Archive | February, 2013
20 Feb

It had started mid-gulp of vodka, my first but definitely not my last of the day! A stinging sensation began on my chest moving gradually to my right arm. After another gulp I rolled up my sleeve to investigate and what a sight! I can only describe it as something out of a Ridley Scott movie, he of “Alien” fame. My skin was bubbling reminiscent of cheese on top of toast under a grill, not that I had felt any hunger pangs in the last few weeks. I watched and as each second passed more gnarly red bumps appeared. I shook my head wondering if this was to do with the alcohol or the sun streaming through the kitchen window. I looked again, they were still there.
I ran to the mirror, the one in the bedroom was bigger but for now the one in the hallway was nearest. I peered through the glass rotating my arm this way and that, pulling down my jumper below the non-existent cleavage to check what was happening there. Glaring intently everything appeared normal, no lumps, not even a spot or blemish, everything was fine. There was nothing unusual in the brown eyes staring back at me apart from the bloodshot. I flexed my arm thinking it might be a trick of the light from the front door but no, nothing there. I blinked once, twice and then back into the mirror, same thing completely normal! On looking back at my arm out of the mirror’s reflection it was still fizzing away and spreading towards my shoulder.
By the end of my third vodka, about noon, the whole of my body was covered. It must be a trick of the mind I thought, there’s no way this could be invisible in a mirror. I raced upstairs to the bedroom. Jack had left his wet towel from his morning shower on the bed, moving it slightly to one side I paraded in front of the mirror trying to catch it out, turning quickly and then darting backwards and forwards seeing if it made any difference. It didn’t and now the sores were beginning to blister. I rang Jack on his mobile, naturally he thought I was drunk and started shouting down the phone,
“What do you mean the mirror is lying to you?”
“Like I said it’s not telling the truth” I tried to explain
“Now you know what it feels like” he yelled and then ended the call.
I sat weeping softly curled up naked on the cool Egyptian white cotton sheets that were a wedding present from Auntie Ann it was the only comfort I could find. I don’t know how long it took for some kind of thought to penetrate through the pain I was now feeling. But eventually one thought stealthily managed to slip through, that’s it Auntie Ann she’d be able to help. As I dialled her number the blisters on my hands began to pop like bubble wrap and the pain was intensifying by the second.
“Auntie Ann, Auntie Ann is that you?” who I expected to answer I don’t know when I had actually punched in the number and checked it on the screen on the phone twice
“Yes, it’s me; well I think it’s me”
“Have you been drinking again dear?”
“No, no honest well not since lunch time anyway, I can’t, something happened”
“What? Is it you and Jack?”
“No, it’s the mirrors, they’re all lying” I tried to explain
“Lying where? Have you taken them down?”
“Auntie Ann, please! I got up this morning and I started to get these lumps, they started on my arms and chest but now they’re spreading”
“Do you have cream dear, E45 should do it”
“Yes, I mean yes I have cream but I don’t think that’s the answer. I mean the sores aren’t the problem it’s the mirrors”
“Pamela you’re not making any sense” complained Auntie Ann
“Right, when I look in the mirrors I can’t see any sores I just look normal” I tried again
“You are normal dear, well apart from the drinking. Look I have an appointment I’m off to Tessa’s for lunch, see you Tuesday as usual, cheerio”
And with that I was once again left sitting pondering my dilemma. What if this was some kind of alcohol induced nightmare? I’d read about them in the pamphlets Jack brought home, something to do with a 10 or 12 Step Programme. I’d only briefly glanced at them; after all I am not an alcoholic no matter how they try to convince me. I just like the occasional pick-me-up. Now I know what you are thinking I’ve already had three this morning but it’s my day off so I am entitled to a bit of freedom on my day off.
That reminds me I haven’t had a drink for at least an hour, see I can do without it. I mean nobody moans about people smoking first thing in the morning, well they do but surely if you’re in your own home it can’t be doing much harm to other people can it? It’s all down to personal choice and I choose to drink, it’s an adult thing choice.
