Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Mid Life Crisis? Nah, I just love Tattoos

“heavily tattooed women can be said to control and subvert the ever-present 'male gaze' by forcing men (and women) to look at their bodies in a manner that exerts control.”Margo DeMello*

I would consider myself to be a heavily tattooed women. Both my arms (sleeves) are fully tattooed - although I have a little space for a few more, the top of my back is tattooed and the front of my left thigh.

I get quite strong reactions to my tattoos, people react to them like Marmite, they either hate them or love them, there doesn't appear to be an in-between.

People seem to have no filter when commenting on tattoos, its not like with a new hair style, where people are always polite, with tattoos they will turn round and say, 'why would you do that to yourself' or 'I just think they are ugly'. People would never say that about your hair. So why is it OK with tattoos? I'm baffled.

I am definitely in the minority of people in my age group with tattoos, only 9% of Generation X (36 - 50 year olds) have 5 or more tattoos. I couldn't find a stat to tell me how many of the 9% were women.

I had my first tattoo at 28, this was 10 years after I walked into a tattoo studio and then walked straight out again, terrified. But I knew, even at 18, that I was going to have tattoos. My first tattoo was a tiny daisy on my shoulder.

My advice to anyone thinking about getting a tattoo is to be brave. Better to go for the larger than you think you want, tattoo than the small one, because the small one will get in the way of the next tattoo, and the next...they are terribly addictive.

One of the most common questions I get asked is why? Why would you want tattoos?

My answer isn't simple.

Firstly, for me, it has nothing to do with the pleasure/pain principle. I get no pleasure from the pain, usually I am just exhausted afterwards because of the adrenalin. I don't enjoy the pain, nor do I enjoy the healing process, when they are all scabby and itchy. I like the end product when they are healed.

Secondly, I have always felt different, this is a way of externalising that, I don't want to look like everyone else, I like to challenge my thinking and keep an open mind, my tattoos help me do that, they remind me that everyone has the right to express themselves even when I don't like what they are expressing.

Thirdly, I see them as art, I have art on me, as well as all around me and that makes me feel beautiful.

Fourthly, I have leukaemia, my body is out of control, getting a tattoo is something I can control, I decide what goes on my body. That makes me happy.

And finally, although I am sure there is more, some of my tattoos have specific meanings for me, for example, I have some paper planes on my right arm, these represent my daughter as she is always doing origami, I find cranes, paper planes and flowers all over the house. These small representations feel special and intimate.
This is a tattoo representing my eldest, the origami unicorn is a nod to her love of origami and to Blade Runner

The reason I chose the quote above to open this blog was because I have experience of this. Men and women struggle with my tattoos, but I have noticed, as a broad generalisation that a lot of men don't find them attractive and some find them threatening (luckily neither of these things apply to my husband).

I first noticed this when I went out about 10 years ago at a fortieth birthday party, my tattoos were spreading down one of my arms and on to my back, but I didn't have as many as I have now, I had a pretty dress on, and my hair was cut short and dyed blonde. It was a salsa night and I was out with a number of female friends, during that night all my friends at some point or other were asked to dance by one of the men there, I was not.

Dancing with my friend as no one else asked me to.

I went home, and felt ugly and upset, but then when I thought about it, it wasn't me that had the problem it was them.

I know from conversations with people who have become my friend over recent years, many have assumed that I am a lesbian because of how I look. Which is ridiculous, especially in this day and age. And even if I was a lesbian, why wouldn't I want to dance and have fun in the same way as my friends. How stupid can people be?

Adolf Loos, the European Theorist said in 1910,
'Tattoos are a sign of degeneracy and only seen on criminals and degenerate aristocrats.'

I like to think that over a hundred years later we have moved on from that and we don't judge people on their external appearance, and we are, in fact more enlightened, and open minded, but I suspect it is not the case.

I know that I will get more tattoos, personally I think they are beautiful and I hope when you look at people you don't judge them purely on how they look.

