Hello Black Dog

February 1, 2017

black-dogThe other day, for the first time in ages (or maybe since this time last winter), I woke up and felt something heavy sitting on my chest. It turns out it was my old foe and constant London companion, the Black Dog. Can you believe it, he’s back. He’s reared his head again, following me around and breathing his hot, stinky breath in my face.

I’ve developed SAD or Seasonal Adjustment Disorder brought on by winter. This is the grey flatness that comes from insufficient ways to entertain the kids, a lack of social interaction, seasonal sickness and spending too much time indoors.

I always find January to be heavy going and intense. January is the toughest time of year for Al work-wise as it is his year end. He has worked every weekend. He is head-down, focussed and functioning at his absolute limit, like stretched and taut elastic. Every January reminds me how Switzerland lacks adequate indoor entertainment for little kids so I struggle to keep Megan and Jessica active and amused. We watch far too much TV. Our family tends to get sick with one of the seasonal bugs doing the rounds and the weather usually keeps me housebound and trapped like a pinned butterfly. Every day reminds me of Groundhog Day.

I follow a group called ‘Very British Problems’ on Facebook and they post typical British quirks.  It’s hilarious.  I saw this one the other day and realize I’m not the only person in the northern hemisphere that finds January long and intense:


I’ve found this winter to be particularly gruelling. Apparently it is the coldest winter in Switzerland in 30 years.  I’ve been trapped at home with snow, snowdrifts and ice on the road that made conditions risky and dangerous. Our house is still surrounded by that insidious fog that hangs in the air and saps the spirit. It’s difficult to start my car in the sub-zero temperatures. I’ve slid on the road and wheel spun while trying to drive up a hill. I’m over winter now.

winterbluesAn indoor play area has opened up fairly close by which is an absolute miracle. Of course it’s not open all the time, just in the late afternoon. My friends and I are so grateful to have a place where the children can burn off steam. It’s a superb alternative to inviting people over for playdates. We can meet there instead. We all crave the company of others but are reluctant to invite people over and get our houses trashed.

This new play spot is expensive but what can you do? When you are isolated and lonely in winter, there is no alternative but to cough up the cash. One of my friends said she may have to take out a second mortgage on her house, but so be it.

I try to embrace the cold and get outdoors for some vitamin D and fresh air. I find the cold refreshing but Megan and Jessica don’t. I have encouraged them again and again to romp in the snow but, after 10 minutes max, they are not interested. They prefer to sit on the sled and weep while I drag them around as if I’m their personal husky.


All wrapped up for the outdoors but Jessica is not happy …

There’s been a gastro bug that’s done the rounds at Megan and Jessica’s nursery school. People have been falling like skittles. It’s a bug that only lasts about 24 hours but creeps up on you and you only realise you have it the moment a jet of vomit flies from your face.

Megan and Jessica caught it first. Between them, they vomited 11 times in one night and I used up all my linen. Our house had that fetid stench of a becalmed submarine. Two days later, I caught the bug and was man down for 24 hours too. It was horrid to be stuck in the bathroom most of the night, blasting hot fluid from both ends and spinning around like a Catherine Wheel.

I am endlessly grateful for my life and I enjoy living in Switzerland. I know I have nothing to complain about. I think there are more pros than cons to being here but, when you are sick, it is clear that the most difficult part of being an expat is that there is no family around to help. You are alone. That’s the biggest downside of living far away.

Yes, I have a network of kind friends but it is not the same thing. I’m not good at accepting help from people who are not related to me. I feel the need to prostrate myself before them in gratitude and it’s exhausting and not worth it. Most of my friends have children too and they are not too eager if you call up and say, ‘We have highly contagious gastro. Can you help?’ I feel the same way. You may as well have the plague. So we hunker down and quarantine ourselves in the house until it passes and my friends send encouragement and concern via Whatsapp.

