Sunday, 27 September 2015

Resourcefulness, Frogs and Rumour Mills

Guiseppe Arcimboldo  -  Autumn  -  1573

Post Autumn Equinox, and the nights are drawing in. Beloved and I have had no enjoyment of summer at all; a whole barrowload of problems has seen to that. And when his problems lessened came the tailend: first I fell over, then I came down with a sudden cough and bronchitis which are lingering. Cough medicine on an empty stomach made me feel nauseous. Resourceful as I am, I thought to make myself sick with a finger down my throat. The resultant dry heaving was not only extremely painful, it also set off a bout of AFib. Once again, resourcefulness was called upon: I took a double dose of my beta blockers, paracetamol and a tranquilliser (Oxford spelling - I just looked it up!) right away, and the ordinary dose at the regular time. Whenever I tell a doctor they present a short intake of breath, and mumble: “some cocktail”. Anyway, it worked.

I have written about nothing but doctors and ailments and our general physical decrepitude for weeks. And even that only very intermittently. No wonder followers are leaving in droves. (I can’t be bothered to find out who you are - so no repercussions.) Thank you to all who have stayed with me, sent good wishes and wrote lovely comments. It feels good to know that one is not alone when the going gets tough and that others too have experience of sad times.

I am trying to make gardening easier. Removing clumps of herbaceous perennials I often come across co-residents, as this frog. He hopped away from me when my fork came a bit too close for his liking but he jumped no more than a couple of feet, there staying stock-still and posing for my camera. I encourage these fellows, in their capacity of slug police they cannot be faulted.

For several months a rumour has haunted Valley’s End that our favourite doctor, the one who saved our lives during the recent calamity, is about to retire. One chap had him taking up a job delivering BMWs, somebody else said there was general short-livedness in the doctors’ family and he was going to retire to enjoy whatever time he had left; yet another person had it for definite that the doctor’s wife had killed herself and he just couldn’t get over it. And more, each reason more outlandish and far fetched.

I can’t be doing with rumours, I need facts. At the end of the last consultation with him, we had the following conversation:

Me : “What on earth are we going to do without you?
Doc., laughing: “Nobody is indispensable”.

Me: “O yes, you are. You are too valuable for us to lose you. You are the only one who takes the time to explain things. Besides, you aren’t old enough to leave.”

Doc., laughing again : “well, I will be 60 at my next birthday. But leave? Not as far as I know. Who says?”

Me :”There’s a strong rumour doing the rounds that you are about to leave, even worse, that you are leaving before the end of the year.”

Doc. “Leave? I’ve already booked a holiday for the rest of this year and put in a holiday request for next year. So it might seem that I’m keen on holidays but I’m not retiring just yet.”

Beloved, heaving a great sigh of relief,: “Right, so I can be sick for a bit longer.”

Laughter all round.

Who comes up with such drivel? How does the rumour mill function? Who sets it off? Many patients have been going from person to person, doing the ‘between you, me and the bedpost’ dance, upsetting many others. As soon as I am told anything ‘in the strictest confidence’ I know I am being but a cog in the rumour machine, expected to spread the word.

Well, no. Find another muggins.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Horses for Courses or Different Strokes

Helen, my pamperer-beautician welcomed me back with open arms, wax, oils, potions and lotions at the ready. Sinking onto her couch. snuggling down under thick, fluffy towels, lulled by softly indeterminate music, I gave myself over to bliss!

We hadn’t seen each other for months, we had a lot to catch up on. Not exactly the ideal way to spend an hour’s facial treatment, but we are fond of each other. Helen sees me as something like an auntie, or maybe a mum substitute and I am very happy for her to open up to me, and I have sometimes got a blog post out of her.

