Thursday 11 April 2019

The awful shame about FAT

I went to see my neurologist this week for my six-monthly check-up.  He is a lovely man who remembers little details about your life, which shows he has good social skills and a higher than average interest (for a doctor) in his patients.  As I walked in, I clocked his eyes doing his usual appraisal, something which I imagine he does to all his patients, as a way of assessing changes in mobility and gait.  However, as the appointment continued, his eyes kept fluttering their focus to my midriff area (definitely not my boobs, that would be a whole different blog).

I decided to confide my worries about my legs, as they have been behaving badly for the past few months; numbness and sensory changes becoming the new norm.  He immediately came back with “Last time you saw me, you were running 5K three times a week, are you still doing that?”. I wanted to scream “NO I AM NOT RUNNING ANYMORE BECAUSE I HATE IT AND THE ENDORPHINS ARE NOT WORTH THE PAIN AND EFFORT!”.  What I actually said was: “I have always liked cycling and am thinking about getting an electric bike”.  This, it turned out, was quite an inspired response, as he had just bought an electric bike, so that distracted him from my lardy-arse ways for a bit.

After lots of discussion about Lake District cycle routes, we both agreed I needed to get back to some regular exercise (possibly on my non-electric bike).  Almost as an afterthought I said, “Is there anything else I could be doing? I have been reading a lot about MS and gut health….”  His eyes started flickering towards my midriff again…. “It looks like you have put on a bit of weight since I last saw you”. My heart skipped a beat and my stomach lurched with the shock of those words being said out loud to my face.  I also knew what was coming, so I decided to distract him with a five-minute monologue of excuses including cold, wet, Scottish ferries, Christmas excess, Greek food, Ouzo, mystery viruses and fizzy feet.

Eventually I had to actually answer his question. My cheeks aflame, “Yes I have put on almost a stone since I last saw you.” He must have sensed my shame and shock because he said in his most compassionate doctor voice, “I know this is a sensitive issue, but being as close as possible to your ideal weight has been shown to have long-term benefits for patients with MS, so losing some weight will maximise your chances of recovery from this latest relapse”.

I was surprised at how shocked I was to hear a medical professional tell me I needed to lose weight.  I know (because I am not blind) that I need to lose a few inches, but to hear it said out loud was both embarrassing and massively challenging. I don’t blame him one bit, he was doing his job properly and made a judgement that I could take it because I come across as confident and determined, how is he to know that I actually have body issues and a fragile ego in common with many women my age?

When I got home, I had a little cry and my husband said he would support me by only eating two slices of toast, instead of three, in the morning.

So here is the problem: I know in theory what I need to do and how to do it, but in reality, I don’t even know where to begin.  Weight loss should be simple.  Eat less and exercise more - BOOM! But just because something is simple doesn’t mean it is easy.  I absolutely love eating, the endorphins (or the food equivalent) I get from eating are far superior to the running ones.  Food is a massive source of joy in my life. If losing weight was easy, we would all be thin and there wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic and a billion-pound diet industry.

The following day was an absolute beauty – blossom, lambs, birdsong and an abundance of Spring energy fizzing about.  I had an afternoon to myself, so I dusted off the bike and rode nine miles up to Coniston Water for a mini picnic and a little listen on my headphones to some nice Icelandic electro pop, sat on a beach looking at mountains.  The ride back was a slog, but I felt brilliant.  The endorphins were buzzing, the lethargy a distant memory. THIS GIRL CAN... 

…That night I went to a friend’s house and drank almost a bottle of prosecco (642 calories) with a Cumberland sausage and apple crumble chaser.  Oh, and there was some cheese…

You see, NOT easy.  Even with the motivation of numb feet and the possibility of other more permanent disability, the siren calls of the cheese and bread and crisps and curry and chocolate and Yorkshire puddings are strong.  So, I have decided that my approach will be (and to quote my recently buff brother-in-law), “Change one thing and the rest will follow”.  I am also going to take into consideration a friend’s brilliant but harsh advice: “You can’t outrun a bad diet!”

