My heart has joined the thousand.

My dog has cancer, so this is officially a fucking horrible year. We don’t know how long he has, but basically bone cancer in his front leg has metastasised to his lungs.

 

I remember getting up at four am for three months’ worth of Saturdays, in order to get down to a greyhound sanctuary in Bramley, walking from our old flat in Clarence Dock down to the railway station, then catching the first 28 bus at 6am from Sheffield station, to get to the village by seven, to walk across the fields to meet the dogs. I remember being told that, as a single person, they’d never let me have a sighthound. Still, every day I walked Meg and Fletcher, two eight-year-old brindles, around the field with the guinea fowl. Every day I mucked out the kennels, exercised the dogs, said hallo to little old Nosey (Ten years old! How could a greyhound ever be so old?), poured out buckets of kibble and boiled coppers of water to make up their food.

I remember how quickly I realised that I could tell if a painting of a greyhound had been painted by someone who had ever met greyhounds – If they were stood looking regal and profound, they were clearly not drawn from life. If they were nosing into someone’s pocket, or sniffing at a hedge, or staring into space, or in the process of lying down, they were probably real.

I want to remember how I got a phone call, standing outside the town hall in June 2009, saying that the Sanctuary had found a dog for me, that they didn’t have room for and that needed a home urgently, and asking if I could go down to a park somewhere in Sheffield to meet him. They sent me photos, and I looked at them, one standing in a field of bluebells, one sitting on a moor, and I remember thinking that he didn’t look much like a greyhound, with that big bull neck and squat muzzle, he looked like a bull lurcher. Three years and eleven months old, born on the 4th of July 2005, 35 kilos of dense muscle and red-fawn fur with a white star on his chest and pink bald patches on his thighs, neck and belly. I remember his owners saying that he was a bit ugly, for a greyhound, with his chunky shoulders and lopsided nose, but I remember thinking that he had the most amazing, soulful brown eyes, and that he always looked like he was wearing eyeliner.

I want to remember how I went down to Sheffield on the train after work, and met his last owners, two vets, Australians, having to move back to the antipodes with their newborn son. Lamenting how their boy wouldn’t grow up with a British accent. This was the 22nd of June, 2009. The four of us walking through the park, with Paddy (as he was then called) trotting at-heel, first with him, then with her, then finally with me. I remember her saying that I seemed to get on amazingly with him, and that he loved kids, and would never hurt a fly, and that he was the best dog. And she was happy to give him to me. She asked if I’d keep his name, and I said that I would probably have to change it, since a good friend’s name was Paddy. I asked what his racing name had been, which was Danny’s Spark. Already knowing a Danny, I realised that this meant that I would have to name him myself.

I remember four days after that, the family coming to meet me in my new house (the house I had bought specifically so that I could home a dog) and us taking him for a walk in his new park. We sat in the rose garden and ate chips. On the way home, Sawyer, a massive Weimaraner dog, barked loudly at him over the fence. I jumped a mile, as did his owners. Paddy just ignored him. I was told the two things that stuck with me, and with him; that he would generally follow someone around the house to see what they were doing, and if it was boring, he’d then go and sit quietly somewhere else, and that if he had so much as a stubbed toe he would cry and really tell you about it.

I remember being told that he would sit down on any flat surface, as long as you put a towel or a border around it, so how ever since then whenever we went anywhere, I would always wear an old army jacket or a hoodie or a wooly jumper which I could take off and use as a bed for him at a second’s notice.

I remember sitting in the house on the first evening, with Ozzy as he was now called, and thinking “Well, what do I do now?”

I remember hearing a two-tone whine from the kitchen that night, and Dearest going down to investigate, only to find that Ozzy had grabbed a whole box of gravybones from the top of the freezer (It’s six feet tall) and was eating them. Upon being spotted, he belched loudly then started to eat faster.

I remember sitting in the fermenter lab and quickly running up a painting, a bright watercolour of Ozzy, surrounded by bluebells, based on the photograph I had been given of him, to give to his previous owners. They loved it, and took it with them to Australia and then New Zealand. I saw a photograph of it on the wall in their living room, above their new greyhound, Diesel, another big, happy ginger.

I remember the day before his last owners moved away, Ozzy starting to make a terrible hiccoughing, barking, wrenching noise, and panicking that he was choking. I phoned them, and they explained that it was “reverse sneezing”, which he only did when he was happy and was equivalent to a human getting the hiccoughs from laughing. They seemed happy that he was happy, and happy that I was paying attention to him. They had waived the adoption fee, and told me to use it to pay for his vet bills or insurance. I think that they were happy with me looking after “their dog”.

I remember how we had basically no furniture when we moved into this house, and we slept on an air bed on the floor. Ozzy managed to puncture three of them before we gave up and decided to buy an actual bed to sleep on. I remember waking up on the floor, surrounded by deflated airbed and piles of duvet, as Ozzy trampled around and around in circles trying to get comfortable.

I remember passing the time at work, when I couldn’t be with him, by looking up his racing form and his ancestors. His father was Toms The Best, and from photographs that’s where he got his stocky build from. His mother was Ling Charm, small and red-fawn like he is. He has three full siblings who are two years older than him – Intrepid Blue (Male, blue, with the same white star on his chest as Ozzy), Tucker’s Charm (Female, black) and Tucker’s The Boy (Male, blue), and a twin sister, Lowgate Charm (Black, female). None of them have offspring. This week I found a photograph of Intrepid Blue, who in his old age was almost identical to Ozzy, other than being grey-blue. He looks like he also lived to a ripe old age, and was well loved by whoever adopted him.

I remember that he hates having his photograph taken – If I turn a camera towards him, even if he’s been sitting perfectly still for an hour, he’ll turn away, or stand up. The only way to get him to look at a camera is to hold a biscuit behind it, and even then it’s not foolproof.

I remember us running together in the park, me chasing him then him chasing me, on a soaked-through rainy summer day, and him going skidding on wet mud, which made me laugh so hard that I skidded right after him, and the two of us sitting there in a heap, me laughing and him looking so happy and excited to be having so much fun with his human, and licking me, which made me laugh even more, and both of us waking home covered in mud and soaked to the skin and taking ages to dry off wrapped in towels in the kitchen.

I remember, in a spree of teaching him tricks, teaching him to leap up to his full height and stand on his back legs with his front paws on my arm at chest-height. The command for this was “Pirate!” as he was able to walk around with me, like this, looking like a parrot on a pirate’s shoulder.

I remember learning that he was afraid of cats, and rabbits, and taking him for a walk in the wildfowl park in Boldon, only to discover he was afraid of ducks, and him being so horrified by water that not only would he not go out in the rain and not step in a puddle, but recoiling from his water bowl when I filled it in front of him.

I remember him learning to fake a limp to get affection and usually food from strangers, and how nobody would believe that it was fake and a ploy for attention until it suddenly switched sides in the middle of a step.

I remember him being the only dog that I have ever known who would try to steer us to go into the vet’s instead of the park, because he loved Saskia (One of the vets, and later the manager too). Everyone at the vets loved him too, and described him as just not really like any other dog.

I remember being at Dearest’s house in Kirkby, and finding an injured hedgehog the size of a loaf of bread, and bringing it indoors to feed it and warm it up, and Ozzy taking one look at it and immediately going and sitting in his basket until the strange, spiky friend had left.

I remember him discovering cello music, by watching Departures, and how somehow it would always keep his interest. I wondered if it was because it sounded like other greyhounds, a slow tenor “roooOOOoo” sound which I will always think of as being the sound that greyhounds make. I remember playing him the wolf pack’s rallying cry from Wikipedia and watching him sit bolt upright and look like he suddenly needed to go somewhere urgently, but like he wasn’t sure where.

