Spirit of the Wild

Ironically, an unusually hot, sunny afternoon broke through the bleak winter clouds as I was heading to an exhibition on climate change at Leeds Millennium Square, Spirit of The Wild, a free outdoor photographic exhibition.

Steve Bloom, an acclaimed photographer, has spent the last decade arranging, shooting, and collating this exhibit of endangered wildlife. During this time, he has travelled to some of the most remote regions on Earth, capturing images which powerfully portray the individual spirit of the animals.

The photographs are aesthetically pleasing and the colours brilliant. Vivid Wild Scarlet and Blue-Yellow Macaws, Toca Toucans and Parrots are all featured magnificently in flight, with Whooper Swans running for take off. However, Siberian Tigers are shown fighting in snow, as are pairs of sparring Polar Bears, their power intensely astute.

The photographs have been arranged so you purposely have to walk around each and every one. Their quality and clarity a tribute to Bloom's workmanship.

WWF-UK have researched and written amazing and astounding text to accompany these stunning pictures. They highlight the diversity and beauty of some of the world's most powerful creatures. Climate change is putting thousands animals at the risk of extinction. They also face risks ranging from habitat destruction and pollution, to poaching and illegal trade.

In the Information Centre, Steve Bloom documents how he put this outstanding assembly of work together. He explains how and why he felt the need to present these photographs and shows how he made it possible. The exhibition contains posters, pictures, books, not only on the contents of the exhibit, but information on how we can help prevent further damage to these animals and the environment.

As I, and many others walked, rather solemnly, around the stands specially erected for this event, the day seemed to match our moods. You could see the youth and innocence in the fresh faces of those newly arrived. Unfortunately, for those of us who had already seen the powerful images and read the information, our faces engraved with an expression of guilt and knowing. As the sun lowered for the evening and the floodlights came on, I found this gave the exhibit an strangely serene but harrowing dimension.

Spirit of the Wild is both a heart warming and soul destroying portrait of modern existence. It is a thought provoking and emotional journey that brings home the damage being caused. Each and every of us is responsible.

Steve Bloom's photography serves as a reminder that these animals are endangered and their habitats are vanishing; and of the beauty in the world, and our need to respect, protect, and preserve it. On leaving this exhibition, you will be fully informed of the damage and destruction we are causing everyday. It will make you question your choices. 


Knowing

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.
If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich. 
Tao Te Ching

Climate Change

Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today. It is believed that the resulting rise is global temperatures will change weather patterns, increase sea levels, and increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather.

Although, most of the UK will welcome hotter and drier summers, with more consistent heat waves, and milder winters, there is a negative side to climate change. Temperature changes, currently predicted to rise between 1.1 and 6.4°C above 1990 temperatures by the end of the 21st century, will lead potentially lead to droughts and flooding.

The recent downpours and flooding has been devastating to the country as a whole, but ultimately, in the Yorkshire region three people lost their lives.

These effects of climate change could be even more devastating, as they will affect the health and living of millions of people, through food and water shortages, for example, cereal yields in Africa, India, and the Middle East, are expected to be reduced dramatically. The spread of diseases is also a risk. Irreversible loss to many of the world's endangered species, is another prediction. Poorer countries are likely to be the worse affected. 

Global sea levels are also predicted to rise as a result. Again, by the end of the century, a potential rise of 20-60cm will lead to continued melting of ice caps and glaciers. This could also lead to changes in rainfall patterns and increased intensity of tropical storms. Another major problem, in increased sea levels is the possible extinction of several small islands, for example, the beautiful Maldives. This would put millions of people at risk of homelessness or worse. 80 million people are predicted to be at risk, mainly in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.


Climate is the average of weather experienced over a long period. This can be measured through  temperature, wind levels, and rainfall patterns. During the history of the world, the planet's climate has changed many times, mainly in response to natural causes. However, the planet's overall average temperature has increased by 0.74°C in the last century, with over half (0.4°C) occurring since the 1970s. This, it is believed by many scientists, is a result of human behaviour, through carbon emissions.

In some areas, water resources for drinking and irrigation will be affected by reduced rainfall.  People's lives may be put at risk from an increased frequency of droughts and flooding. An additional three billion people could suffer increased water stress by 2080. Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent will be the worst affected.

Understandably, many governments around the world are trying to make changes to slow the effects of climate change, namely by convincing the public to reduce our emissions.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) involves most world countries with the exception of America. In 1997, they set up the Kyoto Treaty to consider how to tackle climate change and reduce Global warming.
A decade later, as the situation worsens, a number of countries have now approved additions to the Kyoto treaty. These additional measures are more powerful and legally binding.

By the end of 21st Century, the UK could be facing severe heatwaves reaching 40°C. It was temperatures like these that resulted in thousands of deaths in Europe in 2003. With the increase in temperature comes the possibility of major droughts.

Anyone who remembers the summer of 1976, will remember the crisis one long hot summer caused; water rationing, crops dehydrating, buildings subsiding, wildfires, and ultimately, deaths from the heat.

The health effects could devastating. The increase in temperatures, will lead to an increase in cataracts and skin cancer. Some scientists are even predicting wide spread tropical diseases, such as Dengue fever and West Nile virus.

