Thursday, 30 August 2007

Security Blanket

Already it’s starting to feel autumny. The mornings are misty and the evenings cool. After sixteen years in Arizona Jon’s going to feel the chill.

Today I went shopping. I bought a fleece mattress cover, a 15 tog duvet and a super king-sized quilted bedspread for Jon’s room.

The bedspreads I have are cream and feminine. I asked if they had something for a man’s room. The quilt is black with gold and cream stripes. “He’s behind bars now, and he’ll be under bars with that on,” Dan said.
“That didn’t occur to me when I bought it,” I said annoyed. “You do like it, don’t you?”
“Yes. It’s just the thing. It’s enormous. He can wrap himself up in that. He’ll be as snug as a bug in the long room.”

The long room is the garage conversion that Jon will be sleeping in when he comes home. It’s all ready for him. But I fear he may want to sleep in the box room upstairs, closed in, secure. So many fears, waking in the night thinking he’s still in his cell, nightmares, calling out.

It’s like the feeling you get when you bring home a new baby. Although I know he won’t like me making that comparison. You want everything to be warm and secure and safe. You want to wrap them in your love so nothing can touch them. But he’s a man, thirty-nine years old. How can we protect him from the world, from himself?

Catch the thought. I don’t know what the future holds, so it’s no use worrying about something that hasn’t happened. Let’s get him home first. Live in the NOW!

I’m going to London tomorrow on the train, with my friend Jayne, and Alex who danced with Austin Powers at my sixtieth party. It’s Kathryn’s hen party on Saturday. I’ve packed my silver case with a little black dress, and shoes with diamante straps. It's so exciting. There’s about twenty hens meeting up at the first venue at 5.30pm. I can’t write about where we’re going because it’s a surprise and Kathryn might read it.

Hen Night alert, London!

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Come Dancing 2

“Are you going dancing tonight?” Michael asked on the phone.
“Certainly,” Dan said. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Have you been practicing?”
“No. Forget the dancing. I just want to be held,” Michael said.

It was cooler this week, so there was less sweat and nervous tension from the absolute beginners. Clifford, came over to chat and reiterated to Michael that men who can dance are “like gold.” But Clifford seemed to have bagged Michael’s partner from last week. Perhaps he was trying to console him. This week Michael had a different young lady to ‘hold’, for the waltz, quickstep, samba and cha-cha.

There were a few young women there. The thought crossed my mind to bring Jon on his release. It quickly passed. He wouldn't come. A far cry from rave clubs with pounding music and designer drugs. But the drug which causes most problems in society was freely available at the bar, alcohol, of which we all partook.

I’ve always wanted to do the cha-cha, but it was difficult to learn even the basic step. Peter and Bonnie showed up this week and got into the cha-cha a lot quicker than Dan and I. We had to have special instruction.

We’ve been practicing at home today.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Wednesday, 29 August 2007


I cried last night after watching a BBC news clip showing the covert filming of a farm in France which produces foie gras. Natasha Kaplinski, the news reader, warned that the film contained disturbing images. I’d always know that in order to produce foie gras the birds had to be overfed with rich food so that their livers swelled, but I wasn’t prepared for the horror that followed.

Rows of geese and ducks enclosed in individual cages so restrictive they couldn’t flap their wings, were being force fed. The film clip showed, a farmer roughly handling a goose while forcing a metal tube the width of the bird’s neck down its throat and pumping excessive amounts of food into the bird’s stomach, while it vainly struggled against the abuse. Sticky yellow food reguratated in the violent process stuck to the bird’s neck and feathers. When the force feeding stopped the bird didn’t have the energy to lift its neck, which hung loosely to the side. The exhausted creature, was barely able to breath.

I had just finished my dinner and was feeling very full. I imagined someone forcing a tube down my throat and pumping me full of obscene amounts of food in order to swell my liver up to ten times its normal weight so that ‘high class’ restaurants could serve it as a delicacy.

The clip went on to show farm workers, obviously brutalised by their occupation, kicking and throwing around the sick ducks and geese as though they were garbage.
When interviewed later the farmer said he would stop his workers from kicking and throwing the birds, but he couldn’t stop the force feeding as that is how foie gras is produced.

