Thursday, 29 January 2009

Bolshy bedclothes

The other night I did a very childish thing. I fell out of bed. Before you start laughing, let me explain the circumstances, because it wasn't that simple. It all began when I woke up with a blocked nose. This is a frequent occurrence and I keep a Vicks inhaler on the bedside table just in case. (What happened to good old Vick who Mum rubbed on our chests when we were little? When and why did he acquire that unmemorable 's?)

In pitch darkness, without glasses - without even having my eyes open, in fact, there being no point as it was pitch dark, etc. - I groped for the inhaler. Pat, pat went my hand on the wooden surface, like a blind man's stick. There's my glass of water, thought I; good job I didn't knock it over. That's the clock. The inhaler must be somewhere to the right of the lamp, but between the clock and the water glass. Here! Got it!

I grabbed the small cylinder, shoved it up my left nostril and promptly coated the inside of my nose with waxy slime. It was my lip salve, not the Vicks inhaler. Same length, same girth, wrong orifice. Damn!

I put it back on the table and started blindly patting again and, lo! My fingers encountered something that just had to be the Vicks, as there was nothing else vaguely cylindrical for yards, anything aimed at a different orifice being safely hidden away in a drawer. And larger, too, of course. Though perhaps Eskimos...? No, don't go there. Though nasal sex is one way not to get your bits dropping off through frostbite.

As my fumbling fingers were transferring the Vicks stick to my nose, they caught against the lamp and I dropped the Vicks. I heard it land on the floor. Now, tapping the bedside table is one thing. It's just about bed height and I hardly need to raise my arm. Tapping about on the floor is another matter entirely. First, I tried a tentative probe behind the table and quickly withdrew my fingers with a shudder, having encountered several years' worth of spiderwebs. Had it fallen in thee tissue box? No. Had it rolled amongst the untidy heap of books, magazines, eyeshade, slippers and cold hot water bottle that was on the rub beside the bed? Yea, though I scrabbled and scratted like a dog seeking its bone, the result was zero.

I could only draw one conclusion. The damn thing was under the bed. Down went the fingers, stretch went the arm, tangle, bundle, thud went the bedclothes and me. I landed in a sausage roll of duvet and heavy, furry throw and hit the carpet on my knees, laughing. Well, wouldn't you? Falling of bed was something I hadn't done since I was about three. Now I really, truly know that I have reached my second childhood.

And yes, I finally found my Vicks. I got back to sleep okay, too. A miracle!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The house with the smelly husband

When you are house-hunting, the silliest things stick in your memory and, even when you've viewed hundreds of properties over the years, as I have, help you remember particular ones. For ever. My friend Jill can never forget a set of estate agent's details in which the only thing they could find to say about the bathroom was that it had an 'ornamental soap dish', whatever that might be.

Yesterday's viewings kicked off with a 1 pm date at a house with tenants who are leaving in a couple of weeks. The front door led straight into a lounge packed with tall, lively young people who were crammed onto two sofas watching a big flat screen TV. They were friendly and sociable but I neverthless felt as if I were intruding on their lives - especially so when an extended Asian family trooped in after me. We were jostling for space in the tiny 12ft x 10 ft rooms, the agent trying to squeeze through the throng to usher people up the steep staircase, or into the garden. The dining room was crammed with computers and a large fridge freezer. I soon saw why. There was no space for said fridge in the kitchen, which was poky beyond belief, space having been sacrificed for the addition of a downstairs cloakroom. But the garden was sweet. The bedrooms were just... bedrooms. Nothing in the house made one jump for joy. But it was chain free so I had to consider it.

Next was a house three doors down, on with another agent who I was meeting later. The very pleasant, friendly owner showed me round. I could see why she, with two teenage children, had outgrown it. The house had a friendly, hippy feel and, although the tiny front room had two feet nipped off it for a corridor, it seemed larger than the previous house. The garden was a bit ramshackle, but there were hens in a coop at the bottom. I wondered if she would be selling those with the house.

Upstairs, there were three bedrooms, accessed by a wiggly corridor. But no bathroom. That was downstairs, through the kitchen. Bad point. Next to it was another door. "Is that a storage cupboard?" I asked hopefully.

"No, it's another loo," I was told. "But why, when there's a bathroom with a loo next door?" I persisted. And that's when she told me that the previous owner was in the throes of divorce when the present owner bought the house seven years ago. When the present vendor had asked the same question, she was informed by the woman that her husband was so smelly that she couldn't bear sharing a toilet with him so she had built him his own separate loo.

