Wednesday, 1 June 2011

I have a problem. It involves cats.

"You will always be lucky if you know how to make friends with strange cats." - Colonial proverb

I have a problem. In the same way some women can’t walk past a shoe shop without popping in for a quick look, I can’t walk past a cat without stopping to say hi. In fact, that’s not really covering the problem enough. In the same way some women go out in search of a shiny new pair of shoes, I go out in search of cats. And I find them. Always. Be they under cars or perching on shed roofs, sitting in their garden or wondering down the street I will spot them and pursue. (I have terrible eyesight too so it’s quite remarkable that I can find as many cats as I do.) The poor, long-suffering soul that accompanies me on these walks will stand in the street, looking slightly sheepish and casting desperate looks around to make sure nobody has spotted me. Do I care? Of course not. I’m halfway down the road, skipping like a little girl.

Of course, in most cases the “HI I WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND HIHIHI!!!” approach doesn’t work with cats. Which means that aforementioned skipping down the street is one of the more ‘normal’ outcomes of a walk with Sophie. I can be found prostrate on the floor, peering under cars and blinking at shadows. I will quite happily position myself precariously on a wall and wait there unmoving for 10 minutes until, confused and curious, the cat in question shuffles over to see what’s going on. I have been known to attract the odd stare and the polite smile – I’m aware that I look like a slight mental case, sitting cross-legged on the floor with a raggedy old tom that wants his belly tickled – but I couldn’t care less. In my mind there are few things more rewarding than the purr of a nervous cat and the little tiny headbutt you’ll receive when the stroking stops.

There are two problems with this, however. The first is that once you have gained the trust of a cat, as long as you don’t do anything ridiculous like stand on its tail or question its ability to wash behind its ear properly, you have a bit of a job losing that trust. I don’t care what anyone says, cats remember people. Why wouldn’t they? I remember cats by their faces and cats remember things and situations and people by their smell. It’s what those little pink things above their mouths are for. Yesterday we met a cat who we’d spoken to once before, who took a lot less persuading to come and say hi than the previous time. And then there’s the little grey cat; or Grey as we have so imaginatively called her in rebellion against the fact that her owners call her Smokey. (They don’t like us. We are trying to steal their cats. Which we are not. We have a cat, a perfect one, who would rather eat dust for the rest of his life than have another cat – stolen or otherwise – move in with him) Grey, we have been informed, is quite unfriendly. Something to which we can attest - the first time we were stopped by her family (small, fluffy cat stepped in our paths and I had to speak. Suddenly, two less fluffy cats appeared. Since then we’ve become quite good friends.) she didn’t want anything to do with us. Over time (and in my defence it is one of the easier routes in to town so I’m not going out of my way to- ok, I am...) she’s been more than happy to chat away to us and the last time we visited, as we were turning the corner, she came running down the road chattering like a... very talkative cat. Anyway, I have digressed. The problem with this is that some cats – Grey included – do not like the idea of conversations being ended by humans. It is their job, as the superior member of the discussion, to say goodbye. And when your head is being stroked and your belly scratched, goodbye is not the favoured phrase. Thus, when you have to leave (as you eventually do. Suffering soul is still tapping their foot and we have been sitting here for 2 days) cat comes too. Along the road, around the corner, stops in the middle of the road and sits and watches you go. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to escape from a cat but if you so much as turn your head to check your watch, they will be chasing you along the street. So walks are a never-ending pattern of stopping to talk to cats, saying goodbye, being followed, returning cat to right place, saying goodbye...

The second problem is the fact that people aren’t so fond of strange young women having a good old gossip with their family pet. I can completely understand this – if our cat was the type not to hide under the bed when the doorbell rang, I too would be suspicious of people sitting and chatting to him. But it’s tough, really. I have no choice. Mostly, they speak to me first. Or they position themselves so close to me that it would be absolutely rude to ignore them.

I admit, this is one of the stranger things that I do and I suppose, considering how strange my little head is, it must be quite high on the “abnormal things done by abnormal people called Sophie” scale but it’s also an awesome thing. Where’s the fun in bumping into a person you know on the street and being stuck in a conversation you just don’t want to have? Or ducking into a shop because you know they’re going to waffle on about all the amazing things they’ve done and then look you up and down before concluding that they don’t really need to ask? It’s much better to meet a creature in the street – one who is genuinely happy to see you, even if it is because you’re going to scratch their ears – and not want to hide. Especially when they purr. How many people purr, in a non-creepy way?

