Saturday, 30 May 2009

Feeling Better

I know that yesterday's post was one of the most negative that I have written for a long time, but I was really feeling bad from the moment I woke up. Tears started flowing from the moment that I opened my eyes and I just felt that I didn't want to be alive. During the course of the day my mood rose a little and by late afternoon I was functioning quite well although I could feel the start of a headache coming on.

By about 10pm the headache was turning into the worst migraine that I have suffered for years. I couldn't sleep because of the pain, and then I started feeling sick. There was no way that I could sleep because every time that I laid down I had this feeling of the room spinning around me and I felt more waves of nausea. I took medication every four hours and by about 5.30 this morning the pain and dizziness had subsided enough for me to lie down and go to sleep.

And that is what I have done today; I've slept. The pain has now gone and I am feeling human again. I'm wondering whether it was the migraine that caused me to feel so low yesterday morning, but it is only a passing thought because I am going to accept that it was just one of those days that happens now and again.

Anyway, thanks for the concern shown in the comments on the post; hopefully normally blogging has now returned. I have a few rows of knitting to do this evening to finish the afghan I am knitting, which means that there will be no problem in having it ready to deliver to its recipient next Friday.

Friday, 29 May 2009

The Darkness That Is Depression

Why do I suffer these terrible black periods? What makes me fall into such a deep hole for no apparent reason? What did I do to deserve this?

I try not to think about how I am feeling. I try to occupy my mind with things that don't allow me time to think about myself. But when I get like this I find it difficult to concentrate, and lack of concentration allows those dark thoughts in.

There are so many things that I know that I should be doing.

I ought to be making sure that I eat properly, but cooking seems to be beyond my ability. Eating the wrong things is so much easier.

I ought to make sure that I get exercise, but I don't seem to have the energy or the enthusiasm. Lying in bed is so much more attractive.

So here I am, knowing that I need to do something, but physically and mentally unable to. Yes, I manage to take my medication, but it doesn't seem to help and the dark thoughts continue to find their way to the fore and I wonder why I continue to live.

It is no wonder that so many of those who fall into this depressive state turn to thoughts of self-harm or to suicide.

Are they the strong ones? I know that I can do neither of these things. All I can do is hope that these dark feelings will pass and I will come out the other side of this dark journey soon.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Knitting Update

I haven't written about my knitting for a few weeks so I thought that I would bring those who are interested up to date with my work. I found that I had enough wool to make a third hat which is as different to the other two as they are to each other.
Hat No 1
Hat No 2Hat No 3

After the hats I started to knit a V-necked pullover, but put that to one side because it is really a winter jumper, and therefore can wait for a couple of months before I start working on it again. So I started knitting an afghan for a friend. It was to be the same pattern that I had used for an afghan for myself a few months back and I thought that I had enough wool left over from what I bought for mine (I drastically overestimated how much I would need) to be able to complete this second afghan. But I miscalculated and knew that although there would be enough to complete the main part of the afghan, there wouldn't be enough for the edging. It was possible that I might be able to get another ball of the wool that I was using but I made the decision that to create a different effect I would use a contrasting colour to complete the last pattern repeat on the afghan and to create the edging. On Tuesday morning, armed with a length of the yarn that I had been using, I went back to the shop where I had bought the wool to look for something that was the same thickness and yarn composition, but which would provide a contrast to the bulk of the afghan. I found what I was looking for and Tuesday evening I started the last pattern repeat with the contrast yarn and was quite pleased with the effect that it created. Yesterday I started working the edging on the shawl and it is progressing slowly. I estimate that I should be able to finish the edging by about Tuesday of next week, although it may get done earlier if I have an evening where I really get on with it. Then I need to sew in the few ends and it will be completed and ready for me to give to my friend.

Yes, I am indeed using three needles to finish off the afghan. The needle on the left is the circular needle on which the afghan has been knitted, while the two double-pointed needles are the ones that the edging is knit on although on alternate rows one of the stitches from the circular needle is knitted with the last stitch of the row on the double-pointed needles, thus forming the join between the edging and the afghan.

While I was buying the contrast yarn for the afghan, I also found some other yarn being sold for a good price. The problem with knitters is that they are always looking for bargains and will buy any that they find to put into their stash for use in the future. Well, I'm just like any other knitter and I have my stash of yarn for future projects and I bought some of this cheap yarn for a pullover or a cardigan (I haven't quite made my mind up yet). It is somewhat unusual in composition because it looks a little like it is made from crocheted chain stitch. But it will make a change from the somewhat ordinary feeling (although one cannot describe the projects that have been completed recently as ordinary looking) yarn that I have been working with for the last few months. I'll put up a photograph of the finished project when I get round to knitting it.

Just in case you weren't aware, if you click on any of the photographs on this blog an enlarged version will open in another window, so you can see whatever is illustrated in all its glory.


I'm not a great poetry reader. I admit that it used to leave me cold when I was forced to read it, and often learn it by heart, at school. Having said that, there are a couple of poems from my schooldays that I seem to have a kind of affinity for, although I am not sure why.

The first of these is 'Cargoes' by John Masefield. I remember it being read to us when I was at primary school, and I'm pretty certain that we had to learn it by heart. I think that what I like about this poem is the wonderful descriptions of each of the three vessels moving in the water, and the differences in their respective cargoes. The metre of each verse seems to match the way in which the ship would move through the water; there is a feeling of the pulling of oars in the first verse, the wind filling the sails of the galleon in the second verse and blowing it steadily home, while the coaster in the third verse seems to be attacking the wind and waves of the North Sea with such vigour.

