Tuesday, 29 October 2013

All at sea with Captain Catastrophe - The Runaway Children 2

Since starting his travels five years ago, hed been shipwrecked at least twice, not counting the times his vessel had been beached, scuppered, squashed, upturned or stranded on a sandbank somewhere inconvenient. He was also very good at getting lost, having sailed around Fiji four times before wondering why it took so long to reach Dover. No wonder hed been dubbed Catastrophe by fellow seafarers. In fact, every time he left port, coastguards throughout the world took bets on when hed meet his next disaster. Of course, it mattered little to him if people poked fun, but things were different now.  Now, two young lives depended on his seamanship and, for the first time during his watery exile, he wished with all his heart hed taken lessons!
With great difficulty, he staggered towards the prow, fighting against the fiercely squalling winds while raindrops big as jam jars pelted down remorselessly. AS he lurched from side to side, Captain Bob tried desperately to lash the sails and fasten the rigging, but the deck had become so slippery, it was almost impossible to stay on his feet while the waters swelled with increasing power, tossing the vessel every which way but upright. 
Down below, the boys were feeling distinctly queasy and their arms ached through holding onto the table. Do you think we ought to help him? asked Odi, trying very hard not to panic. Joe shook his head. He told us to stay here! he yelled, unable to hear himself above the now earth-splitting thunder that accompanied the constant shafts of jagged, pure white energy. The boat rose upward from the stern and jiggled violently, as though determined to shake the boys grip from the table and they both screamed with terror as the craft slapped downwards again, almost pulling their arms from their sockets.  Immediately, there was a sickening crack from the deck. Im going up! Odi insisted. If Captain Catastrophe gets swept overboard, were done for!
Up aloft, the Captain was in a dreadful state, scarcely able to stand due to the force of the gale that howled menacingly around the Mersey May while the boats joints creaked under the strain. To make matters worse, the deluge had sucked all the air from his wellies and waterproof trousers, rendering them rigid, vacuum-packed, and clinging tightly to his legs. Unable to bend his knees, all Captain Catastrophe could do was cling desperately to the rails and haul his huge bulk along the deck, lunging wildly from one spot to another until finally reaching his goal. With one hand clutching the winch, he stretched his other hand towards the rigging of the main sail and started to untie it. This in itself was a Herculean task, but then a particularly savage gust wrenched the rope from his grasp and knocked him off his feet.  At the same time, a sudden gush of air shot up his jacket and, unable to escape due to the tight neck fastening, caused the garment to blow up like an enormous yellow balloon. Poor Captain Catastrophe completely lost resistance to the elements, and was literally blown across the deck, bouncing in his jacket like a buoy, until his head struck the tiller. But for an open cupboard under which his inflated jacket got wedged, hed have been dragged overboard by the ferocious surge of water.  Now completely helpless, the Captain lay with his upper body jammed into the cupboard and his legs sticking out, stiff as boards.
What do we do now? yelled Odi in dismay.
The jig….the jig…! Captain Catastrophe replied from the cupboard.
What?! Neither Joe nor Odi had a clue what he meant.
 The thingummy jig! the Captain continued, frantically waving his one free hand towards the mast. Pull down the sail! Its going to break!
Sure enough, the mainsail was flapping and yawing perilously above them. Here! said Joe. Well tie ropes around our waists in case we get washed away! Once secured, both boys inched their way towards the mast, trying to dodge the rigging that whipped from side to side. It seemed to take ages, but at last, they reached the mast and started winding together to bring the sail down. Unfortunately, theyd hardly begun this task when the cable jammed.
Its stuck! cried Odi. One of us will have to climb up to release it! Ill go, Im the strongest!
No Joe protested, Im lighter than you are. Itll be less likely to break. Not waiting to argue, Joe grabbed the mast and began to scale up it.
Be careful! yelled Odi, but Joe couldnt hear him above the howling gale and the gushing of the sea. At first it was almost impossible to climb;  his feet kept slipping and every time the boat dipped into the hollow of a wave, he had to cling on desperately. But slowly, carefully, agonisingly, he managed to inch himself upwards, until at last, he could grasp the cable near the top of the sail.
Start winching now! he cried and waved at Odi who had a crick in his neck through looking up. While Odi set about his task, Joe began to inch downwards, a feat that was even harder than the ascent, for he couldnt see where to put his feet. To make matters worse, he was still a long way from the deck when he heard a sickening crack. The mast had split beneath him!
Help! he screamed, as he felt the mast lurch sideways.
Hang on! cried Odi. Ill pull you in. And he grabbed the other end of the rope which was tied around Joe and yanked with all his might. Immediately, the mast fell sideways and dangled over the sea, leaving Joe floundering headfirst in mid air, with only Odi and the rope between him and certain death. I should be used to this by now he thought wryly, and prayed Odi was as strong as he liked to boast.
Fortunately, Captain Catastrophe had managed to squeeze himself out of the cupboard in time to help Odi haul Joe in. The three of them collapsed in a heap, groaning with fatigue.
As usual, Odi was the first to speak. I feel like Ive been in a Tom and Jerry cartoon! he remarked. It was then he noticed the Captains balloonish appearance. And, if you dont mind me saying so, Captain he added cheekily, You could do with a few less fry-ups! 
                “Glad someone still has a sense of humour” said Captain Catastrophe as he reached into his pocket. “All in all, that was quite a squall.” He pulled out a small penknife and plunged it into his oilskin jacket, which, to the boys’ delight, deflated with the most disgusting noise.
   Hey, Captain exclaimed Odi, cheekily, You make a brilliant whoopie cushion!

