Friday, April 22, 2022

The Dog Who Was Scared of Bicycles


When I walk Sita in the mornings, we meet other dogs with their owners. I bent to stroke a greyhound and noticed it was trembling fiercely. 

Aw, what's wrong? I asked the owner.

The dog was scanning the horizon in the wild-grass field that is Dawsholm City Park.

Ach, he's looking out for bicycles, she replied.

There were no bicycles in sight, but the poor dog was shaking with sheer vigilance. 

Apparently, a few years ago, it was slightly injured by a bike. As time passed, the dog started looking out for bikes everywhere. 

I haven't posted in ages, because on many days, I feel like that dog.

The world can be sudden and random. I've weaned myself off Twitter. There are are too many 'bicycles' behind parked cars. I think it's better for me.

I'm concentrating on looking after the kids, really being there for all their needs: a low-carbon activity that's greatly under-valued in society. Especially when their Dad is on tour. 

The horrors of Ukraine keep coming. I've donated to charity; it feels like all we can do right now. It's still so shocking. 

My writing has stalled. Occasionaly, I re-read it and think it's no good. I let it sit. But that's okay too? There's no compulsion to write. There's no higher moral ground from writing. It's okay to just 'be'. It's taken me 4 months to do a blog post!

I also miss the sea. Did I mention that? One day, I think I'd like to live by the sea again. When I'm asleep, I have mixed-up dreams about trying to buy a house by the sea. It's too expensive, it has weird, Alice-in-Wonderland rooms, it's above a book shop, but the shop is closed. In my dream,  I cried when I saw the view: it was my childhood view of Islay. 

                                                    Photo - Ronnie Campbell

Anyway, my fellow dreamers, it's time to get the dog out for a walk. 

'Love, Life, Prosecco!' as my girl, Tess, says in irony. The Prosecco of Spring sunshine is fizzing over Scotland. May it shine on you too. 

                                                      'I can't swim, mummy.' 

                                                      'I know.' 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

A Space Man Came Travelling

 How are we ? Haven't we been here before? Something's puzzling me.

Ah, yes. We're heading for another Covid-Challenged Christmas, serenaded by Ed Sheeran and Elton John. How did that happen?

Tonight, I was cooking the dinner when I heard Chris de Burgh singing A Spaceman Came Travelling. Flashback alert to 1986... 

I'm walking home from school, listening to it on a Sony Walkman. The Paps of Jura are dusted with snow and Loch Indaal is calm as a mirror. It's like some kind of lost Narnia land where wild geese call from the far horizon. I breathe in the frosty air, like great mouthfuls of inhaled peppermint, and plan my outfit to the pinnacle of excitement that was the Christmas disco.

It was magical. 

Any Spaceman nowadays would shake his head in disbelief at humanity's array of avoidable feck-ups, in relation to our relentless Pandemic and the Climate Emergency. I really am running out of words. But, hush my liege...we have to make the best of it.

I've been trying to plough on with my memoir musings. It takes a lot of work, and I'm never sure it's any good. Writers and self-doubt, huh? I find I can't write anything when the kids are off school, so it goes back into hibernation at every school holiday. I look forward to procrastinating further in 2022. 

Time for a few December photos: 

The dog approves of the 'fire' I made from fairy lights. Much less air-polluting and way more carbon neutral. 

A beautiful Christmas doorway, nearby - I can pretend I live here.

Portrait of Granny and Granda, living it large in Glasgow's West End.  I like Granda's pink crop top. The 1986 Christmas disco beckons.

If you want to hear more about 'Blank Pages', catch the man himself on The Great Scottish Book Club, final guest on this episode. 

Did I mention we went ice skating at Elfingrove? It was my favourite Christmas thing so far. So exhilarating, so freeing. I stayed upright. 

Here's a Christmas Poem I wrote about seeing my son in the school nativity play, when he was much younger.

Happy Christmas. Stay as safe as you can, dear friends. I miss the way we were. I miss sharing air, without a second thought.  

I keep reminding myself -  spring and summer are waiting out there.

Monday, October 18, 2021

COP 26 is Coming to Town.


As a mother of two, I've spent years hinting to the kids that we need to take climate 'change' more seriously. For climate 'change,' read climate 'emergency', or at very least 'crisis'

The kids generally say, Yeah, yeah yeah, Mum. Duh! We know, can we go to McDonalds and Primark? 