The second poem that I still enjoy reading is 'In Westminster Abbey' by John Betjeman. Many of Betjeman's poems have an element of humour to them and I think that what appeals to me most about this poem is the things that this lady is praying for. She would have probably seen herself as a 'good Christian' but she is extremely selfish and is really praying only for herself; the last two lines show her for the hypocrite that she is, just praying to fill in the time before her next appointment.

The programmes that have been shown on BBC2 this week about John Donne and John Milton have made me a little more interested in reading their work, but I am not absolutely certain that I am up to reading all of Paradise Lost. Another programme that I have enjoyed recently was the programme on BBC4 'Ian Hislop's Changing of the Bard', a typically amusing look by Ian Hislop at the various poets who have held the post of Poet Laureate, and how holding the post could have a very detrimental effect on their output, always assuming that their poetry was any good in the first place.

I am sure that I will continue to watch some of the programmes in the series, and I may even find myself reading more poetry simply for pleasure, but I'm not sure whether I would ever find myself drawn to write any.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

My Most Popular Post

Since I began blogging nearly a year ago I have averaged between 20 and 30 readers a day. Obviously it's not the most read blog out there, but I am always amazed that anyone reads it at all. The blog was originally meant as a way for me to express how I felt living with depression although right from the start I said that it would also contain my thoughts on many subjects; and it has.

I knew that I didn't want to harp on about how I was feeling; that would have been rather boring and also self-centred. I wanted it to be more of an educational tool so that non-sufferers would perhaps get a better understanding of what it is like to have to live with mental illness.

I have regular readers, and some who dip in from time to time. Fortunately, readers will often drop me a comment, which as every blogger knows is a great comfort as it lets us know that someone has really read what we have written and not just pulled up the page and then passed on to another blog. I have even been fortunate enough to have met one of my fellow bloggers and we have become friends and correspond regularly.

As a blogger you wonder what attracts readers to your blog in the first place and the array of add-ons that are available for no cost that enable you to track your readership and how they have found your blog make this easy to do. One thing that I found out about these add-ons fairly early on is that they don't all register readers in the same way, and more importantly that they don't register all those who come to your blog. That is why I have four different examples of these widgets on my blog.

Over the last couple of months I have been taking a note of Google searches that have brought people to this blog and I have found that I am getting two or three visitors a day because of one particular post. I don't know how many of those visitors become regular readers, very few I would think, but I find it truly amazing that I have written a post that brings so many people here in their quest for information on a particular subject.

That particular post is What is a Shetland Hap Shawl? It was written in response to several of my regular readers who were interested in my knitting projects and when I started writing about the hap shawl that I was knitting at the time, asked me what a hap shawl was. This morning I thought that I would carry out a Google search for 'hap shawl' myself and I was amazed to find that my blog was the second result to come up, the one ahead of me being Heirloom Knitting, the company who got me interested in knitting Shetland lace in the first place.

I haven't knitted any Shetland lace for a while now, I've been too busy on other projects, but I am planning to design a Shetland lace shawl of my own from scratch in the next few months and it is as a result of the wonderful designs that are available from Heirloom Knitting and an incredible book of that name written by the company's owner, Sharon Miller. So, in the not to distant future I will be buying a huge sheaf of graph paper, arming myself with some pencils and a very large rubber, some suitable knitting needles, some yarn, and hoping that don't get too frustrated and despondent when things don't turn out quite how I expect.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

My Second Day Out In South Kensington

Well, I'm not exactly original. I decided not to spend a lot of money on entrance fees, so that meant that two of my possible places to visit (the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey) were off the list. As I headed for the bus stop I knew it was going to be a museum or a gallery; but which one? The bus I was on meant that there were so many possibilities. In the end, I decided to get off the bus at Trafalgar Square and take the Underground to South Kensington; it was going to be the Natural History Museum again.

I arrived a little later than last week; it was just 10am as I emerged from the subway that takes you from the Underground station to the museums. The doors had just opened and it was possible to see that the queue was moving but that it was much longer than last week. However, I knew that I was going to fortify myself with a coffee before I went in so the queue would hopefully die down a little while I drank my morning brew. And while I drank my coffee I tried to make up my mind what parts of the museum's incredible collections I was going to visit today. One thing that I was sure about was that I was going to take plenty of photographs to include in this blog so that those of my readers who are unable to visit this wonderful museum would be able to see some of its treasures.

Again, to show my lack of originality, I went to the Vault. I had been so mesmerized by its contents on my first visit that I had to go and look at this superb collection again. As you enter this area the first thing that you see is this beautiful gold snuff box encrusted with diamonds and surmounted with an enamel portrait of Tsar Alexander II of Russia who gave the box to Sir Roderick Murchison, Director General of the British Geological Survey, who compiled the first geological map of the Ural Mountains in Russia in 1841. This map identified Russia's rich mineral deposits which would be a potential source of great wealth for Russia. The workmanship is incredible and the 16 large diamonds set around the edge of the lid of the box are each up to 2.5 carats in weight.

The Latrobe Nugget, which weighs 717 grammes, is not the largest gold nugget ever to have been found but it has exceptionally well-defined crystals for a nugget of its size; some of the crystals are more than a centimetre across so this gives some idea of the size of the nugget. The nugget contains a small impurity of copper, which gives it a particularly rich colour. It is named after the Governor of Victoria, Australia, who was visiting the mine on the day in 1853 that it was found. Gold is more usually found as small grains or dust, so nuggets of this size are quite rare, and when as beautifully formed as this one is, are items of great beauty.

