Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Valuable Time of Maturity

I counted my years and discovered that I have
less time to live going forward than I have lived until now.

I have more past than future.
I feel like the boy who received a bowl of candies.
The first ones, he ate ungracious,
but when he realized there were only a few left,
he began to taste them deeply.

I do not have time to deal with mediocrity.
I do not want to be in meetings where parade inflamed egos.

I am bothered by the envious, who seek to discredit
the most able, to usurp their places,
coveting their seats, talent, achievements and luck.

I do not have time for endless conversations,
useless to discuss about the lives of others
who are not part of mine.

I do not have time to manage sensitivities of people
who despite their chronological age, are immature.

I cannot stand the result that generates
from those struggling for power.

People do not discuss content, only the labels.
My time has become scarce to discuss labels,
I want the essence, my soul is in a hurry
Not many candies in the bowl…

I want to live close to human people,
very human, who laugh of their own stumbles,
and away from those turned smug and overconfident
with their triumphs,
away from those filled with self-importance,
Who does not run away from their responsibilities ..
Who defends human dignity.
And who only want to walk on the side of truth
and honesty.
The essential is what makes
life worthwhile.

I want to surround myself with people,
who know how to touch the hearts of people ….
People to whom the hard knocks of life,
taught them to grow with softness in their soul.

Yes …. I am in a hurry … to live with intensity,
that only maturity can bring.
I intend not to waste any part of the goodies
I have left …
I'm sure they will be more exquisite,
than most of which so far I've eaten.

My goal is to arrive to the end satisfied and in peace
with my loved ones and my conscience.
I hope that your goal is the same,
because either way you will get there too .. “

Mario de Andrade
Brazilian poet, novelist, musicologist, art historian and critic, lived1893-1945

Although I would like to be firmly convinced, that all the wants, intentions, resentments, deliberations, judgments and realisations go for me too, I ask myself, where do we find the paragons of virtue we yearn to pass our time with towards the end of our life.. Shouldn’t we start with ourselves? It’s all very well to set up no-go-zones for others, exclude people who don’t come up to our exacting standards and consider others boring, mediocre, either overconfident or faintly dishonest. Of course, it would be nice if we could measure ourselves by these wonderful maxims, personally, I can’t quite see it happen. We could strive for perfection, reaching it is another matter. I only know that I have a very long way to go.

Someone brought this poem to my German Conversation group for distribution. At first I thought it worth sharing, then I felt slightly uncomfortable. It makes me feel that the poet has a very high opinion of himself which puts him firmly in the category of self-importance. Still, it is perfectly true that age brings indifference to how others see us and a certain urgency takes over where patience with the foibles of others once resided.

What do you think, am I too harsh?

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Mood Swings

From hopeful to hopeless, from dark to light, from cheerful to miserable. Sometimes all of these emotions overcome me in one day. Whatever is the matter with me!

The first few days of solitude, when the last of the carers said “Well, I suppose I’m redundant now” because I had had the temerity to take a shower without supervision, and she left, possibly in a huff because I had made a decision for myself, I felt free. And hopeful. I was still very slow - as I am now to a lesser extent - but I knew that, with care, things would improve from that day onwards, and the time would come when I could return all aids and equipment. So it was, two walkers, one crutch and one commode were duly collected last week; I have kept hold of a set of crutches which I have had for years, ever since I broke a leg a long time ago. I am still using at least one crutch for rough patches outside and when I am in a hurry to get somewhere inside the house. I have gradually added a detour here and there to lengthen my walkabouts. I may soon be able to get to the village shop, although walking with an aid, having a dog pull on a lead and carrying a shopping bag doesn't seem a sensible way of perambulating. We’ll see.

So, really, I should be happy, shouldn’t I. I can feed myself and Millie again, do small jobs around the house; with the help of a driver friend I've been to have my hair cut, taken Millie to the vet, seen the podiatrist for a treatment, and yesterday this friend took me to a supermarket  to buy some early Christmas treats. German specialities disappear quickly from the shelves although the feeble pound makes them very expensive for the average shopper. I’ve been to a couple of concerts and a live streaming of a National Theatre play, again with the help of friends. I am making progress, albeit my walk resembles that of a penguin.

