Archive for the ‘Winter’ Tag

End of the Pity Party

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’ve been rather neglecting this blog of late. I don’t really have any excuses to offer – I’ve been off my game but that’s not an excuse.

Since the end of December I’ve had a lingering persistent mystery virus that’s left me feeling permanently under the weather. It’s been an unusually long cold winter in the UK. Generally by March we can expect temperatures to be rising into double figures. March this year we were still getting snow. In fact we were still getting snow in April. Now we’re into May, and it’s more like March – cold and wet.

These things have all contributed to a general feeling of malaise that has gripped me since the beginning of the year. The upshot is, I haven’t done nearly enough writing. When I’m not feeling happy I don’t sleep. When I don’t sleep it’s harder to get out of bed early, and I spend the day feeling fatigued. And this leads to not being able to concentrate.

These are all pathetic excuses. The facts are, I have two WIPs on the go (actually three, since I’ve decided to get back to the second Shara Summers book – but more about that at a later date) and I’ve not done any work on any of them for weeks.

In the meantime, my last new release was over a year ago, I have no new books out in the foreseeable future and the book-buying public has a very short memory. Sitting about feeling sorry for myself will not get any books finished. It’s time to give myself a kick up the backside.

There are no more excuses. Writing is about discipline, about getting it done, about putting in the hours for word counts and the promotion. I’m leaving this pity party now. I’ve got books to write.

Anatomy of Grief

I went to a funeral yesterday. The service was to say goodbye to Denni Schnapp, who committed suicide on 17 January, after years of struggling with depression. She was 48. She had been a member of the T Party writers’ group for many years, and that’s how I knew her.

There were maybe a dozen people representing the writing group at the funeral. Funeral services are, of course, always sombre affairs. Denni was an atheist. Her funeral service was humanist – celebrating her life, and giving everyone permission to mourn her death. Accepting the person she was, and the way she chose to die, without judgement.

Following the service there was a wake, held at the pub that had been Denni’s local. There I met others who had shared Denni’s life, and it became clear that there were so many facets to her that I had never known about. We knew Denni the writer. Others there had known Denni the scientist, Denni the scholar, Denni the traveller. It seemed she compartmentalised these facets of her life, presenting the face that was most appropriate. There were very few people indeed who knew every side of her.

The tragic news about Denni reached us two weeks ago. I can’t communicate the story behind this quite as eloquently as a fellow T Party member has already expressed on her blog, so go read it now. Come back when you’re done, and I’ll finish my story.

For two weeks after Denni’s death I felt like I was wading through treacle. Getting out of bed every morning was a struggle. I dragged myself through the business of the day, finding it hard not to fall asleep at my desk, and yet when night came I lay awake, unable to sleep. I attributed this to the weather. It was dark and cold in the mornings. There was snow on the ground, and January is a notoriously depressing month. I had some variation of Seasonally Affected Disorder, maybe.

I realise now that I was in a state of grief. This revelation came as a surprise. Denni was not a close friend. The death of my grandparents did not hit me as hard as her death appeared to. But in retrospect, I suppose one expects to outlive one’s grandparents. I reached the age of 26 with four living grandparents – I’d had many years to prepare myself emotionally for the inevitability of their passing, and when it came (and they all died with a span of three years), I was sad, but I could accept it. The death of someone who was of my generation, someone with whom I shared the common interest of writing, has affected me in ways I could not have anticipated.

Denni was someone I knew socially, and I realise now I did not know her well. But I’ve chatted to her. I’ve drank with her, most notoriously at Heather Graham’s infamous pierside party at HorrorCon 2010 in Brighton, where there was a free bar. I’ve critiqued her work and had her critique mine. She had a towering intellect, to the point that the rest of humanity seemed way down the evolutionary scale. She wrote hard SF stories that often featured groups of humans adapting to life on an alien world. The research was meticulous, with every detail of the ecosystem considered and accounted for. She was fascinated by humanity, but often seemed unable to connect with it – in the way that a scientist might study a beetle under a microscope.

