Happy flu year

When, on January 2nd, my sore throat disappeared after a few hours, I thought I’d dodged the bullet. No flu for me, I told myself smugly, Brighton business as usual. Poor, deluded moi. Not only had I not dodged the bullet, I’d probably been walking around with it lodged in my head for a few days. The following evening I awoke in the early hours to find my head throbbing and stomach churning.

If the great Renaissance artists were alive today, well, they’d be dead, but if they were able to paint, what masterpiece could the likes of Michelangelo have created confronted by this wondrous sight? What portrait would he have produced given the intoxicating surroundings of my studio room? Indeed, what man could resist the finery and fripperies of my boudoir area – the Primark duvet cover, Shoe Zone indoor, fur-lined booties, the Rental Accommodation Beige walls? And there, in the centre of this captivating scene, me, swathed sexily from neck to toe in pink winceyette, hot-water bottle clasped close to offset the shivers that wracked my limbs. Head above the covers, my brow, tainted by the poisoned kiss of fever, covered with a wet flannel. An enchanting sight indeed.

That was almost a month ago. Since then, time has relentlessly pushed night into day, day into night, while my body, wretched and retching, shivering and sneezing, has been mainly bed-bound. Around Day 4, the Universe, deciding I needed a break, must have had a word with Mother Nature, and I woke to find that the scenery guys had wheeled in a blue sky, sunny backdrop outside my window. If I had felt well enough to get up and pull back the curtains, I might have seen my neighbours below clambering onto our communal bins in delight, parading arm-in-arm along the street, bursting into song, joyous at my rising. But like I say, I didn’t get up to look, so I can’t be sure they did. Anyway, this is Brighton in January, not the set of bleedin’ Oliver!

I am slowly regaining my strength. I venture out only for supplies. I sleep a lot. The good news is that with little appetite, I’ve lost my unwanted winter weight – the mince pies, Christmas pud and occasional Asda individual panettone have melted away. However brief their visit, my abs are back. Every cloud, eh?

On it like an Easter bonnet

It’s the 8th of January, right? Thanks. Only checking. Just that Tesco is selling Easter eggs. I was looking for anti-bac wipes, where, opposite the dishwasher tablets, were four shelves of chocolate eggs, complete with an ‘Easter egg’ sign for those of us who couldn’t quite believe our eyes. It was more a rumour, a nudge of a display, ashamed of itself for being there so early. I, like other customers, did a double-take and there was an audible ‘Oh my God…,’ as someone clocked the selection from the washing powders.

Is Easter early this year? Not the 8th-of-flippin’-January-early it isn’t. Most of us still have Christmas fresh in our minds and on our waistlines. Shops are selling cut-price cards, boxes of cream- and jam-based biscuit selections have yet to be opened, and here we are being shoved straight into mid-April when 2017’s just arrived. Didn’t have your fill of Quality Street and After Eight mints during the festivities? Fear not. Retailers are on it like an Easter bonnet. And just as we were getting used to our supermarkets being rearranged for Christmas, those who knew where to find the tomato sauce will have to ketchup with yet more product re-locations to make way for buns and bunnies. For now, the display is a few shelves but, mark my words, come next week, when in retail terms, Easter will indeed be upon us, there’ll be a whole aisle devoted to chocolate treats – sure as eggs is eggs.

Talking ‘bout a resolution

The average adult female is approximately 55 per cent water. Between Christmas and New Year, this adult female is also five per cent buck’s fizz, 10 per cent trifle, 20 per cent Ferrero Rocher and 40 per cent thinking about New Year resolutions. OK, so I need to do some work on my percentages.

And what resolutions do I have? Find a decent job? Learn French? Buy a Fiat 500 and do Route 66? Give up doing rock chick air guitar in my living room? Do more rock chick air guitar in my living room? Whatever I do, it’s time for change. Nothing wild. Just baby steps. Gently does it, Jules. I’m talking about resolutions, not revolutions. What I am going to do this year is wrap my heart up nice and warm, give it a kiss, bless it with belief, fill it with courage, surround it with trust and send it out into the big wide world again to love and be loved. We’ll set off on an adventurous journey together and, if we’re lucky, find another special heart to share life with along the way. After almost two years of dealing (or not), with loss, grief, getting by, making do, despair and darkness, it’s time for this brave yet tender heart to cherish and be cherished again. Should be an interesting year.

Just the job?

While trawling online seeking employment, I’ve come across some intriguing job titles. Here are just some opportunities, their descriptions and a reading-between-the-lines comment from me…

1. Funeral services operative

They say: ‘Our people need to bring their natural selves to work each day’

I say: ‘I see dead people’

 

2. Clinical photographer

They say: ‘You will be expected to photograph patients on wards, in operating theatres and the mortuary’

I say: ‘I shoot dead people’

 

3. Complaint handler

They say: ‘This role requires a sensitive manner at all times’

I say: ‘Can’t complain about that’

 

4. Paintball marshal

They say: ‘Send a CV if you have a passion for paintball’

I say: ‘Wonder if you get to paint the town red?’

