Song Of The Week: The Gambler by Kenny Rogers

Welcome back everyone. As you’ve probably noticed, Project Shandy has been mighty quiet lately. Truth be told, there’s been an explosion of interest in my tutoring business so I’ve had to neglect my poor old website and it’s likely to be quiet for a while in terms of my own content. We’re still open for submissions though, if you’ve got anything you’d like to send in.

I have been stressing about getting this place up and running again, not least because I’ve missed writing the song of the week post, but I have been too busy even for music recently. A lot of my collection is feeling old and tired and I need to broaden my tastes and let some new (and older) stuff in to refresh my palette.

This song caught me by surprise on the way home from a tutoring session though and gave me a wise lesson as well as a good song for ‘song of the week’. Kenny Rogers’ lovely little story song ‘The Gambler’. I love country music, I was quite into it when I was a teenager, I love the stories that they tell and the lessons they hold. Perhaps it’s time for me to go back to that genre for a bit.

Life is rushing ahead at full steam at the moment and it’s going to be an insanely busy summer. I might not have time to stop and catch my breath for a bit. But, sometimes, that’s what life is and I’ve been craving a bit more action for a while. The things is, there’s no use worrying about it. You just have to go with it, and play the game.

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealin’s done

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
In your sleep”

So for the next while, I might just be sitting at the table and not concentrating on keeping score. I will be popping in now and then, but it might be a bit more sporadic!

 

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of The Week: Englishman in New York by Sting

 

I was watching Kingsman with my husband this week (very entertaining little film by the way, give it a whirl some time). And there was a quote that Colin Firth said which made me think about this song, which is now song of the week: Englishman In New York by Sting. The quote which took me back to this song was this:

‘Manners Maketh Man’

I hadn’t thought about that quote in years. I used to play the song a lot when I was growing up, especially when I was in high school. My school years weren’t as bad as those endured by some people I’ve known, but they had their dark spots. Sting’s song was a story about someone different. Someone who didn’t fit in, who didn’t mesh with the patterns around them. Someone who stuck out like a sore thumb, but refused to change.

I don’t drink coffee I take tea my dear
I like my toast done on the side
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I’m an Englishman in New York

Like any young girl chronically allergic to fashion, awkward around the opposite sex, achieving good marks in school and with ambitions to leave her home town, I was given a rough time. I was seen as posh because I didn’t speak with a local accent. A swot because I got good marks. A snob because I didn’t enjoy the same things as them. I wasn’t. I was just different. But that was enough of a crime in and of itself at the age of thirteen.

I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York
I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien
I’m an Englishman in New York

I felt like a legal alien growing up. Especially in my teens. I knew I was a complete fish out of water, I knew I didn’t belong where I was but had no idea where on earth I was actually meant to be. I knew that the way I was treated wasn’t fair. But I also knew that I wasn’t prepared to compromise myself to be treated differently. And my biggest aim in life, beyond all others, was to not be life them. To not become like the people who had done this to me.

When you are being bullied, ridiculed, made to look small or feel inadequate, there is something important to remember. It is nothing to do with you. You can change your hairstyle, makeup, clothing and even to a certain extent, your body shape. You can mask your interests, deny your passions and pretend to be something other than yourself. Being who you are is the one thing you have complete and utter control over. How you behave in response to others is something you have the final say in. It’s a gift.

Modesty, propriety can lead to notoriety
You could end up as the only one
Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society
At night a candle’s brighter than the sun

If someone has decided to make you a target, there is nothing you can do to mask yourself. I know that everyone who has been, or is being, bullied wants to believe that making some sort of change will rescue them. I did, for a while, and then I realised that there was nothing I could do that would change who I was. No matter what I wore, listened to, watched or liked, I was different on the inside. Because I wasn’t happy where I was. And I knew that I wasn’t willing to settle for being unhappy for the rest of my life. But what I did decide in all of that was that I would not make anyone else feel that bad on my account. Even if I was ever given the opportunity for revenge, I vowed I wouldn’t take it. Because then they really would win. They would have changed me into being someone like them.

If “manners maketh man” as someone said
Then he’s the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say

This was the verse that got me thought a lot of hard times. Being a ‘man’ for me means something other than gender. I grew up reading ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, which was written on the wall of my English teacher’s wall. I loved reading it because it was full of strong advice on how to be a strong person and handle the myriad shite that life throws at you. And never, ever be tempted to become one of them.

