Film Review: My Feral Heart (2016)

Every so often, a British film-maker delivers a low-budget independent film that far exceeds the output of the famous directors and massive Hollywood studios. ‘My Feral Heart’ is a fine example of that. Directed by Jane Gull, and starring Steven Brandon, this film won fourteen international awards, yet is little-known in this country. Thanks to BBC 4, I was able to watch it, and I will say from the start that it is exceptional.

This is the story of Luke, a young man with high-functioning Down’s Syndrome. He lives with his mother, and he is her carer. He feeds her, goes out to get the shopping, even bathes her and dresses her. He is completely devoted to her. Then one morning, he finds her dead in bed, and his routine life is shattered. Despite his obvious capabilities, the fact that he has Down’s Syndrome means the authorities will no longer allow him to live in the family home.

Against his will, he is taken to live in a care home, with other young adults who have learning difficulties.

At least the staff are kind to him, especially day manager, Eve, (Shana Swash) who takes a shine to him and allows him an element of freedom. Luke uses that freedom to go shopping for the care home, and to wander the rural district of Essex where he now lives.

Some men arrive to look after the gardens of the care home. They are offenders, sentenced to do Community Service instead of prison time. One of them, Pete, (Will Rastall) befriends Luke, and also becomes close to Eve.

On one of his countryside explorations, Luke finds a young girl caught in a snare trap. He takes her to safety in a old barn. She is filthy, uncommunicative, and scared. He brings her food and clothes, washes her, and visits regularly to look after her. She is the Feral girl who gives the film its title.

We discover that Pete is a hunt saboteur, part of a group who go out and disrupt fox-hunting in the area. As Luke loves animals, he asks Pete if he can go. Worried about Luke’s condition, and other medical problems, Pete refuses. But Luke follows him anyway, and becomes involved. Going to check on the feral girl later, Luke cannot rouse her, so carries her back to the care home to get help.

With no spoilers, that’s about it. A short running time of less than ninety minutes, no car chases, no police sirens, and no sex. A small film about people on the margins of society, doing their best to get by in a world where they are almost invisible to outsiders.

It is just fantastic, believe me. It will break your heart with its honesty.

Filmed on location in Essex, beautifully photographed and sparingly directed with skill, the film is anchored around a truly remarkable performance from Steven Brandon in the lead, (he really has Down’s Syndrome) with a completely believable portrayal of Eve from Shana Swash, and every other member of the cast on top form.

If you can find it, please watch it. I will never forget it.

Guest Serial: My Recovery (Part Seven)

This is the seventh part of a guest serial, in 637 words.

There was no disputing the fact now; I was disabled. A person with a disability.

How did it all come to this?

I was adamant that this was my fault, but kept questioning myself as to what had I done so wrong to deserve all this?

Moorfields had referred me to The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, in London, to undergo a variety of tests to, hopefully, find the cause of all that had happened. Hmm… wishful thinking!

Over the next fortnight, I was constantly sleeping on and off, I received an appointment to have hearing aids fitted – at last, something to hope for!

I really tried to be positive on the day of my appointment, I kept telling myself, “This will work, it has to!”. Doubts started to etch in my mind, whilst we sat in the small waiting room, “What if this doesn’t work? What am I going to do?”

A short man came into the waiting room and called my name, I only knew it was my turn as Mum stood up and had taken the brakes off my wheelchair. The audiologist placed my hearing aids in each ear and started testing different volumes, levels, and frequencies, etc. He explained to Mum that, even with hearing aids, my hearing will never be 100% perfect. To me, this just seemed like he was trying to reassure me, if the hearing aids were not to work. I knew, deep down, that my hearing would never be perfect, but I just yearned to be able to have a conversation without misinterpreting or not being able to understand.

The first time he tested, no change apart from increasing the volume of the background noise. Second time, no change. Third, nothing. After a few more attempts, it was clear that hearing aids would not work for me.

What was I going to do?

I slept for the next few days; the outcome of the appointment had drained me in more ways than one. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally.

