2017-07-25 09:44 pm

(no subject)

 WE HAVE A HOUSE, there are keys and everything, and the last owner left us chocolates so I'm guessing it's ours to keep. Pictures coming at some point when I work out how to make Dreamwidth do pictures. Not actually living in house yet; move to come. 

This also means moving towns, from the city where I'm in now to a smaller town I don't know very well. According to one of my colleagues who lives there it's "the sort of town where people... don't move very often," which you can take a few ways, yes? Yeeeeeees. Anyway, it seems very nice and I'm sure I'll get used to it. Best thing I have learnt about it so far: while it has a lot of Important Scottish History things that happened in it over the years, it also will be the birthplace of Montgomery Scott of the USS Enterprise, and there's a commemorative plaque. 
2017-07-19 09:39 pm

buy some furniture, give the cat a name

Today I bought a house. (Or, sort of - I have given some lawyers a lot of money for a house, but I don't actually have a house yet, which seems like a flawed system to me but hey what do I know.) 

I never thought this would be a particularly important life goal. Having a mortgage seemed sort of... boring. Down-to-earth. Suburban. Dull. Not necessarily compatible with the kind of footloose-and-fancy-free life that I had dreamed of. But that was before I rented fifteen different places in fourteen years, including the place where I had to call the police on the terrifying landlords, the place where the floor spent a year slowly rotting away beneath my feet, the many many places furnished with eighth-hand furniture the landlord had (I assume?) lifted off a street somewhere, and of course the many many many times the landlord decided to sell the place or hike the rent up and I had to move, yet again. So at this point in my life: yes, please please please, give me a mortgage. I'll deal with the luxury of philosophical questions about conceding to the status quo once my housing situation isn't a constant source of grime and anxiety. 

(I also have some vaguer and gloomier thoughts about how the UK housing crisis is taking up so much psychological space in the minds of so many people - when you're always worried about losing your home, you will never have 100% of your mental energy to devote to other things. But I feel like this one isn't really my cause to speak for, given my relative advantage in being able to afford to buy somewhere in the end. Maybe more on that another time.)
2017-04-27 09:24 pm

"Hans, are we the baddies?"

I work for the Government now. (Or really, I work for the Governments - I have worked for two so far and, because I am part of the politically impartial civil service, will likely work for more and different ones in the future.) This is different from my previous career in many ways, and not least because I can't really write "the Government are a bunch of bastards!" on Twitter any more.

My job is, as stated officially, to serve the government of the day. I like this phrasing not only because it unambiguously outlines the duty, but because that "...of the day" finishes it off with a clap on the back that whatever you think about this government, there'll be another one along next. Reassuring sometimes. Disappointing at others. Still, though - you serve the government you've got.

So here lies the problem. Because I would like to think that I am a person of conviction, and a person who wants to change the world for the better, and I would like to think that working for the greater good in public service is a way to do that. And yet... well, many governments ago, the government cheerfully upheld the institution of slavery. Colonised countries. Starved the poor. Killed, injured, imprisoned. Upheld systems of power and control which relied upon the grinding and unrelenting exploitation of the bodies and souls of fellow humans. And while we'd all hope that things are better these days, I am under no illusion whatsoever that some future generation is going to look back on some of the decisions made by today/yesterday/tomorrow's governments and be somewhat less than pleased.

Plus, governments change. So if you're going to work in this job long-term, and you have any kind of political principles of your own, you will almost inevitably end up working for a government you personally wouldn't vote for, to implement policies you personally think are a bad idea.

So. Is this the kind of job someone can ethically do?

I think so.

I think that a politically neutral civil service is important and valuable to our democracy. Given that, I'd be a hypocrite to say that it's wrong to be part of one. Given that, I'd be outright ridiculous to say that me and my beliefs are too special to be sullied, so other people should do it for me instead.

I think that democracy itself is important, and that a legitimately elected government deserves to have the structures of government working to support it. If I'm fine with elections, but think that the people who actually make the government's work possible should collectively throw down their tools and strop off when the 'wrong' side wins, I'm not actually supporting democracy.

I think that getting to write "this policy is a horrendous idea" on Twitter is fine, as far as it goes, but getting to say "Minister, we think this policy is ill-advised for the following reasons..." when you're the people whose advice they're actually meant to listen to has its own kind of value. (And maybe they'll still do it, but again... democracy. I don't want to be part of a system where the elected representatives can be overridden by unelected officials who Know Better on things like policy ideas.)