Although this practice is banned in the UK, we import over 4,000 tonnes of these diseased livers every year. If people knew how foie gras was produced I feel sure the unnecessary torture of these creatures, in order to provide a few moments of gastronomic pleasure to members of our superior species, could be stopped.

If you are interested in stopping this torture please click below.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Mirror, Mirror

Peter and Bonnie and some of our closest friends gave me cash for my sixtieth birthday. I wanted to buy a mirror, something unusual. While on holiday we found a shop in Wales that sells hand made mirrors to your own specification. We picked it up yesterday. Peter and Bonnie came along for the ride, a good lunch and afternoon tea and scones. Bonnie got Peter to buy her an Amber necklace in the shop.

The shop is a cave of delights. The windows are full of mirrors and stained glass. Outside boxes over spill with embroidered cloths and cushion covers. Inside is lined with shelves of healing crystals and stones, jingling wind chimes, amber jewellery, Buddhist statues, scented candles, and tie-dyed dresses and t-shirts. Mrs. Gruffydd, the mirror maker’s wife, is a crystal healer and Reiki master. She told us that Rhys would be back shortly. “He’s gone wandering somewhere,” she said. He arrived looking like a Welsh Priteni with his bald head, round face and straggly, grey goat-like beard that moves up and down as he talks, but he doesn't have a Welsh accent. Whether the name is false we didn’t like to ask, but he is definitely a scouser, from Liverpool, with a chequered history, only lately becoming an artisan.

It stood upstairs ready, waiting, in his workshop, my 3 foot x 2 foot mirror mounted on a black board to fit flush with the wall. Two vertical rows of 2 inch x 2 inch randomly coloured glass squares inserted four inches from the edge on either side, the only decoration.

As Rhys is a Buddhist, I felt it would bring good karma, but the difficulty Dan had putting it up (he’s not into DIY) started me doubting. Not his fault, Rhys had given him the wrong size brackets.

But once fitted, and the focal point of the room, the coloured glass squares of burgundy, pink, blue, yellow, orange and green cheered up the mellow shades of our living room.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Come Dancing

To help take our minds of the possibility of anything going wrong with Jon’s release, Dan and I have taken up a new hobby, ballroom dancing.

Last night was our first class. Being old enough to remember Come Dancing, and as a fan of the more recent Strictly Come Dancing, with yards of satin and sequins, I was unsure of what to wear.
“It’s only a class. It’s not a competition,” Dan said.
“You’re right,” I agreed, choosing a summer skirt and top.
But I did find some silver, strappy, high-heeled sandals I’d not worn for years. Two other couples were supposed to join us, but chickened out. Michael, Dan’s brother-in-law, was sat outside in his car when we arrived.

Dobson’s Dance happens every Tuesday and Wednesday in Birchwood sports pavilion. Beginners 8.00-9.00pm, Intermediates 9.00-10.00pm. Last night was a warm pleasant evening. A game of cricket was nearing its last run on the playing fields. We paid our fees, got a drink from the bar, found a table and chatted with the dance teacher, Ana.
“Danced before, have you?” she asked.
We answered simultaneously “no”, “not really”, “a long time ago”.
“Good,” she said, “It’s better to start from scratch.

Sitting nearby was Clifford, at least seventy, short and stocky, and wearing a toupee. He told us how learning to dance had changed his life. A retired widower, he spends three months of the year dancing in Benidorm, where men who can dance are “like gold”, he said, giving Michael a knowing wink. Michael smiled.

When Ana shouted “everyone to your feet” we nervously hung around the dance floor, until she lined us up to demonstrate the basic steps of the waltz. Luckily for Michael, who’s a widower, there was an attractive unattached woman, the only one, who needed a partner.

One-two, together we repeated over and over glancing down at our feet. Dan kept treading on my toes. He blamed me for not moving my feet far enough back, and I blamed him for taking big steps with his size eleven feet.
“Next week I’m wearing steel toe caps,” I said.

Before the arguing got heated, Ana’s two acolytes, Clifford and Ann, came to the rescue and split us up. Vertically challenged as Clifford may be, holding me firmly in his arms, my feet seemed to glide automatically in the right direction following the firm but gentle lead that’s made him the Don Juan of the Benidorm tea dances.

