Just tell me it’s not the end of the line

The Greasy Café is where we go most Sundays, Mum and I. We go there because you don’t have to walk far if it’s raining, or if Mum’s feet are bad, as they are at the moment. And it’s near mini-Tesco’s, in case of a Ryvita and currant-cake famine. Actually, the things we end up buying in Tesco’s seem to have little to do with what Mum has in her store cupboard or even what she likes – they are more likely to be what her internal elves instruct her to buy, and in whatever strange quantities they stipulate – four currant-cakes when once home she will say she doesn’t like cake, a single yoghurt when she eats at least two a day, meat cat food when the cat prefers fish, no bananas when she has no bananas. I have learned not to argue, on the basis that it will do no good in any event, and any food in her cupboard is better than none at all. I am not sure whether she remembers to eat it, or what she eats, but she seems to stay around the same weight so she must be eating something.

But, before that we go to the Greasy Café. We always have to have the same thing – two Choice One. The frothy coffees are free. It’s really a breakfast meal – two slices of toast, one underdone tomato cut into quarters, two potato cakes and a mountain of rubbery scrambled egg, which I suspect starts off as yellow powder in an industrial-size tub. The café is run by Cypriots, a husband and wife team, with occasional weekend waiters or waitresses. Every other week Mum asks me in a deaf person’s whisper where I think they come from, and whether they are Indians, and I pretend not to hear since they are only a foot or so away. If there is a waiter he will learn how handsome he is – could have been a model. If there is a waitress she will learn how slim she is – surprising with all this food around. People are enormous nowadays. Great wobbly things. Look at his stomach! And why do the women wear those long dresses?

The café owners know us well. We walk in and they wave at us, he from the kitchen and she from behind the till. The usual?

Are you going to give them our order? I don’t think they’ve seen us.

They know our order. They’ll be along in a minute with the coffee.

But she hasn’t come to the table with her notebook.

They know our order. We always have the same.

I don’t think they’ve seen us.

They know our order. They’ll be along in a minute…

And then we sink into silence and wait, because Mum doesn’t like to wear her hearing aids, and can’t hear me. And anyway, we have nothing much to say, having got through any ‘business’ over mugs of tea before we came out. I have a notebook and biro in my bag in case of emergencies.

We’ve been waiting for half an hour. Are they very busy?

The café is empty apart from us, the Cypriot owners and a couple of middle aged men commenting the sports pages of the newspaper. They are always here. Seem to be friends of the boss. And outside, there are the vapers – a strange-looking couple who sit at one of the outside tables in all weathers, vaping. Lady boss takes coffee out to them at intervals.

It’s only been ten minutes. She’ll be here with the coffee shortly.

Do they know we’re here? She didn’t come to the table with her notebook.

Outside is the shopping precinct. It was built long after I left, on the land which used to belong to Mum’s school. They demolished Mum’s school. The playground is now a bookmakers, and a Wilco store. Behind that there is a pet shop where Mum sometimes buys cat-biscuits because she feels sorry for them, and a bookshop which I am not allowed to go into because Mum doesn’t do browsing, and a charity shop side window. I make sure to be facing the window, and every Sunday I look out at clumps of fat people going past, the women in the long frocks my mother so dislikes, the children in hoodies, on skateboards, the men with their big bellies in long shorts and tattoos. I am just too far away to read the titles of the second hand hardback books stacked in the bookshop window, but in any case I have been in there on my own and know he overcharges. And I know they’ll be unweildy histories of naval battles in the Second World War, and indexes of all the films ever made, and craft books showing you how to make floral covers for paper tissue boxes, or Easter Bunny peg-bags. And in the charity shop, the same three dresses – a red one, a very short blue one and a longer, beige-coloured one. Always the same three, in some tiny size. Obviously there are not enough small women around here. Oh yes, and a handbag. A battered brown handbag, very large, with black clasps. A homeless handbag.

Our coffees arrive. There is a spoon each to spoon off the froth.

I’ve got three bags of sugar.

Oh, I’ve got two this time.

But I don’t need three bags of sugar.

Put them in your handbag for later, then.

