Thursday, 15 April 2010

Slippery words are us

I've just returned from a 12 day holiday in south west France, where we took in a few days' skiing, hiking, site-seeing and a visit to friends.

It was a lovely break, though one during which my writing muse completely left me.

I found myself wrestling so much with the French language, groping for words mid-sentence and looking like an asphyxiating fish, that my facility with written words in English disappeared as well.

As a result, on my return to my desk today I find my writing approach to be verbose, to say the least. English words are fighting for their position on the page, nudging and shoving and bumping each other like determined commuters on an over-crowded train.

Tomorrow I'm speaking to the Swindon Philosophical Society about hypocrisy. My talk is probably going to last about 40 minutes. This is a deliberate ploy to reduce the amount of time for questions - because sitting and concentrating and answering questions is exhausting if it goes on for too long.

Tonight is the first election debate featuring all the leaders of the 3 main parties. I am very excited. Great timing for my talk. No doubt there will be oodles of material to choose from.

Just hope they get their words out better than I could last week.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

End of the line for localism?

The Tories and New Labour have both made announcements today about the importance of local communities taking more responsibility for running public services.

David Cameron calls this the next Big Idea and wants to see every adult in the country actively involved in at least one community group.

Labour wants to see Surestart users as stakeholders in the service.

Everyone's getting very excited and the LibDems - the still small voice of reasonableness that everyone ignores - are pointing out that people are too over-burdened finiancially and exhausted physically and mentally to think of dashing out to this or that community committee of an evening.

So who's right?

Is it the LibDems who seem to be pointing to a grim reality where the majority of people would rather grudgingly reheat a TV dinner for the kids and then collapse in front of the soaps in their free-time?

Or is the assumption that the two main parties are making correct? Are people really prepared to give up their leisure to make a bigger difference personally to their local experience?

Put like this I think they are, and I think the assumption is right. People are naturally resourceful and resilient and want to be self-sufficient. As individuals we are motivated to act and make a difference for ourselves and others. A whole self-help industry is based on the human desire to become self-actualised in service of others. (Honest.)

However, put these assumptions into the mouths of politicians in the run-up to a general election and all of a sudden what sounded like a fabulous sociological goal becomes, unfortunately, little more than politicised twaddle.

While localism was the preserve of ideological publications, rarefied courses at Schumacher college and the life-long,extraordinarily prescient rants of auricularly well-endowed heirs to the throne, it was an acceptable notion, freely available for anyone to examine, reflect upon and consider applying in their own lives.

But now, like teenagers whose musical tastes are dictated by peer pressure, we have most likely been united against the idea of localism by the political gangs who have recently espoused it as the probable basis of their future policies.

Listening to their latest tit-for-tatting on the subject invokes an involuntary twitch of our collective auto-dumbing down muscle.

This saddens me. I'm all for reducing food miles and building self-sustaining communities, and I just hope there's still some mileage left in this Big Idea.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Normal operation is resumed

Quite incredible. Just like clockwork my dark, paranoid and hopeless mood lifted completely as soon as my cycle began again. I literally went from fuzzy-headedness to clarity in the space of a few minutes, and I suddenly couldn't relate whatsoever to my previous outlook.

How can that be? How can someone change so quickly? That's Jeckyll and Hyde that is. Unnerving. No wonder women sometimes feel like they're going mad. No wonder they drive everyone else mad in the process.

So here I am looking at another dynamic week in the building of my writing business. Sarah a very nice web-site designer came to talk to me today. I'm full of ideas for my new site, with lots of updates and blog entries to attract the attention of Google. I have no doubt that these will appear with utmost regularity in weeks 1 and 2 and possibly 3. But week 4? Forget it. Oh yeah, I already did.

But you've got to admit that another reason PMS might not be taken too seriously is because women ourselves can't be exactly sure we've had it. Or that what we've had really happened, because it seems sooo completely unrelated to who we are and how we behave before and after. The only way to be truly sure is to pay very close attention...

Better get on - oodles of things to be getting on with. I'm making use of this hormone high while it lasts.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Sussed it!

Day 25 of my cycle. Already there have been flashes of anger, high emotion and libido. (Not that I'm complaining about that one!)

And as the week forges on I'm aware of heightened irritations. Why doesn't my daughter go to bed when she's told, get up when she's told, eat her dinner, have a wash?

Occasionally there's a rising sense of panic and confusion in my head as lots of things want to get done at once - but I don't seem to have the energy nor the mental capacity to do any of them.

