On the shore

‚Äú…vicinity to the sea is desirable, because it is easier to do nothing by the sea than anywhere else, and because bathing and basking on the shore cannot be considered an employment but only an apotheosis of loafing. ” E.F. Benson.

Doing nothing at all is difficult for a perpetual doer although the prospect of bathing and basking on the shore does hold a certain appeal ūüôā Unfortunately being very fair-skinned with freckles means such a notion is completely out of the question. The pain of sunburn and the inability to remain largely anonymous due to a brilliant scarlet glow and thermodynamic output in excess of one yottajoule (sufficient to cause charring of nearby organic materials) is too much to contemplate.

Walking, photography and sailing are the present past-times of choice and all are proving ¬†highly enjoyable. Admittedly it’s a little warm to be hiking around but with plenty of sun lotion, a hat and copious amounts of water, getting out and about on foot is the best way to explore the shoreline and it’s undiscovered treasures. ¬†My knees don’t thank me but who cares – they’re only knees. ¬†I can always crawl if things get desperate and I’m sure it won’t look any stranger than my stilted upright gait!

 

 

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Curiously carefree

Curiosity killed the cat, or so the saying goes. Hopefully it isn’t true!

A curious mind is an active mind; granted its also a mind that can send its owner on seemingly pointless quests for information about things that might never be useful but how boring would life be if everything we learn has to serve a serious purpose? ¬†Having spent far too long dealing with the humorless subject of cancer and the acerbic extras that go along with it, serious is something I’m oh so familiar with… and very happy to say goodbye to.

I don’t care if I spend the rest of my life with a mind that’s¬†cluttered with flotsam and jetsam simply because curiosity gets the better of me. I don’t really care if words like serious, critical, perilous or grim never enter my vocabulary again.¬†Happy go lucky (or unlucky), either way it is what it is so there’s no point fretting. I’m convinced our attitude towards ourselves, life, love and everything around us plays a big part in the way we feel so solemn isn’t welcome here; I opt for lighthearted, emancipated and zesty ūüôā

This image seems quite fitting. I was curious about the building that I’ve taken the photograph through. I thought it might be some kind of quayside gaol for drunken sailors. It’s real purpose is rather more macabre. As well as serving as the pilots look-out, the ‘dead mans hut’ ¬†doubled as a mortuary for the bodies of those lost at sea until such time as burial could be arranged. The building in the distance is part of the harbour fortifications, possibly a remnant from the war. More flotsam and jetsam for the curiously carefree mind.

 

Nature or technology… or both

I’m staying in the Cornish fishing village of Portreath and as a nature lover its idyllic. The harbour and rocky outcrops surrounding the bay ¬†provide a rich habitat for an array of marine and maritime flora and fauna.

The sea fascinates me. Ever changing, beautiful and deadly at time same time. Here the sea is very clear, a translucent turquoise-teal. When the tide goes out the harbour retains no water so remnants of what lies beneath are easily seen – crab claws, cockle shells and many types of seaweed all get left behind in the sandy inlet. ¬†When the tide comes in it brings with it a multitude of life forms including swarms of moon jellyfish. ¬†Today’s photos are all moon jellies. Like the sea, these primitive creatures fascinate me. They have no brain by our standards, no digestive tract, no circulatory system, no respiratory system and no real means of propulsion. They drift with the currents capturing fish eggs, shrimp and molluscs either via the mucus that covers the bell or by stinging with their short tentacles. Moon jellies are voracious predators that in turn play their own part in the food chain by becoming prey for leatherback turtles, sea birds and fish. They’re also eaten by us humans in some Asian countries although they should probably be classed as a drink rather than food since they are 95% water.

The last time I was in Portreath I was probably around six years old. I don’t remember seeing jellyfish but I do remember sand eels. ¬†This time I’ve yet to find sand eels, probably because I’m less inclined to jump into the water. With age comes wisdom and although the air temperature is a toasty 26 degrees the water in the harbour will be much, much colder. ¬†I did walk up and down the beach and dabbled my feet in the sea but as expected it was cold, too cold for me to entertain swimming. Along the tide-line against the harbour wall there are numerous sea anemones, mussels, limpets and periwinkles. ¬†I hope to photograph those if I can scramble across to the rock pools later in the week. Anemones are so much prettier when they’re under water, once the tide goes out they look like blobs of reddish-brown gravy stuck to the rocks.

There is no mobile phone signal here which made me wonder whether I’d like a life completely free of technology and always-on connectivity. ¬†It’s a strange thought for someone who has spent the last 15 years building, deploying and subsequently decommissioning technology of various types. ¬†I’m very at ease with nature, the world of plants and creatures and I can happily occupy myself trying to identify or understand the non-human things surrounding me. ¬†Coastal habitats are very different to the rural wilderness at home.

