Choose Your Words Wisely

Reading time: 3–4 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): A thesaurus

I recently took part in a webinar with writer and mental health campaigner Rachel Kelly. Organised by Byte the Book (a great membership platform for writers and those in/interested in publishing, BTW), the session was focussed on maximising wellbeing as a writer. Though, really, you don’t need to be a writer to need to maximise your wellbeing. Especially in this shit show of a year. I think we could all do with a dose of wellbeing maximisation.

The technique that stood out for me the most is pertinent to writers in that it involves the use of words, but equally well is applicable to everyone because it involves simply the use of words (no writing required).

Rachel described her aversion to the concept of a Gratitude Journal. My first reaction was: controversial, especially coming from somebody who is supposedly championing better mental health. She then explained that the word “gratitude” puts her off. That it seems so grand and overwhelming and, dare I say it, American (my connotation). Ugh. Hmm. I agree with her entirely. She prefers to use the term “appreciation”. Instead of listing each morning the things that she is OH SO GRATEFUL FOR (while perched a brightly coloured hand-woven rug, surrounded by moon-drenched crystals, mid-sage cleanse), she lists the things that she appreciates (perhaps in bed, perchance in the shower, maybe, even, on the blummin loo). I mean, I don’t know where she does it, but I do know that she rather cunningly has completely transformed a probably effective but highly irritating practice into something that is probably effective and totally manageable. And something that you don’t feel an utter arsewipe partaking in.

One can appreciate the small things in life quite easily. I, right now, can appreciate lots of things. Like the new navy-blue Sweaty Betty ensemble that I’m currently rocking, which is both stylish and comfortable (and makes me feel, like, OMG #YogaGoals). And the cup of tea my boyfriend has just placed on my desk, with the perfect ratio of Yorkshire to Oatly (he’s well trained). And the fact that we’ve got loads of episodes left to watch of Married at First Sight Australia before we must perform the arduous task of choosing a new series (one, admittedly, that is a little more highbrow). The list could go on. And that makes me feel happy.

If I’d had to declare my gratitude, however, I think I would have felt able only to grapple with the most truly deserving of items. Food. Hot water. THE ROOF OVER MY HEAD. And it just wouldn’t have been as fun or fulfilling.

This alternation of terminology can be used in lots of other places, too. For example, during her talk, Rachel told us how she has replaced the word “exercise” with “movement” in her repertoire for its more loving, less strenuous, associations. I like this a lot. (Anything that allows me to class my tea-break intuitive-slash-improvisational-slash-awkward-yet-comedic dance routines as beneficial—part of a healthy lifestyle, no less—I can get on board with.)

I wonder what the past twelve months would have felt like had we all been “shielding” instead of “locked down”. It’s strange that when the government wanted to keep us apart they coined a new term using the word “social”, and when they wanted to keep us safe they selected one eerily close to that describing being in prison. With a mental health emergency on their hands, perhaps a lexicological advisor could have helped things (but, then again, Matt Hancock might not have had one on WhatsApp). As 2021 unfurls, our freedom glinting intoxicatingly over the horizon, I commit to utilising this method of expression-substitution for words and phrases that perhaps aren’t doing me the best lot of good. The first, “sales and marketing” (scary and suited and competitive) to be replaced with “communication” (gentler, more honest, and something I have greater confidence in). Second, “being lazy” (guilt-ridden and undesirable) will be bumped off for “being kind to myself” (caring and considered). And, lastly, “2020” (the list of synonymous expletives never ending)… Now to be forever known as “a period of quiet reflection”.

Praying in the Bath

Reading time: 3–4 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): Something wholesome. Like a Hobnob dunked in Yorkshire Tea and unabashedly devoured.

Last night I prayed. To God. In the bath. Which means, statistically, that 50% of my life’s prayers have been conducted from a candlelit tub. The other time was on the sofa, three months ago, in the midst of a coronavirus crisis of confidence. So I am somewhat of a newcomer to this whole devotional dialogue discipline. Though I must say, my prayers have—thus far—been answered wholly. Holy.

My first conversation with her holiness was born from utter desperation. Perhaps this is a common scenario from which one enters into their initial interaction with the guy in the sky. The universe. One’s deepest self. Maybe everyone who is not brought up in a religious environment comes to prayer this way. Maybe we need to feel totally helpless before we reach out in the hope that there is something there. Well, in my case I certainly felt in need of a little divine intervention. So I repeated my request about fifty times, and a few more for good measure once in bed. I woke up the following morning and my pleas had been addressed, my belief in this omnipotent force beginning to solidify.

Whereas my first foray into faithfulness in the universe centred around the wellbeing of someone close to me, the second—last night amidst Radox’s finest and Spotify’s “Relaxing Massage” playlist—was unapologetically for me and me alone. (I won’t say it was my second ever religious enquiry; in primary school I did go kosher in honour of my Jewish heritage. But the experiment barely lasted a week.)

The prayer last night was simple: Please, God, get rid of my chronic bloody headaches, tiredness and sore throats. Oh, and the cold I’ve caught from all this lack of social interaction, which has worsened my symptoms no end, would be a welcome loss too. Seeing as I’ve had blood tests, brain scans and appointments with ENT doctors concluding no abnormalities whatsoever, I figured banishing these symptoms would be child’s play for the answerer above.

But then I got nervous. Perhaps this is too much to ask for, I mused. The suffering of symptoms for years cannot be dealt with through simply one conversation with a mere acquaintance, surely? So I duly amended it: Please, God, give me the energy to combat these bloody annoying symptoms, and the energy to ditch this bloody annoying cold. Thanks. And sorry about all the swearing. This felt like a much fairer deal. I would do my bit if God did hers. And with the reduction in miracles pleaded for (pled for?) there was a lower chance of me being let down with an unanswered prayer. So I repeated the request a few times more, in my head in the bubbles in the bath, and wondered what tomorrow would bring.

Today I woke with enough energy to start my morning with yoga, sit at my desk, and actually do some work. (More than what can be said for the past few days.) Damn it! I thought. God’s only gone and done it again. Answered my bloody prayer. To the letter. If only I’d ask for a full freakin’ recovery. Then I’d be laughing.