As you know, I do love a stat so here are a few more for your delectation and delight xxx

  • The average age for a person to get their first tattoo is 21
  • There has been a 13% growth in the number of people getting tattoos since 2007
  • Women under 35 are almost 50% more likely to get a tattoo than their male counterparts
  • 15% of Millennials have 5 or more tattoo - this is the highest figure 
  • The majority of people, 86%, have no regrets about having a tattoo - 14% of people regret at least one.
Percentage per country of adults with at least one tattoo

USA - 42%
Canada - 36%
Ireland - 36%
UK - 29%

UK Adults with Tattoos by Age

18 - 24 - 13%
25 - 39 - 30%
40 - 59 - 21%
60+ - 9%

*Margo DeMello has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and currently teaches at Canisius College in the anthrozoology Masters program

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Monday, 15 January 2018

The Tale of the Witch & the Gryphon

Once upon a time, there was a girl.

She was plain, her hair was mousy, her face nondescript, her body average.

Even if this girl had a makeover by Tyra Banks herself, she would still be plain.

But being plain didn't matter to the girl because she was bright, intelligent, full of common sense and gumption.

The girl, lets call her Cara, was just about to go on an adventure, although she didn't know it yet.

One day, Cara had finished work, and was walking to the train station. No one took any notice of her, unless to mistake her for someone else, because she had 'one of those faces'.

She was listening to music on her phone and imagining hills and countryside. She worked in the city. She could see flowers on the hills as she walked and hear birds singing.

As she passed the Tesco Express she popped in to get something for her tea and some cat food for her cat, Woof. She picked up some spaghetti and the cat food and headed off again.

Before she had her headphones on, she saw Harry, the homeless man she passed most days, she always stopped on the way home from work to give him a £1 towards a cup of tea and for a chat.

Today Harry seemed a little worse for wear. Cara asked Harry what was wrong. He explained that there had been an incident with a Gryphon and he had left his sword at the shelter so was unprepared to help it.

Cara was used to Harry's tales of Gryphon's and swords and other mythical creatures, this was a standard part of the daily conversation, but it was unusual for Harry to get into a fight with one.

Cara asked, 'Why were you fighting the Gryphon, Harry?'

'Oh, I wasn't fighting the Gryphon, Kandor is my friend, I was fighting the witch'

'The witch' said Cara 'What witch?'

'Let me start from the beginning' said Harry, Cara sat down next to him sensing this may take some time.

'The wicked witch, Greswold had found out that Kandor, my Gryphon friend, had laid his egg, and as you know, Gryphon eggs are famously filled with gold before they hatch and become Gryphon kittens.'

'I did not know that, but please go on' said Cara now fascinated by this tale. Harry continued.

'Greswold has been keen to get hold of a Gryphon egg for many years, because the gold is not only valuable but magical. It can be used in spells to increase power, and if used correctly develop immortality for the witch, this does of course kill the kitten within, and can make the Gryphon so sad that they die of sorrow.'

'The Gryphon will only lay one egg in their life time. The Gryphon will nurture the kitten until it is fully grown and capable of living its life alone, then the Gryphon parent will burst into flames and disappear forever, going to whatever magical heaven exists for them.'

'Oh gosh,' said Cara now totally absorbed in the story, 'So what happened with you, Kandor and the witch?'

'Well' said Harry, who wasn't sounding very well at all, by this time.

'Kandor and I heard that Greswold was coming and we decided to make a stand, we could not let her get the egg.'

'Kandor fought as proudly as any eagle and as strongly as the strongest lion and I assisted where I could, but being a mere human there was little I could do.'

Kandor and the witch went head to head, they fought for a day and a night, the witch used many spells, Kandor  pushed them away, but his strength weakened.'

'By the morning Kandor had nothing left, and the witch threw one last spell which killed poor Kandor dead.'

