Needles in Haystacks?


The frustration, the desolation, the loneliness is palpable; her small voice echoes with it.  How incongruous: that so tiny a voice could be so loaded with such weight? Skype connects us, but I can’t touch her: I can’t reach out a hand to place on her arm, some small gesture of support. And warmth. I can’t smile encouragingly at her. Urge her to smile back at me (Botox stop frowns and Depression – if we cannot look sad we cannot feel sadness say Researchers – have you ever heard such nonsense!). I can’t do those things. I can’t do anything. Depression is like that. And Mum is still sick. So I rail instead. And I intellectualize her illness for I do not know what else to do and doing is better than not. And I have to hope (hope, hope, hope) that by researching, reading, writing I will keep a step ahead.  And I flail around looking for answers. And people to vent my rage at.

The secretary in the East Anglian mental health clinic mum attends is mildly shocked to receive a telephone call. From Africa I say, in vain hope (hope, hope, hope) that the very fact I am ringing from so far away will impart the import of this call: will prod her to bring Mum’s next appointment forward. It won’t. It doesn’t. I’m sorry, he’s terribly booked up. You could write to the doctor, she suggests (to fob me off the line). I do. And I say – after the necessary preamble as to who I am and who my mother is because he has not met her yet and is another in a long line of doctors Mum has seen (such is the turnover  of psychiatrists there) and I want to spare her a  tearful introduction – that she went for 18 months depression-free was a good run is not good enough;  what do you suggest?

I don’t hear back.

Nor do I hear back from the local Mind representative when I write and ask about support groups, their befriending service, outreach programs. But I am sent a form.

I do hear back from the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who writes and urges me to contact a doctor whose specialty is depression amongst women. So I do. And she responds and tells me that when the report she is compiling on exactly this – the fairer sex’s proclivity to melancholia – has been published, she will send me a copy.  And I thank her. 

Why do I do it? Why do I deliver written tirades to  doctors I do not know, why do I risk getting a reputation for being a strident cow (it’s all very well for her to write and rant and rave, why doesn’t she just get over here and look after her mum herself?  But, as mum tearfully offers when I suggest as much, ‘you have your own family, and anyway there’s this ash cloud’ …).

Why? Because I have to keep digging about in the emotional fallout, the rubble, looking for answers.

Even when there aren’t any.



I love this time of year. The sun gets up early, grins broadly, clambers eagerly into the sky and chases the clouds away so that all that’s left in the bright high blue are thin as a wisp white horses tails. So that the sunsets are tipping and glorious and spilling and generous and gild the outpost in delicious syrupy light which I drink in with too much white wine for it seems a reason to celebrate – especially when in the east they are mired in greyly damp gloom: such are the staggering proportions of this country that our winters in the west are quite different. And quite beautiful for it.



I love this time of year. But I do not love snakes.

Sylvester in the Gumboots killed a five foot Cobra in the garden this morning. I was immersed in words and was called to inspect and congratulate. From a safe distance. As it twitched blackly and slickly and evilly on a gasping lawn.  “Take a picture” instructed Sylvester. I took a photograph.  ‘This is not the biggest snake I have killed in this garden’, Sylvester in the Gumboots offered, ‘I think this one is that one’s baby.’ And seeing my face twist in an expression of gratifying horror he said, ‘this one is much smaller’.

I have made a solemn promsie to myself: I have promised myself to wear shoes from now on. Perhaps even gumboots, despite that high hot sun and temperatures that soar to the thirties.

What was it doing in my garden anyway, I asked Sylvester once unadulterated sweating palm fear had given way to indignation and snake was being safely carted to tip for cremation. It needed a drink, he told me sagely, that is why it was near the tank.

Now I need one. Rock on sundown.



PS The long black length behind Sylvester in the Gumboots is not the dead Cobra’s mother come to give me whatfor. It’s the hosepipe which so helpfully delivers sustenance to visiting snakes. I have to decide: do I need baths more than I need snakes?

22 Responses to “Needles in Haystacks?”

  1. Muddling Along Mummy Says:

    Cripes that is an ENORMOUS snake – not sure I’d want baths if they brought that along with them

    I’m sorry about your Mum not getting the support she needs – don’t worry about the letters and pushing, you need to if you are going to access the right services

    Have you also thought about contacting the patient liaison service – they may be able to help you

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Muddling: somebody else to harrass. and I shall. thank you for that x

  3. Anil Says:

    I hope the doctors are more receptive than what seems to be the case. I suppose there’re no alternative but to push them more even at the risk at being labeled strident. Faced with urgency it’s always frustrating to see the wheels of medical care move so slowly.

    Snakes are attracted to cooler places to regulate their body temperature in the heat of summers. Gumboots are key to safety.

  4. Addy Says:

    Eeeeugh. I don’t even like worms, so that snake would freak me out. As for your mum. so sorry to hear she is still feeling ill. I do hope the new doctor can help – eventually. You must be so worried.

