Animal magic










If I didn’t know better I’d say Max is Oscar reincarnated in canine form.

Apart from both being gorgeous our new doggy companion and Oscar (deceased) have a lot in common:

  • Putting teethmarks in books
  • Wrapping themselves round people’s limbs
  • Tripping people up on their way down stairs
  • Giving humans a playful nip
  • Flirting with visitors
  • Being utterly unfazed by new people and situations

I even called Max “Oscar’ the other day by mistake and he came running.

Meanwhile I’m thankful February is drawing to a close because I’ve been afflicted throughout by various ailments, the latest being a cold virus which has kept me awake coughing for the past five nights. Thank God winter’s nearly over. Roll on spring.


The Max factor

He’s young. He’s fit. He’s handsome. He’s a little bit naughty. And he adores me.

Meet Max, the new male in my life.

He’s a one-year-old Springer-Pointer cross (a Sprointer?) and came all the way over from Ireland to a rescue centre in Lincolnshire.

He is settling in very well and is good therapy. Someone pointed out recently that there has been a lot of loss in my life in recent years. (Both parents dying, Jane dying, Oscar dying, losing a breast etc etc) and I sometimes feel an overwhelming wave of sadness wash over me.

When this happens, I go with it for a while, it is part of the grieving process. Then I go back to my gratitude diary, and try to focus on the positives.

So it is wonderful to have something new and living and full of promise to care for and watch grow.

Perks of the job

With a name like Mr Perks, you couldn’t be anything other than a breast surgeon. What a great name! In a similar vein, there’s also a surgeon at Nottingham called Mr Sharp.

The Brilliant Miss Bello has moved on, so I saw Mr Perks when I went for my recent six monthly check-up. He wanted to see how the reconstructed breast is shaping up. All fine. The next thing they do is tattoo the nipple.

I’ve also got a date for my annual checkup next month – that means it’s coming up to two years since the original diagnosis.

I am just recovering from a bout of gastro-enteritis. One dodgy prawn and my body purged itself for four days continuously. Lovely!

Meanwhile its all gone quiet on the Dr Johnson front. His PR said he’d be in touch soon but no word yet. Perhaps it’s time to chase it.

Secrets or lies?

I had an email out of the blue asking if I’d like to interview Dr Ben Johnson no, not the renaissance playwright – that would be a scoop, but the ‘renowned health expert and the only medical doctor to appear in the inspirational movie The Secret.’

Now I didn’t know much about The Secret other than a vague idea it was something new-agey to do with positive thinking and the power of the mind to make things happen. Thinking about things, be they negative or positive, attracts those things to you, or so goes the theory (says she, thinking about a big fat cheque for a very large sum of money). I’d also heard that protagonists of The Secret say that if you think about a particular illness you get it.

Which to my mind begs the question, how come I got meningitis back in 1989 when I’d barely heard about it? I certainly hadn’t been thinking about it. I thought it was a disease that only babies got and  was gobsmacked to wake up in hospital and be told I’d got it.

So it was with some scepticism that I sat down last night to watch the DVD, expecting something aggressively evangelistic, in-your-face and American. However, as it went along I found myself agreeing with a lot of what was said.

You get more of what you focus on. If you focus on the good stuff then there certainly seems to be more of it. I’ve pulled myself out of depression in the past by writing a list of good things that have happened that day – even if initially I can’t think of one, after a few days the gloom starts to lift.

There were elements that made me uncomfortable; the idea that you focus on the car you want and then you get it goes against the grain. After all, possessions don’t make you happy, not for long, anyway. But there were others bits I found I couldn’t argue with. That there is an abundance of good-will to go round, plenty for everyone. That if you come at everything from a position of lack, you only notice what’s missing, but if you feel fortunate then you somehow are.

Dr Johnson is author of The secret of health – breast wisdom, and a protagonist of The Healing Codes, which, it’s claimed, he used to heal himself of an incurable disease.

I look forward to interviewing him.

Oh and if anyone wants to go to the Inspiring People conference he’s speaking at in February, get in touch – I’ve been offered discounted tickets.

Why I believe

Another of the reasons…

Today is my Christian birthday. On the 3rd of January 25 years ago something happened to cement my faith. This is the story of what happened.

In my 20s, I had a lot of short-term relationships. The standing joke among friends was that anyone I went out with was on six week’s probation – and few got beyond that.

Paul* was one such. We dated for a few weeks, then decided to part company but agreed to stay friends.  And stay friends we did, until before long he was there at every gathering I went to, my friends had become his friends, my social life indistinguishable from his.  All fine. Or so I thought.

But Paul then went into a depression. I fancied myself as a bit of an amateur counsellor so spent some time listening to his issues. I counselled him; he felt better; and I felt good that I’d helped him. All still fine.

But the mayday calls from Paul got more and more frequent and more and more unreasonable. He’d phone late in the evening. I’d cycle round to his house, talk for half the night; crash on his couch, then go to work the next day shattered.

It seems crazy in retrospect that I did not realise this was unhealthy, but it took a while to register that he was developing a dependency on me. And, truth be told, part of me encouraged that. I did want to help him, but I also liked the feeling of popularity and power it gave me.

Paul had sworn me to secrecy about his depression. He didn’t want other people to know. It was exclusive between me and him, and for many weeks I respected this, until one day I went out with friends on a rare occasion when Paul wasn’t present, and I blurted it all out.

My friends said: “That’s’ emotional blackmail.”

I tried to distance myself from Paul, but he grew more demanding.  There were phone calls, and letters, and more phone calls. Their tone wavered between pleading to almost spiteful. I took to not answering the phone. My housemates covered for me. But still Paul somehow managed to be everywhere I went.

Christmas came and went, and we saw in the new year. Around that time there were a lot of tensions among our group of friends. There was backbiting and jealousy and people falling out, and I was as much to blame as anyone. In our 20s, relationships were intense, friendship was everything, and when anything threatened the stability of our social circle it could seem like the end of the world.

I knew I was unhappy but I didn’t know what to do about it. I also knew I had to stop seeing Paul but it was hard when he was, seemingly, around every corner.

On 2nd January a crowd of us were planning a night out at a nightclub in town. It was a regular haunt and many of my short-term relationships had begun there. There was someone I was interested in who I knew would be going. Initially Paul was not supposed to be there but when he learnt I was going he showed up.

Feeling trapped and suffocated, I proceeded to get drunk. And as I drank I had a growing sense of my own power. It was as if someone was saying, ‘forget about Paul, you can have anyone you want’.

When the last record came on I found the guy I was interested in and we had a prolonged snog on the dance floor. I was conscious of Paul’s eyes boring into the back of my head. After the song was over Paul caused a scene, pulling us apart. Amid his histrionics I walked off, drunk, angry and alone.

Once home, I stayed up for a long time, alcohol and emotions swirling round my brain. I was conscious once again of that feeling of power, even stronger now. As though someone was offering me a different way of being, a life without pain, without guilt, without compassion.  A life in which I used others for my own ends and nobody could hurt me. And in my intensified state of emotion, all this seemed very seductive.

Next day I awoke with a throbbing head and a sense that something terrible had happened. I no longer felt powerful, I felt feeble and afraid. It was then that I started to cry, and to pray. Tears, and prayers, flowed from me. I prayed for Paul, for my other friends, for an end to the bitching and the back-biting. I said sorry for my part in the unpleasantness. I lay there, sobbing and praying, for about an hour. Then I looked at the clock radio near my bed. It was 11 am. I felt a kind of peace, and got up to start the day.

Unbeknown to me, Paul went home that night and swallowed 60 aspirins. But he didn’t die. And the reason he didn’t die was that a guy called Jono* was walking past Paul’s house that morning on his way to a local nature reserve where he regularly went bird-watching. On an impulse, Jono knocked on Paul’s door to see if he wanted to come. Paul’s flatmates, believing him to be sleeping off his night out, were about to go out for the rest of the day. Finding Paul, Jono got him to hospital for a stomach pump.

Later that day when I learnt what had happened, I phoned Jono to thank him for getting Paul to hospital on time. I said: “Thank God for you and your early morning bird-watching.”

And Jono said: “It wasn’t early morning. It was eleven o clock.”

Then I remembered the clock radio by my bed, the moment I had stopped praying, the moment I felt a sense of peace. Eleven o clock.

And in that instant I felt the whole weight of guilt and frustration and anger and confusion and helplessness that had dogged me for days lift off me. And in that moment I knew.

And I still know. The memory of that moment is indelible.

That night I went to bed believing that I would not sleep. Too much intensity, too many emotions. But I felt a sensation of being wrapped in something soft, warm and utterly benign.  And I knew I could sleep in safety. That same feeling I had a few years later when seriously ill in hospital.

After that day many things resolved themselves among our little group. Paul got the professional help he so badly needed. Broken friendships were mended, hurts healed and harmony restored.

Sceptics would probably say the timing was coincidence, that people believe what they want to believe, that the way I felt was all in the mind. But the important thing was that I was more certain in that instant that there is a God than I have ever been of anything before or since. More sure than I am that I am sitting in this room now, typing at my computer.

And that, I suppose, is the miracle of faith.

* (names changed to protect identities)


 Objectives for 2011: 

1. finish novel (didn’t finish it but started a new one)

2. overcome under-water phobia

3. learn to play guitar (mastered five chords)

Objectives for 2012:

1. finish novel

2. overcome under-water phobia

3. learn to play ukelele

Same old.. same old..


The greatest gift of all


We watched the scorsese film about the Rolling Stones yesterday and there’s a bit in it where Keith Richards (referring to the miracle of his continued survival) says something along the lines of: “It’s great to be here, it’s great to be anywhere!”

I have enjoyed Christmas. I even enjoyed turning 50 just before. A milestone I might not have reached if things had been different. This time last year I was still having treatment. Now I’m feeling the benefit of nearly a year’s recovery time and yes, it’s really great to be here!

I have had some lovely presents from kind people but the greatest gift of all is life.

So thank you, people and providence, and a happy Christmas and new year to anyone reading this.

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