Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Stages of Grief

Mostly on this blog I attempt to confine myself to things that pertain solely to me (and LittleBear, because he can't defend himself). I don't generally write about things that I perceive as "other people's stuff", even when their "stuff" intersects with my "stuff". It feels like a bit too much of an invasion of privacy to write publicly about something that isn't wholly mine. But I can't not write about this any longer, because it's eating away at me.

One of my friends has terminal cancer. He was diagnosed in January with an inoperable aggressive glioma of the brain. Radiotherapy hasn't worked, the steroids are failing to keep the swelling under control, he's losing cognitive function and the doctors were talking about moving him to a hospice. His wife has done everything in her power to bring him home instead, to where he desperately wants to be.

Why write about it?

Because I'm angry. I'm filled with an unmanageable rage that this is happening. Fuck cancer. I want to scream and rage and fight to stop this happening. It's not right, it's not fair, it should not be happening. This is a good, kind, gentle man with half a lifetime ahead of him that is being stolen from him. This is the one of the best, funniest, most loving, wonderful women I know being robbed of her beloved husband when she deserves so much more time, so much more love, so much more life with him. And I know it would be awful even if they were horrible people, but they're not, and they're my people. They're my friends. They're nearly family, and I don't want this to happen.

Which brings me to denial.

Even through the red mist of rage, there's part of me that refuses to believe that it's actually happening. That D is actually going to die. That one day, probably a lot sooner than I want, I will go to visit them, and it won't be "them" any more, it will be only be her. If I don't think about it, it's not real. In my own mind, in the memories I can conjure up in the blink of an eye, all is still as it's always been. D is still the same wry, softly-spoken man he always was. In my own mind he hasn't lost any memory, or cognition or speech. I haven't seen him since his most recent seizure and therefore it hasn't really happened. It's impossible to imagine a world where he is no longer there. I simply refuse to accept it.

Except when I do.

And then I start wanting to know what I can do. What bargain I can strike. What battle I can fight. How I can make this NOT HAPPEN. Surely there's something? Something I can do or say or change or make or offer or sacrifice that would make everything different. It can't be this simple. It can't be that this just happens. That one days the doctors simply say, "Sorry, there's nothing we can do". Surely something can be done. What do they need from me? What do they need from the world? What is there that can change this? Please, someone, tell me what the magic thing is that I need to do, and I'll do it...

And then I'm back to helpless rage that there really isn't anything I, or anyone else, can do. That this crap just is. And sometimes the tears well up as the reality sinks in, and the rage flows away and I'm left feeling empty and despairing that life is hard, and cancer is vicious, unseeing, unknowing, uncaring and sometimes incurable.

One day I will probably reach the "acceptance" stage of grief. In the meantime I shall continue to oscillate between anger and denial and bargaining and despair.

I came across a really good description of how to interact with people who are grieving or bereaved or terminally ill. It's based on concentric circles, with the most deeply affected person at the centre. Your own position within the expanding circles is determined by your closeness to the central figure. You can scream and rage and sob to anyone further "out" on these circles, but should only ever pass comfort and support inwards. I would never tell D's wife how much his illness tears me apart, only tell her that I love her and to try to find ways in which to show that love, and to offer my support.

Use the Ring Theory to Know How to Comfort Someone
courtesy of http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2013/08/use-the-ring-theory-to-know-how-to-comfort-someone/

I know that there may be people reading this who are closer to D and his wife than I am. Who are on an "inner circle". And for that reason, I've hesitated to write any of this, because D's cancer is not about me, or how I feel. And I don't want to dump my shit on anyone else who is hurting. To those who know and love D, I hope you read this knowing that I love him too, and that all I can offer is my love. There is nothing else left.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Playing chicken

I work in a part of the country that has, shall we say, a reputation for being populated with people who are not overly endowed with grey matter. Jokes are made about webbed fingers and marrying cousins. But even by the usual yardsticks of idiocy, a local lad has plumbed new depths. It would appear that, over the weekend, he attempted to play chicken in his car with a building. Unsurprisingly, the building failed to get out of the way. Slightly more surprisingly, he decided not to get out of the way either, thus plunging himself, his car (and his girlfriend) straight through the rear wall of said building. Said building being the one I work in. Fortunately it was into the neighbouring company's half of the building and not ours. Didn't half make a mess though:

We're gonna need a bigger vacuum cleaner
 (These is actually a hole through to the outside, it's just got emergency boarding over it to keep the weather out.)