It’s not the done thing. And they might need them for other people.

Leave them on the table, then.

But why have I got three and you’ve got two?

I don’t know. Sometimes I get three and you get two. Sometimes we both get two…

Do they know we’re here? She hasn’t been over…

Our two Choice Ones arrive. I shall be feeling queasy all afternoon. I am thinking, I’ve got a bit of a headache. The toast isn’t too bad, though. I’ll leave half the egg.

This is better than the beans, isn’t it? The one with the beans we used to have. So many beans they used to spill off the edge of the plate. And they made the plate wobble. I could never keep my plate still. Yours never seemed to wobble. Why did I always get the wobbly plate?

I don’t know. Maybe it was a wobbly table.

There’s a dead fly on this table.

It’s just a mark. Look, I’ll poke it – it doesn’t move.

It looks like a dead fly.

But it doesn’t move.

It won’t move if it’s dead.

There is no fly. Look, it’s a mark on the table.

This is better than the beans, isn’t it?

They’ve turned on the radio. Music, to soothe a savage breast.

It’s very noisy in here. What’s that noise all of a sudden?

But I am floating away on a tide of music, and none of it matters any more, not the three same dresses and the homeless handbag, not the unreachable books or the fat people, or the hooded children on their skateboards, not the people in wheelchairs, the people smoking, the tattooed men, the grey clouds overhead, the likelihood of rain, Tesco still to come…

I drew a broken heart

Right on your window pane

Waited for your reply

Here in the pouring rain

Just breathe against the glass

Leave me some kind of sign

I know the hurt won’t pass, yeah

Just tell me it’s not the end of the line…

Safe (2)

This is another one of those prompts, this time a non-fiction one. The actual prompt is:

The place where you felt happiest or safest…so I’ll go for safest.

Which only leads me to wonder whether I have ever felt safe anywhere, which sounds rather dramatic. Which in turn reminds me of something novelist Pamela Frankau once wrote about writing:

The number of people who have said to me since I was nineteen, ‘I imagine one can only write when one feels like it’ merely sets me wondering whether I have ever felt like it. Discipline alone makes the hand with the pen move; keeps it moving; sees to it that the snail-pace of the morning accelerates by afternoon.

 You can tell it was the 1960s. One doesn’t tend to say ‘one’ anymore, does one? And who writes with a pen? But she was right, whatever she wrote with, and even with ‘ones’ sprinkled around like fairy-dust.

I’m avoiding the subject. Safest.

I suppose I must have felt safe with Mum and Dad at times. I just wonder why I can’t remember any of those times. I mostly felt nail-bitingly anxious, particularly around my father whose moods were erratic. I was afraid of my father: of his coming home from work; of his strong-jawed face and blue-grey eyes; of his towering height; of his booming, sarcastic voice; of the things he said or was capable of saying; of the things he did or was capable of doing; of his casting his eye upon me and finding me – aggravating.

He was good with words, my Dad. He would wind me up and then verbally demolish me. And I knew I had the ability to do that too, to someone else, if I lost control. I had all his words at the tip of my tongue, that same streak of cruelty. As soon as I heard his footsteps coming round the side of house, although I plodded on methodically at whatever I had been doing, I would be cataloguing the minor and major crimes I had committed in his absence, and of which he would at any moment be informed. I schooled myself to say as little as possible when he was at home, not letting him catch my eye, but the more distant I became the more he baited me. Then one day when I was fourteen and he was trying to drag me away from the sink where I was washing my hair, I turned round and hit him back. It was a clumsy, soggy, ineffectual kind of hitting back but it shocked us both.

But years later, finding myself in a hospital A&E Department after a car accident, nauseated, confused, semi-conscious – after what felt like hours of being left bleeding on a trolley waiting for some nurse or doctor or someone to get round to doing something about me – I caught sight of Dad’s face, floating like a balloon between me and the ceiling. The hospital had telephoned my parents and they had jumped in the car and driven down to find me. And everything was all right then. I was five years old; my Daddy was here for me now, and he would look after me. Until that day I had not known how much it meant just having a father, in spite of everything, and how much I loved him. I suppose that moment was safety.