Critically, any perceived benefits of the temperature increases and a warmer UK are far outweighed by the cost to society, the environment, the economy, and ultimately, our lives. However, there are ways to prevent this.

The UK government has signed up to stronger sanctions under the Kyoto Protocol and states it is fully committed to tackling climate change and Global warming. By agreeing to the new measures of the Kyoto agreement, the UK is now committed to reducing its emissions of the six greenhouse gases over the next decade to 12.5% below their 1990 levels.

Carbon dioxide is thought to be the biggest cause of global warming. Additionally, the government has pledged to cut the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2012.

Emissions from households contribute 31% of total UK carbon emissions. The Energy White Paper originally stated that an increase in energy efficiency could reduce emissions by 5 million tonnes, although this has now been re-estimated at 4.2 million tonnes.

In addition to to cutting greenhouse gases, the government has also set a target for producing 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. This target was set as a result of a 2003 study by the Sustainable Energy Policy Network. The findings of the report stated that carbon dioxide emissions rose during that year by 1.4%, whilst the amount of energy generated from renewable sources fell.

There are several options available for generating renewable energy, such as wind energy, onshore and offshore, and hydro power.

As a completely clean form of energy production, wind energy produces no waste and is source of power is everlasting. The current most developed renewable energy technologies are focusing on wind power, this is because the UK has potentially the largest wind energy resource of any European country.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has calculated, that theoretically, the UK's onshore wind could produce enough energy to meet 80% of the country's electricity needs. It estimates that 10% of the UK's current electricity could be met by using approximately only 1% of the total UK land area.

By using offshore wind, the DTI predicts the UK could meet it's electricity supply demands 10 times over. To use offshore wind, less than 1% of the country's seabed would be needed to site turbines.

Another alternative for renewable energy is hydro power. This is currently the largest source of renewable energy anywhere in the world. The UK currently uses hydro energy to produce about 1.8% of current electricity supply.

Nearly half of current UK carbon emissions are a result of energy used every day. We can all help prevent climate change by being more energy efficient and saving energy. Simple things like turning unused lights off, turning the thermostat of central heating systems down by 1°C, replacing light bulbs with energy efficient bulbs, will not only help reduce carbon emissions but help reduce bills!

If we take action now we can help prevent further damage caused by global warming and climate change, however, if we do not, then the unpredictable weather variations the country has experienced recently will continue and become more severe.


Happiness

People spend a lifetime searching for happiness; 
looking for peace. 

They chase idle dreams, addictions, religions, 
even other people, 
hoping to fill the emptiness that plagues them. 

The irony is the only place they ever needed to search was within.  
Romana L. Anderson
 
 Picture from Happiness in Your Hand

What We Give

Not what we give,
But what we share,
For the gift
without the giver
Is bare.
James Russell Lowell
 


 




 

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


'Fairy tales, Angela Carter tells us, are not “unique one-offs,” and their narrators are neither “original” nor “godlike” nor “inspired.”'



Therefore, why did she choose to use these parables as an illusion to Melanie's life in 'The Magic Toyshop'? Carter employs a variety of classic fairy tales to portray the predicament of Melanie and her siblings. This essay will discuss Carter's use of them. 'The Magic Toyshop' is a novel concerned with an adolescent girl's transformation into a woman, and the trauma and jubilation she must travel through in order to live and appreciate life. It explores her past, present, and her resulting future.

Fairy tales were originally used to educate children (mainly girls) who were entering adolescence, about morals and the role society expected of them. Carter makes a reference to an assortment of fairy tales ranging from stories, which are still being written in their simplest forms to long neglected texts. Carter's allusion to them is ironic, as Melanie's life becomes a genuinely harsh fairy tale, at an age that girls in bygone years would have been hearing them.

There are various allusions to the fairy tale of 'Little Red Riding Hood'. The tale itself has a multitude of variations due to geographical differences and the variant of storytellers. However, in 1697, Charles Perrault brought the original story to the attention of literary readers. As is typical of Carter's novel, the fairy tale has an assortment of links with it. When Uncle Philip orders Finn to “rehearse a rape” with Melanie, he is behaving in a manner belonging to the role of Little Red Riding Hood's mother. They are both aware of the dangers present but still insist on a particular event occurring. Philip tries to portray Finn as the wolf, however, unlike Little Red Riding Hood, Finn realises his position is being abused. Philip is employing him as a puppet in his show; Finn however,  manages to restrain himself mentally and physically. As Melanie travels to her Uncle's house for the first time, she notices the shops are “brightly lighted” and wonderfully coloured. This parallels Little Red Riding Hood's distraction as she wanders the “path of needles”. Furthermore, her new home is “dimly lit” and insignificant to the skyline in comparison. While the family are trying to enter the shop the door is “stuck momentarily on a thick doormat”, which contrasts  with the ease that the Wolf enters the grandmother's house. This shows the magnitude of the task Melanie faces. In varying oral modifications of the story there is a list of the clothes that Little Red Riding Hood removes. This reveals the dissimilarity between Melanie's past and present life, and her lack of materialistic possessions.       