While this is a disappointing and untidy thing to happen in the offices of a PR company, it would have been absolutely catastrophic if those breeze blocks had come slamming through into the room next door - our laboratory, complete with multiple precision scientific instruments in the middle of being built. 

You can see the boarding now
The first impressive thing is that on the way to ploughing through a solid wall, this young idiot also went straight through a hedge and two air-conditioning heat-exchange units. Apparently nobody explained the rules of "chicken" to the shrubbery. The second impressive thing is there were no skid marks in the car-park at all. He really, really, really didn't try and stop. The third, and most impressive, thing is that neither he nor his girlfriend suffered any serious injuries. Natural selection is failing to work. Though if his girlfriend has any sense she's not his girlfriend any more, which will at least temporarily prevent him infecting the genetic pool.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Run for your life!

Back in the mists of time, sufficiently long ago that I can no longer remember when it was, I took up running. BigBear had been running (on and off) for years, and I needed to find some means of getting some aerobic exercise that didn't involved jumping up and down in a crowded sweaty room with other people, the very thought of which gives me hives. So I had a go at running. It was, as I anticipated, a slow and painful ascent from non-runner to reasonable-jogger. But I managed it, and reached a point where I was relatively comfortable running 3-4 miles at a time 2-3 times a week and even doing 6.2 miles (10k) on occasion. And I found the experience remarkably rewarding in a way I hadn't expected.

Nothing difficult in my life until that point had been done without an end goal. I had always been striving to achieve something. To pass an exam, or to complete an award, or to beat other people in a race or a sport. This time I was running on my own, doing nothing other than attempt to improve my stamina, speed and distance. I wasn't comparing myself or competing against others. I was running only for myself. And I couldn't think of any other challenge I'd ever undertaken for no reason other than to see if I could. And it felt good, and liberating, and gave me a satisfaction that came entirely from within, not relying on any external validation.

And then I got pregnant, and went on holiday to Australia, and got out of the habit of running.

And then I was soul-destroyingly tired, and suffering from depression, and the idea of doing anything other than whimpering on the sofa in what free-time I had from a small baby was laughable.

And, after a while, running simply wasn't part of my life any more, and I didn't seem to have a place to put it.

Until last year, when I decided to try again. So out I went, and it was painful and exhausting to get from non-runner back towards stumbling-jogger, but I did it. And then, that April, I got a really foul cold that dragged on for weeks, and all my energy and motivation and fitness evaporated. So the last time I went running was 29th April 2015.

I have spent the past few months mock-sorrowfully regretting all the reasons I can't possibly go running again - BigBear goes out three times a week, so there's no time for me to go as well; I'm too busy; I'm too tired; I'm not good enough at it; I can't be arsed; my sports bras are too old and don't fit...

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that only the last two of these excuses reasons actually holds water. And I'm completely in denial about not-being-arsed being the big problem. Instead I have focussed on the physical idiocy of going running with woefully inadequate structural support. Because those sports bras all pre-date the original foray into running which, as mentioned, means they're actually older than I can remember. They also clearly pre-date all the changes in body shape brought about by pregnancy and breastfeeding. Which essentially renders them more or less useless.

I have clung to my underwear-inadequacy as a reason for not running, and clung also to the rashness of shopping online for such garments for months now. So last weekend I bit the bullet and ordered an item of intimate upholstery from John Lewis*. And when it arrived it fitted, though it does take about half an hour, a degree in structural engineering and the flexibility of a yogi to get into it.

Last night I ran 1.4 miles, with nary a bounce. Admittedly I can barely walk now, but I have broken my duck, and my capacious bosom is intact. Now I just have to keep fighting the battle of being arsed enough so that I overcome the initial pain and lack of fitness and reach the nirvana of "happy runner".