So I always felt safest when invisible, but it was difficult to be invisible because I was not that  small. Having a 6 foot 4 inch father, you’re never going to be easily stowed away. I towered over the children in my infant’s school class. At eleven, mercifully, I stopped getting any taller giving my classmates a chance to catch up. But still, I would try to hide. In hockey, for example, I would shrink into the back of the goal (where they always put me) and, staring poetically into the middle distance, jump lightly over the ball if and when it came my way, closely followed by a horde of sweaty, screeching, stick-wielding amazons. The two team captains used to argue over me in loud whispers:

It’s your turn to have her this time.

I had her last time and I’m not having her again.

But as you get older disappearing gets easier. It gets so that you can put it on like a cloak, something J K Rowling also knew. Supermarkets are good – everybody’s looking at the shelves, wondering where the baked beans have got to, trying to work out whether this packet cereal is 5p cheaper than that one, or only seems to be. And I like railway stations, particularly the out-of-the-way rural kind where there’s one train an hour and you could sit all day if you wanted to, pretending to read, listening to the crickets in the hedgerows, the birds in the trees and the faint ringing in the rails when a train is on its way. And I like motorway service stations. But that’s the thing with any kind of travelling: in between places you are in between identities – not so much no one as anyone – anyone you want to be. I believe such in-between zones are known to anthropologists as liminal spaces. And when you write – fiction, at any rate – the place you write from is another liminal space. I feel it as a kind of forest, separating this land and that land.

And then there were Nan and Grandad, balancing the scales. I spent most of every Sunday with them, and they were the best refuge any child might hope for. There I got my Sunday Dinner – an excellent feast – and my Sunday Tea, which involved a whole head of celery in a jug, thin buttered bread, shrimps from the shrimp man and toasting crumpets in front of the fire with Grandad.

There I got my hair washed, and dried it in front of the same fire.

There a fat old Labrador snored and Grandad’s pipe filled the room with choking, scented smoke.

There I read Woman’s Weekly, The Carpenter and Joiner and whatever I could dig out of the bookcase – dictionaries, Pilgrim’s Progress, outmoded novels, anthologies of children’s verse, encyclopaedias. Nan and Grandad’s was where I was whisked away to in the middle of the night while my mother was giving birth to my sister, and where I sat upright under the slippery counterpane in their spare bedroom, my feet resting on one of their stone hot water bottles (wrapped in a jumper to save is burning my feet) singing Once in Royal David’s City over and over and over. It felt Christmassy, somehow, rather than my sister’s zero birthday.

There I watched Pinky & Perky on a tiny TV with a dodgy vertical hold, and Sooty and Sweep, and the divers Armand and Michaela Denis conducting bubbly undersea investigations in black and white.

There I watched Grandad planting potatoes in the garden, pulling up carrots by their green topknots, or out in his Lodge making tables and sideboards.

There in the kitchen I was in charge of stirring the gravy for Nan while Grandad stropped his razor on the leather strap hanging from the cupboard and covered his face with foam from an enamel cup, ready for shaving. I marvelled at the complicated loops and buttons that held his trousers up and his braces down.

There I asked for, and was told, the facts of life.

There I learned to darn a sock, sew on a button, polish brass and mix mint sauce.

There I helped to make jam and bottle fruit.

There I watched the washing being boiled in the copper, hauled steaming into a tin bath on a bleached white stick, rinsed, starched and “blued” in the sink and pushed through a wrought-iron mangle.

There I examined Nan’s wide pink corsets hanging on the line, and wondered how hard it was to get the whalebones in.

There I did forward-rolls in the grass and made buttercup chains, and swung from the apple-tree swing that Grandad had made.

There I was told about foxgloves, known to some as dead man’s bells or witch’s gloves, that a poison called digitalis could be made from them, and that an Ancient Greek had once been forced to poison himself with it.

There I saw a bisque doll’s head stuck on the branch of a tree.