I remember my neighbour, Ray, before he had a key and before I just left Ozzy with him whenever I went out, telling me that he used to hear Ozzy speaking through the wall, and would play the trombone back to him, and they would have little conversations until Ozzy calmed down.

I remember walking him home from the park when it started to rain in Autumn, and him freezing up, and so taking off my own coat and wrapping it around him so that he could get home. From then on, whenever it’s rained, I’ve always just given him my coat or scarf, or both.

I remember Ozzy waking me up at two in the morning, antsy and scratching at the door in a way that made me assume that he needed to go in the garden, and him running downstairs, out into the yard, and straight up to the gate, where the Fox was waiting for him, and the two of them having a good old sniff of each other. I have no idea how Ozzy knew the fox was there.

I remember every evening, saying “Jog on, dog”, then standing at the door as Ozzy did his business in the garden, breathing in the smell of the evening air, the spring flowers, hot pavement, bonfires, fog, lashing rain, looking up to the church and then down to the railway, and watching the sun set or the stars shine, or looking for the moon. I remember in the rain, when Ozzy would refuse to go out, or would stick his head right inside the wet hedge, then come back indoors and shake so hard that his front leg lifted off the ground.

I remember constantly having to tell people that his huge bald patches were nothing to do with a skin disease or lying on hard floors, they were the dog equivalent of male-pattern baldness. I remember eventually finding it weird that other people found them weird, since all of the dogs that I lived with were mostly bald. I remember as he aged, the fur began to fill in the bald patches again.

I remember taking him to the park after work every night, and walking him around the perimeter, and meeting the other dog owners. A grey spaniel, a jack russell terrier who became his best friend, a huge alsatian puppy who outgrew all of them in a matter of weeks. We walked in the Victorian park first, then the huge Queen’s Park where he could run off-leash, double-suspending and sprinting faster than I had ever seen a dog run, all muscles and sunlight glistening off ginger fur.

I remember him having his own bedroom, where I used to put him when I was out at work, until we made friends with Ray who lives next door, and his elderly dog Gypsy, who started to look after him during the day when I was at work.

I remember him trapping my Mam in the corner of her kitchen, and watching intently as she ate a slice of buttered toast, which she insisted that no matter how sad he looked, she wouldn’t give it to him. Of course, he got the last half of the slice, with a cry of “How am I supposed to eat with you looking at me like that?!”

I remember the words that Kev coined to refer to his habits. “Making shapes” (Sleeping in that odd upside-down pose), “Roundabouts!” as he spun in a circle whilst doing his business in the garden, and “Ooh bikkits?” which was the response to any question, in Ozzy’s eyes. I remember Kev’s horror as Ozzy licked him, only to realise that the last thing that Ozzy had licked had been his own bottom.

I remember once, when I was desperate and stuck for how to stop him from doing something dangerous, I barked at him, and he sprang ten feet across the room, looked completely baffled, and then, crucially, never did it again. I’ve never barked at him again, either.

I remember teaching him to play, back when we were both young and strong, by sticking two long socks in the back pockets of my jeans and teaching him to course around the flowerbeds at the park, chasing me and snapping at the trailing socks which were usually full of dog biscuits.

I remember how quickly he worked out that if I was carrying a plate of food upstairs, if he raced past me and stood at the top of the flight he was the exact right height to snaffle things off the plate, or sneeze on it to be given the whole thing.

I remember how he shows affection by standing, side-on in front of someone that he likes, and leaning against their legs so hard that they were sometimes pushed over, and that if they walk away as he is doing it, he stumbles and falls sideways as well.

I remember all the names that he has been; Dannys Spark, Paddy, Ozzy – Oz, Osric Spark, Ozzbozz, Boo, Spoons, Pointy Creature, Odd Boy, Oswald, Zeeboo, Beeves, just plain Dog, and always, always, sweetheart, dear boy, bairn love.

I remember how he sleeps on his back, with one forefoot up in the air and his neck and back twisted around into an sideways arch, a position which looked incredibly uncomfortable until I tried it out and found that even with my shitty human bones, it was weirdly relaxing.

I remember one winter when it had snowed constantly, getting up early on the morning of New Year to walk him in the park, and being out with Ray and Gypsy and a few of the other old gents and their old, wiry dogs, and Ozzy being so happy to be out and able to race around in his red fleece coat. I remember a few days later my family visiting, and him walking at heel with my Granda, and thinking that as they walked through the snow, Ozzy in his winter jacket, my Granda in his black overcoat and flat cap, that they looked properly like one man and his dog. I remember my Nana sidling up to me and laughing; “See, he says he doesn’t like dogs…”

I remember buying him a bandana for his fifth birthday (Previously he’d always worn mine) and that since then he’s basically never taken it off, and when he does have to take it off he looks sad until he gets it back again.

I remember how on long train journeys late at night, going back up North, he’d sit on my coat and wear my BTCV hoodie on the seat next to me, looking out into the aisle and over the table like a human would, being fussed over by everyone who passed and being given bottles of water by the conductor.

I remember a small child at the park who insisted that Ozzy was a pony, and realising that, from her height, he may as well have been. I remember another who knew a whippet who looked a bit like Ozzy, and didn’t quite realise until he was really close that Ozzy was much, much bigger (Standing by my side, I can rest a hand easily on the back of his neck). I remember how much Ozzy loved children and tried to look after them in his own odd way.

I remember how through counting the rhythmic pattern and duration of his twitches in his sleep, I worked out that even though in the daytime he never runs, in his dreams he still races. I started to make a point of scratching him behind the ears to wake him up only after the double-suspension gallop of being on the track had turned into the slow trot of returning to the paddock. He hasn’t raced in around ten years, but clearly he still remembers.

I remember how he has impeccable self-control; How he knows to wait to be told “Help yourself” before starting his dinner, how he waits by the piano every time he passes it in the hope of being given a chew from the tin box on top of it but will never just leap up and steal them, how even in the middle of an uncontrollable charge down the stairs, if I say “Wait”, he’ll wait on that very step, until I tell him he can continue.

I remember discovering his thieving streak; First a whole cabbage from the greengrocer, then a small girl’s first-ever ice cream. I started to have to pay serious attention to what he was doing at the park, when he ran up to people with his tail wagging, excited to meet new friends. He never really did learn to play properly with other dogs, but he loved people.

I remember that I have never needed a lead or a muzzle to get Ozzy to walk at heel, he just does it. I remember on days when I was too ill to even find his lead, I would walk him with just a loop of thread or twine slack between my wrist and his collar, as cats, dogs, small children, squirrels and all manner of distractions just passed him by.

I remember taking him down to Mo’s farm with Dearest, which was also the first time that he met Dearest’s Mum. She loved him immediately. Ozzy rather skillfully took a barbecued rabbit leg right out of Dearest’s hand without him even noticing.

I remember fairly quickly finding that Ozzy was always happiest when he was with us, so any attempt at having him sleep in his own room went by-the-by and he moved into our bedroom, on a stack of duvets and dog beds.

I remember Sawyer and Abe, the Weimaraner and a boxer-Chinese-crested-cross, who lived up the road from us and who he played with in their house (Never walks, but he’d sit on the sofa whilst they played around him). I remember Jibber, the manchester terrier who was sixteen at the time and who was about as energetic as he was, who would cuddle with him.

