Time to Heal?


Time to Heal?

I have been a great fan of Terry Pratchett for many years and have been deeply moved by some of his novels. While they are generally hysterically funny, they also contain some quite profound wisdom.

One of my favourites is Masquerade, one of the series of novels written about the witches of the Ramtops, a coven of extraordinary women, lead by the inimitable Granny Weatherwax. Esme Weatherwax is a force of nature, someone you want on your side, and not someone to cross lightly. In Masquerade, she performs a feat of magic, or so people think, by catching a sharp sword in her bare hand without being cut to the bone by it. The following comes from two passages very close to the end of the book; the first she is discussing events with her oldest (and best) friend Gytha(Nanny) Ogg:

‘Everyone was very impressed, I reckon, when you caught that sword in your hand. . .’

Granny sighed. ‘Hah! Yes, I expect they were. They didn’t think clearly, did they? People’re just lazy. They never think: maybe she had something in her hand, a bit of metal or something. They don’t think for a minute it was just a trick. They don’t think there’s always a perfectly good explanation if you look for it. They probably think it was some kind ofmagic.’

‘Yeah, but. . . you didn’t have anything in your hand, did you?’

‘That’s not the point. I might have done.’ Granny looked up and down the square. ‘Besides, you can’t magic iron.

‘That’s very true. Not iron. Now, someone like ole Black Aliss, they

could make their skin tougher than steel. . . but that’s just an ole

legend, I expect. . .’

‘She could do it all right,’ said Granny. ‘But you can’t go round messin’ with cause and effect. That’s what sent her mad, come the finish. She thought she could put herself outside of things like cause and effect.Well, you can’t. You grab a sharp sword by the blade, you get hurt.World’d be a terrible place if people forgot that.’

‘You weren’t hurt.’

‘Not my fault. I didn’t have time.’”




The trees were bare when Granny Weatherwax got back to her cottage.

Twigs and seeds had blown in under the door. Soot had fallen down the chimney. Her home, always somewhat organic, had grown a little closer to its roots in the clay.

There were things to do, so she did them. There were leaves to be swept, and the woodpile to be built up under the eaves. The windsock behind the beehives, tattered by autumn storms, needed to be darned. Hay had to begot in for the goats. Apples had to be stored in the loft. The walls could do with another coat of whitewash.

But there was something that had to be done first. It’d make the other jobs a bit more difficult, but there was no help for that. You couldn’t magic iron. And you couldn’t grab a sword without being hurt. If that wasn’t true, the world’d be all over the place.

Granny made herself some tea, and then boiled up the kettle again. She took a handful of herbs out of a box on the dresser, and dropped them in a bowl with the steaming water. She took a length of clean bandage out of a drawer and set it carefully on the table beside the bowl. She threaded an extremely sharp needle and laid needle and thread beside the bandage.

She scooped a fingerful of greenish ointment out of a small tin, and smeared it on a square of lint.

That seemed to be it.

She sat down, and rested her arm on the table, palm-up.

‘Well,’ she said, to no one in particular, ‘I reckon I’ve got time now.’”

(Masquerade by Terry Pratchett)

How often have we done the same feat but without swords and magic and put off dealing with wounds?

I have.

I do it all the time and one of the reasons is because I lack the skills to mend myself, the way Granny stitches up her own hand without flinching. So the wounds go untreated and they fester until a greater surgery is needed and I need open-hearted surgery.

At the moment I am thinking(and talking about, especially with J) very deeply about a form of healing that does away with so many of the things we think are essential to the healing process, like the line between patient and therapist and the rigid following of guidelines that had become Holy Writ.

I’ll keep you all posted.

“Now is the winter of our discontent..”


Don’t you just love it? The sparkling snow, the cosy nights in front of a roaring log fire, the sharp smell of frost and the icing sugar look on the trees? Love snuggling up in your favourite Araan wool jumper and settling down to a good book?


