Vision Things

This will probably be a bit of a disjointed post, so sorry about this in advance.


I have PTSD. It doesn’t matter what it’s from but, effectively, it’s been with me for most of my teenage years and all of my adult life. As a result of it, I am both more sensitive to traumas which are similar to my original trauma, and have memory problems.


For “similar”, consider it like this:

There is a small, blue vase with a smooth glaze and a painting of a hummingbird on it. Things which are similar to it are things which are blue, vases, hummingbirds, smooth textures, things of a similar size, hollow things, things which make the same noise when set on a surface, other ornaments which might be in the same place as a vase.


I have memory problems: My long-term memory is fragmentary at best, and there are stories within it (Usually ones which I’ve either had to repeat a few times, or which other people have told back to me) where I remember them oddly. It’s like the Princess and the Frog – The story remains the same, but it could be in the city or the country, and it could be a witch’s curse or a self-imposed exile, and the girl could be a princess already or a commoner, and she might have kept her promise or broken it, or found the golden bauble, or had it brought back to her as proof. As I’m telling a story, I’ll often have to hunt around to find out who it was with, or when it was, or where. Sometimes I’ll start telling a story which I think happened after I’d left university, then realise that it happened when I was a child, or one which I think was in Tokyo and was actually in Berlin, or which I think was with Dearest but, logically, was before I met him.


And I have flashbacks. Usually brief, usually brought about by something that reminds me of a trauma (Some physical sensations, the smell of a certain brand of industrial cleaner, a certain turn of phrase). Sometimes it’s just a bad dream. Most of the time, in fact, it’s bad dreams. Not as bad as night terrors, but they feel almost like night terrors, and I end up screaming or lashing out or sleepwalking.


Sometimes, because of it, I lose track of what day it is, or what year. Just a nagging sensation that I have to do something – Go to my Grandparents’ house for tea (Not a regular occurrence since 2003), wake up in time for work, meet someone at the club (which closed in 2010), press my uniform for school.


I actively avoid nostalgia. There is nothing for me back there, only forwards. When I feel like there’s a chance of worse episodes, I don’t listen to music at all, since the chance of getting a line stuck in my head, and it feeling a bit like an intrusive thought (Like in the vase analogy) is too much of a risk, since it can set off a full-blown episode, if not of flashbacks, then at least of depression and self-harm.


Last week, I fell asleep at Best Friend’s house in the usual fashion. The next bit that I clearly remember is being curled up with my head on his shoulder, crying uncontrollably, and whenever I raised my head for a second, seeing him looking terrified.


From his accounts;


I was “gone” for nearly an hour.

I seemed to be in my late teens, knowing what he knew of my past and the people in it.

I was freshly grieving someone who has been dead for more than ten years.

I didn’t know that I had EDS – He had to keep explaining to me that my back pain wasn’t from a climbing accident, and that my hands weren’t hurt from sparring.

I didn’t know where I was.

I wasn’t answering to my own name.

I kept looping back as if I wasn’t making new memories within that hour – Having to re-establish where I was, when I was, what was happening.


By the time I returned to myself, I was just upset, exhausted, tense all over and shaking. He relayed back to me what had happened – My screaming waking him up, him taking a few minutes to work out that this wasn’t just a nightmare, then putting the lights on and listening to what I was saying whilst reassuring me where I was, when it was, and that I was safe, reminding me of my dog, my partner, my house, my bike, the swimming pool that I loved, the things that I’d made and done since the last year that I remembered. I asked if I’d hurt him, and he said no – That I’d not even tried, I’d just been frightened and sad. I was relieved. If he’d said that I’d even made an attempt to hurt him, I’d have put on my boots and gone home.


Suitably caught up, he offered me my diazepam, both to release the spasms that had taken hold whilst I wasn’t protecting my movements and to settle my mind far enough that I could move forwards, and we talked about inconsequential things in the present – Casting plaster, painting with nail varnish, production lines, cricket balls, archaeology, cats. I had to sleep with the light on, and he agreed that it was wise.


I went back to sleep, and thankfully didn’t dream.



Doesn’t remind me of anything

Recipe time.


Back before I was vegan, I was a pretty good (albeit not formally trained) pastry chef. Not of the “How much icing can I fit on this cupcake” variety, which I honestly think is a bit vulgar, but more in the vein of trying to resurrect lost puddings and biscuits from old British housekeeping manuals, and getting really into French patisserie – The absolute acme of my non-career being a two foot tall croquembouche for a New Years’ party, where everything from the whipped cream to the gold-powder-infused caramel was made from scratch – No packet sauces or aerosols involved.


And then in 2011 I went vegan, and it all basically stopped, because vegan cake-making-stuff was expensive, and never gave the results I wanted, and using bananas as egg replacer made everything pink and stringy and taste of banana. (Though converting recipes with the Phallic Ratio does always amuse me).


So, this week, after a few months of craving financiers, I decided to experiment a bit. Urad dal, the white kind rather than the unhulled kind, is a pretty good source of protein, much like an egg white. And to make financiers, I pretty much only needed egg whites, for the texture.


Financiers, experimental


So, one tablespoon of dal, into four tablespoons of boiling water from the kettle, left overnight, then strained in the morning to separate out the solids. I suspect this would also work if the dal was cooked, and the water saved, which would be quicker. The result was a thickish white liquid that, when spread around, seemed to be pretty proteinaceous, rather than starchy.


