20 June 2017

Dearly beloved

I do enjoy a nice wedding. It's an excuse to get all dressed up and meet friends or family you haven't seen in years. A chance to catch up. A chance to see how grown-up the children have got or how decrepit the elders.

When I was small and cute, I was asked to be bridesmaid on five separate occasions. By the time I was in my thirties I had been to quite a few weddings as a guest, not to mention my own during that intensely hot summer of 1976.  Compared to me, Kay has been devoid of any weddings. There simply hasn't been a single wedding in our circle for the last 25 years or more. At the grand old age of 25, she has NEVER  been a bridesmaid and the first ever wedding she even attended was three weeks ago when we crept into the back of the church to watch a not-so-close friend of hers  from primary school days marry at our local church. (We just happened to hear about it by chance and thought as it was a five-minute walk away, we would go, but we were not officially invited.) A few days ago we were invited to be guests at a family wedding in the Midlands. Kay's first ever proper wedding invitation.

I suppose it is a sign of the times that weddings are not as commonplace as they used to be. Cohabiting is far more common that it was forty or fifty years ago. Rightly so, people marry only when they really want to, but it is no longer a given and therefore the ceremony to cement the relationship becomes a rare event. Having children outside marriage is no longer taboo either  (I so weep at the stories that unfold on Long Lost Family, where unmarried mothers were forced to put their babies up for adoption).  Shotgun weddings are a thing of the past. In fact, the little page boy at our family wedding was the couple's two-year-old son. 

I've noticed the wording of the service has changed a lot too. No more thees and thous and plighting troth. No more lawful wedded husband or wife. I was quick to abandon the obey at my service in 1976 (something I think Mr Alcoholic Daze may have later regretted), but it was still peppered with thees and thous.   There's still the usual titter and nervousness when the congregation is asked if there is any just cause why those two people should not be married but on the whole there's a lot more jollity and less solemnity from the vicar.  

For Kay's first proper wedding this was the best. It was perfect in every way..... perfect weather, beautiful bride, handsome groom, adorable children, lovely food, incredible venue, hilarious speeches.... the perfect day for the perfect couple.



12 June 2017

Flat

I haven't blogged for a while and, whilst wanting to keep up the momentum, I've run out of steam. I'm a bit flat, so to speak. First of all, the election result has made depressing news, whatever party you voted for. Nobody really won, did they? And now we are left with a government in tatters, when 10 weeks ago, things were more or less, er, strong and stable.  So many things to fix - Brexit and terrorism to name the two biggest problems facing us at the moment - and a weak government on the one hand and an excitable mob on the other. God knows how far we have sunk in the rest of the world's eyes.

It's funny how when the Leavers won Brexit, the Remainers said it was the wrong result and wanted another referendum. Now the Conservatives have the biggest number of votes compared to any of the others and Corbyn is demanding the PM's job.  I stand by the rules of democracy.  You win some. You lose some. I'm just sick of all the back-biting, name-calling, witch-hunting and wish we could go back to good old-fashioned politics where gentlemen (and by that I mean polite people, not gentry) discussed our state of affairs. I'm currently hooked on Channel 4's The Handmaid's Tale which is a realistic but scary look into the near future. Let's hope it remains fiction and doesn't come true.

Added to that, I have had a throbbing tooth all weekend, which has been driving me crazy.  I hope the dentist is about to fix at least that problem for me. So it's onwards and upwards from now on, I hope, and an upcoming family wedding in a few days to lift my spirits.

28 May 2017

Grim news and the Grim Reeper.

