Lurgy, the Protestant Work Ethic, & Me

Most raccoons’ worth ethic is simple, ie, 1) eat,  2) make more raccoons.

Warnings for: self pity, hacking cough, the smell of onions, strong likelihood of swearing.

I spotted the happy looking little chap with the bow tie, and arresting blue eyes, over the weekend, at a writing day with some writerly friends. We, and our laptops, were at Doncopolitan HQ, here in Donny town. It’s an old Co-op building which those nice chaps and girl bosses at Doncopolitan magazine share with several small businesses.

I highly recommend Donco HQ to anyone in the area who is looking for space to have a similar event, including a band looking for a place to practice. There’s plenty of space to write, chat, and relax, plus a kitchen in which to prepare your cuppa, or lunch. Plus, we got to use their mugs:

Mugs advertising a recent play about the local coal mines

For those who don’t already know, Doncopolitan Magazine is a free ‘zine which carries articles about everything from art, to pubs, to gigs, and social issues, for and about the town of Doncaster. It’s been going for at least two years now, and as well as writing a few pieces, I’ve been reading it from the start.

Gerald C Dalek and I reading the first Doncopolitan.

I’m sitting here, writing this blog, whilst eating the stinkiest food possible – spring onions, regular onions, & garlic; all that’s missing is curry – and feeling slightly guilty about calling in sick earlier today. The Beloved assures me it’s not the first time since working in mental health that I’ve rung in sick due to a physical problem, rather than a mental one. Feels like it, though.

Damn that Protestant work ethic of mine. Even though I know that night shifts & a bad case of the lurgy do not mix, not if I want to do a proper job that is, I still feel bad about not reporting to work. I had to cancel a CBT appointment, too, not something I’m thrilled about, either. I’m sure it’s possible for me to reflect my conversion of 20 + years ago, and develop a Pagan work ethic, but how would it differ, beyond taking home as much recycling, and compost, as possible? (1)

Suggestions on a postcard – or, better yet, the comments section below – please.

Adding to my guilt, for no good or useful reason whatsoever, is that I had a really good, productive time at yesterday’s writing day. I wrote most of Chapter 4 of my work in progress (WIP), and made decent headway into Chap 5, which also represents the 2nd of 9 intended sections. I ran out of steam around four-ish, and gratefully accepted a friend’s offer of a lift home, as the lurgy had started to really go for the (sore) throat.

We interrupt this blog for two definitions of lurgy:

  1. My, non-native speaking, description: “A horrid something which is more than a cold, less than the flu, and involves some, or – if you’re really up shite creek, looking mournfully for that fuckin’, missing paddle – all of the following: lethargy, aches and pains, snot, sore throat, hacking cough, sneezing, and – if you’ve well and truly been stuffed by life, and germs – sick.”
  2. The dictionary definition of lurgy: “noun (facetious) any undetermined illness”.

Huh. Get you, dictionary. I think my definition is a lot more interesting than yours. Not that it matters: if you’ve got the lurgy, you still feel pants.

Writing companions: Nothing to do with the lurgy, really: I just thought that yellow chap looked well cute.

(1) Something I’ve been doing for awhile now.

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Like Wheat that Springeth Green: Easter

Rabbit in the green: April 2017

Most adults accept that, even after great loss, in some form at least, love will come again. After bereavement, though grief never truly leaves us, there is always love enough out there for new friendships, perhaps a new partner, or a new birth.

“There is no loss without love; there is no love without loss.”

Always, there are ways of honouring our beloved dead. When I feed the wild birds in our garden, I honour my father, who fed them; my mother, who watched them; and my father in law, who did both. This Easter morning, I put out a mix of seed, sunflower seeds, and mealworms on the old bird table his eldest son, my Beloved, rescued from my in laws’ garden, shortly before their house was sold:

An Easter feast, April 2017

One of my tasks for this spring into summer is to repair Dad’s bird table, by doing some small repairs, painting both parts a jolly colour with some protective paint, then re-attaching the “house” section to the table.

