Monday, 28 September 2009


I listen to a lot of music, and I am quite eclectic in my tastes. I grew up on the Beatles and the Stones, followed by Bowie and Roxy Music. I have a good chunk of prog rock in my collection, especially the wonderful Pink Floyd. I think Jarvis Cocker (in and out of Pulp) is absolutely brilliant. I can sing along to most of the Great American Songbook, and I love all kinds of jazz. I can listen to anything, really, except rap, and drum & bass.

The thing I always stick with, however else my tastes may change, is baroque music - Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann, Corelli.... As a household we didn't listen to much classical music. Mum is a big Bing Crosby fan, and Dad was tone deaf. I can still remember the joy that came over me when I discovered Bach, on a second-hand record - 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' and 'Sheep May Safely Graze'.

Music can lift me whatever my mood. I recently heard this on BBC Radio 3, and wanted to share it with you. I hope it lifts you, too.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Good news - of a kind

I am feeling huge relief today. I received the results of my application for renewal of my disability benefits, for which I had the recent medical.

Last time I was awarded high rate mobility and high rate care (the top awards) for a period of two years. This has been the norm for the past ten years. This time I received the same award - for an indefinite period of time.

I was shaking so much I could hardly show Richard the letter - no more renewal forms (30 pages of tricky questions), and no more worry!

When the euphoria wore off a bit, I saw the other side of this. Indefinite means they don't expect me to improve substantially from where I am now. As I have lost weight, I have noticed a difference in my ability to breathe, and to walk - but although they feel like big differences to me, in the overall picture of my health, they are fairly insignificant. I've been ill so long now that I have lost my yardstick of what being well feels like, and sometimes a good day feels like more of a step forward than it really is.

Certainly the expression of shock on the doctor's face, when he came in to do the medical, should have said volumes to me. His first words were, after all, 'Well, I really don't know why they've sent me out to you - you're clearly very unwell.'

See, inside my head, I still feel like me. I'm so used to making accommodations for the things I can no longer do that I kid myself I feel no different from when I was working, studying, swimming, singing and acting, back before I got ill. Then I get a reminder like this - and it hits a little hard.

I don't believe in giving in, and I won't let this get me down. But maybe I should take a little more care to make sure that I don't get any worse.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Show us humanity

There have been several programmes on BBC Radio recently about Tennyson, as this year is the 200th anniversary of his birth. In one, a modern soldier read part of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'. He explained how well Tennyson captured the confusion of battle, and how he emphasised the bravery of the soldiers and the stupidity of the generals. The young man seemed very touched that someone outside the battle had cared enough about the disaster of it to commemorate it in verse. Paradoxically, it is only because of this poem that anyone apart from military historians knows the battle today.

Similarly, what would our images of World War I be without poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Thomas? We would have the photographs, films and other archive materials, but nothing gets across the horror and the human tragedy of life in the trenches with the immediacy of the poetry.

Modern wars still seem to be about the ordinary soldiers taking the risks, while the generals stay well out of the firing line. We are sending children into battle, children who are fighting other children. We are bombarded with images and footage of war on TV, but we rarely hear from the individual soldiers about the horror of their daily experiences. The more film we see of explosions, and the less we hear from the combatants, the more modern warfare starts to resemble some huge video game.

We need people who remind everyone of the human cost and the barbarity of war. We need to be reminded that the little figures we see running on the news are individual people, with lives and thoughts - and emotions which are being crippled as much as their bodies are by the horror of their experiences.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A better day

Things have slowly improved over the week, and now I feel just about my old self again. Part of the problem was that, the previous Saturday, I was putting together my Meeting's newsletter, to a deadline, and had as usual left it to the last minute. My computer went on a go-slow, and what should have been a happy couple of hours, cutting and pasting and popping in bits of clip art, turned into a six-hour slog.

By the time I switched off the computer I literally could not see straight. Any noise was painful, and I had trouble moving. I slept very badly, and the next day, although my hearing and vision were more normal, I was still very foggy-brained. I announced that my CD player was broken, because it was too quiet and wouldn't respond to the volume control - and realized on the following day that I had been turning up the volume with the radio tuning knob.....

I had to have a medical at the end of the week to assess my ongoing eligibility for disability benefits, and this bad turn did at least remind me what a fragile hold I have over my health. (The medical went very smoothly, by the way, although it also reminded me how ill I am, which was not so good!)

The whole episode has left me with two abiding thoughts: don't leave all the newsletter stuff till the last moment; and don't overdo it. Not cheerful, perhaps, but very necessary.