Sunday, 29 May 2011


29th May 2011 Sunday

I wake up with a headache but it’s the morning for cleaning the house. My husband hoovers and mops the floors and even wipes all the skirting boards up the stairs with a wet cloth. He’s my hero for doing this. I clean the shower and make up the double bed in the spare room. I haul everything out of the pink room - ironing board, re-bounder, half worn clothes, dusty shoes, dozens of socks - and blow up two mattresses and make them up with clean sheets and duvets for our visitors - my husband’s nephew and niece and their parents.

I feel oppressed by the heavy grey clouds and my scratchy mood. We drive out for a walk in pine woods and talk about money on the way. My husband thinks we will find a way to manage on less in the coming months - that it won’t be so bad - we could still enjoy ourselves. He’s right but I don’t feel ready to be enthusiastic about living on spinach and potatoes and only giving little birthday presents. I feel diminished and mean and ashamed. I say I will sell my rings and stack shelves in Sainsbury’s - to make him feel bad. I know I won’t and he can’t feel worse than he does already. The sun comes out but I just feel hot and cross and we don’t talk much on the way home.

After our smoked tuna lunch with the patio doors open, he puts on his red and black clothes and drives off to sing in his choir in Exmouth. A dear friend arrives with sweet smelling gifts - perfumed oil and gogi tea - she somehow knew exactly what pampering my soul needs. We walk and talk in the park nearby wandering through wild flower meadows and down into cool trees, over a bridge crossing the stream and up steep pebbly paths. We stop and listen to a missel thrush singing her heart out and I see our take-it-for-granted park with new eyes.

When she leaves after tea and cake at the kitchen counter I feel lighter, expanded, hopeful. So it’s easy to say sorry to my husband who seems lighter and more positive too when he comes home. He says he can see the possibility of living in the here and now. How magic is that.

Mashing Bananas

28th May 2011 Saturday

The best moments from today :

At the allotment in spitty rain, pulling up bendy pink stems of rhubarb - a sucking and a cracking sound as they leave their home crown. Reaching up to cut the flat lacy sprays of rose pink elderflowers from the Sambucus Nigra Black Beauty tree which we planted three years ago, thinking how they will share their deep fragrance with the rhubarb when I cook them together later.

Mashing ripe bananas to stir into the chocolate sponge cake - one of the puddings for the children coming next week. Wondering if they like bananas, imagining eating it with a hot chocolate sauce and whipped cream in case it’s dry.

The worst moments from today:

Walking with my husband along a shaded path, the rhododendrons shining like pale mauve moons in the gloom, overwhelmed by his sadness, his drooping shoulders. And my own grumpiness and steely heart.

We sit across the table from each other, our salad plates wiped clean. He says,

‘When I picked up the doctor’s certificate yesterday, it said it’s permanent - I won’t be able to work again. Now it’s real - up to now it’s just been an idea.’

So it has arrived - that future I’ve dreaded - here and now on the table between us in the debris of lunch - the clear and present danger - I can step into it or away from it. Let it harm me or grow me.

I clear the plates. He says he’ll go and lie down. I peel the bananas and start mashing.

Friday, 27 May 2011

It Was Better Then

27th May 2011 Friday

I feel odd standing in the lunch queue at Cranks restaurant at the Cider Press Centre in Dartington. Thirty years ago I was on the other side of the counter. I would have been bringing out a huge dish of steaming lentil curry or black eyed beany bake from the kitchen which I’d made that morning. I would have been wearing a blue and white flowered cotton dress and white apron - feeling all proud and excited to be the cook at Cranks - living my dream.

Today I’m with a dear friend who knew me then, who worked at the Cider Press too. The young woman serving us on the other side of the counter is about twenty years old wearing a black t-shirt and piling our plates with baked potatoes and salads. To her we are just two forgettable middle aged women passing through on a Friday morning. She doesn’t know that the food was better then - brimming with life and love and passion - with the flavour of joy.

I arrive home way past 7pm, the car laden with shopping from Riverford Farm and Tesco’s. My husband arrives at the same time carrying huge bags of bitter leaves from the allotment - mustard greens, chicory and raddiccio which he likes but I don’t - except in small doses. He starts the supper - scrubs the Jersey Royal potatoes and baby carrots while I unpack the bags and tempt the pussy cat with tuna. He’s not hungry and I find he has been sick in the bedroom. Three times.

