Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Out with the old...

As promised, just letting you know that I'm now writing over here. Hope you can manage a visit because I'm missing you all.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

My dear Faithful

My original intention was that LLFF would potter on forever. I always imagined writing about being vommed on by my kids, moaning about catheters and using my actual Alzheimer's to excuse the sporadic nature of my posts in decades to come. But lately I've accepted that this particular blog has been about a particular time in my life, charting my course through a particular minefield - a field I think I've now passed through.

As a few of you noted long before I did, LLFF's five year narrative arc finally appears to have touched down. I'm not better, but I'm different, and I've had to admit that, over the past few months, I've started to feel like this blog is just something I used to need.

I still love writing and I will continue blogging, but I think I want to do things a bit differently and so I've decided it's time to lay LLFF to rest. Instead, I'm going to try something a bit more structured and a bit less emotional - a new site, a new name, one blog entry a week, no more, no less. I'll post the link up here when I've written the first entry and found a name that's cool enough (suggestions welcome).

This is my 714th entry of LLFF. Since I started writing in the autumn of 2006, its been a massive and special part of my life. I couldn't (and wouldn't) have done it without you. From the very bottom of my very big heart, I thank you all.

With proper wet tears brimming, this is me, Jane, signing out of Lost Looking For Fish one final time. Sayonara.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


It's easy to write about stuff you hate - just string a few sentences together full of vitriol, add in a dash of self-loathing and with a bit of luck you come across as an amusingly opinionated cynic, ripe for quirky dinner party banter and award-winning first dates. Try and write about something you love, however, and the goalposts run a mile. Every phrase seems saccharine and derivative, each observation feels hackneyed and embarrassing. Easier, then, to stick to the criticisms and, on the rare occasions that good things happen, just stick your head in the sand and hope the crap comes back soon so you'll have something to write about before too long.

Occasionally, though, the good stuff is too good to ignore. For the third year running, I went to Glastonbury, and it was extraordinary all over again. Each year's been different - the first, wide-eyed and capped off by the thrill of the Glastocrush, the second, heady and crazed. 2011 was muddy and lovely, a little more calm, a little less extraordinary. There were even times when the rain was falling on Friday that I wondered whether I'd make it to the end. But Glastocrush II kept me going, and the sun came out, and as we drove back to London on Monday, I realised that without really knowing it at the time, I'd once again had one of the best weekends of my life.

It's the most extraordinary place. The music's important, of course, and I saw some great bands (and Beardyman) - but what always takes me a bit by surprise is how little the music really matters, and how much the other stuff counts. Sure, watching live music together is the reason we're all there, it's the supreme sense of belonging, of shared passion, of uncompetitive we-are-one, but when the tunes stop, the collective buzz continues. You see the footage on the TV, all these tens of thousands of people, all the tents, the walking, the mud, the rubbish, and you can't imagine how it could possibly be fun, and then you're there, and we're all there for the same reason, we've all paid our money, we're all standing under the same rain and the same sun, using the same toilets, drinking the same half-flat lager, sharing food and bodily fluids, staying out far too late wandering round fields with skeletons in pickling jars, telling your friends you'll meet them by the hand sanitizers, getting back to the tent after sunrise with your wig askew and your neon facepaint cracked and smeared, and it doesn't matter if you've got £6 in the bank or ten million, you're still either freezing or sweating (never the right temperature) in a tent, with all your worldly possessions ripe for the picking, and yeah, it's not real or sustainable, it's an extraordinary holiday but it has to end, and your liver would probably give up altogether if you carried on my longer, so you come back to London and sure, we're all connected by the city, we're all on the tube for the same reason, we want to get from A to B, but the stuff we share is hidden so deeply beneath all the things that make us different and it's only on the last tube home at weekends that the guards come down and suddenly we're all together again. And I think that's why I want to leave on my Glastonbury wristband after the event, because it acts as a declaration to other attendees - I was there, you were there - a visible reminder that there is another way, even an impractical, overblown, overpriced, overflawed other way, but still - life doesn't have to be like this. But only teenagers keep their wristbands on. I finally cut mine off on Friday and it's now on my bathroom sink, sad and lonely as a wrinkled balloon.

It's well-known that one mustn't make any big decisions the week after Glastonbury - that looking at your life and trying to judge it after you've spent five days fooling around in Pilton - well, it's just not sensible. I came home and, as always, I felt trapped - I didn't want to do the MA, I didn't want to live in London, I wanted to move abroad and drift. But like a good girl, I ignored the voices and carried on with my life, knowing that I'd see sense eventually and that normality wouldn't seem so bad after a few nights' sleep and a few hours sober. And then on Thursday afternoon, I found out that my MA, instead of costing me £4 thousand for the two year course is actually £4k per year, £8k in total. And that's too much, I know it is, for two letters after my name that I already have. I already felt like £4k was a lot to pay for the amount of instruction I was receiving - so double that seems gross. There are other courses, other options. And so the MA's off, the deposit will be refunded, and the lodger's still coming in a couple of weeks, and now I've got this earmarked money to invest in my career and the doors are all open again and I'm drifting and confused. I had too much sleep last night, weird dreams didn't help with the clarity, but I did yoga and meditation this morning and I have a choir concert tonight, and surely some pieces will fall into place soon. I hop up on the handrail of the moving walkway, watch my life go by and see what happens. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Unexpected second post in one day. On reflection, although everything I said earlier about my therapist is 100% true, I feel like I wronged her by what I omitted. Today's session - it has been agreed - was indeed our last, and although I'm free to phone her and ask to start coming to see her again if I change my mind, and although I'm fairly certain that my reasons for leaving are sound, I left her house today and walked the eight or nine minutes back to my house in fairly constant tears. She has been a fantastic therapist and although we differ in many ways, the year I've spent seeing her has, without question, changed me dramatically, and for the better.

Therapy is a complicated beast. I've had two different friends tell me, in the last 24 hours, that they've had it with therapy, that it's not for them. I've been going, on and off, for six years. In that time I've seen five different therapists. All along, I felt like I've been utterly upfront, 100% honest, blunt, articulate, intelligent - in short, the dream client. But of course, I am a nightmare: so persuasive, certainly believing my own bullshit and sometimes even managing to fool them. I finished with my first (lovely) therapist after several months, claiming that I wanted to try a different type of therapy since I'd already said it all but was still feeling really sad. I was fed up with focusing on my past, I explained, and wanted to get better fast. I left her for a CBT therapist, who I didn't like precisely because she refused to focus on my past. But I also met a guy, and went out with him for long enough to persuade myself that I was now complete and not depressed. Then we broke up and I went back into therapy, this time with a Human Givens therapist who was great. He retired after six months, and I felt a bit better. Then I got worse again and went to a new lady. Then I met a guy and got so excited that I stopped going again. Then the guy vanished and I went back. Then I moved house, out of my parents' home and into my current flat, and felt better. Then I felt nagged - not depressed, but certainly like there were issues bubbling. I found my lady this time a year ago.

And, over the months, we've talked about stuff I've NEVER talked about with the other four. I admitted things I'd never even said in my head. It wasn't that this therapist was profoundly better than the others, or that I suddenly felt more able to be truthful: I'd never felt embarrassed about anything with the other four. I'd never knowingly lied.

Therapy is as much about timing and chemistry as any other relationship. It takes commitment and luck. With this lady, for a random convergence of reasons, I was able to get to the nub of the gist. After six years of on-off therapy, I finally found my core, and - with the help of a lot of concurrent reading and thinking and hard work - I let a lot of stuff go, and now I'm a new Jane, still the same, recognisable and true, but utterly changed. And part of feeling more normal is an absolute awareness that I am likely to dip again. I may go on a hundred first dates, all of them rubbish. I may spend two years writing my MA book and then realise it's crap. Or perhaps I'll lose both my legs in a freak burger van accident at Glastonbury tomorrow night. I feel tremendously lucky that I will always have the option of returning to therapy, should I feel like I need it again, and to have the confidence that it'll probably help. For now, though, I want to go it alone. So I am. Going it. Alone.

My therapist doesn't disagree - she can see I'm changed. But she believes that there's more to discuss, and I don't think she's just doing it for the money. As I said in my earlier blog entry, I see her point too: there's definitely more I could say, every week forever. But I want to take this leap and see what happens, and she understands that. She's sad because therapy means something different for her. It's about a relationship. "Don't forget, though, that this isn't a relationship for me," I chastised her. "We're not equals. You know what's going on in your head and mine, but I only know one side of the story. Yes, it's an open agreement, and we've sat in a room together for an hour a week, and you've helped me a lot, you've changed my life, but all along, I've been paying you to sit there. That's like a guy persuading himself that he's in a good relationship because he's got a regular arrangement with a prostitute. Sure, I care what you think. I wish it were deeper than just me paying you to listen. We all want our therapists to like us, to think we're the best client ever, just like Jane and Michael want Mary Poppins to stay forever. We all want to be favourites. But we know it's not possible. I learned early on with my first therapist that there's no point asking questions. You can ask, but you won't get an answer, it'll waste time, and time is money. So we stick to the accepted topic: me.

"You wear a wedding ring but I don't know if your husband's alive or dead - or whether, perhaps, you wear it for show or to see if it makes me react a certain way. I've come to this house every week for a year but I don't know if it's yours or if you just rent this room to do your therapy. I don't know if you have kids. I don't know anything. You know more than most people ever will about me, and I know next to nothing about you. This is not a relationship." She looked at me and I thought she seemed sad. I tried to end on an upbeat note, and we smiled and joked, but when we said goodbye, I felt guilty. I touched her arm, almost maternally, as if to comfort her, and it was only once I was out on the street, where I'd been mugged several weeks before, that I felt able to be upset. I don't think it's that I'm running from the truth, or that I'm in denial about another few layers of misery: I feel free to go back to therapy at any time. I think it's just that I like her and she likes me, and that we both know we'll probably never see each other again, and that that is sad. I know it's time for me to move on. I cried, and then I stopped, and now I'm going to Glastonbury.


So the 44 year old father of three got a new job in Leeds and it turned out that he didn't want to come and live in London after all, and I felt a bit outraged that he only thought to tell me this on the day he was meant to be coming round and viewing the flat, and once again it exacerbated the feeling I've had all along that looking for a lodger is a bit like looking for a boyfriend, except they move in straight away and pay you, so it's a bit like a really intense prostitution arrangement without the sex. OK, this analogy's never going to work.

But basically, you have to advertise your flat, and your room, and take really nice photos, and then, because you're looking for someone to live with you, you have to show a photo of you too, and I used one of me looking down-with-the-kids at a festival in an attempt to scare off all the old people who want somewhere impossibly quiet to live. My flat (me) received a LOT of attention, which made me feel good about my interior design skills (my appearance). But in the end I only considered now-confirmed-to-be-selfish father-of-three and one other man, who didn't ask me a single question in our hour-long get-to-know-each-other session, but who shares many of my interests and doesn't seem to be the kind of person who'll have noisy late night phonecalls (sex partners). So that's confirmed: I have a new lodger. I feel like I'm growing.

The ganglion update is as follows: as we all know, the skin on the back of one's hand is very wiggly and stretchy, you can push or pull it around a great deal, in comparison (for example) with the skin on the palm of your hand, which is stuck to the tendons or whatever there is below it, and can't move. The flexibility of the skin on the back of the hand is quite important as it allows you to wiggle your fingers and rotate your wrist and all sorts of other things. After I'd had the operation, the doctor told me that as the scar tissue forms, it tries automatically to fasten to the tendons etc. below it, and if left alone, the skin around the incision would affix to that point in my hand. He'd put a bit of some special doctor's fabric in there (probably a bit of old T-shirt) to stop the scar from sticking to the back of my hand, but he said that I would need to massage it with some moisturising cream or oil for a few weeks to try and encourage it not to stick. He was quite blasé about the whole thing and I felt unworried.

It's now nearly ten days later and the skin is definitely stuck. I've been massaging the whole freaking time, even though it does not feel in any way pleasant. I'm not sure if I'm meant to be rubbing gently to gradually encourage the skin to loosen, or if I should be doing a semi-invasive deep tissue rub to break down the tissue. Neither seem to work. My left hand is loving all the attention and increased oil: I will inevitably age dramatically differently on each side as a result and end up as an eighty year old, gnarled, veiny, hooked on the right and youthful, soft, plump on the left. While the cut looks to be healing very nicely and is now just an inch-long, rose-pink pale line, the scar tissue beneath (presumably still with a few undissolved stitches within) remains raised and ridgelike, leaving a small hump approximately half the height and interest of my original ganglion. Plus, because the skin is stuck, it means I can't bend my wrist very far in either direction, so yoga and/or violent waving are both out. This is a loss for my health, mental state, and the enjoyment of departing guests.