Is it that the dark days of winter are with us? Is it that I am beginning to think of the holidays on my own? Who knows? I was out in the field with Millie just now for a final walk before the light goes and I was thinking how nice it will be to get back inside, lock all the doors, turn on the lamps, pour a glass of wine and get comfortable. What’s not to like?

In 1634 Henry Peacham wrote in 'The Compleat Gentleman': “Keep up your spirits with healthy exercise. Leaping being an exercise very commendable and healthful to the body, especially if you use it in the morning. But upon a full stomach and bedward it is very dangerous, and in no wise to be used”. Best not start leaping then.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Thoughts on Recovery

For the whole of this summer and early autumn I have been out of action, literally so, laid up, in pain and immobile for a long period. And most probably caused by my own stupidity and carelessness.
After the serious fall in early summer, which left me bruised, swollen and hurting all down one side, limping painfully, September came and, I believed, with me ready to pick up where I left off. If only I had asked advice of someone who knows about these things! Like a physiotherapist or, at the very least, my fitness instructor at the gym. Typically bone-headed I threw myself into training, thinking I could catch up on the lack of exercise during the previous six weeks by working a bit harder.

Big mistake. I have since been informed that you have to start more or less at the beginning and work up to your pre-accident fitness state for at least as long as you were laid off. Which means I will be lucky to see the inside of the gym before the end of the year.

What happened this time? I have no idea. Nobody has. The fact of the matter is that somehow I damaged my sacrum, resulting in indescribable pain, two bedridden weeks and a slow return to mobility over the following two weeks, mobility involving crutches, two walkers (upstairs and downstairs, although I couldn't manage the stairs at all), a trolley for transporting items safely from one place to another while holding me upright at the same time. There was a period when just turning over in bed was agony.

I had carers come in to look after me (‘looking after = euphemism for ‘personal care’ =  euphemism for ‘keeping me clean’,  which is euphemism for ‘dealing with bodily functions’), a nurse, a physiotherapist, two physiotherapist technicians, even a useless social worker. Reams of paperwork were filled in. One question was “what is your favourite TV programme”. What? I got cross and said ‘Dr.Who’ which caused much hilarity subsequently. Another one was “what is your favourite kind of day”. “A painfree one without social workers asking me stupid questions”, I snapped back at the unfortunate questioner (after all, she was just doing her job - I don’t think she recorded my answer) Part of the questionnaire was concerned with my mental state, i.e. was I fully compos mentis. “What do you think?” was my reply to that one.

The whole episode was excruciatingly painful, utterly embarrassing and seriously demeaning. And that is what a lot of old people experience not for four weeks but week in, week out. A frightening prospect. But, and this is the big but, what would I have done without professional carers? Put myself into a care home temporarily? Hospitals don’t take you in, spine injuries will heal eventually, without a doctor’s intervention.

It was the devotion of friends which saved my sanity. With family unable and presumably unwilling to assist (actually, I only told one of the children) I can never make it up to them. Plates of hot food arrived several days a week,  piles of sandwiches ditto, soup, grapes, savouries and puddings were lavished on the invalid who was actually not even really hungry; painkillers take away the appetite. Lying in bed, unable to turn over without crying out, exhausted from a slow and laborious shuffle to the loo during the day, bent over a walker, take away the survival instinct itself.  Believe me, there were moments when I could have chucked it all in, down the stairs, for instance. Strong opioid painkillers leave you hallucinating, my long gone Mum and Dad appeared at my bedside, as did Beloved.

One of the strongest feelings I had during the worst time was a feeling of utter helplessness and abandonment, I felt so terribly lonely, in spite of my dear friends. It would have been wonderful if somebody had been there during the small hours or sat and talked after the painkillers kicked in. Being alone and helpless with the front door open day and night is not a good feeling. I might even have welcomed a burglar!

Friday, 7 September 2018

Did You Know . . . .

that ‘The functions of the Mistress of the House resemble those of the general of an army or the manager of a great business concern.’

