Helen Fowler: How MS turns ordinary into extraordinary

My two daughters are racing down the hotel corridor, giggling and skipping as they go. The hallway stretches ahead, like we're stood inside a train looking down a line of carriages. It feels like we might even be aboard the Flying Scotsman itself.

Writer Helen Fowler. Picture: Contributed

Built almost on top of Edinburgh Waverley station, The Balmoral Hotel is a place I associate with the excitement of journeys beginning and ending. It has that freedom of a no-man’s land, somewhere in the liminal place between arrival and departure.

Today our journey here has been only a short hop from the outskirts of Edinburgh. We arrived by No 31 bus, rather than the Flying Scotsman. But this magic is still powerful. A few feet from the bustle of Princes Street the atmosphere changes as we enter the hotel. This place exists somewhere outside of time and place. Well, outside of the ordinary stuff, anyway.

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As we make our way to our room, I pause as we pass a door with an unusual doorknob. Talons grip a log on which an owl perches. Eyes pierce me with their stare. A metallic beak curves as if set to swoop. This is a bird that means business.

“Girls! Come and have a look at this.” My daughters stand next to me. We begin reading the plaque on the door. We learn that this is the room where author JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. “Wow,” says my elder daughter, on discovering the connection. “Wow.”

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We have taken care to pack our swimming cozzies, since deep down in the hotel is a pool and spa. My younger daughter has become confident enough to swim lengths of the pool on her own. And with her sister she makes friends with another child. The three of them play at trying to catch each other, splashing as fast as they can to their “den”.

As they play I stand in the pool and chat to another mother. Azure tiles and mosaic pillars lend a feeling of enchantment to the place. As if we’ve been whisked away into a parallel version of Edinburgh, even in late winter. Meaning to stay only thirty minutes, we end up spending three hours.

It’s not only big treats like the one we’re having today that I appreciate more these days. Getting MS has forced me to appreciate simple things too.

Back home, I stand at the kitchen sink looking out of the window at my kids playing on their trampoline. Together they are bouncing up and down, holding hands as they jump. I can hear them chanting “Chicken, chicken, come alive,” to each other. A small moment, perhaps, and one that I might not have even noticed a couple of years ago. But today I’m grateful for having my eyesight back and being able to see them.

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Paying attention to small things, and, more generally, to living in the moment is forced upon me by having MS. When I don’t, I’m tortured by thinking about what the illness might do to me next. Endless calculations about what the time between previous attacks might mean. Whether remission will last as long this time and whether the “disease modifying” medicine means I’m likely to have longer between “episodes” (talk about euphemisms) than in the past.

But in the here and now, things are always okay. A bit wobbly, maybe. Frustrating, even. But okay. Manageable. As long as I don’t allow my fears too much space. Do I like having MS? No, of coursenot. But it’s taught me to live in the moment. To enjoy the present. And maybe that’s something worth having. Even if it has come at quite a price.