* An aside for women. Unless you're a man who needs a sports bra, this probably isn't relevant. I chose John Lewis not because of their awesome reputation as a purveyor of sporting goods, but because I know I can return things there with no hassle at all. And I was ordering a new freezer from them, so it seemed to make sense. And size? After I finished breastfeeding LittleBear, I went all "Trinny and Suzanne" and took myself off to Rigby and Peller to be fitted. It was eye-wateringly expensive, but life-changingly awesome. I have never owned such well-fitting, supportive, comfortable bras. See, I told you this section was for women didn't I? So I ordered a "Shock Absorber Ultimate Run Sports Bra" in my Rigby and Peller size, and now I am obliged to go running because the damn thing actually fits really well and eliminates all jiggle, wobble and bounce. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Eco-warrior in training

Among LittleBear's (current) foibles, is an insistence on only reading "fact books". Despite the volume of lovely story books we own, and that are available in our local library, we only ever read "fact books". Ideally about dinosaurs, or snakes, or sharks, or (recently) big cats and birds of prey. To be honest, any kind of predator will do. And one of the features of most of these books is that there is almost always a section on "threats". And with extant animals, those threats are invariably people. People hunting, people shooting, people poisoning or simply people destroying habitat. And this has clearly had an impact on LittleBear, as evidenced by today's conversation in the car on the way home from swimming.

Imagine (if you can) a Carnotaurus and a Bunny having a conversation. Bunny's voice bears an uncanny resemblance to my own, where Carnotaurus sounds surprisingly like a four-year old boy.

Carnotaurus: What are all these people doing here?

Bunny: I don't know. They're everywhere aren't they?

Carnotaurus: I think we should kill them all.

Bunny: <alarmed> Erm, no, no, I don't think that sounds nice at all.

Carnotaurus: But they shoot us and poison us and destroy our habitat, and that's not nice either.

Bunny: Ah, no, I suppose it isn't. Perhaps we could ask them to leave some of the land for us?

Carnotaurus: But there's too many of them, and they live everywhere!

Bunny: Hmm, that's true.

Carnotaurus: I know! We'll have an ambush and trap them and then move them all to one half of the world, and build a big wall. It might take several days to build the wall, because we'll have to build it all the way up to the top of the sky to keep them out of our half of the world.

Bunny: Really? I didn't think people were that good at climbing...

Carnotaurus: No, but they have aeroplanes, so the wall has to go high enough that they can't fly over the top. Actually, it has to go all the way into space, as they can make rockets too. And we should make sure we have all the metal in our half of the world so they can't make any more cars or aeroplanes or rockets. I think we'll have the northern hemisphere. Then we'll have England.

Bunny: And the Himalayas and the Alps. And the North Pole and the North Atlantic (hastily mentioning things LittleBear loves, and avoiding mentioning penguins or jaguars).

Carnotaurus: Is Mount Everest in the Himalayas?

Bunny: Yes.

Carnotaurus: Yay! We've got Mount Everest!

And when we got home, we proceeded to find every small humanoid figure we could, from Bob the Builder to a variety of Playmobil characters, and set up traps and ambushes. We caught them all, apparently being careful not to hurt them, and packed them off to the Southern Hemisphere, while the dinosaurs, bunny, and assorted cuddly friends laid claim to the Northern Hemisphere, and all the mineral resources in the world.

It might not be any more practical than The Donald's plan to build a wall between Mexico and the US, but it's a much, much better idea.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

In his own time

For his fourth birthday, we gave LittleBear a bicycle. A lovely green bicycle. It was quite tricky to wrap, but with plenty of sellotape, I got there in the end.

Can you guess what it is yet?

LittleBear was delighted with it, had one go at riding it, and then stoically ignored it. We had borrowed a lovely little red balance bike from the Piglet family, and he was already so proficient at riding it, that he didn't seem to see the point in battling to learn a new skill. Why struggle and fall and get frustrated when he can zoom along at high speed on a balance bike?