I remember going for two weeks in Japan in the winter of 2009, and my Mam looking after him for the two weeks; Sending me diaries and updates of every day that he was there. I sent Ozzy up North with them wearing one of my green BTCV t-shirts, which he has kept in his bed ever since. My Granda, who hated dogs and was terrified of them, quickly decided that Ozzy was the best dog and his first great-grandchild, and would walk everywhere with him, and slept on the sofa next to him for a few nights. All the while, however, insisting that he was just tolerating him. From that point on, the first thing that he has always asked me upon seeing me has been “How’s the dog?”

I remember having the worst, prolonged mental health crisis of my life in early 2010, and being told to go home and talk about it, and not just “go and hug the dog”. As usual, the dog turned out to be a better counsellor than any human. I took three months of sick leave, during which time I only left the house, or even opened the door, to walk the dog. Ozzy kept me company, kept me from forgetting to eat, kept me from killing myself.

I remember returning to work, and soon after, getting his racing number tattooed in the crook of my knee. I always said, if I was going to have a matching tattoo with anyone, it would be my dog, since he’d never knowingly break my heart.

I remember our walks – Down to the Bankhouse pub, then across the fields to The Greyhound, where we could usually expect a free pint for me and a bowl of water for him, because people were so tickled by a greyhound drinking at The Greyhound, then going back to the Bankhouse for tea. I remember him following one of the waiters at the Bankhouse into the kitchen, since he had a tray of Yorkshire Puddings. I remember him sitting next to another family for their entire meal, because they looked more likely to give him scraps that I was.

I remember him discovering the beach in winter, and racing up and down the hard sand at a ridiculous pace until he put a foot into the edge of the water, at which point he sprinted back to my side and wouldn’t leave it again.

I remember once running into a wolfdog meet at the Bankhouse, and Ozzy being completely un-bothered by a wolfdog barking in his ear. The wolfdog had no idea what to do, since most dogs found it terrifying. The wolfdog’s owner seemed to shrink a little that collectively, I and my greyhound found his half-wolf adorable rather than threatening.

I remember Taz, an ageing mongrel who I briefly adopted, who reached an uneasy detente with Ozzy, as long as Ozzy could guarantee that Taz wouldn’t break his toys. I remember being astounded by how much easier to look after Ozzy was than Taz.

I remember Dearest planning to spend a year in Japan, and my deciding to go with him. I remember handing Ozzy over to Dearest’s Mum in the car park at Meadowhall, and being more than a little devastated at the thought of not seeing him for a whole year.

I remember being sent a video, two months later, of him bounding through three-foot-deep snow in the coldest winter that the UK had seen for a long time, his tail spinning like a rotor. I missed him so much I almost wanted to come straight home.Another video of him from that year showed him playing with Dearest’s Mum’s Boyfriend, where he almost played like a dog… Until the human got down on the floor to wrestle with him, at which point he jumped up and stole his seat. The chaise longue at Dearest’s house has been Ozzy’s since then.

I remember the earthquake in 2011, and my only real worry being that I’d not see Ozzy again, and hoping that if I died, he’d get to stay with Dearest’s Mum permanently.

I remember seeing a red fawn whippet, or maybe a small greyhound, in Nara park with the deer, and realising just how much I missed him. I remember thinking of how much Ozzy looked like a deer himself, and remembering him in the snow, where the snowflakes on his back made him look like Bambi.

I remember getting home in August 2011, and the only thing that made me want to go back at all was to see Ozzy again. Seeing him for the first time, after a year, I wondered if he’d remember me. He immediately ran to me and got into the dent that he had left in the sofa years before, and curled up with me.

I remember him needing to lose four teeth, at the vet’s, which I blamed on the sugary crap that he ate whilst I was away. At the time, this seemed like a lot. He was groggy and sleepy after the anaesthetic, but the teeth were tiny and he quickly recovered and was eating kibble again by the next day. I remember that giving him pills was always incredibly easy, as long as you stuck them in a spoonful of peanut butter first.

I remember sitting on bonfire night and reading a collection of folk tales to him to calm him down. He never liked fireworks at all, but he loved to be read to, the more sedate and gentle the better. Folk tales, restaurant reviews, Watership Down, whatever novel I was reading at the time. He’d just curl up next to me, or with his head in my lap, and listen. When I stopped, he’d lift his head up and look at me as if to say “Go on, that can’t be all”.

I remember sitting in the bus station late one night, long after the buses had stopped, crying my eyes out into Ozzy’s fur, and him being so patient and so gentle, doing his best to calm me down, licking my face and resting his paws on my shoes. I remember sitting in my own house, phoning a rescue centre and explaining that if I got much more ill, they’d have to rehome him for me. I remember my relief when I realised that even at my worst, Ozzy was patient enough to manage with me.

I remember both Dearest and myself lying down in Ozzy’s bed in his own bedroom, to see if he had settled in again after returning from Japan, back when it was barely-furnished but for the enormous dog bed made of old duvets and cushions, and all three of us falling asleep for two hours in a ray of sunshine.

I remember leaving him with a dog sitter for one evening in 2011, and her asking about what he needed; When I said that I’d already walked him, so all he needed was to be read to, she thought I was joking. When I returned, sure enough, she said, he’d shown no interest in the frisbee, no interest in playing tug-of-war, but had been rapt with attention at being read The Guardian.

I remember him coming with me to Nottingham to meet up with some old squatter pals, and running around the bonfire as if he’d always lived with a big pack, then going and sleeping on an old settee in the basement until I went to bed as well, at which point he got in with me.

I remember that wherever I’d go, he’d go. I took him to writers’ meetings at the university, to endless squat parties and pub nights. He’d just follow happily at-heel, sniffing things and being scratched behind the ears.

I remember Ray next door coming to my house one freezing November morning in 2011, to say that he’d got his own greyhound. This was Dave, two years old, a clear six inches taller than the already-oversized-for-a-greyhound Ozzy and as mad as a box of frogs. Dave, and Gypsy, and Ozzy, fast became inseparable again, even going over to Ray’s house “to play” when I was in the house. He would leap over the four foot high wall to get into Ray’s garden, and he kept doing that right up last week. I would not be shocked if he continued doing it now.

I remember walking to Best Friend’s house with him, and him racing up and down the stairs, and baring his teeth to protect me when I collapsed from an asthma attack. I remember him trying to walk home, and needing to be carried because he was so exhausted from patrolling and checking that I was all right.

I remember being told about Ozzy first meeting our old Housemate; Dearest taking him to the railway station so that he didn’t have to leave him alone in the house, and him sitting so quietly in the back of the car that Housemate didn’t notice him at all until part-way through the journey back, when Ozzy stuck his head over the back of the seat and made him jump out of his skin. Dearest’s only apology, as Housemate gibbered a little about the dog that he would always call “the freaky horse skeleton”, was “I brought the dog!”. As much as Housemate complained that all greyhounds were terrible, having briefly kept one as a child, I still often returned home to find the two of them curled up on the settee watching TV.

I remember him starting to learn how to look after me when I had migraines, sitting down next to my head in winter so that I could press my forehead into his side and rest my aching neck.

I remember that he seemed to understand when I was depressed. I remember him handing me over to the police in the back of an ambulance, only happy to stay with Ray once he knew that I was being looked after by someone else.

I remember his toys, of which the squeaky duck is his favourite, which he would carry around with him and love and cuddle instead of ripping apart like most dogs would. He’s had the squeaky duck since his first owner, the racecourse, and he still has it now, even though it’s a little worn around the edges. I remember buying him a cuddly gorilla in the first few weeks of owning him, expecting him to shred it, and instead that he cuddled it as if it was a puppy that needed warming up.