I am finding the whole thing less and less funny and, while I was never one to listen avidly to my dad's opinions of my appearance, in future I will be even less likely to take his advice if he starts suggesting I ought to get something looked at.

Anyway, I really wanted to write a perfectly-weighted, immaculately-crafted blog entry for a change, but once again time has run faster than I can, and I am leaving work in less than 1.5 hours to walk out in the bucketing rain towards what will hopefully be my last ever therapy session for some time. I've been trying to leave for weeks, but she insisted on a minimum of four weeks to summarise and wind down, and then she heavily implied that I would be missing a trick (making the biggest mistake of my adult life) if I didn't carry on, and that I'm only letting myself down etc. etc., and of course, child that I am, her resistance only makes me tug harder to get free.

She's been trying everything to make me stay, to the extent that I then said I'd stay if it was free but that I can think of a lot of other fun things I can do for £45 a week, and then she pounced on that with an alacrity that reminded me of that really sweet little dinosaur in Jurassic Park who gets angry and SUDDENLY these huge red wing-ed flaps come out of its head and neck and it's the scariest thing of all time. Obviously in real life all she did was shift imperceptibly in her chair but I knew that she was saying that I'm using money as an excuse to finish, that really I am scared of all the terrible truths I will uncover in future sessions and I'm running away from something that could be enormously painful but enormously beneficial.

But like I've told her over and over again, I am just FREAKING BORED OF IT ALL. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm sure there's more I could talk about with her, certain of it, but for now, I've had enough. I've said it over and over again for the past few sessions, and then dutifully paid her £45 for the experience, and now I'm going to do it one last time, and then take the tube to Tooting and get my eyebrows threaded, and then go home and pack for Glastonbury, and then leave tomorrow morning and get trench foot and liver dialysis. See you on the other side.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Capital Lettters Are BACK

The bandages are off and what you can see if you look at the photo is the inch-long wound that's been left behind following my ganglion and metacarpal boss extraction/planing just under a fortnight ago. It is minging enough, but when you add in the fact that 1) the gash itself is slightly blackened with the remnants of the indelible marker line, drawn on by the surgeon to show him where to make the incision; 2) either side of the cut, there are weird, corpse-like, wrinkled splits of skin caused by the adhesive sutures that I've been wearing for two weeks, and 3) the clear lesson I think we've all learned about not sunbathing while wearing a rectangular bandage... well, I am sure you can agree that it is not a pretty sight. Still, it's done now and is unarguably a MASSIVE improvement on a bean-sized, mostly-painless lump that no one but my dad ever noticed. Definitely worth it.

During my recuperation, several things have happened to me, the most life-altering of which is that I have accepted a place on an MA course in Creative Nonfiction (think true stuff written in a narrative, story-like way: Bill Bryson, Jon Ronson, Lost Looking For Fish), starting in September. This will involve lectures on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 6-9pm, plus reading approx. one book a week, plus writing a full, long-form work of non-fiction, at least 60,000 words long, to be submitted in two years - or else I fail. I was offered the place a while ago and went through a fairly gut-wrenching process as I decided whether or not I could or should do it, the world doesn't need any more books, what right do I have to write etc. etc., but in the end, lack of a better idea pushed me over the edge and I paid my deposit on Monday. I'm now skint as all my savings are locked into a special account until next February, so I am getting a lodger. The one I want is a 44 year old man who lives in Yorkshire with his wife and three daughters, and only needs the room on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It's all go.

In the meantime, I have been wincing over the government's climbdown over the NHS (although OBVIOUSLY I'm glad that they've realised what a lot of mistakes they were making, the whole process has still been a sad waste of everyone's time and money); crying at Terry Pratchett's assisted dying documentary (Monday night - watch it on iPlayer if you missed it - I wasn't crying because I didn't think they should die with assistance, I was just crying because nice people dying before they want to is sad); eating doughnuts but not gaining weight (I appear to be in that cruel, all-too-brief, magic metabolism zone); spending many pounds having my hair cut and dyed to the point where absolutely no one has noticed; going to my favourite London night out of the year, the UK Beatboxing Championships finals, where the crowd is more genuinely diverse than at anything else I attend, a broad sweep of audience by gender, race, age and social group. Plus it's purely about talent - no interviews with the finalists, no sob stories, no Dead Wife Daniels, just young lads - still no girls on stage :( - who practice hard and are very very good at what they do. Tickets £11. Amazing. Oh, and I saw the ridiculously sad Senna, and was a bit ashamed when I admitted to myself that I wouldn't have been quite as sad if he hadn't have been pretty much one of the most attractive men I have ever stared at. Because apparently, in the appalling world of my head, ugly people dying in Formula One accidents isn't as tragic. Seriously, I don't deserve to say things out loud.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

lower case update

ok well it was briefly quite fun being injured but i am v bored of it now. i cant write without looking like i am six and holding my crayon in a fist. i cant hold my book open on the tube. i start writing text messages and by the time i've finished them the recipient has died. it takes me fifteen minutes to put my bra on, a process that now involves yelping. doing up trousers is too irritating to attempt. typing seems briefly ok if i hold veeeeeeery very still but then suddenly i'll over-extend and i'll pull my stitches and it brings tears to my eyes.

still, on the upside, apparently even with my swollen hand covered in iodine, bandaged, bruised and hangng limply from a sling, my father said that visually it is a massive improvement from what was there before, so monstrous was my half-grape-sized ganglion. its unconditional love like that which is really something special, i think. young parents take note. love you daddy. for better or worse, the offending object has now been removed, along with a previously undiscovered metacarpal boss, which sounds like a leader of the fish mafia, but is in fact a bit of unnecessary bone that the nice doctor also planed off while he was digging around in there. the bullish, michael-winner-style anaesthetist wouldn't allow me to have a local anaesthetic because apparently i might flinch inadvertently, which was a disappointment, and in my pre-op excitement i forgot to ask for my presentation pot, but apparently i may be left with a scar so i will still have a souvenir and can tell people i was injured while doing something unspeakably cool like stage-diving at lollapalooza, rather than having cosmetic surgery on an unwanted cyst.

stitches are coming out on friday, all being well. i imagine iwill have a few sense of humour failures between now and then, but the whole living-with-only-one-hand-and-not-the-hand-you-write-with thing has been educational i suppose, and it's nice to have a break from the old routine. i did wonder whether my job satisfaction was at a worrying nadir when i realised i'd actually prefer to have an operation than go in to work last thursday, but i compared notes with kate who said that variety is all-important and that much as she loves her job, she was still looking forward to this wednesday's fire training with some degree of excitement.

i have much to say on several topics but nothing that cant wait until my touch typing is back to 100wpm. your patience will be rewarded at an unspecified future date.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Whatever next

The problem with doing something as accidentally funny as sending your boss to a strip club is that nothing else seems worth writing about. Also I have undergone a substantial, Nietzsche-driven epiphany over the past few weeks, and have become unimaginably calm about existence, which means that my usual ability to ramble on for thirty eight paragraphs detailing my intense self-loathing has evaporated. I'd explain what's changed although I think it might ruin it. Plus I don't think I can say it better than Gary Cox, and wholeheartedly recommend his concise, funny, life-changing book to anyone with a vague interest in a) facing up to reality and b) managing to be pretty happy while accepting the inherent absurdities. Am now whipping through the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, which is so good that I regularly start underlining a pertinent phrase and then, ten lines later, realise I should probably stop if I don't want to be drawing disappointingly wonky lines in black biro over the entire book. And, while the contents are amazing, there is also the added bonus that getting out an oversized cream-coloured tome emblazoned with The Denial of Death while standing on a packed Northern Line train - well, it does give one a bit of a frisson.

So yeah, I'm actually kind of happy. I'm in my own little world but it's the best one I've got. I've been off anti-depressants for several months, I've been through a (minor) break-up without completely breaking down, and following a period of intense vulnerability, I'm now in the process of winding up my therapy. It's been almost exactly a year since I started with my current lady and the journey's been extraordinary (for me), painful (for me, my parents and my friends) and worthwhile. I could obviously find many hours of stuff to blather on to her about each week from now until the end of time, but there's something in me that wants to go it alone for a bit. I guess I feel like it's now a luxury rather than a requirement, and besides, it'll be nice to save the money (read: buy more neon vest tops). I'm positive I'll be back at some point but right now, I'm counting down to Glasto and looking forward to life being a bit simpler for a while.

However, when you take into account the fact that I don't really have much to say about the inside of my head any more and that, post-AV referendum, my interest in politics has fallen like Cheryl Cole out of Air Force One (assuming of course that the Americans had strapped loads of those scuba diving weights onto Cheryl as otherwise she'd just waft gently down to earth like a sycamore seed), then you might begin to wonder (as I have) what in the name of all that is irrelevant or self-absorbed I will find to write about ever again. I know that issues like the NHS and the schools system are still vital, but somehow it's hard to care since the way that parties get elected is so very different to the way they have to govern, and such a small percentage of the country has the power to change anything. It's like getting emotionally involved with a heroin addict - you always end up getting hurt. We get the politicians we deserve, and I think I'm going through a period of educated stropping.

So I'm spending my time not reading the papers, not thinking about myself in particular, not worrying about very much at all, just getting things organised, hoping the sun keeps shining, trying not to eat pizza more than once a day, telling myself that my ganglion operation tomorrow will be fine and wondering whether asking if I can watch is a good idea. It's been inside my hand for so long, though - who can blame me for being curious about its extraction? I think it will be smooth and white, like a baby quail's egg. Ew. The amuse bouche from hell: ganglions with mustard salt.

On that delightful suggestion, I'll let you get on. Not sure when I'll be typing again, or what I will think of to write about given that my two main muses have left me, but perhaps I'll think of something and will be able to dictate to a minion. Alternatively if there's a topic you feel I should be addressing, inspiration is always welcome. Happy Wednesday.

Thursday, 26 May 2011


Well that was quite amusing. My boss was going to a lunch today at White's, which is an old-school members' club in London. On Tuesday he asked me to book him a cab, so I went on Google to find the address. I was expecting it to be in Mayfair or St. James', but on typing 'White's private members club London' into the searchbox, the first result that came up on Google maps was in Aldgate. Odd, I thought, but pasted the address into the Outlook calendar entry, booked the cab and forgot about it.

At 12:30 this afternoon, I got a call from my boss. He was in the taxi, outside White's Club on Leman Street, Aldgate. It turns out that members' club means different things to different people. I'd sent my boss for lunch at a strip joint.

I tried to apologise through the laughter, but annoyingly, saying sorry while cackling with uncontrollable mirth didn't communicate the sincerity I'd intended. The idea of my unbelievably clean-living, teetotal, 11% bodyfat, immaculately-dressed boss expecting a stiff-upper-lip English club and getting a lunchtime dose of fake tan, fake boobs and diamante thongs at a tacky City lapdancing venue was just too good to be true. I have since researched the establishment a little further; a review on ViewLondon by Jason1976 suggests it is just the kind of place any self-respecting man about town would hope to find himself for a business lunch on a Thursday afternoon: "Had my stag do at Club Whites this week and my first visit will definitely not be my last, as soon as we were lead to our VIP room i knew this was going to be the stag night i only dreamt of." Another reviewer, Sweeting, adds: "I tell you what, this club is rated as the best , i am never disappointed when i go , it's true that i go there pretty often but what i am saying is the truth, this club has it spot on in my opinion and i recommend highly once again, the girls , the management, could'nt be better."

When I eventually stopped laughing and was reassured that he hadn't even got out of the cab and was now safely on his way back to the office, I found the phone number of the old-school White's and tracked down the intended lunch date to apologise; thankfully, he also saw the funny side. I then emailed his PA to explain what had happened who comforted me with a tale of a friend of hers who once sent her boss to Manila instead of Milan. I guess - as ever - things could have been a little worse...

