Monday, 30 June 2008

I would've called it a wasted weekend, had I not felt such a sense of achievement...

I am a psychotherapist, for those of you who don't keep up. Stray is an engineer*.
(That bit is relevant, honest.)
This weekend, Stray nicked took up my place at a workshop on neuroscience: a Jungian perspective on the mind-brain relationship and it's implications for clinical practice. 

Not to be outdone, I embarked upon an engineering project of some considerable challenge. **

Stray learnt lots and lots of clever things and is developing some rather complex ideas about how our neurobiology informs the wider socio-political development, as part of  her  book on Climate Change. I am guessing that she made an enthusiastic and knowledgeable participant, despite being the only non-clinician in the workshop. 

I am not impressed. That ain't nothing, I tell you,  compared to the skill it required to get my techno-balls a-rolling-baby. 

*and software developer/film-maker/writer......
**Techno-Balls: Hi-tech perpetual-motion power-driven marble run. Age 8 upwards. 

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Frank the hunter....

Frank the ginger cat thinks he is in Heaven since moving to the Dales, the rest of the wildlife think Satan has moved to the village.

After all his constant whining in the car for the entire 6 hour journey up I hope he can now agree I only had his best interests at heart.... and if he doesn't - well we are NEVER moving again, that journey was pure hell, for the entire length of the M1 I was trying to think of ways I could strap him to the roof to get away from his shouting. Such a small cat can really produce an incredible sound.

Since our arrival in the winter months Frank still found plenty of birds and small mammals to kill. But now spring has arrived many new unsuspecting animals are being born and Frank can simply take his pick. So far he has brought in - Birds (the rarer the better it would seem), Shrews, Mice, Voles, and Frogs.

However one early summery morning last week he brought in something new, the story goes something like this: -
It's early morning. The birds are twittering and there is the faint distant sound of the cows mooing their way to the milk shed.
Master Melancholy's voice is calm but slightly uncertain: "Mum ... there's a decapitated rabbit on the bath mat."
He doesn't sound surprised.
Ms M: "Ok, don't worry ... I'm getting up ... get on with getting ready and I'll wake Badger to clear it up."
Master Melancholy: "I can't. I can't be in there. It's staring at me."
Ms M (slightly irritated): "How can it be staring at you if it's decapitated?"
Master Melancholy: "Its head is sitting next to its body."

Upon entering the bathroom as brave as any early rising Badger could be I did the blurry eye trick* and dealt with the mess young Frank had left us. We started to wonder what on earth he could bring in next. And then we found out the very next afternoon.

It all began with Ruby behaving most strangely, whining in an extremely unusual fashion. She is sitting at the bathroom door, seriously unsettled. Then Frank is spotted sitting proudly on the bath mat, guarding the curled up body of a weasel.
What next!? Will he drag a small lamb in from the fields? I have already seen him stalking pheasants that are 3 times his size

*The blurry eye trick is perfect for dealing with anything that makes you feel sick. You simply defocus your eyes so the subject that you are dealing with is not so,... ummm in your face and deal accordingly. It can be used for all manner of pet offences.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Why oh why?

I'm wrestling with the neurobiology stuff within the Climate Change book. I've never quite been satisfied with the model that was in the skeletal draft, and pursuing a more detailed and robust understanding has led me to a bit of a philosophical biggie.

So, if you'll indulge me for just a moment, I'll romp about in some neurobiology, a bit of morality, a dash of sociology and some logic and philosophy, and hopefully we'll get to something that makes some sense, or something that clearly makes no sense and can be abandoned.


It all got a bit long so I've put it in another post back-dated so it doesn't take over the front page. Click here to read it. I'm afraid it's about 1500 words ... but any feedback is seriously appreciated!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The joy of transference

Two things have happened this weekend. Two entirely inconsequential things, in the course of a whole lot of other entirely inconsequential things. They are so inconsequential that I may be in danger of winning a Blogging That Scrapes The Barrel Award. (Surely someone has built a little widget for that by now? And if not, why not?)

Inconsequential event #1

Shopping on Saturday morning, in our local (20-minute drive away) Spar. The fact that we are shopping at the Spar, and not the local (30-minute drive away) Booths means that this is a 'small' shop and not a 'proper' shop.

"A bottle of diet coke?" I ask Stray, holding up a small bottle. What I really mean to say is "do you want this small bottle of coke to drink whilst we walk Ruby?" but this is implied rather than said. 