The dry ingredients didn’t need much changing, just a matter of working out the proportions; 3tbsp almond powder, 1tbsp icing sugar, 1 tbsp self-raising flour. Mixed up in a bowl, making sure there’s no clumps.


Then, to make beurre noisette – A pain in the dick at the best of times, becuase of all the stirring and risk of setting off the smoke alarms. I decided to use Vitalite (2 tbsp off), in a heavy-bottomed non-non-stick pan. It melts faster than real butter, but takes a bit longer to brown up, and needs constant stirring with a fork to keep it agitated and consistent, rather than burnt. It actually worked, pretty well.


Mix wet into dry – dal first, then the beurre noisette, slightly cooled, then leave everything to stand for a few minutes. A good time to grease tins, arrange silicone cake cases, and get the oven heated up to 200c.


Give everything another stir, and it should look a lot like “proper” cake mix. Put one tablespoon in the bottom of each mould, or cake case (Moulds are better, metal is best, since they make the undersides very crisp). The amount above makes six small cakes, since this was only a test run, but you’ll note that it’s an easy to convert ratio to make as many as you like.


Baking is a matter of faff – Five minutes at 200c, to get them to rise and start to crisp, then reduce the heat to 160 and bake for another eight minutes to cook the centres, then return to 200 for about another five minutes to  crisp the shells up so that they’re nice and golden. The edges where they’re touching the metal pans should be a chestnutty colour, and the middles should be the classic gold that makes them look like gold bars.


Pop out of the trays, leave to cool for a few seconds if you’ve got the patience (And they do get a little crisper as they cool) then eat. The centres will, hopefully, be almost like an almond fondant, and the outers will be crispy sponge cake.




City of Mabgate

Last week, in my infinite curiosity, I finally got around to trying the other local baths, which I’ll call B – It’s a bit further away, it’s not run directly by the council but by a community organisation, and its big draw is that it’s basically a perfectly-preserved Edwardian bathhouse. Opened in 1904, fell derelict at some point in the 20th century, then restored and reopened by the council in 1992, then threatened with closure in 2012, and passed into the hands of the community in 2013, where it’s now staffed by a mixture of enthusiastic volunteers and paid staff, and is a proper community hub again.

The most striking thing about it, from my point of view, is how green it is – Everything that in a “modern” bath would be blue is green – Green lane markings, pale green tiled walls, green wrought ironwork around the balcony and holding up the beautiful glass roof, green painted wood on the cubicle doors and even green lights in the corridor into the main bath. The slipper baths are long gone, and have been replaced by a gym, but there’s a hot plunge pool that I plan on investigating, and a banya that’s still in good working order and is frankly much needed. The pool is accessed by two sets of stone steps, the pool edge is brilliantly non-slip gritstone, and it ranges from 90cm to 175cm at the deep end – Not deep enough for anything other than a shallow dive, but also not so shallow that a tuck-turn is impossible (Though it is a challenge at the 90cm end if you’ve got long legs and shoddy technique, like I have).


When I was there, there were lane ropes in, and the swimmers ranged from “slow” to “standing completely still”. I’ll try a few more sessions to see if any sense of lane discipline can be instilled into the regulars, but if not I’ll make it my Official Floatytime Pool, where I go to relax and steam, rather than to train. And honestly, floating in salt water, lit by gaslamps, staring up at the stars? Not a bad way to spend an evening.


Relatedly: This is all making me very hopeful for the reopening of Newcastle’s 1920s Turkish bath and city pool, which I used to swim in as a teenager, and whose restoration was announced just a few months ago.


Anyway, I rode over on Monday night, parked in the incredibly convenient disabled parking space right outside the front door, swam about 400m, steamed, did a further 400m, steamed again, then 200m, then more steam, then rode home again. i might do the same in daylight later on this week.


Also this week, the social worker has been around again, has worked out that she can’t help me at all, other than to see if I was eligible for a personal budget to hire a carer, and now I don’t want anything, because the thought of having to talk to someone, even as an employee rather than a friend, is horrifying. On the other hand, having someone to take me swimming, possibly even swim with me in the water to help me keep pace, then ladle me back into my clothes and help me get back home could be useful.


And, finally, I’m researching bikes again, specifically “How on earth am I going to push a bike around the Mod 1 track?”


So here’s some stats; My 125 weighs 140kg, and is 95 inches long. The bike that I eventually want (That Suzuki Intruder VZ800 that’s been sitting at the local garage for months, calling to me…) is 98 inches long, and weighs 200kg.



(That’s her. That’s Trudy. 2010. Less than 9k miles. £4,ooo. She’s been fluttering her eyelashes at me ever since I picked up the Marauder after his 30,000 mile service.)

This is not a huge difference, but it might be enough to cause me issues. I think it’s about time that I booked in for some Direct Access lessons, to see how I feel about getting out and about on a big bike. Instinct and experience suggests that I’ll be smiling so much that the top of my head will be in danger of falling off, but caution also says that I need to really think hard and prepare well before trying a test.

Logic also says that since the Mod 1’s expiry is tied to the theory test’s expiry, I should try to do the two as close to each other and as close to the start of my DA lessons as possible, to give me the longest possible time before needing to re-take anything, in which to take my Mod 2.