Me too. Of course, those are all the pluses of winter, which I do like but they’re smal compensation for the misery of the winter blues. S.A.D (seasonally affective disorder) is becoming much more recognised these days and in some Scandinavian countries, where the winter suicide rate soars, you can check yourself into special SAD wards in hospitals if it all gets too much, for some light treatment.

It’s the lack of light that does it. I’m not precisely immune to cold but it doesn’t really bother me. Remember the Arran jumper? It’s the lack of light and those long cold days of grey skies just make my depression so much worse. I’ve got a permanent battle with the old Black Dog of Depression anyway but the winter really bites deep. Once I get to the Winter Solstice, I start feeling a tiny bit of hope as the year slowly, very slowly begins to turn.

Now in late January I can see a few more minutes of daylight every day and the birds have begun to warm up their preliminary pre-Spring territory-defending songs. But it’s still dark and cold and miserable and I don’t feel much like going out when it’s blowing a gale, raining or hurling sleet at me.

My armoury against the winter blues? I have a special light box that sits next to my computer screen so as I work here, I get some of the light I need. I didn’t use it last winter and it was much worse for me. And another valuable weapon is Badger Balm’s Cheerful Mind balm. This is a balm from the very special Badger Mines www.badgerbalm.com , almost all of which I have tried and loved, but this one works very well as an anti-depressant. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a magic pill to take it all away and medicate you into a smiling zombie. It’s a simple balm made from extra virgin olive oil, pure beeswax and essential oils of: sweet orange, lemon, rosemary, spearmint, neroli, ylang-ylang, and cinnamon plus CO2 extracts of Calendula and Rosehip. It smells glorious and used on the skin as a skin cream is lovely. But as a mood balm it comes into its own. I use a little on the backs of my hands before I start typing, a little under my nose and some on my lips and temples. I carry a smal pot of it in my handbag and when I feel my mood flag, out it comes.

Not strong enough to affect those around you (good news for those with close associates who object to perfume) it lifts the mood gently but firmly. Applied regularly through the day, it’s a little lift when you need it.

Now for those who are unsure and who think aromatherapy is for the girls, bear in mind that essential oils work in a number of ways. The smell alone is one, affecting us in deep and sometimes unpredictable ways, but also the naturally occuring chemicals in essential oils have powerful effects whether we smell them or not. Some essential oils are known as anti bacterial agents more powerful than their synthentic counterparts. Some like tea tree are anti-viral. And some are known as anti-depressants. All the oils in the cheerful mind balm are recognised as anti-depressants. The most powerful of them in my opinion is neroli. Neroli is the essential oil taken from the orange flower, and is sweet but not oppressively so. I believe it to be one of the most uplifting fragrances going.

But the blend of oils used in this balm is so cheering and lively that each of the oils is perfectly in balance with the others and none dominates the overall fragrance. It’s not a girly fragrance, it’s basically a citrus and mint aroma.

If you’ve been struggling with the winter blues, try it.  It’s not expensive and it might be the  boost you may need.

Family values?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I don’t mean any political hype here either. I am referring to the things we pass down the line, from ancestor to descendent, via both phenotype and genotype(nurture and nature)

Phillip Larkin wrote famously, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They don’t mean to but they do,” and sadly, as both parent and as child, I can only concur. We are so often unaware of what it is we pass on to our children, the illogical and often harmful thought patterns that we inherit consciously and unconsciously from our families. So much of what we unquestioningly accept as right and true is a load of old bollocks, pardon my Klatchian.

My mum has been seeing a counsellor recently to try and help with her depression issues. I’ve been paying a keen but nonchalant attention to what Mum has to tell me about this; I’ve always found with my mother that an oblique approach is better than the more direct approach that works with my father.

On Saturday as we walked through Cambridge, she was telling me a bit about her last appointment. It mainly focussed on what would or would not be an appropriate thank you gift for the counsellor, but Mum let slip a couple of things. The first was the counsellor had identified her tendancy to beat herself up over the slightest thing; I could have told her this but it takes a stranger to tell you this sort of thing. I nodded and agreed, and we navigated our way along Hobson’s Conduit, and then as we turned the corner, Mum then mentioned something about her father.

