The Artists and the Scientists



I was surprised to read that Davie Bowie had died.

I’d assumed it had happened years before; drug-filled oblivion, perhaps; AIDS after unprotected sex with hundreds of strangers; an elaborate collision involving some form of luxury transport.  Rock Star, obviously.  Oh, the stereotyping of lives we know nothing about.

I have been pigeon-holing artistic ‘types’ since University.  You know Universities:  forward-thinking places, where enlightened people consider all colours of skin, all genders of human, all gender preferences and all religions to be equal.  But even in Universities, people like to form tribes.  It’s human nature.

So the Scientists and Artists look upon one another across a deep divide.

I was a Scientist.  I worked hard.  I had lectures scheduled 9.00-5.00pm most days, weekly assignments, lab practicals, exams nearly every term and ‘EMS’ (working for free) in the holidays.  My friend studying theology had one or two lectures each week and spent the rest of her time ‘reading’ for a single essay that I used to help her to write the night before its due-date.

‘Reading,’ by the way, is a technical term.  It means ‘drinking tea.’  And who wouldn’t want more time to drink tea?  That, and make ourselves familiar with our own popular culture, including the fact that David Bowie was still alive?  I’m sorry that I didn’t take the chance to appreciate that.

But we scientists consoled ourselves that it was worth it: we were going to get ‘real jobs;’ have great influence, do something ‘useful’ with the rest of our lives.


Systematic study through observation and experiment.  The application of logic to the understanding of our world.

Galileo collected evidence showing that the sun and heavens do not revolve around Earth.  People at the time liked to assume otherwise and what he said was highly contraversial.  He never really won against the closed minds of his day, while we take many of his ideas for granted.

So Darwin and others spotted the changing body-shapes of species over time and came up with the theory of evolution; so Scheele and Priestly demonstrated the existence of a gas that we now call Oxygen.  At this precise moment, thanks to scientists, humans can access more factual information about their environment than ever before.

There are scientists out there with convincing ideas as to how to feed the world with the resources we’ve got.

There are scientists who can predict the effects of releasing Carbon into the atmosphere.

Educational results are hard to quantify, but science has even tried to identify the optimal ways to help children learn.  (I’ll give you a clue:  it’s not by pushing them through accademic tets or judging their worth on their ability to recite times tables).

We’re in an amazingly priviledged position, aren’t we?  Sure, Scientists disagree between themselves but if we sat our best ones down together to debate some of these issues; if there was no pride involved so that the “right” or “best” answers they thought of were heard; if we didn’t bribe these people to put certain slants on it (careful funding of the research), surely we would make our lives much better?

Of course, our country is run by artists and economists; charasmatic speakers with good presentation skills and their own subjective ideas of what they want for the future.  They might find scientific evidence useful when it supports the line that they want people to beleive, but if the evidence doesn’t say what they want they tend to ignore it.




Let’s leave the government alone though; what about closer to home?

A friend’s friend told me that as a scientist, she knew that there was no reasonable basis for the practise of accupuncture.  She was unlucky in that this is a special interest of mine and I could point her to some texts written by eminant, mainstream scientists and doctors giving a logical, physiological explanation of how ‘Western’ accupuncture works by stimulating nerves.  I could also reference clinical trials.  Before she had time to download them from the journals, she had ranted that she would never have accupuncture herself because it didn’t have any basis.

I bet I knew whose side she’d have been on when Galileo and Darwin showed up with their ideas.  People who have studied science can be closed and unscientific, too!

But here speaks a black pot of a kettle.

Recently, research has linked the consumption of processed meat to a significantly increased risk of getting cancer.  I can’t tell you how significant ‘significantly’ is;  or whether or not altering what I feed to my kids is supposed to reduce their chances.  Because – shock horror – I have not read the research.  I haven’t even read the journalism.  I have ‘known’ all my life that getting cancer is largely a matter of bad luck (apart from, say, lung cancer from smoking) so I have planted my head firmly in the sand and am doing whatever it was I would have done anyway.

‘They’re always advising us against doing something,’ I mutter.  If there’s an opportunity to make a difference to my own chances of following in Mr. Bowie’s footsteps, it is highly probable that I am missing it.