Last on the list was a flat. The most glorious, wonderful flat, with a sun-filled lounge, a fabulous kitchen, a glass-walled sunroom off it which overlooked the stairs down to the garden and, my biggest dream, a second bedroom in the attic, spacious and peaceful. It was also very cheap. But... and it's a big but, the road itself was down at heel and dog-beshitten, and the houses adjoining it were tenanted and neglected, with jungles for gardens, full of rusting chairs and old mattresses. It was also quite a hike to the station. If only I could have picked it up and moved it a couple of roads away.

Having seen the light, airy, spacious flat, the houses seemed poky and claustrophobic by comparison. My friend and I then drove to Muswell Hill and I found my spirits lifting in the buzz and glitz of boutiques and restaurants. I had a lemon and honey pancake, quite divine, then we hit the charity shops and I bought a summer frock for £2.50 (fingers crossed we'll get a summer this year) and a cream hooded cardi.

My pal dropped me at Highgate Tube at 4.30. At 6.45 I was still not home. My bus from Uxbridge Tube broke down, the bus behind it had that infuriating, likme-green 'this bus is out of
service' sign on it, so, two miles from home, in a gentle drizzle, I started to plod, feeling my carrier bag and shoulderbag getting heavier by the second. I rang Mr Grumpy with my tale of woe and he saved me the last half mile by coming out to get me. I finally made it back through the door at 7.05, two and a half hours after leaving Highgate. Now you see why I want to move. I can get to Liverpool faster by train than I can from North London to Mr G's tubeless region of Hillingdon.

It wasn't a wasted day, though. I enjoyed myself immensely and my friend and I are still giggling over the house with the smelly husband. But I shan't be buying it.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Belly wellies?

Immediately after posting the last entry, I received this lovely email from Leila.

Hi Lorna

Nice to hear from you.

I am sorry to hear you are having problems with your foot. I do ask students at the start of the lesson if they have any injuries and ultimately you need to bring it to the instructors attention if something is hurting! I would hate to think that my class has caused pain/ injury in any way to any student. So please, when you are ready, do come back, complete with what you need to prevent this happening again to you.

Just to let you know, I ask my students to go barefoot (as 99% of bellydance teachers do) for a few reasons:

- health and safety (any sort of heel height, even trainers, can cause injury if you lose balance)
- to feel grounded and stable
- bellydance is tradtionally practised without footwear
- to be able to be light on the feet to move around quicker
- to fully expand/stretch the calf ligaments and muscles

You are probably wondering why I wear high heeled dance shoes to class! It's simply because I perform at many events where i have to dance in high heels, so this is my only time to practise.:-)

Whilst you are ultimately responsible for your well-being, I am also here to best advise you and take as many steps as possible to insure you are safe in class.

Feel free to let me know if there is anything else you would like to discuss. I hope to see you soon, complete with shoes!

Have a nice weekend

Belly strike

Didn't make it to my second bellydance class, the reason being that having to do it in bare feet was too much for my metatarsalgia. Having been overjoyed at Tommy's success in making my feet pain-free for the first time in years, it was dreadful to feel all his good work being ruined when the pains crept back after an hour's barefoot dancing.

I emailed Leila, my teacher, asking if it was all right for me to wear shoes, but I haven't had a reply. So next week, I shall turn up complete with tinkly scarf AND shoes, and hope I'll be allowed to wear them.

Today, with a hard frost and a cold wind, I am going out house-hunting in Bounds Green, North London, which is about the only London area where I can still afford a house, as opposed to a flat. I'll let you know how I get on. Oh, how I wish I had a pal at the seaside, though. I'm too cowardly to buy a place by the sea in a new area, where I don't know anyone. 30 years ago, even 20, I wouldn't have given a stuff, but now, in my dotage, it matters. A lot. Especially after three years of being cooped up friendless in Hillingdon. I want to say, "Whey-hey, let's all go to the pub," and have a jolly time.

Yet even that's not what it once was. People withdraw into themselves as they get older. They prefer snuggling up in front of Eastenders. I think it comes down to the fact that they are no longer interested in finding a man. Once you get to 60, Eastenders and stroking the cat seem vastly more preferable to perching on a sticky barstool with one eye on your handbag, one on your drink to make sure nobody spikes it, which leaves the third eye, the eye of instinct, the antenna of anticipation, to scan the room for talent. And let's face it, what talent over the age of 30 would be in the pub, anyway? I'd be better off moving to Peckham and going to poetry readings.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Hippy, Hippy Shake

When I saw all the pretty, lissom young things gathering for the bellydance class at my gym, my heart sank. I was at least 40 years older than most of them and was dreading making a fool of myself. Should I stay or should I go, was the one thought in my mind. And suddenly it was too late. The shimmery music had started and the instructor, a tiny, extremely voluptuous young woman of Turkish or Egyptian extraction, was ordering us to take off our shoes.

