Friday, 22 May 2009

Thursday, 21 May 2009

As easy as PI...

..or 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841 to be more precise!

Right folks, just to let you all know I had my final maths exam this afternoon. Now for the ceremonial burning of the books (hopefully they will never be needed again!) A quick bit about the exam - I arrived, as I always do half an hour early. The room was locked so I stood outside trying to control the hyperactive butterflies in my stomach. It was hard to believe that a year’s worth of hard slog was about to be put to the test. I met this really sweet guy who looked even more nervous than me and we got chatting. He started to tell me that he suffered from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and when he got stressed he couldn’t help but scratch the exam paper until his nails broke. I hastily offered him some of my Rescue Remedy and hoped he didn’t sit near me.
Lots of other people started arriving and I tried not to listen to them talking about what questions might crop up. If there’s one thing I hate even more than people analysing the papers after the exam it’s people analysing them before!
It’s too late now to panic!..” I wanted to yell, “ should not be asking advice about Standard Deviation five minutes before the exam!!!"
A jolly (being sarcastic there) janitor arrived to unlock the door and like lambs to the slaughter we were all led into a stuffy, boiling hot room where we would spend the next 3 hours in numerical hell. Imagine my relief when I spotted OCD man heading for the room next door. Phew! After some administrative stuff - filling out forms and sorting people out with protractors and calculators (can you believe they didn't bring their own?!)- the exam papers were handed out. Cue stomach lurch. The first ten minutes of Paper 1 were a blur. I went into autopilot and tried to focus as well as I could. That was tricky with the bloke behind me sniffing every two minutes. I would have offered him a tissue except invigilator woman had asked me to remove everything from my desk except for my pen and paper. What did she think I had done - written formula on my Aloe Vera hankies? She wouldn’t even let me keep my Opal Fruits (sorry, Starburst) on the table for the dips in sugar level brought on by stress. Miserable old bat!
Paper two was tough. There was one particular question involving the Cosine Rule which baffled me for ages. I left it and went back at the end. With two minutes to spare I got an answer which looked right but don’t ask me how I got there! When invigilator woman announced "Time's up, please put your pens down" I resisted the urge to whoop loudly and start a Mexican wave. The relief of knowing the ordeal was over was immense.
I feel I did well with most of the questions, but you just never know with maths. You can make a simple error right at the beginning of a question and carry on without realising. This then has a ‘knock on effect’ to the rest of your answer meaning you lose points. I just don’t want to dwell on it or over analyse the papers because that’s a bit pointless really. I just want to forget about it now and move on to my next project - writing the sequel to “Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket”
My head has been swirling with ideas for my second novel for ages now but I have been forced to put any ‘serious’ writing on the back burner because my time has been consumed with so many other things, not least the studying for today’s big exam. I also had 5 hurdles to clear before I could sit the ‘Big One’ - assessments for each of the three units (which had to be passed in order to move on to the next stepping stone) and not one, but two punishing prelims. It’s not been an easy ride but I can breathe now and hope that I’ve done enough to secure a decent pass. There’s nothing more I can do - it’s out of my hands.

When I left university nearly six years ago I didn’t imagine ever having to sit another exam. During those hideous finals I was nearly four months pregnant and as sick as a dog. As if exams are not vomit-inducing at the best of times! I remember wondering why on earth it was called ‘morning sickness’ when the waves of nausea seemed to last all day and strike at the most unsuspecting times. I can recall the wobbly dizziness and rising bile as I prepared for the most important exams of my life. I was well prepared on the day of each of them. Not only did I have my spare pens and bottle of water (essentials for any exam) I was also equipped with a plastic bag (just in case the debilitating nausea turned into something more sinister and projectile) and a supply of Foxes Glacier Mints (the only thing that seemed to help alleviate the gut twisting nausea and stabbing heartburn - I tried crystallised ginger but it only burned like acid on the way back up). I also made sure I sat near an exit at all times.
Junior loves to hear stories about when he was a baby but his favourites are about the times before he was born. He giggles when I tell him about when I used to put the remote control on my pregnant tum and watch in amazement as the little person growing inside me would kick it off with one giant punch, or how his somersaults would cause the water to slap against the sides of the bath like a miniature tsunami. But he takes greatest pride in knowing he was with me during those important exams (even though he was only about the size of an avocado). And I forgive him for making me feel so utterly dreadful during them because he must have brought me some luck - I passed them all with flying colours.

