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I’ve been able to concentrate for the first time in months – years maybe – so I thought I’d swing by with these offerings.

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwen

Typically bizarre McEwan novel but remarkably easy to read and posing some interesting moral/emotional dilemmas.

Life Class – Pat Barker

If you can handle the unswervingly savage detail, London’s Slade Art School in the build up to WW1 and how art and life mix and merge with destruction and beauty I’d give this a go because it’s brilliant. Ultimately what is ‘reality’ and what ‘matters’ when the world is at war – do we have to change (and should we?) how we look at art, society, civilisation etc.

Somme Mud – The Experiences of an Infantryman in France, 1916 – 1919 – E.P.F. Lynch: Edited by Will Davis

Edward Lynch was an Australian soldier who enlisted in 1916 and filled 20 school exercise books with his experiences – it’s quite remarkable.

The Secret Life of  Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

I’ve only just got round to this and I was so moved by it, wonderful characters and a terrible indictment of the treatment of negroes in the United States at the time of Martin Luther King. I don’t know how ‘academics’ viewed this novel  – I don’t much care, there’s so much to applaud and it’s deliciously heart warming.

Lucky Kuntz – The Rise and Fall of Young British Art – Gregor Muir

I imagine this speaks for itself but if you’ve ever wondered about the whole ‘dead cow’,  ‘soiled beds’  and installations = modern art controversy it’s interesting and informative.

The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry

The central character is almost 100 years old and she’s reflecting on her life in an Irish mental hospital where she was committed as a young woman. I’d recommend this for the prose style alone which is exquisite but the story so far is engrossing.

The last two actually count as one because I’m dipping in and out of the Art book  when I take a break from devouring ‘The Secret Scripture’ and besides some of you will surely remember my philosophy on life -: “What is the good of a rule, thought Jan, without those who break them!”  Whooooooo hooooo!


What stops me from writing, creating, making ‘art’? Why don’t I have a schedule where I know there will be hours devoted to the muse everyday in a professional, self-disciplined manner? I venture to suggest that it’s because I’m not…..professional. I don’t earn a living from writing, if I don’t write I won’t starve or lose my home so it’s not like I’m chasing a quid. Is this why I find other things to do such as playing computer games, watching the TV, messing about …you know, messing…I don’t have to describe messing do I? I would wager you are all familiar with the activity, messing about with such consummate ease it’s like you were born with it as a gift.

So – if I know that I’m doing anything to avoid writing, creating why don’t I have a word with myself and get on with the work? Why don’t I nip it in the bud ( messing ) and open the computer  – take myself to work  – get cracking? Unfortunately because unlike the rest of you (contradict me if I’m wrong ) I’m not driven to write, there’s no Muse whispering in my ear, I do not have a calling. I read what the rest of you produce and it always seems to me that you are striving, creativity has captured your souls and runs riot in your imaginations. You NEED to be creative, it’s your passion and cannot be ignored.

My distraction is the lack of a ‘calling’; I have no goals, targets or ambitions. It would be fair to change the question on its head and ask me why on earth I bother. I don’t have to distract myself because there’s nothing going on that it’s imperative for me to express. It actually astonishes me that I’ve kept it going this long – it’s not an enjoyable pastime. My question should really be why am I using writing to distract me from real life?


Give sorrow words

The grief that is not spoke

Whispers to the unquiet heart

And bids it break.

Taken from Shakespeare’s Macbeth

I genuinely believe this but am in awe of the insight, so beautifully expressed and so many centuries before Freud.

‘The pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.’

From the film ‘Shadowlands.’

Again absolutely spot on for insight and as a person who has always had issues with separation it encapsulates how I should look at relationships.

‘Why are you so good to me?’

‘Because someone was good to me once when I needed somebody.’

From the 1940’s black and white film ‘Now Voyager.’

I am an absolute sucker for 1940’s films and can’t count how many times I’ve watched this particular one. Bette Davis, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid. If you’ve never seen it you may have caught the very last scene where Jerry picks up two cigarettes, lights them both, passes one to Charlotte and as we look up into heavens she says, ‘Oh Jerry don’t let’s ask for the moon, we have the stars’.

So Shakespeare, an old black and white love/melodrama and a modern film.

I am alone.