As it stands;


My CBT was passed in August, giving me 21 months remaining.


The weather and, importantly for my mental health, daylight starts to pick up in about March, and that’s when I’d want to start doing my lessons. If I did my Theory in March, I’d have 18 months remaining in which to get my Mod1 and Mod2.


Finally, my lessons will take about a month or two, at the shortest (Starting with 8 and going from there), meaning that I’ll probably want to take my Mod1 in about April or May.


Assuming a pass in May, that’d give me a neat sixteen months in which to pass my Mod 2, and about five months before the weather got bad again and we lost the light going back into Autumn.


So, a vague timescale would be to take my Theory in March, my Mod1 in May and then my Mod2 in about July, giving me enough time to do plenty of lessons but not to have too long a gap after the last one before taking a test, since I know that I’ve already got bad habits on the 125 that I need to stamp out before doing a test (I spend far too much time with the clutch pulled in, for example).


It’s all pretty hopeful.


Finally, sadly, it’s pissed it down all day today, so I’ve not had time to take any pictures of my nice, clean, rust-proofed bike that I love possibly slightly too much to be natural. Tomorrow I’m going to wax him again and get photos before it gets too miserable.


It is in our nature

Today I feel right.


I’ve fixed up the garden – Skipped out all of the muck, turned over the flowerbeds, potted up a rhododendron, planted rhubarb, filled two windowboxes and put two different types of mint in the big planter, along with finding the miniature hollies and making sure they’re all right.


Then I got to the work I wanted to do – Winterising the bike. I’ve sanded off all the rust, painted the exhaust with heatproof paint, spot-primed and re-painted all the ex-rusty bits of the frame, polished the chrome, waxed the coloured paintwork, replaced the epoxy on the crash bars, tightened up everything that needed tightening and WD-40d everything that needed WD-40ing. And I’ve arranged to borrow a garage off a neighbour so that it’d not left out in the rain overnight whilst I’m not riding it. It looks great – Not exactly like a new bike, but like the neatest rat in the village.


Finally, I’ve helped Dearest with the push bike – Took off the wheels, fitted new innertubes and tyres, sanded the rust (again!) primed the whole frame, and now just waiting for the primer to dry before putting on a nice coat of pillarbox red paint (Making us a household with one red pushbike, one red motorcycle and one red car).


My hands are filthy, there’s rust and primer and putty and engine grease and the unspeakable crap off the underside of a motorbike on them, and there’s soil and bits of tree bark under my nails. They look like my hands again.

My Brain On Drugs

I’ve written more than a few times about the long-term use of drugs, and pain, and family and friends’ attitudes to medication and the shame that always seems to come with being dependent, and Bruce Alexander’s Rat Park Experiments, as compared to how GPs seem to think about addiction, and even about overdose, but I’ve recently realised that most of these are buried at the bottom of posts about my own situation, rather than standing on their own.

So here’s some kind of masterpost of my thoughts on drugs. I might have directed you to this because you asked a flamingly obvious question, or because you were generically ignorant, or because you were spreading hateful misinformation. Please, read on and be enlightened.


GPs and medication

For some reason, some GPs seem to think that they are are be-all and end-all of medical knowledge. Even when a consultant, or a surgeon, or a physiotherapist, or a headpoker has told them otherwise, they will always insist on sticking their neb in and fiddling with a patient’s prescriptions. They pad their ignorance of the case-in-hand by talking about side effects, the dangers of addiction, and just “not being comfortable…” with particular courses of action. Even though, usually, all of these things have been talked through between the patient and the specialist, and the prescription suggested is the one with the best chance of causing the most improvement with the least unacceptable side-effects. If they are somehow persuaded to just issue the prescription, they’ll try to reduce the dose, or reduce the number of tablets given, or insist on reviewing it themselves every month, in spite of having no useful input since they never take useful notes on the patient and never trust what the patient is telling them about their condition.



Addiction is pretty much always presented as a) likely and b) the worst possible thing that can happen to a long-term opiate or benzodiazepene user. The truth is that it’s been pretty conclusively proven, in multiple studies, that substance-mediated addiction doesn’t really exist. So a patient taking morphine for pain, even for years and years on end, won’t become addicted. They might become tolerant, and need a higher dose to achieve the same effect, and they might suffer physical withdrawal effects when they initially stop taking it, but they will not become addicts.

I maintain that addiction is still only a problem if it puts the user in danger. If the drug supply comes from a reputable source, and the dosage is kept low enough to not cause physiological problems, and the user’s normal functioning isn’t impaired, who cares if they motivate themselves to go to work in the mornings with the knowledge that they can get high when they get home?



It’s a popular myth – That someone starting out on a small dose of opiate painkillers will have to take larger and larger doses over time to get the same effect. It’s just, fortunately, not true. There’ll often be a large increase in the first year, whilst the doctor and patient work out together what the right dose is for the patient to get all of their symptoms under control, and indeed what the right type of pain relief is (Lots of PRN? Slow release? Patches? Combinations? Multiple families of drugs or just one? How do they conform to their routine, do they need something simple to remember, or can they handle a dozen things with a dozen different dosing parameters?) but developing such a tolerance that a drug just won’t work is rare.