It feels like not being gifted in the maths department has haunted my life. Let’s face it, even if I got an ‘A’ in today’s exam I will still have failed the ‘O’ Grade twice. Will I ever be able to shake that off that unwanted label?
Yes, your Honour I have a Diploma in Child Care and Education, a Degree from Edinburgh University, I’m a published author, teacher, have years of work experience and training under my belt and I’m a wonderful, dedicated Mother…but I failed ‘O’ Grade Maths twice
In order to get onto the Community Education degree I had to sit something called Core 3 and Core 4 Mathematics - the equivalent of somewhere between ‘O’ Grade and Higher at the time. I thought I had finally managed to exorcise my mathematical demons when I passed the course with a distinction. However 2008 was the last year that Moray House accepted this qualification for entry onto the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education and once again I found myself being faced with the task of getting my head around Quadratic Functions, Simultaneous Linear Equations, Trigonometric Identities and Algebraic Transposition (to name but a few of the delightful topics on the course). It seemed so typical of my luck that I just ‘missed the boat’ however I had little choice but to get on with it if I wanted to fulfil my ambition of becoming a teacher. Out came those dreaded books…again.
I am sincerely hoping that today was the end of my struggle with numbers. Perhaps now I can close this chapter of my life along with the pages of my Mathematics textbooks.
I am so proud of myself for never giving up on this personal and professional challenge. Trust me, there were many times when I came very close! When I had my book accepted for publication I was already 3 months into the open learning maths course. It was so tempting to throw caution to the wind and be seduced with the idea of spending my life as a writer. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do after all. But I kept my feet firmly on the ground and my head out of the clouds and I forced myself to stay realistic. I would need to have a back-up ‘real job’ to fall back on. Giving up on the maths would have been the easy option.
With Junior being so ill over the last few days (talk about bad timing mate!) I have hardly had any time to study and part of me had resigned myself to failing the exam today. But I kept going despite the temptation to pack it all in. I don’t think it’s even about having the qualification anymore. I think it’s more about being able to say I’ve actually finally managed to conquer this annoying incapability - “Hello, my name is Hazel and I’m rubbish at maths” Now, instead of saying “Yikes! Maths. I’m dreadful at maths!” I can maybe say “Yeah, Maths. I’m not too bad at that - I’ll have a go!
Who knows, maybe, even after this gruelling journey, and the climbing of some seriously challenging mountains I’ll still never be able to completely liberate the 14 year old girl who missed out on her ‘O’ Grade maths by 1%? I hope that come August/September (when I get my results) I can report back to you all with some good news. Keep your fingers crossed for me…and toes…and anything else crossable! I may need all the help I can get.

With my full philosophical rucksack I can only climb slowly up the mountain of mathematics
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Trigonometry is a sine of the times” - Author unknown

(Mathematics) is numbers you squeeze from your head to your hand to your pencil to your paper till you get the answer
Carl Sandburg

Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater
Albert Einstein

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

There's nothing quite like the word....