The moral of that story?  Science isn’t that influential.  Even smoking didn’t become old-fashioned when the evidence proved that it caused cancer.  It became old-fashioned after generations of media campaigning, gory lung-pictures, warning on fag-packets, policy-making, laws to throw smokers outside in pubs.  The scientists made the link in the first place, but artists made it happen.

Scientist-creative combinations are where it’s at (just look at the world of computer science); if drinking tea is the sort of thing you enjoy, it’s fine to opt to drink tea at university.  You can still make a massive difference to people.

In fact, if you’ve got some talent, go for art, music and design.





women – WAIT!




Apparently there’s still a pay-gap between the sexes.

Apparently some guy  – Science Nobel Laureate or something – said that female scientists should work in a separate laboratory (‘you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you’).

But do you know what made me an angry feminist in 2015?

That women still objectify ourselves.

I said in an earlier blog that I don’t wear make-up.

A woman at work said,  ‘If I turned up without make-up on, you’d run away screaming.’

I kid you not.  Even though we’d had five of the ugliest blokes in Yorkshire in the surgery that morning, all bare-faced, and no-one had run away.   Or even thought to ourselves that the guys needed make-up.

But what if they had been women?

I don’t like to answer this, but my colleague said quite bluntly that she always notices women ‘who don’t look after themselves’ (i.e. wear make-up) and judges them badly.




Here is my friend Bea on the subject:

I remember… a business workshop about personal branding. The woman delivering the workshop shared that a study had been done…. women who wore make up earned more money and won more business. I think they might also have had better colleague relationships.

I was absolutely appalled that I was being encouraged to wear make up in order to be more successful at work. I recall challenging it vocally and that wasn’t received very well.   It is scary how prevalent [mysogeny] is in such subtle ways.

Anyway, a New Year is nearly upon us.  Time to give women a brand new start…..

I went on Facebook to see what my friends had on their minds.

And collected these:



Behold our culture where eating ‘too much’ and ‘getting fat’ over Christmas is seen as a) just terrible and b) inevitable.  And January respresents a time when we should start being careful, eating less and restricting our calorie intake.

Now, it would be silly to paint binge-diet cycling as soley a women’s issue.  I know men who do it.  A google-search revealed versions of the above memes targetted at men.

But it was mostly women posting these and definitely women I speak to regularly who seem to regard this cycle as a normal.

I work in vet surgeries with generous clients and have therefore eaten at least 6 chocolates daily over the full course of December.  But cries of ‘I’ve had a third one!  I’m really bad!’ have rung in my ears until I have started to feel a much shame as enjoyment.

I guess I’m ‘lucky:’ at least prior to kids, my metabolic rate was always fast enough to keep pace with the modern-world excess and lack of exercise.  I have never felt pressure to diet.

Nor will I:  data suggests that people who start a diet are likely to gain more weight over the subsequent two years than those who don’t.  To paraphrase one of Weightwatchers early financial bigwigs, commercially they had a winning formula because people loose weight very effectively but then put it on again and want to come back.

Sure, there are some people who do make calorie-exclusion diets work long-term and they deserve respect.  But it takes huge motivation to argue with our physiological programming and for most people, this can’t realistically be built into their lifestyle and maintained.

What’s the point of feeling guilty about that?  I always claimed that if my metabolic rate was different, I’d rather be fat.  But I’m getting older, my fat-pads are deepening and all that ‘you should have a perfect body and therefore you should eat less’ crap I’ve been drip-fed over the years is niggling at me.

Yes, I’m at risk of joining the ranks of the chronically-miserable-in-their-own skin; is it really a choice between that or the exclusion-diet emotional-roller-coaster?

I refuse to queue up to get weighed every week and value myself on that: women’s weight fluctuates monthly and – another thing – when I felt (and looked) really fit and strong during my summer Ninja campaign I gained muscle and put on 5kg, the weight of a large cat.

The ‘weight’ culture is a farse.  One should just eat sensibly.

Is ‘just eating sensibly’ possible?  In this world where women judge themselves and each other on the shape of their hips,  and fatty and sugary foods are loaded with sensations and connotations of ‘pleasure’ and given to us as rewards by grateful clients, yet at the same time seen almost as self-harm?