Another difference in Melanie, since the loss of her parents, is her feelings of love and passion. Until the move to Uncle Philip's, Melanie dreamt of a handsome prince. However, after meeting Finn her maturity allows her to see it is the beauty within that counts. This is an allusion to Madame de Beaumont's version of 'Beauty and the Beast'. Beauty States “It is neither good looks nor great wit that makes a woman happy with her husband, but character, virtue, and kindness” which mirrors Melanie's feelings for Finn. Carter's intimation of it is deliberate. She uses 'Beauty and the Beast', as it is a folk tale written to reconcile young women to the custom of arranged marriage. Although nobody forces Melanie into marriage, she becomes a prisoner in a domesticated, patriarchal society. 'The  Swan Maiden' is a Scandinavian regional version of this tale; this a direct link with Carter's 'The Magic Toyshop'.

'Snow White' is another fairy tale that Carter indicates. The fairy tale varies immensely from culture to culture. Carter uses 'Snow White' because the plot “is a reflection of a young woman's development”. It also fits in with Carter's theory of a patriarchal society. In the Grimms' tale 'Schneewittchen', the dwarfs tell Snow White “If you will keep house for us, cook, make the beds, wash, sew, knit, and keep everything neat and tidy, they you can stay with us, and we'll give you everything you need”. This reflects the way Philip controls and domesticates Melanie. Another way Carter links to this fairy tale to 'The Magic Toyshop' is by the use of mirrors. In 'The Magic Toyshop', Melanie shatters the mirror because in her reflection she sees the girl who killed her parents. Whilst in 'Snow White', the mirror represents evil, but she also envisages the image of her own mother, who died in childbirth.

Carter also mentions Charles Perrault's 'Bluebeard'. The tale challenges the usual 'happy ever after' fairy tales. Although it arouses anxiety and apprehension, its role in 18th century society was to encourage young brides that these emotions were typical. Carter's use of it shows Melanie overcoming the repulsion of Finn's “extraordinary, extravagant, almost passionate dirtiness”. This mirrors the wife's reaction to Bluebeard's nauseating deformity. In Perrault's version, his wife drops the key, to they locked room, in a pool of blood and stains it. The stain represents a double sin, one moral and one sexual. These coincide with Melanie and her original sin of trying her mother's wedding dress, and of her developing awareness of her own sexuality. Bluebeard was a gothic villain, who owned an elaborate castle, where he entertained with lavish parties. The guests had access to all the rooms bar one. This mirrors the workshop in 'The Magic Toyshop', as Philip will not allow anyone in unless he is present. Bluebeard's wife uncovered his gruesome secret. This mirrors Philip finding his wife and Francie together. When Bluebeard's wife discovers his private store, her brothers kill him and burn down the castle. As Francie appears to confront Philip, Carter describes him as emerging from behind “one of the sinister doors of Bluebeard's castle”. She also entitle it “Bluebeard's Castle”, when Finn is leading Melanie to his room to “rehearse”. When Joseph Jacobs translated the tale into English in 1890, he rewrote 'Bluebeard' as 'Mr. Fox'. In 'Mr. Fox', his fiancĂ©e manages to escape his clutches, with a severed hand and exposes him. This mirrors when Finn takes Melanie into the workshop and shows her the theatre, she anxiously thinks the puppets have a “strange  liveliness as they dangled unfinished from their hooks”, they are “hanged and dismembered”. Melanie also sees “A hand. Cut off” in the kitchen drawer. In Margaret Atwood's version of 'Bluebeard', 'Bluebeard's Egg', she has modernised it. She mentions “Edward Bear” as her pet name for her husband; Carter uses this as the name for Melanie's teddy bear. This shows Melanie's affection for the bear and the love it represents.

Writers continuously retell the fairy tale of  'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' for children in an uncomplicated and innocent manner. Carter indicates this text is parallel to the circumstances in which Melanie finds herself. This tale teaches a moral. The young girl, Goldilocks, exploits and damages items that do not belong to her. This mirrors Melanie's actions and her disregard for the importance of her mother's wedding dress. The language Carter uses, “It was too big” imitates Goldilocks when trying out a variety of bear items. Although Goldilocks is startled and frightened by the bears, she runs home having learnt her lesson, and will never take anything without permission again. Melanie, however, believes her actions brought about the demise of her parents and the forced 'exile' from her home. Carter also references the story when describing Aunt Margaret eating “Baby Bear” portions. This implies she, like Goldilocks, is feeling lost and frightened.

Carter points towards a Chinese fairy tale, 'Willow Pattern', when Melanie wishes she could run across “the little bridge on her willow pattern plate”. The tale is about two young lovers, who elope after the girl's father refuses to allow them to be together. The father follows them and eventually finds them; he kills the boy and his daughter dies when he sets fire to the house. Their spirits turned into doves to spend eternity together. Both Melanie and Finn, and Margaret and Francie, with Philip taking the role of the father, can represent the star-crossed lovers of the tale. The doves are representative of the peace and love felt by Melanie towards Finn, Francie, and Margaret, and also of her experiences with the swan, which are behind her.

Angela Carter weaves fairy tale motifs throughout 'The Magic Toyshop'. Her allusion to them allows the reader to understand and interpret Melanie's hopes and fears. The role of many central characters in fairy tales links to Melanie's life. Carter uses Uncle Philip as a representative of the gothic villain in fairy tales.

How Much?

