Saturday, 27 June 2015

Not there yet

but just to get away from the sickroom I watched Paul weed the rhubarb bed. And afterwards he went to the shop for some bread and milk for us. I think I have found another treasure even if he can neither work as hard nor as fast as Old Gardener.

My thanks to everybody who has sent such kind comments to my tale of woe. Beloved is improving but there is still a way to go before he gets back to his old self, if ever. It is now almost certain that he had a somewhat rare adverse reaction to at least two of the medications; he should never have been told to continue with them when the effects became noticeable and I first took him back to the surgery. The Diagnostic Unit has plans for one more test, a head CT in the next week or so. Doctors don’t often commit themselves but two of them have now pointed the finger at prescribed medication being the culprit.

Life is utterly boring now, I am not a terribly graceful nurse; besides, I am exhausted. But needs must and I do so want my dear Beloved back that I spare no effort to this end.

I’ll be back fully in bogland as soon as I can. Until then be patient with me and kind.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Black Clouds - Delirium minus Tremens

Sorry for being away for so long without an explanation. Do you know the feeling of holding your breath in fear and trepidation? For days on end? Beloved not quite, but almost out of the blue, became very ill with Delirium. I’d never heard the word before, except possibly in the context of the adjective “deliriously” happy;  in his case neither love nor drink were to blame. The problem is that there is still no cause to get hold of. If you have a cause, an underlying illness, then you cure the illness and thereby cure the condition.

It all started quite inoffensively with a tendency to fall asleep during the day, at any time, and staying asleep for hours. A bit strange, but nothing really to worry about, I thought; that’s what old men do. He was still himself in all other respects, perhaps a bit more forgetful than normal, a bit more absent-minded, but sweet and funny and even-tempered. It’s not exactly stimulating to watch someone sleep but there you are, if you can do nothing about it, you put up with it. After all, he was doing no harm. I thought. And it also gave me plenty of spare time to read and garden and pet the dog.

The need to sleep got worse and then he started to wake at night. Several times I found him dressed and drinking tea in the kitchen at three am. Still no cause for alarm, although this was really out of the ordinary. A mild worry surfaced. I know, I AM stupid. But I knew enough to see a doctor. I’d also worked out that the beginning of this strange period coincided with some new medication, three lots of new medication. Not in place of other medication, no, on top of other medication. What in the name of sanity do these doctors hope to cure with their ready prescription pads? Old age?

“Oh fine”, she said, “let’s stop one of them and see if that makes any difference.” Surely she must have realised that I was describing the symptoms of Delirium?

Now Beloved became confused enough to swap day for night, seriously disorientated and distressed when he couldn’t work out the simplest things. He also developed an amazingly active night life. He got up and got dressed because he had a film session booked - they were highly lucrative and not to be missed back in the day -, he was involved in the Russian Revolution, fighting on the side of the goodies by building a tramway up to the dock gates in St Petersburg - unfortunately he had to flee because the baddies caught up with him; he stayed at the Bridge Hotel where he was attending a conference and someone had left a turd in the corridor; when he saw me in the upstairs hall (in real life) he asked “do you have a room booked here too?” Another night he was running away from home, goodness knows what age he thought himself to be. And once he was in Sydney, Australia, at the Opera House, having to study an enormously difficult piece of music and being offered assistance by Australian pilots. First he welcomed their help, then realised that they too were baddies and he had to eliminate them. (I never trusted these Australians, you know).

There were many more of these vivid dreams, all very complex and making perfect sense; except they were fantasies.

And through it all, when he wasn’t asleep or showing signs of distressing confusion, he remained even-tempered and friendly, sweet and gentle, and when he managed to articulate complete sentences he spoke in his own, old-fashioned voice. Once I asked him if he knew where he was. “Not with any degree of certainty,” was the answer. My poor old thing. I was frantic with worry and fear.

Beloved had lost the plot but now I was on the case. We saw a new doctor who instantly struck several medications off the list, arranged for blood tests and X-rays, evaluated and assessed and became determined to solve the puzzle. He rang first thing in the morning and last thing at night, for several days running, showing quite extraordinary devotion to his patient. Still, no clear explanation emerged. Except possibly the medication.

