Are you Spartacus?

Last week was Resilience Week according to the Scottish Government.  Citizens were asked to think about how well they would deal with any emergency situation such as terrorism, pandemics or power outages.  This got me thinking about the meaning of resilience.  Is it the same as ‘strength’?

The dictionary definitions are:-

1. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

2. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

So it occurs to me that people with physical or mental disabilities are more resilient than the non-disabled.  It’s through dealing and adapting to problems that we become stronger.  Living with any Disability is a test of survival skills.  It’s strange that society tends to dismiss disabled people as weak because I think the opposite is very often the case.  Just to get through one day can be as tough as climbing a mountain or winning a war.  Many non-disabled complain about the slightest of ailments and crumble when things don’t go exactly their way.  Any disabled person has to confront obstacles every single day, not least of which is discrimination and the patronising attitudes institutionalised within society.

 

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I’ve decided to do a regular feature on this blog highlighting famous people whose achievements were due to the resilience gained from being disabled.

The first of these is Ian Dury.  He had a difficult childhood after contracting polio, being brutalised by the healthcare and education systems.  But later he channelled this rage and energy into his music.  It’s doubtful that he would have written such unique and passionate songs if not for his experience of Disability.  He was unafraid of what people might think, unafraid to be different, unafraid to speak truth about his life.  He was one tough cookie.

Here is a YouTube video of Ian Dury performing one of his most controversial songs, Spasticus Autisticus which was banned at the time by the BBC and created a public furore.  Stick around when the video is over to hear Ian Dury interviewed about why he wrote the song and how he was influenced by the film ‘Spartacus’.

 

 

I would welcome your suggestions for other famous disabled artists, musicians, writers, scientists, explorers, etc, who deserve to be featured on The Purple Hermit blog.  Please leave a comment. Thanks.

A Poem for Remembrance Day

The Fallen Oak                                                                                   

I’m dreaming of swimming to a sandy beach
where mother holds my cake with nineteen candles.
          Try harder, blow them out, she says as I fade.
I wake up when the eels hit.
A pulse beats through the ship.
She splinters like a tree in a hurricane.
The old girl begins to tilt
falling and turning upwards, arse over tit.
I’m hanging tight to my bunk when lights flicker out.
Jimmy whimpers and Bertie yells shit!
Hammocks tip, we smack the deck.
The darkness bristles, fear and amber
edging the door.
The stench of burning oil and silence
descend as engines die.
Then the screams begin.

The screams begin,
descend as engines die.
The stench of burning oil and silence
edges the door,
darkness bristling fear and amber.
Hammocks tip, we smack the deck.
Jimmy whimpers and Bertie yells shit!
I’m hanging tight to my bunk when lights flicker out,
falling and turning upwards, arse over tit.
The old girl begins to tilt.
She splinters like a tree in a hurricane.
A pulse beats through the ship
and I wake up when the eels hit.
                    Try harder, blow them out, mother says as I fade.
She’s holding my cake with nineteen candles
and I’m swimming.

 
Note 1– The battleship H.M.S. Royal Oak was sunk by torpedoes from  German Submarine, U-47 in the harbour of Scapa Flow, Britain’s naval base near the islands of Orkney on 14th October, 1939.  More than 800 men died. The wreck is now a designated war grave and a site of remembrance.

Note 2 – The Fallen Oak is an example of a specular poem, where the second stanza mirrors the first.  They are a challenge but fun to write.

 

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Note 3:-  The Italian Chapel was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war, who were housed on the previously uninhabited island while they constructed the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands.  Only the concrete foundations of the other buildings of the prisoner-of-war camp survive.

(Ref:- Wikipedia, photo taken by the author)

Note 4:- if you ever visit the beautiful island of Orkney, the Italian Chapel is a must see…a very emotional experience.

A Sonnet for a Saturday

Arrows

You are nothing but a clatter of bones in a tartan dressing gown
coughing up phlegm over the breakfast table.
You are nothing but a slithering of liver, lungs, kidneys, brain,
faithless heart pumping white crimson around and around.
You are nothing but a hundred billion neurons firing arrow
thoughts about yourself into a mist of grey.
You stab the butter knife in the marmalade.
I imagine stabbing it in your eye, watching your ego bleed out.

Then you look up and start describing a strange dream
you had last night about building a house from Plasticene.
As you turn your face and smile, morning sunbeams
blaze just below the curve of your cheek
bone, the place I like to kiss before we go to sleep
that tastes, so scrumptiously of tangerine.

 

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The Broken Rose

 

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Her words were twisted, her eyes bloodshot.
She froze to ice and drifted away.
I tried to follow, but the wind blew fey;

he stabbed me and I lost my way.
She vanished without looking back.
I look through glass to relieve the pain

of reflections broken by the rain.
When the old drawbridge parts in two,
the river will stop this ship of fools.

 

 

Going Slow

Sometimes I feel I’m living in a time warp.  Perhaps this is because my solitary life is not structured by the routines of another person.  I’m lucky enough to work from home and therefore not constrained by external schedules except for deadlines.  I am free to eat, write and sleep when I please.  Usually my days fly past in a blur.  I’m pre-occupied by so many creative projects and the flow of ideas.  It’s my physical stamina that falters at the end of the day and not a lack of mental energy.  But yesterday was different.  I’m blaming it on the weather or a depressed mood.  Watching the Season Finale of Twin Peaks The Return left me with negative emotions about my own life.  We like to have some sense of resolution in our stories but David Lynch never takes the easy way out.  The drama ended with unanswered questions and made me think about my own past and uncertain future.

