Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

And Finally…

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Yes, so I’ve been away for a bit. I had to make some hard decisions about what I can do with my energies and blogging sort of came bottom. I’m not promising to do better.

I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough and I thought I’d share. After years of dreadful, mysterious and downright annoying symptoms the doctors finally decided to look at the whole instead of each individual symptom. Novel. I’ve been sent to this specialist and that specialist only to be told ‘no it’s not X’ or ‘definitely not Y’ but never being told what was actually wrong. Symptoms ranging from stomach and bowel problems, hair loss, painful joints, exhausted and sore muscles, feet that can’t cope with shoes or duvet covers, hands that need to soak in warm water because they’re too painful to touch, a feeling of being poisoned, a feeling of being windswept/overexposed, dry skin, headaches, nausea, well….the list goes on and on. It doesn’t always come at once, i get waves of feeling dreadful and get slight improvements, never back to my carefree days and then the dread feeling of the wave of greater illness coming on.

‘What’s wrong with you?’

Well, there are things i know that are wrong. A facet joint damage caused by a nasty car accident which took a couple of years to get over at the time but has never given me a day off work but does give me continuous pain. I also have a leg length differential which went on undiagnosed for long enough to start me on a path of osteoarthritis in my hip. I now have a cyst on that hip bone and am waiting for a replacement. But the other stuff, what could I say? ‘I feel ill’ ‘I’m exhausted’ ‘It hurts when you touch me’, it doesn’t really cut it for me and it doesn’t satisfy other people. I’ve often felt that people think I must be a bit of a hypochondriac, complaining of problems but never being able to say more than ‘joint pain’. I’ve recently found out that there is a recognised phenomenon of feelings associated with Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS) directly related to other people’s perceptions of those symptoms. How can they be real if they don’t have a name?  I can assure you that those symptoms for me, and many others, are very real and have a huge impact on daily life.

Finally though I went to see a Rheumatologist who listed, looked, read my notes, asked questions, and then delivered not only a diagnosis but also a plan of action. The diagnosis was dependant on other diseases/syndromes being  ruled out by blood test. I went home and waited. Last week I came home from a busy busy day and sat completely wasted on the sofa, I carelessly opened my letters and glanced at a letter, another appointment for another Doctor I thought but no, it was THE letter. The specialist had gone to the trouble of not only giving me that diagnosis but listing all my other problems. I have multiple issues requiring an holistic approach to help me.  I have Fibroymalgia Syndrome, Chronic Facet Joint Syndrome, Leg Length Discrepancy, Right Hip Osteoarthritis requiring full Hip Replacement. I’m using capital letters, these are my enemies and they now have names and I respect them.

Fibromyalgia has been mentioned to me before but the list of symptoms seemed so horrendous I didn’t want it to be me. When I found it it was me I smiled, I cried a bit and felt completely relieved and finally felt recognised. The plan is to go to a Pain Clinic to assess my drug regime and see if anything further or different might help. I’ll also be given a physio plan designed to get me as fit as possible before my hip replacement after the summer holidays. My difficulties now are that I feel shattered walking to the bus stop, having to stop and assess my pain even on this short route and I pay for that walk all day. I fell very badly last christmas thanks to the hip and damaged my shoulder’s rotator cuff and a/c joint, this makes it very painful to use my walking stick and I’m worried about how I’ll cope taking all my weight off my hip. I’m hoping this physio will help with that.

Someone said to me, not long ago, when I was feeling extremely unwell, that I should give up my music and concentrate on work.  Why should I? You aren’t forced to chose a life of no fun/creativity and work yourself into an early grave, and I won’t take that path either. Money is important, work is vital for the family and for my wellbeing and while I can work I’m going to carry on,  but it’s not the be all and end all. At the moment I can only stay working full time by basically doing little or no house work and very little cooking. My amazing family supports me so that I can stay in work. I’d love to work part time and maybe improve my quality of life, reduce my pain etc but there’s no chance of getting higher DLA in the current climate which means I’ve got to continue grinding myself into the ground. Doing something pleasurable like music enables me to feel that it’s worth it.  Even so, one 25 minute gig leaves me feeling like I’ve squashed in an extra day’s work and I’m not sure I can keep up the balance, because it isn’t really balancing out. I hope the pain clinic can help that.

The current debate and plans for welfare reform horrify me. Not just for myself but for all people who are in unfortunate, vulnerable, weak or disabled circumstances. No one chooses to be made redundant, disabled, the parent of a disabled child, a vulnerable person, etc. No one wishes to be in a position where they’re unable to move out of house that’s too big due to housing shortages but unable to rent the spare room out due to threats of being criminalised. People don’t chose to give up work due to increasing illness as ‘lifestyle choice’ they do so because it’s Hobson’s Choice.  I feel very lucky that I can still drag myself in on my bad days, because I cling on to the knowledge that I can spend 48hrs in bed at the weekend if I need to. When the cost of my week in work exceeds the compensation of 48 hours in bed at the weekend then I will have to take stock again. I’m not asking for anyone to feel sorry for me but I have paid into the system that’s supposed to protect me and others in these circumstances. I need to know that if I can’t continue to work full time I’ll be supported to continue to work for as long as I can, as much as I can by a welfare system that is there to help me.

