Monday, 22 April 2019

Pursuing Happiness,

we have all decided, is silly. I am glad you agree with me that happiness comes from within, is fleeting and cannot be pursued and caught. Happiness is temporary, comes in flashes and is mostly so quiet that we hardly notice it’s there. Contentment is a word much favoured.

Realise that true happiness lies within you. ( - Lucian)

But there is a kind of happiness which more resembles a thunderbolt hurled by Zeus, which hits you squarely in the solar plexus; it takes your breath away, and is also known as ‘falling in love’. It is the all consuming kind of happiness that makes you move on air. You are walking down the road, on the way to the supermarket to do some completely unexciting grocery shopping, pulling your shopper trolley behind you, and you are wondering why people are being particularly friendly today and everyone seems to smile at you and then you realise that that is because you are smiling at them and they see the great joy on your face and they cannot help themselves but respond to it on this most beautiful of all mornings ever. Falling in love is perhaps nature’s greatest high. Just seeing your beloved can make your heart race, your legs weak and your face flushed. ( - A.Pawlowski)

Much though we might want it to last that passionate kind of love has an expiration date for everyone, I’m told. That doesn’t mean that happiness cannot last, it just turns into the calm, peacefully happy state of being which is so important for a contented life. If you’re lucky.

A good friend gave me dinner the other evening, just him and me, a bottle or two and some delicious home cooking. Andrew has been extremely good to me since Beloved died and he still lets me ramble on patiently. Talking to him I repeated, for the umpteenth time, how wonderful our life together had been. Even mentioning it made me smile happily. In his own life, Andrew prefers solitude to twosomeness and I’ve been asking him for tips on how to make a solitary life a contented life. In spite of being unable to envisage it for himself, Andrew said :"what you had is not given to many.”

I wouldn’t say that I am blissfully happy now but there are periods of quiet contentment, which last longer as time moves on. The thought of those wonderful years together comforts me and yes, of course, I miss Beloved, but thinking of him, and us, is gradually turning the pain into acceptance.

Easter has been wonderfully warm and sunny and I have rediscovered how much I enjoy gardening. My hands are stiff, my back is sore, my nails are short and broken and black with dirt and I am very tired. Happily tired, with a full load of natural endorphins, which is much more satisfying than taking happiness chemicals.

Marcel Proust had something to say on the subject:

"But I must not forget that happiness springs eternal and that digging in the dirt and planting flowers are a wonderful source of delight. . . . . . .Let me wish each of you a wonderful day and week ahead, and that you will find happiness.
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Let me wish all of you, dear readers, a wonderful day and week ahead and a happily contended spring, whatever you do to make it so.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

The Pursuit of Happiness

Lately I haven been thinking about happiness. Not only asking what it is but is there anyone who is likely to have more than a few months of positive happiness during a lifetime? Let’s assume that most of you are familiar with the full quote in the-declaration-of-independence, that is not what I am concerned with here. For the first time this year I heard of the annual International Day of Happiness on March 20th; this year’s theme is Happier Together, focusing on what we have in common, rather than what divides us. So this is what set me thinking of the rather strange phrase The Pursuit of Happiness, which first of all, brought me to the lines in Philip Larkin’s poem for Sally Amis, 'Born Yesterday'

In fact, may you be dull —
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called.

Nothing Earth shattering, gut busting, deliriously heart palpitating here, nothing pursued at full tilt, nothing desperately grabbed and held and jealously guarded here.

How can you pursue happiness? Isn’t it rather something that falls to your lot unexpectedly, that catches you unawares; if I were to set out to be truly happy deliberately, I wouldn’t have the first idea how to go about it. I am more likely to follow Emily Dickinson's’ Little Stone, of which she asks:

How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone,
And doesn’t care about Careers
And Exigencies never fears —
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on,
And independent as the Sun
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity —

Independence, without a care in the world, not seriously striving but rambling happily, are what set the little stone - and therefore us - on the path to happiness.

Even simpler - and more fun is AA Milne’s John who

Great Big
Boots on;
John had a
Great Big
John had a
Great Big
Mackintosh --
And that
(Said John)

Yes, John and that great big puddle is waiting for you and what greater happiness can there be than jumping right in with both feet?