This beautiful opal necklace is made up of opals selected by Guy Dollman, who worked in the Zoology Department of the Natural History Museum. He collected them over the period 1907 to 1942, and they were made into this necklace for his wife; the necklace was given to the Museum in 1958. As a lover of opals myself, I know how difficult it is to get a pair of opal matching in size and colour for a pair of earrings, so to collect such wonderful specimens as those included in this necklace must truly have been a labour of love.

This photograph shows three boulders that have been split open to reveal the opal hidden within. Opals are very fragile in comparison to other precious stones such as diamonds, sapphires and rubies. This means that cutting and polishing them to make jewellery-quality stones is very difficult; mounting them can be a problem too as they can be damaged with the heat required to mould the precious metal around the finished opal. The best stones are not the milky white opal that is most familiar to us mounted in jewellery but the stones with their rainbow of colours in a darker background. The most highly-prized stones are those that contain the colour red.

From the Vault, I decided to go to the section of the museum devoted to Human Biology. This particular area is very popular with the parties of school children that you encounter in the museum. In fact, it was so full of school children that it was almost impossible to see many of the exhibits. This is probably because this is a very interactive area and there are lots of things for the children to watch, touch, or play with. However, I persevered and did manage to make my way round the whole of the exhibition area until I came to a part that was almost devoid of people. Perhaps the reason that the children seemed to be absent from this area was to do with the subject that it covered; memory. I am sure that most of them have a wonderful memory, after all they are young and it has not yet been filled with the sort of things that those of us with a few more years under our belts have filed away. I just could not resist taking a photograph of the elephant, for elephants are supposed to have long memories, especially as it had a knotted handkerchief in its trunk!

From here I went to look at some of the marvellous fossils that line the walls in the next part of the museum. While some of the fossils come from various locations around the world, many of them are from Britain, and in particular Lyme Regis. The first ichthyosaur fossil ever discovered was found at Lyme Regis, by Mary Anning who was only aged 11 at the time of its discovery in 1811. Anning was to make her living by selling the finds that she made in the cliffs around her home town of Lyme Regis, and was the world's first professional fossil hunter. The photograph on the right shows an ichthyosaur found by Mary Anning, although this one was complete unlike her original find which had merely comprised the skull and a number of neck bones. The photograph on the left is of the fossilized bones of a giant sloth. Charles Darwin found the fossilized bones of a giant sloth when he was on HMS Beagle and it was by comparing bones such as these from the extinct giant sloth with those of sloths that were living in the present that helped Darwin to develop his theory of evolution.

From looking at fossils I went to looking at birds in the Bird Hall. Most of us are aware of the story of the Dodo, a giant of the pigeon family that became extinct in the 17th Century, less than 100 years after its discovery, thanks to humans bringing rats, cats and pigs to the island of Mauritius, the home of the dodo. There are no real examples of a dodo, only models, although the museum does have dodo skeletons. The photograph shows the museum's model of the Mauritius Dodo on the left, and the model on the right is of a close relative, the somewhat smaller Reunion Island dodo, which is also extinct. The dodo is not one of nature's most beautiful creations and another group of birds that it would be very difficult to describe as being attractive are vultures. The photograph to the right shows a Cinereous vulture, and having seen vultures for real in South Africa, I have to say that this is one of the more handsome examples of the species. But as we know there are some birds that are very attractive and colourful and one of the exhibits in the Bird Hall includes some of the most incredible birds in the world. Hummingbirds are tiny, and their wings beat at incredible speeds and because of the way in which they can manoeuvre their wings, humming birds are able to remain in one spot in order to gather the nectar that is their source of food, and therefore their energy, from flowers. There are hundreds of hummingbirds in this case, celebrating the diversity of these amazing little birds which are generally between 6 and 12 centimetres in length. The display case and its contents are nearly 200 years old and the plumage of many of the birds has faded over the years, but the iridescent breast feathers of some can still be seen, giving some idea of what these charming little birds must have looked like when the display was new.
After the Bird Hall I decided on a change of scenery. I left the Natural History Museum and crossed Exhibition Road and made my way to the entrance of the Victoria & Albert Museum. I had never visited this museum before but I was aware that its collections were 'art' of various types. When you walk up the steps and in through the main entrance of the museum you find yourself in an entrance hall that is light and airy and which houses an information point above which is the most incredible blown-glass chandelier. I have to admit that I am not a great lover of modern pieces, but this is just so spectacular that you cannot help but be inspired by it.I knew that with all the walking that I had already done that I would not be able to visit many of the areas in the V&A, so armed with a map of its galleries I sat down for a few minutes to make up my mind which I would be visiting. The decision turned out to be quite easy in the end; I went to have a look at the jewellery collection and the miniature paintings. As photography was not allowed in these areas, I am afraid that I cannot show you the things that most appealed to me; but it is true to say that the collections are superb and are well worth visiting.

There are a few other areas in the V&A that I would like to visit on a future occasion, but it is not the sort of museum that I would visit on a regular basis, probably because I am not so interested in the kinds of items in its collections. However, having said that, it is another jewel in the collection of museums that we are so lucky to have in this country.

So, another day out in London and another day that ended with tired legs and aching feet. I have to admit that I was glad to get home and put my feet up for a while, before thinking about where I would be going on my next outing. I haven't made my mind up yet, but one thing that I do know is that there are still lots of places for me to see.

Still Here

I promise that I will do a post about my day out last Friday. In fact, it is half written but I need to spend a bit more time on it so that you can see what I got up to and the things that I saw.

