Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Perfect Peggy

I suppose a good place to start today is to tell that "I need Gok" upset DM because it was very bleak so I resolved not to post again until I felt a wee bit more cheerful. Hence yesterday and now again today!

Today's post is about a beautiful young woman called Peggy. She first came to my attention because she had the most wonderful hairdo. It's like a quiff stuck on backwards. She's very chic in her grey outfit, with splashes of black and white, she always looks immaculately turned out. Her jet black eyes sparkle and shine and she's a picture of health. She's got long, thin, graceful legs that go right up to her bottom as the saying goes. She's really beautiful.

She's a female chaffinch of course - who else?

She comes to our bird table every day, often several times in each day. She'll fly in and land on the back of a garden chair while waiting her turn on the bird table. (There is a definite etiquette among my little feathered friends that dictates who feeds when and who can be on the table with whom.)

When she lands on the chair, she does this little shuffle that none of the others do. She sort of wobbles, as though finding her balance, then she'll bob up and down for a bit, then she'll daintily fly up in the air, turning round so she's facing the opposite way. She's the only one of our birds to do this.

How can I be so sure it's her - perhaps all of the female chaffinches are doing it and I'm just attributing it to Peggy?

Well, she's only got one foot you see. The bobbing up and down is her trying to get her stump balanced onto the chair because she has no foot with which to grip.

What a remarkable little critter she is. She's as beautiful as a beautiful thing and she sure looks after herself well. When we first spotted her, we thought she'd never survive but we've been seeing her now for several weeks and she looks as good as ever.

In fact, what am I wasting time sitting here writing about her for when I should be making sure there is enough food on the bird table for her and her friends for breakfast...........

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

tonic for the soul

There was more than one occasion, indeed many occasions, when I questioned why I did my five-year-long blog on pbase ( Although overall the experience was hugely positive, sometimes the "chore" got me down and occasionally, a stupid guest comment got me mad.

This week, I have found myself with a huge smile on my face three times because of all that work and effort I put into pbase. Three non-pbase women who were regular readers of my blog have contacted me regarding various things.

Firstly Mindy - thank you for the comment on David's pbase - it made me very happy.

Then Christa - I was so glad to hear from you too - again I got a big smile from hearing from you.

The one that really stunned me was from a lady called Susie who has been following my life through pbase and she emailed me this morning to say she'd been inspired by me to follow her dream and go to her first gig. She's a mother of three whose family thought such things were bad so as a young woman she never ventured to a live music venue. Last night, she went to see George Michael, having seen me write about the thrill of live music and realising that if this "middle-aged woman" (me) could do it, so could she. Her email's tone was soaring with pleasure and happiness. She said I made that happen for her. I'm sure that she made it happen for herself but if she wants me to take credit for "enabling her" then I will happily do so.

One of the terrible things about clinical depression is the way that you think you are totally useless, without redemption. Reading the notes of people who had a thirst to see more of my world made me realise that I've "touched a few souls" with my writing so maybe, just maybe, I'm not completely useless after all.

In total now, I know that a few pbasers are also finding their way here so welcome to Gail and Gordon from pbase and Teresa of course (and anyone else making the journey). Thanks for being kind friends.

Sorry, I know this sounds a bit like an Oscars speech, but I just wanted to show you all that your faith in me has given me a boost.

Overall, the blogspot experience is difficult to guauge - there is no feedback about page views and you only know about comments by scrolling through your entries and looking at the end of each. Sometimes, since I started this new journey, I've been feeling as though I'm at best talking to myself because there is no way of knowing if anyone out there looks at this. So, a little plea, why not leave me a message?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

I need Gok

Here in the UK we have a TV show called "How to look good naked". It's hosted by a fabulously extra camp chap called Gok Wan. Gok takes a woman who has lost herself and brings her alive again by encouraging her to make the most of her assets, whatever they are and to love the parts of her that she's come to hate.

I think Gok gets away with things that no straight guy ever could in the same situation - I was all at once both horrified and thrilled when he buried his head in a woman's chest and sighed "you have magnificent bazookas". No-one with a sexual attraction towards their subject could get away with that without being totally creepy, yet when Gok does it you admire his cheek and long to be that woman!!!

I watch this show with a real mix of terror and elation, knowing that the women who agree to participate are at the end of their tether, with sub-zero self esteem, much like myself. He treats each woman with utmost kindness and respect, coaxing them out of their "sacks" that they hide behind. He shows them that their self-image is way from the image that others have of them - they will almost always describe themselves as much fatter than they are, they often have hang-ups about stretch marks and other things they see as blemishes. Gok shows them that they are indeed lovable and beautiful. He gives them back their self-esteem by gently showing them how to dress to suit their shape. He offers these women hope that they'd forgotten existed.

