When in Happyland, do as the Happy do.

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In her room, at a nursing home in Wigan, there is a small pile of cheery books that may spark a happy l’il moment for my nan. One of them is a Mr. Men book by Roger Hargreaves, namely Mr. Happy. Perusing it made me want to purchase the entire collection – 46 books in total, I think. Great books! Plus, 33 Little Miss Books. Mr Hargreaves himself must surely have been a lovely character.

Mr Happy lives in Happyland where ‘even the flowers seem to smile.’ One day he discovers a small door in the trunk of a tree. To cut a short story even shorter, entrance to the door leads Mr Happy to the residence of Mr Miserable. I counted 3 things that Mr Happy does to help his new friend:

1) “They both set off through the wood and back to Mr Happy’s cottage.”

Mr Happy encouraged Mr Miserable to go for a walk. Exercise, even gentle, creates new neurons in the brain, boosts blood flow to the brain and increases levels of key mood-boosting chemicals in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine.

Add to that the effect of sunshine. Our mood can be significantly boosted by feeling the sunshine on our face.

2) “Because he was living in Happyland Mr Miserable ever so slowly stopped being miserable and started to be happy.”

Notice it doesn’t say Mr Miserable felt happy but that he ‘started to be happy.’ A study at the University of British Columbia found that even brief interactions with strangers tended to improve people’s mood. Why? Well, researchers ruminate that we try to act more cheerful around strangers which has the corroborative effect of putting us in a better mood.

3) “Mr Miserable and Mr Happy laughed and laughed… And because they were laughing so much, everyone who saw them started laughing as well.”

Studies have suggested that moods are contagious.

So, to sum up, gentle exercise – especially when the sun is out, interaction with strangers – even if only brief, and keeping away from The Miserable Ones, and who knows, we may find ourselves in Happyland today. :o)

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Creativity Saves The Sanity

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I had a love affair with mosaic making this summer. I don’t mean Perfect Mosaics like this:IMG_2337.JPG

But like this…040

And this…041

There’s just something so dashed cathartic about smashing up (oh especially the smashing up bit!) and cutting broken crockery and finding the best juxtaposition for whatever pattern/picture I’m making. It seems to mend broken bits in my head too. It’s so absorbing.

Sat in the summer sun mosaic making was a real treat but what of the long winter nights ahead?

Well, I’ve set myself a challenge to make and create more, starting with a patchwork blanket from a mountainous stash of fabric scraps that I’ve been hanging onto – ‘just in case’.

In need of a bit of inspiration (and respite from life) mum and I toddled across the Mersey on Friday to a hidden gem in Birkenhead – the Williamson Art Gallery.

Celebrating World Mental Health Day the gallery threw an Arts and Minds Festival: “Exploring the role that creativity can play in maintaining our health and well-being”. (It’s incredible you know the free events that take place in our own locality. We just have to be sleuth-like in seeking them out.)

Ignoring mum’s plea of, “I’m just not creative like that” (such flapdoodle this – mum is a prolific knitter, crocheter and is learning how to up-cycle old furniture), I cajoled her into The Making Room for a Calm and Create workshop.IMG_2947.JPG

(I once wrote about Creative Alternatives, Calm and Create is a similar initiative, funded by the NHS, over on The Wirral, the only difference being that you don’t have to be referred by your doctor. You just book a place on one of their events. Again, it’s free.)

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Love this!

Creating is an innate need in all of us. If you don’t believe that, I’d wager that you haven’t yet experienced the power of, or the catharsis of, dabbling in a bit of creativity. Already, we all of us, create more in life than we realise. Yes, even you! We put outfits together, we personalise our work spaces, we choose decor, we doodle whilst on the phone; everyday we create.

At the beginning of the class we were reminded that creativity is about the process – not the end result. You can see why. It’s quite amusing how stiff, uptight and terrified a bunch of adults can be when instructed to go forth with pastels and “play, have fun, make a mess!”