(This was originally published 18 months ago)
The NHS South West Essex and Basildon council are due to start piloting a project paying severely overweight patients to lose weight from September. The scheme, Pound-for-Pound, is using Asda shopping vouchers as an incentive to lose weight.

One hundred volunteers will be selected from both sexes to participate in the trails. If it is proven to  be successful, the NHS hope to use it in the rest of the UK and save money in the long term.

Although there is no definitive weight requirements or set targets, the body mass index (BMI) of patients must indicate they are severely overweight. The BMI is calculated from their height, weight and gender. A BMI measurement of over 30 is considered obese. Nearly two thirds of adults within the UK are overweight or clinically obese and significantly more children are becoming classified as obese.

There are also no set targets, so the patients must agree to set their own goals. They will be educated about healthy long term weight loss through wholesome eating and exercise. The volunteers must agree to a weigh in after three months, when a photograph will also be taken to compare to their original.

Experts, such as Jo Grayley of Weight Watchers, have warned it is irresponsible  to reward weight loss financially and could encourage crash dieting. 'Without support over a three-month period, there will be weeks where motivation levels will drop. You would also get people who might do  silly things to lose a lot of weight for the reward. It can be dangerous to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time. Losing weight should be its own incentive. I don't think attaching a monetary  reward to it is necessarily a good idea'.

It has certainly got many people debating the benefits of healthy long term eating. Katie Bolton of LeedsGrub (an on-line Leeds based food review blog) advised 'We need to eat to survive, but why not enjoy something we have to do by necessity.  I get far more pleasure from eating nice food than I do from looking  thin'.
Although she also stated, 'Healthy food is perceived as expensive, so giving people money to spend on better food could help them'.
She believes 'it is much more important to re-educate people in nutrition, budgeting for shopping and how to cook proper meals, this will help people to eat tasty enjoyable, nutritionally sound meals on a budget'.

Many of the commercially available diet plans (Weight Watchers, Slimfast, Jenny Craig) have websites where you can get hints and tips from professionals and forums where you can get support from other dieters. There are a number of diets available on the market, so is the reward of good health no longer enough?

Last year a government report recommended using a series of measures, including compulsory cooking lessons in schools and possible financial incentives. Although there were no proposals at the time, Department of Health sources indicated healthy eating vouchers were an idea.

The project, funded by Basildon Council who have set aside £1,000 for the scheme, believe it provides better value for money than previous schemes it has introduced, notably a £75 per month gym memberships scheme, which was rarely used.

A Basildon Council spokesman said: 'We don't want to encourage people to excessive weight  loss. It's a small push in the right direction.'

Obesity causes a host of health problems including diabetes, heart disease, infertility and some cancers. It is already costing the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds each year.

Although there are no targets for patients as yet, it remains to be seen whether the NHS will set targets for the doctors and nurses involved in the trial.

Questions have being raised around how the vouchers can be spent, Asda has confirmed it will only allow the vouchers to be  spent on healthy foods, such  as fruit and vegetables.

Death of the Disk?

Picture the scene, sunshine breaks through the grey summer's day, I'm walking my dog, and pass a house with a picturesque garden, a huge cherry blossom and wild blooming roses. Something catches my eye, a beautiful rainbow of colours, I followed the arc to see where it is coming from. Bewildered and slightly aghast, I see them, hanging from the branches, my childhood heroes.

CDs (or Compact Discs to give them their correct full title) were a breakthrough in music and data storage when they were launched in October 1982. They can hold up to 80 minutes of music with the ease of skipping tracks and playing back from the beginning without even needing to remove them from the player.

The launching of recordable CDs meant people could record and copy music at home without any concerns over quality or whether the temperamental cassette player would chew the tape up. CDs are still susceptible to damage. Dust particles can often be removed with a clean and small scratches can be polished out.

The number of tracks held on the disc vary depending on how the files are encrypted. Approximately 138 songs can be burned to a CDs using MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3).

Using MP3, which is a digital music format, a CD track can be reduced to approximately a tenth of its original size whist maintaining an almost perfect quality for sound files. As it can be compressed into a much smaller file and therefore much quicker to download, it is very popular on the internet.

With the advances in technology, and our ever growing need for speed, there are numerous internet sites that you can download music from, either as MP3s or iTunes. Most of the big names have downloads available directly from their websites, for example, Apple, Amazon, Tesco, HMV and Play.

The revolution of the world wide web and the increase in download speeds have helped this phenomenon develop further. MP3 files began to appear on the internet from 1994 onwards. Many people download music and transfer to a MP3 player and also upload their existing music collection to convert. However some people just listen to them on their personal computers or laptops. With MP3 technology becoming standard in many car stereo systems, people also burn CDs to listen to elsewhere.

Mobile phone manufacturers have developed music downloads further, with some allowing customers to purchase and download directly from and to their mobile phones.

Websites like My Space are allowing new and unsigned musicians to get their music out to a wider audience. They can sell downloads through their blogs and sites.

The main controversy with MP3 is that because of the size and speed delivery available of the downloads, they are easily transferred on the internet. Which had led to an increase in music piracy, especially through file sharing peer-to-peer programs, such as Napster launched 1998 (and closed after a legal battle). Numerous sites have been sued for offering free MP3 downloads, infringing copyright. Record  companies are trying to increase the difficulty for people to upload store bought CDs to their P.C.'s by adding special software, known as Digital Rights Management. They argue this is to prevent illegal file sharing. However, this has also created its own problems, such as people not been able to play their downloaded purchases on separate devices.

