Going Back to Heal the Pain

“If you keep picking at that scab on your heart, it won’t heal.”
― Antonia Perdu

It’s the perceived wisdom that you should leave a wound alone to let it heal – both physical and emotional. I’ve never been very good at that if I’m honest. I pick at things emotionally; leaving them alone doesn’t seem to work for me, they just seem to get worse and worse until I do something about it – face them head on, pick at the wound.

“There are some wounds that one can heal only by deepening them and making them worse.” 
― Villiers de L’Isle-Adam

I seem to be going through a bit of a process at the moment, picking at old wounds, trying to make them heal once and for all. You might have read my post a couple of days ago about my stalker; that’s a fifteen year old wound that I still need to heal. Writing the post was my way of picking at it, opening it up again, making it worse. Not worse than it was at the time of course, but worse than it was before I picked at it. It’s only this that allows me to lay it to rest and move on. I hope I will be able to do that soon.

Last week, I picked at another old wound when I took a trip to Bath. 

I grew up in the North East of England, but when I went to university I decided to go to Bath. After I graduated, I remained in Bath for several years. In my last year at uni, I joined a house share with four others, who’d all gone to university elsewhere and migrated to Bath for work. We were able to rent some gorgeous houses in Bath – at one point we had an entire five floor Georgian townhouse, with large rooms, lots of space and a “gracious drawing room” and we each paid far less than we would have paid for a dingy room in a house-share elsewhere in Bath. It was glorious. 

The street where we rented an entire house. Happy times.

The street where we rented an entire house. Happy times.

In amongst our group were two couples; I was one half of one couple. Eventually, we began splitting off into our own flats, new people joined the house-share to take the places of the couples who moved out, but we all carried on meeting up regularly. They were good times.

And then, a little under three years after I graduated, my relationship ended. Painfully. I couldn’t bear the idea of staying in Bath, knowing that we shared the same friends and would see each other but not be together, knowing that I would see him with his new belle. I gave up my job, my flat, my friends and moved back to the North East.

I made a new life, connected back up with old friends, found a new job, went back to uni to train as a teacher, got myself a new career. And new loves. And eventually, a husband. I had a good life. I have a good life, and I know I have lots to be grateful for. But through it all, there was always a nagging feeling that I was missing something, that life in Bath had continued without me. It hurt.

And so, after eighteen years I decided that it was time to go back. Open that wound to heal it. I’ve been accused of over thinking things, and I’m certainly guilty of that, hence still feeling that loss so many years later.

I spent a couple of days in Bath. Arriving late afternoon, my route into Bath led me past three of the places I had lived, which was a strangely painful beginning to the trip. My B&B was also just a few doors down from one of those houses, chosen because I knew it was a short walk into the city centre, not knowing in advance what my mobility would be like whilst I was there.

boule in the Square. With Waitrose providing nibbles. Obvs.

boule in the Square. With Waitrose providing nibbles. Obvs.

On my first evening I walked to Queens Square, just a couple of minutes from my B&B, to read my book in the sun. There was a boule competition going on, catered by Waitrose – it was a far cry from the pool league we used to belong to, catered with curled up sandwiches at the local pub.

The next day, I explored Bath and was surprised how much had changed and how much had stayed the same. There was a whole new development where the old bus station used to be – and by new development, I mean new streets created from nothing. It was a little odd, especially since large parts of that area were temporarily covered with artificial grass and oversized cushions for people to lounge around on.

I was sad to see that the Haagen Dazs cafe that I worked in whilst at uni had gone, replaced several times over I’m sure, but now a Cafe Nero. I was surprisingly cheered to see that Schwartz Bros were still in business, since they were always reliably the best burgers around. Ditto Ben’s Cookies, although these days I couldn’t enjoy the burgers or the cookies (thanks, Coeliac Disease!)

I discovered that when you know Bath so well, but no longer live there, and you aren’t there as a tourist either, the place is just odd. Many of the things I loved about Bath when I lived there were now a little depressing. I spent a good couple of hours camped out at the back of a coffee shop, reading my book, because outside was just, well … not what I remembered.

The teeniest, tiniest burger place, selling the best burgers in Bath

That evening I saw some friends – the other couple from our group – and spent a few hours chatting over old times, some of the things we got up to, the parties we held, the laughs we had. That evening put so much into perspective for me. Life hadn’t just gone on as before after I left. The group drifted apart over time, most moved out of Bath. Things moved on. Up in the North, I imagined that things had frozen in time, but of course they hadn’t. And it turns out the things I no longer liked about Bath were the same things my friends had grown tired of. Who knew? We just outgrew the place. I went back to my B&B much happier than I’d felt when I arrived in Bath.

