The doctor, the hammer, and ME

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stethoscope

I’m lying on a paper-covered couch having my knee bonged assiduously by the doctor.

My mum and I have waited for 40 minutes in a very efficient and cleverly process-designed hospital, sipping water we’ve brought (hottest day of the year). I’ve had my height and weight measured beforehand by a very friendly nurse, my blood pressure taken, my oxygen sats measured, and I’ve explained to the nurse that the urine sample I’ve provided in a cleaned-out shower gel bottle is tinged green because I take vitamin tablets and not because I’m alarmingly acutely ill.

Now the doctor is seeing me, and very thorough she is too, if not the exactly warmest of medics. Telling professionals where I work always has an interesting effect on them, and I am grateful that this is one where the effect is that she is going to talk to me on the level.

After the rubber hammer, she whips out a huge tuning fork. It is seriously a foot long, and I unconsciously wince slightly as I wonder what on earth she is going to do with it.

I don’t have to wait long to find out.

What she does is hit it on the chair to make it vibrate, and places it on the side of my foot. Then she tells me to say when I feel it stop vibrating.

I ignore the fact that I can a) see it vibrating and b) hear it vibrating, and I play the game properly, both feet. I feel like I’ve won a neurological prize because I can feel it stop.

There follows much twiddling of my toes and saying which direction she is pointing them in. Again, it would feel less cheaty if I couldn’t see them at the same time, but happily I can feel them at all times, and I’ve never had trouble knowing where my feet were unless I was really very very drunk. Which I’m not right now (or actually at all these days. Hey ho.)

I walk in a straight line, like the drunk test, after she’s listened to my chest, made me follow her finger with my finger and touch my nose, looked deep into my beautiful hazel eyes, taken my temperature, made me raise my arms in the air and hold them there, and smile broadly.

I emerge from behind the curtain and sit down again next to my mum. The doctor once again scans the full notes I brought with me (because I didn’t much fancy sitting there waffling and forgetting all the key points and symptoms, and also because I thought it would be useful to have a concise history of my historic episodes of post-viral fatigue and all the increasing fatigueness which has finally, finally bought me to the specialist’s door), and asks me a long list of questions, after commenting again on the usefulness of my notes.

“Would you like your mum to go outside?” she asks.

No, it’s fine. I don’t have much to hide from my mum, health-wise. I’m not remotely embarrassed about being asked if I’ve had sexual health tests, which is lucky because she shrugs as if to say “I warned you” and asks me if I’ve had a HIV test. I have, I say so, and that additionally all the GUM tests I’ve ever had have been spotlessly clear.

Still not embarrassed…

No I’ve never been pregnant, I’ve got a coil, and yes the big symptoms started before that was put in. I am not suffering chest pains, tingling arms, I haven’t had a stroke, nor “palpitations outside the normal”. I’ve shown her the charts of the scores of how I feel each day, and how much work I do each day. She asks me to rank my list of symptoms, and I do.

Eventually she has her diagnosis.

“CFS. Classic case by the sounds of it”

She writes a referral form for me to go on to the CFS support unit in my local healthcare trust, I’ll get a letter in due course, they run clinics in my home town. She suspects I will have already done some or a great deal of what they suggest, but it will be helpful nonetheless.

She writes the web address of their section of the local NHS website for me, on a specimen covering slip, which privately amuses me.

And off we go, back outside into the scorching summer.

I am quiet on the way home, glad that mum has driven me.

I already knew, with as much certainty as I could have, that I had CFS, M.E. – whatever you want to call it. I didn’t expect to feel as much relief as I do.

It means – that it isn’t in my head. It’s a real thing. I have a level of protection now. I can stop having to say “but I haven’t had it confirmed yet…”.

I didn’t want this. It’s one of the last things I’d ever want. In itself it isn’t a good thing.

But at least I’m in the system now. I feel like I’m not battling alone in the dark. I’ve made great leaps and bounds on my own. I’ve needed help with it for so long and it has taken so excruciatingly long to be seen that I’ve got on with it on my own.

I know I need help with exercise and diet, how to cope when I feel bad again. I will have people to help me this time if I have a relapse, and now I won’t feel like I’m taking the piss if I need time off work with it. I will try everything I can not to, but now I know – I have a real illness, it isn’t debatable, I’m not being a slacker – there are just things I simply cannot do sometimes.

I may use it occasionally to get out of or curtail things I don’t especially want to do outside of work – tenuous family events, occasions with lots of children – because yes, those things make me tired, and no, I won’t always be prepared to take the hit for other people. Sometimes I will because love is stronger than selfishness, sometimes I will push myself a little for other people and indeed for me. But not always.

Mostly I’ve got my head around it. I’ve been tired the last couple of days since because even though it wasn’t a surprise, it was still a big deal.

I can live with it. It won’t be completely all of me. It will be something I have to manage. It will not ruin my life.

By way of perfect illustration the next day, as we rather excitably planned our next batch of adventures, the ever-wonderful Prof – in his concise and astonishingly insightful way – managed to sum up how I want to be treated in a single lovely line.

“Until you tell me you’re tired, CFS doesn’t exist”

Summer Days

Those brief few days of true summer are here. 