I remember Dearest dropping a whole slice of takeaway pizza on the floor in the kitchen, and Ozzy somehow eating the whole thing in less than half a second, not even pausing to chew until all that was left were a couple of crumbs on the floor.

I remember him first meeting Best Friend, who slept in the living room with him, and who woke up to find that Ozzy had decided to get on the sofa with him and be his pillow for the night. Apparently, he was very comfortable but smelt awful.

I remember, about a year after that, him first meeting Best Friend’s cats, and him avoiding them like they were radioactive. He has never liked cats. He was once introduced to an incredibly small ginger kitten, only a couple of weeks old, at the vet’s, and he immediately ran away.

I remember an amazing timelapse video taken by my Mam, which was supposed to be of the whole family at Christmas, starting first thing in the morning and ending last thing at night, and instead Ozzy took up two seats on the settee and stayed there all day, resulting in an amazing timelapse of eight people moving around a sleeping greyhound who only got up twice – Once to go to the toilet, and once for Christmas dinner.

I remember that he would rather eat almost anything in preference to dog food, and that anything which was Forbidden was immediately more delicious than anything which was permitted. He would always run downstairs early in the mornings the night after we’d had a takeaway to messily slurp up the leftovers.

I remember him breaking his canine tooth on a marrowbone, and having it removed that afternoon, and the vet giving it to me as a keepsake. Somehow, it was the only one of his teeth that wasn’t full of holes or stained dark brown, and now he’d snapped it off.

I remember taking him up North to my Mam’s wedding, and him going into a boarding kennel for the day, but not the night. When asked how he preferred his food, I advised to just put a bit of chilli sauce or ketchup on it if he wasn’t eating. This was assumed to be a joke, until it worked.

I remember that whenever Dearest and myself are watching a film on the settee, he tries to get on with us, and fitting two large humans and an extremely large greyhound on a tiny old leather sofa is a feat of geometry and trust.

I remember that everyone who ever met him said that they had never known a dog so calm, so trusting, and so obviously looked after. The only people he ever showed anger or mistrust towards were people who I was mistrustful of, or angry, where he’d pin himself to my side and raise his hackles and point his ears as if waiting to be told to deal with them.

I remember him learning how to find the paramedics, or any other visitor to the house for that matter, and to lead them upstairs to where I was in bed, on the days where I couldn’t stand. He would sit at my feet and not let them near me until I told them to let them in, and then he’d watch them like a hawk. Paramedics who’d been to my house more than a few times tended to remember him and love him, and would often come in and call to him first before calling to me.

I remember how he’d always take two tries to do his business in the garden late at night, and would need to be told “Go on, what did you forget?” to make him go back out and finish.

I remember in 2015, when we first thought that he had cancer (he didn’t), that he slept on the foot of the bed over that entire weekend. Since then, he’s never gone back to sleeping on the floor.

I remember how he’s only barked about six times in his life; Once when he was surprised by his own reflection in a mirror, once when I had fallen down the stairs and he tried to alert Dearest, once when the police came to the door and a couple of other times. Otherwise, he makes a strange mournful noise like a cello, or purrs, or grumbles under his breath. In his sleep, he does a strange fading echoey bark, (Woof-uuf-uuf-uuf-uffff) which gets louder and repeats a few times, then stops. I always wonder what he’s barking at then. Once, he woke up in the middle of a barking spree and seemed panicked and half-paralysed, as if he was having a night terror, so since then I’ve started waking him up as soon as it starts.

I remember how he knows his bedtime routine so well, that when we turn off the PC in the living room he immediately sits up straight in preparation for going out into the garden, and then after he’s been, he runs straight upstairs. Sometimes, if we let him out early, he’ll run upstairs and go to bed, then come downstairs an hour later when he realises that we’ve not followed him. Sometimes, when the humans stay up late, at around one in the morning he’ll just take himself to bed instead, and we come up to find him curled up on the dog bed next to ours – He always waits for us before getting on the big bed.

I remember accidentally splodging a great orange henna handprint onto his forehead once when I was dyeing my hair, and it taking months to fade out. I always said that I should henna cheetah spots onto him and let him run around the park a bit to start rumours of West Yorkshire having a Big Cat.

I remember how in the mornings, after Dearest gets up, Ozzy comes up to the top of the bed and sleeps on the pillow. If I sleep too long, and look like I’m oversleeping my medications, he wakes me up by sniffing my face. At the weekends, he always sleeps in later than us, and comes downstairs whilst we’re in the middle of breakfast, jumps up onto his settee, and settles in for the day.

I remember him eating a whole bar of Bournville when I had gone out for less than ten minutes, resulting in it being the most expensive bar of chocolate I’ve ever bought, and him being sick all over the car park at the vet’s. I remember that was the first time I ever thought he’d looked old.

I remember him having sixteen more teeth taken out at the vet’s, leaving him with about ten, and worrying that this would impede his ability to eat. It got noisier, but he still slurps down everything that he can see. I remember waking him up that morning and having an irrational terror that he’d not wake up after his anaesthetic, and taking his photo as he slept curled up in the green light before dawn on a freezing autumn morning. I remember always being so happy to see him whenever I went to pick him up from the vet, always greeting him by dropping into a squat and hugging him at his own height. I am the only person who he allows to do this.

I remember once, very very high on morphine, commenting to Best Friend’s Mum that Ozzy had started to grow “little old man hairs” on the backs of his shoulders, and being shocked when she responded “So has Husband, but we still love him too”)

I remember how as he got older, even as he got more liver spots, somehow his bald patches seemed to get smaller. I remember putting factor fifty sun cream on them when it was hot, and yet thy still tanned to a weird dark grey anyway.

I remember how every year, I celebrate his birthday, usually with sausages or venison from the local butchers.

I remember how for the three general elections I’ve lived with him, I’ve talked through my vote with him beforehand. It’s never been a difficult conversation, but I check my reasoning by telling him anyway.

I have to remember all of this because the next few weeks are going to tear my heart out, and I don’t want to just remember him dying of cancer.

Right now, all I remember is seeing him lying on the table in the vet’s on Saturday, foaming with heat exhaustion and stress after a horrible run-in with the vet’s cat, with an oxygen mask on and a cold towel over his  abdomen, certain that we were about to lose him, angry that what had looked just like a soft tissue injury in his wrist had come to this. I remember seeing his x-ray on the lightbox in the exam room, through the window, and knowing even before I opened the door that those round white shadows were exactly what I hoped they weren’t. I remember Cristiana, the vet, showing me the lump on the bone in his wrist, which was almost as thick as the bone again, and trying to explain what it was in a way that wasn’t heartbreaking.

And now all I can think of is Byron’s Epitaph To A Dog, and that there is no way that Boatswain could ever have been as good a dog as Ozzy.

 

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Hooves on the Ground: Muscles, Testing and Function with Posture and Pain, (Kendall, McCreary, Provance)

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book, not because I’ve not been reading but because I’ve not been feeling social and like sharing anything, so it’s possibly a very good sign that the first book that I go to review is one which I had dragged out to find a diagram for a bodybuilding pal.

 

It has, as the title suggests, two major components – Posture and Pain, and Testing and Function – and both of these sections are great. They can be read individually, but being a layman I ended up cross-referencing from one to the other a lot – Reading and observing posture, then finding the diagrams for the individual muscle groups mentioned, and testing them for length/shortening and weakness/strength. One of my favourite things about this book is that for a lot of things it does use cartoons, not photographs, so it’s a lot easier to see the movement and shape of muscles when the one that you’re observing is highlighted in red and the others are all just outlines, as compared to if they’re photographs or more exact diagrams.

