Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Welcome Post

Hello and welcome to my little blog.

Firstly, I would like to bring your attention to the title of the blog, taking particular note of the ‘al’ in the middle of the last word… For those of you expecting to read all about my time fast asleep in the buff, then I’m ever so sorry to disappoint!

Many of you who know me know that, at heart, I’m basically a nerdy bug person, at my happiest when I wandering around, peering into the undergrowth, rummaging through soil or sneaking a peek under logs and stones. OK, it’s not only bugs that tickle my fancy but all things wild and wonderful really, be it birds, badgers, bees or botany. And many of you who know me know also that I have Narcolepsy.  So rather than separate the two dominating aspects of my life, I thought I’d add a twist to the usual health or nature blog and attempt to combine the two. OK, so it might not work but if I don’t try, then I’ll never know!

Rather than attempt to provide a useful introduction to all things narcoleptic, for those of you interested, here’s the link to the Wikipedia entry, which, in my opinion, is pretty darn good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcolepsy

So, here’s a bit about me, and how my blog has come about. I grew up in North Wiltshire on the edge of small market town. Our house was in quiet cul-de-sac bordered by fields, farmland and perhaps most notably, an overgrown public footpath leading to ‘the den’ and ‘the brook’. The former was a thicket of trees criss-crossed by a series of small tunnels, where the local children spent many a happy day playing, chatting and putting the world to rights, as only children can! The latter was an idyllic site, the main point of focus for me being an old wooden bridge, on which I would often lie, peering for what seemed like hours on end into the bubbling water below. Actively encouraged by my lovely Mum to take an interest in natural history, I sent my childhood rearing garden snails, keeping Garden Tiger moth caterpillars as pets, adopting colonies of 7-spot ladybirds and keeping nature diaries. Needless to say, these days, as a rule, I do not advocate removing creatures from their natural habitat. However, watching a furry caterpillar go through the stages of eating, skin-shedding, pupa-building and finally emerging as a pristine moth before flying off to life as an adult, takes a lot of beating when you’re a small child.

As a child, I also learned to play the clarinet, and after the premature death of my Mum when I was 13, my desire to be a naturalist got put onto the backburner, being somehow usurped by my then ambition of becoming a professional composer-come-music historian. So, off I went to Bath, where I lived the life of a very pretentious Music student (but happily made some wonderful friends in the process) and achieved a BA in Music. Rather lacking in focus, and not to mention feeling decidedly disillusioned, after finishing my degree, I pottered around in Bath for a bit before spending a year working for the YHA, first in a lovely hostel on the edge of Exmoor, then for a few weeks half way up Mt. Snowdon, then for a few months in Cornwall.

It was during my time in the YHA that my love of nature was rekindled in a big way, and I was slapped around the face by the realisation of what I really wanted to do with my life. I wanted to get as close as I could to the natural world, especially that on my doorstep, and I wanted to be able to share my knowledge, experiences and most importantly, my passion with those around me. Being on Exmoor was fabulous. Each night before going to bed, I locked the doors, then walked around the building making note of all the moths and other wonderful creepy crawlies that had settled under various light sources, revelling in the happy memories of my childhood passion that such activity rekindled. Before going to bed, I would put out scraps of food for the local badger family, then a couple of hours later, I would attempt to drag myself out of bed again in order to see them enjoying the feast!

One of my most lingering memories of my time on Exmoor is of at dusk, walking up to the combe behind the hostel, and lying on the ground listening to and watching for the sudden spectacle of the soaring nightjars that came to stay during the summer months. A real privilege.

Oh, and how could I forget the ants? A favourite afternoon’s walk of mine was from the hostel to the nearby village of Dunster via Grabbist Hill, where on a sunny day, the Red Wood Ants would be out and about, going about their business in their own inimitable way. Ensuring a safe distance between my face and the ants’ ability to squirt formic acid (at force) from their rear ends, I would sit in quiet rapture for as long as time would allow. To this day, ants still rock my boat in a major way. Unfortunately, red wood ants aren’t that common in my neck of the woods, although I have been promised a trip to a known local colony, a mere 30 miles ‘up the road’!

So, where am I now?

Well, after a quick sojourn in the Big Smoke, spent working in the finance office of a national charity and being a proper London Lass, I’m now well and truly settled at the far end of Cornwall, about 10 miles from Land’s End, where I live with the loveliest family in the world - well I like to think so!

A year ago I completed a second degree, this time a BSc in Conservation Biology & Ecology at University of Exeter (Cornwall Campus, Tremough), two years of which were made up of a foundation degree in Animal Science (Bird Biology) at Cornwall College (Rosewarne/Newquay). I was much more in my element this time around, and am now hoping to soon return to Tremough, this time to embark on a PhD. If all goes according to plan, then my plaintive cry of ‘But I want to be an entomologist’, when ten years ago I was offered the opportunity to study to become a bona fide accountant, will have been heard!

This past year, my Other Half has been back in full-time study - Conservation & Countryside Management for him - having completed a degree in Biology many moons ago. He’s been having a whale of a time, and has certainly kept me on my toes with his new-found obsession with botany! And of course, the other thing that has been keeping me on my toes is our gorgeous Small Person, who I’m very proud to say, is also rapidly developing a healthy interest in the wildlife around us.

Now, you may well be thinking, where does the Narcolepsy fit into all of this? Although I didn’t realise it in the early days, it’s been a pretty big player in my life since the early 90’s, more so these days, although age and experience do combine to encourage a greater acceptance of my situation. It’s tough though, and obviously affects my ability to lead a ‘normal’ life. But I refuse to let it take control, and as such, try to work with it, rather than letting it dictate what I can and can’t do. Of course, this is what I like to think I do. In reality, it pisses me off like nobody’s business, and there are days where I’m as miserable and despairing as can be. Prior to diagnosis, I’m sad to say that having Narcolepsy lost me friends. Now I make a point of talking to people about the condition, helping them to understand my needs, behaviour and perceived eccentricity and also educating more and more people about a generally misunderstood and misrepresented disease. This definitely helps matters!

I hope to keep you entertained and informed with my tales of life as a Narcoleptic Naturalist, here in Deepest Cornwall (and anywhere else I happen to find myself), and will be back as soon as I can…  Oh, and as soon as I suss out a new means of taking photos, pretty pictures will adorn my posts!

Cheers for now

Sally, aka the Narcoleptic Naturalist

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