Thursday, 23 June 2011

No Room for Surprises

23rd June 2011 Thursday

The house feels odd tonight without the pussy cat. There’s a breathing space in my head where he usually lives. I’m imagining him in the cattery where he’ll be for a week while we are in North Wales. He won’t be out hunting now.

There is another empty space - on the brick wall by the front door. Today my husband took down the brass plaque there with the name of his company on it. His filing cabinets are empty too. The man came this morning and took away all the files - piled them into the back of his Landrover and drove away. It took less than an hour.

I ask my husband what it feels like - this ending of his career. He smiles and says it is a relief - he feels positive, hopeful about the future. I feel numb and just get on with getting ready to go on holiday. My head is a jumble of things I must remember to take - Scrabble and flapjack, olive oil and sun cream, flipflops and walking boots.

I think I’m trying to cover all the bases - if it pours with rain or if we have a heat wave - have I got the right clothes? I realise I don’t like being unprepared for all eventualities. No room for surprises then. No wonder I’m tired - like that little Dutch boy with his finger stuck in the hole in the dyke. Trying to keep the deluge at bay.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Blood Fish and Bone

22nd June 2011 Wednesday

We are at the bottom of the garden filling a big glazed pot with new compost. I want to plant the cherry red tea rose we bought in the market two weeks ago - no space in the beds so I hope it will still thrive in a pot.

I say to my husband,

Have we got anything like blood, fish and bone?

I don’t know what that is.

You know - fertilizer. It's plant food. It’s a white powder in a box.

We haven’t got any.

Yes I know we have. It’s in the shed.

Suddenly I can’t bear it.

Well, if we have it’s on the bottom shelf.

I find the tub of Phostrogen. Where he says it is.

It’s called Phostrogen, I say needlessly.

I don’t know what it’s called, he says. I don’t remember.

But I want you to remember, I say.

Me too, he says.

And he holds me while I cry sorry into his neck. We stay like that for a while, locked together outside the shed, while the clouds cover the sun.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Longest Day

21st June 2011 Tuesday

The Longest Day

A man is coming to take away all the files - four cabinets full - in my husband’s office. And download all those years of financial information from his computer. Stripping it bare. We transfer all the weird and wonderful creatures into my study, declutter all the surfaces and start cleaning the desks and the tops of the filing cabinets. I feel ashamed of how dusty everything is, even the computer cables are sticky dirty. Afterwards my husband says it feels completely different. I think it means there is space now for something else to come in.

The man never arrives. My husband escapes to the allotment with trays of tomatillos and sweetcorn to plant. I meet his aunty in town for lunch at the Cafe Rouge. She wants to know if she can be a catalyst - help heal the rift between my husband and his brother. I love her big heart but I know you can’t make people like each other because you think they should.

All afternoon a warm wind blows through the kitchen tugging the tea towels off the rails, slamming the doors, shuffling papery onion skins across the floor. I blend chick peas in the whizzer with lots of lemon zest and juice, olive oil and roasted cumin seeds. I stir chopped spinach into the mushroom and tomato ragu which makes it look like muddy sludge. I put two trays of coconut and almond granola to bake in the oven. I pour a long golden stream of honey and a capful of vanilla essence into a tub of Greek yoghurt - to accompany the strawberries which are not really sweet.

All this I pack into a cool bag and take to share with two wonderful women - adding it to the baked potatoes, yams and colourful garden salad already on the table. We linger over cups of tea long into the evening - the sky still light at ten.

Here in this company I can switch off the button in my solar plexus which has been on red alert all day. A gentle respite till it comes on again tomorrow morning - the new warning pulse in my blood - danger ahead.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Weird and Wonderful

20th June 2011 Monday

Saturday - At the Fair

While my husband talks to twenty people about Making Friends with Money in the Performance Tent, I sit behind a table, draped with a white sheet, and watch the faces of the people passing by as they catch sight of my husband’s weird and wonderful clay models arranged on the table. They all stop, they all smile. The children point at the duck with the cigarette, the man with the seven heads, the dragon with the golden toes, the woman with the six claws. If they catch my eye we talk about these creatures. They say things like,

They are mythic, wonderful, childlike, imaginative, creative.’

One woman says ‘I love them. I would buy four of them if I had the money’.

What I see is that people like difference and humour and quirkiness and what I call weird. I see that I have been wrong about my husband’s ceramics. He knows I love some of them and don’t like some of them. And the ones I don’t like I don’t want all over the house.

But maybe what I don’t like is that he can let people see his weirdness, his shining light - but I’m still hiding mine.

Sunday - Father’s Day

My father, my sister and I sit at the polished round table in his room. We have laid out his favourite tea - triangular sandwiches of roast beef, smoked mackerel pate,egg mayonnaise, and also cheese straws and a bowl of salad. Bananas and nuts for afterwards.

