I am struggling to write.

Why does that happen to me? I am currently doing two writing courses, both of which are providing good stimuli and feedback. I can carry out the set tasks and I have the outline of what could be a really good piece of work. I make notes at every opportunity and I have three chapters written (sort of) but, when it comes to pulling those ideas into coherent shape, I use every avoidance tactic in the book – like writing this, for example.

The thing is, when I do manage to get started, the writing takes over and it flows. Sadly, that is not happening very often. As a result, I have several promising starts, a few ok middles but very few endings.

I want to be the sort of writer who can sit down and get on with it for two or three hours every day, preferably in the morning. Unfortunately, now that I’m not working, getting out of bed early is a real problem. I do better at night. The trouble is I’ve packed so much into the day that, when I do sit down in the evening to write, I’m so tired that I’m likely to fall asleep, mid-word. It’s not very conducive to great (or even mediocre) writing.

I think one of my problems is that I have always worked to deadlines so, when I haven’t got one, I can’t seem to motivate myself. Tell me I have to write a 4,000 word piece by this time tomorrow and I could do it because I know I have to but, without that pressure, I lack the necessary discipline.
Another factor is the number of other things I have to do each week. I know I’m retired but I’ve made a number of commitments to other people, on the basis of having more time which, ironically, means that I don’t have the time I need to write. And, because this is essentially a hobby, I can’t make it my top priority when the other things have more value to people than my scribbling.

So it looks as if my masterpiece will not be finished any time soon.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

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I can’t help wondering if there really is a parallel universe – or many parallel universes – brought into being by our choices. At every turning point in our lives, at every life-changing decision, a split occurs in the space-time continuum and two versions of life run alongside each other.

How many possibilities could there be? How many life stories?

It has to be said that, based on my decision-making, the cosmos would be hard-pressed to create these alternative realities.

I’m great at the basic, everyday choices like toast or cereal for breakfast; and I’m quick-thinking and decisive when it comes to life or death matters – thankfully, not too many of those recently. My downfall comes between those two.

For example, the decision to return to work on a part-time basis was agonising. From one day to the next, I would change my mind, giving well thought out reasons for either working or not working. I went through the same process, in reverse, when, at the end of my year’s contract, I had to decide whether or not to stay on.

I’m currently prevaricating about starting a new writing course in September. I’m fairly sure that I’ve convinced myself to do it but now, I’m not sure where. I keep looking at the information from the different local universities offering the course I want to do. Each of them offers something slightly different and course fees are broadly similar but the one closest to me, which has been highly recommended, seems really disorganised and cannot give me the information I need to enable me to commit to their course.

In this, as in other similar situations, I need a fast-forward button so I can roll my life on a bit to see if I’m making the right choice.  I need a way of taking a peek into those parallel universes to see which one looks best.

And, if I could, would any of them be better than the here and now?  Wouldn’t all those other me’s also be struggling, maybe not with the same anxieties, but with others of their own.  Instead of thinking that there is, somewhere, a perfect version of my life being lived perfectly, I’d better just get on with the here and now.  It’s the uncertainty that keeps us on our toes.

I have always been opposed to capital punishment. It is deep within me; fundamental to who I am. But, I have to be honest, events in London last week did make me, momentarily, re-think my position. There was a nano-second, on viewing the TV news footage of the aftermath of the Woolwich murder, when I thought that the perpetrators should be subjected to the same treatment they had meted out to their victim.

Although young at the time, I remember the abolition of capital punishment in Britain around 1964-65 and have been aware of the almost annual calls, ever since, for it to be re-instated. Events such as the recent murder in Woolwich always lead to such demands being loudly voiced. There have, sadly, always been people willing to take the lives of others. The existence of capital punishment seemed not be any sort of deterrent, prior to abolition and, as I understand it, doesn’t appear to act as a deterrent in those states in the US where capital punishment is still an option.

What we should be asking is: what makes young men (for it is usually young men) do these dreadful things? What is it that switches people, who feel discontented and marginalised, from legitimate protest to cold-blooded murder? News coverage has revealed that both perpetrators in this case have either witnessed or been victims of extreme violence and, it is hypothesised, that this, combined with the malign influence of certain preachers triggered their violent attack on the poor young man in Woolwich.

I don’t have any answers; only more questions than I have space for here. I suspect that there will be much pontificating, press embellishment and sensationalism in the process of bringing those responsible to justice. There will also, I have no doubt, be a great deal of racist sabre-rattling from the likes of the national front and the EDL.

We truly live in troubled times.

One of my “firsts” this year was to enter a poetry competition. I submitted a poem (below) about driving out to the west of Ireland to visit the Galway village where my father was born. It was inspired by the Seamus Heaney poem Postscript, in which he writes about travelling in County Clare. I can’t say I had any high hopes for the poem but I checked the long list, when it came out this week and imagine my delight when I found my poem there. Alas, it got no further but my little success has encouraged me to look for other writing competitions to enter. I am quite hesitant about people, other than at my writing class and on this blog, reading my work. But a competition is nicely anonymous and, therefore, non-threatening for shrinking violets like me.

Travelling to Roundstone
(after Seamus Heaney)

Will we have time to travel west this year,
To Cloch na Ron where seals play on the rocks?
From Shannon we can take the N19
And chase through towns with names that twist the tongue;
Past Cloghnakeava, Turra More and Cloon
And on through Oughterard, Glengowla and
Maam Cross, to turn at last onto that long
And winding road towards our promised goal.

That wild and windswept land of rock-strewn fields,
Of scattered villages, of churches and
Of pubs whose lights invite us in to share
The craic; where every stranger is a future friend;
Where wild and lovely graveyards tell the tale
Of Ellens, Michaels, Thomases and Annes
Who rest beneath the turf or the warm sand
Of Gurteen Bay; their Celtic crosses stand
Like sentinels above the unquiet sea.

