A rough night

You know how you feel when you wake up after a night on the tiles and getting home at 3am and crawling into bed and watching the room spin slowly out of control till you pass out?

That’s me, today, without the fun of the night on the tiles.

I went to bed at a sensible time, and found I couldn’t get to sleep. I might have dozed for an hour or so before waking with a heaviness in my chest and a pain all down my left arm. It got worse and I decided to get up and see if I could do something about it. I did what I usually do, and turned on the computer and googled various symptoms and came to no firm conclusion about what was wrong. I get chest pains from time to time when I am very stressed and anxious and have had my heart checked out. I’m relatively low risk for heart disease: age, gender, being a non smoker, non drinker, taker of regular exercise, healthy diet all in my favour. Only thing not in my favour is being a bit overweight. I did the mental maths and thought on balance it was almost certainly a form of panic attack, and maybe muscle strain.

So I surfed and wrote and flipped onto Facebook and found a friend up at 2am and chatted for a while. I wrote some more, I made hot milk with honey and when I was sure I wasn’t going to suddenly die in my sleep, I went back to bed at about 4am.

I had a cup of tea with my husband when he got up at 7am and went back to sleep for a while until the cat woke me up, followed shortly by husband with a tray of coffee and an apple turnover. I feel a bit fragile this morning but hopefully it’s going to pass.

What’s worrying me is not my heart, but my nerves. How did I let myself get into such a stupid state that I convinced myself I might have been having a heart attack? Surely the best explanation for my pain was having played tennis against a much younger opponent at work yesterday, and having acquitted myself quite well(ie I didn’t lose!) must surely have over used certain muscles without realising it?

I can see I am going to have to give myself a pretty stern talking-to….

No Worst, yet


No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.
  O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

The above poem is one of the so-called Terrible Sonnets by Gerard Manley Hopkins. They’re not terrible except in the sense of their emotional content; they catalogue Hopkins’ battle with serious issues of depression and in all probability with sexuality.

I discovered Hopkins when I was 17. While others were out discovering drink, sex, drugs and rock and roll, I was reading poetry that made me feel as if I wasn’t the first and I wouldn’t be the last to feel what I felt. My sixth form years were hard ones, not least because in the six months between Christmas and June, during which time I turned 17, three close friends of the same age died. It changed me forever.

This isn’t an easy poem to understand or explain. No worst? The idea that there is no worst and that things can always get worse than the worse we’ve ever experienced is horrific. The feeling of abandonment by God, by Our Lady and by Jesus our Comforter, is one that I cannot even begin to express. I’ve had times where those concepts are like fairytales told to scared children to comfort them.

The mind does have mountains. When I first read those words, I already understood the terror of clinging on with mental fingertips to rocks on an inner mountain range, poised over an abyss, ready to fall if I let go. The only comfort(in the poem’s context) is a poor one, like any port in a storm, that death ends all life, and each day dies with sleep.

This is the Good Friday of the soul, where the best you hope for is an end of pain. I’m not there today, and I hope I won’t be back in that place again but as I wander the world of my own inner landscape, I know that the higher I go, and the further I explore, the greater the chances of finding myself yet again on that dizzying precipice and my finger nails digging into rock and the chasm below me opening like the maw of a monstrous beast from distant and forgotten legends.

No worst, not yet.


It’s barely a quarter to eleven in the morning here and I have decided the best thing I can do today is go back to bed. There are days when I wake and wish I hadn’t, wish I could just sleep the day away, wish the heavy feeling inside was just a cat sitting on my chest and can be pushed away to snooze somewhere else.

I’ve done all that absolutely HAD to be done today and while there’s plenty I still SHOULD do, maybe it can all wait till tomorrow or later today.

If I go back to bed and sleep awhile, maybe I can REBOOT my brain and wake feeling a little less hopeless and full of illogical despair and at least get through the rest of the day without resorting to…well, whatever I was thinking of doing while I was walking home from a futile visit to the office today. We’ll skim briskly over that cravass if you don’t mind…..

Pavlov’s Cat


Some twenty years or more ago, my brother came to visit us for a long weekend and he brought with him a few presents and his own agenda. When he presented us with a gift for our first wedding anninversary, I ought to have been suspicious but being the polite soul I am, when I opened it I thanked him as graciously as I could, given that he’d decided a desk bell was the perfect gift for an almost-newly-wed couple. That was where his agenda began.

In some ways it wasn’t so much a present for us as a device to torment our cat, Watson.

   “I’m going to train him,” my brother said confidently.

  “Good luck with that,” I said. Dubious is my middle name some times

“Like Pavlov’s dogs, only with your cat,” he continued. “I reckon cats aren’t much different from dogs…”

He’d also bought a bag of expensive cats treats that one friend described as being like cocaine for cats. His grand idea was to ring the bell and give Watson a treat and that over a short period of time the cat would come when the bell was rung. He hadn’t planned on measuring salivation but the cat appearing at the sound of the bell was his main goal and over the weekend, it worked beautifully. If Watson was in earshot of the bell, he’d be in and waiting for his cocaine  treat.

My brother left on Monday deeply satisfied that he’d trained my cat. I admit I had been surprised that Watson had fallen so readily into his plan but I guessed that was the power of those rather delicious treats. Not so.

Shortly after I had come back from saying goodbye to my brother at the station, the true events of the weekend came to light. I didn’t work on Mondays so I was upstairs sorting out laundry when I heard something downstairs. Now, I was alone in the house and no one had access to the house except me and my husband, himself at work by that point.

The bell was ringing.

