random ramblings

“A good innings” and other trite shite

Macmillan stars

I found out recently that my dad has terminal lung cancer.

It took a while to diagnose – 10 or so months, as they were treating his shortness of breath as anything BUT lung cancer (How. The. Fuck?!). His chest had gradually filled up with fluid (2 litres! Imagine a 2-litre bottle of pop in your chest cavity!) which we thought was just a severe infection – after initially worrying that it was serious, but then he had two chest x-rays that were, apparently, “clear”. Plus, maybe a bit of heart trouble, easily managed by a medication overhaul. So we thought. We really had no idea. We found out it was bad when my dad mentioned it, dropped it casually into conversation, after they’d let him out of hospital (they didn’t actually tell him, it was in his discharge letter – the word “malignancy”. Yep, that’s how he – we – found out he was dying). He could have been updating us about the latest West Brom score, so casually did he drop the C-bomb. The word “malignancy” didn’t even register at first. I remember turning to my sister and whispering, “What does he mean – does he mean cancer??”. White-faced. Realising from her expression that yep, it was, in fact, cancer. And then feeling like I’d been one-inch-punched by Bruce Lee, shock popping my ears and making me feel like I was drowning, actually drowning. I still do; I’m constantly trying to stem a tsunami that just wants to kill me.

My mum died of leukaemia so I have previous experience of nursing and losing someone I love to this disease. As you’d imagine, it was heartbreaking and harrowing. But this time it’s different.

If you’ve read my tattoo post you’ll know how I feel about my dad. That my dad is everything to me. I loved my mother, but I adore him. I am utterly my father’s daughter.

This quietly wonderful man has done everything in his power to make mine and my five siblings’ lives as brilliant as they could be; we were poor as dirt but he willingly sacrificed everything for us (I remember counting the concentric rings in the holes in his battered shoes, and the cardboard he put inside them to keep his feet dry). My dad is unconditional love personified.

Now it’s time to do something for him; to help him go in the most pain and distress-free way possible. But oh, I’m scared. Knocking on 50, I feel like a frightened child at the thought of him dying. I’m scared I won’t cope; with him leaving me, with my life without him. Yes, he’s 84 and he’s had a long life (something denied to many, many people). He’s got to go sometime. But loss is loss; I don’t give a shit how old he is.

For once in my sorry life, it’s not about me; it’s about him. It’s my duty and my honour to help him pass. But I am bereft already; grieving (pre-grieving??) that he is leaving me, that I am losing him a little more every day. He is an old photograph, once bright with 1970’s nicotine hues (and matching handle-bar moustache – oh yeah!) but now fading to grey, fainter and paler with every precious day that passes.

When I was leaving my dad’s house, I noticed some green wrapping paper from Macmillan Cancer Support on the sideboard. It had little Christmas trees with the Macmillan logo all over it and for a split second I jumped, I genuinely thought one of the nurses had left it for him: “For Your Last Christmas…”. Er, I know I have to come to terms with him going, but that was a bit full on, even for me. They hadn’t, of course – it was a mailer that had come through the post.

A coincidence, if a rather macabre one. Oh, how we laughed. Actually, I did. A warped sense of humour is one of the many things my dad has given me, for which I am truly grateful. (No idea where I got my potty mouth from, though – my dad wouldn’t even say “bugger”, while I swear like a twatting navvy with Tourettes.)

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Childless by design: why don’t I have a maternal bone in my body?

I’m a younger child in a family of six kids. I’m all the things you’d expect from someone born last (-ish, I have a little bro. It’s complicated). I’m a bit of a show off on the quiet, I’m funny (haha!), cheeky, like my own way, a bit wild, a bit unreliable, a bit unpredictable. I’m fiercely loyal and passionate, and probably quite a handful.

(more…)

Getting ink: why your middle ages is the best time ever to get a tattoo

I am a total daddy’s girl. My dad is the most quietly wonderful person that ever lived. I adore him.

roses

I love him so much I got a tattoo.

It’s a big one, on my right shoulder, of a rose from my dad’s garden. Some people love it, some hate it. Most couldn’t give a monkey’s. My dad thinks I’m an idiot. But then he thinks that anyway (not really, he just has no idea where I came from). He is mostly bemused. He is 84 and can’t understand why a woman would want a tattoo. Anyone other than a old-school sailor, to be honest.

tat

Freshly dug…

I love it. I’ve had it for three years now and it’s as fresh and bright and gorgeous as the day I got it (four and a half hours of non-stop writhing pain – my tattooist was an artistic genius, but a brutal one; he liked to dig DEEEEP).