In practical terms this means I am going to start small, by getting the exercise regime back on track and to stop snacking.  Hopefully these tentative steps into a healthy lifestyle will eventually lead to a Mediterranean rainbow diet, triathlete endgame but let’s face it, if it just stops me eating biscuits at 9.30 at night then I will have achieved something.  Wish me luck and if you have any tips, let me know.

Saturday 31 March 2018

Bowel Control to Major Tom*

MS fun fact #437: Between 30 and 50% of people suffering from MS will experience bowel incontinence at some point during their lives.

Another one of those horrifying MS bombshells like intense pain, chronic fatigue, numbness, possibly needing a wheelchair, vision problems… the list goes on.

Relapse remitting MS is a strange illness in that in many cases you can have long periods of feeling well with few or no symptoms.  For many years I was in total denial about my illness because bar the odd flare up I felt pretty normal and had no long-term problems.  I am one of the lucky ones.

I think my denial has served me quite well in terms of positive mental outlook – many people don’t know I have MS and in the past when I was feeling well, I could almost act like the diagnosis was a big mistake. However MS has a nasty habit of pulling the rug out from under your feet and just when you think you have got it sussed, your body can let you down in some quite spectacular and humiliating ways.

Five years ago, completely out of the blue, when I was in town doing some shopping and wearing a nice Boden dress, my bowel decided to stage a hostile takeover of my life. Nice one MS! Thanks for that, it was just what I needed to put me in my place; to remind me that I am at the mercy of my wonky immune system. I won’t go into details apart from saying that I may have psychologically scarred a ladies crown green bowling team who happened to get in my way as I made my frenzied dash for home. “For fuck’s sake, GET OUT OF MY WAY!” I screamed, whilst laughing hysterically at the absurdity of this pink polo-shirted brigade bearing witness to a fortysomething crazed woman pooing her pants in the street.

Thus began my five year battle with a phobia of losing control.  MS had provided the kindling – a mis-firing neurological message mimicking a very common physical symptom, that my brain then proceeded to pour a shit load of petrol over and allowed to rage like a towering inferno. Anxiety took root quickly and ruthlessly and within weeks I didn’t want to leave the house. I hate giving in to anything, so I made myself carry on as normal but even walking down the hill to pick the kids up from school felt like a massive mountain to climb.  The rational part of my brain was completely overwhelmed by the irrational fear that it would happen again and I was angry and resentful that my body had let me down.  The anxiety fed the physical symptoms, adrenalin would course through my body at the thought of any activity that involved being too far from a toilet.  Train journeys were torture, I necked buckets of gin to get me through flights, I developed an intricate mental map of all toilet facilities within  a 5 mile radius if I ever left the house.  It was so boring, being a slave to this thing, this malign creature that had taken up residence in my brain. 

MY GP eventually suggested a few months of anti-depressants and a course of CBT.  One day the CBT therapist was doing “Worst case scenarios” which went something like this:
Therapist: What is your worst fear?
Me: Shitting myself in the middle of the street in front of people who know who I am
Therapist: So what? How would they even know?

Let’s face it, there is no good spin that you can put on a healthy adult losing control of their bodily functions in a public place but bless her, she meant well.

Hypnotherapy was my next port of call and proved to be the most useful of all the treatments I have had tried but to be honest it has been very hard work to vanquish this monster.  This is a problem that is 5% physical, 95% mental and as anyone who has ever suffered from mental health issues knows, recovery can be both complex and challenging. 

MS Fun fact #186: 50% of people with MS with suffer from serious depression or anxiety during their lives.

The reason I can write this all down now is that I have emerged *mostly* triumphant from the other side. I cannot say for sure what worked in the end but it is probably a combination of all the techniques and tricks I picked up from my CBT and hypnotherapy sessions and also time itself being a great healer. I just wish it hadn’t taken five years. It has also taught me to treat my MS and mental health with a little bit more respect.

*Title credit goes to my 14 year old daughter!

