Slowly. Slowly…

wool

Student Nurse AKA Cat Girl has been spending the last few months on work placement. This has involved everything from holding the hands of expectant mothers as they give birth, sobbing uncontrollably at the beauty of a caesarean to helping with geriatric and psychiatric patients.

Her last placement was at a centre for people with psychiatric problems and a lot of the time there was spent doing arts and crafts with them as part of their therapy. She came home one evening clutching two huge, chunky knitting needles and a ball of wool the thickness of my little finger. “I’ve learned how to knit,” she declared, sitting beside me and painfully slowly winding the wool over the needles and creating a stitch. She spent the rest of the evening, holding the needles and winding the wool over the stitches until she had finished a row and then repeated this.

“I want to learn how to do purl stitch,” she said, already bored of doing the simple stitch which she clearly had yet to master. “Do you know how to do it?”

I took the needles from her and deftly would them around my fingers and began to do the purl stitch, trying to go slowly so that she could see where the stitches went and how the direction of the needles changed. She got the idea, but still could not master the art of having the wool wound around her fingers so that she did not need to take her hand off the needle each time to make a stitch.

“Have you ever knitted anything?” she asked a while later, after I had unravelled and found yet another dropped stitch.

“Oh yes,” I said, reaching over the side of the sofa and showing her a piece of grey knitting – it measures around 10 inches in depth and is the back of a sweater. Seeing how impressed she was, I fished around in the cupboard and pulled out the completed front of the same sweater.

“Wow,” she said, examining the masterpiece I was creating, “When did you start this?”

I grinned, I knew exactly when I had bought the wool, precisely 20 years ago, as something to do after we moved from England and I didn’t have the vast garden I once had to occupy me, I had started knitting the sweater in 1997 – and have still only completed the back and half of the front… it is an ongoing project.

How meditation can help with creative writing

india aran

Using meditation to help with your creative writing

I don’t know about you but I find that writing is a kind of meditation. In order to write you have to disconnect from reality and slip into the world your characters inhabit. I find meditating helps with plot problems that inevitably crop up, by disconnecting from the reality around and giving my brain chance to work it will solve the problems as if by magic.

How meditation helps

Mediating is known to have many benefits, but specifically for writers it can:-

Connect us to that all important creative space

Help with insight – as in my plot solving issues

Creates an internal space where the plot unfolds in front of your eyes and all you have to do is let your fingers move while the book writes itself.

Turn off the mind chatter that tells you writing is a waste of time, everyone will hate your book etc..

Other benefits include improving your concentration and focus

How to meditate

Because writing is such a solitary activity and because the whole point of doing it to help with your writing it is best to meditate alone, preferably near your computer or a notebook. I find that I can achieve a meditative state while out walking, just by practicing mindfulness which is another way of turning off that soul sapping mind chatter. I put a question to my mind, the universe, or wherever (I’m not sure where the answer comes from) and just wait.

I think the important thing is to be on your own, regardless of whether you listen to a meditation recording, or just let yourself ‘be’. Focus on your breathing, of the sounds around you, of your body moving, (or not), just put your cares to one side and don’t try too hard. Allow your mind to be quiet and do its job and you’ll find that inspiration will come to you.

Does anyone use this kind of meditation to help with writing?  What kind of problems has it helped you solve?

 

Opportunity Knocks

book 2

When I eventually opened the files on my computer I noticed that they were ten years old. Ten years since they had last been worked on, ten years since the happy conversation with my agent friend, who had asked me to write a book for her, based on a humorous article I had written based on my then life of show jumping and ponies with my daughter. In the article I related our early morning starts, carrying a still sleeping child to the car in order to head to some distant part of the country for a jumping competition, of long waits in the rain, of wins where our prize money covered nothing but perhaps a burger and chips on the drive home – if we were lucky.

Ten years since she had read my first draft and exclaimed with delight at my text and then informed me perhaps she would prefer it if the book was written in first person rather than third. Alarm bells should have rung then, perhaps the wild goose chase she sent me on to find horses suitable for her to buy should have given me some idea of her true nature. Perhaps if I had been less eager, I would have been able to step back and realise that, quite possibly she was one of those people who say things one day and then don’t really mean them the next.

