Water in a Stone

Water in a Stone

Water in a Stone

I’ve long had a fascination for rocks; indeed, I considered studying geology for A level. I’ve been collecting rocks, fossils, crystals and gemstones for a long time now. I started when I was about nine or ten, becoming entranced by the cat’s-eye effect (chatoyance) of the semi precious stone Tiger’s Eye, and buying several pieces of the polished gem, one to wear as a pendant I still wear occasionally today.

It wasn’t until I was about fifteen and was visiting the Natural History Museum in Frankfurt that I really got hooked. One exhibit was a piece of rock crystal that was about the size of a small car. I remember walking round and round the massive rock, astounded that such a thing existed. The museum gift shop sold cheap gemstone jewellery and I found myself a piece of polished clear quartz set as a pendant. I have it still.

The Greeks thought rock crystal was ice that had frozen so hard it could never be thawed; in a way, they were right. Quartz does start out liquid, deep in the earth, but it’s only over time that it solidifies, growing into fabulous forms that are exquisitely lovely.

For me, any rock is a wonderful mystery: where did it come from, what is it made of, how did it get where it is today? I can walk almost any beach and find you a fossil. I pick up stones everywhere, and it occurred to me that I’m probably looking for the philosopher’s stone. I’ve dreamed about stones doing magical, wonderful things, and I meditate with them, often placing certain crystals on my forehead and holding them in my hands as I contemplate deep and impenetrable matters (I often fall asleep, to put that into perspective!). On one occasion, somehow or other I caused a crystal balanced on my forehead to light up from within, witnessed by one reliable source.

I’ve got boxes of rocks, ones that friends have sent me from special places they have visited, and dozens of crystals of various sorts, sizes and colours. There is something innately pleasing to me, at the very least, in the order and beauty of crystals; the fact that they form, either over aeons or spontaneously in milliseconds (no one is quite sure; some have been seen to grow slowly, others leap into being) regular, geometrically perfect solids is a sort of comfort to me. When I go to Austria, the hotel I usually stay at has a cabinet of fossils and rocks for sale; I’ve bought several, including a trilobite now named Josef after the hotelier. Like any collector, my collection is never going to be complete. There will always be something different to look out for.

I’ve not mentioned much the whole “woo woo” factor, because while I do believe there is something to it, it’s not something I really want to go into here. There is too much room for ridicule. Suffice it to say that I believe that rocks can be a source of healing.

Anyway, on a day trip to Ely a month or two back, I visited a stall on the market there that I’ve known for many years. She usually has unusual things, and isn’t extortionate in terms of prices. I spotted a couple of nice little things and one reasonably sized double terminated* quartz piece ( *it comes to a point at both ends), and liked it. It had a brilliant clarity and beauty that drew me. A few weeks after buying it, I spotted something very unusual indeed.

Inside the crystal was a bubble of liquid that moved when you turned the stone. Enhydros are quartz (and other stones) that contain water (or other liquids) from the time when the stone was forming. Sold as such, they’re fairly pricey; not precisely rare but unusual. A magnifying glass has shown there are other bubbles within the matrix of the rock; imagine the moving bubble of a spirit level and that’s not dissimilar.

Given the level of frozen-ness of my inner spirit and my life, and the fear that all the bubbling-over of images, ideas and stories might have dried up, finding this tiny reservoir of ancient, forgotten water deep inside a rock, is to me a symbol that perhaps buried so far down that I can’t even feel it, the water of life still shines.

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Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Three

(Note: In the light of the government decisions to bomb Syrian targets, I wondered whether I should stop doing these daily posts. They seemed trivial. But after much thought, reflecting on my part in the world and my own lack of power, I decided that to post pieces about the good things I am thankful for, and the beauty that exists in the world around me, was one of the ways I can contribute to comfort and support those who read me. There’s a Chinese proverb: better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. This blog is my candle.)

Being clean.

