It’s really hard to come up with a worthwhile blog post when your mind is preoccupied. I may also be suffering from writer’s block, all my writing, even my diary, remains ignored for the most part. But I love reading. I can’t get enough of that; books have always been my bolt hole, from a very early age I felt the need to escape into someone else’s life when I didn’t like my own very much. I’ve just finished two books, Emma Healey’s 'Elizabeth Is Missing', a story about an old lady’s Alzheimer’s-coloured obsession with her friend’s whereabouts and buried secrets of her own past, and Kate Atkinson’s ‘A God In Ruins’ about a bomber pilot in WWII, a kind of second half to her ‘Life After Life’. Neither book is light escapism, but well written and easy to read in spite of the subject matter.
The weather has been filthy, there’s been little gardening; the picture of Paul and Beloved having a tea break was taken on an exceptional day. I am very glad we have stopped opening for the public. The tallest and most impressive flowers are the white umbels of the pernicious ground elder, an absolutely destructive thug whose roots get into anything and are very hard to eradicate. The bane of my life, second only to the dreaded dandelion.
Millie has recovered from her crise de nerfs; luckily we have had no further violent thunderstorms round here, although other parts of the country have been inundated. We were invited to a birthday lunch at a very grand and very rich house, not by the owners, who were not in residence, but by their dog and house sitter, our good friend Jay, who is neither grand nor rich.
The dogs in question are pugs. a small black one and a beige-brown one, a little larger. (The picture is from the net pets-for-homes.co.uk). They were in a spacious enclosure behind a wire fence. Apparently the owners are terrified that they could escape and get run over. They are never allowed to leave the premises.
Surely pugs are among the ugliest dogs ever? I am sorry if you are the proud owner of one, I mean no offence, although, no doubt, you are offended now. When I went up to the two of them to do my usual silly impression of a dog-besotted idiot they barked at me. Well, barking is exaggerated. They wheezed and snuffled at me in a hostile manner. The small one was pathetic: every two wheezes and he had to take a laboured breath before he could squeeze the next wheezy bark out. He had no tail at all, not even a stub end. His rear end was smooth, he’d been docked until there was not even a smidgeon of tail left. Poor little blighter, no wonder he was in a bad temper. The other one was older and seemed resigned.
How can it be good for a dog to be bred until he has a completely flat face and no nose to breathe through? Give me a Millie, with a great big wet hooter and a solid tail to wag any day, even if she’s the result of an unfortunate liaison between a collie and a lab.
We took her to the pub where she found shelter from the storm after she escaped and were told that she rushed in like a bat out of hell and shook herself all over the guests sitting at the tables. Well done Millie, they’ll not forget you in a hurry.
Millie’s been to the dog groomer. I swear that girl moults more than other dogs. She hates it when I leave her there and if I should stop and chat to Tina, the groomer, and Millie is already in her pre-wash and brush up cage, she growls and whines and weeps bitter tears. ‘Mummy, how could you’, she says. Two hours later when I pick her up, she pulls like a train to get out and away. Dogs just don’t appreciate a pampering session. Not like me, I went to Helen’s for a delicious facial and I didn’t growl or whine once! Instead, I purred.
Beloved hasn’t got any worse, in fact, he’s perked up a bit. I treated him to a couple of theatre visits: the RSC’s almost all black ‘Hamlet' with the rising star Paapa Essiedu in the title role and the Globe’s 'The Merchant Of Venice' with Jonathan Pryce as Shylock. Both productions were excellent. “The seats are too hard”, Beloved said of Hamlet (his bottom is skin and bones now) and when asked about The Merchant he flatly stated that he didn’t like it. My friend Sue, who had asked, was rather taken aback. “What don’t you like, the play or the production?” "I simply don’t like plays whose entire action revolves around prejudice”, he said. Okay, Hm? Are there any plays that don’t have some form of prejudice? In fact, isn’t human frailty the whole point of Shakespeare? I agree to some extent, though, The Merchant is tragically nasty throughout.
Anyway, I have booked tickets for three more productions; I shall be going by myself.
Sunday wears a crown, and has a golden beard and a ring.