The two best bits of the show are the bit where the woman is photographed naked and she always comes out looking like a glamourous, vibrant soul, no matter what her size or shape. It's done with such attention to detail and care that the woman's "best bits" are highlighted, drawing the eyes away from the so-called blemishes. The other wonderful bit is where the woman models her new wardrobe (and self) on a catwalk in a busy shopping centre, culminating with a walk down the catwalk in underwear and finally a cheeky naked glimpse at the end. The reason why this is so joyful is that a woman who starts the show crushed, broken and bleeding suddenly sees what others see. Her family is in the audience and to be honest, the look of pride and happiness on the husband/boyfriend/best friend/Mum as she struts her stuff is so uplifting. It's real soul food.

Each time I settle down to watch the show, I realise that these women often display at least some of the characteristics of depression. They are fragile and brittle in a way that looking in seems heartbreaking and "plain wrong" given that we as the viewers don't see them with their own eyes, we see them with at least unbiased eyes and (in my case and that of many of my friends) see them with eyes that are full of kindness for the lost soul who is being helped by Gok.

I need a Gok in my life. I could never get my kit off in front of a camera or strut my stuff on a catwalk, I'm just too far gone to ever achieve that. BUT I can see how someone stroking my hair, telling me how clever/kind/caring/pretty I am and helping me to see that for myself could help me up from the abyss that I'm making tiny steps already to climb out of. Oh how I wish that I could have my own confidence restored and to become a Linda that I recognise, rather than this ghostly, pale, scared soul that I've become.

My psychologist is making some headway here but my mind keeps finding its way into black corners that are difficult to see how to escape from.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

sex and drugs and rock and roll

One of the things I once liked most about myself was my rebelliousness. I would go out of my way to make sure that no-one could predict my responses to things or what I'd do next.

Music was a big part of that Linda and I was constantly drawn to artists on the Stiff Records label, including the bloody marvellous Ian Dury and the Blockheads, whose "sex and drugs and rock and roll" single spawned a whole load of fab merchandise - remember the button badges with one word from the title on? Remember the t-shirt, with the rubberised text and the stiff logo on the arm? I had one of those at the time, along with a "if you kill time you murder success" one! Well, when I spotted that t-shirt being re-issued recently I just had to have one. In fact, I also bought another which was a new Stiffy - and very apt in these days of "little blue pills". It bears the very irreverant and very typically Stiff legend "Stiff without any fucking pills".

These two shirts give me a thrill. (Sorry Mum)

Why? Well, they represent a Linda that has been lost. A young rebel who thought nothing of going to gigs five-nights-a-week or jumping into the car, going to Manchester to see a band on a Tuesday night, then driving home overnight, showering and going straight to work with no sleep but lots of great memories. A Linda who had dreams of becoming a" rock photographer. A Linda who knew what she stood for and stood for it whether it was popular or "good" or not. A Linda who believed in things and didn't compromise her values for success or money.

Somehow that Linda got lost along the way, being replaced with a Linda who may have been considered by many to be less abrasive but who Linda didn't recognise.

I bought my two Stiff shirts and wear them proudly in the garden, while cutting the grass. A task that I loathe. Today, I have been wearing my "sex and ...." t-shirt, with a pair of friesian cow-print trousers, cutting the grass and singing along to myself.....

#....Keep your silly ways or throw them out the window
The wisdom of your ways, I've been there and I know
Lots of other ways, what a jolly bad show
If all you ever do is business you don't like.....

I may not be a rock and roll rebel any more, but perhaps now I'm the Great Pretender!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

In no hurry

Today I had a moment that I am going to describe as an epiphany and it all started because I needed some thread for my sewing machine, which has been placed lovingly on the dining room table, dusted down and opened up for the first time in ages. OK, so I was only planning to make cushion covers but at least I was about to use my sewing skill.

I needed cream cotton for the job in hand and it says a lot about my sewing box that I had masses of black, several shades of red, several shades of pink and a few blues but no cream or white of any description. My sewing machine (a relic of around 30 years old, bought second-hand at least 20 years ago) is fussy. It won't sew with anything other than Gutermann and I only know of one place to buy it, a little craft shop in our local town so I set off to buy a reel.

DM said to me as I left home "can you buy some sugar" (feeding baby bees in bad weather is essential to the long-term good of the colony). So, I popped into the small grocery store in town for a bag.