We’ll take a rest upon the harbour wall
And watch the hookers race, their red sails proud
Against a stormy sky. We’ll climb again
Upon ancient Errisbeg and try to
Build a cairn to mark our presence there.
We’ll walk the roads that once our father walked,
Led by the red tin roof, to the old place,
Where almost nothing now remains of what
Was once his home; and we’ll mourn its loss.

We must make time to travel west this year
To travel west again, we must make time.

It’s been a strange few days.  I woke up one morning last week almost unable to move my head, neck and shoulders without causing myself extreme pain.  I could not pinpoint the cause of my incapacity.  I just knew that it hurt and I couldn’t move. The knock-on effects of this condition were the number of things that I could not now do.

I couldn’t write because I was unable to find a comfortable position in which to sit; my shoulders would seize up and the pain in my neck, angled down to look at the screen, was intense. Similarly, trying to use notebook and pen was a non-starter and reading was also difficult for the same reasons.

I had planned to spend part of last weekend doing some gardening.  The copious rain we’ve been treated to, followed by some sunshine, have made the garden really take off – especially the weeds. I should have been able to spend a good few hours clearing the weeds, ready for some new planting.  Of course, that was out of the question.  Getting down on my hands and knees and struggling with vegetation was just too painful.  I tried clipping at some shrubs, standing up, but, it became apparent that very little of my garden is at convenient shoulder height.  So I had to stand and watch as dandelions, bindweed, brambles and nettles virtually grew before my eyes, seeming to wave at me as they scrambled across my garden, suffocating or strangling everything in their path.

Obviously, running was also out of the question. In fact, even walking was difficult. I walked with my sister a couple of times as she exercised another sister’s dog and every step reverberated through my body, sending fresh spasms through my neck and shoulders.

So I sat or stood, swallowing copious pain-killers and pondering on the infuriating ticking away of time which I could do nothing useful with.

Thankfully, after several days, I am almost back to normal and once again able to use my time usefully.  Such periods of incapacity are, thankfully, rare but they make me more appreciative of my, otherwise, good health and the need to use my time effectively.

Yesterday, I got my bike out for the first time in over a year. The tyres were flat and the saddle and frame were coated with a layer of dust and grit. Once dusted down and pumped up, it was ready to go. I, on the other hand, had to find my helmet, pannier and the key to my pad-lock. Into the pannier I stowed a bottle of water, my phone and purse, a pair of gardening gloves, secateurs and a small bunch of roses. I was heading for the cemetery.

I had bought two bunches of roses; one dark red and one creamy white to make a gift for a family member, whose 10th wedding anniversary was on my birthday. Tragically, she was widowed only four years after her wedding, so my birthday is always tinged with sadness, remembering their wedding day. Her wedding bouquet had been dark red roses and her bridesmaids had carried creamy white blooms. Yesterday, I gave her a bunch of five red and five white roses. The flowers had been sold in bunches of eight, so I was left with three of each colour and it was these that I decided to take to the cemetery where we buried my mother forty-four years ago and on whose headstone we also remember my father.

When I set off, it was a lovely afternoon for cycling; sunny but not too warm. Traffic was fairly quiet, for a Saturday afternoon, and, apart from a couple of buses that passed by a bit too close for comfort, my main concern was the hills. Going downhill was, of course, a breeze but uphill was a struggle and, I admit, I did have to get off and walk – just once.

I hadn’t been to the cemetery since my Dad’s birthday, in January. I usually go, with two of my sisters, on key dates: birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and New Year. In the autumn, we had planted some daffodil and crocus bulbs and these, although now faded, had clearly flowered beautifully earlier in the spring. Having cut them back, brushed off the headstone and watered a still flourishing pot plant, I arranged the roses in their vase. Three red and three white; six roses, one for each decade they had given me. It seemed appropriate, somehow.

Well, I’ve made it and with reaching my 60th birthday, I have achieved three goals.

The first is to have lived to be 60 years old. I know that sounds melodramatic but, given the early death of my mother, I truly thought that I would die at around the same age. She didn’t drink or smoke; she ate a plain but healthy diet and she wasn’t overweight but she still managed to die from cancer at the age of 52. Back in the 60s, there was no chemotherapy and, in any case, it was probably already too late for treatment, by the time the cancer was diagnosed. I am very lucky that I start my seventh decade in good health.

My second achievement is to have posted every day since I started this countdown. It’s been fascinating, to see the way that my posts have been received, and I am aware that the quality of the writing and the content has been variable; usually depending on how tired I was when I was writing. Unlike other blogs I’ve read, I haven’t focused on one specific subject or theme; I’ve written about whatever came up on the day

I’ve found it really interest to see which posts have been the most viewed. Clearly, there are a fair number of people out there interested in writing, running, the London Marathon and religion and far fewer who want to read about gardening, education and Morocco. I will continue posting but I’m quite relieved that I won’t have to post every day; some days, that can be difficult but I’ve enjoyed the discipline of writing on a daily basis and will continue to do so.

The third target I’ve reached today is to run three miles – 3.3 miles, to be precise. It’s been a really busy week and I haven’t been able to run since last Friday so I had to make sure I went out today. I’d worked out the route in advance and made sure it included two or three hills – tough going up but you get a boost going down. It had been a cool day and we’d had some rain, not uncommon on my birthday. The first two miles were quite easy and I got into a comfortable rhythm. In the last mile my legs really began to feel it and my breathing became much less comfortable but there wasn’t a moment when I felt that I had to stop. It took me 46 minutes and 25 seconds and my average pace was 14.07 minutes per mile – not a great speed I know but it can only get better.