Monday, April 30, 2007

Have I Ever Mentioned That I Live In Yorkshire....?




We spent yesterday afternoon at Horton in Ribblesdale watching the Three Peaks fell race. In the rest of the country this race is known as the Yorkshire Three Peaks, in order to distinguish it from the National Three Peaks challenge. Around these parts it is just the Three Peaks. Or to be more accurate, t' Three Peaks. Never let it be said that us Yorkshire folk are either insular or self regarding. I think this post is really just an excuse for me to post some beautiful pictures and feel happy that I live in the arse end of nowhere near some of the best hill walking in the country. Never let it be said that us Yorkshire folk are smug.

The three peaks is a gruelling race. A 24 mile long run and a total climb of 4,500 ft over rough country, this is not a race for beginners. The runners arrived at the finish line to the sparse commentary of a local retired runner. Folks don't retire from running until well into their 70s in this part of the world, and this weathered old tyke looked like he had seen a few races in his day.

He wasn't easily impressed. Welcoming back the 10th runner he announced to the smallish crowd that this man had come third last year. "'ee's not as fit as 'ee was" came the commentary. A gentle smile went round the crowd, more out of sympathy than mocking for the poor bloke who looked truly exhausted as he staggered over the finish line.

"Alreet, lad, tha's done well" he greeted the youngest runner, who, at just 18 yrs of age, had come a remarkable 8th place.

There were runners from all over the country. "This lad's from Thames 'arriers" announced the tyke. "Ah think that's dahn south" he added helpfully. The first woman came in around about 15th overall, which was a really remarkable achievement. "And t' first o' t' ladies is here" came the announcement, "an' she 'as a dog for company'. She had run the race with her border collie. It was strangely touching.

It was a beautiful reminder of why I chose to move back to Yorkshire after many years of living in London and Manchester. These rural events are so gentle and understated. There was no flash, no hype, no grandiosity, no high expression of emotion. Just lots of people enjoying the beautiful fells and a feeling of belonging.

Pictures of the fells taken from a three peaks website. Photographer not credited.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sometimes Step-Parenting Is Hard

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Have I ever mentioned the fact that I am a step-parent? We are what the textbooks refer to as a ‘blended family’: me and my son, The Husband and his daughter. We look like a perfectly normal family. The children very easily pass for siblings except that that they don’t invest their energy in trying to secretly maim, shame or kill each other. They get on like a house on fire. They are, in fact, great friends and will hug warmly when they come back to our house after a period with ‘the other parents’ (as we quaintly call them.) I have read a lot about step-parenting. Partly for my work with young mothers where step-parenting is becoming the norm, and partly to reassure myself that it really is as difficult as it feels sometimes.

So we look like a perfectly normal family. Except that slightly hidden from view are a variety of relationships that play out in different ways and at different times.

I love my son with an animal instinct. I am convinced that I would lay down my life for him. I would step in front of the bus. Sometimes my husband is jealous.

I love my step-daughter because she is bright, funny, engaging and loveable. And she is my husband’s daughter and I love my husband. Sometimes she challenges me for her father’s love. She always wins. I would hesitate before stepping in front of the bus. I may not step out. I have my child to think of.

I love my husband just because. (I do not intend to get sentimental or shower him with praise. But I really do love him a lot.) However much I love him, I wouldn’t step in front of the bus. I have my child to think of. Sometimes he wants to be number one.

My husband loves his daughter with an animal instinct. He is a fantastic dad, and hasn’t designated his parenting duties to me, as many fathers will do when they meet a new partner. He is mother and father to her when she is with us. He would step in front of the bus. Sometimes I am jealous.

My husband loves me, and I trust that his love is sound. He would not step in front of the bus. He has his child to think of. Sometimes I want to be number one.

My husband loves my son because he is bright, funny, engaging and loveable. And because he loves me. Sometimes son challenges husband for my love. Son always wins. Husband would hesitate before stepping in front of the bus. He has his own child to think of.

Half of the time we are four. But when we are four, we are sometimes two and two. Occasionally we are two and one. Sometimes we are just two. And each has its own dynamic quietly playing out.

It is only right and proper that my son knows he is first in my life. It is only right and proper that my step-daughter knows she is first in her father’s life. That is how it should be for children. It breaks my heart when I work with young mothers who meet a new partner and consistently prioritise him over their children, so desperate are they for another to love them. Parenting books tell us that we should not allow children to ‘come between’ two parents as it gives the child too much power and an illusion of grandeur. Step-parenting books skirt delicately around the issue. We are afraid of naming it. We are afraid of the primal feelings of jealousy, envy, rage and triumphalism.