That presented me with problem number one. Included in my long list of chronic minor ailments is metatarsalgia, which is painful nerves in the balls of the feet. It has been ten years since I was last able to wear any shoes with heels, owing to their putting pressure on the ball of the foot, resulting in hopping, squeaking agony. What was I to do? And now we come to another story, so please excuse the digression. When I was in Cumbria at my sister's last month, I had massage and reiki treatments from a wonderful, magical man called Tommy Ireland. Tommy has seen UFO's all his life. He definitely has entry to realms that most of us cannot enter. In fact, no sooner had he started the reiki session that I, too, saw a diamond-shaped thing outside the window, covered in flashing lights. But that's by the by. What I wanted to tell you was that he did a lot of work on my feet and next morning I tripped merrily down the stairs without any pain in the tootsies, for the first time in ten years.

My feet held up OK, thanks to Tommy, but the rest of me, especially the neck and shoulders which had been subjected to ten minutes of shoulder-shimmying, feels as if four large shire horses had pulled a wagon full of beer barrels over it. I let the pretty young things in their tinkly hip-shawls gather in the front, while I lurked at the back trying desperately to find joints that would swivel on a body that felt as stiff as an ironing board. I'm sure I was not a pretty sight, especially when it came to trying to shimmy my butt. The trouble is, I haven't got enough wobbly bits. There - I never thought I would hear myself saying this! Belly-dancing is the one thing where having a jelly-roll round the hips and a generous bust is a distinct advantage.

So, will I be going back next week? Well, I've send for a shimmery scarf (£10 off the internet) and found my padded hiking socks. I shall try it for one more week and if I feel too much like an ostrich among swans, I will chuck in the scarf and auction it to the highest bidder.

(PS: if you're ever in Cumbria and want one of Tommy's treatments, he has a practise in Penrith and also does private work and his number is 07730 203177. I have seen many alternative practioners in my life, but he is truly amazing. Oh, and the scarf is from

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Food Intolerance?

I was fine yesterday, but in the evening my tum started rumbling ominously, like a distant volcano about to erupt, and boy, it certainly did at 5 am this morning, when I just got to the loo in time. It can't be a bug because if it was, I wouldn't have felt all right yesterday. It must be something I ate, something my digestion doesn't like. If only I knew what it was, I'd be able to plan my life. Instead, I dread forthcoming dates, especially the start of a holiday, in case I am struck down and can't go and have to let people down.

The health websites tell you to test yourself for food intolerances by excluding things from your diet, then introducing them. If I was living alone and cooking for myself, I could do it. But I'm not. Mr Grumpy insists on doing most of the cooking, because he enjoys it; he is allergic to the word 'organic' and my digestion doesn't get a look-in. I am sick and tired of dragging myself around, feeling tired, lacklustre and in pain. I'm also wasting my gym membership because I was planning to go today and now feel too ill. Mr G has declared that now the temperature has climbed to 40, we don't need the heating on. What a miserable life I am leading. I can't wait to be back in control of my own heating, my own diet and my own life. But first, I must find somewhere else to live...

Friday, 9 January 2009

Belly blues

Me and my stomach! The wretched thing has caused me trouble for as long as I can remember, which is aged four, being whizzed through the night to Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool in an ambulance with all the bells and lights going. I had a temperature of 104F and suspected appendicitis and they prepared me for the operation then decided it wasn't appendicitis, but that they should keep me in under observation. That proved my downfall because I caught a hospital bug, a strain of dysentery that was sweeping the wards, and spent the next month, which included Christmas, in an isolation ward with my parents waving at me through the glass.

The experience is deeply etched in my memory. First, the was the 13-year-old girl in the next bed who had suffered severe burns when her nightdress had caught fire. We were briefly friends, but she suddenly died. There were cruel nurses who slapped me because I had warned them that I was going to be sick, they didn't bring me a bowl or anything, then, when I threw up on the bed, I was punished. Fancy hitting a four-year-old who had had the foresight and intelligence to warn them in advance! No wonder my mum said that, for years after, my favourite protest was, 'It's not fair!" The sense of injustice has bitten deep and remains with me to this day.

The worst thing is that my tum hasn't been the same since. All my life, I have been plagued with pain, indigestion, bouts of biliousness and the runs. In the 1970s it was diagnosed as that nebulous condition, 'irritable bowel'.

I thought I had it under control. The probiotics I have taken for the last three or four months seemed to have done the trick. Yet today I have a bad stomach again and have been awake since 5 am. Not only that but my cystitis symptoms have come back, too. It's not fair!!! That's the adult me talking now, as well as the child. Thank heavens I don't have to travel to an office every day. But I really, really don't need it. Maybe I should be blaming a chill caught in this cold house for the cystitis, and Mr Grumpy's shepherd's pie for the runs. How long had that mince lurked in his fridge? His stomach is like cast iron and he can eat almost everything, whereas all kinds of things, such as hidden peppers in tinned soup, can set off my ulcers and my IBS.

