A new beginning – Week 1 of the 52 week challenge

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‘Do you need a lift?’

Danny looked at his mother; still wearing her dressing gown and her hair was in a state of bird’s nest tangles.

He shook his head. ‘It takes me twelve minutes and forty-five seconds to walk to the centre. I have twenty-two minutes and thirty seconds to finish my breakfast, wash up and put things away, put on my coat  and trainers. I have already made my lunch and packed it into my rucksack. It will take you at least forty-three minutes to go back upstairs, wash, brush your teeth, get dressed and find your car keys – which are in the bowl on the breakfast bar. I put them there this morning because you left them next to the microwave. So, no thank you.’

Whilst speaking, Danny had already moved from the table to the sink and washed up his bowl and spoon. His mother was about to tell him to leave the drying up for her but she knew that Danny preferred to wash up his own crockery. She watched him as he moved to the hallway, pulled on his trainers and tied the laces meticulously. She longed to be the sort of mother who could give him a hug and a kiss before he left the house but was held back by the knowledge that this would make him freeze and back away from her.

His coat was on now, and after checking that he had his own keys, his wallet and was wearing his rucksack with the straps adjusted equally, Danny nodded at her and left the house.

Even allowing for pavement crack avoidance, Danny still managed to arrive at work with two minutes and twenty-five seconds to spare. He keyed in the combination  on his locker, hung his coat and rucksack inside, and carefully juggled the numbers again so that no one would be able to guess his secret code. Other workers were already waiting in the staff room; as was his custom Danny took a seat at the other end of the line of chairs, away from his colleagues. No one was offended by this however, that was just Danny.

On the stroke of eight o’clock, Maggie, the centre manager joined them and began cleaning off the white board so that she could write up the jobs for the day. Danny expected to be on kennel cleaning. This had presented him with a problem at first but Maggie made sure that he always had the right gloves, a boiler suit, boots and an apron to wear, and it gave him a warm sense of accomplishment when he left the kennels clean, tidy and ready for the dogs to come back to.

Today was different though. Maggie didn’t give him any jobs. This worried Danny. She had explained to him and his mother that the centre couldn’t afford to take on many permanent staff, and that Danny could have expenses as a volunteer but would need to prove that he could work hard with his colleagues, and for the good of the dogs that had been abused and abandoned by evil, thoughtless people. Danny loved the dogs. He loved his job. He began to breathe heavily as he imagined what life would be like without his job at the centre. Maggie was very quickly at his side.

‘Come with me Danny. I have a very special job for you. I don’t know how long it will take you or if you can manage to do it, but I have a feeling that if anyone can succeed, it will be you.’

Danny followed her out of the room. Maggie was nice. It didn’t look as if she was going to sack him after all. He hoped that he could do the job – whatever it was.

They walked along the corridor: anxious doggy faces peered through the bars of the kennels. Some dogs barked, some whined, some yapped. Most of them wagged their tails as they recognised people who only ever showed them love and kindness.

‘In here,’ said Maggie as she unlocked the door to the special kennel. ‘This little boy was brought in during the night. I’m afraid that someone has been very unkind to him and he is extremely scared. He doesn’t know what to do when you touch him because he thinks you are going to hurt him. The only noise he can make is a scream of fear. I need you to spend some time with him every day. Talk to him, try to stroke him if you can. Your job is to help him to trust people again. Do you think you can do it Danny?’

Danny nodded, not taking his eyes from the skinny, cowering dog hiding in the furthermost corner of the kennel.

‘I’ve put in a clean bean bag for you to sit on; there’s fresh food and water, keep the door closed while you are in here and lock it when you leave. The noise he makes is pretty bad so come out when it becomes too much. Any questions?’

Danny shook his head, his eyes still focussed on the little dog.

‘We’ve called him George. He didn’t have a name before.’

Maggie left the kennel, mentally crossing her fingers that Danny would be the one to save George. The centre relied on donations and being able to rehome dogs once they had recovered from their pasts. She was doubtful that George would ever recover.

Danny moved the beanbag closer to George and reached out a hand to touch him. George screamed. An ear-splitting noise that Danny had never heard a dog make before. He turned its head towards Danny’s hand as if to bite it but experience had taught George that this action would only result in a kick or a punch, so he was too nervous to actually make contact with Danny’s gentle fingers.

‘It’s alright George. I won’t hurt you. I promise to look after you. I’m just going to sit here on the bean bag next to you for now so that you can get used to my smell.’

Maggie found them there, side by side, when she came back near lunchtime. George still looked scared but he wasn’t screaming. Danny looked up at her and she could have sworn she saw a glimmer of a smile.

‘Time for lunch Danny. You can either take a couple of the dogs round the field this afternoon, or you can come back and spend some more time with George – but only if you want to.’