Tomorrow we are visiting a special diagnostic clinic which will run further tests; perhaps they’ll come up with the solution.

In the meantime, for the last two days, Beloved has shown marked improvement. He is weary and weak, but seems to be back inside himself again; there’s someone 'at home' again. He still sleeps, but now to recover his strength rather than simply as a symptom of Delirium. He’s not completely aware of what happened and how frightening it was for me. Another good thing is that he has regained his appetite, which was pretty much non-existent for a while. Eating and drinking have become a pleasure rather than a chore to be got through with great reluctance.

Naturally, everything else has been on hold; all social engagements have been cancelled and I’ve hardly even felt the pain in my hip.

Wish us luck for tomorrow.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A Man's A Man For A' That

taken from the bailey looking up the valley

K. has been a neighbour for several years. We meet walking our dogs, K. has a lovely collie called Sam; Millie can take or leave Sam, but she adores K. She and I were halfway up the hill when she spotted K. below us in the meadow by the river and down she raced to make a fuss of him and have him make a fuss of her.

K. is a strange chap, lives on his own, is extremely hard up and spends most of his time - up to 8 hours a day - making wood carvings with a religious theme. He is self taught and tells me he has never sold a piece. Beloved and I knew that he suffers from depression, we have had long talks with him (I have given him wood for his fire from the garden and once or twice I’ve paid him to look after Millie; he terminated the arrangement, not me. I’d have been happy to employ him as an occasional dog sitter), these talks have been on the doorstep, his or ours, and in the field, never in the house before.

When he saw me on the hillside he climbed up, Sam and Millie following.

After a desultory exchange about the weather and “haven't seen you around for a while and how are you?” K. laughed his strangely strangled laugh and said he would love to find himself a partner. “Oh yes?”, I said. “Yes, but all the single women in Valley’s End are lesbians; “. He continued, "I was thinking what a nice woman J. is but then Hen told me that J. is a lesbian. Hen is a lesbian, Trish is a lesbian, Jane is a lesbian . . . . ."

It’s true, considering the size of Valley’s End, we have perhaps a disproportionately high number  of lesbian and gay neighbours. Safety in numbers? Although that is surely hardly necessary nowadays. Maybe I’m a bit slow on the uptake but I didn’t consider being a lesbian (or gay man, for that matter) any kind of bar to making friends.

“Yes, but I don’t want a friend, I want a partner.” K. continued, “but then I’m probably asking too much anyway.” He began to count off on his fingers the qualities he required in a woman. “She’s got to be a good cook, she’s got to like opera, she needs to be into art, she needs to be able to put up with me. . . . “

“Aha,” I said, not being particularly tactful, “and what can you offer in return?”

K. choked. “Sweet eff. all”, he said. I’m no good at anything, haven’t a penny to my name, and I certainly wouldn’t want to put up with me.”

I suggested he might like to try and make friends first and to that end I invited him to “come on, come with me and have a cup of tea; we’ll wake Beloved from his afternoon nap and chat.” K. was very keen instantly, and I’d had enough of standing on a windy hillside by that time.

Like many lonely and solitary people K. turned out to be a great talker. After he’d admitted that he wished they’d lessen with the years, we dropped the subject of his amorous needs, and he suddenly quoted the beginning of T S Eliot’s Ash Wednesday

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

and from there it was but a short step to a discussion of singing and music, (K. has had training as an opera singer), poetry in general and T S Eliot in particular, drama, the arts, etc.

“There,” I said, “you have a lot to offer, even if you have no money. In a place like Valley’s End you find many people with tastes similar to yours. What about joining a choir, for a start? Or a drama group?” I wasn’t quite ready to invite him to join our poetry group.

“No, I couldn’t”, he said. “I have been told that I have an excellent voice - (true, he is a powerful baritone) - I wouldn’t really fit in with any local choirs or drama groups. Besides, they wouldn’t want me.”

And then the flood gates opened. “I don’t fit in anywhere.” He quoted Philip Larkin’s ’This Be The Verse’ which starts

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.  