Last night, our son came back from a youth club, slightly breathless with the energy of The Outside World and asked:

Mum, have you ever heard of COP26?

Ah, at last. Thank you church youth club. 

Yes, I reply. It's the most important conference in the world, and it's coming to our town.

Let's go, boys! he says; it's his reply to anything he approves of. 

Of course, I don't bother the kids with the discourse that COP26 is compromised by inequalities of access before it even begins; it is too little, too late. 

COP26 is critical and we have to make the best of the status quo. It's all we have.

'Will Obama be there? Will Greta be there?' the kids ask, while pouring a supper of Malties and Cheerios. The dog hovers in hopeful expectation. 

'Will Nicola Sturgeon be in it?' Tess asks. They are shocked when I tell them that Boris Johnson did not want Scotland's First Minister to be any part of it. What?

During October break, I was lucky enough to take Tess to a hotel in beautiful Edinburgh. By coincidence, my pal Stuart was playing with his band, Belle and Sebastian at The Countdown TED talks nearby. The talks are a 'countdown' to COP26. 

Stuart kindly got me access. I was impressed by the level of 'covid security' (vaccine passports uploaded, testing on site before access, masks as standard. To me, it felt practical and safe). 

Nicola Sturgeon spoke at the TED conference, although I didn't get to see that. I had previously emailed the SNP and urged them to do more to #StopCambo - to condemn the UK government's plan to drill a new oil field in the North Sea. 

I think it's vital for a healthy democracy that we challenge out politicians - even the ones we broadly support - and nothing is more urgent than the Climate Emergency. 

On the way back from Edinburgh, I overheard two women on the train lamenting that the Clydeside Express would be closed to traffic during COP26. Consequently, it would be a big hassle for them to drive to work. 

I wanted Greta to come and sit down beside them, with her plaid shirt and her serious eyes. I wanted her to explain driving to work versus the fast track to an uninhabitable planet. A few more decades of 'business as usual' will only be catastrophic without serious climate action. 

We've already done the talking. It's time for action. Bring it on, Glasgow. Do your best. Make it good. I beg you. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Scotland, Schools and Covid : Trading the Slow Puncture for the Big Bang?

The image of a tidal wave keeps falling through my mind. 

The wave in the photo looks pretty, but the one I envisage is grey and more foreboding. Outside, the weather is glorious, while a tidal wave of Covid is hitting the schools. This time, it's really here. 

My own kids are not showing any symptoms, thus far. But come on, the odds are narrowing every day. Nearly 7K cases in Scotland today. Our highest ever. 

The isolation rules have changed:  If one sibling tests positive, the other child is expected to attend school....until they too test positive a few days later. It's a recipe for super-spreading. It's flabbergasting. 

As this unfolds, I feel angry and bewildered. I keep thinking: WHY are  the Scottish (and the UK) governments setting policy that actively encourages infection in schools? 

And today, my guess is this: they want to get a wave of infection over with before the 'normal' winter crisis in the NHS. A big bang as opposed to a slow puncture? Wow.

But they could have offered vaccination to kids age 12 plus. They could have put better ventilation in schools and kept the old isolation rules. How many kids will develop Long Covid?

Waiting times at Glasgow A&E were reported to be four to six hours this week.  You don't want to be in those queues. 

This isn't going to be a normal blog post. It's an, I can't believe it's happening post. 

I'm floating about the house and garden, a bit shell-shocked, just waiting for my family to probably get Covid...after spending nearly 2 years trying not to get Covid.

Last night, I met a GP friend (outdoors) to catch up. From my pal, and from others, I'm hearing reports of double vaxed people still getting seriously ill with covid pneumonia. People with 'no underlying conditions.' Friends of friends being airlifted to hospital. 

So, there's no jolly 'life is life' ending to this post. I have to get it finished before the kids come in from school. Hugh and Tess, living in the moment, glad it's Friday, hoping for an ice lolly in the garden, as the dog goes nuts with joy at the very sight of them. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Curing the Incurable Cough

I accidently deleted this important post! WayBack Machine and Dennis at helped me get it back. 
From Nightly Despair to Electrified Hope - The Cure of The Non-Stop Cough

Regular readers, oh, readers kind and fair: 

I wrote this feature to send to a newspaper. They want to do their own report about Tess' s miracle cough cure. So, I saved you the inside story of our 2020 - the year Tess coughed a hundred times a day, every day, until a retired Californian doctor cured her on Zoom. 