The next morning I met up with another old friend, although 18 years ago, it was the pain of seeing him that led me to leave in the first place. With just a little awkwardness, we chatted over good times, talked about our families, laid the past to rest. It felt good (even if the coffee wasn’t great!).

That afternoon, whilst I waited for my car to be fixed, I retreated to the back of that coffee shop again, and read my book knowing that this wound was now closing for the last time. And when I got back home that evening Stonelaughter, knowing that all these things had gone round my head for the entire time we’ve known each other, was able to see that the healing had not just begun, but was well on the way.

And as a bonus, I hope that this trip means we will all make a little more effort to stay in touch and maybe not leave it another 18 years until the next time!

 

The Female Of The Species is More Deadly Than The Male

Can I just check, we are in the 21st century, aren’t we? We haven’t been transported back to a time when women were regarded as property?

I only ask because a casual glance around the place might lead you to suspect we had. Everywhere you look, women are being told what to wear. School girls being told their clothing choices are a distraction to their male peers (having been a secondary school teacher, I can safely say that teenage boys are distracted by girls, no matter what their attire. It comes with puberty). Primary school girls being made to swear shorts under their skirts or dresses lest boys see their knickers when they do cartwheels – never mind that these same children change for PE in the same classrooms (this was a rule in Bean’s former school). Women being told they must wear a burqa. Women being told they must not wear a niqāb. And now, women being told they must not be covered up on a beach. Society is telling young girls that their bodies are shameful and grown women that their bodies are the property of the law makers.

UNIFORM

I don’t like any rules or laws which tell women what they must or must not wear. By all means, have a school uniform, but don’t set standards of “decency” which essentially tell girls that their bodies are shameful. I wholeheartedly support women who choose to wear a burqa, niqāb, hijab or any other form of covering, but not laws which say they must. Equally, a law which purports to free women who have not chosen to wear a niqāb by telling all women they cannot wear it is ridiculous. You cannot free someone from oppression by applying a different form of oppression.

too-much-leg-2

And now we have the furore surrounding the ban on burkinis. What nonsense is this? In the 1920s, rules about beachwear were enforced by police. Women were routinely subjected to having their bathing suits measured (often by a man) and forced to leave, cover up or be arrested. And whilst rules also existed for men, they were not generally enforced with the same rigour. France, at the forefront of introducing the bikini to the world (so named because of the “explosive” effect it was thought to have on men, after Bikini Atoll, a site of nuclear weapons testing) are now so concerned with what women wear at the beach that cities are banning women from being too covered up. It’s OK to wear something which is essentially three tiny pieces of triangular fabric held together with bits of string, but if you try and cover your body from the world’s prying eyes, you’ll be in trouble with the police.

There are pictures all over the media this week of women at French beaches being made to derobe by make police because they are not showing enough flesh. A woman wearing a cotton beach tunic and leggings, with a headscarf (not a hijab or niqāb mind you, just a regular scarf tied round her hair, which is in a bun) was forced by male police officers (who, incidentally, were wearing far more than she was) to remove her tunic and headscarf because she was in breach of these ridiculous rules.

Just what do the French authorities think they are gaining here? Their constant theme is that women are forced into covering up by their husbands and their religion. I suspect, for the majority of modern Muslim women in France, it is their choice to cover up. France wants to free them from this choice, by taking away their right to choose at all and forcing them not to be covered up.

This is just another example of how the world thinks it has the right to comment on or legislate about what women wear and it has to stop. Women are people in their own right and their decision to bare all or cover up should be exactly that – their decision.

PAY-burkini

France thinks it is tackling unjust rules in Islam by implementing unjust laws. But they’re not taking on unjust rules, they are discriminating against women, and against one religion in particular. And whilst most Muslims will either follow the rules or defy them, as they see fit, France is playing into the hands of extremists (who often identify as Muslim, whilst simultaneously failing to follow even the most basic tenets of Islam) who will seize on any opportunity to show the Western world as at war with Islam.

Of course, it’s not the burkini itself that France has a problem with; what secular France is afraid of is any show of religious affiliation, particularly Muslim affiliation. It’s as if they think banning the burkini and the niqāb will stop extremists wanting to kill innocent people. And of course, it won’t.

