Sunday, November 19, 2017

Troublesome angels

This week's Writers Circle exercise was to write something inspired by a paragraph from 'Girl on a Train'.  As usual, all the stories were different - from childhood memories to attempted murder. Here's my contribution.

My head was slowly fogging as the muggy air in the carriage warmed up my cold face and hands. I was lucky, I’d got a seat today.  I sat at the end by the window, with the luggage rack at my back and, as was my preference, facing forwards down the carriage. Humanity before me.  I watched the Hertfordshire countryside fly by as we drew nearer to London; at each stop more bodies piled in. Long, smart black coats on shaven headed men; scarves wrapped around skinny necks to defy the heat loss that fashion was gifting them. They swayed like winter trees as the train took the huge curve by the golf course.  Dead eyes, the audible beat of music from headphones. They looked at phones, newspapers, laptops – anything but the other commuters.

Women in short skirts, thin tights and high heels. Woollen coats and cardigans, coloured scarves and bright pom pom hats. Severe suits and emulation. Cheeks as red as their lips from the cold winter air until they hit the ambient temperature of the heaving carriages, and then their faces burned with the warmth of too many, too close, and no space to shed a layer or two.

Here we come King’s Cross.  A red kite, a buzzard, and a football pitch teamed with pigeons and gulls. These drew my lazy eyes as I struggled to stay awake.  The rich green fields, the skeleton trees on grey horizon, replaced by the silhouettes of suburbia. My head nodded, and I snatched it up again with a startled jerk.

We had just pulled into Finsbury Park and the carriage suddenly hummed with life. People were moving, collecting, shifting, departing and joining. A rearrangement of humanity.  Two men dressed in long white robes boarded. I thought it odd. Angels, I mentally tagged them.  Both beautiful, but no wings.  A Christmas party in the offing, no doubt.  They moved towards a four square in front of me and, without a word, the incumbents vacated, finding other places to stand or sit, too close, too near to others.  The fancy dress duo took their places opposite each other and spread out in relative luxury in the jam-packed carriage.   I watched them carefully, they intrigued me.  I was sure my surveillance was obvious but the one who was facing me did not catch my eye.

King’s Cross. This train terminates here. Please take all your belongings with you.

I never hurry as the heaving mass surges to the doors even before we’ve hit the platform. My office is only five minutes’ walk away; plenty of time.  Dead eyes, deaf ears, cold legs and cold heads milled and spilled from the opened doors. With only stragglers remaining, I stood and stretched. The two angels were still there, deep in conversation.  I passed them on the way to the open door and muttered “better move or you’ll end up back where you came from.” A heinous crime, talking to a fellow passenger without invitation, but I didn’t care.  They looked up at me and back towards where I had been sitting, but I ambled on and out onto the platform. Hi vis and helmets constructing bicycles from confused concentrations of metal cluttered the platform briefly. Clattering suitcases dragged towards an unknown fate added to the cacophony of the station’s morning routine. A few slow movers – casual with age or indifference – were the last to join me as I hitched on the tail of the flood towards the exit gates.

Ticket in hand I was nearly at the gate, ready to swipe my season ticket, when I felt compelled to turn and see if the two idiots all in white had left the carriage. They had. They stood on the platform and were waving at someone.  It wasn’t a goodbye wave, but a come here, urgent flapping of perfect hands.  I’m not sure why but I felt they were waving at me. I pointed to my chest and mimed “Me?”  They indicated the affirmative.  I looked around – it had to be me. I stood for a second and then knew they wouldn’t come down the now almost deserted platform, so I trod my curious way back to them. Past the door – to the other side of the window where I had sat.  I looked in.

They gathered round me and put cool hands on my shoulders. Not a bad way to go, I thought, as I looked at my body, still at rest in the train as if sleeping.

Photos (C) Carolyn Sheppard

If you liked this, try:


Saturday, November 04, 2017

Ghost stories

Photo from
I like to tell stories, and I was asked to do two sessions with ghost stories this week. The first was at a bar in Norwich (all adult audience), and I told a personal story about Maurice, the ghost we used to live with.  It was an interesting experience, because it took me into very personal, emotional territory. Not something I'm used to doing!