And this has got me thinking about prayer and God and self and the like. When I formulate my prayer, adjust it for realistic expectations and declare it to myself in my head, who am I really talking to? Is God within me? (I don’t wish to be blasphemous but this is definitely an avenue to explore.) Do I have such low expectations of the divine that I need to temper my goals? Or am I aware of my own restraints and thus match these with my pleas? Or did the bubble bath get me nicely off to sleep, and I woke feeling slightly better after a good night’s rest? Who knows? Possibly God. Something to think about, anywho. But what I can say is that I sure as hell (sorry, again, G) am going to experiment with more prayers in the future. See if this model sticks. And the bath, I recommend from experience, is as good a place as any for such research.

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Pandemic Productivity

Reading time: 3-4 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): Another slice of homemade cake (go on, treat yourself)

Lockdown has the potential to be a time of unparalleled productivity. Less distractions. More time. No FOMO. It has been said that Shakespeare wrote not only King Lear or Macbeth or Antony and Cleopatra—but in fact all bloody (pun intended) three—during the plague pandemic of 1606. Four hundred years later, during the coronavirus pandemic, I, on the other hand, have written approximately, well, nothing much at all. I did write one blog post, at the end of April (a cracking good read, let me tell you), but with a grand total of nine hundred and sixty-three words, though each expertly selected and utilised, I don’t think it can be considered quite the same accomplishment as that of my thespian forefather.

The thing is—I have simply not had the inclination to write. Apart from in my journal in the wee hours when I cannot sleep (the result of which I do not wish anyone, myself included, the horror of reading). In fact, I have lacked any inclination to do many a normal activity during this unsettling but, let’s face it, equally tranquil period of time. Perhaps it is because of a lack of inspiration. A dwindling of social engagements causing a depletion of any interesting base material. Perhaps it is because of all of the internal, and increasingly external, discussions about big and scary topics such as life and control and sovereignty and racism. And Bill Gates. If it’s all still such a muddle in my head, how on earth am I supposed to write any of it down with any sort of eloquence? (That’s a rhetorical question, to myself; I’m still in the figuring-it-out stage.) Or perhaps it’s because I’m lazy. A state of being that I’m almost becoming comfortable owning. (As in: you own dat, girlfriend.)

I have had some non-literary-excellence achievements, though: I have completed two jigsaw puzzles (the first since around twelve years of age), and I have baked not one but TWO BLOODY DELICIOUS cakes (my first time ever!!!). A feat I am inordinately proud of, and clearly modest about. But the jigsaws have been dismantled and the cakes consumed. So what have I really got to show for my time spent indoors? Merely slightly more dexterous fingers and a COVID-19 waistline?

Perhaps a better way to quantify my quaran-time achievements is through looking at the thoughts I am unpacking, the conversations I am having, and the way I am treating others and myself. I mean, if my daily candle-lit bubble baths are anything to go by, I’d say I’m doing pretty darn well. Not sure the couple living below us would agree, whose bathroom gets leaked on every time our tub drains. But, you know, swings and roundabouts. I am beginning to try out meditation. I am journaling more. I am entering into those aforementioned uncomfortable conversations with a willingness to learn as opposed to a one-sided view with which to preach. I may still not always communicate my thoughts or frustrations or confusions in the best or most sympathetic way (something I have always done with greater ease via writing, with more time to think, than in conversation, with less time to edit), but I am trying and, hopefully, improving, and that can only be a positive.

But maybe judging everything on a scale of productivity or achievement is where we are all going wrong anyway. I have not written King Lear or Macbeth or Antony and Cleopatra during the lockdown. But what is the problem with that? Am I a machine in a factory? Do I always need to be productive? Maybe the most important thing I’ve discovered during this quiet time is that productivity is not the holy grail. Headspace is constantly telling me to just be, after all. Which leads me to ponder: is a pandemic the ideal habitat for productivity, or is the constant pressure to be, or often simply appear, productive a pandemic in itself? I’m not sure. But it’s food for thought, definitely. And great served on the side of a slice of homemade cake. (Carrot, if you’re curious, with a slathering of coconut cream.)

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Twenty twenty

Reading time: 4–5 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): a slice of homemade cake or chocolate chip oat cookie

2020 has been an interesting one to date, I’m sure you will agree. What with Harry and Meghan renouncing the royal family and all. I can’t think that there have been any other cataclysmic events this year? I guess it’s all been pretty quiet in newsland since Boris took over last summer to #GetBrexitDone. It was going to be a simple in and out jobby, no? Or maybe that was just with his fiancé. After all, getting Brexit done was, and is, the most important development that the British people await. I mean, they voted for it. It is the will of the people. It is democracy at its purest. It is…oh, wait, aren’t some more pressing matters currently taking centre stage?

I have never before had the urge to research the difference in definition between epidemic and pandemic. If I’m totally honest, I thought both were a fancy way of saying “widespread disaster”. Which in many ways they are. But their specificity is not something to be sniffed at. Or indeed used haphazardly. We are, quite officially, in the middle of worldwide pandemic. And with a comprehensive understanding of what precisely that means, things become really rather scary.

To be fearful of a disease is nothing new. But to be fearful of the not-even-physical close contact of any family member, friend or passer-by in the street is like nothing, I believe, ever experienced before. Those of older generations muse that the current climate (though, alas, not the sunshine and rainbows) can only be compared to that of the world wars. When food was rationed, uncertainty was rife, and fear was part and parcel of everyday life. There was an enemy, there were heroes, there was a front line. There was a sense of all being in it together. There was substantial loss of life. But in the situation we find ourselves in today, we are on the same side as the enemy. We are, in many cases, the enemy. Or, perhaps more accurately, are housing it within our selves. Though, it doesn’t come looking for us in shooter planes or via hand grenades; it presents, instead, quite casually, as a high temperature and a new, continuous cough.

I seem to be on a journey (gotta love a spiritual journey) of many different stages in my relationship to and understanding of the coronavirus, sometimes on a daily-changing basis. Incredulousness, peacefulness, confusion, clarity and inquisitiveness all feature heavily. The whirlwind of emotions and thoughts and ponderings and political press conferences has rendered life before the outbreak an elusive haze in which I can barely remember how things went. How things worked. How easy everything was. How one could dash. Oh the time when one could dash! Somewhere, anywhere… the destination is neither here nor there, the enviable fleetingness the fond, but now distant, memory. Now one must plan. One must take plastic gloves. One must ensure that one’s business is essential and less than an hour in duration. And one must NOT FORGET THE BLOODY EGGS.