Don’t worry. I’ll take my medication later and they’ll send me back to the home at 6 o’clock.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

In which I confess that there's been a little something wrong with my head all along...

I have a sunshine soul, or so I’ve been told. Sometimes, often when I’m least expecting it, a cloud floats across in front of it and blocks it out. It’s ok if it’s a white cloud – everyone gets those and they’re helpful really; just reminding us that we’re alive. It’s the big, black rain clouds that cause the problems because there are days when even the brightest ray of sunshine can’t break through.

On Thursday I’m going to my first therapy session. You’re only the fourth person I’ve told so don’t shout about it too loudly. It’s believed (I say this because I haven’t made it there yet and, whilst doctor and everyone who knows me agrees... you don’t know until the madness doctors have assessed you!) I have something called Generalised Anxiety Disorder. There’s a nice old article on it here but if you’re only passing through let me give you a brief outline. GAD is the second highest mental health problem, after depression, but it doesn’t get much attention. Why’s that? Well, because the main and most horrible symptom of it is anxiety. And everyone gets anxious, right?

Anxiety is a completely normal – even healthy – attribute in all animals. It keeps us safe by warning us of things that could cause harm and makes us think twice about ridiculous decisions we’d more than likely make otherwise. But when anxiety becomes Anxiety (capitalisation means EVERYTHING) then you’re in for a bit of a ride...

I don’t know how long I’ve been like this but I remember lying awake every night counting the minutes on my penguin clock until my parents came up to bed. I would inevitably fall asleep before they made it but that was the start of the “no sleeping before midnight to make sure everyone makes it safely through to the next day” routine that is still with me now. When I was 13 I convinced myself I had breast cancer. I didn’t even have breasts at the time so goodness knows where this came from. But it terrified me and I couldn’t get it to leave me alone. I poke and prodded until I was bruised and this only convinced me more. It went away one day, I don’t remember when. As I’ve mentioned before, I suffered from a pretty strong case of OCD a few years ago, something that I mostly overcame on my own. I was anxious then too and I believe it derived from that. It comes in bouts and they stick around for a fairly long time and only a somewhat major change (in that case going to college) can shake it off.

The bout of Anxiety I’m going through at the moment is pretty awful. It got to the point where I made myself an appointment at the doctor and told someone other than my Mum and boyfriend what was going on. She referred me to a therapist and the hard work starts soon.

Sometimes I feel like a complete fraud. This can’t be an illness; it’s just worrying and everyone does that. Perhaps I worry more frequently or more furiously than other people but that doesn’t give me the right to say I’m ill. Then I have a day like today when, out of nowhere, the black cloud sneaks in and I begin to panic because I can’t find anything to pin all my worry to. When I find something I become so consumed with Anxiety over it that my head can’t stop – whatever I’m doing it’s right there, blasting warning signs through my head and conjuring up dreadful scenarios. Days like today see me start crying for no particular reason and not be able to stop; the more I cry, the more things I find to worry about and the more there is to worry about the more I cry. I want to curl into a tiny ball and hide in the deepest, darkest corner until I disappear. I get so frustrated and angry with my head that I want to drag everything out and throw it in a great, stinking heap on the floor. So yes, maybe it is an illness.

One of the symptoms of GAD is the fear of having something wrong with your health. This is also known as Health Anxiety and can be considered in its own right but in my case it develops from the Anxiety that is already there. This makes me hate myself more than most things. I flitter from disease to disease and back again. I poke my body until I find lumps and measure my breathing until it’s abnormal. One day I’ll have one terminal illness and the next day it will be another. While it’s happening you have no concept of how ridiculous your theories are or how the symptoms can be so easily explained by something else. And afterward there’s a sense of shame – for a start, I am an intelligent young woman and I have spent the last week informing my boyfriend that I have a terrible illness of which 80% of cases occur in the over 60s. Secondly, I have no right to do this. There are people out there suffering from these illnesses – dying from them, even. Their family and friends are having their hearts broken and me... I’m telling everyone I can find that I’ve got this symptom and that and oh goodness what if I’ve got this AWFUL DISEASE AND THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT. I am a fraud and it disgusts me that I do this. But it’s not my fault. I can’t control my thoughts and I assure you that it bloody well drives me insane while it’s happening.