It was warm in the wooden Pavilion (there’s no air-conditioning in UK – it’s rarely needed). Together with the stress of remembering the steps, sweat became visibly noticeable on the faces, and in some cases underarms and backs, of the would-be dancers. Michael was struggling with the heat. I saw him sit one out fanning himself with a beer mat.

Reunited with Dan, Ana moved us on to the basic quickstep, and we did better with this, getting the hang of the way your feet sort of cross over on every other quick-quick. Slow, slow, quick-quick, slow; slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. In our enthusiasm we swept around the room too quickly bumping into slower, shorter legged, quicksteppers. Ana had to reign us in.

The last dance was the Samba, but three dances were too much for us to take in, so Dan got another drink from the bar and we watched.

The novice dancers ranged from a twenty year old lesbian couple, who only had eyes for each other, to a mix of forty to sixty year old couples. The lesbians wore jeans. A coiffured blonde woman wore a backless chiffon evening dress and satin shoes, but most people wore smart but casual summer wear with various attempts at dance footwear.

Ana, the teacher, was loud and friendly, and constantly made risqué remarks. Worn-out jokes she’d probably used repeatedly with beginners since she started the dancing school twenty years ago. Slightly overweight, but firm from the dancing, she was about sixty, with brown shoulder length hair tied back severely in a bun. She wore no makeup. Her top was a plain black sleeveless vest, but her skirt was made of a soft deep burgundy material that swayed around her legs as she danced. I was most envious of her shoes. Styled like classic ballroom shoes, but the leather was dyed different shades of purple; dark at the heel fading into a lilac towards the toes, infused throughout with a milky way of sparkly gold and silver. I’d never seen shoes like them.

At 9.00pm the intermediates took the floor. They started with a formation dance and moved on to a tango. “Will we be that good in ten weeks?” I thought out loud.
“I doubt if I will.” Michael said. “Do you want a lift home?”
“No, we’ll walk,” I said feeling under the table. “I’ve got flat shoes in a bag somewhere.
“Do you think you’ll be back next week?” Dan asked Michael.
“Oh! Definitely. I’m not sure if I’ve learned anything. But I’m no quitter,” he said mopping his brow.

“I want some shoes like Ana,” I told Dan as we strolled home.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Groom's Safe Return

After a month in Afghanistan, embedded with the soldiers, as a war photographer, Aaron returned home safely last night. Kathryn sounded happy on the phone.
“He’s grown a beard,” she said.
“Is he keeping it for the wedding,” I asked.
“I quite like it, but no, he’s shaving it off before the wedding.”
"How is he?"
"He's well, but it was traumatic. He thought he was doing to die in the ambush. People don't realise how bad the fighting over there is. There's minimal media coverage."
Lots of his pictures have appeared in the newspapers.
None of the soldiers injured in the ambush died.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Computer Therapy (3)

From waking, my mood had been low. I was exhausted after the weekend. And there is the constant worry about Jon’s release. I try to think positively about it, pushing negative thoughts out of my mind. But I know they’re there lurking in my unconscious, waiting for their chance. They come out in nightmares, and leave me with this feeling of tiredness.

Sitting at computer number 3, the program had barely started, when I felt a wave of emotion, and tears running down my cheeks. I tried to stop it before she noticed, but the every vigilant Patricia picked up on it straight away. Pulling up a chair next to me, and handing me a tissue she said, “Do you want to share it with me?”
“Well, you know some of it from what I've typed in, don’t you?”
“No. It’s confidential. Only your GP gets a copy of each week’s report.”
I didn’t have the time or the inclination to give her the whole sorry saga. I simply said my son is in prison in Arizona on drugs offences. She didn’t bat a eyelid. She’s probably heard worse.
“I am sorry,” she said. “It must be really hard for you having him so far away. Do you get to visit?”
“Yes, we’ve been every year, usually at Christmas. Sometimes we’ve been twice."
"That gives a whole new meaning to holidays, eh?"
"Yes," I said, not really appreciating her humour, "but he’s due to come out in November.”
“Well that’s great. You’ll have him home for this Christmas.”
“Yes,” I said, not having the energy to tell her all the problems we’ve had securing his release. Her friendly chatter deflected my mood. She had lived in the US herself as a child and still had relatives there.
I was able to continue with session 3, which focused on common thinking errors, catching thinking errors, distraction techniques and activity scheduling. It was very helpful. Doing some mental activity is going to be my distraction technique. Instead of watching TV, I’m going to do puzzles. For my physical activity this week, I’m going to do ballroom dancing, with Dan, starting tomorrow night.