Being a ‘man’ to me was about becoming the type of person who would handle that sort of thing with grace and style. Becoming someone who might well endure this treatment but would never ever dish it out. As Kipling said:

“If you can wait and not be tired by waiting Or being lied about don’t deal in lies Or being hated, don’t give way to hating And yet don’t look too good, not talk to wise”

I was suffering ignorance in my teens, and again in my twenties. I did my best to take it with a smile, at least in public. And never, ever, ever dish it out in return. No matter how much you may want to, how much you think they deserve it, or how satisfying it would feel. You just don’t. Because you’re better than that.

Takes more than combat gear to make a man
Takes more than license for a gun
Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can
A gentleman will walk but never run

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make you feel that you have actually made progress and this was a good reminder to me today. I am not living in fear of ignorance any more. That’s something positive that I need to work harder to remember when I am enduring difficult times. I am no longer a fish out of water. I found the place where I belong. And my life does not revolve around the people who I had to endure in my earlier life. I am no longer an Englishman in New York, no longer a legal alien. I am free.

If “manners maketh man” as someone said
Then he’s the hero of the day
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile
Be yourself no matter what they say

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of The Week: Moon River, sung by Audrey Hepburn

I hate this bit of starting a new job. The new job itself is great, but that big red circle around pay day seems to be further away every time I look at it, when I know factually that it’s getting closer. I’m wishing I had a bit of spare cash to spoil myself, and combined with this I am beset with a dose of wanderlust. I might seem quite domestic on the outside. Nice settled life, good career, lovely husband, pets, etc, but deep down there is a bit of Holly Golightly in me.

Or at least, I wish there was.

 

This besetment of wanderlust could not really have happened at a worse time. This is the time when I need to settle down, take my self and my life in hand and get cracking with the Serious Grown Up aspects of life.  But I find myself wanting to pack the car and take off. Go visit old friends, take road trips across the country, see places I haven’t seen for a long time, go hunting for new places. Perhaps this is partly due to the weather (which has been unusually gorgeous and summery), and partly due to me getting a bit hormonal (I’ve not had proper PMS for a while and now I’m on the mood-swing rollercoaster), but it’s an annoying sensation.

Perhaps I’m just feeling a bit Holly Golightly-ish at the moment in more ways than one, and it’s just a bit of the blues. Mixed with the mean reds.

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul Varjak: The mean reds. You mean like the blues?

Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

I like my life here, I love my husband, my job (at last), my cats, my friends, my learners, my little routines, but every now and then I get beset by flashes of boredom and the longing to be off somewhere else, and the feeling that I’m stuck where I am and I don’t want to be stuck, because what it I am stuck and I don’t like it?

(Definitely the mean reds, now I think about it.

Definitely.)

Now, yes, I can plan ahead, but I have planned ahead a lot and I want to go do something NOW and find myself with neither the time nor money to do it. I think another part of the problem is that my current projects aren’t holding my attention. Writing ‘Corinbach’ has ground to a halt (as have all my articles, poetry, blog posts…), Tory Watch has been neglected (and it shouldn’t be, this shit is important, especially now the hype is dying down), my routine of going to the gym/swimming is (forgive the expression) floundering and I find myself growing bored of the insides of my own head. I know that a burst of difference, fresh ideas and new conversations, inspirations and so forth would do all of those things the world of good, but it’s all just tantalisingly out of reach.

I’m trying. I’ve picked a new TV series to watch, I’m more willing to watch new films with hubby in the evening and I am even trying to pick up and read new books (at the behest of one of my teen learners, I just finished ‘Looking for Alaska’ and ‘Papertowns’ by John Green). And I know that eventually I will get to the point where I have both time and money again and I’ll get myself back onto an even keel and be able to rush off and have some impromptu adventures as well as my planned ones. But right now I am stuck in a mental rut and it is deeply uncomfortable down here.

It could be worse though. I could be happy in the rut. And I hate to think I’d ever turn into that sort of person. Far better to be woken up and shaken up by a dose of the blues and the mean reds, and reminded that you’re still alive and you want to get out and live.

So here’s a lovely version of Moon River, to remind us all that adventure is waiting for all of us, including me, and I will be off to see the world in no time at all.

“Moon River”
Moon river, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style some day
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way

Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waiting, round the bend
My Huckleberry Friend, Moon River, and me

Moon river, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style some day
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way

Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after that same rainbow’s end, waiting, round the bend
My Huckleberry Friend, Moon River, and me

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of The Week: Part Of Me by Katy Perry

Welcome to a brand new week, and a brand new Song Of The Week: Part of Me by Katy Perry

This week just gone has been a strange one for me – lots happening, lots going on, big changes and a lot of small changes too, which have added up to some serious soul searching.