The way she chose to die should not have surprised anyone who knew her – she had broadcast her intentions often enough in the public domain – but her death still came as a shock. Mental illness is a tragedy. I often say I get depressed, but my kind of depression is pretty lightweight from a clinical perspective. I have days when a black cloud hangs over my head for no apparent reason. When getting out of bed is a struggle, and I go through the motions of life feeling no joy. But I have never – not for a second – considered ending it all. When it comes down to the bare bones, I want to live. That most basic of human instincts – survival – will always kick in. And intellectually I know the black cloud will move on, as suddenly as it appeared, in a few days. Because it always does. Those who suffer real depression, clinical depression, have some chemical imbalance in the brain that seems to over-ride that survival instinct, and sometimes it leads to them feeling the only release is death. Because Denni was an atheist, she did not even believe that she was going to a better place. I find it incredibly heartbreaking that for her, complete oblivion was preferable to the pain of living.

All of these feelings have been churning away in my brain for the last two weeks, but I was not able to differentiate and define them. Only when I was on my way home yesterday after leaving the wake, did the cloud suddenly lift and I was able to identify it at last. It was grief. Grief for someone who passed through my life and left an indelible impression.

I now feel I understand grief in a way I never have before. Death is painful, but inevitable. Grief is a part of the process. Grief affects people in different ways. It can’t be predicted, and it can’t be denied. The only way to be able to move on from death is to embrace the grief, and let it take its course. The lady who led Denni’s funeral service began with words that pretty much reflected this sentiment. I now understand what she meant.

Goodbye, Denni. I feel privileged to have known you. I am sorry that you could not find peace in life. Those of us whose lives crossed with yours are all the richer for it.

Hibernation

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

My dislike of January is well known – I do a post like this about this time every year.

I don’t like the cold. I seem to have the blood of a lizard. And I really don’t like snow. When you can sit at home all day by the fire, and don’t have to be anyplace, it probably looks pretty, but when you have to go to work in it – particularly on public transport – it’s a pain in the backside. At least in London our snow fall is generally fairly short lived. If I liked snow I’d still be living in Canada, where it covers the ground for nearly six months of the year.

I spend January bundled up in thick jumpers and thermal vests and socks, shivering on the station platform waiting for a delayed train, arguing with my office mates about how hot we can have the central heating (I want it at ‘tropical’ mode – they don’t), and generally feeling tired and run down. I seem to go into a kind of hibernation. Getting out of bed in the morning is a supreme effort and I drag through each day feeling half asleep, not being able to focus my brain on anything. Moving becomes an effort. I don’t go to the gym, I don’t do much writing, and I spend as much time as possible in bed. But it doesn’t really matter because no matter how much or little sleep I get, I still struggle to stay awake during the day. And I crave sugar and carbs even more than usual, because I feel I need the energy.

When I’m not at work, I spend my time playing video games, because they don’t require too much mental energy and distract me from how tired I’m feeling. Now, I am aware of my weaknesses. I would be quite capable of spending all day, every day playing video games if I didn’t have to go to work. And there are many weekends in January when I do pretty much do that, leaving the sofa only to use the bathroom, go to bed, or get myself more chocolate. But the price you pay for being a grown-up is having to do stuff you don’t really want to do a lot of the time, like go to work every day.

So far I’ve not had a terribly productive January. I’ve eaten a lot of biscuits, and made progress in ‘Dragon Age’, but not done much else. Come to think of it, I was in the same situation last year.

Roll on Spring, when I can wake up and emerge from my hibernation…

…Off To Work I Go

It’s back to the day job after ten glorious days of lie-ins. And though the alarm clock going off at 6am today was a shock to the system, it’s probably just as well I get back into the habit of getting up early.