'Oh no!' said Cara, Harry continued,

'Then Greswold turned her attention to me. She hit me with one spell, but I was already running and Kandor had whispered the secrets of hiding to me, so a witch couldn't see me'

'This is why I live on the street, I am invisible here.' said Harry, 'But she can sense what I hold.'

Cara looked at him quizzically, and he pulled out of his pocket a large egg, the size of a bag of sugar, and handed it to Cara.

'Now you, must take this.' He said as he placed it in her hand. Cara looked at the egg, it looked like a massive chicken egg, there was no indication of the magical thing within.

Then Harry whispered some words in Cara's ear and stopped breathing. The witch had fatally wounded him.

Cara, looked at Harry, and with tears streaming down her cheeks she quickly walked away with the large egg in her bag, which she carefully cradled in
her arms, like a baby.

What had Harry whispered? why, the secrets of hiding of course.

Cara had to save the egg.

And so her adventure began.

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Friday, 12 January 2018

I'm not scared of no Ghosts...

There is not much that scares me.

I like spiders - great job fella's for stopping all the flies.

I like bees....Mmmm honey.

I am not the biggest fan of wasps simply because they have multiple stings and so have a 'we don't give a sh*t' attitude. But I am not scared of them and I understand that they are part of the ecosystem, so a necessary evil.

Other than that beasts, bugs, snakes, skinless cats, needles, etc I'm all fine with.

Velvet, to me, is like finger nails down a blackboard to others. I don't know why, it just is. I think it looks lovely, I just can't stand the feel of it, sadly having kids I have had to touch more of it than I would like - thanks to those friends who brought my kids velvetty clothes and toys over the years. Thank you very much. Still, I'm not scared of it.

I am not scared of blood or gore and can deal with sick etc without heaving.

But there is one thing that scares me, it's not heights exactly, I am not scared of being high up, I am scared of doing stupid things when high up.

Examples of stupid things are as follows:
  •  Jumping out of a plane (with a parachute)
  • Doing that scary walk from a high building that they do at the beginning of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, that literally gives me sweaty palms.
  • Bungee jumping
  • Skydiving
  • Abseiling - Although, I only attempted it once when I was 12, so I maybe better about it now (being realistic, this is really unlikely) 
All of these things are just stupid, why would you do them? I know people do these things for charity but come on, you could run a marathon or make cakes or something ON THE GROUND.

The only one of these I would realistically consider doing, is to the parachute out of a plane, but only if the plane was crashing. Which in my view is quite possible.

My husband has repeatedly explained how those big heavy lumps of metal stay in the sky but mostly I have my fingers in my ears going lalalalalala thinking about the lovely fairies holding them up, because that makes way more sense. You may have guessed, I am not the biggest fan of flying.

I have family who live in Ireland, who we visit as often as possible. We could get there by driving, sea and more driving and we have done that once.

I have to drive as I get car sick.  I also get sea sick so general feelings of sicky nausea don't make the journey much fun.

So we fly, I work on the principle that it is just a shorter period of discomfort than the other option. Flying doesn't make me feel sick I just don't like it and it does scare me a little bit. I mean, if that thing stops working we are all dead, with a long thoughtful drop whilst we contemplate the impact with the ground....shudders.

We used to fly regularly to Knock in the West of Ireland. To fly to Knock you get a propeller plane, which is smaller than a normal holiday plane.

Last time we came back from Knock we flew through storm Ewan, my family and I were sitting at the back of the plane. The plane felt like a giant had got hold of it and was giving it a good shake.

People were crying, especially after the aborted landing.

I only cried after we landed because I am brave like that (trying to be brave for my family - none of whom were fooled).

The time before that, when we came back, we had another aborted landing but this time with an actual tail hit (this is the video from YouTube). That was ridiculously scary, especially as the Captain didn't say a word to us throughout.

Now we don't fly to Knock, we catch a lovely big plane to Dublin, and drive to see the family. Much better.

I have come to the conclusion that I am fearless, and that the only things that scare me are the stupid things that people weren't actually designed for.