I feel like I have been wandering around in a fog for the last few months. In fact, the last year has been harder than I realised. I feel a little like I’ve lurched from one disaster to the next and managed to just about avoid falling over the rail each time. This process has left me feeling exhausted.

Days like this I want to drive away
Pack my bags and watch your shadow fade
 You chewed me up and spit me out
Like I was poison in your mouth
You took my light, you drained me down
But that was then and this is now
Now look at me 

Not just physically exhausted, but mentally. Wrung out. Chewed up. I had lost a lot of my will power, a lot of my va-va-voom, my drive and consistency and for the last month in particular, I feel like I’ve been floundering. Looking back to twelve months ago, it’s hard to see where any progress has been made. My head has felt full of white noise and cotton wool, and all the things I was so set on last year, like smartening up my dress sense, keeping my manicure up to date, my academic reading, my writing and publication efforts and my ability to engage in new things and enjoy new things have largely falling into ditches along the way.

I just wanna throw my phone away
Find out who is really there for me
You ripped me off, your love was cheap
Was always tearing at the seams
I fell deep, you let me down
But that was then and this is now
Now look at me

I have invested a lot of effort into my career, and while the last two steps forward have been steps up, I have still been left drained by the process. Now though, I feel like I’m taking a step in the right direction. I very much enjoyed my induction with my new employer and enjoyed seeing the plan for the team’s development set out – I have had these wishes and plans in my own head for upwards of two years, and it was good to find a professional organisation who actually agree with my own thoughts and plans.

It’s amazing how feeling isolated in your beliefs can make you feel so tired and then, out of the blue, finding a whole company – one of the most successful in their business sector, who agree with me, it was the absolute tonic. The best kind.

It cleared a massive amount of crap from my head and by the time I got home, I was feeling vastly better. Celebrating my birthday in good company with dear friends and my lovely husband, having had the time to put myself in order (bath, manicure, ironed clothes, nice makeup), was a beautiful reminder of all that is good in my life, and in me, in general.

Sat with my husband last night, I asked if he was in the mood to watch something (a movie, few eps from a TV show, whatever) and after a few moments we realised that we were both ready for something new. Something that would make us think, that would wake up our brains and engage us. For the last few weeks, all we’ve done of an evening is watch Castle. Which is great – funny, engaging, with cute characters, and nice geeky references. But also formulaic, and comforting, and after a while a little predictable and disengaging. Last night, for the first time in a while, I was ready to think. And that’s a nice feeling to come back to after lazing around in the fog.

I feel like I am taking account of all the different parts of me. And I am delighted to find that they are there, having just been asleep, and they are all ready to wake up.

This week’s song of the week captures some of the energy behind this feeling. It was my Song Of The Year a few years ago, at the end of 2012, and where I am right now is an echo of that sensation. The last month has been difficult and extremely stressful, but I have gotten through it, and this has made me feel a lot stronger.

Now look at me I’m sparkling
A firework, a dancing flame
You won’t ever put me out again
I’m glowin’, oh, whoa

I’m not out of the woods yet, but I can see the tree line for the first time in ages and I actually care enough to look at the details of the map now.

This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me, no
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me, no
Throw your sticks and your stones,
Throw your bombs and your blows
But you’re not gonna break my soul
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me

 

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of the Week: Weightless by All Time Low

This week’s song of the week is ‘Weightless’ by All Time Low, and is presented alongside a few announcements.

1) As of today, I’m out of a job.

2) I have a new job lined up for June 1st but I’om going to have to pull the stops out to make myself a living over the next few weeks!

3) Unfortunately I have had to bring this year’s NaPoWriMo to a close. Recent times have been extremely stressful and so I don’t have the spare energies necessary for good quality creative writing right now. I am proud of what I HAVE written and that shall be enough.

This song is one that I turn to when things go a wee bit wrong. Just… off balance, or off track. Not quite what they should be. This state of affairs with a gap between my steady employments wasnt really what I wanted but here we are, so let’s make the best of it and know that better times are coming soon.

This job was a grand experiment, which has had mixed results. I got a lot of stress and a fair amount of dissatisfaction from the role, but I also met some good people and picked up some new ideas, which was something I am pleased to take forward. I am glad that it’s coming to an end swiftly rather than being prolonged though. I hate the notion of being trapped somewhere when the exit light is turned on, it is so much easier to cut ties and get gone.

So what lies ahead? Well in the short term I am not entirely sure. There are a few things in the mix – agency work, tutoring, writing enquiries. We shall see what comes of those. I’m open to job offers too – please make use of the ‘contact’ page if you have something that might suit my skills.