We take it for granted, the chance to be clean and fresh each day. Most of us start the day with a quick shower, or at the very least, a comprehensive wash. The long hot soak in a tub after a hard day is a huge pleasure. Our first house as a married couple had an unheated bathroom, with a bath but no shower; baths were tricky to negotiate in the depths of winter because there came a point when you had to emerge from the swiftly cooling water into a room that would soon hover only a few degrees above freezing (we lived in the north east. Think Winterfell with pits and ports). We put in a special light bulb that gave off some warmth, but I learned to dread winter. The house we moved to after that had bath, shower AND central heating of sorts, and felt like a massive move up in the world.

I’ve written before of the power of water to wash away more than physical dirt, and being able to step into a shower is a privilege and a pleasure. To smell fresh and clean every morning, to face the day feeling refreshed and ready is a great and often under-rated joy.

Be more Badger ~ calling afresh on an old ally

Be more Badger ~ calling afresh on an old ally

A few nights ago, I caught the end of a nature programme I’d seen before, “Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem” and I had an enjoyable twenty minutes watching the antics of captive honey badger Stoffle (he was hand reared, I believe because he was found injured as a baby and couldn’t be returned to the wild). It reminded me of my ties to Badger medicine.

My first proper job after I graduated was in nature conservation, working in the capacity of education officer on an SSSI reserve in the north east of England. One of the many wonderful aspects of my job was the badgers. We had several colonies of them and one sett was perfect for badger watching. Dug into the sides of steep yew woodland, the sett had many entrances and it was possibly for us to scramble down at nightfall and sit among the tree roots and watch the badgers. I’ve written more about it in a post from some years ago. https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/badgers-bums/

The European badger is a more reserved beast than the South African honey badger but it shares powerful characteristics. Tenacity, strength, connection to roots are all part of its medicine. According to my usual favourite site on such matters http://www.animalspirits.com/index8.html , the badger is:

Keeper of stories, Bold self-expression, Aggressiveness, Single-mindedness, Passion, Cunning, Revenge, Perseverance, Control, Antidote to passivity or victimization, Persistence in the service of a mission, Groundedness, Knowledge of the earth, Earth magick and wisdom, Creative action in a crisis, Protection of rights and spiritual ideas.

 

One thing it doesn’t mention is the fact that the European badger has the thickest skin of any mammal native to Britain. This means that not only is it able to avoid the kind of injuries creatures with thinner skin might get, it can also move within its skin if pinned or held down in a fight. This gives greater manoeuvrability in conflict.

They also head deep underground during the winter, not to hibernate as such but to go into energy conservation mode, sleeping and dreaming the winter away. Who knows what their dreams are?

 

I need more of the badger attributes. And I need a thicker skin. I shall Be More Badger.

Grey Heron as Night Falls in Paris

Grey Heron as Night Falls in Paris

The leaping of a fish makes a soft splash that would be inaudible amid the hubbub of the area around the Eiffel Tower, but for its incongruity. It’s that which makes me turn, that surprising sound of a creature entering the water, the caress of murky water on scales. Voices, sirens, footsteps, music and the general loud hum of a huge city do not drown out this silken sound, and I gaze to where ripples in the dark water radiate outwards. This is confirmation enough of the event; a second fish leaps, after insects I must assume, and the falling twilight catches for one millisecond on the slick skin. My tired mind registers the size of the leaping fish, does a swift search for a possible candidate: carp, for sure. These ponds must be receptacles for all kinds of rubbish, and carp are the most resilient of watery beings.

I turn, to focus on what I am meant to be doing, turning my back to the water. Yet as I do, out of the corner of my eye, I see her, perfectly poised and unconcerned by the tumult around:

A grey heron, feathers shades of grey and white, long beak sharp and angled ready to strike.

She watches the water, seeking her meal amid the coffee coloured murk of the city pond. I sense that she is aware of us, but is unconcerned and finds us of no relevance, and she does not turn from her fishing.

I watch for a few moments; it occurs to me that should we all vanish, the herons and the other birds and beasts, would soon take back territories that were once theirs alone.