The posture section shows, as well as the “problematic” postures, the  explanation for how each of them affects the muscles underneath, and which muscles thus need to be strengthened and which need to be counterbalanced in order to correct the posture (Not just for aesthetic reasons either, it explains how the various postures can translate into muscle weaknesses and pain later in life). It’s all extremely well laid out and presented in accessible, readable language, with photographs and diagrams, and technical terms explained in a glossary.

A long, extremely useful section of the book takes each of the muscles in turn, describes its placement and function, and also how to both flex and relax the muscle as far as possible – This is good for a handful of things; Finding relaxed or comfortable configurations for individual sore muscles, devising exercises to specifically strengthen individual muscle groups, and working out which muscles are compensating and “taking over” for other muscles during a movement, which is extremely common in hypermobile people; Archetypally, using ones latissimus dorsi to “stabilise” arm movements that should mostly be affecting the biceps, resulting in soreness and inefficient movements, but the same applies to basically any movement where a larger muscle can compensate for weakness in a smaller group. Near the end of the section is a series of diagrams of the superficial nerves, which is also extremely useful for trying to localise hard-to-describe pains.

Throughout the book there are worksheets and explanations of how to record a patient’s performance and presentation, which are extremely useful when you’re looking at yourself and trying to objectively assess how bad something is, or how good it is.

As with most textbooks, this is a book to drop in and out of, focusing on the system or the movement that you need. I’ve been using it mostly to work out which muscle groups I need to address more in my workouts, and to make sure that the things that I do to “help” when I’m relaxing aren’t actually making things worse in the long run.

I’d definitely reccommend this book, possibly as the first book to get when assessing your own body’s condition especially in relation to the pain that comes with hypermobility. As much as doctors are often too quick to turn to “deconditioning” as an answer to everything, there is absolutely power in knowing where all your muscles are and how to use them correctly, and thus to know which ones are underperforming and need work.

Exact details of my copy: Muscles Testing and Function, Florence Peterson Kendall, Elizabeth Kendall McCreary, Patricia Geise Provance, with Posture and Pain first and second editions by Henry Otis Kendall, 4th Edition, 1993. Second hand, £3.45.

Disclaimer: Nothing said above is intended as a substitute for qualified medical advice, or to supersede the advice of a qualified physician. This is my personal review of my experiences with a book, as a layman. I am not a medical professional, of any kind, and any health issues should be discussed with a doctor or other appropriate professional.

Where the viaduct looms like a bird of doom and shifts and cracks…

As this post is so long, I’ve put a short bulleted list at the end of how to identify a scammer, based off the longer text. Use it if you need.

 

The EDS community has a scammer problem. Well, the disability community in general has a scammer problem, but I know about it in the EDS community, so hear me out.

 

Our online communities are tight-knit and ragged at the edges. Everyone knows everyone, somehow, they’re a friend-of-a-friend and thus everyone trusts everyone. We all know the score – We’re skint, our governments are disenfranchising us, we’re in pain – so we all tend towards being nice and accommodating and trusting one another. After all, if you can’t show your bones around another person with EDS, where can you? The ragged edges of the community are the people that we all know on-sight, but aren’t necessarily that close to, but, because of that shared diagnosis and that assumed shared experience, we all just trust and let them in. They cry out, we listen. They blame, we believe. They ask for money, we give.

 

Some of them are genuine. Many of them, as time goes on, turn out to be not. They might want money (they usually want money), they might want attention, they might want to feel loved, they might even just enjoy the feeling of control of being able to sic an online mob on someone.

 

So, here’s a couple of observations on characteristics of the scammer, and particularly the EDS scammer. Now, a lot of these will apply to genuine people, so if you read this and go “Hang on that’s me, but I’m genuine”… You should probably be the most enraged, because these fucking frauds have taken your identity, your history, your daily life, and turned it into something that they can milk on the internet for cash and attention.

 

You’ll note that the word “Crisis” turns up a lot. That’s because these people thrive on a sense of crisis and urgency. If it’s *desperate* and *immediate* and *life or death*, you’ll respond more quickly, you’ll give money, you’ll retweet them, you’ll share their fundraiser, you’ll dogpile their “enemies”. If there’s not a sense of growing, gathering doom and the world being all out to get them, their readers might step back and think; Hang on, is this all real?

Also, this is a long post. It’s long because of how these people work – they throw a huge amount of information at you, a huge amount of contradictions, a huge amount of equivocation and reasoning and extraneous detail in order to make themselves and their story seem hyper-real, and trying to pin that down is difficult. So it’s taken a lot of words to pin it down, and I’ve probably still not done it right.

I have no idea how to clearly get across that I absolutely do not mean genuine-people-with-complex-and-seemingly-contradictory-stories, I mean scammers, absolute scammers, and I’m trying to precis a way to describe them. Many genuine people have complicated, unpleasant lives. These people, as I said above, prey on them by pretending to be one of them, and using the trust and goodwill of that community to gain money and attention.

 

Observation 1: Every crisis in the news applies to them, personally.

I first found scammers like this through the EDS community, but then I noticed that they scammed on a dozen fronts at once, usually by coopting anything that was in the headlines and making it about them, personally.

The most egregious examples of this will make their family trees impossibly multi-national and multi-ethnic. Not just “My maternal grandmother was X and my paternal great-grandfather was Y, so we had some X and Y culture around the house when I was growing up” but literally it will change over time. So, if there was a crisis in Egypt, their whole upbringing will have revolved around their Egyptian grandmother, they’ll have grown up speaking Arabic, and been subject to anti-Arab prejudices and stereotypes, and have considered themselves to be Arab. A week later, when there’s a news story from Brazil, they’ll have grown up speaking Portuguese thanks to their Portuguese grandfather, and been perceived as and considered themself to be Latino. Over time, the story will change – The Russian grandmother was his grandfather’s second wife, the Tajikistani uncles will be old friends-of-the-family, the Cherokee great-grandmother will have been raised off-reservation and never enrolled. Usually there’ll be a Family Tragedy which is why the story keeps changing, or why the scammer doesn’t speak to, or like speaking about, individuals in their family unless it’s in great, sweeping, stereotypical terms (“Baba always washed things in dilute bleach and sang old folktales and reminisced about living in a vardo as a girl”, never “Baba loved plaiting my hair and kept bull-terriers and ate endless frozen pizzas”). Conveniently, whatever ethnic background they claim, they’ll always look as white as milk. Often, they’ll complain that photos “make them look white”, or they’ll draw particular attention to any feature of their face that could be thought of as being stereotypically similar to the current group that’s being marginalised (“I look so white in this photo, but my eyes are Indian”) since, well, if you’re told that something looks like something, you’ll probably agree, or at least you’re primed to agree. Especially if it’s someone’s face. They’ll use the principle of politeness – that you should never tell someone that you disbelieve their experiences – to hide this in plain sight. After all, if they’re telling you, week-in week-out that they’re experiencing street and institutional racism, who are you to say “But… You look white, you’re ginger, you have blue eyes…” The issues faced by the people in the news will pale in comparison to the affect that it’s having on them! Give them money!

They’ll have friends or family in every city that appears on the news. One of the ways that I first spotted my first scammer who acted like this was that he described me as “A close friend” when there was a news-level incident in the city I lived in. He milked money from the crowd by fretting that he thought he’d never see me again, that we were like brothers, that seeing so much disaster brought home to him how vulnerable he was, living where he did, and that he thus needed to be given money to move home… He got the money, and he did. The event in question was the sort of small flood that happens every few years but looks very dramatic. A couple of bikes were washed away. I’d spoken to this chap perhaps three times in my life, always about fairly shallow things.