‘Weightless’ sums up my feelings at the start of this week and at the foot of the month ahead, which is looking a bit like a mountain right now. But even though this might not be my weekend, I am still convinced it is going to be my year.

‘Manage me, I’m a mess
Turn a page
I’m a book, half unread
I wanna be laughed at, laughed with
Just because
I wanna feel weightless
And that should be enough

But I’m stuck in this fuckin’ rut
Waiting on a second hand pick me up
And I’m over getting older

If I could just find the time
Then I would never let another day go by
I’m over getting old

And maybe it’s not my weekend
But it’s gonna be my year
And I’m so sick of
Watching all the minutes pass
As I go nowhere
And this is my reaction
To everything I fear
‘Cause I’ve been going crazy
I don’t want to waste another minute here’

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of The Week: Dear Mr President by Pink (ft Indigo Girls)

It was the second debate for the leadership of our political parties for the election here in the UK last night (brief catch up for my US based readers). And so, this week’s Song Of The Week has to be Dear Mr President, a joint effort by Pink and The Indigo Girls.

It’s quite fitting in a way that this song came back into my life this week. It was written with reference to GB Jr, when he was President of the USA, but actually… this has a lot of relevance to the politicians who are standing for office now.

“What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street?”

David Cameron might be all about the ‘right to buy‘ but the people sleeping on the street need a bit more help than those in rented housing. Homelessness is on the rise in the UK. What is he going to do about that?

“What do you feel when you look in the mirror? Are you proud?”

Nick Clegg, appearing on TV show ‘The Last Leg’ rated his regret level about defaulting on the Liberal Democrats’ student loan pledge at 9.5 out of 10. How does he feel when he looks in the mirror?

Politicians are so far removed from daily life, this song gives out some reminders of what our people face:

“Lemme tell you about hard work: minimum wage with a baby on the way…”

“Lemme tell you about hard work: building a bed out of a cardboard box…”

“Lemme tell you about hard work, hard work, hard work
You don’t know nothin’ ’bout hard work, hard work, hard work”

They get pay rises. We get austerity measures.

It also raises a few feminist issues too:

“What kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away?”
“What kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?”

Those two go out specially to Nigel Farage, who wants to take us out of Europe (which would remove our maternity leave rights). He’d also rather that ‘ostentatious’ breast feeding mothers didn’t embarrass people around them. And he allows bigots and homophobes into his party and then defends them on live radio.

Have a listen. And think what questions you would ask if your MP or preferred party leader came and took a walk with you…

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of The Week: Natasha Bedingfield – Unwritten

Song Of The Week: Natasha Bedingfield – Unwritten

I will admit, this choice of song was partly inspired by watching ‘The Imitation Game‘ over the weekend and partly by the new Project Shandy call for submissions for Mental Health Awareness Week.

I am a great believer in Free Will and the idea that each of us is in charge of writing our own stories in life. I am also a great believer in the idea that we need to Get Out There and find those experiences that make us who we are.

I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined
I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned

Writing gives me a lovely sense of freedom and control when it works. It’s my way to control which parts of me are presented to the world. Every time I open up my screen or pick up a pen, I am in charge of the reality I create. But I sometimes need to remember that this applies to my real life as well. To every phone call, letter, email, conversation, friendship, relationship, interview – and to every poem, every blogpost, every story, every opinion piece. I am unwritten until I decide to speak. I mean me, the real ME, not just reputation or hearsay.

“Reputation is what other people know about you. Honour is what you know about yourself.”

Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign

It’s so important for all of us to speak up and explain our stories in our own words, not waiting to be defined by someone else. I for one have had enough of being defined by troglodytes like Katie Hopkins and her less-famous-but-just-as-annoying-copy-cats, not to mention all of the localised and less important echoes of her ilk that I have tiptoed around for years.

I feel stronger for deciding to speak up and offer a platform to some of my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms.

I break tradition, sometimes my tries, are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes, but I can’t live that way

Now yes, I am not perfect, but I have a strong voice and things to say and that’s why I’m here in the first place. Watching ‘The Imitation Game’ has reminded me of just how much shit a person can get DONE when they refuse to let the world get in their way.

Listening to this song gives me the sensation of a blank page before me, reminds me that every day gives us new opportunities, new chances, new changes, fresh insights and ideas. It can be a breath of fresh air when you’ve been stuck in a rut. And it’s ok to sometimes get things wrong, so long as you go back and admit that, do your editing, tidy things up, submit your redrafts. With life. As well as with writing.