..Meningitis to turn a mother's blood to ice.
Poor Junior hadn't been feeling well for a few days but we made the decision to continue with our holiday anyway. I caved in under the weight of his begging pleas. And, perhaps rather selfishly I had been looking forward to getting away with my sister and my brilliant wee niece. So, I just made sure I packed plenty of sachets of Calpol along with the sunscreen and cagoule.
We had a brilliant holiday. We don't get away often so it's nice when things go to plan. Saturday was perfection. We went to a little place called Mabie Farm in Dumfries and Junior and his cousin ran wild and free - they rode on donkeys, jumped on trampolines, fed baby animals, drove around in pedal powered go-karts (so did my big sis and I!), went on the choo-choo express, flying fox, hay barn rope swing just to name a few of the brilliant activities at the farm. The weather was on and off, but it was Scotland after all. As Billy Connolly once said, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes" By the end of the day the kids had roses in their cheeks, mud on their clothes and straw in their hair. They were positively glowing.
Junior had a couple of late nights disco dancing with Maxie Bear but nothing too outrageous. We were (embarrassingly for my sister and I) all in bed by 10pm every night.
On Sunday morning it was clear that something was very wrong. Junior could barely lift his head off the cushion. We left our accommodation early and headed up the road. Junior slept for most of the way - not an easy thing to do on the bendy, bumpy country roads. We got home around teatime and by then my gnawing anxiety had upped a notch to gut-wrenching worry. Junior made it (albeit shakily) from the car to the settee where he collapsed in a shivering heap. He was burning up even with the help of Calpol and more worryingly he was complaining of a sore neck. I gave him a tepid bath to try and cool him down but he whimpered the whole way through it and much to my horror I noticed a huge lump on his neck. He screamed when I touched it. Fear took over and I got straight on the phone to NHS 24.
I know there are lots of people who are happy to share their horror stories about our National Health Service but I have never had any complaints. Let's face it, in America the first thing they would have asked me that night would have been "What's your credit card number?" Anyway, I was promised a call back from a Doctor within the hour. What followed was the longest 40 minutes of my life. As I sponged my rapidly failing son (I'm sure the heat coming off him actually singed the hairs on my arms) I stared at the phone and longed for it to ring. But it lay lifeless on the duvet and my heart felt like it might explode. Eventually it rang and I can honestly say I've never been so relieved to hear another human being in my life. Rhona was her name. I ran through Junior's symptoms with her - paying careful attention to the sore neck and dislike of bright light as these are the two things that us mum's are trained to be on heightened alert about. I was aware that I was making a conscious effort to control my voice because my panic was spiralling and inside my head I was screaming,
"Just hurry up, will you! Do something!!"
After a lot of mm's and ah's Rhona asked,
"Has your child got unusually cold feet and hands?"
I thought this to be a rather strange question but I dutifully lifted the covers back to check. My brain was whirling,
"Please don't let his feet be cold because that must mean something bad..."
Imagine my horror when I felt his wee foot, like an ice cube against the flaming heat of the rest of his lifeless body.
"Yes!" I replied in a shaky voice, "his feet are very cold"
"I don't want to alarm you" said Rhona calmly (if ever there were words to alarm a parent then this is them) "but I think he might be showing symptoms of meningitis"
And there it was. That dreaded word. Of course I had considered it before that moment. The word had kept creeping into my head but I pushed it back like a lion tamer with a chair. At that second I realised with horrifying clarity that it could be a very real possibility. The room was swimming but I had to hold it together.
"I'm going to phone for an ambulance, it will be there with you very shortly" reassured kind Rhona.
"Thankyou for your help" I replied politely but what I really wanted to shout was "please don't leave me on my own!!"
The paramedics arrived about 4 minutes later. Relief is not the word. Junior didn't even have the energy to be fazed about the three giant strangers dressed in green standing beside the bed when he was woken from his delirious state. He mumbled "I don't want to play" (I think he thought we were still on holiday and they were Maxie Bear and Co!)
They were so kind and one of them, Christine carried poor Junior out to the ambulance. He looked heart-breakingly vulnerable in his pyjamas. I left the house in such a state I was still wearing my slippers. I must have locked the front door automatically because I had no recollection of doing so. Cue twitching curtains from nosey neighbours. Goodness knows what rumours will be floating around the estate this week. To be honest, I don't care.
The poor paramedics tried their best to be upbeat on the journey to the Sick Kids.
"I hope that's not beer you've got in there!" they cajoled as I bottle fed Junior Evian water. Sadly both Junior and I had had a sense of humour bypass by that point. Even the wheelie down the ramp from the ambulance didn't muster up a smile. By the time a Doctor saw Junior he had a temperature of 103.2 (and rising). He was immediately wired up to monitors and given anaesthetic cream on the back of both hands. You would think in this day and age somebody would have invented a numbing cream that took less that 45 minutes to work. Why is it when your child is ill every minute feels like an hour?
In typical NHS fashion we were put in the nearest available cubicle (it was a busy night - a nurse informed me that any Sunday before a holiday Monday is always busy in A&E) which we shared with a teenage boy who had had diarrhoea for two days. Imagine my complete horror when a doctor passed us with a cardboard cup and asked aforementioned boy to provide a sample for analysis. All of this was done with only a flimsy curtain separating us. I don't know who I felt more sorry for.
Next, Junior had to have his blood taken. Poor soul didn't even flinch. He was just lying on the trolley moaning quietly. If I could have swapped places with him I would have. Another agonisingly long wait for results. Of course the only words swirling around my mind during that time were those which seemed to have rung louder than any others that had come from the doctor's mouth - "sinister" "worrying" "untoward"
Anyway, as I type this now Junior is lying next to me watching CBeebies and asking for some lunch - so thankfully there is a happy ending. He has an infected lymph node which means his body is fighting hard against a nasty virus. "Nasty virus" seems to cover a multitude of sins nowadays... I'm sure he won't mind me telling you that he has horrendous windypops (probably a by product of the strong antibiotics he is taking to reduce the golf ball sized lump on his neck) but other than that he appears to be on the mend. It may take a while but I'm confident he will be back to his normal energetic self in no time - with the help of my winning combination of a. a few days off school b. lots of mashed banana c. tonnes of TLC and d. fruit pastille ice lollies.
It is a strange feeling writing this blog with the luxury of distance from that horrible event. At the time I experienced some kind of tunnel vision where I could not think about anything other than my child lying helpless in front of me. Nothing else mattered. I had to stay strong for my wee boy. In fact I didn't allow myself fall to pieces until I got home that night (with the kind help of my good old Dad who never fails to drop everything to help out) I was absolutely exhausted when Junior and I eventually fell into bed. A combination of a hectic holiday and the stress of the past few hours hit me like a tonne of bricks. After I got the tears out of my system I just spent the night staring at my sleeping boy and being thankful that things had turned out okay in the end.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Happy in our skin

