0

Letter to Louisa

Earlier this month I was one of millions of people who watched Louisa Johnson win the X-Factor.

I found myself watching despite the antipathy I feel towards these TV shows, with their brash noisiness and their wholesale promotion of a culture that says one person can live the dream while millions of others across the world struggle for the basic necessities in life. Louisa seems like a genuinely lovely girl and has the gift of that amazing voice, so I found myself rooting for her in spite of the infectious pleasures of Reggie ‘N’ Bollie and their particular brand of joy. Joy is in short supply these days, and it was a big bonus of the show this year to see the bouncy spreading of happiness by this irrepressible duo.

After I had switched the television off and gone upstairs to bed, it all felt a bit surreal. It is easy to get caught up in the noise and hype of the production and the excitement of the results. I was lying in bed, re-centering – focusing on peace again. But somewhere out there was a seventeen-year-old girl, still under the spotlights, being shepherded and mentored already towards the glittering career that she will no doubt have. I couldn’t get Louisa out of my mind.

The whole scenario felt particularly poignant because of my recent concern about the Quaker testimony of Simplicity. About not owning or using more of the earth’s resources than we need. Shows like the X-Factor, and celebrity status in general, produce some of the most skewed and unjust distributions of wealth the world has ever seen. But that is a big burden to sit on the shoulders of a young girl who simply has a dream. Louisa’s life will never be what it would have been if she hadn’t entered the competition. Her course is set, and it will be who she is, as an individual human being, that shapes the type of future and impact that she has.

I thought: If I had to write a letter to Louisa, what would I say?

I look back after fifty five years of life and there are many things I wished I had known earlier; things I would like to tell my younger self. But wisdom and insight cannot be forced or imparted simply by writing things down and handing this to someone else. It is lived experience relevant to your own life and spiritual growth, and comes at its own pace and time. How can you say to a seventeen-year-old girl who is about to get the stardom she dreamt of, that possessions and wealth and fame are not the things that matter in life? Part of me wanted to freeze-frame and capture the gentle innocence of Louisa’s expression as she took in, with a degree of amazement, what was happening to her.

So there I was, lying in bed, upholding Louisa in my heart. I wished her peace and strength, the time and insight to remain herself amongst all the pressures and the highs and lows of her chosen profession, but mainly I just held her in God’s light – wanting her to feel the incredible nourishment that is there if only you open your mind to it.

Thinking about this now, I have to remind myself that Louisa is also someone who, through her own hard work and self-belief, has made and taken-up this opportunity – that it is good to see her take joy in it. New year is a time when we tend to look back at what has gone, and also think about our hopes and dreams for the year ahead. They may be dreams of making the world a more peaceful or equitable place – or, indeed, of winning the X-Factor – but unless we open our hearts to the possibilities and people around us; unless we act when we are given the opportunity to do so; then they will never come any nearer to being reality.

MAD MOMENT…

Singing with my choir at our Christmas concert for family and friends with purple hair to match our purple and black outfits.

MARVEL MOMENT…

Simple ivy and lights, and the joy of going out in the dark streets during the Christmas season. Looking forward into the mystery of the coming year…

annedegruchy.co.uk image: ivy and lights

© Anne de Gruchy

0

People with Promise

I have a habit of connecting with people who have problems.

I often think that this is because I am a person with problems myself – a case of like attracting like, or of people finding others who have empathy with them. I really do believe that God – or the universe – brings people and situations to us when we need them, or when they need us, or simply when there is some synergy going on. So at any given time many of my friends and acquaintances, like me, will be experiencing mental health issues, or be snowed under with the stresses of caring for someone.

This is all well and good. It gives me a wonderful framework of friends who understand me, and a mutually beneficial and supportive network of people that is expanding all the time. And of course it’s not all doom and gloom – we have fun and laughter along the way, and share many interesting and exciting experiences together.

The difficulty comes when I try to have a one-on-one romantic relationship with people with problems. Or them with me.