Unto the very core of my being,

Down to the marrow in the bone,

And I have known it,

Heard it in the wind,

Felt the ghastly moan

Of being cut off,

Cut out;

Age four – I saw

The chasm and the caverns

Deep below;

You would have thought

I could at least consort

With other ghosts –

There were none there

And if they were they hid

In shadows, spectres still;

So this is why I know

It cannot change,

Or ever will.

There is a path where trees and flowers

Form bowers of solitude

For lovers, friends, companions;

I don’t go there,

I do not know the way

And would be shunned;


Since age of four

Who locked the door

To make me live this way?

Alone – from being a child,

For all my life – lost

Searching for a key, an opening;

I am far inside myself,

Apart – beyond the reach

Of fingertips

Or outstretched arms:

Today is yesterday.




“So… you came back…. we will be allowed to meet here for every session….obviously, we don’t know how many there will be. You’re not compelled to see me… we can stop this when ever you please…. I need to be sure you are aware of that…it’s important.”

“I know I don’t have to come… I know I can walk out whenever… but let’s not pretend I can walk out of here and that would be the end of it…. if it frigs me off I’ll stop…. you need to be aware of that… but I know what the consequences could be if I chuck it in.”

“Hm… well, let’s not jump too far ahead of ourselves I have no real say in what ‘might’ be….I’d like to think we’ll make real progress….. but I can’t make you see me….and I can’t make you talk….. I don’t subscribe to coercion…. okay?”

“The elderly gentleman and young girl were seated in a delightful little nook at Table 42 and 3/4; it was going to be their quiet place where they could have people close by but not be heard. He had known she would like it away from hospital offices and the formality of checking in with his secretary – not to mention disturbed patients arguing with nurses, each other and people who were the products of a delusional mind – not actually there. It was the quiet time, a sliver of calm before the bustle of day became the energy of night. A few people dotted up and down talked almost in whispers in deference to hush as light drained from the sky.

“You told me last time that it would be easier for you if I opened the conversation.”

“Did I?”

“Yes, you were quite adamant about it. Have you changed your mind….. would you like to begin….. something troubling you more than usual?”


“No you haven’t changed your mind or…..?

“Just start! Okay… start… ask me something… you want to know stuff… you know what you want to hear…. fire away, ask!”

“Hm….. what do I want to hear?  I don’t believe there is anything I “want to hear”  …..  what do you want to tell me… other than not really wanting to tell me anything.”

“If I am admitted to hospital again I’ll be sectioned… you know that don’t you… it’s not like I jumped up and down saying please let me have a new shrink…. it’s not like we had a cozy meeting and I begged them to let me do this – again…..  I am not going to let them section me…. not ever! So pick up a thread from last time and… and…. let’s see where it takes us.”

“You don’t like the ‘jargon’ do you…..  although I have to say you’ve learned it well…. you fairly spit the words out…”

“The jargon has been poured into me for years! I would have had to be brain dead not to pick it up – and let’s face it…. they tried brain death so please, pick a topic, any topic …. I really don’t care!”

“You appear to be agitated…… ”

“Agitated… appear…. would you like to swap places? Would you like to be in my position … you’re going to interrogate me for God’s sake…. it’s incredible that you can say that! It’s funny! ….. do you think the Spanish Inquisition looked at their victims and said ‘ah ah signorina, yous appears to be aghhitated’…. how would you like me to appear… how, how…. come on, give me a clue!”

“Your hands are clenched again… do you want to lash out? ….. do you want to hit me with your fists?…..”

She jumped to her feet and glared at the elderly doctor almost unable to contain herself, shaking with rage and exasperation, twisting her fingers in knots, tugging her hair, knocking the table legs which rattled cups, saucers and cutlery so much they could have danced a conga before leaping to a violent death on the stone floor…. he sat back and watched the child explode in front of him, fuming, furious, desperate….anguished.

“Let’s start again…. I’m sorry, I’ve distressed you…. I’ll get you a drink…. please…. I know this is hard but you need to relax your body, be calm….”

Within a minute there was milk, coffee, bread, cake, bits and pieces, ‘nibbles’ – placed in the centre of the table by someone who virtually ghosted in and out with the tray. There was quiet for a while, he sipped coffee, she gulped down milk and toyed with the food.

“You told me last time about your fear of choking. Do you remember how that started…. had you experienced choking when you were younger?”

“No…I don’t remember any choking.”

“What happens when people choke?  If you never had an experience of choking what is there about it that would make you so frightened?”

