Fear of Life

I was looking for a good quote just now to summarise how I’m feeling. I found the following by Mark Twain: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life.” It made a lot of sense. I spend too much time thinking, worrying and trying to stave off, sometimes by supersticious rituals, harm coming to the people I love and myself. I count magpies, I pull eyelashes to make wishes, I throw coins into every waterfall, fountain and pond. I wish on stars and cross my fingers under the table. These feelings grow in strength when I’m faced with a new challenge: a foreign country, an unfamiliar hotel room, a criticism. So here I am tonight infusing myself with fear at the thought of being away from home alone for 5 days. Every scenario has played out in my mind – not one has been positive. But my reasons for catching the train tomorrow are actually all about life: challenges, progress, the unknown, taking a chance. I’m used to sneaking away from school, college, Univeristy x 4, feeling inadequate and unable to speak. If that happens again, it’s comfortable in a way. Maybe what’s more frightening is joining in, taking the chance of being heard. I laughed this week when my friend Kath Burlinson (a very positive person) reminded me of our family way of thinking: “What if something goes wrong?” “But what if something goes right?” she said. Scarier in a way! That being the whole point of my blog this far and something I need to change.

We had some sunshine for once this weekend and it felt like spring. There were daffodils everywhere and the ponies seemed to skip a bit in the fields on the way to Buttermere. There were calves and lambs and a kestrel and some unidentified rodent, possibly a vole, that crossed the path in front of us and disappeared into an identical hole in the grass on the other side. We walked to Sour Milk Ghyll, a strange name I think as the water’s white and frothy as freshly squeezed milk and comes down with a force that would never let it sour. We climbed half the way up, slipping on the mossy rocks and clinging on to tipped trees with whole sections of roots exposed to the sky. We didn’t get all the way to Bleaberry Tarn due to silly footwear and the need for food and beer. We had a really good late lunch, early tea, in The Bridge and drove home for a nap singing Steve Knightley songs that lapsed into a silly conversation about old ladies getting stuck in wheelie bins (apparently it does happen and might have been on the Jeremy Vine show, although I’m a bit doubtful!).

So tonight I’m a bit anxious about the Avon course, but also excited and I’ve got a new wheelie suitcase which will make a big difference to my constantly aching wrist that’s never healed after a fracture. I’m looking forward to getting trains there and reading on the way. As this week’s shown again – as it does all over the world every day of every week – none of us can every really know what’s going to happen tomorrow. The best weapons against fear are bravery and determination (and a bit of gin helps too).

A Rather Haunted Life

I love the above title of the Shirley Jackson biography I’ve been reading this week. The irony of the word ‘rather’ is especially ironic. This week was all work again, very little writing or thinking time. The birds are back at the bird table in the yard now that it’s draining properly. The rabbits continue their love affair. I can remember one day only without rain in the last two weeks. The office was so bright (and the blind had broken its hinges) we had to Blu Tack pieces of paper across it so we could see our computer screens – good old Tories funding the NHS! Yesterday we went to see Beauty and the Beast with literally everybody else in the local area. There wasn’t a seat free and we were squashed up in rows beneath the screen where rowdy, teenange girls looked at their phones, laughed hysterically and threw popcorn and M&Ms at the rest of the audience.

We decided to drive to Wasdale Head for dinner today but had no idea the impact the rain had had on high fells. Waterfalls sprung from nowhere, bursting through stone walls and over the road. As we got nearer, cars stopped to warn us ‘the Head’ was flooded. There was nowhere to turn ’round, even if we’d wanted to. The lake heaved against its banks. As we got nearer, it had actually broken through and the road was all lake. Luckily we were in the van and crept through slowly. My car would’ve been stranded. Walls and trees were up to their necks. The narrow drive to the Wasdale Head Inn was a full flowing river. Tents had been unmoored and lay against fences. The shop where we planned to buy a book on the coffin route over the mountains was ‘closed due to extreme weather conditions’. We got some food at the Inn and a welcome drink. The ground was so saturated, there was no chance of a walk. There were a few people in the pub. The slate floor was wet from boots and dogs. We realised we had no diesel on the way back. I was on the lake side and, at times, the road runs so close to the lake-drop I watched it like a hawk, ready for the ground to fall under the pressure of the flooded fells.

I enjoyed the Andrew Marr show (recorded) this evening and also the latest Crimewatch with Jeremy Vine. I started watching it in 1986 when only me and one school friend were allowed to stay up that late (not as late as the ‘update’ of course). It was like an event witnessed by the privilidged and we felt we were an elite twosome allowed to watch something prohibited and shocking to middle class Oxford parents.

I’ve been plagued by bad dreams and ‘night terrors’ this week, the sort that don’t disappear on waking. Sometimes you wonder how your mind has conjured these horrors up and that in itself is a disturbing feeling. These have stayed with me all day.

We made it home anyway from the wilds of Wasdale and now, writing this in bed, the rain has begun again on the bathroom skylight. One more week until I go on my first ever writing retreat. I’m scared. Time for some Shirley Jackson escapism before more work and Monday’s shadow.


Rainy Saturday at Castlerigg Stones

It was a late night last night with music, singing, drinking and writing until 3am. It was much needed after another week of early starts and general hard work. After much searching, the rat’s hideaways in the yard have been uncovered one by one, but the rat has either bolted or been crafty enough to relocate to another nest as one is being cleared.

