Happy Halloween!

On Wednesday I am off on my jollies to Whitby Goth Weekend for a week. I am super excited – this is our annual holiday and wedding anniversary week, spent in a wonderful place with our furry Rug Dog. Today I have been ironing and packing and asking myself if I really need 18 pairs of tights and 6 pairs of boots for 7 days (the answer of course is yes). Speaking of tights…

What 36 pairs of tights looks like...

What 36 pairs of tights looks like…

I carried out a hosiery census while packing, and discovered I have 39 pairs of tights. That is a lot of black opaque for one small woman! I keep telling myself the 5 pairs of fishnets don’t count… I’ll do a full Whitby round up on my return, as I have limited internet access while away. So just checking in now to wish everyone a wonderful Halloween ūüôā

Bat Fit Update: Review and Renew

Apologies for the temporary hiatus in accessing my blog. For personal reasons I hid from the world for a little time, and did actually contemplate closing this site down completely. After some time out rearranging my head from its state of emotional basketcasery, I’ve decided to stay put and just make some of my more personal posts private.

I’ve decided to reboot both the blog and myself by taking part in The Curious Professor Z’s Batfit update for November (posting a little early as I’m away during Halloween). Sorry, this a wordy post but it’s also been rather cathartic writing it all out.

Bat Fit

Bat Fit

Achievements

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve accomplished this year, and initially the answer was nothing. Nada. But of course, that’s not true. There have been chinks of light in the torpid grey of 2014:

  • My short story The Bone Queen was highly commended in a nation competition with Red Squirrel Press, and published in April this year. I achieved one of my writing dreams to then do a reading at Newcastle’s Lit & Phil with my closest family and friends cheering me on. I was terrified and elated, and I loved it.
  • I’ve taken some of the hardest decisions of my life this year, and don’t regret them though I do often think about the reasons I took them and whether I should feel any remorse or regret. Ultimately, the answer is no. It’s taken me 8 ¬†months to reach the point where I accept that really, I had no choice.
  • One of these decisions was to take a risk and jump into the unknown by resigning from paid, safe employment. When I reflect on this again in October 2015 I may have a different view, but given events that have taken place over the past 8 months it was the wisest decision I could have taken. If I’d stayed I would have ended up breaking down and leaving under a cloud. As it was I had a chance to say goodbye to many wonderful people, and preserve the friendships that I’d built up over 7 years. I miss some of the people, I miss the intellectual challenge of much of the work, but I really do not miss the stress of my hellish deadlines and volumes of work.
  • I threw myself out of my comfort zone and spent a week on a residential writing course. It was revelatory. Every moment was pleasure. I realised what type of writer I really want to be. I created a blueprint with a curious, quirky and demanding tutor for how I would write the book that I am supposed to be writing – and so far I am following it. I have the odd wobble, and the self doubt creeps in, but ultimately I have a golden opportunity to create something I think I’ve waited my whole life to undertake.
  • Seeing the emotional effect that my words could have on people ¬†was utterly priceless when I made my fellow course members and tutors cry reading my short story Private 48158 as the sun set in the Scottish Highlands.
  • My husband. Him Underfoot. I couldn’t have gotten through this year without his steady, warm, loving presence by my side. He really is the star by which my compass is set.

What I’ve learned.

You may be wondering what this has to do with being Bat Fit. Well, this is housekeeping month. Clearing out my mental decks. I could reiterate everything that’s caused grief and stress this year, but some of it is not my story to tell. So let’s just look at what I’ve learned.

I’ve realised that grief can be sympathised with, and to a degree anticipated, but until it actually happens to you, the loss of a parent cannot be fully understood. There is no timescale for recovery, no set pattern for how you are going to feel from day to day. You can be sat, 8 months later, travelling with thoughts meandering, wool gathering, and then you find yourself welling up in public, the sound of his voice in your head, a snippet of a song he would have loved, the news events he’ll never be able to comment on, the stories of your past that have now been lost.