I have been dipping into 'The Housekeeping Book' of olden days and all sorts of wonderful information, instructions, prohibitions, advice to young women and new wives can be found within.
I particularly like the capitals for the Mistress of the House and the lower case used for a general and a manager, be they ever so lofty. Mind you, the Vicar of Wakefield had it that : ‘The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queans’. (I looked up ‘queans’ - it means an impudent or badly behaved girl or woman, or a prostitute.) Serviceable to whom, one wonders. Independent minded women have always got short shrift from the mainstream of domestic theorists, so many of them men.

Having had little interest in new clothes for the past two years this interest was rekindled when I had a very close look inside our closets and wardrobes and chests of drawers; Beloved’s stuff has all gone now, apart from his dressing gown, a summer anorak and a couple of his favourite shirts, all items I now wear. Ditto some of his thickest and warmest socks, which will come in very usefully during the winter. However, my own clothes are sadly lacking in shine and rather shabby after years of wear and needed replacing. I get fashion catalogues and emails sent from fashion houses and department stores, all unsolicited (I may possibly have bought items in the past), so I consulted these. I hadn’t purchased new clothes for so long that I was horrified to see the prices. Nevertheless, a few tops, shirts, trousers and leggings (for the gym) arrived in due course and I admit it feels good to be wearing something that isn’t falling to pieces with age. I like the look of myself again, too.

Be that as it may, the activity of purchasing does not please one lady author, who had this to say: ‘This ranging from shop to shop has given origin to a fashionable method of killing time, which is well-known by the term “Shopping” and is literally a mean and unwarrantable amusement. I wonder if she would absolve me from blame, as I did my “Shopping” on the internet. I wish I could amble from shop to shop, all along the High Street, and take my time, browse around a bookshop, have a meal somewhere, linger over a cup of coffee and watch the world go by. I may be fancy-free and independent, but I am still accountable to Millie. Poor dear Millie, she is quite decrepit now, although her steroid medication has given her a renewed lease of a semblance of a doggie life. Her hearing is gone which makes her difficult to organise; I also think she has dementia, she does not want to let me out of her sight. Leaving her alone is a problem, there are just two houses where she knows her way around and feels safe, my friend Jay's, who is dog mad and Millie’s best friend and my other friend Ralph’s, who bosses her around in a nice way. I am having the suspicion of dementia being present because all her routines have changed, whereas before she had regular favourite bedtimes, doggie beds and toilet habits she is now all over the place. And yet, she still has a reasonable quality of life and eats well and happily, is fully continent, and appears to be happy provided I’m close. If I have to leave her alone it’s usually for no more than a couple of hours.

My leg is getting better. The swelling is now confined to the ankle and heel and even there disappearing noticeably, almost by the day. I have had all these weeks of mostly sitting and reading with the odd little Millie walk and a potter in the garden. When the summer was at its hottest I reclined gracefully and read novels, taking sips from cooling drinks. I am glad, that by living long after The Housekeeping Books’s strictures, I escaped its censure of indulging in the much decried pastime of reading novels. Apparently, young ladies were wont to indulge and could therefore not hope to achieve the heights of the housekeeping skills necessary to make a good match and thus become serviceable in life.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Onward and Upward

but not looking solely towards the future rather than being in the here and now. Continual learning is an essential part of life. (I looked up the difference between continual and continuous and have plumped for the former, continuous learning might be too headache-inducing).

Anyway, I had one of those lightbulb moments the other day. I took courage and invited three friends to supper, two came and one cried off; the three of us had a lovely evening. These ladies are easy to get along with, chatty, we had a conversation consisting of personal details, a bit of gossip, a few remarks about the state of the world; a friendly conversation in spite of quite marked differences in opinion. There was the first lesson: you can be on good terms even if you are not in agreement about quite serious matters. I had decided to go easy on the work involved, no hours of preparation, slaving over a hot stove; this was the menu:

cold smoked wafer-thin meats 
olives and feta cheese
crusty French bread
ice cold Zinfandel to drink

marinated lemon and herb chicken breast filets
roasted mediterranean vegetables
baby potatoes

chocolate fudge brownie and cream


Looked at quickly it seems quite impressive but none of it was work. Shoving a dish of chicken filets and a dish of vegetables in the oven is no work at all. I burnt the fudge round the edges but as we were only three and not four as planned the middle of the dish was sufficient for our appetites. Second lesson: even when half the food served is bought at the deli the meal can still be interesting and good to eat. Something to remember for my next supper, I might even invite a chap or two, although I may have to put more effort into ‘sparkling’ conversation.

