel tacky and damp with sweat. After a particularly burny spell, I have been known to have to change the sheets several mornings in a row, they’ve been that damp... This is an all year round phenomenon, worsened when I am ill or drunk, noontheless... Alas.

I also have an ability to sleep with my eyes open, a sleep-talking/shouting habit and very vivid dreams/nightmares that often wake me up - the knock-on effect of which is to waken the neighbourhood… All this on top of the persistent bouts and battles with insomnia. An awake me is a mobile me and that just isn’t easy to sleep next to

Mrs Gripes grinds her teeth, snores and has devil claw toenails. Otherwise, she’s fine... It’s a miracle we even share a house, let alone a bed...

That aside, today will probably be the last blogging effort from me for a while. Apparently, it’s Christmas. Who knew?

(Christmassy blog-effort to follow. Oh you lucky people...)

The year is nearly Donne...

by John Donne

‘Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

[Sod Christmas for a moment and indulge me: this is one of my favourite poems -and one only gets a chance to really feel it once a year… ]

" can stick your ' ology, Beattie"

I am on holiday.
I am still in my PJs, unwashed and barely breakfasted.
I am watching pish on TV, thinking about maybe - just maybe- switching it off and listening to some music or reading a book instead.Nibbling on a couple of satsumas... A nice relaxing bath, maybe...Indulging in a soapy fantasy of being lathered-up dexterously by a firm-handed...*drifts off*

I have been interrupted by work-folk phoning and asking me for completely daft information about nothing in particular five times already this morning! FIVE TIMES!
-Things they could have asked me last week, the week before... Even things they could ask me in three weeks time: it's not that urgent, folks! It's education, not brain surgery...


Naturally, I don't.

Information duly supplied, I can't quite get myself back into restful fantasy mode again. So much for holidays...

BAH bah humbug.

I Want to Vanish...

Fade out again...
I Want to Vanish (Written: Elvis Costello)

I want to vanish
This is my fondest wish
To go where I cannot be captured
Laid on a decorated dish
Even in splendour this curious fate
Is more than I care to surrender
Now it's too late

Whether in wonder or indecent haste
You arrange the mirrors and the spools
To snare the rare and precious jewels
That were only made of paste

If you should stumble upon my last remark
I'm crying in the wilderness
I'm trying my best to make it dark
How can I tell you I'm rarer than most
I'm certain as a lost dog
Pondering a sign post

I want to vanish
This is my fondest wish
To go where I cannot be captured
Laid on a decorated dish
Even in splendour this curious fate
Is more than I care to surrender
Now it's too late

I want to vanish
This is my last request
I've given you the awful truth
Now give me my rest

(For a RealPlayer audio clip of June Tabor singing this, click here )

I do. I really do… Cause?

One more teaching day to go.
A weekend spent bickering with Mrs Gripes.
Bloody Christmas looming.
Realising that I have thrown out several hundred quids worth of videos/teaching materials.
The beginnings of my annual festive cold/laryngitis.
Homesickness (for a home that never existed)

Bah humbug.

"-But... But.. didn't Phidippides* die?"

What do you mean Paula Radcliffe would have shit a kidney to get here faster?
*Europe’s “The Final Countdown” plays in the background*

Two more days of teaching to go.


Seems like a marathon… And a long marathon at that.

Yesterday a couple of my colleagues went into such a vituperative rant that even I was silenced momentarily (and I can be histrionically vicious with the best of them). The most amusing part was hearing the plans they had for the dismembered head of Managerzilla. Usually they show a tad more professionalism *cough* Well, OK, not much more professionalism, but they are usually more covert. The venting stopped briefly when Managerzilla walked past – but continued as soon as she was barely out of earshot. Oh, happy times… Christmas spirit and all that.

Anyhow. Like I said, two more teaching days.

Most office based folk have no comprehension of the sheer scale of knackerdom teaching at the arse-end of term creates and so I receive scant sympathy from my nearest and dearest (although my lovely sis shares my pain as she has a herd of excitable first year of primary school kiddiwinks under her charge. *shudder*) My students switched off some time last week and those that do still turn up have that loathful look in their eyes, as if to say , “Do we have to?...” or even “Can’t you just die?…” It makes the teaching bit require that little bit more effort and I am sucking the dregs from the bottom of the tank as it is (-which may well bugger my carburettor, should this metaphor be taken to its conclusion…) My response to their apathy has been to warn of impending exams and glower. Veiled threats are traditional, I believe. Ho-ho-ho…

Two more days to go.


(* Phidippides... just in case you weren't sure )

"Dream a little dream of me..."

I’m starting to think my subconscious doesn’t like me.

Last night I dreamt I was Carol Thatcher’s secret lover.*shudder*
To be fair, she was very nice to me; took me out to fancy restaurants, booked us into bijou hotels, never mentioned her mother… And she was strangely vulnerable and insecure in private (insecurities which I naturally tried to assuage…) -But… But… Carol Thatcher?!
Aw, c’mon subconscious! Can’t you do better than that? Please?

My dream life is often a very troubled affair. Apart from the mundane re-workings of daily life (-all day I’m at work, then all night I dream about it. How very restful…) and the usual panic/insecurity dreams, I have periods where I have very lucid, very realistic, very odd dreams.

Other dreams have included clubbing Charlotte Church to oblivion with her own artificial leg; spending all night up to my chin in a pond of mud, waiting for “the king of the frogs”; eating a mandolin to music as a cabaret artiste; working as a stripper, but never taking off more than my duffel coat and, recurrently, that the wallpaper is trying to send me messages - but I can’t quite figure out what it’s saying until I rip it off the wall and it dies. Er… Yes.

I’m not sure analysis is helpful at this point. Strong sedation maybe, but analysis? No…
But if anyone has any suggestions as to how I could have more pleasurable or even restful dreams, I’m all ears.*

*I’m rather hoping that that particular image won’t trigger a horribly literal dream, but if it does, you’ll be the first to hear about it, medication permitting.

What a Dumbo...

I did a foolish thing today.

While drying myself after a shower I took a long look at myself in the mirror. (I've lost almost six stones this year - at least I fit in the mirror these days...)

Oh dear.

My arse now resembles that of a somewhat hard-living elephant, albeit slightly less grey.


Whip Crack Away...

I'm a rhyming slang for what?! Jeez willikins...

Hmm. Well, I survived.

Actually, I was so well prepared I think I surprised her, and thus defused her ire somewhat (nothing more irritating than someone actually having reasonable answers to every accusation you can level, is there?)I even got to throw in a few barbed comments of my own.

The downside however is that I was have been so worked-up and adrenaline fuelled that last night I barely slept (and when I did, I was troubled by some very unsettling dreams...)which means that today I am... jumpy.

-I still reckon I've got it coming to me at some point, so I'll take heed of the words of Ani DiFranco, "smile pretty and watch your back"...


"Do not forsake me , oh my darlin'...."

I don't want to hurt you...
*tips hat*
My evil line-manager has called a meeting for today - with all the high heid-yins and me - and as yet she has not disclosed the full agenda.

I've been receiving clippy e-mails for days, sniping at minor procedural things I (in common with the rest of the staff, I might add) have overlooked -and worse, heard about other swipes and stabs secondhand from people who seemed to think I deserved a "heads up" that Managerzilla was on the rampage...

As far as I am aware, I have done nothing wrong. Nothing worth a full meeting, anyway. Nothing really worth an e-mail, truth to tell...

So why does it feel as though I am facing a shoot-out?
*polishes guns*

* Should I not survive, tell Mrs Gripes I love her - and bury me with my boots on...

Love Resurrection

On all fours for me Jodie, you slaaaag...
Jodie Foster was easily my first proper crush. Whether it was from seeing her first in"Freaky Friday" or "Bugsy Malone" I can't remember, but Jodie has been tattooed on my lesbian heart for years. She was even, in a roundabout way, my excuse for liking the works of Stephen Sondheim (althoughI don't advocate attempted assassination as a means of attracting the attentions of anyone, frankly... )

Growing sophisticated and blasé over the years, I had dismissed my crush on Ms Foster as being little more than a dykey "rite of passage" - much like the listening to kd lang CDs/playing pool/pretending to find Rhona Cameron funny. Oh, how wrong I was...