Patricia hugged me as I left, indicating a new dimension in our relationship.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Monday, 20 August 2007

Full English, Betrayal and Tears

Over a full English veggie breakfast of fried eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, veggie sausages, tea and toast we discussed the weekend’s events. Dan has bacon sometimes, but not today.
“It’s been hectic, but fun,” Kathryn said.
“We’ve more or less got everything sorted now, haven’t we?” I asked.
Kathryn’s phone bleeped.
“Oh no!” she said. “I’ve just got a text from Jenny. Elvis Bandini is married.”
“The rat,” I said. “How did she find out?”
“She Googled him, and his profile said he lived at home with his wife Sam.”
“Perhaps Sam’s a man,” Dan said.
“That’s even worse,” I said laughing. “You could tell he was a ladies’ man. He couldn’t keep his hands off any woman who came within groping distance.”
Jenny’s love rat news seemed to be the start of a downward spiral in everyone’s mood.

“I’ve got to sort out the Order of Service today, before I leave,” Kathryn sighed, looking tired. “For the hymns, Andrew wants Jerusalem and I want I Watch the Sunrise. We need the words for those as the congregation is supposed to sing them. The soloist will sing Ava Maria and Panis Angelicus.”

From looking through the numerous Order of Service leaflets, Kathryn chose one of the most popular wedding Readings, St Paul to the Corinthians 12:31-31:8 which Jenny, prey of the adulterous Elvis, is going to read. Kathryn’s friend Sue chose a poem by Maya Angelou, Touched by an Angel for the second reading. I’d started work on a draft Order of Service a while ago, but after looking at the examples from Mrs. Parks, Kathryn wanted something entirely different.

We had an appointment with Father Michael at 12.00pm, and we went over the Order of Service with his help and advice about Readings and hymns, and what came before what. He confirmed the rehearsal would take place at 6.30pm on the evening before the wedding.

When we got back Kathryn seated herself at the computer determined to get the Order of Service done and out of the way. This wasn’t as easy as she’d imagined. Laying it out so that page one corresponded with page five on the printout was difficult. I offered help, but couldn’t answer the questions she was asking, quick enough. Feeling her stress levels rising I kept out of the way. Three hours later, the centre pages were done.
“For the cover, I want cream embossed card, and you can stick on a tiny red rose. Very simple and classic.” This was for me and Dan to organise.

“I don’t know how I’m going to carry this dress back without it creasing it to hell,” Kathryn said, packing up her belongings.
I’d just got out of the shower. Scrunching up a small section of the hemline in my hand to check, I said. “I don't think that material will crease.”
“Yes it does. You’ve just creased up my hen party dress,” Kathryn shouted. “Look! Your hands are wet. You’ve ruined my dress!”
“I haven’t, it’s only a small section,” I said, ducking back into the bathroom for cover. Taking a deep breath, I emerged a few minutes later to find her over by the window, holding up the dress, examining it with a pained expression and deep frown lines on her brow. “Just look at what you’ve done,” she said accusingly.
There was too much tension in the air. I burst into tears.“I don’t know why you’re treating me like this, Kathryn,” I said in between sobs. All I’ve done all weekend is try to help you.” Realising how upset I was she immediately apologised. We hugged and made up. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s not just the wedding planning, which is exciting, but stressful. It’s Aaron being away in a dangerous situation in Afghanistan just before the wedding, and the uncertainty with Jon's release. It’s all too much. You have helped me, and I’m grateful. I’ve had a great weekend. We’ve packed in so much. That's the problem when I'm only home every month or so."