I’ve realised that it is pointless to regret choice. I rarely make important choices without a great deal of agony and procrastination. Yet when I make it, the decision is final (actually, as a grant assessor I work on basically the same principle). As long as I know I’ve looked at all options, pros and cons, then I am confident in my decisions. I think it’s important to acknowledge this to myself, as my mother is very good at undermining me, particularly in my decision to give up work and is constantly asking me if I’ve applied for a new job yet. I have patiently (and sometimes not quite so politely!) explained that my decision to leave employed work has a deadline – and it’s November 2015. Regardless of appearances, I AM working. I writing stories, developing plots, family trees. It may ultimately come to nothing – but my biggest regret would have been if I’d never taken this risk.

I’ve realised I have to force myself to be a social animal. I’m chronically shy. I never feel interesting enough, skinny enough, pretty enough, posh enough….the list is endless. Not having a formal workplace¬†provides excellent cover for the introvert…and I’m having to challenge my social anxiety every time I make an arrangement o meet with a friend for coffee, or to go for drinks. I think they’d be astounded to read this – once I’m out I’m generally fine and have a great time. It’s the actual crossing of the door thresh I find difficult. I’d happily not speak to anyone other than my immediate family for days on end.

So, What’s A Girl to Do? Goals..

Exercise:¬†¬†I need to exercise more. I’d made a great start in September, swimming twice a week and then walking the 2.3miles home from the pool home. This isn’t a chore, there’s a great coffee shop mid point on the route! I’d gone from an arthritic 20 lengths of the pool to 40 in 6 weeks and was beginning to both mentally and physically notice the benefits. Then personal armageddon hit, coupled with a really severe reaction to my annual flu jab (the first time ever) – one of my arms was basically unusable for 2 weeks (and a lovely shade of yellow and purple – they’d have chucked me out of the pool!). I haven’t been swimming or walking for 4 weeks, and physically I feel like hell.

GOAL: to get my ass back in that pool after my Halloween holiday next week and crank up the lengths again at least twice a week. There’s a ‘congratualations’ bagel & tea en route home, after all.

Alcohol: I use¬†alcohol as a crutch. There’s been way too much of it in my life this year and I’m not enjoying it anymore, whilst occasionally craving it (more of a mental craving than physical one). I don’t drink ¬†more than twice a week, but when I do I have no ‘off-switch’. It also makes me very emotional. At the start of the year, I took the Dry January challenge and stopped for a month. I’d been intending to carry it on, but my Dad died mid-Feb and I fell into the barrel all too readily. I’m on holiday next week, which includes a music festival and an annual meeting with friends, usually in pubs. I’m going to go, have fun, and then from the 5th November, I’m taking a month out of drinking again. My body complains¬†now when I drink – 2 glasses of wine and I feel like a zombie the next day. I’m beginning to realise it just isn’t worth it.

GOAL: a (mostly) Dry November, followed by a Dry January pledge. And less red wine in general.

On the coffee express, Whitby

On the coffee express, Whitby

Weight: I’ve gained 7 pounds this year. That may not sound like much, but for a shrimp like me it’s very noticeable, and frankly it makes me unhappy. My clothes are a tad on the tight side, I feel frumpy and I’m off to Whitby Goth Weekend next week, and feeling that everything is just a bit uncomfortable. Him Underfoot keeps telling me not to worry (he can’t see past the cleavage, bless him), but I’m female. I worry. I go out socially. Then I drink to cope with the social anxiety. And eat cheese. And the circle starts…!

Not this year. We’re self catering and we are poorer than previous years. So less eating out at American Diners (yummiest breakfasts in the world) and more omelettes in our own abode. Fewer cheesy chips wile watching the bands (a bit of a tradition) and a baked spud instead. We’re still going to drink too much, but I’ve also arrange afternoon tea as an alternative with one friend. And it’s Whitby. The one week of the year I can do whatever the hell I like.

GOAL: I’d like to be between 7-10 pounds lighter by this stage next year. Sounds simple….!

Personal achievements: I’ve mentioned that my Sabbatical will last until at least November 2015. Him Underfoot & I have a goal in mind for that stage – a full first draft of the novel that is currently in the incubation period. I’ve just completed 3 months of research, and the plot threads are beginning to knit themselves together. I also have a potential writing mentor from January through my local library. They give you deadlines! I need deadlines! This is my overarching aim for the year ahead.

I also want to get more financially astute. I need to keep a stronger track of where money is going over the next 12 months. I’ve already cut back greatly, but there needs to be a second cut from January 2015. HU and I have agreed that over the Christmas Holidays we are going to have a full financial audit together, as next year will be rather lean.