I've just seen Flightplan (or Panic Room in the sky, as I prefer to think of it...) and my lust for the dimunitive Oscar-polisher has been thoroughly rekindled: all that athletic searching, relentless singlemindedness and close-ups of wriggling through confined spaces has made me come over all peculiar... She even wears a graze beautifully... Where was I? Oh yes...

The film itself is OK, albeit so utterly contrived that the suspension of disbelief is nigh on impossible in parts ( & Sean Bean pretending to be "posh" is particularly funny!) but Jodie? *quiver* oh, she's something else - and thoroughly wasted in such tosh. I really do wish she'd make better movies (and get her kit off in them, naturally) *sigh*

I'm now fearful that my other teenage crushes might be re-awakened: I'm not sure I'm ready to lust over the memory of Lindsay Wagner -well, not without building up some stamina first: she was bionic, after all...

Work is the Devil

I am probably about three nosebleeds away from quitting my job, I feel that stressed. This week I’ve been in tears on at least three occasions just thinking about having to make the journey to work. I can’t sleep, I can barely crack a smile. Mrs Gripes has a semi-constant look of consternation. (I’ve been getting the shakes when talking about my work… not a good sign). Things are grim at Gripes Mansions.

Part of my job involves working with a group of “vulnerable” students, many of whom have issues that touch a little too closely on those that I have had to deal with myself. This has created more than a few problems for me, making me rake over my own past, sift through the wreckage and salvage something positive from it all (and the positive that has been salvaged? – at least it’s all in the past. Oh, marvellous…)

Another part of my job involves working with people who are “learning resistant”. Joyous, I’m sure you’ll agree. I get very little support in this – the college approach to teaching and learning is probably the least “teamly” I’ve ever encountered- and yet am expected to “meet team targets” – if I’d ever been told what they were, I might be able to comply, but communication isn’t an institutional strength.

And then there’s my line manager. The woman is without a doubt the most devious bully I have ever met. She is a mean spirited, petty, mendacious, vicious, gossiping harridan (and those are good points…) currently she has set her vitriolic sights on me. Everyone gets a turn; it is my misfortune to be the current quarry. Her favoured modus operandi is to be very selective about the passing-on of vital information – then disproportionately crowing and reprimanding in turn when things go wrong. This week she changed both the staffing and timetabling of an event less than half an hour before it was due to happen. Naturally, things went wrong. Apparently, that things didn’t go smoothly is my fault…

On top of the usual pains and displeasures of teaching (and of being at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to decision making…) this has all served to make me feel lower than a slug’s slidy bits. Like I said, I am seriously thinking of quitting – or at least of looking for a very different job.

Any offers?

A little bit of politics (or another reason why Mrs Gripes and myself will be registering a Civil Partnership)

It isn't often that I get overtly queer-political, or feel in any way proud to be British. This is one of those occasions, however: by the passing of a law recognising gay relationships as "Civil Partnerships" the following is a situation that from 21st December this year should not happen in the UK. (-Not saying it won't happen: money protects money, and I have a suspicion that non- registered gay couples may well face similar legal issues...)

To put pressure on the "Freeholders" of Ocean County to reverse their decision, I have emailed them expressing my disappointment at their injustice. Feel free to do the same if you feel similarly.

Below is a direct "steal" from this article to give you some context (news is only archived on the servers for 7 days).

Dane Wells is a retired police officer who worked with Lt. Laurel Hester, the gay police officer in Ocean County, New Jersey, who has been denied “domestic partner benefits” for her long-term same-sex partner Stacie Andree. Lt. Hester is terminally ill with lung cancer.

For nearly half a century now, I have been proud to call myself an Ocean County native.

Among the many highlights of my life have been the years I spent in law enforcement with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, where I worked alongside Lt. Laurel Hester.

I have also enjoyed the good fortune of experiencing this grand American experiment of ours from myriad angles.

I have served as an elected official, as an appointed official in various capacities, as an employee of government, and, in perhaps the most important role of all, as citizen and voter.

From those varied perspectives, I have observed thousands upon thousands of government employees.

I have yet to encounter another public servant more devoted, more dedicated, more loyal or more hard-working than Laurel Hester.

To this very day, I see news headlines that would not exist but for her untiring efforts over two decades ago.

Laurel entered law enforcement at a time when female officers faced an even steeper uphill climb than they do today.

She brought to the profession a refreshing array of qualities it was lacking in those days; things like tenacity and compassion and incredible efficiency.

Whether we like to admit it or not, there are differences between men and women and Laurel brought to police work countless qualities that I believe only a woman could.

As a result, I saw a heck of a lot of men in a male-dominated profession feeling threatened by all those things Laurel was introducing.

But I also watched in utter amazement as she slowly but surely gained the trust and confidence of the strapping 250-pound state troopers and the oftentimes holier-than-thou federal agents.

And all of a sudden there it was before my very eyes: a woman cop being accepted by her male colleagues.

I was witness to Laurel Hester making history.

I saw a pioneer among women in police work always working twice as hard for half the credit.

And then I saw her taking her half of that credit and giving it away to a man in the interest of cultivating the harmony and respect always in her wake.

In Laurel, I was seeing then the evolution of social progress, much as we are all seeing the very same thing swirling around her today.

I will take to my grave the vivid memories of the times Laurel and I spent working on cases together.

The frigid January nights in the back of a frost-encrusted surveillance van struggling with frozen fingers to focus a seemingly endless telephoto lens on the images of shadowy figures engaged in some sort of shenanigans under the cover of darkness.

And we took some lumps together wrestling to the ground our share of drug dealers in the relentless heat of an August afternoon or two on the sandy beaches of Seaside Heights.

We sledgehammered the doors of fortress-like drug dens with nothing more that wooden night sticks and 1940s-era revolvers.

Reasonable salaries and overtime were just a dream.

No cop in the world could ever ask for better backup than that provided by Laurel Hester.

While she may seem to us today a frail and fragile figure, let me tell you she could mete out “necessary force” with the best of them.

And, not surprisingly, I don’t recall anyone ever checking on the gender of her partner when needing her help.

Personally, I never knew the answer to that question and didn’t care.

Now I know.

I still don’t care.

Of course not everyone agrees on things like religion and government.

Indeed, that's what America is all about.

That said, I think anyone is hard pressed today in claiming our Board of Freeholders does not provide us with pretty good government year after year.

At the very least, it's an opinion that's rather well quantified at the polls on a regular basis.

But I have just seen something go horribly awry.

I have seen justice denied to someone who spent her life ensuring justice for the rest of us.

I have seen my government turn its back on a loyal servant.

I have seen a human being skewered – apparently on religious grounds – and I just can’t for the life of me understand how any god being worshiped by anyone in this county could possibly approve of this.

Laurel Hester’s last request is not about politics, religion, or economics.

It’s not about the “sanctity of marriage” or any of the other things we've been hearing about.

But it is about morality.

It is about human dignity.

It is about at least some minimal amount of goodness many of us want so desperately to find in the essence of human existence.

It is about a base level of decency we expect to be inherent in 21st-century America.

Like a growing number of people these days, I’m not finding a whole lot I can respect about modern politicians, especially in New Jersey.

But one quality I will always greatly admire in any person – politician or otherwise – is the ability to recognize a mistake, admit it, fix it, and move on.

We all make them, but sometimes it takes the more towering among us to admit it.

I respectfully suggest the time has come for us to admit this hiccup in the progress of Ocean County’s longstanding progressive government; rise above money, politics, and personal religious beliefs; and unite as good and decent human beings to cradle Lt. Laurel Hester in the collective arms of the compassionate and civilized society we call Ocean County.

■ Representations to the Freeholders of Ocean County can be made to the Clerk of the Board at (732) 288 7777 or, from outside the USA +1 732 288 7777. The email address is

A&E not TLC

(Not a pic of me...I have my own teeth, thank you)

So, I dragged my sorry self to A&E.

After initial assessment, I waited for four hours on my own (Mrs Gripes would have come, but she had to attend some vitally important meeting: you know, the kind that if you don't attend, the world will fall off its axis or something...)

I came to the conclusion that games lessons at school are hazardous - a significant number of fellowA&E-dwellers were still mudded and kitted from whatever healthy team sport with which they had wrecked themselves.