During my Christmas break, I get used to staying in bed until 10am. This time of year, it’s dark by 3:30pm. You don’t need to be a maths genius to figure out that isn’t too many hours of daylight. And then I wonder why I start every year feeling depressed. I wonder how night shift workers cope with so many hours of prolonged darkness.

So it’s not all bad to be back in the usual routine. I have no more excuses to slob around the house in my old sweat pants, eating chocolate and watching crap TV. It’s time to start moving again. It’s time to start thinking again. It’s probably even time to cut back on the cakes and biscuits and go back to the exercise classes, but I haven’t dared get on the scales yet to find out just how many of those mince pies are still with me.

How long will this new sense of optimism last? Probably until the snow returns. But at the moment, we’re still several degrees above freezing here in London and – at least for this week – the trains are relatively quiet, because not everyone’s back at work yet.

Next week might be different, but I’m trying to focus on the moment. By then, I might even be back into the habit of getting up early!

By ‘Eck It’s Parky…

…as my Lancashire grandmother might have said.

Once more London is struggling to cope with heavy snowfall. And this year it’s even earlier than usual – we’ve not had snow before Christmas here in over 30 years.

My friends and relatives in Canada are laughing a bit at the way London struggles when it snows. They cope fine with the snow, whereas here everything seems to shut down at the first sign of snow. However, most of Canada is buried under snow for nearly six months of the year. They cope because they have to, and they’re used to it. They have snow ploughs and snow boots and chains on the tyres of their cars to grip the ice. Shovelling one’s driveway is on the chores list of every Canadian household.

We don’t have such things in London. I can actually see the argument that if we get snow once every twenty years, is it really worth a council spending a huge amount of money – money that could go towards more urgent things – on a snow plough?

Living in Canada, though, taught me how to dress in the snow. This week I’ve been trudging to work in long johns, hiking pants, thermal socks and hiking boots, to get me through the ice and the slush and the snow. All these things come off when I get to work – I keep indoor shoes and a pair of work trousers in my desk drawer. My colleagues laugh at me, but I feel prepared. I seem to feel the cold more than most people do. With all these layers, at least I am staying warm.

I’ve also been leaving the house really early, expecting train delays but so far this week – and I am reluctant to declare this, in case I’m tempting providence – my journey has been relatively delay-free. Not so for my colleagues, though. It seems those who come from the North of London are having the most problems.

But it’s been this way for the last three winters. So is this the sign of winters to come and London should invest in snow ploughs? Not according to Phillip Eden of the Royal Meteorological Society in this article here from the BBC website. He says we’re just following an established pattern, and we can expect a run of mild winters from next year.

Here’s hoping he’s right. In the meantime, I’ve got another three early mornings of struggling in to work in the snow, and then I have ten days of lie-ins over the holiday period.

I don’t really mind if the snow sticks around after Christmas. Hanging around the house, with hubby and the cats, working on my WIP and blasting zombies on the Nintendo Wii, sounds like a pretty good way of spending the holidays to me.

Signs of Spring

London has seen two weeks of relentless rain, coming right after the coldest winter in 15 years and weeks of snow, sleet and ice.

This week, though, as we move into March, the rain has stopped and the clouds are gone. It’s still cold, but the sky is blue and the sun has come out.

Birds have returned to the trees. Crocuses have begun to bloom, and the first buds of leaves are appearing on the trees. The days are getting longer, too. It’s now daylight when I leave the house for work, after months of travelling in darkness. It’s still daylight when I leave the office at the end of the day.

These are all signs that we are finally moving out of winter into spring, and it feels marvellous. I really hate winter, but the one good thing about it is that when it ends, I love spring all the more.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Most of the UK has had more snow the past few days. Here in London, we’ve been quite fortunate. We’ve had no more snow. We are, however, getting rain. Lots of it. Heavy and unrelenting. And carrying an umbrella doesn’t help much. It might keep the rain off your face, but the rest of your body gets soaked, and the pavements are all so wet you get a lot of splashback to soak your trouser cuffs. The drains are clogged – the rain runs in rivers down the side of all the roads, and avoiding getting splashed by passing cars is a tricky operation.