When Jack and I met at University he was all for a good time, going out every night, sleeping the days away but now it’s all responsibility, responsibility, responsibility, oh and don’t forget that old albatross the mortgage! Jack seems so distant, he says it’s me that I am usually so out of it by the time he gets home he just goes to bed so as not to cause an argument.
I mean, if I was that bad why didn’t he leave? Love that’s why. Can’t do without me, and that’s the way it should be. I love him so there’s nothing more to be said. I would do anything for Jack, apart from changing my whole persona which is what most of the arguments are about. I mean that’s just unreasonable.
I wriggled uncomfortably on the stool beside the dressing table and could feel each blister popping as I wriggled. They’re leaking now these little pustules. Jack will think I’ve wet myself again! I wonder whether my weak bladder is hereditary, I’d broached the subject with Jack and he’d just sighed and asked when I was going to face the truth which was no answer at all if you ask me.
It is indeed time for another drink. As I tried to lower myself gradually down the stairs I could feel the blisters stretching and stinging as I moved. This cannot be normal! I reached the kitchen out of breath with the exertion of the stairs. I reached for the vodka bottle which for some reason was empty. It couldn’t be I’d only had three hadn’t I? I checked in my little emergency cupboard under the sink, nothing, it was empty. I was becoming manic flinging open doors searching for any kind of alcohol and then I remembered mouthwash! Jack had made a mistake this week with the shopping and had bought one containing alcohol. He’s usually so carefully. I made my way gingerly upstairs breathing through the pain. I’m so glad I never became pregnant could never have managed the whole giving birth thing, mind you with non-existent periods that would be a miracle.
Reaching the bathroom I hung on to the bathroom cabinet as I flung it open. An empty mouthwash bottle stared at me; well it would if it had eyes. Jack had emptied it. Good old Jack!
What now? I’d have to go to the shop on the corner. I checked in the mirror once again but the sight that greeted me was normal. Only when I looked down at myself most of the skin on my arms was now congealed together in one big sore. I’ll just have to cover up.
Scarf, hoodie, coat what must I look like in the middle of summer. Doesn’t matter with a bit of luck no-one will know who I am in this get up, they’ll just think I’m some sort of eccentric or a celebrity. I manage the front steps and quickly checking down the road, finding there was no-one about stepped out into the street heading in the direction of the shop. Closed! It was lunchtime. Would this day never end?
I think there’s another shop by the church, passing quickly in case someone prayed for the leper. I listened to a conversation behind me.
“What do you mean it was only one” said a youngish voice
“I just felt I had to, it was the polite thing to do” said a male voice
“Polite, look in our condition we can’t afford lapses. Do you want to end up back where you were imagining the boils and the sores and not being able to go out and all that stuff about mirrors?” said the youngish voice
“I know, I know, I’m just glad you called this morning” replied the male voice
“That’s what I am here for. Now let’s get you inside” said the youngish voice.
I couldn’t turn round but could hear their footsteps retreating behind me. What was all that about? Was that a coincidence or what? That older guy must have the same problem as me. As I quickly turned I could see two men disappearing into the side entrance of the church. Maybe I’ll pop in after I’d been to the shop and see what it was all about. At that moment I had a searing pain through both my arms and felt as if the pain was dragging me along the street in the direction the men had taken. I didn’t even knock on the door, couldn’t as this invisible force pushed me through arms outstretched.
As I lay sprawled on the floor two men approached and lifted me gently on to a chair.
“Hi, that was a great entrance” said a quiet voice.
“Mistake, sorry?”
“Don’t think so, are you okay now?”
“Where am I?”
“Alcoholics anonymous”
“Oh my god!” I replied as I gingerly lifted my sleeve to see my skin back to normal and the pain was gone.