In unrelated matters, I received the below in an email yesterday and it made me laugh. There is, I'll admit, an element of recognition in my response although I SWEAR I haven't knowingly burned down a house yet. Y'know, though, never say never...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Vigilant Idiot

"Be a bit vigilant," I suggested to you all last Friday. Advice, like criticism, is clearly something I can give but not take.

The time: approximately 08:48. The date: today, Tuesday, 24 May. The place: Northern Line carriage, northbound. I am leaning against a glass partition, listening to Alexander by Alexander, and playing a game on my phone. There is not enough room for me to extract my book from my overflow bag and certainly no space to annotate. I am reading Becker's Pullitzer Prize winning The Denial of Death and it requires annotating. So iJewels it is.

At Bank, there is always an exodus, but today's is even more pronounced than usual. Out of the corner of my eye, it appears that there are four vacant seats behind me, the other side of the partition, two facing two. A woman walks towards one of them. Without pausing iJewels, I swivel around the edge of the partition and reverse into another.

It is not vacant.

I have lowered myself into someone's lap.

It is the funniest thing I HAVE EVER DONE. I squeal, leap up and turn around. My victim is a diminuitive Asian female, probably in her mid-thirties, wearing headphones. She is finding it a bit funny but not really. The rest of the carriage is giggling quite a lot. I apologise with all the sincerity I can manage, while laughing uncontrollably. She gestures to the seat next to her, which does not appear to have anyone sitting in it. I get the message and lower myself down once again, thankfully without incident. My game of iJewels is a write-off.

It is nice to laugh. The worst fall-out from The Incident has been at night - I couldn't get to sleep before 4 or 5am, and when I did doze off, I dreamed bad things. On Sunday night I woke up early due to a full-blown panic attack, my hands round my neck, unable to breathe properly for several minutes, lots of asthmatic-style wheezing. Fun fun fun! But last night (Monday) I popped a Melatonin and slept right through. Today I feel like a new woman.

The days have been largely OK - I've just kept myself busy and, if I do remember what happened, I just remind myself how much worse it could have been. I do think it's clever, though, that despite my conscious mind's failure to maintain Red Alert, my unconscious is still doing its job. I was in Paperchase on Sunday picking out a birthday card, totally focused on the task at hand: the mugging couldn't have been further from my mind. But suddenly I felt something brush past me and I leapt as if I'd been tasered. I gasped, whipped around and my potential attacker revealed herself as a four year old in an elaborate princess dress. Similar things have happened several times - a lady stood on a plastic bag yesterday on the pavement and it burst surprisingly loudly - jaded city-girl that I am, I'd normally not even reacted, but yesterday I jumped melodramatically to one side and squealed like a TOWIE cast-member receiving a BAFTA. Clearly, although I've reverted to my casual self on the surface, there's still a good bit of heightened awareness bubbling away underneath. No wonder I can't sleep without 'erbal assistance.

Anyway, the long and short of it is this: thank you all for your kind messages of support. It's meant a lot. And I feel a great deal better as a result. You don't need to worry about me, I'm alive and lap-dancing. Let normal service resume.

Friday, 20 May 2011

I Woz Robbed

I literally was. And it's not like me to shy away from a dramatic encounter, but I've been dreading this. Still, for some weird reason I want to put it in writing.

I posted my last blog entry at 15:29 on Wednesday. Thirty minutes later, I left work, walked to the tube station and boarded the southbound Northern Line to go see my therapist. Usually, I cycle to her house every Wednesday. I quite enjoy the twenty minute blast of air - it's a useful chance for me to get my thoughts in order before I spent one hour and £45 discussing them with a paid professional. Wednesday night, though, was to be book club, and I still had thirty-odd pages of the book left. I thought I'd use the tube journey to try and finish the last section.

I got to her stop, took the lift up to street level, and began the familiar 8-minute walk to her house through a mixture of quiet Victorian squares and across a couple of arterial main roads. Gripped by the final few pages of The Wisdom of Whores (well, gripped plus my usual I-can't-believe-this-writer-is-such-a-dick scoffing), I approached my therapist's house while looking down at my book, a biro and my iPhone (to tell me whether I was on time or not - I don't wear a watch) in my left hand, my handbag over my left shoulder. The streets weren't busy - I saw a father and son walking home from school, and an elderly woman coming back from the shops - but I was pretty free to walk along reading without worrying that I was going to bump into anyone.

At 16:29 I was about two doors away from my destination when a man seemed to jump in front of me and grab me round the neck. I was utterly terrified and simultaneously completely confused. My hands shot up to my neck to prevent him from hurting me, and I tried to back away but his hands came with me. I couldn't see what he looked like, his head was up close to my shoulder, and helpfully I think I closed my eyes in fear. Within a couple of seconds I was screaming and thought very clearly, "Jesus CHRIST that is a lot of noise you're making." It wasn't a dramatic, Hollywood heroine scream, but rather an uber-womanly, gutteral noise, like when Pippa The First found out she'd lost her baby in Home & Away. I wasn't enjoying the fact that this was the sound I made under duress, but I couldn't stop. I screamed and screamed, and threw in a couple of desperate "Get off me!" attempts at the guy, but he didn't give up. I'd known he wouldn't give up, but I wanted someone to hear me shout - I hoped they might come and help me. It was a quiet road but I didn't know what else to do other than make a racket.

Give it to me," he started saying after a few seconds of struggle. "Fucking GIVE it to me." I couldn't feel the blade of a knife but I knew he might have one. I was absolutely prepared to give him what he wanted but I couldn't work out what it was: his hands were near my neck, but my bag was still over my shoulder and my phone was still in my hand. Then it clicked - he wanted my necklace. At pretty much the precise moment I worked it out, the chain finally gave way, and he hared off up the street. It had been about ten seconds, fifteen at most. I was left alone, sitting on the pavement, my glasses three or four feet away, my book out in the street, my splintered biro across the road by the wheel of a parked car. My neck was stinging a lot and there was a cut from his fingernail in the flesh of my left hand. Without all the screaming it was eerily quiet.

I thought about standing up but then realised I didn't want to. I stayed there. A few seconds later, a woman approached from the left.
"Are you OK?" she said. I didn't really know what to say, so I didn't say anything. I just stared into the gutter. "You're not OK."
A man came out of another house, saw what was going on and went back to get his phone to call the police. I just sat there, shocked and upset that I was going to waste a good chunk of my urgently-needed therapy session on this stupid guy who took my necklace. The woman introduced herself. I managed to confirm that I was basically fine, that I'd lost some jewellery. My wool dress was ripped and she said I had bad scratches on my neck. The man passed the phone to me and confirmed that the police were on their way. I gave a few details and handed the phone back. Then I rung my therapist's doorbell. She'd heard the screams, but hadn't known it was me. In London, you hear screaming at night, it's drunken morons - during the day, it's stupid kids. You don't react to screams. I don't.

The police pulled up, only about three or four minutes after the guy had called them. Two male officers got out of the car.
"Get in," they said to me. "Let's go see if we can find him."
The tears started in earnest then. I knew I'd not got a good look at the guy and I really didn't want to go after him. My main concern could have been so easily explained if I'd managed to articulate it: what are we going to do if we find him? I'd be in the back seat. Say we find the guy - then what? He gets into the back seat with me and we sit side by side? You put him in the back seat and I get out and sit on the lap of the police officer in the front? You leave me at the side of the road while you drive back to the station with him? I didn't want to see my attacker again. I didn't want him to be able to identify me, not ever. I just wanted it to go away.

I told them I didn't want to go, that I didn't want to see him and that I was pretty sure I'd be unable to recognise him even up close. The policemen looked really frustrated and I realised then how pumped up they both were. The adrenaline was flowing and they wanted to go catch a thief. I just wanted to forget about it, sit in a wingback chair and discuss my existential crisis. I knew I was being unhelpful but I left the two helpful neighbours talking to the police and, with a few apologies, took refuge in my therapist's sitting room.

I cried a lot over the next thirty minutes or so. The session was a write-off and I came out of her house pretty rattled, terrified. I didn't want to go home so, as planned, I went to Emily's house for book club. On the tube I took a photo of some of my scratches. I'd not seen them in a mirror and I wanted to see what had happened. They made me feel sick. And then I wrote down what I could remember. How my first thought was about wasting my therapy session. How annoyed I was that the guy had been black, how time and time again the stereotypes are backed up, how hard it gets to blame the police for being racist. How I'd wondered if I could call my recent ex and ask him to meet me at the tube tonight, and how straight away my grown-up voice had come into my head, saying, "You manipulative BITCH." How I knew straight away I'd be using my vulnerability to get his pity and affection. How the police's hunger had scared me almost as much as had the attack. How I started worrying that the scratches would fade before book club and I wouldn't be able to show anyone my war wounds. How one minute I'd thought it would make a good blog entry, and the next I was shuddering at how terrified I felt. How I had always been able to say that I'd never been mugged, and how I'd always thought it was because I was tall and strong-looking, and how maybe this meant that I'd lost so much weight that I now looked vulnerable, and that in a way it was a bizarre compliment. And how fucked up that made me, that I was in a tiny glad to be mugged because it meant I looked THIN.

And so I got to book club, and I told Emily, and then I told Kate when she arrived, and then the others came I really didn't want to talk about it any more, and then I had a lot of white wine and felt a lot better, and at the end of the night, I walked back to the tube with Ness, and a guy came up to us, close up, and asked if we could spare any change, and I leapt into Ness like Scooby-Doo into Shaggy, so then I had to explain to her why I was so jumpy. And I got home OK, determined to walk into my flat alone even though Ness had offered to accompany me, and I got into bed and turned off the light, and all I could feel was my scratches stinging and all I could hear was his whispered, urgent voice going, "Give it to me, fucking GIVE it to me," and so I put on a podcast and slept fitfully.

Yesterday I got up and went into work, and the police came and took a statement, and then later in the afternoon, a forensics guy came around and photographed my scratches and the cut on my hand, and although I knew it was no big deal, after he'd gone I think the tiredness overwhelmed me and I did a fair bit of crying. Today I've had a row with my insurance company, and it just doesn't seem to stop. But I know it will.

The necklace was my favourite. It was a long gold chain with a gold pear at the end, the pendant given to me by my parents, the chain handed down to me by mum, although it had been given to her by dad when they were first married. I remember being in my mum's arms as a toddler and playing with the chain, and as a grown-up I've loved wearing it. The guy didn't get the whole chain - it snapped in two places and I was left with a small section of it. I never want to see it again. My ripped dress is in the bin, next to my laddered tights and the biro he must have crunched underfoot as he ran away.

I couldn't sleep last night either - it's one of those times when you tell yourself not to think of elephants. I was up late playing crappy computer games on my phone, trying not to replay the details, wonder why he'd not stolen my phone, or ask myself whether he'd seen me on the tube and got a good look at the necklace so decided to follow me along those streets, whether he'd still have grabbed me ten seconds later when I would've been two doors further down and in my therapist's front garden. I know it's just bad luck, that it could have been so much worse, that this is what you get in modern life, that he was desperate, that the memories will fade, that I'm healthy, that the scratches don't really sting now, that there won't be any scars, that it wasn't near my house, that it was only a theft, that it happened in daylight, that I will sleep well again. But right now, I'm still pretty wobbly, and I don't like it one tiny bit.

Anyway. It's done now. I've spoken to the police, the insurers, my parents, my boss, and my Faithful. It's over. Just hope my crappy Alzheimer's memory selects this as one of the 97% of all events it chooses to forget. Wishing you all a happy weekend. Be a bit vigilant. Love all the people.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Staged In Chelsea

I can't really comment on Made In Chelsea as I haven't seen it, but I'm not entirely sure I will ever see it, and if I don't watch it then I think it will be hard for me to review it with any authority (although by no means impossible given that, as a pop journalist, I managed to review several hundred films and albums without ever seeing them or listening to them. I also 'wrote' a lot of interviews without actually speaking to the celebrity in question, and put together countless horoscope and problem pages despite never having been an astrologer or an agony aunt. I don't even have any siblings and was unmarried, so any readers who checked up on my background could have established fairly quickly that the chances of me being an aunt were slim to none. I suppose I do have some experience of agony. But these are stories for another time).

ANYWAY. This is not a review of Made In Chelsea. It is more a series of concerns.