I am a very up-and-down person – you have probably gathered that by now if you are following my blog. In my younger years the doctors slapped a ‘bipolar’ label on me, although this was later peeled off and replaced with ‘recurrent depressive disorder’ one. It’s nice to be disordered on occasion, but not to have a label. It makes you feel like you need to live up to some designer tag and produce at least three manic episodes a year.

Although I don’t do mania, I definitely feel like a Vivienne Westwood piece when it comes to my mental state: mostly full-on out there, somewhat flamboyant, and not at all symmetrical – and most certainly not containable within the social norms.

I love Vivienne Westwood’s clothes, but, like me, they can’t be easy to live with on a day-to-day basis. Those brave men who risk dating or even living with me, may be attracted to the bouncy outgoing bit, but the moment I hit a low they must wonder what’s happened to the happy, sociable person they thought they had hooked up with. Conversely, if they happen to meet me in a depressed phase and for some strange reason feel comfortable in a supportive role, then they often cannot cope with things once I turn into a flighty social butterfly with more energy than a bottle of Lucozade.

Add into this mix my Quakerly thing of seeing ‘that of God’ in everyone (human beings ARE endlessly fascinating and rewarding, whatever their background and life experience, and if you’re not open to this you miss out on some wonderful connections and people) and the result is a string of risky relationships with intense emotional connections, but a lot of gunpowder sitting in a big pile underneath us just waiting to be lit.

The other day I was bemoaning this state of affairs with a friend as we travelled together in the car. I said how I had now got used to my family and friends saying ‘Oh, Anne!’ and ‘Please be careful’ whenever I talked about the current state of my love life. This is partly my fault, of course, for being so open and honest with people I am close to, and I have learnt to be more careful and respectful about what I share now. But sometimes people’s reactions, and indeed my history (and there have been one or two mega-mistakes), make me question my judgement and instincts.

So we are travelling along, and I am saying to my friend how I have a habit of connecting with people who often turn out to have problems akin to my own, and he says, simply: ‘You pick people with promise.’

I love this.

I love that the people I pick have promise. And I love that the people I pick seem to somehow see some promise in me. It’s back to that positive language thing – looking at the good in a situation and not harping on about the risky bits. You can think yourself into the doldrums if you are not careful.

I just hope that any aspiring partner can cope with walking around with a woman whose hair is now the colour of purple pansies and whose mental state can resemble anything from a Sex Pistols T-shirt, to a carpet dress, to a tartan ball gown.

MAD MOMENT…

Ringing dad’s mental health team and the Care Quality Commission on a day when I woke up feeling depressed. Mental suicide.

MARVEL MOMENT…

Going to the optician to choose a new pair of glasses and instantly finding no less that three frames which I loved and were comfortable to wear! Now just have the difficult decision of which pair to pick!

© Anne de Gruchy

0

The Saga of Dad and the Gunge Boiler

Or how dementia and a distance of two hundred miles turns boiler breakdowns into a multi-faceted guessing game and a delicate delegation operation!

Recently, my dad’s boiler broke down. It didn’t owe us anything. To our family’s knowledge it had been chuntering along for all of the 30 years dad has owned his house, although the radiators had become distinctly lukewarm over time, and the death rattle when it started up had become ominous. Accurately ominous, as it turned out.

We found out about the breakdown when my sister made one of her regular catch-up phone calls to dad. He told her that the boiler wasn’t working and that he had arranged for British Gas to come out under their Homecare agreement. My sister rang to check, and, to her surprise, she discovered that this was true. However there was a delay of several days and, as dad is 90, has dementia and is severely sight-impaired, my sister did her best tenacious bulldog impression and the nice British Gas people agreed to come out the next day, which was a Friday.

Hereby starts a mysterious tale of information, misinformation and memory loss…

WHAT DAD SAID: The engineer came, needed a part and was coming back on Sunday morning to fit it.

WHAT LOVELY SISTER DID: Phoned dad on Sunday morning to remind him to stay in for the engineer’s visit.