K. is 61 years old and still chewing over the hurts and grievances of childhood and youth, still craving the love he believes he didn’t get as a child.  It is the common story, self-destructive and a barrier to living a full, independent life.

His background is totally uncultured, his parents and siblings are working class people with no pretensions to being anything else, content with their lot. They haven’t read a poem or a book in all their lives. He left as soon as he could for London and education. He did college courses in various subjects, trained as a singer, earning a precarious living in his spare time. “But I couldn’t finish any of the courses,” he said, “ I even did half a Masters in arboriculture. But I ended up in an office, which I hated. I absolutely hated it.” K. began to drink. And carried on drinking for years. He finally hit absolute rock bottom, which is when he ‘was saved’, found religion of a sort and joined AA . He seemed still amazed at what he found there. He said “There were all these people, drunks like me, but they were sober now and jolly, clean and smartly dressed, with jobs and a purpose in life; they didn’t need drink to get them through the day anymore.”

He talked for over an hour, occasionally close to tears. The main impression I had, and still have, is that he needs to find a reason for his years of self destruction and he finds this reason not within himself but in others, his family and circumstances.  In other words, he blames others. He appears to be totally lacking in self confidence at the same time as having unrealistic schemes of making his carvings count for something in the art world by approaching religious bodies, incl. the Vatican.

If only K. could learn the truth of Robert Burns' famous lines which say that wealth, or lack of it, and social class should not be the measure of a man’s true worth.

A Man’s A Man For A’ That

If he gave himself half a chance K. could be that Man.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


Castle Moat

It’s summer, it’s June and therefore double birthday month at Castle Moat. A pair of Geminis for those who attach importance to such matters.

“So, what do you want for your birthday? Anything you can think of?”
“Hm, what about you? Is there something you’d really like?”

A perennial problem, one which we rarely solve. There was a time when Beloved bought me jewellery. Gold one year, amber another, jet from Whitby a third. Silver, pearls, a not terribly precious stone or two, rings, bracelets, necklaces, ear rings. I enjoyed them and wore them when the occasion arose. I hardly ever wear jewellery now. In fact, when I look at individual pieces I wonder who in the family, or more likely, among my friends, might be glad to have it.

Clothes too, a silk blouse, a cashmere jumper, stuff I don’t wear often because I can’t be bothered with frequent dry-cleaning. In London things were different, with a dry cleaner in walking distance and your cellophane wrapped item speedily returned. In the country it takes a week and costs a fortune. Besides, when would I wear really smart clothes? Gardening and dog walking demand jeans and a fleece to cover the t-shirt.

What about perfume? Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps was my favourite for years and I frequently found a pretty bottle on the breakfast table on the big day. I still use perfume occasionally, but so seldom, that I have a whole untouched bottle waiting to be broached in my dressing table drawer. (Heavens, that antique dressing table was a present once.)

Hawthorn Blossom

The dressing table came when we hit on the idea of joint presents, after all, our birthdays are within two days of each other. A small piece of antique furniture, or a non-essential household item, a beautiful bowl, or a painting. Something decorative. (I hate ‘practical’ presents, I hate ‘useful’ presents). Something we could both equally enjoy.

Now our house is full of stuff which we would love to pass on to an appreciative recipient, we are certainly not in the market to add to it. We look at our acquisitions and wonder “ would X like it?"

Wild Orchid in the Field

We bought each other books galore, music CDs too. Now we mainly read ebooks and listen to digital music. That leaves the choice of vouchers for digital downloads. How romantic is that? 

For a while, we bought the more expensive bottles, a crate of French vintage wine or an oak-aged single malt. True, we still like a glass of wine and Beloved will have a glass of whiskey on cold winter nights, but an ordinary wine will do now. We never finish a bottle at one sitting and letting a good wine stew in the bottle for days on end is a crime against Bacchus. Beloved has also finally admitted that single malts do nothing for him and he much prefers an ordinary Scotch.

 Laburnum hanging over the Back Wall covered in Red Valerian
and long fronds of honeysuckle waiting to bloom.

What remains? Can you think of anything? A good meal at a nice restaurant is always an option, but we do that anyway when we feel like it. Our needs and wishes have shrunk dramatically and those few things which could be deemed special and worthy of present-giving are within reach any day. Should I wait for that book, the silk shirt, the box of hand-made truffles until my birthday or buy it for myself now, while I feel like it?