I don’t remember why I gave up with the book, but it sat on various computers, unopened and forgotten until recently when I was looking for something else.

The publishing world has changed a lot since then. There is no need for the desperate hunt for a publisher or an agent, only to be told their lists are full, your work is ‘utterly glorious’ but too similar to another of their clients. Now authors are doing it for themselves.

Bugger publishers and agents, now we can self-publish without the dreadful tag, the bane of everyone who dared to self publish, ‘vanity publishing’. Now, very ordinary authors are bypassing that once hallowed ground and going it alone – and some, just some, are making a nice living at it.

Having read my book, I realise now how dated it is, how my writing has changed, how I have changed, how much the writing world has changed. And that, rather than being something to regret, has given me a fabulous opportunity. I can take my book, delete most of it and re-write and it is going to be much, much better.

On his last legs

pearl 6

Pearl took one look at me, as I walked across the field to catch her, and ran.

There was an air of sheer defiance about her as she galloped down the track from one part of the field to another, Kinsale in her wake.

The two of them ran into some gorse bushes at one end of the field. I had them, I chuckled to myself as I hurried towards them. The gorse bushes formed the third side of a square, the other sides were sheep wire fencing. They could not escape. I eased myself past Kinsale to catch Pearl, the only one who had a head collar on. A stride away from catching her, she shoved her way through the towering bushes and galloped to the other end of the field, Kinsale pounding up the track behind her.

They went to the top of the field and trotted down the track towards me. I smiled again, on the track I could block and catch them, but Pearl had other ideas, hurtling past me in a place where the track was too wide for me to block her and off again.

They galloped around the house that sits in the middle of the land and back up the track.

As I walked after them Kinsale looked back over his shoulder, his expression one of pained despair – he wanted to be caught.

Down they went again, Pearl shoving her way through more bushes to avoid me, round the house and back again.

This time they went to the gate and stood waiting both breathing heavily, hot under their rugs. I caught her and led her home across the fields, Kinsale following, cross at them for doing the circus act just when I was in a hurry.

The following day Kinsale looked slightly lame, I examined his hoof and assumed he had a bruise, something which would clear up on its own. The following day he was literally on three legs.

 

kinsale at parks

I found a tiny cut, something I had not spotted before, his fetlock joint was hot and swollen. I was not sure if he had sprained the joint, the ligaments, or if an infection was making him lame. Clearly though the vet was needed.

The vet could see him straight away if we went in the trailer, but I did not want to risk a three legged horse in the trailer, so I opted for a call.

The hours trickled by. Kinsale lay down in his stable, not eating. Eventually after six the vet appeared having spent the day on emergency calls to deliver stuck lambs.

I explained the situation and my concern at my horse now being down and not eating. We hurried into the stables. As we rounded the corner, Kinsale let out a whinny and his head popped over the stable door, chomping on a mouthful of hay!

My vet diagnosed an infection, gave him a long acting painkiller and antibiotic and left me some powders to give Kinsale, leaving me with the challenge of how to find a bag of horse feed on a Sunday as I don’t feed any concentrate.

A couple of days later Kinsale is doing really well, the joint looks virtually normal now, he’s confined to the yard so that he doesn’t do any more damage, he’s eating well too, enjoying the unfamiliar treat of yummy horse food which disguises the taste of the powders. Hopefully he will soon be back in work and injury free.

Heartbreak

midnight 1

It was so brilliant to see Midnight after her operation; it was as if she had been given a new lease of life. She had survived the operation and the illness. Once she started to recover she did so very quickly and was soon back to herself, in fact better than she had been for years. It was as if five years had been taken off her age. She was back to galloping around the garden, carrying big rocks in her mouth which she hoped would be thrown for her to fetch. No wonder her teeth were worn down to stumps.

I didn’t really see any cause for concern when she seemed stiff one morning and was slightly unwilling to get up. She had the prime spot in the house, right beside the boiler, on a warm, soft dog bed, no wonder she was disinclined to go out into the cold to do her toilet business.