Spoiler: It's a 5 minute read and there's a happy ending. 


2020: Our Daughter Coughed for a Year, until a Retired Doctor Cured Her on Zoom. 


            In January 2020, my husband and I sat down to watch a DVD. It was called 1917, a glossy war film, full of gunfire, bombs and men screaming for their lives. I thought I heard our daughter coughing in bed. She has asthma, so I went to check. I found her doubled-over in a kind of whooping cough struggle, that came from nowhere. It was a horrible sound - a choking 'bark', and her eyes were wide in shock.

            Trying to hide my panic, I grabbed her inhalers and we abandoned the film and spent an hour, trying to soothe her to sleep. We had no idea, she would spend all of 2020 coughing every day, hundreds, even thousands of times a day, without any hope of healing.

            That January, we followed our GP-led asthma treatment: more inhalers, oral steroids (miserable for her) and antibiotics for a chest infection. I had a ledger book to record her symptoms. 

        Previous months of blank pages and the odd note - No issues -became a thicket of handwritten bewilderment: nightly coughing fits / rocked to sleep again / distress and exhaustion / cough loads worse / tight chest / WTF?

             I used a yellow highlighter pen for small improvements, blue biro for frown-face emojis, beside details of relapse and deterioration. 

By February, my dread was fuelled by reports of 'Corona Virus' coming from Wuhan and Italy. She didn't have that, no? It wasn't here yet? It was surely on its way. 

            I spent hours clicking on Dr Google. Someone on an asthma message board suggested VCD - Vocal Cord Dysfunction, something I'd never heard of. I found a Facebook Group, four thousand strong, of people who had coughed and struggled for breath, for years. My heart ached for them all. There was no cure, and the only 'treatment' was Speech and Language therapy and 'breathing techniques.' 

            The 23rd March, 2020 was Tess's tenth birthday, and the first ever day of UK lockdown. "I never thought I'd be having my birthday in lockdown!' she announced. Me neither. And the brutal coughing fits continued. 

            I sent video clips of the cough to her asthma specialist: Tess in a dressing gown, her head thrown back, as if gulping for air, her small frame wracked by hacking. He prescribed yet more harsh steroids, 'although, I don't expect them to work.' He suggested it could be 'post viral cough,' and would, 'go away after a few months.' 

            A locum GP said it could be 'a habit cough' and we should focus less on it. I would gently plead with Tess to try and supress, or swallow the cough - or every second cough - but she would sob, and tell me she couldn't do it. 'You don't know what it's like Mum! Stopping the cough is like trying to walk on clouds.' 

            I read that 'silent' reflux could cause cough and our GP prescribed anti-reflux tablets, which helped at first, but the effect faded after a couple of months and another paediatrician told us to wean off the pink pills. They are dangerous long-term. 

            I consulted private dieticians over Zoom. Clear-skinned and enthused, they hinted that serious diet change would be needed for healing. One advised six months of treatment that cost as much as an all-inclusive holiday in Majorca for a family of four. It also involved giving up most things that kids live on - pasta sauce, pizza, milk. Still, I was tempted. I wondered if it was our only hope. 

            Tess was so miserable, we decided to grant her the life-long dream of getting a dog. We took a private skin allergy test beforehand, just in case. To her elation, the test showed no significant allergy and Sita, a five-month-old puppy who looked like Bambi, arrived from a Romanian rescue charity. Daily summer dog walks were peppered with Tess's dry coughs and spells of her feeling 'puffed.'

            Schools reopened in August. Tess would come home saying her throat was sore 'as a hot rock' and she was breathless and 'coughy' in the playground. Other kids would look at her, wondering if she had Covid. wondered if she'd had Covid. 

            'You can't say 100% about anything, but I'm 100% this isn't Covid,' said her asthma doctor, over the phone. We were still in wretched coughing limbo. 

            By mid-Autumn, the cough was too intrusive and exhausting for Tess to function at school, so she stayed home. There was also the daily threat of catching Covid, but this was secondary. 

        We were referred to Ear Nose and Throat at the children's hospital. An intrusive throat scope identified vocal nodules ('like singers have?') and Muscle Tension Dysphonia - basically, tightness and imbalance in the vocal cords. The test was stopped early when Tess nearly fainted. We were put on a waiting list for Voice Therapy. Like the rest of the world, we were glad to see the back of  2020.


