Mission Quite Possible

September 28, 2014

Today was the day when autumn really felt as if it had arrived. A definite tang of woodsmoke in the air, and the road is a mess of leaves and smashed conkers. ‘You’ll discover how the other half live,’ someone said at the village coffee morning on Friday, learning I wasn’t allowed to cycle for a while. ‘I know, it’s terrible,’ I said. ‘I meant how much better it is,’ he replied. ‘You can get to places in half the time and go twice as far.’ I suppose he’s right, especially as by the time I get back on my bike, winter will be closing in on us. Too easy just to keep driving, or letting the other half drive, more likely.

So I’m determined to get walking as much as I can, if only to help maintain my cake-based lifestyle. Once I can walk to the village (about 1.5 miles away) I can get the bus, which gives me a semblence of independence back, adjusted for the rural bus service. Yesterday I had a popup bookshop to help run, which meant a lot of standing and some walking around (mainly to distract myself from the risk of carrying anything heavier than a cup of tea) but I haven’t actually managed to go for an actual walk since my operation. So today I decided we were going to check the level on the ford.

road back from the ford

Road back from the ford. Who put that hill there? Also all those leaves…

A friend who’s been in a similar situation (albeit an actual caesarian rather than the world’s tiniest hernia) advised me that the real problem was that things turn out to be an awfully long way back when you’re recovering. This proved to be the case with the ford, too. We had to stop a couple of times while I reminded myself to slow down, the road having developed a number of hitherto unnoticeable hills. The main problem is I can’t stand up straight properly without feeling as though something is going to go ping, and without standing up straight you can’t walk properly, just sort of shuffle along, which is frustrating and after a while I forget and start to stride out and then ouch. In the end it took 45 minutes to cover the total distance of 1 mile, so that’s only about twice as long as it would ordinarily take. Operation walk to the village might be a few days off for me yet.

But you don’t care about any of that, you’re wondering what the level was in the ford. Well, despite some actual rain in recent days, it’s still dry as a bone, as it has been all summer.

dry ford

We will bring you updates as soon as the situation changes


For Idle Hands to Do

September 26, 2014

On a day when it’s too sunny to be indoors doing useful things on the computer, but when I’m still not really recovered enough to be doing anything useful outside …

wool re-winding

… untangling and rewinding some wool to restart a long-suspended but not entirely forgotten knitting project seems just useful enough to keep me from attempting anything that’s going to bust my stitches, although I do realise that it’s barely one step above wicker unravelling in the hierarchy of occupational therapies. Plus I’ve had a literary magazine to fold …

Fankle 21

That and a succession of visits and/or calls from friends and neighbours (not to mention twitter) have been keeping me sane and preventing me from doing all the things I keep threatening to do (such as walk back from the village after the Macmillan coffee morning this morning…) that have left the poor old other half running interference on me for the last three days.

Tomorrow I shall be busy, but I have promised to do most of it sitting down.

Next week, I would have been climbing the walls, if it weren’t for the fact that that’s probably verboten too.


Grooh

September 24, 2014

It’s done. I’ve survived. I went into hospital feeling fit and well and came out feeling as if I’d been assaulted by a bloke with a knife, but that’s more or less the way of the thing. I was actually lucky in that when I arrived at 11:30 having followed the fasting instructions to the letter (up at six so I could have tea and toast no later than 6:30, glass of water just before 11), the operation before mine had gone unexpectedly quickly (I didn’t ask whether that was because they’d just killed the patient) so I was into the world’s least flattering pair of stockings and onto a trolley before I could even get irritated by the daytime television being shown in the waiting room. Pausing only to discuss cycle campaigning with my anaesthetist (who recognised me from our bike breakfast earlier this month, what can I say, this is Bigtown) I passed out in mid sentence – possibly explaining why the council’s plans for access to the new hospital are a bit rubbish – and the next thing I knew I was waking with a start in the recovery area with the feeling that I’d overslept because I had to get up early to have my tea and toast before my operation and oh…

