Sunday, 23 September 2018

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation
An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World

This is one of those books that proves that people around the world, regardless of the language we speak and the culture we are born in to, have far more in common than certain elements of the media would have us believe. There are expressions and descriptions in this book that go beyond the vowels and consonants used to bring them in to the world to show how universal the human experience is. I don't think there's a single word in this book that didn't make sense to me.

You know how you sometimes ask someone for directions, listen with great attention, and within a couple of minutes they've all fallen out of your head and you are just as lost as before? There's a Hawaiian word for that.

Ever enjoyed the way the sunlight shines through the leaves of the trees? Well, there's an elegant Japanese noun in existence for just that kind of light.

In Brazilian Portuguese there is a 6 letter, simple little word for the act of running your fingers through the hair of somebody you love.

There's a French adjective for the colour of faded autumn leaves - I have no idea how to pronounce it but it looks beautiful on the page.

Isn't language amazing?

Words I think should exist but I couldn't find in this book:

The very particular hunger that comes when you are desirous of cake. I feel this should be a German word, emphatic and almost aggressive, to show the individual nature of this kind of lust. It needs the word 'kuchen' in it, and should be between 4-6 syllables long for maximum satisfaction on the tongue.

The longing for the perfect notebook. The one that is the right price, has the perfect cover, the perfect weight of paper that accommodates whatever ink you wish to use without ghosting and bleedthrough and, most importantly, that manages to be everything you hoped it would be without you getting ten pages in, feeling you'd ruined the whole book, and deciding you need to buy another one. Italian, perhaps? A soft, sensuous word, ending in one or two vowels, that exits the mouth like a sigh.

You know when you have a choice and it's 50/50 if you get it right? Pushing or pulling a door to open it when there's no obvious sign as to what the right way is - that kind of thing. I think there should be a word for when you manage to get it wrong 75% of the time, flying in the face of all mathematical sense to the contrary. This word needs to be short (1-2 syllables) and explosive, to suit the vexation this kind of thing can cause. An expletive level sound, that's what I'm thinking.

What words do you think should exist and don't appear to?

This book would make a great gift (birthday or C-word) for someone who loves languages and words. It's a quick read, so would be good as a bathroom book for visitors having a quick, um, sit down, and looking for something to do while their body is otherwise occupied.

7 out of 10 Inuit speakers waiting for someone (anyone) to arrive

Sunday, 9 September 2018

My Body, My Choice

Image from Pixabay
I am posting this blog in response to an article in Cosmopolitan posted on a UK Facebook group for women who have chosen to go flat rather than go through reconstruction. The article details the pernicious problem of breast consultants who attempt to coerce cancer patients into having reconstruction when they don't want it and on occasion outright ignore requests for mastectomy. 

I've written before of how I have the BRCA1 gene and how I made the decision to go for a preventive mastectomy without reconstruction. I think I have spoken about the struggle it was to get my consultant to agree to 'allow' me to have the surgery I wanted. It took months, 3 appointments, a referral to a psychiatrist on the insistence of my consultant (who then still ignored my wishes and tried to coerce me into reconstruction even though it was obvious how much distress this option evoked in me) and finally a long letter before I got agreement to the surgery I felt most comfortable with.

Here is a copy of the letter I wrote in 2014. It feels like the right time to share this. Our bodies. Our choice.

Dear __________

I saw you last week on Wednesday when I again requested to be booked for surgery for a mastectomy without reconstruction. I have tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation and there is considerable history of breast cancer in my family. You were reluctant to refer me for this procedure and requested I take additional time to think about it and return again in June. I was disappointed and distressed by your decision and I am writing to explain my reaction.

Let me begin by saying that I understand your duty to make sure I have thought things through. I understand that you have to make it clear on my file that you have given me plenty of opportunity to review my options.

Understanding this, I am writing this letter to explain to you how I feel, to enable you to understand where I am coming from, what processes I have gone through before making the decision to have a mastectomy without reconstruction. I want to explain to you the weariness that descends, the frustration, when I clearly say what I want and am questioned yet again. I want to make it clear to you the fear and the tears that rise when attempts are made to push me about-face towards the path of reconstruction that I know is not for me. I want to tell you about the exhaustion that comes over me when I am told to reconsider, to do more research, as if for the past 2+ years I’ve just been dabbling rather than giving it any real consideration.