Bird table shelter + favourite watering can

Holidays often bring a keener sense of loss, as we go over memories of what we used to do, and with who. Such a sense of nostalgia does not necessarily represent literal death, but more the death of relationships, and / or the cruelties of distance.

For example, it crossed my mind earlier this weekend to take a bottle of white vinegar from the cupboard, and smell it. Weird? Yes, and no. The smell of vinegar can bring back memories of dying hard boiled eggs with my brother, and my father, back when I was a kid. Both of them are still alive. However, it’s nearly a decade since I’ve seen my brother, and around five years since I’ve seen Dad.

When I’m not in a bipolar depression, I’m a fairly sociable person. So in that five years, more so in that 10, I’ve made a number of friends, and warm acquaintances. Some of those friends are quite dear to me. More recently, I’ve become friendly with at least two people who I can see a real possibility of good friendships.

A dear friend of nearly two years: April 2017

Likewise, children have been born, including one who I owe an “Easter book”. The Easter book was a big, looked forward to part of my childhood: one which sometimes included two Easters, thanks to the Romanian Orthodox side of the family. One of the staples of my childhood was the holiday bread, “colac”, which Mama Buna, my Romanian grandmother, baked for Easter, and Christmas.

We’re lucky to live a short distance from a shop run by a lovely Kurdish fellow, which stocks a lot of Romanian food. I didn’t find any colac, but I did get a beautiful cake called “cozonac”: beautiful because I just had two tasty pieces of it, for my breakfast.

I recognise the words “cozonac” and “si” (and). Sadly, that’s about it.

Whether you celebrate Easter in a religious or secular way; or whether, like me, you’re a Pagan for whom it’s another day to observe how “the green blade[s] riseth”, I wish you joy.

Rabbit with wild violets, and a Dutch tulip: Spring

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Being Doctor Daisy

It’s a start: phrenology head locket, from Rewind.plus beautiful notebook from Waterstone’s.

The Holmes side is … crawling with spies. The Mycroftian branch … spends so much time undercover, they never travel anywhere without a duvet.” – Dr Margeurite “Daisy” LeStrade, from “Sherlock Jones & the Hound of the Basingstokes”.

Today’s tune is “A Cup of Brown Joy,” by Professor Elemental. Because you can’t get much more Steampunk, and jolly, than this. Plus, I love tea:

A cup of brown, caffineated joy.

Dressing up at a Steampunk, Doctor Who, Cosplay, etc, convention, can be a way of letting our child-self out to play, in a safe environment. Safe, because we’re surrounded by other people who are also playing in the same colourful sand pit. Plus, our play time is limited: just for that day, that weekend, that week.

Alternatively, are adults who dress up seeking ways of covering up the grief of living? Of gift wrapping our fear of mortality, and loss?

If you’re wondering where the bit about grief came from, in a blog about creating a Steampunk character, and her costume, well, join the club. I was planning to chat about my initial steps to put together a costume for myself to use at several Steampunk festivals this year. Here’s what I’ve got for Doctor Daisy LeStrade so far:

Pocket watch & chains, broach, ring, and half penny, plus hair pins.

I also have a handkerchief I carried at our wedding, and which no lady would be without (because, otherwise, she cannot properly deal with a touch of catarh):

Borrowed, & blue

Someone who knows me well, or just follows this blog, will know I’ve had a long(ish) running interest in Steampunk. I love colour, creativity, and people having a good time in ways that doesn’t harm anyone, including themselves. And Steampunk has this in teacups, with an added emphasis on manners. I’ve attended at least two, more likely three, of the Doncaster Steampunk conventions. Cross fingers, Dr Daisy and her costume will be making their debut at this year’s, which is on 8 July.

Doncaster’s magnificent Mansion House, location for this year’s Doncaster Steampunk convention

My amateur photographer side – very amateur – is thrilled at the thought of taking photos of people in full Steampunk attire in such a lovely old Georgian building. Sadly, it looks like my hopes of having a stall with other writers is unlikely, as the trade off for such a historic location is fewer stalls than usual. So it looks like myself, my writer friends, & Dr Daisy are going to have to find another convention(s), if we want to sell books.