The sweaty nights, the three pairs of knickers days, the sudden realisation that the sun you are basking in is much, much stronger than the usual middleweight British offering; the retreat into the shade, muttering.

I gave up my (very) long-standing summer evening fantasy this weekend.

It has been top of my romantic nonsense list for longer than I care to admit: a picnic blanket at sundown, a field, grasses gently waving in the breeze, raspberries to eat, champagne to drink, and a lovely gorgeous romantically-inclined boyfriend to shed clothes with and enjoy some excellent vintage al fresco fun.

This was until I had a quiet little picnic on Sunday afternoon at my favourite place – a field with a view. Long grasses, a footpath, a sarong to sit on, a book, a hat, plenty of suntan lotion – and masses of awful biting things.

The sun was brutally strong. I realised within five minutes, as the sweat poured off me in sheets, that I ought to have picked a shadier retreat. Or one with any shade. Never mind, it was beautiful and I was content. I liberally sprayed on oodles of insect repellent (which, on later inspection, went out of date in 2003 and had the efficacy of water) because, I smugly thought, I know the countryside…

I couldn’t get comfy, I finished my lunch, walkers kept climbing the hill and standing to wheeze painfully right next to me, the sweat was getting ridiculous, I could feel my suntan lotion melting off me, the sun was burning through my leggings, tiny thunder bugs were crawling over my arms, and the final straw was a really evil bug biting me so that I could feel it.

I swatted it, as it lay attached to the back of my arm, but it didn’t budge. It hurt, dammit!

Looking at it, I could actually see a proboscis as thick as a sewing needle embedded in my arm. My arm! The fly was not inclined to move at all, despite flicks and swats. Panic rising, I flapped around breaking off a sturdy bit of grass stalk and set about trying to lever the blasted blood-sucker off my precious skin.

Finally I succeeded, leaving slightly gruesome tiny trails of blood on my arm as I did so. 

Ha! I thought. Take that you little bastard!

Which was then making a beeline for my ankle instead.

I shrieked extremely girly-ly, flapped my hands around, and seeing that the damn fly was hell-bent on sampling yet more of my A+ claret, hastily crammed my picnic accoutrements into my bag, and ran away, flapping my sarong around me to ward off the attacker. 

In the relative safety of my car I decided that my romantic evening picnic fantasy was total bollocks, and that no-one should have to risk their bits being attacked by bloodsuckers. I revised it to be located instead on a wide, mown lawn, miraculously in the middle of nowhere and completely unobserved. No long grass, and a balmy temperature to ensure that sweat would not be sluicing off me and my non-existent partner, hence not signalling a tasty meal to evil stable flies.

A fantasy dashed. Such is the real world.

The summer continues, regardless.

Dinner in the garden, breakfast even. Nights tangled in a sheet after taking forever to drift off. Evenings inhaling the summer scent of cut grass and flowers which rolls in the window as it gets dark. A deep blue sky, gardens at their peak of perfection, lush and green.

Today will be the hottest day of the year by some considerable way. It is hot already and it isn’t even 8am. I know that I am lucky not to be commuting today, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Instead I shall spend the afternoon in an NHS waiting room, waiting, finally, for my specialist appointment. I’ve waited a year for this, to see someone who might have a chance of actually offering me some helpful advice.

However, this, I imagine, is just a fact-gathering appointment. I fully expect to be brushed off fairly rapidly for blood tests (which have not been requested in advance, slightly worryingly). I don’t know how helpful today will be, given I have put a lot of effort into trying to fix myself. 

All I really want is a diagnosis. M.E., Chronic Fatigue – I don’t even care any more. Give me something I can definitively tell work, a label, some certainty. It might be crap, I might hate it, but I’ve accepted it and I just need some mechanics now.

We shall see. 

Mainly I hope that there is air conditioning; however, I know that there won’t be.

Luckily there is in mum’s car, and she’s driving me over. Phew.

A notebook

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I have to smile wryly at myself sometimes.

The ordered, logical face I try to present to the world is totally undermined by the way I actually approach life behind the scenes.

I have an ordered, logical job.

I pretend I have an ordered, logical mind to go with it.

However – it’s actually a scatty mess…

I have a little notebook. Well – OK – I have several. One for work jottings, one enormous one which says “I Love Spreadsheets” on the front which was a present, and which I’ve adopted as my “moving house” notebook with important scribbles, another one with passwords in it (I know, I know), and another one which attempts to list everyone I’ve slept with (yes, it is black).

This particular one is my “random jottings” notebook, which I’ve had a for a few years. I usually just find any blank page and note down whatever it is I need to not forget. No order. No logic. Some are even upside down.

I flicked through it this morning, in order, and laughed at the bizarre things I’ve written down.