In a city that is pushing to 11 million people, I cannot help feeling that the flora and fauna we marginalise still have more claim to the land than we do, and they live more lightly than we.

Not waving, not drowning: Treading Water

Treading water

I missed posting anything last week. I wonder how many people noticed. That’s not a bleat for attention, by the way, but a genuine musing on a question that has been bugging me. How much difference does it make whether I post a weekly blog or not? As in the whole spectrum of differences: to me, to you, to my books, to the whole world. I had a couple of poems in the drafts folder but I didn’t want to post them; the time didn’t seem right. I’d had a run-in with vast self-doubt some weeks before when a friend had been asking for submissions for a new poetry website he was starting. I’d sent in a handful, and immediately regretted it. Not because they weren’t good poems, or that it wasn’t a good website. I admire the chap running it and I like his poetry. But what I didn’t like was the stepping into the old role of supplicant; of being appraised and judged and inevitably found wanting. That was one reason I stopped entering poetry contests and why I stopped submitting to publishers. You might think I just need to toughen up, suck it up Buttercup and other such phrases. Maybe I do. I don’t know. That’s why self doubt is such a bitch. Perhaps what you fear about yourself IS actually true.

Anyway.

I’m treading water.

I’m struggling with my health, both mental and physical and I’m struggling too to filter out the effects of what has become known as inspiration porn. You know the stuff; Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest are plastered with it. The examples of people who overcame all sorts of disabilities and disasters to come back better, stronger, fitter, slimmer (SLIMMER???), the people who start a fitness regime in their 70s and become world champions, the people born without hands or feet who…. You get the picture. There’s always lots of pictures. And sound-bites. And people cheering them on. They don’t inspire me; they make me feeling guilty, a failure, a blob. The ones that start, “If I can do it, anyone can!” The ones that basically tell you that if you’re reading this (THIS? That) you’re one of the lucky ones. You know, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. It still doesn’t stop me hurting all over, and having bad days with depression where my biggest achievement is getting out of bed, showering and sitting all day hoping I’ll feel better. Again, this is not a bleat, but a statement. I don’t find the inspirational memes inspiring. I find them profoundly depressing because they actually ADD to the stigma that is levelled against those with depression and other debilitating conditions, by adding to the unconscious prejudice of human beings, that people (such as I) COULD help themselves if they just made up their mind to it and stopped being such negative nellies and made themselves sweat a bit at the gym blah blah blah.

Some of the things I’m doing while trying to keep my head above water:

1) I’ve produced a new edition of Strangers and Pilgrims, with a nice matte cover (though the same cover art, because I like it and it has significance to the book I might tell you about one day), and decent sized print, and like the Kindle edition, the errors of the first published version removed. It’s really rather lovely. It took me much longer to do that it ought to have, for all sorts of reasons, one of which is that I sell few paperbacks so the energy needed is disproportionate to the results. So far, no one has bought the new edition. QED.

2) I’ve got the collection of essays from this blog almost ready to publish. I’ve got paperback proof editions and am at the stage of weeding out any remaining issues after five people have kindly proof read it. There’s a launch party on Facebook here, though the date is currently moot because I’ve got various work commitments coming up. Do invite yourself and any friends.  I’m extremely pleased to have got this far; my brain some days is like fossilised treacle.

  1. I’ve got the next poetry collection almost ready in paperback. I need to go back and rewrite the back matter and blurb, because I realised that mentioning a Mary Oliver poem on there was unacceptable to me. I admire other poets and using their success to boost my own visibility (even though it would have been accidental) is just not right.

So, as long as it stays relatively calm I can keep treading water. If anyone could spare a life raft, life jacket or even a small boat (metaphysically speaking) it would be appreciated.

On how words “Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place.”

On how words “Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place.”

Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, Will not stay still.” TS Eliot, Burnt Norton (The Four Quartets)

 

Language is a slippery thing; it will not stay still. Words that meant something a decade ago now seem to mean something else. Remember when ‘cool’ meant chilled but not ice cold? Remember when ‘wicked’ meant evil? Recently, everyone’s favourite Sherlock, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, managed to tarnish his reputation by accidentally using the wrong words. The world exploded with outrage. I’m not even going to try and explain what he said because while I am a bit older than him, we belong to those now over a certain age, and it becomes harder to keep abreast of all the changes in what is and is not acceptable in areas such as race, gender and other sensitive issues. I was gently corrected for using the wrong terminology when referring to people who are deaf or heard of hearing. It’s become a minefield and I’ve become acutely aware that using the wrong term through ignorance could bring down the skies upon my head. There comes a point when it becomes almost impossible to keep up and remember all the correct terms when you’ve seen them change several times and seen what was once acceptable and even polite become something that will get you vilified.

Not only does language change, but we debase it. Let me take a word I use here quite often: DEPRESSION. Frequently now I hear the word used to refer to a state that is a fair old way from actual clinical depression. Too often, someone will say, “I’m depressed,” to meet the response, “What about?” Someone who has been affected by this hideous condition is unlikely not to know that there is no “about” when it comes to depression. But people are using it when they mean they’re fed up, down in the dumps and out of sorts. By using it for these normal, passing human states, the word has become degraded and, sadly, it affects how the illness is viewed. It diminishes it. I’ve heard terms like OCD and bi-polar used in the same way (I’ve even heard someone use bi-polar to describe changeable weather). It saddens me.

Another term I have heard that seems to hold totally different meanings to different people is WRITER’S BLOCK. For some, writer’s block is a mild thing, a pause or a hesitation that merely needs a bit of a push to get past it. Indeed, Philip Pullman (author of The Northern Lights trilogy, among others) dismisses it as a disease of amateurs, saying how there’s no such thing as Plumber’s Block, and it’s a case of if you write for a living, you get your words down. Yet, for others (myself included) writer’s block is a dreadful existential crisis that can’t be cured by a few days off, or a hot bath, or using writing prompts. The term is used for both; the closest comparison is perhaps to the way people use the term “’flu.” Real ‘flu kills. The Spanish ‘flu after the first world war killed far more than the war did. Yet people call a bad cold, the ‘flu, perhaps because it elicits more sympathy and time off work.

Real ‘flu wipes out thousands of healthy people. Real clinical depression kills. Real writer’s block destroys writers. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention to the way language has changed and perhaps coin new and better phrases that describe devastating things in ways that cannot be co-opted to lesser uses.

 

“I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that”- promo no-nos and personal integrity

I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that”- promo no-nos and personal integrity

If you substitute the words “book sales” for love in that Meatloaf line, you’ll have a better idea of what I’m going on about. The last couple of months I’ve become a tad despondent about the amount of pressure to sell millions of books by any means available and legal. It’s as if authors really are starting to measure both their worth as people and the worth of their work in terms of how many units they have shifted that day, week, month or year. I’ve fallen into the bear-pit too often, lured into reading yet another article about how to increase your exposure and gain more sales. Net result is me feeling miserable and overwhelmed.

There’s no easy way to say this but selling books is hard. It might even be harder than writing them. It certainly gets in the way of writing them. There is an undercurrent of fear too, that says, take your eye off the game for a few days and you’ll lose traction and be swept away in the tsunami of slush and never be found again.

I’m also aware that one of the most delicate of things is under more threat than you’d imagine. Integrity.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had a couple of emails that have troubled me. Most months I get an email or two about advertising on this blog, or guest posts from random strangers trying to (I think) build their portfolio or similar. I used to reply politely but now I just ignore them all. I have concerns about the concept of advertising in general; it’s a clever, devious business of trying to convince someone they want what you’re selling. I have things to sell here: my books. I happen to believe in them, and while I do want my readers to buy them, I’m of the hope and conviction that to some extent the books sell themselves. But to host other products on this space, that brings up a host of awkward questions I’m not willing to try to answer and most of those questions are about how those potential ads impact on my own ethics and integrity.