Those books include my upcoming collection, “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”, as well as “Koi Carpe Diem”.  Both include stories about Sherlock Jones, and his cousin Daisy, as well as artwork by the magnificent Tom Brown.

Boswell “Bozzie” Badger, cosplaying the 4th Doctor. Art by Tom Brown.

For the time being, though, all that’s going to have to wait, as I sort out my US taxes. It’s not something I like doing: indeed, it’s a major trigger for my mental health, which is a bit wonky just now. Has to be done, though. Still, it’s a beautiful day here in Donny, so at least I can escape to the garden, if and when things get a bit difficult.

Whatever you decide to do with your sunny Sunday, I wish you joy, and peace.

Cat & pyjamas: back garden, earlier today

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The Art & Practice of Being Normal

Passport Day, September 2016

“Hide, hide, the cow’s outside!” “I ain’t afraid of no cow.” – final lines to a child’s joke, circa 1960s

I’m paid to be normal: compassionate, encouraging, yet normal. Because I work in mental health, and it doesn’t do for the worker to be even more distressed, and out of touch, than the client(s).

Assuming however that there really is such a thing as “normal” when it comes to human behaviour, and mental health, then I don’t really qualify. Not just because I have bipolar, and – all too frequently – crippling anxiety, but also because it’s hard to come across as normal when you’re the only Yank in the village. (1)

Thanks in part to policies about boundaries, none of the people who I meet at work get to see how I really live: messily, often lazily, and with more knick-knacks, pictures, and pencils than you could shake a stick at. If, of course, you just happened to have a stick ready for the shaking. (2)

In my opinion, there is no such thing as normality: what passes for it, is really down to how good you are at hiding.

Blurred round the edges: Sheffield station

Me, I’m not so good at it. This is partly because of an accent which, to your average Brit, sounds like I’m fresh off the peanut-butter-and-jelly boat. Despite 30 years’ effort at picking up the local slang, and practicing my “ooo” sounds, I cannot blend in unless I don’t open my mouth, at all, to speak. (3)

Then, there’s that slight tendency toward eccentricity.

Do you like my hat? 2015

What’s so great about normality, anyway? Isn’t that just a more grown up word for the “cool” that I briefly chased, before giving it up as the hopeless quest it was, back in junior high, and high school?

We recently made our leisurely way through the first three or four box sets of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. It was a funny, nostalgic trip down someone else’s high school memory lane, infinitely better, I suspect, than an actual trip back to not-so-dear old APHS would have been. Plus, all that Giles, Oz, and yes, damnit, Xander loveliness. Yes, I can see the appeal of Spike, and even Angel, but, to be frank, I have never been able to separate the supposed sexiness of vampires, from the fact that those guys are not just dead, they’re cold.

Body heat, folks! Where’s the love for body heat? Clearly, vamp fans have never tried sleeping in a house with no central heating, during a South Yorkshire winter.

Winter at our house, 2013 It’s not Michigan cold, but it’s still cold

Watching “Buffy” again reminded me that the initial hook, for me, was how accurate “BtVS” is at portraying just how miserable high school is, if you’re not part of the top 1% tier of the pretty, the talented, the athletic, and / or the “too cool for school” brigade. It’s especially horrific if you’re crawling along in the bottom 1%, sub-strata of the “too uncool, even for school”.

So un-cool, I was nearly cool. Except I wasn’t.

Awful though it is, high school can teach at least one valuable lesson: that life isn’t, and seldom ever will be, fair. Sadly, many of us sub-strata types were too thick to learn that lesson, at least, not for many years. Some of us never do learn it: due less to being thick, than continuously smacking our heads against a big brick wall, with the words “Tough luck, kid!” painted in big, angry letters.

A local author, Craig Hallam, likes to use the phrase “Embrace the weird!” I like it, and it suits someone who, like Craig, writes about Steampunk, and horror.

If you’ve ever been to a Steampunk convention, or just hung around a Steampunk net group, you’ll know that your average Steampunk does indeed embrace their weird. And why shouldn’t they? Or I? Or, indeed, you, oh gentle, and perhaps just a bit odd reader?