That said, I was saddened recently to hear of the death of Elaine who was a regular commenter on this blog and gave me much encouragement when I first started blogging. Like me she was a graduate of the Open University and it gave us a bond in common. I knew that Elaine had not been well, but even so, I don't think that I was prepared for the news that she had died.

I am also mourning the loss of another blogger. This time the person concerned has not died (at least I am pretty sure that they haven't) but they have given up their blog and deleted it. Loopy Kate of the Agonies and the Ecstasies had been wondering whether she would keep on blogging or not, and now it seems her decision has been made. I am so sorry that you have decided not to continue blogging Kate, although I think that you are still reading what I write, and I would love you to drop me an email, or a comment every now and again so that I know that you are well.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Another Day Out

I'm still having a difficult time so I have decided that I am going to have another day out in London to try to take my mind off things. The problem is deciding where to go.

There is so much to see and do, but one of the things I have to take into consideration is the cost of entrance to some of the places that I want to visit. So it may be somewhere that charges or it may be somewhere that doesn't.

I'll let you know later where I ended up.

Monday, 18 May 2009

A New Friend

Some of you will be familiar with There and Back. She is a blogger with mental health problems whose blog was one of the first that I ever read, and we have become friends through blogging. We have met in person and we write to each other on a daily basis. For her birthday a few months ago I sent her a 'How to Crochet' book, a crochet hook and some wool, and she has become hooked on crochet very quickly.

She started with making a chain, then starting to build on the chain with double crochet, and then treble crochet. After a few days she had made a flower; then she started making squares (the perfect way to learn how to do new stitches); eventually she started making a penguin. She called him Penguin Pete.

There and Back thought that I needed something to cheer me up. She has sent me something to keep me company.

Meet Penguin Pete. My new friend. Thank you There and Back; he is just so cute and I promise that he will have a good home.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A Truly Great Briton

Charles Darwin was born 250 years ago this year, and his greatest work On the Origin of Species was published 200 years ago this year. Both are significant anniversaries and are rightly being celebrated in a number of ways in this country.

The Natural History Museum Guidebook tells us a little about the museum's newest important building - the Darwin Centre. This two-stage building project (the first part opened in 2002 and the second part is to be opened later this year) sees the provision of new laboratories and storage areas for the museum's collection of specimens not on display, which number in the millions.

The guidebook also tells us that a statue of Charles Darwin keeps visitors company as they drink a cup of coffee in the cafeteria situated behind the Central Hall, the first area that you enter from the Cromwell Road entrance to the museum.

Fortunately, the statue has been moved from the cafeteria to a position at the top of the stairs at the end of the Central Hall.
Let us hope that the museum authorities leave it in this prominent position after this anniversary year. The cafeteria is hardly a fitting location for such an eminent and important scientist, who was a truly great Briton.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

My Day Out In South Kensington

It was a typical day yesterday; grey with the promise of rain if I was unlucky and I did feel the occasional spot of rain as I was walking to the bus stop. Then there was the 20-minute wait for a bus that is supposed to run at 8-12 minute intervals; the roadworks for the replacement of the Victorian water mains in my part of London are responsible for many buses being diverted from their usual routes, and delays to them too.

After changing from a bus as my method of transport to the Underground my journey speeded up and after arrival as South Kensington Station and then walking through the subway that links the station to the museums, it was time for me to make my decision. Which museum was it to be? I took the first exit from the subway; it was going to be the Natural History Museum.

The museum opened at 10am and having arrived a few minutes before that I decided to sit by the East Lawn on one of those terribly uncomfortable metal benches that we have in so many of our public areas. I could see the mass of people queueing for entry to the museum from where I sat and promptly at 10am the queue started to move. But as quickly as people were entering the museum (there is a search of bags immediately inside) the queue did not seem to be getting any smaller because more people were joining the queue, the only sensible thing to do was to join them. This photograph was taken at 10.26am, so with the queue still present, but at least moving at a reasonable rate, I decided to join it. I found myself in the middle of a group of French school children but one of their teachers took pity on me and indicated that I should go ahead of them in the queue, so that less than 10 minutes later I found myself at the head of the queue. My handbag was searched by a very nice man who as he cleared me through hoped that I would enjoy my visit to the museum.

There are two entrances to the Natural History Museum, and if the Exhibition Road entrance was as busy as the Cromwell Road entrance that I had chosen to use, then it is probable that well in excess of 1000 people had entered through its doors during the first hour of opening. The majority of these appeared to be be foreign visitors. There may be a global recession at present, but the relatively low value of the pound against the dollar and the euro, and the many things that there are to see and do in London, could well make this a bumper year for tourism.

So what did I look at in the Natural History Museum? There is so much to see, but I am fascinated by the way in which the Earth was formed, in particular the way that various rocks are created and what happens to them over time. This includes the way in which certain elements become compounds and the way that heat and pressure affect these compounds to create incredible crystals, some of which become what we call precious and semi-precious gemstones.

So I was dazzled and amazed in three separate areas of the museum. I walked down one side of the Earth Hall, then climbed the stairs to Earth's Treasury. Here there were collections of gemstones that had been donated to the museum by collectors, many of whom had worked in far flung areas of the British Empire during the 19th and 20th centuries. There are thousands of exhibits of beautiful minerals and gemstones in this gallery and I could have spent the whole day here being mesmerised by their beauty and diversity. From Earth's Treasury I returned to the Earth Hall and viewed the exhibits on the other side.