There I heard about the War, and how we had to eat horsemeat and paint lines up the backs of our legs to look like stocking seams, and about how a baby slept in its crib unharmed while a bomb reduced the house to rubble all round him; and about how the lady next door  collected aprons and wore them one on top of another; and about how the woman down the road lost her drawers in the High Street but kept her composure – ‘I just picked them up and put them in my bag’ – and about how that bleached blonde floosy from over the road was No Better Than She Ought To Be, went about Done Up Like a Dog’s Dinner, and all sorts of other stuff.

That, once a week, was my childhood, and once a week I was safe. It was as if I had been given more than other children, all crammed into Sunday, to make up for the rest.

Only Connect (1)

I look around my house and have to admit it – books and cats have taken over. ‘Nuff said about the cats: no one approves of them. But every now and then I come across a spare couple of feet – behind the armchair to cover the faded bit – maybe where the cat-dishes are now – maybe in front of that cupboard under the stairs? After all, who needs a cupboard? I’m thinking… bookcases.

There are books on my bed, books beside my bed, books in the bathroom, books attracting mildew and holding up shelves in the garage. When I go out, there are books in my bag – at least two, and big ones in case I get stuck in a motorway tailback for three hours. This has only happened to me on one occasion, and of course when it does you can’t relax to read because you never know when you’re going to have to start inching forwards again…

I wouldn’t dare go on holiday abroad because this would mean an aeroplane, which would mean book limitation; I could never carry enough books to tide me over for two weeks. Yet after a lifetime of reading I can estimate, probably to within the hour, how much ‘reading’ a book contains. I know I’m not going to get through ten books in one week, or even two weeks, but…supposing I don’t like the book I’ve got with me? Supposing I feel the need to read three books in tandem?

Which brings me to my mother again. Last time she visited my house, before the fairies came and stole away her logic, her concentration and her common sense, she looked around and said:

‘At your age, you’ll never have time to read all of these!’

And of course she was right; it just hadn’t occurred to me. And then the familiar rush of Mum-induced panic and depression. But I must. I can’t leave them. I must read them. What can I do to save time? If I give up work? If I give up TV? If I sleep only half the night? How did I get that old?

All mothers must take a fairy-course in Undermining Daughters. Or is it in their DNA? With a single, innocent remark she had convinced me that everything, not just reading but any interest and any project for ever after, was pointless, really, because we are going to die. Why do anything? Just watch TV and gobble Polo-mints, why don’t we? Give all but the basics for survival to the charity shop – it’ll save them time when they come to clear this place out. Find a good home for the cats. Take up smoking. Fill your pockets with stones and go and jump in the sea.

But seriously (that wasn’t serious?) I was thinking the other day about how Mum must see me now: this girl of 17 or thereabouts, mysteriously grown large, lumpy, pale, grey and harassed-looking; this creature who mouths a series of words with unreadable shapes to them; this half-forgotten relative whose careful notes, all in block capitals, refuse to form proper sentences; this Sunday visitor whose name sometimes goes AWOL; so bothersome, so repetitious, and such hard work to be with. And requiring cups of tea when she must know the kettle has disappeared, the fridge has drunk the milk and there are strange little faces in the bottom of the cups.

When was the last day? Before you Marched Out and this sad, bored, distressed little elfling Marched In? They say the fairies do that – substitute one of their Ancients for an earthling child, so that they may die in comfort.* If I’d known you were about to be posted I could have said goodbye, and maybe wished you good luck in your new billet.

Once more I am a child in the High Street in romper suit and blue leather reins, throwing the usual tantrum. Once more you drop the reins and walk away, thinking to scare me silent. And it works. You’re chatting away to Nan, or maybe laughing. You’re muffled. I can’t make out what the pair of you are saying. The sky goes black and comes down on my head. I stand stock still with these clouds and this black air pressing down on me, watching you walk away as a century ticks by. Then I turn and set off in the wrong direction, back the way we came, the blue leather reins trailing the pavement behind me. It doesn’t matter now which way I go. You won’t come back – why would you? Why would you come back for me?