The rain has been falling, more or less continuously, for about four days now, and it is forecast to continue for the rest of the week. Although I much prefer rain to snow, it is hard to stay upbeat when you’re being relentessly pounded by rain. I have discovered I don’t own a coat or a pair of shoes that can cope with such unremitting rainfall. My nice stylish wool coat is still drying out, after it got a soaking during my journey home from work on Thursday. My unstylish Parka – allegedly waterproof – got drenched when I wore it to walk to the sports centre for my usual Sunday morning swim yesterday, and it’s still wet.

So now I am down to my wax-coated rain coat, which is atrociously unstylish. It doesn’t have a hood, but it does cover most of my body. So between it and my brolly, I can keep mostly dry apart from everything below my knees.

As I seem to possess no waterproof shoes, I have resorted to commuting in my hiking boots, which are at least thick enough and sturdy enough for the water to not penetrate through to my feet. Yes, I probably look like a bag lady as I trudge through London this way. At this point, that’s the least of my worries. My aim is to stay as dry as possible.

It’s hard enough to face down Mondays as it is, but rainy Mondays are even worse. Maybe I should go the whole unstylish mile and get myself a pair of green wellies to commute in.

Adverse Weather

Britain is still in the grip of winter, with many areas suffering more snow over the last few days. There’s been none in London – though it’s been jolly cold – but the farther reaches of Kent and Surrey have been the worst hit, it seems.

This does affect our trains, as the route goes out into the wilds of Surrey. So adverse weather, plus a broken down train at Clapham Junction, meant that everything out of Victoria Station was cancelled or delayed this evening, as I discovered when I got there on my way home from work.

It’s always a bit of a gamble deciding what to do next when this happens. I can get back on the underground, facing a very arduous journey involving two underground lines and a bus. It takes a long time, but I get home eventually. Always assuming there are no problems on the underground train or the roads. Or I can hang around the station and hope the train problem clears fairly soon.

Although the trains were delayed, it did seem that they were moving, whereas the underground station got closed because of too many people trying to crowd into it, so I decided to take my chances and stay at Victoria station to wait for my train. I always have a book on my person for just such an emergency, and I am currently engrossed in a James Herbert I haven’t read yet – “Nobody True”.

Twenty minutes after the train was due to leave, it still said ‘delayed’ on the board. It was also apparent at this stage that due to these continuing problems, many of the trains were being rerouted. And the train I was waiting to catch home was apparently not going to stop at my station at all. Now this is more of a problem. About 200 people get off every rush hour train at my stop, and with that train diverted, and no indication of when the next one might be, even getting a space on the next train might be problematic.

So I opted instead to get on the first train going anywhere remotely near my town. Ordinarily, this train takes twenty minutes longer than my direct train, and then when I get off I still have a bus ride of about ten minutes or so as well. Tonight, though, as this train was also rerouted, it whizzed straight through most of the stations it’s supposed to stop at, and took less time than my direct train usually does. And fortuitously, a bus was pulling up at the bus stop when I arrived there after getting off the train.

So I had a difficult journey home, but it could have been much worse. Would I have got home faster had I got on the underground? No way of telling! That remains the path untrodden.

However, the adverse weather conditions are set to continue into next week. Whether or not we actually see any snow round our way tonight, I’m expecting a difficult journey into work tomorrow.

I may have the opportunity to finish that James Herbert book quite soon!

Lost – Normal Life

It’s not unusual for me to start the year with the “January Blues”. I tend to attribute this to the fact that at this time of year we are faced with a seemingly endless array of long dark nights, cold days and a chronic lack of sunlight. I probably don’t get enough seratonin to my brain.