Since then, I’ve been learning how to just relax and convalesce, looked after by the other half who has been feeding me pretty much at hourly intervals as though I were some sort of orphaned baby animal, and not letting me carry anything heavier than my phone, which I’m to have with me at all times in case I need him and he’s not in the room. The process has been helped by yet another gloriously sunny day (what is going on?) which meant it was almost too hot to sit on the bench by lunchtime, especially when you’re still wearing the world’s least flattering pair of stockings under your trousers. I’ve been feeling groggy enough to just sit still and read, which has had the unexpected bonus that the birds have been ignoring me and continuing their lives around me oblivious. It’s nice to have a front row seat for the robin wars…

I have to admit that cycling seems a distant prospect at the moment. The most active thing I’ve managed today is to totter up to the veg garden to show the other half the seedlings which need watering and then totter down again. I have discovered that everything – sitting up, sitting down, standing up, bending down, getting dressed, laughing, breathing – uses your stomach muscles, and they’re telling me all about it. Forget that abdominal workout, people, you’re doing it already, I tell you.

My mother and aunt who have both had the same operation tell me that I’ll feel better pretty quickly but then they’re both apparently indestructible. Here’s hoping that I inherited some of those genes, and not just the slight manufacturing defect part.


Going in for a Service

September 22, 2014

Right, that’s it, I’m going in for my hernia op tomorrow. I have prepared by taking out as many books from the library as I can fit in my pannier bag, ordering half of Amazon, and arranging to borrow a dog for walks so I don’t go insane on my enforced period of uncycling.

That said, it might not be as long as I feared. I was talking to my mum, who had a similar operation a few years back about how long it took her to recover. ‘It can’t have been that long,’ she said, ‘as I was in Afghanistan shortly afterwards.’

Possibly time for me to stop being such a drama queen about it all, I think…


Uh Oh

September 18, 2014

No, not the outcome of today’s vote (I made my mind up in the shower this morning, if you’re interested, and didn’t even waver as I made my cross. I did think referendum fever might have hit Nearest Village as there was a huge crowd outside the village hall where the polling station is but it turned out to be the Senior Citizens Club waiting for their coach to arrive to take them to England – a day trip, I think, rather than the first exodus of refugees), but the phone call I got from the hospital when I got back. Looks like I’ll be having my hernia operation next week. I can look forward to a few weeks of enforced non cycling, and you can look forward to an increasingly testy series of rants as a result. I’d say send chocolate, but once you stop cycling like a cyclist you have to stop eating like one too.

In other news, autumn. I wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t still warm enough to sit outside in bare feet.

autumn leaves


Absolutely Positively the Last Post on the Independence Referendum, I Promise

September 16, 2014

Apologies for those of you who check in here mainly for ford updates, cycling rants and incompetent veg growing, but I have realised that until I actually try and put down my thinking in writing I’m not really going to come to a decision before Thursday, and I have a feeling that going into the polling booth and tossing a coin will go down rather badly.

I’ll say one thing – I was rather dreading the months running up to the referendum. The initial debate was pretty testy and I did worry that as an obvious non-Scot making a decision on Scotland’s future I might get tangled up in some unpleasant arguments either in person or online. This hasn’t happened. The few discussions I have had have been largely thoughtful and respectful of the other person’s point of view (this may not have been everyone’s experience but it has been mine). I also thought I might just get bored of the whole thing, but instead I’ve found it increasingly fascinating. Compared with the utterly pathetic standard of debate that surrounded the last referendum on changing our voting method, the discussion around Scottish independence (as long as you stay away from any actual politicians) has been for the large part illuminating and compelling and has challenged me to examine my own assumptions about politics, economics and ethics and to think very hard about what I myself want of the country where I live. It’s so rare that we get a chance to vote in an election where every vote counts, on something of vital importance. It’s been, in fact, a privilege to be here right in the middle of it all and whatever the outcome on Thursday, Scotland has already done itself proud.