I was having a right old chortle with my son this morning while we were doing the facewashing/teethbrushing routine. For the first time in five and a half years Junior noticed his feet. Let me explain. He has funny wee toes. Now, I'm allowed to say that because I'm his mum but if anyone ever dared to pass comment on them I might just turn into Mimi McGuire from Shameless, so bear that in mind! Don't get me wrong, it's not that they're really freaky or anything. Let's just put it this way - he's never going to get a contract for modelling open-toed sandals. I absolutely love my wee boy's feet and to me the fact that his tootsies are a tad unconventional only makes them that bit more kissable. Plus I once saw Ashton Kutcher on an American talk show and he wheeked his sock off to reveal toes not dissimilar to Junior's. Having dodgy digits didn't do him any harm! Junior's face was a picture this morning when he spotted his foot from a new angle and announced in a rather shocked voice "What the heck is THAT?!" Of course I immediately burst out laughing which set him off and then we were both convulsing in fits of giggles as he continued to stare in amazement at the toe that, quote "looks like a baked bean" - and it does a wee bit, which added to the hilarity in the bathroom. The sweetest thing was that Junior was in no way self conscious about his quote "wonky toe". On the contrary he couldn't wait to show his pals at school (something which I advised him not to do but he couldn't understand why - let's face it, kids can be cruel at the best of times.)
I wondered, when do we start really noticing our bodies and why is it that at five years old Junior found humour in his little squished (but lovable) toes when at 15 he might be horrified to discover he is different from everyone else. Of course I will always "big them up" just like I do with everything else Junior related (perhaps a bit too much, if I'm honest). In fact sometimes my son's self esteem is so inflated that I worry he might float away on the slightest breeze - "I'm really good at this, Mummy!" "I am very handsome today".
When I told him the story of the first time I ever saw his feet (it goes something like this - "When the midwife placed you in my arms and I checked all your tiny fingers and toes to see that you had ten of each I saw that you had really special feet and I knew at that moment you were going to be a very special person, blah,blah, blah. Actually in my post labour, drug induced haze it was more like "AGH! What's happened to his feet?) he smiled down proudly at his toes, wiggled them around and then skipped off to do something more important. Not a care in the world - he was delighted to have something a bit special about him.
Now, we could all learn a little from this. Why is it that the majority of us can't just accept ourselves warts and all? When do we start to turn our differences into things to hate and hide?
I'm a big fan of Beth Ditto (pictured above) who is famed for her eccentric style - figure hugging catsuits and flamboyant, clingy dresses. No elasticated waists or granny pants for Ms Ditto. I envy her confidence and attitude. I want some of what she's got, thanks very much. She just seems to be so happy inside her skin and that exudes from every pore making her beautiful. I think maybe the next time we take a look in the mirror and are tempted to say "What the heck is THAT!?" we should maybe try to have a giggle or at the very least skip off to do something more important.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Takes the Biscuit!