That’s not the only thing but at the moment it’s the worst. There are physical symptoms but mostly I’ve got so used to them that I think my body is supposed to feel like this. Last time I was like this I had different worries and next time (because, I guess, it will always be here a little bit even if I get help) it will probably be something else. But, thanks to the guidance of some wonderful people (yes, you little Brummie boy) and the honesty of others (thank you, Mr “You’re Fucked Up and that’s that”) I have come to some conclusions. This does not define me and there are things in life I want to achieve. Perhaps I do not know what they all are yet but that’s that. Anxiety has taken away the very small social life that I had; it’s stopped me going to university at least twice and is slowing me down in looking for a job. But I’m not going to let it do anything else and, slowly but surely, I’m going to take those things back from it. I can’t click my fingers and make it go, but I can work at it and poke it with sticks until it’s tired of being bullied and buggers off.

So, whilst this blog is only ever viewed by two people, it is changing. I’m not sure what to just yet but all the best plans are made after the idea has come to fruition so that’s ok. Look upon it as a sunshine blog, designed to make me forget the clouds and to send them back where they belong when they float into my head.

Monday, 9 May 2011

A Brief Overview of the Pros and Cons of Being A Small Person Living Underneath A Bed.

Yesterday I managed to spend quite a long period of time squished against the bedroom wall, peering down the gap next to the bed. There was no particular reason for this - most of the time I have absolutely no control over where my body wants to go so myself and the walls are well acquainted. Whilst there, staring at the dusty bit of floorboard that the hoover is too short for and the wrist not yet flexible enough to reach, I began wondering what it would be like for the entire room to be my kingdom. The room isn't that big - double bed, desk and bookshelf render it impossible to take more than two steps at once - so even for a small person like me it wouldn't make too much of a kingdom. Thus, I shrunk my mind down to Tinkerbell-esque proportions and proceeded to mentally build a two storey house the width of one floorboard. I liked it, although I consider myself a less feminine version of Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen so it was doubtful I'd have produced something I disliked. Once you have a house, it's almost vital to have someone to occupy it. Whilst not altogether familiar with property development I am under the impression that this is the aim so, not to let my house down, I moved myself in.

For this part, you will need to use your imagination. You are a very small person and you too have been presented with a lovely house underneath the bed in which you normally sleep. You have lived there all your life, apart from the 18 years spent in the company of your parents who, for those of you with a more strict rein on your imagination, are now living in another kingdom and have wiped their hands of you entirely.
Fortunately, I have more time on my hands than the rest of you so have taken it upon myself to write up a list of pros and cons for this scenario, in case you one day bump into a man with a laser shrinker and think it would be an excellent thing to try. You're welcome.

PROS:

- You won't have to worry about work, for starters. After all, how many jobs are there for teeny tiny people who will be worn out by the time they reach the door of their kingdom? (Don't answer that. While typing I have thought of at least 642 uses for small people but all constitute slavery and most break the law, thus we shall be ignoring them.) If you are fond of your job, this may be of great disappointment to you but it's your own fault for choosing to be a mini person. However if, like me, you are struggling through life with that awful disease "inexperience" or simply hate the work that you do, not having a job will be amazing. It's also quite handy as you'd have to leave at 3am to make sure your little legs got you there by 9.

- Unlimited funds. Or, depending on how you look at it, extremely limited ones. By which I mean you wouldn't have any cash. None, nada, purse is empty. Purse is a tent in which you can fit at least 3 of yourself. But it's fine. What do we need money for? Food? I have that one sorted. I'm sure everyone drops as many crisps as me on their floor, so you will have enough potatoey goodness to give you a varied taste sensation every single day. As a child I would leave little lunchboxes filled with tiny food out for fairies so if you strapped some wings on and jumped around a bit I'm sure whoever lived above you would take great delight in doing the same. Water would be provided on tap (literally) and electricity is already up there waiting. You wouldn't really need clothes, either. Most small creatures are naked (mole rats, insects, imps etc) so nobody would hold it against you. If you were worried about this, you could wear tissues. Tell me you haven't always dreamed of a wardrobe made out of tissues...

- You could harness small pets and use them as a transport system. It would be free and far more efficient than any other this country has provided us with. (Although, be careful. In my experience it is best to pick the ginger hamster as he has no idea what is going on; the brown one likes the taste of flesh.)

- You would never be bored. How could you be bored when you're entire kingdom was an obstacle course of dange- er, an obstacle course of obstacley goodness? Every corner presenting you with a new challenge, every sound a brand new delight to your very tiny ear.