It’s sometimes hard to work out what’s a detrimental side-effect of a condition, and what’s a detrimental side-effect of medication. It’s personal to the person with the condition, especially in what someone will tolerate – Some people would rather feel slightly queasy all the time because of a drug that disagrees with them, whereas others would rather put up with the original condition. The most famous of these dilemmas is probably with SSRIs, when used to treat “simple” depression – Some people prefer to deal with the depression on their own or with talking therapies alone, rather than to have their sex drive and performance ruined by SSRIs, which is one of the more common side-effects. And the same applies to painkillers, and even with PRN painkillers, from dose to dose; On Monday, Jim might prefer to be in more pain, but more clear-headed, whereas on Saturday he might give himself a “day off” and take enough to no longer be in pain, even if it’s enough to make him floppy all over and to want to tell his friends about a lovely imaginary cow called Grenache.


The Fabled Morphine High

It goes away. Someone on slow-release morphine won’t really be “always a little bit stoned”, they’ll just not be in pain. For the first week or two, they might feel a bit weird, but that’ll probably be the all of it. Someone taking their prescribed dose of PRN morphine, after a few times, won’t feel a high from it, they’ll again just suddenly be in less pain. Occasionally, the appropriate amount of morphine for a situation will still get you high, even after years of use. It’s not unpleasant, it’s no more dangerous than the amount of pain that it’s masking, and frankly it’s often difficult to untangle it from the pain-relieving effect. Various opiates and opioids have different effects – Some are extremely soporific, some are extremely efficient at only effecting the nociceptors, some have a gentle antianxiolytic effect, some just make the pain feel less urgent, as if the mind is floating away from the body. They’re all components of how they relieve pain.



There’s no grand moral imperative to not take drugs. That’s not a natural law, it’s some kind of conservative anxiety about other people getting an easy ride, or a puritan anxiety that people might be enjoying themselves, or possibly an anti-technological anxiety that drugs are science and science is bad. Sometimes, it’s a bigger act of willpower to say “No, I’m going to stop doing the [fun or necessary thing] and lie down and take my medication and rest instead. Even though I don’t want to,” than to try to continue as is nothing was wrong. Society hammers into us from an early age that we have responsibilities which must be discharged before we can rest, and some of those make sense – You have to get the bairns home from school, or turn off the open gas flame on the hob, because those are things which will be unsafe if not attended to – but some of them are not sensible; There is no reason why you must vacuum the living room carpet or go out to a dinner party if you’re exhausted and in pain and just want to lie down. They’re not as fundamental on Maslow’s Hierarchy as not being in pain. And for that matter, there is nothing wrong with delegating. Sometimes it’s fine to say “No, you can make the tea, I need to take a load of pills and lie down in a dark corner for a while.”


Other People

It is not up to anyone but you how you take your medication. Anyone saying “Just take less of it! I hate it when you’re on morphine!” is saying “I prefer it when you’re in pain, because you’re more useful to me like that!” Work out what it is that they want – Whether that be housework, a share of your wages, sexual performance, more attention or any of the other billion things that one human can want from another – and make it abundantly clear to them that, without your painkillers, you won’t be able to give them more of what they want, you’ll just be disappointing them whilst in pain, rather than disappointing them whilst in relative comfort.


Bodily Harm

Being in pain, long term, causes damage. Pain causes spasms, which can rip muscles out of insertions and snap bones (An orthopaedic surgeon once memorably told me about a muscle spasm snapping someone’s femur. It may have been a diseased femur, but it was a femur. Think how thick a femur is.) even before you come down to the way that a muscle spasm will make you drop whatever you’re holding, make your paintbrush wobble across the page, or make you slam the throttle of your bike so hard that you fly forwards at a hundred miles an hour. Pain causes hypertension and an increased heart rate, which can lead to heart attacks and all sorts of other things. Pain causes lack of appetite, resulting in long-term weight loss and often tooth decay from never chewing, so never producing sufficient saliva. Pain causes anxiety and depression and frankly can just make you into a horrible person to be around. This is not to mention the number of people who kill themselves every year due to being in untreated, long-term pain.

Long-term opiate use is safe and effective. The constipation is treatable, easily and safely. The chance of liver or kidney trouble, if taken within prescribed amounts, is infinitessimally small and can be tested for long before it becomes a problem, if there are any warning signs.


This post will get longer over time. Thank you for reading.

Care and Caring

(I need to write about the past few days, because Shit Has Happened, but this first.)


So, this afternoon, I’ve got the social care person from the council coming around again, to sort out… I’m not really sure what. I think the financial implications, or something. But I’ve been thinking about a couple of narratives on care, which I keep hearing.


Actually, this all came about because of a discussion on having children, or not having children, in which someone said to me that I was selfish for not having children, because “I would sponge off their kids to look after me when I’m old”. I reasoned that I would rather pay a carer, instead of derailing a family member’s career or family life, since doing the former meant that I’d get professional care without the faff of family baggage, and would be creating much-needed jobs for usually young, usually poor, usually initially under-skilled workers. So, effectively, I wasn’t sponging off their kids, I was giving their kids a job. I was, categorically, making sure that there was a care industry, which meant that if their kids chose to continue their careers instead of looking after their ageing parents, there’d be a care system already in-place to take over.


So, narrative one is that paying a carer is a sign of someone being “abandoned”, and that all care work should be done for free, by family.