Once she was up she seemed better, although quite lame, but that was nothing unusual, the rough and tumble of farm life combined with her age, made it highly likely that she had arteritis.

midnight beach

It wasn’t until a week had passed that I finally crouched beside her to examine her back leg to see if there was anything obviously wrong with it. There was. As soon as I touched the inside of her back leg I could feel what the problem was. It wasn’t the leg at all, but a huge mass that extended the length of her tummy, something I hadn’t seen because I’d usually either be above her, looking down on her back, or she would be curled up in her bed.

A knot of tension formed in the pit of my stomach, I knew this was the end. The mass had come up so quickly, heaven knows what damage it was doing internally. We visited the vet’s surgery the following day. He took one look at her tummy and threw his hands up with disbelief.

There is no veil of soft speak with my vet, he says it like it is, which I like. He won’t put an animal through a lot of pain and suffering if there is no hope. And there wasn’t. Since she was not in any obvious pain, there was no need to put her down straight away, but instead arranged to do it after the weekend to give Boy chance to be with her.

He came home from college for the weekend, terribly shaken and very upset. From Friday evening until Monday morning he did not leave her side, sleeping on the sofa with her bed beside him. It was, if the grim end had not been looming over us, a lovely time. We went to the beach with her, fed her steak, petted her and told her how loved she was. It was unimaginably painful to be with the gentle, kind, daft dog that had given us such pleasure and been so loving and knowing that she was going to die soon.

When Monday morning came, we went back to the surgery where she was quietly put to sleep in Boy’s arms in the back of the car.

We buried her beside her old friends, lying on her squashy pet bed with her ball beside her. We covered gently with her blanket began the final task of filling in the grave and heaping it with stones.
Boy who had been distraught all weekend, found comfort in making her grave as nice as possible and later making her a gorgeous headstone, a fitting tribute to the last of the old pack of dogs who had been my children’s constant companions for most of their lives.

The battle of the bogland

connemara 3

One of the joys of living on the edge of Connemara is the openness. Open land stretches in every direction, swathes of long, wild grass, broken only by patches of gorse and heather. In the distance the gentle rolling foothills begin, patches of green scattered with granite boulders dumped at random by the ice age that created the mountains of Connemara.

Beneath vast skies, the rain can be seen ten minutes before it arrives, creeping, or sometimes hurtling across the land. It is a land of spectacular beauty. However, for anyone keeping horses it is a harsh land. The grass for the most part is coarse, the cruel wind battering the exposed land.

fence wind

There are patches of lush grass, in areas, hacked by hand out of the wilder land by the tough farmers who worked it hundreds of years ago, digging drains, carrying seaweed from the coast. Beneath this grass, close to the surface, the limestone makes for great drainage and is fabulous for developing the strong bone which the Irish horse is famous for.

My house is surrounded by patches of this lovely grass, looked after, and nurtured like the precious gift it is, and beyond this, the harsh boggy moorland which is suitable only for turn out, for the horses to exercise in during the winter months when they rarely go out other than to wander around briefly while their stables are being cleaned out. Over the last few years, fortunes have been spent on buying fencing, land has been cleared so that the stakes can be hammered into the earth and the fencing nailed on.  Hours and hours of back breaking work – all to make sure that the horses have somewhere safe to roam.

Around my stables is an area, fenced on three sides and bordered by a deep ditch where the horses can get some fresh air and stretch their legs for a few hours each day.

The other morning the horses were in the turn out paddock behind the barn while I cleaned them out. It was a grotty day, the kind that this part of Ireland seems to specialize in, the wind howls across the land, flattening the grass, loosening long brown strands which fasten themselves to the sheep wire fences and blow frenziedly. A light rain was falling, the kind that drenches everything and finds its way into the gaps between clothing, dripping down backs and seeping slowly up cuffs.

As I was  taking my second wheel barrow to the muck heap the two geldings appeared from the back of the barn, eager to come in out of the unpleasant weather. I tipped the muck and then let them into their stables, where they started tucking in to their haylage. But there was no sign of the mare.