40c4d17df716d593ed9601cb541b9171_sick-face-clip-art-169051png-sick-smiley-clipart_708-708Unless you are very lucky, it’s only family who will hold your hair and rub your back while you puke into the loo. It’s family who will load sick stained sheets into the washing machine or clean up a pool of vomit on the floor. I will never forget how my Dad helped me when I had food poisoning when I was living in Johannesburg. I was so sick from some dodgy sushi and the agony was similar to childbirth. I rang him with a desperate SOS in the middle of the night and he came round to my apartment. I recall lying curled up in the foetal position on the bed while he cleaned up the mess in the bathroom. ‘This is love’, I thought. ‘No one else would do this but family.’ Blood is thicker than water. I’ve missed my family and felt very homesick this month.

Good news though. My mom arrives soon for a three week stay. Yay! I know it doesn’t sound like it from this blog post, but I manage fine. I run a tight ship and, in normal conditions, I don’t actually need help. The thing I most enjoy about my mom’s visits every February is that she provides face-to-face friendship and social interaction to get me through the rest of winter. That’s all I need. Company! A pal on tap! February is looking good.



Waiting for the dove

October 25, 2010

Lately, my old and familiar “companion” The Black Dog has been nipping at my ankles more than usual.  He’s everywhere.  I wish he would leave me alone.  He’s there when I wake up, he travels with me on the buses and trains and he sits at my feet at work.  He refuses to get lost.  [I keep referring to it as a ‘he’ but I think it could actually be a ‘she’ as I suspect it’s pregnant with little Black Puppies].

It’s late October and getting colder in London.  Leaves are falling off the trees, the days are shorter and soon we will change the clocks for Daylight Savings.  The Black Dog thrives in this kind of dreary weather.  While it is literally approaching the winter months in the UK, I feel as if my soul has been in a permanent winter for most of this year.  The reason is because I’ve been searching for my mislaid mojo, my ‘oomph’, my zest for life and I can’t seem to find it anywhere.   In fact, I don’t even know where to look or how to search for it.  I often feel like I am a car with the accelerator going full throttle but am in neutral and so I’m burning out while standing still.

That’s the background to the story I am about to tell you.

Our multi-site church has recently acquired another building in South Kensington.  It is an old, traditional and ornate building bordering on cold and austere.  Al and I were early on Sunday afternoon so we sat in our chairs and gazed around at the decor.  Al pointed out a huge brass cross at the front of the room and on top of it there was a dove flying out of heaven.  ‘Hmmm, that’s pretty’, I whispered and didn’t think anything more of it.

At the end of the service, during the prayer time, the minister said that a few people had been praying before the service and had some words and pictures of knowledge they wanted to share. I listened to about five of these really sweet words but they were too dramatic and specific to apply to me.

I kept my eyes closed and my head bowed.  I then heard a man say this:

I have a picture of someone in a place where it is winter.  The ground is covered in snow.  In fact, there is so much snow that they can’t see where they are going.  They have a shovel and are trying to move the snow but it is so heavy and it seems pointless because they have no idea in which direction they should be shovelling.  Then, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, a dove appears.  The dove flaps its wings and begins to fly.  It leads the person with the shovel in the direction they should go.

I was stunned.  ‘That’s me!’ I thought.  I’m stuck in a permanent winter and I can’t see my way out of the snow.  I have a shovel and want to clear a path out but I don’t know how and in which direction I should start.

When I woke up this morning, I opened my eyelids and stared straight into the eyes of The Black Dog with his wet nose touching mine and his hot, morning breath on my cheek (It wasn’t Alastair – he was still asleep).  I wondered, ‘What happened to the dove and the shovel and the direction and the snow?’  Surely I should now spring out of bed and shout with complete glee ‘Good morning God!’  But I couldn’t.  Like usual, I sighed and mumbled ‘Good God, it’s morning.’  Why?

I realised that the picture was of a dove that will come soon but it’s not here yet.  I must wait.  I must keep a look out because it will happen in the future but not now.  In spite of this, I think the words from last night made the wick of the tiny tea light candle in the darkest, deepest part of my soul glow a little brighter.

I’ll let you know when the dove arrives.