They’re even misguided in their identification of the burkini as a piece of Muslim clothing. In fact it originates from Australia, developed around 50 years ago, no doubt as a way of protecting one’s skin from the sun’s damaging rays. And this is one of thoughts that passes through my head when seeing pictures of the woman on a beach in Nice who was forced to disrobe. The tunic she was wearing is the kind on sale in almost every shop that carries swimwear – sold as a beach cover-up to protect the skin. It’s a sensible piece of clothing. Underneath she is wearing a vest top, and the police – all four of them, as she was clearly a dangerous criminal requiring safety in numbers – have done nothing more than force her to expose her arms to the sun’s damaging rays. A round of applause, if you will.

external

The other thoughts that go through my head when seeing this picture are

  • how shameful it is of these men to force a women, lying on a beach minding her own business, to take off clothes. When did it become more moral to wear less? I’m not even suggesting that wearing next to nothing is immoral – clothing does not determine who is moral and who is not. 
  • how oppressed this woman must feel now 
  • how on earth did we get here?

It is time to stop telling women – of any faith or none – what they can and can’t wear. A woman wearing a barely-there bikini or a cotton cover-up tunic is not a risk to your dignity or morality.

We need to come together, men and women alike, to stand against this oppression. Swapping one supposed oppression for a different, definite and legally enforceable oppression does not give women freedom, it gives men power. And the time has come to tell men that they cannot have power over women any more.

edit If you’d like to let France know how outrageous this is, consider signing the petition.

 

Learning the Hard Way

Mahala   22nd August 2016   2 Comments on Learning the Hard Way

Last week, I visited Bath, where I used to live. Perhaps more on the trip itself in another post. Maybe.

This post starts with a little accident I had on my second night there, when I hit a metal pole which was completely hidden by overgrown brambles and hedge, in a little lane of private parking, when pulling over to make room for a cyclist. Don’t worry, my car saw to it that the pole is no longer hidden. I’ve got your back. (Rumney, if you’re reading this, I’m still working on an angle where this is your fault. I’m not ready to give up yet!)

But this post isn’t really about the accident or the damage, or even the trip to Bath. This is about something altogether different, and it took me a little while to see the connection. You see, I realised that the person on the bike looked familiar to me and I panicked just a bit. I’m not saying it caused the bump – I know it didn’t – but it was something I wasn’t ready for.

I’m pretty sure now that it was not the person I thought it might be. There’s really no reason it would be – it wasn’t someone I knew from Bath and as far as I know, this person has never visited Bath. However, he’s been on my mind a lot recently, and I don’t know why. If you read this blog regularly (or as regularly as I post), you might have seen a poem I posted in March about a psychopath. HE has been on my mind a lot. My “stalker”, although that name barely scratches the surface of what he did.

i-stalking

It’s 15 years since his “activity” began, on 25 June 2001. I hadn’t realised until later that he had been laying the groundwork for 6 months already by that time, in his guise as a “friend”. He was the person that introduced Stonelaughter and I, saying that he thought we would get on.

Shortly before Psychopathic Stalker (PS from here on in) introduced me to Stonelaughter, I went through a breakup that was particularly painful and protracted. PS offered a shoulder to cry on, and assured me that I would get over this relationship and move on. He once said he’d like it if I moved on to him. I told him it wasn’t going to happen and we carried on being friends. By the time I was ready to move on, Stonelaughter and I had been friends for quite some time and I hadn’t seen PS for 3 months. Our phone calls were increasingly rare although we still chatted online fairly often. 

It was many months after we were introduced that Stonelaughter and I moved from “friends” to “lovers”, but when we did, the harassment began immediately. We spent a wonderful weekend together, interrupted only by a short phone call from PS demanding to know where I was, since I clearly wasn’t at home. I wasn’t ready to share our weekend with anyone so I just said I was spending the weekend with a friend. That’s all it took.

It started slowly. When I returned home after work on Monday, I found my website had been hacked into and getting access again was almost impossible – the host in those days not believing that someone had gained access. The next day, I started receiving odd text messages. Just a couple a day at first. Graphic, unpleasant messages from random strangers. And then the phone calls came. I learned from these phone calls that my number was listed on an adult personals site, but it took what seemed like forever to find out where. Simply asking the men who called where they got my number resulted in them hanging up. In the end, I managed to get the answer by asking one man which site he’d found me on, since I had advertised on several. His garbled answer was enough to go on. I quickly explained that I had not placed any ads and he was very apologetic. Still, his number went into the log I was keeping, sure that the police would be interested.

Before the end of the first week, I had managed to get the sole ad removed, but I also discovered that I was on some awful auction site, a whore available for rent to the highest bidder. I took a screenshot and then contacted the company to remove the listing.