I went to the back of the barn and there she was, having jumped over the deep, wide ditch and then, if that was not enough mischief, she had let herself into a neighbour’s field, tucking merrily into the grass, having pushed her way through the fence. All that hard work and expense amounts to nothing when a horse wants to get to good grass.

 

Racing Results

babs

Today I have to google to get the race results, but twenty years ago the result of the 3.05 Comet Chase at Ascot was terribly important. I’m just as keen on horses and racing twenty years on as I was then, but the obsession with which I followed my favourite horses has certainly waned somewhat.

I watched the race, a strongly fought battle between One Man, Sound Man, Strong Promise and Big Matt from my hospital bed in the maternity ward at the Derby City Hospital. The race was eventually won by Strong Promise with my favourite the incredible One Man coming a close second. He was put down after a fall just a year later, but he still rates amongst the greats up there with Arkle and Red Rum.

The race was so important to me that I managed to ignore (or withstand) the labour pains until the race was over after which I hobbled down to the delivery suite, not wholly convinced that I was going to make it that far and not give birth in the corridor.  I’m sure the anxious nurses who had been in and out of the ward all afternoon would have been delighted to have been proved right and that I should have listened to them and gone down earlier. I was determined not to let the mere delivery of a baby stand in between me and my favourite horse.

Twenty years on, that baby is herself working on a labour ward, as part of her training, no doubt meeting babies who share her birthday. And I am shocked to find that I am no longer a mother of teenagers that last bastion of childhood, that I in fact have children that are now in their twenties, an incredible feat since I am myself only twenty five!

Homecoming Surprise

poorly midnight

After three weeks of purely hedonistic pleasure wandering around India, it was back to reality with a bump. I arrived home to be greeted with the alarming news that our elderly Labrador was at the local vet’s on a drip having been found clearly very unwell by Student Nurse.
A call to the vet’s surgery informed me that the dog had an infection and was on a drip and could be let out the following day with a course of antibiotics.
I picked her up, Midnight looked distinctly embarrassed to have been caught lying in state in a cage at the surgery, but was very pleased to see me and everyone else in the waiting room, she was clearly feeling a lot better.
I paid the eye watering bill and was informed that if the antibiotics did not work then she would need an operation. Because it was so close to the weekend, the operation would undoubtedly be an emergency one, with the vet needing to eat into their weekend time and would cost a figure so vast I thought the receptionist was giving me her telephone number.
I got Midnight home, crossing fingers and toes that the antibiotics would work. I had been informed that the effects of the drip would wear off after a few days when we would know if she was on the mend or not.
The days trickled by, she seemed fine, eating and drinking and pottering around in the garden, surely we were over the worst of it and she was going to be ok. They had said that Wednesday would be The Day. Wednesday came and went, Midnight ate and drank and pottered about in the garden. Thursday arrived and she nibbled at her food rather than wolfing it down as Labradors’ do. On Friday she turned her nose up at the food, she was sick again.
Turmoil ensued. I could not afford the telephone number bill and the alternative was to have her put to sleep. She was very old, she had enjoyed a good life, I consoled myself. Boy was inconsolable though and I knew something had to be done. A second opinion had to be sought.
I made a telephone call on Friday afternoon and on Friday evening took her to the farm vet in the next town. We sat in the waiting room amongst the bags of animal feed and cattle potions, a world away from the finery of the pet surgery in my home village. He arrived at the surgery a short time later, wheel spinning into the car park, screeching to a halt in his haste. He lives at breakneck speed, running from one farm to another, covering vast areas of Connemara tending to the farm animals as well as running a busy surgery in the town.
If he was stressed by the hectic day and annoyed at seeing yet another animal just when he thought his working day was over it did not show. Midnight was greeted as if she were a much prized and cherished client. He quickly examined her did a sharp intake of breath when I told him her age and then shooed me out of the door.
The following day I called the vet’s mobile. I could hear the sound of the air rushing past his car as he hastened to yet another emergency. Midnight had survived her operation and was fine. He had removed her infected womb, she had a course of antibiotics to take for a few days, but she was going to be ok.
I picked her up, she was quiet, drowsy, glad to be out of the surgery. At home she lay sleepily, ignoring any of the food I placed in front of her. I wondered if the surgery had been too much for her and if I should have let her go rather than putting her through all of that. She lay in state for a few days, head on her paws. I spooned water into her to make sure she kept hydrated.
Two days later, when I waved a piece of chicken under her nose she sniffed it and then, as if she were doing me the biggest favour, slowly opened her mouth and accepted my offering. As if a switch had been turned on I saw the light come back on in her eyes – food. Midnight was on the mend.