I've noticed a severe aversion to noise and sudden movement. So sitting next to my 6 year old at mealtimes, with her constant humming/singing/wittering and her relentless fidgeting/waving her arms/jigging about, all of which I usually consider charming and characterful, is driving me to distraction just now.

In the final week of the cycle, the three musketeers oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone (D'artagnan wasn't strictly a musketeer you know) are at their all time low. For many women this triggers physical and emotional symptoms, and it would appear that I'm no exception. Headaches, moodiness, restlessness and tiredness neatly counter-balanced with insomnia are regular visitors this week, but I think I've found the solution.

Since my brain refuses to work very well, and can't seem to engage, I've discovered that the best way for me to spend my week 4 is in doing lots of exercise and then getting to bed as early as I can. Golf, cycling and Pilates are my physical activities of choice this week, and I don't think it's a bad thing to give the entire week over to sport and sleep. I've often read that PMS is alleviated by taking exercise, though that never really landed with me until I paid close attention to my own experience.

Sitting in front of my computer being consumed by unproductive restlessness, an inability to concentrate and a creeping sense of failure isn't going to do me any favours. The most I can do in this situation is write a list - and trust that the more focussed and multi-tasking weeks to come at the beginning of my cycle will take care of it all.

Meanwhile, see you on the first tee.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Write it down!

One of the things that is really helpful through the menstrual cycle, and indeed for any other health related issue that needs careful scrutiny, is to keep a journal of symptoms, thoughts, feelings and experiences. Within the space of a few months this gives a clear insight into what to expect at different points in the month, and how your body "behaves" throughout the cycle.

Having a symptom journal is also most helpful for GPs to refer to in order to help with diagnosis and treatment, and they will often recommend that women spend a few months building up a journal before making a diagnosis. So better to build one in advance of an appointment at the doctor's.

In my experience, writing a journal throughout my cycle has actually contributed to a lessening of my symptoms. There is something in this about becoming more self-aware and developing greater understanding about what's going on. I also think there is something very strong and healthy about making a conscious decision to accept and observe my symptoms, rather than struggling against them, denying them and trying to get rid of them.

Journalling works in this way for me in all areas of my life. It helps keep me sane! My journal is a place for lists, reminders, rants, dreams, intentions, and wishes, as well as symptoms. It is a place for my voice and my ideas, and it is where I give myself a good talking to occasionally.

So if you're at the end of your tether with PMS, facing the menopause with trepidation or dealing with any other issue or difficulty that life might be throwing at you, grab a notebook and write it down. It helps get things back on the straight and narrow.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

On second thoughts.....

Ooh, on reflection, yesterday's blog felt a little bit personal.

"Who wants to read about my monthly cycle?" the voice in my head demanded to know this morning. "What do you think you're doing - better to just keep it to yourself.." it went on.

Ordinarily thoughts like these would have me retreating into my hollow, keeping my head down, and feeling all churned up inside like I'm over-stepping the mark and I should just keep quiet. It might even force me to hide what I've written from the possibility of public scrutiny - maybe even delete my last entry. And then I'd start to feel all disappointed, that I haven't put myself across in the way I'd like to, and that I've missed an opportunity. "Doh" the voice inside my head would say. Can't win.

However, this morning, I remembered that I'm on day 17 of my cycle. I've gone over the hump as it were. Oestrogen levels are starting to dip, progesterone is on the ascendency. The certainty and purposefulness of the last couple of weeks, when oestrogen and testosterone were on the rise, have worn off; now is a time ripe for reflection and second thoughts.

Having second thoughts has got such negative connotations. Getting cold feet, crying wolf, and losing heart are all phrases associated with those occasions when we momentarily stop to check ourselves. The trouble is in many cases the checking isn't just momentary. Instead the checking destroys the action.

This is due in part to our personal lack of self-confidence, which may in itself come from a lack of understanding about ourselves. It may also be due to the cultural aversion we have to making u-turns, not seeing things through, not being completer-finishers, or simply changing our minds.

Our culture demands decisiveness. It craves ambition and accomplishment at a fast testosterone-fuelled pace. This is a very male perspective on the world.

If on the other hand we understand that reflectiveness is a vital part of the success equation, and that as women we are biologically predisposed to it during the course of our cycle, it becomes something to celebrate rather than to fear. Armed with this understanding and awareness we can do something positive in response to what we are experiencing,rather than ignore it or, what's worse, allow it to morph into inner sabotage.