And thus it went for six months. Every now and then I'd point to the pristine bicycle in the porch and suggest he might like to try and LittleBear would say "Not today Mummy. I want to go on my balance bike". Despite, rationally, being fairly certain he'd eventually learn to ride a bike, I was beginning to wonder after 6 months whether it would be this bike, or whether he'd outgrow it before deciding to ride it.

Yesterday, however, we went to visit the Piglet family. And Piglet and her boy told LittleBear that when Piglet's boy first got his pedal bike, he didn't want to ride it either, as he was faster on his balance bike. And then he had a go on his pedal bike and within a week was faster on it than on the balance bike.

A week? A week?! That sounds like a challenge to LittleBear's ears...

Today LittleBear couldn't be reined in from going out on his bicycle. And within half an hour he was zooming manically around our (empty) communal car park. He was starting and stopping without assistance. He insisted on being timed to see how long he could ride for (7 minutes and 10 seconds without repetition, hesitation or deviation) and you'd never have known he hadn't been riding a pedal bicycle for months, never mind a week.

As ever, all I needed to do was wait for LittleBear to tackle a new challenge when he was ready to do so.

Which leads me neatly on to dinner time. Where I offered LittleBear a choice between sausages and "chicken fingers" (breaded goujons of chicken fried in butter*). That would be sausages, his absolutely favourite thing and chicken, the foodstuff he has been known to reluctantly nibble the corner of before declaring it to be "yucky". I suspect you can see where I'm going with this. He chose chicken. With the declaration "as long as you cook it the same way as last time, because that was the yummiest thing ever". And he proceeded to not just eat the four goujons I gave him, but he came back for seconds. My world has been rocked to its very foundations.

And I feel just a teeny tiny bit better about the probability that all the things I worry about can and do change, I just need to let LittleBear come to things in his own time. Now I need to try and remember this feeling next time I start fretting. Or "tomorrow" as I like to call it.

* Minor confession. I do hammer the chicken flat before egging and breadcrumbing it. And then fry it in a lot of butter, which renders it only vaguely similar to chicken, and much more like a buttery, crunchy stick of artery-clogging tastiness.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Yes, No, Really

Some years ago, when I was young and naive, one of my colleagues told me about conversations he used to have with his young and absurdly loquacious daughter. He privately challenged himself to participate in the conversation using each of the words "Yes", "No", and "Really" in turn. He had to stick to that sequence, though he allowed himself to vary the intonation however he chose, to express surprise, agreement, confusion or indeed to request clarification. Because language is awesome like that. At the time I thought this was a rather sad indictment of his relationship with his young daughter, that he had so little interest in what she was saying that he played a game with himself to pass the time. I said I was naive. (Incidentally, as far as I know, his daughter never realised that this is what he was doing. She's now an absurdly loquacious 25-year old and I'm fairly certain I could get away with the same trick when talking to her, but that's not the point right now.)

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, LittleBear and I spend a total of nearly an hour in the car together, getting to and from nursery/work. And he more-or-less talks the entire time. Being the good and devoted mother that I am, obviously I listen attentively and respond in a loving, interested and educational fashion*. Except when I don't. Because, to be honest, there's a limit to how many accounts of the ferocity of imaginary dinosaurs I can bring myself to care about. And I find myself drifting into my own world, whilst maintaining an appropriate level of approving interjection in response to LittleBear's meanderings. Like GrannyBear, I have a handy ability to recollect the last half sentence or so that's just been uttered, even if I wasn't paying any attention at all, so I can quite convincingly go beyond my colleagues simple responses. Thus it is I find myself saying "Seventeen claws sounds good" or "It can eat sharks can it?" or "Two thousand tonnes? Gosh!" without actually really having much of a clue about what's going on, or whether we're even still talking about dinosaurs. Do I feel guilty? A little bit. But I do do a lot of listening to LittleBear and his non-stop chatter, so I reckon I deserve a few minutes of glazing over from time to time. And if you disagree, you're welcome to borrow LittleBear for a few days and then tell me how your attention-span is doing...

