Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Do you have a bucket list?

Do you have one? Does it even occur to you to have one?

For anyone who hasn't come across the idea, it's the list of things you want to do before you die - 'kick the bucket', in colloquial terms. Some people want to see Niagara Falls, or fly to the moon, or read all the books of Dickens, go to the theatre to see The Mousetrap - it can be anything.

Good luck to everyone who has a bucket list. I'm sure it's a way of keeping you going, having dreams like this.

But I don't have one; and here is why:

I'm lucky, and I know I am, to live in the affluent west - I have everything I need. If I'm hungry it's because I've missed lunch, not because the rice crop has failed. If my roof leaks I can pay a man to mend it. If my heating fails I can go to friends or family who will give me shelter and wine. I have been taught to read and write and to think - and to ask questions about the wonderful world around us. I have a library within walking distance, know many people who love books and love talking about them.

If it occurs to me that there is something I might like to do - then, if I can, I do it. I want to travel - and so I do. There seems little point in saving a trip to Laos, or Malaysia, or Madagascar until I'm dying. Go now - you never know, I might live for decades and fit in fifty trips before I snuff it.

But there's a deeper reason - what if, say, you foster a travelling list and then are felled by an ailment that dictates you can't fly - or even be far from home. You are left with a piece of paper and wasted dreams. Those around you, who love you - will they ever feel good enough if you are grieving for things you never got round to doing?

When I'm sitting by the fire, sipping cocoa and rubbing my arthritic knees, I'll know I've done the best I could. I'm proud of all I achieved at work. I'm proud of my magnificent daughters. And I'm making the most of retirement. I'm contented now, and hope that I'll be contented by that fading fireside. Or maybe just a little bit crabby, to keep my kids on their toes ...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A short post to say thank you.

Thank you - to everyone, both here and on twitter and Facebook, who took the trouble to congratulate me after my post on Monday.

It's humbling, being on the receiving end of all that. Most of you I've never met - you know me only through my words and a few pictures. Yet so many took the trouble to slip in a comment, to share my joy - just for a moment. It might feel like a little thing to you, but it gave me that lovely swimmy rosy feeling to know that so many people not only noticed but also took the trouble to comment.

I have a vague feeling that we (a generalised 'we', maybe I mean 'I') spend too much time pondering on things that go wrong, things that need changing, the dream of making everything 'better' (whatever that means). But, for a moment, all that was out of the window - and my inbox was full of uncomplicated delight. Not a 'yes but' in sight.

Thank you all. I raised a glass to each and every one of you. (Just one glass, to you all collectively - not one each, I'm afraid. Sorry about that; hic ...)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

This may never happen again ...

I checked my emails the other day, as you do. Among the usual spam (your account with such-a-bank has been compromised, please tell us your inside leg measurement...) there was a comment from my website - these are normally someone asking a sensible thing - like can you buy toothpaste in Kuala Lumpur or wondering if I wouldn't like to go travelling where they are.

So it took a few minutes to take this one in. It was from an editor. In America. Please would I write a piece on taking a gap year as an older person, for a book he is editing. There's no money, as it will raise money for a cancer charity.

This is a joke, I thought. Proper editors don't seek out people like me. Delete it, I told myself, before I get too excited. Then I googled him - and he is everything he says he is. He has worked for Big Publishers. This book will be a companion to another that came out last year.

Oh heck, I thought. Then, well, yes - of course I'll write something on taking a grown-up gap year. When do you want it? In ten days, he said. Oh, bloody hell. But - hey ho, what have I got to lose? Though I explained that wouldn't give me to reflect on it. He agreed to read an early draft, see if it was what he was looking for.

He has been utterly professional. And I have sat at my computer, pinching myself because he assumes I am a Proper Writer. So this is what Proper Writers do - flop about with coffee, go for a walk, write scrappy notes, and then tease them into some sort of shape? Does that look professional to you? It felt surreal to me. But it's what I did - and he likes it! Just one small suggestion to add to my first draft, and it was done.

We're into line edits next week, but he has told me to expect very few changes. The book will be out in the spring - and I'll be able to tell you more about it then; and you can feel smug buying it as it is for a good cause.

And I shall probably stare at my name in the credits in disbelief. This may never happen again - but it happened once. So I am allowed to raise a small glass of wine to celebrate?

And you - has anything wonderful dropped on you out of the blue, that made the world look a bit different for a while?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Now for the injections ...