There were two checkouts open, both with someone being served and both with one other customer waiting so I just picked one and queued. After a few minutes, I noticed that the other till had cleared all its customers and was standing empty, while the lady in front of me was still sorting out her money. Then I realised she was a very old lady and she was clearly struggling with either seeing her money or comprehending what money to hand to the cashier. She had the help of a uniformed nurse so didn't need any more help other than not to be hassled.

As she completed her transaction, she turned to me and apologised for keeping me waiting. I replied "don't worry, take as long as you like, I'm in no hurry".


I suddenly wanted to scoop the lady up in my arms, give her a hug and a quick dance around the checkout because I realised this was the first occasion in my adult life when I've been able to say those words and mean them.

Feel the grass grow. Learn to breathe.

My "old self", living at 100 miles an hour, would never have wished her any harm but would have been fretting about getting out of the shop as quickly as possible so I could get on with the 50 other things I needed to achieve today.

My GP, psychiatrist and now my psychologist have all told me (along with all of my friends and family) that I can't go on like that. That I must learn to live in the moment without worrying about what happens next.

So how many things have I achieved today? Only one important one. That it's OK to not be in a hurry.

I suppose deep down, I am worried that I will need to face up to the future soon but I don't need to allow that to stop me from learning about simple pleasure and about nurturing peace in my soul today.

Friday, 11 July 2008


I have twin passions, both are closely related. One, as described yesterday is my garden and the other is food. I love food (as my size surely testifies) and I am evangelistic about "real food". I really don't want to eat pre-processed foods and never did, not even before reading books like "Eat your heart out" or "The vitamin murders". These books have just strengthened my resolve to cook from fresh ingredients and to try to always buy packet foods that only contain ingredients that I'd recognise from my own store cupboard.

So, if a pack has hydrogenated vegetable oil or E-whatever or inverted sugar syrup or aspartime or any other man-made "nasty" then it doesn't find its way into my supermarket trolley.

Of course this means that "convenience food" is almost impossible to buy. The only company whose products I trust totally is Covent Garden Soups. Read their ingredients and compare them to the wannabes in similar packs on shelves and in theirs you'll see real ingredients and in the wannabes you'll see toxic chemicals.

So, I cook.

I cook from raw ingredients and our diet is better for it. I make pasta from eggs and flour, bread from flour, yeast, sugar and water and sauces from fresh, seasonal vegetables and local cheeses.

Why then do I not "love" any of the telly chefs in the way I love Monty and Geoff? I don't know. I admire many of them - you can't fail with a Delia Smith recipe even though I'm appalled at her latest series, Jamie Oliver has some great ideas and is good at the simple stuff and Gary Rhodes is clearly a terrific chef, despite his somewhat dubious hairdo! Others I can't abide - you can put James Martin and Anthony Warrell-Thompson in this category. To me, they are the Alan Titchmarshes of the food world - they seem more interested in celebrity status than food.

So, this morning, when I was woken up by Antonio Carluccio using the phrase MOF, MOF on Radio 4, it stuck in my mind. Maximum of Flavour, Minimum of Fuss - yep, a good philosophy and a good way to remember not to get too clever in your food preparation, even if the English is a bit Italian if you see what I mean!

Depression has caused my passion for this principle to grow because I've been reading scary "save the planet" books although Claz, who has just gone home after a few lovely days here, says that I need to ditch them in favour of pulp fiction because I'm getting so disturbed by what I read. She's probably right so I'm going to go out and buy a pile of chick lit books and immerse myself in nonsense for a few weeks.

I've learned that food for the soul isn't always in the places you expect and that sometimes the "good and worthy" can be dangerous when you're already struggling to find a way out of the abyss.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Pure unadulterated magic or just OK?

I'm still sad because of losing Monty Don from Gardener's World.

It got me to wondering what is it that made my heart sing as soon as he opened his mouth on the show when other presenters are "fine" - they know their stuff but just don't make you feel great in the way that Monty does. You know they are capable, their advice is wise and compelling, yet you just don't feel the same attraction.

Can you "love" someone who you don't know based on their appearances on TV or their books? As surely as I feel compelled to type this, I feel that I can truly say I love Monty and loved Geoff Hamilton in the same way, yet I just don't feel the same way about Carol, Joe or any of the other presenters.

I've come to the conclusion that it's a heady mix of pure charisma, animated enthusiasm and my own receptiveness to the way that these two men relate to their gardens. I see myself in them. I know that I would not have become a passionate gardener if Geoff hadn't captured my imagination so comprehensively. After his death, I felt as though I was fighting my way through the wilderness with nothing more in my armamentarium than his written wisdom (yes, I have every book he wrote). I couldn't relate to Alan Titchmarsh or any of the others.