I am normal, why on earth would you jump out of a plane or sky dive? (weird adrenalin junkie people - this question is to you), I don't want to be a bird I am a person, I can walk to the top of a hill and get a lovely view thank you, I don't need to fly*. 

So what scares you. I would love to hear.

*Unless it is in a really big super safe, held up by fairies aeroplane

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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

There were Dragons

The mist lifted, and you could see all the cars, or were they dragons? No, they were just cars.

It wasn’t mist, it was just exhaust fumes, there was no romance here, just congestion and pollution.

But imagine, if that wasn’t everything, imagine if there was another layer beyond.

Layer upon layer upon layer.

On one layer, it is even more congested, people are angrier and sicker because the pollution has reached an all-time high.

Life expectancy has reduced to 60 years old. The eco system has been hit hard and the world’s animals are dying out, a new creature extinct every day. Yesterday, the last elephant died.

And with each animal that becomes extinct the balance of the world shifts, rivers rise, oceans get closer, ice caps melt. 

Tick tock, life expectancy is 59 years old.

Imagine Justice holding her scales, our world in one of the scales, and everything else in the other. 

Everything else is closing in and we are disappearing, we can’t balance the scales, we are beyond saving.

That was the last tortoise, and porpoise. Life expectancy is 58.

Volcanoes are erupting, ash is filling the atmosphere and the earth plates are shifting, earthquakes and tsunami’s common place.

A massive Tsunami hits Portugal, Mauritania, Morocco and Senegal. They are completely devastated, only 1% of the population survives.

The last Tiger, anteater and humped back whale are dead. Life expectancy drops to 51.
Another ice cap melts in Antartica, Gentoo Penguins are wiped out. Flooding on the French Riveria scares away the rich tourists, especially when all the dead fish floated onto the best beaches. ‘How dare they’ they said, but it was them that dared, their oil fields, and fracking. Another tropical rainforest disappeared with a nod of the head, from one of them.

‘HOW DARE THEY’. We said. 

Life expectancy is 47 and all the lions are gone.

The riots started all over the world, anger at the politicians, the rich the powerful, anger at themselves for not being angrier earlier. For not making a stand before it couldn’t change.

An extinction scale event is now inevitable, more tsunami’s more earthquakes, flooding, mud slides and death, so much death the funeral homes can’t cope, bodies are left at roadsides or in shallow graves that are washed away in floods. 

Disease is prevalent everywhere, there is no clean water or sanitation, everywhere is in a third world state. 

The old third world are coping better than us, they are used to managing in difficult situations, they can make fire, and clean water – the first world order, are rubbish, without Google, how do they know what to do?

Word gets around that there are no more puffins. 

Electricity stopped working months ago.

Chaos and death, no one knows what’s extinct any more, there is no more media, except word of mouth, and there is only bad news.

Eventually, there is nothing left but decomposing bodies, fire and flood.

The world is over, the clouds have combusted, and earth is open to the heavens. 

The sky is red, but there are no shepherds delighting.

There are no people, or animals, or world.

The mist lifted, and there were dragons.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Thinking about Depression

I was reading an article today with an extract from Johann Hari's book 'Lost Connections - Uncovering the real causes of depression', which I found really interesting.

It explored the idea that depression isn't caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain but instead from a lack of control over your situation.

I am not sure I completely agree with this suggestion, but I do recognise that now I am not working in a stressful job I have managed to stop taking anti-depressants, after many, many years on them.

The reason I don't agree, however, is my husband, which sounds a bit odd when I say it like that, but here is the logic.

My husband doesn't suffer from depression, he gets sad, and happy, and as he has got older he is slightly grumpier but definitely no depression. He is what people generally describe as normal.

We have talked about this together and he recognises that when I am depressed, I am more than just sad, it's something else, something darker and harder to shake off. A tub of ice cream and a romantic film isn't going to fix it.

He readily admits that he doesn't have depression (which is great, because if both of us had it life would be WAY more challenging). However, his job is a process driven role on a factory floor, very repetitive, and very much out of his control.

