To PhD or not PhD …

etc… that is The Question.

I have had an incredibly exciting day, visiting a Post-Graduate University event, feeling very, very old, collecting my bag, freebie pen and numerous leaflets before being ushered to various stalls.

Where I collected more pens, leaflets and a head full of ideas.

Weirdly, there were bowls of sweets and plates of biscuits at every stand, but I was polite and declined all offers, yet afterwards I wondered – was it a bizarre initiation ceremony? Had I somehow failed by refusing the tempting Jammie Dodger  or Gummi Bears at the Student Union stand?

After whizzing around the stalls (the peeps were beyond helpful and enthusiastic), I had a couple of hours break when I went home to rouse The Teenager from his pit, today being his day off school.

Long story short, I let him sleep (easier), put a wash on, sorted the recycling, had a coffee and headed out to the talk about Creative Writing PhD’s, before heading back to my Uni for a tutorial about the book ‘Omega’, which I read a couple of months back and therefore couldn’t recall a single interesting thing to say.

I waffled.

When I got home, hours after leaving the house, I offloaded the industrial quantity of bananas for The Teenager and told him off for giving the cat a dangerous dose of catnip – she’s currently racing through the house, climbing anything she can find and bouncing off the sofas, wide-eyed and lethal, much to The Teenager’s amusement.

Anyway, my journey to this point has been weird and wonderful – being sacked for having MS, contacting the inspiring author M J Hyland, who encouraged me to start blogging over three years ago, to you guys who nudged me in to publishing a book, to taking a Master’s, to now. And next? PhD?

Am I suited for academia? I don’t know the language, but I have a passion . Is that enough?

Or am I fated to spend my days measuring concrete in square metres and advising customers about the benefits of vinyl over block flooring?

Let me know what you think – and if you offer Gummi Bears as an incentive, I’m all ears …

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Welcome To The Future

nestThe other day, The Teenager was fiddling around with his phone, sighing loudly.

Nothing new there, but this went on and on and I was trying to rewire a plug. With MS hands.

Eventually I chucked the screwdriver down and said, ‘What? What?’

He looked up. ‘Oh, I’m just writing a packing list for Uni. How many pairs of jeans do you think I’ll need? Should I sell my X-Box or keep it?’

Right. Of course.

Through gritted teeth I said, ‘You won’t be starting Uni until 2017. The end of 2017.’

‘Yeah, I know, like, durr.’

‘Sooooo? It’s like, almost two years away?’

‘Mum, would you stop saying ‘like‘, it’s like, sad, y’know?’

I sulked for a couple of minutes as I’m so grown-up, then asked him what the urgency was.

He laid his phone down gently, gave it a little stroke and turned towards me before saying, ‘Mum. I’ve read about this EmptyNesty Syndrome. Do you think perhaps you might have this? Would you like to talk about it?’

I knew it was a mistake for him to study psychology at A level.

Later on that evening, I had a think. I’ve always prided myself on encouraging The Teenager to get out into the world, explore, make mistakes, learn from them. When I was 17, I backpacked round Norway and Scotland for six weeks by myself and I wanted to pass this sense of adventure on to him.

Even though MS has been a feature of his life from the age of 11, I’ve tried my utmost to ensure it hasn’t impinged on it to any lasting degree. I hope he’s gained an appreciation of what it’s like to live with a life-changing event but also to turn it around and make the best of it.

So do I have ‘EmptyNesty Syndrome’? Two years early? I doubt it. Of course, it will be weird living on my own, in any capacity, but I’ll adjust. Life will re-shape itself to accommodate a new way of living and I will be bursting with pride as The Teenager takes his first tentative steps into adulthood.

Now that he can be left on his own for a few hours without setting fire to the house or advertising a party on Facebook, I’ve enjoyed going out with friends, expanding my horizons once more. Last week I went to an open-mic poetry session, next week I’m going to an ‘experimental evening of visual and performance art’ and am in the throes of deciding which scarf and jewellery to wear.

For both of us, life will open up in new ways; I will buy more scarves and he will finally understand that clean clothes don’t magically appear in his bedroom. Result.

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Silent But Deadly

sometimes you just have to pick yourself up and carry onMy MS is fairly silent. (ish)

To everyone else, just not to me.

It screams and yells in my face but is deftly hidden within my body, keeping its deviant symptoms tucked safely away, all the while wreaking havoc.

To other people, I could be a malingerer, a fantasist. A bore.

The biggest problem is in the detail; the description – try explaining in plain English what it feels like when an MS lesion hits the speech part of your brain and you can’t string a simple sentence together?

Or when your hands decide to go on strike; it’s no fun pouring a kettle of hot water over your hands instead of the coffee cup.

Then there’s the biggies – fatigue, balance, foot drop, brain fog. All perhaps innocuous to others but they add up to a walking, talking disaster area for me. Put them all in the MS Blender at once and I am a joke.

It’s why I shy away from actual real-life shopping. Too  much choice for my brain, likelihood of dropping stuff, tripping over shiny floor tiles, looking drunk, fumbling with change at the check-out. Gah. I am the person my mother warned me about.

What about the nerve pain? The constant jangling, buzzing, painful sensations, as if I’m trapped in some ghastly game of Operation, unable to fish out the funny bone. Over and over again.