Sunday 16 August 2015

This Girl Can (well sort of ). A Personal Journey from “Couch to 5k”

So I have set myself a new challenge.  I am not known in these parts for my natural running physique – I have two very big problems (and that is not including my rather large boobs). My total lack of fitness / stamina and my MS.  But I recently saw that “This Girl Can” advert, the one where normal looking women are doing exercise and looking pink, sweaty and well… normal.  There is a middle aged woman running up a hill and I just thought, “Well if she can, this girl can”.  So far, so good.

Not me (obv)
Next step – I agonise over a running playlist, purchase a sports hammock bra, find suitably baggy clothes in my bottom drawer.  The first session arrives and I hit the first hurdle: I cannot do up my sports bra by myself because it is so f**king tight and my husband is away and my daughter’s little midget fairy fingers are not strong enough, so I make my 13 year old son do it.  I obviously scar him for life with this experience, and the sight of his mother wrestling her boobs into some utilitarian undergarment will probably made him swear off women forever, but I don’t care because I am a mean running machine who is laughing in the face of her illness. So I set off walking (because the American lady on my iPhone has told me to walk) and then suddenly the moment arrives when I have to run for the first time in about 20 years.

I’d like to tell you that it was a wonderful moment full of endorphin-induced positivity but one whole minute in I thought my lungs were going to explode and my pelvic floor was going to finally give up the ghost and I would wet myself in full view of the park.  Luckily the American lady told me to walk again so disaster was averted for at least another 3 minutes.  This torture continued for another 30 minutes.  Anyway feeling smug I decided to look at my stats – wow I burned a whole 150 calories (WTF??) and actually only ran for about 4 minutes in total (FML???) I felt like I had done a sodding Marathon.

Week 2
I have discovered from other non-athlete running friends that the pelvic floor thing is totally normal (heck even Paula Radcliffe has had her issues) and that no, I probably don’t have flu, that’s just how you feel when you run for 2 minute blocks and you are over forty and overweight.  I decide to join Strava to see if it will allocate me more calories for my run than the Couch to 5k app (it doesn’t).  It also has the unfortunate and unforeseen consequence that every one of my truly athletic, running friends are now able to see that I have managed to run a whole pathetic 2 minutes.  I even get a “kudos” from a supportive friend (who of course has run 13 miles that week!).

Week 3
Running in the rain is amazing because nobody is daft enough to be out and about to witness you in all your heaving, sweaty glory.  Plus the rain masks the bad hair, sweat and possible pelvic floor issues. I think I may have shin splints.

Week 4
I am now running in blocks of a whole four minutes (read it and weep Paula).  Two old ladies, walking their dogs and having a crafty fag by the canal are obviously really impressed because I pass them at walking pace and then on my way back down the canal I pass them again: “Gosh, you must be walking fast love” – “No, I am doing a bit of running” – “Really love?” one lady responds, accompanied by an incredulous / confused face. A triathlete passes me going twice my speed (show off). I have lost a whole pound – I eat a biscuit to celebrate.

Week 5
On Facebook my friend’s kids have just run 6km with their Mum before breakfast.  So I naturally ask my children if any of them would like to join me on my quest to reach 5k.  They don’t even bother to look up from their screens as they say “No thanks!”

Week 6
I am hard as nails – I am running for chunks of 10 minutes, something which I haven’t done since I was 16 and only then when my sadistic PE teacher was standing there yelling at me from the sidelines. My legs still feel like lead though but I have taken a tip from my 10k-running hairdresser to breathe out fully to ensure I can regulate my breathing and it sort of works. I actually enjoyed a whole 3 minutes of my 45 minutes of running this week - are the endorphins finally kicking in?

Week 7
I am now running 20 minutes non-stop.  I don’t mean to big myself up but I think this is a massive achievement for a 42 year old mother of three who has MS.  My legs drag a bit but is that my illness or part of learning to run, who knows?  I have re-joined Strava so that I can feel bad about myself give myself targets.  I feel absurdly pleased when I run a mile in 10:46. (I bet Mo Farrah is shitting himself).  The highlight of the week is when I inadvertently join a local marathon event when my usual route takes me straight into the path of some elite athletes.  I have to keep pointing to my lack of race number on my chest to convince the stewards I am not part of the event. To be honest, the fact that I am going half the speed of the most of the runners is a bit of a give-away!