First of all: I do not understand this new genre of programming, which seems to have been spearheaded by, I believe, The Hills in the US, and is now sweeping our weak-willed nation in the form of The Only Way Is Essex and the aforementioned Made In Chelsea. I watched about ten minutes of TOWIE a few months ago, and just couldn't get a grip. Fiction, I get: ideally, some clever people sit around in a room and construct a narrative storyline with which to entertain or educate their audience. Then they turn the storyline into a tightly-woven script. Then actors learn the words and, with the help of a director, interpret them for our viewing pleasure. We are given an elaborately-constructed tale and we are free to enjoy it as we wish. Then there is reality TV. I get that too: at its best, some clever people come up with a format and then invite a selection of the general public to appear in front of the camera for us to watch. Programmes in this genre can entertain and inform (Big Brother, C4's The Family), challenge popular conceptions (Wife Swap), or just feed our obsession to see celebrities humiliate themselves while we use our button-pushing power to decide who has to eat maggots (I'm A Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here). Like it or not, reality TV has been an extraordinarily successful shift in the way we make and consume television, and it's here to stay.

But TOWIE and MIC aren't fiction. And they're not reality. They're exaggerated versions of real people, in staged situations. It's like a fictional series, but with untrained actors. And I just don't get it. In typical Six Degrees of Private Education fashion, several people in the choir with which I sing have firsthand connections with the poshoes in MIC. One of them has been asked by the production team to supply a list of handsome gay male model types, so that the show's Ollie (who somehow has a girlfriend but is clearly gay) can come out with one of them in a future show. From what I'm told, there is no way his 'girlfriend' seriously believes he's straight, nor that he loves her. It is all just an act. But there's the rub: these people can't act. Watching TOWIE was excruciating - not because of the people or the storylines, but because it was sub-Neighbours. The script was rubbish - because there wasn't one. The acting was rubbish - because they're not acting. But all the oh-my-god, I-can't-believe-he-really-said-that shocks that come from reality TV was missing too, because it's not really real. It seems like the worst of all worlds.

Still, people seem to love watching these over-wealthy twenty-somethings blowing their inheritance in south west London. My friend Lucy last night had tears of laughter in her eyes as she ramped up her posh accent and did an impression of Ollie talking to a group of his friends at a dinner party. "Guys, yah? As you all know, it's my BUTHday next week, yah? And I thought, why don't we all do something CRAZY, yah? Like, let's go skiing?" And I get that that is agonising. I get that these crazy rich young people are jaw-droppingly clueless, and that they live on another planet and that that's possibly funny. But the fake-real issue ruins it for me. Because if the setting is a set-up, then what they're saying's probably fake too, and thus we're laughing at people who are pretending to be bigger idiots than they actually are, because reality's not good enough, and no one would believe it if it was totally acted. Sounds lame to me. Might watch the next one though.

In other news, a glitsch (read: MASSIVE COCK-UP) by Blogger last week appears to have reset every single Show Me You Love Me box at the bottom of my blogs (except those I've posted post-glitsch) to a count of one. This disappoints me. And of course, I can tell you about it now, Faithful, and you might be able to let it slide, but what about all the millions of new visitors I will get in future, who perhaps won't read this particular paragraph, but go instead directly to entries I wrote pre-wipeout? They will think that only one person enjoyed what I wrote enough to depress their index finger on their left mouse button, thus clicking a checkbox and making me unbelievably happy. They will then, naturally, conclude that I am a CRAP WRITER. Which is so annoying. I HATE that a total stranger who I will probably never meet will think that about me. OUTRAGEOUS. HOW DARE S/HE. S/HE MUST LOVE ME.

The only solution I can find that will compensate for this lost data and subsequent negative fallout is for Blogger to give me one million pounds. Failing that, I think Blogger should put a disclaimer at the top of each of my affected posts, saying "At the bottom of this entry by Lost Looking For Fish, you will find a checkbox that allows readers to demonstrate that the words above had bought them some pleasure, or, at the very least, not caused them discomfort. Many hundreds of people had ticked the box. However, due to us being really really bad at our jobs in mid-May 2011, the data was lost, and, by the time you read this, it is likely that the count of people who have ticked the box appears to be a measley 'one'. We humbly inform you that this single box-tick is a technical error and is in no way an accurate reflection of the standard of Lost Looking For Fish. We are well aware that this incident will impact negatively on your reading experience: after all, no sane person wants to read an unpopular blog entry. For this, we apologise unreservedly. Please be assured that Lost Looking For Fish is one of the most entertaining and important blogs in the Blogger canon. We hope you enjoy the rest of your reading experience. Best wishes, the Blogger Support Team." That or a million pounds, Blogger - which is it to be?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Defensive much?

So Woody Allen, CBT psychologists, Human Givens therapists (my current score: 5/10) and many others agree that too much time alone is pretty much guaranteed to spin us out. Excessive rumination is not good, they say. I too concur. But I also think that too much denial - keep busy, keep busy, and for god's sake don't look the demon in the eye - isn't a long-term solution either; these volcanoes have a habit of erupting eventually.

Yeah, OK, probably if I wasn't in a job where I have several hours a day without much to distract me, I wouldn't be having these thoughts so often. But as we all know, there are tons of people out there in super-hectic jobs, who are still only one passive aggressive remark away from a nervous breakdown, and there are also a lot of employees with crushingly dull jobs who are more likely to actually melt than have a meltdown.

What's my point? Dunno really. I guess I'm trying to defend myself against some faceless individuals who believe that if I had a more fulfilling job, everything would be OK. I'm saying: a) I can't think of a more fulfilling job that I would both like to do and am qualified to do, and b) I need this salary because I own a flat on my own, have a huge mortgage on interest only, and not much of a safety net, and yes, I could get rid of the flat and then take some amazing low-paid job, but then I'd be without something that brings me a LOT of security and pleasure, and also please refer back to a).

You might think I'm having this existential crisis precisely because there's so little on my plate. Chicken and egg, I'd say - maybe you're right, but I'm pretty sure it would have happened eventually, and personally I maintain that it's lucky I'm having it now while I've got nothing else to do. It is, I reckon, perfect timing. I snog my crisis, squeeze its bum, and we walk off together into the sunset, leaving you and your happy balanced lifestyle playing alone on the beach, realising it's got quite cold suddenly and that you forgot your cardigan.

On the flipside, I thought I should update you on the mundane details, since we haven't done that for a while:

1. I still take Hair, Skin and Nails supplements from Boots and remain happy with the results.
2. Brown & Harris moisturiser (received in goody bag at Christmas) is fractionally more effective than smoothing water over your hands and arms, but not much. Admittedly it does smell more strongly than (most) water, which might be considered to be in its pro column, depending on whether or not you like the aroma of Muguet des Bois, or Lily of the Valley.
3. I watched Bright Star, about the poet Keats' relationship with his neighbour, Fanny. It made me cry a lot but I also thought it was quite silly.
4. I have decided that Rimmel 60 Seconds nail varnish is the best.
5. It is annoying because I have had my glasses frames for ages but I don't think I will ever find ones I like better than these, so I can't buy new ones. Good for my bank balance but bad for my potential to reinvent myself.
6. I received an email this morning, subject line 'Your Glastonbury tickets are being delivered today'. That made me happy.
7. Crunchies and Daim (The Chocolate Bar Formerly Known As Dime) are my current winners. I think I possibly ODed on Lindt with sea salt.
8. If I was only allowed to buy clothes from one shop for the rest of my life, I would choose Marks & Spencer. My back-up would be ASOS but I don't think their bras are good enough.
9. I have booked in a date to have my hideous ganglion removed. The surgeon offered me a general anaesthetic but after my hideous wisdom teeth experience I said I'd rather have a local, which he said was fine, but apparently in addition to the local, they will also put me to sleep in some way that isn't a general anaesthetic, because I might get stressed. This is annoying as I want to watch. It has been in my hand for years, it would be nice to put a face to the name. But then I think the reality of seeing inside my own hand might be freakier than I imagine. Apparently I can decide on the day. The day is the 2nd June. Pop it in your diaries now so you don't forget to send me MASSIVE BOUQUETS OF FLOWERS.
10. I am still on the lookout for the perfect mascara. Cheap or expensive, they all go clumpy. These cosmetics companies have money coming out of their ears and the world's top greedy scientists working for them. How hard can it be to get right? It is most distressing.
11. I really want a cat and/or a dog. It is annoying that I can't have one. But then life is full of compromises.

Monday, 16 May 2011


What's amazing about life is that you can be questioning pretty much everything, and feeling a deep sense of solitude and existential angst, and then you can get on a train, meet a friend, sit on a deckchair and drink half a bottle of Cava, head into the Royal Festival Hall and have one of the best musical experiences of your existence. Maybe that proves that my angst isn't that deep-seated. Maybe I'm just really fickle. Or maybe it's that Sufjan Stevens gave me exactly what I needed: a brief sense of belonging.

I'd never seen him live before and knew him only from two albums: Illinoise and some crazy Christmas collection where he plays original festive songs on a bizarre selection of instruments and sings along in his breathy, meandering, wouldn't-hurt-a-fly fashion. If you'd asked me to describe my gig predictions beforehand, I'd have gone for a kind of Ray Lamontagne figure, sleepy and unprepossessing, noodling away on a guitar centre stage, low on personality, high on awkward musicality.

So when the show opened and Sufjan's band arrived, three trombones back right, one drummer front left, another drummer front right, a pianist centre right, some guitarists mid-left, and two great backing vocalist dancers on a raised platform centre back, I was a little surprised. I would have been surprised even if he'd come on wearing a T-shirt and jeans, as I'd expected, but Sufjan was wearing a tight black zootsuit covered in strips of neon tape, with further strips of tape on his face, and a eight-foot diameter pair of homemade fabric wings on his back.

And the mood was one of love. It was all gloriously flawed. His left wing wouldn't stay erect and so right from the start, he looked like a damaged bird fighting with his final breaths. The suit was all tight and wrinkly around his knees but a bit baggy and wrong in other places, coming in tight around the ankles and paired with some bog-standard trainers. The graphics on the huge background screen were clearly a labour of love, most likely hand drawn by Sufjan himself, who's an artist as well as a talented musician. I tell you what he's not, and that's an amazing dancer by conventional standards. And again, this just piled points onto the Charmometer. His blocky arm movements were carried out with conviction but scarce skill - he looked a bit like he was half-heartedly copying a routine from the TV, while drunk. Several times there was more than a hint of Ross Gellar about him - and, having pointed this out to James, we both then screamed during the finale when the girls did the hold-your-left-foot-in-your-left-hand-with-your-right-hand-behind-your-right-ear move that was almost the best bit of The Routine (click here to revisit - move in question is at 01:20 but my favourite bit is Schwimmer's head jerks of victory when it's over).

So it was all a bit clunky. And as a practiced perfectionist, by rights, this should have irritated me. Don't I have high standards for the performances I choose to see? Don't my gig watchwords include slick and/or perfectly-choreographed? Readers: maybe I'm changing. Because it was the flaws that made this for me. Sufjan poured everything into this gig, and in that respect, it was massively emotional. It's rare in life that you see someone trying really fucking hard to do something, and when you do, you feel gratitude for the bravery they had in choosing to expose themselves that way. The first note I wrote down was about halfway through the gig, when a lyric caught my ear: "And when I die, I'll rot. But when I live, I'll give it all I've got." It was that, that unashamed effort, which wore down my London cynicism. The confidence to be publically vulnerable. I tell the truth too - but in the face of so much pressure to be positive, it's often hard to admit my struggles. But this was infectious. At the first possible opportunity, people leapt from their seats and poured down the stairs to be closer to the stage. The ticker tape, the balloons, the beautiful music, the extraordinary rhythms and chords: it was all so strange and magical, and for an hour or two, I forgot I was alone.

On Sunday morning, I made a note of these lines from Woody Allen that I read in an online interview with him. He's answering the question 'What drives you nuts?':
"The human predicament: the fact that we’re living in a nightmare that everyone is making excuses for and having to find ways to sugarcoat. And the fact that life, at its best, is a pretty horrible proposition. But people’s behavior makes it much, much worse than it has to be.... I do think we live in a nightmare and I feel the same way that Blanche Dubois feels: I want magic; I don’t want reality. I want the paper lanterns hung over the bare light bulbs, like she did. And if there is any way to escape reality, I’m all for it. Unfortunately, there isn’t any real way. You can distract yourself. You can go to baseball games and concerts and plays and have sex and get involved in all kinds of endeavours that obsess you, and you can even create problems for yourself, where they don’t exist, to avoid thinking about the bad problems. But, in the end, you’re caught. And reality inevitably disappoints you."