Sure, there are a lot of inconveniences to life as we now know it. Not to mention the stress of having to re-imagine your WFH routine now that your other half is too working from the kitchen table. But I have also discovered a kind of beautiful serenity in this time. And I believe that this is thanks to our individual and collective ability to see more clearly what is truly important, without all of the distractions and deliberations and, dare I say, dashing of pre-isolation life. I mean, is it simply a coincidence that perfect sight is referred to as twenty-twenty vision?

Not that I wish to undermine or diminish the distress and trouble caused to many as a direct result of this situation. I have friends on the front line and pregnant siblings scared shitless for their safety. I have furloughed friends who are struggling without any sort of routine. I have parents and other self-isolating relatives whose only contact with other people is through screens or windows or the reflection in the glass of the microwave door. And I have a dodgy, dongle-based Wi-Fi connection making the weekly virtual pub quiz a trifle bit infuriating. But out of adversity, if we are to believe a certain Mr Benjamin Franklin, comes opportunity.

Without a regimented and incessantly documented 37.5-hour routine thrust upon us each and every week, we are able to envision and experiment with our own take on day-to-day life. The fact that this concept seems – to probably the majority of the western world – a far-fetched fantasy is, to me at least, absolutely terrifying. When did we become so conditioned to the nine-to-five that not doing it was unquestionable? Who even came up with this eight-hour satanic ideal? (Apparently it started with the Industrial Revolution and became widespread in the 1920s following the lead of Henry Ford, which, though at the time was a reduction in hours, was underpinned by the logic of more free time equals more spending equals more profit for Henry Ford. Gah.)

Imagine waking up without the dependence on an alarm, or indeed the need for an alarm to wake up at a reasonable hour, because the lack of sleep accumulated due to the use of an alarm has vanished with the dissipation of Dolly Parton’s classic. Are you still with me? It just strikes me that – if you are lucky enough not to be suffering from the virus, or tending to those who are – we now have a golden opportunity to re-write our scripts. To – shock horror – plan our own days. Make our own routines. Look for what’s really important, and simply tend to that. For me, it boils down to happiness. And my search is at all systems go.

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Language Learning

Reading time: 4–5 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): Curiosity

Us Brits have no need to learn another – foreign – language. I mean, well, everyone speaks English for goodness sake! We are so well connected! Everyone welcomes us with open arms! Oh. Wait…

For those of you who attempted or merely took a cautionary glance over my last post will no doubt have realised that I am learning Dutch. Or trying to learn Dutch. It is rather trying I must say. But, you know, with Brexit and all I wanted to equip myself with a second tongue, one of nation with more amicable relations to the rest of Europe. One that will set me in good stead for communicating with a large number of people. Oh. Wait…

Though the Dutch language is only spoken by approximately 0.4% of the global population, learning it is proving to be a very valuable exercise indeed. Along with allowing me to ever-so-slightly communicate with the in-laws (made ever-so-slightly trickier by the fact that they don’t actually converse in standard Dutch but an even more indecipherable and idiosyncratic dialect) it has granted me a backstage pass to the intricacies and subtleties of language itself – English included – and is teaching me just how telling (by this I mean illuminating, as opposed to saying) language can be once you look just a fraction deeper and consider: what the hell are we all barking on about?

From my experience thus far, the more you learn of another language, the more you begin to question your own and contemplate those phrases that are so seemingly entrenched in our vocabulary but really, on closer inspection, are absolutely barking mad. (Can you tell I’m pining after a dog?)

It’s raining cats and dogs would be the obvious and only appropriate example to begin with here. Though, alas, I cannot offer any great wisdom on its rhyme or reason. There are innumerable others of equally questionable origin: I’m afraid to say (are you fearful?); you’re on fire! (are you engulfed in flames?); get your ducks in a row (do you really have multiple webbed-footed friends?). When you begin to communicate with others for whom your language is not their own, these idioms seem to emerge from the depths and flick you in the forehead with a sudden pang of misplacement. Strange looks greet what were before non-eyelid-batting utterings and force you to reconsider all that was once unquestionable. 

Once the initial embarrassment of using such a phrase in conversation with a non-native speaker has passed, the fun part can begin. They say that comparison is the thief of joy, but in linguistic contexts I beg to differ. (Please, sir?)

In English we are hungry; in Dutch we have hunger. In English we are cold; in Dutch we have it cold. In English we need chocolate; in Dutch we have need for chocolate (in every country, in fact, this need never seems to dissipate). While these differences are in many ways insignificant, they do make me ponder us as nations. In England are we so thoroughly all-consumed with our personal experiences that any rumbling of the tum deems us personification of the need for extra sustenance? I AM HUNGRY! It sounds a little dramatic when compared to feeling, among, no doubt, a multitude of other things, the sensation of hunger. I am always cold (in England and the Netherlands alike) (indeed as I type I am pausing to retrieve thermal socks and an extra jumper). But, given the other connotations associated with this word, is it really something that I want to be proclaiming to BE? I think I’d much rather be ‘having it cold’ – which, in its essence, is more transient and less, well, negative and personal. But with the need for chocolate (or wine, or a cuddle, especially at this time of the month), I will proudly declare my undying embodiment of need. Lord knows I can get cranky without.

Other phrases that are fun to compare cross-communicative-borders are the illustrative sayings or proverbs for which the meaning, country to country, remains the same, but the tools used with which to demonstrate this meaning are unequivocally culture-dependent. In Icelandic, the phrase ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ is instead translated ‘a bad rower blames his oar’. In Polish, ‘a bad ballerina blames the hem of her skirt’. And in Russian – the best of all, ‘a bad dancer blames his balls’.

But aside from the LOLable nature of all of this contemplation (I shit you not, it has recently come to my attention that ‘lol’ is a Dutch word meaning ‘fun’ or ‘funny’, which came way before Laugh Out Loud (and perhaps even before the now-retro Lots Of Love acronym used by out-of-touch but so wanting to be relevant ageing relatives up and down the UK)), by studying the language of others, and consequently your own, you are afforded an insight into others, and yourself, which is perhaps otherwise out of reach, or at least out of earshot. 

Language can become so sloppy as it becomes ingrained, that we almost forget to consider what (on earth / in our right minds / the bloody hell) we are saying. Learning language anew has caused me to begin to question the words that I choose and use and consider, more accurately, what I am actually trying to say. Now, after reading this rambling I will forgive you from thinking otherwise but, at the bare minimum (at least), I am giving it a go. I invite you to do so, too.