Next, I found a website where I was described as a whore (how else was I paying my student loans? The irony being that in my first year as a teacher, I wasn’t earning enough to have to pay them back), and someone who sets out to lead men on and take advantage of them. According to this site, I visited sex clubs and taught my students at school the basics of witchcraft. The school where I worked was identified on the site. At the same time, a parallel site about Stonelaughter appeared, accusing him of some dreadful things, and identifying his employer. PS went as far as using the logo of Stonelaughter’s employer to mimic their official website. That got closed down PDQ – a large American corporation with a former Presidential candidate at its helm did not take kindly to the mock website and threatened a lawsuit. After that, he never really bothered with Stonelaughter, and instead redoubled his efforts in my direction.

At this point, the man from whom I’d had the messy breakup (we’ll call him MB) got in touch to tell me that I had brought this on myself by mistreating PS so badly. Apparently, despite me being clear it wasn’t going to happen, PS fully expected me to move on and into a relationship with him.

Meanwhile, I had decided that enough was enough and made a complaint of harassment to the police. An officer was duly dispatched to my flat to look over the “evidence” I had accumulated. After viewing it, he said it all seemed a bit pathetic really and suggested I grow up. 

Next (I think, but the order of things is a little hazy), I started getting around 30k emails a day. Yes, thirty thousand. Sometimes less, sometimes more. All sent from a bulk sender of course, with random characters as the message body usually. Their sole purpose was to make sure that I found it difficult to access my real email, as first my computer had to download all the spam (on dial-up!). The message subject changed daily, as did the sending address so preventing them from being downloaded was almost impossible. This went on for weeks.

Before long I was called in to speak to the Headteacher at my school. He had received a complaint about me. It was pretty damning. However, on checking the names in the database, the Head had discovered that there was not, nor ever had been, a pupil at the school with a parent who matched the name on the letter. It was a bit curious. The letter, amongst other things, alleged that I was trying to teach my students about witchcraft. It referenced a recent very successful school trip to a stone circle and long barrow that I had organised as part of a module on the history of religion. I was accompanied by my Head of Faculty, and other faculty staff who all praised me for the trip, its content and organisation. However the complaint letter asked if I would soon be teaching spellcraft and dancing naked in the moonlight with students. It was dismissed as not worthy of further discussion, apart from to ask if I knew anything about who might have sent the letter. I relayed what had been happening, and was asked to report further activity to the school.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this was all hard to contend with. I was nearing the end of my first year in teaching, trying to focus on making sure my paperwork was up to date to make sure I passed the NQT year; I was the department lead for my subject and was taking my first class through their GCSE. Stonelaughter worked away in those days, and by now he was in Dublin Monday-Friday and we only had rare weekends together, his children obviously taking priority when he was home.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. I left school one afternoon, and walked to my car which was parked on the street outside, since I’d missed out on a staff space on site that morning. As I unlocked it, two men approached me and asked for me by name. I asked what they wanted and they identified themselves as reporters from The Sun. They had a copy of the letter that had been sent to my school and they smelt a story. Panicking, I said I wouldn’t discuss it in the street and asked them to come with me back to the school. Asking them to wait in reception whilst I found somewhere suitable for us to talk, I rushed to find the nearest member of the management team and tried to explain what the hell was happening. I couldn’t have asked for more support. The assistant head  took me to the staffroom and fetched the deputy head who took my car keys, left the school by a back door and drove my car on site, away from the car park, parked between outdoor classrooms so it couldn’t be seen easily. Meanwhile, the assistant head went to speak to the reporters who had, thankfully, stayed where I left them. They were told that I had now left school for the day and no-one was available to talk to them. They left.

About an hour later, it was judged to be safe for me to leave and I drove home, only to find the reporters waiting for me on the doorstep. I simply drove straight past and went back to work. My car was parked in its hiding place again, and I was looked after by my Head of House, who was meeting the parents of our new intake. At the the end of the evening, the Head called another colleague and asked her to drive me home, and if there was any sign of the reporters, to take me to stay with her for the night. All was clear, so I slept in my own flat and walked to my colleague’s house the next morning to get a lift back to work. I never saw the reporters again.

They kept themselves busy however. When I got home the following day, my neighbours approached looking worried. They’d had reporters at the door, asking about me. Did they know I was a witch? Had they seen me practice witchcraft and more questions of the same ilk. My neighbours were baffled with the questions and assured me they simply told the reporters they didn’t know what they were talking about. Deep breaths.

A day or so later, I had a phone call from my Mum. The reporters had called at the vicarage, some 280 miles away, asking the same questions. I hadn’t told my parents about any of what had happened, so it all came as a bit of a shock when I explained why the reporters were there.