A few minutes previously, I had heard the cat flap open and Watson had come in from whatever hunting expedition he’d been on. Now we used to keep Watson inside at night because at the time catskinners roamed the area catching cats to skin for the fur trade, but the cat flap had been one with a lock. The lock had taken Watson ten minutes to figure out and he’d let himself straight out so we had been forced to manually block it at night to stop him getting out. The flap remained open until about ten or eleven at night and opened around 6.30am. Normally, he was off out all day hunting and only came home for meals or if it rained. This was around ten o’clock, so he’d come home for other reasons and when I came downstairs, I saw why.

Watson was perched on the shelf where we’d left the bell and the bag of treats. He’d carefully opened the bag and had one paw resting on the bell and as I watched, he raised the paw carefully and struck the button to make the bell ring, then he put his head into the treats and ate one.

Ding-munch, Ding-munch.

I watched in growing understanding for about thirty seconds before Watson raised his head and still chewing, gave me a look of such unmistakeable contempt that had he been human, he would have made a gesture with either one finger or two depending on nationality. He hit the bell one last time and walked off, still chewing.

That was the last time anyone tried to train that cat.

(For more tales of the ginger fury, please read:https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/watson-and-the-flying-birdcage/ )

Perfect Timing

You know those days when nothing goes according to plan; you miss the bus by ten seconds, you fail to see your friend in a crowded Starbucks, you lose a tenner when the wind catches it and blows it away? Those days when everything goes wrong? Had it ever occurred to you that there are the equivalent days when everything goes right, goes your way, effortlessly?

I had one of those sort of days yesterday, one of the ones where things go so smoothly and effectively you are waiting for the disaster that rebalances the universe. I had resevervations about packing so many things into one day but I figured I’d go with it and see what happened.

First thing that went according to plan was getting into London itself on time and no hold ups; second was finding a parking place at the Tower to drop off safely. Then we split into two groups; one going into the Tower and one going on a perambulation round London. Guess which I got? Right, the walking one. We walked. Over Tower bridge, along the south bank of the Thames, past HMS Belfast and back across over London Bridge and on to try and find the Great Fire monument. Easy. It is 202 feet high but then the buildings are higher…but there it was, exactly where we wanted it to be.

Retrospectively, given my dislike and fear of heights, I ought not to have risked going up as it gets narrower and narrower as you go up the 311 steps to the top…but I went anyway. I guess the Eiffel tower was in the bag, so this didn’t scare me…much:

  Bars helped, let’s put it like that.

Down again we headed towards the general direction of St Paul’s where we ate lunch and a drug squad undercover officer tried to arrest one of my students. Seriously. He thought better of it when shown the rollie was simply tobacco…One more thing that could so easily have gone horribly wrong… 

Then onto the Tube for a short trip back to Embankment and rejoin the whole group to start the official walking tour. This was now 3pm and I said I could do the essentials in an hour. This was optimistic because there were two protest marches taking place and also they were setting up for the marathon. By that lovely blind chance we crossed Parliament Square a minute before the March closed it…Onward to St James’s park and towards Buckingham Palace. As if for us, they had shut it off for traffic so we could saunter unimpeded. Back down the Mall and towards Horse Guards. My heart sank as it appeared to be blocked till I discovered this was because they were changing the guards. In all my many (50+) London tours I have never landed here on time for this. Just as Big Ben struck three o’clock moments after I explained what Big Ben is, the timing could not have been more perfect . I nearly did myself an injury perching with my legs stretched out with a foot on a ledge either side of an arch to raise myself to a decent height to see over heads.

I finished the tour at just after four fifteen giving the students enough time for a quick trip to either Oxford Street, Chelsea football ground, British Museum or Covent Garden, and finally meeting them all down in Embankment Gardens at 5.45pm, and just as we counted heads, the coach arrived. We even had time to have a services stop to eat. OK, so it was Mc Donalds but you can’t have everything.

Not a perfect day by any means but a day of perfect timings. I wish I knew the secret of reproducing them….I’d have a great deal less anxiety in my life.

Pied Piper of Hamelin(alternative version)


To understand the following, you need to click the link below. I highly recommend this blog anyway!


The real nature of the true Pied Piper of Hamelin was revealed by the final trick of  the piper when the mayor refused to pay him what he was owed. Stealing children was far from his only crime, however, and what he intended to do with them later is not for the faint hearted. To understand this criminal mastermind you must go further back, to the plague of rats.

You see, the rats were not ordinary rats at all; they were trained rats, and Balthazar, the king of the rats, was as mean and nasty as the Piper himself.  But the Piper underestimated the intelligence of Balthazar….

“You didn’t get the lame kid? I want the lame kid!” snarled the Piper. “He’s the major’s wife’s nephew and will bring the biggest ransom.”

“Boss, the boy couldn’t keep up with the others,” Balthazar squeaked. “We’ll get a good sum from the slavers. A kid with a bum leg ain’t gonna sell.”

 Just then, another rat came in.

 “Sorry boss, I gots bad news,” he said. “The kids have got away. They stomped the guards as soon as the hypnosis wore off and they’ve got out the mountain and down into the next valley.” 

Balthazar stopped his ears to the rage of his master and slipped away unseen, following the tiny rat sized tunnels to where he emerged in the dark valley where a hoard of children waited.

“OK kids,” he said. “Beat it; make new lives for yourselves over here. Say you’re orphans and your orphanage burned down.”

Still in a posthypnotic haze, the children disappeared down the hill and dispersed all over the countryside. Balthazar turned to the boy with the crutches.

“OK, then, Hopalong,” he said. “Tell me about this rich uncle of yours and how we can sting him for more money than the Piper can dream of…”

(with apologies to Terry Pratchett.)