Let’s poke that a bit:


Plumbing is a job that’s usually done in the home, and that pretty much looks like anyone can do it, right? You just turn off the stopcock, unscrew the pipe join, cut it a bit shorter to add a connector, clip the connector on, braze in an elbow-joint, then put the new appliance on the extension. It doesn’t take many tools that you don’t already have, and any extra that you’d have to buy, you can buy cheaply. And you’ll pick it up quick enough.


And yet, very few people just expect to do their own plumbing. So why do we expect people to just provide care? Yes, you can probably go to the shops to get food for an ailing relative, but how can you guarantee that you’re doing it adequately- that you’re not forgetting something that they’ve also forgotten, or that you’re doing it at a time that’s right for them, without also making a mess of your own schedule, or how to know the balance between trying to get them to eat better-quality food, and bringing them the things that they like? Beyond that – You know how to wash your own hair, but what about doing someone else’s? How about how to dress them, without causing too much pain or emotional discomfort? What about if they need help with managing their sex life, or getting to an STI clinic, or dealing with incontinence? As a family member, you’re going to find that much more distressing (and they’ll find it much more distressing) than they would with a professional who, when you get right down to the knuckle, is being paid, and who has decided that the renumeration offered is financially “worth” the bother of wiping someone’s arse or making four hundred cups of tea a day.


Hiring a carer, or having one hired for you, is no more “being abandoned” than hiring a plumber or an electrician to repair your house is “being abandoned”. In fact – Think how many people with plumbers or builders or joiners in the family who’ll need building work done and will say “Oh, no, I’ll not ask our Andy, he’s got to be busy at work,” or (from the perspective of Andy) “I’ll do it at mates’ rates, but I still need paying”.
And yet, somehow, we forget that caring work – Whether it be the physical or emotional labour – is real work. And the burden does pretty much uniformly fall on daughters – Not always, and certainly not enough to say that sons are exempt, but if there’s two adult children, society will usually expect the daughter to care for her parents, and the son to not, because he’s got his own children to look after.


It’s even more pronounced when we’re talking about hiring housekeepers or cleaners -At least a nurse or a carer has some obvious skill that the general population doesn’t have, usually (in the public imagination) physiotherapy, or dealing with IVs, TPN and stoma, whereas people find it more difficult to parse that a professional cleaner or housekeeper will usually be a much better and more efficient worker than anyone could manage for themself.


It does look a bit like we’re not counting it as “work” because it’s “women’s work”.


And from that, we get to the kind of native suspicion of carers – Think how common the narrative of “My nurse was stealing from me” is, or “The cleaner ran off with the silverware” or “It turned out that the nice girl from the shop who brought my groceries was also selling my painkillers” is.


There’s two axes there – Class (“They’re poor, their employers are rich, so of course they’ll be tempted to steal”) and gender (“They’re women, who’ll accept money to do the things that women naturally should just do? They must be defective somehow. I bet they’re not beyond stealing, since they’re stealing already by not performing this labour for free”), and sometimes there’s a racial component too, especially in places where carers or nurses are usually recent migrants or the children of migrants.


Then there’s the “Nobody is that good” angle. When we’re being more honest, and realise that being a carer is a difficult job and not paid anywhere near enough for the amount of skill needed, we wonder “Are they doing it for the £8 an hour, or are they getting perks in the form of whatever’s in the fridge, the change bowl, and the medicine drawer?” which often comes in when the families of the person being cared for start to resent the (seemingly) more time that the carer gets with their relative than they do.


Even though, as we know, it’s not really “high quality” time, or not always – For every nice day where you sit and drink tea and talk about the war, there’s two where you’re hauling laundry and being reminded that you’re an employee.


There’s the other big point of discomfort (Ha, you thought I’d get through this whole post without mentioning class, didn’t you? Nope…) class. Most of us consider ourselves, if not solid working-class folk, at least not the hated bourgeoisie – The kind of people who don’t have aspirations above our place in the world, who don’t think we’re better than other folk.


It’s a bit of a paradox that in trying to define ourselves as “Not thinking we’re above ourselves”, we say “Thus hiring a domestic worker degrades them, and us into the bargain”. Because that’s really saying “Being paid for a day’s work is degrading”, or “Being paid to do traditionally feminine jobs is degrading” or even “I think that some kinds of work shouldn’t be renumerated.”


There’s nothing shameful in hiring a carer, because being a carer is not shameful. Nobody is degraded by getting money to do housework, or to go shopping, or to clean arses. All of those are jobs that need doing, and anyone that can do them well deserves to be paid for it. In deciding to hire a carer or a housekeeper or similar, you’re not saying that your time is worth more than their time, you’re saying that they will do a more efficient job than you could – whether that be because they’re better at it than you, or simply because that is their job, rather than trying to fit it in around another job – and that they deserve to be paid for their expertise.


And all this is even before we get into the social and familial implications – It’s easier to maintain a normal family relationship, or friendship, or partnership, when one participant in the relationship doesn’t have to compartmentalise the difference between “Percy, my friend that I love, and whom I sometimes help when it’s appropriate” and “Percy, the person who needs me to do these tasks for them, or they will starve atop a pile of their own shit” and indeed when the other partner doesn’t have to compartmentalise between “Friend that I love” and “Friend that I rely on to be fed and clean, so dare not piss off for fear of returning to the shitheap”.