The school continued to be supportive, although it must have been very difficult for them. I remember the day I first saw an A4 leaflet with my photo on it appear in a lesson. A sheet which told students I was a witch, and which had been liberally distributed around the school, as far as I could tell. A student casually let one fall to the floor, and it took everything I had to calmly pick it up, screw it into a ball and throw it in the bin, with what I hope passed as bored indifference at what was on the paper. I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry until there were no tears left. A day or so later, students in another class began to quote things from that website about me – it was still there for all to see and I seemed powerless to do anything about it.

I went home that night, found another 30k emails waiting for me and decided I’d had enough. I popped to the shop over the road and bought a bottle of vodka. I already had plenty of paracetamol in my flat because of the stress headaches I was getting. I poured the vodka and was taking tablets out of packets when my Mum called to see how I was. I broke down and told her everything. She made me promise not to move or do anything until she called me back. Twenty minutes later she called to say the police were on their way. She had called my local police, told them what was going on and that I had been told to grow up when I reported it and what effect it was having. A few minutes later, a policeman was at the door.

I showed him everything – the log of calls and text messages, the emails, the auction posting, the website, the leaflets from school, told him about the reporters …. and he asked “Do you really go to sex clubs?”. I’m not sure what the look on my face was but he very quickly apologised and started taking the whole thing seriously. Eventually, he was great. He logged everything, sat with me and smoked with me whilst I tried to stop crying. At some point I think he must have quietly removed the tablets too. The website came down soon after, I think. Things were complicated though. PS was still a serving member of the RAF based 240 miles away, and so my local police had to hand things over to the RAF police to handle. Apparently, their way of handling it was to knock on his door in the Barracks and ask if he’d done these things. He said “No”, and that was the end of it as far as the RAF police were concerned.

You can probably imagine the effect that had on things. Suddenly as well as all the spam he was sending, PS started sending me personal emails, telling me that I couldn’t accuse him of harassment if what he was saying was true (choosing to ignore that what he was saying were huge lies hung on the merest nuggets of truth – I did, in fact, have outstanding student loans; my flat was *almost* in the red light district, but was actually in the middle of a lovely Muslim community; I did take a school trip to a stone circle etc). His emails contained threats of what would happen if I didn’t call off the police. I handed them over to the police along with everything else.

The Sun were still threatening to publish a story at this point. Although I had not seen the reporters again, I was getting daily phone calls from them asking for a comment or an interview. I did as I was told and said “no comment” as calmly and politely as I could manage, scared of giving them any extra reason to go to print. The school stepped in again. The Head spoke to them and told them what was happening with the harassment case, and told them in no uncertain terms that they were helping destroy a promising career. The local police were persuaded to speak to the reporters and gently suggested that any further action from the reporters might be considered harassment in its own right. And still they wouldn’t back down. We were given a publication date. 

At the eleventh hour, they changed their mind. I still do not know why. I drove home from work one Thursday afternoon, having been told it would be published the next day. I drove back to school the next morning feeling sick. I was pulled to one side by the Bursar and told not to worry, it was sorted. The Head asked me to his office and told me that The Sun had finally agreed not to print a story at all, although he wouldn’t tell me what had changed their minds. “It’s over”, is all he said.

Of course it wasn’t over, but that aspect of it was. The police tried again. Having been told by the police local to the RAF base that it couldn’t be handled by them, and having failed to get the RAF police to take it seriously, my local police contacted the MOD police. It had been eight weeks by now since my website was hacked and the first text messages had started appearing. We were now well into the summer holidays and my GP put me on antidepressants, fearful that I would be in no fit state to start the new term otherwise. The MOD Plod were fantastic. They took over the case and assigned an officer to it. He drove the 200+ miles to my flat on a couple of occasions to get statements and make sure the case moved along.

The majority of the harassment was over by the start of September. I still got emails from PS telling me that if I didn’t stop the case that was now progressing against him, I’d find myself in Holloway. In November, PS was found guilty of harassment and given community service, and a restraining order lasting 18 months. I was relieved it was over, relieved I had not had to go to court, relieved I had been believed. I was confused about the sentencing though.

A phone call during my lunch break soon explained everything. The MOD Police Officer called to let me know the outcome and then dropped a bombshell. He hadn’t gone to prison, although the case certainly warranted it, because they were building another, more serious case against him. When they had arrested him, they had smashed the door down to his room in Barracks, and caught him sorting through child pornography on his computer. They had been building a case against him ever since.