I think that the political party which would do everything I'd want to do a) does not exist and b) would not get into power if it did. Maybe ten thousand years in the future. But in the meantime, the work of the government has a real and massive effect on the lives of millions of people, every day. I might not be able to make that work done the way I would ideally like it to be, but I can do my best to do it as well as is possible, for as many as possible, in the world we have.
eye_of_a_cat: (restart/resume?)
2016-12-31 10:54 am

New year, new start

I'm importing most of my LJ to Dreamwidth. Not particularly/just because of the latest LJ controversy, but that reminded me that a) I did set up a Dreamwidth account years ago partially for this purpose and b) I have missed having a space to write things. I don't even know if anyone's on Dreamwidth, but if you're reading this from there, hello! And if you're reading this from LJ I'm the same name over there. You should say hello. I've missed you.

I was going to do an end-of-year meme to wrap this up with, but it's been so many years now that it feels more appropriate to do something a bit longer. So here's the last ten years in review.

Read more... )
2015-07-09 05:43 pm
Entry tags:

Goodbye, academia

I don't work for the university any more. I won't be going back. Partly because they are bastards, but not only that.

(Okay they are not all bastards. Just the institution itself, on a kind of meta-level. Long story. But. Awful.)

So it came down to a point where the funding for my current post was running out, and the best option offered to me for staying was: can you please write a new bid, with all that entails, and then talk Dr X into putting his name on it? In return for which the best-case scenario is that Dr X would get promoted, and I'd do 90% of the work and get another three years of repeatedly banging my head off walls before facing the exact same employment situation again. Or maybe I'd get pregnant again and they'd try to get rid of me sooner!

Sorry. Still bitter.

Anyway, that really did not sound too tempting to me. And working elsewhere... well, there weren't many jobs, and there were even fewer jobs I'd be a good fit for, and I got as far as interviewing on campus for one of them (which I'd have loved oh so much but, alas, was not to be). And there was this advert everyone was telling me to apply for which would have been a great fit in lots of ways, but then turned out to be: the deal is you come and work for us for 5 years, and at the end of that we might keep you on, but you'll have to be bringing in a lot of research income and covering your salary entirely while doing all the teaching we load on junior staff, and we aren't sure whether your field will still be in fashion then so we aren't going to commit to anything. So, another five years before, potentially, facing the exact same employment situation again.

There are many many things I will miss about academia. I worked so hard for so long, because I truly loved it: the research, the teaching, the colleagues, the students, the hours, even the culture (sometimes). I didn't want to be one of those female academics who had a baby and then left. And now I am, I suppose, and in large part it's because working 70-hour weeks is not something I want to do any more. I want a job where I can be ambitious and make a difference in normal office hours.

Plus there are so many ways I got so ground down by that job, enough that it's still difficult to go into because... just... ugh it was awful. (Did I ever mention the time someone else got a raise for work I was doing? THAT WAS FUN.)

ANYWAY. The happy news is that I now work (as of September, they're not paying me yet) somewhere totally different. And oh, it feels so, so good. Like a huge crushing weight has been lifted off me. Like I can breathe again.
2014-06-10 03:00 pm
Entry tags:

This is not the breastfeeding-in-public problem I was expecting to have.

I've fed the baby in caf├ęs, pubs, restaurants, museums, in the cinema, on a train, outside in a crowd watching a parade go past. No trouble at all, not even a disapproving look. I expected feeding her in public to be much more of a Thing, for me if not for other people, but honestly I think most people don't notice and most of the rest don't care - and as for my own comfort levels, it's amazing how comfortable you can get when the alternatives are a) screaming baby or b) not leaving the house for longer than twenty minutes for months.

So it is weird that the only place I've ever felt awkward for feeding her is at baby groups.

It isn't that anyone disapproves. It's more that I often feel like the odd one out. Breastfeeding rates in the UK start off fairly high but plummet in the first few weeks, partly due to a shortage of decent support for women who want to breastfeed but struggle, and partly due to cultural expectations shaped around formula-feeding as the norm for several generations.