It’s all the stranger when we consider how much work it was “normal” to contract out at different periods of history – Having a butler or a housekeeper, or even just a cook or a maid, was common amongst the upper and upper-middle classes right up to the Great War, and even now you see adverts for families looking for a live-in nanny or a full-time domestic. Beyond that, having personal servants to wash your hair, help you dress, wake you up in the morning and other remarkably personal duties (Even if, in a small household, that was just one duty of a more general member of staff) was pretty common right into the Regency – Indeed, look at drop-fronted travelling dresses, which became popular with fashionable young upper-class women in the 1810s; They meant that they could get dressed without help, pretty much for the first time. The old cliche of having someone lace you into a corset? Admittedly, it’s always skewed (People get confused between tightlacing, a niche 1900s practise, and corset-wear in general, so always imagine that the reason for having a lacing assistant is because of tightness, not because of the difficulty of putting on a lot of layers, most of them fastening at the back, when wearing a mountain of petticoats, or a pannier, or farthingale, or even much later a crinolene) but once you were into the social strata where you had to dress properly, rather than just skulking around in a tea dress or workwear, if you were a woman you pretty much always had someone to help you dress, even if that was just a friend or a sibling (Read anything by Jane Austen, and note that in the poorer middle-class families, the sisters will help to dress each other. In the richer ones, they’ve got servants). Men as well could expect to have a Gentleman’s gentleman, someone who’d, if not always button them into their shirts, would at least link their cuffs, help with a cravat, set their wigs straight or even just lay out their clothes for them.


The degree of personal care that’s considered “personal” changes, along with fashion. I could talk at length about how the smoking jacket set the stage for people going on pub crawls in kigurumi.


In short: There are so many reasons that having a paid carer is a good and useful thing, and there are similarly many reasons for having a paid housekeeper.



It’s International Men’s Day



My masculinity is fragile, and I fight hard to hang on to it. Most of the time, the thing that bruises it is someone calling me “Mrs” or reminding me that “Us women are [this] and men are [unknowably different]”. It’s people telling me that I’ll feel [a way that I don’t feel] about [event] because I’m a girl. Every time the internet tells me that masculinity is crap and pointless and evil and that I should abandon it, I hear exactly the same things as I heard as a small child when I was encouraged to “be a proper girl!”, and when the little boys at school were told over and over again that they were bad and stupid and not good, presentable children because they were boys. It sounds exactly like the primary school teachers reminding us that boys were made of slugs and snails and puppydog tails, and girls were sugar and spice and all things nice – So why couldn’t the horrible slimey boys be more like the lovely sweet girls? – Though, of course, if they were more girl-like, if they cried and cared about their appearance and played with dolls, then the exact same teachers would laugh at them and call them by girls’ names and make them very aware that being a girl like that was a bad thing. That the only right thing to be was either a cis girl, or to just not exist, really. Clinging to my self-identified boy-ness in that climate was so difficult that it was frankly perverse. It would have been so easy, almost, to pretend to be a girl, hate myself every day, and have people treat me much more kindly. Maybe even take my injuries seriously – But, no, every time I did pick up an injury, and go to the teacher, I was told I had to decide – Be a “proper boy” and go back out there, or admit I was a “proper girl” and get a sticking plaster and sympathy.


And there are the things about my masculinity that I don’t like – I don’t like that I’ve been conditioned to see getting help as “girly”, so it’s something I try not to do, even when it really hurts me. I hate that, in the eyes of the rest of the world, I’m less of a man for having been raped (and by a woman, no less!). I hate knowing that men are more likely to die by suicide before the age of 45 than by basically anything else, and that it’s more common than in women. I hate knowing that men are more likely not to get custody of their children, are less able to find work in the “caring professions” or as primary school teachers, and are generally considered to be “less of a man” if they want to give up work to look after their kids. I hate that being a man within about a hundred yards of a child that’s not your own is seen as sinister.


I hate that, in going from pretending unconvincingly to be a woman, to living as someone masculine and effectively-a-man, any expression of my sexuality has gone from being cute and transgressive and a bit naughty, to being an outright threat (Think of the difference between a 25-year-old woman reading Fifty Shades Of Grey on a train, and a 25-year-old man reading a porn magazine). I hate that any expression of solidarity with other men is always considered to be a childish and nasty backlash against women, in a way that solidarity between women isn’t assumed to be anti-men (A man not wanting women on his stag night is a pathetic, retrograde boor, a woman not wanting men on her hen night is just having a fun laugh with the girls). I hate that “LOL FOREVER DRINKING YOUR MALE TEARS” is perfectly acceptable in a lot of feminist discourse, despite insistence that feminism is for everyone and is helping everyone (And real feminism is helping us all, which is what makes it even more baffling). I hate that it’s acceptable to compare men to rabid dogs and bowls of poisoned sweets, as if men have no agency.


Today is international men’s day, the day on which we’re supposed to be opening up and saying “Actually, no, men aren’t just The Patriarchy, we’re people with problems and we need to address those problems, and change how we act, and make a world where masculinity isn’t tied into violence, and where it becomes as socially acceptable for a man to admit to being ill, depressed, overwhemed, weak or fallible as it is for a woman to say the same” instead my timeline contains stuff like;


male tears mermaid


Which is, well, exactly what you want to see when you’re male and suicidally depressed.