When I was awake, I looked for disability aids online, to try and restore some of my independence. After scrolling through several pages, I almost threw up. It hit me, like a ton of bricks, that this was it. This was going to be how my life would pan out. A miracle would never happen to me.

I remember one afternoon, Mum tried to help me shower but it was upstairs, and I could no longer walk upstairs, so instead, I had to crawl up. I had central chest pains by the time I reached the top of the staircase which terrified me, I wasn’t sure if it was a panic attack or something else. I dragged myself into the bathroom and tried to pull myself up, by using the side of the bath, but with each pull I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I tried three times but by the third time, it felt like something was blocking my airway.

I gave up trying.

After breathing deeply to try and regulate my breathing, I mustered up enough energy to turn myself around with my back against the bath. I cried like I’d never cried before.

I convinced myself that this was going to be my last Christmas. I was weak, all I did was sleep. My eating disorder emerged from the shadows once again. To be honest, I did want my life to end, what was I living for? My health, my relationship, my job, everything was disappearing, fast.

I even started to write down what I wished for, in terms of my funeral.

Of course, I was scared, but I wanted to be free of all the pain and misery. I had no quality of life.

I can’t remember Christmas; I must have just slept the majority of the day.

Short Thoughts (55)

His room was small, cramped.

Just enough gap between the furniture to navigate to the door.

He smiled. “Sorry, I know I have too much furniture”.

“I would love to have a bigger room, and some outside space”.

“Maybe not a garden, perhaps a large patio where I could sit outside”.

“I would love to spend time outside, in nature”.

“Yes, I know I wouldn’t be able to see it. But I could sense the space”.

I handed him his long white stick after we helped him stand up.

Ollie Gets A Nip

Earlier today, the dog-walk was so miserable and wet, we hadn’t see a soul. Ollie was saturated, I was damp and fed up. Umbrella up, I was trudging alongside the riverbank, head down and avoiding the slight flooding coming over the bank onto the path.

Rounding a corner, I heard a dog barking loudly, and recognised Teddy the Alsatian, who always barks at Ollie because he wants him to play. Teddy’s lady owner also had her other dog, a very elderly black labrador bitch. That dog is not at all friendly, and has to be kept on her lead.

However, Ollie is obsessed with sniffing her, so I decided to put his lead on to stop him going over to her. But before I could do that, he had run behind the owner, and started to sniff the poor dog. She immediately showed her teeth, and Teddy started barking in a protective manner. I shouted at Ollie to come back to me, but the lure of sniffing the Labrador caused him to defy me.

Seconds later, she snapped at Ollie’s face as he attempted yet another ‘intimate’ sniff. The lady owner was very upset, and showed me that Ollie was cut under his eye, about an inch long. It looked a bit like a ‘Boxing injury’, and was bleeding slightly. The owner offered to pay any Vet’s bill, but I reassured her that it was all Ollie’s fault, and I would look at the eye later when I got in out of the torrential rain.

Fortunately, Ollie did not retaliate. He never does.

Home in the dry, we could see the cut under his eye. But it’s not bothering him, and so we left well enough alone. He has to go to the Vet on Tuesday anyway, for something else. I will get it checked then.

Once again, Ollie’s obsession with sniffing other dogs left him with an injury.

He never learns. 🙂

Guest Serial: My Recovery (Part Six)

This is the sixth part of a guest serial, in 883 words.

I laid down on the stretcher and the paramedic put a blanket over me then strapped me in. Ewan sat in one of the seats opposite to me. Due to a past experience from when he was younger, Ewan felt very anxious about the journey. I knew this would upset him and I felt guilty, I kept saying “I’m sorry”, even though I couldn’t help what had happened. I always think the worst in any situation, and I asked the paramedic if something really bad was going to happen or if I was dying, she tried to reassure me that it was a reaction to the antibiotic. We got to A&E about 10pm.