I dream of living a Mediterranean life and chomping grilled fresh sardines on a terrace overlooking the sea. I dream of cooking for myself again instead of being served up with Mr G's favourite stodge. But I haven't won the lottery yet. IT'S NOT FAIR!!!!!

Thursday, 8 January 2009


Went to the Royal Academy today for the Byzantium exhibition. I hadn't read up on it and didn't know what to expect but I was blown away. I couldn't believe that such colours and craftsmanship had survived for so many centuries. There was a bit of St Matthew's gospel that gave me the cold shivers. The parchment looked just like skin. A picture of Archangel Michael was so modern in style that it could have been painted in the last twenty years. The minute and perfect lettering and paintings in the illuminated books were exquisitely rendered by scribes and artists who were either extremely short-sighted and worked with their noses nearly on the page, or else used some kind of magnifying glass. As for the silver thread work, each tiny stitch was so neat and perfect that it seemed impossible that it could have been done by hand.

Then there was the jewellery - criss-cross body chains in gold, like luxury bondage gear; huge, heavy, bejewelled bracelets and massive collars in gold and precious stones. And the silver plates, goblets, the pottery... my mind is still reeling. What wonderful times they were for the wealthy and those high in the religious hierarchy, but what rotten times to be poor. One silver plate was patterned with a shepherd boy, two goats and a dog. What did the rich folk think when they looked at him? Did they smile at his simple cuteness? Did they ever feel a pang for a life they had never experienced, sitting on a hillside beneath a tree, drinking water from a stream and picking grapes and olives to eat, washed down with fresh goats' milk while a faithful dog lay panting at their feet? Was it an allegory for Jesus, the Good Shepherd? One's mind can speculate endlessly. How wonderful that these items have survived and that we can see them hundreds of years after they were made. Oh, I forgot to mention the earrings. Earring design hasn't changed much over the centuries and I have seen some of the same designs in Turkish jewellery shops, or in the Asian gold shops in Southall, the ones that look like gold lampshades with dangly bits.

There was a stone doorway from a religious building in, I think, Serbia, that gave me the creeps. A terrific coldness seemed to come off it. Maybe it had been the entrance to a crypt. I couldn't wait to get away from it and gaze at the stern, handsome face of Michael round the corner. What a collection though. I wonder what artefacts of ours people will marvel at eight hundred years from now, if the human race is still here? I can't think of anywhere where beauty is being created on such a large and exquisite scale. Gold and precious stones are too rare and valuable now and nobody would dare to wear such pieces for fear of getting robbed. So perhaps our sculpture will be our best legacy to the future. Antony Gormley's Angel of the North v the Byzantine Archangel Michael?

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Something in the air...

It's not just the New Year. Well, I don't think it is. But the energy around me has certainly changed. It started on Jan 2nd when an author whose book I spend the whole Christmas period editing posted a wonderful piece in praise of my skills on the publisher's website. It was the first time in my life that I had received some recognition for my skills and I was chuffed to bits. From this has come a shift in my self-esteem, a feeling that not only am I mature but my skills are, too, and now I could take them anywhere and do anything.

When I was made redundant in 1994, from being a national magazine editor (yes, it was a fairly small publication but I had a staff and a budget and was frequently called upon to appear on radio and TV chat shows as an 'emotional problems expert') I was suddenly a label-less nothing. An 'ex'. The phone stopped ringing and I felt as if the carpet had been pulled from under my feet. It was a huge confidence-sapper and my injured feelings were made worse when I didn't get paid for the first job I did as a freelancer. Made redundant in March, I was contacted by a Swedish magazine who hired me to put together a fiction special for them. I did all the work and the cheque never arrived and when I contacted the NUJ's solicitor to ask what I could do, I was told that pursuing it would cost more than the £2,000 I was owed.

Since then, my work fortunes have gone up and down. I got an agent and started writing and selling children's books. Then I stupidly decided I wanted to write for adults, ditched the agent and got another one and haven't published a book since. Mea culpa. Last year a publisher went down owing me £1000 that I could ill afford to lose, considering that in 1994 I was earning £40,000 pa and last year I barely managed £13,500.

So why do I now sense a curious optimism in the air? I can't put my finger on it but I do feel it has something to do with rediscovering my self-worth and feeling that I am good at what I do, and maybe at last the outside world is recognising it, too. Perhaps now's the time to burn the 'ex' label and come out of hiding, where I have been licking my wounds for rather too long. Maybe it's also time to shake off the feeling that I am 'too old' to start afresh or build up a business. I work in a business where I rarely meet clients face to face, anyway, so nobody has to judge me by the number of wrinkles they can see. So... this year, I can be anyone and anything. Whoopee! The phoenix riseth.