DVDs and Blu-rays have since been unveiled using the same technology, allowing films to be recorded in the same quality. Most DVD and blu-ray players feature a CD player, so will this allow them a fighting chance? Is there hope for these pieces of plastic to survive?

Time To Embrace My Red Hair

I remember the sun shining on her spring tight coiled silky rusty red hair. I loved the way the sun bleached the ends of her hair strawberry blond. She hated it, it made her look like she needed her roots doing, or that's what she used to say. I loved the red colour she dyed it, another of my habits she copied. My father was ginger, my mother used to tell me frequently she cried when I was born, sometimes she'd occasionally say it was because all she wanted was a ginger haired little girl.

As a child my hair was long, it reached the back of my knees. heavy and straight. The colour was bright, I was not just ginger, I was orange! Think Chris Evans in his heyday. I hated it as a child, but why wouldn't I? I was a classic victim of bullies, I made it too easy. I was short, fat, wore glasses, ginger and a straight A student. I detested being ginger, so as soon as I was old enough to go in to town with my friends on a Saturday, I saved pocket money and went to the chemist to buy a dye.

I dyed my hair that night at home with my best friend, whilst my mother was out. Obviously, my mother knew we were having a girlie sleepover, hair masks, face masks, etc. But she definitely was not expecting to scene she came home to. Me and my friend stood there, proud of ourselves for the job on my now chestnut brown shiny hair, whilst blocking the entrance to the bathroom so she would not see the room that by now resembled murder scene in a bad teenage Hollywood / slasher movie! I was convinced we only needed five minutes to clean up, seriously how hard could it be to wash a couple of splashes of the walls, floors, bath, and sink.

After all it was a wash in-wash out semi permanent dye. Deliberately chosen in case we messed up and I had to wash my hair ten times before mom got home! However even permanent dye, as I found out later, would wash of a ceramic sink but wash in, does not equal wash off on rugs and porous wall paper. We were like Cinderella that night! Dressed in PJ's and slippers with face packs on scouring the walls and floor! The ultimate contrast to feeling like the princess early in the evening when I had my hair dried and styled by my best friend. We knew my mother would go mental if she saw the mess.

My mother was obsessed with cleanliness to the point of OCD. Her favourite thing in the world appeared to be the Hoover. I'm sure she gave it a pet name, she may as well she engaged with that mechanical sucker more than me. They would dance around the house at least three times a day, although nobody was home and no mess. They had their partnership synced perfectly, she pushed, he pulled, she moved, he sucked. Their staircase embrace was like a cross between and aerobics workout and a ballroom dancing competition. To this day I have never seen someone vacuum so gracefully!

So after cleaning the bathroom to a near perfect spotless rendition of it's former glory we thought we would get away with.

But there's always a bit that catches you out. Our alarm call the blood curdling sound coming from the bathroom, made us both wake with a start. Imagining last night's murder scene imagery may become a reality in the cold light of the day. Well actually I say day, not sure I or any other thirteen year old would call 6am on a Sunday morning day! Rushing into the bathroom we were none too politely greeted with a request for information regarding 'what we thought we were playing at and what the hell was that' and some not too small, life threatening promise about 'it better not have stained'.

Damn what had she spotted, the splash on the corner of the towel, the orange stain on the white plastic window ledge. No, we had escaped those. For now! No we had been given away by the tiniest of red dribbles in the back of the plastic swing top bin. The thing that we thought was going to end our lives was a white plastic swing top bin bought about two years before for less that a fiver!

My Mother & I

What is your favourite memory of your mother?  I have several. Some of them make me cry, some make me laugh but all of them make me remember her as she was.

My mother, Bren, passed away in 2005. Her death was unexpected and a devastating shock to all of her family, friends and acquaintances. The afternoon I got the telephone call to tell me she had passed away, was bizarre in many ways.

I had been seeing my boyfriend (S) for around three months. It was a Sunday routine that we had settled very quickly and easily into. Typically we would get up late, read the papers, grunting at each other if we found anything of interested to the other. Speaking occasionally to ask if the other wanted coffee. S would make breakfast, well, brunch, usually enough to feed a small army. After several hours of this, I would turn the television over to Sherlock Holmes.

This was a normal Sunday to all intents and purposes until about 13:30. My mobile rang. Nothing unusual in that. It was my uncle (stepfather’s brother), with whom I had a good friendship and frequently spoke with. I answered the call in a lazy manner, although I was not expecting him to call, I was happy to hear his voice.

After saying a brief hello, he cut me off with an abrupt "Are you at home?" I advised him I was, and enquired as to whether he was coming round. He said something had happened with my mother and he was going to come and collect me.

Now, I hasten to point out, I was irritated at the break in my day. I asked what she had done this time.

To clarify my response I should explain my mother had had diabetes since the age of ten years old, almost forty years. Because of this and the various complications it had on her, she was frequently in and out of hospital, usually for a couple of hours at most. This had been a strain on our relationship since my childhood.