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Wat nog komen gaat…

[Written for a writing competition for Dutch language students]
[Geschreven voor een schrijfwedstrijd voor Nederlandse taal studenten]

Leestijd: 2 minuten
Leesdrankje(s): Een koud glas coca-cola of een biertje

Het begin van een nieuw jaar is altijd vol van reflectie. Waar ben ik? Wat heb ik bereikt? Ben ik blij met mijn leven zoals het nu is? Maar het begin van een nieuw decennium brengt, op een of andere manier, nog meer gewichtigheid. Nu denken mensen niet alleen over zichzelf, maar over leven in elke betekenis. Waar zijn wij, als een gemeenschap? Wat hebben wij bereikt? Maken we de wereld een betere plaats dan hij was? Wat nog komen gaat…?

Voor mij voelt de toekomst onzeker, voor mijzelf maar nog meer voor de hele wereld. Soms lijkt het dat de wereld ondersteboven is. De rijkste mensen worden rijker, terwijl de armen verbleken naar onbetekenendheid. De (misschien) machtigste man op de planeet is misschien ook de gevaarlijkste. En TIME’s ‘Person of the Year 2019’ mag nog niet stemmen. Maar in de toekomst hebben we nog hoop, denk ik. Want soms moet alles slecht worden voor goede dingen kunnen komen. (Dit vind ik leuk om te geloven, in ieder geval!)

Als de situatie slechter wordt, worden mensen meer bewust. Misschien is dit noodzakelijk voor mensen om iets te doen. Misschien moeten mensen, of meer specifiek mensen met macht, deze dingen met hun eigen ogen zien, voor zij echt lijken. Of misschien zorgen deze mensen – zij wie macht hebben – alleen voor zichzelf. Of misschien ben ik een beetje te pessimistisch.

Eens hoorde ik iemand zeggen: “Vooruitgang is niet door één persoon dingen volmaakt doen bereikt, maar door veel personen dingen onvolmaakt doen.” Niet alleen is dat poëtisch en prachtig, ik vind het ook echt waar. Denk over recycling, vleesconsumptie, klimaatverandering, enzovoort. Eén persoon kan de wereld niet veranderen, maar samen, stap voor stap en stuk voor stuk, kunnen we de wereld wel veranderen. En nu is alleen het begin.

Ik denk dat 2020 een periode van overgang zal zijn. Eerst Brexit – maakt niet uit hoeveel ik wil dat het niet echt is – gaat waarschijnlijk gebeuren. Eigenlijk, wanneer u dit leest, is Brexit waarschijnlijk al gebeurd. Maar dan kan mijn land in ieder geval verder na de last van bijna vier jaar onzekerheid en zich opnieuw concentreren op de dingen die echt betekenis hebben. En in de Verenigde Staten – onze vrienden over de pond – zeggen we hopelijk “tot ziens” naar de blonde hansworst (ook naar zijn broertje in Engeland trouwens) en “welkom” naar een eerlijker soort politicus. 

Van mijn korte tijd in Nederland dusver, hoop ik dat andere landen van jullie en jouw politiek systeem leren. Toegegeven het is misschien niet perfect, maar het lijkt democratischer, vriendelijker en met betere regels en voorschriften dan ergens anders. Het lijkt als een gemeenschap – een conversatie – in plaats van één harde stem, en dat is juist wat we voor de toekomst hebben nodig. Meer praten, meer luisteren en meer doen.

Meer over de schrijfster

What Democracy?

Reading time: 3-4 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): Something very strong 

Believe it or not, I have work to do. Important and time sensitive work, might I add. But I cannot even begin to consider starting this work before I get to grips with today’s – Friday the thirteenth’s, no less – catastrophic news. I mean, really. What on Earth is going on? 

I thought the vote for Brexit was bad, and that was won by a less than convincing 52%. But to go to bed with the nightmarish news of the exit polls; to hope that this was a practical joke on the side of all of those who really voted against the Tories; and to wake up to confirmation that the Conservatives had indeed won the UK’s gazzillionth general election in the space of four years, by a landslide of seventy-eight seats – their biggest majority in over thirty years, was to be hit by an apocalyptic hangover that no dosage of painkillers will ever be able to subside.

But instead of diving full-throttle into an unabridged tirade into what is wholly wrong with this result and the bleached-blonde buffoon spearheading it, I would like to look a little more closely at the numbers involved. 44% of voters yesterday voted for the Conservative Party, yet in return they were presented with 56% of the parliamentary seats. In contrast, 11% of votes went to the Liberal Democrats, yet they received only a 2% share of seats. Labour, it seems, was the only major party that actually acquired close to what it deserved: 32% of votes related to 31% of seats. 

Though, of course, if you take into account the total size of the electorate, the results appear even more skewed, with the winning party – now basically 100% in control of Britain’s future – having received a vote from less than a third of those registered to vote, and even less if you consider all those who are not registered, plus all of the sixteen and seventeen year olds who, as yet, are not permitted to vote. (Just take a moment to think about TIME’s Person of the Year 2019 who, if she were a Brit, would not have been able to cast her vote. (Nor can she for that matter cast a vote in Sweden for over a year, but that problem I’ll leave up to the Swedes, as I think we have enough on our plates right now.))

While we’re on the numbers game, that brings me back to Brexit (urgh). While I don’t believe that 52% is a big enough majority to pass such a momentous change (which, at the time and perhaps still now, we have little to no idea how it will affect us and indeed others (but clearly no one cares about them)), I cannot deny that it is a majority. But what, exactly, is it a majority of? Those who felt clued up enough on the murky, bottomless, unceasingly selfish pit that seems to be the process of Britain exiting the European Union, to cast a well-thought-through or at least momentarily-thought-about vote? I voted. To remain. But was I clued up? Hell no! How could I have been when even those campaigning on both sides didn’t have the foggiest of what leaving would entail? I just felt something deep within telling me that it was an utterly preposterous idea to even contemplate. And by Jove, I was right! But I could have questioned my gut. I could have thought, “Hmm, I am not one hundred per cent sure about this. I do not feel confident enough in my knowledge of the potential outcomes to vote in this referendum, and do not wish to vote for something I later regret because of this lack of knowledge and foresight.” Perhaps this is how many who didn’t vote in 2016 felt. Perhaps not. But you simply cannot know, unless you ask each and every one of them. But to presume that these non-voters couldn’t care less about Brexit is a very dangerous assumption indeed. Let’s instead assign them the opinion of ‘Not Sure’. Brexit would then have had the following statistics:

Leave: 37%
Remain: 35%
Not Sure: 28%

Even less convincing now, hey?