I also concluded that old women really know how to dress for cold weather- several old dears were wrapped in so many layers I wondered if they were wearing their entire winter wardrobe in one- however it has the disadvantage of making them immobile and thus they become even more prone to helpless falling.

I realised that I never want to experience a heart attack, stroke or other extreme trauma. (A bit of a no-brainer, I realise - but nonetheless...)

I reaffirmed my opinion that generally, Scottish people are polite and patient.

I waited.

Eventually, I was ushered into a cubicle, had lights shone in my ears and eyes, was prodded about the face and neck, was left alone some more, then escorted to the X-ray department where I was nuked (and prodded a bit more) returned to my cubicle and left to wait a bit longer.

I waited.

I continued to wait.

A doctor and a brood of students came with my x-ray: finally, I was diagnosed.

I have unusually small ethmoid and frontal sinuses. (I'm not sure I like the term "unusually small": it sounds freakish). When blocked- and they will become blocked more easily due to their freakish narrowness- they become very inflamed and this can affect the optic canal (which accounts for the dizziness and concomitant nausea). Anti-inflammatories might help, steroids could be a short term solution, nasal decongestants could worsen the condition so avoid them, surgery could be an option if it continues: go home, take these pills, come back if you pass out...

Once more, I wasn't made to feel a fool for "wasting" the doctor's time, but I feel bad that I had to take up time that could have been spent treating someone else. Our approach to medical care is drifting more and more towards the US system, where emergency medicine is being used for routine illnesses because people can't access general practitioners. In the US the barrier is money, in the UK it's staffing levels, over-subscribed patient lists and inflexible surgery hours.

I am feeling better physically - the little green capsules are doing a grand job- but I am now far more worried about the health of our health service than I have been in a long time...

Entering the realm of the unwell

I have had a headache, nausea and dizziness for over five days. Lucky me.

I feel as though my eyeballs are being pressed out of their sockets by a great pressure behind my eyes, swirling waves of nausea wash over me at inopportune moments and every now and then I lose track of where my body is in relation to the space around me: accordingly, I have a tendency to waiver and wobble, even when sitting still. Hours of fun, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Teaching while feeling this shitty has not exactly been a laugh and a half- my concentration is shot to pieces and yesterday I forgot what I was saying in the middle of explaining the tortured and tortuous uses of the semi-colon. I’m not sure my students noticed: I’d lost them at “good morning.”

Reluctantly, I’ve had to admit defeat and call in sick: if I can’t stand up (or even sit down) and talk without feeling as though I am going to vomit, I’m not really going to be much cop at informing and inspiring others.

I am also a little concerned- headaches aren’t supposed to last this long, this one had a double-barrelled gusher of a nosebleed as a precursor, I’m getting pins and needles in my hands and it isn’t being dulled particularly by over-the-counter analgesics. I woke up at three this morning in tears due to the pain in my head and so Mrs Gripes persuaded a very reluctant me to contact the local doctor’s surgery (I always think that I am wasting the doctor’s time, even if I’m in unfathomable agony) and so just after eight this morning I phoned to get an appointment.

The soonest appointment I could get? Next Thursday. The “emergency” appointments had already been filled by three minutes past eight. All two of them.

I hate to knock the NHS. I believe in the NHS. I believe in universal medical care, free at the point of delivery and that I should pay a fair rate of tax to pay for it. I even defend the NHS to others, pointing out the huge merits in the system –it’s just that I would like to be able to access it when I need to, without it being in response to a crisis. The NHS is – and will always be – underfunded (and most General Practices are the poor relations of the entire medical system) but underfunding alone can’t explain why the average schmo in the street can’t get to see a doctor without scheduling their illness at least a week to a fortnight in advance. Something is desperately wrong with the system and it needs more than money to fix it: it needs to be managed by people who understand that illness cannot be planned.

I’m convincing myself that I feel better. I still feel sick, dizzy and with a constant pain behind my eyes, but I’m telling myself that I am better because the NHS won’t allow me to still be ill. With any luck, I actually will feel better soon: I just wonder if I might feel better sooner if I received any medical attention - but I guess I won’t get to find out.

"Do you want the bad news, or the irrelevant news...?"

Get well soon, fuzzychops...or else I'll be fored to do something with this daff..
Poor Fuzzy: if anyone has noticed that her blog has gone suspiciously quiet, it's because she's in hospital. Nothing trivial, I can assure you. My brow is furrowed with concern as I write this - I love the wee bugger to bits (I would even offer a kidney, should one be required) and hate the thought of her having to stay at the Sawbones Hotel, not entirely knowing what they are going to do to her - but I managed to overcome my fear of hospitals and visit her. I think she was pleased-ish to see me (although I'm not the visitor she'd have wanted, ideally... ) and that if nothing else I managed to entertain her for a while. I hope she didn't notice my twitching and constant checking for an exit. I'll save relating any details as the prerogative of the poorly one herself. I'm sure that they'll be vivid.

On reflection, I don't have a fear of hospitals so much as a total blind panic, the cause of which has a long and detailed pathology, but let's just say that when my early experiences of hospitals include breaking the drainage bag from where my father had had surgery and having icky blood "stuff" soaking my new shoes and splashed up my pristine white ankle socks, visiting my dying grandfather and witnessing the quiet death of the old bloke in the bed next to him- tugging on my mother's trousers to tell her what I saw, only to be dismissed as "making it up", which was reluctantly retracted when a clot of nurses gathered around his bed, swished the curtains shut and muttered, " -shit, I was supposed to check 'im 'alf an hour ago" and then as a pitifully self-conscious teen spending ten hours on a trolley in a hospital corridor wearing my somewhat unflattering P.E. kit, my knee swollen to the size of a spacehopper, hallucinating with pain and surreally watching the mayhem explode as some drunken brawlers lurched, spewed and sprayed gore around the A&E. I could go on, but it could easily bring on a panic attack and I'm working later.

Anyhow, apart from worrying about Fuzzy's hospital sojourn, I have been working 15-16 hour days getting some project work completed (I think Mrs Gripes still recognises me...) which has left no time for anything remotely resembling a life, let alone a blog. Which means that my blog anniversary slipped past without me really noticing.

Looking back, I think I had very different intentions when starting blogging. Now I'm not sure if I have any intentions at all. I am also aware that I am "self-editing" more than I thought I would. There are times when I want to express something completely different, but I bite my lip (so to speak) wary that what I say might actually affect "real" people -or worse. If I am to continue blogging, then I need to have a serious rethink about how I express myself - should I be brutally open and frank, or should I continue to self-moderate? Can you be too honest? Are there other facets of myself that I should/could explore bloggily?

If I continue to blog, I suppose I'll sort all that out. For now, I'll just worry about real stuff.

Get better NOW, Fuzzy: you're needed back in the blogosphere and the real world...


clicky for bigger

I am having a strong urge for comfort eating. The kind my mother excelled in (no emotional problem to large or small that couldn't be lulled with a steamed sponge pudding or something greasy and sweet drowning in custard ) -the kind that I just can't eat any more.

I 've always used food as a buffer between myself and the world and I'm not sure it is a habit that I will ever break. That, culturally, we use food as both a celebration and a comfort (think Christmas dinner, think funerals...) and are seen as odd if we refuse the biscuit from the shared staffroom tin or dolefully deny ourselves dessert at social events, just adds to the confusion of the recovering fudge-doughnut addict.

So maybe I'll make do with licking the squares of the screen above in a coolly scientific combination of flavours. (Or maybe I'll cruise the aisles of M&S, drooling over the sticky toffee puddings until I get physically removed by the security guards....) Either way, today I feel like cramming my face with something bosomly comforting, tooth-achingly sweet, warm, syrupy and cinnamon scented.


The Lofty Sky

Today I want the sky,
The tops of the high hills,
Above the last man's house ,
His hedges, and his cows,
Where, if I will, I look
Down even on sheep and rook,
And of all things that move
See buzzards only above:
Past all trees, past furze
And thorn, where naught deters
The desire of the eye
For sky, nothing but sky.
I sicken of the woods
And all the multitudes
Of hedge-trees.
They are no more
Than weeds upon this floor
Of the river of air
Leagues deep, leagues wide,
Where I am like a fish that lives
In weeds and mud and gives
What's above him no thought.
I might be a tench for aught
That I can do to-day
Down on the wealden clay.
Even the tench has days
When he floats up and plays
Among the lily leaves
And sees the sky, or grieves
Not if he nothing sees:
While I, I know that trees
Under that lofty sky
Are weeds, fields mud, and I
Would arise and go far
To where the lilies are.