On holiday Monday my wee boy and I decided to make some cakes to take into school the next day. A nice gesture I thought, especially when we added the finishing touch - the children's names spelled out in sugar letters. Now, I want to get this straight right from the beginning. I am a fairly strict mum when it comes to nutrition and dental hygiene (at 37 years of age I have no fillings -thanks Mum) However, I do believe that a little bit of everything in moderation is fine. So chocolate and crisps are not the equivalent of giving your child razor blades to chew on IF they are included in a healthy diet which includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and plenty of exercise. I was completely aware that the biscuits we made were not the healthiest items of food I had ever created - (Jamie Oliver put your fingers in your ears now) - two digestive biscuits sandwiched together with strawberry jam and topped with a thick layer of butter icing. Just to finish off the coronary waiting to happen they were nicely decorated with miniature marshmallows, smarties and a generous sprinkling of hundreds and thousands. Ok, I write this they sound a lot worse than they looked at the time. And at least the jam would contribute to the children's recommended daily intake of five fruit and veg. I don't feel so bad when I look at the above picture, taken from a parenting website (!) which makes Junior's cookies look positively macro-biotic! Anyway Junior was really excited about presenting his pals with their individual masterpieces, all neatly stacked in a box lined with tinfoil. So, off he skipped with his box of goodies and I thought nothing more about it.
At the end of the day Junior’s teacher headed straight for me at the school gate and handed me back my Tupperware box with an awkward smile. She seemed appreciative enough but I wondered why she kept looking over her shoulder anxiously. She bit her bottom lip worriedly and then whispered to me, with a tap to the side of her nose that the class had had a “secret picnic”. This conjured up the image in my mind of a huddle of guilty primary 1's hiding under a blanket in the story corner stuffing their faces with butter icing and marshmallows while their teacher kept watch at the door to see that nobody was going to shop her for giving the children in her care hideous confectionery.
Quick children, speed things up, I think the janitor’s coming!”
I think basically what she was trying to tell me, without hurting my feelings was that the gesture was fine as a one off but for health and safety reasons it was probably best not to repeat the kind deed. Health and safety gone mad again, I pondered? Of course, I was savvy enough to know that nobody in the class had any nut allergies or phobias of round, wheatmeal biscuits so what the heck was she worried about? Perhaps the children might have run amok with their iced digestives using them as Frisbees like a remake of “Lord of the Flies” with a sugar twist. Perhaps someone might have tripped on a mini marshmallow? Perhaps someone might have sued the school for jam stains on their child’s uniform. Maybe I might have had a group of horrified middle class mothers protesting outside my door that evening chanting cruel jibes and carrying banners emblazoned with slogans such as “Diabetes Giver” and “Tooth Destroyer
This all made me recall my own school days - in the same school as Junior attends I hasten to add. Health and Safety didn’t exist in the 1970’s and early 80’s. “British Bulldogs” - need I say more? It's a miracle that any of us managed to escape Mad Cow Disease after being forced to eat those horrific beef olives for school dinners (they looked like turds wrapped in boiled socks and cunningly disguised under a mound of thick, lumpy gravy).
I distinctly remember my P6 teacher clapping with glee as one of my fellow pupils stood up to show us all her party trick - shoving a liquorice lace up her nose and pulling it out of her mouth before yanking it backwards and forwards like she was drying her back with a towel. We all thought this was soooo cool and not one single member of staff intervened to tell us otherwise. Ah, those were the days!
The best example of 1970’s leniency regarding health and safety was my Dad’s generator. Intrigued? Sounds like something out of Doctor Who, eh? Well not far off. Any of my friends reading this will probably now be half grimacing/half chuckling with the memory of “The Generator” (it deserves capitals and should be pronounced in a deep, echoey voice like the voiceover guy in the cinema - “You can run, but you can’t hide from The Gen-er-a-torrrr!) It was one of a kind - I had never clapped eyes on one before 1981 and I have never seen one since. Basically, the Generator was a small, black plastic box with a handle on the side and two long wires which came out of it. One person was supposed to turn the handle SLOWLY while the victim (sorry, willing volunteer) held on to the two wires (one in each hand). If done correctly this produced a mild electric current not dissimilar to pins and needles. My Dad thought it would be a great idea to take this contraption into school and to use it to demonstrate the physics of electricity to a class of 9 and ten year olds. It actually was a super educational experiment, getting the entire class to stand in a circle and link hands while one person at the beginning of the circle held onto the wires - Ta-da! Everyone would feel the current flowing through their hands, hence grasping the important message that human beings were excellent conductors of electricity. Now, in a controlled environment with a sensible adult supervising this was a terrific lesson. But (and I still cannot believe that the teacher did not confiscate the Generator at playtimes and lunchtimes) in the wrong hands this small plastic box was a lethal weapon. It certainly gave kiss, cuddle and torture a whole new dimension! Only once did I agree to hold the wires when asked to do so by someone who will remain unnamed (I had a crush on him so was putty in his hands). He led me into a false sense of security by initially turning the handle very slowly but without warning his face suddenly changed and there was an evil glint in his eye as the rotations quickened. I didn't have time to let go of the wires. I can still remember with horrifying clarity the whirring noise of the generator and the hot, searing pain that shot up through my arms and neck and circulated around my screaming brain before making it’s way back down to my Clarks sandals. I’m quite sure there was a smell of singeing hair in the playground for days after. The whole experience had a nightmarish quality to it - the boy’s evil laugh as his cheeks reddened from the exertion of turning the handle at top speed and the horrific knowledge inside my melting brain that no matter how much I wanted to let go of the wires I simply could not open my hands. My fists were clenched in an involuntary spasm. When he eventually stopped (and believe me, it felt like a lifetime) I remember trying to smile to cover my pain and embarrassment but in truth I fought back the tears until I got home that afternoon. The Generator made me popular for a while. I think I took it into school a few times after that but we all got bored of it when no-one was willing to take a turn at the end with the wires. Can’t think why…
I understand why sugar laden biscuits were not the best thing to give to a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds. I’m not stupid, I know the basics of healthy eating even though I don’t always stick to them myself. But surely there were worst things I could have done. It wasn’t like I sneaked arsenic into their packed lunches when they weren't looking or sent Junior in with kitchen knives to practice juggling with! I can’t help thinking that in my day school was a much more dangerous place than it is now!