We sit at the table, the sun still bright in the sky at 8.30 and catch up with our separate days. Finding a way for him to remember the people we both know but whose names don’t have faces until I can paint them for him. One stroke at a time.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Duvet Day

26th May 2011 Thursday

A lost day under the duvet. Rain splattering on the windows. Wind tugging at the casements. A bowl of porridge and banana for breakfast in bed. Am I really ill? Or am I just running away from my life. I could have been in Salisbury with a dear friend having a lovely lunch and catch up. I could have been shopping in the market. Getting the rooms ready for my husband’s family coming to stay next week. Or I could have surrendered to my headache - indulged the gift of these hours, treated myself to this luxury of bed in the afternoon.

Mostly though I just doze with my laptop and the phone and hot lemon juice on the side. And grapple with guilt feeling a failure at surrender.

The door bell rings. I debate whether to open it or not in my old leggings and yoga t-shirt, unwashed hair and no mascara. I’m glad I do. It’s a neighbour and client of my husband’s with a bottle of Cava and a card for him. I’m too embarrassed to invite her in. I leave them on the kitchen counter along with the post which I know contains more cards and letters from clients - all sad and shocked that my husband is leaving. And all expressing their appreciation and love for him.

When he comes home from his ceramics class he falls into bed, exhausted, and we don’t go to our evening meeting. I watch him sleeping, notice the dark circles under his eyes, lay my hand on his forehead and imagine what is happening a few inches below my palm, beyond his soft skin, through the bone of his skull, inside that shadow dell which we saw on the x-ray in the doctor's office all those months ago. My heart crumbles for him.

I wonder if his increasing extreme tiredness is a symptom of his disease. Or a natural reaction to the axe blow loss of his life as he has known it up to now.

But I don't find any answers under the duvet today.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


25th May 2011

I couldn’t get up this morning. Well, I could, but my legs felt like jelly and my head like a fat football. I thought, ‘I’ll just go and make some hot lemon and honey and go back to bed for a bit’. And then another thought ‘What would happen if I stayed here and just gave in to feeling ill?’

So I did.

Surrender,’ said my sister on the phone - ‘it’s a better word than give up which sounds like defeat’.

We’d been talking about surrendering last night - my habit of holding on, powering through, keeping relentlessly busy. And the cost of all that - losing sight of myself - and my husband - in my Jolly Green Giant I-can-overcome-anything mode.

I cancel all my appointments with lovely friends. My husband makes the hot lemon. The pussy cat curls by my feet and I drift in and out of sleep. I notice the guilt waves washing through me and let them sink into the sand. A hammer drill starts up - some men digging up the pavement outside - almost shaking the bed. I think how the habit of feeling guilty - about everything - is like a hammer drill inside my head - drowning out the music of any thought of happiness.

I do get up on my wobbly legs in the afternoon. My husband drives me to the dentist where I need three injections before my gum will go numb enough for the drill. So now my lip and my chin and my tongue are like dead meat and tea dribbles from the side of my mouth. I need to surrender a bit longer till I feel the tingle of nerves coming back to life. And then my husband says he’ll bring me my asparagus supper on a tray in bed.

PS Lemon curd spooned and swirled into a bowl of cold Greek yoghurt is very soothing for a sore mouth.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Anti- Depressants

24th May 2011 Tuesday

Today is our appointment with the consultant neurologist who gave us my husband’s diagnosis of Pick’s disease/semantic dementia five months ago on 14th December. That date has stayed in my mind like a splinter.

This morning he is wearing a light linen summer suit almost the colour of mustard. He is very tall - all long gangly legs.The suit is very tight and rides up showing his golden socks. He has a soft voice, a friendly manner but I get the feeling our slot mustn’t run over five minutes. My husband explains his situation - lost job, mostly low mood, tired and shagged out a lot of the time, feeing a failure.

Our man offers anti depressants. Asks my husband if he has any enthusiasms and if he likes music. He says it is hard now to assess the trajectory of the disease with so much stress and it’s no wonder he can’t concentrate when he tries to read the newspaper.

We will come back in six months time.

My husband says it was a waste of time and we drive to Topsham for breakfast only to find our favourite cafe closed. We have coffee and scrambled eggs in another cafe. They are hot and well cooked but I find myself comparing them and my husband misses the chilli jam he always has in The Avocet.

Afterwards we river walk and talk - carrying on the conversation we started this morning in bed.

I agree to stop being like his mother and telling him what to do and making helpful suggestions which he doesn’t interpret as helpful but as telling him what he should do. He agrees to trust the process - for which I don’t have any pictures - but agree to trust him anyway. I notice how much I don't want to give up my enthusiasm for my old ways of being.

Much later, after my evening with two gorgeous women eating supper on a sunny terrace, talking and crying and laughing on the sofa, I suggest to my husband that he could still take up our man’s offer of anti depressants. He says he doesn’t want to. Maybe if I hadn’t said anything........