This time she had a tale about her two boys. Her flamboyant daughter is a budding actress and singer, gone off to find fame and fortune. The boys are fourteen and eighteen, and live at home. Lately, Bryn, the fourteen year old, has been walking around with his chin scraping the floor. His girlfriend just finished with him. Her mum doesn’t allow her to go out on weekdays; as they also live more than 10 miles apart and go to different schools, young love does not have an easy ride. Bryn is heartbroken. Helen is sympathetic, “I am sorry it’s not working out,” she said, “but what can be done?" Thinking she’d cheer him up by offering him a present she said: " What can I do to make you feel better?”, expecting him to ask for some digital gadget, money for an outing or a new pair of trainers; Bryn’s reply was: “Mum, could you have me transferred to my girlfriend’s school?” At fourteen true love runs deep!

Now, Liam, the other boy, at eighteen, has no girlfriend and has never had one. With Bryn’s despondency on her mind she got hold of Liam at a quiet moment. “Poor Bryn,” she started out, “he’s got it bad. What about you? Isn’t it time you told me about your girlfriend/s?”

“Me mum? What would I do with girlfriends? I don’t want a girlfriend. She’d only get in the way for rugby or football. Besides, my mates wouldn’t like me mooning after some girl, when we’re out clubbing.” (I always thought the point of going out clubbing [known as dancing in my time] was to get closer to the opposite sex?)  Apparently, Liam is a keen party animal and an even greater sports fanatic, belonging to a number of clubs and frequently playing at away matches and competitions. It seems that neither activity has so far brought him into contact with a suitable love object. I wonder what will happen when he finally does fall?

Come to think of it, their sister, the actress, is still gloriously unencumbered at twenty one. What is wrong with the little one? Perhaps he got the other two’s share of romantic muscle?

Monday, 14 September 2015

Nine Lives

So here we are, almost back to normal. A bit thinner, a bit greyer, a bit chastened, a bit the worse for wear, but alive and thinking of making elderberry wine. Beloved and Millie, carefully and slowly, went down to the big elder tree in the field to check on this year’s berries and yes, there’s an abundant crop waiting to be picked. With lots left for the birds. Best get on with it then.

One lifetime is not enough. We spend the first years learning to pick ourselves up after a tumble, doing our sums and letters, making best friends today and pulling each other’s hair out the next. When we stop crying and running to mum because the world does not turn at our command new problems arise. We fall in love. First love is always painful. Exhilarating, exciting, deeply disturbing, and always painful. Once we get the hang of this strange emotion, and love follows love, we settle down. Sometimes just for a stretch, or sometimes for life. Now problems come in tiny packages which, by and by, grow larger, bringing bigger problems. This is the long and arduous period when we are wholly preoccupied with earning a crust, raising the next generation and looking after the previous one.

There’s little time to sit back and think who we are and what we might have been put on this earth for.

Then we reach sixty. It has taken us all this time to grow up, to see sense, to stop being foolish, to choose peace over the endless treadmill of duties, obligations, commitments; actually, sixty might be a little optimistic, many of us are still running on the hamster’s wheel well beyond sixty.

The first health niggles appear, joints are not as flexible as they once were and we become familiar with the doctor’s surgery; we are on first name terms with the receptionist, and the aches and pains we used to take to mum we now take to the practice nurse.

Soon enough we’re old, in second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.*

And before this happens is where I’d ask for another lifetime. Not to start again from the beginning. Certainly not. Have all that hassle over again? No thank you. But building on the experiences of a lifetime, having learned from mistakes and gained peace of mind and serenity in daily dealings, that’s what I want. No ailments, either; let them stay away. At a stroke short-termism would be done away with. We (and that includes politicians who only ever plan for the short period they find themselves in office) could finally get down to  fulfilling our dreams; there’s time to achieve everything we once strove for, everything that got buried in busyness. We could lie in the grass on a summer’s night, look up to the stars, remember the early promises and make them come true. After all, there’s world enough and time, finally. ** And because we have done our duty and are done with it, we can do what we always wanted to do: Make A Difference. 

*'The seven ages of man’  Shakespeare
** “To his coy mistress’  Andrew Marvell

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

HELP! How do I find back to


I am full of admiration for people who do what I’ve been doing for just the past four months for years, people who are forced into it for the long haul, until such time as death-in-life itself resolves the problem. An ending in terror seems much preferable to me than a terror without end. And don’t tell me that one gets used to it. Of course one does, one gets used to anything, or so they say. But at what cost? Being ground to dust between the millstones of fear and anger, exhaustion and jaw-clenching determination to see it through, leaves no room for the joy of living consciously.