Now I know I can go to Laos (see my previous post about toilets ... or not, if the idea upsets you) I have to brave the injections.

No, they aren't compulsory. Nobody will check if I have them. There will be no surrogate parent will greet me at the airport and scowl, send me to bed without my supper. The only person it matters to is me.

And no, they aren't fun. But who wants typhoid? Or meningitis? Or rabies? Or Japanese encephalitis? (Does anyone know what that is?) Malaria - that's a thorny one. It's patchy - less common in the big cities, or during the dry season. And no one wants to pop pills unnecessarily. (My solution - yours may be different - is to find out when I get there if there is a problem. For instance, on my long trip I knew it was all over the border between Thailand and Cambodia, but I spent just one night there, so smothered myself in DEET, covered every inch of myself in shirts and long trousers, slept under a mosquito net, and managed without a pill. But several days in the backwaters of India - that was too much of a risk, so pills it was.)

Back to this trip. I trotted to the surgery to make an appointment with the nurse. Have I filled in a form? No - please may I have a form, I can fill it in now. No, that is not possible; you must go home and find the form on the website, fill it in, and we will ring you to say if you need an appointment. But I know I need an appointment, my typhoid jab is out of date. I'm sorry, you still need to go home to fill in the form.

Times have changed. Before the long trip I made the first appointment with the practice nurse about four months before I left. She and I poured over maps and Government guidelines and decided which injections I needed, some of which came in three doses - and the result was one injection a week for twelve weeks, to have them all. We got quite friendly in that time. I know she has small children and has always wanted to go to New Zealand. She knows about my magnificent daughters. Send me a postcard, she said before I left. I sent her a postcard from New Zealand.

This time - I have to negotiate with a computer! Where is the fun in that? And she still had to ring me to tell me I need an appointment.

I know change is part of being human. And I don't want to join the bah-humbug brigade that grumbles when we have to do things differently. But, just sometimes, I wonder if we haven't lost something along the way.

And you - are there things that you miss?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

In praise of ...


Have you ever needed physio? They tend to lurk at the end of long corridors; the entrance to their sanctuaries have no roses round the door. There are no fanfares. But without them I'd have seized up long ago (a dodgy back), been unable to lift a rucksack ever again (broken shoulder) and now I'm back again, with wrecked knees. If you've never needed one - lucky you. The rest of us know we'd be permanently crock without them.

All my physios have been women. I know there are men in this profession - please bear with me if I stick to the feminine pronoun here. And my physios have mostly been young. (They are getting younger ...) Their  capacity for empathy, for humour, for simply understanding the significance of information that you might drop by the wayside - is astonishing.

I blogged, ages ago, about my crumbly knees. My consultant hopes that phsyio (plus steroid injections - I wince even thinking about those) will keep the muscles in good enough condition to hold what is left of the bones together for a little while longer.

I have a quite different agenda. For if I want to go to Laos (and I do) I need to be able to use a squat toilet.

Yes, it's funny - I thought it was funny enough, when I came back from Cambodia a couple of years ago, to write a little poem:


A line of doors, gunmetal grey, with flakes
of rust around the hinges and a fringe
of dust along the floor.
None can quite restrain the pongs beyond.
The creak of welcome.  And there it is:
a footrest to each side and the chasm –
well, it could be worse. 
I clutch my bag with one hand;
(not sure it would be safe plonked on the floor)
shuffle backwards.  Perch; deep breath; and down.
The sweet hiss of relief.

Now what?
My thighs begin to ache, my muscles twitch.
My knees forget the art of standing up.
I topple, just a little, hoping that the see-saw
will propel me upright, somehow.
Instead I risk reversing, slipping backwards,
sitting like a weeble on surprised porcelain.
My bag, now insecure, falls forward, empties
purse book pens passport bus ticket
on the damp patch on the floor.
And for a moment I fear I might follow it
to bang my head on the metal door
with a clang that will echo and
every woman in the queue will know.

Next time I’ll learn to squat before I go.

My knees are so much crumblier now than when I wrote this.

But my physio did not flinch when I set her the challenge of enabling me to squat. She did not even titter (well, in front of me she did not titter - she may have guffawed when I left). She simply smiled, put gentle hands on my sorry knees to show where the muscles seem to have collapsed, then gave me exercises, encouragement, and support.