Monday, 23 May 2011

Gossamer Mist

2011 23rd May Monday

Too tired to write tonight - I fell asleep watching 'Two Greedy Italians' on iplayer even though I loved it.

So just briefly - a wonderful lunch with 3 gorgeous women - all of us wearing watery blue. In the centre of the table a huge ceramic painted platter of salad leaves, cherry tomatoes and grilled asparagus.....feeling nourished and circled with their care......

A tea party in my father’s room for my 96 year old aunty and my two cousins. One of them, the younger one, has Alzheimer’s disease. Every time she takes a bite of the chocolate brownie I brought with me she says,

Did you make this cake?

Her sister diverts the conversation to their planned holiday in Canada, but I'm gad she likes my cake.

I stop at Sainsbury’s to buy more pussy cat tuna. Not sure what else to give him even though he doesn’t eat half of it.

The second I walk in the door at 6 o’clock I can feel my husband’s depression hanging in the kitchen like a damp gossamer mist . We sit at the table and talk. I want to be understanding and allowing and loving but every time he says I don’t know I feel irritated. The more he slumps in the chair the stiffer my back becomes. I won’t let his pain and despair enter through my wall of briskness. He won’t believe I’ll still love him if he stops ‘being good’.

I can hear the voices of my friends at lunchtime - counselling women’s wisdom. I just can’t remember how to do it - how to give it up - that attachment to being right. But I do know it’s inside me somewhere........if only I would look - beyond the gossamer mist.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Baby Due Date

22nd May 2011 Sunday

When our friends have left and are on the train back to London my husband and I lie on our bed. He sleeps and I read the Sunday papers. I feel unsettled and find it hard to slip back into the fabric of my life.

I should be tired - after breakfast and a visit to the allotment we swarm all over the beds like worker bees, lugging watering cans from the tank again and again, soaking the onions and the cabbages, the tomatoes and the red currant bushes, the apricot trees and the broad beans. I pick pink sticks of rhubarb for them to take home. Later the wind gets up we walk and talk in Killerton woods where the wild garlic has been cut back and the rhododendrons are pale purple flashes in amongst the beech and oak trees.

We only have an hour for lunch before they have to leave so we tuck into big bowls of coconut lentil dhal, grilled salmon fillets and salad and left over lemon polenta cake and rhubarb cooked with elderflower from Friday night’s supper. I make them up a parcel of chocolate brownies and flapjacks for them to eat on the train.

While I wash up I go over the weekend in my mind, unraveling our time together, remembering them these last few days and also how we were all those years ago before we knew what we know now.

All day I’ve been thinking about my nephew and his wife whose baby was due today. But he doesn’t know it is 22nd May. He’ll come when he’s ready, like a sweet ripe strawberry.

Grinning and Singing

21st May 2011 Saturday Night

While my husband is rehearsing for the concert tonight in the town hall in Ashburton our friends and I sit in a small conservatory cafe looking over a beautiful secluded cottage garden, and drink hot chocolate, waiting for the show to start. They say they don’t notice much change in my husband - except when we talk about old mutual friends and times we spent together in the past - those faces and places are lost to him till we can find a trigger to remind him, pull a thread in his memory. They say his sense of humour is still bright and quick. Which it is. I’m so touched by their kindness and hugs when I cry into my hot chocolate, feeling sorry for myself and our imagined future, especially as they have deep troubles of their own.

I cry some more, and hope no-one sees, while we sit in hard chairs and listen to the beautiful voices of the choir and a soft beating drum, while they sing songs of Africa - and Eric Clapton - to raise money for a charity of orphaned children in Zambia. My husband stands tall at the very back, the only male tenor among a crowd of women and he winks at me in the audience while he sings his heart out - grinning like a bird of paradise in his red striped jumper.

Tart for Friends

20th May 2011 Friday

6 pm

The beds are made up, vases of lavender and flowering nutmeg placed in their rooms, the stairs are hoovered (thank you, lovely husband), the loos are clean, the wine is chilling in the fridge and the sun is slanting in on the table so you can’t tell the fat razor shell candle is lit. Waiting for our dear London friends to arrive.

I’m rolling out a slab of puff pastry ( Jusrol all butter puff - the best) and I realise I haven’t cooked enough filling - roasted butternut squash, red onion and garlic. It looks patchy and mean when I spread it over the smeared mustard on the pastry, so I slice up four big tomatoes, poach another bunch of asparagus and pile them all on over the layer of Gruyere cheese and finish with gratings of parmesan. Now it feels like the main course and not a pre-drinks nibble.