Image result for grim reaper

When you are young, for most people anyway, thoughts of your own death tend to be far off. It seems so far away as to not be worth thinking about. You have energy and plans which are all-consuming as you work and play your way through the early years. Jobs, relationships, families, exploring new places.... so much to do and so much time stretching ahead to do them in. However, as you get towards the end of your three score years and ten, it is inevitable that those thoughts of your demise start to feature now and again. I am currently 66 going on 50, feel I have many more decades to enjoy, but unfortunately at the moment seem to be surrounded by illness and death, which makes me a little nervous about my own. Funeral invitations seem to outnumber by far any for weddings or christenings. I suppose it is to be expected as you get older and friends of your own age start to come down with things. But I am not liking it. I am certainly not ready to shake off my mortal coil any day soon. I am a spring chicken.

In the last month I have learned that:

  • my husband's best friend recently found out he has bowel cancer and three days after his successful operation to remove it, he had a stroke.  He is slowly recovering. He is 65.
  •  the husband of good friend of mine has been told he has a few days to live. He has kidney failure and associated heart problems. I am trying to buoy up both him and his wife but it is emotionally draining. Admittedly he is 94, but it is still upsetting as he is still very with-it and intelligent (ex-headmaster and WW2 bomber pilot).
  • a member of my wider family has bowel cancer and is about to undergo 6 weeks of chemo and radiotherapy followed by a colostomy. She is in her fifties.
  • an old school friend died two days ago of a muscle wasting disease (MSA).  She was 66, like me. 

I suppose we all hope to go on forever and don't really consider death until it stands up and punches us on the nose, but when it surrounds us and attacks many of those close to us in age within a short timescale, you cannot ignore it.  Of course death can come to those well before their time, as we have witnessed in Manchester recently. Does a time ever come, I wonder, when we accept our time is up and go quietly? Or do we rail against it with all our might until our very last breath?

16 May 2017

Slim chance

I've been doing a lot of knitting lately. 

I've also been trying to lose a little bit of weight. Not a lot but a little. About ten pounds to be precise.  My weight had crept up over ten stone and I didn't like being in double figures (number-wise, that is, not shape-wise!) As I have an occasion I want to lose weight for, I decided to go hell for leather for it. I'm going for a combination of an old Rosemary Conley diet which has been successful in the past plus a smidgen of common sense - high fibre, low fat, low sugar and exercise. I've got a mere three pounds to go until I get to my target of 9 stone 7 pounds, but they are proving the hardest to shift.

I manage very well during the day. I have a small breakfast, small lunch and have my main meal in the evening at around 6 or 7pm. I am usually quite occupied during the day and often out of the house all day, so I barely think about food, but, come the evening, after my main meal of the day, I could happily go on snacking until bedtime. That has always been my downfall. Particularly in the wintertime when I hunker down in front of the TV I get bored and, well, peckish. It seems like every ten minutes I am resisting the idea of getting something to nibble. Sometimes I win.  Sometimes I lose. But when you are on a diet, you cannot afford to lose (except lose weight of course).

That's where the knitting comes in. In a desperate attempt to keep busy and keep my mind on something else (and not food), I decided to knit. I can do that AND watch television without the feeling I am wasting my time. It's also difficult to put the knitting aside (especially in the middle of something complicated) to go off to get a snack.

But what to knit? I don't really have anything specific to knit for and prefer small items where I can see the results quickly. In the last few weeks I've knitted 40 beanie hats and matching socks for small babies and sent them off to four London hospitals for their neonatal wards. Stupidly I didn't take pictures of those, but here's some of the blankets I have been knitting for our local animal rescue centre. So far I've done 3 cat-sized blankets and 3 dog-sized ones. Way to go.

At this rate, by the end of the year, I'll have knitted my own furniture and hopefully be stick-thin in the process. Some hope. Mind you, my fingers do seem a lot slimmer.





 

10 May 2017

Denial

There's been a lot of publicity recently about alcoholism.  First the  revelation from Brad Pitt that alcohol was responsible for breaking up his marriage to Angelina Jolie.  Then a report that baby boomers are at risk of developing deadly conditions by regularly binge drinking. Then a feature in ITV's Loose Women in which Nadia Sawahla spoke of her husband's alcohol addiction.