My next port of call was Minerals. This is an example of how one always pictures Victorian museums. Massive cabinets of exhibits on the walls and the room filled with wooden desk-like cabinets full to overflowing with examples of whatever the room is about. It always amazes me how high some of these desk-like display cases are and how difficult it can be for those who are on the short side to be able to see their contents. From here I went to what was the highlight of the day for me; The Vault. This small room houses an incredible collection of precious and semi-precious gemstones with some in their natural form and others cut, polished and mounted in jewellery and fine objects.

This uncut emerald, one of the largest emerald crystals ever found, is 1384 carats in size and was bought by the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Perfect emeralds are very rare, and the many flaws in this particular crystal probably saved it from being cut into smaller stones and mounted into jewellery. But because of its size and beautiful colour, it was prominently displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1851. It is somewhat fitting that having been acquired for the nation as part of a settlement of death duties, the emerald should now be displayed in the Natural History Museum, a building created from the profits of that exhibition.

But the highlight of the day for me was undoubtedly the display of coloured diamonds. None of the stones are large, but they do represent every colour in which diamonds can be found and they are displayed as a work of art. The display is illuminated alternately by white and ultraviolet light with the result that the diamonds can be seen to display different colours in each. I had never before appreciated how different such diamonds could look in different lighting conditions and the sheer beauty of them as a work of nature enhanced by the work of man.

I had spent two and a half hours wandering through these few displays and decided to go outside for some fresh air and a cup of coffee. After this short break I decided on a change and made my way along Exhibition Road to the Science Museum. Where I had never visited the Natural History Museum before, I do remember making a visit to the Science Museum as a child on a day out from school. I'm not sure exactly when this visit was made but it was certainly more than 40 years ago, and I actually remember very little of the visit at all. Since that time many new items have been added to the collection and they way that things are displayed has been changed significantly too. Yes, there are still the large engines that I do vaguely remember, but there is also the command capsule of Apollo 10, the last mission before men landed on the Moon. The Science Museum also houses an IMAX cinema and if you have never seen an IMAX film before I do recommend that you do so, for the experience can be truly breath-taking. My first visit to see an IMAX film was in the National Air and Space Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. I saw many IMAX films there over the years, and later saw films at the IMAX cinemas at the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral and in Darling Harbour Sydney (yes, I have been a bit of a traveller in my time). This was going to be the first IMAX cinema that I had visited in more than 10 years and I chose to see a 3-D animated film entitled Fly Me to the Moon. I have seen 3-D films before but never on such a large screen; and the tale that was told was enchanting. It was about three young flies who hitched a ride on Apollo 11 on its journey to the Moon and the 3-D effects were superb. From feeling as though you were actually in the grass and looking up at the world around you, to having a drop of orange juice float towards you in the weightlessness of space. It was an amusing end to my day of exploration and education.

At about 5pm I started to make my way home. My legs were tired and my feet were aching, but I had enjoyed my day out far more than I had expected. I am now planning my next visit to the museums of South Kensington.

Friday, 15 May 2009

A Grand Day Out

I said that I was going to go out and try not to think about the things that were causing me to be so depressed at the moment, and I did. I spent nearly 12 hours out of the house and I have walked miles and stood around for hours. I've been somewhere I have never visited before, and somewhere that I have not been to for a very long time.

My legs and feet are aching, my back is telling me that I have been on my feet all day, and I am worried that I may wake up tomorrow with sciatica, something that happens occasionally after a long day on my feet.

I'm going to have an early night tonight and I am hoping that I will sleep the night through. If I do it will be the first time that I have done that for a few weeks. And tomorrow I will tell you about my adventures and the things that I have seen and done.

The Great Exhibition, The Crystal Palace And A Day Out

The part of London that I live in was forested not so very long ago. There are still some substantial woods nearby and there were ancient wells too. After the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Crystal Palace, in which the exhibition had been housed, was dismantled and moved to this part of London and the area where it was relocated was renamed Crystal Palace. The park which was established at the same time that the Crystal Palace was relocated was a favourite place for Sunday afternoon walks when I was a child. Unfortunately, I never saw the Crystal Palace itself because it burned down in 1936, although its foundations could still be seen and were a reminder of a British achievement.

The Great Exhibition was an incredible success. Although only open for 6 months, it attracted more visitors than the Millennium Dome managed in a year. And this was at a time when travel was nowhere near as easy as it is today. The Great Exhibition also created a lasting legacy for the country, for with the proceeds from the entrance money a group of museums were built. Those museums were built in South Kensington and are located on Exhibition Road, named so that we should never forget where their origins were.

The museums are the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. They are world-renowned, and rightly so, and are testament to the vision of Prince Albert and his idea of an exhibition to show what man had achieved through hard work, ingenuity and innovation.

To make sure that I don't sit at home getting more and more depressed on a day that is difficult for me to cope with, I have decided to get out my Oyster card, ignore the fact that it is a miserable day and I am going to get wet while walking to the bus stop and from the Underground station, and I am going to visit one of these museums.

I haven't made up my mind which it will be yet. They all have exhibits that I want to see; I shall make my decision when I get there. And I'll let you know about my day out later.

Thursday, 14 May 2009


I'm having a difficult time with depression at the moment. I've been feeling very low for a number of weeks, I am feeling abandoned after the ending of psychotherapy, and tomorrow would have been my wedding anniversary (the 11th since my husband died and they don't get any easier).

At the moment I am finding it difficult to summon up the enthusiasm to do anything and I am finding it very difficult to concentrate so anything that requires thought to enable it to happen is proving difficult. As a result, television is one of the few things that I can cope with, but even then I am selective about what I watch.