Danny got to his feet stiffly and turned back to George.

‘I am going for my lunch now George. It will take me precisely twenty-six minutes to wash my hands, eat my lunch, go to the toilet and wash my hands again. I’ll come back here afterwards and bring my magazine with me. It’s about computers so you won’t really understand it, but it will help you to get used to my voice if I read to you. Is that alright Maggie?’

‘Oh very alright. I’ve explained to the others what you are doing with George but it’s completely up to you how much time you spend with him. If you need a break and want to stretch your legs, come and find me.’

Danny nodded, knowing that taking time to have his lunch would be the only break he needed. Maggie closed the kennel door behind them and handed Danny the key. He walked quickly down the corridor, feeling proud that she had trusted him with this very special job and not wanting to take any longer over his lunch than necessary.

It took two weeks in all. Every day Maggie made time to visit the kennel and listen to Danny’s soft voice telling George about computer systems, how to cook scrambled eggs, cleaning out kennels and making sure that the dogs had a balanced diet – anything that Danny felt George would like to know about. George stopped screaming when Danny reached out to him, and eventually took to creeping closer to the bean bag until the wonderful day when Maggie peered through the kennel bars and saw George curled up on Danny’s lap, sleeping happily as Danny stroked him.

Maggie went back to her office feeling a bit choked. She picked up the phone and called Danny’s mother.

‘I have some good news for you. I haven’t told Danny yet so act surprised when he comes home.’

‘What? What?’

I’ve been given a grant to take on an apprentice kennel worker. I want Danny to have the opportunity  – if he wants it.’

Danny’s mother almost choked on her reply. ‘How wonderful! Oh Maggie! I never thought I’d see the day that Danny would have a real job. Thank you. Thank you so much.’

‘No, it’s all down to Danny. I gave him a job that I didn’t think anyone would be able to do and he’s excelled at it. Has he told you about George?’

‘A little bit every day. We looked at some of his old books and discussed whether George would be receptive to music. It always soothes Danny when he gets wound up. I’d better work on looking surprised for he gets home tonight.’

Maggie walked back to the kennel, smiling at the sound of Danny singing an old lullaby to George. It would be a new beginning – for both of them.

 

‘Waving Hands Pushing the Mountain and Repulse the Monkey’

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Some years ago, whilst gainfully employed by an organisation that I am forbidden to talk about, I received an e-mail inviting me to partake in Tai Chi classes specifically aimed at employees with arthritis and diabetes.  Having an infliction of both, as well as an interest in the participation of an activity that hitherto had seemed to be performed in parks by hundreds of old people wearing silk pyjamas, I signed up.

It was being held at a venue close to my workplace, at half-past five and only cost three quid.  Bargain!

On arrival in suitably baggy clothing and sensible footwear (no silk pyjamas though), it transpired that the email had attracted a diverse bunch of people, a few of whom obviously hadn’t read the ‘baggy clothing’ instruction.  Some of the attendees, like myself, looked quite happy to be there.  Others bore distinctly resentful expressions and I later found out that they had been referred by (scary music) Occupational Health and told that there would be dire consequences if they didn’t attend.

Our Tai Chi instructor, far from being a wizened pyjama-clad martial arts man of an Asian appearance (Grasshopper), was a young NHS physio in a polo shirt, trainers and tracky bottoms.  He was lovely; patient, a very good teacher and particularly kind to those who were obviously pressed men and women.

Most of us participated and had a good time. Some of the hard-core pressed people started wincing and grimacing before they had even been shown the warming up exercises and by the time we actually got around to learning the moves, had collapsed in agony onto chairs at the back of the room.

The drop out rate therefore, was quite high and by the third week there were only half a dozen of us who had been charmed by our instructor’s enthusiasm and relieved to find that the slow, gentle movement did actually help out with management of the achy bits.

It wasn’t easy learning the moves, especially for those of us not blessed with the ability to tell right from left. There was a certain amount of coordination needed between feet and arms too.  After a few wrong turns, minor collisions and occasional fits of giggles, we all picked up the sequences (after a fashion) and I managed to remember enough to be able to practice at home.

I bought a CD of music specifically for use with Tai Chi, and thanks to the tolerance of Hub and the boys, began to have my own Tai Chi sessions before work every morning.

The environment had to be right; not too dark or light, with some fresh air and sufficient room to parade up and down, backward and forward (about 2 metres by 1 metre).  Our front room could just about accommodate this provided no one left diving gear, Airsoft guns or paintball markers in the way.

I did so well that my instructor asked me if I would be interested in training as a Tai Chi instructor.  The NHS would fund my training but I would need a current first aid qualification – either funded by myself or my employer.