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips

For me there is nothing more boring than someone who blames their entire lack of life on the world’s failure to hand success to them on a platter. In this life you have to decide how much you want something, and whether you are willing to accept whatever consequences emerge along that path to getting it.

Those consequences vary from person to person, from dream to dream. There might be the need to relocate, making choices between relationships, friendships and employment, giving up other aspects of your life to get what you really want in the long run. They might also be mundane – and this is the biggest one that I have been tripping over: if you want to be known for what you say in public, you have to take the shit responses with the positive ones and accept that you’re going to attract opinions from a lot of dross who only want to tear other people down to make themselves look more shiny in comparison. Hopkins, I’m looking at you… and you are by no means original or the first when it comes to the monopoly on this type of powerplay.

If you aren’t willing to take it – that’s fine, that’s your decision, that’s your CHOICE. But if you are willing, then you need to get out there and get started. Because nobody else is going to do it for you.  Sometimes, if getting what you want involves a long walk, you’re gonna feel the rain on your skin. Try to see the benefit in that rather than whining about getting cold and wet, or complaining about the fact that you don’t want to get cold or wet and using that as an excuse for why you never got out the door.

I’ve lived a largely quiet life in terms of public opinion for the last five years or so, because I’ve been scared – actively frightened – of what people might say in response. Being diagnosed with anxiety has made that fear particularly hard to deal with, so it was easier to batten down the hatches and stay out of the storm.

But some things are more important. And I want to speak now.

It’s time to get up off the mat.

Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

The rest is still unwritten

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of The Week: Drive by Incubus (part 2)

I love living in the UK, for many reasons. One of which is the NHS. I love that I can access medical help when I am financially in difficulties and that I am not dependent upon insurance to be able to seek the help I need. I was diagnosed with Asthma as a child and mental health difficulties in my twenties – I would be a nightmare in terms of pre-existing conditions, but none of that matters on the NHS.

I also love that I can access contraceptives – including hormone based ones as well as condoms/diaphrams – through the NHS free of charge. Family planning is part of the service, free of charge, to anyone who wants it, and while my country might have a national religion, our approach to such matters is completely secular. Over the years I’ve had women tell me that they have encountered difficulties accessing what they want through the NHS though, which if I am honest has always surprised me. Not any more though, because last week it happened to me.

I’m 32. I’ve had hormone trouble since I was a teen (extremely painful periods, dark hair growth on my face, occasional bouts of acne). In my 20s I got fed up of dealing with this and was put on the pill. It was magic, but much like the Borg, my body adapts. So after 5 years on the standard pill, I got switched to another type – one called Dianette. Dianette is great, but fuck me it is strong. It took care of all my issues, but once you have been on it for a set time, the health risks associated with it go up. The max time is supposed to be about 5 years. I was on it for about 7.

After looking at the options and discussing things with Mr Shandy I decided to switch to the implant. I travel a lot for work, so this would be more convenient for me and would still contain a hefty dose of hormones to keep me steady. It will also be a more reliable form of contraceptive. I made an appointment with my practice nurse, who agreed with me. She checked me over and sorted me out with a docs appointment, as only a doctor can insert the implant in our practice. There was a female GP qualified to do the procedure. I decided to go see her.

That appointment was quite possibly the worst experience I have ever had on the NHS, in terms of being bullied into things I didn’t want, denied access to the things I did want and having my wishes and statements about my life totally ignored.

First the GP tried to convince me to use a barrier method instead.

I explained that this is not what I want. I am married, I have been in a monogamous relationship with my husband for seven years now, neither of us has ever had an STI and we are looking to make our sex life more interesting, with less faffing about with barrier methods, which we have used up until now in addition to me being on the pill.

She ignored me and tried again. I stood my ground and told her I was here to discuss the implant.

She went through my case history and suggested I might have PCOS (Polycistic Ovarian Syndrome).

I explained that my regular GP had through this and sent me for blood tests a couple of years ago. They came back negative.

She wasn’t happy with this and started insisting I should have an ultrasound scan.

I became concerned. The nurse hadn’t picked up on this, neither had my regular GP. Was this something to do with the implant.

“Well,” said the GP, “the implant lasts for three years.”

“Yes…?”

“And you’re 32 now.”

Confusion.

“Yes…?”

“So if you want to start trying for a family, it can take longer if you have PCOS, so you might want to start now.”

I was floored. At no time had I mentioned wanting to have a family during this appointment. If anything, I was here to PREVENT getting pregnant. Where was this coming from?

I explained that my husband and I have decided that this is not the right time to have a family for us, regardless of our age. And the nurse had explained that I could have the implant removed at any time.