[Edward Thomas is a much overlooked poet: often marginalized from collections of war poetry and not fully “pastoral” enough to fit into the georgic revival mould, he is difficult to categorise. His poems seems pastoral and simple on a first reading, but are often imbued with a strangely melancholic tone- something stemming from his own battles with depression. He also wrote about "otherness" and was fascinated by the symbolism of doppelgangers, particularly how they could represent a duality in human nature. He died in Flanders in 1917. I often think of the works of Thomas around Armistice Day – more so than I think of Sassoon or Owen - he seems to capture the sense of loss far more precisely than many other poets, I find. Needless to say, when I studied Thomas at school, I couldn’t stand his work: far too “gentle” - I preferred the pretentious rantings of Eliot or the out and out miserableness of Sylvia Plath. What can I say? I was a teenager… Ho hum.
This particular poem is a fair précis of my mood. Not literally, of course- although I feel that the sky is growing heavier and lower by the day, that the buildings are bleeding greyness into the streets, that this damp greyness is being absorbed into my very bones, that I am rotting like leaves heaped by the roadside, that I am darkly slipping into winter with only the vague memory of spring and the hope of spring to come keeping me from being washed away, that I am drowning in gulps of grizzled air, that I need to see something beautiful, something open wide and clear before I lose all hope and myself – but it does capture at least something of the mood that I feel. And then there are Thomas’s symbolic woods… You can read a lot into those, I assure you.
There seem to be a lot of people weighed down by “something” - right now, chipper blogging seems to be the exception rather than the rule- and I am part of that fashion. I know that like all seasons, all moods, all fashions, it will pass - but when? I am forcing myself to wear pink and grin like an automaton in a vague hope that it will trigger the real “happy” outlook. Failing that, I may have to be an early adoptee of the fashion for tinsel. Actually, I may just stay miserable: far less irritating.]

Just plain "Balls to the HMI"

I have been thoroughly inspected. Twice. (-luckily neither the lesson in which we were discussing the impossibility of imagining Celine Dion at orgasm- I shudder at the thought now, just recollecting the conversation and ensuing impersonations- nor the one in which we were all sharing "embarrassing moments I have known/caused" and I tripped over my own feet and broke a reasonably expensive piece of equipment, thus adding to my [long] list of shame... but a fairly "worthy" effort which looked as though it had "learning objectives" clearly communicated and fitted in to the main scheme- and was deathly, deathly dull to teach...) In addition, my marking has been looked over, my record-keeping sniffed at and some of my students grilled about me... and no, they are not allowed to tell me what they said, I am not allowed to ask, and the only feedback I can get is in the written report, seeing as my line manager declined the verbal debriefing on my behalf. Bastard.

The jury is out to consider its verdict.
Ho hum...

Am I feeling happy, confident and that "quality" has been assured? Am I bumgravy...

Gizza job.
Go on. Gizzit.
Whatever you do, I could do that ...

*head butts screen*

(From) Balls to the HMI

Well, OK. I’ll do something “up” (and “shut up” will fit the bill nicely…) -I’m just not feeling bloggy at the moment, and rather than save you the torture, I’ll keep it brief. But before I go and glower in a corner somewhere…

Saturday allowed me the pleasure of gracing the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard Gay Ball with my presence - this year the ball took the theme of a Highland Fling –with both a disco and ceilidh, but alas, no tea-dance- and much tartan tat wearing totty of all genders was beheld. Special mention must go to the howlingly drunk, pigeon-chested young chap in a stained vest and “home made” kilt (which to my eyes looked pretty much like a  netball skirt with a tartan tea-towel tacked onto it), the tartan bondage trousered lesbian who couldn’t find which pocket in which she had placed her cash  -something the queuing masses behind her at the bar took with gracious good humour and to the countless multitude who, on seeing  Craig Hill swirling his sporran on the dance floor mouthed silently to their friends, “...isn’t he tiny!

I am always touched by seeing people dancing with their partners at the ceilidh  - somehow there is something strangely moving about seeing people with their chosen partners, dancing the old dances and “owning “ their culture: the half-remembered dances, gleefully stumbled through; the joyous grins of lovers as they follow the steps of their ancestors; the wide-eyed innocence of it all, as people hold each other close and burl around to the fiddler’s tunes-  it shouldn’t be surprising, or even unusual, but it is.. Must be getting soft in my old age…

Oh yes. Down to earth with a bump.  Today the HMI arrive at the college. A rising sense of panic has gripped the staff  -  vast quantities of paper has been dumped and shredded, classrooms have had the “Changing Rooms” treatment, lesson plans and teaching schedules have been fabricated, students- and staff- “warned” to be on their best behaviour. This burying of bad practice and short-term approach to crisis management reminds me of a squirrel I saw in the Botanic Gardens , burying a discarded cheesy Wotsit – the poor bugger is going to be very disappointed when he comes to digging it up, I fear…

My major contribution to the inspection process has been to buy a new pair of boots…
I figure if the inspection goes badly, I’ll be “let go” and will therefore need new shoes for any interviews.

I think I’ll go back to glowering in my corner now…

Blah, blah, bloody blah.

I’ve just read my previous couple of posts and “blah blah blah” is all that I hear: I think I’ve just bored myself into a stupor, so heaven knows what I’m doing to you…

Yes, you.

So, my unknown and unknowable blogmates, tell me a little about yourselves. At risk of becoming a comment whore, unburden your souls and reveal your darkest secrets.

Failing that, just say hello and/ or tell me to buck my ideas up, pull my socks up and cheer up (or anything else that ends in “up”).

I’m waiting…

The inner critic's bigger, uglier sister

(Cue the Tom Jones music) It’s not unusual. (Actually, switch that bloody racket off and stop doing that pelvis thing and licking your lips, it irks, me. Thank you.) It’s not even uncommon. You see, I have more than a just a vocal inner critic- I also have a self-destructive streak. This is not the same as being suicidal, or physically hazardous, although I suppose they are related and occasionally they do overlap -but it is destructive.

In the past my self-destructive streak has been expressed in many and several stupid ways – the joys of competitive drinking and drug-taking (yes, I was that idiotic: “How quickly can you smoke a quarter of hash?” “ Err, hold on dude - I used to be able to remember. What did you ask me?…” “How quickly can you down a half bottle of scotch?” “You paying? Well, how quickly can you get me to A&E and I’ll show you?” etc., etc. ...) I shake my head, raise my eyebrows, pour another cup of camomile tea and then pour scorn on my ridiculous self-abasing past. Tut tut.

Of course, tales of the 3.a.m prowl around Stratford on Avon clutching a bottle of tequila, wearing nothing more than a vest, a pair of boxer shorts, a scarf, cowboy boots and a fedora, singing “Jerusalem”- then waking up slumped underneath the statue of Billy S himself by a couple of tourists taking my picture- does make for a picaresque anecdote. As does the midsummer dawn barbecue – where the contents of a flatmate’s room were emptied and lightly chargrilled (singed rather than destroyed, as if that makes a difference: if it had been done at the Whitechapel Gallery I dare say I’d have been up for the Turner Prize that year, of course…) until said flatmate admitted that yes, indeed, he had pissed on the sofa. Should it matter to you, the item that he couldn’t stand to be burned was neither his teddy bear, nor the picture of his mother, but his really not very special shoes…and no, neither he nor anyone else thought to stop me. Even the story of “taking a shortcut” through someone else’s house -scurrying through their garden, creeping through their back door, pausing behind their sofa (where I spied their still steaming cup of tea and was tempted by their plain chocolate rich tea biscuit) then charging full tilt out of their front door before stopping to tie my shoelace and nonchalantly continuing down the street- makes for a jolly tale. And these stories might even be amusing if they weren’t true. But they are, and I am both lazily impressed with the chutzpah I once showed and cringe with embarrassment at the mindless stupidity of it – I could have ended up dead, beaten up or arrested for pretty much any/all of them and where would I be now if that had happened?