Which I had not quite realised. I mean, I knew there was a lot of pressure from the NHS to breastfeed (it's hard to miss) and that a lot of women felt or were made to feel guilty for being unable to breastfeed, or for giving up because while it was possible it was also hellish, or for just plain not wanting to.

But I had not realised that there were pressures operating in the other direction, too. Pressures like the expectation to move to formula early, because friends and family tell you it's so much easier; pressures like hearing from so many women in your mother's generation that they couldn't breastfeed because they couldn't make enough milk, leading you to think this is common and likely to happen to you, rather than (in most cases) bad advice they were given; or that milk isn't enough for big babies anyway; or that any time the baby's fussy, it's probably something you've eaten. Or the pressure from expecting the baby to behave a particular way, feeding at regular intervals a few hours apart, because you think that's just what babies do rather than what formula-fed babies are more likely to do, and then yours feeds every hour or goes through cluster-feeding bouts of spending a whole evening feeding, and you think something must be wrong, the baby must not be getting enough. (My family are very supportive of everything we do with the baby, but I still get suggestions about giving her a bottle before bed "because then she'll be getting a full feed." Her chins have their own chins, I think we can be fairly confident she's getting enough.)

And then you go to baby group, and people hang around to feed their babies afterwards, and you're the only one out of twelve who's not formula-feeding. And then everyone has a conversation about how tough breastfeeding was and how they hadn't planned to give up but it worked out for the best anyway because bottles are so much easier and this way you can see how much they're getting, and this way the baby has a really involved dad. And you can't say "it's not that hard for me" because you don't want to sound all smug, and you can't say "yeah it's really tough" because then you'll sound like you're judging them for not sticking with it, and you don't want to say "what the hell do you think my baby's dad does?", and what if you're making them feel bad now somehow, and ugh.

You can't not be the odd one out. You can't not be noticed as being the odd one out without being prepared to outright hide it. You can't not make it a super-fraught topic everyone's already primed to feel sensitive and easily judged about.

I can feed her in a restaurant, at a table with no other babies present, holding her with one arm and holding a glass of wine in the other hand (yes it's fine, yes I'm sure), and feel totally comfortable - but I still feel weird feeding her at baby group.

2014-04-29 06:22 pm

Things I didn't know about newborns

Initially titled 'Things they don't tell you about newborns', but on reflection it is entirely possible people did tell me and I didn't listen, or skipped that antenatal class because I was sick and they made you do relaxation exercises bah pshaw. So maybe.)

1. That your newborn might not want to sleep in its adorable little cradle or its cosy little Moses basket. It might not care about the mobile hung lovingly over its bed, or the hand-crocheted blanket from its grandmother's best friend, or any of it. They are primitive little clusters of instinct and need and as far as our species' evolution is concerned, if you're not physically in contact with them at all times they'll be eaten by sabre-toothed cats.

2. That what they consider comfortable and pleasant is not what you would consider comfortable and pleasant, because they've spent most of their existence up to this point in a very different kind of environment. Lying down flat on cool white sheets in a spacious cot? Bad. Swaddled like they're in a straightjacket, and lying in your arms with their face snuggled into your armpit so you're terrified they can't breathe? Much better. Peace and quiet? Bad. Being bounced around endlessly while someone sings Bon Jovi songs to you out of key? Great. Apparently.

3. That your answer to "What quantity of vomit is it acceptable to have on one's clothes before changing?" might no longer be "Zero."

4. That if the baby is not sleeping in bed with you, you will still wake sometimes convinced that it is or was or should have been, and will imagine you see its outline in the sheets and panic that you've smothered it. I would say this was just me, but apparently it is not just me - this is A Thing. Which will hopefully pass.

5. That your brain will torture you with fear about terrible things happening to the baby.

6. That when the evening hits, they might fuss and sob and scream for several hours, inconsolably, and nobody knows why. It's wind! It's overstimulation! It's the frustrations of adapting to a totally new kind of existence! Whatever it is, they will seem to be in pain and you won't be able to fix it and they will cry and cry and it is awful. Apparently this passes, too.

7. That they like loud white noise. They do not care about delicate soothing nature sounds, but the sound of a vacuum cleaner really loud is soothing.

8. That the best thing to do with the baby manuals is to find out which one you basically agree with anyway, buy that, and then refer to it occasionally to reassure yourself that you're probably not screwing up the baby for life.