But Judith Viorst, the American writer, newspaper journalist, and psychoanalysis researcher - someone I had not come across before I ruminated about happiness - and what a happy find she turned out to be - sums it up for me perfectly:

Happiness (Reconsidered)

Is a clean bill of health from the doctor,
And the kids shouldn't move back home for
more than a year,
And not being audited, overdrawn, in Wilkes-Barre,
in a lawsuit or in traction.

Is falling asleep without Valium,
And having two breasts to put in my brassiere,
And not (yet) needing to get my blood pressure lowered,
my eyelids raised or a second opinion.

And on Saturday nights
When my husband and I have rented
Something with Fred Astaire for the VCR,
And we're sitting around in our robes discussing,
The state of the world, back exercises, our Keoghs,
And whether to fix the transmission or buy a new car,
And we're eating a pint of rum-raisin ice cream
on the grounds that
Tomorrow we're starting a diet of fish, fruit and grain,
And my dad's in Miami dating a very nice widow,
And no one we love is in serious trouble or pain,
And our bringing-up-baby days are far behind us,
But our senior-citizen days have not begun,
It's not what I called happiness
When I was twenty-one,
But it's turning out to be
What happiness is.

None of the poets and writers here has mentioned the one cause of happiness that started me off on my small quest: other people. I may leave that for the next post.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

😭 Serious Apologies for Comment Mishandling 😭

For more than two years commenters have complained that their comments disappeared and several of you have asked me if I’ve barred you. In fact, some people seemed quite hurt. I have been as mystified as you, as far as I knew I had never knowingly barred anyone. I put it down to the switch-over from Blogger to Google and blamed Google’s high-handedness.

Not so, I was wrong.

I have now found out that years ago I installed comment moderation after 4 days, which I then promptly forgot about. 4 days does seem rather mean, people don’t always visit a blog the moment a new post is written and the trolls, whom I wanted to discourage by the installation of moderation, usually wait a bit longer.

Because the instruction to moderate came from me Apple didn’t overrule me and the Comments Sections “Awaiting Moderation” and “Spam” filled up to overflowing with hundreds (literally) of unread comments to my blogposts. I have now retrieved many of them and hope they have settled into their allotted slots under the relevant posts. There are still several hundred to go which I will deal with as soon as I can.

Some of the commenters aren’t regulars, no wonder you only wrote in once or twice. I am very sorry for not having acknowledged your comments. Quite a few of the then regulars have also disappeared, I don’t blame you at all.

Sincere apologies all round, I will certainly do better in future.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

have a go - Haiku

Snowdrop time is long over, only "snowdrop green” is  left, covering everything in great abundant swathes. Now is the time they should be dug up and replanted, preferably in the wilder reaches of gardens, on verges, in lightly wooded patches.

Snowdrops will colonise everything, if left undisturbed for long enough.

I found this haiku on the back of a very mundane household shopping list, all items crossed out as purchased. All I know is that it’s mine but when or why I wrote it is a mystery.

snowdrops rising 
from a bed of decay

rotting leaves
giving birth
to innocence.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

. . . . and what’s more, be kind to me.

guarding Mum’s sandals
Did you know that dogs can have dementia? It came as a huge surprise to me the last time I took Millie to the Vet. She has been behaving very strangely recently; although she is as sweet-natured as ever, she has developed unusual quirks and at times she is hard to live with.

I think I’ve mentioned before that she has been suffering TIAs, in full: " transient ischaemic attacks”, or mini strokes. She usually recovers completely within a couple of hours. I first notice that something is wrong because she starts scrabbling about without being able to move from the spot where she’s lying. She becomes agitated, her head turns first this way then the other over her shoulder, left and right , left and right. She tries her legs, wanting to get up, maybe to escape? Her hind legs simply won’t work, they tremble and twitch and after a while she gives up. By then I am usually on the floor beside her, stroking her, calming her, reassuring her. Acc. to the Vet there’s nothing else I can do, just wait for the attack to abate and see what happens afterwards. Twice I’ve called a fireman out to carry her downstairs when the attacks happened upstairs.

Being Millie, a greedy labrador, she usually wants food and drink within a few hours, and she also totters outside for a pee, still none too certain of her legs. These attacks happen maybe every two to three weeks.