So, these days my self-destructive, risk-taking urges are far less dramatic –and thankfully far less frequent - and yet they are no less harmful. I could go into detail, but I won’t: to be honest, it doesn’t make a good anecdote (examples are available on request for the terminally curious). Needless to say, much like with the inner critic, I have a strong suspicion this self-destructive streak will not fully go away. Damn.

"I've been hearing voices..."

I am feeling most unsettled. I’ve been thinking too much about what I should be doing, rather than actually doing it ( -it’s the story of my life, really) and I have been out and out aggressive and unpleasant while trying very hard to suppress my inner critic.[Apologies to all that have encountered it: the urbanely cynical, mild me will return shortly. I hope.]

Unfortunately, I am possessed of a very loud, very vocal, inner critic, whose life’s work thus far has been to cause me to hesitate, to delay and to procrastinate. The positive side of this unquiet voice is that I question myself a lot: why am I doing this? -why do I think this? –what does this mean to me? –how did I come to this? The negative side is that I question myself a lot… (You can see the elliptical orbit that particular ellipsis suggests, can’t you?)

Anyhow, bludgeoning my inner critic into brief submission (the violence was alas entirely necessary: and me a lapsed pacifist, too. Tsk tsk.…) I did something recently that I haven’t done in a long while: I wrote a short story. I’m not entirely happy with it – both the inner and the conscious critic are stroking their chins and preparing a considered response- but I am happy with the fact that I managed to focus, concentrate and concertedly imagine for the first time in years.

A lot of “proper” writers talk about “finding a voice” for a character -something of which I used to be a little wary, seeing as it made writing sound like a mystical, mythical activity that relied on some external force acting on a writer rather than something which could be generated from inside one’s own mind: as someone who rarely finds what they are looking for, even on a practical level (I lost a book of poetry somewhere a few months ago, I couldn’t find it anywhere and it is still annoying the bejasus out of me…) it sounded too much like chance - now I think I am beginning to understand a little better what they mean. Curiously, I’ve been able to stifle my inner critic sufficiently to write occasional poems, but for them the persona doesn’t need to be sustained or as coherent for quite as long as in a short story and therefore for me it’s easier, in some ways, to write poetry, but that’s by the by…

My inner critic has been drowning out those “voices” for far too long -the phrasings, imaginings and personae that can be used to convey a range of feeling and thoughts – or rather, I’ve been telling myself “I can’t…” before I’ve even tried and I have been furious at myself for having so much crippling self doubt: in part this has been vented in my interactions with others ( or in other words, I’ve been a grumpy cow) or merely suppressed into a tight ball of angst. Now I’ve started writing again, I’m eager to experiment, to see how many other voices I can use to tell a story, how many other characters I can give life to. It could be many, it could be none: it could be that the inner critic was right all along and I really shouldn’t write, but sod it – I’m going to do it anyway.

Of course, stifling the bloody inner critic thus far has only applied to writing one short, short story: it’ll be another stand-up, bare-knuckle fight, I fear, to shut it up over snipes at my career, my ambitions, my choice of politics, shoes, friends, bread rolls… – or in other words everything else. Oh well. No-one ever said it should be easy, did they?


On the blank page of our kingsize bed
we lie together, waiting for words,
like open speech marks.

Alone, I am an apostrophe;
a sign of something missing,
something taken away.

A shyness that is criminally vulgar...


There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse
and worse.

From Selected Poems (Oxford University Press)
copyright Fleur Adcock (New Zealand, Britain)

Well, quite.

On Saturday I went to the theatre (it sounds unremarkable enough, doesn’t it? Let me explain further). On Saturday, Mrs Gripes and I went to a studio theatre production of an adaptation of Jackie Kay’s Trumpet at the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow. Mrs Gripes is not exactly a theatre person – we went just the once before, and left at the interval because she was huffing, puffing and wriggling so much – and me? I used to do theatre (dahling…) very badly indeed and I got fair scunnered wi’ it, I can tell you. For a few years now I have been giving almost everything containing actual live actors a wide berth and a deep scowl. I realise that this is probably anathema in a city that hosts the largest festival of arts and theatre pretty much anywhere in the world, but there you go... As you might guess, it would have to be something fairly special to get me to skip willingly towards the close, intimate, actorly space of a studio theatre dragging Mrs Gripes with me – and in Glasgow to boot.

And so it was. Trumpet is one of my favourite novels and I was intrigued to see how it could be adapted to the stage: multi-layered, sensitive, delicately written and filled with clearly distinct voices and big ideas about identity, gender, grief, I was not going to let my anti-theatre prejudice get the better of me. As for Mrs Gripes, well, she’d just have to sit still… Which she did (bless). Luckily, the production was good - and let’s face it, studio theatre is extraordinarily intimate: it would be difficult not to feel involved when you can feel the breath of the actors on your skin.

For me though, the real drama came once the production had finished, for there, standing next to Mrs Gripes and me at the bar is Jackie Kay… (I may have omitted to mention that Jackie Kay is a favourite writer of mine. I may also have omitted to mention that she is beautiful: small, uncontrovertibly womanly, stylish and with a confident, open, expressive face and lively eyes - and that for a long time I have lusted after her from the depths of my soul. Oh, I also may have omitted to mention this to Mrs Gripes: well, one does if one is to survive, I find …)

Generally speaking, when faced with strangers I can just about manage polite small talk (I’m shy, you see…No. Honestly!) When faced with someone attractive, talented and famous- and about whom I have entertained all manner of unmannerly thoughts- I can just about manage to breathe. Turning round and smiling (smiling!) Jackie Kay looks enquiringly to the oblivious Mrs Gripes, who makes some kind of comment about having travelled from Edinburgh to come here, as though that were in itself impressive (which for us it is, admittedly, but to the rest of the world? Probably not…) Slightly less smilingly, she looks at me - who by now is somewhat flushed, inwardly panicking and trying to formulate a sentence of some kind that doesn’t sound sycophantic and yet wittily conveys a deep love and respect for her work, maybe with a top-spin of flirtatiousness that is dripping with conversation possibilities – and I manage to squeak a bumbling, “’ello” with appropriately blank, glaikit expression. Cue Jackie Kay edging carefully away from the dull nutter to a place of safety, the far side of the bar (where she is joined by other writerly heroine Liz Lochhead.) Oh fuck.

Mrs Gripes by now is looking at me quizzically, wondering if perhaps I have choked on a cocktail cherry, or have been temporarily abducted by aliens. Only when we have reached the safety of the car, and the soggy Glasgow night air has managed to restore my blazing face to a slightly more healthy hue, can I tell her with whom she was passing the time of day and thus why I temporarily lost my tongue. Mrs Gripes sniffs dismissively, “Well, you could have said…”

If only, I thought. If only…

For this relief, much thanks...

Not a tumour! Not a tumour!(Although not a mere lipoma either, so I was right to check it out. Probably a cyst, maybe scar tissue. Keep an eye on it. Should be fine.*sigh*)
My relief is utter.
My bladder is happy.
Even Mrs Miggins’ didn’t threaten to stab me with a knitting needle for wasting the Doc’s time…

So what will I fret about next?

Internet Fuels Anxiety Shock!

Anxiety is a strange thing. Mine keeps me awake and keeps me constant company.  Sometimes it manifests itself in a myriad of displacement activities, other times I sit zombie-like and brood. Currently my anxiety is managing to do all of these at the same time. (Brooding zombie-like displacement is a fine trick to pull off, I can assure you…)

Earlier this week I found a small but strange lump in front of my bladder. Logical me considers that it is most likely some kind of subcutaneous infection and will disappear as mysteriously as it arrived. Anxious me is screaming, “Tumour! Tumour!” and trying very hard make me run screaming around the flat…

The internet is a dangerous thing: type in a few symptoms and you can get an encyclopaedia of ills that match how you feel. Tweak your search terms and you can be dead in a week. Ever since finding this previously uncharted flesh, I have discovered fresh symptoms: tiredness, non-cystitis urinatory urge, non-specific pelvic pain – all of which are making me insomniac with anxiety (and thus increasing the tiredness, of course…)

So, tomorrow I’m going to get prodded by the doctor. Doubtless I will be told it is nothing to worry about and I will get the sense that I have been wasting precious medical time that could have been spent on Mrs Miggins’ near fatal bunions. And then I will have something else to feel anxious about…

Just Larkin About...