He says he didn’t sleep well last night. He was worrying that he couldn’t find a letter someone sent him about an organisation which supports the victims of torture. He wants his interfaith group and his church to know about it and to donate money. We can’t find it either and suggest Amnesty instead.

This is what keeps him awake at night. And keeps him going. Believing he can still make a difference at age ninety one. Which he does and not only to people all over the world. But also and especially to me.

Monday - Today

I’m learning that if I wake up early and don’t get up then the demons start their raucous screeching in my head and my day is stained with their ‘what ifs?

Better to go downstairs and squeeze lemon juice into a cup of hot water, and stroke the pussy cat whose coat smells of early dawn and damp earth Better to watch the blackbird dodging into the honeysuckle hedge with a worm in her beak. And imagine those tiny featherless babies safe for now in their twig nest. Better to think about the froth topped coffee I will have with a dear friend later in town. One sweet moment at a time.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Sky Inside Me

17th June 2011 Friday

It rained endlessly today. This morning I turned on the heating to dry the sheets. This afternoon it rained on the bubble wrapped clay creatures as we carried them from the car into the big echoey barn clattering with stall holders setting out their wares.

Driving home tonight along the M5, after a sumptuous late birthday supper for my sister at the home of a dear friend, the sky was still light at 10.30 - a luminous dove grey. No stars and I couldn’t see the moon but it felt like a vast bilowing canopy above me, rolling into forever.

I’ve been thinking that there could be an overarching sky inside me - a kind of emptiness, a void - a new place to live from, beyond sadness. Where mystery could replace uncertainty. A sky that I could sprinkle with stars to help me navigate this, so far untravelled path.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


16th June 2011 Thursday

The Speech and Language Therapist sits on our sofa with a cup of tea on the table in front of her and a very small notebook on her knee. You can tell she has a sweet nature. She has flawless pale skin and looks about sixteen.

In answer to my question she says she doesn’t know if the brain can re-generate itself through physical exercise or memory exercises. She says my husband shouldn’t try and read for pleasure if causes him stress. Which it does. And it’s fine to supply a word he is struggling for and that it’s no good hoping he’ll remember it if he just tries harder.

She suggests strategies. We could use a map with post-it notes on it to locate places we know, with photos and descriptions and put it up in the dining room. And make a book with photos of the people in our lives with their names written underneath. I wonder if we should label the appliances in the kitchen when he says,

‘I know all the people in the photos stuck on the...... white thing that keeps things cold.’

‘Do you mean the fridge?’

‘Of course I do - it’s so embarrassing.’

Later we drive out through rain showers and sunbursts to a farm high on a ridge in a forest where we’ll be on Saturday - a Mid Summer Fair where my husband is exhibiting his ceramics and giving two money talks. We get lost several times but the glorious views of Devon hills and fields when we finally get there make it all worthwhile.

Back home, I put the first allotment globe artichokes into a big pan of boiling water and make a garlic mayonnaise for leaf dipping. Then very carefully, we start packing up all his weird and wonderful creatures in reams of bubble wrap. Even so I manage to snap off the little cigarette in the beak of The Duck. Thank God for Superglue.

If only there was something squeezable in a tube for mending broken brains.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lost Worlds

15th June 2011 Wednesday

I sit with my father in the hospital waiting room at the eye clinic. His pupils are dilated from the drops the nurse put in. He says his vision is blurred and he takes my arm when we are called in to see the consultant. He has a cataract in his left eye and macular degeneration in both. There is a waiting list - three months. Already I worry that the appointment will come through when we are on holiday in September and my sister is too. Who will take him to the hospital then? Who will wash his sheets and clean up the spilt fish oil down the side of his fridge? Who will cook him green cabbage in the microwave when he worries about not having enough roughage?

On the way home I stop in at Tesco's to buy him some topside of beef to roast for his breakfasts. I end up spending £63 on fish and olive oil and kitchen paper and lemons among other things I didn’t know I needed. I won’t be able to do that next month. Be careless/carefree at the till.

I tell my husband about my my day while he shells the broad beans we picked at the allotment this evening under brooding thunder clouds. I scrub our first new potatoes and fat carrots for supper and chop purple kale - ignoring the flakey white fly clinging to the underside of the crinkled leaves. He says he has had a good day - things to do.

We start to watch a DVD ‘Some Like it Hot’ with Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. It’s a while before he remembers the film. But they talk too fast and he says it’s too difficult to follow. So we give it up. He makes tea and we have a spat - about nothing, too much wine - not about what’s really there buried in the coal seam - his lost words. His lost worlds. His despair - and mine.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Taste of Hope

14th June 2011 Tuesday

A dear friend comes round for a cuppa and delightfully we stretch it into lunch. I ask my husband to make us a jug of pink elderflower cordial, while I put the salads on the table.