Back to the new emails. The first was from a company I won’t name, who sell software that highlights grammar issues and other such things. They also have a lot of humorous memes on Facebook and other places, about grammar misuse. The import of the email was to ask if I would like to host an info-graphic from them, about a hot topic. In return they would make a $50 donation to a children’s literacy charity. It caused me pause, you might say. I have what you might call a still small voice that tells me when something is bothering me at a subliminal level. So I did a bit of a look around and had a think. There was enough material out there concerning this company to make me feel uneasy. Not a scam, not really, but there’s times when something can sail so close to the wind that it might as well be. I can’t really say any more but the topic of the info-graphic decided me on saying no. I believe the term is “click bait”, a subject so emotive it’ll have people screaming the odds and as impossible to make any real conclusions as asking which makes the better pet, dogs or cats. Final confirmation of my decision came when I heard of other folks being contacted with the same email from the same company.

The second email was harder still to deal with. I received an email from a journalist at a big national newspaper (again, will remain nameless) that is infamous for its sensationalist approach and its somewhat flexible attitude to truth. She was looking for adult women who believed in fairies and having found my website (this blog) she wondered if I would be interested in being a part of this article. I assume she would have interviewed me or something. This really did give me pause. National newspaper exposure for Away With The Fairies is not to be thrown away lightly. I dithered for a very short time before being reminded of how this paper always make people look totally stupid at best and mentally deranged at worst. Do I want my beliefs and convictions derided and laughed at? So that email has also been ignored.

Perhaps you might think me too precious about both these invitations but as I said earlier, I believe in my books and I don’t think they or I would be best served by being pilloried by the national press, or by being caught up in a hurricane of acrimonious debate initiated by a company about whose ethics I have some doubts. In the end, I don’t think that potential book sales are worth compromising my own integrity over. There will be other opportunities at some stage that do not give me such concerns. In the meantime, I will write my books and know that there is more to being me, the author, than how many or how few books I sell each week.

Wearing Thin

Wearing thin

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced a garment malfunction that left me with a very red face, though civilian casualties were thankfully zero. I’d gone to the loo in the Castle Mall in Norwich, and as I reached for my bag to leave the cubicle there was the shriek of fabric ripping and a sudden inrush of air to my nether regions. My jeans had split right up the arse, making me so glad I’d chosen to wear a longer coat that day and my blushes were unseen.

I’m not interested in clothes much, fashion even less, and jeans are worn till they are worn out. I’d not been paying much heed to this pair but once I got home and looked at them, I could see the fabric had become worn to tissue paper thinness and it had been inevitable they would give way before too long. The other pair I’d bought at the same time as that pair were duly inspected and it became a wonder that they too had not ripped before now.

I have a horror of breaking down in public, of crying in front of people, of having a complete meltdown. Most people who’ve suffered with depression and anxiety worry about this, especially when you are in the middle of an episode of unstable emotions. But the truth is, even though anxiety attacks seem to come out of nowhere like summer rain, there are both triggers and warnings to let us know that our souls are unravelling and wearing thin and that we might rip right open at the slightest stress.

I’d like to share two accounts of panic attacks, taken from the same unpublished novel (the second sequel to The Bet). On both cases the trigger for the panic attack is something quite trivial; the first is set off by a pen breaking with a loud noise in the middle of a lecture and the second by the loss of car keys when he needs to make a swift exit from home.

1)

Dr Collins’ voice carried on beyond his spiralling thoughts, like distant birdsong, irrelevant and disconnected from his rapidly diminishing world. He could feel the faint tremors running through his entire body and he began to think he might even be making the whole row of interlinked seats shake too.

Take a deep breath, he told himself sternly. Get a grip.

It was a matter of pure chance that Dr Collins paused for breath at that moment; his hand gripped the pen convulsively and the barrel snapped apart with a tight sharp report like a tiny gunshot. In the quiet lecture theatre the sound was bright and distinct and like a Mexican wave, heads turned to see where the sound had come from. Face reddening, he dropped his gaze and saw that ink had covered his hands and the surface in front of him.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

He could feel his breath coming in short sharp gasps that rasped and caught at his throat as if he were about to throw up. Somewhere there were drums pounding. Why are there drums in a lecture theatre, he thought and then realised the drums were the sound of his own heartbeat pounding out of control.