So, pats on the back all round – but that still doesn’t answer the question of how I should vote. It won’t be out of fear: while I have no doubt that the period after independence will feel at least as uncertain as the financial crash of 2008, given that the financial markets react to even the slightest uncertainty like a maiden aunt trapped in a cellar with a mouse, I think once the panic has settled down Scotland will prove perfectly able to run its own affairs. Nor am I starry eyed about it; and independent Scotland won’t be that much different from a devolved one; we’re not suddenly going to become Denmark but with haggis. Realistically, I expect it to be slightly poorer than it might have been, and slightly too dependent on oil for comfort, but also less unequal.

On the other hand, neither will I be deciding for nationalistic reasons one way or the other: I loathe nationalism in all its forms and I’ve never felt particularly patriotic either about England or the United Kingdom, let alone Scotland; flag waving of any kind brings me out in a rash. It’s to the credit of the Yes campaign that they have kept the worst excesses of nationalism at bay in these past 12 months.

Patriotic or not, however, I do want to live in a country that I’m not ashamed of. The current Westminster government have filled me with growing despair: a government, elected on a wafer thin mandate that has proved massively ideological, that promised to be the greenest ever yet is letting fracking rip while rolling back support for renewable energy, one which promised to save the NHS while running it down at every opportunity and dismantled half the structures that made it work, openly denigrates the most vulnerable in society, and is even dismantling legal aid so that justice will soon be something only for the rich. The UK appears to be sleepwalking out of the EU just for short term electoral gain. I have a lot of beefs with the current Scottish government – particularly their goal of ‘modernising’ the Scottish transport system into the 1970s by tarmacking over most of Scotland – and I would never vote SNP, but they don’t make me want to bury my head in my hands every time I open the paper.* Of course that’s just one government, but some of the same mood music on benefits and immigration is coming from the Labour party too. While I do know that the Scottish electorate aren’t as egalitarian and as liberal as the propagandists would have us believe, at least the Scottish parties aren’t in a race to the bottom when it comes to the tabloid agenda. Add in the fact that Holyrood is elected on proportional representation, which means there’s more chance of the Green party – whose politics more or less chime with my own – will have some influence over a future government.

I have to say right now, that I don’t believe that all the hasty promises of extra devolution being dangled in front of us if we vote no will come to much. If Devo Max had been on the ballot, I’d have voted for it like a shot, but whatever the Westminster politicians are saying now, there’s no guarantees that any of it will come to pass. The UK does not do constitutional reform, not unless it’s forced to and even then in the most half-arsed manner imaginable. You only have to look at the House of Lords – where the only people actually elected to it are the remaining hereditary peers – to know that. There is no ‘best of both worlds’ on offer.

So the choice before me seems to be: run while we still can, or stay and fight for a better UK. My lefty English friends are uniformly begging me to stay and fight the good fight with them, not to abandon them to an uncertain future with Nigel Farage calling the shots. My lefty Scottish friends paint a picture of Scotland as a beacon of fairness, leading England by example into the light. I have sympathy with both perspectives. I am genuinely torn.

So has all this brought me any closer to a decision? Not really, if I’m honest. I’ve tried imagining how I’ll feel on Friday morning to one result or the other, but my gut feeling is that whatever Scotland decides, it won’t be a disaster for either Scotland or the UK. Yes would be exciting but a little scary, with a long roller-coaster ride ahead and no clear picture of where we might end up. No would be perhaps a bit of a relief but also a disappointment, as all those tantalising possibilities evaporate in favour of more of the same. Either way, it’s unlikely that separatists will blow up Balamory – tantalising as that prospect is.

In lieu of any actual decision, then, I shall let Twitter have the final word:

*cynics may point out that as I read the Guardian – home of the headless UK map – that’s because I never hear anything about what the Scottish Government is up to, which is a fair point.