I have joined the 'lower limb group' at the specialised gym in the physio clinic. There is the lass who fell of her horse and broke an ankle, who wants to ride again. There is the bloke who was knocked off his bike and broke his femur - he talks of road racing. There is the older woman who slipped, broke her foot, and wants to be able to climb stairs without pain so she can stay in her own home. And me - who wants to use a squat toilet. Together we grimace, and puff, and wince as we make forgotten muscles do what they were designed to do, and do it over and over again. Alongside us the physio is quietly encouraging.

Now I can get down, and (imagine a fanfare) get up again. I can go to Laos.

What have physios done for you?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Why Hidden Tiger is an ebook

I have been asked - by those without an e-reader - to publish Hidden Tiger as a print book. They have heard it is exciting, that I had adventures, returned feeling older but maybe no wiser. (Well, yes, wiser - I'll never creep up on a tiger again ...)

Firstly, I must thank all those who have said wonderful things about my little ebook. There is nothing more encouraging than knowing someone has read and enjoyed one's work - especially those outside family and friends who have no reason to be kind.

And I do understand those who, on hearing all this, are asking for a print book. I can only say - I'm sorry. I was away for just one month - long enough for a few excitements, but not long enough to fill all the pages of a 'proper book', given that reading what I ate for breakfast or the spider that scuttled across the floor and into my shoes in the mountains is of limited interest.

This little ebook is only 78 pages long - if I were to print it there'd be barely room on the spine for the title. It would be a flimsy little book, an apology for a book - but, because of the cost of printing I would have to charge you almost as much as I do for Over the Hill. If you ordered it from Amazon, you would open the cardboard wrapper and find such a puny offering you would look beyond it - it must be a mistake, this book is too thin. You have paid all that money, you might say, for a pamphlet.

But short ebooks work. I can sell it cheaply, as it costs nothing to produce; and so you are less likely to complain about the lack of extra pages.

Which leaves those of you with no ereader feeling left out? By now I am grovelling with an apology - but it remains uneconomic to produce a print book. But if you wait ... it's just possible that I'll write more. After all, I'm off to Thailand and Laos after Christmas, and still have dreams of making it to Madagascar. If I get two more ebooks out of those trips, then I promise to put them together in a print book. And might even negotiate a special price for anyone who has asked me very nicely at this stage to print Hidden Tiger. Does that help? (And Over the Hill is still available as a print book, in case you haven't read it yet - or know someone you'd like to send it to for Christmas.)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

How do I know it's Monday? And does it matter?

I'm 'retired'. I could blog about the definition of retirement. From my perspective it means not getting up five days a week, putting on work-clothes, slipping into work-thinking, leaving the house to drive somewhere, throw coffee and - if I'm lucky - a sandwich down my neck as the only way to get through the day, arriving home with barely enough energy to read a book. I means not thinking about work before I realise I'm awake. No, I don't do that any more.

Which means it is easy for one day to melt into another. I can sit in bed with a cup of tea and book in the morning, struggle downstairs for breakfast when I'm hungry. A friend might ring - shall we have coffee? Why not? The sun is shining; the forest is wonderful at this time of year. Maybe a grandchild will come over and we can kick through the leaves and come home with bits in our hair to warm our fingers on mugs of hot chocolate.

But, you are wondering, when do you write? Is that not work? In a way it's work - it gives me a purpose; I carry on doing it even when I don't feel like it, or the story won't tell itself. But I carry on because I know that such days are temporary, that I love the way words come out to play when I'm not looking - I write because I breathe. I don't sit with the computer at nine o'clock and refuse to move until lunchtime.

This is a long-winded way of saying that one day can be very like the next. Does that matter? Yes, I think it does. I still need a rhythm of weeks, a way of noticing the passing of time, anchors that make sense of seasons. I would feel too floaty without that. And so I have landmarks: the market on Saturday, choir on Monday evenings, a book group on Tuesdays - you get the picture. All activities I enjoy, of course; but they are more than that - they structure my week.

But I don't automatically know what day it is as I wake. I have to stop, as I pour my tea, and think - what day is it, what shape will it take? What choices do I have in that - to do something differently? To take myself off with a book, or sit at my computer and write?

It is a conscious decision to formulate my week like this. I reassures me, roots me in the reality of time passing. And you - are you happy to float along (lucky you!) or do you need to punctuate your days as I do?