The excesses of Christmas don’t help. During December my exercise routine goes out of the window, and I spend far too much time sitting around watching TV and eating mince pies and chocolate. Come January, my clothes start feeling tighter, and I feel flabby. However, I’m so far removed from my exercise routine that getting back to it is very difficult.

This year, the Big Freeze that grips Britain really isn’t helping. I don’t want to drive anywhere because the car is buried under layers of ice and snow and although the main roads are OK, all the side roads are sheet ice. Walking to the sports centre is an equally unattractive prospect. All the pavements are so iced over that I worry about falling and breaking my neck every time I step out of the door. So I am not exercising. I am limiting my forays out of the house to essential journeys only – in other words, to work and back, and perhaps the occasional foray to the corner shop for bread, milk, cat food and other essential groceries.

And I am so cold. All the time. And tired. So very, very tired. Whenever I get home from work all I want to do is hide under the duvet until Spring.

I am tired of traipsing through the snow and ice. I am tired of leaving the house at 6:30am to ensure I can find a train that will get to work in good time. I am tired of having to bundle myself up in thermals, thick sweaters, scarves, gloves and hiking boots just to step outside the front door. I am tired of having to knock snow off my boots on the front step every time I come in. I am tired of lugging a back pack to work every day with a change of clothes in because my work attire is not warm enough to be outdoors in. I am tired of wearing the same sweater every day, because I really don’t have any clothes to cope with this kind of weather. And in spite of all this, I am still cold.

I want my life back. I want to be able to walk to my yoga class without worrying about ending up in Casualty. I want to go swimming on Sundays without getting hypothermia walking back with wet hair. I want to be able to wear my nice work clothes again. I want to be able to get in the car and drive somewhere, without having to anticipate twenty minutes thawing it out, or worrying about swerving off into a ditch somewhere.

But none of these things are possible. Life consists of tramping through the snow and ice, in the dark, to get to work, then tramping back home again, in the dark, too tired and too cold to do anything else when I get there. I have dinner, I take a hot bath, to warm up, and go to bed. Then it’s time to get up and make the arduous journey again. This isn’t my life. This is a holding pattern, until I get it back.

The snow and ice and sub-zero temperatures are meant to continue for at least another week. Wonderful.

Can’t someone teleport me to the Southern Hemisphere for a while? I hear it’s really hot in South Africa right now.

Power Cut

At the moment, Britain seems to be suffering its worst winter in many, many years. We have come off fairly lightly with the snow as far as it goes. We haven’t had nearly as much in London as the rest of the country and I have made into work every day I’ve had to be there, whereas a lot of people haven’t. I do have more than one route in and I’ve been leaving early, so if my first choice is inaccessible I can use another route and still get to work on time.

However, there is no doubt that London’s been struggling. The power cut we experienced today I am sure is not unrelated to the current extreme weather.

our offices are in a wonderful Georgian building, which has had various bits added onto it over the years. It has a lot of character, but it is prone to strange quirks, and we are used to fuses blowing, the telephone system going down, the internet server crashing, and so on. But usually these problems get resolved quickly.

Today though, just after 11 am, everything on our floor went off. Lights, power sockets, computers, telephones, everything – except, bizarrely enough, the heating. The whole building, it seemed, had problems, but strangely, different ones. All the lights and power were out on the ground and first floor. The second floor had lights, and power, but no telephones or internet access. The office in the annexe at the back of the building had power, telephones, internet – but no heating (a distinct problem in the current sub-zero climate).

As it turned out, other buildings in the area had similar problems. The power company informed us they were working on the problem, but couldn’t say when it would be fixed. With no lights and no heating in various parts of the building, it was decided to close the office at lunch time and send everyone home.

So I have had an unexpected afternoon off. Though the journey home was rather more difficult than it should be, due to the trains in and out of Victoria station being affected by the weather.

We have been told the power has been fixed, so the building will be open as usual tomorrow. The snow remains, though, so my journey to and from work remains arduous.

Roll on summer.