My husband brings them home from the station, hot and sticky from their London days and we sit in the windy garden in late sunshine while the tart browns in oven. And we begin to dip into the couldron of our lives which have bubbled and overflowed together for the last nearly thirty years.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Water Balloon

19th May 2011 Thursday

When I come back from the market this morning my husband tells me the internet is down and he can’t do any work.

I think I’ll go to the allotment he says.

Something inside me bursts like a water balloon. Something I’ve been holding on to. Something I don’t want to admit to. Something I want to protect my husband from. The angry me. The one that wants to scream -

It’s not fair.

I don’t want you to have a *******brain disease.

I don’t want to look after you.

I don’t want to change.

I don’t want to live on benefits.

I don’t want to be good any more.

Stop hanging around me in the kitchen.

Go and DO something. Make something. Get a life. Don’t give in to it.

I think if I say this to my husband I will hurt him. It’s not his fault.

Talk to him, says my sister on the phone.

Go and hit some cushions, says my friend on the phone.

I shove the vegetables into the fridge. Put away the washing up and bang the cupboard doors. When my husband comes back he says,

Are you alright?

No, I say when I would have said yes. And I tell him.

And he says, Thank you for being honest with me and I was thinking the same thing. I’m tired of not knowing what to do. I’ve been making some phone calls, I’ve got some ideas.....

And my day feels different now. Not like wading through jelly. More like cutting through butter with a hot knife.

I hang the towels to dry in the sun, roast a joint of beef for my father. I mow the daisies in the lawn, plant two ferns in the front garden and water the thirsty geraniums, the wilting busy lizzies. I wash lettuces for lunch, make a batch of chocolate brownies, iron my father’s hankies, his pillow cases, talk to my sister-in-law on the phone. I visit an old friend in her garden full of azaelas - rose red, pink and peach like a living sunset.

Later my husband shows me some of the letters and cards he has received from clients who are shocked and sad he will no longer be looking after them. He didn’t know how much they loved him. But I did.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


18th May 2011 Wednesday

The pussy cat was sick in the night - copiously. I am feeling full of cold and cough. Luckily we have an appointment booked with our lovely healer.

The pussy cat sits next to her on her sofa and she lays her hands on his long soft body. She says he’s stressed and she unwinds his twisted gut - on an energetic level. He stays stretched out and sleepy while she takes me to her healing room and works her magic on me. She says the lungs and the chest are the seat of grief. She prescribes vitamins and Chinese herbs and says I may feel worse for a while.

I push my trolly round Sainsbury’s but at home the effort of unpacking it all defeats me and I retreat to the sofa. I let the idea take root that I can’t do the baking I planned for this afternoon for our friends coming at the weekend. So I stay under the blanket giving in to the feeling of being sick.

My lovely husband says he’ll make the supper although I’m not hungry. The pussy cat is still asleep - I hope he’s dreaming of catching mice and not worrying about us.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

One Girl at a Time

17th May 2011 Tuesday

My husband leaves the house early this morning for his day in London with clients. Winding down his business - severing his links.

It feels cold in the house, the sky is overcast grey as if it wants to rain but can’t be bothered. I wear a jumper and two pairs of socks and meet up with a dear friend in town for hot chocolate. The cafe is warm and my heart is warmer too in her company.

In the library I choose two talking books on CD for my father. He’s finding it hard to read now with his cataracts getting worse.

On the way home I collect two rare childrens’ books from an auctioneers for a friend who is coming to stay at the weekend. I remember the bookcase we had in the bedroom I shared with my brother when we were growing up - the thick paper of some of the books, their musty smell, the line drawings in ‘Grimm’s Fairytales’, in ‘Heidi’, in ‘Pookie’ ( the flying rabbit), in ‘The Water Babies’.

For lunch I make myself a big plate of salad, mash up half an avocado with olive oil and black pepper and spread it on two Ryvitas with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. I start listening to one of the talking books called Stones into Schools by Greg Morteson - the mountain climber who wrote Three Cups of Tea about how he built hundreds of schools for children high in the remote regions of the Hindu Kush in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And how he raised the funds by inspiring ordinary people, mostly Americans, to give him their money.

I’m so enthralled and moved by the story that I stay on at the table with the rain misting outside - eating raisins and cashew nuts, transported into another world. One of Greg Morteson’s aims in building the schools was to educate girls. He quotes an African Proverb,

If you educate a boy you educate an individual. If you educate a girl you educate a community’.

My grandfather must have known this proverb too when he built Chipembi School for Girls in Zambia when my mother was a little girl. I love these visionary men who champion us - who are building so much more than schools - building bridges between the hearts of nations - one girl at a time.