CONS:

- Dangerous animals: cats, dogs, house rabbits, rats, penguins - all things that must be considered. It's quite likely they'd all want to eat you, or in the cat's case bash you around until you were nearly dead then wander off and look for something else to torment. Penguins are especially tricky as they give no warning signs as to when they are going to turn into rabid beasts, foaming at the mouth for a taste of warm blood. Have you ever seen a penguin rip flesh from someone's bones? Exactly.

- The hoover. It would be ideal if we could all set up house in that bit of floorboard that neither hoover nor duster could reach, however some people are more thorough than myself when it comes to the removal of grime and thus eventually they will uncover your lair. The plan? Train as an electrician (you'll have plenty of spare time after all) and disable the hoover. This will get boring in the end and you may feel like giving up but imagine the feeling of having every organ in your body sucked from beneath you at a very high speed.

- Human behaviour. Sex, babies, parties, clumsiness; all may present great annoyance to a small person who has to live with the loud noises their hosts produce. Invest in some miniature earplugs (bits of belly button fluff will do nicely) and pull your duvet (duster) up over your head.

- A burst pipe. You will drown, sorry.


I feel it best to leave it on that note. The cons were not designed to be a list of the various ways a small person could die. I can't continue because I've just thought how awful it would be to tangle oneself in a spider web and now I feel sick.
Maybe we should wait for immortality to befall the human race before we think about shrinking ourselves down.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Being a woman isn't always something to shout about. (Or, why Sophie would like women to keep schtum for 5 minutes)

It’s dawned on me that I am gradually finding it more and more difficult to sympathise with female football fans. In fact, some of them are starting to grind on the very little patience that I possess. This may seem odd to any of you who know me as, for the past 12 years, I’ve spent most of my Saturdays watching the best (and, er, only) league team in Kent. And the last time I checked, I was a woman.

Before I explain myself, I’d like to distance this ‘rant’ from a few things. It’s nothing to do with women’s football – something which I respect but do not follow – and also very little to do with the recent sexism ‘scandal’ revolving around female lineswoman Sian Massey. What it is, really, is an appeal. I would quite like female football fans, if they would be kind enough to do so, to stop telling me what they are.

Whilst I’m no historian, I’m aware that up until the mid 1880s women were often admitted to matches for free which would suggest that female supporters were few and far between. I’m also, perhaps wrongly, under the impression that after the 1890s the amount of women attending matches fell. It then rose again in the period between the World Wars. Following this, the attendance of women at professional matches has fluctuated for many reasons – fortunately for all of us, this post isn’t a history lesson and thus I won’t go into any further detail.

In 2006 a study showed that women attending Premiership matches made up 18% of the total support and that in the Championship 1/5 of season ticket holders were female. That is, if you think about it, quite a lot of women. It’s perhaps fewer than some would like to see and probably greater than others deem suitable. Also, I can’t speak for other clubs but certainly I’ve noticed a great deal more women in attendance at Gillingham in the last couple of years. I’m not all that bothered about the whys, though. Of course, I’m extremely proud that numbers are increasing in this way and that the majority of women I speak to know a great deal about football. What I’m not so happy about are the number of women who seem to think it’s important for their status as a football fan to remind us that they are women. Whether it has been a blog or on Twitter, during a conversation or just something we’ve heard in passing I imagine most people have come across a female football fan just that little bit too enthusiastic about her femininity.

I don’t have any opinion on what these individual women do when they are not at football. I’m not at all fussed if they spend hours having manicures, are plumbers for a living or a combination of the two. (In fact, if that’s the case then I’d love to hear from them because the few times I’ve painted my nails I’ve chipped the bloody stuff off within an hour...) What I do have an opinion on is the way they add “and I’m a woman” or “I’m not your average football fan” to comments. Well spotted, ladies. You are indeed women and I imagine the national average shows that football is a predominantly male supported sport. Like most of the other ones. However, there are problems with them doing this. I don’t know if it’s pride or a way to draw attention to the fact that they have boobs but either way, focusing on their womanhood can surely only be having a negative impact on the stereotypes of female football fans. If we, as women who attend football, want to be treated the same as the other fans – the men who attend football – then we should stop reminding them of our sex. A passion for football is, I’m sure, very appealing to some men but I imagine that they will be able to discover you are a woman by themselves. The more we insist on forcing this fact upon them, the more we are asking to be set apart. And, in my mind, there is no need for it. Yes, perhaps we spend a little longer in the loo than them but, otherwise, are we not exactly the same?