At the moment I am rather obsessed with the near future. I made two appointments with my favourite doctor, just to ask him for his educated guess as to my longevity or otherwise. I cancelled both appointments. You can’t just walk into the surgery and demand “how long have I got”; “what plans should I make” ; what hassle can I spare myself?” Solicitors and legal matters, house renovations, finance plans, even holidays. Round and round in my head they go. No longer having the person with whom you used to make decisions near leaves you a bit breathless. I don’t have family to consult - well, I have my son, of course, but I don’t think that I’d find his advice totally acceptable. He is a lovely man but we differ in basic ways of looking at the world.  

Apart from the damaged leg I am actually quite well at the moment, there is no reason to think that I might not survive for a good few years yet. Which is more or less what one of my friends said. She sounded quite nonplussed at my dithering about what needs doing. “But you’ve decided to stay in the house,” she said, implying that " there are maintenance jobs pending, there are legal matters after your husband’s death to settle, there are financial provisions to sort out". How right she is.
There is no need for advice on the necessity of doing these jobs, just maybe on how to do them. (Just to clarify: this lady is ninety and has been a very active widow since her husband died some years ago.)

So, lesson three: don’t go round and round in circles, look at the actual, current, situation and start at the beginning, in the here and now, not in a nebulous and possibly frightening future. So today I have booked a plumber to change some taps and sort out my aged radiator thermostat systems. 

Sunday, 5 August 2018


is my default position, it seems.
Not so long ago I promised myself that I would accept every invitation - well, ok, not the ones that primarily benefit others and cause me a lot of effort and mental and physical expenditure for little return - but my good intentions have already fallen by the wayside.  And for nearly three weeks now I’ve paid the price - that is if you believe in ‘just deserts’. Which I don’t. If there were such a thing as just deserts in this world a lot of people would not lead the happy and prosperous and untroubled lives they live.

Back to me and invitations. A big 70s birthday bash came first. The hosts had hired a hall, caterers, musicians, drink, and everything that makes such things successful. The celebrations were to embrace a ceilidh, my first, and a slight source of nervousness. Country dancing and singing? In public? Without being drunk? Maybe not.

Then came an invitation to an 80th birthday bash, again with food and drink, music and lots of people. Again I found a reason why I shouldn’t go.

The last major invitation was to the wedding of a young friend of mine. It was to be a huge do, with a big marquee in her dad’s field, sit down dinner and a dance at night. The event of the year, with ladies in hats and gentlemen in formal suits for the church service. I saw no way out, had had to accept when the invitation first came, several months ago. I no longer have formal dresses and ordinary day clothes would not have been suitable, so I searched the internet for something neither too expensive nor too formal, coming up with exactly nothing. Smart trousers, jacket and a silk shirt would have to do. I was less and less enthusiastic about the whole thing; you know what it’s like when you feel you must make the effort but really and truly would prefer not to? The idea of sitting in a marquee in 30C, dressed up and unable to put your feet up, surrounded by people you don’t know except for the immediate family of the bride who would, naturally, be too busy to attend to you personally, did not appeal.

And then it happened. An actual bona fide excuse for not going to the wedding of the year (locally) fell into my lap. Or rather, I fell into the excuse. Gardener and I were out, I was about to show him a bit that needed his attention, marched there ahead of him under full sail, saw a dog poo in my path, swerved, and landed in the dip between a flower bed and the lawn in my heeled mules and promptly fell flat on my face, luckily avoiding the dog poo. I scrambled up, gardener laughing his head off, my dignity badly dented but otherwise apparently unharmed if somewhat sore. I thought little more of it and continued gardening.

Two days later the first big bruises appeared. Then my leg swelled up, more bruises appeared, the colours deepening into midnight blue. Now, nearly three weeks later, I still suffer. The doctor says I must have ruptured a blood vessel and bled internally. “It will get better eventually”, he said, “your foot will be the last part affected. Don’t worry if it swells up.” Thanks for reassuring me, doctor, I’m awaiting results.  “In the end the blood will be reabsorbed and the discolouration will probably disappear too”.