WHAT DAD DID: Went to church. Well you would, wouldn’t you, if it was a choice of that or your boiler being in bits.

WHAT I DID: Rang dad and said: Is your heating working? Dad: I don’t think so. Me: Did British Gas come this morning? Dad: I went to church.

So I rang British Gas who told me that the part they needed (a pump) was not available until Tuesday anyway, and the Sunday visit had been planned to deliver some extra heaters, and that they’d turned up and dad had been out – did I want them to try again?

I turned down their kind offer. Dad would not have been able to work out or remember how to use a heater that he wasn’t familiar with, and he wouldn’t be able to read instructions as he is nearly blind. He would most likely have forgotten to turn it on, or off, or worried about what it was doing there and rung me up to find out.

So, to Plan B. This involved mobilizing some lovely local help. I rang a friendly neighbour and she agreed to go round and check that dad was OK and that the immersion heater was switched on for hot water. I arranged for the care agency to alert the carers to the situation, and for them to put extra blankets on dad’s bed and by his chair in the lounge. Fortunately it was during the warm early autumn spell, so I wasn’t too worried about the cold. I also arranged for the neighbour to go over early on Tuesday morning to ensure that somebody was in, and up, and there to open the door, when the engineer arrived.

TUESDAY: Neighbour came, engineer came, pump fitted but boiler would not work. Full, very expensive, system flush required. Neighbour and engineer agreed to come back on Thursday. After consultation with dad and my sisters, I authorized, as attorney, for the large sum of money to be spent.

THURSDAY: Neighbour came, engineer came. I telephoned dad and said: Is your heating working now? Dad: Yes, I think so. Me: Phew, thank God for that!! I put the telephone down and two minutes later dad’s lovely neighbour phones me: Well the engineers worked really hard (she said) but the system flush knocked out the thermostat and they’ve got to come back tomorrow to replace it.

FRIDAY: Neighbour – way beyond any call of duty – came, engineer came. I telephoned neighbour: Is the boiler working? Yes! Has the immersion heater been switched off? Yes! Have you got yourself a triple gin and tonic and a big pat on the back? Or, at the very least, a nomination for neighbour of the year award…

And so it goes. Dad’s boiler is working wonderfully. It is now blissfully quiet when the heating comes on in the morning, and I no longer need to wear an extra jumper in the lounge. Dad’s lovely neighbour joined us for a concert a few days ago, and we found ourselves immersed in the exuberant cello playing of Steven Isserlis as he joined the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to play Shostakovich’s amazing Cello Concerto No 1. I hope dad’s neighbour knows how much her kindness and help is valued.

There are an army of lovely people who support dad – some paid, many not – but without them he’d certainly be keeping company with the penguins from the British Gas adverts in their miniature icicle-filled worlds.

MAD MOMENT…

Cheesy crumpets in front of the X Factor? That’s about as mad as it got this week!

MARVEL MOMENT…

Wonderful Beeston Oxjam. Wandering the streets between musical and literary treats and venues, bumping into groups of interesting people, and simply drinking in the atmosphere.

© Anne de Gruchy

1

Tyranny Over Small Things

I am currently a user of a certain online dating site that shall remain nameless. Amen!

I am not a very active user. My usage so far consists of:

– Saying ‘no’ to Americans who think that I am the most gorgeous/beautiful/divine creature they have ever seen, and who also think that when I say I want to meet someone ‘local’ I mean three and a half thousand miles away.

– Saying ‘no’ to people who message me with the single word ‘hello’ and expect a reply which is more than a single word.

– Saying ‘no’ to people whose profiles involves pictures of them half naked with amazing six-packs and who sport names such as ‘stud101’ or ‘hornymike’. (Apologies to anyone who may have actually chosen one of these names)

– Occasionally messaging someone who sounds genuine and interesting, and who then proves me wrong by not bothering to reply at all.

– Saying ‘yes’ to completely interesting, but probably entirely dysfunctional people, like myself (I mean that I’m dysfunctional – the interesting bit you will have to judge for yourself).