I waited until I found the perfect artist, but also ’til my mum was dead, before I finally booked my appointment – I’m not daft, she would have gone crazy nuts (I can feel her angry disappointment from here, from the grave). When my dad first saw my tat he was pretty horrified, he said, “Why would you do that? What about when you’re older?!”. He is such a modest and unassuming man and just couldn’t comprehend that I would want to declare my love for him in as obvious and permanent way as this, writ large on my shoulder for the world to see. But that’s the point. I laughed and said, “Dad – I AM older!”.

“Actually, yeah you are. Fair point”, he said.

But it’s true, I AM older. Although I look like someone in my early 40s (so I’m told), I’m nearly 50 (though I act a lot younger – yeah, I’m immature). Even writing that is so bizarre that it boggles my brain. Really fucks with it. But if it means that I get to have a tattoo and not give a crap, then fine. I’m inked. I’m older. Cheers, dad.

Sleepless in Sheffield #2

It was my birthday last week. I am now 49. I feel 89.

insomnia

Up to last Sunday night, I hadn’t slept for six months. Well, of course I’d slept (or I’d be dead), but I hadn’t slept well. Not at all.

Because my nervous system – sent completely whacko by the drop in female hormones – had apparently  gone into free fall, flooding my system with adrenaline and cortisol. Yup, that’s ADRENALINE AND CORTISOL, the fight-or-flight hormones that your body usually releases at times of stress or DANGER and which – rightly – send your blood pumping and your heart racing, so you’re ready to react quickly to, say, a saber-toothed tiger chasing you, or a runaway train heading your way. It’s not really for sleeping, unless your usual place of rest is on the edge of a cliff or inside a bear’s cave.

Fluctuating cortisol levels cause hot flushes – plus panic attacks, anxiety etc. My hot flushes had become more and more intense; making me feel like I’m going to faint and puke at the same time. Also, making my heart race and giving me scary palpitations (and sending my previously healthy blood pressure soaring). The sauna-level heat is almost secondary (I actually steam car windows up) – it’s the sickening feeling like YOU’RE GONNA DIE bit that really got to me. Yeah, that’s a nice feeling.

And, sleeping with cortisol whizzing around your body? “Whiz” is about right: not a chance in hell. I wake up half an hour after I’ve gone to sleep, then every hour, virtually on the hour. Horrific. I was a serious and chronic insomniac for many years and I was terrified I was going back to the bad time.

Being proactive and trying to manage my irksome insomnolence, I took off the week leading up to my birthday in order to bank some sleep (to at least attempt to enjoy my birthday celebrations), and also to do some writing. I did neither. Instead, I sat around like a stoned, tearful zombie incapable of any real thought apart from the vacant notion that this menopause will be the death of me.

Eight weeks before, I was three months into the hot flushes/insomnia/brain fudge and – wanting to embrace my menopause naturally and accept it as part of my journey as a woman (!) – I decided to manage my menopause symptoms with 1. some herbs and plants and 2. a fanny magnet. Yup, you heard right. The herbs didn’t do much (though they turned my wee a nice radioactive yellow) so I figured I had nothing to lose by trying out the fanny magnet (otherwise known as Lady Care). Quite frankly, the idea that a magnet can re-balance your body’s nervous system sounded like crazy talk, but I was willing to try anything by this point. It My good friend Jennifer Denys bequeathed me hers (after a good scrub, obviously) – it hadn’t worked for her, but we had high – desperate – hopes for me. So, did it work? Well, something did stir after I first stuffed it down my knickers, but it didn’t last, sadly. The story of my life.

So. Fast forward to the week before my birthday and I’m sat in my new doctor’s office, a teary wobbly puddle of off-the-scale tired/wiredness and practically begging him for HRT. Bollocks to embracing my menopause naturally – GIVE ME THE FREAKIN’ DRUGS.