It seems to me that no matter the question, the policies or the unfortunate hairstyle, the voting system that we currently use is simply not democratic. And if at its core it is undemocratic, how can we ever trust those who benefit from its quirks?

I have yet to step outside or even open my blinds today, for fear of ridicule and abandonment from my adopted Dutch neighbours. But at least I am already here; I escaped with some time to spare. The deadline is looming, but, friends, you still have time. Mass emigration is the only solution I see. Grab your passports and pack a bag, if you move fast you may just make it out in time.

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The Year of the Wedding: Part Two

Reading time: 5-7 minutes
Recommended accompaniment(s): A large gin and tonic, served with a slice of cucumber and an environmentally-friendly straw

[Catch up on Part One]

Since my last linguistic foray into the ever-embarrassing world of British hen dos, I have attended two more weddings and one more hen. So that’s now three out of three hen dos complete, and two out of six weddings yet to come (not that I’m counting). I have also, already, got three weddings firmly in the diary for next year, one of which I have been asked to be bridesmaid – totally unexpected and totes emosh (another blog post in itself quite frankly). But before I commence my future bridesmaid taskettes, I must – as promised in Part One – divulge my second wedding-related misfortune of 2019.

Having been asked back in 2017 to be bridesmaid to my lovely friend Sophie, I had been waiting for the big day to come around like a child (or myself) waiting for Christmas. Then one sunny Saturday in June the day was finally here. Woohoo! The morning spent getting ready seemed to go very smoothly indeed. In many ways I was the model ’maid. I was first to arrive for hair and makeup; I came armed with fizz; I volunteered my painting services to the bride’s naked toes. I did have to de-top as soon as I arrived – as I came dressed in a white over-the-head strappy that would have wreaked havoc if taken off post-makeup application – much to the in-room photographer’s alarm, but, in all honesty, he was much more interested in catching the kilt-clad groom in a gust of wind, if you know what I mean, so I don’t think it caused too much of a ruckus. And anyway, as soon as we were all present we were given goodie bags by the bride, containing a fortuitous dressing gown that covered up my bra, restored my modesty and, hopefully, improved all future photographs.

With my hair and makeup completed early on, I had a good few hours to gossip, giggle and guzzle multiple glasses of champagne. It’s a hard life being a bridesmaid, let me tell you. Sophie, bless her, didn’t want to drink because of her nerves, but when a large gin and tonic arrived to our room from a mystery admirer (please Lord let it be from the groom), she couldn’t resist but take a long, lengthy, gulp. As she put down the glass and declared that first sip sound of ‘ahh,’ I asked her if she would like me to add any of the tonic water, by its side. Her eyes grew wide, her complexion rosy, she looked down at the neat gin she had just, moments before, necked. She laughed. We all laughed. Then I poured the entirety of the Fever Tree bottle into her glass. Responsible bridesmaid? Tick.

As the morning came to a close the ceremony drew ever nearer. We were made up, our hair was perfectly preened, and all we had left to do was get into our dresses. And this was stressing me out. Having tried on the dress maybe three times prior to the wedding, I, and everyone else, had become acquainted with the villainous zip. It was tough; it was sticky; it certainly didn’t respond well to human hands. It was, let’s just say, a wee bit problematic. So I was keen to get into it as early on as possible, to give myself the longest possible time with which to ease and entertain the zip up. Everyone else, it seems, was on a wavelength much more ‘chill’. I tried to meet them there, for as long as I possibly could, but after fifteen minutes of pacing and checking the time, I opened the wardrobe and pulled out my floor-length frock. This was it. This was the moment. I was going to put the ruddy thing on.

The other bridesmaids joined me in the bathroom. Getting dressed was most certainly a three-man job. I first attempted to get in feet first – to save the hair and face – but posteriorly this was not a feasible option. So we abandoned ship and went in over the head. For some reason I held my breath and shut my eyes while positioned like a stationary rocket, to try to slide in more easily. As I opened my eyes, and took in some air, the dress was on and my hair was untouched. First hurdle: flawlessly complete. The second and final challenge was to do the bloody thing up. This is the moment we had all been dreading. And it quickly steamrolled into a nightmare we could never have dreamt up.

I held my arms up in the air while Claire pulled the sides of the dress together and Sarah, simultaneously, pulled down on the material below the zip and tugged up the fastening itself. This needed serious concentration and teamwork. The zip began its ascent armpit-bound, in a not-too-turbulent transition. Sarah expertly manoeuvred over the join in the fabric – the danger zone, if you will – with ease and grace. Our tensions subsided; we were on the home straight. 

Then, about two inches below the finish line, the zip decided veer off course. It became caught in the fabric; its journey to the summit suspended. The tension in the room returned. We decided the best course of action was to retrace our steps, a couple of centimetres or so, to disentangle the fabric, and then resume our valiant climb. We went down, but this only pulled in more fabric. We went back up, and even more became entrapped. And then, very unaccommodatingly, the zip decided he’d had enough. This up- and down-motion had tired him out; he was not, with all his might, going to move any more.

Tension transitioned to panic. The Mother of the Bride was called into the room. An emergency was announced. 

With just fifteen minutes to go until show time, the other bridesmaids, mother, and bride needed to get dressed too, so I was passed on to the unsuspecting hair and makeup artists. Greeted with an increasingly sweaty armpit it didn’t take them long to assess the situation. We had hairpins, tweezers, and all manner of appliances to try to prise the zip free, albeit to no avail. The scissors came out, as a last solution, but no amount of interior trimming had any impact whatsoever; it was stuck, I was stuck, but the show had to go on.

A safety pin became the next fixation, in order to join the flap at the top. Alas, of course, one was nowhere to be found. With my arm by my side one would never have known the mishap, so this is how I was to spend the duration of the day. This was actually surprisingly easy, and only required a slight toning down of my dancing to YMCA, Mr Brightside, and (hen do favourite) I Predict A Riot.