            I found a palm-sized click-counter in an old drawer. Tess was starting 2021 with an average of 100 to 150 coughs, before sleep. I recalled the anniversary of the 1917 war film DVD. For a year, it had been impossible to watch any DVD in the evening, with our girl coughing her throat raw. The heart-sink sound from her bedroom was audible in the living room between ten and eleven pm. 

            'It's like an alarm going off in my brain, I can't help it, it just comes,' was how Tess described the 'tickle' that triggered the coughing fits, and kept them going. It's like an itch that you have to scratch. 

            Could it be a tic? An overwhelming physical compulsion? For what seemed like the millionth time, I battered into Google. Search: tic cough, habit cough. And there it was, a video popped up that would change our lives:


Documentary - The Medical Doctor Who Permanently Cures the World's Coughs


        The ten-minute version. Are you kidding me? On You Tube, a retired American doctor is coaching a young girl called Bethany (who looks just like Tess!) and he helps Bethany supress her cough. 

        Bethany's Dad, Dennis Buettner, has filmed the event, and packaged it, complete with music, subtitles and filmic parental commentary - 'What you're about to see, shocked and amazed us.' 

            In the film, Dr Miles Weinberger beams from his photograph, like everybody’s favourite Grampa. He radiates goodwill and compassion. His voice can be heard on Bethany's laptop, as he coaches her through the 'waves' of the massive urge to cough. 

        Bethany sips her water, winces and swallows. This is clearly effortful for her. Dr Weinberger has the tone of an air traffic controller who's guiding a jumbo jet away from disaster, to a safe landing. 

            He tells Bethany, 'Your taking control, you're not letting it control you. I know it's not easy, but you're doing it. You've done three minutes now, I bet you can do four. And the longer you can do it, the easier it's gonna get. You may have to do it for a while, but gradually, it's gonna get easier...'

            It is indeed miraculous to watch. I went from nightly despair to electrified hope. Yes! Rewiring is needed! The brain and the throat have been tripping like a faulty fire alarm. They are stuck, trapped. This is both physical and mental. But, there is a way out, and Dr Weinberger has the expertise to uncover it. 

            At the end of the video, Bethany is filmed the next day, on her way to full healing. 'If I can do it, you can do it too,' she says, 'Thank you, Dr Weinberger.'


        I can't wait to show the video to Tess, but I have to play it casual. I don't want to overload her with crushing expectation. 'There's a girl, like you on You Tube,' I say. "I think the video might help us too.' 

            Tess agrees that Bethany is 'pretty' and lovely and, 'it might help.' I email Bethany's dad, thanking him and telling him we will try the video at bedtime, peak-cough. To my amazement he replies immediately and copies in the God-like Dr Miles Weinberger himself. They wish us luck. They are confident. 

            And, so it was. How right it felt.  I have written 'Miracle Day' in my ledger. 

    It is now three weeks since Tess started to heal. She watched the same video of Dr Weinberger curing Bethany. It was tricky at first; the urge to cough was so strong, Tess was whimpering and groaning, restless in bed. But she did it.  She resisted the cough. 


    The compulsive 'tickle' started to recede in frequency and strength. No one is listening to the blare of the false fire-alarm. Soon, its power will run out.


        It amazes me that we could have missed this; that countless other children (and adults) are stuck with daily, barking 'horror' coughs they could fix, if only they knew how. None of our UK doctors told us about this. They were dedicated and well-meaning, but unable to help. 


        Bethany's dad made it his passion to spread the word about this cure. His website, www.habitcough.comreads like an advert, but he is not asking for money, he is simply spreading the small miracle that transformed his family life. He hopes to translate the video into many languages. 

            Dr Weinberger, it turns out, is a Professor Emeritus of Paediatrics at the University of Iowa. He has a lengthy CV full of medical plaudits and positions, but his expertise is matched only by his radiant kindness and compassion. He is a true healer. He offered to talk to Tess from his home in San Diego, on Zoom, about any lingering concerns re asthma or symptoms. We accepted.

            As we waited to connect, Tess clicked on the option for fake Zoom background.

'Come on, Tess, show the man some respect!' joked Tess's Dad.

            When Dr Weinberger appeared, he, himself, sat like a Medical Messiah in front of a photo-shopped background of a Californian beach sunset. May he bask in it. 

            'Spread the word,' he said, as he wound up the call, gently, patiently, after an hour, and we thanked him again. 