My new doc came good and, thankfully agreeing that my high blood pressure would see me off far sooner than any other associated hormonal health risks, hit me up. Whoop! It took four more tortuous days to kick in but deep, blessed, WONDERFUL sleep finally came – fittingly – on Sunday, the day of rest. Praise be. And welcome back sore tits, crippling stomach cramps and “stuck pig”-level bleeding – I may feel like someone’s removing my hitherto withered womb via my fanjita with a crochet hook but MY GOD, how glad am I to see you.

taking-drugs-legitimate-medical-reasons-happy-birthday-ecards-someecards

I’ve been wondering why nature got this so bloody wrong. Why do so many women have to suffer so terribly as their poor bewildered bodies go into a blind panic at the ending of fertility, and often never come out? And then it hit me: we were never supposed to live past menopause. Of course. D’oh. It’s only relatively recently (in the evolutionary scheme of things) that our average lifespan has gone past 40 years. There was no need to design us with a physiological, post-hormonal coping mechanism. So, there is no fall-back plan, no “what do we do after?”, no plan B. Just hot, sleepless, brain-melting misery. Or drugs. And I know I can’t have them forever, but for now I’m taking the drugs – I’ll deal with my particular after if and when it comes.

Happy birthday to me. Welcome back, me.

Cereal Killers: how Kelloggs, Nestle et al are redefining monstrous

Here’s a little something about something that bugs the hell out of me. Actually, it’s really long  (as this is such a “weighty” subject) but I hope you make it to the end – if you do, I salute you in advance.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post how much I loath marketing that cons people – despite being a marketer by trade. I can’t abide it. So cynical, so deceitful. Obviously I know that marketing is ultimately about selling stuff, but there should be limits to the level of disingenuity – or outright lying – allowed. But, it seems, there aren’t; not when it comes to profit.

Pennywise_pagliaccio_clown_IT_Film_thumb_big

Top of my hit list are the sugar pushers – the Pennywises of the food production world, who use their obscenely massive marketing budgets to knowingly peddle poison to children. For money. At least Pennywise did it for reasons other than sheer greed (ie he was a psycho demon killer clown who needed to terrify and then devour kids in order to survive).

Chocolatey Cheerios

He’s a pussy cat compared to this lot. I’m talking about the likes of Kelloggs and Nestle, two of the biggest cereal companies in the world, with brands such as Frosties, Cheerios and Coco Pops. Pure sugar, all of them (save some added vitamins – for marketing purposes, obvs) yet allowed to be marketed as breakfast.

But that’s not the worst of it. Oh no. Nestle also sells Cookie Crisp and Brownie Crisp cereal – which are exactly as right/wrong as they sound. Cookies and brownies are great as an occasional treat, if that’s what you like, but not as a child’s first meal of the day. Unless you’re a really, really terrible parent.

 

IMAG0080And then it takes a really fucked-up turn……ladies and gentlemen….I give you….Toffee Crisp Cereal!

What’s that, you say? That’s a chocolate bar? Yes it is. Sorry, must be seeing things – all this processed sugar is making me hallucinate. Oh hold on, I’m right after all. Nestle really does sell a breakfast cereal that’s basically chopped up Toffee Crisps. Yes it does. And that’s not all. By some sly markety jiggery pokery they are allowed to put a very prominent, wide green band at the top of even this “meal”, complete with an image of a grain and a massive tick.

Which, I don’t know about you, signifies to me that this breakfast food is healthy and wholesome and despite all appearances to the contrary – actually good for us. A product that is essentially bite size pieces of confectionery. Which will – despite Nestle claiming that its market is adults – be consumed primarily by small, still forming children as what is considered by most to be the most important meal of the day. I’m pretty much unshockable. Not much renders me speechless, but this horror, lurking seductively on a popular supermarket’s breakfast cereal shelf, did. Just dreadful. Confused? You will be…

The bright colours and engaging graphics on Nestle’s cereal boxes are in sharp contrast to its website, which is curiously bland and earnest; corporate, even. It almost looks like a good health information site – which is, I’m pretty sure, the idea. Very strange messages here, almost as if they’re trying to play something down. Surely not.

nestle website

And over at Kellogg’s, it’s  a lot brighter and cuddlier but rather contradictory: apparently it all begins healthily enough with sunshine and grains but then goes downhill rapidly into Just. Eating. Chocolate. At breakfast time. Healthy, sunshiny, natural and innocent CHOCOLATE. Oh, and they call it Krave. Hardy fuckin’ har.