“We’ve been on a high all weekend, but it’s down hill today," I said. A nightmare over the Order of Service, a creased hen dress, and Elvis turns out to be a love rat.”Our laughter broke the tension and we hugged again.
"My friend Bobby and her mum didn't speak for two months before her wedding."
"That's drastic. Why?"
"Because her mum had invited all her friends to the wedding without even telling Bobby."
"We haven't done too bad then, with only five and a half weeks to go."

Dan and I drove her to the station to catch the 9.45pm train back to London. She won’t be home again until the Wednesday before the wedding. But I’ll see her next week for the hen party.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Red Dress and Elvis Bandini

I’ve been telling Kathryn for ages how the new Debenhams shopping centre has transformed Warrington. I shop there every week. “It desperately needed transforming,” she said. On Saturday afternoon she got to see it and made suitably impressed noises. But after shopping in London, I’m sure they were fake. She wanted a dress for her hen night, and had a picture in her mind of exactly what it would look like.

In Debenhams she found the dress. It has spaghetti thin straps, a fitted bodice nipped in at the waist, the skirt tapering out, with four layers of under skirting to give a can-can feel. Three inches of the net hang sexily below the knee length hemline. The red is a rich deep claret colour. The shiny organza fabric reflects the lights. It has the ‘wow’ factor.

After weeks of looking in shops in London for wedding shoes, she found a pair in the right shade of ivory, with the correct size three inch heals, and they were actually comfortable she said. “Come up north and you get sorted, no problem,” I said.

That evening we’d booked for the carvery at to our local, where an Elvis impersonator was doing a tribute for the anniversary of the King’s death. It was also the first anniversary of Dan’s sister’s death, Amy. She had been a life long fan of Elvis and had visited Graceland many years ago. She died on the same day as her hero.

Amy’s husband, Mike, and her daughter, Jenny came with us as a tribute to their departed wife and mum. Catching them unawares, I saw a sad or thoughtful look settle now and again on their faces, but it wasn’t a sad evening. Four other friends joined us, and it was more of a celebration of Amy’s life. Elvis Bandini turned out to be something of a comedian and he worked the floor kissing the women, hugging the men's shoulders, and generally flirting with everyone. He was thirty something, dark and Italian looking, quite handsome, but not in the Elvis league. No one ever could be.

The meal was delicious. To get rid of that after dinner bloated feeling, we danced enthusiastically till midnight, Kathryn celebrating Aaron's lucky escape, and Dan and I some positive news we'd had about Jon. At nearly chucking out time, Jenny came off the dance floor flushed with excitement. “I’ve had my photo taken with Elvis Bandini, and guess what? He’s asked me for a date.”

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Final Fixtures & Fittings

Lizzy came with Kathryn and I to Maple Lodge yesterday, to go over the fine details. Katrina, the wedding co-ordinator welcomed us with morning tea in the lounge where the wedding guests will have their pre-meal drinks.

Kathryn told her the final number, seventy for the daytime meal and another seventy in the evening, give or take a few guests who haven’t yet replied. “With six weeks to go, I can’t believe that some people still haven’t told you whether or not they’re coming,” Lizzy said.
“It’s really annoying,” Kathryn said “We know all the day timers, it’s just a few people who are coming at night. They’re Aaron’s guests, so he’ll have to give them a call next week, when he’s back from Afghanistan.”
“It’s a long way to come for an evening do,” I said.
“Yes, but they should let us know. Aaron and I have travelled all over the UK to evening do’s.”
"What about the menu and wine?" Katrina asked.
"There's ten vegetarians, and one gluten free," Kathryn said.
"Don't forget me," Lizzy said. "I don't like sauces of any kind."
"Don't worry. We'll serve yours plain," Katrina assured her.

We discussed the flowers, decoration and accommodation. Kathryn told Katrina who would be getting the lakeside rooms, suites or four-poster bedrooms. The bride and groom get the presidential suite, where Bill Clinton once stayed on a visit to the UK. Dan and I are getting a four-poster room.

Katrina went over in minute detail what would happen from the arrival of the bride, groom and guests, to the walk by, when and where the photographs should be taken, and the daytime and evening receptions.

Before we left she took us into the conservatory where the reception will be held. It was set up for a wedding, the florist putting the final touches to the decor. The theme was butterflies in all shades of lilac with flowers to match. It looked beautiful.