  • four pages for each house I went to see, a page per house with pre-visit observations and questions to ask (this has just reminded me I need to cancel a viewing! haha!)
  • a list of documents my mortgage advisor needed
  • random figures about possible mortgage amounts I could get
  • notes about survey types
  • questions my solicitor had about land registry titles (seeing a theme here??)
  • a giant green blob where I’d clearly cleaned out my fountain pen
  • a list of Chinese food to order:
    • Me: salt and chilli aubergine; satay beancurd; egg fried rice
    • Housemate S: salt and chilli tofu; mixed veg in black bean sauce with exra aubergine; prawn crackers (I only retrospectively wonder where the spring rolls were…)
  • maths equations
  • first principles of multiplying indices
  • a chart of y=2x+1
  • first principles of fractions including square roots
  • a list of Christmas presents to buy
  • a reminder to “Check rent”
  • A list of things to take on holiday / away:
    • Walking trousers, knickers, socks, tops, leggings, PJs, pillow, dressing gown, maths stuff, washbags, loo roll, peanut butter, wine, tablets (wish I could remember where that was for!)
  • Mr Bristol‘s home address
  • Principles of building data warehouses from a Skype session (clearly a work note here)
  • Calculations to roast a chicken based on its weight, time to put it in, time of lunch (NB – I’m veggie)
  • Another work note entry about qualifications
  • A page that just says “Bach” – I assume about a cake I made, since Bach doesn’t actually feature highly in my life.
  • Calculations about how much I / colleagues actually work in an 8-hour day
  • A silly note about trying not to overthink about a particular man
  • A visitor sticker from the engineering recruitment fair I went to
  • A couple of notes about companies at that fair
  • A page on simplifying polynomials, for differentiation.
  • Contact details for one of the managers at the engineering fair
  • A list of interesting companies at the fair

Rules of Engagement

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Rules

I’ve been doing this dating business for a looonnnnng time now, and it’s been a winding and somewhat tortuous journey from wide-eyed newly-out-of-marriage ingenue to the agreeably cynical witch I am now.

Along the way I have accumulated a stringent set of Rules.

By this, I don’t mean a quartet of lushly-decorated upmarket restaurants plucked individually from Covent Garden – no. I mean codes of conduct. Things to abide by. Things never to do if at all avoidable. Standards of behaviour.

They are, naturally, personal to me. And I understand that what is in my head isn’t necessarily the same as everyone else. Other people I’m sure have their own variations, and might go so far as to actively disagree with my own Rules. Each to their own.

But many of them are just good manners, common sense, a respect for the person you’re interacting with. And yet a great many people seem to simply not bother with them.

I may not expect my dates to abide by the tiniest letters of expectations they don’t even know exist, but really, they should have their own personal good code of conduct. A certain amount of flexibility will be granted on some of the minor Rules, but a major transgression is enough for me to bid them farewell without a single qualm – and I have done this many times without regret.

I really must emphasise, before I elucidate further, that at all times all parties have the right to change their mind. Whether it be at the texting stage, the kissing stage, or the stage at which clothes have come off – if it doesn’t feel right and there are misgivings, then the game is over. Absolutely over.

However, I will also add that in my experience, big misgivings very rarely pop up out of the blue and are usually accumulated, unless a dramatic and unwelcome announcement is made, or, indeed, the kissing is crap…

Pre-date communications

The Cots Pyramid of Social Interaction runs thusly, from bottom to top:

  1. In-app messaging
  2. Texting / WhatsApp / messengers reliant on swapping numbers
  3. Telephone
  4. Video call

I am not a fan of lengthy pre-date chit-chat. If there is a good reason why we have to wait to actually meet, I don’t want endless comms – I find it hard to sustain.

My own preferred dating comms sequence goes:

Connect online – messaging goes well – swap numbers – text a bit – maybe a phone call if the other person feels the need to verify I’m a human girl – meet.

We can have the best build-up, great online connection, but until we meet it is impossible to say if the spark will be there – which is why I want to meet sooner rather than later. I’m also not overly fond of chatting on the phone to someone I’ve never met before. It feels terribly forced and contrived and makes me awfully uncomfortable, but I get that other people like to validate over the phone first.

Video calling with potential dates is way too intense for me. I’ve done it, and 80% of the time Mr New either wants to see my boobs (and probably not bother meeting me) or wants to show me his dick (which I’m not interested in if I can’t get involved with it). With someone I’m dating it’s fun; with someone I’ve never met it is deeply cringey and I giggle excessively to cover my discomfit.

Also, if we spend ages chatting without meeting, one of two things will happen:

  1. I will get bored, the little niggles will build up, and I’ll call it off
  2. We will get so wildly overenthusiastic that when we meet it will be a massive let-down because we can’t meet the expectations we have created based on chat.

So – meet within a week or things go awry / risk of boredom increases exponentially. Dating is about meeting in person,  not endless bloody messaging.

Being Respectful

Oh, where to start here? There are things you just don’t do. There are things you know you shouldn’t do but they are tricky so it takes you a few more days than is kind to do them. But you still do them…

  1. Be honest

Hard when you’re trying not to hurt someone. Or if you just want to sleep with them and you’re trying to circumnavigate their differing dating preferences to achieve your goal…

But whoever it is deserves a straight answer. I’ll never want kids and yes, it is a big problem for me to date those with kids – guys try and tempt me, but unless I’m honest I’ll end up possibly hurting them. Seems to me that a little honesty early on might save actual hurt further down the line, and I really don’t like hurting people.

I like to know the big things (like kids) up front, so I can make an informed decision without wasting anyone’s time. Not all guys like my curvy figure – that’s a big thing for lots of them – so I mention it upfront. That way I don’t get disappointment when a gorgeous guy tells me I’m not attractive to him (which SUCKS! Really really sucks) – because he hasn’t messaged me hopefully in the first place.