            I'm spreading the word: if your child has a chronic cough, Dr Miles Weinberger might just save your family from years of suffering. He's a miracle worker. Pass it on. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

My Righting Career

 photo - Gordon Terris.

I have forgotten how to blog. Bless me Father, it has been four months since my last blog post. (For the 'non-catholics' this is a lapsed-catholic joke). 

I don't so much have a writing career, as a Right-ing career, trying to make things 'right.' Things like the escalating Climate Emergency and the soaring rates of infection in the Covid pandemic; just wee things like that. 

The photo above was taken by a photographer from The National where I did an interview as a 'concerned' parent, urging better school safety mitigations and saying I'd be keen to get my kids 'Pfizered'. 

Hugh (who didn't wish to be photographed) is now 12. He would be eligible for the jab, if they will finally allow it. Tess (above) is 11 and has been on daily asthma medications since she was 5 years old. 

I'm aware I have a couple of friends who would disagree with vaxing kids, but parental choice would be good, and I think it could help lessen the risk of Long Covid (estimated at 1 in 7 child cases, according to the Office of National Statistics).  

But summer. Ah, summer. I love it. It's a balm! It reactivates all the memories of happy summers gone by. Oops, here's a sneaky wee link to Don Henley singing The Boys of Summer.  

We had a short break in bonnie St Andrews. We took our scaredy-cat, rescue dog. She got excited about rabbits. (She ain't never caught a rabbit, so she's still a friend of mine). Tess and I swam in the open sea. Baltic then exhilarating. I would do it again. 

I have been reading my Dad's new book of stories. Even if I wasn't biased, I'd have to say they were quite brilliant. They seem as effortless and natural as afternoon sunlight in a familiar room you want to sit down in.  Out August 5th, online or at your local bookshop. Perfect for the beach.  

Now, get in that sea. It'll do you good. 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Testing Testing, ENT

 We are just back from the Childrens' Hospital. 

Tess was meant to be having a test for Vocal Chord Dysfunction (VCD).

The test involved a 'scope' camera being slid up her nose (eek) to film her vocal chords / voice box. She was meant to cycle hard on an exercise bike, for five minutes, to see how the vocal chords respond to exercise. For the past year, she's had coughing fits when she exercises.

Poor girl didn't even get that far. The camera was only in her throat for a minute or so, before she started to feel, 'dizzy'. 

'She's very white,' said one of the doctors. 

Tess, two ENT surgeons, three technicians and me  - a  'Chicken Licken' crowd of us  - all stood, masked-up,  in the small windowless room, crammed with hi-tech medical equipment. 

They had to help her off the bike, and she looked wobbly and pale, like a rag doll. They let her lie on a leather examination bed. 

'I'm never doing that again,' she said to me as soon as we left.

However, the surgeons did get some footage and the 'cool surgeon' (Vans sneakers),  was able to say, straight away, that there was evidence of vocal nodules on Tess's larynx and clear evidence of 'Muscle Tension Dysphonia' or MTD.  MTD? WTF?

Let me get home to Google that, I thought immediately. He told me MTD is an umbrella term for inadvertent maladaptive muscle use in the throat - often following a viral infection. Kids can try too hard and their muscles over compensate. 

He replayed the video. Tess's vocal chords were supposed to open and close like lift doors. Instead they looked like two bed sheets flapping in the wind. Well, not quite - but there was a fluted, shaky look to them. 

The good news is, the ENT surgeon would refer us to 'Voice Therapy' and that might help. I confess, I am desperate for more than a 'might', but I'll take anything. 

I realised there was still the big unanswered question of, does she or doesn't she have VCD - in addition to the MTD?  How many acronyms can a girl have? How many can she bear?

The surgeon agreed that Tess  had, 'been through enough today' - ie - they weren't about to throw her back on the exercise bike and re-scope her. I don't think she'd have agreed to that, anyway. 

On the way out, the technician admitted that lots of people can faint, when you start poking around inside their heads. Go figure. I had a flashback to the time I fainted, age 15,  when I got stitches removed from my ear. 

So, we will chase up the Voice therapy. The doc warned we would have to 'adhere' and work hard at it. Ready and willing. 

Hit us with your crossed-finger emojis. Not literally, but metaphorically will do. 

We'll check back in with the asthma doctor too. Indeed the body is a complicated place to if we didn't know. I'm pointing at you, 2020. And you can start to behave, 2021?