A storm from the north has battered my house and garden for the last three days.  The noise is terrible, with the gale blasting down the chimney, rattling the grate and through the letter box which I’ve had to tape shut.  The roof timbers are moaning and groaning as if they’re being tortured. The cat flap is a wind tunnel.  Nadia ventured out for twenty minutes in the morning and then spent the rest of the day on my bed.  Darkness descended at 3.30pm and I decided to follow my cat’s example.  The day seems to have lasted forever and I’ve achieved very little except for thinking about how our perception of time is distorted by our emotional state.

I remember childhood summer holidays when we drove from the north of England to the south coast, a distance of about 300 miles.  There was always great excitement setting off at the crack of dawn, equipped with sandwiches and a flask of coffee.  My parents would argue over the route and my mother’s map reading.  I would be alone in the backseat watching the fields and market towns roll by.  It was before the advent of motorways and the route was circuitous.  I was always struck by how the outward journey seemed to drag on indefinitely while the return trip was over in no time.  The anticipation of the holiday, ‘travelling hopefully’, seemed to alter my perception of time.

The same phenomenon applies to Hospital waiting rooms.  Five minutes feel like thirty when I’m waiting and dreading to be ushered into the consulting room.  The opposite happens when I’m happily absorbed in an activity such as reading, drawing, talking to a driend or watching a good movie.  Time speeds by and a film might feel like one hour long instead of two.

Depression, schizophrenia, psychiatric and hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD and even meditation can distort perception of time.  It seems there are different levels of consciousness when time becomes mutable.  Scientists have come up with various theories but none of them seem totally convincing.

My most dramatic experiences of time slowing down have related to life threatening situations.  Many people report that during accidents or emergencies, events seem to unfold in a weird slow-motion.  A man who was thrown through a car windscreen described it poetically:-

“I saw the car’s windscreen shattering. The glass sprayed out so slowly, like a fan, and it looked beautiful. All the pieces were shining in the sun. I felt like I was floating through the air, almost as if I wasn’t going to come down. I looked into the sun and it was like being on a plane, when you’re above the clouds and it’s a brilliant white colour.”

While married to my first husband we participated in competitive car rallies on public roads at night.  We drove a bright yellow Vauxhall Firenze, with a 2.3 engine.  The car had a brown stripe and looked like a banana!  It was a fast car but not as nifty as the smaller Ford Escorts and Minis that usually won prizes.  The rallies took place on remote country lanes with several staged and timed sections.  The route would be about 200 miles in total so we drove most of the night, finishing up at dawn.  As navigator I had the task of marking out the route within the strict one hour time limit using Ordinance Survey maps and an illuminated magnifier called a ‘potty’.  In the dark, cramped conditions of the car, with maps strewn everywhere, it was a stressful hour that passed in the blink of an eye.

Sadly, the lack of trust that blighted our marriage also had an adverse effect on our driving performance.  During car rallies it’s the navigator’s role to read the map and forewarn the driver of the road ahead, calling up bends such as ‘90 right’ or ‘60 left’. My ex-husband would often ignore my advice and not adjust our speed.  We had several crashes.  The most dramatic occurred on a twisted hump back bridge over a river.  We took the bend too fast and the car went into a spin, bouncing off the stone walls in balletic slow-motion.  I remember how every detail of the scene was crystal clear…the glowing dashboard, the headlights carving arcs through the dark, the rough texture of the Yorkshire stone, the harsh sound of the metal car crumpling….A million thoughts raced through my mind in what were actually just a few seconds.

It seems our bodies and brains go into an instinctive survival mode during life threatening events caused by the surge of adrenaline.  We are thinking and moving faster giving us more time to save our selves and that makes external time seem to slow down.

Steve Taylor wrote in his article for Psychology Today:-

“Another suggestion is that the ‘time-slowing’ effect is due to the increased number of impressions and perceptions the mind absorbs during these moments. It does seem to be the case that increased information slows down time perception. However, in accident and emergency situations, this could just as easily be an effect rather than a cause. That is, a slowed down sense of time may be the very reason why we become able to absorb many more impressions. (It has also been suggested that this is based on recollection, that we don’t actually experience time passing slowly, but just remember it that way when we look back, because of the increased number of memories which are created. But this explanation seems to belie the powerful reality of the experiences. No one who has experienced them would doubt that the time-expansion is occuring right at that moment, rather than the result of memory.)

None of this explains why time slows down when we are depressed like I was yesterday.  Was my mind speeded up looking for answers to my problems?  Did my unconscious perceive a dangerous situation and try to help by giving me time to think things through? Did the many thoughts and feelings I had about my life make my day pass more slowly?

Perhaps we get depressed for a good reason and it’s an experience that’s trying to show us something important.  I believe that there can be a creative energy in depression.  It’s not all bad.  Sometimes we need to forget our busy agendas, take time out and listen to ourselves.

 

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