Other things – like my stupid M.E. – I don’t mention unless it happens to come up in conversation on a date, because it’s not so bad I need looking after, it doesn’t impact especially on my dating life (not that I’m exactly doing much), and so I don’t think it’s a big deal. Perhaps some people would say this isn’t fully honest. Each to their own levels.

2. Treat others as you’d wish to be treated

… pretty much sums it up.

a. Don’t leave people dangling

I’ve been guilty of this once or twice. Sometimes it is so damn hard to find the right words to let someone down nicely but honestly, and it is far and away easier to stay quiet than do the right thing. Sometimes life gets in the way or runs away with me. Sometimes I forget I’ve been texted (which isn’t respectful, I know, whoops). But it’s mean and it upsets people. It upsets me when it is done to me, so I try ever so hard not to dish it out.

b. If you do – expect to be called out on it

Someone did call me out, quite rightly, the one time I broke this cardinal rule. However, he then started flinging incorrect accusations at me because he was pissed off. I may have felt guilty about leaving it a few more days than was polite to let him down, but I am never impressed when incorrect conclusions are jumped to.

c. Behave gracefully

If I’ve gone to the trouble of honestly and kindly explaining why sadly there is no future for us, I don’t expect a torrent of abuse. If I’ve been mean and misled you then sure, bring it on, I deserve it. But if not, grow up and learn to play the game. If you tell me you don’t want to take it further, then I’ll accept that with as much good grace as I can manage. Unless you’ve been a cowardly chicken, in which case I’ll point it out, articulately and gracefully…

3. Do what you say you’ll do (a.k.a don’t be a timewaster)

You’ve said it would be great to meet: don’t then expect me not to wonder why you don’t then suggest a time and a place within the next few messages. I hate this beyond words, and I’ll assume you’re another of the great long list of timewasters.

Arranged a date with me? Be where you say you’ll be at the time you say you’ll be there. Plan your route, look on Google StreetMaps if you need to. I do this and you can too. If you’re late, text me as soon as possible, not at the time of the date.

If you’ve told me you don’t smoke, don’t expect me to be overjoyed if I can then smell cigarettes on you. Or taste them. Yuck.

4. Never ever ever lead people on

This isn’t kind and it isn’t funny. I don’t get my kicks from pretending I like someone, and by now I’ve got a pretty good radar for bullshit.

If you’re not feeling it when you’re texting or messaging or whatever – say so then. Don’t have misgivings, meet up anyway, and then know immediately it’s not going to happen. Use the pre-date chat to honestly assess whether you like the person.

Yes. I know. I may have been guilty of this once or twice, in the interests of “giving someone a chance / you never know whether there will be that spark in person” (to be honest, mostly after unwelcome lectures from friends or family about not giving men a chance) – but d’you know what? Deep down I bloody well did know in advance there wasn’t going to be a spark, there wasn’t, and both of our time was wasted. I’ve learned – not feeling it = no date. Maybe that’s a product of experience… I’ve also learned not to listen to inaccurate lectures when I know my own mind perfectly well.

It just, to me, isn’t fair to get all hot and heavy with someone via messaging or phone or Skype or whatever – then to meet them and just go “nope”. In the list of Cots Rules it’s pretty callous. Everyone has the right to change their minds – of course – but everyone also has a right not to be led on and messed around and have their time wasted.

This one ties in with Being Respectful and also with not creating tonnes of pressure pre-date with intense messaging. I’ve changed my mind on a date, several times, but I can look myself in the eye knowing I haven’t led them on and hyped them up, and I can walk away without feeling like a total bitch.

[Late edit for Rules I forgot earlier…dipstick…]

5. Don’t apologise for things you are not sorry for

I find it really easy to apologise constantly. It’s part of my inbuilt Britishness, and often it slips out of my mouth before I can catch it. Slippery little word…

But saying “sorry” more than once or twice in a conversation when you’re parting ways either looks insincere, like you actually are so sorry you would in fact rather carry on dating, or just generally appears really weak and feeble.

I’d love to be hard enough to live by the “never apologise” mantra, but I’m not. So I limit myself to one “sorry” to ease things through, smooth the bumpy landing a little, and then no more sorries. It’s seriously liberating.

6. Be cool

You know, like The Fonz. Heeeeeeeyyyyyyyy. OK – I don’t elbow jukeboxes. Alright.

I spent so many of my early dates getting het up about guys who just wanted to sleep with me, guys who I had met on the dodgy website which is mainly for hooking up. I wasn’t cool. I was naïve and a bit swept away, and it took me a while to toughen up.

I still think it is possible to be cool and slightly reserved and not wildly OTT whilst remaining a nice interesting fun person. I just dish it out gradually to guys I’m starting to date. I suss you out; you suss me out. I’ll give you a hint of dippyness, a glimpse of my inner minx – if you pass the first date then you’ll get more. If not, see Point 5


So there we are.

Being kind, treating dates like real people and not digital entities, not leading people on or promising things I don’t know I can or want to deliver before I meet them, trying hard not waste anyone’s time while respecting them and not compromising my priorities – dating tenets I try hard to live by.