As in humans, TIAs eventually bring on dementia. Millie is 14 years old now, a very good age indeed and I must prepare myself for a serious decline fairly soon. In the meantime there are these strange behaviour patterns. Again, as in humans, the dog with dementia is often confused, not entirely certain of her surroundings. The other day, while we were out for a very truncated walk, she greeted complete strangers like long-lost friends and followed them into a house. I can call her until I am hoarse, being as deaf as a post, she does not react at all and I’ve got to run to catch her by the collar. Going to the village shop yesterday she suddenly decided in the middle of the busy road that she wasn’t going to cross over and just stopped dead. As we had just reached the part where the road abruptly changes direction we were not visible from either side and in genuine danger of being run over by anyone coming round the sharp bend. I asked a lady passing by for help, by pretending to hold a treat out to Millie and walking backwards towards the pavement, while I shoved from behind. Millie was utterly put out when she realised we had played a trick on her and refused to let me tie her to the post outside the shop for ages. I had to drag on her lead until she almost choked. It is really quite distressing. I shan’t take her into the village again, she has the castle grounds right outside several of our garden gates; there she can dawdle and sniff and pester visitors to her heart’s content. Most of them stroke and cuddle her. “Aw Bless”, they say, and “how old is she?” and “isn’t she friendly?"

Changing circadian rhythms is another symptom of dementia. A dog may have been the most peaceful and amenable creature up to the onset of dementia - again exactly the same as in human sufferers - they will now decide that nighttime is for exercise, not sleep. At least once in the night, sometimes twice, Millie will wake me and ask to be let out. I have to get up and open the back door because I don’t want to risk “accidents”, which have actually happened several times. Luckily (eh?) she decides to use the kitchen and scullery for her nighttime toilet habits, here I can pick up after her easily (you know the thing where you stick your hand in a poo bag and grab) and washing and disinfecting the floor is no big deal. Sometimes I think she is deliberately being obstreperous, she may have been for her last outing at midnight - I go to bed late - having had every opportunity to empty herself then, but, no, she waits until I am fast asleep.

And yet. She is as affectionate and sweet as ever, she loves her food, her little walks, meeting her special friends (she can smell treats in another dog walker’s pocket from a long way away) and is usually calm and peaceful. I cannot possibly have her “put to sleep” while she appears to be happy and contented. It’ll happen soon enough.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Be Kind to Carers of Dementia Sufferers

A friend of mine felt so upset at a thoughtless remark by an acquaintance recently that she found herself moved to publish a short letter in the village Chronicle. Since then she has had a lot of positive feedback from other dementia carers as well as people looking after sick and disabled people. None of us can be certain that the task of carer will not be our fate too, so it well behoves us to be kind and understanding.

When a diagnosis of dementia is made, the sufferer looks the same as before and in many ways the changes in their mental capacity are not obvious. Careless people think nothing is wrong and query why a family carer has put their loved one into a home.

What the public does not see is the constant drain on the carer’s strength; the accidents that ruin a carpet; the ’nappy’ changing and vast quantities of pads etc. that are required, the persuasion to get dressed and undressed.... 

When you see the person with dementia out for a walk looking perfectly well and smart, you are seeing the results of exhausting and time consuming care. You do not see the angry outbursts, the constant repetitions or the interruptions.

A carer gives 110% of their life and energy to keeping their loved ones well fed, clean and entertained, while getting very little back. A good day is a reward, when there is a response, but this becomes less and less.

So - when you see a dementia sufferer, the carer with them is suffering too. Please do not make thoughtless comments. You do not understand that the carer’s limits have been breached. It is to save our loved ones that they go into a home because, if they don’t, we may well cause them harm.

Another friend of mine has very recently realised, after years of devoted and dedicated care for her husband who is suffering the ever increasing physical and mental effects of Parkinson’s disease, that she can no longer cope without seriously endangering her own health. What is she to do? What else is there but find professional help in residential care?

The carer suffers all the guilt and torment that ‘failing’ at continuing personal care causes without some thoughtless remark by a chance acquaintance to add to the pain and anguish. So remember, if you feel inclined to sit in judgement, it might be you one day.

Friday, 8 March 2019

"Have A Nice Day Out”,

my friend said. "Enjoy yourself, stop worrying, I’ll look after Millie for the day." The man who arranges such things in Valley’s End had promised a rip-roaring time at the Malvern Theatre for Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rough Crossing’, a play to make us laugh until we peed ourselves.