Monday, 16 May 2011


16th May 2011

This morning I walk down Honiton High street with my father, his hatless head bent into the wind as he pushes his wheeled trolly in front of him. He has lost ten pounds and he looks frail. He says he’s still feeling so-so. He uses the word mamate - meaning so-so, which his parents used when they were missionaries in China - the only Chinese word he remembers as boy. When we get back to his room I defrost his freezer, change the sheets on the bed, chop up a salad for his breakfast. I cut him a piece of the banana and sweet potato cake I made yesterday - he says it’s not quite sweet enough but he eats it anyway. He falls asleep in his chair, his tea growing cold, while I wash up.

At home I find he has send us a gorgeous card with a close-up photo on the front of a kingfisher. Inside he writes:

‘Whatsoever things are true and beautiful, think of these things...’

It sounds biblical and l google it - Phillippians 4: 8.

What’s true and beautiful today is that I am so grateful for all the dearly beloved people in my life who are walking beside us, leaving their footprints of love next to ours in the sand. Making it possible for me to take the next step.

And I know one day I will catch sight of a kingfisher, skimming the surface of a river somewhere, flashing gold and sea green in a light beam.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Meditating Unicorn

15th May 2011 Sunday

We are walking along the canal tow path. The water is so clear in places you can see the lime green weed in waving clumps below the surface. The far banks are lined with yellow flag irises. We count eight teenage ducklings with their mother skittering in and out of the reeds.

We can see a white horse with creamy gold mane and tail in a field next to the path. It is standing so still my husband says it’s a statue. I say it looks like a unicorn.Then it twitches its ear. We approach slowly. It shifts it’s weight from one leg to the other. Its eyes are half closed. I wonder if it is in pain.

‘It’s maturing,’ says my husband. ‘I mean mediating’.

‘Do you mean meditating?’ I ask

‘Yes of course, meditating’.

We laugh and wonder what else the horse could be doing starting with ‘m’ - munching, mixing it’s metaphors, moonshining, marvellling.......

‘I could make a unicorn in clay,’ says my husband.

I hope he does.

Where Have You Been Today?

14th May 2011 Saturday

I wake with a rasping sore throat and drink a cup of grated ginger and lemon juice sweetened with honey. I think I’m getting a cold but nothing gets worse.

On the phone my father says ‘Where have you been today?

I have been in the garden. I pick the first white rose - open petalled and perfumed and put it in a vase of my mother’s on the kitchen windowsill next to the Bhuddah, along with some clawed sprigs of honeysuckle.

I have been at the allotment. We sit at the wobbly picnic table in front of the greenhouse and tear into sourdough baguettes, filled with cheddar cheese and tomatillo pickle. While my husband plants tomato seedlings in a bed framed with clingfilm walls, I pick bunches of purple flax and sage flowers, elderflower heads, spinach and asparagus.

I have been on the sofa. I’m reading Diane Ackerman’s book ‘A Hundred Names for Love’. Her husband, a brilliant academic and novelist had a stroke in the left hand side of the brain which controls language. He couldn’t speak. It’s the story of their journey to recovery - how she helped him. I’m wondering if you can recover from Pick’s disease - even though the medics say you can’t.

I have been to Sainsbury’s. We bump into our next door neighbour and chat over our trolleys - hers is full, ours contains pussy cat tuna and wet wipes. She says her husband may be made redundant. They are both younger than us. We tell her about my husband’s brain disease. She’s shocked and says ‘If there’s anything we can do.....’

I have been to Killerton woods. We walk along paths lined with tall unfurling bracken, laced through with pink starred campion and fading bluebells. The evening sun is still warm on my back but the wind is so cold my fingers turn blue. I feel tired and unfit, defeated by the steepness of the slopes. And the effort of finding clues to trigger my husband’s memory.

It’s late when we arrive home but I make a quick curry with a piece of cod from the freezer, a tin of tomatoes, last night’s left over vegetables and chopped wild garlic. We watch a library DVD - Brad Pitt in ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ - almost unbearable at the end - a peaceful country crushed by the fear of another. But maybe the peace inside us, inside me, can’t be destroyed......unless I give it away.

Friday, 13 May 2011


13th May 2011 - Friday

I couldn’t publish my blog last night or all day today.

An error has occurred,’ it said on the website, ‘we are trying to fix it’.

Lots of crying today. This morning my wise and dear sister reaches for my hand across the dining room table while I screw my tissues into wet balls. We both end up with a headache.

This afternoon I curl up in the big chair in the sitting room and my coaching friend catches my tears in her web of questions as I reach for the sadness below my misplaced need to rescue my husband.

Tonight we pass on the landing, he’s going upstairs and I’m going down. We stop and he holds me while I weep into his neck. He says he did his crying this morning in his healing session.