Scotland Undecides

August 6, 2014

I’m probably going to regret posting this, in case the cybernats and cyber-other-lot come piling in, but with six weeks to go, I do have to make a decision about how to vote in September’s referendum. Last night I actually hurried home from the pub in order to catch the big debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling (and does anyone else think ‘Salmond and Darling’ sounds like an unsuccessful pilot for an odd-couple detective series?) but sadly this just consisted of two men in suits shouting over each other and scoring debating points so after about fifteen minutes of amusing myself on twitter with the #ScotDecides hashtag I took pity on the other half and turned it off so I could cook supper instead.

The debate (in so far as I did follow it) turned mostly on the mechanics of who will have what after independence – the pandas, the pound, the oil – but to be honest, I’m not that bothered about all that. Whatever happens, an independent Scotland is unlikely to turn into South Sudan, although there’s a risk it might turn into, say, Ireland. Nor, realistically, is it going to become the land flowing with milk and honey that the independence campaigners suggest. It will sit somewhere within the spectrum of other wealthy western democracies – possibly a little poorer but hopefully a little more equal than it would have been had it remained in the UK. I can live with that. There’s a greater risk that the Rest of the UK will suffer from its loss – from an England left ‘locked in a room with Nigel Farage’ (as James Meek so vividly phrased it), to a Northern Ireland left seriously destabilised by the possibilities opened up by the break up of the UK. That does worry me a bit more. In fact, I’m beginning to feel that by moving to Scotland I’ve been accidentally handed rather too much responsibility for another country’s entire future for comfort, and my previous stance of planning to vote yes just to have one over on the Scots Nats when they assume I voted no on the grounds that I’m (half) English is looking a bit frivolous.

But seriously, how to decide, especially now it’s looking close enough that my vote might actually matter? Obviously not by watching the debate. There have been other debates and hustings held locally that have apparently been more illuminating, but I’m not sure I’ll ever make up my mind by listening to other people talk about it. I’m hampered by having no gut feeling on the matter, seeing as I’m not Scottish and – despite having been educated here for six years, and lived here for another six years – I know I never will be. There are some who would argue that we shouldn’t have a say in the matter at all, especially as there are thousands of Scots who won’t because they live in the rest of the UK – but then again, we’ve made a positive decision to throw in our lot with Scotland by moving here. If anything, we’ve got more of a stake than someone who returns at Christmas and wears a kilt to weddings but won’t be paying any of the extra taxes (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if I thought an independent Scotland might go for a more redistributive fiscal policy I’d vote for it like a shot, but I suspect it will just squander the oil money the way the UK has done for the last 30 years while pretending we can have the public services of Denmark on the tax regime of the United States).

So short of tossing a coin in the polling station, how should I make up my mind? There have been competing pros and cons going round my head for a while and it goes a bit like this:

Pro: it would be exciting and interesting to be part of history, and live in Europe’s newest country

Con: that didn’t work out so well for the Crimea…

Pro: Scotland is much more egalitarian and instinctively left wing than England, so no fear of ever living under a conservative government again

Con: we will have a large and grumpy and possibly permanently right wing neighbour to our south

Pro: Scotland can pioneer new ways of doing things and we might end up living somewhere a bit like Denmark

Con: except that the economy will be heavily dependent on oil, which doesn’t bode well for it becoming a green cycle-friendly place

Pro: living in a small country means we can influence policy more easily as we’re all that much closer to the levers of power

Con:  the danger then is it’s all about who you know … I’ve seen enough of how things work close up to worry that we’ll end up living in a banana republic only without the climate for bananas and it won’t even be a republic.

And so on.

None of this is particularly helping. At the moment I’m leaning towards voting yes, just out of the human instinct to poke something to see what happens. I apologise in advance for doing this to what is not, at the end of the day, my country, although I do at least promise to stick around to suffer or enjoy the consequences.

What would you do?


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