Week 8
I start the week full of excitement and pride that this is the week that I will finally get to 5k.  Of course, this is the point when it all starts to go wrong. Firstly, I appear to have injured my ankle trying to keep up with the Marathon runners, ominous twinges all round.  Secondly, the family decide to go camping in glorious Borrowdale and I map out what looks like a fairly innocuous route along some tracks and am genuinely excited that I will be running 5k looking up at some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. My smugness knows no bounds except I trip over a tree route and face plant onto the rocky path.  Well they do say: “Pride comes before a fall” smug cow!  I lie there thinking – thank God no one saw that and then take about 10 minutes to get to my feet.  Everything hurts.  I hobble back to the campsite. The day after, the MS fuzzy legs make a re-appearance.  The running challenge is put on hold. 4k is the most I have run to date but I have got the running bug now and am determined (when I am better) to go the whole hog.  Watch this space…

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Walking and other dangerous activities

In four days time I will attempt to walk the equivalent of a marathon (well 23 miles but the “marathon” label gives it more drama) over some big hills in the Lake District.  The Coniston to Barrow charity walk is the little sister of the horrendous / borderline psychotic challenge that is the annual Keswick to Barrow walk (40 miles!).  Only na├»ve teenagers with their infuriating natural fitness, supremely fit people who wear lycra for fun and weirdos would ever consider walking 40 miles.  My husband has done it twice (when he was 15 - so he falls into category 1, but could possibly also qualify under category 3), so my mere 23 mile jaunt holds no prestige whatsoever.  But to me this is a BIG DEAL. At this point I am tempted to blame my MS for the fact that my hips started aching after a mere 3 miles last week, but I think it has more to do with the fact that I am a 41 year old woman with a penchant for sitting down with a nice cup of tea and a bit of lemon drizzle cake. Yes, my legs have the subtle fuzzy weakness that is an ever present niggle of my condition but that does not explain why I developed three massive corns on my feet  after only two training walks. My toenails hurt, my arms hurt (WTF?) and for some inexplicable reason my jaw hurts (perhaps from all the clenching).  I realised, early doors, that leggings will need to be worn, as the chafing caused by two hours of thigh-rubbing was enough to make me weep.  So even if the sun shines on Saturday and the Lake District is basking in 100 degree heat, I will be wearing enough fabric to ensure that my inner thighs remain suitably cushioned and free of pain.

The best part of doing this walk (apart from the obvious philanthropic joy of raising money for our amazing local hospice) is the training.  I get to practice walking with some lovely ladies - the self-proclaimed “Blister Sisters” on a Sunday morning in the hills, far away from Sunday morning breakfast squabbles and homework crises. When I say I get to practice walking, what I should say is that I get to practice walking and gossiping at the same time.  Let me tell you - it’s quite a skill trying to natter with your mates while going four miles miles an hour up a mountain three miles an hour up a bit of a hill. Parenting techniques, Michael Gove, Shewees*, IBS, Botox have all cropped up as topics of (gasping) conversation, and yes I think we did talk about those things in that order (when I think Michael Gove I inevitably think Shewees and IBS). I love the fact that the first long-ish walk we attempted (12 miles) my friend brought egg sandwiches at 9am. in the morning.  It has been a female bonding exercise in the best possible way; gossiping our way to good mental health and doing enough exercise to justify the snickers bar you inevitably eat only 20 minutes after setting off.

Saturday looms large – the furthest I have walked in training is 15 miles, so I am hoping that the remaining 8 miles will be achieved with a combination of Mars Bars, my “Mo Farah iPod playlist” and the fear of looking foolish in front of lots of people from Barrow as we hobble over the finish.  If I manage the full 23 miles then it will be another two fingers up at the MS. It will be a little victory for me over my condition. As William Wallace may have once said, “You can take my legs / ability to feel temperature but you cannae take my freedom!”

Just spare a thought for the poor Keswick to Barrow 40 milers…

*For the uninitiated, a Shewee is a female urination device which enables a lady to stand up and wee like a man.  What’s wrong with squatting in a bush?