Poetry Of Departures

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.

And they are right, I think.
We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
It's specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:
So to hear it said

He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I'd go today,

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo'c'sle
Stubbly with goodness, if
It weren't so artificial,
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object:
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.

[Philip Larkin]

I think I’m starting to become Philip Larkin (only without the misogyny, casual racism or talent…) Oh god…

Don't laugh at me ('cause I'm a fool)

For as long as I’ve been aware, my reaction to any and all bad news or uncomfortable emotion has been to make a joke of it. No matter how inappropriate or solemn, nothing is safe, nothing sacred. Of course I can, and do, cry:  I wear a sombre face and feel the depths of pain, but I can’t resist the urge to wear the red nose,  bend the moment and shape a joke as though life were sometimes made of little more than long thin balloons, wrangled into the shapes of dogs or hats or swords. Quite often the joke is a darkly bitter one, but it is a joke all the same.

Recently, when asked if I was a good child, my sister looked thoughtful and gave the considered answer, “Well, she was eccentric. Not malicious, but not always good.” She paused and looked puzzled for a moment. “She has always been a bit funny.”  The sense of funny that she used was almost certainly not the one pertaining to humour. And yet, my earliest memories are of people laughing at me. With me, I suppose, but around me, certainly. In a house that was filled with unspoken tensions and minefields of fear (which at the time seemed puzzling and unfathomable) the relief felt from people laughing was as warming as gulping hot chocolate in winter and as thin as the skin of a balloon.

I suppose it isn’t surprising that to gain approval, to keep the peace, to break the tension that I could feel but not place, I learnt to make jokes of all the things that scared me. In doing so, I never fully learnt the art of being still. The stillness of listening and just absorbing. The stillness of sympathy. The stillness of compassion. No, instead I ramble and burble. I dodge and weave and take circumlocutions around the simple things that need to be said and heard because I can make people laugh - and because it is easier for me. And I tie myself up in twists and knots, shapes of things that I am not, and try to amuse.

It is usual for a child to want the world to be simple and easy for them, for the world to be a place of entertainment, of crudely formed animals made of latex and breath, but as an adult I should be more prepared to embrace the complex, the difficult and the solid. I am angry at myself for always cracking jokes - often to try to make others forget their pain for a moment, but also so I don’t have to look too closely at all that pain in its rawness and vulnerability - when I should just be still. I don’t know that I can change, although I know I need to grow up, but maybe, just in case anyone mistakes my joking for callousness or a lack of empathy,  I should put my balloons aside for a while and take off the red nose. I am listening and I do care and I am still.

Hiding in Plain View

This is a hidden post. It wasn't written on September 29th, 2005. Far from it. But I didn't know where else to write. No-one looks here, anyway. Who'd read the archives of something they don't know exists? -Or of something they've read before and didn't really take notice of then, either? It's not as though you'll find pearls of wisdom here...I'll charitably assume you've at least read some of the rest: you are expecting either caustic amusement or depressive tracts about life in LesBohemia. Well, you can fuck right off. I'm writing this because I want to, you don't come into it.

I could write whatever I like in a hidden post - who'd know? I should have written what I liked, when I liked anyway- but I didn't. Self-censorship/ self-editing. Wanting to seem "amusing" or worse, "nice". Pretending to be part of some online "community". What was the fucking point? What is the fucking point, eh? Oh, I won't get answers, I know that. But maybe I'll get myself some new questions.

So, if you've read any of this before - you think you know me.
You don't. I hardly know myself - how could you?
But let me set a few things straight.

1. I am bored.
-Bored beyond credulity at the smallness of the life I have created, the non-career I have passively let drift over me...
And yet I am far too terrified of anything new and exciting that I couldn't contemplate doing/being anything different. What scares me? Failure.
- And success.

(-I never said I made any sense.)

Someone pointed out that if I have given up hope, then I might as well not live: you know what? They might very well have a point...

2. I gave up hope when I was twenty-three.
Twenty three!
I sat myself down and talked - aloud - about what a middling, meddling mediocrity I was- that being "promising"- a promising student, writer, whatever- when younger(!) was a false promise, and I was promise breaker; that I should (even if it was by force) accept that I will never amount to more than... (-well, even then I couldn't finish the sentence. What is the point of having abstract ambition? I can't put a task or a job to my ambition; I want to "be" better. How woolly-minded and pointless is that?) "I am a mediocrity!" I shouted it aloud, wandering the streets of Stratford on Avon, almost hallucinating from cheap whisky and self-loathing. I believed it then.

Now, I believe I may have become it. I wasn't mediocre: I was scared and alone and mired in past hurts. I still could be, I'm not sure (certainty goes with age, doesn't it?) but I have become almost invisible, I am so cautious and reticent.

I want to be so much more that this pathetic, wary paddler on the edge of life.

3. I don't need your pity/sympathy/contempt/compassion. I can supply my own, thank you. You might find my way of navigating my emotions to be scary, even nonsensical - but I've been charting this area for some time now, and I know myself far better than I let on.

4. When I say I'm OK, or that I don't know why I can't sleep, am depressed, etc., etc., I am lying through my teeth: I know precisely and exactly why (and I know that you wouldn't like the truth and so I am sparing your feelings.)

There might be some other hidden posts along the way. You might find them. Then again - you might want to ask yourself why the fuck you are looking for them in the first place? What are you looking for? Why here? Why?

Fifteen things I have learnt today [snot and sinus special edition]

  1. When I have a cold (as I do now) I rage and seethe like an Old Testament prophet
  2. Some of this can sound unintentionally funny
  3. I like the words, “accursed” and “forsaken” more than somewhat
  4. I can’t think of a single “ordinary” conversation where I might be able to use “accursed” and “forsaken” without sounding archaic, mad or worse…
  5. Mrs Gripes enjoys a scarcely concealed degree of schadenfreude
  6. I don’t mind her gloating as long as she does it quietly
  7. My postman scratches his nose using the envelopes he then posts through my door
  8. I don’t want to open my post now that I am aware of this fact
  9. I actually find the fuzzy, warm sweaty feeling of a fever pleasurable
  10. I am less fond of the tacky, cold feeling of a fever cooling down
  11. You can actually get used to the taste of blood.
  12. The smell of cat food can permeate even the thickest slugs of snot inhabiting one’s nostrils
  13. I can impersonate Elmer Fudd
  14. One shouldn’t impersonate Elmer Fudd when phoning one’s line-manager
  15. Particularly when said line manager is well know for being bereft of both a sense of humour and all compassion…

Thankfully one can’t get sacked for talking gibberish on the phone when off sick… but I bet she’d have good go if she thought she could get away with it! Humourless bint.

After writing all this mince, I am knackered now and need both a Lemsip and nice lie down. I would prefer the nice lie down to be with a pillowy-bosomed companion who would tend to my whims, soothe my fevered brow, and allow me to loll and idle in capacious luxury - but I’ll settle for the Lemsip and some idle day-dreaming. Probably about luxuriant pillowy bosoms and idle lolling.
And whims.
*sigh* I do like a good whim. Bad whims aren’t so good, but if you find a good whim? Ooh, it can change your life…

[The_Gripes_of_Wrath hopes to be returning to something approximating sense within the next day or so (usual variables apply) Please excuse the break in the usual doom and gloom: all donations of tissues impregnated with Aloe Vera gladly received …]

Kneejerk Pessimist

Right now, things are going well in my life. I can’t complain.

I have a job I enjoy and at which I am proficient (I’ve even been headhunted and offered supplementary work. That’s never happened before and I am stunned!). I am healthier than I have been for years (no smoking or drinking, regular exercise, easily five plus portions of fruit and veg a day, a healthy libido and gleam in my eye…). I have a partner who I love and who loves me (– Civil Partnership, ahoy! Rings and everything! But heaven forfend that anyone should deem it a marriage: it isn’t. So, no meringue frocks or wedding presents for us, just a deeply significant trip to the registrar and nice cup of tea). I have a future, commitment and security.  I have friends. I am not in debt, I have all the toys and gadgets I desire, I have free time to play with them and a little money in my pocket to spend on other small distractions. I live in one of the world’s most beautiful cities and I get to explore it every day.