Later I ask him, ‘what do you want for supper?’

Not eggs,’ he says.

So I chop the garlic and ginger and shoot it into hot oil with onions and red peppers, carrots and pak choi and stir fry it to just-cooked brightness, while he pours the wine and brushes the long coat of our pussy cat.

I notice I still have a headache but that could be the wine. And I did catch myself, too late, making a helpful suggestion while we were in the bath. But I let that one go - just an error I don’t need to fix now.

Left-Overs and Swans

12th May 2011 Thursday

The other day I wanted to roast something but I wanted to eat it soon. I remembered a meal at a friend’s house years ago. She grated all different root veggies and roasted them in a pan so they stuck together like a huge crispy potato latke. So using hers as inspiration here is my version -

Sliced Roasted Veggies Au Gratin

Slice very thinly, on a mandolin or food processor blade, a selection of root veggies. I used carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Slice an onion or two and some cloves of garlic - I used the new green onions and their tops - or you could use leeks.

Mix them up with plenty of olive oil and chopped herbs - I used marjoram and rosemary - and tip into a shallow baking pan. Season with salt and black pepper.

Roast in a very hot oven till meltingly soft and crisp on the top - about half an hour. For the last five minutes take out of the oven and sprinkle over a thick layer of grated cheese - Parmesan is good - or Cheddar - and a shower of sesame seeds and put back in the oven to melt and bubble and brown and catch at the edges.

Serve with wilted ginger greens or a rocket salad.

We had the left-overs heated up today for lunch before my husband went off to make another of his weird and wonderful clay creatures and I went off for a lovely walk and talk with a dear friend by the river. We stopped for a cup of tea in the sunshine and watched a long line of swans heading under the bridge like a band of synchronised swimmers.

My friend asked me what swans symbolised for me.

‘Female fierceness’, I said. ‘Protecting their young.’

I’ve been wondering what fierceness I need to call on inside me to find my way through this floating fear which is never far away. And what do I need to protect?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Hugs and Iceland

11th May 2011 Wednesday

The bath is run and waiting for me. I’ve been on a volcano in Iceland - the one that erupted last year and covered the world in ash - watching two lovely women on TV as they make a four day journey to the crater, which has thrown up a new black moonscape to be climbed.

A little triumph this morning - our lovely heating engineer came to fix the squeaking downstairs loo and after a while it looked like we would need a whole new cistern. Then I found a receipt in a fat file of all the work we had done on the house seven years ago with the name of the Armitage Shanks loo on it. So now we may only need the ball cock thing and not a whole new loo after all. I didn’t even know I’d kept it - let alone where to find the house file.

A dear friend visits us - she has just found out about my husband’s brain disease. She offers her support, gives us big warm hugs. Later she emails and says we all need at least five hugs a day. I think that’s what keeps us alive - more than the government’s five fruit and veg.

This evening my husband is very low and quiet after his healing session, so I decide not to go out for a meal with my two dear cinema going companions after seeing the film at the Odeon. I poach the latest bunch of asparagus from the allotment instead and scramble eggs which we eat while immersed in the dramatic beauty of Iceland. My husband is enthralled and moved by this landscape. I find it bleak and desolate - like a cooling bath.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Light Inside

10th May 2011 Tuesday

I’m running late this morning. I didn’t want to get up. I’m sitting cross legged on the hard futon in my study reading A Course in Miracles. It looks like I’m reading but really I’m listening to the clattering of pans downstairs - my husband in the kitchen - and also my clamouring thoughts about him.

My thoughts - all guilty - are something like this -

‘I should be having breakfast with him.’

‘I don’t spend enough time with him’.

‘I can’t bear his loneliness, his sadness.’

‘He’s going to be late for his appointment’.

‘I wonder if he has taken his vitamins yet.’

What I’m reading says ‘projection makes perception’.

I’m beginning to see how it is my own fear of loneliness, of abandonment, of apathy, of lateness that I throw onto my husband. Where it sticks like sticky mud and so I think now my hands are clean and he is the muddy one.

Then a tiny idea comes to me, slips in under my terror radar - another way of seeing him. Just for a moment I imagine him humming in the kitchen, making his breakfast, listening to the news, watering his seedling on the counter, full up with a glowing golden Light.

So I know I don’t have to worry about him. I can trust he is protected, guarded, guided and directed by this Light - now and always. And just for a moment, deep in my belly, feel it is true.

I hear him putting on his shoes to go out and I run downstairs and stand on the last step, waiting for him.

I want to give you a hug for your day,’ I say.

Can I give you one too?’ he says. ‘ It’s going to be a good day today.’