Sometimes you have to step into someone else's shoes. Sometimes I back my husband into a corner and compel him to talk about it. That is the deal when you marry a therapist. Things get talked about.

We are a happy family. I’m glad we can think the unthinkable.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Keen And Ambitious Children Up For Adoption...

Eldest child is speaking on his mobile in the kitchen.
Youngest child is speaking on the landline in the adjoining sitting room.

Eldest: So you would like to buy some car insurance?

Youngest: Yes please, that would be lovely.

Eldest: We have the standard insurance at £50 a month, or for a little more you can buy the deluxe insurance.

Youngest: Ooh, deluxe sounds good. What’s that?

Eldest: Well, it covers you for all eventualities apart from abduction by aliens or attack by giant gorillas. It’s a snip at £150 a month.

Youngest: I shall take the deluxe insurance please. Here is my credit card.

Eldest: Could I interest you in any of our other products whilst you are on the line? We have home owner loans, if you own your own property?

Youngest: Oh yes, I own my own property. I’ll take a loan while I’m here.

Eldest: Excellent. I’ll just take your credit card details.

Dismayed Mother: What are you two playing?

Eldest: Hastings Direct! (The word ‘stupid’ was implied, but omitted out of deference to his ageing mother.)

Youngest: 0800 00 10 66!

Dismayed Mother: And how long have you been playing?

Eldest: About half an hour. We’re getting bored now.

Dismayed Mother: And who has phoned whom?

Youngest: I phoned his mobile! (Great. Approximately £7.50 of phone call.)

For those of you who do not watch daytime TV – and I assume that is most of you – Hastings Direct is an insurance company who have an apparently thrilling and memorable advert showing regularly in between Yu-Gi-Oh and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It has obviously had a considerable impact on my children. Perhaps my punishment for forcing left wing politics and intelligent discussion at the dinner table is that they now appear to harbour ambitions to hard sell financial services. I am thinking of enrolling them in the Woodcraft Folk.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Anyone for CBT...? (Part 3)

“CBT is the New Coca-Cola: This house believes that cognitive behavioural therapy is superficially appealing but over marketed and has few beneficial ingredients.”*

I have a colleague of whom I am extremely fond. He is warm, compassionate and highly intelligent. He is also a good therapist. He is good at making relationships with his clients because he is essentially likeable and trustworthy and cares a great deal about their situations. He does not pay heed to any relational dynamic in sessions, however, even if the dynamic is getting in the way of dealing with the content. He is confident in his therapeutic skills, but also aware of the limitations of his particular modality and is not afraid to refer someone on if he feels unable to help them. He will usually refer on either to myself (a humanistic psychotherapist) or to one of our person-centred colleagues. He is a clinical psychologist and a CBT practitioner.

We often discuss the differences in our methodology, theory and philosophical assumptions. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we agree to differ. But we maintain a mutual respect both for each other and for our different disciplines and we share an understanding that we both have significant contributions to make to the clinic in which we work.

My colleague is very experienced in his field, having worked as a psychologist for the best part of 20 years. He believes that there are people for whom CBT just doesn’t work. These include:

  • Those who have experienced early trauma or abuse resulting in a fractured or disordered sense of self.
  • Those who have experienced early significant relational deficits, resulting in attachment difficulties.
  • Those who present with rigid defensive processes that they are ‘unwilling’ to give up (often referred to as ‘de-motivated clients’.)
  • Those who engage with the world primarily on a feeling and/or behavioural level, and find it harder to engage their thinking.
  • Those with a schizoid - or ‘shut down’ - process who have difficulty articulating their interior world.

The clinic in which I work has some very skilled and experienced practitioners, all trained in different modalities. We understand that we share many commonalities and that our ways of working are much more similar than they are different. We share a common assumption that the therapeutic relationship is of paramount importance. There is little dogma regarding modality, although there is occasionally some friendly banter. Irvine Yalom - an existential psychotherapist - said that we find a different therapy for every client. I like to think that I and my colleagues work in this way. That we use a wide range of skills, knowledge and processes to genuinely meet people in a place where they can start to contemplate change.

I think the key to our success is that we are skilled at assessing different psychological presentations and processes and ensuring that the individual is referred to a practitioner who is skilled at working with that particular process. For example, I am not so hot at working with the schizoid process. This is nothing to do with my training, knowledge or experience but is part of my own psyche. I am damn good at working with an ‘anti-social’, narcissistic or paranoid presentation however, which is lucky because most of my colleagues would see that as a definite hospital pass and are happy for me to take the referral. And so, hopefully, clients get an individual response to their individual needs.