There wasn't much that attracted my eye when I looked to see what was on tonight. The only thing that remotely interested me was on BBC 2. It is entitled Keep it in the Family, and tonight's programme is about the Chapman family who own the Castle Hotel in Taunton. Privately-owned hotels such as this one, which has an international reputation, are rare these days, and the Castle Hotel also has a reputation for the food it serves. Gary Rhodes is a former employee. The owner of the hotel, Kit Chapman, believes that it is important that guests receive a warm welcome on arrival, and it is he who has been responsible for the hotel's well-deserved reputation.

But I can't watch this programme at the moment. I shall have to leave it for a few days and then watch it on BBC iPlayer. There is a reason. It is one of those coincidences that can make life really difficult for us.

The Castle Hotel in Taunton is where I spent my honeymoon.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

How Did I Forget About Music?

I like music. Okay, so it's probable that most people, unless they are tone deaf, like music of some sort or other. I have quite wide-ranging, but specific, likes and dislikes.

Let's get the dislikes out of the way first. I hate jazz. All jazz. It does absolutely nothing for me. I also dislike most present-day pop music. I was growing up in the 60s and started working in 1972, so I had the luck to be listening to the best pop music that there has been in my formative years and this probably explains why I have little time for, or inclination to listen to, what passes for popular music today. Some of it is just poor versions of the songs that I grew up with and I find that much of the rest is just downright awful.

My taste in pop music, as I have said is predominantly from the period from the 60s to perhaps the mid-80s, but I do love some from both earlier and later than those dates. My particular favourites are The Beatles, Queen, Cat Stevens (both from the 60s and his more recent music as Yusuf Islam), Simon and Garfunkel (perhaps it is stretching the point a little to refer to their music as pop, but the Bridge Over Troubled Water Album was a phenomenal best-seller in its day), The Carpenters, Abba, Elton John, and not much at the time but they have grown on me over the years, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones.

I like music from the shows. Not all of them admittedly, but I do admit to enjoying listening to Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Chess, Evita, Mack and Mabel, Oliver (my preferred recording being that of the Original London Cast from the original 1960s production with Georgia Brown in the role of Nancy, because Lionel Bart wrote Nancy's songs with Georgia in mind and they are written for her voice range), and a number of others. When my husband was alive we often went to see a show in the West End, and some we went to a number of times because we enjoyed them so much.

I also like classical music. Again not all of it, and not necessarily all the work of particular composers. Elgar is perhaps my favourite composer, probably because I think that much of his music perfectly evokes a picture of the English countryside when you hear it. I also really enjoy listening to work by Handel, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn (especially his violin concerto), Chopin, Bizet, Verdi, and some Bach and Mozart. These are my favourites, but I have listened to works by many more, and enjoyed them.

And that is perhaps the point. I have realized that my enjoyment of music seems to be something from the past. I rarely listen to the radio these days (I'm not sure why other than not liking much of the music that seems to be played today), and I haven't bought myself a new CD for years. I always had music playing in the car when I was driving about, but since I gave up using the car because of the rising price of petrol, I seem to have stopped listening to music almost completely.

But two programmes last Saturday evening on BBC 2 changed that. The first programme that I watched was The Birth of British Music, the first in a series of programmes presented by Charles Hazlewood and which focused on the music of Henry Purcell. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed Purcell's music and I sat and enjoyed an hour listening to the story of his life and to some of his greatest music. And then just 40 minutes later, again on BBC 2, we were treated to Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra. While not altogether a fan of Bill Bailey, I have to say that I truly enjoyed this programme, and perhaps the highlight for me was the 'Cockney Arrangement' (well I am London born and bred) of the Finale to Rossini's William Tell Overture.

(Lily has just reminded me of another brilliant item in this programme. Bailey's brilliant interpretation of the theme to Doctor Who in the style of Jacques Brell complete with French lyrics about Docteur Qui.)

BBC iPlayer is wonderful. My only regret is that so many programmes are only available for 7 days. For since watching these two programmes on Saturday night, I have used BBC iPlayer to watch the Bill Bailey programme twice more and the Purcell programme another three times. And I'm actually thinking of watching it again later this afternoon just for the joy of listening to the music.

Watching these two programmes has reminded me just how important music has been in my life and has encouraged me to listen to it a little more often. There wasn't much that I wanted to watch on television last night so I got out my iPod, put in the earplugs, and sat listening to Queen while I got on with my knitting. And on Saturday I shall be sitting in front of the television, ready for the second programme in The Birth of British Music series, for it is about Handel, who for all that he was born German, wrote music that is seen very much as being British. I can feel myself being rowed along the Thames to the Water Music, watching a display in the night-time sky to the Music for the Royal Fireworks, and thrilling to the Hallelujah Chorus as I sit here and write this. Imagine what I will be like when the programme is actually on and I am really listening to the music.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Some More Of My Handiwork

One of the things that I do to keep my mind occupied when I am very depressed is knitting. I have often talked about what I am working on at the time on this blog and I thought that I would show you what I have done over the last couple of days.

I had a couple of balls of wool left over from a cardigan that I have just made and thought that it would be nice to have a hat. I wanted a simple beanie hat but I couldn't find a free pattern for a hat I liked on the Internet so I decided to see if I could work out something for myself. And this is the result.

As the hat had used less than one of the balls that I had left I decided to knit a second hat. This is it. One of the beautiful aspects of this wool is that no two balls are the same, so my two hats are quite different in appearance.