I want to talk to my old Mum about my new Mum. I want to ask her what to do about all of this. All those years of more or less misunderstanding one another yet this is so much worse. Word salad it’s called – vague words, wrong words, words in the wrong order, words based on misapprehensions; the quarter sentences you seem to think you have finished; the stories that seem to go on for ever and you still haven’t got to the point, if there ever was one. Confabulation; tall tales; nonsense, vigorously defended. You know what you mean but I don’t. I know what I mean but you don’t.

Only connect.

* ‘A changeling is a wizened, deformed, insatiable and frequently old fairy that has been exchanged for an often-unbaptised human child.’

The Greenwood Encyclopaedia of Fairy Tales: A-F (Donald Haase)

Only Connect (2)

I live in an out-of-the-way sort of place. Sometimes it feels like the end of the earth. Believe me, when everything goes grey in November, when the only-road-out starts to flood on a regular basis and the gale-force winds arrive, you wouldn’t want to be here. It’s mostly a case of staying indoors till March.

So, we are a long way from anywhere, and not everybody has a car. I do have a car but can’t afford the petrol to go gadding about unnecessarily. I drive when I absolutely must, and then I try to accomplish everything on my ‘To Do’ list in a single round-trip – get petrol, attend dental appointment, parcel to Post Office, collect medicine from vet, farm shop for birdseed, etcetera. It requires careful planning and makes for a long, tedious outing. Infrequently as I get out of the house I am always relieved to get home.

Hardly surprising, then, that most people round here shop online, which means an awful lot of vans. On any one day, van after van arrives – Post Office vans, Amazon’s courier; everyone else’s courier; a giant lorry delivering parcels in bulk for one of its couriers, who lives here; delivery vans bringing groceries from all the major supermarkets. That’s not counting, of course, all the other traffic – plumbers, electricians, dustmen, drain-unblockers, odd-job gents, cavity-wall insulators, solar panel specialists, the gypsies’ truck looking for scrap metal, mobile dog-groomers…

Our community would be hard put to manage without all these incomers. We have no Post Office, no chemist, no railway station, no petrol station, one bus stop and one tiny, inadequate all-purpose-type shop. You might just be able to survive on that shop if you were a carnivore and had only one pet, but not a hope for vegetarians or those who need to buy pet food in bulk; it’s steak and kidney pud or all-day-sausage-and-bacon-breakfast-in-a-tin, combined with mushy peas in a tin, or nothing, and if you find a couple tins of Whiskas on the shelf you’re lucky. That was their stock for the week. By mid-morning there’s no bread left. If you need to post anything bigger than a standard letter or postcard you either drive twenty minutes or walk twenty-five minutes (and another twenty-five back, by which time it will be raining).

So obviously we tend to get to know the various couriers, or at least recognise them. Most of them are nameless, so we think of them as DPD, Yodel or whatever. A few get nicknames. The one who comes to me a lot is the Amazon delivery guy. I get virtually everything through Amazon, from paperback books to spare light bulbs to cat litter to duct tape to birthday cards. I do know his name now, if only because Amazon keep texting it to me in advance of his visits, but for a long time he was just Nice One. This is not because he is particularly nice, although of course he may be, but because every time I succeed in scrawling some sort of signature into the little box on his recording device he exclaims Nice One!

And then there’s No Speaka de English. Now, this isn’t a name I invented – I don’t think I’d want to be that patronising – but it is what the neighbours call him. I don’t know what nationality he is, but obviously not from round here. It was a bit of a problem at first because he really didn’t seem to speak more than a couple of words of English. If you had to go out and left the usual note taped to your door – Gone out. Back soon. Please leave parcel round the back/ in the greenhouse/ in the recycling bin/ under the doormat – if it was No Speaka the note would be ignored. Instead you’d get a card poked through the door with a ticked box to inform you the parcel had been left with a distant neighbour or returned to the depot. But then if No Speaka couldn’t decipher our notes, how was he to act upon them?

At first he didn’t smile. He’d appear on the doorstep with the parcel and his little black recording box and mumble Chhhello with eyes downcast. As soon as the parcel was signed for it was Bye-Bye and off up the garden path. Inevitably you found yourself calling Bye-Bye after him, then feeling foolish.