As midnight struck the dance floor emptied and we headed back to our rooms. I tasked my boyfriend with the mission of getting me out of my dress. He trained as an engineer, after all, and so would make light work of the unmovable fastening. Twenty minutes later, with tweezers, eyelash curlers, and anything else remotely tool-like from my makeup bag scattered around us like a pair of beauty junkies, we headed down to reception to find something stronger. Not whisky, unfortunately, but that might have made the whole fiasco a little less painful.

The night-hours receptionist was really rather handy. He got for us scissors, pliers, and, in fact, a fully-fitted-out tool box. Gijs started with the pliers, aiming to bend the metal slider cleanly off the troublesome teeth. If anything this held its grip tighter. Then came the scissors: he was going to have to hack. He started off tentative, not wanting to harm me and only minimally disfigure the dress. This tactic, though admirable, was not getting me any closer to freedom.

Opportunely, fellow bridesmaid Sarah entered reception from the bar. She saw the scissors in Gijs’ hand; his pained, nervous expression; and took matters into her own hands. Literally. (After all, she did used to be a hairdresser.) After a few savage snips the zip was cut loose; the fastening released; Django was finally unchained. The dress, on the other hand, was ruined. 

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Musings on Life, Happiness & Writing

Reading time: 5-6 minutes
Recommended accompaniment(s): A large glass of full-bodied red wine, ideally from Southern Italy, served at room temperature

Some people want to be a doctor when they grow up. Others want to be a teacher. Others an entrepreneur; an astronaut; famous (whatever that nowadays means). So many dreams harbour in the minds of naïve and ambitious children and teenagers, and even as adults the idea of ‘when I’m grown up’ is a state not yet accomplished. My current biggest wish is to have a bedroom door (the perils of a studio apartment); when I was younger my aspiration was to be happy. Truly happy. And it still is. Hence the name I have chosen for this blog.

I remember a class we had on this during high school. We must have been about fourteen years old, and – no doubt as part of our one-hour-per-academic-year session on things that actually matter in life, as opposed to the ‘everyday applications’ of trigonometry or the internal musings of Caecilius while in horto – were asked to write on a scrap of paper what we wanted to become when we were older. I wrote down ‘Properly happy’, with a very intentional, nay crucial, opening adverb.

“Are you not happy?” asked one of my friends, genuinely confused, who caught sight of my sheet after scrawling down ‘actress’ herself. 

“Are you?” I countered, just as confused with the concept of whole-hearted contentedness.

“Yeah,” she shrugged, as she joined the queue milling out into the corridor and onto our double period of I.T. with an ethically, and child protectionarily, questionable male teacher.

To me that said it all. I mean, a shrug and a non-committal affirmative are not exactly signs of absolute agreement, are they? She felt exactly the same as I did. She just wasn’t as aware of it.

I then had to decide whether I was wanting too much from life, or if other people were not wanting enough. I chose, and continue to believe, the latter, and hope that I am onto something. Of course I don’t believe in a life smelling of roses and consisting of unadulterated bliss, but I do believe, and am optimistic about, a life centred around people and love and happiness and experience and honesty and creativity and connection and passion and joy and gezelligheid (non-Netherlands-residing readers are invited to look this term up, and be prepared to be jealous of my new country’s favourite concept).

The next immediate hurdle is figuring out how this life can be achieved alongside the unavoidable requirement to earn money / keep financially afloat. For those whose life’s passion is to be a brain surgeon or lawyer, I really do envy you. For those who are carrying out these jobs sans satisfaction, I honestly don’t know how you do it. The idea of a nine-to-five job – no matter the field or level of challenge or mundanity involved – to me is so excruciatingly depressing (literally, I’ve been there) that I have simply had to look for an alternative. Which is where the writing has come in.

Starting a blog – this blog – while travelling in 2017, aged 25, was where my love of writing developed. Though I never dreamed of being a writer when I was younger; I stopped studying English at the point where it was a choice; and I have never been an avid bookworm. I don’t have any of the characteristics or merits of a successful writer, yet this is the perhaps preposterous aim. (I’m counting on the fact that innate talent and determination win all, and, of course, that I have at least a sliver of both of these things.)

My journey as a writer so far can be viewed in two very different ways. With optimistic eyes, it is going swimmingly. Through a short series of rather random circumstances a London-based publisher read my blog, liked my writing, and commissioned me to write for them a book. (I mean, does it get any more fairytale that that?) It is to be published first in Chinese and then in English, perhaps this year, and hopefully translated into a number of other languages thereafter. Spurred on by this experience, and, again, following a random (or fateful) meeting, I am 50,000 words in to my second book, which I hope to be taken on by a literary agent, sold to a publisher in a bidding war, and turned into a Hollywood blockbuster. This is not even an exaggeration; this is truly what I hope it becomes.

Under a pessimistic, or perhaps realistic, lens, things can sometimes seem somewhat futile. I was paid a pittance to research and write an entire book that is yet to be published and may never materialise. I haven’t received a decent pay check in over two years, and rely financially on others to stay afloat. I spend much of my time alone, typing away on my laptop, crafting a manuscript that may never be read by more than a handful of people. But I continue to do this, and believe that I should, because the glimmer of hope that I might become successful feeds me much more than the thought of a steady and secure and strangling employee situation. After all, if I don’t give it a go then it is definitely not going to work.

But that doesn’t mean to say that it’s easy. Writing, as a career (if you can call it that before you have been aptly monetarily rewarded), for me, is like being in a constant battle, in so many ways. It takes time, of course, to create a masterpiece, or something at least vaguely masterful, during which time you are constantly aware that you might be simply wasting time. I feel I need to be ‘in the zone’ to write well, but have not yet figured out whether creating that zone – both mentally and environmentally – aids my writing, or whether consciously writing something of value or elegance transports me into that all-encompassing sweet spot. I want to have integrity and commitment to my goal and beliefs, but I also want to have the disposable income to be able to go clothes shopping on a whim. I am unsure of when tiredness and illness bleed into procrastination and self-absorption. I feel brave and worthy and confident in my abilities, yet constantly worry about judgement from others for my choices and lifestyle and tendency for a mid-week lie in. And I am uncertain, or undecided, as to whether that mid-week lie in improves my focus, when I do start writing, or is a brilliant, self-sabotaging, scheme I dreamt up through utter laziness. And those are just the thoughts I’ve had while enjoying my porridge-based breakfast.But to achieve that life of love and happiness and experience and honesty and creativity and connection and passion and joy, I know I have to persevere. Because those pulls of uncertainty and doubt and niggling nags are not through an unwillingness to continue, but through an unknowingness of where this might lead. Of whether I will succeed. Of whether this turmoil will pay off. And I’m willing to take that risk as the alternative is, quite frankly, not an option. For me, anyway. Wish me good luck. (And for heaven’s sake – if it comes out – buy my bloody book, please.)