When I first saw you about 2 years ago, you told me I would be ‘stupid’ not to have my breasts removed as soon as possible. That was your word. ‘Stupid’. My husband was with me at the time and the word stuck out for him too. In that meeting, only two options were touched upon – reconstruction or waiting for cancer.

You referred me to Chelmsford for a consultation for reconstruction. While the consultant and nurses were very pleasant, the procedure they described sounded horrific to me. I immediately felt that this was not the path I wanted to follow. In case I was making a knee-jerk reaction, I did attend an evening event in Chelmsford to meet ladies who had undergone reconstruction, and to meet other women who were contemplating this option. I wanted to make sure I had all the facts before I rejected the course you seemed to be supporting.

Different women want different things. We are not all a homogenous group who have to tick the same boxes to function. As I was listening to what I would need to put my body through and thinking how awful and invasive it would be, there were woman about me who were eager to have a cleavage again, to whom the pain and the discomfort and the long recovery time would be worth it because that was the goal they wanted. There were women who looked at the results and considered them to be acceptable, women who only cared about the shape under clothing, and their choices were valid because they were pertinent to them and what they wanted. I looked at the results and found them ugly and unnatural. Looking at what I would end up with, I knew it would not be worth the pain and discomfort to me.

I investigated other options for reconstruction. I went on the internet and looked at before and after pictures. I contacted the National Hereditary Breast Cancer helpline to discuss things. I read articles by people who had had the procedure. When the news about Angelina Jolie broke, I read up on what she had opted for.

At the end of the day, after all this research, I was left with the fact that no reconstruction would have the look and the feel of what I already had, and if I couldn’t have something exactly like my natural breasts, I didn’t want poor seconds. There is no finish with reconstruction that I would be happy with.

It got to the point where I decided that if I couldn’t cope with reconstruction then I would just have to wait for cancer and roll with the punches. Take my treatment, have whatever operations I needed. For months I grappled with this decision, pushing down the fear of cancer that festered.

In September 2013, I went off for a holiday. In a foreign country, outside of my comfort zone and away from all those familiar routines I had used to keep worries at bay, things came to a head. I had my first ever anxiety attacks; I slept one night out of the 8 when I was away and beyond that was plagued with chronic insomnia. I returned home and was signed off work. Now the issues had surfaced, they would not be easily silenced, and the problems with sleep and anxiety continued.

One morning after a month of distress I woke in the early hours and my very first thought was: Mastectomy. I could have a mastectomy.

How to explain to your practical, medical mind the calm that descended on me with that quiet thought? How I turned the idea this way and that and felt none of the horror and the fear that reconstruction or cancer inspired? How the anxiety subsided and I was able to sleep peacefully the whole night through from then on.

I have spent months now researching what it would be like to ‘go flat’. I have spoken to dozens of women who have done this, looked at dozens of pictures. When I look at those pictures, I see scars, I see sad stories, but I am not repulsed. When I look at pictures of reconstruction, I see mutilation. That’s where the difference comes in. That’s how my mind interprets these two different options. I love my body as it is now. I have had 23 years of fantastic breasts where many women have not had a fraction of that and I am grateful for this blessing.

The word that stuck out for me in our recent meeting was ‘normal’. When you discussed reconstruction, you used that word at least twice. As if normality would not be achievable without something sticking out of my chest. Different people interpret words in different ways so allow me to explain to you what the word normal means to me.

Normal is spending time with friends and family. My breasts are not an integral part of my interactions with these people. My friends and family will not care if in future my time spent with them is sans boobs.

Normal is work. I stay fully clothed at all times and my breasts are not a part of what I do. My colleagues and customers will not be affected by the absence of a cleavage. The manager who stares absent-mindedly at my chest when I talk to him will, I’m sure, stare just as absent-mindedly at my breastforms.

Normal is time with my husband. Yes, part of that time I will be naked, and it will be difficult for both of us to adjust to my new body but I truly believe it will be easier for my husband living with a woman who is at ease with her choice than a woman who has had reconstruction which means she finds herself repulsive. The majority of the time we spend together we are dressed. We kiss and we cuddle and we talk and we laugh. These things can still continue without breasts.

Through the web I am in touch with hundreds of woman across the world who continue to live life, to work, to raise their children, to love their spouses/ friends/ relations, to set goals and face challenges – all without their breasts.