She starts trying to change my mind.

“Oh I know it can be off-putting when other people’s kids cry and scream and they poop and vomit everywhere, but it is different when they’re your own.”

Feeling more than a little insulted, I decided to throw some more details into the mix, although the warning lights were already on for the fact that I had to. This was supposed to be a routine appointment, a check over to confirm the nurse’s findings and a discussion about a date to have the implant inserted. Why was this suddenly so difficult?

So in an attempt to open up to this GP I have never met before, I start talking about some of the details of my life. About the fact that my husband and I both have mental health difficulties. That he’s self employed in a successful but newly established business, where he sometimes works seven days a week to keep up and encourage demand. About how I am on a career high, working for a national company, travelling frequently, staying away overnight. In addition to this I am setting up my own business, working towards establishing myself as a writer and trying to run my own home. This is not the right time for a baby and it would not be fair to bring a child into this chaotic life which we are still trying to make sense of.

What happened next floored me. This woman sits there, looks me dead in the face, pointedly looks at my wedding ring, looks back at me and says:

“And what does your husband have to say about this?”

It wasn’t a comment. It was an accusation.

Not to be outfaced, and primed by my feminist reading in the last eighteen months, I was ready for her.

“My husband is in agreement. And more to the point he supports MY wishes to do as I wish with MY body. Now can I have this implant, or is there a medical reason why you are denying me this?”

“I am just saying you might want to consider starting a family if it is going to be difficult. What it you can’t later?”

“That won’t be a problem.”

“This is just my assessment of your situation.”

I lost my shit. This woman wasn’t listening to my situation. She had just taken one look at me and sized me up as a baby-making machine in waiting.

“Then if we can’t have a baby, we can’t. Not being biological parents will not break our marriage. Having a child at the wrong time might do. This is an informed decision. And your assessment of my situation is flawed. So, can I have the implant?”

“I want to send you for an ultra sound first. If PCOS is identified, you should know about it as quickly as possible. Then you can make…” she looked at me “an *informed* decision.”

By this point I was so angry, I could have slapped her, but I have excellent levels of self control. She fills out the referral, which needs my weight. So she asks me to hop on the scales.

My weight is not dangerous, but I am not a svelte skinny minx. I am a UK size 16 at the height of 5’7, so my BMI is slightly on the high side. She looks triumphant.

“Well I’m glad we checked that,” she says. “It can take longer for your fertility to return to normal if you weight is on the high side. So that’s another factor that might influence your decisions about when to have a family.”

I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“If you had listened to what I just said, you would understand that I don’t want to have a family. Not now, possibly not in three years time even.”

She settles back at her desk, looks at me and says

“Well, you might want to lose some weight, regardless. Have you through about improving your diet and exercise?”

I had one last shot at some dignity before I got out of the room.

“Everything I eat is fresh cooked. Lean meat, fresh fruit and veg, homemade sauces with ground spices and herbs. I eat mixed grain bread, fresh yoghurt, very little is fried. I have cut down my alcohol intake and I have never smoked. I swim four times a week, use an exercise bike at home and my holiday activities include camping and walking and canal boating. But then you would know that if you’re thought to ask me rather than make assumptions about me.”

She looked me up and down and said:

“Well … keep it up then. I’m sure you’ll see a change soon.”

**

I am not a weak person by any means. I buckle under extremes of pressure, but that just makes me human. But it has been a long time since I was made to feel so unimportant, undervalued and inadequate by anyone. I have always had a positive experience of doctors appointments before. I make the effort to be informed, I take notes, I ask pertinent questions, I listen to advice and I don’t have to go with the ‘just ignore it and hope it goes away’ approach that so many of my American friends are forced to adopt by circumstances.

I arrived home feeling extremely low and incredibly angry. How dare anyone, even a health professional, dismiss my input into an evaluation in such a way! I am my own person and I will make decisions about my life as I see fit. I have never been ready to be a mum at any point in my life so far. I am not ready now. I might still not be ready in three years. I fail to see how any of that pales in comparison to the ‘but you might not be able to later’ argument.

We still live in a world where women are assumed to be lacking if they don’t reproduce. This has been my first experience of this, even when I am cared for by a health service which is supposed to respect my choices, my rights and my options.

I am not a child hater. I love children. True – babies make me nervous, because they’re so tiny and fragile, but that’s the case for everyone before they have one of their own and get a bit more practice. I am a teacher, I love being around children, I love seeing them learn, watching them grow and knowing that they’re going to grow up to be awesome human beings. That does not mean that my life is the right fit to be a parent right now. This is not a selfish decision. It is a selfless one. I will not bring a child into a chaotic life and inflict two stressed out, not-completely-financially-stable, sometimes-very-ill, workaholic parents onto it. Into a house which has no spare room, where we are renting rather than paying a mortgage and where our employment and therefore means of support is far from dependable.