But last night I was storytelling outside, to families at a camp site in Swanton Morley.  The first story I told was of the ghostly US airman on the nearby airfield, but given an audience of children in fancy dress, and after singing ‘Old MacDonald had a Haunted Farm’, I decided that some more ad lib stories involving the kids would be better.

I asked what they wanted, and the small boy dressed as a mad professor wanted a monster story. So we told the story of Frankenstein and his monster, and the kids acted out some parts. I had a 10 year old ‘zombie’ do a pretty good impression of the monster - lying on a picnic table as we 'winched' him up the tower to the lightning. Oh, I also got Burke and Hare involved too – but no historians on hand to correct me so I got away with it.

The second story we told was about Dracula (the small boy dressed as a vampire actually dozed off), and the final story request was for one about a skeleton. With no immediate skeleton stories in my memory, the ‘Skeleton who couldn’t sleep’ was born. The kids joined in and the adults joined in (their costumes adding to the cast of characters) and there was even a running race to see who go to sleep in the king’s bed.

I really enjoy story telling and though last night’s event was very unplanned, I knew that if I had enough kids, it would work. And I’m pleased to day it did.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Me and Bella last summer
I’ve just spent a week working on my own choices. How? Well, as I said it took a week, so I can’t really explain it all here in a short blog post.  But the nub of it is about choosing how we feel – because all the feelings in the world that we want (and don’t want) are accessible to us – we already have them all inside*

It sounds a bit simple, doesn’t it, that you can just choose how you feel? But when it comes down to it, choice is an important opportunity that many of us do not take advantage of.

For example, if you had the choice between feeling confident and feeling nervous, you’d choose confident.  Now this may seem glib and even insulting but once you are taken through the thought process and set some hard challenges (about self), it’s actually really powerful.

There’s a ‘voice in my head’ that says I’m not good enough, unloveable, ugly, fat, old, stupid, that the future I want is impossible… the list of my own failings to me is quite a long one. But that’s not how others see me. That’s not how I want to see me, but I have been choosing to believe the negative voice and ignoring the opinion of everyone else.

In other words, I’d rather believe a lie because it makes me feel bad, than the truth, which is about who I really am.  So after this week, I’ve chosen to believe the truth about who I am and be happy with that – warts and all – and tell that voice in my head to ‘shut the f*ck up’ (or at least turn it down a bit).

I spent a lot of money on this course, money I could have spent on a holiday, or the home, but I’m glad I spent it on me; there’s only one of me in the whole world, just like there’s only one of you. Our uniqueness is something to be treasured and celebrated. Is this an explosion of ego? No – it’s a great step forward in finding and being my authentic self. 

If you want to know more about this course, or the people who run it, check them out on Facebook.  You may find it a bit whacky, out of your comfort zone, but it took three years to get me to even think about attending this course, and it is likely to be the most important decision I have ever taken. Cool, huh?!

* You may wish to point out that there are people who do not have every feeling available to them, but let’s face it, a true lack of feeling (even hate) would be pretty hard to find in any conscious human.  Oh, and any sentence you start (in your head or in voice) with ‘Yeah, but…’ is usually working hard on behalf of that negative voice, so beware!

PS - I did not have to build bridges, climb trees, wade through rivers, walk over coals, live in the wild or even eat raw insects  - but I did make new, amazing friends.

Photo of me by Anna Langley

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Hey Phil, I get it.

In a helicopter. 
I found you on Facebook as you accepted Nick’s friend request. I did a bit of stalking.  I’d looked before, but you were so totally under the radar on social media and online that I didn’t think to look again.

I’m pleased to see you are doing something interesting at the radio station – and still using that moniker (I looked under Bilko too, of course).  Good to see you are alive (I didn’t know) and sad to see that you have health issues. 