Then an idle flick through the channels revealed Monty doing his stuff and I was hooked again. He shoved his hands into the soil and my world felt right again. I don't know what it was, a mix of the twinkle in his eye, the sheer exuberant joy of his style or the fact that I felt a kinship with him. It was only after he announced his decision to leave the show after suffering a stroke that I realised that he too has known clinical depression. Perhaps, as I said before, "it takes one to know one". In the "Jewel Garden" his wife Sarah describes him as "loony" and I smile. If he is, then I am too and proud of it.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Am I wrong?

I'll state the start-point for this where it should be, upfront!

I am a raving pacifict. I hate guns, knives, bombs and all of the other ways in which people maliciously cause harm to other people.

So why is it then that I have an almost unstoppable urge to go out and buy a shotgun, along with a whole load of second-hand 42" tellies that work perfectly well but people don't want now they can replace them with 72" plasma screens. I'd set up a telly and then when one of those "why do we care whether Andrew Lloyd Webber has a problem with Maria", "we're not remotely interested in watching strange people sleeping on Big Brother" or "pop idol for two minutes until the next bunch of wannabes come along" shows starts, I can show my protest from the comfort of my sofa by taking aim and firing at the TV. Then I'd put the telly I've just "made smaller" into landfill (where it was surely destined to go anyway) and get another one out.

This is, of course, a pointless exercise and one that's not going to please anyone except me. However, I offer it up as a lone act against the clamour of "thrill" that most people seem to find in these shows.

Of course I don't have a gun licence and I can't imagine that I'd get one if I was honest about my reason for wanting one. Maybe I could just cut out the formalities and buy one off a teenager? (Hmmmmm)

So am I displaying signs of complete bonkers-ness? I expect so but then at least I'm showing signs of life, however warped and sick. A couple of months ago, I couldn't have raised enough energy to even care so I'm claiming this as an improvement.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

It takes one to know one

Since being diagnosed with depression and subsequently reading lots of stuff about it, I've realised just how widespread the illness is.

Take last night for example, it was the culmination of the latest Doctor Who series and at the grand old age of 47, I've finally managed to migrate around the sofa and watch from the comfort of sitting on it instead of cowering behind it!!!!!

What I saw was slightly different from what DM saw. He saw an action-packed thriller, where two Doctor Whos and a Doctor Donna saved the world along with a number of ex-Dr Who assistants. What he saw was exactly what happened. What I saw was that the writer of the episode knew what it was like to suffer from depression.

He/she was obsessed by the bees leaving our world (a classic case of depressive worry) and had written Donna's character to belittle herself all of the time -"I'm nobody, I'm just a temp from Chiswick". She repeated that over and over again in the way that only someone who knows what it's like to be depressed would have done. Clearly Catherine Tate was acting (and bloody marvellously too, if I may say so) but the person who put the words into her mouth knows what it's like alright.

I used to say that you can tell the lonely by looking into their eyes, I still believe this to be true and I now know that you can tell the depressed by what they say.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Getting the fear

I read "by the yard" , usually around two books a week. In recent times, I have noticed a change in my chosen reading matter. If I go back a couple of years, I was reading 99% fiction, the only non-fiction I was reading were gardening manuals and cookery books. I'd be just as likely to have a classic in my hand (such as EM Forster, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy) as a modern "serious" book (such as "Snow falling on cedars", something by Salman Rushdie or Kingsley Amis) or "pap" - and I'll let you decide what falls into the third category for me.

In the period before I fell into the abyss, my reading matter changed. I could no longer face "heavy" fiction and my fiction reading became more-or-less all "pap" or out-and-out belly laughers. I just couldn't risk sobbing any more on the train between Paddington and Cornwall, I was already doing that enough without sad books adding to my misery. I read a lot of "life change" books, you know the sort of thing "A year in Provence", The Olive Farm", "Urban Dreams, Rural Realities" - I'm sure you get the picture. I was still a prodigious consumer of cookery books and gardening reference material.

Since November (the Black Thursday crash), I've been struggling to find fiction that I can read without causing me to wobble back into the abyss - it's amazing how when you're fragile, even funny things seem laden with misery. So, my reading material has been made up almost entirely of books about depression and people who are/have been depressed (Sunbathing in the rain and Monty Don's book to name two) along with "save the planet" books. I've consumed "Bread matters", "The new English table", "Wild garlic, gooseberries and me", "Forgotten fruits", "The apple source book", "The vitamin murders", "A world without bees" and now "Eat your heart out" is filling me with panic about what happens when the oil runs out. The chapters I've read so far seem to suggest that without oil we won't be able to feed most of the planet's population and therefore anarchy will prevail.