For me, sensible eating is remembering to l0ve my body and to listen to it.  To notice when I am really hungry and eat what I am hungry for (slowly, mindfully and without guilt).  And also to notice when I am full, and eating to mask other needs, and to attend to those needs separately (such as the need to face up to an emotion, prospone another task, practise genuine self-care).

Clear as chocolate, huh?  But someone else has thought about these things harder than me, and I’m going to read up.

Mindful, or intuitive eating, is my New Years resolution.

That and to keeping exercising.  Exercise will always be vital.  Not because it makes me look good, but because it makes me feel it.


This Girl Can. Sport England

I stuck to September’s resolution of running the Percy Pud 10K.  Here’s a picture of Bea and I a few minutes after smashing our sub-hour target.




Bea posted a similar selfie on Facebook, with the inevitable torrent of likes and congratulations.  And guess what?  Someone actually commented on her hair.

But much as I’d like to criticise them for that, the reason I posted this picture here and not Bea’s version is that this one makes my chin look subtly “better”.

What can I say?  The grim reality of women judging women (and ourselves) on our appearances is set to continue in 2016.


Kids, Weddings and the Tash



We’re driving to Scotland.

Snowflakes in the windscreen resemble the Star Wars titles.  The kids (thank goodness) have fallen asleep.  Radio 3 is featuring a jazz soloist ‘on electronics,’ which is the sort of soundscape a manatee might swim around to on a nature programme.

‘Do people listen to this stuff for pleasure?’ I ask hubby, ‘Or just so they can call themselves open-minded?’

‘Shhhh!’ says hubby.

The music wells.

‘Listen!  The manatee has seen a fish!’

‘Stop it,’ says hubby.

‘Oh shit,’ I say.


‘I forgot to pack any shoes.’


Last year we got a wedding invitation.

And another.

Then another.

And two more.

I won’t make bus-waiting analogies, but suddenly my family and friends were so busy nuping-up in different corners of the country that my car-tyres and my dress started to look worn.  In fact, I bought a second dress.

I know.

You’d think that having been a bride would make me critical of other couples’ weddings, but I’ve soppily adored them all.  I’m not one of those wedding-describers-and-comparers.  I’ve brought kids; I’m more worried about other people judging me.

Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean nobody’s judging.  Plenty of loved-up thirty-somethings are transparently conscious that society expects them to sprog.  Such couples try to use your example to confirm to themselves that parenting would be amazing (or managable, or terrifying, or the end of their social lives as they know them – all of which are true).  And eveyone comments on your kids’ behaviour.

At weddings  you want to make your children and your parenting look idyllic.  Like Facebook in real life.

Damnit! –  I wasn’t even a perfectionist in the days when all I had to remember were a dress, some shoes and a present.

Nowadays it’s a military operation remembering:

  • my insulin and sweets
  • to disappear my moutache (it’s thick and curly thanks to sprogging hormones)
  • to wash the kids
  • ..and brush their hair
  • a ribbon matching my daughter’s dress (and keep her still enough to apply it)
  • my son’s trousers, shirt and matching socks
  • a spare set for after he vomits
  • nappies
  • food to bribe them with if the photographs take ages
  • wet-wipes for their fingers
  • and of course – when he joins us – cuff-links to put on hubby.

The cuff-links aren’t important; hubby can improvise them from things found around the hotel-room. Some people would cringe if their partner rocked lime-green pipe cleaners, but it’s a fabulous ice-breaker at wedding-breakfast.

Another good ice-breaker:  “it was my fault the bride was so late”.  One time the rain was pouring down, the motorways were slow and the map on my phone kept flipping upside-down and loosing its signal most unhelpfully.  The stupid roads had plenty of decision points but nowhere to pull in.  The kids kept asking ‘Are you lost, Mummy?’  and giggling like hyenas.

I found the hotel.  The staff directed me through the rain to my room without offering to help with my two giant suitcases or two small, trailing children, but I chilled out when I saw my huge, golf-course-view suite.  Said suite was quickly strewn with clothes, disguarded sandwiches, crumbs and dirty nappies while I sorted us all out and packed us back into the car in record time.  We drew up outside the church just as the bride’s father came out to see if the coast was clear for their arrival.  He kindly held things up to let me get the family into position.


Sitting in the service is the most risky part of the day and I’ve learned (the hard way) to sit near an exit.  It’s amazing how much blushing you can do between your pew and the church door.