Sunday sings his psalms, and laughs and jokes,
and teaches his lessons in a booming voice.
And all creatures sleep in the peace of the earth,
and the earth in Sunday’s hand. *
I like this poem, particularly the last two lines; true, the mystical aspect of it is of less importance to me than to the poet, but the image and feelings he conjures up go right to the heart of my own Sunday self.
For as long as Beloved and I have been together I have made our Sundays stand out. The only exceptions have been the Sundays when he had a Sunday engagement, an afternoon concert, say, in some spa town, or at summer festivals. Moonlighting at weekends. If I went along we’d usually have a quick pizza between rehearsal and concert, which was all that was on offer in places like Tunbridge Wells or Brighton. Things might have changed a bit since then.
Until we met and moved in together, Sundays were nothing special to Beloved. Many English people use Sunday for d-i-y jobs, shopping trips, household chores. During my years of single-parenting and a full-time job I did as much as I could on Saturdays and always attempted to keep Sundays free; admittedly, mainly to recover from the past week and recharge batteries for the week following. There was a lot of solitary putting up of feet, involving listening to music and reading. The kids were old enough to amuse themselves and happy doing it. All three of us enjoyed solitude. except at Sunday dinner, which was a far more elaborate meal than weekday ones.
In my years with Beloved I have kept up the custom of making our Sunday meal special. Three courses with wine are the minimum requirements. Not that I do all the cooking, I might buy something at the delicatessen’s, certainly the starter, and sometimes the pudding too. But we sit and eat at leisure, savouring the food, sipping a glass of something pleasant, and talking. Talking is the main ingredient. it’s almost as if sitting at table fires up neurons and loosens the tongue. We are never at a loss for topics, even now. We might start by remarking on the weather: “Isn’t it still today, not a leaf stirring”/ or: "Heavens, just listen to that rain pounding the glass roof (of the conservatory)”. Then there are compliments about the food and, after careful sipping of the wine, a remark about how pleasant it all is. We'll mention what we did during the week, recall people we met, a play we saw, maybe a lecture we attended. Because it’s Sunday and Sundays are for being kind, I keep criticism to a minimum. Beloved is always kind, even on weekdays. Until we reach politics, current affairs and the deplorable state of beastly humanity, as evidenced by scores of examples daily. We never have to look far. We might not always agree on the causes or the strategies of amelioration; the debate could even get quite heated. It’s amazing how (mildly) reactionary I have become with age, when I was accused, for most of my life, of being “your textbook bleeding heart liberal’.
In this fashion we spend a good two hours being friends and enjoying each other, until Millie nags me into getting up and feeding her. She has her second meal of the day at 3pm on the dot and woe betide me if I forget. So I don’t. Usually.
And after that? Like the creatures in the poem we “sleep in the peace of the earth”. The wine might have had something to do with that.
And so it goes, there’s little change; days flow into each other, one after the other.
This is how I started the last entry in a private diary about our slow slide into oblivion. I don’t feel that I can - or want to - share every moment with all of you, some things need to remain private. Pain, distress, the inexorable progress of disease, mental and physical, are not suitable subjects for the mundane and often frivolous confessions we spill into social media.
I have since realised that the first statement is not altogether true any more. There’s little change in the situation, yet there is some small change in me. I may have said, here or in my private diary: “I am permanently stressed and permanently depressed.” If I haven’t said it, or written it, then I have thought it. But that’s not true now, either.
There comes a time when one accepts even the most hopeless situation. Life goes on. An innate sense of survival takes over. I think that is what’s happening to me.
The weather has been fine, I have spent a lot of my free time gardening and when it’s been too hot to go out I’ve read indoors. Beloved has been happy to potter about outside, leaning on his stick, snipping at this and pulling on that and when he’s been tired he’s just sat in the sun.
I’ve stopped watching him all the time. In an emergency he’d soon know how to get my attention. Besides, he has a panic button. I’ve gone out for up to three hours at a time and he’s been fine. He’s not likely to attempt anything that requires physical strength or mental athletics.