My CBT colleague is as critical of the government’s current proposals as I am. (Which, in case you missed it, is to significantly increase NHS provision of psychological therapies, providing that the therapy is CBT. See previous post if you can be bothered.)

The government's proposals mean that a therapy will be prescribed before anyone has done an assessment of the individual's needs. I love Stray's analogy in the comments thread of my previous post: we have found that a plaster cast works well if you have a broken arm. You do not have a broken arm? Well, I'm sorry, then we can't help you. An ideal world would see NHS provision working along similar principles to the clinic in which I work, where rigorous assessment is the cornerstone of good practice and human beings run the system rather than the system running us. I can live in hope, I suppose.

*Debate held at the Institute of Psychiatry in 2005. I just fancied being provocative.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sometimes I Am Lazy (Part 2)

I am currently gestating a post about CBT and Humanistic psychotherapy (is gestating really a verb?) but I am still feeling as though I have consumed the entire contents of the hotel mini bar lazy after my wild weekend away. So thank you so much to the delightful Bindi for rescuing me with a meme – 5 things I am obsessed with - a cheap and cheerful way of ending a blogging drought if ever there was one. I was reminded that Stray also tagged me some time ago with 5 things you don’t know about me. So to demonstrate my utter laziness I will combine the two of them: 5 things you don’t know about me, which I occasionally obsess about. (I remember, Atyllah, that you also tagged me with a list of most interesting questions whilst I was sunning myself in Spain, which I confess I can’t find anywhere. If ever they turn up I promise I will reply to that one at some lazy point in the future.)

5 things you don’t know about me, which may be deemed ‘obsessions’ if you were to use the concept very loosely:

  • I have a weird concept of personal space. If I like you, then I like to touch you when I talk to you and will hug you randomly and without warning. I may kiss you and try to hold your hand. It can be very annoying. If I don’t know you then I require an enormous amount of personal space and get most pissed off if you step into it. I will keep stepping backwards until I have regulated the required distance between us. Please do not follow me. I find it most intrusive. This is not exactly an obsession, but it is something that I am keen on.
  • I can get into an inappropriate rage in shops when people give me my change in the wrong way: the wrong way is to put note and/or receipt into my hand and then pile the loose change on top of it, thus making it very difficult to put the money back into my purse as the other hand is usually occupied with a bag containing the items I have just purchased. The correct way is to give me my loose change first, and then allow me to take note and/or receipt between thumb and forefinger. This is the purpose of opposable thumbs. This is definitely an obsession. I have been known to tell people off for doing this, if I am in a particularly intolerant mood. I really do believe that check out assistants should be trained in the correct way to give change to people. Really, I do. I may even write to my local supermarket.
  • Perhaps my only true obsession is my bath fetish. I have to end each day laying in a very hot bath. It doesn’t matter how late it is, how tired or drunk I am, whose house I may be staying in or how hot it has been during the day. I read in the bath, I write blog posts in the bath, I do the Guardian crossword in the bath and I have even been known to entertain friends whilst in the bath. (Only very close friends, of course. I am not an exhibitionist.) I went to Central America a few years ago on holiday – hot, humid, sticky, sweaty, tropical heat – and was beside myself that the hotel room had a bath. I bathed every night. The Husband thought I was insane. This leads on to the fact that I…
  • …feel the cold terribly and hibernate in winter. Winter evenings see my sitting on the sofa in my thermals, woolly jumper, bed socks, blanket round my shoulders, central heating on and wood-burner blazing. The Husband is usually in his underwear, begging for mercy. I am, therefore, obsessed with heat and sunshine and this in turn translates into many foreign trips a year. I apologise for my carbon footprint. I recycle and drive a very small car in an attempt to compensate. Pathetic, I know.
  • I have a secret crush on Stray at Daily Straying. She doesn’t know. So please don’t anybody mention it.

I tag the Lovely Caroline. She has Blogger's Droop and may appreciate the help.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sometimes I Am Lazy...

I am a very lazy blogger at the moment. And I think I may be having a little bloggy wobble. There are a number of things that I feel I ought to be blogging about, to justify the ‘psychotherapist’ part of the title and not just indulge the ‘confessions’ part.

I really ought to be blogging about the Layard report, which has called for 10,000 more NHS therapists to meet the challenge of our poor emotional well being as a nation. I ought to be blogging about the government’s Skills for Health consultation paper, which is a first attempt at producing National Occupational Standards for psychological therapies. And I ought to be blogging about the UKCP’s excellent response to this consultation exercise.