Brad Pitt calls himself a "professional drinker" who has been sober for six months. It dangerous when people are in denial and do not truly recognise their alcoholism and use another term for it, as if "professional drinker" makes it sound more respectable. He's a recovering alcoholic plain and simple. "Professional" sounds like he could like it or leave it, switch to another "profession", if it did not agree with him. The fact is that an alcoholic has an uphill struggle to leave that profession. That Brad Pitt has been sober for six months is good - all credit to him - but it takes even harder work to keep that up. Time will tell whether he succeeds. Meanwhile, it has cost him his marriage and constant contact with his kids, as is so often the case with alcoholism. All too often, it costs you your life.

As for the baby boomers, they are in their sixties. They probably have reasonable pensions, considerable savings stashed away and a lot of time on their hands. Either living it up on the Costa del Something or housebound in grey Blighty, the time on their hands gives them carte blanche to drink, because they can and they're bored. No need to get up for work the next day. If they drink too much they can sleep it off. Nobody is going to rebuke them for being late or not turning up. Sitting in front of the TV with a bottle of wine each evening probably doesn't count either - in their eyes - so they too are in denial. Apparently a quarter of men over 65 and 13% of women drink FIVE days a week. This increases their risk of common cancers (bowel and breast), liver and heart disease. (My hairdresser is one of these... she recently confessed she cannot wait for seven o'clock to come round each evening when she can crack open a bottle of wine to remove the stresses of the day, but sometimes she cannot wait and opens it at five o'clock.  She finds it hard to have an alcohol-free day let alone alcohol-free week.) Figures published last week reveal an estimated 339,000 alcohol-related admissions in 2015/16, up 22 per cent from 2005/6.   Of course these figures will not all be attributable to baby-boomers, as the young too are on a car-crash course with their drinking habits. Thanks to the Labour government who relaxed drinking laws in 2005 because they thought the British public could handle 24-hour drinking. What were they thinking?  Maybe we DID need a Nanny state to stop us all becoming a nation of zombies with medical problems. Governments can be in denial too, although cynically the increased tax revenue they stood to gain on alcohol probably had something to do with their decision.


My heart went out to Nadia Sawahla on Loose Women when she revealed that her husband is a recovering alcoholic. It had nearly cost them their marriage too. Often partners of alcoholics are in denial too and hope it is just a passing phase that their partner will grow out of. However,  Nadia gave him an ultimatum and thankfully he responded by becoming sober - something that has to date lasted 13 years. He is one of the lucky ones. Statistics show that only one in ten manage to pull themselves out of their addiction and of course staying that way takes a lifetime of immense will power. Just one little drink can lead to addiction again.

04 May 2017

When is enough enough?

About fifteen years ago, when Kay was about ten years old, we took a camping trip to France. We used to go camping a lot in those days, as we had our lovely dog Snoopy then and putting him in kennels while we went away was out of the question, as he was terrible at being left. It was no great hardship. We loved camping and could still explore abroad, as we got him fixed up with his own pet passport. We did trips to France frequently and found a good vet in Calais who would do all the necessary checks and paperwork to get us safely back through Dover again. We went to Germany, Denmark and Ireland too and have many memorable photos of us all crouched inside the tent in pouring rain! Seriously, we had some truly fantastic times.

On this particular trip fifteen years ago, when Kay was ten, we had been returning to the UK from a trip to the Loire. After a long motorway drive, we pulled over to a very small parking area on the side of the motorway somewhere in France for a bit of leg-stretching. It was shielded from the motorway by trees, so it was only when we had parked in one of the twenty or so parking bays that we noticed the very small bungalow building was derelict and the "cafe" was most definitely closed and looked as if it had been for some some years. There was only one other car there apart from ours, but nobody in evidence, so goodness knows where they had gone.  No problem for us, though, as we virtually had the kitchen sink and kettle in the back of the car, so we set about boiling some water on a small camping stove on the ground at the back of the car. Kay had got out with the dog on a lead and stood near us.  Engrossed in finding the jar of coffee and the teabags among the huge heap of luggage, dog bed,  tent and camping paraphernalia, I suddenly turned round to find Kay and the dog were not by the car. They weren't in the car. They weren't in front of the car. They weren't even in view. I called her name. There was silence. Greg and I called and called. Nothing but silence.