I took him at his word, booked the trip, paid an exorbitant amount of money up front for coach and ticket and looked forward to the entertainment. Except the nice day out turned into an (almost) unmitigated disaster.

It started as I left in the morning on the way to the bus stop, about 15 minutes walk away from the house. It was blowing a gale, with driving rain. All the way there my umbrella turned itself inside out, every few steps I had to stop and right it. No matter how I held it, into the wind, against the wind, sideways on, the damn thing flapped and creaked and dripped. By the time I got to the bus stop I was drenched, trouser legs sodden from the back of my knees to the hems. Did I say it was also bitterly cold? A little chap walking by on the other side of the road as I was struggling laughed happily. “A bit wet today, isn’t it?” Hahaha. Sadist.

Some of my fellow theatregoers assembled at the bus stop shivered but others were made of sterner stuff. The shelter would normally accommodate six or seven people but a man in a motorised buggy, who had been the sort who feels “entitled” long before he became slightly disabled, assumed that everyone else would gladly leave the shelter to him and stay exposed to the elements. I didn’t, I had been the first to arrive, and I stayed perched on my little seat. Make of that what you will.

The bus arrived and we climbed on board. Luckily, the heating was on and gradually, during the two hour journey, my clothes dried on me. When we got to Malvern the rain had stopped. The mass exodus from the bus duly effected, a large knot of people formed on the pavement, everybody was making arrangements for the hour before lunch and where to have it. Didn’t they have time during the two hour journey to do that? I needed the loo and made for the theatre, shouting to a couple of friends that I would meet them at ‘The Italian’ in an hour’s time, wanting to visit a posh supermarket first to buy some of their famous ‘cook’s ingredients’ to take home to my back-of-beyond-village where such things are only dreamt of, never available.

Of course, I bought too much, now being burdened with an extra load of groceries, my large handbag (purse), my wet umbrella. True, I can’t blame anyone else for this oversight. I am still not a good walker, still limping when I’m tired or when the effort of walking straight and upright gets too much. I no longer use a cane, though. Malvern is a hilly town, I frequently had to stop on the way to the restaurant to catch my breath and straighten up. Gosh, I am an old crock!

The next two hours were a pleasure, I enjoyed my Tagliatelle Bolognese and we all had a couple of glasses of wine, not something we usually do at lunchtime. Everybody got merry, greatly helped by the waiters who flung their ‘per favores’, their ‘pregos’ and ‘grazies’, their ‘signoras’ and signores’ around with wild abandon, who burst into song while sinuously weaving  and undulating between the tables and made much of their giant pepper mills. I bet they were from Roumania really.

Finally it was time to go to the theatre and take our seats, having left coat and groceries at the cloakroom. Stoppard can be a bit of an acquired taste but he has written some really good stuff. Sadly, ‘Rough Crossing’ is far from good, it has the thinnest of plots:

Two famous playwrights, one jealous composer, an unorthodox waiter, and a mistimed lifeboat drill… let the sharp Atlantic winds turn to gales of hysterical laughter as our colourful characters become tantalisingly tangled in a Stoppardian string of absurd events…

If only. The Art Deco set looked splendid and promised much. The moment the actors appeared the promise evaporated and within the first ten minutes several of our coach party were sound asleep. The sound was bad, the dialogue barely distinguishable, the action messy and incomprehensible. The cast (all fairly recognisable TV actors)was lacklustre and seemed tired and bored. We were all disappointed and two of my friends decided they’d had enough and left at the interval, as did several of the others. I had nowhere to go and, in any case, couldn’t face lugging my groceries around, so I stayed to the bitter end. The action perked up for the last ten minutes but by then I’d given up on the play and was simply waiting to be released from captivity. All I wanted was to get on the bus and go home.

But my trials for the day weren’t over. I couldn’t swear to it but I may have, in fact, actually peed myself, even if for quite another reason as the one promised. When I came out of the loo right at the end, before climbing back aboard the coach, I felt a dampish kind of warmth spread over my belly. Yes, the front of my trousers was wet. I had been hovering over the toilet bowl, being loath to sit on the seat which appeared a touch insalubrious. But I had also been sprayed with warm water as I washed my hands afterwards. Enough to cause a damp patch in my trousers? We will never know. Suffice to say that I kept my coat on the whole journey back to Valley’s End and the first thing I did back home was to take a quick shower.