My first thoughts were:-

a) I don’t want to get pastel dust on my black velvet jacket (at what point in life do we stop wanting to make mess? As kids it was our life’s vocation to get messy).

b) I don’t know what I’m doing (as adults we do so struggle to “just be” in art).

c) I can’t do this. Can’t do what? Er, have fun?!

Ten minutes in and the pastel dust seemed to distribute a sprinkling of magic. Our inner critics started to pipe down and we rejoiced at the colourful smudges and patterns our hands created. As we limbered up a bit we made pretty, bold or bright art.

Hang on a minute! Was I having fun?!

One hour later and, as our gentle tutor, Ruth, commented, there were now 11 pieces of art work that hadn’t existed 60 minutes earlier.  Most importantly, however, was that we were indeed now feeling calm.IMG_2944.JPG

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Inspired to keep up the habit of daily creativity, tonight, I plan to rip up pieces of scrap paper and decoupage (stick them on) an old melancholic-looking lampshade.

Create, make and muck about with art this winter and you may save the ole sanity.

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A few pretty things

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The only thing I ever really wanted to be when I was all “growed” up was a missionary. I remember vividly during one science lesson (whilst trying to ignore the throng of boys on the bench behind me who were trying to see how far they could spit – my back was “The Winner”), thinking that I didn’t just want out of Bootle (according to Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire, one of the most deprived areas in the UK), I wanted out of this Continent! I felt destined for a remote African village or an unknown Peruvian town way up in the mountains.

Alas, alack, health problems and circumstances pushed my dream away from me.

In 2007/8, however, I was fortunate enough to be able to “live like a missionary”, even if only for a few short months, whilst living in Nicaragua. Ah, the happiest days of my life them.

Often, and sometimes for days at time, there would be no running water or electricity, and whilst there were no food shortages, there certainly wasn’t the choice of ingredients to which we are accustomed here in the Western world. (Finding a tub of peanut butter was a cause for great celebration and woe betide the villain who stole my precious stash of English tea!)

Living amidst poverty, I learned quickly that possessing just a few pretty things can go a long way in making a house, or living space, a home and in making life rather more bearable. A few brightly coloured scarfs draped on the wall, colourful scraps of fabric sewn together to make a table covering; a single hand picked flower or a cheery piece of crockery could make all the difference when deprived of the luxuries, or indeed, “essentials” of what I was used to back home. Even my mosquito net became a thing of romantic beauty.

Sometimes we learn lessons without realising. Memories of those precious months have come flooding back to me this week as I move out from my life long family home to my own humble flat. (That it’s taken me 36 years to be able to do so is surely worthy of another post altogether!)

For the foreseeable future I’m not going to be able to afford some of the luxuries that we may all too often see as Essentials: a TV license, WIFI, a sofa and, for the first time ever, I’ll become acquainted with the inside of a laundrette (laundromat for our American friends). But I’m Ticketyboo Su don’t you know and I know that all I ever really need are a few pretty things.

A World Without Oil Manifesto

When the world runs out of oil, I’ll be OK.  The unskilled, unqualified, uneducated, like me, would stand up; be counted.  I’d use my creative mind to survive.  I’d turn roundabouts and wasteland into allotments for those without gardens.  Spinning wool, weaving, harvesting my own cotton and “resuscitating” second-hand clothes would no longer be “cute” or “eccentric” but VALUED and IMPORTANT.  “Twee” crafts would become Essential.  In a world without shops saturated with perfectly made posh stuff,  my HOME-MADE gifts – like jewellry made from orange peel or crocheted blankets – would sell.  Imperfect would become the new perfect. My gift for hoarding “just in case is comes in handy” would be rewarded. NO POWER = NO BIG SHOPS.  Local stores would have a GREAT renaissance.  Hand crafted furniture, toys, bicycles and watches would become “Life Saving”. Individuality would rule.  Home-spun style and hand made clothes.  No more fashion industry and soul-less mass marketing.  Dreams of creating my own clothes, crockery and candles would become the best enforced reality.  In a world without oil lack of power would mean NO daytime TV, X-box or video games.  Wii Exercise?  You’d exercise plenty turning over the soil to GROW YOUR OWN.  Big beastly supermarkets would close.  I’d have to wash actual soil off my potatoes – like the good old days.  No more pre-packed, pre-washed, pre-cooked fare.  NOPEAs mass production diminished so would processed food.  My skin would glow as I ate less ingredients that I can’t pronounce.  Plastic bags and bottles would be no more.  Pesticides?  What pesticides?  In a world without oil eating meat would be a treat – I’d be healthier and animals would be happier.  There would be less imported food and no fast food.  I’d  eat seasonally.  My friend’s vegetable oil car fuel would be in demand and buses would run on waste food.  The  horse drawn gypsy caravan would enjoy a revival and I’d embark on a different kind of road trip.  I’d sketch on paper I’ve made with my own hands, eat home-made jam and I’d never leave the tap running whilst brushing my teethThere would be less light pollution; more star gazing.  Life’s little things and treasures would be appreciated.  The multi-zillion pound anti-depression industry would turn to natural “science” for answers.  In a world without oil ‘every little would indeed help’ and everyone would have something to offer.  When the world runs out of oil we’ll be ok.