Even Millie is settling into the new routine. I take her out for a short walk in the morning and not again until late in the afternoon. She has a daily paddle in the river and several doors are open for her to come and go as she pleases. She is not meant to leave the garden - we are hedged or walled in and gated, but the other day, during a violent thunderstorm, she panicked and got out, I don’t know how or where, but she made her way into the village and ended up at the pub after having raced along the high street. I expect the pub door was open and she made for its darkish, cool and cavelike interior which might seem to be a safe haven to a frantic dog. I happened to be out in Ludlow at the time. Beloved never even noticed that she was gone until a young man brought her back after the storm. Two messages told us not to worry, she was safe; we didn’t listen to either of them until afterwards.
Perhaps Millie has the right idea, a village pub is indeed a safe haven in a storm and we should all three seek its comfort more often.
The thought has been in my head off and on for the past two weeks, so yesterday I googled it. Mr Google has the answer to everything and cites many examples of self-sabotage. Picking just one of the many, here is a psychiatrist and career consultant saying: "We unconsciously respond to stressful situations in ways that hurt us.”
My situation is stressful, yet, there are women in Valley’s End who have a much harder row to hoe than me. And, in public anyway, they appear to be coping better than me. I can tell they are tired, I can tell they wish things were easier, but they remain cheerful, they smile, they cajole and badger and drag their poor old relics into the bright light of public display. And it does both them and their spouses good.
I went to see my lovely GP for a minor niggle of my own and, him being an absolute gem of a man, he said that I must get out by myself at least once a week, that I must continue with activities I enjoy and, most of all, stay in contact with friends and have as much social interaction as is available.
And that is exactly where the doggie lies buried: I am not, never have been, a fan of organised or communal entertainment. The ladies I mentioned in the earlier paragraph are never happier than when they are in the company of many, sitting at a table for twelve, say, in fast and furious conversation, shouting louder than anyone else - in a nice way - and generally having a wonderful time.
We’ve tried it. We’ve joined a pensioners’ luncheon club. Beloved sat over his plate, miserable, deeply bored, irritated by the noise; I sat opposite him, equally bored, inwardly fuming. Why can’t we see these lovely people for what they are: salt of the earth and making the best of a bad job. My hearing is good, I can’t decide whether that was an advantage or a disadvantage during the riotous banter going on.
We have yet to try a daycare centre. On the face of it, it would be a good place to drop Beloved off while I continued into Shrewsbury for some me-time, but the moment the kind and compassionate staff showed signs of organising games and communal activities he’d grab his stick and crawl out of the place.
Call us stand-offish, conceited, superior twits, but we find a quiet lunch for four or a trip to the theatre much preferable. We did both, had a lovely lunch with a couple where the husband is in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s, when we mostly talked about books; we also went to Stratford to see a performance of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline with just two friends. Whereas the communal jollities happen frequently, the outings we prefer come round only occasionally, leaving us isolated and at a loss to know what to do for the best. Although I may wish we were temperamentally suited to join in and, in the safety of a group of sociable, boisterous and gregarious people, forget our woes, going against our nature - Beloved and I are very similar in that respect - won’t do us any good either.
Once life was joyful and exciting, complex and satisfying. Now we realise that it is finite and sad and can be intensely frightening. Whatever it is, it has to be borne. And I don’t believe that going with my instincts makes me an enemy to myself.
for the kind enquiries I’ve had from many of you as to my state of mind and general wellbeing or otherwise.
You realise, don’t you, that if you ask me “how are you?” I might just possibly tell you? No manners, that’s me. Telling you how it is is not at all the done thing in the UK and the correct answer is always “Not too bad, thanks” if you’re common and “Very well, thank you” if you’re posh, even if you’re shortly to be thrown into the fiery furnace, weeping and wailing and gnashing your teeth. Like if you push your shopping trolley (hard, and maybe deliberately, because they’re slow and you’re in a bad mood)) into someone’s ankles they invariably turn round and say “Sorry”. Whereas I would quite likely say “Watch where you’re pushing that thing!"
And if you ask me “What’s new?” I have nothing to say at all, except maybe that the garden is overgrown and weedy, that Millie is getting fat for lack of walkies, that I’ve had three separate bouts of AFib in the last four weeks, but am feeling better (who knows for how long - see, there’s positive thinking!), that Beloved's still eating and drinking and sleeping, and making bad jokes, that I’m bored out of my skull and utterly depressed most of the time when I’m not stressed to the point of wanting to rip everybody’s head off.