It’ll then follow on to illness – Thankfully (for them) EDS is one of those conditions where the presentation is so variable that someone with it might have been diagnosed with almost anything beforehand. So, any news article on disability gets answered with “Back when I was diagnosed with [Topical Thing]”. Likewise, they can pick and choose which symptoms they’re having – If someone was in the news for doing something in a fugue state, then their EDS will come with seizures. If paraplegia or hemiplegia is in the news, they’ll have no function in their legs. If the topic is food, their EDS’s main symptom will be food intolerances and low appetite. Any suggestions that these problems either aren’t dangerous, or could be made better with a simple, cheap solution, will be met with equivocation. They need, clearly, a lot of money, and sympathy, and attention. And they need it now!

Depending on the crowd that they’re courting, they’ll also be LGBT. Usually they’ll appear to be straight and cis, and in a hetero relationship (or at least, always showing interest in the opposite sex) but the same thing will apply; Ah, they may appear to be a straight cis woman, but actually they’re a pansexual greyromantic demigirl! Thus anything happening to LGBT people in the news… Yep, you’ve got it, it may as well be happening to them, right now. They’re the ones that need the money, sympathy, attention… All of the above. Money!

Observation 1.2: Every action that they do will have intense personal relevance.

They’re not just eating an orange because they have an orange, they’re eating an orange because it’s the food that their Mother would bring them on payday. They’re not wearing jeans because jeans are comfortable, they’re wearing them because they have a deep grief about the shape of their legs and jeans are the only thing that ameliorates that violence. Someone elbowing them out of the way in the bus queue wasn’t just an arsehole, they did it for racist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic reasons, and it was personally deeply upsetting because it reminded them of the time that they were elbowed out of the way at a Lifechanging Event. Clearly, they are deeply traumatised and need your money!

Observation 1.3: They will convert to as many oppressions as possible.

If they can convert to a minority religion, they will, regardless of whether or not they actually believe it or keep to its precepts. They will identify as as many things as possible which don’t have strict boundaries or which have no bearing on their external actions (They’ll be grey-aromantic, or demisexual, or an indigo child, or an Unusually Sensitive Person, or an empath, or will self-diagnose with atypical autism, or an old soul, or a spiritworker…) some of the things will be real things, even if very loosely defined, some of them will be semi-real things, and some of them will just be pseudoscience and a way of saying “I am special and different”.

The points in (1) are to do with making links between themselves and as many things as possible, so that when later, they want to beg for money, you’re already faintly aware of a connection between them and the item that they’re begging for. “Oh yes, Floorbert needs £100 designer jeans, because jeans have something to do with his trauma” [clicks “Donate now!”] “Oh, Squamina’s great great grandmother was a Cherokee princess, she must be destroyed by [current event]… I’ll give her some money.”

 

Observation 2: They are constantly in desperate personal crisis.

Nothing is ever simple and no problem is too small. Every single stumblingblock in the road of life is the one that will kill them, immediately, and only your money can save them. Everything, arbitrarily, will need to be done NOW, has a short deadline, and if it’s not done by that deadline, all hell will break loose. They’ll phrase it in more and more pitiful terms as the deadline gets closer; “If I don’t get an electric piano by the fourteenth, I’ll have to wait a year to get into music school” “I need an electric piano by the fourteenth to fulfill my dream of being a musician, before I die” “My crippled hands are withering, I have until the fourteenth to get an electric piano and I don’t know now long I’ll last after that” “The thought of the piano, by the fourteenth, is all I live for. I am music, I am nothing but notes and sorrow”. They will manage to make even fairly colossal luxuries seem like the absolute least that a human needs in order to live a good life, and look how much they deserve the best possible life, with all of the hardships that the world has thrown at them…

The constant sense of crisis and urgency is what keeps their followers on their toes. At every corner, there is an opportunity to help this poor, struggling, vulnerable person! And quick! If you don’t they might die right now! Or worse, they might call you out as one of those sham-friends who does nothing but selfishly read their content and then never helps, oh woe. You owe them, you read their articles, you have to pay up immediately!

 

Observation 3: Their EDS only has the picturesque, dramatic symptoms.

They will never, ever, talk about faecal impaction. Not even to other people with the same condition. Or vomiting. Or the reality of losing days to pain, which is more accurately summed up by a pile of empty crisp packets and lucozade bottles than by a wan, gothic figure in a four-poster bed. They will suffer from dramatic fainting fits and seizures and crippling fatigue, and it will all be cloaked in a sort of maudlin romanticism. They’ll dwell on their own mortality, constantly. The care that they need will look more like a hurt-and-comfort fic than reality; A lot of soulful, tender bathing and eating their favourite meals in bed by candlelight, and not very much practical shuttling-around by friends, or having their laundry done by neighbours. It absolutely will not involve things like having to be helped to get to the toilet, or ashamedly admitting that their house needs a professional cleaner, or having to have a third-party take notes in medical appointments for them. They will have something like Victorian Novel Disease, complete with the implication that they are Too Good For This World and need charity to stay alive.

If they don’t, in reality, have EDS, they will repeat common descriptions of symptoms used by others in the community, or they’ll make up unusually florid descriptions which bear very little relation to reality. If they feel that someone is questioning the truth of their story as they’re telling it, they’ll change it – Saying that they’re too confused, or that they can’t remember, or that it’s all a blur from pain. They’ll usually never try to describe something that’s really hard-to-explain, like how a luxation feels, and will focus on simple, dramatic statements.

 

Observation 3.1: Their medical treatment will be all-or-nothing, and usually a caricature of EDS treatment.

Doctors will be baffled by their EDS. More baffled than is usual, I mean. They’ll only ever name-drop opioids or other drugs that hit the headlines when they talk about their medications, everything else will be “Something for migraines” or “Something for tiredness”. They’ll talk about their medications, especially morphine, as if they’re taking far more than is safe, and as if they are the sickest patient on the internet. They’ll really hammer it home – They’re taking MORPHINE, their problems are MORPHINE-LEVEL-BAD and thus they need your pity, sympathy, attention and most of all money.

Any doctor suggesting physio will only be suggesting it for racist or misogynist or fatphobic reasons, likewise any suggesting that talking therapies can help. This will result in more screaming online, more begging for money and attention (“To pay to see another doctor”) and more long screeds about how this is affecting them all much more badly than it’d affect the average person. And thus why you should give them money.

Again, they will seem to draw their words and descriptions from other people with EDS – They might parrot treatments and side-effects directly from others, or have *exactly* the problems in getting treatment that they expect (and that are dramatically satisfying) and no others. They will always face a deeper discrimination than anyone else around them, of course. Much like with their symptoms, if someone seems to be questioning them (and I’ve seen people claiming to get literally impossible treatments in wings of hospitals that don’t exist) they’ll claim either malpractise, that they’ve been lied to by their doctor and that this is just an extra indignity, or they’ll have another acute crisis atop their ongoing-crisis.

 

Observation 4: All of their wants will be framed as needs.

They will never just “Want” something, it will always come with a sad story and a hint for money. From something as elaborate as “I need a piano to play the lost music of my people! By the way, here’s a paypal link” to “I need a takeaway because the only food left in the house is boring”, everything will be framed as a need, and the opportunity will always be there for their followers to pay for it for them. There’ll usually also be a time limit in order to make it crisis-like; “Ugh, I need to buy a guitar within the next hour so that it’s here in time to play at Big Event that I’ve been looking forward to forever!”

