Oh what a world we live in…

There is indeed an ugly mood at the moment. Information comes fast in thick torrents of bubbling, chattering, and endless streams. Oh what a world we live in. There is no chance to breathe, at times, and you feel like you’re drowning. We are exposed to more and more extremes, and these filter down into our consciousness, and into our collective behaviour. In one week we lament the death of the inspirational Muhammad Ali; the next it seems we have forgotten anything he ever said.

Oh what a world we live in. We are collectively shocked by the execution, on one of our streets, of Jo Cox, in a brutal attack by a man fuelled by hatred. Yet hatred has become currency for a xenophobic outbreak not seen in many years. It troubles me as much as it shames me. No one is surprised that English fans are again at the centre of violence in France. Neither is anyone shocked. No, we are ashamed. We are ashamed of their taunts, their idiocy.

They are not my Britain.

My Britain is neither those that preach hate and intolerance of others, and incite it in others. UKIP’s latest poster for the Brexit campaign is utterly deplorable. It is about time UKIP’s leader is called for his behaviour, rather than being dismissed as a comic buffoon. That said, there has been a lack of dignity that has run through both campaigns in the EU Referendum. I watched one debate – no one appealed to me. No wonder people in this plebiscite are confused. Has it really taken the murder of Jo Cox to stop them all in their tracks? The media that stokes them included.

The pathways of tolerance, acceptance, of kindness even seem to be lost to us. It is up to us to clear the way.  Oh what a world we live in. No wonder the internet is filled with pictures of kittens.

I’m reminded of Rufus Wainwright’s beautiful song, the running line through my thoughts. Lest we forget.

Wouldn’t it be a lovely headline?

“Life is Beautiful”

Wellbeing post-surgery

I’ve learned a lot from this experience. Initially it was patience – thanks to the unnamed Doctor in Treliske who told me I needed to learn to be patient; it stopped me being frustrated and angry. I also think there’s a simple appreciation that comes from surviving and recovering. 100 years ago, I would have been in the most excruciating, ongoing pain, which would have driven me insane, if the trauma hadn’t killed me in the first place. The cold I had a few weeks ago would have surely infected the lung, and who knows what would have happened. Modern medicine, our NHS is incredible. I am incredibly grateful for both – even if it was, initially at least, so frustrating.

Drug-fog dulled my mind for a goodly while. However, long after I stopped taking the pain relief, I felt very ‘shut down’. Everything slowed – my body, my mind, my expectations. I became a fan of the afternoon nap! I spent a lot of time staring in to space, sometimes knitting, mostly with Radio 6Music for company. I didn’t read as much as I thought I might; I simply didn’t have the space for it. Although goodness knows what was in that head space. Brain fog. As for writing. I wasn’t interested; too much effort to join thoughts up.

It is in the last few weeks, with the onset of Physio and being able to do more that things have shifted again. One of the unexpected benefits of this pneumothorax recovery, is that Pete and I have been ‘forced’ to remain at home. We’d usually be off at this time of year, sailing. However, being at home has been a delight. Cornwall is glorious this time of year. People flock into Cornwall at this time of year (and will do for the next three months) because it is gorgeous, The sun is warm, the gardens at their best – even the hedgerows are a sight to behold. The photo above is our garden! Pete has taken part in a couple of sailing events that he wouldn’t have done ordinarily. We have made new friends, and joined in with social activities more. It has caused me to question why we flee at this time of year, when being here is such a treat. Are we entering a new chapter? What does that mean for our Whinchat?  Our sailing adventures. I’m allowed to sail now, but not in anything lively – and it’s untested. I ironed six shirts the other day, and that aggravated my recovering shoulder muscles. Ironing, however, is easy to avoid!

We’re about to set off on a different adventure, because we’re not away sailing. We’re travelling through France (fingers crossed there’s fuel, and that we avoid anything to do with football), in the car that Pete built. Time sitting alongside each other will provide ample opportunity for rambling discussions. Who knows where this trip will take us, but it feels so positive and exciting to be going.



Book Review: A Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks


My friend Karen said that this was one of the best books that she had ever read. She has repeatedly told me to read it (particularly recently given some potential lifestyle alterations). I am grateful for her insistence.

A Shepherd’s Life is the story of James Rebanks, a shepherd farming in the remote Cumbrian landscape. The blurb on Penguin’s website (https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/270728/the-shepherd-s-life/) is thus: “Some people’s lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks’ isn’t. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells.”

However, this isn’t really the story of the book in many ways.

Rebanks’ account is separated into four sections, the seasons that dominate the pattern of farming life. The first section, Summer, is the longest in the book (at a third), and for me the most fragmented. It reads like a collection of memories, reflections on growing up. A jumble of bloggy-style snippets. It took me some time to gel with Rebanks, initially someone not particularly likeable. A drop out of school, a bully, judgemental, overall a bit arrogant. Yet it was the thread of his passion, his faith, and his love for his farming life that sustained me. I was also puzzled as to how a man who left school, with barely any skills in writing, could articulate so well in print. The ‘hook’ for me came in the transition from Summer to Autumn, at his grandfather’s death.