My choice to not have a child right now is far from selfish. Bringing one into the middle of this mess under the ‘it’ll all be fine in the end’ banner would be a stupendously bad idea. For me, for my husband and for the child itself. No matter how much love I might have for a child, this will not negate any of those factors.

I might never be in the right state to have children. Thanks to advances in modern medical care and the NHS in particular, this is a choice that I can make, that WE can make for ourselves without having to embrace celibacy, without having to sacrifice the idea of partnership and marriage. We are a strong couple in a brilliant marriage and yes, one day, we might choose to have children, but that will be as much an informed choice as our decision not to have them right now.

And if we never have children…? We will still have a marriage built upon love, upon a range of ideas and dreams, things we want to do, ways we want to grown. Children might fit into that one day. But they are not the be all and the end all, not the sole reason we chose to marry and certainly not the sole reason why we are together.

I chose Incubus’ ‘Drive’ as the Song of the Week, because the lyrics show how easy it is to be led astray be the crowd, by the loud voiced, by someone who thinks they know better. I’ve never been much of one for following the crowd, no matter how loud and large they might be. Not when it comes to my life. Especially not when it comes to another life which I would have a prime responsibility for.

“It’s driven me before
And it seems to have a vague
Haunting mass appeal
But lately I’m
Beginning to decide that I
Should be the one behind the wheel. 

Would you choose water over wine?
Hold the wheel and drive…
Whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll be there
With open arms and open eyes, yeah”

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Song Of The Week: Drive by Incubus

Explanation to follow in  post later on today, once I have stopped coughing my lungs out…

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Song Of The Week: The Story Of Us by Taylor Swift

It’s been a bit of a sad week for various reasons over here in Shandy Land, and we’re sorry that the Song of the Week feature has been delayed this week and never even made it out of the gate last week.

Over on the Shandy Music page, which was published this week, I’ve talked a little about how music is important to me and how I manage to deal with emotional situations by turning to songs, especially when trying to explain my feelings to other people. Without exception, I feel better once I find a song to latch on to where I can hang up my emotional hat.

This week’s Song Of The Week is The Story Of Us by Taylor Swift.

This was very nearly my ‘Song Of The Year’ a couple of years ago, but it was pipped to the post by something with a wider ranging relevance. Really, this should have been my song of the year a few times. Taylor Swift, I’m glad you’re here now, but where were you when I was going through my adolescent angst and it’s comeback in my mid-twenties? Tch, I dunno, late to the party but you’re here in my life now.

While I might seem like a rather with-it person, with a career and my head largely together and a lovely family, including the awesome Mr Shandy and our two beloved fuzz balls, there was a time when I had a habit of placing my emotional bets on all the wrong people. They weren’t wrong because they were bad – they were just wrong for me. I’ve alluded to this a few times and here I’m going to bite the bullet and talk about one of them.

I once had a best friend who I fell in love with.

It happens.

Hollywood knows it, soap land knows it, tv drama series thrive on it and half the chick lit in the world would never have been written without this phenomenon. The problem is that the way fiction deals with it is an absolute lie.

It tells you that once you fall in love with your best mate, you’re destined for a life of happiness. Sometimes you’re really not, because the best mate isn’t guaranteed to feel the same way. No matter how well you get on, how soundly you click, how much your tastes match, how much you have in common or how well you can read each other’s minds – love is a separate force and it comes from another place inside.

My best friend now is the person I love – my husband. During this period of my life, I am blessed. Several years ago, I wasn’t quite so lucky.

I honestly thought we had it all going for us under the surface and that given that right opportunity we’d be right for each other. Months of gentle pining followed this realisation because I didn’t really believe that the right time and place would ever happen. So I tried my best to be happy for him and look for a future somewhere else. Then there was what can only be described as a brief spurt of social cataclysm where I thought the earth might shift course and the stars might align enough for it all to go right for us.

It didn’t.

Because at the end of the day he didn’t feel the same way about me as I felt about him. And once you make a move in a direction like that, it’s very hard to drag yourself back from the brink and go back to what used to be.

The problem is, once you make a fuck up of that magnitude, you don’t just lose hope. You lose what was.

This week, my former-best-friend turned 30 and my heart was broken by seeing the perfect birthday card for him, and realising that even if I bought it, I would have nothing to say in it, nowhere to send it and no prospect of it doing any good for either him or me.