MS fatigue divides my day in half – great first thing in the morning, useless when the sun goes down. Foot drop follows me wherever I go and I’ve made friends with my local cobbler – as I hand over yet another pair of flat shoes/boots to be re-soled. And as for brain fog – it’s a plague. As I’m sure I mentioned earlier. And maybe before that?

It all adds up to a pretty depressing picture. And it is.

Or could be.

I’m adapting, however slowly. I’m getting used to the curved-swerve-followed-by-the ‘whoops‘. I write endless notes to myself, to jog my battered memory. I hold the bannister when I walk downstairs and I threw out the dodgy shoes long ago. When I trip, I now do it with grace.

As MS takes a new and unexpected turn, so will I, and force it to do things it’s never had to do before, such as our current Master’s module in ‘New and Experimental Writing’.

That’ll teach it.

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That’s No Lady …

ladyI have a problem in work, and it’s not The Boss.

Well he is, but I have another one.

As I’m often to be found on a building site trying to make sense of architectural plans, tripping over wires, getting my hands dirty and generally mucking about with the lads, people sometimes forget that I am actually, ahem, a lady.

Yup, it shocks me too.

So it was with interest that I perused the recent article courtesy of ‘Country Life’, ’39 Steps to Being a Lady of 2015′.

I wish I hadn’t bothered.

Of the 39 steps, I tick only around a third, as I:

  • Never wear shoes I can’t walk in – er, yup. Tick. Huge tick.
  • Would never have Botox – I quite like smiling.
  • Would never own a handbag dog – my cat would disown me.
  • Can handle a sports car and a sit-on mower – does a JCB mini-digger count?
  • Know when a man is spoken for – aren’t they all?
  • Offer the builder a cup of tea – oh yes, and cakes, biscuits and bacon butties. 
  • Cook perfect, crispy roast potatoes – I can, I just choose not to. 
  • Know songs for long car journeys – ‘The Laughing Gnome’ by David Bowie and ‘500 Miles’ by The Proclaimers. Sorted. 
  • Knows how to let a man think it’s his idea – it’s why I’m so good at my job …

Otherwise, I fail miserably. Mind you, some of the points make me wonder exactly what a ‘lady’ looks like in 2015:

  • Can paunch a rabbit, pluck a pheasant and gut a fish, but allows men the privilege – Downton Abbey lives on.
  • Can imitate Piglet and Pooh voices for a bedtime story – back in the day, it was ‘Bob the Builder’ and ‘Pingu‘.
  • Knows when to deadhead a rose – when it falls off?
  • Knows when to take control in the bedroom and the boardroom – hmm. I don’t have a boardroom.
  • Owns a little black dress – nope, I have skinny black trousers and natty flat shoes.
  • Always has a hanky – I truly fail to see how this could make anyone a lady.
  • Can silence a man with a stare and make a dog lie down with a hand signal – and vice versa – if I had this skill, my life would truly change. 

So it seems I am nowhere near being a lady. But you know what? I don’t think I’m missing out. I like handling a massive SDS drill like I was born to it. And I love driving a digger. But I also like shopping for a gorgeous new top and taking two hours to get ready to go out.

MS has pushed me to my boundaries and beyond. It’s only now, at my age, that I am discovering that I really can be … me?

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Right-Hand Woman

armThe boss is suffering.

Not just any old suffering – this is full-blown ‘I’ve broken my right arm – I’m a builder, a builder! – and I’m wallowing‘ kind of suffering.

Add in a lot of cursing and sighing and you get the picture.

We met for coffee before work this morning, as usual; a kind of mini-debrief to go over what I’ve missed as I ‘only’ work part-time.

In the shuffling coffee queue, when I was debating whether or not to have a chocolate twist, I asked him how his arm was. Mistake.

‘Gah. Ah. Ouch. Am in sooooooo much pain.’ He holds his grubby cast up so I could see it. Eww.

‘Have you taken anything?’

‘Taken everything. Nothing touches it. Could you pop two sugars in my coffee and stir it, ta?’

‘How are you feeling, you know, in yourself?’

Horrible. Lousy. D’pressed. Can’t do nothing. Have to shower with my arm in a plastic bag. Dropped my fried eggs on the floor last night. Can’t type. Can’t … do nothing. And the nerve pain. Gah. The pain. You wouldn’t understand.’

I let that one go.

‘What did you do with the eggs?’

‘Huh? Oh, I just somehow scooped them back on to the plate, painfully, dusted them off and ate them.’


Later on, in work, we were having our early-afternoon coffee  and carrot cake, chatting through the project when he suddenly laughed and said, ‘that’s really weird, it’s like we’re one person’.

Hmm. The boss is a good friend of mine, but I wouldn’t go that far.

‘Yeah, it’s like, I’m invalidated, invalided, whatever it is and so are you, so we’re like half a person each. Half and half is, like, one person, innit? We’re down one whole person. S’funny.’

Well. I waited for him to stop laughing, then stopped myself from replying.

I’ve always said laughter is the best remedy when it comes to coping with life-changing events. I have a laugh in work and I know I’m fortunate enough have a flexible, fun, inspiring job, working with my best friend. He was only responding in the same way I do, joshing at himself. Ok, and me, but you know what I mean.

The owners came over shortly afterwards to have a look around and made the mistake of asking how he was.

He held up his grubby cast. I put my earphones in and got on with work.

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