This doesn't bother him, he can switch off and think about what he is going to do next to upgrade is computer or whatever his current project is.

Personally, this kind of job would send me into a suicidal spin. I would become so demotivated I wouldn't cope.

My previous job was as a manager, in this role I had some control over certain situations, but I was middle management and I became increasingly aware of how little control I actually had, certain situations changed at work and my responsibility was reduced. Eventually, I left, as it was affecting me emotionally and I wasn't getting any time at all with my family, and when I was with my family all I could think of was work.

So yes, as Johann Hari theorised, my lack of control affected my mental state, but it does not affect my husband.

Which makes me think that actually, there must be some reason that some of us are more susceptible to depression than others, even if you take external factors out of the scenario.

My view is that my brain is slightly broken, not massively, but enough to allow depression in, and it only needs a chink, a tiny chink in your brain armour to stamp through your brain and mess you about. 

Depression is like a very tantrummy toddler messing with your brain. And then if a life event, like bereavement or a stressful job comes into the equation then you have two toddlers in there and they are using your brain like a soft play area. Bouncing around and messing it up.

My depression has varied from severe, to mild, to serious anxiety. It has taken many forms and likes to keep surprising me, I never know when it might sneak up on me next, right now it is at bay but I am watchful.

Personally, I think its a holy trinity of low levels of serotonin, something in the genes and just life being a bit crappy, and when these all meet up - voilĂ  - depression. 

I am no expert on depression and can only speak from my own experiences. Sometimes, I have needed medication and other times I have needed to talk to someone, sometimes both, and sometimes nothing has helped and I have just had to get through it and let time do it's healing thing. Like any long term illness it is tricky to manage and maintain a level of healthiness.

If you are feeling anxious or depressed, talk to someone, whether it's a friend a doctor, or one of the lovely people at MIND, it doesn't matter who, its about getting it out of your brain, it's nothing to be embarrassed about, loads of people are suffering, just like you. 

Below are some stats about mental health, I find them weirdly reassuring that I am not alone. 

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1 in 10 Americans are on some form of anti-depressant, for women in their 40's - 50's this figure goes up to 1 in 4.

MIND (one of the many mental health charities) state: 
Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week 

The information below is from the Mind website.

Every seven years a survey is done in England to measure the number of people who have different types of mental health problems [2]. It was last published in 2016 and reported these figures:

Generalised anxiety disorder 5.9 in 100 people
Depression 3.3 in 100 people
Phobias   2.4 in 100 people
OCD  1.3 in 100 people
Panic disorder 0.6 in 100 people
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 4.4 in 100 people
Mixed anxiety and depression 7.8 in 100 people   

Estimates for bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder and personality disorders are usually measured over a person's lifetime, rather than each year. Estimates for the number of people with these diagnoses can vary quite a lot but the most recent reported findings are:
Psychotic disorder  0.7 in 100 people*
Bipolar disorder  2.0 in 100 people
Antisocial personality disorder  3.3 in 100 people
Borderline personality disorder  2.4 in 100 people
*Measured over the last year.
The survey also measures the number of people who have self-harmed, had suicidal thoughts or have made suicidal attempts over their lifetime:
Suicidal thoughts 20.6 in 100 people
Suicide attempts 6.7 in 100 people
Self-harm 7.3 in 100 people       

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Why I have a bad attitude to strawberries.

As I have got older I have come to understand the pleasure that can be found in gardening.

Both my parents were keen gardeners and they had a large garden to do it in. We ate vegetables from the garden, so I grew up always eating seasonal food.

Sadly, this has left me with a bit of a bad attitude to strawberries. We had so many it was ridiculous, every meal had some strawberry themed dessert. Gah.

When I got older into my teenage years, I wanted to eat what my friends were having, like Findus frozen pancakes. But no, meat and two home grown veg for us.

As a result, I stopped taking an interest in the garden and gardening.