You have reinvented yourself as a person from where you are now. You’ve put your past well and truly behind you and moved on.  You have always been able to contact me if you wanted. You don’t want to and, finally, I get it. I’m going to move on too. A bit later than you, perhaps! But when asked by others why I don’t try and find you – I try to explain that I am respecting your wishes.  I can’t think of anything worse than some ‘blast from the past’ turning up and causing lots of awkward questions, or nosiness from people you don’t want to talk to about that stuff.

I’ll let you know when mum eventually passes on – she’s 85 now.  Interestingly she looks back on the past and has regrets when it comes to it. She’s said some very self-aware things about our childhood that, although way too late, is amazing that she has recognised, and cares about.   

I will make this my last letter to you – though I guess I know you haven’t read any of these any way. So goodbye Phil, but I’m always here if you do ever want to make contact. 

Get well soon

Earlier in September I heard David Beeney talk about mental health at work, and he used an interesting example:  The staff member who has a broken leg gets get well soon cards and contact from colleagues to see how they are doing.  The staff member who is off with stress is usually ‘left alone’ and there’s little or no contact, and no get well soon card. Yet which of these is most likely to need the contact, support and to know that others are thinking about them? (NB - make sure you read the comments below that followed on from this post)

One point that David wanted to make is that it is OK to share – to tell others if you are having issues around mental health, just as we would if we had – say – a bad back, diabetes or a headache.  But that involves a huge culture change; since Victorian times the British (I can only speak from what I have heard, read or experienced here) have been very good at the ‘stiff upper lip’.  Prior to then, the British were known for being rather emotional – perhaps better at sharing how they were both physically and mentally – than we are now.

As someone who has depression (sometimes quite a big black dog, sometimes a puppy, sometimes it’s away in the kennel) I find it hard to share what is going on in my head, because – as an example – depression makes you lose perspective. You won’t share, because no one will care anyway.  You won’t share because they might ‘find out’ you are not as amazing and indestructible as you want everyone – including yourself – to believe. Sometimes the logic of the dog is not logical at all.

The purpose of this post is the same as David’s talk – to get the conversation out in the open, to be prepared to talk about an issue which, as a nation, we seem to try and keep hidden.

There are many statistics around mental health, such as one in three adults, and more recently 25% of teenage girls. In other words, there's a lot of people who are contending with mental health issues.  Sometimes individuals might have an ‘episodic’  issue, but, if you think about mental health as a spectrum (as we do with autistic or other developmental states), then we have probably all had an issue at some time or another. The question (or perhaps diagnosis context) for me is how much it affects everyday life.

Help and references


Teenage mental health resources

  • Youngminds - reports on mental health for younger people and charity


Photo: from Pinterest (no credit identified)

Footnote: since first publishing this, a comment came in that it isn't always appropriate to contact someone who is off work for mental health reasons.  Yes, that's true, and contact may in fact increase problems rather than offer comfort, but the very principle that people off sick because of a mental health issue is 'taboo' is what is challenged here.  If you have a colleague off sick for any kind of mental health reason, check before contacting them with your HR department or boss.  Maybe a get well soon card could be the best thing they ever got.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Making pretty things

Over the years I have enjoyed making small pieces of jewellery for myself and for friends. I have loads of pieces now, and I can't possibly wear as many as I make and though giving them away is what I usually do, I've decided to try selling a few via the web.

So - wish me luck! And if you get a chance, visit my webshop. I'd also appreciate ideas and feedback, of all the commercial undertakings I've ventured into, selling jewellery is not one I've done before.

Now to try and add a buy button!  I think it's worked...

You can visit the full shop on Facebook at: Carolyn's Jewellery

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Four wounds and a bruise

From the end of March I started to have pains – pains like nothing I had experienced before (yes, worse than childbirth).  My whole guts felt like someone had put a steel band around the inside and was slowly turning a handle and increasing the pressure and the pain.  The first time it happened I thought I had eaten something bad – the attack lasted about three hours and eventually I fell asleep, exhausted.  Thinking that was it, I was more than perturbed when it happened again – at work – and I had to lie down in the Finance office whilst my colleagues stepped over me until the attack passed.  Only an hour this time though, so not too bad.  But it happened again and again, and along with the pain came the vomiting  – the night of one attack that started at around 8pm had me still being sick at 3am.  Exhausting!