Thoughts of living technology-free soon gave way to more practical reasoning. I miss talking to my Dad every day and even SMS is impossible here; ¬†there’s wireless broadband in the rental cottage so email and Skype are both possible but it’s not as good as a spontaneous hello from wherever I happen to be at the time. ¬†I also wouldn’t want to be without my camera. I can always find things to photograph and the jellyfish were a surprise as well as a challenge for a novice like me. ¬†It pays to have patience – for every decent image there are at least a couple resembling blurry modern art because the subject – in this case moon jellies – merged with the background. Photography is lazy art for me. Painting or drawing the jellyfish would require much more effort and there’s still a chance the result would end up a little abstract!

In my brief nature vs. technology moment I realised I’d also miss the Internet. For all its problems, the ability to search through whole libraries of information in matter of moments to find out about the life-cycle of the moon jelly, how much they sting and where they come from is something I wouldn’t choose to live without. Music, photography, mobile telephony and access to knowledge are all useful applications of technology in my day-to-day life along with automatic washing machines, electric lighting and heating. Television I could happily live without.

Being surrounded by nature is still my favourite way to pass time. Having the technology to photograph it, learn more about it and record the memories adds to the pleasure. At some point my brain might forget being here aged c. 6 years and I’m not sure we have any photographs from that occasion. Fortunately this time technology is here to lend a helping hand… Just in case my memory fails to serve me well in future.

Almost incognito again

image

Being incognito suits me. I’ve never wanted fame or fortune, celebrity doesn’t really mean anything to me and money is just something I use to pay bills, put food on the table and support my son.¬†Undergoing chemotherapy threw a spanner in the works; it made it impossible to remain anonymous. Passers-by didn’t know who I was, they couldn’t name me, but they certainly knew¬†what¬†I was. ¬†I was the person drawing pitying glances, puzzled stares or desperate attempts to avoid eye contact. ¬†I was the thing many people don’t want to name.

Cancer, embodied. A walking, talking materialisation of the scourge a lot of us dread as much as death itself. The dreading isn’t without cause – I know as many people dying of cancer as I do surviving it. Many are young, too young to go through what they’re going through and much too young to be facing death. They have no choice, they won’t be cured in spite of surgeries, treatments, living healthily or fighting to survive. They’re being cheated out of life by the biggest cheat I know.

Because cancer is a cheat and because it can resume its destructive course at any point I’m much more conscious of time. ¬†The red sand in the Wicked Witch of the West’s egg timer is never far from my thoughts; time slips by too easily. Every moment is precious, even the difficult ones. This year more than all the years that have gone before I’m making the most of every moment and that’s how I know I’m almost incognito again.

I’ve been able to get a hair cut, (it’s still boyishly short but at least it bares some resemblance to being styled that way), go out for a meal and go on holiday without turning heads, evoking whispers or sorry glances. Shop assistants no longer ask if I’m ok and I don’t look (or feel) like I’ll faint if I stand for more than a minute or two. I’m not a disgusting translucent yellowy-grey colour anymore either. I’m approaching normal although¬†I’ll never be completely normal. There are scars but I don’t wear the cancer patient badges any more. I pass as a woman who let her hairdresser get scissor happy and that suits me just fine. It’s taken a long time and turned my whole life upside down in the process but I’m here and come hell or high water I’m not going to waste a second looking back. I’m almost incognito again. Long may that continue.

un jour tr√®s heureux

Lunch.¬† It happens in the middle of the day typically between 12 noon and 2pm in the UK but for the past four years I barely had chance to experience it. ¬†The long gap between breakfast and dinner probably played havoc with my sugar levels and metabolic rate; who knows what else it impinged on.¬† Since deciding to take this summer off I’m experiencing and thoroughly enjoying the concept lunch. My lunchtime can be anywhere from 11.30am and 4pm because I’m not compelled to fit around anyone else’s schedule, particularly endless meetings that go on too long and achieve too little.

Yesterday I caught up with two friends for lunch in Ledbury, a pretty town just over 20 miles away that’s full of quirky old buildings and quaint little alleyways. We had crepes and salad in the garden of a tiny French bistro while enjoying 31 degree sunshine and brilliant blue skies. Five years ago the three of us worked together in a telecommunications company.¬† We were younger, none of us had turned 40 and we hadn’t experienced the various life events of the past few years – new babies, career changes, relocation and regaining wellness.¬† Financially we were all successful career women earning good salaries but the corporate world ruled our lives.¬† We rarely had chance to spend the money we worked so hard for and lunch was virtually unheard of. When we weren’t working the chances were that we were talking about work!