I'm scared.

So this brings me back to the age-old dilemma. Does it matter one jot that I don't eat meat to the millions of animals that are kept in appalling conditions to provide food to the rest of the world? Am I making a positive contribution by trying to save energy, resources and garden organically? Will growing my own veg and supporting local food suppliers be any more than a tiny drop in the ocean whose tide is ebbing so quickly away from us that my drop will make no difference whatsoever? In other words, can one person make any difference at all?

All of these doubts and fears sit alongside two news stories of the last two days, one about a chemical used as a herbicide that's been shown to survive through horses fed on hay made with this product's guts and to be present in big enough quantities for organic growers to find that the manure they thought would benefit their plants/food is actually harming it. The other story is the scary news of a lorry-load of bees over turning in Canada en-route between two vast areas of monoculture. Bees are not meant to live like that.

We are pushing all our resurces until they drop with exhaustion and despair and can no longer function. Now again I see a parallel in my own world. Although I can lay blame for my own demise with no-one but myself, it's true to say that my fall was triggered with the same exhaustion and despair that is ruining our food chain. I know what it feels like to be those bees, carted all over the place and then set to work.

I reiterate my earlier point - I'm scared!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Two nerdy anoraks!

....This post is made with my heartfelt apologies to Colin who has just been "outed" as a nerdy anorak alongside myself!

My dear friend Colin has spent the long weekend with us. Both Colin and I have been in need of nurture and kindness. You know at least a little about my reasons (and you can see more at ) but Colin too has had a rotten year, in many senses much more so than my own trials and tribulations - his Dad died a few weeks ago, following a short but traumatic illness so he's understandably very low too.

Colin confessed to being a "borderline trainspotter" to me at the start of the weekend so I decided to give him some soul food and in the process some for me too by taking us off on a jaunt on the Tamar Valley train line. We drove to Gunnislake (for those who don't know this place, it's a town just inside Cornwall on the Western bank of the Tamar river, the border between the two counties), then we boarded a train that has a route that only the most cold-hearted of souls would consider anything less than spectacular. It trundles quite slowly along a track that hugs the side of the river, crossing the Tamar and the Tavy rivers, before arriving in Plymouth, the famous start-point of the Pilgrim Fathers journey to America. It's a beautiful, south-facing river valley that was once one of the country's premier fruit-producing regions. Sadly that is no longer the case, with most of our orchards having been grubbed up so the land could be planted with potatoes and grain in the Second World War. Apparently, it was once a popular holiday destination for Victorian people to come and see the fruit trees in bloom in the spring.

I was delighted to see a couple of small orchards still in existance and there are a few cherry and apple trees in hedgerows too. My own mini-orchard project was spawned from reading about this historical fact. At the moment, our mini-orchard contains two different Cornish apples, a Pigs Nose (no, I don't know why it's called that, all I can do is speculate and wait to see when it starts to bear fruit) and a Duke of Cornwall, which was the variety I found whose origins are closest to our home. The Duke of Cornwall was bred by a Tamar Valley breeder in a little village called St Dominick, very close to our own home. We've also got a Cornish Plum (Kea), a Devon Mazzard Cherry now planted alongside a heritage greengage and a purely self-indulgent Doyenne du Comice Pear, all of which were planted in the autumn of 2007.

Next winter, I intend to augment these trees with a few more Cornish plums, cherries and apples, along with a quince, medlar and blackthorn. They will sit alongside the sixty native trees we've also planted which are a mix of nuts (Cobs, Walnuts and Sweet Chestnuts) and other local trees.

Anyway, I digress. Colin and I spent a happy afternoon wandering around Plymouth's harbour area and its shopping centre, indulging in an al fresco lunch and an hour browsing the shelves of Waterstones. I reckon browsing bookshops is as good-a-tonic as it's possible to find. We wandered back to the station laden with books and both feeling extremely happy that we'd fed each other some quality peaceful time and indulged in our joint passions for trains and books.

This "being kind to myself" regime is bringing me quiet satisfaction and calm. I need both of these things to heal the rift in my psyche that depression has caused.

Post script: I was chuffed to bits to hear that a few of my pbase readers have found their way here already so hi to Teresa and to Karen (Karen - sorry I made you cry!).