There is no way that they can do any of these things without your help, and they are experts at coopting the language of equality and accessibility to make it seem like, in not paying for whatever it is that they want, you’re being racist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic… You get the picture.

They’ll also talk frequently about how it’s ableist and classist to “police how they spend money”. It is, of course, ableist and classist to say that disabled or poor people can’t have nice things, but when someone says “Please! Give me money for groceries or I’ll die!” and then a few seconds later says “Since you bought me food, I bought a £200 musical instrument on a whim to cheer myself up”, they’re doing something very wrong by misrepresenting the situation that they’re in.

This one is particularly insidious since so many of us are so open about our finances and are so close to complete destitution; We tend to expect that someone saying “I have no money” has no money. Plenty of us, upon knowing that we can afford food for the rest of the week, will consider ourselves rich. We’ll then share with others in the community. It’s a little galling to realise, after giving money to someone who is “starving!” that they don’t really mean that they have no food, just no food that they want to eat, when you yourself found the money to give to them by eating just plain rice for three days.

As much as there is no literal compulsion to give money to anyone who is fundraising, there is powerful social pressure. Scammers exploit that, they make themselves as pitiable and noble as possible, and wait for the money to roll in.

 

Observation 5: They will be deeply, unusually, personally fragile and helpless, even though they’re so brave and noble, and this will gain them protection.

This is related to how they keep their masquerade going. They make themselves impossible to criticise, because any tiny slight against them will make them do two things; First, they will be publicly devastated, shaken to their very core by the horrid accusations levelled against them. Then, second, they will whip up a mob against the person who criticised them. The other person will have criticised them because they’re “jealous of their success”, or because they’re ableist, homophobic, racist or transphobic (Again, see the utility of being ‘oppressed’ on many axes – The scammer can always pick an axis that the accuser doesn’t share), or because they’re just plain “hateful”. That’ll do two things in turn – It’ll make the individual critic, who may or may not have been about to expose them as a scammer, no longer a reliable or trusted source (After all, they attacked this poor fragile innocent!) and it’ll serve as a warning to anyone else; Don’t try to expose the scammer, they will make your online life hell. The number of scammers where I’ve spoken to other people who know them, and the people have said “Oh, yeah, I think they’re up to something but I can’t place *what*, and if I said anything I’d get doxxed”. All the while, even though small groups of people individually move away from the scammer, the scammer continues to draw in the more trusting and usually more vulnerable.

 

Finally then, what do we do?

I don’t know. Honestly, I have no fucking idea, but it depresses me and it’s ripping the community apart. I hate to say “Don’t trust anyone, ever, unless you know them, unless their story seems straight and stays straight for years, unless you’ve seen their face or heard their voice, unless you’ve got reasons, other than just ‘because they say so’ to believe them…” but I think that’s where we are, as a group now. Most of us, so close to all of us, are honest and when we ask for help, it’s because we’re desperate. But the few who don’t, who parasitise our community and our goodwill and the trust that we’ve worked for years or even decades to build up, have ruined it. I see a GoFundMe or a BuyMeACoffee link cross my desk now, and I immediately assume that it’s a scammer, or someone begging for treats instead of just trying to live out the week. And I know that hurts genuine people that need help – A few years ago, when I literally was eating nothing but broken rice and smartprice lemonade, I asked for help to get me to my family home to see my Grandmother for the last time. She’s not dead now, but she is gone, and strangers on the internet helped me to spend that last year with her before she vanished into her own head. And for that I’m forever grateful. And I am fucking enraged that people trying to make themselves comfortable by begging from the already-poor have made it more difficult for people in that kind of situation.

 

Maybe, all I’ll say is, take everyone with a pinch of salt. If they seem too tragic to be true, assume that they’re not true. If their daily lives fit a neat narrative arc, assume that they’re fiction. If they constantly need your money, and make you feel like you are obliged to give it (Including by the backchannel of “Nobody has to give! But we’d really appreciate it from those who can afford to spare the equivalent of a cup of coffee…”) question why that is.

 

I’ve rambled for too long anyway. Here’s a precis;

 

A: Scammers prey on our sense of community and our willingness to help each other.

B: Their tactics and how to identify them

B1) They will make everything about them, so that you will think of them often.

B2) They will be in constant, urgent crisis so that you feel that you have to help them NOW.

B3) Their illness will seem slightly unreal, as if they’re trying to tell a story.

B4) Anything that they want will be phrased as a “need” and will justify fundraising for it.

B5) They will be paradoxically vulnerable, and inspire people to gang up on their critics for them.

C: Take all requests for money with a grain of salt, especially if the above criteria are met.

A tale of two ovaries

So, on the 10th of May I went up to the local health centre to talk to the counsellor about being sterilised. And, honestly, she was fantastic. She had no qualms at all about whether or not I needed the procedure, she understood that wanting the weight of fertility off my mind was an important thing, so we talked about physical methods – I obviously wanted it done transvaginally, because incisions would risk adhesions, and she agreed that was a great idea. The local Trust don’t usually work transvaginally, so she referred me on to my usual surgeon, Mr GB, and suggested that a ligation followed by putting the Mirena coil back in place (So that I was sterile AND had no periods) would be absolutely ideal for me.

She waved me off with a smile and a promise that all it would take from now was a bit of form-filling and a quick consult with the lovely Mr GB.

 

So, on the 11th of June when I had to go up to StJ to see the surgeon, I wasn’t worried. I rode in, happy to be out on the bike on its new tyres, and was called up into the office pretty promptly. To see… Not Mr GB. An assistant. Fair enough, I thought. We had a nice chat to start off with – She’s a zebra too, and I was amazed that she’s the second zebra gynae that I’ve met *at that hospital*, and a biker, so we chatted about the bike, and then;

 

“Well, the bad news is, there’s no way that we’re going to give you a ligation. Our trust just do not do them on anyone who’s not already had children.”

 

I got angry, swallowed it back down into a hot ball of sick sweat in my chest, and felt myself flush a terrible colour.

 

“Have you considered vasectomy?”

 

I fought back. I’m not my partners’ property, so I exaggerated a little; “It doesn’t seem fair to give half of the city a vasectomy just to avoid letting me have the snip.”

 

She tried another tack;

 

“I know it’s boring to have to come in every five years and have your coil changed”

“Traumatic.” I corrected her.

“Traumatic?”

“At my first coil change, I told the nurse to stop and take the speculum away. Her response was ‘no’, and she continued to try to grab my cervix in forceps whilst holding my legs apart. I kicked her, broke the speculum, and curled up crying in a corner. The reason I’d needed her to stop was because I was beginning to have flashbacks to being raped with a handheld object by an ex-girlfriend. Since then, I’ve needed to have them done under a general anaesthetic.”

“Well, next time, come here and we’ll do it under a local.”

“Did you not hear me? Plus, you should know this, I have EDS, you have EDS, local anaesthetics do nothing. Christ.”

“They might. Try. You can’t keep having them done under a general”

“But that’s the only birth control that works for me. And the only way to install it. This is why I need to be sterilised.”

“I know, but we just… Can’t. What if you want babies later? It can’t be undone!!!”

 

I eventually got her whittled down to doing an out-of-area referral, to send me a few hundred miles away to be done as a day surgery, but first it would have to pass some other long panel of people who clearly Know What’s Best For Me Better Than I Do. Someone in that line will almost definitely decide that what I really need is the coercive threat of being a broodmare to keep me in line. If just one set of administrators decides that it’s not worth their time or money to put me under a general to get my coil changed, then that’s just it. My sex life ends.

 

Somehow, I managed to get out of the appointment without raising my voice once. But, really, this is the kind of nightmare that feels like it should be left in the past.