* In my own defence, this morning LittleBear wanted to know if atoms were smaller than germs. And on discovering that they were, he wanted to know if atoms were the smallest thing in the universe. Which is how I ended up explaining about protons, neutrons and electrons. And when those didn't turn out to be the smallest thing either, I ended up on quarks. Is four-and-a-half too young to be starting on the Standard Model? Of course not - you're never too young for quantum physics!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Random statements from my son...

I seem to lack the energy, impetus, intellect or general oomph to string together a coherent post, so instead, today you can receive a random list of "thing LittleBear has said recently"

  • "Mummy? Is ten and eight eighteen?" ... <pause while Mummy verifies the truth of this> ... "Mummy? Are three fives fifteen?" ... <pause while Mummy is slightly dumbfounded>
  • On pursuing the above I discovered that, "I was thinking about it at nursery and worked it out in my head. Two fives are ten, and then ten and another five is fifteen". Holy shit, he's turning into me...
  • On playing with his new dinosaur (Carcharadontosaurus, since you ask) who, being new, is infinitely more powerful, terrifying and impressive than any other dinosaur ever. "He is fighting with T. rex over a dead Stegosaurus that they've found, but T. rex is not as well adapted to this environment." Because, yes, that's a perfectly normal vocabulary for a four year old, and I am in no way allowing him to watch age-inappropriate wildlife documentaries or dinosaur programs.
  • "The gorilla is my least favourite great ape". No, I don't know what the gorilla ever did wrong. I think they're pretty awesome, personally.
  • "I want to wear my big swimming costume, not my swimming shorts, because I don't want the others to see my tummy, because it's too beautiful." Which is perhaps one of the most adorable things I can think of at the moment. Obviously I take every opportunity to snuzzle his tummy and tell him he's beautiful, but I love the fact that he now thinks his tummy is too beautiful for the world to be allowed to see.
  • On being told that he would be able to reach the window handle only when he was old enough to be allowed to open windows, as by then he would have grown tall enough, "I will never  be able to reach. I'm not going to grow taller, I'm only going to grow wider!"
  • On being told that Mummy was talking to Daddy, "But you're wasting playing time!" Because that's what life is when you're 4. Playing time that is unreasonably interrupted by your parents wanting to talk about boring shit like mouldy walls or leaking pipes.
  • On rushing into our bedroom first thing on Tuesday morning, ready to get up, "Mummy! Don't forget to buy bin bags today!" I know I asked him to remind me, but I didn't really mean at 7am, before even saying "Good Morning". Can't say he's not trying to help though.

That's all I've got for today. Happy Saturday everyone.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Curtains and crocodiles

For reasons of age, quality and sunlight, the header tape on the curtains in our sitting room was perishing, and the curtains hooks were no longer remaining attached. Since I didn't really feel like replacing the header tape (I will, eventually, one of these days) I decided I'd rather like some new curtains. And to replace the rather horrible curtain pole that I inherited with the house 17 years ago.

Some of you may remember the weeks of angst and thousands of curtain fabric samples it took to choose the curtain fabric for our family's holiday cottage. I was in danger of heading down the same path. The ordering of samples commenced. The staring at swatches began. The waving of scraps of material and requesting opinions kicked off. LittleBear loved a gold silk fabric with red and green embroidery (a clerical error in the sample ordering). BigBear hated it. BigBear sort of, maybe, perhaps was prepared to consider one of the fabrics I'd ordered, but was largely underwhelmed. I was in at least five minds about all of them, but not won over. I feared we were going to reach an impasse.

Then I stumbled across one I rather liked, waved the computer screen at BigBear, who (to my astonishment) said "Yeah, why not?" So I ordered the curtains, and a new curtain track. They arrived while we were on holiday, and we then undertook to be ill for the subsequent two weeks (I'm still coughing like someone who smokes 40 a day). Today, with GrandmaBear and GrandadBear here to distract LittleBear, I was finally able to tackle the job of putting up the new rail and hanging the curtains. At which point I discovered I'd ordered the wrong length of rail. Bugger.