9. That they bond with you by staring at you. They're like a gurgling adorable version of Kaa from The Jungle Book.

10. That for all it's worthwhile knowing you might not feel any rush of love for them as soon as they're born - it is common, it is normal, it is a totally reasonable response to the exhausting often-awfulness of pregnancy and birth - it is also worth knowing that you might love them, instantly and immensely, and not stop.
2013-10-27 09:42 pm

'So You're Still Sick At 22 Weeks'?: an FAQ

(questions provided by friends, family, colleagues, and those neighbours whose response to hearing I was pregnant was "Congratulations, that was fast")

Q. Wow, you're still sick?
A. Yes. :(.

Q. Isn't it supposed to go by now?
A. Yes. Sort of. Usually pregnancy sickness starts improving by the early second trimester, and only 10% of women have any sickness left after 16 weeks. But 10% is still a lot of women.

Q: Isn't it getting any better?
A: No, not really. But the latest drug (metoclopramide) lets me eat and drink, so I'm not getting dehydrated any more.

Q: Is it safe for the baby to take those drugs? What about that one where kids were being born without arms and stuff, wasn't that for morning sickness?
A: Yes, all the drugs are lethal, I'm just taking them because I like to dance with danger. More seriously: the reason drugs aren't ever ruled totally safe in pregnancy is because ethical issues get somewhat in the way of running a proper clinical trial on pregnant women. But these drugs are already prescribed for pregnant women, so the evidence we have is from large-scale studies of women who took them during pregnancy. That evidence all indicates the drugs are safe. The alternative to drugs is being unable to eat, drink or basically function, so yes, they're worth the risk. (Interesting fact on thalidomide, the birth-defects-causing drug of the late 50s (and still used today although not in pregnancy): it was prescribed for sickness because of its sedative properties, because pregnancy sickness was thought to be psychological.)

Q: Is it that thing Kate Middleton had?
A: Depending on how you define hyperemesis, it either is or isn't. Helpful! At any rate it is controllable with drugs and I've managed to avoid hospital admission so far, so I'm doing better than a lot of women, which is depressing to contemplate.

Q: Have you tried...
A: Yes. Doesn't work. Whatever it is. Trust me, if very strong anti-emetic drugs are only just touching it, no amount of ginger/peppermint/acupressure wristbands/crackers/eating little and often (haha)/keeping something in your stomach all the time (HAHA) is going to do a sodding thing. I have been dealing with this for over four months now; for your own health and safety, please, please, do not suggest anything that you heard helped once or that turned up after a cursory Google.

Q: What causes it?
A: Nobody knows. Risk factors include a history of migraines, a tendency to travel sickness, your mother/sister having it in the past, a multiple pregnancy, a female foetus, and the fairies placing a curse on your family unto the hundredth generation. There is a theory that it might serve some evolutionary advantage by protecting the foetus from dietary toxins or otherwise unhealthy food.

Q: Is that true?
A: I can't speak for 'normal' morning sickness, but for what I'm dealing with at least that theory is total bullshit. Had I been sick with this on the Pleistocene I would already have been eaten by a leopard. Also, even on the drugs that let me now think about food without retching, my Approved Foods List mainly consists of:
- fruit (sometimes);
- Coke, full-fat;
- bread roll containing a fried potato scone topped with a fried egg, salt, and ketchup;
- cereal (decreasingly).
A healthy diet this isn't.

Q: Can it last for the whole pregnancy?
A: Yes. :(.
2013-10-17 03:59 pm

Like _Go Ask Alice_, in a way (part 1)

Emma's Diary is a fictional account of 'Emma's' pregnancy. It was written 'in assocation with the Royal College of General Practitioners', and it is/was sometimes handed out by GPs and midwives to pregnant women. I'm unclear whether it's still given out (I didn't get offered one).

It is also a company that really, really would like to have all your details to sell on to third parties. It isn't the only company that does this, or even the only company that claims a nominal association with the NHS that does this (but the Why Bounty Can Fuck Right Off rant is one for another day). So a big part of their business is getting you to sign up for their free packs of stuff!, in response for which you will get spammed and junk mailed to kingdom come by all sorts of companies, including at one point formula milk companies (oops, NHS), who have in many cases continued to contact women whose babies have died during pregnancy with things like offers for newborn photography services because you're on the list now and they have your due date right there in a database. Their stuff is free to pregnant women, because pregnant women aren't the customers - we are the product being sold.