Sunshine and grains Krave

I once wrote a letter to Kellogg's' Marketing Director about the abomination that was Coco Straws (now defunct, thankfully) and the first line said simply "How do you sleep at night?". I wasn't being clever, or sarky. I really wanted to know. Because I couldn't. I wouldn't get a wink, not knowing that I was wilfully getting kids hooked on sugar for life, adding to the cause of childhood diabetes and ongoing, lifelong ill-health, disability and blighted lives. Never heard a dicky bird in return; funny, that.

Now, I do appreciate that people have a responsibility to feed their offspring properly. But this constant onslaught of cheap, easy, high-profit crap and its clever, cynical marketing clearly has an effect on busy, stressed parents and their limited time – mainly by easing their guilty consciences with the marketing devices they use: ie the green visuals that signify health, and the wholegrain and vitamins (often negligible) in the cereal itself. All seemingly good for you.

But I’m sorry – you may as well serve your kids a bowl of hundreds and thousands, with a splash of milk. 

sugar sprinkles

It’s not our fault. We are programmed to crave sugar because it’s high-energy, and was scarce in nature when we humans were evolving. But the problem is it’s not scarce any more. Quite the opposite: it’s cheap, easy to produce and is all around us. And has an obscenely high profit margin. Sugar has been made an acceptable – healthy, even – breakfast choice for countless millions of adults and children via sly, clever marketing by ruthless food companies and their lobbyists. And new sugar addicts are made constantly, helpless in the face of so many variations of the drug they just can’t live without. 

eggs happy

Protein’s where it’s at.

A couple of cheesy scrambled eggs on toast (buttered, of course!) and our kids are laughing all the way to school dinnertime. Just as cheap, almost as quick, and more tasty and nutritious than any manufactured sugar-crap.

They don’t call sugar White Death for nothing, so maybe do yourselves and your kids a big favour – avoid it like the plague. 

 Here endeth the sermon. Thanks for listening/enduring.

Flora margarine: fake food fuckery

I have a thing about marketing. Yes, I’m a marketer, but I’m not a traditional marketer. I’m more your guerilla marketer (although I was a very hairy baby so “gorilla” is perhaps more fitting), and I actually have a few principles; one of them being that I won’t market anything that involves deceiving people.

I can’t stand cynical marketing that deliberately cons people. On this, I’m with the wonderful Bill Hicks:

But others aren’t quite so principled. Take Unilever’s Flora range, for example. Unilever’s advertising would have us believe that their products are actually better than the very things they’re replicating. Things like butter, and olive oil. Better than these.

So, let’s play a game.

Guess how many ingredients are in “Flora Buttery”. 

Ok, I’ll tell you. It’s 14.

Yup.

This “food” contains FOURTEEN ingredients:

Vegetable oils in varying proportions (70%) (sunflower, rapeseed, palm and linseed), water, BUTTERMILK (12%), salt (1.5%), emulsifier (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), citric acid, preservative (potassium sorbate), natural flavouring (contains MILK), vitamins A and D, colour (carotenes).

Sounds delicious, hmmm..? Get it on your crumpets. Or maybe not.

Ingredients in butter? Erm…butter (well, cream actually).

"Western-pack-butter" by Steve Karg, aka Skarg at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Western-pack-butter.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Western-pack-butter.jpg

“Western-pack-butter” by Steve Karg, aka Skarg at en.wikipedia

And then we have Flora Cuisine: a “yummy” liquified version of Flora margarine that Unilever are peddling as a healthy alternative to olive oil – with a mere 16 ingredients, this time. Yes, you heard that right.

Healthier than olive oil. 

They used to say this outright but have obviously had their knuckles rapped for being economical with the truth (ie blatant lying), so instead they’ve put in it shifty Markety Flim-Flam: “And because it’s lower in saturated fat than olive oil and high in omega 3, it’s a healthy choice too”. Okaaaaay. Well, aside from the fact that  Unilver are implying that their lab-created concoction is better for us than (pure, natural) olive oil, 1: olive oil contains only 14% saturated fat anyway, and 2: despite what some food companies want you to believe, natural saturated fats are not bad for you after all: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/10October/Pages/Saturated-fat-link-with-heart-disease-questioned.aspx. More on that in another post.

Oh, and ingredients in olive oil?? Oil. From olives.