Five years on and one of us runs a holiday letting business as well as being a full-time Mum, another is setting up her own company while studying for an MBA and I’m taking summer off to make good on some long overdue promises I now have the opportunity to keep. Times have changed and although none of us has the potential spending power we held back in 2008, its obvious we’re all happier, more relaxed and genuinely enjoying our lives morning, noon and night. Meeting up to have lunch at our own pace in agreeable surroundings while we talked about living (not working) made for a very happy day.

When I returned home I found Maurice at Duck? Starfish? but…23 ¬† had kindly introduced me to SuperBetter. Working through a few of the introductory stages I was drawn to the following:

“It turns out that having someone on your side –¬†

  • someone who makes you smile,
  • who you can be yourself around, and
  • who you can ask for help

– actually improves your physical well-being more than starting an exercise program or losing weight and it helps your health as much as quitting a pack-a-day cigarette habit. It seems there’s scientific evidence behind these claims and I also know from experience that spending time with people I’m relaxed around and who make me smile gives an enormous boost to the spirit. That can only be a good thing and it seems SuperBetter thinks so too ūüôā

Flowers, not thorns.

Sometimes the path through life makes us feel as if we’ve been dumped in a thicket of densely packed bramble bushes. The way out isn’t clearly visible and emerging into open space means running the gauntlet of a thousand thorns. ¬†All those thorns leave us punctured, sore and bleeding.

I and countless others like me have run the gauntlet of a thousand thorns. ¬†I had no choice in the matter and what happens next is still largely outside my own control. I’d hoped to see a garden full of flowers by now but the thorny brambles send spiky shoots in an attempt to pull me back into the thicket. This mornings attempt – potential refusal to do further risk-reducing surgery because “you can’t make next week so it will be classed as a cancellation and if you can’t make the next date offered then you won’t be given another.”

Hmm.

I’ve been asking about this surgery since January. I wanted it to happen in March. I followed it up in April when nothing happened only to be told I couldn’t have it in my preferred hospital because it’s no longer geared-up for someone like me. I’d suggest the downgrading of facilities in my local medical centre is not my fault. I was told I’d go on a waiting list for my non-preferred hospital where the consultant himself said they have a “major issue with beds.” I’d suggest the so-called super hospitals failure to cope with the volume of patients it now encounters is not my fault either. ¬†I provided key dates for 6 months of the year on the basis that 6 months ought to be long enough to secure an appointment. Clearly it wasn’t; I’d suggest that too is not my fault.

Last year I cancelled holiday on NHS instruction only to find procedures were delayed by anywhere between 8 and 14 weeks. In the meantime I lost my deposit and had no holiday. ¬†I didn’t sue for the costs I incurred or the failure to deliver services in a timely manner. I accepted the NHS is busy without assuming it was at fault. ¬†Why then, when I am busy (and have been waiting for 6 months) do you assume it’s my fault¬†since I can’t drop everything to attend a non-preferred hospital where I’ll be an in-patient instead of an out-patient for a procedure that’s fairly minimal in the grand scheme of things?

If I was religious I might be blaspheming a lot at this point.

The most ridiculous part of the thorny saga? This is risk-reducing surgery, the kind that saves the State money. I will become much more expensive and a much greater drain on NHS resources if the issues I’m trying to prevent subsequently materialise. That, dear NHS administrators and penny-pinching politicians and is called¬†economics.¬†It seems remarkable that I can ruin my health with alcohol, cigarettes, crystal meth or ketamine and receive copious amounts of NHS treatment as well as numerous State benefits for being sick and unemployable. Ask for risk-reducing surgery backed by medical opinion then fail to be available due to prior commitments including work, (i.e. making a positive contribution to the State) and that’s it. Blacklisted.

Although I might sound annoyed about the bureaucracy and lunacy within the system I have come to know this is just the way things are. I don’t believe it’s right and I feel sorry for anyone who runs this gauntlet thinking they must obey the powers that be at all costs. However, I’m not a time-waster or a benefits cheat. I know a refusal to provide preventative surgery under the guise it’s my fault since I’m now unavailable makes no sense at all. ¬†I’d prefer to stay healthy and avoid being an unnecessary drain on the NHS but if you want to play hardball, so be it. Be in no doubt that there will be a scandal if I should become sick at some point in future when that eventuality was 90% preventable. The NHS like so many other British public services needs to take a flowers, not thorns approach. Instead of waving a big stick, making threats and taking punitive action, actively encourage people to do the right thing – take care of their health, hold down employment, gain a decent education and make a positive contribution to society overall.

There are flowers, not thorns in my garden. They’re there because I nurture them and tend them well. When they look prone to disease I treat them to prevent the illness spreading elsewhere or ruining my display. I encourage the flowers to grow by removing weeds that might otherwise overwhelm them. The practice of pruning a diseased leaf, choking weed or shrivelled bud is far more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than dousing every plant with toxic chemicals that may hold the blight at bay but never really cure it. Public services like the ¬†NHS could learn a thing or two from people who have flowers in the garden.