- So why do I feel that it is all a trembling house of cards, waiting for the slightest breeze to tumble and fall? Why am I waiting for it all to go wrong? What part of me cannot accept that sometimes good things happen – not necessarily to good people, but to all people, regardless of the mealy-mouthed idea of “deserving”? Why can’t I feel that I am deserving of stability, love and success?

If I analyse too much, if I let my brow furrow and my gaze turn inward, if I keep thinking that it will all go wrong, then -as sure as autumn is readying its leafy coat- it will. And I know it. And still I can’t stop.

And then the questions start again: is your job really the best you can do? Why bother with the health kick? – your inheritance is almost certainly a tumour of some kind. Am I really loved and in love –or is it habit that is comfortable? What future do I really have? Why would anyone want to be friends with this? And so the toxic, self-defeating questioning goes on…

Even if this flurry of insecurity lasts a minute – a second, even - it is enough to rattle my whole day. I trip over my feet, I catch my hand on the kettle, I stammer and lose my train of thought. I become a self-fulfilling prophesy, lousing things up, hearing that mocking voice in my head that I can’t shut out “I knew you’d fuck it up. You’ll never be good enough.”  I hear the litany of my failures, in a dull intonation. I adopt an inner cringe. I withdraw.

I know I should be more accepting. I should be kinder to myself, congratulate myself for things I do well, the good things that I am, but it is hard. I should accept that I am loved- I find it hard to believe it, but I am- I should accept that I am loving, and that positive emotion can be expressed without fear of retribution. I should keep working hard to be positive so that maybe one day it won’t seem like hard work.

So, right now, things are going well in my life. I shan’t complain.

... and another one.

by Carol Ann Duffy

If we were shades
who walked here once
over the heather, over the shining stones,
fresh in our skin and bones
with all of the time to come
left to be us,

if we were dust,
once flesh, where a cloud
swoons on the breast of a hill,
breathing here still
in our countable days,
the words we said,

snagged on the air
like the murmuring bees,
as we lay by the loch,
parting our clothes with our hands
to feel who we were,
we would rather be there

than where we are here,
all that was due to us
still up ahead,
if we were shades or dust
who lived love
before we were long dead.

From Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy, published by Picador on September 16,price £12.99.
(To order a copy for £11.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875)

Carol Ann Duffy: Rapture

I want to call you thou, the sound
of the shape of the start
of a kiss — like this, thou —
and to say, after, I love,
thou, I love, thou I love, not
I love you.

Because I so do —
as we say now — I want to say
thee, I adore, I adore thee,
and to know in my lips
the syntax of love resides,
and to gaze in thine eyes.

Love’s language starts, stops, starts;
the right words flowing or clotting in the heart

Don’t spend too long wondering if a hardback is just “too expensive”, or that you aren’t sure whether or not you “like” poetry. Just buy this book – and fall in love with words, love itself and Carol Ann Duffy…

As in "ha-ha" or...?

This week I went for a coffee with an old school friend. The last time we saw each other would have been fifteen years ago, I reckon. I can’t say we’ve been in touch all this time: throughout my school career I deemed her my best friend, however once we left school we fell out of contact entirely. Occasionally, a nugget of information would be passed via the “maternal network” – my mother would get news and gossip via a work colleague, who was in turn an acquaintance of my friend’s mother- but information was little more than sketchy. There was one piece of news that rattled through like freight train: she had become a Buddhist nun.

Anyhow. We met up last week in a favourite Edinburgh coffee house (that sells dreadful cake -and pretty dreadful coffee too – but the ambience is great!) and caught up on the past fifteen years. Apart from being older, more confident and very composed, she was exactly as I remembered her – funny, disarming, slightly offbeat, something of an iconoclast and very compassionate. We chatted comfortably for a couple of hours. I had brought a photo-album from when we were at school and we were sanguine about the fashion horrors that lurked within its pages (well, it was the late 80s…) and filled each other in on the occupations and whereabouts of some of our classmates.

I was curious, not so much as to how or why she had become a Buddhist nun, but how she could leave it behind. Her explanation made perfect sense and I was glad that I had asked (it had been worrying me for years: I had feared some kind of crisis had arisen, but in fact there had been no problem- it was just that she had entered the nunnery for a fixed period and when her time had come to leave, she felt happy to do so) She was curious as to how and when I came out, although not in the least surprised that I had: she was more surprised that I was in a “proper grown-up relationship” – something which surprises me, constantly - and that we both were now non-smoking, non-drinking, drug-free and “responsible” professionals. When we were younger, we each viewed the other as being the wilder and more daring one: the reality was perhaps that I really was the more out of control. I certainly drank more, did more and risked more - I did it all more furtively, however, and it is the furtiveness that is now the hardest habit to break.

As we were leaving, I remembered something from when we were fourth or fifth years, desperately trying to keep ourselves amused during our tedious French lessons with a teacher who rejoiced in the nicknames, “Miss Marple”, “Trout”, or more starkly, “Death”. With another couple of friends, we had formed a gang -although a shower or clump would be a more appropriate term - and in self-deprecatingly ironic form, had named ourselves the “CND-Hippy-Save-the-Whale-Lesbian-Nuns” (to be said in our best Naaaaaaridge accents) – thus defusing some of the more common insults hurled our way (As I said, it was the late 80s and each of these terms were considered insulting!). I realised, with some degree of amusement, each of our friends had adopted one or more of these insult terms as a lifestyle: one of our friends was doing conservation work, another had become a wild-life photographer, we had all joined CND at one point or another and, of course, I was definitely a lesbian- she had most definitely been a nun. Funny how our jokes sometimes become real. Well, sort of funny, anyway.

Because 30-Something asked so nicely: Gripes meme memento...

Seven Things I Plan To Do Before I Die:

  1. Er…
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. ...
  5. ...
  6. ...
  7. ...Learn to stop procrastinating.

Seven Things I Can Do:

  1. Lick my own nose
  2. Put up shelves (far harder than you might think)
  3. Recite most of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth word for word
  4. Feign confidence
  5. Break bad news to someone gently
  6. Clear up other people’s vomit without being sick myself
  7. Love

Seven Things I Can Not Do:

  1. Lie convincingly
  2. Fit carpet or lino
  3. Hop on my left leg
  4. Tell jokes
  5. Shave my legs without missing a bit
  6. Fake a convincing Scots accent
  7. Understand why anyone reads Jeffrey Archer books

Seven Things That I Find Really Attractive About The Opposite Sex:

(I’ve never done the hettie thing, so this is a really tricky one. I suppose if “really attractive” can incorporate the qualities I admire in my male friends then I can give it a shot…)

  1. Single mindedness
  2. Confidence in their own geekdom
  3. Ability to tell jokes
  4. Indignance
  5. Unexpected sensitivity
  6. Open and unabashed appreciation of sex
  7. That I don’t have to have sex with them

Seven Things That I Find Really Attractive About The Same Sex:

  1. Soulfulness
  2. Emotional awareness and expressivity
  3. Strength and vulnerability
  4. Wit/humour (and women’s humour is not the same as men’s, that’s for sure)
  5. Curves – the more the better
  6. Soft skin…everywhere
  7. Taste *deep sigh*

Seven Things I Say The Most:

  1. Fuck it
  2. Bugger me blue!
  3. Er…./Mmmm/….Aaaaah (or indeed any other form of filled pause)
  4. OK? (rhetorical reinforcement, not an actual enquiry)
  5. Ultimately
  6. Shitfuckarsewank
  7. They were/it is/it could be “challenging”

Seven Books I Love:
(in no particular order and frequently subject to change...)

  1. Trumpet: Jackie Kay
  2. The House of Sleep: Jonathan Coe
  3. The World’s Wife: Carol Ann Duffy
  4. Tales of the City series: Armistead Maupin
  5. The Winter’s Tale: Shakespeare
  6. The Passion: Jeanette Winterson
  7. Nights at the Circus: Angela Carter

And should anyone care to compare and contrast, I am setting this meme free!
Go! Run with it…

Hi ho...