I was shocked and sickened but worse was to come. He was now claiming that I put the images on his computer (even though I hasn’t actually seen him since March that year – three months before Stonelaughter and I started seeing each other). It seemed that no-one believed his defence, but I was going to be called as a witness in the case. It took a year for the case to come to trial, and that entire year was spent worrying about having to go to court and give evidence against him, despite there being a restraining order that prevented him from being within 50 metres of me, or contacting me in any way at all. My only way out of it, I was told, was to have a doctor declare me unfit to give evidence, due to the stress of having to face him after what he did to me. I thought this would be a quick process, but in fact, I was still trying to get that exemption a couple of weeks before the trial, and had already had to book time off to attend the trial. However, to my relief, the exemption did come through, with a week to spare, at which point PS dropped me from his defence story and instead accused MB (remember him?), with whom he shared an internet connection in Barracks.

The trial ended with PS being found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison. I was free from the nightmare. 

PS did try and appeal his conviction, although he wasn’t successful. However, he did successfully appeal his sentence, and it was reduced to 6 months, which he’d already served by then, and he was released, just as the restraining order ended, and just a couple of weeks before Stonelaughter and I got married. I was terrified he would turn up, hated leaving the house, couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone. To this day, I still hate using the phone and more often than not refuse calls from numbers I don’t know.

Even from prison he would contact me or, more often Stonelaughter. At each Pagan festival, an email would appear from him. He stalked us on internet forums, keeping an eye on us. That lasted for a few years after he came out of prison. 

And there you have it. I still have nightmares about it, fifteen years on.

I suppose I’m writing about this now because I need to get it out. Despite what MB said, I know I did not deserve what happened to me, and when he saw the extent of it all, I’m pretty sure he knew that too. But whatever the truth of it, I do feel to blame. The very first time I met PS, MB had asked him to come along when we went out for a drink together. I remember that alarm bells went off in my head at that very first meeting, and continued to sound, albeit more quietly, over the whole time he pretended to be a friend. 

I’m reading a book at the moment – Women Who Run With The Wolves – and this has been a feature throughout so far, the notion that our instincts are good, if only we’d learn to listen to them. It’s definitely a lesson I have learned the hard way, but I want to make sure it’s not one I have to learn again.

 

To The Rescue!

Mahala   21st August 2016   No Comments on To The Rescue!

Yesterday, we added three more members to our family. Whilst I went and collected the children from their week with grandparents, Stonelaughter popped off to collect the three chickens I had reserved.

We had chickens once upon a time, before Bean was born. We started with three, but were soon up to a dozen, running wild over our back garden and nesting in the shed we converted for them. It was fab, except that we very soon did not have a garden, and they got themselves into trouble – I once found several of them near death in one of our greenhouses. Having broken in, they had eaten all my herbs and garlic and then got stuck. Thankfully, they all made a good recovery. However, whilst I was pregnant with Bean, I developed a bit of a phobia of the hens. This might have been OK, except that Stonelaughter was living and working in Sweden at that point and I couldn’t look after them, so we found them all a new home. 

The first three chickens we owned. The whole world knew when our Buff Orpington jumped down from her perch.

The first three chickens we owned. The whole world knew when our Buff Orpington jumped down from her perch.

Eleven years down the line, and I’ve been over that for a long time. We’ve been thinking about having chickens again for a little while, and I’d been working out how we would do it, and looking at housing for a while when, at the beginning of the month, I saw a post about Fresh Start for Hens needing homes for the next batch of chickens they were rescuing. When they reach around 18 months old, chickens stop laying often enough to be profitable for commercial outfits and are sold for dog food or baby food. Instead, all 5500 of them have new homes where they will live out the rest of their lives in well deserved comfort.

This is the barn our 3 girls were living in until they were rescued by Fresh Start for Hens - this is what "Barn Fresh Eggs" means.

This is the barn our 3 girls were living in until Fresh Start for Hens rescued them – this is what “Barn Fresh Eggs” means.

And so, we are once again a family with chooks. Just three this time, and that’s how it will stay. They have housing which is big enough for 4-5 chickens, and a run that’s almost 2.5 metres long. Not free range exactly, but so much better than how they lived up to now.

The new housing, awaiting its residents.

The new housing, awaiting its residents.

We knew that hens who come from commercial egg settings are often in poor condition, and stop laying. Many go on to be great layers again once they recover from their previous lives, but there’s no guarantee of that. They often come with many feathers missing, poor nutrition, weak legs, mites and sores from being pecked at by their barn-mates.

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Starting to make themselves at home

Our three girls are in relatively good condition compared to some of the others. The most poorly one has no feathers on her head, her comb is very pale pink and completely flopped over. The other two are in better shape, though one is missing feathers from her back.

Mabel

Mabel

They’ve been with us for about 24 hours now and are already showing signs of improvement. They have happily eaten and are drinking well. They have spent lots of time outside in their run, making the most of the fabulous sunshine we’ve had today. And, surprise! we had two eggs this morning. We assume that these were laid by Ethel and Mabel, the two who are in better condition.