There is no easy option here. What I want, what I really want, is not to have this gene, not to have a family history corroded with the inevitable sentence of cancer. I do have this gene though. I do have to make a choice. And of the 3 options available to me, mastectomy without reconstruction is the option I feel best able to live with and the one that will enable me to move forwards.

You said that when we next met, you would respect whatever choice I made. Having read this letter, I hope it is easier for you to see what my choice is based on.

At my next appointment, I do not want any further talk of reconstruction. I want to be able to set a date for my mastectomy, for you to understand that I have thought this thing through inside and out and that the choice I am making is the choice that best suits me. I would appreciate it if __________ (name of breast nurse) could sit in on that appointment as well as I found her so supportive at my last meeting.

Yours Sincerely

Friday, 24 August 2018

Things to do with Postcards other than Posting them

1.) Perhaps the most common use for a postcard after sending in the mail - use it as a bookmark! This is where my favourite postcards go. You know the ones. You love the illustration or the phrase so much that you don't want to be beneficent and share it with someone else - you want to keep it all for yourself. These are my favourites (note the bite marks in the Chattanooga one. Thanks Moneypenny, you little asshole of a cat…).
2.) Are you the kind of person who forgets everything you need to put in your work bag if you rely on memory alone? I am! I used to keep a list in a notebook but that was a bit of a faff trying to track down the notebook after I’d had a ‘tidy’. Now I have the compact (and necessary) list written on a postcard and stored in the basket where most of my ‘I will probably need this today’ stuff goes. It’s very easy to find and I love the lemur print on it. Makes me smile each time I see it because, you know, lemurs! This postcard came from the Britta Teckentrup Odd One Out postcard set, found in my local Waterstones.
3.) While I am one of life’s guzzleguts, I am not one of life’s chefs. As such I like recipes with a limited number of ingredients that require mild-moderate skills of preparation and easy assembly with only a few directions between me and completion of a meal. My recipe book, now over 10 years old, is beginning to fall apart and I find myself debating what to replace it with. My simple recipes will fit perfectly on the back of a postcard and I’m wondering if this would be the way forward. It would definitely be a fun and colourful alternative to the standard recipe books on offer out there, and finding space on a cluttered work surface for a postcard would be much easier than finding somewhere to have an open book.

4.) Are you really organised when it comes to housework? Well done, you smug git. The rest of this paragraph is not for you. It’s for people like me who recognise that they need some help in domestic focus, and that developing the routine of doing a small number of simple chores each day would mean the whole of Sunday wouldn’t degenerate into housework avoidance. Maybe, an attractive selection of 7 postcards, bound together by the simple expedient of a hole punched in the corner and a splitring cannibalised from an old, broken keyring, is just what I need! It also gives me another excuse to keep some lovely postcards under my roof rather than send them out into the world. I was given this set of the Animalium postcards for my birthday and let me tell you they are BEAUTIFUL! I have picked 7 with a nautical theme but there’s lots of birds, reptiles, mammals etc in the set too.
5.) Easy artwork. As above with the Animalium postcards, some pcs are just gorgeous. If you have a small living space where a great big article would swallow up the walls, finding a beautiful postcard and putting it in a simple frame could be just what you need to add a bit of life and colour to a blank room. You could swap the postcards displayed, or if you have a few up in your house you could rotate them as their size means they would be very easy to move and re-position. You don’t have to be highbrow and classy with it either – the postcard below is one I got from Paperchase for my husband for his birthday years ago and we still have it on display on the kitchen noticeboard because it makes us laugh.
6.) Laminate them and use them as coasters. This would work especially well for postcards received from other people where you don’t want to throw them away but also don’t know what to do with them. Give them a second lease of life as something useful that people can pick up and comment on.

7.) Pockets in notebooks! Here’s a tutorial I made a while back on this kind of thing. All you’d need to do is cut a similar size piece of card to the pc and sticky tape the two together. I am somewhat addicted to putting pockets in any new notebook I buy…they are just so useful.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Dear Fahrenheit 451

Dear Fahrenheit 451
A Librarian's Love Letter and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life
Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,

You have been a pleasure to read. You popped up on Amazon a couple of months ago as a recommendation and I ordered you from the library, feeling my heart sink a little when I realised there was only one copy of you in the system and that with a mobile library which meant it would be WEEKS before I got you.