The cardigan that I knitted is an incredible array of colours and I have nicknamed it my 'coat of many colours'. The predominant colours are red and blue, but there are many others too including yellow, green, purple and pink.

Here are the two hats side by side. The first one I knitted is on the right and has blue as a more predominant colour, while the second hat, on the left in this picture, is more obviously red.

The difference in the hats when viewed together is quite striking and yet, when viewed separately, they don't look that different.

It is the complexity of knitting yarns like this one that make knitting such an enjoyable pastime for me. Having knitted practically all my life, the thing that I appreciate most these days is the diverse nature of the knitting yarns available today. Such a choice, and range, was unheard of when I was younger, and I believe that it is this choice that I have, plus the exciting range of patterns available, that has meant that knitting has become such a lifeline for me.

However, sometimes I need a change from knitting, not least because I have quite bad osteo-arthritis in the index finger of my left hand and sometimes the pain can become so bad that knitting becomes very difficult. I am having problems at the moment, so yesterday I started work on a cross stitch sampler. It is of African animals and will provide me with a reminder of the time that I spent in a game reserve in South Africa when I went to stay with my aunt (she is my Dad's twin sister and my godmother and has lived in South Africa most of her life) shortly after my husband died.

The trouble with a project like this is that it takes a lot longer to complete than knitting a cardigan or a jumper. But the satisfaction when it is completed will be just as great and when framed will provide me with a permanent reminder of something that I am sure that I will never be able to do again. And yes, I did see all of these animals and many more besides.

Monday, 11 May 2009

It Wasn't How I Expected Or Wanted It To Be

I deliberately held off writing a post about the end of therapy until I'd had a few days to get used to the idea. On Friday, after my final therapy session, I was numb, but I knew that a huge factor in this emotion was that I had not managed any sleep at all on Thursday night.

The session itself was strange and not at all how I expected it would be or how I hoped it would be. It started with me being asked how I was. That was fairly easy to answer because I was incredibly tired so I told my therapist that I hadn't had any sleep at all the previous night. He queried this. Was I sure that I hadn't dropped off at some point? Yes, I was sure, and I proceeded to tell him all the things that I had done in an effort to get some sleep.

He then asked me what my feelings were about the end of therapy. I told him that I regretted the end of the one bit of routine in my life, that I was scared about not having the regular contact with another human being that the therapy appointments guaranteed, and that I had an overwhelming feeling of being abandoned.

And that is how I feel now. Abandoned. Left on my own again. It was not a good last session. There was no real ending. It was a conversation that was ended with "I'm afraid we'll have to leave it there" and a "Goodbye" and a handshake.

I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't that. I had hoped for some sort of closure, some hope for the future. Instead I feel as though I have something terminal and I am in the final stages. I feel as though I have just been left to die.

Friday, 8 May 2009

You Must Listen To This

One of the blogs that I read regularly is The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive. Seaneen Malloy is a brilliant writer and gives a real insight into what it is like to suffer from serious mental illness. Today's Afternoon Play on BBC Radio 4 was 'Dos and Don'ts for the Mentally Interesting', written by Louise Ramsden and based on Seaneen's blog.

If you didn't hear it, I can thoroughly recommend it. You can find it here.

The Early Hours Of The Morning

Okay, so it is nearly 2.30 in the morning and I am still awake. I've tried to get to sleep, using all the various methods that I can think of, but sleep just will not come.

Reading is usually one of the ways that I can guarantee will send me off into the arms of Morpheus, but not tonight. I've tried light-hearted reading material, and I've tried some real academic thought-provoking stuff that will normally induce sleep after about two paragraphs. Tonight it just isn't doing the job.

I've listened to music, I've listened to relaxation and sleep tracks; but my eyes are still wide open. It looks as though I will still be awake when the alarm goes off at 6am.

I rarely use an alarm. Friday mornings are the exception of course because of going for my psychotherapy session. This is the last session, so is this the reason that I can't sleep? It's possible, but I actually feel quite calm about that at the moment. But do I? I don't have butterflies, or pterodactyls, flying around in my stomach, nor am I suffering from the shakes (another sure sign that I am very worried about something), but even though I am telling myself that things will be all right I'm not sure that there isn't some little corner of my subconscious which is working overtime keeping me awake.

I'm not going to care about it; I'm going to try to relax; I shall read; I shall listen to music; I shall get up when the alarm sounds; I shall make the most of this last session; and I will remember to thank my therapist for the improvement that he has brought about in me.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A 'Wellcome' Day Out

I haven't been sleeping very well recently. There is nothing new in that; it's something that I often write about. The problem is that when you can't sleep at night you find it very difficult to get through the day. You are tired, you have no energy, eventually you start having a nap to get through the day and before you know where you are, sleeping becomes something that you do during the day rather than at night, which is when it is supposed to occur. Yesterday morning I woke after a mere four hours sleep and I knew that if I didn't do something about it I would be asleep again in just a couple of hours, moving more and more towards being nocturnal. So I made an effort; even though I was tired I was going to do something that would help to tire me so that I could sleep last night.

I decided to make a foray into the centre of London and visit another museum. I wrote about a previous museum visit here, made for much the same reason, and it had worked reasonably well so why shouldn't I try it again. I knew that it couldn't be one of the major museums because I didn't really have the energy to walk (and stand) for hours so I chose something that was smaller, but nonetheless interesting. I visited the Wellcome Collection.