Fuelled with enthusiasm and the thought of a weekend learning Tai Chi at a hotel in Stockport, I asked my boss if he would nominate me for a first aid course.  I didn’t envisage any problem; we ran these courses every couple of months and though they were always well-subscribed, there was no desperate rush as the next Tai Chi course wasn’t till after the New Year.

He refused.

He said that we already had two people with first aid qualifications on the team (one had lapsed and she had no intention of taking it again) and that was enough.  I was surprised at his attitude – usually a combination of laissez-faire management and ‘can you do this for me?’ but when I questioned further he clammed up and refused to discuss the subject.

I returned sadly to my instructor, only to be told further sad news that he would not be running any more courses for my employer ( they hadn’t paid), and that was why he had suggested that I do the training so that I could carry on the sessions at no further cost.

I asked my boss again. He refused again and nominated me for a fire marshal course instead.

Six months later, there was another email about Tai Chi classes.  They were going to be held in out own building but with a different instructor.  I signed up and tried not to giggle at the women who turned up at the first session in pencil skirts, tight white blouses and high heels. They didn’t read the bit about baggy clothing either.

The new instructor was dressed in black and spent most of the session telling us to listen and making sure that no one was creeping up on us from behind.  It was all very ninja. Not everyone took his exhortations seriously and as a consequence there was much giggling but at him, not with him.

He didn’t turn up for the second session.

I carried on with Tai Chi at home; not as rigorously as before but enough to try it out in various different venues when we were away on holidays.  The balcony at the hotel in Cornwall was good – if a little damp from sea spray.  The bungalow we rented when we went back down South to visit family was very accommodating and I often had an audience of birds and squirrels as I waved my hands at invisible mountains. I even managed to keep up my routine when I went away on a residential course.  Luckily I had blagged an accessible room with an en suite, my fellow students were stuck in shoeboxes that barely accommodated a bed, chair and desk. I had a longing to return to the scene of previous holidays in Majorca or Cyprus, and a villa with a sun-drenched balcony where I could Tai Chi to my heart’s content.

Hub and I were attending a health and fitness centre and I enrolled in Tai Chi classes there.  The instructor bore a startling resemblance to Gary Glitter in the Vietnam years and even wore a matching scarf.  He lined us up and announced that we would be exercising to music.  Far from the delicate and soothing tunes that I had become accustomed to, he put on a CD of what can only be described as Red Army marching instructions. As the  instructions were not in English, they had to be interpreted for us and as a consequence we were all rather behind with the steps, more giggling ensued and our instructor was deeply displeased.

I didn’t turn up for the second session.

Fate intervened and I bumped into my first Tai Chi instructor whilst shopping in Asda – as you do.  He was running another set of courses on Friday afternoons.  They were supposed to be for the over 65s but if I was interested then he could get me in.  The Tai Chi master behind the sequences I had learned previously, had added another nine moves.

Accordingly I booked long lunch hours for every other Friday afternoon – not really a problem as no one EVER wants a meeting on a Friday afternoon.

The lessons were lovely.  I was the youngest in the class – barring the instructor – I picked up the further nine moves eventually and managed to incorporate them into my early morning sessions at home.

Then I had the accident that I’m not supposed to talk about.

The accident that turned my life upside-down and put paid to any kind of exercise for months.

We also acquired Scooby, his bed, dinner and water bowls.

The combination of Scooby’s stuff and boxes of legal paperwork ate into my Tai Chi space, so that even once my injury had healed, there was no room to move any more.

Ah, but now we have the new kitchen and with it – more than a space 2 metres by 1 metre. I can open the windows for my fresh air and lower the sparkly black blind so that I don’t frighten the horses or distract the mad mother drivers as they round the bend on their way to school.

I have Tai Chi-ed every day since May 22nd.

Rusty at first and I had to send off for the wall charts in the end to remind me of the moves, but it has all come back.

Scoob insisted on watching me for the first couple of days.  He wasn’t sure about the arm waving and the strange music – doesn’t bat an eyelid when we play Motorhead or the Foo Fighters in the kitchen – but this weird tinkly stuff…….

He has settled down now and stays in the front room until the music stops and he knows that toast may be in the offing.

My blood pressure is down.  My blood glucose is down. I have lost the half a stone I put on during the kitchen renovation.  My Tai Chi makes me feel at ease again and able to tackle some of the less palatable jobs that I’ve put off.

The parcel delivery man just called.  He hadn’t seen the kitchen since it was done.  He loves the twinkling lights and the sparkling worktop. Obviously a man of great taste.

Love the kitchen.

Love Tai Chi.

Love family and friends.

Love life.

http://www.taichiproductions.com/[/

Dr Paul Lam – a very bendy man in silk pyjamas who provided the inspiration, the moves, the music , DVDs, books and the wall charts