I’ve absolutely no problem with women being proud that they support their football club. In fact, I am proud of their pride. I was brought up in a predominantly male environment. Of my four siblings, three are male and at the tender age of 6 I demanded to be taken to football. I’ve never looked back. And it’s absolutely brilliant to have been witness to the rise in numbers of women attending football at all levels of the game. But at the moment, there are things still holding female football fans back from being just a normal football fan. Most of the time, these things aren’t men. We don’t need to tell them we’re women; we don’t have to prove our worth to them because our continued attendance and appreciation of the beautiful game does that for us. What’s holding women back from being an “average” fan is the attitude of women themselves. We aren’t at all different from the men who support our teams and we should stop telling them that we are.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

"Reading offers a kind of companionship that takes no one's place, but that no one can replace"

The main ingredients in my diet are chocolate and books. Whilst the former may not be the best choice for a healthy lifestyle, I think the latter more than makes up for that. Books are the healthiest thing a person can consume. And thus, on World Book Day (in the UK. Because, you know, we must be different!) I feel the need to talk about the things that have shaped my life.

My Mum read to me constantly when I was a child. And I really mean constantly. She had no choice. I'd follow her around until she got on with it. It was her own fault. The woman who introduces Gobbolino and Hairy Maclary to a child obsessed with both animals and make believe is really just asking for trouble. I'm sure I'd have discovered books without her but the attachment may not have been so strong. After all, it was she who removed all of the copies of "Goodbye Mog" from the library catalogue (we still deny all knowledge of that book. It never happened. Why did it need to? MOG LIVES!!) and handed me my first copy of Pride and Prejudice (having already brainwashed my innocent little mind with images of Colin Firth and that wet shirt...)

I was always going to be a bookworm. Not a day of my childhood went by without me escaping into the world inside my head, so to discover that someone else shared those worlds was amazing. Alice in Wonderland was, and always will be, a very firm favourite. Unsurprising for anyone who's ever spoken to me for longer than ten minutes. But I think my true love affair with books started a long time after I began reading.

When I was in my fourth year of secondary school (girls grammar - probably the most disgusting place on earth. If you ever end up with a daughter and she begs you to let her go to an all girls school - laugh in her face.) a few things happened. Not in any particular order and I'm sure I'll mention them in proper detail one day. My Dad fell ill, I met my first boyfriend, every single person in that school decided never to talk to me again. The latter was a much slower process than that. I've always been a painfully shy person and I think my absolute refusal to be anything other than anti-girly probably made the situation worse. I didn't notice anything at first, but by the end of the year I was a mess. I'd feign illness every morning (although a lot of the time I didn't need to. Stress can be a bugger to your health) and was spending more time at home than at school. When I made it there, I'd hide in the toilets or the sickroom. When the summer holidays arrived, I vowed never to step back in that building again. Of course, I had one year left and some rather important exams to sit. But on the morning of my first day back, following a rather delightful panic attack on my way to school, I turned around and went back home. That was it. I never went back. To cut this story shorter - I pretty much taught myself for a year; I passed my exams; somehow I went to college. But that year the only time I really left the house was on a Saturday afternoon to go to football.

It's pretty tough. You get stuck in a vicious circle - the longer you stay in the house, the more scared you are to leave. My head went to the most ridiculous of places. I had a case of OCD that left me sitting in the living room at 3am in tears because I'd forgotten to do this, that or the other and I was too tired to start over. This was most nights. I even had trouble talking to my family, although I don't think any of them know that. I'm not convinced I'll ever be able to tell anyone quite how horrible it all was. But that's not what this is about. I'm not feeling sorry for myself because - to be honest - I'm glad it happened. I'm still a nervous wreck sometimes but I'm a better person. I know that, had I been stronger, I'd have coped better but that was just me. People deal with things differently and it's done with now. One day I'll be able to put every single bit of it away in a box in the back of my head.

The point I'm trying to reach is this one - bar my cat, my best friends during that year were books. I was 16 and lost. But every time I opened a new cover, I found myself. Every page I turned led me down a path that took me further and further away from the bad stuff... and yet somehow brought me closer to myself. It's amazing, when you feel like you'll never fit in, to realise that there are people who think just like you. I don't mean the fictional ones (although I always relate more to them than anyone else) but the authors. These people were writing my thoughts - the ones I had nobody to tell. It was CS Lewis who said that "we read to know we are not alone". I stuck that quote on my bookshelf just before I started college and it's still there now. It's one of those things that will never go away. Books helped me find myself. They made me believe in people again. Of course, there were other influences - I can't credit my slide back into sort-of-sanity just to the written word but I doubt I'd have got very far without it.