This morning was another rainy, Cumbrian Saturday. I wrote in bed until 12pm and read a bit of the Guardian. There was a nice smell of cooking eggs from downstairs and I got 2 cups of tea in bed. We set off towards Keswick after 3pm and I drove for a change. Everything was hooded in low cloud and that hemmed in feeling the mountains give you was in full force. I’ve never been to Castlerigg Stones. When we arrived it was just beginning to get slightly dusky and the view outlined on the National Trust sign – where the stones actually jut out of the bronze and can be felt, like Braille – was half hidden by mist and shadows. We were the only people there. High up, it was freezing cold and I decided to run around the circle, and then again but in and out of the stones, to keep warm. It worked. We then paced from opposite corners to try and calculate the exact middle of the ring of stones, and – bizarrely enough – we came to the same place and found that others must have done the same as the exact centre was the most trodden part of the circle. It was the sort of fine rain that soaks you sneakily. On the way back we stopped at The Royal Oak at Braithwaite to have a pint but the rugby was on and it was so packed we sat outside under a tree on wet benches.

I’ve been reading Louise Gluck’s poetry this week and it has really caught me. I like so little poetry it’s more of shock when I do find something that I find really speaks with a clear, original voice. I haven’t fully digested what she’s saying yet and am looking forward to reading The Wild Iris later. I’ve also read Shirley Jackson’s short stories. The Lottery is a short, sinister piece of work clearly attacking small-town mindsets and persecution. Instead of this being by hair colour, choosing to be a spinster, living as an unmarried man minding your own business (What’s He Building in There? by Tom Waites comes to mind) or even having a black cat or a visible mole on your face, this is an actually lottery where the villagers draw tickets and the loser is persecuted. In says so much in so few words.




Rat Trap

Returning from half-term in London to work and Cumbria, where it’s rained for at least a part of every single day this week, has been hard. Eveything feels hemmed in. It was interesting to hear the descriptions on the national news about Copeland (that’s never in the news) because of the by-election. There were statements like ‘it’s the most remote county to travel to in England’, and ‘it’s roads and infrastructure are the most poorly maintained’. There was talk of the ‘culture of isolation and disengagement from politics’, high unemployment and a lack of representation of the county’s needs in the UK. Living here, this is how it feels. Working as a community nurse, it can be miles of driving between appointments, often down bridleways and farm tracks. Carlisle – the nearest place for specialist services can take well over an hour to reach on terrible roads, and longer if you’re stuck behind a tractor. The local council relies heavily on speeding and parking fines and, even in an area as remote as this, there are few places you can park without the dreaded yellow, sticky ticket appearing on your windscreen. This includes the hospital site, where I have not been able to get a parking place anywhere near my place of work since the new regulations started in January. It’s really shocking. I often walk over muddy grass and paths in the rain for 15 minutes before I even get to work. It saps all the energy from you and leaves little left to convert to art or music or books, the things that get you through the hard times.

The ‘wood mouse’ that we caught and realeased from the humane trap has turned out to be a baby rat, now mature and digging bucketfuls of earth out of a burrow under the wall every day. The humane traps are set again but it’s wiser now and, no doubt, pregnant. The burrows seem to go far under the shed. I think we wanted a wood mouse so we had one for a bit. The reality of the rat and it’s destruction’s a bit unnerving!

We went for logs for the wood burner today to a place near Bassenthwaite Lake. We filled the back of the van with huge pieces of birch, oak and beech. We stopped for a couple of drinks in The Pheasant Inn and then drove very slowly back. It makes you feel better having a wood burner in this constant rain.

I’ve enjoyed the series Taboo and was sorry it finished on Saturday. The writing, acting and sets were excellent but most of all I thought the message of justice for past wrongs, individually and as part of a nation or a large company (i.e the East India Company), had a powerful message and the ending was not disappointing. I’ve been reading Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork and have found the Norwegian settings and strong characters made the book very difficult to put down at bed time on work nights.

Most of the week has been dominated with the most excruciating toothache I’ve ever had. It’s drives you mad. You can’t think, talk or even drive properly. I’ve been taking codeine with little effect and I was at my wits end with it when I saw the dentist on Wednesday. They removed some of the nerve but the tooth is dead and I’ve the choice between root canal work of extraction. I have no idea what’s better, but the pain has reduced in the short-term and the relief of being able to enjoy food and even a cup of tea reminds me what I take for granted.

I was very interested to hear the Jeremy Vine show this week, driving between appointments, about the musician Alice Martineau, who died of Cystic Fibrosis in 2003. I remember her debut single being played around that time. It was not the best of years, as dad also died in 2003 and every minute of that year we were conscious of time running out. I didn’t follow Alice’s story and didn’t realise she had died until this week. I think her voice is beautiful. I also think her attitude to life was admirable, hard to sustain and a triumph of talent over illness. I’ve always been conscious of the small window we have. This is in the family I think, as all grandparents died young. I also got diagnosed with a serious stomach condition when I was 24 and have to have regular biopsies. Alice’s story reminds me to do what I can while and can and to do it with courage.

Sometimes life does feel overwhelming and just too hard. That’s why I’ve put the picture of our two rabbits in the back yard – Flat and Parsley – on the blog. They love each other so much and that really is all that matters.