I don’t think they’re wildly unreasonable. I know full well I’ve broken them here and there, and the guilt makes me try even harder not to next time.

Maybe this is moralistic. Maybe this sounds like a lecture when it isn’t.

It’s just the more I date, the more I learn about other peoples’ dating experiences, the more I see people behaving thoughtlessly or carelessly – the more it makes me cross.

My Rules are there to remind me to treat people properly, to not let myself get away with lazy behaviour, to confirm that I have expectations of how I want to be treated.

Perhaps I am strict. Perhaps I am rather unbending. Perhaps I’m cynical.

Perhaps.

But I’m also kind and warm, loving and friendly, and not as terribly uptight as I may appear. I’ve been let down, messed around, had my time wasted, and still I have hope.

I have my particular values, and hopefully someone, one day, will think “Yes! I have those values too! And I think you’re awesome and I want to bonk you till you can’t see straight!”, and I will rejoice, as, indeed, I go cross-eyed…

An offer accepted, a twilight walk

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After several hours sweating on Friday afternoon, my phone finally rang with a call from the agent.

To cut a long story short, we discussed the offer, I made a revision – it was accepted. House off the market immediately – no more viewings. The vendor was not interested in making more than she asked for, and was pleased it was me buying it (as she had actually met me when I went to see it the first time).

I felt a rush of euphoria, and rushed off to tell mum and dad the good news. They were delighted for me, and gave me a bottle of champagne they’d bought just in case.

Then I texted my core friend/sister/cousin gang who I just had to tell immediately, and of course then the phone rang with happy friends all excited for me (got to love friends who will sneak away from their desk at work to make a celebratory phone call). Called my solicitor too, who is a friend of Cousin Z who I stayed with last year: much excitement all round.

I managed to finish a little more work, and seriously debated the wisdom of going on the MeetUp walk that evening I’d booked onto earlier in the week. I was tired after all the emotions and logistics of the day. I had champagne to drink. I knew it would be too much to walk five miles as well.

But dammit, I really wanted to. I wanted to get out in the fresh air, stretch my legs, enjoy a summer’s evening, be a bit sociable, do what I like doing.

So I did. Because I’m stubborn like that.

After dinner, off I drove. Pulled my boots on, met the group outside the specified pub, and off we went.

Only being my second walk with this group, I didn’t know anyone. The cute quiet guy from the last walk wasn’t there, and neither was chatty Mr Forties. Didn’t matter – there were other nice interesting people of a similar age to me. I chatted and enjoyed being out on a warm summer’s evening. The countryside was beautiful, the hayfields had been freshly cut and smelt sweet and lovely. It was a joy to be outside.

Five miles, I thought – I’d be home by ten…

Nope. I was wrong. 

The pace was unhurried, which I didn’t mind at all, and the leader didn’t seem to have fully reccied the route. More than once we strolled around the edge of a large field, only to not find a stile where the map said there would be one.

Being a group of walkers, someone inevitably had a GPS gadget, so there would be an occasional map vs. GPS debate. Waking through the long grass I could feel myself getting bitten, and rued not wearing insect repellant. Back we tramped to a gap in the hedge.

Also, it transpired, we’d none of us brought a drink because it was “only” five miles and we thought we’d be back sooner. Fantasies of cold lemonade ensued… it was humid and warm and we were transpiring ourselves.

Eventually the night closed in, the twilight drawing to proper dark.

Far from being annoyed, it reminded me of nothing more than being teenagers out after dark, not up to any trouble, just being outside and having fun. Or those night orienteering exercises we did on Duke of Edinburgh’s expeditions, finding our way in the dark with a map and a compass, up on the hilltops in North Wales.

It was just like messing around outside with your mates in the dark. I enjoyed it, and knew I’d got my phone torch if things got tricky.

Eventually we arrived back at our starting point, at ten thirty. Two and a half hours to walk five miles!

I pulled my boots off, climbed into my car, downed the bottle of water I’d left there in one, and threw the roof down. Another secret joy – a convertible car on a warm sweet-smelling summer’s night.

Of course it was too much, as I discovered the next day. Tired, achy, spaced out. A lecture from mum, which I didn’t need or want. A long sleep at lunchtime. Annoyance that I’m not fully better even though sometimes I feel like I am.

But today, better again, rested and revived. Anyone would be exhausted after the emotional upheaval of making a house offer and dealing with all of the surrounding logistics – not just me.

And now I wait, hoping against hope that nothing goes wrong, nobody sneaks in a higher offer, all the things that can go against you when purchasing a house. I almost don’t dare daydream about living there, about how my furniture will fit, about the little changes I’d make – I can’t let myself believe until I have the keys in my hand. Life has a habit of throwing nasty surprises my way, so it’s easier to mentally prepare for the worst.

Time will tell, we will see, this might just be the house where I celebrate my next big birthday.

Here’s hoping.

It’s the not knowing

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I haven’t known nerves and worry on this scale since the last time I applied for a job I really wanted.

I’d forgotten this feeling of helplessness, of mentally hurrying someone along to make a decision simply so that you don’t have to sit and sweat and wait and worry and imagine the worse-case outcome.