So, that's it. Books are more important than some people will ever realise. Hearing about the possible closure of all these libraries makes me feel sick to the stomach. Perhaps not everybody has been in a situation like mine, but I'd imagine there are more people than not who have, at some time or another, needed to lose themselves in a book. To deny this safety to children and adults alike is cruel. In this country we are privileged - even those of us empty of pocket can enter a library and take a book. FOR FREE. It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, how much money you have in your purse - there's a book for every single person in the world and we should be allowed the chance to find that book. Or all 768 of them, in my case.

It's World Book Day. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing - at some point today set aside half an hour and get lost. You'll find so much.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

They say fantasy is a necessary ingredient for living. That's ok, I eat nonsense for breakfast.

Sometimes I feel trapped. Not physically, just in my mind. I have a million words all jostling for space and not a single place to deposit any of them. Sometimes they just don't come. You read things that people have written and think how easily that could have been you. You listen to the manic typing of someone inspired and almost explode with the desire to swap places with them for five minutes - just to let some of it out. It's often occurred to me that my brain is too intelligent for me. Now, that's not me saying I'm clever because, as people go, I'm pretty average. Parts of my brain, unfortunately, do not realise this. It wants to know things. It sees a sad person and wants to know why; sees a cloud in the sky and wants to know how; hears a noise from outside and wants to know where. It wants to learn every single thing about the world - the things known and especially the ones unknown. It wants me to be Darwin and Austen and Hawking and Marx and Descartes and Kant and Twain and Mandela and Wittgenstein. God, it wants me to be Wittgenstein. Most of the time, I just want to be a Ninja Turtle. Or perhaps that woman in the Special K adverts who gets chased by a man dressed as a chocolate muffin. (Not because I like Special K. Because I want to eat a man-sized chocolate muffin.)

I don't know when it started. I don't think it ever did. My mum is fond of informing me that I've been "one of those people" since I could speak. Before that, too, just she had no idea that I wasn't crying for milk but for the fact that The Very Hungry Caterpillar wasn't Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus. Or possibly because the cat was sitting on my head again. I sound pompous. I'm pretty sure I'm not pompous. I build forts out of sheets and eat 200g bags of crisps in one sitting (with help, I hasten to add). I sit in the middle of the street to talk to cats who very obviously are not going to even think about humouring me. I swear a lot, usually at grown men in shorts tottering around a muddy bit of grass attempting to kick a spherical shaped object in the correct direction. And failing. Sometimes I eat McDonald's. Terrible, isn't it?

I've digressed, haven't I? Yes, I have always been - and shall never stop being - one of those desperately annoying people who wants to know everything. My favourite as a child was "Why am I me?". My mum would sit and explain it all, with the help of Mummy Laid An Egg (the sole reason I would ever consider having children) and I'd stare disdainfully at her, put a hand on my chubby hip and say "Yes, but why am I me?" I don't think at the time either of us understood the question but I've spent the past 19-years pondering it and I think I finally have my finger on the button. I want to know why everything is like this. I'm not talking politically (I'd rather eat cotton wool balls coated in nail varnish than talk for a long time about politics) or environmentally (that's man's fault, that is. No questions need be asked). Honestly, I'm not really that fussed who created the Earth (Ok, I am. I think it was Jafar from Aladdin but thus far have not been able to provide any evidence to back up my case). As I'm typing this, I am arguing with myself. "NO!" inner-Sophie cries. "You don't want to know why, you want to know how!" Outer-Sophie scoffs and reminds inner-Sophie that they really are the same thing. Inner-Sophie stomps her foot. "What about what? What's the tiniest tiniest bit of an atom made of? What's the meaning of life? What's the time and can I go to bed yet?" Inner and Outer stare at each other for a second, wondering if perhaps they've found what's being searched for. Then Outer-Sophie lashes out and sends a pot of paint flying (I don't know why. Dramatic effect. Nothing like splashes of red to enhance the drama of a scene.) "We've forgotten WHERE! Where does the end of everything start? Because it must start. If it doesn't, then how can the start of everything ever have existed?" Inner-Sophie shrugs, distracted by the rivers of paint trickling their way towards her. She leaps into them, splashes Outer-Sophie, and dances away. leaving a trail of scarlet footprints in her wake. Outer-Sophie wipes a frustrated tear from her eye, grabs a mop and starts to clean, all thought of the universe and the nature of being scrubbed away with the red.

No, the 19-years of ponder haven't helped a single bit. Give it 19 more and my brain will have left me for another woman.