I emailed that quotation to a friend, who replied with one from Alexander Ebert, the guy behind the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:
"I grew up with more shit than most people and with a lack of a certain kind of suffering that, in some people, signifies true living and experience. So I became self-destructive. But that attitude isn't sustainable, so I found my way back to brightness and more constructive ways to live. Both are reactions to the same thing: death. It's like we're confronted with a fucked-up world and the refusal to lose hope is the only way to prevail over the pessimism and sarcasm. And from the refusal to lose hope comes the desire to build something else and the ability to accept that that something else may not be created in your lifetime. But that's irrelevant. The thrust is the intention."

There are a lot of people out there who know the truth, but who still make positive choices. I'm at an earlier stage where I'm just coming to terms with things, accepting life for what it is and making peace with reality, rather than running and hiding in endless nights out, hilarious antics and the fantasy of unconditional love. But it's inspiring to know that it might just be possible to reconcile this struggle and somehow find a happier place. I'll keep trying.

This is my 700th LLFF. Many happy returns to you, Faithful. This is written with love for all of us.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

As promised...

I just wrote an enormously long post, not because I wanted to, but because I made a commitment to write again today, and I hate being let down, and because even though I don't believe in the resurrection of Christ, I still think Jesus was pretty spot on with his Golden Rule.

But then I read back through what I'd written, and although it makes perfect sense to me, I think most of you would have finished it and thought, 'Poor Jane,' and from my perspective, that sounds about as much fun as anal sex with a leopard. We all have existential angst - well, anyone with an ounce of intelligence and an ounce of humility - and although I could vomit up several thousand words about mine faster than you can make a sandwich, I don't think the act of sending those words into the public domain will help me resolve my questions any faster. It could, I suppose, help some of you who are going through similar battles. But the vast majority of you would read it, feel briefly enlightened as to what's bubbling away underneath my dyed blonde locks, and then you'd pity me, because I spend so much time thinking about all this stuff while you're coordinating bathtime and freezing pureed fruit and changing the world in your nine to five. And that would really annoy me, because I still like being me even if it does seem to suck in my head a lot of the time, and your pity would just make me go off you, and no one wants that, do they?

So I'm keeping my existential angst to myself for now, at least until I can find an hilarious way to recount it. And since I didn't see anything at the theatre last night, and no one accidentally inhaled the lid of their biro on the tube home, and I didn't set my sofa on fire or mistakenly purchase a mail-order husband from North Korea, I don't think I need to write any more right now. I'll be back as soon as I can find some real news.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

OK I'm back.

And not just back in a kind of once-every-three-weeks way, like I've been for the past few wishy-washy months. I'm properly back. I think. Let's see. The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating, and I need to start as I mean to go on, which means actually writing something.

So I will write about two matters of the heart - last month's Royal Wedding and my own pathetic four-chambered organ, which carries on beating despite being mangled and kicked down the street and covered in bits of gravel and the sticker off an apple.

My mother - and, later, Grania's mother - were very upset with me for not being The Most Excited Person Evah about the Royal Wedding. My parents were both in tears during the service, and my mum, who is American by birth but gave up her US citizenship and became an on-paper UK national some years ago, emailed me that afternoon telling me how proud she was to be British. And I'm happy for all the people who enjoyed it, really I am. I mean, why would anyone nice want other people to be miserable? I am nice and I thus want other people to be happy. However, I could not escape a feeling of sadness on the day that there was all this kerfuffle about a posh boy marrying a posh girl (and seriously, don't get me started on the idea that she's a [retch] 'commoner'), that thousands upon thousands of people lined the streets and waved flags and had street parties and made a fuss, just over some perfectly sweet couple's wedding. I mean, maybe, maybe if they made the same sort of fuss about lots of other things too, it would be OK. But no. This is WAY more fuss than I can remember since the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002. Which means that in ten years, the only two things that have brought the British public together en masse to celebrate are both Royal events.

And let them eat cake. I don't want to stop them. I do wish they didn't give a shit, yes. I'd prefer it if everyone thought that it was a huge waste of money, and that the AV referendum was way more important, but love conquers all, and who am I to dictate what floats others' boats? They can wave their flags and scream and tell their grandkids all about it in years to come, while I'll age into some wizened old crone, wrinkled with cynicism and a miserable inability to join in with populist frenzies, staring out the front window from my wingback chair, wondering why all my friends are out having fun while I'm alone at home worrying about First Past The Post with a strong moral code and a weak liver.

And I bet I WILL be alone as well. The blossing romance lasted, well, about as long as actual blossom, approx. six weeks from start to finish, and the boyban scaffolding is now being slowly resurrected around my battered ego. I'm definitely glad I gave it a go - it was my first foray into That Domain since last June, so it was a real relief to confirm that I haven't completely forgotten how to point out every single flaw in someone else's behaviour, have absurdly long arguments over text message until 1am and feel like utter shit for days on end. Am now back in reality and focusing on the many positives, namely that I don't have to get rid of my feather duvet, feather pillows, feather mattress topper and feather sofa cushions to accommodate his allergies, and that I may still one day have a boyfriend who has bought new underwear since the turn of the Millennium.

It was nice, though, to get a morning text saying 'Hello gorgeous' every day, and even arguing with someone about whether or not we should go out was quite a pleasant change from the normal silence that occurs when I get home each night. Meh. On the upside, I looked at my Hadrian's Wall photos yesterday for the first time in a week or so, and finally realised that it was an amazing thing I did. So that was briefly fun.

Right, I think that's a good start. I'll get back to my busy schedule of annoying my friends with the alacrity of my email responses and counting the hours until therapy. I fully intend to write again tomorrow. Let's see what happens.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Wall's Well That Wends Well

Hello Faithful. I have been away on my own for a week, walking the 84 miles of Hadrian's Wall. This is my lengthy account. Being lengthy, it is really very long. Aren't you lucky?

Thursday 21 April - Day Zero - London to Newcastle

16:27 Sitting on stationary train at King’s Cross, waiting to leave. I have butterflies and beef Monster Munch. Striking how little I know about what I’m going to do. Don’t even know what century Hadrian was in. OK. I’m going to guess… pre. 600 AD. Let’s look it up in the book. OK. 122 AD. Only 400 years out. My historical knowledge - or, more accurately, my inability to remember historical data I have been taught several times - appals me.

16:38 There is an incident in the Quiet Carriage. Why must there always be? Why can’t people just buy a ticket for the Quiet Carriage, and then stay quiet? I don’t think I have ever been in a Quiet Carriage when everyone has stayed quiet. I find it immensely upsetting. I can’t decide if the huge surge of internal rage I experience while listening to the inane chatter of the two men seated at a table diagonally across the aisle from me is better or worse than feeling like an annoying bitch having actually got the nerve up to point out that THEY SHOULD NOT BE TALKING.

16:44 It was better when I was just upset in my own head. I now have the quiet I wanted, but I feel like a dick. Also it’s not exactly quiet now due to the industrial phlegm machine that is seated directly behind me. It is grim (en route to) up North. Sigh. I hate myself for getting annoyed. But really, how hard is it to define quiet? Apparently everyone is fine with the fact that it is unacceptable to talk on mobile phones in the Quiet Carriage, but there is some disagreement about whether or not it is acceptable to talk to the stranger sitting across the table from you. Why, I ask (both rhetorically and literally), would it be annoying for me to hear half a conversation, with you speaking to a silent other on your phone, but not remotely irksome for me to have to hear both halves of the conversation when you speak to your table mate? One of the men rolls his eyes at me as if I am the World’s Pettiest Woman. I feel horrible. He is, however, dressed like he’s about to enter to Tour de France, and he is ugly, so that help me cope with things a bit.

18:38 Rape the crop - one of my favourite sights in the world. Rape the verb - not such a fan. Note to self: research etymology of rape.

18:42 Am listening to Appalachian Spring by Copland, conducted by Bernstein, and yearn to be a cowgirl. Failing that, I’d settle for being a cellist in movement seven.

18:50 Quiet Carriage carnage. OK, now no one can shut up. Perhaps they felt that when I put in my headphones, I was giving them the all clear. Chatter has spread from one table cluster to another, with Mr Tour de France and his bearded BFF delightedly joining back into the gossip fray now that they’re not the only transgressors. Clearly two hours and twenty minutes is the longest men can sit quietly, resisting the urge to ask each other where they’re from (curiously ratio of men to women in Quiet Carriage is around 4:1. Not sure if that’s because women know they won’t be able to stay quiet or because they are more likely to be traveling with children. If I have children I am still going to travel in the Quiet Carriage. My offspring will be sedated and lain in the overhead luggage racks while in transit, like transatlantic pets).

19:14 Oh! Lambs! I forgot about lambs. I want there to be so many lambs on Hadrian’s Wall that I am sick of the sight of them by the end.

I arrive at Newcastle and get in a taxi. We are immediately stuck in traffic. Next to us, on the pavement, a man wearing a large pair of grey canvas culottes helps a woman with her bag.
“What’s he wearing?” asks my young driver. “Is he wearing a skirt?” I like that he asks. In London, we don’t draw attention to the gaps in our knowledge, especially not if we are a taxi driver. We pretend we’ve seen it all. I tell him I think that the man is a monk. The driver does not know what I’m talking about. I’m not sure if it’s my accent or the concept. I stay silent for fear of being patronising.

20:20 I am at the Jesmond Park Hotel. The adorable fat gay night manager is so desperate to chat that it makes me feel a bit sad. He would fit right into the Quiet Carriage. I have been in the reception area less than five minutes and am yet to remove my rucksack for fear he will start unpacking my things and make me stay For Ever, but he has already told me that he was bullied at school, about how the one time he bowled out the ‘Jack the lad’ in his year at cricket, they all waited for him that evening and beat him up, about how his dad’s partner just died a month ago, aged 65, three weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, that after the diagnosis, she was okay-ish for about two days, but then on the third day she slipped into a coma and never recovered. He asks me what I do and I tell him I work in a bank. He brightens up. I quickly add that I’m just a secretary and he looks crestfallen. “Oh,” he says, “I thought you might have been a good person to know.” I agree that I am not.

20:55 I go out for food. The residential streets are eerie, foggy and quiet. Hardly any cars are on the roads, just huge swathes of empty residents’ parking bays. On the main drag, stereotypical Geordies fill the bars, the men in crisp short-sleeved shirts and hair gel, the women bare-legged and miniskirted - everything is tighter, louder, heavier than at home: the make-up, the clothes, the voices. The last of my foundation wore off as usual by 11am, my hair’s a shambles, I’m wearing muddy running shoes, grey jeans and a bobbly black polo neck. I feel totally foreign and it’s good.

The garlic bread I buy from the heaving Italian restaurant is tasteless and dry by the time I get back to my room. I eat only one bite before rejecting it, but I sit in bed and wolf the dull vegetarian pizza and half a bottle of South African wine, which I bought for £4.45. Once it’s over I feel sick. Lucky, then, that I am setting off on an 84 mile journey tomorrow morning. I watch 10 O’Clock Live, feel angry about AV and glad to be getting away.

Friday 22 April - Day One - Wallsend to Heddon-on-the-Wall (approx. 15 miles)

09:00 My taxi driver takes me to Wallsend, to the east of Newcastle town centre. This is where the wall ends, but where my walk begins. His phone rings moments after we set off: the ringtone is the theme tune from Local Hero. I have it in my head on and off for the next six hours.

Mid-morning: I reach the Tyne and it is slightly foggy! Am thrilled. Local Hero now interspersed with Fog On The Tyne and Gazza rapping about sausage rolls. A man cycles past and says, “Morning, flower.” I burst with pleasure.

Unexpected object: single yellow gummy bear.

Later, two boys walk past me. They are about eleven.
Boys: Hiya.
Me: Hiya.
Boy: I love your tits.
Me: (silent)
Boys: Hahahahahahahahaha.

I stop for a two hour lunch at The Boathouse pub, having walked through the centre of Newcastle along the river. It’s been a great morning. I’m tearing along, have done 12 miles. Will definitely, DEFINITELY be in pain tomorrow. Tuna and sweetcorn bap not a highlight. Now stretched out on sarong in baking sun. It is quite delicious.