The permanent exhibitions are displayed in a couple of large rooms, but there is also an area where special exhibitions are held and at present there are two such exhibitions under the banner Art and Mental Illness. I did take a brief walk round one (Madness and Modernity - Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900) but it was the permanent exhibitions that I was more interested in, and in particular the Medicine Man exhibition which includes artefacts from Sir Henry Wellcome's collection on the history of medicine and health.

It is not the largest exhibition in the world, but for someone who has studied the history of medicine it is fascinating. There are paintings, photographs, artificial limbs, medical instruments, items relating to old therapies like cutting and bleeding, diagnostic dolls, Japanese sex aids, momento mori, amulets to ward off disease and evil spirits, items used by famous men, the mummy of a child sacrifice from Peru, and a shrunken head. It is a classic example of a Victorian collection of artefacts gathered together by a man with a passion.

I was able to while away a couple of hours looking at these artefacts and reading about them. I walked and stood, I was amazed and a little reviled, I was informed, educated and interested. The exhibition did what a good exhibition should; it allowed me to learn about a subject, and to learn a little about the man who put the collection together. It made me want to find out more.

Walking was a significant factor in the day; I walked miles. I got on a bus not far from my home and got off when it reached the end of its route. I could have got another bus almost to the doorstep of the Wellcome Trust, but I chose to walk for I knew that the exercise would do me good and help to tire me. I walked around the collection and then I walked to find somewhere for a quick lunch before walking further to a point somewhere on the route of the bus to take me home. And then after reaching the bus stop near my home I walked some more as I went to collect a prescription from my GP's surgery and then to the chemist's to get it filled. Finally I walked the last mile home.

Yesterday evening was spent reflecting on my day out, and resting my aching legs and feet. I managed to stay awake, even though I was tired, until a reasonable time so that I stood a chance of sleeping last night. When I did go to bed I fell asleep fairly quickly and though I did wake momentarily a couple of times in the night, I was able to get back to sleep quickly and sleep through until a reasonable hour this morning.

I think that I achieved a reasonably successful outcome for the day.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

I Will Not Panic; I Will Not Get Anxious

In less than 48 hours I will be setting off for my last psychotherapy session. I have often written on this blog how difficult I find it during the days before each session, though at the moment I am quite calm. But Friday morning may be a slightly different matter.

The termination of psychotherapy should mean the end of my sleepless Thursday nights but it also means the end of the one routine item in my otherwise empty life. Friday mornings have meant a regular opportunity to talk to another human being, and most importantly to be able to talk to someone who genuinely wants to know how I am rather than the question just being a platitude.

Yes, I have a couple of friends with whom I correspond by email on a daily basis, and both of them (and they know who they are) do much to encourage me and to help me get through my dark periods. But they are both many miles away and so actually seeing them and talking face to face is a rare thing.

I am telling myself that the psychotherapy has made a difference to me. It has helped me to see that it is not my fault that I am ill, that I am not responsible for how I feel, that things in my past have made it difficult for me to deal with how I am today. Medication helps with the panic and the anxiety, but it does not help with the loneliness and the empty feelings. Talking has helped with them, but I now have to see if I can cope with them on my own. And that is the most difficult part of depression to deal with; the isolation and emptiness. The end of therapy feels like I am being abandoned yet again.

Friday, 1 May 2009

One More Session To Go

Today was my penultimate psychotherapy session. It was difficult; in fact, it was very difficult. I know that I am not ready for it to end, but end it must because that is the way of things on the NHS. There is never enough of what is needed.

As a former manager myself (though not in the NHS) I am well aware of the necessity of management of some kind, but I wonder how much more could be done for the patients' benefit if the multiple levels of management and the ridiculous amount of paperwork, results tables, protocols, and sundry other government and management requirements were to disappear overnight.

Mental health has always been a poor relation. It is not glamorous, nor is it seen as being of significant importance to this country. Yet the fact is that approximately 25% of the population will suffer with mental health problems at some time in their life, and a significant proportion of the population is unable to work because of mental health problems means that is should be seen as important. It is likely that the proportions will rise over the next couple of years because of the global financial crisis which has resulted in so many losing their jobs and the uncertainty that so many others feel.

As with everything else, this government has promised to do something about mental health provisions and yet their solution is far in the future and a least cost option. There is much evidence to show that psychotherapy can do much to make a change to the lives of those with mental health problems, particularly depression. But it is necessary to ensure that the right sort of therapy is provided for those that need it; and it needs to be available from the start, not when the situation has become so bad that the sufferer cannot work and their life has fallen apart. The government plans for there to be 10,000 therapists offering CBT in the next few years, but the Layard Report which brought about this decision by the government actually said that 30,000 were needed and that was before the financial crisis which is likely to increase the number of those needing help.

And CBT is not the global panacea that many seem to think it is. I am sure that it does help some people, but what is not widely reported is the number of people who are made well for a few months but then regress and have to rejoin the waiting lists for treatment of some kind. There is no point in offering a treatment that encourages people to change their thinking about the here and now if it is the long-distant past that is the root cause of their problems.

I know that I have been lucky. I have been receiving psychodynamic psychotherapy for a year now and it has made a significant difference to me. I have started to regain some of my self-confidence, and my weekly appointments have meant that there has been a little bit of routine in my life which has helped me get some structure in my life. But I know that there is still much work to be done to deal with the problems that led to me becoming ill. I need to understand how things that happened to me long ago and of which I had no conscious knowledge can be put behind me and I need to be helped to move on with my life. However, that is not going to happen because next week I will be saying goodbye to my therapist and I will be left on my own. I am being abandoned. Not because I am 'cured' but because the resources are not there to help those who need help.