Inspired by the book, A Different World by Ruth Jacobs

The Iron Men of Crosby

Walking along the Coastal Path at Crosby, Liverpool, even on a blustery, bitterly cold day, you’ll never find yourself alone.  Scan your eyes across the beach and you’ll see 100 men, always.  Of course, depending on the tides and shifting sands, you may not have perfect visibility of them all, all of the time, but they are there nonetheless.

While the 100 hundred iron men, custodians and caretakers of Crosby waterfront, bear the full brunt of the irascible sands and an ever shifting weather front, in keeping their posts faithfully, they also bear witness to every moment of beauty there.  From stunning sunsets to ecstatic dogs being exercised, to passing titanic cruise-liners to beautiful skies; they enjoy front row seats to it all.

These Watchmen are also the frequent recipients of charitable and humourous garb.  Much like the crowning of the Wellington statue of Glasgow, with a traffic cone, became such a tradition by inebriated (probably) souls, that eventually the “crown” became a permanent feature, so too, the iron men’s adornment has become a popular practice amongst the locals.

I hope very much that local Yarn Bombers one day surprise the faithful Iron Men with colourful, warming wool.  Thus creating a beautiful, jaw-dropping sight and at the same time celebrating not just this fabulous artwork but also acknowledging the, all to often, undervalued skill of things such as knitting, crocheting, spinning wool and so on.

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Anthony Gormley, artist and creator of “Another Place” (the men are moulds of his body) has such shapely legs!

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Speaking of Yarn Bombing...bombed

Speaking of Yarn Bombing…bombed

A Postcard From Whitby, Yorkshire

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Me, sketching, at Whitby Abbey

Me, sketching, at Whitby Abbey

 

Five hours stuck on a coach, with no air, no room and a nauseating rubbery smell.  Ugh!  Would it be worth it?

 

(One of the vexing things about the narcolepsy is that I’m not allowed to drive.  This stymies a constant need in me for finding open space or to be able to “run” away, even if only to the nearest beach.  Dreams of Great Road Trips, like the Scottish Highlands, our “green and pleasant land” – England, a Grand Tour of Europe or of Route 1 (the coastal road that takes you the length of California), don’t seem feasible anymore: who’s going to want to hop in a retro VW Campervan to embark on a road trip with someone who can’t share the driving? (Silence))

 

Six years to the weekend that dad suddenly died I’m more aware than ever of how like my dad I am, both for good and for bad.  Not that you’d have ever seen my dad traveling anywhere on a coach (unless he was firmly ensconced in the driver’s seat) but had it happened, he’d have been huffing and puffing, shifting from one butt cheek to the other, all hot and bothered – in short, he’d have driven me nuts.  I now drive me nuts with me! It’s about the only driving I can actually do (queue laughter).

 

Things I Loved About Whitby

The abbey on the hill; I loved all the knobbly, gnarled walls and windows with the sparkling blue sky above its rooflessness.  Great to draw.