I really want to blog about the emphasis on Cognitive Behavioural Therapies in the consultation, and the absence of any thoughtful consideration of the very different principles and philosophies of Humanistic Therapies. I want to blog about why CBT is not a panacea, and how the government is in danger of disregarding 70 years of marvellous theoretical developments in Humanistic therapy that have embraced post-modern philosophy and seen sophisticated developments in practice.

But I find that when I get home from work I am tired and my brain is foggy. All I want to do is play Guitar Hero with the children (I have just completed 'More Than A Feeling', level: hard for anyone who is interested.) So instead I blog about things I have seen on TV, tourist induced pavement rage and nice things I do at the weekend. I am sorry for being so lazy. The only other option is to take the word ‘psychotherapist’ out of my blog title and replace it with something else. But I can’t think what.

I go away on Thursday for a few days. Please feel free to chat amongst yourselves and bounce on my bloggy couch. It might be glad to be of use, for once.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sometimes I Am Not Melancholic....

Great Whernside forming the skyline behind Kettlewell. (Photographer not credited on website.)

Grit boulders on the summit of Great Whernside. Image from
Mountains, Snow and Rock

I have been very gently scolded by anticant - in the comments box of my previous post - for allowing my melancholic nature to obscure the fact that I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. He is absolutely right. I should spend more time in the hills, where the wind will surely blow the cobwebs away. I used to walk regularly in the fells. Sitting alone at the top of a hill is a wonderful way to feel your spirits soar. These days we are more likely to explore the countryside on our bikes: the children much prefer cycling to walking as speeding down a hill affords a frisson of excitement that is hard to capture on foot. But this weekend we are child-free, and we opted for a more sanguine climb up Great Whernside. I love to climb the fells. The gentle, rhythmic plodding of one foot after another becomes hypnotic after a while. It is more Pooh than Tigger, and I can be gently seduced into the here-and-now by the rhythm of my body. As we climbed high above Hag Dyke a great wind took up and pushed us up the final ascent. The view was breathtaking, with the mass of Buckden Pike and the Three Peaks dominating the skyline. Even Sharp Haw was clear, 15 miles in the distance. Melancholy can be a sweet feeling, when one is sitting on the top of the world pondering on the human frailties that settle in the valley bottom.

Our descent was helped by the great bear of a wind blowing up from the valley, supporting my weight as I pushed my way back down the fell. We had a pint of hand pulled bitter in Kettlewell and I slept all the way home.

Roasted vegetables and garlic with halloumi for supper, and a log fire to settle us into the evening. Life is sweet.

(And tomorrow, Guitar Hero….)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Not-So-Good Friday

You may think that Good Friday is the day on which we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary. Or perhaps you are more drawn to the Pagan celebration of Eostre, the fertility goddess whose symbol of a hare is thought to be the origin of the Easter Bunny? On both counts you would be wrong. Good Friday actually marks the official start of the ‘tourist season’ in the small Yorkshire market town in which I work.

It is an ancient and annual event. In the early hours of Good Friday morning, coaches travel far and wide across the vast county that is Yorkshire. If the driver remembers his passport they may even make it as far as Lancashire or Tyneside. These coaches gather a motley collection of people and deposit them at daybreak into the market place of our small town. Their sole purpose is to wander aimlessly for several hours, thus clogging up the narrow streets and ensuring that ‘popping out in your lunch break to buy a sandwich’ becomes a harrowing event of stroke-inducing proportions.

Today saw a particularly fine collection of such folk. I spotted:

  • People who have never seen a market before.
  • People who have never seen a cobbled street before.
  • People who have never seen cheese before.
  • People with several dogs, that they have trained specifically to walk on the opposite side of the pavement to themselves thus creating a ‘trip wire’ effect with the leads. (Why is one dog not enough? And why bring your sodding dog out on a day trip that consists entirely of shopping?)
  • People with specific mobility problems. (Not normal mobility problems. That is manageable. People with mobility problems may walk slowly, but at least their pace is predictable. People with specific mobility problems are only able to walk for 20 yards before stopping suddenly to look around them, presumably because the view suddenly becomes utterly compelling. They stand stock still, look around, block your way and then start up again. And then they do the same bloody thing another 20 yards down the road.)
  • People who can only walk 4 abreast on the pavement, despite its narrowness and the throng of people making this virtually impossible.
  • People who eat pies from a paper bag whilst walking. (Please note: this is both bad for your digestion and bad for the people walking behind you, as it propels you into the ‘people with specific mobility problems’ category. Find a fucking bench and sit down to eat.)
  • People – mostly men, it has to be said – who have been dragged along by somebody else and hang around outside shops/market stalls blocking the way and looking like piffey on a rock bun.