“They’re very professional,” I said as we were leaving.
“They should be for what it’s costing,” Lizzy said.

After lunch we had an appointment for the final dress fitting at Belles and Beaux. Again, I was stunned by how beautiful Kathryn looked. Lizzy who hadn’t seen the dress before, gasped in admiration. It needs a small alteration around the bust. I have to pick it up on the Tuesday before the wedding.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Order of Service

In order to cut the rapidly escalating cost of the wedding, we are going to do our own Order of Service. The church registrar, Mrs. Sarah Parks, has kept of copy of the Order of Service from most of the weddings she’s registered. Kathryn also wanted ideas on hymns and readings, and Sarah’s a helpful woman, who can’t give you enough information and advice on the protocol of church weddings. I told her that Kathryn was coming home for the weekend, and she invited me to call and pick up her Order of Service collection, two large files bulging with every shape size and colour of leaflet.

Kathryn arrived at 10.00pm tired after a day’s work and the long train journey. She was missing Aaron, but relieved that he was on his way back to camp, and none of the soldiers injured in the ambush had died. She livened up looking through the examples I’d picked out, some as possible templates and others definitely not. They ranged from classic cream card with minimal decoration, to cards with various sized colour photos of the bride and groom on the back or front, or both. Even more over the top were portrayals of the betrothed as babies, or at different stages of childhood. But the prize went to the Order of Service with a photograph of the couple smiling away in some pub, raising pint glasses, obviously inebriated.

Pictures of the church looked more appropriate. It's a beautiful church, and there were black and white, colour and sketch versions.

Laughing together, we looked through elaborate designs with stuck on flowers, leaves, bows, hearts, ribbons or mesh which decorated every kind of paper and card, plain, pearlescent or embossed. Many of them had obviously been created by bride, groom or obliging relatives, amateur computer nerds, like us.

"Perhaps we should leave it to the professionals?" I said to Kathryn.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Aaron in Afghanistan

Aaron has been in Afghanistan for two weeks now, embedded with the soldiers, as their photographer. Not good timing, just before the wedding. Kathryn wasn’t pleased about him going. But it’s his job.

We got a distressed call from her yesterday, saying that the patrol he’s with had been ambushed by the Taliban. They’d been surrounded and had to fight their way out, with bullets flying everywhere. He thought he was going to die. They escaped. He said how brave and professional our soldiers were. No one was killed, but some of our soldiers were injured.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Computer Therapy (2)

Patricia welcomed me with a smile, her intensely caring expression caused her forehead to crease with concern. Perhaps she feels the need to compensate for the computer's lack of emotion.
“I’ve forgotten my file,” I told her. “I left it on the stairs, by the door, deliberately, so I’d remember. But rushing out... I’m always late,” I admitted, somewhat shame faced. “I forgot to pick it up… sorry.”
It was probably a Freudian slip. I’d not filled in my Activity Diary. To save face, I’d forgotten it. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m not going to send you back for it. Take a seat at the computer. Same as last week, number 3.”

Making sure I clicked the ‘No’ box to the ‘Have you felt suicidal this week?’ question, I completed the intro to Beating the Blues Session 2.
“Did you do the pleasurable activity you agreed to do last week?” the computer generated female voice asked.
I clicked the ‘Yes’ box.
“How much did you enjoy the activity on a scale of 0-8?”
“Good. Well done.” How much are each of your problems distressing you now on a scale of 0-8?"
I typed ‘8’ into the box for each problem.
"I'm sorry you're feeling so bad. Did you have any upsets or disappointments this week?”
“Please type them in below.”
‘My anxiety score has soared this week, due to unexpected events relating to Jon’s release.’
“I’m very sorry about that,” she said, sounding genuinely concerned. “In order to help with your problems, you need to set some goals. Goals should be positive, realistic, specific and measurable.”
She talked me through what positive, realistic, specific and measurable meant. In order to set my goals I had to click through the scenarios again. The unshaven teacher, slumped in a chair, with a glass in his hand said he wanted to talk to other people at least twice a day, even if it’s only a few words. I felt really sad for him.