If you would like to sponsor me you can donate here

To read more about our chosen charity visit St Mary's Hospice

Tuesday 16 July 2013

The Bikini Delusion

In approximately four weeks time I am going to wear a bikini for the first time in about ten years.  This is not because I have suddenly morphed into Elle Macpherson, but because I have a strange optimistic view of my body, a kind of positive body dismorphia whereby my brain interprets the negative aspects of my physique as "not that bad" and then combines it with a glass-half-full, bullish optimism, which convinces me that four weeks is enough time to hone my abs, cut out the carbs and get rid of the bingo wings.  Clearly I am delusional as none of these things have happened, or are likely to happen.
This is Plan C...

I cannot believe that at the ripe old age of 40 I still believe the crap I tell myself on a daily basis. To illustrate this point, here is a brief insight into my misguided psyche - my top five delusions as it were:

·         If I buy that electric Scholl Pedicure machine advertised on TV, I will have beautiful feet (my mind conveniently glossing over the fact that I have feet that were once described by a chiropodist as “the type of feet one usually associates with dairy farmers ” – I can only assume from this comment that dairy farmers tend to have "Hobbit" feet.)
·         If I buy crap chocolate bars (Rockies / Blue Ribands / Wagon Wheels – I know, controversial) for the kids’ lunch boxes, then I won’t eat them because they don’t taste nice.  This is brilliant reasoning until about 10.30 at night when I find myself with a nice cuppa, Question Time and / or Geordie Shore on the TV and an inexplicable attack of the munchies.  I inevitably end up scoffing the Rockie / Blue Riband / Wagon Wheel just because it is there, and then regretting it instantly because deep down I know I should have held out for something infinitely superior, like half a Cadbury’s Twirl or a few squares of Lindor.
·         If I buy wine in screw top bottles I am more likely to only have one glass because the wine will keep nice and fresh in its re-screwed up bottle.  I think we all know the flaw in this argument!
·         “The healthy living / diet starts tomorrow” – the only time I say this, and actually believe it, is after eating huge quantities of something delicious but very fattening.  It is easy to plan light healthy meals when you are glorying in the golden fug of a carbohydrate / fat coma.
·         Tomorrow I will not shout at my children. I will be the embodiment of nurturing maternal calm….(hmmmmmm!)

Add to this:

·         If I buy a bikini in May (Debenhams Sale) I will be sufficiently “buff” by August to wear it with pride on the beaches of the gayest island in the Mediterranean (I am not being judgmental  / homophobic – this is one of the ways  that Mykonos markets itself, presumably to put off all the Shirley Valentine wannabes coming).

I can only conclude that I must be a bit a little bit mental because in my experience gay men are the harshest critics, especially when it comes to the body beautiful (or “not beautiful” in my case).  Luckily for me I don’t think a forty-something, mother of three, in a Cath Kidston-esque bikini is going to attract much of their attention, I am sure they will be far more interested in my George Clooney lookalike husband (a statement which some might say is further evidence of my delusion), with his English summer tan (white body / brown arms and face). 

So I have turned to the wonderful Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for some last minute weight loss inspiration.  His “Veg” Cookbook is a revelation for committed carnivores like myself and if I ignore all the bits about adding 7lbs of cheese, then his recipes are incredibly healthy and leave me feeling a little bit virtuous (is this how Vegetarians feel all the time?).  Inspired by Hugh, last weekend I actually picked my own home-grown courgette flowers (so far so good)...and then stuffed them with ricotta, herbs and lemon zest, dipped them in a light batter and deep fried them for a couple of minutes…. You see – DELUDED!!! I had inadvertently chosen the only veg recipe in the entire wonderful book that would go down well in a Scottish fish and chip shop. They tasted bloody lovely though.