After a while he became bolder. Once he arrived in his delivery van just as I was walking back from posting a letter. Good time! he shouted up the road. Yes, I shouted back, Good time! Then I thought, maybe I should have shouted Good tim-ing. How’s he going to learn if everybody speaks pidgin back to him?

Then the other day he turned up with one of the biggest parcels I have ever seen. I’d mail-ordered a plastic dog kennel kit-thing to replace the old wooden rabbit hutch I’d been using as a food shelter for feeding stray cats and a hedgehog overnight. Over the years frost, flood and the weight of many a large tomcat and snuffling, hefty hedgehog had done for the raised floor, which had split and fallen through. But I had underestimated the size and weight of the kit-thing. When I opened the door and discovered No Speaka de English fidgeting there, more or less obscured by this giant, unweildy parcel my face must have told the story. Oh My God! I gasped. He grinned. Oh My God! he said, mimicking my accent and horrified expression perfectly. Leave round back? Usual place?

No Speaka de English is learning. Learning de English and learning to connect.

Life is full of these small irritations

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Extract from blog : Blue, with Stars : 2003 – 2006

Am arranging to have windows cleaned. Have never cleaned the outside since I have been here! Can’t reach. Too tired. As Quentin Crisp said, after the first four years, the dirt doesn’t get any worse. However, these are new high-tech window cleaners. You have a bar code in your window which they scan, so you don’t have to wait in for them, or leave money out in little envelopes, or hunt around for change. I don’t normally take any notice of door-to-door sales people at all, but this does seem like a good idea.

On the home improvement front I have also decided to get the lock mended on the back door. I am fed up with having to prop the dustbin lid against it every time I want to go up the garden without letting all the cats out. Life is full of these small irritations and mine seem to have multiplied to such a point I think it’s worth the investment to rid myself of at least one or two of them.

Have volunteered (or been volunteered) for a quiz in September. In aid of a tiny church with a congregation of about ten as far as I can gather. I know where the church is – a very twisty complicated and, in the dark, scary journey round narrow, unlit country lanes. If you meet something coming the other way you have to reverse for miles and reversing (in a straight line anyway) is not my strong point, especially now my neck no longer works properly. Unfortunately the quiz is not even in the church but even further out into the wilds at what sounds like some sort of village hall called The Peace Rooms. I will have to do an experimental drive out there this weekend, in daylight.

# posted @ 7:18 PM


In a recent post – SINGING, OR SOMETHING, IN THE RAIN – I mentioned that I’d taken the Myers-Briggs typology test – the sort of psych test they do when they interview you for jobs, and then tell you that you are just too peculiar to work here. I was only once called upon to take a psych test, at an interview for some sort of dead-end office job. The HR lady came out with the results looking green around the gills. She made a real effort to be positive about not giving me the job, and gave me a print-out of the results which I have since, of course, mislaid.

I took the test again the other day more or less by accident. I was writing about liking the rainy weather (just as well to be in England) and this led me on to wondering whether anyone was likely to like rainy weather, or whether it was only specific types. So I splattered type – people – like – rain into Google and up popped the Myers-Briggs typology test.

I came out as an INFJ. I’d expected to be an Introvert – I mean, most people are aware of at least that much about themselves – but the character description for INFJs was really depreeeeesssing. As far as it went it was accurate – apart from wanting to legalise marijuana, which I have never tried…

…or any other sort of drugs for that matter, apart from Nescafé and the very occasional glass of el-cheapo vino – mostly, since I am now totally impoverished, proffered by neighbours at Christmas…

So the first definition of INFJ was:

Creative, smart, focus on fantasy more than reality, attracted to sad things, fears doing the wrong thing, observer, avoidant, fears drawing attention to self, anxious, cautious, somewhat easily frightened, easily offended, private, easily hurt, socially uncomfortable, emotionally moody, does not like to be looked at, fearful, perfectionist, can sabotage self, can be wounded at the core, values solitude, guarded, does not like crowds, organized, second guesses self, more likely to support marijuana legalization, focuses on peoples hidden motives, prone to crying, not competitive, prone to feelings of loneliness, not spontaneous, prone to sadness, longs for a stabilizing relationship, fears rejection in relationships, frequently worried, can feel victimized, prone to intimidation, lower energy, strict with self.