You were worth the wait.

I admit, I didn’t read you from start to finish. I went through your contents and cherry picked the letters I wanted to read first. I saw there was one for Matilda by Roald Dahl and made a beeline for it. From there it was To Kill a Mockingbird and The Yellow Wallpaper. A dozen more including the eponymous Fahrenheit 451. Having assured myself that your intentions were honourable by how you addressed my faves, I read all the ones in between, and then on to the last section which is chockful of recommendations.

Your love of The Virgin Suicides is somewhat on the rabid side. I read this book decades ago, recall enjoying it but not to the degree that you obviously did. It’s now on my ‘To Re-Read’ list. I have the first in the Frog and Toad books on order from the library because of this quote you referenced:

Frog, said Toad, let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop. Fred and Toad ate one very last cookie. We must stop eating! Cried Toad as he ate another.”

I feel this Toad character might be my spirit animal, judging by this and the other quotes you selected about him.

I’m saddened you don’t mention The Secret History, Donna Tartt’s best book in my eyes. You neglect it in favour of The Little Friend (which I gave up on after page 102 as I just couldn’t get into it) and The Goldfinch (which I never even bothered to pick up as I didn’t want it to be a repeat of TLF). In your defence your writing about these two titles does make me think perhaps I should give these books a proper go.

I worked in a library from age 16 to age 22 and so it isn’t just the books that drew me to you but the evocation of librarian life. The nostalgia for the good times and the good partons. The shudders over the not so good characters like Balaclava Man with his penchant for porn and his creepy putative-sex-offender aura. I know you know what I’m talking about! I can recall the state some books were returned in. I don’t just mean visually hideous. I mean nasally offensive too. I remember a pile of children’s picture books dumped on the counter by a woman with squat broad shoulders and a face like a bulldog licking piss off a thistle who skewered me with her belligerent gaze just daring me to say something about the stink of urine and shit palpably rising from the abused items. I was 17 at the time and said nothing. After that customer walked away, my manager quietly told me we could be binning those items, and there was a discreet wipe down of the counter surface moments later. So, thanks for helping me relive that. I still recall that smell.

I don’t think my local village library ever stock anything as racy as The One-Hour Orgasm, which makes me about 10% sad that I didn’t have the prurient delight of seeing it on the shelves and 90% glad that I never had to handle a book which you so aptly describe as being for ‘people to hold in one hand while they squeeze their lubed-up balls with the other’. It makes even the aforementioned human-waste ruined books seemed like a better alternative.

I love the wide selection of genres you encompass. You mention Banana Yoshimoto, who I enjoy and haven't heard mentioned by anyone else I know. You share the same favourite Jane Austen novel as me - Persuasion. It really is the best, isn't it? We have the same reaction surrounding the name 'Ralph' - thank you, Judy Blume's Forever. You even address the library in Beauty & The Beast with the right amount of reverence. And I enjoyed your regular use of the word 'fuck' to emphasise appropriate points.

I want to sit down and go through you again from cover to cover and make a list of all the books you recommend but I know that that way Serious Overwhelm lies. Instead, I am giving you the greatest accolade by adding you to my Christmas list so come the end of December I can consult your recommended pages and see what I fancy to see in the New Year with.

Thank you, Dear Fahrenheit 451. You have been an entertaining delight to read, and one I will be compulsively recommending to anyone who utters the phrase 'Read anything good lately?' in my hearing.



9 out of 10

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The Joy of Reading

From ManorBooks blog
As a child and a teen, I read with a voracious appetite. Anything. Fiction and non-fiction, whatever caught my eye. Poetry, prose, plays – if it had words, I read it.

I began to get out of the habit of regular reading for pleasure when I was at university, oddly enough. There was so much reading to do anyway for history and English that the recreational part of it got squeezed further and further to the sidelines. After university, I did still read here and there, especially when I commuted to and from work by train at a time when there were a LOT of delays and what should have been a simple 20 minute trip home could take an hour, but I didn’t read with the commitment of my younger years. In my late twenties and throughout my thirties, commuting behind me, I read sporadically. Picked up a book that was recommended; browsed in the library and got something when temptation struck. I got into audiobooks but enjoyable as they are it isn’t quite the same as sitting down with a book.
Quote found on Pinterest
After I had my first experience with depression and anxiety, part of me became a little wary of reading certain things. I had absorbed a fear into my bones and for a few years I was over-cautious in what I read, wary of triggering a mental health trip up. This resulted in a censoring of the books I chose which reduced my reading still further. Having recently had my third episode of d&a, I have realised the importance of facing my fears rather than letting them dictate my actions.