Sheer panic set in. My heart was beating two thousand to the minute and it seemed as if it would burst through my throat. Where was she and why wasn't she replying? Before Madeleine McCann there had always been threats of child abduction, the most famous one at the time being the James Bulger case. Did the owners of that other car have something to do with it? I felt sick with fear. We were flailing around searching bushes, trees and about to go towards the derelict building, when Kay and the dog emerged from behind the building. I cannot tell you how relieved I was at that sight and when we ran towards her half-angry, half-relieved demanding to know where she had been, she looked totally surprised at our concern, saying she had just decided to take the dog for a walk to stretch his legs. It was all of about ten minutes, but it seemed like ten years.


Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the day Madeleine McCann went missing. I cannot begin to imagine what Kate and Gerry McCann went through and are still going through. How do you cope with something like that for ten minutes let alone ten years? I admire their tenacity, but they must be putting their life on hold until she is found. At what point do you give up and think enough is enough? 

Image result for madeleine mccann now and then
Madeleine in 2007 and how she might look now

29 April 2017

Happy Birthday

It would have been Greg's 68th birthday today. Happy Birthday up there on the clouds, doing whatever they do up there. Are you allowed any alcohol to celebrate, I wonder?

I cannot picture Greg as 68. He is still the 60-year-old who died just over seven years ago. I suppose that's one thing about dying relatively young. You never age beyond that point. Whereas for the rest of us, you cannot stem the slowly oncoming tide of ailments, poor eyesight, tottering gait, failing this and failing that.   He has escaped the drawbacks of ageing, but has been cut off in his relative prime by the demons of drink. Which is worse?

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.


19 April 2017

The thin end of the wedge

"Have you heard the news?" said Mum animatedly yesterday. "Theresa May is calling for a general election."

"I know", I said. "It's quite unexpected, isn't it?" 

"Hmm." she replies. "I can't understand why she's doing it, though.  Errr.  Forgive me for being ignorant, but what does Brexit stand for and what is it all about?"

I feel a sledgehammer hitting me sideways.  How on earth do I answer that? I'm not very good at masking. Lying. Pretending.  So I go for the full-on honest approach. "You are kidding me, mum. There's been little else discussed over the last 12 months. You even voted on it last year in the Referendum. It's a shortened form for British Exit."

There's a pause. "Oh I see." But clearly she doesn't, so I venture "It's the British exit from the European Union. You know, the Common Market."

"Aha".

This is not the first instance that I have felt something is not quite right. There have been a few others. On Easter Sunday, I brought her over to my house to share with Kay and me  in an old-fashioned English meal of roast lamb and Easter Simnel cake. There is just the three of us now. Mum's husband, my father, died in 2001. My husband died in 2010. Kay is an only child, as am I.  So on important occasions it has been just the three of us for the last seven years. The three musketeers. 

Kay helps mum from the lounge to her seat at the dining table. I dish up the meal and put it in front of mum, before I return with the plates for Kay and me.

"Where are the others?" asks Mum. "Are they not coming down for lunch?"

"What others?" I ask, not daring to imagine whom she means.

She looks confused. "Er. Er. I don't know. Er. "

Kay and I exchange glances. "Do you mean Kay's boyfriend?" I suggest as a possible way out, although he is 40 miles away with his parents, as my mother well knows. 

"Yes", she replies, although not with conviction.