 

5. Awesomely fun science presenter in Brighton

They say: ‘Would you love to make science fun for children as a job?’

I say: ‘Big bang comes to the beach’

 

6. Sandwich artists

They say: ‘Sandwich artists thrive in a busy work environment’

I say: ‘Get creative with cucumber’

 

7. Indoor air quality supervisor

They say: ‘Join a dynamic team’

I say: ‘Sounds like a breath of fresh air’

 

8. Acute floor administrator

They say: ‘Build upon skills you already possess’

I say: ‘What if you’re not cute?’

 

9. Aircraft refueller

They say: ‘Health and safety awareness essential’

I say: ‘Plane sailing at the pumps?’

 

10. Aircraft cleaner

They say: ‘Must have full British driving licence and a head for heights’

I say: ‘Prepare for landing cleaning job – with wings on’

More questions…

10 QUESTIONS I’VE ASKED THIS WEEK 

1. So the bread you were eating had already been eaten at by a dormouse?

2. What exactly is katsu?

3. Is that your job – you paint carousel horses?

4. In your opinion, do I need to worry about this mark on my face?

5. Is that what cats do before they’re ready to die?

6. I can make rice pudding with basmati rice?

7. Do you know how much sugar is in this cookie?

8. So it was just you and six women in a Turkish bath?

9. When’s the zombie walk?

10. How are you going to entice him with a pug on your chest?

As in my first Questions, Questions… blog, the rules I set myself for this exercise were that the questions must be true, and not asked intentionally for the purpose of the list, and that the source or subject matter of the question wouldn’t be revealed, thus making the comments more bizarre or intriguing. Readers can make their own minds up as to how the question came about or what the topic of conversation was. Give it a go!

Questions, questions…

 

10 QUESTIONS I’VE BEEN ASKED THIS WEEK

1. Do you want to go to a yurt in Lewes tonight?

2. Any condiments with that?

3. What can you grow in a poly tunnel this time of year?

4. Want to know why bears lick tree bark before they hibernate?

5. How do you pronounce George Clooney’s wife’s name?

6. Excuse me, do you smoke?

7. Would you like to go for a proper coffee sometime?

8. Why don’t we get drunk?

9. Is this your first time?

10. You know they take your nipples off, don’t you?

 

10 QUESTIONS I’VE ASKED MYSELF THIS WEEK

1. Labour plans for a minimum wage of £8 an hour by 2020. 2020?

2. Do I download Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ or wait for ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 90’?

3. Greg Wise. Would I?

4. That young Spanish waiter. I would, wouldn’t I?

5. Could I really have done that with a razor blade?

6. My Fiat 500. White or metallic brown?

7. Winter boots or Converse hi-tops today?

8. It’s the first week in October – why is there a Christmas tree in M & S?

9. You don’t spell Dick Van Dyck with a ‘c’ like that, do you?

10. What would I buy with that £100 million Euromillions jackpot?

 

I came up with the idea for this blog after one particular question jumped out at me during a conversation I was having. I thought it would be interesting to make a note of questions I was asked and questions I asked myself during a given time. The rules I set  were that the questions must be true, and not asked intentionally for the purposes of the list, and that the source of the question wouldn’t be revealed, thus making the standalone comments more bizarre or intriguing. Readers can make their own minds up as to how the question came about or what the topic of conversation was. Give it a go!

Julie Milton has left the building

It’s been three months since I was made redundant from my head of department job on a leading women’s magazine. After 16 and a half years, I left the building dazed and confused, and headed out into the cold, uncertain world of unemployment.

In one fell swoop, my financial lifeline was cut. It felt as if I was floating away, out of control, and abandoned. Before, P45 and P60 were page references in the magazine I worked on, now they were things to be dealt with, along with Jobseeker’s Allowance, National Insurance contributions and going self-employed.

Losing one’s job isn’t just about losing one’s job. It’s a bereavement. A break-up. There has been shock, grief, despair and, perhaps now, acceptance and moving on. There have been times when I couldn’t decide what to wear or what to have for breakfast, let alone what to do next with my life.

I have walked unnoticed through the streets of Brighton, past tourists with their ice creams and candyfloss, pushchairs and pedal bikes, oblivious to me and my plight. Lost in thought and wondering how an empty heart could feel so heavy, I suddenly realised I was like the Bruce Willis character in The Sixth Sense who didn’t know he was dead. The world was going on around me and I was but a ghost in its midst.

And then there were the tears. I was on the verge of crying for days. One morning, I looked in the mirror and thought my eyes looked sad. It made me cry, which didn’t help. Later, as I sat in a new hairdresser’s for a walk-in-no-appointment-necessary £9.90 cut after years of being with the same hairdresser elsewhere, I prayed the stylist wouldn’t ask me any questions, lest I started sobbing. The tears didn’t come then but, days later, in the kitchen washing up, the sobs arrived from nowhere. Leaning against the worktop, scourer in hand, I had a kitchen sink drama all of my own, witnessed only by a tea towel, two saucepans and a Nigella Lawson cookbook. All washed up and all washed up.