He felt a tug at his sleeve again and looked without seeing that Gemma was pressing a handful of tissues into his shaking and ink-stained hand. He stared at them blankly, doing nothing. Numb, he watched blankly as she leaned over and scrubbed first at the desk surface and then took his hands and wiped the still running ink from them.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. For God’s sake why can’t I breathe? There’s no air in this place, why is there no air?

The pain in his chest reached an unbearable level at the same moment he became aware of it and he knew it was because all the air had vanished from the room.

I have to get out of here. Now. Or I am going to die.

He dropped the remains of the pen and struggled to get to his feet, stumbling as he did so, and ran from the lecture theatre, letting the door bang behind him.

Outside, he emerged into the drizzle and blindly rushed on, not knowing or caring where he went. He was dimly aware of bumping into people as he blundered along, and of people saying or even shouting things but he didn’t seem to be able to understand a word anyone said.”

2)

Ending the call, Ashurst entered his bedroom, and did his usual flat-on-the-floor drop to glance rapidly under the bed before packing an overnight bag and heading back down to collect his laptop and the bag he usually carried into the university. His mouth was dry and he was finding it hard to swallow, so when he suddenly couldn’t find his car keys, the baseline panic rocketed into a full-blown panic attack.

He curled against the stone-cold Rayburn, shaking so completely he was aware of his body causing the metal to shake too, his breath coming in snatches and deep shuddering gasps. His vision blurred and he realised he was crying, uncontrollably.

It passed slowly but it passed. His most important discovery had been that these attacks were time limited, that eventually ordinary breathing returned and that however awful it felt, he wasn’t going to die of it. Sometimes this knowledge alone was what got him through quicker than if he fought it. Eventually, he found himself becoming still again, his body still trembling but these were only after shocks and as he wiped his eyes, he looked up a little and saw his car keys exactly where he had left them on the kitchen table.

He laughed out loud, at his own reaction and for sheer relief. He ran some water at the sink and splashed his face with it and drank some from cupped but still shaking hands and then hesitantly made his way out of the house to go back to his car. He glanced around the area of land around the back door but he didn’t have much sense of fear as he shut and locked the door behind him; leaving the house never had as pronounced an effect on his psyche as returning. He’d often wondered about that. It was as if his fears centred solely on going into a place and not on coming out. Well at least that meant he wasn’t likely to add agoraphobia to his growing list of neuroses, and despite the pounding headache that was the usual after effect of a panic attack, he found himself chuckling slightly at that last thought.”

Now, as the author, I can tell you that Ashurst is suffering with depression and also with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, both with good reason. It’s easy enough for me to pinpoint why his meltdowns occur. Yet applied to my own life, if I have the sufficient focus to look at things, I can see where the fabric is wearing thin enough to give as soon as it’s put under a different sort of pressure. Too often I don’t look properly. Denim like my jeans wears differently to a wool jumper that might show wear by developing small holes or snags. The truth is that with both jeans and life I don’t want to look. I don’t want to face the reality of either needing to buy new jeans (I loathe clothes shopping) or of altering and adjusting my lifestyle to give me more breathing space and less stress.

Mirror, mirror on the wall ~ reflecting on failings

Mirror, mirror on the wall ~ reflecting on failings

I don’t like mirrors much. I suspect not many honest people do. Mirrors are unforgiving. They don’t airbrush out the bags under your eyes. They don’t show only your good side.

But they’re useful. They tell you when it’s time to deal with the caterpillar eyebrows and when you really do have spinach caught between your teeth. They also tell you what you have been denying, that the ten pounds you put on over winter are showing up even when you wear baggy sweaters and suck your tummy in all the time.

Mirrors are honest. They don’t try and gild the stark truths. They show us things as they are, in the worst possible light. There’s no nasty surprises after that.