Years ago, a priest stopped a wedding service I was attending:  ‘everybody.  Listen to that.  A crying baby.  What a beautiful sound.  Now then, who’s going to jiggle him while we say a prayer for crying babies parents….’

At the time I was one of the afore-mentioned thirty-somethings.  Now I look back and wonder how those parents managed to restrain themselves from hugging the guy.

Wedding-breakfasts are great.  Children hate sitting still once they’ve finished throwing food everywhere, so a little club of parents meets in the corridor outside.  They pretend to drink responsibly, selectively listen to the speeches and coo privately over the gorgeous sight of their little ones toddling around.

The fewer Toddlers there are the less sociable the corridor, but also the more you stand out.  Walk anywhere and someone will say:  ‘He went that way.  And isn’t he gorgeous!’

Toddlers are like dogs for getting you into conversations with admiring stangers.  But should the conversation become interesting, it’s hard to stay in one place to see it through.

Who cares?  I’ve had a super time chasing my kids round weddings.  We’ve visited hotels and beaches.  Danced to jazz-bands, discos and ceilidhs.  My daughter had one whole dance-floor doing ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ to Abba.  Couples and guests alike have been wonderfully welcoming of our offspring.




Of course, not every invitation has extended to our kids and I’m pleased about that too, especially since these weddings have been in Scotland where I have willling in-laws. I’d forgotten what it was like to sit still for dinner, and be able to dance and drink too much and to introduce myself to a stanger who doesn’t instantly label me ‘mother’.

The night with the Star-Wars snowflakes, we were due to arrive at the in-laws’ around two am and set off early next day.  I thought I’d save time by waxing my moutache and eyebrows in the car.

The following morning, replacing the forgotten shoes in Edinburgh was easy.  What I couldn’t replace, sadly, were my eyebrows:  they’d completely disappeared.  And there was a big, ugly flesh-crater waxed out of my upper lip, too.

The point is that one can’t always blame one’s kids for one’s social inadequacies.

Perhaps I ‘ll blame the manatee-Jazz.




Clipart from:   Also: and Nate Krien (title picture) @

Colourful Language



My blue hoodie is the thickest, grubbiest, cosiest garment this side of Sheffield.  It’s thready at the cuffs and shapeless to the knees, and definitely something to be inhabited rather than worn.

I love words.  I borrowed some of these from Gormenghast (inmate Fuscia inhabits her dresses) which I was reading when I first spent a night at the-bloke-who-later-became-hubby’s place.  I noticed the hoodie hanging from a hook on his door, decided it’d look nice on me and have cheerfully inhabited it ever since.

As hubby and I got better acquainted, I discovered the semantics of climbing.  Hubby had a rack of nuts and friends and hexes; he talked of jamming his hand into cracks; of redpointing and soloing, lay-backing and smearing, traversing, rocking over and topping out.  It was like being back in year eleven Spanish lessons;  I understood the occasional word and sniggered whenever it sounded rude.  I also loved it that every climb has a name.  My favourite names are Dream of White Horses, The Enchanted Broccoli Garden, Jitterbug and The Sloth.

Anyone who has looked at shades of beige on a paint-chart can tell you that colours also have names more intruiging that what they describe.  Furthermore, when I went for my ‘Colours Done’ there were lots of words for classifying colours – and not one of them was ‘Wavelength’ (the electromagnetic spectrum being far more comprehensible).



‘The word I’ve chosen for you is ‘Soft,” says colour consultant Adele.

‘Soft?’  I look doubtful.

‘Yes.  You suit soft colours rather than bright ones.  I’m going to take soft colours with a warm undertone and compare them to ones with a cool undertone.  Like this -‘

She starts to drape me with coloured cloths.  One is peach;  I shudder.

‘It doesn’t matter whether or not you like peach.  I’m looking to see whether peach likes you.’

As I consider this wild colour-personification, she adds

‘I want to see if it makes your eyes ping out.’

It doesn’t, but I think her descriptions are super.

Once Adele has decided that ‘cool‘ colours like me best, she tries to separate deep colours from pale.  I turn out to be ‘deeper‘ than she thought.  Unlike our poor friend Lucy, who is not only superficial but also ‘difficult‘ – she is between two seasons: ‘on the cusp.’