However, when I owned my first home, that interest started to come back. First it was sunflowers, then tomatoes and slowly more and more things.

Me and one of my sunflowers - i was quite proud of this one

Now my garden is my haven, it's not big just a typical suburban sized garden, although I have done things to maximise space and I have my lovely pod of course, which makes me want to make the garden look nice, so that I can sit in the pod and enjoy the view, before I fall asleep for a lovely outside nap.

The lovely, lovely pod.
 Sadly, My garden has had to take a back seat for the last couple of months. Normally I would have cleared it by the end of November and planted my bulbs. This year has been slightly different.

What with tap dancing shows and tapathons my weekends in September and October have been busy with that. Then in November I had the operation on my ankle to have the metal taken out...needless to say no gardening.

Over the last few weeks, when I have taken Gus the kitten out for his daily garden visit (weather permitting) and I have managed a little bit of pruning.

Finally, today, all the stars aligned and the weather was just right, cold and dry, and the ankle felt OK. On went the wellies and off Gus, my garden companion, and I went.

I managed to clear about half of it today, I will try and do the other half in a couple of days time.

Then it will be time to dig the veg patch and get it ready for my spring planting...which I am really looking forward to. I think I will plant, onions, carrots, radishes at first and see how they go.

Later I will try potatoes and peas, and maybe more runner beans as they grew really well last year.

I am not going to grow cauliflower again, they just didn't grow well on my little patch and the beasties enjoyed them too much.

And there it is, I've turned into my parents, on a smaller scale but none the less, just like them.

I suppose it happens to us all. Ho Hum.

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Friday, 5 January 2018

A Place Of My Own

Today I am sitting at my new desk, on my new chair having just gone to my first Pilates class. I'm feeling good.

New year, new me and all that.

To be grammatically accurate, I should clarify I am sitting at the desk I have just bought from Ikea, I have no old desk.

This has been an ongoing problem for me, I have written my blogs, usually on the sofa which hasn't been great for my back or my work ethic. I have historically had no place just for me at home.

My daughters have their bedrooms, my husband has his cave (the tiny box room) and that is that. There are no other spare rooms, unless you count the utility, which my husband jokes is my room. (Not funny).
My lovely new desk

So, as I have just signed up to do a Masters Degree in October and want to get serious about this blogging malarkey, I needed a space and a desk.

After much consideration, as there isn't much space in our house, I decided my best bet was in front of our bedroom window in the loft. The view is of the last few roof tops in Birmingham and then loads and loads of trees. Which is nice. If I need inspiration I can just look outside at the birds, the trees and maybe a cat in a garden or on top of a garage having an argument with a magpie.

There are downsides to this, when my husband is on nights, I can't get to it as he is sleeping. I just need to remember to unplug the laptop and bring it with me.

What did we do before laptops, I'd be lost without mine?

Anyhoo back on track. At the moment, my desk is lovely and neat - give it time, I suspect it will deteriorate into chaos, but for now, I am all shiny and modern and neat and tidy.

And it is the little things that make it all the more special, I can light a nice smelling candle, drink coffee and it is quiet. There are no children bothering me or sounds of TV or YouTube, if I want music, I can put it on, but right now silence is golden. Lovely.

Similarly, and on a slightly more personal note, we have an en suite in our bedroom, so if I need the loo, I don't need to traipse upstairs after finding a wobbly armchair arm to balance the laptop on, it's right here in the room next to me - bonus - this will be appreciated by all the women out there who have had babies, and got to my age and are now desperately trying to find their pelvic floor, as it disappeared somewhere between baby one and two (hence the Pilates).

So yay, this year is going really well so far, I just need to keep this up, get funding for my degree, carry on tap dancing and all will be well in the world*. And by the way I thoroughly enjoyed the Pilates, I will probably feel it tomorrow, but I found it super relaxing and it gave me the boost to come home and do this. Fab.

*Obviously my lovely desk and positive attitude won't fix real world problems - but I can dream

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