Anyway! So all of this hangs off Emma's actual diary itself, which claims to describe 'the highs and lows of pregnancy and being a mum', and - again - to have been written in collaboration with the RSGP. So it should be useful, right?

Ha.

Here is Emma's Diary, so you can see what you think. But I was not impressed. )
2013-10-02 10:25 am

Ways in which being pregnant is like being a teenager again

1. Your body is changing in weird ways. And it's not that nobody warned you, exactly; it's just that you're used to feeling like you have some say over what your body does, and now it's doing a lot very quickly and you're not being consulted at all.

2. You now fit into a whole new role in society, and people will start looking at you in ways you're not entirely happy about.

3. Far too many people will tell you about what a wonderful time of life this is, and how it's all going to go downhill once [the baby's here and you'll never sleep again/you have to get a real job and pay taxes and bills]. You will think "it can get worse?"

4. There is a right and wrong way to do everything, however minor or ultimately inconsequential, and you are probably doing it wrong. You dyed your hair that colour? You total weirdo. You dyed your hair that colour? You selfish bitch.

5. You no longer have legitimate feelings; you now have 'hormones'.

6. Don't you dare let a single drop of alcohol touch your lips, or the future will be in ruins.

7. Other people in the same situation seem to be enjoying it much more than you are. This is partly because you see far more of the people who are out in public having a great time than you do of the people curled up in their rooms sobbing, but knowing that won't make you feel any better.

8. And it looks a lot more fun on TV than it is in reality, too.

9. Other people's ideas about what you're going through very rarely match what you're actually going through. (After 14 weeks of hellish constant nausea, I have started to respond to "Are you craving anything?" with "Yes, death.")

10. It doesn't last forever it doesn't last forever it doesn't last forever...
2013-09-02 02:11 pm

All's well(ish)

I saw Cloverfield the other night - JJ Abrams, shakycam, monster, disturbingly-out-of-place-in-silly-big-budget-monster-film September 11th references - and it struck me, we as a culture have been using the wrong film as a metaphor for pregnancy. Alien has the visuals, but for me, Cloverfield wins.

The Cloverfield monster (alien? primordial being? who knows) is the size of a skyscraper, with claws and teeth and a tail that can smash down a bridge. It marches around Manhattan breaking things, leaving rubble and fire and death in its wake. It swats down buildings. It bites the Statue of Liberty. It wrecks pretty much everything in its path. And it also has creepy little person-sized scuttling parasites that fall off it and cause even more damage, just for extra chaos. But! According to the designers, the monster is a newborn (new-hatched? new-spawned?) baby. It is not wrecking stuff out of malice; it is wrecking stuff because stuff is in its way, and it is confused and lost and has no idea what's going on and can't help it that every time it moves, something else goes ka-BOOM. So on the one hand, it's laying waste to everything you know and hold familiar in a series of gore, disaster and devastating explosions - on the other hand, it's only doing all this as an unintended side-effect of, basically, being a baby.

Why yes I do still have terrible morning sickness, since you ask. And exhaustion. And 36-hour headaches. And, well, the list goes on, but let's just say that the one thing Cloverfield is missing as a pregnancy metaphor is for the army to saunter up to the waves of terrified, injured, fleeing civilians, watching their city burn around them, and say "Have you tried ginger?"

But, I live in hope. The exhaustion is already fading; the sickness hopefully will follow one day (although I have given up on all the advice suggesting when, since it was getting too depressing to watch the points at which it's supposed to start fading whooshing past me as the sickness got worse and worse, and incidentally fuck you every single book and site and article on the second trimester for telling me how much better I'm feeling by this point).

The 12-week scan went fine. I have the requisite selection of blurry ultrasound photos making it look like a cross between a weather radar map and an alien, but they don't capture the best bit about the scan which was the realisation that, oh my God, it moves. Not just waving an arm or something, but a constant burrowing, kicking, somersaulting, bouncing whirl of motion. Did you know they can actually trampoline themselves off the inner walls of the amniotic sac? Because THEY CAN. The scan took forever because it wouldn't position itself obediently for the measurements at all - "okay, that's nearly there, now if it juuuuuuuust moves a liiiiiiiiitle bit to the right...", cue kick, flip, gone - but it was pretty amazing to see so much of it.
2013-08-06 03:10 pm

It's a generational thing

A relative of mine is - I think, we think - mentally ill. This has been building for a while, with suspicions and secrets and hushed phone calls between those around them, but it has now reached a point where it is no longer possible for this relative to hide the fact that something is very, very wrong. In fact, a lot of somethings are wrong. Personality changes. Memory lapses. Paranoia, impulsivity, anger, obsession, despair.