Afternoon: I walk on, through a park crammed with locals. Apparently you are not allowed in unless a) you are wearing a pastel polo-shirt at least one size too small, and b) you have a disruptive baby in a buggy. It is not the type of environment that I find relaxing but everyone else seems happy in a kind of enforced Bank Holiday fun way. The queue for the ice cream van is like something from Dante. Then onto another disused railway. These are straight and hard underfoot, which makes for boring, unvaried walking. The cyclists are loving it. I am stroppy, but I do break my own silence by uttering the words, “Yay! Rape!” in a Tourette's fashion when I see a particularly beautiful field. There’s a big climb at the end of the day to Heddon on the Wall, a village at the top of a hill - I spot the climb coming about three miles off, and am dreading it, but after the monotony of the railway line, it’s an unexpected relief to use a new muscle group. I’ve walked fifteen miles and I’m hot, sweaty and beat. Also, I quite need the loo. I find my B&B with a bit of difficulty and ring the doorbell. There is no answer. I ring again. Then I phone the owner. She doesn’t pick up. I leave a message that suggests terseness and desperation. I try again. Still no answer. I sit in the sun and start to get grumpy about customer service and the freaking North.

Finally, the woman calls me back.
“Is that Jane?” she says. There is the noise of a loud tea party in the background.
“Yes,” I say, thinking that if she’d listened to my message, she’d know this. “Did you not listen to my message?”
“Oh, did you leave a message? No, my phone was at the bottom of my bag and I didn’t hear it.”
“OK,” I say, feeling like a Londoner.
“Where are you?”
“I’m outside your B&B.”
“Oh right, OK dear, I’ll leave now and come let you in. Shouldn’t be more than twenty minutes.”

I wait on the bench outside her front door, sweating and fuming and thinking that twenty minutes should entitle me to a discount. She pulls up in fifteen minutes, and explains that she doesn’t have a car at the moment as it failed its MOT and she’s reliant on others to give her lifts. That’s all very well, I think, but you have PAYING CUSTOMERS. Somehow I don’t think I have quite managed to switch off and get into relaxed holiday mode yet, but then she unlocks the front door and shows me my room. It is gorgeous and the enormous white bathroom makes me want to cry. There is a large glass decanter with a silver lid on the corner of the tiles that contains Radox. I run the bath and climb in. My shoulders sting a lot. Something to do with the combination of the straps of my pack, the straps of my bra, the straps of my top, and sweat is clearly not great. I climb onto the huge bed. My legs seize up. I realise I may never walk again.

19:00 Dinner for one at The Swan in Heddon. The waiting staff are extraordinarily nice and have such an obvious rapport that, for possibly the first time in my life, I think I’d rather waitress than sit at my table. There is an adorable Rowan Atkinson-esque controller of the carvery area, wearing a 20 inch paper chef’s hat, who is taking enormous pleasure in removing the heavy iron lids of each of the eight or so Le Creuset style serving dishes. Every time a potential carvery-eater wanders into the vicinity, Rowan leaps up and uses a heat-proof glove to methodically take off each lid, placing it down near the vessel, then quietly hides his dejection as they walk on by, neglecting his troughs of creamed leeks, potatoes, roast meat gravy and carrots. At the table behind me, a woman wearing grey and white floral leggings orders a Greek salad and has been told that they’re out of feta. She is offered cheddar or stilton as a substitute. Understandably, she dithers, finally asking uncertainly for a bit of cheddar “on the side”. I feel far from London and then some yuppy kids walk by playing on their parents’ iPad.

My meal: carvery veg selection from Rowan, vegetable soup, crusty roll and butter, fruit crumble, two large glasses of delicious American unoaked Chardonnay. The waitress tells me that day three will be the hardest in terms of fatigue. Her advice is to keep drinking. I make vague noises about hangovers. She clarifies that I should just not stop drinking at all, and do the whole walk while a bit pissed. I think I love her.

I am worried that my B&B and dinner have been too good and that it is downhill from here in every way other than literally.

Saturday 23 April - Day Two - Heddon to Wall, near Chollerford (approx. 15 miles)

Oh fuck. It is tough today. Really really fucking tough. Just putting my pack on was very bad. Ow. I break for lunch and accept that I have completed 1.5 days and have 5.5 days to go. I don’t doubt I can do it, but I am looking at the prospect of spending nearly a week doing something deeply painful. It is not hilarious.

Unexpected realisation: if I passed a shop that sold them, I would definitely - and with gratitude - buy a bumbag.

This second day of the walk is particularly hard because some dickhead built a B-road over the wall. Not by it, ON it. This entire section is consequently in a ditch alongside a fairly busy thoroughfare, with noisy traffic passing by pretty much constantly. The weather is fine, and the views are too, but my hips are hurting, the car noise is rubbish and I am worried that I’m going to spend the rest of my ‘holiday’ moaning.

I have my first wilderness wee mid-morning, and en route back to the main path, learn that it is possible to be stung by a nettle through a pair of Nike dri-weave running trousers. So there you have it.

I stop at a pub around lunchtime, but mindful of yesterday’s tuna bap error I play it safe, and order two bags of Mini Cheddars and a Diet Coke. On the next table there is a couple in their mid-twenties surrounded by huge backpacks. Both have ruddy cheeks and her thick, dark blonde hair is in two pigtails. If Thomas Hardy were alive and writing about Hadrian's Wall, these two would be perfect. They tell me they set off from Chollerford (approximately one mile beyond Wall, where I’m staying tonight) at 6:45am this morning. It has taken them five hours to get here. I am already close to death and two fighting fit, bovine walkers have told me I have another five hours’ walking ahead of me, and that it’s boring. A few minutes later, I relay my findings two two guys who I’ve been walking with/near all morning. They seem totally unconcerned. I tell them I might die.
“Don’t worry,” says the tall one. “Kev’ll carry you.” Kev is about 5’5” and nods happily. I am desperate and will take any comfort I can get, so reluctantly, I allow myself to feel reassured. I try not to picture my massive lycra-clad arse over Kev’s shoulders, my comatose head banging against his rucksack as he jogs along with me in a fireman’s lift.

I plough on. It is fucking tough. It is never so tough that I think, “I can’t go on,” but definitely so tough that I wonder why I ever thought this was a good way to spend seven days’ holiday. At about 3pm, I am in a forest of conifers. My lower back is screaming from the weight of my pack. I bend over to relieve the pressure, and while I’m stretching, a couple who’ve been about a minute or two behind me for quite a while catch up. They are in their forties. He had a pot belly and a bald spot but still manages to be very attractive. She is gorgeous too, homely and warm.
“Is it your feet?” she asks.
“No, my back,” I admit.
“It’s my hips,” she says. “Is it your pack?” I nod. “I’m lucky. I’ve got him. He carries all the heavy stuff.” She jerks her head in the direction of her handsome sherpa. He grins. We chat for another couple of minutes. They go on, leaving me to stretch alone, unimpeded by the knowledge that fast-approaching strangers may be able to see the waves of cellulite through my skin-tight trousers. This is what people wear while exercising in London. Apparently in t’country they wear loose-fitting khakis. I do not own loose-fitting khakis, and even if I did, I prefer the tight-fitting dri-weave as it doesn’t make a noise as you walk. The repetitive brush brush of my khakied thighs could well be enough to send me running into the gorse to self-harm, but as a compromise I must deal with strangers seeing my rippled legs. It’s a trade-off. I carry on walking.

A few minutes later I reach the edge of the forest and see the couple again. I assume they are taking yet another break, but the woman comes straight over to me.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “but we realised after we’d left you that we’d been really selfish. Can we carry some of your stuff?” I am utterly taken aback by the generosity of their offer. I don’t want to accept because a) they are not staying anywhere near me tonight, so to hand over my stuff would involve them being held up by me later on as well, and b) I can’t bear the idea of skipping along with a lighter pack and then having to readjust to the true hideousness again later on. A false hiatus. I feel like it’s cheating. I decline. They don’t believe me. I decline again. And again. “I swear,” I end up saying, quite sternly, “nothing you can say will make me change my mind.” They are eventually convinced.
“Well, if you’re sure,” mumbles the man, seemingly a bit disappointed.
“I am,” I say. They walk on.

I had texted Amyas in the morning admitting that I am struggling, but that I am strangely quite enjoying the struggle. Not unreasonably, he asks why I'm enjoying it. I think about this for much of the next five hours. My answer, typically, is complex. Firstly, I find it difficult to admit that I am not enjoying something that I have chosen to do. That would feel like I’ve made a mistake, a bad choice, which makes me feel like I’ve failed, which isn’t fun. I know I’m putting on an act when people pass me walking in the other direction and I consciously rearrange my features from a wince into an expression that loosely suggests pleasure. Why do I care what they think? Why does it matter if they see me struggle? It shouldn’t, but it does. Then, on top of that, there is a part of me that does genuinely enjoy the struggle, enjoys feeling like I’m doing something hard. It is something to do with wanting to prove that I’m strong, or rather, not weak - that I can achieve things that some other people can’t. Something to do, too, with always having perceived myself as tall and fat means that I am not allowed to be weak and vulnerable. It’s OK for a petite girl to be fragile, but I’m big and strong and so I must ACT big and strong too. I've asked myself several times if I regretted coming, if I’d rather be somewhere else. And even when every step hurt, the answer was always no. That says to me that I can’t accept my own weakness, which is not a good thing. But then, there are plenty of other people out here doing this trail too, plenty of others suffering, struggling, in pain, when they could be at home watching TV. Are we all masochists?

As I write this at the Hadrian’s Hotel, Since You Been Gone comes on. I think it’s by Whitesnake. They have questionable grammar.

Why do I want to suffer? I must admit, there’s a rush of achievement on reaching the pub, knowing I’ve attained my day’s goal. I eat my dinner: carrot and parsnip soup, garlic bread and a large glass of Sauvignon.

Pretty much everyone else I’ve passed, and everyone at the hotel, is doing the walk in pairs or groups of three or four. I have passed two solo men. No solo women. Not only did I choose to come on a trip where I knew I would struggle (and I DID expect this) but I chose to do it alone. I tell people who ask that I’m an only child and that I need to get away every now and then for some space. But the truth is, I live on my own, and work on my own, sitting in a glass box, rarely talking to others, so I don’t especially need to be on my own during the Easter holidays too. Why then? Because, frankly, I didn’t have any other appealing options. I knew I was going to take this time off work, I knew I had a big trip abroad lined up for later this year, I knew my friends had other plans, and I knew I wanted to do something significant. Safest way to guarantee not sitting at home on your own feeling like the world's most unpopular 33 year old? Book something yourself. Control freak that I am, it’s easier to go away on my own - my companion can’t fall down and ruin my itinerary, and when I fall down, I don’t have the guilt of screwing up someone else’s itinerary. Everyone says, “You’re on your own? Oooh, that’s brave,” and I think first, “Would you say that to a guy?” and then I think, honestly, I’d find it more brave doing it with someone else. There’s so much more that can go wrong. More people, more risk.

God I sound like a miserable fool. I'm not, I promise. I'm not thinking about this stuff all the time. Most of the time I'm thinking, "Ow, ow, ow..." and sometimes I'm thinking, "Ooh, that bird is so pretty," and, "I may well be getting thinner."

And now they’re playing Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong, and I made it even though it was really hard, and I’ve had a not-nearly-hot-enough bath and taken two ibuprofen, and now I've ordered a second glass of Sauvignon, and I’m writing this and listening to the not-remotely-dulcet tones of a young couple on the other side of the room, he’s Australian, she’s Canadian, and I’m trying not to hate them, really I am, but GOD what is it about foreigners and voice volume? There are two other couples in here who’ve been talking pretty much non-stop since they sat down and yet I haven’t discerned a word either of them have said. Whereas these two are planning their wedding and they clearly don’t know each other very well at all. I become convinced they’re slightly box-ticking, getting hitched because ‘she’ll do’ rather than because of any genuinely unique or special connection. Which is, of course, absoLUTEly fine and dandy, and 100% their right, they can marry whoever they want as long as they’re not hurting anyone, but let the record show that I’d rather be alone forever than marry someone who I barely know, when weeks or months after we’ve committed to spending the rest of our lives together we’re still asking each other each other whether we like cats or dogs. BRING ME MY SECOND GLASS OF WHITE WINE IMMEDIATELY.