Friday, 8 May 2009

"A single gal's worst nightmare... being alone with only the meowing of forty-two cats for company. Now there's nothing wrong with liking cats, don't get us wrong, but when your clothes are adorned with cat motifs, there's more cat food in your cupboards than human food, and you start breaking up with partners because the cats didn't like their scent, then you should possibly consider that you've gone just a tad too far down the feline fan road. As a celebration of eccentricity and serving as a warning to those likely to err towards batty catty behaviour, the Crazy Cat Lady (and we all know one) is a must. Not only does she have six 'freestyle' cats, they're also coming out of her pockets and exploding from her wild hair. Mad as a badger, the Crazy Cat Lady is an absolute must have desk accessory"

I couldn't believe it when I stumbled across this website! I had always visualised myself at some point in the not so distant future turning into 'Crazy Cat Lady' but I certainly didn't imagine I would ever end up looking like this frightening combination of Pete Burns, Amy Winehouse and Cruella De Vill!
Surely cat fans can be glam too?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Read of the Year so far...

It's not often that a book changes your life but I think "The Other Hand" by Chris Cleave has the potential to do so. This is the most heartbreaking, powerful and well-written novel I have read in a very long time. I have to admit it was the tantalising blurb that first caught my attention - "We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it...Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds" Maybe I am a bit of a sucker for this kind of thing but I'm glad. This book has put me through the ringer and I am little more than halfway through. It is a rarity to stumble across a book that has the power to make you weep uncontrollably. I have become so attached to the characters in this emotionally charged and at times gut-wrenchingly painful story that I am absolutely dreading finishing the book. It's a difficult read - shocking, powerful and deeply affecting. It is also gripping and funny in places. Utterly unputdownable. If you are looking for a reason to re-assess your life, to put your "problems" into perspective then I recommend this terrific novel to you.