Birmingham and I

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010


This is what you get when you put me to bed with a laptop.

I used to live in a beautiful little welsh valley town with a population of just under 3,500 which swelled to over 40,000 during the summer months. It was a town where 95% of the population is white and about 60% of the population is middle-class with the kind of lifestyle within the working classes that mirrors a few Enid Blyton/Viz stories (depending on your age and alcohol intake). My happiest memories were watching fish jump out of the river, sliding down the mountain into the bracken on pieces of cardboard, then eating my squashed white bread and jam butties and being in ‘clubs’ which were basically corners of someone’s dad’s shed, which we earned by mowing the lawn or picking up leaves. My brother’s favourite moments were catching the fish, punching me in the arm and throwing darts at my Sindy dolls.  Yes, it was nearly perfect (and we were the poor(ish) people).

In the next picture my brother kicks me

In fact, it was so perfect that when I grew up and got married, I determined I’d give my family the same kind of upbringing. I use the term ‘grew up’ loosely because I actually, stupidly, got married at 18 – not pregnant and no one tried to stop me! I had three kids and sadly divorced. I say sadly because although I am happily remarried now I feel that if I had understood life more I may have made more effort to make things work. I was not properly tooled up for the task at hand. Fortunately, neither myself nor my exhusband are total arses and we continue to have a pretty great relationship (this means I don’t call him a dick and he doesn’t call me a bitch – to our faces) and he’s a wonderful father to our three kids.  I stayed where I was, giving the kids the best I could afford, which wasn’t much but it was my best and eventually bumped into Beardieboy on the Internet one night, talking about music. It turned out we’d both performed on virtually the same circuit. We got on like a house on fire. This means we were happy chatting without the need to jump each others bones. It was all good. We started talking on the phone and eventually arranged to meet…

I’m going to skip the bit where we jumped each others bones, got sprogged up, got a business and then decided to get married. Maybe that’s for another day. Suffice it to say we did do that and then tried to sell the house in wales to move here. This is the house that I lived in for 20 years and raised 4 children in. By the time we’d sold it I was a heap of nerves, I was moving to a polluted pit of overpopulated, underfunded greyness and I was leaving my friends, family and fresh air behind. I was horrified, I questioned what kind of fruit-loop I must be. I photographed every inch of my house as if I’d never taken any photographs within the walls before. They basically led me weeping from my empty home and I cried the entire way to Birmingham.

A close up would show teardrops on the carpet.

A close up would show teardrops on the carpet.

I arrived, I moved in, unpacked and hated it. I hated you lot. You were all rude, all pushing and shoving, all in a  hurry, all didn’t care. I couldn’t believe how hung up on colour and culture you all were. I couldn’t get over how you all defined yourselves by these things and not by your individual nature. I was confused. I was Welsh yes, but mainly I was me, a creative being, frustrated by daft barriers of my own making, a mother and a musician and someone who was never happier than when feeding and comforting others. That’s it. I arrived here to find complex characterisations of people, by themselves and each other. People who defined their person by the fact that they were white Muslim, Pakistani Muslim, Irish catholic, black, Somalian black/Muslim, Sikh, white, Chinese, etc, etc. I was no longer surrounded by Johnny Saw (carpenter), Maggie who makes pots, Pete the Milk, Joanie Bigmouth (yes it’s true, she was the local fishwife, god love her). Suddenly I was surrounded by people who defined themselves by their religion or colour and I was confused. I didn’t know where I fit in, I didn’t know any welsh people,  I didn’t know anybody that wasn’t introduced to my by Beardieboy. I did know some musicians by this means, but it’s hard to find common ground with people who are as close to Napalm Death as you are to Alanis Morissette.

I remember the first time I took a stroll down City Road. I had my toddler in a buggy and I realised I couldn’t breathe such was the air pollution. I wept imagining what it was doing to my child’s lungs, came back and rummaged for an inhaler and never walked down that road with her again. The same happened when I went up Bearwood Road at home time. I couldn’t get over how dirty I was after a day shopping. The city is a dirty place. And the litter…don’t get me started on the litter. Cripes people, pick up some rubbish will you.

Our business ground to a halt overnight. I am not joking either. One day we were happily moving rich people from one big house to another, smiling and wrapping up their bone china, and the next day recession hit, and along with 10 other removals companies a week, we simply stopped working.  Fortunately we’re hardy buggers and Beardieboy immediately started driving HGV for the only growth business in the recession – Poundland. He’s never been out of work since, thankfully and I immediately got my job and was only out of work for the time it took to check I wasn’t a secret cat burglar.