Aside 18 Feb


There were no mirrors in the room. Not that she minded she could see all she needed to reflected in others eyes. The way they looked downwards as soon as they approached and realised the dried leathery handbag in the bed was actually human. Their chattering conversation concerning skin grafts and plastic surgery wouldn’t mend the mental scars they were inflicting with their patronising patter. She knew she was bitter but couldn’t seem to shake off these feelings that were threatening to overcome her sense of self-worth.

She welcomed the nurses, they were professional as they plumped up her pillows and re-arranged the guilt flowers in vases. They were all brisk and businesslike no niceties (too busy) but she preferred that to the pity and horror she got from family who came to see the freak they were related to. She knew she was being hard on herself but then she had no-one else to blame.

80% they said – no-one could see the other 20% the bit that was pink, smooth and wholesome rather than the brown scale that now passed for her skin. The 20% was so touchable she ran her crisped fingers up and down her inner leg revelling in the completeness of it, the rosebud colour reflecting on the white sheets. Alone she would open her nightgown and stare at the perfect formulation of the hairs, freckles and veins clearly visible when tightening her muscles.

James had left. He couldn’t handle it apparently. Anyone would have thought he‘d been in the fire. Her friends had told her he blamed himself for leaving her alone after the argument. That was silly! She was the one who was smoking, she was the one who’d drank the two bottles of wine and fallen asleep while the last cigarette she would ever smoke landed on the rug they‘d picked together in Habitat. It was a blessing he’d stopped visiting.

Lucky to be alive they said. Lucky! She’d contemplated that word so often in the last six months. The visits from friends had stopped after two months. Only family visited now. Duty bound every Sunday they trooped through with bags of grapes (ironic now she looked like a dried one). She giggled; at least the anti-depressants were working.

Walking again had been the hardest lesson, stretching out the tautened skin; the pain had become second nature. Each step was an event she likened to the Olympics and awarded herself medals, bronze on a bad day, and gold on a good day. She was determined and approached every physiotherapy session like an athlete changing into her tracksuit, her skin becoming her very own body armour. Occasionally she found herself thinking why she made the effort and the answer was always the same there was nothing else to do except to keep battling to release the anger pent up inside. All the anger was directed at her mainly al least that was allowed.

She thought back about how long she used to take to choose a new dress or a pair of jeans scrutinising herself in the mirrors in the changing rooms turning this way and that. Vain that‘s what she was. She used to rush home to try them and on once more revel in the purchase of yet more camouflage. Nowadays her only purchases were online and consisted mainly of comfortable track-suits, velour no less!

Her release was imminent and her mind was playing tricks. Could she actually walk down a street and cope with the stares, the pointing and possible happy slapping she was going to have to endure? No longer cocooned in her little lint nest of a hospital room. All in good time said Nurse Too Busy to Talk. Mirrors had to be faced first said Nurse Superefficient who had been plaguing her for a week to take a peek. The pictures in her mind of her previous reflection needed to be replaced bit by bit gradually emerging like a backwards butterfly. Maybe it won’t be so bad.

It was worse, oh her eyes were the same green but nothing else was familiar the leathery dry skin with sparse patches of hair (it may grow back eventually they had said). Self-pity, her old friend, was getting her nowhere just get on with it she screamed inside her head. She cried her last she had vowed no more tears. Kevin the physiotherapist popped his head round the door:

“And how’s our very own frazzle face today?”
“Get lost” she shouted
“Quick lets harness that anger and get you standing up” he said laughing
“If I must then I must”
“Get your kit on then I’m not taking you out like that”
“Give me 10 minutes”
“I’ll give you 5 now hurry up”

Political correctness was not one of Kevin’s fortes but most of the time he knew it was the only way some of them would be able cope. He knew she was struggling inside but he was not going to let it defeat her. She was stronger than most and her extensive vocabulary of expletives kept him amused. He’d seen pictures of her before and in his mind she’d never looked better. He’d always admired the strength and tenacity of his patients and never, ever, encouraged self-pity. The nurses were constantly tutting at his gung-ho approach waiting for the civil law suit to be filed – it hadn’t happened to date so he must be doing something right!