What to do? What do you do? When I asked Beloved just now he said “I can’t think of a single thing that would give me more pleasure than for us to have a nice day, maybe have a special bite to eat and lift a glass in a toast to us and our pleasant life together.”

Lovely man, if a bit unimaginative.

I won’t even get a bunch of flowers. There are untold bunches to be gathered in the garden right now, all of them more beautiful than artificially bred, stiff-necked, one size fits all supermarket arrangements, irradiated for long life.

Hold on a minute, though. I’ve just thought of something I really want: a cottage on the coast in Germany. And while we’re at it, how about a small flat in London for those hard to reach theatre visits? Not asking too much, am I? Oh yes, and a chauffeur to drive me from one to the other. And a housekeeper to take care of things while I’m away living in one of my several abodes.

There you are, I knew I would come up with something if I thought long and hard enough.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Sinister and Dexter

Laburnum in June

Good foot is still needed to go to heaven, but bad foot going to hell is already miles better; it was ever thus, the road to perdition is so much less stony than the way to heavenly bliss. 

It was sheer bliss limping to the theatre, though. First to a Live Screening of the National Theatre's performance of Shaws Man And Superman and then to Stratford and the Royal Shakespeare Companys Merchant Of Venice. No two plays could be more different.  The Merchant with its Bond of Flesh plot is truly sinister. Its a disturbing story, even today, more than 500 years after Shakespeare wrote it  - or perhaps particularly today when anti-semitism appears to be on the rise again.  Suffice it to say that neither the Jew nor the Christians come out anything other than morally obnoxious.

The stage at the end of the play, taken from the front row.
(We are very fortunate, Jeremy being disabled
gets us excellent seats at reduced prices)

Synopsis:-  In the melting pot of Venice, trade is God. With its ships plying the globe, the city opens its arms to all - as long as they come prepared to do business and there is profit to be made.
When the gold is flowing all is well - but when a contract between Bassanio and Shylock is broken, simmering racial tensions boil over.
A wronged father, and despised outsider, Shylock looks to exact the ultimate price for a deal sealed in blood.

Shaw’s Man And Superman is a sharp comedy, philosophical musing and surreal drama, a philosophical comedy of manners, if such a thing exists. A bearded Ralph Fiennes was excellent as John Tanner, who unwillingly accepts guardianship of a sly and manipulative young woman who is out to snare him in marriage. Fiennes rolls across the stage, slightly bent and swaying, apparently propelled by the fountain of his own words. Never once did he falter - there are over 57,000 words in the play and the majority of those are spoken by its intensely loquacious anti-hero. The play lasted the best part of four hours; I was never bored and laughed like a drain.

I have a new crush: it’s Ralph Fiennes; he may be ageing and his hair may be thinning but his triumphant vigour and versatility, not to mention the perfect delivery of his lines, have won me over. It is so refreshing to be able to understand each word; TV actors mumble and stumble through their lines as if they’re ashamed of them.

Finally, let me recommend to all of you who are interested in theatre (and now, opera) to make use of Live Screenings if you have the chance. Most of us can’t get to London, Stratford, Glyndebourne, or even New York - the Met does transmissions - but many of us can see performances locally at vastly reduced cost. The recordings are for the archives, so the actors are on top form. Performances feel intense, you know that all around the world people are watching the same show as you. And as you are seeing the show on a big screen  instead of from a cheap seat at the back of the Stalls, you have the added thrill of being the first to notice a  fluffed line or an actor corpsing.

We’re off to ‘Julius Cesar’ tonight, which won’t be a bundle of laughs.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Sod’s Law

I’m sure I’ve done a post with a similar title at least once before; Sod’s Law is universal, it chucks its brickbats indiscriminately at all and sundry.

Some years ago I broke my ankle; we were going on holiday and interrupted the journey to give our then dog, Boris, a pee stop on a pretty picnic site. The grass had been freshly cut and a large heap of clippings had been dropped down an embankment, which lead into some woods. A perfect place for a dog to empty himself, I thought. Boris thought so too. He made off down the slope into the woods, me following. And slipping on the clippings.