Ethel

Ethel

We’ve just been out to check on them again and they are clucking happily. Doris, the most poorly, is showing some small improvement – already the top of her comb is starting to pick up colour. I opened the nest box to check it was nice and cosy for later this evening and found two more eggs! This means that at least one of them has laid twice! One of the eggs had been eaten, backing up the theory that they are in need of protein (hens are known to do this when their nutrition is lacking). The other egg had a partially soft shell. This sometimes happens when young hens first start laying, or when a hen is low on calcium. It seems reasonable to assume that Doris laid this one, as the others had perfectly formed shells.

Doris

Doris

I’m so impressed with how all three of them are making themselves at home and already picking up. I can’t wait until they’re settled in enough for us to go and say hello and have a cuddle!

Taking Back Control – Fibro Won’t Beat Me

If you’ve read this blog before, you might know that I have Fibromyalgia, amongst other things. I was diagnosed 22 years ago and in the intervening time, I got off easy I think. After a difficult couple of years, I was able to live my life almost as if I didn’t have it.

However, the last couple of years have been horrendous and culminated in me needing a walking stick to walk very small amounts and a mobility scooter to do anything more. It took over my life completely, as it does for most people who have it, at some time or other.

It brought me to rock bottom and I hated my life and the things I wasn’t able to do. Then I had a little chink of light. One day, for no clear reason, I didn’t need any pain killers. That’s all, but it gave me hope and I decided to take control of my life again. Ha, how easy it is to say that!

I set about sorting out a few things. A trip to the doctor and nurse later and I had secured diagnosis of and treatment for carpel tunnel and sciatica, a referral to a special scheme at the local sports centre and a referral to a nutritionist. Things also started moving in relation to the referral to a rheumatologist I had at the beginning of the year. He sent me to the sleep clinic and after various tests, I’ve been given a CPAP machine. Apparently I don’t have sleep apnoea but the tests showed that the machine improves my sleep quality – and it feels like it too. I’m getting some decent sleep now (although that makes room for more fibro dreams too).

the CPAP machine is my new best friend, even if the mask does make me feel like Hannibal Lecter!

the CPAP machine is my new best friend, even if the mask does make me feel like Hannibal Lecter!

I’m pleased to say that just one steroid injection seems to have dealt with the carpel tunnel and trigger fingers (I had constant pins and needles in my right hand and was struggling to hold a pen and worse, a crochet hook! It all seems back to normal now). The treatment for sciatica worked wonders to begin with and although it’s taken a backwards step this week, I’m hopeful that it will improve again. I think it was the reason walking has been so difficult this year and I hope that the pins and needles, numbness and pain from my hip to my toes will at some point go completely.

The referral to the sports centre was something I requested although I was quite sceptical about it. How could I possibly exercise when I could hardly walk and it hurts to stand? It’s been a revelation to me. I’ve been put on a “GP Referral Scheme”, which means that I get a personal trainer of sorts. In our first session, we sat and talked about my conditions, what effect they had on me (physically, mentally and emotionally), what I wanted to achieve and how this might happen. And then she showed me round the gym and put together an exercise regime tailored to me. 

Twice a week I enter the gym (which I have always found intimidating) and do an hour-long session which includes stretches, exercise bike, arm cycle, rowing machine, chest press, low row machine, as well as crunches, twists and squats. I am completely amazed by all this – not just of what I am able to do, but also about how good I feel doing it. An hour just for me. I put in my earphones, turn the rock music up loud and block out the world. I love it. I have realised that after my session on a Thursday, I am counting the days until Tuesday comes around again and I can go back!

Out of my whole workout, this is the bit I dread the most.

Out of my whole workout, this is the bit I dread the most.

As well as that, I am also attending an aquaerobics class as part of the scheme. As well as being pretty hard work, it’s fun, and the people (all at least a decade older than me) are very welcoming. I was accepted into the “naughty crowd” in my first lesson. I’ve also started taking the children swimming on Sunday afternoons. All three attend swimming lessons at this same sports centre, and so we go on Sundays for them to get some practice in if they want to, or just have fun. Because they have lessons there, they swim for free when we go as a family. I’m even considering joining the adults only swimming session one evening a week so I can get some actual swimming of my own done (with a 3 and a 5 year old in the water when we go together, I can’t do any swimming, I’m just on hand to help them should they need it, although they are all very confident in the water now).