Throughout my childhood, she had tried several different medications to control her diabetes. Most of which had a negative effect on her. As my mother had an unusual reaction to her medications, this usually meant that she had no warning signs if her blood sugar dropped too low (hypoglycemia). Although she could be fine with a low blood sugar and able to cook a three course meal and simultaneously clean the house from top to bottom (an OCD sufferer at best), at times she would have a hypoglycemic attack with relatively high blood sugars (for her).

When she had a hypo, she would be physically and verbally aggressive to those around her. On more times, than I care to remember she had hit, punched, kicked and bit me. On one occasion, she tried to strangle me with a telephone cable. I have to say I was overjoyed at the invention of cordless telephones and mobiles.

Until recent years, first aiders used to teach people to call the emergency services if someone was having a hypoglycemic attack, as it was often misdiagnosed. This resulted in may people not knowing about diabetes until they had some kind of personal experience. People would often perceive my mother and others like her, as being inebriated. Often this would lead to the situation becoming worse and her condition deteriorating, becoming more violent.

If I was with my mother, I could spot hypoglycemia coming on by her actions, tone, and language. Something that my stepfather (M) would be able to do later when he married her, although he was not excluded from the physical and verbal abuse either.

So back to my irritation. The week before her passing, I had spent a couple of hours with her, shopping and having lunch in our local city centre. We had recently reconciled following a hostile and difficult relationship and had a pleasant day. I was heading home on the bus, and she was going to do some more shopping. Approximately thirty minutes later, I was on the bus just leaving the town centre, when my mobile jingled to life. It was a member of the nursing staff at Leeds General Infirmary hospital, asking if I could come and see my mother. Slightly annoyed and thinking 'here we go again', I got of the bus at the next stop and walked, well actually stomped and stropped, my way back to the hospital.

On entering the ward, I heard my mother, before I saw her. Granted this was not unusual, she was five feet nothing tall, slimly built but with a mouth that could carry further than any foghorn! Something I often like to remind her of.  

I checked at the nurses' station and they told me that she had had a hypo after I left her and a passer-by had called an ambulance as she collapsed. She told me my mother had attacked the paramedic that tried to give her an injection of glycogen (a hormone that raises blood glucose levels) to bring her blood sugar levels back to normal. She had tried to fight him off, I knew from experience this was because she feared he was trying to attack and poison her, an increasingly common reaction. Unfortunately in the struggle the needle of the injection had came out of her body and pierced his skin. After subduing her and getting her back to the Accident and Emergency ward at the hospital, he had to be tested for HIV. 

At the hospital, my mother recovered as the glycogen merged with her body and increased her levels to a high enough amount allowing her to revert into a normal human being. After being checked out by a doctor, who told her to make an appointment with her Diabetic Care Nurse and take better care of herself. Infuriating for both of us, as we had eaten a meal for lunch, yet here was a doctor who did not understand her or her medical needs, telling her to look after herself. I tried to explain this to the doctor and tell him that she had eaten properly, but his undignified manner and response was something we had both come to expect, if you are ill, it is because you did not look after yourself properly. Although, she had the condition and tried to control it for forty years and the closest he had been was probably was reading a textbook at university. 

A nurse told my now recovered mother in a very matter-of-factly, that because of her aggression, the poor paramedic needed to be tested for HIV. As my mother found this out, it distressed her immensely for two reasons; firstly that when she had come to, she was bruised from the force used; and secondly, she was upset that they thought just because she used injections that she would have AIDS. 

The paramedic (who I add was perfectly fine except for a slight scratch where the tip of the needle caught him) was obviously upset by the whole incident. He was trying to do his job and save this woman's life, yet she was violently fighting him off, punching and hitting him. He then had to be subjected to an extreme wait whilst finding out if he had contracted HIV from the experience. My heart goes out to the men and women who do this job, having only to contend with my mother was a blessing I was grateful for.

It had become a common theme throughout her life that people had looked at her with contempt and disgust when injections were mentioned. My mother was very anti-drugs, once slapping so hard she caused tinnitus, when I joked I wanted a gold straw for my birthday!  Granted, I did it to rile her, but  I still was not prepared for that violent a reaction. She believed that it was disgusting that people used recreational drugs when she and others like her had to take them to live. Therefore, the idea of people thinking she took them for ‘fun’ would generally lead to an ultimately unhappy conversation, concluding in abuse and foul language.

I remember one occasion; one of the things I and my mother enjoyed was visiting markets and car-boots, shopping for bargains, me usually for books and her for clothes and trinkets. We would often go to other towns for the day, enjoying a nice lunch and a couple of drinks. One such day, we called into a public house in a local town for a late lunch; my mother tested her blood sugar in the toilets, as she would often do before a meal. The test revealed she needed her insulin before the meal, so she gave herself the injection. She placed the cap on the disposable needle, and along with a cotton wool ball with a smear of blood, placed them in a bag. As there was not anywhere safe to put the needle, she approached the bar and quietly asked the duty manager if she had a sharps bin, explaining the reason. The woman looked her up and down, with a scowled face and pursued lips, and advised they did not associate with ‘those’ types of people.

This prejudice was unbelievable to witness; I was shocked that people would look at this woman, my mother, as a junkie. It angered me and I too had argued over this throughout the years. Disturbingly, it became something I too expected. My mother’s anger never subsided though. Although small in statue, she was a strong dominating woman who was very vocal in her opinions. This was one of the few times I felt she was justified.