How do you do it? How do you retain a sense of yourself when life itself seems to be suspended?

For me, the worst is over. In place of fear of the future there is now a void, a hole where this all encompassing feeling of frantic helplessness is slowly seeping away like a trickle of water in the sand. You’ve been holding your breath, every fibre of your being has been directed towards survival; when it’s over, you stand there wondering who and what you were before. Before and After. Before and After. The Before has been lost and the After is as yet a nebulous concept.

It’s funny, but when I myself was on the edge between living and not living I was never aware of losing myself. Perhaps one only does that when one is fighting for the continued existence of another person? Perhaps one ‘knows’ that one is not going to die, at least not yet? Not now?

Whatever it is, I think that it’s easier to cope with personal catastrophe than someone else’s, a loved one’s, catastrophe.

I am selfish enough to want ‘ME’ back, in capital letters. No doubt, since that famous 'corner has been turned’ I shall be able to dig deep and resurrect remnants of myself;  I don’t know what the future holds but I may not ever feel quite as overwhelmed and powerless as I did during the past four months. Acceptance may be the answer, acceptance and trusting to a sense of survival.

I may be around a bit more again. Blogging, trite as it may be to some, offers a kind of release from the daily grind and can lead out of oneself into the wider world.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Up and Down. . . . .

....up and down, that’s how it goes.

A bit more up than down just now, although I have long lost count of the number of times I’ve wailed :

“Will this nightmare never end?”

Every time I think, “yessss, we’re getting there!” something new and unexpected happens. Would you believe me when I tell you that Beloved took to falling out of his bed every night for about a week? I am glad to say he’s decided to stop and stay in bed rather than go-crawl-about on the floor, running into the dog sleeping on her bed along the way and settling down for a little cuddle, before having another go at heaving himself up by painfully and laboriously clinging to any piece of furniture he was finding himself next to. He insisted that he’d fallen on his head once or twice; I should have believed him right away, he was silly enough for that to be true. On one occasion he went to bed with a bit of food stuck in a molar, he said; nothing would dislodge it, not flossing, sucking nor poking with a toothpick. But falling out of bed did it, he said; it was the first thing he noticed on landing on the floor.

Falling out of bed he hurt himself, scraping the skin on his shoulders, his neck (aha, he must have landed on his head!) and arms. creating small wounds, which bled and necessitated visits by district nurses to patch him up. District nurses are confident, capable, competent and friendly in a matter-of-fact way people; I am very grateful for their services. Unfortunately, they also tend to boss you around and refer you to all sorts of other services. We are now well and truly part of the ranks of the great unwashed, needy and vulnerable, who are considered to require the aid of untold agencies and their representatives. The trouble is, they all need to ‘assess’ us and our case and that takes time. Form-filling is a tedious occupation - more so for the ‘filled-in’ than the 'filler-inner’ - but it obviously pays their rent. I shouldn’t say that, they are all so earnest and well-meaning and I should just be thankful and shut up but I’ve always hated being patronised. But the young tend to do that, don’t they? So does anyone in the field of social care. I can only assume that most of their ‘clients’ are beyond working things out for themselves.

There’s another reason I should be grateful just now. Yesterday week ago I took a bad tumble on a mossy and damp part of the drive and really badly hurt myself all down my right side, ribs, shoulder, leg and ankle. Bruised ribs and a swollen leg don’t make for agility or even basic mobility. I could barely care for myself, much less Beloved. Isn’t it always so, once you’re in deep doodoo, something happens and the doodoo becomes a giant midden! The pain is less now but I still can’t walk Millie. You should see me getting in and out of the bath! Bare bottom on Beloved’s newly acquired bath board, gently swinging first one leg then the other up and over, feet anchored on the bath mat and, ‘Houston, we have lift-off!’ Except lift-off is perhaps too strong a word for my slow ascent to verticality (? is that a word?).