And I promise not to become a hermit! ¬†I WILL have a social life…

Body Worlds Vital

WARNING: This post is not for the squeamish or those who do not wish to look at photos of deceased humans. 

Additionally, there was strictly no photography at this exhibition so photographs have been take from The Guardian (Arterial Man’s head) and the Northern Echo (body slices & dissected head). ¬†I’ve linked to their very interesting articles on the exhibition.¬†

I’ve wanted to see the Gunther Von Hagens Body Worlds Vital exhibition at Newcastle’s Centre for Life for some time now. Strangely, my longing came from an unusual source – watching Casino Royale and the scene where James Bond is chasing villains around an older Body Works exhibition, I became rather intrigued by the plasticisation of human tissue, and how Von Hagens and his team manipulate it into statuesque and remarkable poses. So when my niece Jess suggested we go this morning as part of her pre-uni visit up north to see her relatives, I agreed immediately.

Now I realise that spending time in the company of death is not most peoples’ idea of a bonding outing (perhaps a trip to Vivienne Westwood would have been more so!) but Jess & I are not squeamish, I’ve been fascinated with anatomy for a while and she is studying psychology and has at some point to dissect a human brain. This was the softer option of looking into someone’s head in some respects!

Curator Dr Angelina Whalley with the tissue slices

Curator Dr Angelina Whalley with the tissue slices

Truth be told I wasn’t quite sure how I’d react. I knew there were 12 full bodies on display; I hadn’t realised that there would also be a wealth of plasticised organs, slices of human bodies (which were probably the creepiest exhibit for us), slices of brain tissues, contrasting healthy & diseased organs (smokers really should go visit the lungs…and the slice of smokers’ leg with it’s completely necrotic tissue), beautifully detailed nerve¬†pathways throughout the human body etc. ¬†It was very¬†educational (though I might not eat sausage for a while), and I actually would like¬†to go again because there was so much I couldn’t take in.

Body Worlds Vital: a face exquisitely dissected and displayed

Body Worlds Vital: a face exquisitely dissected and displayed

The bodies and organs are all freely donated after death and are anonymous. ¬†You can generally tell which are male & female, and they are dissected and arranged with great care and attention to detail. It’s difficult to describe their beauty, because you are always aware that you are looking at another human, one who can no longer breathe, talk, laugh, smile. But they can communicate and educate – even mundane things like identifying the large muscle that runs from my right shoulder into my neck that ofter goes into spasm and being shocked at how large it is (no wonder it hurts so much!). The dissection techniques that split bodies into 3 separate structures of muscle mass, organs and skeleton are exquisite – though I could perhaps have done without the eyelashes, toenails and navels. Jess definitely agreed about the toenails!

Of all the full bodies exhibited, I was most entranced by Arterial Man. A human skeleton on whom all the flesh had been carefully removed leaving only the bright red outline of the arterial pathways throughout the body, coloured red. It was astounding, both as a work of science and as a work of art.

Arterial Man

Arterial Man

Finally, you come to a small dark room with a warning. I checked with Jess that she wanted to go in, as it was the gestational room, and if any part of this exhibition has the capacity to distress, it’s this one. Beautifully and respectfully presented, it showed the gestational process of humans in the womb. Several illuminated glass tubes held the tiniest of forms, a human foetus at 5 weeks the size of a pea, working up to week 9 when the child was the size of a kidney bean. We were both profoundly moved by these tiny scraps of humanity. Of all the displays, I found this emotionally difficult to view- and caused me an¬†ethical problem. The adults all gave consent to be displayed; I’m not sure how I felt about foetuses being used in this way as their opinions could never be heard. Its something I will have to mull on for a little while.

I would never push anyone else to go see this Рin fact Him Underfoot has been advised not to go because he is a great deal more emotional than me and I suspect he would find it very difficult to process. I am very glad I had the opportunity to see this exhibition; we both took so much away from it. Astounding.

Interlude: Isabella & The Pot of Basil

I’ve been in a bit of a snit recently, hence the radio silence. I had to take myself in hand at one point and force myself out of the house. Many of the local libraries and galleries local to me are currently running small but very well constructed World War 1 exhibitions, so I headed to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle to see their petite but interesting selection of original art produced by artists local to my region. I particularly liked lithographs by brothers Philip & Robert Spence from North Shields, and an imposing post war picture by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevison‘s Twentieth Century¬†that was based on Rodin’s Thinker and somewhat taller than me!