“Grandad used to say there was no need for dressing gowns,” she said. “That if you were ILL, you would be in bed, and if you weren’t ill, you’d be at work. There was no in between.”

Now, my grandparents were born in the very last year of Queen Victoria’s reign, and born to unspeakable poverty. I’ve seen the pictures; they look like something from a reformer’s pamphlet. My mum’s grandfather was in the Merchant Navy and did the classic seaman’s thing of coming home every so often to meet the new baby and get the wife pregnant again. My great grandmother was a sick woman most of her life; I found out a few years ago that she had breast cancer in her thirties, had one breast removed but continued to not only have more babies but actually breast feed them with the one remaining breast. My grandmother was one of a massive horde of kids, and as the eldest was heavily involved in the upbringing of them all. Three children died in the space of ten days, at some point in the early years of the twentieth century. My grandparents eloped aged 18, to the dismay of the family; my grandfather was from an equally huge family, and as the seventh child wasn’t even the youngest. He wasn’t a catch, apparently, in economic terms. But life went on much as before, with my grandmother living next door to her parents and bringing up her brothers and sisters along side her own brood. My mum is one of eight.

To tell you something of the hard nature of my grandfather, I’ll share one of the stories about him. Back in the 30’s, when the economic crisis was pretty deep, he was working on the overhead railway in Liverpool. It doesn’t exist any more but as an electrician he was a skilled worker. Health and safety directives being non-existent at the time, he fell off. He fell more than thirty feet into the service pit below and broke his back. He lay there all night, every other worker having gone home. In the morning, he managed to find the strength to climb out and somehow get to hospital where he was told he had broken his back(though obviously no severing of anything in the spinal cord) as well as most of his ribs and that he would be in hospital for at least six weeks.Grandad’s response? He refused. Apart from the fact that he couldn’t afford medical care on that scale, he had a family to feed. So they put him in a full body cast, from neck to hip and…he WALKED home. The next day, he was back at work. He lost only one day’s wages.

I wrote a jokey line in the poem here Accident of Birth, about my ancestor’s hardness- “Lost a leg? Hop, girl, hop.” That wasn’t really a joke. That’s pretty much what my family would say. As a child, being ill meant you HAD to have a temperature to prove illness. And then if you were in bed, you stayed there and were not allowed to read. Or go down and watch TV, or do anything. There were no half measures. I once cycled the rest of the way to school having had a nasty fall taking the skin off both knees and both hands, and arrived at school bleeding heavily rather than go home, even though the accident had taken place only a short distance out. The onset of my periods brought trouble because my Mum simply couldn’t understand why I was making such a fuss about the pain; get out in the fresh air and run around, that’d sort it out. Every woman gets a bit of cramps but it’s nothing to make a fuss about, she’d tell me. Knowing now that the endometriosis that makes my life a misery was almost certainly present when I hit puberty aged nine, is no comfort. I have trouble explaining the condition to Mum even now. In the end, all this heroic stoicism is why I made myself drag my body almost a mile with an appendix ready to rupture, rather than make  a fuss and call for help sooner.

This is not the only attitude I have simply accepted and absorbed unaware; there are a lot of others. My big question is how to I shed the ones that are not only unhelpful to me now but are actually downright harmful? You see, some of the others are tearing me apart in ways I can’t begin to express clearly; and I can’t even see clearly what is good and what is bad and what frankly is more than a bit mad or even dangerous.

Because laudable though my grandfather’s physical endurance was, it was also stupid. Only because the story had a different ending can I marvel at his strength; in another universe, moving without keeping his spine straight could have severed vital nerves, either killing or paralysing him for life. Either would have meant the workhouse or worse for his family.

So my task is to sort the wheat from the chaff of my inheritance, both the physical attributes and the mental attitudes. I can’t do much about the physical; I’m stuck with the double joints and the blonde hair. But if I can isolate and understand some of the less tangible things, is there any hope I can rewrite my own inner progamming for good?

I do hope so.