So, frankly, here’s to male tears and any bloke that’s strong enough in this horrible world to shed them without being ashamed.


It may be late in the year, but tatting is the second thing I’ve decided to try to learn from scratch this year.


Tatting, for the uninitiated, is the craft of making lace using a single thread and either a blunt needle or small leaf-shaped bobbins called shuttles. As far as anyone can tell, it sprung into existence in the early 1800s, and might have been at least partially based in the decorative knotwork done by sailors. Thinking of the women’s fashions of the time – Which took inspiration and gold lace and frogging from military uniforms – it wouldn’t surprise me if women who were already skilled in other forms of lacemaking would take up the motifs from the fancy knotwork they’d recieved as gifts, and work them into their own creations, using similar techniques. It was still common for women of all social classes to make their own clothes (And, apparently, at least for Royal Naval sailors to not only sew their own uniforms but also to embroider and embellish them as well) and one of the ways of staying near the forefront of fashion was to take magazines and descriptions from London, then to sew your own interpretations. As far as I’ve found, tatted lace seems to be mostly something that people made for themselves and for their loved ones, rather than being something that people bought or that was professionally manufactured.


Which is a fairly long tangent, but it’s basically the preamble to my point; Tatting is a tricky craft, it takes a lot of patience, my attempts so far have all ended after a few inches in a snarl of threads and guilty looking knots, but it’s something that takes no particular skill other than being co-ordinated and patient and willing to put up with a million frustrating mistakes. It’s also cheap – I’ve got started with a £1.50 set of tatting shuttles, and similar of coloured thread – and projects can range from a tiny ten-minute motif, all the way up to shawls or skirt drapes, via any amount of trimming, which can be as fancy or as austere as I can design.


So far, I’ve had a shot at needle tatting, which seems to be easier and faster going, but more limited in the designs it can produce in theory, and one at shuttle tatting, which has been more of a painful slog – Where a tiny mistake in needle-tatting can be fixed by just unravelling the stitches, a similar mistake in shuttle-tatting might go unnoticed until the end of the ring, then require every individual stitch to be carefully unpicked with the hook of the shuttle, and if they’re pulled too tight, they can just end up stuck.


Basically, I’ve produced a tableful of thread scraps, a few solitary rings, some tangled chains less than an inch long, and a single pink cherry-blossom. I love it. So far, it’s frustrating, but on the other hand it’s also like magic. Anything that makes something beautiful from very few ingredients or very few pieces of equipment is magic to me. Sewing isn’t magic; It’s obvious how a load of different fabrics and linings and thread and shears and steam and a huge mechanical device can make clothing, but something like french onion soup, made with just water, onions, oil and heat is magic, since the basic stuff is completely transmuted. And lacemaking has always fitted into that category for me – Just thread and something to manipulate it with, and the maker can make anything. Look at the three unique lacemaking traditions of Croatia – The naturalistic figures of plants and animals in  Lepoglava made by interlacing rows of bobbins, the traditional needlepoint Pag where motifs are passed down from generation to generation with little deviation, and Hvar lace, impossibly delicate, made only by the nuns of one abbey, from thread processed from the aloe plants in the gardens. All developed as beautiful pastimes for ordinary people, and over time imbued with cultural and religious signifigance.


I could go on at length about the meditative power of repetition – Mandalas, rosaries, mala – and about the sense of cheerful self-possession of wearing or using something that you’ve made, not just because you’ve made it, but because it’s genuinely more comfortable or practical or just more to your own taste than the shop-bought equivalent. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s worth seeking out for its own sake, above and beyond the other joys of learning to make clothes, or brew beer, or build furniture, or whatever random skill you decide to pick up.


So that’s kind of part of my resolution – Keep trying to learn new things, so that I’ve got more opportuninties to be proud of stuff, further down the line. When I started sewing, I was making stuff that barely fit and that needed internal pins and tacking to hang straight, and even then looked amateurish. By now, I’m a long way from perfect (and I look at the stuff that my occasional-teacher makes, and I am humbled), but I can look at the things I’ve made and compare them favourably to stuff that I’ve bought. I like making that kind of progress.


So, here’s to making little fripperies that’re neither use nor ornament, in the hopes that within the year they’ll be both.

The Ministry of Propoganda.

This is a semi-serious mental health post, I suppose.

A while ago, I wrote about the Ministry of Propoganda, and how it is basically the best defence mechanism I have against total despair sometimes. It’s basically a very formulaic, very silly, version of CBT, but it does the job on the big, complicated problems.

Basically, you treat yourself as the Soviet States of You (and you must be Soviet, as in “united” and “federated” and “working together”) and, in a huge, stately building in your capital, in an architecture conducive to the furtherance of your united cause, there is an office. That office, with its high windows, clean lines, and richly-but-not-opulently appointed furnishings, houses the Ministry of Propoganda, a hand-picked team of the best playwrights, artists, medics, economists and engineers that you have to offer. And every last one of them knows that they’re going in the squid pit if they don’t get public opinion back on-side in a timely fashion after a disaster.