Cows - because you don't want to see this post illustrated!
It kept happening and during one attack at a training session at work a kind colleague drove me to the doctor, and waited with me until I was seen before taking me home.  I have to say I was delighted with the diagnosis!  Gall stones. Yes – horrible little lumps of solidified crud that build up in your gall bladder. Usually triggered by eating, when one of the stones decides to take a trip down the ducts, you end up with that excruciating, un-relievable pain. The doctor put me forward for a speedy gall bladder removal much to my delight.  I was happy to be diagnosed because I knew the solution – laparoscopic cholecystectomy.  It was a procedure I could also spell without looking up because I’d written a patient brochure all about it when I worked at the hospital back in the early 2000s. 

Given how ill I was and how much it was interfering with work and my eating (not the best way to lose weight, but a good few pounds departed as I became almost frightened to eat), a speedy operation date was welcome. Then came the call – the operation was cancelled. The distress and upset in my voice were not ignored though, and instead of a date a month later, my operation was brought forward to that week.

A call on the Monday, a pre-admission appointment on the Wednesday, and the procedure on the Friday.  One of my operation wounds is rather larger than anticipated as I think there were a lot of stones to come out – must have been a bit of a tug with that bag of marbles in my tum!

So this post is to say thank you – to the wonderful GP for diagnosis and referral, to the fantastic NHS for getting me into the system and offering me the choice of speedy consultation dates, and the efficient team at the Pinehill Hospital who managed to get me my operation quickly and looked after me so well during my overnight stay.  My lovely friend Chris spent the week with me afterwards, cooking and caring for me whilst my brain was addled and my body not functioning properly.  And more friends and family have visited, helped me with shopping and checked on me to make sure I am OK.  One more week of rest, and then I’ll be back on form and independent as ever.

I’m not good as asking for help, but I have needed it and my friends, family and colleagues have been wonderful.  And the cat - he's been keeping me company a lot. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Time management

"I need more time!" Well, more time doesn’t exist, what I need to do is manage my time better.  For example, I love writing yet haven’t been to Writers’ Circle in a few months and haven’t blogged in ages either!

So why am I so busy?  Could it be the fact my new job is time consuming, and also highly absorbing?  Well, yes (see here!) But then I still have other hours in the day.  Train journeys, for example. 

Last week I got on the train to home from King's Cross and had just opened my computer up ready to draft something, when a man sat opposite me.  As luck would have it, he was a friend of mine who - up until the previous week - I hadn't seen in about 18 months.  Twice in one week, sort of happens that way doesn't it?
Caroline's pigs

We got chatting and he told me about his day - a 'scenario planning' session on an imagined Ebola outbreak in a war zone - fascinating stuff.  I also shared my day's event with him - a data protection conference! I think I got the better end of the deal.

So no blog written that day, but what about all the other days, evenings, etc?  Oh I have plenty of excuses... I am still managing to play bowls occasionally, still managing to visit the occasional storytelling session (this one at the British Museum), and visit friends who have animals!  But all of this leaves me little time to think, and I need to think to write.

My job means I spend a lot of time in the car, and during that time I come up with lots of ideas, but writing and driving don't mix.

A card from Sarah
Finally, I also have evenings (sometimes days) when I can't do a thing because my gall stones have decided to play havoc with my innards.  Well, some potential then for writing because at some point I will have to have a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (so glad I learned to spell that back in 2000), which will mean no driving and no gadding about for a while I'm sure.

In the meantime, here's some ramblings (above), and some pictures. I will make time in my schedule to write, because without a Tardis, I'm not going to make any more hours in the day.

Watch this space, and let's see if I really can get better at time management.

Photos: (C) Carolyn Causton.  Gallstone artwork (C) Sarah Hockey.