I worry if these instances are just a slight wobble or a symptom of something much worse. She is in a lot of pain with her arthritis and the painkillers don't even touch the sides. Even then, she only takes paracetamol and the occasional codeine, as she has done for years, so there is nothing really heavy to cause her mind to behave strangely as it seems to be doing lately. Stronger painkillers make her woozy, so we have experimented with them way back in the past but dismissed them as too dangerous as she lives on her own and could have a fall.

Are these the first signs of dementia? She is approaching 94 after all, but then again her next-door neighbour is going to be 100 next week and is as bright as button. My mother is very interested in the television news and would read more if her poor eyesight did not let her down, so she is not completely gaga and at least knows what year she is in and who the Prime Minister is. 

But I can't help feeling these little instances are worrying and I don't know what the next few months will bring. I am not sure I am prepared for it, whatever "it" is.
 
Kay made a Simnel Cake for Easter


Isn't she clever?

04 April 2017

Stratford upon Avon


Sorry for my rather long silence, but I've been away.  Last week Kay and I had a mini-break in Stratford-upon Avon. I've been there before but it was over 35 years ago and in the dark. I got an evening coach trip from Leicester (where I was at uni) to see a play, so all I saw of Stratford was in the dark apart from the inside of the theatre! I felt it was high time and long overdue that I visit the town properly.

Kay had a few days off before she changed rotations and wanted to utilise the time wisely, so we hit on the idea of Stratford upon Avon. I've heard of Shakespeare (who hasn't?) and all his plays, but I did not really know anything about the man. In the space of a few days, I got to know him and his family really well. 

Kay had booked us into a lovely self-contained airbnb which was a short walk to the town centre, so we were able to sight-see during the day, walk back to the flat and refresh ourselves, before walking back to the town centre again to choose a restaurant for dinner.

We  saw most of the Shakespeare homes. 

First his birthplace
Front of birth house on Henley Street
Rear of birth house
Young Will had to share this bed with two of his brothers!  


Then on to Anne Hathaway's Cottage  - the home of his wife before they married. I think this place was my favourite of them all.





We also visited Hall Croft, the home of his daughter Susanna. She married a physician and Kay found it very interesting to learn about Tudor medicine. (Thank goodness we did not live in those days, is all I can say.)
Hall Croft


We also popped into Holy Trinity Church  where Shakespeare is buried. I stupidly thought he was buried in Westminster Abbey, but maybe the caption on his grave put people off moving him.


Wandering around the town there were so many beautiful old buildings - I cannot possibly put them all here, but here are a few....




We did not see a play while we were there. My hearing is not what it used to be and I did not fancy sitting through several hours of Julius Caesar, which was on during our stay, without being able to hear what was going on.

Shakespeare was 18 when he married Anne Hathaway. She was 26 and apparently "3-months with child", so they married hastily in November 1582. She probably conceived in August or September - the height of harvest-making on her farm. Say no more.  Their first-born was Susanna (who married Dr Hall,  the physician I mentioned above). Shakespeare and Anne later had twins Judith and Hamnet, but Hamnet died at the age of 11, so the Shakespeare line died out with the two girls. Shakespeare was quite a wealthy man and owned several properties in Stratford as well as in London.  It was amazing to think he left school at 15, died at the age of 52 and yet wrote so prolifically in that short time.

You can tell,  I thoroughly enjoyed my short-break and came back thoroughly refreshed.

14 March 2017

Making savings

Image result for when do £1 coins come out 

At the end of this month the new 12-sided bimetallic £1 coin makes its premiere appearance. The current pound coin was too easy to counterfeit apparently. Apart from being made of two metals and having many sides, the new one will have, among other things, milled or smooth edges on alternate sides and an image like a hologram that changes from a "£" symbol to the number "1" when the coin is seen from different angles.