Extract from "The Runaway Children Volume 2 - The Astonishing Mr Smyle" 

Friday, 11 October 2013

"Don't stop believing"

         That was the advice from ex-pat Peter Coghlan when interviewed recently by Eugene Henderson for an article on assisted suicide.
       Pete knows better than most how easy it is to give into despair.  Two years ago, he suffered a massive brainstem stroke which left him locked-in - paralysed except for his eyes, his only means of communication.
       At the time of the article, which appeared in the Sunday Express on 29th September 2013, police were investigating the possible suicide of former teacher, Victoria Meppen-Walter, who was left in constant pain after a routine operation.
      Having woken up from a coma, Pete overheard doctors saying he’d little chance of recovery. The thought of living the rest of his life unable to move drove him to beg his mother to help him die.
       “Once people believe there is no hope, they give up, but I’ve been through a living hell and it was better than dying,” said Pete. “With the right care, physio and motivation, it can happen. I’m living proof. If you keep trying, things can change.”
       Now recovered from his ordeal, Pete lives in Perth Australia with his wife Jade and has written a book based on his experiences as a locked-in patient. “In the Blink of an Eye” is available on Amazon. (See links)

For more information about Peter Coghlan and locked-in syndrome:

Website: petercoghlan.com



Thursday, 10 October 2013

Dreams and how they affect us

Sally felt herself being driven along a rough, undulating path to be confronted by the head of an enormous mouse.....
After someone pushed Alan off the edge of a cliff, he found himself falling into a dark, fathomless abyss....
Jennifer desperately tried to escape as a gang of sinister men approached with pickaxes in their hands, but her legs refused to move....
Flapping his arms vigorously, David began to gain height until at last he could soar above the treetops, taking care to avoid the telephone cables overhead....
No, not horror films or scenes from science fiction, but experiences many people have while safely tucked up in their beds. Possibly due to something they’ve eaten, like cheese!
Dreaming is not only normal but absolutely vital for our mental health. Without it, we become tetchy and anxious, undergoing personality changes and finding it difficult, even impossible, to concentrate.
According to researchers, infants dream for up to 70 percent of their sleep time, while adults get by with just 24 percent REM activity (Rapid Eye Movement) when the brain is at its most active. Even cats, dogs and other mammals are thought to dream, a fact borne out by their yelping, twitching, growling, grunting and other animal expressions during sleep.
But whoever we are, wherever we live and whatever our circumstances, we all have dreams, although not everyone remembers them; the dreams we DO recall are the ones we have immediately before waking, before they slip like threads of gossamer from our minds.
What happens when we dream
When we nod off, our sleep becomes progressively deeper, reaching a state of total unconsciousness until starting to get lighter. It’s during this lighter phase of sleep when dreaming, or REM activity, occurs - a cycle that is repeated 5-6 times. On average, we can expect to dream for a total of 90-120 minutes throughout the night – roughly the same length as a feature film, though maybe not as thrilling. This is because the most common form of mental activity isn’t dreaming about incredible situations, but ‘sleep thinking’ – a process involving real-life events which tend to be rather mundane. Sleep thinking may however help us resolve any problems or worries we may have.
In fact, with the exception of neurons related to concentration and memory, our brains are actually busier when we dream than when we’re awake. But that’s only to be expected from such a complex organ; the brain has up to 50 billion elements generating between 100-300 signals every second! No wonder it never stops working.
Some dreams can be decidedly unpleasant. Past events and impressions obviously play a part – army veterans may be haunted by horrific wartime experiences, while victims of crime may re-live the fear and panic of their original ordeal.
Nor do they have to be particularly dramatic. Some of the most terrifying dreams can centre on normally innocuous objects, like dustpans or cupboards or mirrors which may suddenly seem sinister and threatening.
Children are particularly prone to frightening dreams. According to a study by mental health experts in Mannheim, Germany, 9 out of 10 youngsters are awoken by nightmares such as being chased, falling, natural disasters and war. Interestingly, gender has a bearing on how dreams are dealt with; boys tending to forget them altogether, while girls talk or even write about them, something which experts encourage. Drawing pictures of the dream or acting it out can also help children to overcome their fears so, as a result, the nightmare eventually occurs less often.
Interpreting dreams  
Humans have been fascinated by dreams since the world began, with many pagan nations including the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians using them as a guide to various aspects of life.  The Babylonians were particularly in thrall to the subconscious, having “such trust in dreams that on the eve of important decisions they slept in temples, hoping for counsel”.
More recently, Sigmund Freud viewed dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious” and tried to interpret them in the light of patients’ repressed desires. Such case studies have since been dismissed by many scientists as over-simplified.
Then there are the ‘dream books’ in which various pundits attach meanings and psychological insights to certain features of a dream – in some cultures, snakes, for example, are thought to represent disease. However, in her book The Dream Game, Ann Faraday believes such books are “equally useless, whether they be traditional or based on some modern psychological theory.”
Another specialist, Dr Rosalind Cartwright, is impressed by the differences between dream interpreters, with many psychotherapists insisting their interpretations are correct, “... apparently quite oblivious to the fact that their colleagues, on the basis of the same dream, may see quite different things for you.”
Can dreams foretell the future?
Many people believe so. For instance, a 1999 survey by sociologists found that over half of Russians believe in prophetic dreams and omens. And they’re by no means alone.  
The Bible has several instances of divinely inspired dreams, including Joseph’s warning to flee to Egypt with Mary before Herod could harm their child Jesus. Jacob, his son Joseph, Daniel, Ezekiel, even pagan rulers Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the Pharaoh of Egypt had visions. Yet these were related specifically to God’s purpose and, once the Bible was completed, dreams were no longer used as channels for divine communication.
On the contrary, dreams are just a normal if essential part of life, helping us make sense of our experiences and enhancing our memory. So enjoy them for what they are and, if you’re disturbed by nightmares, instead of looking for any ‘meaning’ in them, look for causes nearer to home.

And cut out the cheese!