Good Friday is the day when these people return in packs. And I have to take a huge deep breath, because I know that this will last until at least late September. Thank god that today was dry, because when they all get their brollies out I turn apoplectic. So if you live in Rochdale and someone offers you a coach trip to a ‘quaint Yorkshire market town’, please think of me and just say no.

P.S. You may ignore me. I am a curmudgeonly old so-and-so sometimes. Most of the citizens of my small town will welcome you with open arms. Honest.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Wingardium Leviosa...

This new technology still baffles me. I can barely understand how words and pictures can be stored on what is basically a cheap piece of plastic. I certainly don't understand how information can spirit its way through the ether and land on someone else's laptop. It still amazes me that I can send a document to someone and it can arrive there seconds later, without me schlepping out to the post office to photocopy it, put a stamp on it, find out a week later it hasn't arrived and then go through the whole damn process again. I feel like my mother trying to programme our 1980s video recorder. I don't like not knowing how things work, but I fear I will never get my head around this World Wide Webulator malarkey. It may as well be magic.

My son spends half of his time living with his lovely dad, eight miles away from my house. He is now at secondary school - I still call it 'big school' much to his disdain - which means that lovely dad and I spend half of our lives ferrying books, rugby kit, uniforms and other associated school miscellany back and forth from house to house. It is becoming a pain in the arse. A few weeks ago I got home to a desperate call from him when I returned home from an evening session at 10pm.

"Mum! My English assignment is on a floppy disk on my desk. I NEED IT FOR TOMORROW! You will have to drive over with it in the morning before school."

I work two evenings a week until 9pm, which means that two mornings a week I get a bit of a lie-in and potter around the house until I start work in the afternoon. This should have been one such morning. I waved bye-bye to my lie-in, and sought out the floppy disk.

(In my defence, at this point I did wonder why he had put it on a floppy disk and even where he had found one. I haven't used floppies for years, and somewhere in the confusion at the back of my head was a suspicion that there was a better way to do this. I was tired though, and ignored the nag. Silly me.)

I was up at 7 the next morning, so I could drop it off in time for him to print it out for school. As I drove over to his dad's, there was still a nagging doubt that this was a ridiculous thing to do. I was also pissed off, however, at missing out on my lie-in and having to negotiate the morning madness on the roads.

His dad answered the door, with a very broad grin. And then....very clicked...into... place.....


"Email" I said.

"Email indeed!" said his dad.

Son took the floppy disc off me, looking a little shame-faced if truth be known. At least I have an excuse. I am old-fashioned. This is not my world. But heaven knows it is his - he spends half his life on the computer-box.

Next time I saw my son he had bought a memory stick. Well done, son.

Note to self: ignore nagging doubts at your peril.

(And if anyone knows of a way to transport a rugby kit by email, could they please let me know?)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

We Miss You Mr Joe...

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of those quirky little programmes that Radio 4 does so well. Great Lives is one such programme, and I almost squealed with pleasure to find that today's subject was Joe Strummer, former frontman of The Clash. Phil Jupitus was discussing Strummer's life and influences, along with Chris Salewicz, Strummer's biographer. I hold a great respect for Matthew Parris, the interviewer, despite his toriness. He is a marvellous interviewer - respectful, knowledgeable and probing.

The programme was a delight. Parris suggested that punk was borne out of a rage at the prevailing zeitgeist, and in this respect had much in common with Thatcherism. I think this is a very dubious argument, by the way, but was tickled at the image he describes of trying to persuade Thatch to listen to The Clash and to court the punk vote. I suspect most punk rockers didn't vote. Anarchy was the thing then, and you don't pop in to vote tory on your way to your anarcho-syndicalist cell meeting. However, Chris Salewicz talked of the strange friendship that Strummer struck up with Boris Johnson a few years before his death. Sandinista was apparently Johnson's favourite album. He has always loved irony, I suspect, and surely that particular one wasn't lost on him? Apparently they would write to each other regularly, and Strummer would try and get his poetry published in The Spectator. Wouldn't you have loved to see that?

Strummer never lost his political passion. He didn't become a property developer in New York, or play the pseudo punk in the Australian jungle for cheap publicity and even cheaper laughs. He was a man of principle. And he wrote some top songs aswell.


Captive In Iran...

Is it just me, or do the British Marines held captive in Iran look like a bunch of kids who have missed the coach home from their school trip? And does this make you feel unbelievably sad too?

photo from

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Risk Schmisk

We took the children here today. I know that it is important to let children take risks for these reasons....

But when they do this...

it makes me feel like this....

......and when I get home I need one of these..... the moral of the story is....

.....risk taking is not good for parents.