So having all this happen the week before, although the episode on lasted a couple of hours, my immediate reaction to the phone call I received was, "What as she done now?" P, my uncle, said there had been an incident and he would collect me. Again, I asked what had happened. He told me M (my stepfather) had being trying to contact me but for some reason only had my old mobile number. After several minutes of me pressing him for information, he said something that resembled "Bren is dead". At that point, I went into autopilot. A place I stayed for a number of weeks, possibly even months.

I told him the easiest place to collect me from, whilst telling S, very abruptly, my mother was dead and I had to go. S, at a loss for words, asked what I wanted him to do. I still not sure I ever answered that question, but he was at my side thirty minutes later when I arrived at my mother’s house, a position he has being in ever since.

When we arrived, my stepfather was there. I hugged him and cried briefly, when I saw him. I followed him upstairs to her bedroom, where she had passed away. I do not know what I was expecting; maybe that she had passed peacefully in her sleep, as she was in bed, but having seen the look on her face I knew this was not the case. Her face looked contorted, juxtaposed to its usual preparations and places. Her mouth was twisted into an odd awkward position. I recognised the look as a usual reaction to a hypo.  I could not bear to look at her and the smell of death, that sickly perfumed flowered scent, flowed throughout the house. 

The police and ambulance arrived. After the details were shared, the paramedics had to officially pronounce my mother as dead. Although in a state of shock and nerves, both my father and I laughed at this. It reminded us both of the lyrics written by Ed Robertson for Barenaked Ladies' single One Week:

"How can I help if I think you're funny when you're mad
Tryin' hard not to smile though I feel bad
I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral
Can't understand what I mean? Well, you soon will
I have the tendancy to wear my mind on my sleeve
I have a history of taking off my shirt"

It was with laughter that we got through the weeks and months, which followed. Laughter and a large amount of alcohol.

Later as my mother’s body was removed from the house, I started to turn the house upside down to find my mother’s address book. Calling people from her mobile and telling them that actually the person that they thought was calling was dead. Some calls were harder than others were, although none were easy. Her brothers, my brother, her friends, most of whom I had known almost all my life.

During one particular call, to a friend of my mother and mine, I spoke to his then girlfriend, who far from being sympathetic accused me of making excuses to speak to her boyfriend. This resulted in my ever-shortening temper reaching its limit quickly. I was on the telephone having a blazing row with a girl I did not know or want to, as the police asked me to step inside so the could bring my mother’s body downstairs. Sometimes, life is just too surreal!

I called my closest friend, J, to ask for help. She was, and remains one of the reasons; I did not go into a total meltdown. As soon as I spoke to her, the tears started to flow. My mouth was forming the words I had said ten times already, Bren has passed away, but no words came out just a wailing sob. As I stood in my mother’s front garden, J without actually hearing the words immediately told me she was on her way. I may have uttered the word dead but I do not believe I said who. Without J and her mother (R)’s friendship and support, we would never have gotten through the preparation for or planning of the funeral.

Neither M nor I had ever had to arrange a funeral. I was only six when my father passed away and around ten when my grandparents passed away. Although in fairness, even if we had of known, neither of us were in a fit state to handle it. In a state of distress, you would think there would be someone available to tell you the steps you need to take, literally step by step. If there was, nobody came forward.


So with lots of help from R on the actual process, we organised the funeral. The minister came round to the house and asked what kind of service we wanted. We agreed it would not be religious and a celebration of her life, not an occasion for mourning. After all when she had been diagnosed with diabetes all those years before, both she and her parents had been told that she would not make it to forty. A line she uttered several times in the last decade of her life.

When asked to choose three songs for the funeral, M and I discussed using Chas and Dave’s Rabbit Rabbit, as this had been a long standing joke between the three of us, about me and him never getting a word in. I used to joke the reason I speak so fast is that as a child I learnt to fit words in to the pauses she made when she took a breath. Our conversations quite probably just sounded like a serious of noises to an outsider!

My brother did not think it was funny and was upset we were making a joke out of it. So we decided we would all choose a song each. A song that meant something to each of us. M chose a song from the first CD my mother had bought him and it seemed an apt choice. The song was Stepping Stones by Dougie MacLean, an amazing song, well worth a listen.

                             STEPPING STONE
Music & Lyrics by Dougie MacLean. Published by Limetree Arts and Music
So much time has gone since we worked out in these open fields
With the hope of generations pulled around us and a strength revealed
And so much has been done since we ran around the Snaigow wood
Never knowing where our gentle lights might lead us
Or if indeed they could.