But they will not see a doctor. They will not hear of it. Nothing is wrong, according to them! Nothing, that is, apart from the family who are harassing them, conspiring against them, trying to steal their money, trying to make them miserable. "Are you feeling all right?" is bullying. Tears are emotional blackmail. Nobody really cares about them, nobody's really interested, it's all just an act to get at them.

And what can you do? You can't drag them to see a doctor, and even if you could it wouldn't help, they can bullshit anyone for fifteen minutes. You can't get health services involved without the patient's consent unless they're a danger to themselves or others, and they're not. (Not yet, at least). So about all you can do is what I've been doing today: write a letter to their doctor, describing all your concerns, and cross your fingers that at some point your loved one will end up in the doctor's office and be helped.

Writing that letter has been... hard. Nothing in it is new information, but seeing it all written down together has really brought home just how very obviously bad this situation is, how the person this is describing is someone very, very unwell. And this is just the stuff we know about; what else has happened that we don't?

They are from a different generation, this relative. We have been telling each other this like it's some comfort - and I think it is in its way. Mental illness is not spoken of, where they come from. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, those don't happen to them. They would probably tell you - if they were well, if they were speaking to you - that people these days are too interested in taking pills, too keen on medicalising normal human emotions, that all of this wasn't around when they were younger.

In a way they might be right. It's not like the 21st century has reached the ultimate pinnacle of understanding on mental illness; we have our myths and pseudosciences about it, we talk about rebalancing brain chemicals like our ancestors talked about rebalancing humours, we still have a long way to go in many different areas. But they would not be right in telling you that any of this is new. When they were younger, mental illness walked around under different faces and different names. It was 'bad nerves'. It was people taken away to asylums. It was the men back from the war who were never the same again.

In my working life, I spend much of each day reading 18th-century letters to doctors. The terminology is different, the treatments are different, but in all the accounts of melancholia and hysteria and hypochondriasis, the voices you hear sound familiar all the same. These people were someone's relatives and loved ones, too. They're still people's relatives today. Maybe your ancestors, maybe mine, but definitely someone's - just like someone in the same situation was definitely ours.

Maybe this is your 9x-great-grandmother, the wife of a West Indies plantation owner, who every few months goes through 'paroxysms' in which 'the mind is remarkably dejected, despondent and apt to convert trivial circumstances into insurmountable difficulties', accompanied by 'deep sighs, wailing and tears'.

Maybe this is someone's many-time-great-uncle, the young man who went off to seek his fortune in trade, and succeeded - and then began writing to his friends that "his life has become a burden to him", and is eventually brought back home raving and nonsensical, spending his days digging holes in the garden and putting flowers in his hat, and running away from anyone he recognised. "Could anything be thought of that might be a means to his recovery," his sister writes, "we would Gladly have it try'd." He is twenty-three years old.

Maybe this is a distant cousin, the soldier back from the war in America who withdraws from his friends, begins "muttering and speaking to himself", then becomes "more lively and flighty than was natural to him, sudden and impetuous in his motions," then begins riding by himself at night, growing agitated with his friends, and "imagines an Invasion of this Country is to take place immediatly and he is often employ'd in contriving the means of defeating & preventing it."

Maybe this is a great-grandfather, the preacher from a remote island community whose name is scored out as he begged no-one be allowed to reveal it. "I cannot describe it to you any other way than by telling you that I was apt to imagine myself in a dream, rather than in real life," he writes. "I continually feel like one more than half drunk... My judgement and memory are greatly impaired. The association of my ideas is always irregular, & sometimes, I think, partakes of folly. It is intirely lost after I go to bed, & numberless images float in my brain without order or connection... The most unaccountable ideas arise in my mind, my heart is chilled with horror, the bed seems to sink under me, & every thing eludes my grasp." Later: "I am sure I need not farther paint the miseries of my situation - unless it be to tell you that, if I die, I shall leave behind a wife, & two fartherless children." And later still: "For many reasons, I wish no one in the world but you to be acquainted with my disorder."