19:55 Google search: How to burst a blister. Song on in dining room: Winds of Change. Aussie guy says, “It’s people who don’t organise anything and who just think that this stuff magically just HAPPENS… they're the ones that drive me nuts.” Hmmm. Clearly we’re not as dissimilar as I’d hoped.

Back upstairs I lance a 10p-sized blister with my unsterilized Swiss Army knife, briefly feeling very SAS before applying a Compeed and feeling inescapably Islington. Now I’m slathered in Deep Heat and praying it’s not too ugly tomorrow. Britain HAS Talent starts in 15 minutes but I don’t have the energy to watch it. Crazy days.

Sunday 24 April - Day Three - Wall to Twice Brewed (approx. 13 miles)

17:00 Oh. Em. Gee. What a day. Yesterday I asked myself why I put myself through the pain. Is it sad, I wondered, that I put myself through these situations, that mere existence is not enough to satisfy the you're-not-good-enough voices? If I was truly at peace, would I need to leave my sofa? But today I remembered something: if this walk was only about enduring pain, then maybe that would be a bit of an odd holiday choice - but it’s not only about pain. There is also joy.

I went to sleep last night feeling very nervous. I’ve done my research: today's walk is long and hilly. The weather forecast is mixed, and a good 78% of my body is in some degree of discomfort. Then I have a weird dream where a strange man turns the handle of my bedroom door (that I’d locked from the inside) and I know I have a baseball bat, but I also know that he has a gun, and that he’ll wait, and that whenever I open the door, he’ll get me. I awake with a jolt, all scared, at about 23:30 and don’t get back to sleep for ages. When I do, it’s fitful. I eventually get up around 7:30, breakfast isn’t great, and I pack my bag. In a fit of good sense, I jettison a few inessential items, including the last two months' Prospect magazines. I flick through them first, planning to tear out any articles that I am really desperate to read. There are none. I feel liberated.

And then, after all that stress, I am on day three, and I am shocked that it is OK. Yes, my legs hurt a bit with every step, but it’s not unbearable. Neither is the fairly constant angry interplay on my shoulders between the aching muscles and the stinging of my skin from my pack straps. Ow: yes. Fine: yes. I have a totally unexpected spring in my step.

And the weather. What a stunner.

I follow the annoying Aussie/Canadian couple from last night for the first few miles. My suspicions are proved accurate when I spot them walking 20 metres apart and sporting large silver his ‘n’ hers headphones. I’d planned to listen to a lot of podcasts along the wall but actually it’s ended up feeling like I’d be blocking out a lot of the experience - the bird calls have been constant, the lambs’ bleats, the wind in the branches during passes through copses. I don’t want to miss it. Even so, I’m on my own and I'd certainly understand if a solo traveller decided to alleviate the internal struggle with the addition of an iPod. Were I, however, here with someone who chose to block out the sound of my voice, things might be a bit different. Needless to say, if I plan a long walk with my fictional fiance and he spends large chunks of it listening to his iPod, I think I might strop. This will probably involve: walking annoyingly slowly, sniffing a LOT and taking far too long getting the perfect macro photo of a ladybird on a post. I did all three of these yesterday.

So I follow the annoying couple for a bit, and gradually, the scenery gets more and more stunning, and at about noon I stop to soak it all in, feeling pretty emotional. I pull in by a milecastle for another wilderness wee, eat the three-pack of complimentery custard creams that I’d taken from last night’s hotel and then set back off into Sewing Shields Wood. Step by step, the walk turns into the most beautiful walk of my life. And sure, undeniably, if you’d driven to the car park just off the road by the woods, and if you’d walked up the hill, and emerged at the top of the climb with the identical view over Broomlee Lough, the wall snaking up and down and up and down over disappearing undulations on your left, you’d also feel lucky to be alive on such a spectacular day in such a breathtaking place. But for all that pleasure you’d be experiencing, surely the person standing next to you at the summit wearing the heavy backpack is experiencing a greater sense of achievement, right, because they’ve walked here from Newcastle, and their back really hurts and their hips have been aching for hours? Oh god. I’m treating this like a competition: who enjoys it the most? Who gets the BEST experience? And I know life’s not like that. And that both enjoyments are valid. Kill me now.

And on to Housesteads, and the famous Sycamore Gap, both of which are exceptional moments in British Countryside Walking, but that bit above the woods…. When I was up there I felt delirious, emotional, fit to bursting. And I did want to share it, yes. I was welling up at the beauty, and I made eye contact with strangers so that we could say Wow to each other. And I took a photo on my phone and texted it to a couple of people to try to show them how extraordinary it all was. Yes, I wanted to not be alone right there and then. But then I imagined having someone there with me, and the fact that they’d be far more likely to be being annoying than enhancing, and that it’s safer alone, and once again I worry about my isolation and my inability to risk relinquishing control, and I know that I am on dangerous ground.

Finally, after many miles of fairly continuous climbs and descents between steep waves of land, I arrive at the gorgeous Saughy Rigg Farm B&B, have a shower and wolf down tea and toast, and wash my clothes and hang them on the line by the duckpond, my dri-weave trousers dripping as mallards quack loudly and chase each other not ten feet away. It is all totally dreamy, and I accept that, even if it rains the rest of the time, I feel extremely lucky to have had today.

There’s a discussion to be had regarding my concept of cheating. There is a company called Hadrian’s Haul, who will collect your bags from your B&B each morning and drive them to your next evening’s destination. Many, many walkers along the route make use of this service, which means they can pack a large suitcase for their week-long walking trip and then spend their days unencumbered, carrying only a small, light pack containing a bottle of water, an anorak, varying sizes of Compeed and a wide range of chocolate bars and horse tranquilizers (day-pack contents author’s suggestion only). I knew about Hadrian’s Haul before I came away, but I made the decision to carry my pack (which I think weighs about 10kg). To use Hadrian’s Haul would be, I felt, for me to cheat. Taking ibuprofen along the way has felt like cheating too. But staying at a B&B has not. Where do I draw the line? At my own personal limits. Basically, I feel that on this walk, if I can physically bear something, I should do it. I can carry my pack. I could not, however, do the whole thing as a camper. I’m here to push myself to my personal limits. Some people can't carry their luggage, so they don't. But I can. And if I can do it, I should.

Monday 25 April - Day Four - Twice Brewed to Gilsland (approx. 9 miles)

Visibility from my B&B window this morning is about ten metres: the duckpond is hidden beneath a thick layer of fog. I turn up the volume of my internal weather forecast and decide the mist might lift if I stay patient, and with only nine miles to do today, I decide to hang about a bit. Regardless of the mist, having walked fifteen or so miles for each of the past three days, I am quietly confident that today will be a bit of a breeze.

The skies do clear and by 10:30 I’m back high on the ridge, feeling exceptionally healthy and optimistic. With the first third done in good time, and feeling fine, I take a long break by a disused quarry, now filled with water, and have a brief snooze before re-donning my pack and continuing. Unexpectedly, the remainder is not easy. It is definitely pleasant and even nods towards fun in parts, and I am still glad that I’m doing this, but my body aches far more than I’d expected, and without the world-beating scenery of yesterday, it feels decidedly tougher. I start to rejig my brain and accept that I have now completed the section of the walk with the best scenery, in the best possible weather conditions, that I am now at the halfway point with 3.5 days down and 3.5 days to go, and that the remainder might be a bit of a schlep, one foot in front of the other, get it done, get it done. It’s all still good, and certainly from a psychological point of view it still feels valuable, but today has been fairly tough.

That said, there is a special moment at about 3pm, when I am descending a steep section towards a road. At the bottom, a car has pulled over and a Geordie dad is photographing his approx. 11 year old daughter.
“That’s it, pet, stand there with the wall behind you, that’s it, absolutely stunnin, ooh, it’s such a good photo, and look pet, turn around, that’s it, look at this lady here walking down, she’s a proppah walker, look at her, you come from Wallsend have you?” I confirm this as I gingerly pick my way down the slope. “That’s right, pet, this lady here has walked all the way from near where we live, can you imagine that? Absolutely amazing.”
“Can we do that one day, dad?” asks the girl.
“Aye pet, maybe we can, but it’s hard, isn’t it?” he asks back in my direction.
“It is definitely hard,” I laugh, nearly at them.
“Tell you what, pet, stand here next to this woman and have your picture taken with the proppah walker, will you? Is that OK? And you, do you want to come in too?” Suddenly I am standing with my arms around the shoulder of a second woman who’s out walking her weighty King Charles spaniel and the young blonde girl, while the world’s nicest Geordie dad takes our photo with his camera-phone. It is surreal and I feel briefly like a celebrity.

And then later, the welcome from the absurdly nice B&B family is off the scale: a fantastically charismatic Northern Irish father called Malcolm, his opinionated and warm English wife and their extremely cool, bearded son who works in the theatre in Glasgow and scuffs around in his flip-flops, surfer shorts and hoodie being intensely good-looking. They offer me a stool in their kitchen, ply me with free red wine and pretzels, we discuss Andrew Lansley’s health proposals and country vs. city living, and it is really nice to chat. I think I might be lonely. I sit in their conservatory for a while after my shower and watch two lambs playing in a field. Then I realise they aren’t playing, but that they have become separated from their mum. They’d climbed through a gate and then couldn't work out how to get back, so the pair of them are tearing up and down the length of the field, bleating like mad. The sound of their screaming is worse than a police siren. Malcolm comes in to bring me some biscuits. I show him the lost lambs and he laughs and says they are idiots. The countryside is brutal.

A few home friends are struggling with things too so I’ve been texting them a fair bit, which has made me feel less present here. My left foot is swollen, and the blister on my right is not painful but there’s a worn bit of skin from where the Compeed gets rucked up inside my sock. The tops of my thighs and knees hurt with every step I take, my hips and groin hurt even when I’m lying down. My shoulders are so painful that the thought of a massage is actually unappealing, and my face is sunburned and freckly. Mystifyingly, since I'm using it for precisely nothing, the ganglion on my left hand seems to be worsening and it’s hurting. I feel like crying but I’m also genuinely looking forward to going on, and if you sent a chopper to bring me home, I wouldn’t climb in. Well, I’d ask for a ride, because helicopters are the cat's pyjamas, but I’d like to be dropped right back here to pick up where I’ve left off.

Tuesday 26 April - Day Five - Gilsland to Newtown (approx. 9 miles)

Ooooh, well THIS is pretty special. An easy day’s walking, once again in almost constant sunshine, ending up at approximately 15:20 in yet another lovely B&B, which pretty much means all my hopes were met, as tomorrow’s final guesthouse in Carlisle is a steal at £25 and I’ll barely be there anyway.

Which brings me neatly on to my discussion point for the day: Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway on Thursday. This will be the final section of the walk and is also the second longest of the whole shebang AND there is a time factor as I must be on the 15:49 from Carlisle to Euston. And if I say that worrying about the logistics of this relatively straightforward manoeuvre has dominated my mind for about 50% of the walk’s duration thus far, I think that even may be understating it. The number of times I’ve calculated how fast I’m walking, how long it might take me, what time I need to leave Bowness to make it back to Carlisle, what time I need to set off in the morning, when really, I know perfectly well that if I allow seven hours it'll be more than enough, that if I set off at 7am rather than 9 then it will be fine. And today at about 11am I finally crack and begin to talk to myself, reprimanding myself for so much wasted headspace along the way, revising and re-revising a perfectly good plan. And then I decide that I’ve had enough of worrying about Carlisle to Bowness, and that I am going to find something else to worry about instead, and that’s when it hits me: nothing else is wrong. There simply isn’t anything else for me to worry about. My family are lovely. My friends are wonderful. I am in the early stages of a blossoming romance. My job ticks many good boxes. Ignoring current walk-related agonies, I appear to be in good health. My present is pretty awesome and my future is bright. I am worrying about Carlisle to Bowness because, without it, I have nothing else to worry about. Realising that is something of a shock. I stop by a kissing gate and take a moment.

Other points of note: if you want to return home evenly bronzed, walk Hadrian’s Wall from west to east and then immediately turn round and go back from east to west. At present, I have a deep farmer’s tan on the back of my left upper arm, the left side of my forehead, the top and back of my left ear, my left nostril, and the inside of my right forearm. Everything else remains a bluer shade of pale. Terrified of getting burned-in rucksack strap-marks at this early stage in the sun season, I have been wearing factor fifty on my neck and shoulders every day. To try to redress the imbalance in my colouring, every time I stop I whip down my bra straps and sit with my right side in the sun. Thus far, as a plan, it is failing.