Except there are.

Other people can be mirrors too, you see. It’s a well-known phenomenon that what we dislike in others is what we loathe in ourselves or fear may be true but rarely become conscious enough of to recognise. You can see a lot of it on social media, people bemoaning the activities and attitudes of others in such vitriolic terms that sometimes seem disproportionate to the offence (if offence it actually is). Now not everything is a mirror but sometimes it is. How we react to another person may well be a reaction to something within ourselves.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone where it feels as if they’re not talking to you, or responding to your actual words? The chances are they’re not. They may actually be talking (or shouting) to themselves.

It’s worth remembering the magic mirror in all interactions. It might clarify a lot of exchanges.

Why I am NOT proud to be British

Why I am NOT proud to be British.

In the last year or two this country saw several events that brought out the bunting and the Union flags by the million. A royal wedding, a Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. I had zero interest bordering on outright boredom for the royal wedding, a mild feeling of goodwill towards the Queen for her jubilee and outright hostility to the Olympics. Explaining quite how opposed I was to what many termed the event of the century is going to be complicated so suffice it to say it was a combination of an objection to the hidden machinations that went on, the vast overspend of public money at a time when public services are teetering on collapse, an indifference to spectacle and sport and a few other issues.

What I heard a lot last year was the phrase, “It makes me proud to be British!” It baffled me. Let me explain why before I get strung up.

I’m British. Not only was I born here, but my ancestors back to the start of the eighteenth century were born here for sure (before that time, there’s a lot of Irish; go back to the tenth century and my ancestors were Norman warlords from Anjou. ‘Nuff said I think). I love this country, with its quirks and traditions and the countryside, and the mad weather and the melting pot of cultures. But I’m not proud to be British. To be proud of something like that is somehow claiming credit for a choice, a decision, a participation in that collective identity. I did not choose to be born here. I have done nothing in my life time to add to that sense of national identity, of being an integral part of what makes Britain, Britain. I’m just one citizen among around 62 million other citizens. I have no special claim to have added something to this country, to give me a sense of being proud of a collective achievement that being proud to be British might suggest.

In my forty or so years, I’ve learned to love (or endure!) the peculiarities of my country. I sometimes watch cricket, that sport so baffling to almost every American I’ve known, and while I’m indifferent to the sport, the quintessential English-ness of the game charms me. I’ve had to explain the British reticence and politeness and sense of humour to hundreds if not thousands of TEFL students. We’re a strange nation.

In the last five years I have watched with dismay as some of the things this country got right, like education, health care and the arts, are being ruthlessly undermined till they begin to collapse, set upon by a ruling elite arrogant enough to think we will just accept it. This is the nation whose women fought for suffrage, put their fight on hold during the Great War and took up the struggle again once war was over. We are not passive doormats; we fight back against iniquities. Yet now the people who are taking to the streets and demonstrating about what they feel is wrong are focusing entirely on the wrong things. Manipulated by media, blame is being laid on groups perceived as outsiders, immigrants and overseas minorities. It makes me very sad and very angry. Understandable outrage at lack of jobs is being twisted into hatred against groups that have very little to do with the issue.

I’m not politically savvy. But I’ve watched the way the government has been cutting and cutting and cutting at the most vulnerable of targets, from the disabled to our treasured health service, and it appals me that it’s just being allowed to happen. Recently, there was a leak of a proposal to cap GP visits at just 3 per year. Current health minister Jeremy Hunt has now gone on record saying this will NEVER happen (and also casting aspersions at various pressure groups, suggesting they’d made it up) but only after a high profile campaign and petition made it quite clear how much of a vote loser this would be.

Once, if asked, I would have had no hesitation in agreeing that had I had such a choice, I would have chosen to have been born in this country. Now I would hesitate to answer it in such a way. I love my country, but I am seeing less to be proud of as I get older and more to grieve for, for what has slipped away and for what has been stolen by greedy, amoral people who are the ruling so-called elite.