Told you I’d tell you. Satisfied?
What’s even worse is that I’m compensating for stress and rage by eating chocolate, loads of it. And getting fat. Without chocolate I’m a fiend in human form, impossible to get along with. I did an hour’s round trip to get to my favourite chocolate shop on Friday, taking Beloved along for the ride and his own chocolate fix. What do you think happened? He ambled along the shelf, pawed a bar of the stuff here and there, put them all back and said “I don’t really feel like chocolate!”
On the drive to the chocolate-selling town we’d stopped off at a very fancy Food Centre, posh and horribly expensive, and what did we do? we argued about bread. Apparently, all bread has a rubbery edge now. Or so he says. He wished to explore the breads this Food Centre had on offer, he said in a posh voice. He’s good at big words in a posh voice. So I said that one of the freezers at home is stuffed full of bread of all kinds, shapes and sizes, wholemeal, sourdough, white, black, French pain de campagne, German rye, English soft. Very well, he says, no need for me to go in then, you go and buy what you like.
It was lunchtime, attached to the Food Centre is a restaurant, nothing fancy, good enough for a bite and a drink. We even had a table outside in the pleasant sunshine. Millie came too; she lay between us looking up first at me, then him, hoping for a handout. She was in luck. Beloved said his lunch of pulled pork was tasteless, practically inedible, chewy, too bready (bread again) and as for the salad, which consisted of rocket leaves, well, he said, how am I supposed to eat this? With my fingers? Apparently the fork wouldn’t spear the blasted leaves.
When, in the name of all that’s sane in this crazy world we have been pitched into, will we get used to the status quo? There is no hope. The prognosis is bleak and cure is there none. We can bicker and row and make the rest of our time together a penance or we can stop and enjoy what’s left. Positive action is the only thing that helps. How long does it take to accept your hand and play it for all you’re worth? Even the doctor said ‘it’s quality of life that counts, not quantity’. When I told her that I wasn’t going to nag Beloved into giving up his glass of wine, eating only the most sensible food, stopping him from sleeping several hours during the day, making him take exercise he can no longer cope with and any or all of the good advice handed out by helplines I thought she’d want to tell me off. But no, staying as happily together as we’ve been for many years was the thing to do, she said. Put the nagging on hold.
I am leaving the comments section open for this post. Although I am very grateful for your empathy, your kind thoughts and prayers, please don’t go soft on me. If I need anything, it’s a calm and competent and very thorough talking to, otherwise known as a kick in the backside.
There’s no point pretending it’s not happening. No point in sticking my head in the sand or hiding behind a nice big woolly mum. It is happening, it is real; Beloved is ill, both mentally and physically. It no longer matters who or what caused it, if last year’s medications tipped him over the edge we must accept it. Playing the Blame Game won’t make a blind bit of difference.
We are once again waiting for an assessment of his state of health and therefore in limbo. I have a permanent headache, feel flat, depressed and obsessed with the situation. It’s like standing at a carousel in the Arrivals Hall at the airport, helplessly watching a big suitcase full of demons going round and round and round and nobody claims it for their own, least of all me.
What on earth can I blog about? Perhaps I could start a new blog: 'The Road To Oblivion’. Or I could list the outings we undertake, singly or jointly, like meals with friends or in the pub, shopping trips; there have been some rare family visits, one where the visitors actually made a difference by clearing some long neglected jobs; there’ve been long or short walks with Millie, depending on the weather. Also depending on weather have been stints in the garden. Nothing has brought any lasting relief, that merry-go-round in my head is merciless.
So deep is this misery that I don’t want anyone to try and coax me out of it. When I told a friend how flat I feel she said that coming out with them to see a movie would be good for me, that I always seem to rally when circumstances demand it. I know all about brave faces and accepting their invitation might have been a good idea but afterwards I still have to go home and climb into my screeching head again.
I’ll come back here when the load lightens, or when we’ve had the assessment. In the meantime forgive me for wallowing in misery.