I was taken into a side room, the next hour was a blur of blood tests, ECG’s, observations, etc. They asked for my medical history and that in itself had taken about 20 minutes to sum up what has been happening throughout the last 9 months, and even when they left the room, I forgot to mention something!

The results came back normal but they wanted to continue to monitor me for the next few hours. I slept on and off until 4am, we were told that as the results didn’t show anything, they were certain it was a bad reaction and discharged me. Ewan and I sat in the hospital entrance for the next 2 and a half hours as Mum was unable to pick us up until 7am.

While we waited, we watched hundreds of nurses and doctors arrive around 6am. My heart went out to them, knowing they would soon be starting a 12-hour shift, caring for people, saving lives. The real superheroes.

October passed by quickly as I spent more time sleeping than being awake.

The day of my appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital, in London arrived. Thankfully, the time of my appointment was near lunchtime and didn’t have to get a ridiculously early train. This was my first train ride as a wheelchair user and the first time Mum witnessed my involuntary movements while I was asleep. I kept, without knowing, kicking the woman opposite me – if you ever read this, I’m still so very sorry!

Moorfields is a maze! We were directed to different areas throughout the next few hours while an array of specialised tests was carried out. Some were standard eye tests, but the more I had, the more detailed they were and the more my eyes were put under so much strain that by the last test, I was crying hysterically because I could not handle anymore. All the tests were painless, but they drained every ounce of energy I had.

I’m very thankful for my wheelchair that day because there was no way I would have been able to stand for more than a minute.

A few days later, I had to go back to King’s Lynn Hospital for the ultrasound and internal scan. The nurses were very lovely and put me at ease within minutes. Both were painless, but cold – the tests, not the nurses! By this point, I had lost track of what results I was waiting for – hearing, vision, bleeding, and possibly more.

The following week, on Monday, Mum received a call from Moorfields, they wanted to see me on Friday.

I thought, “What now??”

Fortunately, my best friend, India and her boyfriend were in London that week and offered to come with us to the appointment. I hadn’t seen India for 2 years and I was worried as to how she would react to actually seeing me. We always were in contact with each other, and she knew about my health, but this would be the first time she actually saw me.

As soon as she saw me, she ran up to me and cuddled me. In that moment, I could forget everything and focus on the love I had for this girl. We always carried on from where we left off. It was a good hour or so until my appointment so we talked and had a laugh, which was refreshing as I had not genuinely smiled in so long.

While we were in the waiting room, I was trying my hardest to hold back my tears – I was scared of what news I would be given.

Time passed and I was called in. The four of us sat there whilst a consultant told them my results. I kept asking what was happening but I just got told that it would be explained to me soon.

It’s frustrating, it was my appointment and nobody would tell me my results there and then.

After ten minutes, we were told to go to an office. But in the corridor before the office, my wheelchair suddenly stopped. I turned around to see what had happened and saw Mum burst into tears with India comforting her. That was the last straw, “What the hell is wrong?”, I snapped.

Mum couldn’t tell me. India pushed me towards the seating area in front of the office we had to go in and sat next to me. She told me, “Your optic nerve is severely damaged, they can’t do anything to reverse it”.

I couldn’t speak, I just cried.

The office we were about to go in, was where I would be registered as severely blind.

A Follower Milestone

When I opened WP this morning, I saw on the side column that I had now tipped over 8,000 followers

I checked the Insights, and these are the totals.

WP Followers. 7607
Email only followers. 44
Social Media Followers. 356

Total. 8007

Regular readers will know that I always mark such milestones. The last time was when the number of followers exceeded 7,000.

As usual, I would advise everyone that the number means very little. Well over 2,000 of those were only trying to sell me something. Around another 2,000 or so only followed hoping I would follow back, then never looked at my blog again when I didn’t do that.

Far better to have 750 followers who read your posts and leave comments, than 20,000 who never look at your blog.

To all my genuine followers, old and new, I once again send my sincere thanks.

Short Thoughts (53)

So many tablets on the side table now.

Bottles, packets, strips out of boxes.

The print too small to read.

No longer any room for the cup and plate to rest.