I don’t need to quote that well-worn “margarine is two molecules away from plastic” internet story at you for you to know that this sort of chemically produced stuff is just not good for us. This sort of non-food is what makes people ill – not natural fats, saturated or not. This and, of course, sugar (not called The White Death for nothing). Companies who sell this kind of product are opportunists with massive marketing budgets,  making equally massive profits out of selling cheaply-made fake foods to unsuspecting consumers in what is a very murky marketplace that favours big food corporations and their expert lobbyists.

Don’t fall for it.

My advice? Don’t touch anything that should contain one or two ingredients yet has 15 – let’s face it, it’s never going to be nice, is it? Eat natural food that’s good for you and your body, and tastes fantastic – like butter, olive oil, coconut oil and even lard. Yes, lard – or better still, dripping! Fry your eggs in it, make yorkshire puds with it and stick it in your pastry. We humans evolved eating natural fats so they must be good for us. This is my logic and I’m sticking to it.

Turns out Mother Nature is a motherfeckin’ GENIUS after all! Who’da guessed..?!

PS – and Unilever, the company that makes Flora? A multinational company, one of the petrochemical industry’s biggest customers, and the people who very likely make your detergent, your bleach and your shampoo. They also make the truly abominable  “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter”. Enough said.

PPS – interestingly, a general Google search for Flora includes the message: “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.”. This usually means that someone affiliated with Flora has requested that certain information about Flora be deleted.  Why could this be? Hmmm. Make of it what you will…

My Communication Fatigue: Why I just can’t be bothered… (…to even finish this sentence.)

I am unwell. Out of sorts. Under the weather. 

ill

I’m suffering from an illness so socially severe, that I risk losing good friends and upsetting the people in my life that matter most to me. It’s serious and it’s a bit embarrassing; Dr Christian would have me on the couch by now, legs akimbo, knees tucked behind my ears. The situation’s grave – desperate, even. And here are the dreadful symptoms (that is if I can bring myself to reveal them, such is the social stigma attached):

Emails go unanswered. Facebook messages get lost in the machine. And texts can take days to ping back to the recipient. Days. I regularly lie and say I never received anything.

But now I’m coming clean. I have a serious problem, and it’s that I’m in the advanced stages of CFS: or Communication Fatigue Syndrome as it’s known in certain circles (ok, just mine).

computer says no

My condition began to show its listless face a couple of years ago. Email, Facebook, twitter and texting – not to mention actual talking – were all getting a bit much for me. I worked in a busy, lively, open-plan office, and my job meant I was constantly talking to colleagues and suppliers; on the phone, on email and in meetings. I was communicating all day long, often using different media simultaneously.

So I really resented having to go home and carry on where I’d left off. Pretty much. Keeping in touch socially had started to feel like just another tedious administration task, and, as I’d never been that keen on (or good at!) admin, I’d ignore stuff until it became urgent. Never a good strategy. Friends got annoyed with me and I’d feel guilty and like a really bad person. And I don’t like feeling like a bad person (naughty’s ok – hell, yeah!) which meant that I’d have to do a damage limitation communication to get myself out of trouble – i.e., more bloody admin. Gah.

It was really getting to me. I felt like a stressed air traffic controller; friends and family stacked up like impatient 747s queuing in the sky above.  My life had turned into a tedious cycle of stress/guilt/admin that, quite frankly, I could well do without.

freedom

So I decided to take it back.

I figure if it’s my prerogative when to answer my phone (it is) then it’s also up to me when I reply to any other form of communication. I don’t react instantly and feel the need to treat messages as urgent (unless they actually are!). I generally take my own good time replying, and it feels great. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone and there are some people in my life who struggle with my tardy transmissions. But – special exceptions aside – I’m not giving in. They just have to lump it. And on the whole it works fine – I even have a couple of friends who have taken my laid-back line. We treat non-urgent messages like little postcards: casual mini letters with an enquiry here, a comment there, and it really doesn’t matter if either of us takes days to answer. We know we will eventually.

It works beautifully; no stress, no guilt, everyone’s happy. Give it a try – what’s the worst that could happen..? The people who love you will accept it (with a little training) – and as for the ones who don’t…

Eyes down

Adverts for online bingo are weird, don’t you think?  Plenty of people dancing – with dogs, with each other – swimming, partying and generally having a ball. Hey, bingo is FUN!

But no poor sods sat in front of the dim, grey light of the monitor, crying in their pants as they gamble away the last of the housekeeping.

Funny, that.