So I hung the curtains on the old pole instead, which probably means it'll now be there for another 17 years, despite the fact I hate it.

And the finished result?

Me and LittleBear made a cardboard crocodile from the curtain rail packaging. I had to get some good out of it didn't I?

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Not spread too thin

The trouble with being metaphorically spread too thin is that I end up too tired to cook properly, too tired to stumble through the day without calorific support, too tired to have the willpower to not eat the cheese, or the chocolate, or the peanuts, or the ice-cream. And the result of that is that there's rather more of me than I'd like. And the distinctly unfair thing is that, unlike my strength and psyche, it's not spread nice and thin, it's all determinedly lurking round my midriff. Not just piling on in a lardy tummy, but encircling me like a belt of purest butter. My face has gained no weight*, my arms are still reassuringly slender*, my legs are the same pins they ever were*. Even my bottom is remaining cheerfully the same size*. But my trousers are telling a nasty story about my waistline.

And because I am who I am, I thought I'd try and work out roughly what effect the extra weight would have it was spread thinly, compared to the way it's actually spread. And what's more, I thought it would be fun to do it without looking any data up, just to see if I could still do some good old fashioned "work it out from first principles" maths/science.

So first of all, I need to start with some approximations...

If I want to know how thin a layer the extra weight I'm carrying would make, I need to know my surface area. Hmmm, tricky... I'll assume I'm roughly cylindrical, with a height of 173cm and an average radius of 15cm. Some of me is definitely wider than that, and some definitely narrower, but then there's fiddly bits like arms and legs to consider, so I'll go with a generous average radius.

PhysicsBear approximates to a cylinder
A little bit of basic geometry and I know that my surface area is therefore, very roughly,

Surface Area = (height × circumference) + (2 × area of end circle)
= [h × (2 × π × r)] + 2 × π × r²
= 17500 cm2

I'm also going to assume that any fat I'm carrying has approximately the same density as butter. And the standard block of butter I buy, I know weighs 250g, with dimensions of about 15cm x 3cm x 6cm.

Density of butter = weight/volume
= 250g / (15 × 3 × 6) cubic centimetres
= 0.9 g/cc

At present, I'm about 3600g heavier than I want to be, or rather, 3600g heavier than I was when my trousers were comfortable.

Volume = weight/density
= 3600g / 0.9 g/cc
= 4000 cc

In other words I'm carrying about 4000 cc of extra butter. If I were to spread that 4000 cubic centimetres evenly over my 17500 cm2 surface, I'd add 4000/17500cm across my whole body. Or just over 2mm all over. And I'm sure my trousers would barely notice that. Much.

Instead however, I have what can only be described as a butter cummerbund. If all those 4000cc of "butter" really are spread in a doom-laden belt of lard around my middle, I wonder how big a belt it would be?

The calculation is a little more complicated this time. To work out the dimensions of the girdle of shame, I need to work out the dimensions of thin-me's midriff and then smear 4000cc of fat around it. Here you go, a diagram will help:

Finding the butter cummerbund
So thin-me has radius "b" and fat-me has radius "a". "c" is the approximate extent of the butter cummerbund. I'd guess "c" to be about 15cm. And we'll say that "b" is also about 15cm, as before. At which point we realise that diagram is not to scale, but carry on regardless.

The volume of a cylinder is the area of the circular end multiplied by the length of the cylinder, so:

Volume of thin-me midriff = π × b² × c = 10,600 cc

But we know that I've added 4,000 cc of extra fat, and just for now we're pretending I've piled it all on top of that nice svelte thin-me midriff, so we need to add:

Additional volume of fat = 4,000 cc

And by the simple expedient of adding these two numbers together, we can discover the volume of not-at-all-svelte-me around the middle:

Volume of fat-me midriff = 10,600 + 4,000 cc = 14,600 cc


Volume of fat-me midriff = π × a² × c


π × a² × c = 14,600 cc

And thus we can calculate what we expect "a" to be if I have deposited all my extra weight in my hypothetical butter-band.

a = √[14,600 / (π × c)]
= 17.6 cm

A radius of 17.6cm is 2.6cm more than my estimate of thin-me. Which equates to approximately an inch in every direction around my waist. That's certainly what it feels like, though since that is actually the same as adding 16cm (>6") in circumference, I think it might not exactly be true. Or maybe some of my approximations are just a teensy bit off...**

I suspect I may have to admit that I do indeed have a gentle sprinkling of extra weight all over, with an unfortunate concentration about the waist. On the plus side, having flu has really kick-started the weight-loss.