So, here I am in reflective mode. As a result I've written 2 blog entries in a 24 hour period - heretofore unprecedented; have a new idea for a short story, and oodles of other thoughts about reworking existing stories; a idea for a novel; and have outlined my talk on hypocrisy for the Philosophical Society in April.

This time of second thoughts definitely has a different feel about it - a bit more dreamy, a bit less multi-tasking and list-ticking, AND it is still in its own way just as productive.

On second thoughts, I'll carry on anyway.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Riding the hormonal wave

Here at Stillpoint we are getting excited about our first "Being a Woman" retreat weekend in September, dedicated to helping women become more aware of their monthly cycles. We are wanting to work with women to embrace rather than resist the fluctuations we experience every 28 or so days - and to discover what riches of learning and self-awareness lie that way.

PMS, periods and the menopause bizarrely remain taboo subjects in our society. Even as women we tend at worst to poo-poo the effects of hormonal change, at best to make a joke out of them and brush over the difficulties we might experience as a result.

Career success for women is still sadly about having a male attitude and approach, in which period pains, moodiness, hot flushes and dipping energy levels just don't make sense.

As someone who has experienced symptoms of PMS, including irritability, tearfulness, anxiety and exhaustion, I am curious about what difference we might make in our lives if instead of suscribing to the sweep it under the carpet approach we actually spoke more openly about what we experience, and looked for hidden strengths in our symptoms rather than viewing them as some form of inconvenient illness.

So , I have been paying close attention to where I am in my cycle, and making a mental or journal note about what's going on for me at various times. I had this vague notion that PMS made me very angry and easily provoked, but until I started closely observing and reflecting on my behaviour it was very difficult to understand what was going on. So month after month I would just get cross, and then the fact that I couldn't really understand why I was getting cross would make me even crosser. An extremely vicious cycle within a cycle.

The next few blog entries are going to be about what I'm noticing as I go through the month - my moods, thoughts and emotions, and how I'm dealing with them, as well as what they mean and a little bit of why they're happening.

In the meantime - happy surfing!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Winning Return of Masterchef

Thanks to the Winter Olympics, Masterchef has made a delayed come-back to our screens this season. But how fantastic to have Greg and John back, cringeing and salivating at turns over contestants' attempts to pursue their dreams in food.

One of the things that really impresses me about this programme is how the producers frequently tweak the formula from one series to the next. There's flexibility, the sense that this is a moveable feast, in a good way. So instead of one person crashing out of the competition having failed a taste test, which used to drive my hubby mad, this time round they get kicked out based on their cookery skill - or comparative lack of it. Seems much fairer.

It's even noticeable how the photography in the programme changes. Last year flash backs from previous programmes provided us with washed out shots of the contestants' concoctions, which looked neither appetising nor visually pleasing on the screen. Sloppy seconds are never appealing. But this time the producers have reserved the sepia tinge for the people rather than the food, so we don't all feel like throwing up at eight o'clock in the evening.

The thing that makes Masterchef such great TV - apart from its obvious attraction to a nation of armchair chefs - is that it is about real people trying to make their dreams come true. It's full of "journeys" and "passion" and "life-changing" moments, which are admittedly starting to sound rather jaded, but which are nonetheless strangely fascinating. We like to see people laying everything on the line, exposing their innermost desires and becoming extremely vulnerable in the process. It is the place where genuine genius can be found - and indeed has been over the past few series of the programme, discovering real culinary talent and launching glittering careers for the winners.

I like to put myself into the shoes of the contestants as they make their way from the quarter to the semi-finals. I like to imagine the euphoria they must feel at getting to the next step, the specialness of having someone praise your efforts to produce something delicious. Sometimes knowing it's good yourself is not quite the same as having someone else declare yours the best. Sometimes there is no feeling quite like being told you are the winner.

Monday, 1 March 2010

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - then beat 'em

It is over a week now since Pratt-gate broke across the airwaves, shocking charitable counselling and support services with its blatant breach of confidentiality, and shaking Downing Street with its allegations of bullying in the Cabinet office.

I have to admit that I have taken at least a week to recover. I'm not good around such overt displays of betrayed confidences and tattered professional integrity. Makes my skin crawl. Makes me want to shout.

Looks like Max Clifford has done a good job though, as the National Bullying Helpline is up and running once again, with a message of gratitude from a caller given prominent display. Thank goodness for Christine that when Maxi posed the challenge to stick to her guns, she remembered the real reasons she set up the helpline in the first place.

During the week's frantic coverage about Andrew Rawnesley's allegations, that then seemed to be substantiated by the lady-in-pink from Swindon, some internet forum comments called for the repeal of the workplace bullying laws that Gordon Brown's government were so keen to implement. Claims were made about how such laws have done little but contribute to the victim mindset prevalent in an overly litigious society.