For starters, it’s a damn site easier than hiding.

Embracing my weird: with Gerald C Dalek, & Jake the Cat. 2004, just before it all kicked off.

(1) I’m not, of course: I recently discovered another American
(2) Why you have that stick, and what you plan to do with it, is not my concern: it’s yours.
(3) And a damn fine idea that would be, at times.

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A Vigorous & Colourful Personality : a Blog for Mothering Sunday

Vigorous & Colourful, late 1980s

Hi Mom,

It’s that time, again, Mothering Sunday. Mother’s Day, in American, though the latter is in May, not March. I remember how I used to buy a card for you, in March, then post it in time for Mother’s Day. It was a good plan, those years when I actually remembered where I’d put the flippin’ card. Those forgetful years, you received a card with no verse: often, with a cat on the cover.

Here’s a photo of our latest, by the way. I know you’d love him, if you met him. If you still rang every week, the first thing you’d say, after hello, would be, “How is the cat?”

The latest grand-cat, Al “the Pal”

I was listening to Sinatra a few minutes ago. I remember you telling me, several times over the years, about the time you & your friend Christie went to see him, in New York, when you were in your early 20s. Apparently, you stayed in your seats after the first concert, so you could see him again. It’s the only time I know of that you (sort of) broke the law.

This is the Sinatra song I’m told Dad played at your funeral. I remember the album, which one of us would have had to play for you, on account of you never figuring out how to work the stereo. How did you manage to play all those lovely old singles you bought, in your teens, and pre-marriage 20s? The ones you lugged along through at least two house moves: not just Sinatra, but also Gershwin, including “Rhapsody in Blue?”

I don’t remember you ever saying which one was your favourite song. I know Dad liked “Set ’em Up Joe”. I liked this one. It appealed to my angst-ridden, teenaged soul.

This is the fourth time I’ve written to you, via my blog, and God(s), on Mothering Sunday. One year, adrift on a sea of nostalgia,I wrote it on Mother’s Day, instead.

That first blog-letter to you was also the very first blog I wrote, back in 2014. It’s kind of a tradition, now, for to write to you once a year, and note the passing of another blog year, as well.

Your birthday is coming up soon: you would have been 90. I try to imagine you at that age. Sadly, the mental pictures I get reflect what you were like those last two years, when Alzheimer’s combined with Myasthenia Gravis to blot out your “vigorous and colourful personality”.

The phrase is a quote from a book blurb describing Baroness Ocrzy, author of the “Scarlet Pimpernel” books. “Pimpernel” was one of the paperbacks in my sister’s desk drawers. I think it was assigned for a high school class. Later, while at Wayne, I read some of the sequels in the main Detroit library, when I should have been studying, instead.

You loved that library, and the time you spent working there. Hell, you loved all libraries.

The magnificence that is Detroit Public Library

Writing this has helped calm me down. I’ve been a bit hypomanic of late: chatty, struggling at times to keep my conversations from turning into downloads, and a bit loud with it, too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not too extreme, and the energy is great. Still, I have to watch it. I remember how, that first time I was in hospital, you drove to Fairlane, just to get me a lovely cat jumper, and some cat socks.

Summed it up, really

It’s a shame my version of your “vigorous & colourful personality” is bipolar-flavoured, but we can’t have it all, eh? If we could, you would never have developed Alzheimer’s. It’s a cruel disease, especially so for someone who lived to read, and think, and express her often Thatcher-esque opinions.

I like to think you understand why I destroyed those last few photos of you: the ones where your light was gone, and only a frail framework remained. I cannot imagine, had you still been able to express an opinion, you would have ever wanted to be photographed on such outstandingly bad hair days. You, the woman who always put on lipstick before she went out, even to the supermarket. Still, it gave Dad comfort to still be able to take your picture, I guess.

This is how I prefer to think of you: pretty in pink, bursting with pride at your son’s wedding. My vigorous, bookish, colourful mother.

Love,

Sheila

Mom, aka Mum, late 1980s

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