 Although I did my best to make light of it at the time, this did rather get me down. What was the point of me, I agonised, saddled with a duff personality like that? I mean, what use was I? No wonder my life had been crap, with a personality like that. Why was I even writing? Nobody was ever going to read the output of a defective soul like that.

You see, that’s the trouble. If you are unfortunate enough to be phsically disabled, it’s bad, but at least you and everyone around you can clearly see that you are disabled. Other people can then make allowances for you and you can make allowances for yourself. But if you have a disabled personality – no one makes allowances. Worse, being stuck inside it, you have no means of seeing beyond it. Or have you?

I actually sat down that evening and – focus, focus, focus – tried to visualise what someone sensible would have done with their lives? And how would a not-INFJ proceed in the future? The plan I came up with was almost identical to the plan my INFJ self had already come up with, and failed to put into effect.

However, I do believe it’s possible to transcend oneself, but it’s a hard, really hard thing to do. I have only managed it once. [You may prefer to skip this bit]. I was having to take my old cat to the vet to be put to sleep and I knew I could not cry. He needed me and I could not allow myself to go to pieces, and yet – that’s what I do – always – I go to pieces.

And then another ‘me’ spoke to this struggling, sinking ‘me’. It said: You can choose not to act through her. How? I asked. And then one ‘me’ began to wrench itself up and out of the other ‘me’. It was like – no way to describe it – ghost self sitting up while flesh self stays lying down, or – pulling oneself out of treacle or quicksand. The pain did not lessen – I can feel it now as I write – but the ‘I’ that could choose not to act through her somehow then endured the long drive with an aged cat who was struggling for breath, the forever wait to see the vet, the dreadful process – and only fell to bits when it was all over, when she was sitting behind the wheel of her car in the PDSA car park.

I don’t know why I told that story – except that it seemed to want to be told – and might help someone trying to get through something they are not equipped for. And, to end with, here is a more rounded description of INFJ by Marina Margaret Heiss and Joe Butt:


 INFJ: Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging

INFJs are distinguished by both their complexity of character and the unusual range and depth of their talents. Strongly humanitarian in outlook, INFJs tend to be idealists, and because of their J preference for closure and completion, they are generally “doers” as well as dreamers. This rare combination of vision and practicality often results in INFJs taking a disproportionate amount of responsibility in the various causes to which so many of them seem to be drawn.

INFJs are deeply concerned about their relations with individuals as well as the state of humanity at large. They are, in fact, sometimes mistaken for extroverts because they appear so outgoing and are so genuinely interested in people — a product of the Feeling function they most readily show to the world. On the contrary, INFJs are true introverts, who can only be emotionally intimate and fulfilled with a chosen few from among their long-term friends, family, or obvious “soul mates.” While instinctively courting the personal and organizational demands continually made upon them by others, at intervals INFJs will suddenly withdraw into themselves, sometimes shutting out even their intimates. This apparent paradox is a necessary escape valve for them, providing both time to rebuild their depleted resources and a filter to prevent the emotional overload to which they are so susceptible as inherent “givers.” As a pattern of behavior, it is perhaps the most confusing aspect of the enigmatic INFJ character to outsiders, and hence the most often misunderstood — particularly by those who have little experience with this rare type.

Due in part to the unique perspective produced by this alternation between detachment and involvement in the lives of the people around them, INFJs may well have the clearest insights of all the types into the motivations of others, for good and for evil. The most important contributing factor to this uncanny gift, however, are the empathic abilities often found in Fs, which seem to be especially heightened in the INFJ type (possibly by the dominance of the introverted N function).

This empathy can serve as a classic example of the two-edged nature of certain INFJ talents, as it can be strong enough to cause discomfort or pain in negative or stressful situations. More explicit inner conflicts are also not uncommon in INFJs; it is possible to speculate that the causes for some of these may lie in the specific combinations of preferences which define this complex type. For instance, there can sometimes be a “tug-of-war” between NF vision and idealism and the J practicality that urges compromise for the sake of achieving the highest priority goals. And the I and J combination, while perhaps enhancing self-awareness, may make it difficult for INFJs to articulate their deepest and most convoluted feelings.