And all those families and friends around them, worried and helpless, writing to doctors because they didn't know what else they could do. I feel just like them now.
2013-08-03 06:18 pm
Entry tags:

Oh dear God, you lunatics

Neighbour war update:

Neighbour C has received two anonymous letters this week complaining about his behaviour.

Also, the owner of Flat B - which is rented out, and whose tenants are now leaving because of the noise from Flat A above - apparently offered to pay himself to get Flat A's floors carpeted. Flat A occupants refused, and are somehow convinced Flat C guy is behind all of it.

Anonymous letters. Principled stands over carpet. These people are insane.

2013-08-01 11:51 am

The only winning move is not to play.

Leaving the house for work this morning, noticed that Neighbour A's kid's bike was left out in the corridor instead of in the hall cupboard.

"But it's a kid's bike," you say. "What problem could this possibly cause?"

Well. Kid's bike, and pushchair before that, have been a tipping point for neighbour rows before. The corridor is the only way to our front door, and it is quite dark and narrow, and there have been a few near misses and scuffed shins with tripping over stuff in the dark. We did ask ages ago if they could find another place to put it - but by that point Neighbour C had already told them to move it, so it became this whole thing about Neighbour C again, and aaaaaargh.

And then! We had the dread House Meeting of huffiness and doom, and actually came up with a solution. Neighbour C would clear out the hall cupboard, which had a whole lot of junk in there from (I think?) him and previous neighbours, and the A neighbours would get use of that cupboard to store kid stuff.

And so it was. And everyone was happy, and nobody tripped over anything in the dark.

So. Seeing the bike out in the corridor again left me with several options:
a) leave bike. Pros: do not have to haul bike around, cannot be accused of moving anybody's stuff. Cons: Neighbour C will no doubt see bike, be furious, and yell at the A neighbours, who will then yell back and the whole thing will kick off again. Also, I am probably going to trip over it on my way back from work once I've forgotten it's there.
b) move bike. Pros: no more bike in corridor, no potential yelling from C. Cons: A neighbours will probably assume C moved it and get mad, and we will have a re-run of the last fourteen times this argument happened.
c) move bike, leave note saying who moved it. Pros: A neighbours cannot yell at C, C cannot yell at A. Cons: possibly they will all yell at me instead. Or the As will assume I am acting on C's behalf, or the Ds will get involved again because they always do, and I will no longer be able to claim political neutrality.

So I'm standing there, looking at the bike, and weighing up all these options. And then it strikes me: I am running an entire chess game's worth of strategy in my head over a four-year-old's bicycle. This is no way to live my life.

Moved bike to the side where it was less trip-over-able, went to work. Let them have whatever wars they want to.
2013-07-30 11:15 pm

What, now?

Email from Flat A person, CCed to Flat D person, apologising for not doing much with the garden and saying they'd be doing more soon. (Yay!) Also here is two paragraphs about why Flat C guy is a terrible person. (Sigh.)

Replied to say: that's great about the garden, sorry you're having trouble with Flat C, obviously we're not going to weigh in on that as it's not really our place but FYI the council runs a neighbour mediation programme if things are getting really uncomfortable.

Five-paragraph-long email from Flat D person, telling us we have missed the point by talking about the garden because we have been "unwittingly manipulated" by Flat C guy into thinking "all this" (all what?) is about the garden when it isn't, and we have lent legitimacy to Flat C guy by trying to talk about garden duties so that's why they got angry with us and removed our note.

Meanwhile, the weeds grow taller.
2013-07-29 01:17 pm

Neighbour rage, continued

Note in communal hallway written by person in Flat C, torn up and left in pile by (I think) one of the people from Flat D, reconstructed by me so I could read it:

Screen shot 2013-07-29 at 12.38.15

I have no idea who owns the barbecue, who moved the barbecue, or where the barbecue belongs.

This was actually a pretty good note from Flat C, as well (he tends to ramble much more). I don't know why it warranted being torn up and left in a pile for him to find. Fully expect the house to be a smoking ruin when we get home tonight.
2013-07-28 03:58 pm

So, the neighbours are at war again

I knew the best-friends-forever thing was too good to be true.