  5. Potty Mummy Says:

    The snake has freaked me out too much to say anything sensible about your mum (but you know I’m thinking of you). And on a lighter note, that picture just goes to show that my concern on finding a hole in the tent I was staying in on safari in Africa a few years ago – at almost the same time of year – was merited… (I refused to go in there until the hole had been repaired. Spot the spoiled European bxtch…)

  6. Mama B Says:

    I saw a Chrisian psychotherapist each week for several months last year. Would have carried on longer if we hadn’t moved out here. It probably saved my faith, marriage and my childrens’ emotional health, let alone my own.

    Have you thought about trying to find help through a local church? You don’t have to be religious, or have any faith at all. They can sometimes put you in touch with good, qualified people who don’t work through the NHS systems and can therefore sometimes see people much quicker if they see it as urgent. I approached a friend in church about it and was seeing someone excellent within a fortnight.

  7. Mwa Says:

    The waiting lists all over the world – just because someone doesn’t have their arm hanging off doesn’t mean they’re not sick and don’t need help.

    That snake is SCARY!

  8. janelle Says:

    oh a, how terrifically hard for you being so far from your ma….so hard.
    and SIS MAN, to that fat cobra..i HATE them too….SIS. x j

  9. muummmmeeeeee...... Says:

    Oh my God – I’d rather stink than have those things slithering through my garden to get to the water!

    So painful to read about your mum – I have something similar with my Dad (although on a much much smaller scale) who lives about 10 mins away and that’s bad enough! I can’t even imagine how tough it is for you emotionally and practically x

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks for dropping by Anil: no, no option but to keep pushing and shoving. it is because of the stigma attendant to mental illness that not enough is done, not enough people shout. so i shall.

    thank you Addy x

    oh but quite Potty: i am right there with you. Holes in tents? an absolute no no.

    perhaps I shall suggest that mama B, that’s kind: thing is it’d mean Mum getting to church, and she doesn’t much feel like getting anywhere …

    thanks Mwa: I am just beginning to understand. about the waiting lists, i am so far removed i had not conceived a person so low would be required to wait. or one so ill.

    janelle, thank you x. and so eloquent: i agree agh sis man!

    i think perhaps I do, mummmmeeeee … stink I mean. Thanks for dropping in x

  11. doglover Says:

    You usually write such marvellous blogs that we feel really something of your pain about your mother’s circumstances in your contrasting blogs. I do hope that something can be done for her soon and that the awful cloud can be lifted from her.

    Poor snake – it was just a fellow creature going about its business. And I’d have called in Sylvester in the Gumboots, too – just as soon as the hairs on the back of my neck had gone down!

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you doglover.

    I can empathize with almost every other beastie that goes about its business in my garden – including spiders, grass snakes and lizards that hiss, but cobras. Not. That, frankly, is where the buck stops.

  13. carol Says:

    BIG SNAKE! Apparently we have one in the garage – I was only told after I’d gone in there to pull out firewood when we had leaks and no power last night …. luckily I didn’t encounter it. Our ‘Sylvester’ says they are coming in out of the rain.

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Carol. Buy gumboots and a big pole. pronto. How strange that where you are they are escapting the water and where i am they are seeking it. Buggers! x

  15. Marianne Says:

    Yes, it would certainly be a good thing to wear gum boots. Do they do thigh length ones?

    So sad to read about your Mum. How hard for her and for you, too, to feel so helpless.

  16. Kate Says:

    Sorry that you are still going round in circles with your Mum. Being so far away definitely magnifies the problem; we need to be in control but can’t from our Outposts so are hampered in our desire to make better.

    We’re not quite dry enough for cobras but give it a few weeks and I’m sure they’ll be around. Askari is the snake killer and in the case of cobras I don’t stop him, not when they are close to the house. Last year I nearly picked one up when reaching down to lift the table extensions up! It wasn’t agressive though.

  17. Iota Says:

    YIKES! I couldn’t live where there were snakes. I just couldn’t.

    All these lurking dark evil things in the world, of which you write… Thank goodness for the beauty of your photos and descriptions.

  18. Mama B Says:

    She wouldn’t need to go to church. If she was willing, someone else could find a number and phone them and ask the relevant person to drop in and visit her. Although I realise that simply coping with a visitor and having to talk can see like too much at times.

  19. TheMadHouse Says:

    Arggggggggggggggggg at the snake. It makes me very saad and angry that you mum is not getting the support she needs and deserves. I have been very lucky it seems in my Mental Health trust, but I guess it is just pop luck about where you live. She is very lucky to have a daughter like you, who cares so much

  20. familyaffairsandothermatters Says:

    Holy crap. That is one helluva snake to find in your garden. Why don’t you get your mum to fly over and protect you from snakes. Offer her wellington boots and a broom. She can not refuse. Lx

  21. nuttycow Says:

    What a great snake! Well done Sylvester in the Gumboots for killing that one!

  22. ali la loca Says:

    OMG that snake. Horrifying!

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