The goals I typed in were, to react more positively to setbacks; to do a pleasurable task each day and to sleep through the night. How I’ll manage the last one without sleeping tablets is debatable, but the computer never questioned me on that.

“Automatic thoughts which pop into your mind, as thoughts, pictures or memories are the next stage of the program,” she told me. “They are quite normal, but sometimes the thoughts become distorted and negative, and this can lead to anxiety and depression. In order to gain control of these thoughts you have to become aware of them, and this is where the thought record comes in. Your project for this week is to record your negative automatic thoughts NATs. I’ll print off a Thought Diary for you, together with what we’ve learned this week.

Patricia looked concerned as she handed me the printouts. The computer-generated mood monitoring graph showing my anxiety levels went almost off the scale.“See you next week,” she said nervously.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Our garden

Deep purple clematis entwine with japonica, scented honeysuckle and ivy. Dark green leaves edged with gold or tinged with purple form the dense foliage of our vertical garden. A climbing yellow rose, clings to the fence spreading its fragrance all summer long.

It started life as a Japanese garden, minimal, square, no grass, flagged, with two potted Acers, pebbles, a water feature and a statue of the Buddha. But I can’t return from a garden centre without a boot load of plants, which have grown to overflow the pebbles with flowering shrubs, and enclose the Buddha in a dark leafy grotto.

Just now, it's at its peak. Pink and gold begonias, trailing geraniums, and petunias, purple and yellow, tumble from pots on the flagged patio. Enormous lilies, three foot tall, demand your attention. The lilac flowering stalks of a giant hoster blend with the purples of the clematis.

On the rare occasion that it's warm and dry enough to sit outside in the evening, listening to the gentle lapping of the waterfall, night scented stock drenches the air with its perfume.

I love our garden. It’s small, but everyone who comes to our house comments on its beauty.

Tending it is therapy.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood


Yesterday we did a seven mile walk in the Clwydian range and climbed Moely-y-Parc. It was hot, which made the climb harder. We hike every weekend, sometimes with friends and sometimes just Dan and I. Walking, especially with a climb, is my best therapy. The exertion of the climb, the exhilaration on reaching the top, and the stunning beauty of the views (if it's not raining and misty) distance me from all my problems.

Returning home exhausted, every bit of tension driven from my body, is my best sleeping draught.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Phone call from Jon

Unable to blog phone call due to unexpected developments which could influence Jon's release.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

The Big Chill

As a pre-hen, hen party, Kathryn, the bridesmaids and a few other friends went to the Big Chill, a music festival in Herefordshire.

The weather has changed for the better and they had a sunny weekend camping out in the warm summer air. Unlike Glastonbury, earlier in the year, which was a complete washout. They danced till the early hours, drank champayne cocktails and listened to bands and DJs. Norman Jay was the most welknown.

Her real hen party is at the beginning of September in London. I’m flattered that she’s invited me for the weekend. I’m going with my friend, Jayne. I don’t know what will happen as the bridesmaids have organised it, and are keeping mum.

On the train back from my visit to Bath last month, there was a group of women, mostly young, returning home from a hen party in Bristol. Their giggles and bawdy jokes must have either amused, embarrassed or annoyed their fellow passengers. But nothing could dampen their spirits as they recalled the weekend's frolics. They all wore shocking pink tee-shirts with ‘Sexy Hens’ written in silver sparkly stuff across their chests. On their heads they wore matching pink cow-girl hats, trimmed in fur and decorated with the same silver. The bride’s hat was white and had a ‘bride to be’ sticker on the front. She had a pink feather boa around her neck, and sticking out from her bag was miniature pink and silver devil’s fork. What hen party accessories lay in the depths of the bag, I could only imagine.

I wonder what surprises the bridesmaids have in store for us on 1st September?

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Monday, 6 August 2007

Computer says ...?

“Computer says no.” The words immortalised by David Walliams in the comedy Little Britain came to mind as I sat in front of the monitor listening to Patricia, the friendly and sincere admin person, instruct me on how the Beat the Blues program worked.

It was one of three therapies for depression my GP had suggested on my last visit. To have a computer for a therapist was something I had to sign up for, if only out of curiosity, and to impress my friends. This was science fiction.