The tragedy of Gordon Brown is that he is a man not quite up to the job he’s dreamed about for so long, and his angry outbursts are, by his own admission, directed more at himself than others.

Nevertheless, his gift, rather unintendedly, could be a trend in workplaces around the country to eschew legal proceedings and approach conflict resolution in a more balanced way. After all if you can't beat the Pratts, you might as well join them, and then beat them at their own game of keeping things out of the courts.

The nation has caught a glimpse of the snapping alligators lurking underneath the tightrope of unresolved dysfunction in the workplace. Maybe it'll persuade us all to try a bit harder in the first place. Prevention is better than cure after all.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Life-sentence for one mistake

What would it feel like to be forced to change your career, be prevented from working with the people you choose, in the job you love and are skilled at, all because, during a time when you weren't at your best due to illness, you made a mistake?

Today I met a lady who is trying to put her life back together after this pretty much happened to her. The mistake she made was, admittedly, quite serious and potentially dangerous, but in the end noone died or was harmed.

At the time the lady explained that she was suffering from depression, and had allowed herself and her home to get into a mess. An unfortunate accident alerted neighbours, who raised the alarm. Having 2 children at home meant that social services got involved, and the lady was served a caution for child neglect. and yet, rather than being treated with compassion and support, this single mum was made a pariah.

Of course when cases like Baby P hit the headlines we are all sickened and are desperate to see more stringent measures against child abuse. Remorselessly abusive individuals must be prevented from having access to children and other vulnerable people, and somehow the law must deal with this.

However when decent, ordinary people get into difficulties due to personal circumstances and health issues, it's extremely sad that they are tarred with the same brush instead of getting the help and support they need.

As a result of her mistake, as a result of others' insensitivity and prejudice, and as a result of inflexible new legal restrictions, this intelligent and articulate lady now finds herself with a criminal record, no career as she was sacked from her job, and total uncertainty about the kinds of references her former employers are writing for her.

Nevertheless she is taking action, looking for new opportunities for herself and not allowing herself to dwell on the injustice she feels she has experienced.

We all make mistakes. We'd like to think that we can be forgiven for them. Instead this courageous lady will carry a prison sentence around with her for the rest of her life.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Bad Science plagues us once again

As Swindon becomes the first metropolitan area to have its own wi-fi blanket, there is a lot of public concern in the town about the safety of electromagnetic frequency radiation. Same with mobile phone masts. Noone wants a comms company to put a mast at the bottom of their garden, nor adjacent to the school their children attend.

Quite so. The inverse square law indicates that the closer one is to an emf transmitter such as a mobile phone mast or handset, or a wi-fi base station, the greater the power. And it's not necessarily a good thing to hang out there too long.

However the inverse square law also indicates that the power decreases rapidly with distance. So the power in the middle of the street 30m away from a wi-fi base station is 900 times weaker than at 1m. And a mobile phone's field is 10 000 times less 1m away from you than when its 1cm away from your ear.

This all seems like common sense. Furthermore emf radiation has been bouncing around the place forever, not just in the cosmic background radiation that has been bombarding us since the Big Bang, but also more recently in the TV and radio emissions we take for granted, never once thinking that having too many episodes of Eastenders bouncing around the ether might be in any way bad for our health. Ahem.....

So why oh why do certain alarmist members of the public choose to wave scare stories under our noses about the dangers of this and that radiation from too many transmission masts? Seeming technical experts write impassioned and authoritative sounding letters to local rags, whipping up public feeling against the encroachment of new technologies whose safety record hasn't been proven (similar to the Eastenders argument I would suggest.)

Upon closer inspection these correspondents' sources, themselves presented as 'technical experts' and members of this and that [pseudo] scientific community, are revealed to be pedlars of products to combat the adverse effects of the wrong type of electromagnetic radiation, to the tune of between £50 and £150 a whack.

Conspiracy theoirists abound, and are all the more convincing for their confidence and charisma. And what is astonishing is that their arguments become more compelling for innocent members of the public than the fundmental scientific facts freely available to anyone who cares to look in any Physics A level text book. The clue is in the difference between ionising and non-ionising frequencies. First type bad, second type not so, and also the type we're talking about with emf radiation.

I guess this is what Richard Dawkins would call the God Delusion - our in-built propensity to want to believe in a baseless unlikelihood over actually checking the ubiquitous and readily available facts.