– Wondering why on earth I started this in the first place when I have absolutely no time to fit a relationship into my life anyway.

However, this is not a complete picture of my dating life online. As I am finding with several other online social media sites – that also shall remain nameless – there are lots of fascinating people out there who I would otherwise never come across in my daily life. More interesting still is the way that meeting via messaging strips away the physical responses we have to people, and the assumptions that we make, and allows us to connect on a different level. I may never meet these people, or perhaps I may, but the meeting of minds in this way feels like a gift. In fact, sometimes I’m nervous to actually meet someone who I feel I’ve genuinely connected with online in case the connection-bubble is burst.

The other day the unspecified dating site sent me a message. This was unusual. I had thought perhaps they wanted money, or to congratulate me on getting 84 ‘likes’, but no, they wanted to tell me that someone had reported one of the photographs I had uploaded to my profile, and that it had been removed because it was ‘inappropriate’. What’s more, the ‘removal approval’ had been voted on by their moderators!

Well, this was interesting because I am a very conservative person when it comes to the photographs I will share. I immediately went to my profile to check out what had disappeared. The one that had gone was a photograph of my tattoo, a beautifully worked celtic dragon, which is at the top of one of my arms. I read the email again, and saw that every photo I upload has to have me in it, and not only me, but a non-close-up version of me. This does not explain why they allowed the pictures I had uploaded of my cat and my garden. It also does not explain some of the pictures of naked torsos and massive tattoos across backs that some of the men on the site use as their main profile pictures.

It so happens I am having an interesting conversation with someone on the site at the moment, so I shared this experience with him. He replied that it was the people who go round reporting the ‘inappropriate’ images he worries about. It reminded me of the one person that I did report on the site – he had messaged me and sent a whole tirade of obscene and racist abuse, and I suggested that he should be blocked from the site altogether. He’s still there, but my tattoo isn’t. As I said to my correspondent – it’s the usual problem of tyranny over the little things while the big stuff just saunters on by.

I think this ‘tyranny over the little things’ happens in many walks of life, including within our work environments. So often people are bogged down having to jump through statistical hoops (how many cases processed and how quickly, etc) that the bigger picture and quality of service are lost altogether. It’s good to remember that the person you are providing the service to is a fellow human being. Certainly I’ve found that the burden of administration and form-filling at work has increased in recent years to almost ridiculous levels – you make an hour-long home visit, then spend three hours completing the paperwork.

The other aspect that seems to prevent the ‘big stuff’ getting appropriate attention is the lack of joined-up services. Anyone who works in health or social care can tell you about this! Recently my GP referred me to the hospital because of problems with osteo-arthritis. So far I have seen: one consultant, one occupational therapist (twice), one orthotist (twice), and I have an outstanding appointment with podiatry. I also had an x-ray that none of the above-mentioned professionals have seen or been able to use in their diagnosis and response. None of these services appear to talk to each other. There must be a simpler way of doing things that does not make me feel like I’m being portioned up.

Politically, we’re also good at focusing too small. We become insular within our own country or region, and bogged down in party-political spatting, then miss the bigger picture of human need, or what is simply common sense. Our first-past-the-post voting system and five year government terms do not help the longer term view either: ‘Oh good, we’ve got in, we must make multiple massive changes now or we’ll lose our chance’, and then, five years later, someone else gets in and does a complete U-turn. The ‘big stuff’ gets ping-ponged backwards and forwards, and eventually kicked into touch (excuse the mixed up sporting metaphors!).

So, I’ve had my rant. That feels a whole load better! Now all I need to do is go and check on my blog statistics and try not to forget about all you lovely people out there who actually read what I write.

MAD MOMENT…

Having a Meltdown Moment at the Carers’ Support Group yesterday. At least the group provides a place to meltdown in relative safety.

MARVEL MOMENT…

‘Looking for lodgers’ serendipity! People appearing just when you need them and they need you! My attic room is empty once again, so I am sending out cosmic vibes in anticipation…

© Anne de Gruchy