Patricia, putting on her most understanding expression, explained I would need to complete a questionnaire by clicking in the appropriate boxes, and the computer would assess how depressed or anxious I was each week. From this information it would produce a graph, which would monitor my mood. Her expression became more serious as she said, “There’s one thing I must warn you about. If you click the ‘yes’ box admitting that you have had suicidal thoughts within the last week, I cannot let you leave the building.”
“Right,” I said. Shocked. Thinking that I’d take great care to keep away from the yes button on that particular question. I’m not ready to be sectioned just yet. I'd miss Jon's release. Although I do understand the consequences of those feelings and the need to protect someone from themselves, if necessary.

The program explained what Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is and how depressed individuals have to change their negative, distorted thinking into realistic positive thinking. I'd been through all this with Dorothy my previous CBT counsellor. The program gave four scenarios using individual cases reconstructed from real life. I had to identify with one of them. I chose the harassed, overworked teacher, whose work stress seemed similar to mine. From a bright faced young teacher, he'd became an unshaven slop, who shunned his lesson plans, sat around drinking and verbally abusing his partner. None of the scenarios involved anything like having a son in prison.

“Please type in your first problem,” a computer generated female voice asked.
I typed: 'Anxiety about my son who is in prison 5000 miles from home.'
“I’m very sorry about that,”
the computer said sympathetically. “Please type in your second problem, if you have one.”
'Anxiety about his release from prison which still hasn't been confirmed, and worry about him coming home and his rehabilitation.'
“That’s very distressing,”
the computer said. “Please type in your third problem, if you have one.”
This is weird, I thought to myself. I wonder does she give the same response to every problem that’s typed in. The mischievous side of me wanted to type in something silly just to check, but I stopped myself, and typed in my third problem.
'Worry about returning to work and having to go through inspection. I feel very anxious at the thought of being observed again after the bad experience I had last time.'
“You really have been through it," she said.

She didn't ask for a fourth problem. Would four problems cause her to crash?

My sympathetic computer asked me to choose a task for the week. Something pleasant, which I enjoy. I chose to do my garden, which needs some re-structuring. She said she was printing off an Activity Diary for me to fill in, and all the pages we’d clicked through explaining the process and thinking behind CBT.

She sounded so kind, I wanted to thank her personally. I thanked Patricia instead. She showed me the results of the questionnaire: Computer says anxious and depressed.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Thursday, 2 August 2007

B's Funeral

I found out about her death while on holiday in Wales. Like me she was part of the baby boom, born in 1947. I had know her since we worked together as teenagers. She died three days after her sixtieth birthday. It was her funeral yesterday.

I’ve a wardrobe full of black. But the constant rain had given way to sunshine and humidity, and I wanted to wear a dress. The only appropriate dress I had was the black shift I'd worn for Jon’s sentencing. I thumbed through my wardrobe trying to find it. There it was at the very back. I held it close. Trying it on, I relived the anguish and terror I'd felt about the sentence Jon was going to receive. How my heart thumped as I stood on the podium pleading with the judge for leniency, choking back tears, recalling how my beautiful bundle of energy became a grade A student, an honours degree graduate, and why I felt it all went wrong. I took the dress off, put it back and on the hanger, and returned it to the darkness of the wardrobe.

I wore a black trouser suit and tee shirt with a gold cross and chain that Dan bought me when we were first married.

B was a big, bouncy redhead. She was one of those people who fill a room with their presence. The church was overflowing with friends she’d collected throughout her life, wherever she went. Everyone had a funny story to tell about Barbara.

In a poem, chosen by her, she asked her friends not to mourn her death but to smile and celebrate her life, and have the sixtieth party she wasn’t able to physically attend.

Thank you B for the friendship and support you gave me.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Phone call with Jon

We discussed his literary ambitions, Kathryn's wedding plans, how he is coping with the desert heat and how he'll cope with the English cold and rain on his release.

A change of address on his visitor list could mean that his friend and only visitor won't be able to bring him a variety of Indian dishes on the next food visit day. As his love of Indian food is equalled only by his enjoyment of standing on his head, he gave us the task of emailing her to sort it out.

Still no news on a release date.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood
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