And he walks out into the morning beyond our yellow door, into the sunshine, carrying the Light inside him.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Breakfast Lunch and Supper

9th May 2011 Monday

For breakfast with my now retired sister, I slice strawberries, a quarter pineapple, an orange, a banana and mix them with the perfumed pippy juices of a granadilla. My husband has two slices of toast. He says he’s feeling loose-endish - not enough to do in the office. I practice my new resolution of not making lots of suggestions, of not feeling guilty that my day is full and busy, of not going into the scary future of what our life will be like when there is no office to go to. I get up and clear the plates instead.

Lunch is left-overs from Saturday’s non BBQ - cold baked salmon fillets with garlic mayonnaise and my nephew’s new potato and radish salad. I mash up one of the salmon pieces with lemon and cream cheese to take to my father who is eating fish and cold roast beef for his breakfast these days. We decide not to eat outside - the sky is full of black clouds one minute and clear sunny blue the next. My husband says he’ll go to the allotment.

My father walks very slowly to the car. He says he’s as weak as a kitten. His face is parchment pale. For once the doctor’s surgery is nearly empty and the nurse calls him in early. She pricks his finger and tests his blood - his warfarin levels are perfect. False alarm then - he was worried his change in diet would affect them. Back in his room I make him a cup of tea, wash up the dishes in the sink, kill a fly with a copy of the Guardian Weekly, and put away his clean washing. I leave him setting his clock to wake him up in time for his supper.

My husband doesn’t like to have a meal before he goes to his choir practice so I eat crisps and drink a glass of white wine, watching the last episode of ‘Exile’ on iplayer till he comes home. He makes us poached eggs on toast and we watch the News. When he says he’s depressed I notice how much I want to cheer him up, reassure him, offer advice. Play down my own terror of apathy. Instead of just listening.

What are you most afraid of?’ I ask him.

Losing you,’ he says.’ When you are stressed you try and control me, and everything else.’

I say I could change but he doesn’t believe me. So I feel like a butterfly, pinned to a board, my wings quivering.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


8th May 2011 Sunday

We are three sisters in a cafe sharing a big pot of mint tea, a cherry shortbread, a chocolate brownie and a bakewell slice all divided up into neat threes. My eldest sister retired on Friday - she won’t go back to work on Monday morning after more than thirty five years. She says she has lost her identity. Who is she without her role? How will they live on half their income?

My husband says he knows what she feels like. His empty Monday morning will come in seven weeks time.

I didn’t think I’d be retiring too; didn’t see how my identity is all tangled up with his; didn’t see it coming - feeling this diminished, this flayed raw, this unexpected shame - a wine-stain birthmark on my face.

Friday, 6 May 2011

To BBQ or Not?

6th May 2011

I thought summer came by today - dropped in on me as I planted red geranuims and tiny viola pansies, and hot pink impatiens - the sun bearing down on my neck. Then this evening huge rain drops arrived - hammering on the plastic kitchen roof like bullets - battering the new flowers in their round pots. I watched the lighting flash from the upstairs bedroom as I was making up the bed for my elder sister coming tomorrow.

I whisked up a pale green cougette cake for her retirement celebration and cooked a sweet and sour tomato sauce all speckled with mustard seeds to go with the sausages. We may not have the BBQ in the garden though if it rains like it did tonight. Or my husband can set it up under the big green sun umbrella.......

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Borrowed Light

5th May 2011 Thursday

After the Funeral

Driving back from the funeral - heart felt and moving - in Colchester last night, my husband decides to go south on the M25 in the rush hour. I think it is the longer route. The sat nav says in fifteen miles the traffic is stationary. I am insensed, dreading the prospect of hours and hours in the car. I feel helpless, trapped, not consulted. Powerless. My nephew sitting in the back is a model of diplomacy, reassuring and supportive of my husband who is feeling the lash of my anger.

Much later we miss the M & S services on the A303 and end up at a Little Chef where I refuse to buy anything to drink, nearly choking on my determination to be right - about everything.

Even later when home is no longer a distant point way in the future we play the game of Twenty Questions in the darkness of the car and laugh at how bad we all are at guessing that I am a runner bean or my nephew is a monkey. I feel so bad about my mood especially as I’m deeply grateful to my husband for driving us without complaining all the way there and back.

This morning I wake in a panic about my squished day and cry down the phone to my sister, who is gentle and supportive and reminds me that they will still love me on Saturday at the BBQ if I don’t cut the grass and leave the daisies spreading like a white rash between the fading bluebells under the apple tree.