Usually self-expression comes more easily to INFJs on paper, as they tend to have strong writing skills. Since in addition they often possess a strong personal charisma, INFJs are generally well-suited to the “inspirational” professions such as teaching (especially in higher education) and religious leadership. Psychology and counseling are other obvious choices, but overall, INFJs can be exceptionally difficult to pigeonhole by their career paths. Perhaps the best example of this occurs in the technical fields. Many INFJs perceive themselves at a disadvantage when dealing with the mystique and formality of “hard logic”, and in academic terms this may cause a tendency to gravitate towards the liberal arts rather than the sciences. However, the significant minority of INFJs who do pursue studies and careers in the latter areas tend to be as successful as their T counterparts, as it is *iNtuition* — the dominant function for the INFJ type — which governs the ability to understand abstract theory and implement it creatively.

In their own way, INFJs are just as much “systems builders” as are INTJs; the difference lies in that most INFJ “systems” are founded on human beings and human values, rather than information and technology. Their systems may for these reasons be conceptually “blurrier” than analogous NT ones, harder to measure in strict numerical terms, and easier to take for granted — yet it is these same underlying reasons which make the resulting contributions to society so vital and profound.

Beneath the quiet exterior, INFJs hold deep convictions about the weightier matters of life. Those who are activists – INFJs gravitate toward such a role – are there for the cause, not for personal glory or political power.

INFJs are champions of the oppressed and downtrodden. They often are found in the wake of an emergency, rescuing those who are in acute distress. INFJs may fantasize about getting revenge on those who victimize the defenseless.The concept of ‘poetic justice’ is appealing to the INFJ.

“There’s something rotten in Denmark.” Accurately suspicious about others’ motives, INFJs are not easily led.These are the people that you can rarely fool any of the time.Though affable and sympathetic to most, INFJs are selective about their friends. Such a friendship is a symbiotic bond that transcends mere words.

INFJs have a knack for fluency in language and facility in communication. In addition, nonverbal sensitivity enables the INFJ to know and be known by others intimately.

Writing, counseling, public service and even politics are areas where INFJs frequently find their niche.

(INFJ stands for Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging and represents individual’s preferences in four dimensions characterising personality type, according to Jung’s and Briggs Myers’ theories of personality type.)


Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Extract from blog : Blue, with Stars : 2003 – 2006

Long, tiring day starting off with a visit to the vet with Rosie & Ozzie. Got told off by the receptionist for bringing Ozzie as well, even though they had sent me a card to remind me his booster injection was due. Then the vet, having done Ozzie, decided Rosie might be too young after all for her first injection and come back next week. Of course, every time you come back it costs more money. Apart from Rosie and Ozzie, the remaining three cats are due for boosters within the next month or so. Mum says in her youth they didn’t take cats to vets, and they lived on table scraps. I wonder how people managed (and still manage) to apply such different standards of care to animals and human beings. Any old chain-smoking alcoholic overweight human being and other humans will take endless trouble to make sure he/she receives the best of medical attention but a cat – waste of money.

I’ve started reading Northern Lights the first part of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy *. I know it’s a children’s book but having read and enjoyed Harry Potter I decided good children’s books are not to be ignored. At first I didn’t think I was going to like it – it seemed very slow to get going and he hasn’t got quite J K Rowling’s knack of appearing to be writing simultaneously for children and adults in the same language – in other words avoiding the faint but irritating feeling of being talked down to, and being expected to have an alien (ie childish) set of perceptions and interests. At first his parallel universe didn’t really convince me but now the story is getting moving and I do find myself looking forward to the next few minutes I can snatch to real it.

* which for some reason is also called The Golden Compass, but does seem to be the same book nevertheless.

Rosie’s just decided to come and help me type this, so I might as well give up. She is still tiny but not quite so wizened-looking now – more kitten, less gnome. And my first black cat. Now all I need is a broomstick!