In Autumn, Rebanks begins to grow up, and grow as a man. Rebanks writes with simplicity, honesty, and at times breathtaking clarity. A Shepherd’s Life isn’t written with sentimentality, yet it is a profound and moving read. The writing is engaging, it is like Rebanks is talking to you, and for that I forgive the spattering of clichés, and repetition.

In Winter the harshness of the shepherding life is revealed, with insights in to the routines of the days when snow lies thickly over the landscape. Decisions that are made in moments affect the lives of the precious flocks. You feel a part of team Rebanks, his writing is so vivid.

The book ends with Spring, and the optimism that accompanies it. Lambing, and the roles of his daughters on the farm. The book ends with Rebanks’ deep appreciation of where he is, and who he is. It is a perfect ending.

“This is my life. I want no other.”

The things that interested me in A Shepherd’s Life, apart from the human geography of farming in this tough, rugged landscape, was Rebanks himself. The economical truth of farming – many farmers need a second income, with Rebanks no different (as a consultant to UNESCO on how communities can benefit from tourism). A position earned because he wanted to live in Cumbria, on the farm his Grandfather loved. Rebanks became an educated man. He became what he despised as a boy, a student. These aspects of his development are not really explored – neither the anti-Wordsworth, tourist-loathing boy that now has a different view. Parts of his book are glossed over, but that says as much about my interest as a lack of depth in his story.

I love this book, but to use a cliché, it wasn’t love at first sight. This gradual unveiling of a truth and beauty, and a fundamental respect, and envy, of a man deeply rooted in his landscape and way of life. A Shepherd’s Life is a gem of a book, if a little unpolished in places. But isn’t that life?

This book is part of my 2016 Reading Challenge, a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child or BFF.

Fourteen weeks post-surgery

Since the last post (whoops, meant to be a bit more consistent on this one), I have shaken the feeling of being trapped by my body, by time, and by circumstance.

The watershed came at about six weeks post-surgery, when I had the follow-up appointment with Mr Arwan.  Freedom came in the ability to drive my new car (delivered when I was unable to drive, how cruel!), as this brought about independence. I could do exciting things like drive to the supermarket (not that I could lift very much). I also started Physio, with the rather brilliant Oliver Hughes. He has been the one to give me more permission to try things, therefore feeding my confidence. He has also worked on the damage caused by the surgery to my poor old shoulder blades – and back… and shoulder… parts of my body that are compensating for the lack of stability in the shoulder. Don’t get me wrong, it has been excruciating (none more so than the manipulation of number one rib…). I have gradually been able to add the things I do. Nordic walking is back on, although I am not at the speeds that I was (that’s a lung capacity issue, as I can’t quite get the oxygen I need into my blood to drive the muscles, but that will come). Sailing, I can probably try in a week or so. Gig rowing. Ollie said that this was the worst possible in terms of the damage in my body – probably not until the autumn. You can’t have it all.

As to the pain. I read on some forums that people recovering from lung surgery are living with pain. I can’t say that’s true for me. My ribs are sore at times, not kicked by a horse sore, not even kicked by a large dog sore, but over-used sore. Ollie put that in context – you can’t rest your ribs or lungs like you can a damaged knee… if they’re resting, you’re dead. I don’t bother with pain killers, just ease up a little bit. Pick up my book instead of driving myself too hard. I still can’t lie on my left side at night, but I sleep well now. The rib pain is likely to last another 10-12 months. Mr Arwan apologised to that – apparently they had to bend and stretch a few things to get to the torn lung. Nice.

I like having exercises to do – and I’m disciplined in doing them. Pilates based to strengthen my core. I can’t do anything more than very basic movements, as the pain is intense sort of “under” my left rib-cage. Could be intercostal muscles, could be the transverse abs. I can’t plank any more (and I could in January, for well over a minute). I can’t support my legs raised off the ground (like a supine leg lift), so it’s all with one foot on the floor. I’m back working with Kate, my lovely PT, who is supporting (and challenging) me. I’ve even picked up a kettle bell again. It’s amazed her in the last couple of weeks the progress I’ve made. There is a hill behind the house that we use for cardio work. Two weeks ago, due to the limitations of the lung, I could only get my heart rate up to 140bpm. In-between sessions I pounded the hill a few times. Yesterday we attacked it again, and I could push my body harder. 158bpm. You can improve when you invest in yourself.

That’s the body. All on a very positive path to recovery. My mind? Well, that’s another story. A positive one. In the interests of good blogging etiquette (word count!), I won’t waffle on now, but save that for another day…