“You can’t breathe…. when you choke… you can’t breathe…. your head wants to explode like it’s swelling up into a giant ball and… there’s no air.”

“Hm….. you told me some things were more ‘dangerous ‘ than others… sharp things…. why sharp things….what makes them special…….. ?”

“They’re pointed… sharp things are pointed….. that’s why they are more dangerous. You can swallow a long, pointed sharp thing… it’s possible…. you are terrified… you can’t breathe….your air passage is blocked.”

“Hm ….. is that how scissors are on your list… even though they can be large and clumsy? You mentioned wasps and bees….  you thought they might pass your face and you would swallow them….. have I got that right?”

“Yes… they have stings, the stings are sharp and pointed…. it would be very dangerous to swallow one… I hate them near me.”

“It wouldn’t be nice to swallow a bee or a wasp…. wouldn’t you be in more danger of being stung….  most people are afraid of being stung… wouldn’t you know if one flew into your mouth? Is there a way maybe that you could prevent that from happening?”

“Yes…. I can keep my mouth covered… but…. it doesn’t work. If I panic and I’ve heard them buzzing I get convinced I’ve swallowed one…  convinced…. it doesn’t sound logical does it… it sounds weird.”

“It sounds distressing.”

“When a wasp or a bee flies near me I have to count…. you know… like I told you last time…1 to 6 and back and on and on…. if I panic I can tell myself I didn’t swallow a wasp because I counted…. it’s tiring…. a nuisance…. it never stops.”

“What happens when you panic? Can you describe it to me……take your time.”

“I know it’s going to be bad when I get a sensation of anxiety…. I feel my body going weak and then I start to shake…. it’s like an electric shock going through me and that’s so scary becuase I panic more and lose the feeling in my fingers and toes…. like I’m going numb all over. It makes me feel like I can’t breathe so I have to breathe faster and that makes my head swim as though I’ll faint. I’ve read books about it, I know now why it happens – I can’t always stop it from happening but I do know about it.”

“And that happens … how much? How often?”

“Every day, I don’t know how many times per day, I don’t keep track…. as many as 5 or 6 times…. in a bad day.”

“You say when these attacks happen you feel like you can’t breathe…. what’s that like?”

“It’s terrifying, I fret constantly about the chances of me fainting or being unconscious… it’s a vicious circle…the more frightened you feel the things happening to your body get worse, when they’re worse the panic increases. You’re supposed to get a paper bag, scrunch it up, hold it over your mouth and breathe out so that you can ‘breathe in what you breathed out.’ I tried it …it never worked.”

Why’s that do you think… it sounds sensible…. I’ve had patients who’ve used the technique successfully….. why doesn’t it help you?

“Well it wouldn’t help me would it….. I fail at everything…. I probably don’t do it right…. I’m thick…  stupid… useless!”

“I wouldn’t say that … you’re being a bit harsh on yourself… there can be numerous reasons for why some things don’t live up to the theories behind them.”


“Are there other things you can choke on besides sharp ones?”

“Yes… everything can choke me… except breakfast… I never get frightened at breakfast…I don’t know why breakfast is safe so let’s not analyse it.”

“Hm…. okay…. we’ll leave this for now… perhaps we’ll come back to it another time.”

“Anne… what came first… the fear of choking or the counting…. can you remember?”

“Counting…. counting…I’m sure.”

“Do you know how old you were…. why you counted?”

“No…. I’m not certain……before I was 9….number 6 was important years before then…. it turned into complicated 6’s when I was eleven….. the numbers had to be earlier…I needed the safety.”

“The safety…. when did you start to feel unsafe…. do you recall that… do you remember why you weren’t safe?”

“The counting ….. I think it mixed with the dream…. maybe… probably.”

“And the safety…. do you know why you didn’t feel safe… what was so frightening you couldn’t tell anyone? Children who are frightened usually rush to mum or dad so they can be reassured, they don’t normally keep it inside them….. why didn’t you tell anyone?”

“Why? I don’t know…. I have an idea… I don’t….I’m not…. ”

“I think you probably do know….. what made you so frightened? So scared you had to count and have recurring dreams…. I think you can remember, tell me.”

“My parents… for different reasons… my parents, I love my mam… I hate saying this, it’s like a betrayal, I love her to bits….. but….she scared me, she hit me…. a lot. I didn’t love my father then, I don’t love him now….I hate him. I’m tired now… please… let me go … I’ve said enough.”


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