We have both changed massively as people since the days when we could finish each other’s sentences. I have no idea what he’s doing or what he’s thinking now, and sometimes when I stop to think about that, I still miss him. Not because I want him back in my life as he is now, but because I miss what was.

I miss the laughter, the shared jokes, the sense of having that one friend that you could tell anything to. I am lucky enough to have several lady friends in my life now who between them fill that criteria,  but I still miss knowing who my very first phone call would be in times of despair or elation.

Of course I have my husband. Of course I do. But half the joy of that sort of friendship is when I want to share ‘our’ news as well as mine.

That friend was the first person I called when I got engaged. Before my family, before my girl-friendz, because I wanted him to know how happy I was. I was devastated when the day came that I realised he wouldn’t be at my wedding, and I even had one last go at trying to build a bridge. It didn’t work. He told me via text he didn’t want to see me. I already knew that really, but confirmations hurt as much as revelations sometimes, and that was the end of all things.

I know it can’t come back. I know we’re not the same. I know that we have nothing left in common any more and if we did meet, well quite frankly we’d end up having a row because too much has happened and we don’t actually like each other that much any more. The end of our friendship was stormy and unpleasant because we had changed too much to find any more common ground.

But I miss who he was. And who he was to me. I miss the shared jokes that don’t make sense to anyone else. I miss the nicknames. He used to call me ‘Tink’ and I still have a necklace, a silver imprint of Tinkerbell with ‘Tink’ engraved on the back, which I can’t bring myself to wear. I hear songs that he introduced me to and I have to turn them off even though I once loved them. Because when I listen to them, I’m back there, and when they end, I realise that ‘back there’ doesn’t exist any more.

I spoke with one of my lovely girlz yesterday about how I feel like I’m the ‘custodian’ of all those shared things. All the roleplay games, the characters, the memories, the laughs, the music, the stories, the comics, the songs, the art work, the coffee, the food – the things that we shared which made us ‘Us’, part of something greater, better. Part of a circle of friends that couldn’t be broken, but which now lies in pieces on the floor of my past. I don’t even know if he remembers it. I doubt he thinks of it. If he does, there is very little chance that he places anywhere near as much importance on it as me.

He didn’t make me who I am today, but he made me who I was, and that was a very important step along the way to becoming the person I am today. That stepping stone might have sunk beneath the water now, but I know it was there. Because I wouldn’t be here without it.

This song sums up that sort of close relationship, that interweaving that you can’t imaging breaking down, and then the process that destroys it. Doubt, miscommunication, silence, distance and the dread of separation. I wish I’d had this song when I was losing my friend, because then I might have had a frame of reference for what I was going through to try and explain it to other people around me, and they might have understood a bit more.

I loved him.

Although he was never my lover.

I loved him beyond the scope of his physical presence. I loved his wit. I loved his artwork, his interests, his writing. I loved his characters. I loved his smile. I loved the turn of his phrase and the way he would have me and everyone else in earshot in stitches recounting stories. I miss the way he listened and the kindness that he showed to me and my other close friends in dark times. I miss the knack he had of gathering wonderful people around him – I still treasure his ex-girlfriend as a good friend, a star which came out of all that darkness. I would never have met her if he had not been an extraordinary man. I loved his sense of adventure and willingness to try new things. I loved the passion he had for the things that caught his interest and the depth with which he would dive into them. I loved his intelligence, his well read mind, his intellect and conversations.

I loved all of those things and when reminders of them stray across my path I am reminded of how much I miss about him still. And how futile it is to want or try to have any of it back.

The only way to go is forward. But there are days when that still sucks, no matter how routine or accepted or good sense it is. And this is one of those days.

Taylor Swift gets that.

She found that feeling, plucked it out, pinned it down and turned it into a song.

And so, belatedly, she is the star of ‘Song Of The Week’ for this week.

“This is looking like a contest
Of who can act like they care less
But I liked it better when you were on my side
The battle’s in your hands now,
Though I would lay my armour down
If you’d say you’d rather love than fight.

There’s so many things that I wish you knew
But the story of us might be ending soon.

Now I’m standing alone in a crowded room
And we’re not speaking
And I’m dying to know if it’s killing you
Like it’s killing me, yeah.
I don’t know what to say about the twist of fate
Where it all broke down.
But the story of us looks a lot like a tragedy now.”

Happy Birthday Luke.

I don’t know where you are, or how you’re doing these days and I couldn’t even find the words to put in a Birthday Card. But Happy Birthday, because I still wish you one from the bottom of my heart.

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