I saw the house I like for a second time. Both parents liked it. It confirmed that I liked it, even if there was a teenage son in residence at the time we visited.

I’ve made an offer, a little below the asking price. Reiterated what a great buyer I am, no chain, can move as quickly as is ever possible, pointed out market uncertainty, blah blah blah.

Naturally the vendor is at work, so I’m sitting here, totally unable to focus on work this afternoon, waiting and waiting for the phone to ring so I can know what the negotiations will be.

It has. Twice. One was my boss, one was the financial advisory I saw yesterday with the ridiculously large fees who I won’t be using but haven’t told quite yet. I managed not to shout “NOT NOW” at either of them.

More waiting… I’m just not very good at waiting.

I feel sick, cold, tired. It’s draining.

A week ago I was mildly wondering if I could get a mortgage; today, an offer on a house and lots of phone calls. It’s happened very quickly. I feel like I’ve been spun around.

I don’t dare hope about the good bits just yet (and there are many) – I’m only blindsided by the waiting and the nerves and the relying on other people. I know it might not go my way – it’s just the not knowing!

I must find something absorbing to do…

The tent, the bouncy castle and us: a wedding

I haven’t been to a wedding in forever, so I was delighted to get an unexpected invitation to the celebrations of HBF’s brother this summer.

To be honest I was wildly surprised to get an invite. I knew the wedding was going to be small, and while, yes, I am his sister’s best mate and co-godparent to the HBF kids, I didn’t think this warranted special treatment.

Incorrect! Perhaps it was the fact he’d been to my wedding all those years ago, before he was even 18, where I vividly remember him dancing in a tipsy style and telling his sister (one of my two bridesmaids) that he couldn’t feel his feet…

Maybe it was revenge for when I nicked two segments of his Toblerone at a New Year’s party their parents threw while I was at uni.

Who knows. I had an invitation to the whole day, and I had a new tent to enjoy after the reception.

Off I drove early on Saturday morning, changed into my ribboned heels in the car park and tottered my way in.

The ceremony was simple and lovely, and as ever, I found myself reciting along in my head – the words endlessly familiar after I’d delivered them myself easily a hundred times, back in the distant days when I was a registrar myself.

The rings were delivered stylishly and unusually, and the guests cooed with appreciation. HBF and god-daughter were bridesmaids and looked beautiful. Mr HBF was best man to his brother-in-law, and godson was an usher.

Afterwards, drinks on the balcony and extraordinary views of the birds of prey display – hawks landing on the railing right in front of us. Catching up with friends of HBF’s parents, who I’d met at parties, been on a big HBF family holiday with, one of who I’d worked with at the same place I worked with Mr U (and how it killed me not daring to ask how he was).

Then, we had time to stroll around the park before we needed to be at the village hall. Everyone else had a partner to potter around with. The family had gone back to the hall in advance to set up the tea, and I’d assured them I’d be fine.

I shrugged, grasped my camera, and ambled around in my heels. Sometimes I am conscious of my singleness, most of the time I can squash it and not think of it – but when you are surrounded by scrubbed-up couples going a bit mushy because it’s a wedding – I wondered for the zillionth time why I am so astonishingly and permanently utterly single.

I shook myself out of it, pottered back to the cafe, found the merry gang of HBF family friends (all of the same age as my parents) and invited myself to join them for tea.

Not having seen them for many years, we caught up and chattered. I told them I’d been ill, still was I supposed, and I got what I’ve come to consider the standard answer, but this time considerably enhanced because I was scrubbed up nicely and had make-up on…

“But you look SO well! Really – you look absolutely fantastic!” “Yes! You look stunning. STUNNING! Whatever you are doing now definitely agrees with you”

Kind ladies. Alas no single gentlemen among the wedding party to test their assertions. Pity. Me and my silly invisible illness.

I led a convoy of retired people who couldn’t be faffed with their sat-navs or looking at a map when there was a thirtysomething confident she knew the way to the village hall, and it was mildly like leading a herd of unhurried cats unwilling to keep together yet driving luxury cars along narrow lanes through gorgeous thatched villages.

The village hall had been decked out with bunting and tables laden with afternoon tea delights. A special plate of gluten-free goodies had been prepared for me, which baffled me because I’m not gluten-free but I am vegetarian… it wasn’t the time to start quibbling when I could happily tuck into everything on the table anyway.

Various people asked me how I knew the bride and groom, as is the way at weddings. HBF’s mum had made me smile by introducing me as “HBF’s uber-mega best friend”, which was rather lovely, so I just said I was HBF’s best friend and met her brother when I was at uni with her.

Mr HBF overheard me giving my little explanation, and told whoever I was talking to that since he’d known me for the exactly the same length of time as his wife, that I wasn’t just her best friend, but his too – which was entirely lovely.

After tea Mr HBF and I retreated to put up the tents, along with one of the other families who were staying. It was a welcome break from being around lots of people who I didn’t necessarily know especially well, at a point where I felt I was just going from one group to another because I didn’t have my own special person to stand and giggle with. My friends had roles to do as part of the wedding party and I wasn’t expecting them to babysit me – I knew we’d have more time to hang out later.