One piece of advice on recovering from depression is to set goals to give yourself something to work towards. Not great huge targets but simple things you can chip away at each day.

The goal I have set myself?

Get back into reading.
From Pinterest
I’m not using a reading challenge or setting myself a sterile goal of this many pages per day and this many books per month. No. I’m talking about reading like I did when I was younger. Every day. Picking up whatever I fancied.

Nearly 4 weeks ago, I started a reading journal to support me in this goal. In the back, I listed the books I had from the library and the few unread books I had on my shelves. In the front I wrote my plain and simple goal, and under that I have listed a number of other meandering goals with no inherent date for completion. Read a book published in each year from 1900 to the present day. Find and read a BookCrossing book (done). Finish something from my owned and unread pile and release that into the BookCrossing world (also done). Read my first MaryWesley. Random ideas on things I would like to do.

I write down quotes that speak to me from the books I am reading. I note down new words I pick up – four so far if you are interested, transpontinemanquée, scripophily and squamate – and I write about my reactions to the stories and the characters I am absorbing.

It’s so lovely to be reading regularly again. I can already feel the calming effect of it; the pleasure of using my 'reading muscles' on a day to day basis. This article lists 8 way reading can boost mental health. Harriet Allner talks about self-medicating with books, and there's the Reading Well project that promotes reading as a route to health and wellbeing, so it's not like I'm the first to the party making a connection between reading and the benefits it can have.
From CountryLiving
Anxiety has affected my ability to feel comfortable in my own skin. I need to re-learn how to sit and stay where I am. Reading is one of the primary tools I can access to do just that. And it enables me to meet dragons!

Friday, 3 August 2018

A Child of Books

This is a beautiful, beautiful book. Technically, it's aimed at children, but if you are an adult who needed books and reading almost as much as air when you were a child/teen then this book will speak to you.

The illustrations on each page incorporate text from a variety of sources - classics like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea to fairy tales like the Goose Girl. The text is used to create waves on which a boat floats, branches coming off a tree, dense clumps forming a horned monster clutching a castle.

The two 'characters' of the book have no names. There is the little girl, self-possessed and composed of all she has read and dreamed. There is the little boy, pale and anxious and unsure, being tempted into the wonderful world of stories by his confident new companion. 

The final line of the book reads 'For Imagination Is Free'. Such a true and exhilarating statement.

I am a child of books. The words in this story are so simple and yet they resonated with me. Can't wait to add this book to my collection.

10 out of 10

Thursday, 2 August 2018


What an unobtrusive word to say. No jarring consonants. No long dragging vowels. Nothing remarkable about the sound it makes. You’d hardly believe how toxic a word this could be.

Normal is a word I am challenging at present. When I’m at my lowest, one of the unhelpful phrases that runs around and around my noggin is:
I just want to be normal.

It has the same self-denying properties as ‘Iwant to be better’ but it also has the nasty edge of comparison to it.

What do I mean by the word ‘normal’?

I mean Happy. Not only not having depression and anxiety but NEVER HAVING HAD THESE THINGS.

I mean Content. Content to get up, go to work, come home, watch the telly, go to bed and then repeat ad infinitum. To not want or need anything that is beyond easy grasp. A lack of restlessness. No impulse for wild, impossible dreams. No ache for life to be more than it has turned out to be.

I mean Perfect Physical Health. No illnesses, no suffering, no dodgy genetics, no diagnosed condition that means storms ahead and difficult decision re treatment and/or surgery.

It’s a relatively short list. Do I know anyone who fits this description? Um . . . no. You know why? Because it’s impossible to be or have or achieve all these three things permanently for an entire life.

This list is not the standard list. Everyone will have a different definition of ‘normal’ – quite often one that is in opposition to what they have or are capable of having. We so often set ourselves a standard that our own experience and existence excludes us from.  

So. When you are having a bad day and thoughts like ‘why can’t I be normal?’ start swilling around your head, maybe it would help to write down everything you mean by 'normal'. And see if that actually applies to anyone you know.