A person’s ‘Season‘ is arrived at from the warmth, depth and softness of the colours that suit them.  I can’t relate the ‘Seasons‘ to British seasons at all, but then I am an unimaginative scientist.  Here is Katherine, a ‘Snow White Winter,’ with the colours that suit her best:


and Becky, a ‘Sweet-Pea Summer‘ (regular readers will be relieved to know that Becky’s full spectrum includes the red of her dress – although sadly she threw it away).


I am almost a sweet-pea summer myself, but somewhat ‘on the deep side of mid.’  Pink-Floyd would have a field day.  While I am thinking about this, Adele chooses the ‘neutrals‘ that I should use for my everyday basics to ‘hang my colours off.’

We discuss lipstick.  In the interests of trying something new, I let Adele paint my lips.

‘There,’ she says when she has finished.  ‘Now you look beautiful.

I open my mouth and she says, ‘No!  Sometimes we need to accept a compliment and just say ‘thankyou.’ ‘

Great!  So she’s painted another colour over the top of my normal lip colour, announced that in doing this she has made me beautful and I’m supposed to feel complimented?

Becky rolls her eyes.  ‘She means, you look even more beautiful with make-up on because it contrasts with your blue eyes and makes them stand out.’

Back to semantics.  What does ‘beautiful’ mean again?

Pleases the senses or the mind aesthetically (Google).

Wearing lipstick does not please my mind.  I’m uncomfortable taking a drink, smiling, kissing anyone or rubbing my mouth.  I’m a wipe-my-mouth=with-the-back-of-my-hand-very-frequently sort of person. Perhaps it’s because I drool a lot.

I can’t be that pleasing aesthetically, because I look so grumpy in lipstick.  Make-up is not for me.  If i was a man that’d be OK.

Adele has been thinking about men, too.  She says

‘Would your husband not like it if you wore make-up?’


Would it make a better story if I smashed the mirror over someone’s head and made a sanctimonious speech about feminism?  Because I don’t want to;  I’m having a nice time.  Much as I hate to admit it, the feminine ritual of getting together, gossipping, talking about our appearances and so on is lovely.  And even better, the men aren’t hunting mammoth:  they’re looking after our kids.

So I wrinkle my nose and say lightly that my husband’s opinion has nothing to do with it.  These Sheffield climbers are progressive, feminist types, doncha know.  But I don’t think any less of Adele, because it turns out she’s unearthing magic.

There are definitely some colours that make me look and feel stronger, and “make my eyes ‘ping’ out”.  One of the blues in particular is very striking and I have marked it off on a little card in my sample-book.  I need a scrub-top that colour for work.  And to combine it with my darkest neutral to give me more authority.

As I get ready to go, I pull my favourite hoodie over my head.  I chose it deliberately this morning, as though daring any representatives of the beauty industry to comment on the big, smelly dog-blanket of a thing that I love to inhabit.

I am almost disappointed when nobody says a word.

Until Adele notices and shouts out in triumph:

‘Look!  You’re already wearing that blue!’



Annoying People and Leslie Fightmaster

Lesley Fightmaster


I discovered YouTube yoga-teacher Lesley Fightmaster one Saturday.

I often work Saturdays, but that day my calendar had a reassuring square of blank.  What’s more, hubby and the kids had somewhere to be that morning……



Friday had been stressful.  My last patient had been Fido –

Soddit.  Let’s be honest:  no-one calls their dog ‘Fido’.  This is 2015, the midst of an ‘Alfie’ epidemic.

‘Fido’ is a fabrication in liu of a real case (client confidentiality and all that).  His owners had been given great veterinary advice by Yours Truely, on the back of years of training and experience.  Fido’s owners had completely ignored that advice.

It’s not fiction:  it happens regularly.  Perhaps the owners decided not to give Fido his medicine; or insisted on treating his flea allergy with one of those products that Definitely Doesn’t Kill Fleas;  or let him lick out the frying pan despite his recent pancreatitis bout.

Whatever it was, Fido’s owners had made him worse and me furious.

After work, I called at the supermarket for soup.  I like to walk in, grab what I need and get out again.  But I spent too long stuck behind a tiny, frail old lady with an enormous bag on her shoulder.  She was blocking the aisle, looking for her favourite flavour of Covent Garden.  I hovvered with my fists clenched.