For a good two weeks I have spent the days sitting in an easy chair with my very painful leg on a footstool covered with cushions, read and watched (whisper it), daytime TV. And been bored out of my skull.

What do you think, is this ‘just and fair punishment' for inventing excuses (well, actually, lying) to my friends in return for their kind invitations?

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Can’t stay away

in spite of feeling that I have nothing to say. I am feeling a little sheepish about having been away for so long.

It’s been up and down, mostly up, the past two months. In fact, most of the time it feels like I’ve turned the corner; you may not understand when I say that I am coming back into myself, that I am not on the outside looking at the strange ‘me’ I was for more than a year, but that that ‘me’  and the ‘I--myself’ I have always been are closing in on each other. Of course I am often sad but being solitary is not in itself a dreadful thing. Having decided to stay not only in Valley’s End but in my house until such time as I either must, or wish to move, has taken one major decision out of the equation. Sure, there are several other decisions to be made but they are not as life changing as a move. Which means that I can take my time over anything else. And if I don’t want to do anything, well, I won’t. In any case, perhaps the decision will be made for me when the idiots who call themselves ‘our government’ back themselves into such a corner that they take revenge on EU citizens living here without British passports and expel the lot of us.

I still follow the news obsessively and what sad reading it makes. Is humankind really turning into a nasty, mean, hateful, selfish, greedy, unkind mass? Sometimes I’m glad my years are numbered except that I feel guilty for leaving a huge mess behind for the next generation to clean up. Does every generation feel like that? Statistically things are getting better, poverty, disease and wars are decreasing, it just doesn’t feel like that. Perhaps the current older generation is the first without first hand experience of war, wide spread hunger and lack of basic necessities. We have food, clean water, shelter; we brought up our children to expect the same for themselves and their children, we live in peace and security. And still the world feels like a hostile place and far too many are viciously opposed to grant these blessings to those human beings who lack them.

What do I do? Stop reading and watching the media or get involved? My quiet little backwater allows me little personal involvement other than perhaps make donations to organisations that try to make a difference.

Organisations that deal with the continued existence of our planet are close to my heart and hand. When I look at my garden I could weep. This being  the first year that gardening has featured on my pleasure list for several years, when old gardener and I have worked hard on at least two days a week, it’s been all for nothing. Or nearly nothing. Clumps of herbaceous perennials have dried up, shrubs are drooping and even trees are shedding leaves from the stress of coping with temperatures way beyond our experience. From Algeria in the west, to the Arctic Circle in the north and the Baltic States in the east a huge swathe of land is sweltering in unnatural temperatures. Similar conditions are devastating Japan, Africa, Canada, North America, Australia. Sweden, country of snow and ice for months on end has asked for help with huge forest fires. The global forecast is for more rainstorms in winter and heatwaves in summer. Here in the UK the effects are relatively mild, although we have hardly any rain this summer and scorching temperatures, the heath fires have been put out and we have so far only reached the lower 30sC. Too hot for me, at any rate. I hardly move between midday and 5 o’clock. I have read an awful lot and also watched quite a bit of afternoon TV. Of course, I am lucky, there’s no need for me to move if I don’t want to. I go to the air conditioned gym to cool off.

For the first time in a thirty year marriage I am marrying our books. We always had his and her shelves before, now I am sorting through both, discarding some and reorganising the rest. Boxes and boxes go to charity shops, some antiquarian books I hope to sell, novels are shelved in alphabetical order, others arranged according to subject matter. Any of the novels I will never want to read again go into the give-away piles. I seem to have chosen to read  many more non-fiction books than fiction recently, have also started to buy new ones which is possibly rather stupid of me. Out with the old - in with the new.

For everything there is a season and not just a season but a whole new chapter of life. This is my fifth chapter: childhood and youth, a first very miserable marriage, a period of hard work and child rearing, and a second very happy marriage. I am settling into this latest, and probably last chapter of my life with renewed hope and the realisation that even now, and on my own, there are joys to be had.