An ambulance came and instead of going on holiday I went into hospital, where a lot of metal was nailed in place to mend the ankle.

Some months ago this ankle began to feel rather stiff; not madly painful, just uncomfortable. Eventually I saw an orthopaedic surgeon who said other than operate and take out the assorted pins, plates and nails there was little to be done. Not an ideal solution, to my mind. It would take another lot of plaster and weeks of recovering mobility. He was a lovely Indian doctor, young, handsome and keen to do something for me, so, after feeling all around the ankle, studying the x-ray, playing a game of push and shove, twist and turn with my foot, he metaphorically scratched his head, sighed, and asked would I be happy to see a physiotherapist and do some exercises. Large deep brown eyes implored me to say yes and make him feel that he hadn’t failed his patient.

So then I went to see the physiotherapist, another young man, this time with sweet blue eyes. He too fiddled about with foot and ankle and came up with no other solution than to give me some exercises to do.

By now ankle and foot had recovered a bit anyway - or perhaps the weather had changed and dried up enough to ease the rheumatics - so I forgot about the exercises until, about two weeks ago, I saw the sheet of paper still lying on the hall table at the bottom of the stairs. One of the exercises uses steps so I had a quick go, whipping my foot up and down on the bottom stair. Ten times. It pulled a bit.

By the next day I was in agony; the ankle was fine but my hip was on fire. For two weeks I have been limping and cursing, using a stick to propel myself forwards and clinging to chairs and tables and sofas, praying for the paradise of mobility regained.

The hip is easing, finally. There’s been no gardening and only the most abbreviated dog walking. If it hadn’t been so very painful I’d have laughed.

Monday, 25 May 2015

If there’s a word for it

it must be true.

I may be an ‘Episodic’, not a ‘Diachronic’.*

Standing in front of the mirror wearing a spring neckline, i.e. lower than a winter-up-to-the-chin neckline, I saw a faded scar running in a big arc just under my collar bone,  like a thin-lipped but wide smile. I had forgotten every word about it. Every so often doctors ask me about my medical history; although this was a particularly traumatic experience I have omitted to mention it for years. I clean forgot everything about it.

I am not an amnesiac. I have a past, like any other human and I have a fairly normal amount of factual (and imagined) knowledge about it. But I don’t see myself as a product of this past, having arrived in a continuous stream of experiences at the point I find myself today. Looking back over my life, I find episodes that resemble rooms; each one with its own furniture of comfort and discomfort, pain and pleasure, heartache and joy. But each room has a door which is firmly shut and I have no feeling that I have passed from one to the other.

Since I started this blog I have delved into the past and resurrected  it. But the child I wrote about is not the younger self of me today, nor is the young girl who came to the UK and found squalor and tawdriness my direct antecedent. Factually, that is nonsense, of course, but to me my life feels real only now, during my current ‘episode’. As it felt real during each of the preceding episodes. But, as soon as each episode came to its natural end, so did my connection with it. I feel that past experiences do not belong in any way meaningfully to the present-day ‘me’.

Most people live their lives as a continuous narrative; ‘episodics’ much less so. Or not at all. Looking back over my life I see each of the rooms I mentioned containing a person who was me, but I feel almost no connection to her. That doesn’t mean that I can’t dissect her or write her biography. Or feel for her; passionately and dispassionately at the same time.

I’ve often wondered why I feel able to move on quite easily, why I’ve never felt that even the most unpleasant or traumatic periods in my life have touched my ‘core’. as if there is something deep inside me which is inviolable because it is forever detached. I used to think of myself as just not caring enough but I don’t think that’s true. Equally, my inability to make lifelong friends has puzzled me. But if it’s true that the ‘episodic’ lives a life of separate chapters which are without continuity then any relationships are only meaningful for the duration of that particular episode in which they come about.

I am neither sad nor happy about this realisation, just accepting. It’s like somebody switched on a previously dimmed light, illuminating vaguely perplexing shadows.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

* The terms are mentioned in a paper published by the philosopher Galen Strawson
“Against Narrativity”.