Then I got stuck behind a learner driver doing 20MPH in a 40-limit going home.



Back to Saturday morning.

The house was a tip:  hubby had left a trail.   Boxes littered the kitchen work-top; the kids’ sticky porridge dishes were abandoned on the table; hubby’s empty tea-mug, next to the armchair, was already swamped by a thick layer of disguarded pyjamas, toys, shoes, newspapers, works-of-art, banana-skins and – of course – porridge.  Grrr!

On a good day, tidying’s OK.  It introduces calm and coherence to my household; sets my mind in order; helps to reduce any tension.

On a bad day, I’ve just been left with all the fucking cleaning-up again.  I found the lap-top, played some jazz and tidied aggressively.

Interestingly though, I didn’t test my blood sugar.  My doctors gives me excellent advice (based on years of training and experience) but sometimes, you see, I ignore it.  My kids weren’t even there to use as an excuse.

Fido’s owner probably had an excuse.  Perhaps her mother had just died, or perhaps I hadn’t made something clear enough.  Or perhaps she was just distracted, or overwhelmed….

When the floor was clear, I settled down for my yoga session in weeks.  I was dreading the discovery of how far downhill i’d slipped.

Of course, I was a learner driver once.  And I hope to live long enough to be a little old lady who takes forever choosing soup.  I will still want to walk into supermarkets, grab what I need and get out again, but that’s probably all she was trying to do, wasn’t it?

And of course, there are plenty of times when hubby has come home to a messy house on my watch.  Why can’t I just bloody get on with things instead of getting cross and criticising people all the time?

The yoga instructor had a superb cleavage jutting out of an impossibly slim frame, meticulous make-up and stood in front of a magnificent urban view, somewhere with palm-trees, that was probably from her balcony.  Her work-out was one I’d become fond of, tag-lined ‘hardcore.’

It started easily enough.  But within minutes she came to one-sided planks and my shoulders collapsed.  I pressed STOP, decided that maybe I was hypoglycaemic and threw something heavy at the floor.  My own fucking fault, of course.  Stupid diabetes.

Maybe, I thought (crunching sweets a few minutes later) there’s an easier hour-long yoga video.  I started flicking around Youtube and that’s when I found her.  As well as a cool name, Lesley Fightmaster had patterned leggings and a cosy jumper.  No cleavage; no portentious background.  Just a yoga-mat and some grass that could have been in any park in Sheffield.


During the warm-up, she was flapping at something with her hand.

‘There was a little mosquito,’ the commentary explained.

Later she hoiked up her trousers because they were too big and starting to slip.  ‘I’m sorry if that’s distracting.’

And I thought:  ‘That’s like me doing yoga’.

Except that she can do all the poses, obviously.  She did muck up a balance at one point  – ‘I could take it out and make it prettier, but that’s not real life‘ – and I just warmed to her.

I already know that pet owners can’t ‘make’ me angry.  People do what they do, and I interpret it as I choose and I feel the way that I feel.  It’s my own choice how I respond to those feelings.

I responded OK; I talked through the situation very clamly with Fido’s owner and offered my best solution.  I wasn’t rude to the old lady in the supermarket (although I shuold have helped her to find the soup) and I didn’t beep my horn at the Learner Driver.  It’s good to be compassionate.

Hubbies are different though.  I yelled at Hubby when I got home and saw the mess. I got quite angry with myself about that later.

Have you ever noticed that people who want to think harshly of other people are the ones who want to think harshly of themselves?

Lesley Fightmaster is not hard on herself.

‘It’s about Practice,’ she says, transitioning into some side-planks.

‘Show up, do your best and let the results go.’

I found myself smiling and doing the side-planks with her.  It felt luxurious but was actually quite essential, to have the space to stretch my body again.


Where Coffee = Compassion

Autumn woman against a fence and maple leaveswoman against a fence, maple leaves


What will happen, asked my friend Claire, if I knock on your door on Halloween Night?

I considered suggesting that my daughter (who thinks she’s Elsa from Frozen) would turn her into a pumpkin.  (An ice-pumpkin.  Obviously).

Luckily I didn’t promise that, because by the time Halloween came round I was sick of pumpkins.  Having popped into a budget supermarket to buy some milk around the beginning of October, I’d acquired two massive ones.  I’d declined to pay for carrier bags and of course mine were still in the car.  The only practical way to lift up and carry two pumpkins without a bag made me vulnrable to the smirks of other shoppers.