midnight after op

Equestrian power shower

kinsale-at-parks

At the weekend we competed in a local hunter trials in the pairs, we arrived early as I wanted to go to a point to point in the afternoon. It started to rain as we unboxed and rode into the warm up area. Disaster, one of the jump stewards did not turn up and so the event was 2 hours late starting, by which time we were very cold and very wet.
Kinsale had been horrible to start with, I think only good luck stopping him from throwing a complete wobbly and really disgracing himself. He spooked at people walking the course with umbrellas, got tense when the loose horses in the field beside the warm up arena so much as flickered an ear, was utterly offended when the rain, something he has barely been out in let alone ridden in, poured down with the force of a power shower.
Eventually we were allowed to start. We jumped the first couple of jumps, during which time it was obvious that my wet gloves were not letting my reins slide through my fingers when the horse jumped. He did, I was delighted to discover, went straight into the water complex, after which, with the bulk of the course still to do, I had to remove my gloves and shove them into my pocket before we carried on.
We had arranged before hand that we were going round non-competitively and that Grace would jump all of the bigger fences if she wanted to while did my own thing, jumping most of them, but missing some of the more challenging ones that I felt unsure of, considering a couple of years ago I would not have wanted to jump anything I’ve come on in leaps and bounds, but still a long, long way from the fearless hunting thruster I used to be!
We crossed the finishing line with I imagine a well marked score card, thrilled, me that I had got round at all and that Kinsale had been so well behaved and Grace delighted that Twirl had jumped everything that she had put her at. We were soaked to the skin though and I’ve never been so happy to get home and into a hot shower!

Psycho Dog – not a biography

Psycho Dog by Janet Menzies Published by Quiller
skye-smiling
A freind, on sight of Janet Menzies Psycho Dog asked if my beloved Border Collie had written her autobiography. In reality as a non-doggie person, said partner does not understand that dogs do not possess logic like humans and that they are very definitely not small human beings in fur coats whose sole purpose in life is to drive everyone demented.
I devoured this book – figuratively not literally – I leave that to the dogs. Janet Menzies certainly knows her stuff and writes with great sense and a delightful sense of humour. Dogs are dogs – they do not misbehave out of spite, they are just being dogs. The book details a wide range of problems, their probably causes and how to deal with them.
The book is broken down into sections:-
Endearing (mostly) such as jumping up or being timid.
Irritating such as pulling when on the lead or running off.
Social such as barking and chewing or exhibiting toilet issues.
Health problems such as car sickness or weight gain and loss.
Serious such as aggression and chasing
Each section is further broken down with great anecdotes and wise advice. The text, which can be dipped into to solve the various issues teaches humans how to be kind, responsible, reliable and trustworthy pack leaders. Dogs are not human and do not possess our powers of reasoning, they can be dangerous if not treated with respect and, more importantly, know their place amongst the hierarchy of the family. However, they do possess traits that we recognize such as being needy, or slightly dim-witted.
With more and more large very active dogs becoming increasingly popular there is a very useful, if quite sobering, chapter on how to deal with a dog attack, both to save your own skin and that of someone who is being attacked.
The book can be used as a workbook, with assessments to fill in to see just how psycho your dog is and offers comprehensive advice on how to deal with the issues. It also challenges the dog owner to look at their situation and the home they have given the dog and see if it really is a suitable environment for them. Is it really fair to keep a large dog who is by nature designed to run in harsh environments for hours on end, in a small inner city apartment alone all day and then wonder why is displays habits the owner does not like.
Read as a whole you will pick up valuable insights into the world of the animal who probably shares more of our lives than any other. This is a super book, written by someone who clearly understands dogs and enjoys imparting this knowledge with her readers.