So in our best dress / suit, Mr HBF and I put up the tents in the blazing sunshine. There was sweat, there were not enough pegs for Mr HBF’s tent, my tent was fabulous but I put the wrong bit up first, and when we were done we stood with our hands on our hips and admired our handiwork. Then HBF arrived with a glass of prosecco which I gladly swiped.

Half an hour later a rounders match was in full swing – girls vs boys. There was cheating, girls catching and being able to throw, shouting, laughter, people who were out just being allowed to carry on, and complete conviction that both side had won. It reminded me very fondly of the rounders matches we used to play after my birthday party each year, when I was married. After a few drinks none of it matters and it’s all the more funny.

Post-rounders it was clearly time for HBF and I to storm the bouncy castle. I put on my sports top (yes, I have previous with bouncy castles vs. my bosom), we jumped on, tried not to kill any children, and HBF’s mum who was in charge of my camera on “sports” mode took some of my favourite photos of the two of us ever.

Two minutes later we were exhausted. Exhausted! Bouncing is such hard work as a grown-up! We slithered off, tired but happy and laughing.

After a reviving cocktail from the cocktail van there was a BBQ, then the jukebox was turned up. Mr HBF delivered his best man’s speech, five minutes of which I missed because I’d dropped a sausage, obeyed the five-second rule, eaten it anyway, and my stomach hadn’t approved. Happily it was only a very short-lived disagreement…

Come 8.30pm I was tired and cold, so I sloped off to my tent for a rest. The evening was beautifully lit, the countryside looked as lovely as I’ve seen it, and I stood by the hedge soaking it in for a few minutes. Lying in my tent I knew if I closed my eyes then that would be it, I’d be out, so I fought it and tried to just lie still and recharge a little.

I reappeared at 9.30pm, changed into my jeans and a warm top, and emerged in time for another (soft) drink. Uncle D, who we had stayed with in France on the big HBF family holiday, had brought fireworks, and so commenced the spectacle of several quite drunk adults trying to safely set up a small batch of professional fireworks on a field.

Luckily all went beautifully and we oooh-ed and ahhh-ed our way through the rockets and the roman candles.

My evening ended dancing with the 83 year-old Uncle D to The One and Only, whilst he tipsily asked when I’d come down and stay at his house in France again, and who I’d like to bring, given I wasn’t “courting”. Surreal, I thought, my life is sometimes quite surreal…

After Chesney, I said goodnight to everyone and tottered back off to the tent. I brushed my teeth into the hedge, pulled my PJs, fleece, and thermal socks on, snuggled under my nice warm duvet, stuck my earplugs in, sleeping mask on, and nodded off quite contentedly.

Luckily for me I slept right through HBF’s cousin being shouted at in the middle of the night for being sick in their tent, and woke up at about 7.30 quite keen to find out who had the keys to the loo.

I helped a little with the clearing up, then HBF shooed me back to my tent to have a rest. Mr HBF pottered over and we hung out in the sunshine, lazing, chattering, gossiping and generally putting the world to rights.

Breakfast in the hall, more family arrived to clear up so I didn’t feel guilty about not getting very stuck in, then back to pack up my tent, load the car up, fling the roof down and drive home.

Lots of fun, lots of laughter and silliness, a little more tired more quickly than everyone else, but not broken or defeated. Great to spend time with some of my absolute favourite people, and truly chuffed to be genuinely thanked from the heart by HBF’s brother for coming down and being a part of their special day.

As I drove home I thought – I’m starting to get my life back now, and it’s so fantastic. Lucky me.

Bricks and mortar 

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I fully expected the financial advisor to tell me that I was going to have to wait until I’d saved for another six months before I could even begin to think about getting a place of my own.

Today’s meeting was just meant to be fact-finding. How much more? How much longer? What was the maximum likely? Motivation for me to get my arse in gear and save harder, stop spending.

“Sure you can have a 5% deposit help-to-buy mortgage” he told me.

My mouth dropped open.

And so here I am…

I can, if I choose, have a 95% mortgage right now, with higher monthly payments. 

Or – if I save a while longer, I can have a 90% mortgage, spend £20k more, and have slightly lower payments.

I can afford the higher payments. I can afford to shorten the term and start paying off capital so that next time I remortgage I will magically shrink my payments. Front-loading, I called it. I can do that without a worry.

This to me is a win-win situation.

If I see a house I like right now, I can have it. If I don’t see one I really like within the next six months, then I have a bigger deposit and smaller monthly payments.

We’re not talking mansions. We’re talking what one person on a good but not insane salary will be leant by the banks. It’s not going to be my dream country cottage, it’s going to be a little house somewhere in town, somewhere with a bit of character going on. A garden, a shed, somewhere to put the car. Two bedrooms.

But it will be the very first step towards that, and it will be all mine. All done by me. Some help from Granny, and all the rest saved by me. 

I will celebrate twice as hard when I move, stick my finger up at an ex-husband who ran up so much debt in his name that when we got divorced, for the sake of a quick divorce that I didn’t get, I told him he could have the house and whatever equity seven years of repayments had generated. Half the mortgage paid, half the bills paid – for half of nothing.