Vanity aside and on a more serious note, I should, strictly speaking, be eating healthily to help prevent further MS relapses but for the moment at least, my MS is lovely and quiet (not a twinge, fuzzy leg or sinister weakness in sight).  I feel great and when I feel normal and healthy, I am one of those people who forgets what it feels like to be that poorly.  Two years ago this week I was in a wheelchair and scared that I might not be able to walk again. But the curious thing with the type of MS I have (relapse remitting) is that when things are going well,  I can delude myself into thinking that I will always feel this good – I am not sure if this is a bad or a good thing?

As for the beaches of Mykonos – I am going with Plan B which involves buying a large hat, oversized sunglasses and putting on some bright red lipstick to add some old-school Hollywood glamour and  detract from all the bad stuff going on round my midriff.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Fifty Shades of Grey

Just to make it clear, this is not a blog about Farrow and Ball’s latest colour chart (although you’ve got to love a company which has “Dead Salmon” and “Mouse’s Back” as two of its signature colours). This is a blog inspired by E.L James’s bestselling trilogy and I am writing it about nine months too late; I am certainly not going to win any awards for being most topical blogger. The whole “Fifty Shades” phenomenon is now a distant memory; it belongs to the summer of the 2012, along with the London Olympics and endless weeks of rain. I have reached the stage where I can almost feel nostalgic for Christian Grey with his crisp white shirts, hip-hugging jeans, expensive bodywash and penchant for weirdy sex.

I say “almost” because Fifty Shades of Grey is a pretty rubbish book (and I know that this quality analysis is not going to get me on the review sofa of BBC2’s The Culture Show any time soon).  I made it through the first part of the trilogy (just) and was left feeling like I had been the victim of the biggest marketing conspiracy of the 21st century.  I read it simply because everyone else in the world had read it and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. This was peer pressure on a global scale.  I can only assume that everyone else fell into the same trap because I cannot believe that this is what 40 million people around the world like to read?

What worried me most wasn’t the casual references to nipple clamps or Christian’s “playroom”, or Anastasia’s bizarrely wholesome cursing (“Holy hell, oh Lordy… my inner goddess is doing somersaults”) - it was the fact that the unprecedented worldwide success of these books serves only to re-affirm the age-old notion that every woman secretly yearns to be dominated in all areas of her life: intellectually, sexually and financially. Bugger the education and career, all us women really want is an alpha male with some deviant sexual predilection and a Jo Malone loyalty card to come and whisk us off our feet.

This is not a scene from Fifty Shades.
Before I start burning my bra, I need to confess that I didn’t totally hate the first book, but by the time I got halfway through book number two I was actually speed-reading through the sex scenes to get back to the important business of imagining what it would be like to live in a big mansion on the ocean on the Pacific Northwest of America. I didn’t even start the third book.

I was quite vocal about how I felt about Fifty Shades – the phrase “badly-written crap” was bandied about for some time in my house. So imagine my surprise when on Christmas morning I discovered that Santa had left me a copy of a book which featured a black and white grainy cover and the slightly dubious title “Eighty Days Yellow”.  (Hint to authors – yellow is not a sexy colour; it is the colour of bruises and custard, not titillation).  Apparently a lady on Huddersfield Market had recommended it as a “good read” to my husband.  This book demonstrates perfectly why the lady from Huddersfield Market will not be heading up the Booker Prize selection committee. 

It was awful, actually it was worse than awful.  Jointly written by an established author under a pseudonym and a first time writer “who works in the City” (don’t give up the day job), it followed/cashed-in on the Fifty Shades theme of BDSM (otherwise known as kinky stuff), omitted the glamorous settings, and just cut straight to the dark business of Submissives, pain and humiliation. The story culminates with a scene where the main female character is practically raped.  I was aghast.  This book is being marketed as “mummy porn” (a media phrase which is just ‘bleurgh’ on every level!). Since when did rape and women being powerless become the stuff of mainstream titillation?

I am an avid recycler but I have to admit that I put Eighty Days Yellow straight in the bin – I didn’t think the nice old ladies at the Animal Welfare charity shop would approve of this particular addition to their second hand book-shelf. But then again maybe I have got this all wrong – perhaps this is exactly what ladies of a certain age, who volunteer to help homeless cats, want.  