I got my job working in the heart of public service, in the heart of the biggest court in Europe, in the heart of the second city and I loved it. I don’t talk about it, it’s my job. I do, however care about it. Through my job I’ve got to know the best and the worst or Birmingham, literally. I have learned about the driving forces behind city crime, community division, the risk of falling into the educational abyss, cigarettes, whisky and wild wild women. I’ve learned how cultural identities help people create communities in what would otherwise be a heaving pit of humanity lacking any cohesion. I’ve come to see how it can be positive for some people to identify themselves in this way in the absence of ‘the village’ and how it can cause strife. I love the diversity in this city, in my office, amongst my friends. I always have enjoyed diversity on the level of personalities but now there’s an extra dimension within culture/religion/ethnicity.

I find the city’s architecture fascinating. It’s such a challenging city. So chopped up by trends and ages but somehow it works. It’s exciting and forward thinking. Brummies are not afraid of a challenge. Not just in building but in so many ways. If you don’t believe me take a look at http://www.justdoit.org to see how many different organisations need you to make a better Birmingham.

I saw all this and set about making a life for myself here. I set about finding people who valued their own individuality and other peoples’. I’ve used social media for its most perfect purpose. I’ve found people I have got to know, and people I am getting to know and have noticed people I’d like to get to know and you are probably one of them if you’re reading this (especially if you’ve read this far).

I’m back writing and singing and am at the point of ‘putting myself about’ along with Beardieboy with our ‘Less for Murder’ project. It’s a strong project. We like it and so do others. I’m hopeful.  I’m even more hopeful for my eldest daughter who is displaying the result of being brought up surrounded by musicians and has a fearsome untapped talent that is jumping up and down to be heard. I’m just as excited for my son who is about to begin reading for his degree at Birmingham City University and for my youngest, who will grow up  remembering nothing of her birthplace, other than as a location we visit to see friends and family. Only my eldest has shown no interest in the city, but that’s ok. I remember hating it when I arrived. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

I am still welsh in my heart, the valley will always be mine. I still gasp for fresh air and feel my skin is suffocated by the pollution but I am hopeful and excited by this city and I feel I have a place in it, not just a nameless, faceless body in an unremarkable home but I have a place being me, being constructive and creative and contributing. After two years I’m ready to start taking part.

Snip Snip

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

So there I was, sitting in my very uncomfortable office chair thinking about whether to apply for another job, again. In the middle of a difficult decision about coffee or hot chocolate with my mid morning toast I had a phone call from home. I almost never get phone calls from home, mostly because the kids are usually in school, the au pair likes the gym and the dogs, as clever as they are at opening bins, cannot yet use a phone.

Sobbing greeted my ear followed by a very distressed message from my eldest daughter telling me that my youngest daughter, aged 5, had decided to restyle her hair completely, with scissors.

Me: is it bad?

Her: very bad

Me: will I be upset?

Her: I’m upset for you

Me: send photos

A very long 30 seconds pass.

The phone vibrates

the vision of a child's hair after a creative moment with scissors

I Cutted My Hair

(please notice how long it *was*)

I texted back: send me a picture of the front.

30 more tortured seconds gazing in disbelief at the first picture were interrupted by another vibration.

solemn child with terrible self-cut hair

I'm Sorry

(check out the tuft of micro-fringe that no longer hides the solemn expanse of forehead)

I took a deep breath, made a phone call and texted back: meet me at the hairdressers at 5pm

My colleague was almost on her knees in a puddle of unrestrained laughter and piss, obviously entirely at my expense. Thanks chum. I was on the edge of sobbing when I suddenly realised I had to tell Beardieboy. I went over the edge and sobbed. Then, being the woman that I am I made the decision: coffee. I drank the coffee and made another call. Beardieboy answered sounding like he was on top of the world. Poor sod. He went from hyper-happy to utterly appalled in a  matter of seconds. Poor sod. His beautiful child mangled by a misadventure with some kitchen scissors. I refused to send photos and said I’d sort it. I had a plan, it would work. If it didn’t work, in my mind I planned a Stephanie style pink wig. ‘It’s a fun wig, you’ll have fun in it, your friends will think you’re a hoot’.

5 O’clock arrives. The hairdresser took a very deep breath and on at least three occasions put her scissors down and walked away to compose herself. Every time she thought she’d solved it she discovered another hack or tuft and yet more had to come off to blend it in. Meanwhile I sat there rubbing my face like a neurotic. The salon manager came to the rescue with yet more coffee. The coffee helped me, and training evidently helped the hairdresser. She toiled for 20 hard minutes before giving me a brief lesson on styling to hide bald patches. Now I wouldn’t like you to get too close and study this for tufts but with a bit of hairspray this will work. She even has a bit of Parisian chic going on.

A relieved child after a professional snipper has rescued her do

Post Haircut Haircut

A handful of disney hairclips and everyone will think we’ve gone for something radical for spring.  Our house is now sleeping beauty but with scissors not spinning wheels. We ceremonially collected all the offending articles up and we’re locking them in the west tower until she’s old enough to know better and if she still decides to screw up a perfectly good haircut at that stage then good luck to her.