“Are you ready yet?”
“Having trouble with the zip. Can you do it?”
“I could, but that would be defeating the object of the session”
“Okay, okay I’ve got it now anyway”

She shuffled towards the end of the bed where Kevin was waiting with the wheelchair to take her to the torture chamber commonly called the “physiotherapy room”.

“Ow” she screamed easing herself down
“Don’t start all that, you know you can’t feel anything!” said Kevin
“Just wanted to see if you’d fall for it one last time” she taunted
“I don’t know what I’m going to do once you’ve gone”
“Find another victim!”
“Oh you’re good, very good”

Kevin wheeled her off laughing to himself confident that this one was going to make it.




17 Feb

Snowdonia August 2009

Of course to do the whole walking thing you have to have the correct equipment I was told. Walking boots (preferably 10 years old and well worn), haversack containing all necessary bits and bobs to cover every eventuality including mars bar, water, first aid kit (containing plasters for the inevitable blisters that will appear despite the 10 year maturity of your walking boots!), the Nordic walking poles and of course a compass. As every seasoned walker knows a compass could save your life – I’m not too sure how this occurs unless you actually know how to use the compass i.e. attending a three month course in orienteering so the fact that it is neither edible nor drinkable is of no bloody use whatsoever.

The walking is the pleasure, the hours of solitude and being at one with nature, the birds singing the soft rushing of the wind the absolute peace. What? That’s not what I say, I can quite easily find hours of peace and solitude in my own back garden without five hours of constant walking on uneven ground (despoiling the environment with every step by the way) following the herd that are today’s walkers up the side of a mountain.

I mean, some of them looked totally ill-equipped to go for a walk to the park never mind a slog up a steep gradient but hey ho off they went anyway with a packet of salt & vinegar crisps and a carton of Vimto in a Netto bag they’d found in the bathroom at their B & B. I just dreaded to think how many call outs the rescue service were going to receive today – I know it had been raining constantly for two weeks and this was the first dry day we’d had so wouldn’t a much better idea have been to sit peacefully with a Richard & Judy summer read at the side of Lake Padarn with a faithful companion by your side to stave off any unwanted encroachers. Paradise in the sun. Ok so the toxic warning sign at the side of the Lake was a bit of a put off but as my trusty companion had an aversion to water I had no problems on that score – he looks like a Japanese Water Dog but there any resemblance vanishes.

I had kissed my other partner (there are three in this relationship, me, him and the dog) goodbye, farewell, a bientot, ciao, arrevederci at base camp and waved him off up the mountain track making sure he had at least a bottle of water. Yes I am unfit and yes it did not fill me with glee the thought of putting one foot in front of the other for the rest of the morning not to mention the constant nodding of the head at heaving, puffing and sweating out of condition families overtaking me up the mountain track. I had toyed with the idea of taking the train and meeting him at the top but as the next available train was 3.00 pm there seemed little point.

I opted for the lakeside and apart from two unruly jack russells whose owner very kindly let them off their leads just before they met my beloved Nam (it means “devotion to” in Buddhism) and me having to disentangle his lead from around both the bench and my own legs a good two hours was spent reading, taking in the breathtaking, if not slightly daunting, view of the slate quarries and stroking my Nam.

I headed back to our B & B for a well earned cup of coffee six chapters into my book. We had a balcony overlooking the High Street in Llanberis and I sat waiting patiently for my conquering hero to return. I don’t think he noticed me on the balcony at first and was wincing quite badly and sweating like a turkey at Christmas but I guess he must have seen out of the corner of his eye as he suddenly put on a jaunty gait as he approached the B & B. Ah well at least he could tell people back home that he was into extreme sports now! He entered our room and my questions of how was it at the top and was the view as good as people said were met with grunts and groans as he endeavoured to remove his walking boots from his swollen feet. Needless to say he didn’t leave the B & B for the rest of the day claiming he had to re-charge his batteries and all extreme sports enthusiasts had to take at least a day off before attempting further feats of bravery! Aaaah bless his blistered little feet.