CHORUS
And we do not stand alone
I know we stand with all the others
Out in the deep unknown
I know we stand upon their stepping stones

Sure and simple souls guarded round us as we worldly grew
With nothing greater than what working days might show them they gave us all they knew
And though their dreams were small O their true and rural hearts were strong
And with an honest smile that burns from somewhere distant
They helped us all along
CHORUS

And in these silent hours when reflection lays our journey down
And we think on all departed conversations
It’s such an earthy sound
So much time has gone since we worked out in these open fields
With the hope of generations pulled around us and a strength revealed
CHORUS

I, on the other hand, went for something a little different, I chose the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Under the Bridge. The Chili’s had a special place in my heart. They had being one of my favourite bands for many years, and when I passed my Mature Access Course in 2003, my mother paid for me, her and M to go see them play at the V Festival. Although there were several disputes on the way, we all had a great weekend with a few stories to tell! I later had this song played at my wedding as a tribute, well more an acknowledgement of my mother always being there, whilst we signed the registrar.
My brother decided he did not want to chose a song, as he found it too morbid. So we chose Queen’s You Are My Best Friend for the last song. Although we had a tempestuous relationship at best, there had been some good times, M's relationship with my mother had been on a similar footing.

Deciding what outfit to bury your mother in is a weird and slightly degrading act. It felt surreal. I did not like to be in my mother’s house, let alone the bedroom, where she had died. Again, it was up to J to help me and M. She helped me chose the outfit we would bury her in, a scarf to cover the autopsy scar, shoes, make up and perfume. It is a very strange feeling to be choosing and taking perfume to a funeral directors for a dead body. They had asked for a photograph so the could try and replicate what she looked like before the passing, a thought that made me chuckle and want to cry at the same time. When we visited my mother’s body after it had been 'prepared' I was a little freaked out to see the coffin lid lent against the door. The scent of death, again, overpowering.

My mother looked beautiful, apart from her hair, it just was not right. The funeral directors’ had made it resemble Margaret Thatcher’s hair. It was with some trepidation I ruffled her hair, to soften it. She was so cold and I could see the pins in her jaw, holding it in place. I still do not understand what frightened, or rather I think intimidated, me that day, I had seen a dead body before, even that of a loved one. The words of my mother echoed in my head, ‘they didn’t hurt you when they were alive, they won’t hurt you when they’re dead’. Something I had always agreed with. But it was a feeling I could not shake.

On the day of the funeral, I wore my white trouser suit, an outfit I knew my mother approved of, and they were not many. Funerals are expensive, they seem to be a marketers dream. Apparently exploiting a family whilst they are trying to prepare a beautiful fitting sendoff for their loved one, is commonplace.  Companies appear to feel it is appropriate to add a two hundred percent mark up when they hear  the words wedding or funeral. As I was not working and still had the rest of the funeral to sort out, as well as taking care of my mother's affairs, financially speaking,  myself and J arranged ten or so bunches of roses into a hand tied bouquet. As we walked through the town centre in the morning arranging the wake, me dressed in white carrying a bouquet of flowers, people naturally thought I was going to a wedding, I could not help but smile at the bitter sweet irony of it.

However, it did not last long, I had asked a sales assistant for some disposable cutlery and when he asked if I was having a party, I snapped back, exploding pent up frustration, anger and grief. I apologised but the damage was done.

But, as was becoming commonplace, S and J were both there to support me and tell me it was okay.  J apologised to the sales assistant, explaining the situation, calmly and politely. During those two weeks, so many people asked how I was doing, how I was holding up, but I never believed they meant it, I felt they just asked out of politeness. J asked me more than anyone, but we very quickly came to an understanding that her asking "Are you OK?" meant more than that, it meant ‘I am here to talk’, ‘I am here to listen’, ‘I am here for a rant’, and ‘I am here for a pint and to set the world to rights’.

S was around constantly, he even took time off work to make sure I was okay. He never pressured me to talk but would patiently listen while I ranted and raved about the injustice of finally reconciling with my mother less than three months before she was taken. He would often say he did nothing, but just by being there he helped me so much. The smile when I was feeling down, the squeeze of my hand at the funeral, little things that add up to love. Having being seeing the man for less than three months, I would not have blamed him if he left. It was a lot for me to deal with, never mind him trying to build a relationship and help me through it. I still do not believe I would have been as strong had the situation been reversed.

My relationship with my brother had been strained for a number of years. So when there was an argument on the day of the funeral about who was going in what car, I erupted with venom and malice. He wanted him, me and M (family) to be in the car behind the hearse. I wanted to be with M, S and J, as they had supported me and helped me in organising and paying for everything. This lead to an argument approximately fifteen minutes before the car with my mother’s coffin arrived. I was livid!

There were a few things along the way that irritated us all at some point. My brother driving a bright yellow car, with music blaring and the windows wound down following the hearse; the funeral director giving the wrong time to the newspaper for the obituary and funeral details; the minister at the funeral referring to her as Brenda, a name she had always hated preferring Bren instead. Small things that mean nothing in the bigger picture, but seem a lot at the time.

I offered my shoulder to cry on that day to a lot of people before and during the funeral. All so I did not have to think about the reason for being there.
 
My mother’s family came that day and the following day for the internment of the ashes. On both days, my brother tried to coerce me into going speak with them, none of them spoke to me first, apparently they were grieving...  I retaliated by pointing out only one of them had seen her in years, and most of the time she went to see him. I told him none of them cared, that she had nothing so there would not be a will to fight  over and they should go back to their lives. My aunt Judith approached me at one point to say she was sorry, and I just looked at her blankly and asked who she was. The words may have sounded spiteful and venomous, but that was my intention, she had caused a lot of pain and heartache for my mother and here she was weeping at her graveside. It made me feel physically sick.