Doing a happy dance :-)

Don’t be fooled by the title of this post, doing any form of dancing right now is beyond my capabilities.¬† Imagining all sorts of things including¬† happy dancing through the house, around the garden and off into the sunset is well within my ability though¬† ūüôā

Some kindly WordPress folks nominated me for a bunch of blogging awards so I’m sitting here with a lovely smorgasbord of blog delights that make me feel like doing the happy dance even if my knees, ankles and hips reject any such notion.¬† Cancer treatment side-effects are such a pain the ****. I’ve been terribly remiss in accepting these awards and have no valid explanation aside from work-place happenings,¬† job interviews, assessment days, post-treatment check-ups, volunteer work, gardening, finger and knee immobility, helping out with a few activities for friends who are very busy and a plethora of household chores.¬† Oh and chemobrain which has made me somewhat disorganised, disoriented and determined to do good in the world even if I can’t remember what day of the week it is!

The Awards

My first big thank you goes to Ajaytao for the Inner Peace Award.

inner-peace-award

This award holds special meaning because inner peace isn’t something I was born with or have easily gained access to throughout my life.

My school years were difficult and just when I thought life might turn out to be OK everything shifted, twisted inside out and upside down. My Mum was diagnosed and subsequently died from cancer treatment complications. I was young – she was young too and the whole situation was inconceivably unfair. It made me deeply sad and desperately angry.

Inner peace is something I devote conscious attention to because turmoil and heartache have always enveloped the natural course of my life. They  frequently threaten to overthrow me given the tiniest opportunity. Inner peace is my haven. It keeps me coherent and rational.  It tells me whatever happens I shall not be overwhelmed by madness.

 

The next awards come from Shaun at Praying for One Day.¬† Shaun is my friend in Scotland and although we’ve never met we share some heritage.¬† The blood of Celts runs in my veins, love of mountains, moors and lochs is in my heart.¬† The first award is the Best Moment Award.

best-moment-award-1

¬†The rules for this award include an acceptance speech so here goes…”Every moment matters yet no-one stops to tell us how important each and every moment was, is or has yet to be. We come into the world without an instruction manual or guide-book for making the most of our moments.¬† As children we barely consider them, summers seem endless and life stretches before us like an unending daisy-chain.¬† We never consider that our moments on this wonderful planet are fleetingly brief. We don’t realise time is never on our side.¬† As we get older we begin to appreciate the moments, we recognise their significance and store memories of special times. Happy memories make us smile.¬† Time is never on our side so remember to make the most of every single moment.¬† Teach your children how special they are and how valuable every moment, even the tricky ones, really is.¬† Thank you Shaun for this moment to reflect on all that has ever mattered and to be grateful for every second of time I get to have here on Earth.”

Shaun also kindly nominated me for the Shine On award Shine-on and the Bouquet of Seven Awards. These include the following:

7 awards

I’m very touched that Shaun considered me worthy of such acknowledgement so I’m sending a big thank you all the way to Edinburgh along with a chuckle at my happy dance !

Last but by no means least, Kia Ora Danni at DanniGNT’s blog for passing on the Sunshine Award sunshineaward_sm1. Danni’s blog headline says “Look for the good in the world and you will find it…” go visit and you’ll soon find that’s very true ūüôā¬† Thanks Danni, you made my day.

All of these awards have different rules and I am not so good at adhering to them.¬† It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s not because I can’t be bothered. It’s because I am always in awe of the talent, honesty, insight, passion and knowledge displayed by all of my blogging companions and leaving anyone out seems… wrong.¬† So I nominate all of my followers and passers-by to pick up an award as a mark of my thanks to you for being here.¬† I nominate everyone I follow to pick up an award for being amazing writers, artists, photographers, story-tellers, survivors, fighters, saviours.

I cannot list everyone here so to ensure that thanks continues to be given amongst the WordPress community I specifically nominate the folks below:

Bouquet of Seven Awards

Cancer in my Thirties
High and Tight in Brixham
Mainely Hopeful
Mae’s Day

Inner Peace Award

Dglassme’s Blog
The Sarcastic Boob
Telling Knots
Cancer will be my bitch

Best Moment Award

Duck? Starfish? but 23…
Heartflow2013
Not Down or Out

Shine On Award

Dianne Gray Author

Anotheronewiththecancer
Ohm Sweet Ohm

Sunshine Award

Simple Tangles

Tracie Louise Photography
Gifts of the Journey
Day One

Now its time to go off and do that happy dance ūüôā