We now have a piece of paper stuck to the front door, inviting all and sundry to Ring the bell and come in. Door open. It takes ages for me to get to the front door or the landline phone so callers of either description might as well make use of this policy. Just as well we have few axe murderers in Valley’s End. And nobody carries a gun around with them either.

The first district nurse who called on Beloved after I had hurt myself commiserated by saying :”At least you don’t have the time to sit down for long,” implying that limping around on a stick was a better remedy for my aches and bruises and swollen knee than putting my feet up in relative comfort.

Ah well, there’s compassion in the world after all.

The only creature benefitting from all this is Millie; she’s never had so much exercise. Her social life is increasing faster than mine is decreasing, and that’s saying something, since mine has already dwindled to nil. Millie has acquired lots of new best friends, all willing to take the ‘poor dog’ walkies.

And Beloved is getting better too.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Who’d Want To Be A Burden

on family, friends or even oneself?

It’s a phrase one hears a lot, usually uttered by people in good health and far off from being one themselves. Caregivers rarely use it and the one receiving care never utters it. ‘Being a burden’ is a harsh phrase, unkind and heartless. No one needing care does so for selfish reasons and should not be made to feel guilty.

Occasionally, Beloved looks at me and sighs “What a useless burden I am to you.”  I mutter something soothing and give his bony shoulders a quick hug. What else can I do? Being a caregiver is not something I find easy to do, but I (and millions of others) have no choice. If the person you love needs help, you give it freely.

“I dislike burdens, said Juan
and at my back I often hear 
Time’s winged chariot changing gear.” *

Quite so.

When you are waiting for time to pass it seems to stand still. We are in week seven of the recovery period; I could swear we’ve done several years already. And yet

Though patience be a tired mare,
yet she will plod.**

Still, half way there, if all goes well. 

Sharla came to tend to my feet. She is a relatively young woman married to a much older man, who is already retired. Last week I warned her that my current situation might easily apply to her some day. She laughed. “Oh, Tony has already said he’ll never be a burden on me. He said he would take a bottle of whiskey and disappear into the hills. ‘You'll never see me again.’ ” 

Her reply was: “Oh yes? Well and good. But tell me, when you are old and decrepit and quite useless how will you get to the hills? By taxi maybe? Or will you want me to give you a lift?” I don’t think Tony had an answer to that one.

I found time to snap this thrush in the process of demolishing a snail.

*Eric Linklater : Juan in China
** Shakespeare : Nym in Henry V

Monday, 3 August 2015

Routine, routine, my kingdom for a bit of routine, please . . .

"The human spirit lives on creativity and dies in conformity and routine.” so says

Not so, I say.

Maybe if you are a Sufi master free to spend all your time meditating; clever phrases that betoken deep insights flow from your lips in a non stop stream, and your disciples hang on your every word. But if life throws you a nasty one, right between the legs when you were least expecting it and the bugger just won’t go away, tripping you up over and over again?

Give me routine, I cry.

(Actually, Pace all you adherents of Sufi teachings out there, - I am not making fun of you, but does sitting, meditating and giving birth to wise words on a loop  not in itself smack of some kind of routine?)

No, Joyce Carol Oates’ words are much more to my liking.

“The domestic lives we live - which may be accidental, or not entirely of our making - help to make possible our writing lives; our imaginations are freed, or stimulated, by the very prospect of companionship, quiet, a predictable and consoling routine.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Since Beloved fell ill my creative juices have entirely dried up, shrivelled and shrunk to the size and consistency of tiny mouse droppings, too small to leave much of a visible trace. You’d think that I’d pounce on the hours he sleeps during the day, when I am not on duty, but the spiritual wherewithal is lacking, all I find is a heap of dust. Aristotle says:" we are what we repeatedly do”. At present I repeatedly do nothing worth the mention, except yearn for an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

Give me the comfort of surrendering to life on autopilot for all mundane, everyday tasks; make the day predictable in all unimportant aspects. May thoughts, processes, decisions and actions run in straight lines, let me do things the way I have always done them. Then, and only then, will my spirit regain the freedom to roam creative spheres.