Using a lap tray instead.

Was it four of the green ones and two of the white ones?

Or four of the white, and two of the green?

Best not take any.

Short Thoughts (52)

The slip-ons made sense.

Too hard to bend and tie laces now.

Elasticated sides made the trousers more comfortable too.

Feeling the cold more these days, but watching the cost of the heating.

A thick cardigan should do the job, no point wasting money.

There might be a nice one in the charity shop.

A good enough reason to go out for a walk.

Guest Serial: My Recovery (Part Five)

This is the fifth part of my guest serial, in 796 words.

Since March, I had been keeping track of my weight, I was almost 18 stone. By September I was 12 stone.

I thought I had a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) as weeing was really painful. With everything else going on, health-wise, I knew it was best to get checked. Mum took me to see a nurse and after doing a sample, she tested it and the result was that she “thought” I had a slight UTI, so she prescribed me some antibiotics, more specifically, Nitrofurantoin.

I took the first tablet at around teatime, my instinct, when I first saw the capsule, was telling me that something bad was going to happen if I take this – despite being reassured it was safe to take. I reluctantly took the tablet.

I woke up the next morning to tingling in my left arm, I had a habit of sleeping awkwardly so I put it down to that. I asked if someone could read the side effects in the leaflet. Nobody was willing to read them because they knew I would have been paranoid – I always read the leaflets; they are there for a reason!

My instinct still carried through and I refused to take another tablet. After a short nap in the late morning, I woke up to tingling in my right arm. Now both arms were tingling, and because I didn’t know the side effects, I put this down to not doing much since I first woke up. Still very tired, I had another nap.

I woke up late afternoon and my upper torso was tingling. I couldn’t ring anyone. I decided to try and push myself to walk into the kitchen, I found it very difficult to maintain upright whilst walking – I had already noticed that I had been ‘walking like a drunk’ for quite a few weeks now, so this new symptom really confused me. It took all my energy and a long time that by the time I had got into the kitchen, I had forgotten what I wanted. Frustrated, it took me the same amount of time to get back into the living room. I flopped into my recliner, exhausted and instantly fell back asleep.

I woke up in the early evening to discover my entire body was tingling, even my head which scared the hell out of me! I tried telling my family about how I felt and that this tingling sensation had spread throughout my body since this morning, but my speech was very slurred. I wasn’t sure what was worse, how I was feeling or the fact nobody believed me.

I remember being really angry and tried to get up from my recliner, but as I tried to stand my legs were wobbly, I couldn’t feel any strength in them and I felt very off-balance. After several attempts, I managed to stand up – how I don’t know. All it took was one attempt to take one step and I collapsed.

I landed in our dog’s basket – I know it sounds funny but at the time it really was painful. I was in a very awkward position, my head was against the staircase, the rim of the basket was digging into my back, my arms were flailing. I felt the entire left side of my face drop and I really thought I’d had a full stroke. I’d never been so scared in my life.

Still, nobody believed me.

After a while, I managed to roll onto the floor and remained laying on my front for the next hour. Crying. Wishing somebody would help me or even ring for an ambulance.

It took me over an hour to crawl to our downstairs toilet, which is a 3 second walk from our living room. From thereafter, my sleeping pattern became erratic.

Still tingling the next day, I felt a bit more ‘with it’ so I went onto my iPad and looked for Nitrofurantoin side effects, and what I discovered, sent alarm bells ringing.

Every person that had commented on this page, regarding the side effects, had experienced a bad reaction to the antibiotic and 90% of them ended up in A&E.

My instinct was right from the moment before I took that tablet. I try not to think of what could have happened if I’d taken the full course of tablets.

I showed Mum the comments and she rang 111 straight away. They sent out paramedics who carried out an ECG, tested my blood sugar, blood pressure and oxygen levels. After Mum had told them about all the symptoms, they said it was best to go to A&E to be monitored. Ewan supported me whilst walking to the ambulance.

This was my first ever ambulance ride and I sure as hell hoped it would only just be the once!