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He Will See You Now

Reading time: 10-15 minutes
Recommended accompaniment(s): a strong mug of Yorkshire Tea and a digestive biscuit, for dunking

Looking after one’s father during and after hospitalisation is not something that one expects to do before the age – of said father – of perhaps seventy-five or eighty. One hopes, really, never to have to do such a thing, not least because one never wants to see someone they love go through any sort of hardship or suffering. But when, last month, I volunteered to care for my father (sixty years of age) for one week pre- and post-operation, I didn’t know how entertaining the whole charade would be. For my father, the publisher, sailor and windmill-dweller, is really rather amusing. (Especially when strapped to a hospital bed with tubes and wires and electronic leg warmers.)

The operation in question was not emergency surgery or a life-lengthening procedure. In fact it needn’t have been a lights-out operation whatsoever. It could have been an in-and-out twenty-minute jobby. But Daddy Dearest, as squeamish as he is strange, could not face the thought of seeing someone cut into his eyes, remove his actual eyeball lenses, and replace them with shiny, full-sighted, new ones. I have to say I can’t blame him. So for his surgery – cataract removal with a hope to improve his dilapidated minus-twenty-two vision – he opted for general anaesthetic, the medically-practised knock-you-out-of-consciousness drug, which truly worked a treat.

I arrived at The Windmill, father’s modest six-story abode, the evening before the operation was scheduled. We went to the pub for his last supper (the last one in which he didn’t have a clue what he was eating). On doctor’s orders he was forbidden to consume alcohol the night preceding, as well as three nights after, the dreaded operation, which, as you can imagine, made his temperament a little…well…frosty. I left my handbag at home intentionally before we headed to the pub. Not only to ensure that this one was definitely on him, it also gave me some leverage if I had to talk him out of having a pint with dinner. You see, the last time we frequented this pub I was refused even a look at the wine list because I didn’t have my ID. (I am twenty-seven though the years have been too kind, and as you can imagine this did not go down swimmingly.) So I figured that if he tried to order a drink, but then I was refused service, he would think again and stick to sparkling water. Luckily this back up plan was surplus to requirements and the embarrassing intervention not needed. I mean, I should have known. As much as my dad is a fan of the strong stuff (though, if you’re buying him a Christmas gift, for heavens sake, under 4.5% ABV, please!), he is even more so a sucker for following rules, to the T, and so wouldn’t have dreamt of disobeying doctor’s orders. 

(To give an example, also medically-concerned: I was once looking after him after a severe case of man flu. He was in his bed for about four days straight, which was more time than he’d spent there in the whole year leading up to that point. It got to the stage where I needed to call the doctor, and was put through to a very helpful out-of-hours assistant. She told me just how much paracetamol and ibuprofen he could be taking, and, well, it was about twenty times more than what he had been taking up until that point. There were timing implications, of course, to ensure that he didn’t overdose, but, generally speaking, it was basically do one then the other equally spaced throughout the day, no more than four rounds and have a biscuit when you take the ibuprofen. He was so concerned with timing the gaps at exactly four hours between doses that he actually set his alarm for six in the morning, to not be late for the next set. I explained to him that sleep was a very beneficial healer too, and took over charge of his pain killer intake from that point on. Needless to say he made a speedy recovery.)

Anyway, back to the eyes. We arrived at the hospital promptly at seven a.m. and were shown to his private room. We were then visited by a seemingly never ending number of medical professionals of different standings, all coming to ask the very same questions and perform the very same checks. They were particularly interested in whether he had crowns or dentures – God knows why – but this was the one fact that he simply could not remember. He had to explain, each time, that he just didn’t know, but that the person before them had had a look and didn’t seem to think so.

The best moment is when they ask what procedure you’re having done, almost like a lawyer in a courtroom questioning the alibi of the defence. “And which eye, or eyes, are you having done?” they would ask, making a subtle but noticeable smirk at him as they said the word ‘eyes’. This was giving the game away, I would say, but did mean that we managed to get through the three rounds of that question without a hitch. Phew.

Last to visit was the anaesthetist, a friendly-looking rather rotund man who appeared through the window in his surgical-scrubs-and-hat situation. I missed the part when he said he was the anaesthetist so was very confused indeed why he was so interested in my father’s medical history, and his choice of general anaesthetic. I thought maybe he was looking for a life partner, but I didn’t think that he was my dad’s type. And anyway, they could never be together because my father, it turns out, cannot say the word ‘anaesthetic’. With a dry mouth already from a total ban on fluids, this enunciation problem was only magnified. Listening to him attempt to say it was even more cringe worthy than him explaining how he couldn’t remember his dental history, but I was there to support him and so wouldn’t dare to ridicule him for it (until now).

The anaesthetist asked the million-dollar question too, while staring down at the answer on the bundle of notes slowly accumulating on the table. “Both,” my father replied, now confidently, to which the man looked up, smiled and agreed, “Yes, indeed, that you are!” And then he came towards my dad with a marker pen and started scribbling on his face.

I felt a sense of intrusion, almost attack, vicariously from this stranger graffitiing my father’s forehead. Until I realised that he was just marking the eyes on which they were to operate. Which in this case, as we all at this point were certain of, was both. As he retreated with his pen, and my dad looked at me, I saw that he had drawn a letter ‘R’ on his temple to my left, and a letter ‘L’ on the other side. Ah, I thought. They’re just making absolute sure.

When he left the room and we ascertained who the hell he was, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a photo-sesh. For my dad was now dressed in his hospital robe, naked underneath except for a pair of threadbare rusty red socks, and his rather fetching new facial art. I photographed him from a number of angles and distances, and I do believe that the results make very comical iPhone screensavers.

After three hours of waiting, questions and mouth excavations Dad got walked down to theatre where he would be put to sleep, lenses replaced, and back up on the ward in time for lunch. I took this opportunity to hot foot it to Coffee Architects to enjoy a humongous plate of the most beautifully presented banana bread, fruit, coconut yoghurt and edible flowers. I really should have taken a photo. It would have rivalled that of my dad’s mug shot as my next background image.