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

I like the Laing, I often used to lurk in there¬†on my lunch breaks as it’s a pretty building and has a nice shop. I know very little about art, but I do like to visit the John Martin paintings there, my favourites being The Burning of Sodom & Gomorrah (which was a commentary on the hell of post industrial revolution factories) and Clyte, where she almost seems to float off the canvas with her own inner light (sadly not captured in¬†a photo).

However, the picture that completely lifted me out of my gloom on this particular visit was one I’d not noticed before –¬†William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil – it had previously been hung up high on the stair walls. Quite rightly it is now more prominently displayed in the permanent collection. It is absolutely stunning. The canvas is massive, I felt dwarfed standing before it. ¬†I’ve seen the Titians at the National Gallery in Edinburgh – this for me actually rivalled them for beauty. The picture I am inserting into this post doesn’t do it justice – it absolute glows from the wall and the intricate details, such as the skulls on the post, are exquisitely rendered. It in turn was inspired by the John Keats poem Isabella.

Holman Hunt's Isabella & the Pot of Basil

Holman Hunt’s Isabella & the Pot of Basil

I just sat and admired it. Didn’t want to leave it. Actually wanted to steal it. Still do. It’s amazing how something painted over 150 years ago can still be so fresh, so vivid – and yet the artist will never know how it continues to reach people. A melancholy thought perhaps. But fitting to my current frame of mind.

Recovery

Recovery…has been slow. This chest infection was a great deal harder to fight off than normal. I suspect this is a sign of my overall¬†lack of self care recently, and my generally low mood. Well, today I need to snap out of it. ¬†I haven’t posted any Bat Fit updates, because frankly I haven’t moved either an inch or a pound from my original position! ¬†Even a short walk has been outside my capabilities for the past 2 weeks.¬†The good thing about this is that I have generally been inhaling badness (sugar, alcohol, dairy) whilst unable to exercise¬†at all and haven’t actually gained any weight – though next week I need my ‘sense’ chip to kick back in before the creep begins..

The joys of my throat infection, neatly illustrated by Dave McKean

The joys of my throat infection, neatly illustrated by Dave McKean

However, this has now passed, and whilst (*my constant use of the word ‘whilst‘ really irritated my tutors in Scotland!) I am very much on the mend, I look dreadful! Him Underfoot and I have decided to pick ourselves up this weekend, and have booked the dog in with her grandparents for a night, whilst we swank off to a deluxe suite in Newcastle’s Hotel Du Vin, with afternoon tea booked for 4pm tomorrow. This coincides with the William Control ‘Punishment’ tour being in town, so we are off to see him, Bad Pollyanna and Ashes to Angels whooo!

This may seem like a major indulgence (actually it is!), and it comes courtesy of my lovely brother & his wide who gifted us a Du Vin voucher for Christmas. We were supposed to use it in February for Him Underfoot’s birthday, but sadly that was the week my Dad died, so everything was cancelled and we’ve not had the inclination to use it until now.

So I’m planning a mega self pampering session this afternoon. I’m awaiting an Illamasqua delivery (scheduled rather precisely between 12:17 and 13:17) – they are having an epic sale and I really needed to update my precision ink, lip glosses and satin primer (sadly the one thing not in the sale). Cue spending frenzy and much anticipation, plus a real clear out of stagnant make up.

Also, I never quite know what to wear for gigs. I’m staying in a posh hotel, fancy wearing a frock for tea – but it’s not suitable for the gig. So I will no doubt look like a pack donkey when I troll up at the hotel as I will be unable to leave home without 3 dresses and several pairs of boots. I know the venue, skinny black jeans are by far the most appropriate attire (though there was a fairy there when I went to see Ayria). I do suspect we will be the oldest swingers in town at this particular gig, but never mind!

A face full of blueberry goodness

A face full of blueberry goodness

WHOO! Delivery goodies just arrived, so now time to go soak, shape eyebrows, slaver on Lush’s blueberry catastrophe face mask and then have a major wardrobe argument when I pack for tomorrow. Things can only get better!