In the market I buy fresh salmon, bags of salad leaves and new bunched carrots. While the rain falls softly on the pavements I sit in a cafe on the Cathedral Green with two dear and loving friends who hold my hand while I cry into my hot chocolate.

This afternoon I sit with another dear and loving friend in her living room with a cup of Earl Grey tea and I tell her about our journey home yesterday. She reminds me of what I already know that I’m not upset about my husband going another way around the motorway - I’m just having the same tantrum I had when I was a little girl - being whisked off, uprooted, moved around - feeling unsafe but helpless and powerless to do anything about it.

But now I know that although my life feels as if it’s crumbling under my feet, nothing certain any more, I can still choose the light I see it in - dull or bright. I can vote yes like I did tonight at the election. Fold my paper and post it in the ballot box. Trust that whatever happens you can’t change or destroy the Light - only borrow it - and let it shimmer or fade.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Day Before the Funeral

3rd May 2011

Just a little blog tonight - don’ want to be late - need to get up at crack of dawn to drive to Colchester for a funeral. Our lovely nephew is staying the night with us - it is his grandfather we are honouring tomorrow.

So some moments from my day -

  • the loveliest surprise lunch with a dear friend - ravioli with sage and butter and exquisite listening;
  • the triumph of getting through on the phone to my father’s surgery and making an appointment for him;
  • coming home to my husband, poaching himself some eggs, who tells me he has had a golden morning, walking by the river;
  • hearing a dear friend’s voice on the phone - I’ve been missing her;
  • watching the pussy cat eat a whole bowl of tuna;
  • opening the door to my nephew in his dark brown suit and upturned pointed shoes - all grown up and about to be a house-owner;
  • slivering garlic and fresh ginger and green onions and scattering them over fillets of sea bass and plaice - knowing supper will be delicious; loving the two men at my table tonight, who will still be there in the morning.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Bluebell Archive

2nd May 2011 Bank Holiday Monday

This afternoon our walk through The Glen in Honiton takes us close to the church where my mother is buried. It has been raining and the oak cross which marks her grave is almost black. I wipe away some white splodges of seagull shit on the top and throw away the dead minature rose in it’s plastic pot. I imagine bunches of bluebells there instead.

I plan to bring my father up here on their bluebell anniversary in a few weeks time but they are so early this year. My sister and I have already taken him to Blackberry Camp where they carpet the ground like fields of lavender under giant tenderleaf beech trees. But with their own sweet perfume. We took photos of him knee deep in shining blue, sat on a broad upturned log, ate banana flapjacks, turned his cap the wrong way round and laughed and laughed. And remembered our mother.

This morning on the phone my father says that no one except his brother is still alive who knew him then - seventy three years ago - when he and my mother heard a chaffinch in a bluebell wood in Kent. Only they knew what happened then but their romantic moment has filtered into our family history and is filed there, a bluebell archive. A story to tell the great grandchildren, a story to keep them alive.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Golf and Capers

Ist May 2011 Sunday

Yesterday we made a U-turn out of stationary Exeter traffic and headed out toDartmoor for our walk instead. After Moretonhampstead and an unscheduled stop for peppery cheese straws we drove past tall gates and a sign that said Bovey Castle.

‘Let’s go there,’ I said.

My husband turned around and we found ourselves in huge and peaceful park which was actually a golf course. We left the car at the back of the hotel, along with rows of golf carts and wandered all over the fairways fringed with bluebell woods and watched bunny rabbits bounding into the gorse bushes, their white scuts flashing. Not a single golfer in sight the whole time.

‘Maybe we should take up golf,’ said my husband.

‘Hmm - expensive,’ I said.

I’d rather take in the view without a club in my hand and the stress of losing a ball in the bunker. Or hitting a rabbit.

Today we avoided the traffic and walked into town in spitting rain, heading for the food festival. We took shelter, along with a few hundred others, in the marquees set up in the park and sampled chilli jam and balsamic vingears, gluten free brownies and sparkling elderflower juice in tiny plastic cups. I bought a special offer of organic sausages for Saturday’s BBQ - three packs for £10. We watched a chef demonstrating how to rescue a bowl of split mayonnaise with a second egg. We shared a butternut squash and buffalo mozzarella cheese pie on a paper plate, listening to two young men with guitars and amplifiers, strumming their hearts out. When my stamina ran out we strolled back home licking ice creams - clotted cream vanilla for my husband and strawberry for me. It felt like we’d had a day at the fair.

Much later while my husband showered off allotment mud I made us a soft boiled egg salad with anchovies and giant capers - the size of grapes - that I bought back from Portugal last year for my husband’s Christmas stocking. I didn’t know then that he wouldn’t remember their name. But I know now that it doesn’t stop him enjoying their flavour.