The note comes in, delivered by a rather stern looking military runner; “Percy has done fuck-all today, other than lie on his back reading pulpy historical fiction novels, in pyjamas that haven’t been changed in weeks. He had half a wank in the morning, then burst into tears because it hurt too much to complete. He’s eaten exactly one bourbon biscuit, three cans of relentless, and doesn’t think he’ll get to sleep until noon tomorrow. Also, he’s refusing to talk to anyone, and claims they’re all exhausting and ‘pointless sheddy-haired bastards’. He feels like shit.”

First, the playwright speaks up;

“But what did he need to do today? In the ideal situation, what was the agenda for the day?”

The military man flips through the stack of papers, and reads the list; “Laundry. Sew some pockets into a pair of trousers. Go to the shops for food. Talk to Best Friend about going somewhere on the train.” he coughs, then says “Frankly, ma’am, he has fucked up on every front.”

The playwright arches an eyebrow, and carefully lights a cheroot. The medic speaks up;

“Well, from my point of view, that’s all by the by. He’s done well, in that he’s prioritised his health over everything else. Look at the evidence – Hasn’t injured himself by trying to get out of bed, hasn’t even over-taxed himself by doing the fun things that he wants to do, if they’re painful. Stopping mid-wank because something unrelated hurt? That’s some amazing willpower. And he’s done what he can with the resources available to keep hydrated and fed, whilst acknowledging that, in not doing much today, he didn’t need the calories of a full meal.”

Then the economist joins in;

“It’s good that he didn’t go to the shops either, because in this kind of state he’d end up buying all sorts of inappropriate stuff. You know how he gets when he’s hungry and in pain, just loads up on pomegranates and expensive pop, and empties the budget for the week. Staying indoors stopped him from financially wrecking us. Likewise, if he’d done the laundry, never mind injuring himself, he’d probably have shrank everything. And sewn the pockets on upside-down and got frustrated, and never finished the trousers because of being so annoyed with himself. Definitely a good thing that he didn’t try to do that today either.”

The playwright puts down her cheroot for a second and says;

“He’s recognised that he’s not very good company in this state too, which means that in not going out, he’s preserving his friendship with his best friend – They only have so much time together, and they both prefer it to be when he’s well. So it’s a painful, but economical, decision not to speak to him today. And this means that he rationally knows that he’s just being hateful for no reason, which is a good bit of insight. And if he had tried to make plans to go somewhere on a train today, they’d have been so conservative and timid that they’d be useless, and need to be done again when he’s feeling more confident. So he knew not to waste everyone’s time there.”

The engineer chimes in;

“Economical is a good word for the whole day, really. He’s recognised that it’s not going to be a ‘good’ day, so has completely stripped down the resources used to a minimum – Not wasted a clean set of clothes, when he’s going to be in bed anyway, not cooked something fancy when he won’t appreciate it. Has identified the safest way possible of making the whole day have the least impact possible. Artist – You can turn this into a poster, right?”

And the artist looks up from her drawing of the Great Leader, looking wounded but surrounded by the heroes of myth, into which the official statement will be superimposed and says;

“Yep, I’ve got that.”

The playwright drops her cheroot into the ashtray, picks up her own clipboard onto which she has been writing the whole time, and takes it over to the military runner.

“Here,” she says, taking his notes from him and ripping them in half. “Take this to the pritners’ office and have it distributed to all public message boards.”

He reads the statement;

“Yesterday, our wise leader chose to weather extreme hardship by operating at the absolute minimum tolerated level. By remaining inactive and forgoing social contact, he has prevented the Body from being damaged in ways which could take weeks to recover from. Although yesterday was a trying, painful time, leavened as well as possible with entertainment suitable for such a crisis, by our actions we have preserved our physical, social and economic integrity, to allow for greater prosperity in future.”

As he’s walking down the corridor, he thinks about it. Utter bollocks, obviously. He reads it again in the lift, and tries to remember what his original notes said. Something about being a fuck-up? He reads it again. No, it couldn’t have been – That was a series of very good decisions.

By the time it’s at the printers, he’d forgotten the original note existed at all.


On a totally different note – I’ve had a board game sloshing around in my skull with about a quarter of a rulebook for literally the last eight years.

Last night, mid-morphine-binge, I decided to put the rules down on paper in a way that didn’t involve the back of an envelope.

Anyone that fancies trying to play it, here’s the rules so-far.


54 “blue” tokens, in stacks of six. These are the blue team’s pieces. 13 “dark blue” tokens, in a stack of 13. This is the blue team’s citadel.

54 “red” tokens, in stacks of six. These are the red team’s pieces. 13 “dark red” tokens, in a stack of 13. This is the red team’s citadel.

One 9×9 square board.

I had been using pennies, heads-up for blue and tails-up for red, with sixpences for the citadels. On a larger board, instead of stacking tokens or coins (like draughts), you could use clusters of beads (like bao) or on a smaller board you could use single counters numbered 1-6 – I briefly used two colours of dice. The set I’ve put together to take to a friend’s house to try out is two colours of beer bottle lids – Tiger vs Sheep.


(these are all images, but feel free to make screen-reader versions in the comments)

board setup moving and splitting


taking and reducing

The aim of the game is to remove your opponent’s citadel from the board.

Here’s a couple of example moves, at the start of the game;

examplemovesI don’t know – I think it’s playable, but probably only because it’s easier to play than to explain. If anyone tries it, tell me – Is it actually fun? Playable? Possible to explain simply?