So, I don’t really recognise myself at the moment. I’ve shied away from exercise for so many years but suddenly I am looking forward to it. Even when the pain is bad, I still go to the gym now, because there is help there to change my workout in ways to help with that. I feel really positive now. I bought layered exercise clothes, a pair of trainers (I haven’t owned trainers since I was a teenager), a teeny, tiny MP3 player that clips to my top and weighs nothing. I even have a tichel reserved for exercise!

the funky 2-in-1 top I bought for the gym

I don’t start seeing the nutritionist until next month, but I am hoping it will be a similarly positive experience that will help me build a diet that is both gluten-free and diabetes friendly (did I mention I was recently diagnosed with that? I had GD three times so it wasn’t a complete surprise; just something else to add to the list and conquer!)

I am determined to get my illnesses under control and to be the one who dictates what I do and when I do it. I know that when you feel really low about chronic illnesses, reading about someone taking control can be the last thing you want to see, and I have been there for a long time. I don’t know where this determination came from (maybe because I got to the lowest point FM has ever taken me?) but it appeared at just the right time for me to be able to grab it with both hands.

It’s not going to be easy or quick, and it’s not going to cure me, but that’s OK. I’m just after a decent quality of life that means I can do things with the children, take care of the house, go out and have fun – the things we take for granted until we can’t do them anymore.

Yarn Along: Women, Wolves and Rugs

I recently discovered a weekly blog-along where participants share details of their current crochet or knitting project, as well as what they are currently reading. I stumbled on it just as I was nearing the end of a major project and starting re-reading a book that’s very important to me. Perfect timing, I think.  And so, here I go, joining in the Yarn Along for the first time.

Current crochet project:

To be honest, I always have several WiPs on the go at once. This is especially true if I am working on one or more freeform pieces – I seem to need to drop one project and pick up another to keep the creative inspiration going to the end of each one. When I’m not freeforming, I am less scattered amongst projects, but still have a few things on the go – what I will work on depends on my mood, health, ability to concentrate etc. Just recently though, I have been unusually single-minded and stuck to one project most of the time. 

I started this rug almost a month ago – I took a box of 5 large rolls of Hoooked Zpagetti on holiday to Devon with us, and by the end of our week, I’d whipped up a rectangular rug in purple, pink and green stripes – the colours of our new sofa (purple) and the accent colours on cushions (green and pink). I loved working on it, but unfortunately, once I’d finished it, I realised that I didn’t actually like it. What I had created was serviceable as a rug but it wasn’t pretty and in no way did it represent all the hard work (my poor hands!) that had gone into crocheting 600 metres of stretch cotton fabric. And so I frogged it. All of it. That in itself took two nights.

The finished rug, which was frogged almost as soon as it was finished

The finished rug, which was frogged almost as soon as I’d finished it

And I started again. This time, a circular rug, made to a pattern that had pretty details in it. The pattern was for a rug 60cm in diameter – much too small for what I wanted – and so I did extra  pattern repeats until it was big enough. I miscalculated and it rippled throughout my extra repeats and no amount of blocking was going to help. Frogged again.

And then it got put away whilst I painted my living room, ordered new carpets and blinds, waited for the new carpets to go in, and then finally I was able to get on with the rug again. I did the same pattern, with the same repeats, but paid closer attention to the numbers this time and hurrah! I have finished it, just in the last hour as I write this. I have woven in all the many ends (the ones that didn’t get crocheted over at least) and now it just needs blocking. I’ll be checking the weather forecast, because it’s going to need blocking on my lawn!

The finished, much prettier rug.

The finished, much prettier rug, awaiting blocking.

It’s done, I’m happy. I can’t wait for the new sofas to arrive so it all goes together nicely.

Current book:

This week I started to re-read a book I was given 21 years ago, by my Mum, on my 21st birthday. Fifteen years or so later Stonelaughter, unaware that I had this book, bought it for me having researched it and decided it was exactly the book I needed. He was right.

Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a book about connecting again with Wild Woman, the spiritual self in all women. I find this book so empowering, and so centering and it helps me connect again with… well, what? Wild Woman? Certainly, but for me it also helps to reconnect with Goddess, within and without. Gaia, Artemis, Mahala – all aspects of the same, as is Wild Woman.

Women, Wolves and a rug

Women, Wolves and a rug

With such a hectic schedule, I’ve only managed a couple of chapters this week, but that’s OK. I am going to take my time reading it again. It’s not to be rushed; spiritual reconnection has to be allowed all the time it needs. And in those moments where I get to be slower, quieter, able to concentrate on reading, delving into this book feels like a connection in itself. A spiritual treat and some much needed “me” time, to be savoured whenever the opportunity arises.

What have you been creating and reading this week?