 

 

 

Hot Fog

More Ministry of Propaganda; Apparently I wrote this one in November last year, and I just found it now whilst digging in my documents. Presented for your enlightenment (I actually feel fine right now).

 

The Klaxon

 

The woman in the severe grey suit looked, frankly, worn out already. Her horn-rimmed glasses hung on their decorative chain around her neck, and she was picking compulsively at the chipped enamel of one of the links.

“Remind me, citizen, how long has this been going on for now?”

“It’s been…” the citizen paused, then he resigned himself to at least being able to circumlocute around not-knowing; “At the current intensity, forty three hours.”

The crisis was immediately obvious to everyone in the room. Every thirty seconds, across the entire nation, the public announcement system was making an incredibly loud wailing noise. Everyone knew what it was – It was the Suicide Klaxon – and thus the entire populace was vacillating between doing literally nothing, and bursts of frantic, pointless energy. Nobody was working, the schools and universities were empty, even the public baths and hotel bars were silent, lightbulbs blazing over empty rooms and radios playing too-loudly without the chatter of people to mellow them.

The woman – she’d been a playwright once – knew how to start a meeting like this, even if she’d been privately hoping that the Klaxon would just stop on its own.

“Reluctant though I am to call emergency meetings of the Ministry, I believe that this is close enough to a national emergency that one is justified. Comrades, you all recognise the Suicide Klaxon, and I hope-” she paused for effect and put her glasses back on, drawing herself up to her full height “-that you all know that it is simply a malfunction in the system which governs the Klaxon.”

The Engineer looked nervous, immediately, and pulled a sheaf of papers out of his briefcase to defend himself with. The Playwright looked at him with immediate, real sympathy, and continued;

“This isn’t the Engineer’s fault. This isn’t, in fact, anyone’s fault. The Engineering corps are a brave, resourceful organisation, and they have been doing their absolute best to maintain equilibrium through some trying times for our sacred nation. In fact, Engineer, there has been real progress made this year as well, has there not?”

The Engineer looked as if he’d been thrown into the squid pit, only to discover that it was actually full of delicious gooseberry fool.

“Ah, yes, Comrade Minister.” He coughed, “This year alone, the Engineering Corps has made great strides in both solidifying our position as it stands with respect to education, in progress in transport, (where the Great Leader is putting one hundred percent of his effort into securing a better, more motorbike-centred, future) and in preventing a complete collapse in housing due to the natural lifespan of the existing structure.” he finished, looking genuinely proud.

“So” said the Playwright, picking her words carefully; “Along with all of that, as well as the usual day-to-day running of the Nation, it’s actually a great testament to your department’s skill that the only catch that you’ve dropped, so to speak, is one tiny, insignificant, Klaxon.”

The Engineer’s cautious pride broke into a genuine smile.

“Yes, Comrade Minister. All in all, it’s been a very successful year.”

“Good.” she replied. “Now. We have definitely confirmed that this is just a malfunction in the Suicide Klaxon system, and it’s important to let the people know that. Artist, what are you working on?”

The Artist looked up from her sketches; A proud figure astride a motorbike, applying ear defenders before their helmet, with the caption “Some noise is meaningless”. The second cartouche contained a smiling worker sat at a sewing machine, with the subtitle “I can work listening to the radio, I can work listening to the television, I can work listening to my friend’s stories, so I can work listening to the Suicide Klaxon”.

“I think that the key message to get across to the public is that the noise is unpleasant, but not dangerous in its own right, and that if they ignore it, it won’t do them any harm.”

The Doctor coughed.

“It is doing them harm, though. Nobody is sleeping. Nobody is eating properly. Everyone hates the Klaxon, it makes them nervous and eventually it will make them ill”

Both the Engineer and the Playwright fixed him with a glare that fulfilled the five-year-plan for heat generation in five seconds.

The Engineer slammed his fist down onto the table.

“You mean to say, Comrade Doctor, that worrying the citizenry about the Klaxon will make my engineers fix it faster? Or that worrying about it will make it quieter?”

The Doctor looked abashed.

“I only meant that, in general, the Klaxon is bad for us, in the long term”

The Playwright had lit a cigarette and was now watching the match burn in her fingers.

“The citizenry know that the Klaxon is harmful, but what they need to do right now is to find ways to make it less frightening and more bearable, until our engineers can switch it off.”

The Artist held up another sketch; A locomotive driver on the footplate, the boiler belching steam, the fire glowing vivid red, hurtling through a beautifully luminous night under starry skies – “The sound of the engine will drown out the Klaxon – I continue my work so that our brave Engineers can continue theirs”.

“And it has the important counterpoint -” another drawing; A figure in bed, with a dog curled up next to them, reading from a paperback novel, with the legend “Two days of good rest can lead to five days of good work. Two days of bad work can lead to five days of painful recovery. Help the Engineers by staying at home”.

“I like this one” she said, and perhaps even” – she slid a drawing across the table to the Engineer himself;

The engineer’s eyes welled up with tears.

The sketch showed a team of engineers, in full working-dress with tool belts and torches, clutching mugs of hot tea, with home-made scarves and and plates of food around them; “Thank you, citizens! Together, we will turn off the Klaxon!”

The Playwright authorised a print run of two hundred thousand of each poster, and planned a radio announcement. The Klaxon is malfunctioning, the engineering corps are going to repair it, the reason that it was in disrepair was because of the great strides that our sacred nation has made in the previous year and thus the corps were needed elsewhere. Citizens can continue their business safely, knowing that they do not need to take action based on the Klaxon.

On the way out of the meeting, the Doctor accosted her;

“You’re the only one of us with the ear of our Great Leader.” He said, “How is he faring, under the onslaught?”

The Playwright shrugged.

“He’s tired, as we all are. I think he’ll enjoy seeing the posters though.”

Like a Stone

Chris Cornell died today.

 

Many many years ago, when I was a very mentally ill young man, I was sectioned for a week. That week of sectioning happened to coincide with Audioslave playing, and I had tickets to go with my partner. I could not go. I gave the ticket to his best friend, and the two of them went, and I stayed in the hospital.

 

At nearly 2am I got a phone call. Not a voice I recognised, or rather, not one that I recognised on the phone. A voice a bit knackered from singing a set, but still full of crackly good humour and encouragement.

 

My then-partner had got backstage, found Chris Cornell, and Chris Cornell’s response to “Actually, my partner was meant to be here, but he’s been sectioned” was to phone me and say hallo, to tell me to keep my chin up, trust the doctors, take my meds, and to reassure me that I was doing the right, responsible thing. Apparently he did that a lot – Just generally encouraged his fans to look out for their mental health.

 

A couple of years ago, Terry Pratchett died. He was an old, old man and it wasn’t a shock to anyone, not least to PTerry himself. I still get a bit misty-eyed reading The Shepherd’s Crown, but it’s with the acknowledgment of a life fully lived, that reached its close, and thus ended.

 

As far as anyone can tell at this time, Chris Cornell made his own way out. He was fifty two.

 

If Chris Cornell, who was grounded enough fourteen years ago to be able to chat to a suicidal stranger and make them feel like they could keep going, who had all the money and physical health and ability to access treatment that’s available in the world, who had all the biggest, loudest, most amazing distraction techniques available to him, who spoke up for years about what it was and how to face it head-on, was still killed by the terminal illness that is depression, what hope do the rest of us have?

 

I have more to write about. I’ll write later. Today I want Soundgarden and a nice wool blanket and to go back to yesterday and somehow persuade someone to ring Chris Cornell right after he finished playing his set.