The world in miniature

Monday morning strikes again and it’s a huge effort to get going, joints are stiff and painful and the difficulties of my present life seem concertinaed and exaggerated, as though I’m looking down the wrong end of a telescope.

So decide that I might as well do something useful in all this gloom, neck some painkillers and set off for the launderette. And magically the world opens up. It’s sunny and I walk on the sunny side of the street aware of the irony, load the machine and pop next door for a coffee. Bump into a friend who’s recently had a knee replacement and is doing really well, we sit outside and compare notes.

On returning to put things in the dryer, I discover that a whole bizarre menagerie of human beings has arrived. A young man covered in tattooes with a terrier on his lap, a woman with mental health problems dressed for the Arctic and strangest of all a young tourist with her back to us who is eating cold baked beans out of a tin. It’s oddly comforting to be part of this wonderfully bizarre world, I forgot to mention the man with his arm in plaster, who keeps removing and putting it back on (the plaster, not the arm, that really would be something).

Various friends ring to check in and make dates for coffee, lunch and dinner and I remember once again how lucky I am to have such a supportive group of pals.

12 strikes and the thunderclouds of gloom have passed, I rejoin the human race, where everything is possible.


I’d forgotten just how hard it is to come back from holiday. I hadn’t been away since being ill, nearly two years. After a wonderful week in the heat and sunshine by the sea, lashing rain greets me at Gatwick and as I walk slowly these days, I’m drenched to the skin by the time I get home.

Surprisingly good to be back though, only a week away feels like months and I have to get used to the rustle and bustle of my neighbourhood. Travel allows you to step outside your normal life, perhaps get out of the way of all the stuff that stops you being your real self.

Trying to keep the positivity flame alive, though my joints are protesting like mad after the luxury of the sun. I creak like one of my French grandmother’s wardrobes.

The holiday also stays alive in the telling: friends want to hear all about it.

And for once I don’t mind them telling me I look well….

The sea, the sea

Another beautifully hot day. We walk down to the sea for a coffee, sunglasses, suntan lotion, hats. Watch people standing in the sea to get cool, old men playing backgammon, men from the local army base standing drinking beer and eating crisps. You can tell they’re army, because they fold their clothes really carefully  before going in the water.

Then I get a longing to paddle myself. Not done that since I’ve been ill and walking with a stick. But it just looks too cool and glorious to miss and there’s a ramp almost to the water’s edge. Thinking just how wonderful it would be to make contact with the sea again and feel the wavelets running over my feet. I realise that I’ve been thinking aloud when my pal says let’s go for it. Hmm I can suddenly think of a dozen reasons not to: fear of falling, putting my socks and shoes on again etc.

But I have so missed paddling and swimming in the sea, I visit the sea as often as I can and look longingly at people who stride into the wavs without a second thought. Or the very elderly ladies who swam early and late every day when I stayed on the south coast last summer.

So we walk down the ramp, gingerly, but so far so good. Taking off my socks provides a small challenge as I can no longer hop about (you try with a stick).  Then I take my friend’s arm and tentatively walk the metre into the very shallow sea.

I can feel my feet twitching with delight, it’s a couple of years since I did this and they have missed it as much as I have. It feels like a huge symbolic stride forwards. We stand there for a good few minutes and then walk a few metres paddling.  Swimming and water have always been so important in my life, this feels like a big step towards swimming in the pool again regularly and not worrying that someone may steal my stick while I’m in the water (insane, but there it is).

The cool bliss of becoming a water babe again.

Two halves become one

My first holiday abroad since being so ill has had an interesting effect on body, mind and soul. I’ve always loved the heat, my body relaxes and I sleep deeply. This year there’s an additional, unexpected bonus: I’m off the painkillers. My joints are fine in the heat and I don’t need coaxing to get out of bed. The heat also means I’m happy to get up much earlier and take advantage of the relative cool of morning. So although I’m not springing from my bed, nor am I groaning and moaning.

The house I’m staying in is filled with books, hundreds of them. I sleep surrounded by books, the shelves less than a foot away, cocooning me in different narratives. I wake up and my eyes slide along the shelves, picking out old friends and new possibilities.

But the most surprising effect of being away is that I no longer feel split between serious illness and the shock of losing almost everything that previously gave my life meaning. Struggling to reconcile the two, to suck every moment of joy from of the time I have left, while coping with a feeling of meaningless and loss of direction has been the hardest thing to deal with by far.

Somehow on holiday,  the two sides come together in a meaningful way. I’m still ill of course, but not in pain. And on holiday the only expectations are how to spend the day: when to eat, sleep, shop, read.

I no longer struggle with the meaning and worth of my life, it’s enough just to be. Whether that can be transposed to the life back home remains to be seen, but I’ve had a glimpse of a life with possibilities, which has gladdened the heart.

And I have  new appetite for writing; my current book, which has been put on hold, is now inhabiting my dreams and waking life. I need to reclaim my working space back home, which has become a shrine to the lost possibilities of the old life, so I rarely go in there, as it’s too painful.

I’m sensing a Dr Who regeneration.



Summer habits

It’s 32 degrees. Glorious heat and sunshine. If you’ve ever lived in a hot climate, a different part of your brain wakes up. Walk in the shade, drink much more water than you think you need, stay inside during the fierce heat of the day, wear a sunhat, slather yourself in suncream several times a day and moisturise like a fiend morning and evening.

Factor 50 has the smell of many different summers, fighting for attention. Smoothing it on before the long evening swims, before setting off for walks into the village to shop, resisting Mum putting it on before we ran wild with the cousins in France (who never had to wear it and now have skins like crocodiles).

So despite the rigours of the last year, my skin is doing pretty fine and dandy.

Kale iced dessert

No really.

Vegan cafe for lunch. Those of a nervous disposition should look away now. Open sandwich of avocado, strawberries and leaves with parmesan shavings and a balsamic vinaigrette. Quite delicious.

My pal has a salad bowl and then decides on a kale, mango and ginger iced dessert. Which is all those ingredients whizzed up with ice, heavy on the ginger. It comes to the table  the greenest of greens and I get a tasting glass. It tastes cold and very green with the smoothness of the mango and a kick of ginger. Not sure that I like it but I can’t stop tasting it to make sure.

Must be the heat getting to my taste buds.

Morning from the Med

Flew in to the Med yesterday to stay with a good friend. Apprehensive about the four hour flight and putting my new self through all the travelling. But I come out of the airport, sniff the warm night air and it’s as if I’ve come home. Sea, warmth, oleander everywhere, a full moon to guide us.

This morning I wake up hours earlier than usual, my mental bodyclock already attuned to the much hotter climate. You live at both ends of the day and the hot afternoons are for sleep. Back home I’d be struggling to get going, but here it’s as if my body can breathe in the light and warmth. Sitting in a garden full of oleander in the shade, with various neighbourhood cats inspecting me.

Travelling with assistance for the first time and it worked perfectly. I’m a good twenty five years younger than the other half dozen on my flight. A couple of anxious ladies ask me for directions about what to do next, one holds my hand for reassurance. Crew at Gatwick very kind and helpful, I realise I’m the only one singing along to Rag and Bone Man on the airport bus.

We get to Cyprus and I seem to have my own posse of anxious elderly, wondering where their relatives are. ‘I’ll stick with you, you’re so confident, you look like you know where you are going. ‘ Ha!

Can’t really believe I’m in summer clothes, they’re so light. But the oleander, fierce blue sky and swifts flying back and forth don’t lie. My friend has gone out for a run, she warned me about the local monastery blasting out a couple of bars of Vivaldi at 9 am, but it was still a surprise.

Summer, breathe.