"Okay" she replies, though what she actually means is "what I would really like is one of the big bottles so I can have coke all weekend, given that this is the only remaining bad habit from my misspent youth. However, I know that you disapprove of this ethically-corrupt multi-national polluting the environment with their over-production of plastic containers, so I'll just take the small one. Also, this is a 'small' shop and not a 'proper' shop, so perhaps I can buy a large bottle next time we go to Booths."

For the record, Stray has never been in trouble with me for buying a large bottle of diet coke.

We buy the small bottle. 

Saturday evening. I cook. 

"Diet coke?" I ask her.

"We don't have any", she replies wistfully.

Inconsequential event #2

Saturday evening. I am cooking. I am picking absent-mindedly at a bowl of nuts whilst making a tomato salad. I am in a quiet reverie, listening to Roy Harper.  

I hear the kitchen door open and it surprises me. It surprises me so much that I drop the nuts and my hand starts to shake. I wait for Stray to shout at me for picking at food whilst I am cooking.

For the record, Stray has never shouted at me for picking at nuts whilst I am cooking. 


Stray has an unconscious expectation that she can't have what she wants.  

I have an unconscious expectation that I will be punished for......well, to be honest, for pretty much anything. 

Such is the power of transference. Those blueprints for relating that we learn in childhood and carry with us throughout our life; that set of organising principles that informs the way we both respond to and initiate contact with others. 

We behave as if the thing that we unconsciously expect to happen is already happening. And somehow we end up sort-of making it happen. Such is the paradox of transference. The thing that we most fear is the thing that we end up recreating.  

It's not rocket science. And yet this is precisely the 'thing' that generates the most debate within different therapeutic modalities.

Should we or should we not pay attention to the transference within the therapeutic relationship?

is the question that arises time and time again between cognitive and analytic therapies.

Should we understand and challenge our belief systems, in accordance with cognitive-behavioural principles, or should we re-experience and transform them, in accordance with analytic-relational principles.   

It seems to me that we have little option. Transference is neither a choice nor a disease. We cannot avoid it and we don't catch it: it simply happens. Mostly it will be inconsequential. Stray survived her lack of diet coke, and I was fine once my hand had stopped shaking.  

It did serve to remind me just why I am a relational therapist, however. 

Monday, 16 June 2008

You couldn't make it up #2

Sunday morning breakfast.

Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication* becomes Badger-fornication.

Badger was most upset: fornication is definitely not Badger-Friendly, she informed us.

She was significantly more upset when we pointed out that to fornicate does not mean to dance in a provocative manner. 

*Sung to the tune of California Dreaming, as an extra tic-twist.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

You couldn't make it up

Friday night.

Four hour round trip in the dog-bus, from the peaceful sheep-sanctuary of our village to the thriving metropolis of Manchester to take our places in the audience of the Britain's Got Talent Live Tour.

Badger's latest tic comprises singing popular songs, but replacing a key word in the lyrics with either "Badger" or "Schmaow".

Badger's repertoire is really quite impressive, and we particularly enjoyed:

Boney M's seventies favourite: By the river of Badgerlon

The Nolan Sisters' wedding classic: I'm in the mood for Schmaowing.

Tears for Fears's stadium fillers: Schmaow, Schmaow, let it all out, and Schmaowing the seeds of love.

and Rod Stewart's poke-your-eyes-out lyrical masterpiece: We are badgers, we are badgers ..

The return journey was mostly Disney themed, and a high point was reached when Badger pulled off a wonderful impression of Angela Lansbury (aka Miss Marple, a classic Type B Badgerism) as the teapot in Beauty and the Badger.

The Britain's Got Talent Show was actually rather good, and only a little bit less entertaining than four hours in a car with Badger.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

You make your own jam

 I come from a jam-making family. 

We make the fruity kind, and the being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time kind.

This morning I had a big, hefty dollop of the second kind with my toast.


Last night Badger was reading a textbook published by my favourite textbook publishers. (Ok, I realise I am coming across as slightly geeky here, that's fine.)

Entirely unprompted, she suddenly said "You should write for these people - you could write one of these. I saw on their website that they like people to email them if they want to write for them ... go on. You should. Go on."

Clearly an outrageous suggestion. I had no intention of following it up.

This morning, eating my breakfast, I found myself emailing them. This afternoon I got an excited reply email asking what I was up to tonight. This evening I had the first step of the 'audition process' with them on the phone. 

I sort of wondered if they do this every week ... but no, apparently it's more like every six months. It was a phone conference thing, which they had already invited four other prospective authors to. Everybody else was in the US. It was all really quite fun. 

I might get to write a book for them. I would very very much like to write a book for them. They think they would like me to write a book for them too ... maybe. (Lots more steps to go, but so far it is looking kind of positive).

If I had emailed them tomorrow it would have been too late. 

I told them that if I was a superhero then my superpower would be tessellating

Apparently this is what clinched it ... 

Ms Melancholy is being very indulgent of my excitement. And quite stunned by my jam making skills. Again.

I am wondering whether Badger is psychic. But I shall keep this quiet, as everybody already wants to borrow our Badger and if they know she has magic powers then we might never get her back!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Breakfast Club

I have been invited to join a breakfast club. 

I have absolutely no idea what a breakfast club is, or why someone would want to join me in my pjs at stupid o'clock whilst I bemoan my lack of sleep and the fact that I have burnt my toast again.*
I told Stray.

"I have been invited to join a breakfast club" I said. 

"Mmmm" she said.

"What is a breakfast club?" I said.

"It's a club for people who think they are so fucking important that they can't eat a croissant without simultaneously holding a seminar" she said.

"Ah" I said.

"..and only attended by those who are so socially inept that it's the only way they can make relationships with people outside of their own dull-as-fuck profession."

"Accountants?" I said.

"Indeed" she said.

I think thats probably a no then, although the fact that they have invited a psychotherapist intrigues me. I might turn up for just the one. I could analyse their breakfast choices with some over-interpretive pseudo-Freudian nonsense and cheer myself up for at least half an hour.

Organic free trade muesli? Generalised anxiety disorder, probably.

Egg white omelette? Histrionic personality, repressed by an undiagnosed eating disorder.

Pork sausage? Small-penis neurosis, obviously.
And if Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez are there, I may stay for the long haul. 

* My toast-making skills are legendary. Stray only knows it's morning by the smell of burnt toast drifting up the stairs. The first time I stayed at my best friend's house when I was a wee little 7 yr old, I corrected her mum on her technique. With great sincerity I told her that my mum made toast differently: she cooks it 'til it's black and then scrapes it with a knife over the bin, I informed her. I had no idea why it made her laugh. 

Postscript: On telling Badger:

"Goodness gracious! Isn't that where people have sex in their scuba suits?"

No, I have absolutely no idea either. 

Monday, 9 June 2008

Capital punishment

I just received the following email message from my father:

Hi Stray,

capitalised is spelld wrongously on your krib shite.

If you want it to be on the walls of unsuspecting children, it will need to be amenderated.

With deep parental love,


He may have been spending too much time chatting on facebook with George Bush, but he is absolutely correct (the error is within the section about hyphens). My sincere apologies to anyone who has already distributed this sheet (or shite) as a hand-out in their school/family/church/neighbourhood. 

The corrected version can now be downloaded.

As Misssy M has now rebranded chasing-sheep as a public service, I should state that I have the full backing of my colleagues. I will of course be reconsidering my position in due course, and making the entirely voluntary decision to tender my resignation in order to spend more time with my family.


In unrelated news, it is very sunny and I am writing this in my garden. Bliss!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Sights of summer....

I have been down south in distant lands for 9 days and was very happy indeed to today come back to this, I have been rolling in meadows full of flowers and snapping away with my camera so as not to miss it....

Eats, shits and leaves: colonic irritation

I am not a terrible writer. I've got a reputation for turning out technical documents that make complex things seem almost understandable. I somehow fluked getting a paper published when I was a mere first-year undergraduate, and was editor of my university weekly newsletter. 

As a very little thing I took to writing rapidly. I would say that I've been using the written word usefully for about 27 years, and yet yesterday afternoon my relationship with writing changed completely. I am transformed. Can you tell what it is yet?

Reader, yesterday I learned how to punctuate.

Ms M has been dutifully reading my chapter drafts, and during a beautiful stroll through fields of wildflowers in the morning she commented gently on the liberal use of dashes in my writing. She had a very good point. As we chatted, it became obvious that neither of us had more than the most shaky grasp of the rules of punctuation. 

Newsflash: The rules of punctuation rock!

As soon as we got back from our walk, I pulled out The Penguin Guide to Punctuation. Bloody brilliant. (Use of fragments is permitted for stylistic impact.)

I learned that - and this was a big revelation - dashes can be used to off set strong interruption. Commas, less popular in blogland, only indicate a weak interruption. Brackets are a legal substitute for either, but are preferred where the content is an aside to the reader (obviously) or is an additional level of detail.

Fantastic stuff! I couldn't put it down. Ms M "oohed" and "ahed" as I read out the exact circumstances under which it is appropriate to use an apostrophe-s to indicate a plural while she baked date and apple brownies. We are so rock and roll.

As any good geek would, I knocked up a crib-sheet (picture above) and whizzed through the first few chapters of my book with comma-confidence, banishing fudged subclauses and brandishing my new secret weapon: the colon.

It's ironic really. I would think nothing of picking up a new computer language and cramming my brain full of obscure syntax and semantics, and yet I secretly shook at the mere mention of a semi-colon. It turns out it's all quite straightforward if you're a rules-kinda-person. I am a rules-kinda-person. 

Saturday, 7 June 2008

How to win friends and influence people....

We have had friends staying with us this week,  from that there London-village. They were intrigued. How come, they asked, after only a short six months of living out in the middle of nowheres-ville, the locals are treating us like one of their own? How come the farmers wave hello each morning, the chef comes out of the pub kitchen for a chat and we have already been approved as a foster-family for next season's orphaned lambs? (Oh yes, it's true! Not only can lesbian and gay couples foster actual children, we can also foster orphaned lambs! How cool is that?)

How come a lesbian couple plus Badger-ish friend are so warmly accepted?  Is it Stray's minor celebrity status (she used to be on the tele-box y'know) or the fact that they get free counselling over a pint from me? Neither of these, of course. Our secret weapon is Badger.
Badger, for those of you who don't keep up, has Tourette syndrome.  

TS is a neurological disorder which gives rise to motor and verbal tics which can feel impossible to control, as Badger described in her Post of the Week winning post here. Perhaps as a result of this - or possibly it is entirely unrelated - Badger has the remarkable knack of just being herself with whomever she comes into contact with. 

Most of us will invest a significant amount of energy in monitoring or controlling our impulses and behaviours in order to make ourselves as acceptable as possible to others. Inevitably we end up projecting out our internal critic and responding to others accordingly. It all gets terribly messy and before we know it we are engaging with an imagined process rather than a genuine relationship.  Badger's world doesn't permit for this.
Although the received wisdom is that people with TS swear uncontrollably, the vast majority have physical and/or verbal tics which aren't remotely offensive. Badger, for sure, doesn't have the get-down-and-dirty rap version.

Badger has the Jane Austen remix.

Life with Badger is punctuated mostly with  Goodness Gracious Me!!'s, Lordy Lordy!!'s and Sweet Baby Jesus!!'s, all delivered in the deepest Surrey accent.  She is the secret love-child of Anne of Green Gables and Mr Darcy.

Which is how come Badger is our secret weapon. She delights people. She utterly disarms them until it is impossible not to warm to her. Badger is always just Badger, and I suspect others find this strangely liberating. 

Every home should have one. 


Friday, 6 June 2008

A cardio-cappucino, Thalgomince with spaghetti and a frigi-thalgo wrap for desert please ...

When Badger came back from scouting our new gym and described the cardio equipment as 'giant coffee machines' I had to wonder what kind of Badgerism this was : Type A Badgerisms involve saying exactly what she means, where Type B Badgerisms require some sort of alternative-reality filter in order to interpret the intended terminology.

In this case it was a perfectly observed Type A. The running, rowing and cross training machines are beautifully sculpted in matt black plastic and shinier-than-our-new-dualit-toaster chrome. It's a brilliant incentive: one more mile and you can have a frothy coffee.

Skipping past that weighty stuff and into the changing rooms, it seems that the cardio room isn't the only place offering refreshments. The spa is offering Thalgomince (LC24), with the following tasty description: 

This rich and creamy texture envelops the skin in a real "SLIMMING patch." This new technology specially designed for continuous diffusion will act throughout the day to empty the adipocytes and prevent the storage of fat. As if the tissue were being "re-educated", the adipocytes become cells with a "non-storage" structure once again. The ideal partner* for keeping your figure free from unsightly bulges.

Great! We'll have ours with spaghetti. And a couple of Frigi-thalgo wraps whilst you're at it:

A cold wrap treatment, designed to control excess fluid in the hip, leg and thigh areas. Good for attacking cellulite and fluid retention, and provides relief for tired legs. The coldness of the wrap stimulates circulatory changes and might be ideal for kick-starting a diet.

Just what I fancy ... does it come with chocolate sprinkles? Oh, and could you bear to do another couple of strokes on the rowing machine - I quite fancy an Americano ...

* The other half of the partnership being Doctor Gillian McKeith with a loud hailer, screaming "Step away from the pie, you're fucking enormous!"

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Heaven is ...

Drinking tea in the sunshine in the garden at breakfast time. Being paid to write a book that really excites me. Ruby lying on her blanket at my feet, cats safely locked in the office, as we are enjoying the sights and sounds of baby blackbirds fledging. Parents chirping instructions, whilst fluffy brown things with unsteady wings hop up and down the mountain bikes beside me. Wall to bike, bike to wall. I wonder if I am interrupting but they don't seem bothered by Ruby and I. Skipping into the porch corner behind my chair.

When you arrive somewhere in autumn or winter, spring really is a surprise.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Finding a balance ...

I appear to have scared everybody off by blogging about politics. Shhh!

So, to compensate for my misdemeanour, I will share the last google search to land someone on this blog :

'dirty poems about sheep' (warning - this link may not be Badger Friendly)

Is that a more comfortable level? ;)

But seriously, I seem to have shifted from asking "is that too personal?" when I write to wondering "is this too impersonal?". I have given myself permission to blog my verucca*, but I still feel a bit wobbly about sharing my world view. This does not sit comfortably with writing a book about how to save the planet. You will read it when it's finished? And not be cross that it doesn't have any fornicating frogs or photos of Ruby in it?**

*For those who are interested, I have had a verucca on my left foot for over 10 years. I have half-treated it numerous times and always lost interest just in time to let the little bugger recover. And then a few weeks ago it spontaneously disappeared, just after I returned from a weekend of traipsing through deep scottish peat bogs. Coincidence? 

** Actually, the book features both fornicating*** frogs and photographs of Ruby - how could I let you down?

*** Badger thought fornicating was a kind of dance. I suppose she's not entirely wrong :) Badgers**** are brill, every family should have one.

**** Did you know that Badger is doing all the design / artwork / graphics / layout for the book? She is really really really talented. We are going to put her on Britain's Got Talent. Doing animal impressions and photoshop manipulations at the same time.

Monday, 2 June 2008

A vision of public spending in the UK: versions 1 and 2

Solution 1

The final chapter of this book thing I'm writing includes a proposal for restructuring our tax system. It then sets down a competition to design a more detailed solution, but the basic premise is something we're calling PIE ... which will one day stand for something but doesn't yet :) 

In a nut shell, when a citizen votes they would also be able to directly allocate a significant amount of tax revenue to various different buckets. There would be buckets for health care, education, defence, housing, public transport subsidy, international development ... 

The money that voters could directly distribute would be about 10% of the total tax revenue, on a rolling basis, so each bucket-department would know that they had at least 90% of the money they were allocated last time around.

Each bucket-department would have to disclose exactly what they're spending that base 90% on, and what they would spend each additional bit of cash they might get on should they be allocated it.

The impact it would have on our relationship with the government could be quite profound. Discussing it with other people, someone has suggested that in some ways it's the integration of Marxism and Consumerism. I'm no marxist scholar but it seems that Marx believed that the course of history was headed towards a flatter structure, in which us little people held the power and the state was little more than a professional system for implementing our decisions.

With PIE our government could only maintain a standing professional military if we chose to fund it. For me this is a really exciting prospect. If our leaders really felt that they wanted to take military action in the absence of a UN coalition they would have to hold a referendum to ask for the money.

Some people have said that it sounds a little outrageous ... so I'd like to describe an alternative solution.

Solution 2

Imagine we allow a handful of people to make decisions as to how the whole pot of money is divided. Make them read out some overall figures to us once or twice a year, but don't require them to detail what they propose to spend the money on within each area.

Let them allocate sufficient money to defence to allow our government to go to war without the direct support of the population as long as one or two other governments are interested in pursuing the same agenda. 

Leave the trivial stuff, you know, giving hope to deprived children, nursing people with cancer, air ambulances, equipment for people with disabilities ... leave those little luxuries to be provided for by money raised through charity game shows and reality TV phone-ins!

Hey - anyone remember You Bet! ? A genius way to fund those inessential social care programmes!  

Gary from Colchester claims he can recognise 150 models of 1970s saloon car, just from a photograph of the driver side wing mirror, in under 2 minutes! 74% of the studio audience and 2 of our celebrities believe he can do it. If Gary can pull it off then we'll give £7400 to their nominated charities - Macmillan Nurses and the NSPCC! If he can't then we'll give £2,600 to a physiotherapy center for children with cerebral palsy. Gary - are you ready?

Matthew - YOU BET I am!

Wonderful stuff. A beautiful vision of modern democracy.

The choice is yours ...

So - which is a better way to distribute around 500 billion quid? I'll tell you what - let's hold a phone-vote and 12 pence of every call will go to charity!