Things the neighbours are at war about this time around, as far as I can tell:

- cleaning the communal hallway. Again. Which, look, cleaning the communal hallway is a basic duty of communal living, it's stated in everyone's deeds and lease agreements, it's not like it's a new thing. But it was still a touchy enough subject to set off the Great House Meeting of 2011, which will forever live in history for lines such as "it never looked like it needed doing when it was our turn," "don't you tell me when to clean my own home!" and "we couldn't do the cleaning because we didn't understand how the rota worked."

(The rota was really not complicated. We offered to redo the rota to make it 'easier to understand' after that meeting, and then literally couldn't work out any way of doing that - it listed the month of the year next to which flat's turn it was to do the cleaning that month, and that was it. So we reprinted it in a slightly bigger font and underlined 'Rota', and everyone thanked us and said they'd definitely know when to take their turns cleaning now.)

This time around everyone is at least agreeing with the principle of having to take turns cleaning the hall, so that's a big improvement. But there are growing suspicions that people are signing the rota without having done all, or any, of the cleaning. Also one neighbour told another neighbour that they missed living in their last place because there was a woman in her 80s living there who "just loved to clean, so we left it all up to her!" I would love to her the 80-year-old woman's version of that.

- blocking off bits of communal garden nearest your bedroom window for your sole personal use. Or, if you're in the other camp: demanding access to bits of the garden near someone else's bedroom window for weird and nefarious purposes.

- noise levels of 4-year-old. Or inadequate discipline of 4-year-old, if you're in the more extreme wing. Because why bother with the more practical suggestions like the kid not wearing shoes inside, or the parents maybe investing in some carpet for their wall-to-wall laminate floors, when you could turn it into a referendum on someone else's parenting? That's bound to go down well!

- communal garden, upkeep of. This is the new Hallway Cleaning Rota War.

- whether or not it is unfair that Flat A does not have a storage shed on its own plot of land, like Flats B and C do, and like Flat A used to before a previous owner sold it off. I am kind of baffled by this one - I mean, either they bought the flat under the belief that it did own land, in which case take it up with the lawyers, or they bought the flat knowing that it didn't, in which case, what do you think complaining to the neighbours is going to do? Anyway, latest I hear is that Flats A and D both agree this is totally unfair, and Flat B's shed and plot should be reassigned to Flat A since A's occupants own and B's only rent. Yeah, good luck with that.

- whether or not it's reasonable to leave a barbecue in the communal bit of the garden.

- whether or not Flat D's occupants, who both work from home, are actually doing any work at all because it looks very like they're just sitting there all day drinking wine and they could at least put some work in on the garden if they're going to be using it all the time. Corollary: whether Flat D's occupants' careers count as 'proper jobs'.

- everything they have ever fought about in the past, even though it's long since settled and over.

And the frustrating thing is, it is totally possible to sort out something with the garden upkeep, the issue that kicked all this off, in the same way that we eventually got somewhere with the communal hallway cleaning. But we cannot have a conversation about that, because the neighbours are incapable of having a conversation about specific thing X without it turning into a conversation about everything else. 4-year-old neighbour is possibly the most mature of the lot.
2013-07-24 10:55 pm

What's been happening lately

I am less sick, THANK THE HEAVENS. Thank you to all who suggested ways of handling medicines and dealing with doctors; it's all been very useful. I am still moderately sick, and the medicine has made me veeeeeeery sleeeeeepy, so I am updating this in a snoozy way from bed while intermittently sleeping, but - it's no longer at lie-upon-the-grass-and-pray-quietly-for-death levels and I am so glad.

Film I have seen recently, with (minorly spoilery) thoughts:

The World's End )
2013-06-24 06:57 am
Entry tags:

shut up, magpies

Lying awake at not-yet-time-to-get-up o'clock because the local magpie pair have a nest nearby. I know this because they built it partially out of the lining of my hanging baskets, and because recently they have got all NIMBY suburban about anything happening nearby that they don't like, which is everything. And they are loud. They have been yelling in stereo at whatever the latest thing is - cat? fox? other magpie? new housing development? - for about half an hour now, right outside my bedroom window.

Here is one of them a few days ago, yelling at the fox that comes to lie in a sun patch in our garden sometimes. The fox seemed a bit baffled by this, looking at the magpie and then at us like "I'm sorry, is he with you?"