Anyway.  I got my pumpkins back to the car and tucked them away under my coat.  Then I forgot all about them.  Until three weeks later, when I decided to investigate a new and putrid smell that had started to emanate from the rear seats.  I reached under a coat; my hand penetrated rotten pumpkin skin and plunged into slimy flesh.  Why hadn’t I remembered to carve the blasted things?!

It’s because I’d been distracted.  In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, I’ve been working damned hard.  I’ve also been studying neurology, looking for a babysitter, making plans to exercise  – and usually cancelling or rearranging said plans.

The whole family has been ill in the space of a fortnight, there’s a slow puncture on my front left car-tyre and the tumble-dryer’s on the blink.  I’ve also been meaning to buy some new work-shoes ever since I wore mine to fish my daughter out of some quick-sand a few weeks ago, but I’ve never quite made it to the shops.  One morning I hurried out without my bank-card.  I ended up having an argument at a petrol station about my right to pay for the £5.00 worth of petrol that I needed to get home, with the scrumpled up Scottish fiver that I had excavated from a pocket.  I drove home still arguing with the guy.

Autumn makes a lot of people think about death, but it doesn’t do that for me.  Autumn is about survival.  Even the trees are like wild working parents; a bit untidy with mussed-up hair, bodies under stress, branches not knowing which way to bend, the signs of aging suddenly apparent.  They support creepy-crawlies, birds, squirrels, fungii.  It’s a good job they’ve got big roots.

Times are rough.  You know the fog that insulates your mind a little bit too much?  The vortex of wind that skitters leaves about?  You know the cold rain that can never decide which horizontal direction to rain in, but always manages to ooze between your neck and collar bone?

Bonfire night was cold and damp.  Navigating to the blaze was a bit of a project (the whole family and our friend Fred crammed into my little car, which still sported a temporary mini-wheel because of the puncture).  Getting two kids across a busy, dark field wasn’t easy.  I went off and found burgers, apple juice and magic flashy balls, then elbowed through the crowd and located my family again.  My daughter whined inconsolably:  she had apparenly wanted a toffee-apple and a light-sabre instead.  I said something harsh but I let her lean on me to watch the bonfire.  She’s a strong, heavy leaner.  I fell over onto the mud a fair few times – I wish I’d gone to the bonfire in my quick-sand-damaged work-shoes, but I hadn’t thought of that.  My trousers and a second pair of shoes got trashed.  I might have sworn a bit. I might have moaned when I realised that she wasn’t actually watching the fireworks.

I’m glad I watched them.  They were stunning.  I just wish I’d been less grumpy about it.

‘Do you think,’ Fred said later, in a gentle way that he has, ‘that you would benefit from being more calm?’

‘Maybe I could learn mindfulness.’ I said.

We were sitting in the living room, forced by the darkness to spend the evening inside.

‘Do you know about mindfulness, Fred?’

We began to Talk.

Which makes me mindful of returning to Claire, who did indeed knock on our door on Halloween Night.  What happened?  She was invited into our chaotic, untamable home, handed a beer and settled down into the leaf-litter to gossip, of course, just like Fred and I were doing now.

Remembering that autumn trees are beautiful.  Listening to the trees rustling outside.  Plotting survival.


Changing my Colours

Here is Becky wearing her red dress:


Becky loves her red dress.  She’s pretty tall and she stands taller when she’s wearing it.

But someone has pointed out that red is not Becky’s colour…..

Oh Dear!

“What if I’ve got it wrong?  What if I’ve been going round all this time in my beloved dress, and it actually looks shit?”

What, indeed?  I reiterate:   she doesn’t look shit.  But apparently it’s not mine – or even Becky’s – opinion that matters.  Becky wants to know what’s ‘right’.

It frustrates me that anyone should be worrying about looking ‘right’.  How come there are ‘wrong’ ways to look?  Why – for example – is it ‘good’ to look ‘youthful’ in a world where aging is the only thing everybody has in common?  Our very culture sets people up for failure.

Anyway.  Where were we?  Becky’s red dress.

Becky has a solution.  She’s going to get her ‘Colours Done.’