Three months later, I’m self-employed. I have worked part-time on a freelance basis, found some structure. But there are still days of no direction. Of lethargy. Of confusion and not knowing. It helps that the sun shines, but I’m sure there will be dark days ahead. I’ve written three poems – the Redundancy Trilogy – which encapsulate how I’ve felt and how I feel. The shock, the grief, the acceptance. Yes, coming to terms with redundancy is a job in itself.

The Redundancy Trilogy

Redundancy 1

My everyday routine snatched from around me

My financial rug pulled from beneath my feet

And where do I go

And what do I do

From here?

I stumble from day to day

Lost in myself and lost to others

Trying to keep structure

While inside I’ve just fallen apart.

On the verge of a new start?

On the verge of an adventure?

More like on the verge of tears.

Some say it’s a time to reassess

To try something different

Discover new worlds

Explore new avenues

But we’re not all resourceful

We’re not all brave

And we’re not all Christopher Columbus

 

Redundancy 2

Here I am

Coming to terms with redundancy

An animal of a woman

Licking my wounds with a razor-blade tongue

And wondering why I won’t heal.

Here I am

Crouched in a corner of my car-crash world

Knocked for six and crushed by the impact

Waiting for calm

Waiting for clarity

And for my ripped-out heart to come home

 

Redundancy 3 (Little Bird)

You have held this little bird

Gently in your cupped hands

Felt my stricken wings flutter against your palms

Listened to my tears

When I didn’t have the heart to sing

And now, months later

You open your fingers just a touch

To let in the sky

And after all the darkness

At last I can see the light

I’m not sure how high or how far I’ll get

But this little bird may be ready to fly

 

Much ado about puffin’

Last week I got my breasts out twice in public, and was asked to pee in a pot and give a blow job in the same afternoon. 2014 is shaping up to being an interesting year already.

I had decided to go private and have a basic health assessment — ascertain my cardiovascular fitness, liver and kidney function, have blood and urine tests, and determine my risk of diabetes, gout and heart disease. You know, have a bit of fun for a change on a Friday afternoon.

My first task was to provide a urine sample. After fasting for 10 hours and without the influence of my morning cappuccino, having to aim into a small pot while contending with a loo door with a broken lock was a tall order. With my hastily created mantra of ‘Piss, don’t miss. Fill, don’t spill’  ringing in my ears, I managed to do the deed. I was grateful, too, that said pot was left in the loo and collected by staff, rather than me having to hand it back, nice and warm, to the young male receptionist. That would’ve been taking the piss.

After stripping down to bra and pants, being weighed and measured, asked about my lifestyle, giving blood and having an ECG, it was time for a blow job. A deep breath, then exhaling into a tube for as long as possible would give my ‘lung age’. After the best of three attempts, the machine revealed I have the lungs of a 30-year-old. Great. Now all I need is the rest of him.

Later, after a consultation, and preliminary results indicating a clean bill of health, I was de-loused for good measure, submerged in sheep dip, tagged, and sent back out to fend for myself on the mean streets of Brighton. And my goal for next week? To keep my clothes on in public or I’ll get a reputation. If I’m lucky.

A funny thing didn’t happen to me on the way to the breast clinic

After a routine mammogram I had been called back for a second screening at the breast clinic.

Of course, the call-back letter isn’t intended to worry its recipient. Of course it cannot go into detail about initial scan results, just advise the patient to return for further investigation. But simply being asked to return is a worry and it isn’t what the letter says, but what we think it’s saying, that is troubling.

I had remained calm during that time of limbo, believing I would be fine. Today, however, looking around at other women in the clinic, not everyone shared my unfounded optimism. Although the screening staff were professional, friendly and informative, the underlying tension was palpable.

A woman emerging from the scanning room wiped tears from her eyes, another looked absolutely terrified. And I, sitting in silence, sans bra under jumper after five mammograms, didn’t hear my name being called, lost as I was in thought. Apparently there was a shadow in my right breast – and it wasn’t Hank Marvin.

Later, an ultrasound test revealed nothing sinister and after a further study of my scans, I was given the all-clear.

As I spoke to the nurse afterwards, thanking her and her team for their time, I knew that I was one of the lucky ones. That some of the women I had been speaking to today would, this afternoon, have their lives changed forever.

When I said my goodbyes, I felt my voice crack and there was a lump in my throat. And I gave a silent thank you that it was the only lump I had.

Burn, baby, burn

It’s summer in Brighton. The seafront air hangs heavy with Hawaiian Tropic and barbecue smoke. Beef burgers and bangers sizzle under the sun, along with us, the great British public. After a few hours, it’s easy to see who hasn’t factored in the Factor 15, and the sore and the sunburnt slowly begin wincing behind their windbreaks. Suddenly, doing my best Haley Joel Osment impression, and turning all Sixth Sense styli, I rise from my beach towel, smugly smothered in SPF30, and whisper: ‘I see red people.’