A part of me regrets not taking him to court and forcing him to sell, not raking over his financial mismanagement which wasn’t in my name and wasn’t for my benefit, not making him “accept the consequences of his actions” like he shoved down my throat sanctimoniously at every goddamn opportunity.

But I didn’t. I let it go, and a tiny part of me still regrets it. Anything for an easy life. 

I was on the cusp of telling his solicitor that he’d dragged it out too long, he was taking the piss and I was going to take him to court, when the day I’d decided to do that, the signed decree nisi arrived with everything I had specified agreed to. Someone had clearly pointed out that he was extremely lucky I’d handed the house over. He was. Sign there.

I hope he’s still paying off his not-a-secret-any-more HOW MUCH? debts now. He learned the hard way what my thoughts were mid-divorce when he started talking about my pension when he didn’t have one but dropped £80 a month on comics, and could I also please pay off this £6k credit card? 

But wait! Oh dear. What’s this? Is it a total of how much you’ve blown on comics and Dr Who? Why, yes it is. And goodness! it’s far more than that credit card which isn’t in my name. Would you like to hear where you can put that suggestion? No? Are you sure?

It changed me and made me harder, forged something inviolable inside. I will never be taken advantage of again. I will never let someone who thinks they are cleverer than me, who has a solicitor who uses long words – I will never be intimidated again.

My reward will be a home of my own, all mine – paid for by me. This only goes a tiny way to explaining how strongly I feel about it. It is so important to me. It will be untouchable. 

The only people I need to thank for it are my deceased grandmother, in part, and my parents for letting me live with them so I could save the rest.

The rest – all me. So there, world. So goddamn there.

And now, the fun bit. I already have a shortlist of four houses I’d like to view, so it’s onwards, upwards, it’s really happening… I can’t quite believe it…

Distributed Denial of Hope

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SkypeNo

It struck me, for conservatively the millionth time, what an entirely ridiculous human being I am.

I have Skype. I use it for work. I just have the one account, so my handful of personal contacts are on there too.

Skype lets me know when my contacts are online.

Including Dr Fathead.

Who I haven’t dated, seen or heard from in – oooooh – five years.

Who will have absolutely deleted me from his Skype contacts approximately two minutes after ringing me to split up with me, back in those dim and distant days before I’d even started my blog.

So why, I ask myself, have I never got around to deleting him from my contacts??

Is it because he was hands-down (and elsewhere) my best shag ever? [Yup]

Is it because I live in some ridiculous state of hope that he’ll magically get back in touch one day and tell me he wants to ravish me more than our prior best of eight times a night? [Erm – kiddo – bad news – it’ll be a cold day in hell before that happens… sorry…]

Is it because I’m just lazy?

Who knows. There is no logical reason to keep him there. He ain’t going to message me – I don’t even exist any more for him. It just makes me feel a bit weird and stalkerish for having not deleted him whenever his name pops up, and it also makes me wonder who he is Skyping/ fucking instead of me these days.

I’ve long inexplicably had a tiny streak of stubborn masochism, and this looks like a manifestation of just that. Pointless, ridiculous, baffling.

I’d love to see his face if I dared send him a message. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t love the knowledge that he’d go “oh God, Miss Clingy” (believe that I was not the same cool detached dater who knew how to play the game back then, in my not-quite-even-divorced state of the time) and block me.

The evilest little part of me is massively tempted to send him a message quite clearly about work, clearly not meant for him, and to feign innocence and horror, pretending that it was for a new member of staff with the same name and I’d accidentally clicked the wrong contact in a hurry.

However, a) I am just not that kind of person, b) who would believe that! and c) I’m not in the mood to be told to sod off.

So … … … deleted …

Malaise et moi

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malaise

It is awfully easy when you work at home and you’re on your own (parents back tomorrow – I’ve got very used to having the house to myself, alas) to not focus.

Work doesn’t interest me today. Actually, it is actively annoying me. Project that I’m only meant to be working on one day a week? Sure – I absolutely have time to field endless questions about it every working day.

I’m not engaged with it at all. Therefore I spend more time than I ought staring out of the window watching the pigeon eat the cherries on the tree that I want to eat when they ripen.

Technical work of the sort I keep resisting? Eventually resistance is futile and I have to learn how to do it whether I want to or not, which I don’t.

I know this is just what happens with tediously regularity every 28 days. I get grumpy and disconnected and totally uninterested in most things. It passes. The accompanying painful spots take longer to go. The water retention goes too.

This is just that one day every month where I feel at my most unattractive, my most malaised, the day where I wonder what I’m doing with my life, where on earth I am going, whether I will ever settle and be happy once I get there or whether I’m doomed to permanently think the grass is always greener somewhere else.

I’ll be better tomorrow – I have a wedding to go to and my best friends to see, a new tent to put up, a bouncy castle to go on (note to Siri – pack sports bra). I have a dress I like very much to wear, many shoes to choose from, and an excuse to get out the red lipstick. How I feel today is only chemicals in my body, that’s all it is.

The best thing to do would be to get my head down and achieve some productive work, to not focus on what I don’t have that I want, but instead what I do, and to be very much more grateful that it has been a good M.E. week, I haven’t felt ill, I’ve mowed the lawn, and I can genuinely see a time when I go for two, three, four weeks without remembering that I am ill.

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