That means, she’s found a person prepared to relieve her of quite a lot of cash and drape her with different cloths and tell her which colours are ‘right.’

She is Facebook-fishing for people to go with her.

FFS.  I am a strong independent feminist whose confidence is Defintiely Not connected to what I look like.  Becky should be like that, too.

My reply is regrettable: I am so scathing that I temporarily forget to reply considerately.  Then I remember something.  My best-dressed Auntie suggested I got my colours done……

While I hesitate, Bea clears her throat.

Bea is a woman who can always defend her position in an argument.  Which must be useful because she has some pretty radical positions.  But I wasn’t expecting this:

‘My parents bought me my ‘colours’ as an eighteenth birthday present. 

It was possibly the best gift they could have given me.’

Bea says that she spends very little time shopping because she goes straight for the Right colours.  She never buys things that she later regrets because she buys the Right Colours.

Moreover, she says she looks great in everything she wears, because she wears the Right Colours.

Endurer Events picture

I nearly fall off my chair.  Mostly in admiration.  Bea publicly admits that she looks good?  Is this a real, live woman talking?


But back to colours.

It is undoubtedly true that some colours suit some people better than others.  Even I can see that.  A quick google shows that Bea does seem to choose colours that compliment her and perhaps this is linked to the fact that she looks good.

Further, Bea says, ‘Whatever you think about the woo-woo world of colours, I enourage you to support a friend who chooses to invest in herself.  She is worth it.’

There is an arugment here.  Maybe society shouldn’t make such a ‘thing’ of people’s appearances, but it does.  Appearances matter to Bea and Becky.  There is no point saying ‘they shouldn’t’:  you can’t tell a person what to feel.

So if Becky can hand over some cash and come away feeling that she has done something nice for herself – if it gives her confidence in her wardrobe akin to Bea’s – then perhaps it might be a good use of money?

In fact, what’s my problem?  Someone’s going to suggest that Becky picks colours off the clothing rail that compliment her features, not tell her she’s inadequate or should change her weight or inject toxins into her face.  Perhaps having your colours done isn’t a slur on feminism…

My sticking point is still the implication that Becky’s current taste in dresses might be labelled inadequate, or ‘wrong.’

This person who ‘does’ your colours – what do you call them, anyway?  ‘Colourist’ is a different thing.  The ‘Expert’?  The ‘Rainbow’?  The ‘Oracle’?  – how is their opinion ‘right?’  Surely colour is an aesthetic judgement?

I try asking Bea what would have happened if, in a parallel universe, they’d handed her a ‘wrong’ shade of blue as she’d walked out of the door.  Would she have led a less successful life?

It’s a difficult question to answer; Bea says she knows intuitively if her colours are ‘off.’

So I try my other criticism of Bea’s arguments:  is she sure she doesn’t look good for some other reason?  Because of her hair-cut or her figure or her confident stance or because of being in love or because of her engaging eye-contact?  Or even the confidence that believing her colours are right has given her?

Bea says that despite all this, she’d look ill wearing beige.  Or orange.

Orange isn’t my colour either.  My favourite running-top is orange and I know it clashes with my face, espcially when I turn red after a couple of miles.  But I wear it because I like it and I defy anyone to say I look ‘wrong’.  Wearing my orange top doesn’t damage my self esteem.

The start of the Wirksworth Undulator. I'm in orange.Although – I admit I do feel a bit awkward when I’m wearing clothes I’m not happy in.  And I definitely stand a bit taller if I’m wearing something that I beleive makes me look postively good.

So maybe I, too, would benefit from knowing what colours were deemed to suit me best?  Even if I still decided to wear orange…..

“How much is it?” asks hubby.

I look at the numbers on the screen.

“I’m not telling you,” I say.

Only stupid people never change their minds in an argument. My curiosity has been piqued and I am going to get my colours done with Becky.  Perhaps I will become radicalised:  perhaps I will come back discussing ‘better’ or ‘worse’ or ‘my’ or ‘not my’ colours.  Using phrases like ‘Spring moving through to Summer.’  But maybe I might learn something, too.

As Bea says, ‘I want to be the best version of myself that I can be.’

Yet no matter whether the Oracle says, there is one thing on which I won’t be moved.

it will always be my opinion that Becky looked fab in this dress: