Hats For Headway (by )

So this is a thing, I didn't know it was a thing - I probably did but then forgot :/ But get your fancy head gear out!

knitted brain hat

Today is #HatsforHeadway to raise awareness and cash for an absolutely brilliant charity who have helped so much with people like me who have sustained head injuries. This is the hat I knitted for the Science Showoff on Neurology and brainy things special that they did. It was a wonderful evening with Dr Carina Fearnley a fellow head injury sufferer and friend from my Geology undergraduate days. She has made a fantastic video about her experience:

The event was at the Star of Kings in London but I believe was raising money for the Bristol Headway and I made a paper mache brain and got gummy brain sweets. The hat has since appeared at various British Science Week Events, Cheltenham Science Festival and BBC Country File Live show/festival. It was an amazing night were I learnt about all sorts of things including the medical skeletons etc... lurking beneath London and what their skulls can tell us!

What I didn't say at the time was that I was struggling with knitting due to the damage to my left hand side so this whole thing was create out of loom knitting (French knitting or knitting nancy/spool knitting are all mini looms). Also for me to actually make it to the gig my dad had to come and meet me at the station - which in your 30's is pretty embarrassing, but I have only recently been able to attempt travel on my own on that sort of scale and I was still unable to cook anything other than a microwave meal safely on my own (I've set fire to pans and tried to pick up boiling pots with my bare hands...).

There is currently an Art Exhibit and series of talks etc... at Kings College about head injury including a pice on Identity after the fact. I myself had to basically learn to draw again - I always drew with both hands but now... the pictures come out distorted - I have a blind spot in my left eye, and hand coordination was hard. Add in the crisis of everyone else knowing more about me than I myself did and I ended up producing Love: A Stranger Dream. It started as distinct pictures which people asked for as colouring sheets so I put them up for free download here. Then I realised there was a kind of non-linear narrative or themes running through the works and it became a book of visual poetry. I took refuge in art - something that is quiet important in developing coping mechanisms and reducing the amount of depression that head injury victims feel - it is like having everything that is you stripped away.

I even made audio.

And video of it.

Art that started as a way to just express myself when speech and writing where hard graft ended up as something that has helped friends, it explores lots of different aspects of identity and so has ended up at GLBT+ events, dis/different-ability events, music and art installations, two different events for International Women's Day, comic book conventions, poetry events, story telling and maze festivals. I've even made a dress from the art work 0.o - ok yeah I got carried away!

(can't find the photo - if I came across it I'll add it later! but it got compared to the stuff worn by the Welsh Eisteddfod singer/bardic peeps)

As I've probably bored everyone with - I have not long been discharged from the head injury unit including physio at Gloucester Royal - still under neurology but the main chunk of it is done. Charities like Headway - the brain injury association are an absolute life line and they have local branches but head injury sufferers often struggle to get the help that's needed especially as most of the time they still look "normal". I was being mistaken for being drunk and struggling with lots of things. So yeah - hats for headway 🙂

May Events 2018 (by )

Bit late to be adding this now considering I have already performed at a few including the Swindon Literature Festival's 25th anniversary extravaganza of a poetry slam (Joy-Amy won!!!) which included people like Tina Sedaholm and other previous winners. I have been to London, Bristol, and Stroud also - but that is the what has been and there is still a lot to come!

Sat 19th May 3-7 pm Food For Thoughts Heroes event in Worcester - poetry, music, spoken word, comedy and story telling - free with charity collection

Tues 22nd May 6-8 pm Gloucester's second Pecha Kucha Night - fast fun Japanese style presentations on various creative and community aspects or the creatives tales themselves - my presentations is From Rocks To Puppets and Back Again - Gloucester - free

Sun 27th May 2-4 pm - Sea Special Villanelles at Waterstones Cafe - I am co-hosting this event with poetry games and open mic, come and share your own work or poems that have inspired you - Gloucester - free and family friendly

Wed 30th May 7:30 pm start - History Showoff Women's Special at the Bishopsgate Institute - a night of comedy and cabaret - come and meet Aethelflaed the Puppet and learn about the Warrior Queen of the Mercians! (psst she's much better than her old dad who only went and burnt the cakes!) - ticketed event £9

And June isn't looking too shabby either - but more on that later!

The Gardens a Mess but BBQ like Kings Anyway! (by )

To sort out our drainage (clue - there wasn't any) our garden has had to be ripped up - I am quiet sad about this but electrics and plumbing where the priorities for the building works and everything else is just added glam. But this does mean that the garden is a mess - half the deckings gone - the painted part mostly (boo!) and because I'm going to use it to make planters it happens to still be lurking in the garden along with the smashed garden ornaments and plant pots. I like to eat outside and would normally have started this at the end of March - the weather has been dismal too be fair but I was starting to get twitchy and take us out for picnics and stuff instead. This weekend having already picnicked and having spotted the dutch oven that my bro and fam had bought for us a couple of years ago and that had still not been used, I was was like... RIGHT! It Is Time. And so it was.

The girls helped me clean and move what is left of the garden furniture after snowaggedon destroyed most of it and builders demolished a significant proportion of the remainder.

first BBQ 2018

Camping chairs are in play and once I dig out the shed there will be the long table and benches which we normally use for parties - it will be our garden furniture from now until it falls apart (something I don't think is far off). Same with all the half gazebos we have ended up with - they will be steadily worn out as the replacement for our canopy that the snow broke.

Tricoloured peppers

Food wise I went simple and we had jacket potatoes and chopped veg - the kids ate the veg raw and I lit up the second BBQ popped the griddle on and cooked up the left over bacon from my parents visit - Al being veggie means I don't want meat cooked on the dutch oven set at all due to how you clean it i.e. you kind of don't.

tatties wrapped and ready for the flames

Of course the Dutch Oven needed curing or seasoning, I wasn't sure if it was already seasoned so did one lot of oil burn on it just incase. This is where you rub some sort of fat on it - veg oil, lard - what ever and then heat it up so it smokes off. This creates a protective layer that prevents the cast iron from rusting and also makes it a non-stick surface.

dutch oven in bucket BBQ

And yes these are the old bucket BBQs we bought when we first moved in and yes we have had to weld new bottoms on them and paint them with heat proof black metal BBQ paint and yes they are now really falling to bits... it's on the to do list to sort! But we really just need somewhere to light a fire and put the lakwan, cast iron pans, girdles and dutch ovens in - they work so much better than trying to cook veg burgers on a grill over the hot coals!

I also put frozen raspberries in cream soda which worked really really well.

Cream Soda and frozen raspberries

The potatoes cooked fine and we got to just enjoy the sunshine in the garden - Mary of course was grumpy because she'd wanted pancakes because the chickens have started laying again but we are still putting everything away in the kitchen and I haven't yet found were I stashed the flour!

Papier Mache Anglo-Saxon Broaches (by )

dry paper mache former waiting to be decorated

One of the things I do for Cuddly Science workshops and sometimes for various themed events is make paper mache stuff. This started with things like props for Jean to take to pre-school for World Book Day and kind of escalated. By her forth birthday I was making paper mache "blanks" for the kids to decorate themselves at her parties (volcanos) but I got carried away and made too many so I took the remainder to various events and based activities on them - I have since had to make more volcanoes! Often with the kids!

extinction workshop at SmashFest Gloucester Library CuddlyScience

When designing my Fantastic Fossils workshops I found some silicon moulds which I used to form mulch or mashed up paper mache - this was a good way to turn old newspapers and office scrap into little fossil replicas that the kids could decorate and take home with them.

So it seemed only natural to do exactly the same for my Aethelflaed Quest. Initially I thought I would have to build the objects out of polymer clay or carve them and then make silicon moulds but I found a lovely mould online though it doesn't have the chunky base of my fossil ones so I can't just flop the finished product out to dry but then it is the same shape repeated so that doesn't matter as much.

tissue mache mush

I delved a little bit into art history for this as well as I was getting a little confused between things we call "Celtic", viking and anglo-saxon not to mention stuff I think of as contemporary Irish! Part of the reason for this is that vikings were not a distinct group as such but rather those who lived in Northern Europe who had decided to become pirates (due to land and resource shortages due to rising seas - present time governance might want to take heed of this!).

Here a couple of books I've been ploughing my way through in research! (A lot of online reading and chatting to people about it all has been happen too!)

So the up shot of this is that there were actually lots of overlapping cultures that had the same sorts of designed both pre and post Roman Britain and though minor things in it change like weather there are people or animals and weather they are whole or dismembered abstractions changes but over all its all got the same feel. I spent ages reading up on various anglo-saxons things and pouring over photographs of finds and artworks showing fashions of the time (and when I say time here were are talking hundreds of years and each region tended to have it's own little arty/fashion thing that then got traded just to make the stories even harder to work out - ie Syrian glass in Britain whilst our cloaks went to Rome). In some aspects our clothing hasn't changed that much since the Iron Age - we are still wearing the plaids/tartan designs or at least buying blankets styled on the same!

mould in Celtic swirls

Anyway with all this taken into account I chose a three lobed swirl to be the base of cloak pins/broaches that the kids can decorate during my workshops. The style was in general for two such fasteners to hold the cloaks in place.

setting up the paper mache

So I got busy with PVA glue, tissue and hot water - I am making a batch from pulverised newspaper as well to be stone replicas but I wanted a specific look for the ones to be decorated.

filled moulds

I squidgy the mush into the moulds and then press down with a towel to remove any excess water - it quickly became apparent that the whole thing would be easier if the shapes weren't in a big sheet so I had to cut my new mould up! This is always a nerve wracking thing to do... what if it doesn't work and you've just destroyed the thing you need?

cut up and stacked Celtic twirl moulds

But it did work and soon I was popping them in the oven on the lowest heat - much to the bewilderment of our poor builders - who have had to put up with me stopping them working so that I could extract clay from the trench they were building.

filled paper mache mould on baking tray

Once the shapes are sufficiently dry I pop them out of the moulds and leave them to fully Harden whilst I start a fresh batch - I often do a bit of paper mache each day when I am at home anyway - funny thing with this lot though... the shape of the moulds means that when I am squeezing the water out it has a tendency to jet outwards! Messy over gear has had to come into play! i.e. my nans' old housecoats, that they used to use for housework. I actually also have one of my own that Al's then work colleague got me when he got Alaric his metal working apron.

The little stock of these is steadily building up and I have gold paint and sticky gems for the kids - they will be having their first outing at the big Aethelflaed Festival in Gloucester this summer 🙂

papier mache bases for anglo Saxon cloak broaches

Hospital – The Bad and The Good – med update (by )

After 3 yrs I am being discharged from the Head Injury Unit for Self-Care i.e. my quality of life is good and I am showing a positive trend in improvement and just need to keep on keeping on at my own pace - I am not back to 100% functionality but still have a good chance of reaching it! Neurology stuff for the seizure thingies needs to continue for now but this is still epic news - I was discharged from the physio a while back which ironically makes my time and fatigue management a lot easier as the hospital trips are the biggest drain!

Seizure stuff is a bit of a pain in the backside still - I haven't had anything major since the miscarriage but.... still getting muscle spasms, head pain/rushing noise - it's kind of both and I have no idea how to describe it but when it's happening my muscles are twitching worse than when the tens machine used to accidentally get switched up high! I also get colour drain in one eye and wet myself etc... I don't remember them but managed to have one when Al was laying next to me - it was mild but enough to observe the symptoms properly. My jaw also clamps down and I often bit the inside of my mouth or tongue.

Supermarkets... I still struggle with these damn shops - it's like they are designed to be maximum overload or something - but I can manage a half hour or so trip now with no problems - mainly I avoid peak times and being with the kids when shopping.

I am still having to have quiet breaks in order to get through the day - I can now skip rests but not for more than two days at a time and even then that is pushing it... but my speech is so much improved when I first went to the clinic it was still pretty slurry all the time and then it would get progressively worse the tireder I got - yesterday on 2 hrs sleep I managed an entire session being articulate and even laughing at the on going issues with face blindness (made a few booboos at the poetry festival with recognising or rather not recognising people!).

Mobility is in a little dip at the moment but that is not unusual - and is due to having had a little fall/slip whilst away on holiday and then walking all the ruins and castles and follies we could find regardless. The walking stick comes and goes and also is worse when I've had a seizure thingy - because it is something I have to use for pelvic pain, fatigue and sometimes just general managing to stand upright and not just tip straight over! Most of the time I don't have to use it at all! The last factor is the only one that the head injury has added the other two pre-date it!

The NHS have been fab with this but... getting head injuries picked up and dealt with is really hard, most people end up fending for themselves and here's the thing - if I hadn't had my family around to take care of me I am not sure what would have happened too me - I see some of our local homeless people and think about what I was like and... I still struggle with money and finding my way home - it would have been very easy for me and people like me to have ended up on the streets, in a very vulnerable position - but I have my family and they have made sure I was as safe as could be - I'm pretty sure others have not been so lucky, and I don't think there are the provisions in place to help them. I was being regularly mistaken for being drunk or drugged up and that kind of makes you invisible even within the A&E departments - something which I fear will get worse as funding cuts bite.

And back to that whole truma thing - hospitals.... I find them incredibly hard places to go into - they have saved my life - they have saved my babies and allowed them to be born, there has been care and compassion - there have also been sharp needles and knives, and pain and death and blood.. lots and lots of blood - most of the time my own but not always. Hospitals are places were I have been detained, places I couldn't leave (though I assume if I'd insisted I could have left), places where I have been strapped to beds or held down so that pipes and tubes could lit be rammed into me - emergency stuff is like this and for me I have sometimes been way more aware but unable to act on things. The idea that I might go in and not come out and that this will be surrounded by pain.... is always there - hovering with the smell of cleaning fluids, over cooked food and sickness that pervades.

Little side note here - the art works that are scattered around the hospitals became incredibly important to me at such times - sometimes they are the only things I truly remember from a hospital stay.

I had two hours sleep before the appointment because I had forgotten about it and then checked my calendar and there was the appointment large and bold and... in the block where I lost the baby and every time I tried to sleep all the stuff from before rushed back, for 18 months after I had Jean I had a reoccurring dream about being held down and crucified to keep her alive - I described it too Al and he was like, "that's a memory of them taking your deep arterial blood when you went into A&E" I don't really remember that happening, I do remember blood squirting up the cubical curtains and that it was my blood and I was pregnant but I can't recall which A&E trip it was but I know there was an old man screaming. Even things like my blood transfusion at 4 yrs old decides to come and haunt me on such nights.

If I know about the appointment I can prepare myself and sort my thoughts and write or draw the stuff away so I can sleep but if that doesn't happen we get what I had this time - dreams of machines where you feel like you are buried alive.

I gave up on sleep at 1:30 am and wondered down stairs to watch documentaries about Japan - there I marvelled about little old ladies that catch venomous water snakes that are 10x worse than rattle snakes - with their bare hands, wading into dark water caves in their flip flops - they reminded me of my nans - they way they chatted and got on with things etc... though obv. my nans only had adders and badgers to contend with but I do recall how they would chatter to each other! I watched deer being bowed too and bowing back at a temple and I rode my exercise bike with it's special seat to help when my pelvis is bad and managed to get myself physically exhausted enough to sleep from 4:30 until the 6 am school run start.

One of the dangers about feeling like this is that I don't want to go to the hospitals and clinics and drs so I avoid them as much as I can and sometimes my eagerness to be discharged is not because I am better but purely because it means I won't have to go to the hospital again so soon. Like wise I tend to put off going to the drs until something is really wrong.

So yeah - there we go - good thing head injury stuff is getting there and I know how to manage various things including the truma but things.... NHS is struggling and I am incredibly lucky to have physical stuff and not a mental health issue where the waiting lists and emergency provisions have all but crumbled.

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