I loved the cackling and chorus of the myriads of starlings perched atop the abbey, all talking at once, enjoying the warm September sun.

I loved the quaint, crooked cobbled streets and quirky independent shops.  (Loved Bobbins in the historic Wesley Hall on Church Street.  Love yarn?  You’ll love Bobbins.)

I loved the wee pastel coloured houses on the waterfront; there’s picturesque scenes at every turn.  My head was on a swivel!

I loved the recommendation of the Fisherman’s Wife restaurant, with fab food and sea views (we managed to get a window seat.  Pheweeee!  T’was a close call.).

 

I can hear a little whiny voice asking: but what about the 11 hour round trip on a stuffy, cramped coach?  And what about sharing the tiny town with what felt like an unnatural amount of people (I think half the UK were there!)? And you were so tired you missed all the best scenery, like the seemingly infinite and utterly awe-inspiring Yorkshire Moors.  And what of the gaudy strip of amusement arcades and other tasteless establishments?

In reply, I’d say, I don’t know what you are talking about.  I simply don’t remember any of that.

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A Tale of Ten Kitties

This isn’t so much a Tale of Two Cities and their inhabitants, as much as a tale of two gardens and the cats that live in them.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,…”

The summer was hot, the Pimms was cool.  On the surface, all seemed somnolent.  Alas, in the Universe of Scents that only felines can inhabit, rancor rankled and rattled.  The general zeitgeist of the moment was mercurial and one of unrest and of caution.

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It took us several months to realise that our new neighbours had moved in not with 1, 2 or even 3 cats but with 5 or 6.  It would seem the cats are not allowed indoors (or maybe they are too terrified to venture in due to the 2 big dogs that live there now also).

Oftentimes, sitting outside, especially if enjoying al fresco dining, it feels like living on a Greek Island.  Or, a real version of that TV advert where 100’s of cats fiendishly descend upon a home because a certain brand of milk (or cream?) is being served there; awaiting the right moment to pounce and lap up the White Stuff.

The kitties from next door seem to prefer our garden, company and affections (I can’t say food because were we to start on that road, I fear mum and I would end up as something akin to the characters in Grey Gardens.  This makes me sad though as they seem ever hungry.  Oh to have more pragmatism in life!), to that of their own domain.  Three of them in particular make constant attempts to make their paws firmly established under the table here.

All of this is, of course, much to the disquiet of our own 2 kitties and our current lodger, Binky.

The rascality and shenanigans that occur between all of these residents must be witnessed (or heard) to be believed.

The Main Characters:

Garden 1.

Savvy Sam. 034

Sam is as proud and as haughty as the cats in Ancient Egypt must surely have been.  They were worshiped there after all.  He is also, however, the softest, gentlest of boys and can be a real scaredy cat too.

Sam adopted us; it took a whole year to gain his trust.  He’d turn up between 5 and 6 each evening and wait on the window sill.  As we put food out for him he’d growl and hiss and would wait in safety until we were back inside, door closed, before making his hungry move.

Back then Sam donned a blue polka-dot collar but as the bitter winter of 2010/11 descended it was evident (if it wasn’t already) that poor ole Sam did not have a home.  He sought refuge in a dog kennel we’d erected and made cosy for him. 

One snowy December night he collapsed with the cold and we carried him in.  That was the first time we’d managed physical contact with him; his fur was matted and dirty.  He’s never hissed or growled at us since.012

We lost Sam for almost an entire year.  Once again Sam’s savvy survival skills served him well and we were all happily reunited last June.  (By this time I’d rescued a little scrap of a kitten (Tilly).  Sam now professes to be guardian of her (she adores Sam) but we know he secretly teases her.

Sam is savvy too in that he’s always managed to avoid fights and skirmishes with other cats.  He doesn’t wear the battle wounds that other cats do who have needed to fend for themselves.

He does bear other scars though.  Sam has evidently, at some point, suffered a raw deal at the hands of a man.  Bar one or two exceptions, Sam hates men.  Men and boots.