I feel sick.
I’ve barely slept.
I can’t face my breakfast.
I want to run away. A long way away.
I could get a train or plane ticket and just get the hell out of here: I’m sure I could afford a B&B for a while. Maybe I could learn to forage, or use the fading remnants of my charisma to blag a place on someone’s sofa? I’m sure someone would take me in…Wouldn’t they?
I could feign a sudden trauma and become mute, that might work.
I could develop a sudden allergy to whiteboard markers. Near fatal, it would be.
If I didn’t live on the ground floor, I could throw myself down the stairs…
I could eat some of that gunk that has grown at the back of the fridge, that might do it.
Projectile vomiting!
Semi-permament incontinence!
I could gnaw off my own hands…

I am a lecturer at a college of Further Education.
Today is the first teaching day of a new term.

I have yet to meet any of my new students. I am crazed with fear and apprehension - far more so than any of my students could be. This rising panic has been building up for a week or so, to a point where I am getting palpitations, nightmares and breathless panic attacks. I try to relax, try to tell myself that it will all be fine, but it doesn’t sink in. If anything, every year it gets worse…

Give it a fortnight and everything will be back to normal. I will cope. I will stop panicking about being unprepared, entirely unsuited to teaching, having nothing to give these people, or that I will be found out as a fake, that I won’t “get away with it” any more, that I will be doing more harm than good… All will be routine and manageable, calm and order.

But for now…

I feel sick. I’ve barely slept. I can’t face my breakfast. I want to run away…

Baggage Handling

I haven’t seen my sister in a little over two years. It’s not that we aren’t close (although, I’m not sure if we are close anymore – or indeed if we ever really have been properly, at least not without something else being in the way: oh, it’s complicated…) it’s more the case that we are geographically far apart and neither of us is blessed with limitless funds or a love of public transport. Guilt and love (ah, family…) made me more certain than ever that we should meet up this year and so I scrabbled together the airfare and have packed my case: getting the baggage right is very important, I find.

The last time we met up was a year after we had furtively scattered my mother’s ashes around Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens . (We had conscientiously researched which plants might not mind a scattering of ash and bone, although to be honest it would have been entirely in keeping with my mother’s character if her mortal remains had killed off a plant or two – she had a mistrust of greenery and a toxic relationship with most, if not all,  houseplants) After having gone through the relentless cruelty of her illness- cancer of the pancreas with which she was diagnosed on Christmas Eve 2001, the year she retired from work- and the debilitating numbness of grief after she died, we weren’t very sociable and spent much of our time in each other’s company piecing together the fragments and fractures of our family history.
Much of it was hysterical (-her father was a getaway driver who disappeared mysteriously – rumour has it after grassing when a bank-job went wrong; our grandfather and his brother “Dock Magicians” – small-time East-End gangsters who could make anything appear on your doorstep for a price; my grandmother the daughter of a suffragette- who once took an axe to her errant husband only to drop it on her own foot, thus losing a toe, but never missing a beat in her berating of him) much of it dark (-my mother’s post-natal depression that made my sister my carer at the age of ten until she was seventeen and couldn’t take any more and so moved out; my father’s cruel, calculating abuse of my sister, degrading and demeaning -and what would now be termed “grooming”- her [and later me, to a lesser extent] as a power trip with sinister sexual overtones; my mother’s abject denial to intervene even when she was pleaded with to face my father; my mother’s many bouts with depression in later life, her anguished suicide attempts and the long hours my sister and I both spent at our respective universities, pleading with her to get help while we were self-medicating with drink and drugs and pretending that everything was fine…). All of it was necessary in order to heal.

So, two years later we are both in different jobs, in different places in our lives and, although we speak to each other on the phone, send emails, texts and still have that easy shorthand of communication that exists in families, we are almost different people. Almost, but not quite. I hope that this time when we meet up we can focus on the present and the good, put the pain of the past aside for a while and that we can actually be close, either again or for the first time, depending on how you see it – with no secrets, hidden half-truths and guilty embarrassments. I’ve missed my sister. I’ve missed having a sister for years really. I’d better re-check my case: it’s the only baggage I want to take with me.

Broken Morning

So, it’s morning now. Warm, like the smell of a brewery, and fuggy. I can taste the yellowness of the air and I want to screw my eyes up so tight that I block out all light, all thought. Birds are razor blades in my head. My sheets feel heavy and I can feel the sheen of sweat on my body. My skin feels loose, except for where you have touched me, and there I feel your fingerprints and the hot sharpness of a dormant bruise. I smell of yesterday. I feel like yesterday is still with me. I wish it was tomorrow or the next day. Yesterday and today have already blurred together too much to be of any use.

The sound of the outside world is muffled by a walls and windows. I can hear the ticking of a clock somewhere as it syncopates with my pulse. A car in the distance, spluttering as it starts up. An early morning whine of an aeroplane taking people away from -or back- home. There is a rustling noise somewhere, indistinct but clearly papery and thin. Footsteps drum above my head. The man in the flat above is pissing and I can hear the hard, percussive, foaming noise it makes as the warm torrent hits the water and echoes in the toilet pan. The footsteps bass drum back again. He didn’t flush, or wash his hands. No taps, no rushing roar. He must have gone back to bed. I wait. I breathe. Silence, apart from the birds and ticks and heartbeats. I open my eyes.

Before my eyes adjust to the light I see the world as an animated pointillist picture. Grey-blue dots dance on the wall and ceiling. The early light makes the curtains glow like a horror movie cliché. A breeze makes them billow and sharper thicker slices of citrussy light flash through the gaps and sting my eyes. I cannot return to sleep now. I wouldn’t want to, maybe. It’s not possible anyway. My mind is awake and wants fed.


I think I've followed stars before
tracking them with my eyes
blurred points of light
scratching across the night
faint traces of history

but none seem so far
so distant yet intense
fervent fixed & cool
as this one point
that follows & traces me

[Not a lot to blog at the moment: inner turmoil, blah blah blah...relationship conflicts, blah blah blah... lack of decent nose-studs in Edinburgh, blah blah blah...

So here's a poem instead.

Nods. Yep, that's about the size of it.

Saunters off into the encroaching darkness of a wet Edinburgh evening...]


Sometimes it takes being up high to get a sense of perspective.

For reasons uncertain, even to myself, I was feeling fairly grim on Sunday. Everything from my sense of self-worth to my self-image (still with the self, self, self...*sigh*) was feeling pinched and cramped. Nothing seemed to fit and to make matters worse, the weather was gloomily grey. I was uncomfortable in my skin and resenting being made to be sociable. (Sociopathic, would have been more pleasing to me, but not acceptable to the world at large, it would seem...) Sunday was not looking like being an optimistic day.

After wandering around the foot of Arthur's Seat and getting lost around Miralles' mad-genius concrete fishing-port of a parliament - and avoiding back-pack wielding tourists in noisesome gaggles -I wasn't feeling much better, although I was doing a far better job of hiding my lethargic, apathetic, just-plain-pathetic, self-pity and was feeling somewhat more aesthetically nourished. Mrs Gripes was keen to, "go for a good walk" and in the spirit of compromise (my first choice would have been to huddle in a darkened room until it -whatever "it" might be- was all over) I agreed. Having already decided between us that climbing Arthur's Seat was one of the recognised symptoms of sheer, certifiable, wrong-headed madness, we agreed to go to Blackford Hill: a far less challenging climb, considerably less populated and a little closer to home.

Amost as soon as I got there, I could feel my mood lift. In part this may have been due to the vastly improved weather - the greyness had lifted and the sun was almost painfully strong - but mainly it was down to seeing Edinburgh afresh.

From up here the city looks likes a box of toy bricks thrown in a vast pile. Black church spires occasionally scratch the sky, the foamy, spongy green of the trees seem to froth and spill everywhere you look. The castle still draws one's eye, but is offset by the massive presence of Arthur's Seat. Even from the distance of Blackford Hill, Arthur's Seat dominates. It squats and scowls and looks untamed, like a sleeping lion.

The quietness, broken only by the sound of seed pods popping in the heat and the distant sound of football chants drifting from Tynecastle, was calming and invigorating at the same time. Edinburgh gets so cluttered and frantic with humanity this time of year, it can overwhelm: from Blackford Hill it is always solid, firm and fixed. I felt small, properly unimportant and awed.

Next time I'm feeling jaded and tired of the city and myself, you'll know where to find me...