You are advised to search deep into your sofa cushions, piggy banks, coat pockets, tooth fairy stashes, car compartments and anywhere else where you might horde coins, as the old pound coin will cease to be legal tender after 15 October.  You might be surprised just how much money you could be throwing away, if you don't.  Foreign tourists might also take note and trade them in at their local banks, as they probably still have the odd pound coins lurking in the midst of their travel paraphernalia in the hopes of returning to Britain one day.  I know I still have a motley collection of ancient US dollars, Italian Lira,  East German Marks, Yugoslavian Dinar and goodness knows what else which are now probably worthless. I doubt even as a collector they would be worth that much

Talking of throwing away money, I have just (sickeningly) discovered how much money I could have been throwing away over the last ten years .... enough to buy a new car or an extremely luxurious round-the-world  holiday. Yes, sickening. It would seem I have been paying something like £500 over the odds each year by not having a water meter. I have just been signing over £750 per year to the local Water Board without questioning it. Last week, a newspaper article highlighted the savings to be made by having a water meter and gave a link to check whether a meter could save you money. Living as I do now on my own, I did wonder, so I went online and even with gross exaggeration* of how many showers (14) I could possible take in a week and how many times I used the washing machine (10), flushed the toilet per day (20) or hosed the garden, I still could make savings of about £500 per year. 

*I stress these are gross exaggerations - whoever has 14 showers in a week and flushes the toilet 20 times a day should surely have some serious hygiene and bladder problems!

Image result for water meter thames water I do recall at some murky point in the distant past that the water companies were offering water meters to their customers, but at the time, there were three of us living in the house, hubby was in the throes of his alcoholic meltdown, daughter was a teenager showering a lot and the dog was getting senile and weeing in his bedding every night which meant the washing machine was on at least once if not twice a day. My eye was taken off the ball. I suppose in my cynical frame of mind, I also discounted it as an advertising hype that would no doubt benefit the water companies more than the customers so I ignored it. More fool me. My total idiocy has been rectified: a surveyor came last week to decide where the meter should be located and it will be installed in the next few weeks. 

I feel a luxury holiday coming on......

06 March 2017

Seven years and still counting

It's seven years to the day  and to the hour since Greg died. Or to be even more precise 2,557 days (and nights) without him. Why do I still mark the anniversaries? Does a time ever come when the date arrives and I forget?  Immersed in something else? Or I don't even try to remember the date in the first place?  Someone once commented on this blog saying I'll know you are on the road to coping with Greg's death when you start a new blog, all about you, leaving the old one with its running ticker of days since Greg died to count on quietly by itself.  I've long since removed the ticker counter from the blog, but I still cannot yet remove the anniversaries. Will that ever happen, I wonder?


I  don't particularly want to remember his last five years on this earth, as they were truly horrible, so why do I need to savour that last day and make it stick in my brain in case I should ever forget? Is to punish myself for things not said or not done to stop it? I suspect it is because we had 35 years previously to that which were wonderful and it is THAT which I don't want to dust under the carpet.  He was a good man. Kind and understanding to all he met. He would give the shirt off his back to help someone or defend them if unfairly wronged. A good father. A good husband.  He was not bad, only the alcoholism. I try to remember him as I first met him and not as he was when I said my last goodbye.

For the first time in seven years, Kay is with me (on a week's leave) to mark the occasion. We shall go to the chapel of rest together and lay flowers and look at the book of remembrance. She too still feels the pain of those last years, although our anger has mellowed. Ironically she is now working for two months on the liver ward of a large teaching hospital in London and seeing many cases of, you've guessed it, alcoholic liver damage. She's got past the stage of being upset about it. If anything, she is more understanding than any of the other doctors, because she grew up knowing how hard it is for an alcoholic to give up the alcohol. Alcohol becomes the master and the alcoholic is the slave. If anything, in Greg's case, alcohol was the one who gave him up.  It had no further need of him. He was wasted, done with, of no further use. It took what it wanted from him and then spat him out on an intensive care bed with a flat-line on the monitors. It's knowing he didn't deserve that which drives me on to remember him as he was and to keep on remembering.