Tilly-tots

A gentle, timid little girlie that squeaks in lieu of a miaow and moves as deftly and as silently as Cat Woman herself.  426

Tilly is terrified of the cats next door and finds Binky to be blunder-bus.  As she skirts around him, hoping not to wake the beast, she growls the whole time. 

Tilly doesn’t walk or run; she ‘dances about’, as if moving to a beat that only she can hear.

Binky

Many of you will by now know Binky. On this, the eve of Binky’s being re-homed (alas, he has never been embraced by Tilly or Sam and this causes Binky no end of distress), it seems fitting to pay homage to a brave boy who has come through much (as we have with him!).

Farewell Mr Binks.  We’ll never forget you!  This hasn’t been an easy year for you thus far, we know, but we feel sure that your new Servant is just the right choice for you.

We miss you already, you lovely boy you.213

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The Sleepy Soul (me) 

Ever anxious, creative and nurses a penchant for Pimms&Lemo (only if it has all the trimmings mind!).

The Mum

Ever patient; ever calm.

Garden 2.

Please note, names may have been changed to protect the innocent.  (In other words, we don’t know their real names.)

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So called because of a triangle of black smut in the middle of his face.  The -Ange part worked well because I thought he was a she; I now think she is a he.

Triange is not afraid of heights…

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Thus named because he looks like a small hyena.  019

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My cousin named this pretty ginger spice with a white chest.

Olive tries to woo our Sammy – who runs away in terror or looks on with great perplexity.  (Much to my consternation it would appear the Olive has not been neutered.  Knowing how good cats are at breeding and knowing only too well how cat sanctuarys are packed out to the rafters with unwanted cats and kittens, I find I’m in constant dialogue with myself as to whether I ought to go and politely ask our neighbours if they have ever heard of the PDSA.)

When Sam refuses to get involved with the immoral advances of the riff-raff element, Binky is happy to oblige poor, desperate Olive – despite the fact that he himself has had ‘the snip’.  (I have video footage of this but it felt an infringement of Cat Rights to post it.  It even felt a tad voyeuristic filming it to be honest!)  Sam looks on in sheer disbelief.  I swear I hear him muttering, “This used to be a reputable neighbourhood.”

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Hard core fighter and defender of any current “Top Cat” Title. GM struts into the garden and the Rocky theme tune strikes up. It must be seriously to his chagrin that he has now been forced to wear a collar with a little tinkling bell.

I can’t decide whether this is because he’s been bringing his Servants too many gifts of the feathery or long-tailed variety or so that his Servants will know when we splash cold water his way. (They’ll hear a rush of tinkling.)

Oh c’mon now, don’t be like that!  He inflicts terror into our cats – we don’t drown him; just a little sprinkling to see him on his fighting way.

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You maybe familiar with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Musical CATS, based on the delightful set of poems by T.S. Eliot.  As Grizabella enters any scene all the other cats slink off; it’s as if they can’t bear her sorrow.  And so it is with Griz.  I had gotten into the habit of calling her Gammy-eye, due to her sad, runny eyes (something else to mention in passing to the neighbours?), but her slow movements, combined with her unintentionally seeing off all the other cats made me rename her.

GB is determined to make her home here.  If the back door is left open for more than a few minutes, she’ll waste no time in venturing in (she has just pushed her way in as I write), foraging in all three food bowls here.  Maybe she could be called Goldilocks too.

Tabby

Rarely seen.  (Does she have a special place within in the home?) No photo.

Yes, yes, I realise that makes only 9 cats but would the title have had the same ring?  It had to be 10.  And let’s face it, at this rate, there could be new arrivals any day!

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Sometimes, Sam prefers to keep an eye on the outdoor proceedings from the safety of indoors. His favourite spot enables him to do this.

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Poor Grizabella

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Cubism and Sensitivity

1910, Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier), oil on canvas, 100.3 × 73.6 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Pablo Picasso’s Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier), 1910 Wikipedia.

(This is a post for moodscope.com but I’m putting it here first.)