I got back to his hospital room with plenty of time to spare, although I was now rather desperate for the toilet, given the magnificent proportion I had just consumed. And here lay the conundrum. Do I stay or do I go? I tried to stay for as long as I could, crossing my legs in a whole manner of contortions but eventually giving in to the need. I rushed to the hospital toilet – the disinfectant-smelling cube of sanitation and ill health prevention posters, and did my business as quickly as I could. But, you know, you can’t really rush these things. As I walked the fifty metres back to his room I could tell immediately that I had missed his return, as the door was open and the light back on. God damn it. He was being manoeuvred atop a typical wheelie bed into position, now not only dressed in ghastly hospital gown and rather distasteful temporary facial tattoos, but also a Spiderman-esque clear plastic mask shielding his brand new lenses from the germs and interference of the outside world.

He was awake already, having been let to resurface in the basement before being brought up for air. His first words were not, “Hello,” “How do I look?” or “I think it went well.” No. They were: “I need the loo.”

Given the lack of beer he’d drank the previous evening, and the nil-by-mouth orders he’d been following since six a.m., I was finding it hard to comprehend where any liquid could have come from. Then I feared the worst. Did he really need a number two?

Proceeding to try to get up from his cot-like bed, he was firmly restrained by one of the nurses and told, “you can’t get up yet, Jeremy.”

“He needs the loo.” I interjected, feeling like a translator between newborn baby and rushed but capable midwife.

“You need the toilet?” she asked Dad directly, adding to the adult-child atmosphere quickly settling over the room.

“Yes. I need to pee.” He stated, much to my relief.

“You can’t use the toilet,” she told him, “so I’ll go get you a bottle,” and off she went.

Oh. My. Lord. This couldn’t be happening. She was going to get him a bottle. And then he was going to wee. And I was sitting there in the room!!!!! I didn’t know where to look. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know whether to stay silent or make awkward small talk. It went on for an awfully long time. And then it was over. I breathed a sigh of relief. And pretended it had all been a horrible, horrible dream.

Thing was, he needed a pee, as he so delicately put it, another three times in the next two hours. Each time causing me to have to sheepishly go to the nurses’ office, knock on the door, and ask for a toilet device thingy watchamacallit for my dad, in Room 17. He then did his business into it, with me waiting at his side, and I had to take the vessel, like an angular cardboard milk bottle in form, pour the contents into the toilet in the en suite, wash my hands and erase my memory. Dad – I love you, but I’m never bloody doing that again.

When he was a little more with it (a little), he asked me if I’d been there when he’d “had a fight with the nurses.”

“No, Dad,” I replied lightly, “you didn’t have a fight, she just wouldn’t let you walk to the bathroom.”

“No!” he retorted. “I did have a fight! I did! I was trying to get up and we got into some fisty cuffs!”

“Ok…” I concluded, not wanting to make this into a(nother) battle. And just prayed that this belief was as a result of the strong, overwhelming anaesthetic, not an incident I had missed in the recovery room.

Dad was supposed to be fit for discharge two to three hours post-op. So roughly two-thirty in the afternoon. At eight p.m., however, I was still sitting at his side in the outpatient ward, in an increasingly uncomfortable chair having scrolled through the whole of Instagram at least three times over. Just when I thought I couldn’t cope any more with the boredom some alarms started ringing from the blood pressure monitor. Ooh this was an unexpected turn in events!

At first I didn’t know if I should call someone or if the bleeping enough would alert them sufficiently. Alas the bleeping doesn’t alert anyone at all, merely giving the drowsy patient and their companion the starts of a headache. So I went to the nurses’ office once more, slightly concerned about the situation but relieved not to be asking for yet another blinking urine bottle. The nurses seemed pretty chilled about the situation and said someone would be along shortly. Someone was along shortly – Karen, if I remember correctly – who proceeded to engage the blood pressure monitor once more. She then became a little less chilled. Dad’s blood pressure was very, very low. Even to my untrained eye, hitting figures of about forty or fifty less than on admission did not seem good. But, to me, Dad seemed his usual, bumbling self. He was even cracking a few jokes! As far as I was concerned, he was absolutely fine. It was just his body’s way of telling him to get some bloody rest, man! (As I don’t believe he has done since the summer of ’72.) He seemed to agree with this analysis and told Karen of our suspicions. She did not seem so convinced and made him lie down more horizontally to ensure enough oxygen was reaching his brain. I took this opportunity of his total lack of autonomy to book him in overnight, order him a Full English for the morning, and make my way back to The Windmill for a well-earned glass of red.

The next morning I was back in at eight o’clock. A condition of his overnight stay was that he be out by nine, as the room was booked for another day guest, soon to arrive; and that he ‘didn’t make any trouble in the small hours’. Having no control over his late-night behaviour, I made sure I would take care of the former request. As I entered his room he was up and out of bed, eating his breakfast in an armchair while sporting the fetching Spiderman eye shields. It looked bloody delicious (and that’s coming from a vegetarian), and I was a little regretful that I hadn’t stayed overnight myself. But I don’t think that they served wine there in the evenings, and I definitely needed that after the exhausting day I’d had.

Halfway through his feast we were interrupted by another nurse, a new one who had not been there the day before, who announced that the eye surgeon would like to see Jeremy. Now. Downstairs in his clinic. I looked at my Dad, I looked at his food, I turned to the nurse and asked, “well, can’t he come to us?”

He could not.

As I led Dad down to the ground floor by the sleeve of his pyjama, I wondered what the eye surgeon was going to say. Dad for one said that his sight didn’t seem any better, so I waited with baited breath as the expert studied the newly inserted lenses. “All looks good!” he beamed confidently, “Now let’s have a look at the vision.”

He re-angled the mirror in front of Dad so that it reflected the back-to-front letters displayed digitally in the back corner of the room. Dad began to read – no spectacles present – and got every single letter on the top row correct. He moved onto the next and then the next, and then jumped straight to the very bottom, very tiniest, line. Near perfect recital. He mistook an A for an H but I think we can skip over that. I stood behind him to see what he could see, and removed my minus-four-grade glasses. I couldn’t make out any letterforms. All I could see was a blurry white screen.

I think – technically speaking – that, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a bloody great success.

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