* Each of these facts is indubitably untrue, but I like to deceive myself.

** Apparently there's a thing called the du Bois formula for calculating Body Surface Area:

BSA = 0.007184 × W0.425 × H0.725

And according to my own values of W (weight) and H (height), I come out as having a Body Surface Area of 17,594cm2 which is disturbingly close to my hand-waving estimate of 17,500cm2. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect myself of cheating.

Meanwhile, the density of butter is actually 0.911g/cc and the density of human fat is 0.9g/cc. More disturbing accuracy.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

So this is what it feels like...

For almost as long as I can remember, certainly since I was at school, I've railed (futilely, it should be noted) against the casual use of the term "flu" to refer to any kind of mildly annoying cold. I've repeatedly pointed out to anyone who would listen (almost nobody) that if you actually had flu you'd be laid out for at least a week, barely able to leave your bed, feverish, aching, debilitated. I've never actually had flu though...

... until now...

Now, I'll admit, this is a self diagnosis, but I'll lay it all on the line for you:

For nearly a week I've been running a fever. Every joint and limb aches. I can barely walk from one side of the room to the other without feeling exhausted. I alternate between sweating and shivering uncontrollably. My body is clenching in spasms of agony as I try desperately not to cough because the hacking, tearing fire as the mucus leaves my lungs is almost more than I can bear. The pain in my ears can only be described as large and round. Like marbles that are pressing on every surface. I can't breathe through my nose, but every breath through my mouth dries my soft palate a little more and adds to the eye-watering rawness. When I can take a breath through my nose the cold of the air hitting my nasal passages fires my facial nerves so that all my upper right teeth hurt. My face throbs. When I lie in bed and allow my hand to rest on my cheek, or my forearm to lie across my brow it feels instead as though someone has placed a lead weight on my face. My pillow feels as though it's made of concrete. And then there's the nausea. And have I mentioned the soul-destroying exhaustion?

I think it might actually be flu.

And my BigBear and LittleBear both have it too. So on top of the guilt I already felt at taking my LittleBear to nursery last week, when he was suffering from this vile disease, but I hadn't quite succumbed yet, I now have the guilt of knowing that I failed to take him for a flu vaccine this year. I could have done. I had a reminder from the doctor's surgery, but it just slipped through the net of things to be done. And usually I am so vehement about the importance of vaccinations. I've been known to get into quite rabid arguments about it. I know there's no guarantee that this season's vaccine would have prevented this particular variant (especially as I suspect we acquired it on the plague-vector that is an aeroplane). But still. Next year, LittleBear is going to be first in line for a flu vaccine.

So here we are, feebly stumbling around the house, more or less surviving. Barely sleeping as we each occupy our separate rooms and each cough and shiver and sweat and whimper through the night. I daren't have anyone come and help, or look after us, or take LittleBear off our hands for a few hours, because there is no-one I hate enough to inflict this on. LittleBear seems, after a week, to be emerging from the worst of it. He no longer has a temperature, he's eating again (hooray!) and is keen to play. This is a blessing, because there is very little worse than seeing my lovely boy suffer, but also a curse, because his energy levels are rapidly outstripping the combined ability of his parents to keep up.

The slight chink of light at the end of the tunnel is that for the past two mornings I've had several hours of feeling a little better, and not feverish. By afternoon, the exhaustion overtakes me and the fever returns.

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
 Winston Churchill

Please. Let it be so.

Meanwhile, I will leave you on an incongruous thought, shared with me at university by my lovely friend Piglet. "Hooray! Hooray! The first of May, outdoor sex begins today!"