Yes, I know, I’m all about the “highly sensitive souls” but please, indulge me here for a few posts about very sensitive people.  I need to purge these from my own sensitive soul and then, I promise, I’ll not harp on about the personality trait, again.

Despite having known for quite some years that I’m very sensitive and despite the fact that I keep a blog site with the words “sensitive souls” in the title, I’ve only just these past few months read properly Elaine Aron’s book entitled, Highly Sensitive People.

It has validated a lot that I’ve always “felt” (for starters, it’s no wonder my posts are often all about the feelings), but it has enlightened me on a whole lot more besides.

For now though: what exactly is it to be a highly sensitive person?  Here’s what it is to me…

I recently read an incredible article explaining why the camera could never, nor will ever, be a match for the wondrous design of the eye.  You can read the article in full here but, in brief, Danny Gregory, an artist and author, expresses with clarity that, “a camera sees only from a one-point, locked perspective that creates a single image of a specific vantage point…,” as opposed to the human eyes which “constantly move about…Our impression of what we’re looking at is actually lots of different perspectives all blending into one undulating picture”.

In articulating all of this Danny explained what the Cubism movement was all about and it was this that gripped me.  I’ve re-read it again and again:

“Amazingly our brains take all this information and instantaneously create a sense of what we ‘see’. It’s not a single picture but lots of different impressions that are all blended together. (That’s what the Cubists were getting at, trying to record all those different angles and perspectives into a single painting to simulate the way that we see. They were trying to show the distinction between how humans see and what the camera was introducing. People think of Cubism as abstract art but it actually was an attempt to be even more accurate about literally how we see the world.)”  (Note to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona: if you had Danny Gregory’s article, especially the bit in parenthesis, up for visitors to read, I can guarantee that more money would be spent in your gift shop. To understand Picasso’s Cubist work (I never have) is to want to buy memorabilia of it.  Trust me on this.)  See Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ here.

It finally hit me in the small hours one night why I found this cerebration so poignant.  For me, it explained perfectly how it is to feel highly sensitive.  In the same way that the Cubists were trying express how the eye sees in comparison with the camera, so too the very sensitive soul feels/sees everything as if in 3D; the length, width, height, depth. And trying to convey this can be very challenging.  The result often being that the very sensitive soul is misunderstood, just as the Cubist’s art was.

I leave the house and I see, feel, hear; I absorb everything.  The cornices, design, era of every building I pass; the character of people by observing their gardens, wheelie bins or recycling boxes;  I see pigeons swooping down invisible hills in the sky; aircraft flying overhead; I hear a police siren getting closer; I feel the moods of people that pass me by; the skinny cat from down the road – ‘is it cared for?'; I smell freshly mowed grass, pot from a house I’ve just passed; and I could go on and on and on here.

I’ve always seen this as a positive trait: observant.  For the first time in my life, however, I grasp why walking into a room full of people, people I may know well and love, can, at times, be totally overwhelming.  It’s a stimulus too many.  It’s overpowering and often something has to give: I’ll turn on my heels and head back for the door, or, hide in the loo until I feel I can make another attempt at joining the throng.

It puts me in mind of watching a film in which someone is losing consciousness.  As he or she is fading, things become exaggerated to him/her.  The music seems distorted, the person talking to him/her become a kind of grotesque, wide-mouthed creature, talking too much and standing too close.

You may have seen the enchanting mini-series ‘Lost in Austen’.  There is a very affecting moment where Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, slips through a time rip from 19th-century Georgian England and finds himself in the present day, bang slap in the middle of Oxford Circus (or some equally a frantic paced place in the capital), London.  This is a jolting, over-stimulating, terrifying moment for him and its poignancy is never lost on me.

This personality trait makes no one any better, or indeed, any weaker than anybody else. And, as with any trait, there will be varying shades of it.  Once again though, doesn’t it go to show how learning about ourselves can be helpful, comforting (I’m not a “a mess”, my senses are just more quickly aroused), and can assist us to become more successful in handling daily life?

Sensitive and successful?  A post from me soonly.