Also: I swallowed a fly on day two and nearly vomited trying to cough it back up, and then today one flew into my left nostril. I tried to do footballer-style emergency nasal evacuation and looked extremely sexy. Kate Moss eat your heart out.

Also: I saw my first EVER non-flat hedgehog today. Sadly it was still dead. :(

Also: the plastic parts of the nylon strap of my water bottle holder vibrate very slightly whenever a cow moos, and every time, I think that my phone (which I store in the front zipped pocket of the holder) is ringing or that someone is texting me, and then I realise it’s just that a cow has mooed, and I feel like a bit of a loser.

At about 18:00 I stagger from my B&B to the Irthington village shop to buy a cheap dinner to eat in my room. While I am gathering items, a local comes in to pick up a few provisions, and points out that the entire stack of bread appears to be out of date.
“Oh, it’s not really bad, is it?” asks the elderly, hirsuite lady standing behind the counter. It would be fair to say that she does not seem especially concerned.
“Well, this one says 15th April, 15th, 15th, 17th…” lists the doubtful shopper, picking up each pack in turn.
“Oh well, just take it now," she says. "If it’s off, then you don’t have to pay me. If it’s OK, just drop the money into me another time.” This wouldn't happen in Tesco Metro.

Meanwhile I am struggling to find anything that looks appetizing. I end up with a blackened banana, a Mars drink, a finger of fudge, and a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle. While I'm counting out my money, the shopkeeper asks me about the walk. We chat briefly and I tell her that I am going to eat my dinner and then watch Masterchef. Given that the bread in her shop is two weeks old, I somehow doubt that she has engaged in the haute-cuisine reality battle, but it turns out that she is avidly supporting Tim from Wisconsin and thinks that the only Brit, Tom, is a disappointment. I share her views exactly. This unexpected congruence is a pleasant surprise. I return to the B&B, eat my dinner, snooze, watch Tim from Wisconsin do good things and then sleep.

Wednesday 27 April - Day Six - Newtown to Carlisle (approx. 10 miles)

My desire to write notes has disappeared. I am still enjoying the walk but I have stopped needing to share it. I am on a mission. The extravagant, adjective-riddled paragraphs in my tattered notebook have dried up, and now there are only a few aide-memoire phrases. I can barely recall anything from Day Six. The entire focus of the day is on reaching Carlisle, where I have, in a superb moment of genius organisation, booked a 16:30 full body massage at Bannatyne’s Health Spa.

Early in the morning I pass a man who’s around my age, maybe a few years older, carrying a huge backpack. He is clearly suffering, trudging slowly as if returning from war, and his left side is so sunburned that his upper arm warms me as I overtake.
“You OK?” I ask.
“Be better if I had a smaller pack,” he says.

Late morning I take a longish break by the River Eden, which I’ll be following on and off into Carlisle and beyond. There are swans and a few too many powerlines. Later I catch up with the trudging man again, who clearly didn’t stop for as long as I did, if at all. This time I walk with him. He tells me his feet are basically one big blister. He set off a day and a half after I did, leaving Wallsend on Saturday lunchtime, and camping along the way, so he’s made excellent time, but this is his last day off work so he’s decided to stop in Carlisle rather than continue onto the last leg. I’d be devastated if I’d got so close but couldn’t make the whole distance, but it doesn’t seem to bother him one iota. “I think I’ve done really well,” he says, reasonably. He really has. I am immensely impressed by his laissez-faireness. He makes furniture out of wood in Retford and spends his money on his sixteen year old daughter who likes expensive shops where jumpers are eighty five quid. He also likes canoeing and bridges. It is really pleasant chatting to someone, and undoubtedly makes the walk pass easier. We chat together for a couple of hours, crossing the M6 (major milestone) and eventually reaching the city, where he turns south towards the station and I head north across the bridge to reach Bannatyne’s. This definitely feels like cheating but I don’t care any more; I try to swim in the pool but my ankle and foot are too painful for me to make any progress, so I float for a while before spending a long time in the steam room and sauna, and then heading upstairs for my full body massage, which in Carlisle apparently is includes back, shoulders, neck, backs of legs and calves - no front of legs, no arms, no chest, no head. Bit of a weird concept of a body if you ask me, but I am desperate and accept her patchy efforts with gratitude. I can’t face my backpack again so take a five minute taxi back to the guesthouse, leaving the meter running outside the Sainsbury’s Local for a panic-bought packet of prosciutto, a bag of bacon rasher crisps, two Rolo desserts, two apples, a banana, a bottle of Copella and a bottle of Chardonnay. I consume almost all of it by 8pm, snooze, wake up when my alarm goes off at 21:00, watch the Masterchef final, am happy for Wisconsin Tim, brim with tears when his wife comes in and he says, “You’re here?” and she says, “Yes.” And he says, “I won!” and they hug. I sleep fitfully, aware that the much-feared, much-considered Carlisle to Bowness D-day is finally approaching.

Thursday 28 April - Day Seven - Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway (approx. 15 miles)

It is the last morning and I tread carefully down the loudly-patterned carpeted stairs in my guesthouse at about 07:20. The owner emerges from her sitting room.
“We’ve had an idea,” she says.
“Oh right?” I say, cautiously. I am not one for other people’s ideas, generally.
“Why don’t you take the taxi to Bowness and then walk BACK to Carlisle?”
“Oh. Ummm. No, well, I’ve been walking along the whole wall in this direction. I think I kind of want the continuity.” Inside I am saying, “That is the world’s most stupid idea you utter fucknut, don’t you understand ANYTHING?” Somehow I manage to keep that bit to myself.
“OK. We just thought it might be more pleasing to walk back to your final destination.” She does not understand. She is not a proppah walker. “So anyway, you know where you’re going, do you?”
“Yes,” I say. I do not say: “I have made it here from Newcastle without your assistance. It is nearly eighty miles. Do you think I am a moron?”
“Round the back here, through the little hole-in-the-wall and then down the steps to the river?” she continues.
“Oh,” I say. “No. I’m going to go back over Eden Bridge to pick up where I left off yesterday.”
“But that’s longer,” she says. "That'll take you to the south side of the river."
“Yes. The Hadrian's Wall Path runs along the south side of the river,” I tell her with the smile of someone who has fifteen miles left and doesn’t really need a discussion about directions at 07:20. “I’m just following the path.”
“Goodness, you’re a purist aren’t you?” she says, as if wanting to walk the wall from east to west, along the pre-ordained track, is an absurdly petty and conformist choice. I try not to batter her with my walking stick. On the way to the front door, I check my eye in the hall mirror. It feels as though someone has slipped a clear A4 envelope between my eyeball and my contact lens. I can see no evidence of any external sabotage.
“I’ve got a problem with my contact lens,” I explain.
“Oooh, I don’t know how you do that,” she shudders. “I can’t bear putting things in my eyes.” There is something in her tone that suggests I am some sort of vain fetishist. “Have you not tried glasses?” she asks. She actually says this. I wonder if she can really believe that glasses are an option I hadn’t ever considered. I walk out onto the street. The wind is cold but the sun’s bright and I’ve only got one last stretch. How hard can it be, I wonder for the millionth time?

It is fucking hard.

Yesterday’s massage must have helped a bit. I try and remind myself that it could be worse. It could be raining, I could be carrying a tent, I could have salmonella. But there is a stretch alongside the river, at about 10am, and the scenery is utterly stunning, wildflowers are bursting all around, the sun is dappling the pathway through woodland, but everything, EVERYTHING is aching, and my contact lens is still unacceptably annoying, and with every breath I inhale a cross-section of the five BILLION bugs that are swarming around in the moist riverside air, and I have still about ten miles to walk and I know I will do it in time, but I am not enjoying myself one tiny bit, and eventually I take out the contact lens and allow my eye some time to get rid of whatever irritant it’s currently harbouring, and I am stumbling up and down the wooded paths, spitting out bugs, whimpering because the pain in my left foot is excruciating, swollen and stabbing, all the while holding my left contact lens in my right hand, and knowing that if I’d turned up in Carlisle that morning, fresh off the train, I’d be walking this same stretch remarking on how splendid it all is. I start to cry as I walk and hope that the tears shift the object in my eye. They don’t. I put my contact lens in my mouth to stop it from drying out. After half an hour, I give up on ever being able to replace my lens, and spit it out into the hedgerow. I am delirious in the worst possible way.

Then the pain in my foot passes. I have no idea why. It just does. I have a rest in a village about a third of the way along the day’s journey, and call my mum, and start thinking it will be OK. I carry on. It is briefly OK. Then it becomes really not OK again. I am bored of walking, I am bored of the sun, of the air, bored of lambs and of the sight of green fields and blue skies. I want it all to fuck off. Worst of all, I feel deeply aware that what I am doing is really not that difficult. Many people have walked further. Many thousands in impoverished countries walk further every day just to get to school. A family of four overtook me on Tuesday who were doing the whole walk in six days rather than seven - two parents, their 11 year old son, Niall, and their 8 year old daughter, Holly. They weren’t carrying 10kg backpacks, but they were in good spirits and they were going at a good rate. I feel like a weakling. My parents tell me I’m doing an amazing thing, but all I can think of is the people all around me who are doing the exact same thing, many of them seemingly finding it a good sight easier than I am. In fact, with the exception of the furniture-maker I walked with yesterday, no one at all has seemed to be finding it as hard as I am. I hate that.

I plough on. A straight stretch along the marshes that I’ve been dreading turns out to be bearable, but then an incomprehensible two-mile diversion via a farm and a campsite nearly kills me in its pointlessness. I dream of the pub in Bowness, of a wee on an actual toilet followed by a pint of Diet Coke and a ham sandwich in a sun-filled beer garden. I look over the water at Scotland. The hours pass. It takes me six to get from Carlisle to my destination. When I finally reach Bowness, I photograph the sign and feel briefly elated. I go on to the walk’s official endpoint, a commemorative hut overlooking the marshes where the original wall disappeared into the firth. I well up. I sit on a bench, take a photo of myself and then walk to the pub. The ham sandwich will probably be the best of my life.

The pub door appears firmly shut, and a laminated piece of paper by the entrance indicates that it doesn’t open until 4pm. It is now 13:20 - the bus taking me back to Carlisle doesn’t arrive until 14:10. I need the loo, I am hungry and thirsty and there are no shops. I feel utterly dejected. I walk fifty yards to the bus stop, a lamppost at the side of a small lane, take off my pack, sit on it, and take off my shoes. My left foot looks like it has been inflated. I eat the only things left in my rucksack: an apple and a Rolo dessert, which in the sunshine has lost its gelatinous quality and is now runny. In the absence of a spoon, I use my index finger. It tastes of Deep Heat.

Over the next fifty minutes, walkers emerge from all directions, all having finished the same walk as me. They all seem in good spirits, they all seem like they do it all the time. Maybe they do. There is a couple in their fifties who’ve carried their camping packs all along, accompanied by their twenty-something son, his girlfriend, and their adorable mongrel dog. The son had found a large, v-shaped piece of driftwood on the beach a couple of miles back that he’d decided to carry too, wearing it around his neck like a yoke. If you’d asked me to carry an extra box of matches I would have laughed in your face, but here was a man who was finding it all so manageable that he’d decided to lug a big bit of old tree along with him too. Once again, I feel insignificant, and embarrassed that anyone would think to praise what I’d done - look at all the others finding it all too easy. I know my achievement is amazing for me, that everything is relative, but clearly I am not impressed by my own relative achievements. I must be uniquely brilliant.

Finally the bus comes and takes us back the same fifteen miles to Carlisle. I walk to the train station, pick up my tickets and, with 40 minutes to spare, retrace my steps for two minutes to the Pizza Express I’d spotted. I order a Diet Coke and an American, change in the toilet, eat, and return to the station. At 15:49 the Virgin Pendolino pulls out with me on board. We speed through the sun. I appreciate the countryside from a seated position and then watch, captivated, as the blue blob on my iPhone’s map shows us skirting Birmingham, crossing the M25, and eventually approaching Euston. It’s been a beautiful adventure that has pushed me to my limits, exactly as I’d intended, and I’m very glad indeed to be going home.