Who could forget "Ralph"?
Right or wrong, I suppose what depresses me most is the idea that these are the books that could inform my daughters’ adolescent literary sexual education.  I just have to hope that they discover Judy Blume and Jilly Cooper first.

Monday 11 February 2013


At the risk of turning into Esther Rantzen (but with smaller teeth) I am about to get on my soapbox.  Turning 40 has officially allowed me to indulge the grumpy old woman aspects of my character that have been lurking beneath the surface for many a year. If you don’t like a rant, then I suggest you stop reading.  This post has nothing to do with MS, hair, diets, exercise, chickens or my family.

For illustration purposes only.
There was no roll of carpet in my litter dump.
Today was the kind of February day that makes you happy to be alive.  The first signs of Spring were everywhere: birds singing, snowdrops bobbing in the breeze and glorious sunshine that gives hope that the dreariness of winter is almost over. I decided to get out on my bike to make the most of it and was glorying in snow-capped mountain views and the sparkling bay vista when something caught my eye. That something was a Tesco carrier bag which had been unceremoniously dumped by the side of the road.

On closer inspection I discovered it contained the following: the wrappings of a McDonalds Value Meal, an empty tube of Jaffa cakes, a bottle of Lucozade Sport and an empty packet of 20 Lambert & Butler.  Now to some people this might sound like the ingredients for a good night out (and to be honest I am a Jaffa Cake fan) but it really, really upset me that someone could not see what I could see; a beautiful view, the wonder of nature laid out right in from of them.  That all this gorgeousness didn't make them care enough to not want to ruin it by dumping their rubbish right in the middle of it.

So I did what any woman on a bike 5 miles from home would do.  I picked it all up (they had thoughtfully left the Tesco carrier bag) and rode home with it swinging from my handlebars.

When I was a student in Newcastle there was a man who used to shuffle round the streets of Jesmond with a plastic bag, picking up bits of litter morning, noon and night.  We rather unimaginatively called him the “Carrier Bag Man” and I remember thinking he had some kind of mental health issues.  Twenty years on and I am fully aware that I am now turning into “Carrier Bag Woman”.  My actions on the bike ride today are not unprecedented.  Family walks regularly become litter picks simply because I cannot bear the thought that places of beauty, which can give so much pleasure, are blighted by the lazy actions of some unthinking consumer of junk food, caffeine and crap fags.

I am reliably informed by my husband that the only litter that existed in the pre-junk food days of the seventies and early eighties was the odd top-shelf magazine tossed away (excuse the pun) in the hedgerows, litter which at least provided a valuable educational resource to the nation’s pubescent boys.  It is surely no coincidence that the 500% rise in litter since the 1960s (according to Keep Britain Tidy) is matched by the explosion in the availability of junk food.  Litter is symptomatic of a careless, convenience-driven, throw-away culture.  The same people who are careless about their health (fags, sports drinks, take-away food) clearly have the same reckless approach to their environment.  Someone else will pick up the pieces (NHS in the case of their health, middle-aged mother-of-three with a mild case of OCD, in the case of the litter).

The American Author Bill Bryson who famously loves his adopted UK puts it quite succinctly: "Most people litter guiltily and stealthily, their desire not to have a piece of rubbish with them is now greater than their commitment to society. We need to appeal to people's conscience and say to them, "This is a beautiful country, stop trashing it." Good old Bill is also an advocate of picking up litter when we see it. You see, I am not mad – Bill Bryson is in my camp!

Mayor of London Boris Johnson advocates tackling litter louts head on (and yes, I appreciate the irony of using Boris Johnson as proof of my mental stability). I have tried the friendly confrontation approach with a group of 15 year old girls who chucked an empty can of coke on the pavement right in front of me.  It was a bit scary to be honest, they gave me a bit of lip but they did pick it up and ultimately I am glad I acted, because that is what being part of a community is about. We need to educate our children and not be afraid of confronting people when they get it wrong.

In the meantime I am proud to be my town’s very own “Carrier Bag lady” because I love where I live and I want my kids to be able to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings without a KFC wrapper getting in the way.

Rant over…
Keep Britain Tidy website

Be a Litter Hero!