He pours a long glug of the deep, magenta rose coloured syrup ( the one I made with jam sugar) into the jug and flips in half a tray of ice cubes.Then I watch in frozen horror as he adds a carton of prune juice from the fridge. Then the fizzy water. He stirs it with a long spoon. It is the color of weak mud. Or pussy cat sick.

Our friend stands in the bright hot garden enjoying the newly planted begonias the colours of sunsets. I stand at the sink and take some deep breaths. This could be my snapping point. I feel heartbroken sick at the loss of the elderflower, its unique perfume, the glorious short lived beauty of it - the point of it - it’s clear pink colour. Now it is brown. I say nothing to my husband.

It will taste delicious,’ whispers my friend.

But I can’t bring myself to drink it.

Later we laugh about it and I can see how it is exactly the same as the proverbial ‘not putting the cap on the toothpaste.’ It’s the little things that get you. I’m not heartbroken about my husband turning my pink elderflower brown. I’m shattered by the muddying of our lives now. Losing the roses. Living with prunes.

Except. Except today my friend helps my husband to see that he is a healer. And for me that has the perfume of an elderflower summer, the sound of ice chinking in a long glass. The taste of hope.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Treasure the Moment

13th June 2011 Monday

Brief moments from my day as I’m really tired tonight.

The nurse picks out the little black stitches from the cut on my shin. They look like the blanket stitches I used to sew on pieces of felt when I was at primary school. I gaze at the light fitting on the ceiling while she does it. It’s sore but I’m glad they have gone.

I sit at a long table with four lovely women. An open pink lily in the centre throws its perfume over our meal as we delve into broad bean and asparagus risotto, garden salad, chunks of ciabatta bread and afterwards a bowl of allotment strawberries, lemon cake and cream. Their company delights me.

Late afternoon, I want to plant the begonias and geraniums I bought in the market over a week ago. My husband says he’s going for walk and do I want to come. I say no - I must get the plants in before their leaves all turn yellow. Then I remember the advice of a dear friend who knows about loss - she says make the most of each day and treasure the moment you have now.

So I change my mind and walk with my husband in our local park through drifts of cow parsley and hedgerows full of blackberry blossom. And I still plant the begonias when we get back in the evening garden, while he sweeps up hundreds of tiny green apples fallen from the tree into the grass. I’m grateful as every time I walk on one of these it sounds like the crunch of a shell and I think I’m killing snails.

While my husband is singing in his choir I cook up a panful of veggies, sweet potato, finger carrots, swiss chard, broad beans and garlic and stir in some tahini paste to make it creamy and comforting.

I watch Terry Pratchett’s TV programme about assisted dying. He’s 62 and has Alzheimer’s disease and can’t type any more so he dictates his books. He wonders if it would be an option - to have an assisted death - when he can no longer communicate. I cry through most of the programme.

I don't think he'd mind me saying but I can hear my husband snoring now and wonder if I’ll get any sleep tonight.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Cell by Cell

12th June 2011

We are invited to brunch by an old friend at a new friend’s house. They are both lovely and I feel a bit nervous. How will my husband be? Will he manage the conversation? Will he know who we are talking about? Will he say something inappropriate? Will he get tired? Or bored if he doesn’t understand? Will I talk too much to cover up all this silly worry?

We sit at the table with them in a beautiful, peaceful, open plan room overlooking her garden while the rain and gusting wind slash at the trees, the bushes and the flower pots and knock over the sun umbrella. I immediately feel welcomed and at ease in their company. We share our stories over delicious mushroom and asparagus tortilla, mugs of coffee and hot croissant. And then we arrive at the heart of it.

If I let you see my quaking frailty, my jealous bones, my spiteful claws, my torn sinews - then you will show me yours - your version of my mess. And then together, cell by cell, we can dismantle the wall we think divides us. And let the light shine in.

I didn’t need to worry about my husband. He was himself as he is now. Just perfect.

What Price Freedom?

11th June 2011 Saturday

I wake up early in a thudding spin cycle of grief and terror. Why did think I could manage this hell, survive it, grow into a better person because of it? All yesterday’s hopefulness and lightness forgotten in a heartbeat.

I leave my husband snoozing in bed, go downstairs and start chopping onions and parsley for the rice salad I’m making to take to a big extended family gathering in a church hall in Bristol. I was looking forward to this annual occasion meeting up with all my cousins and their children and grandchildren. I have recently told them about my husband’s brain disease. But now I feel anxious and jittery. I make bad decisions - leave behind the lemon cake I made for the lunch. I feel dull in my is-it-hot-or-cold? dress and trousers.

En route we take my father to visit his first great grandson. He has bought smart new clothes in shades of cream and coffee for this longed-for occasion. He laughs and cries at the same time while he jiggles this tiny peaceful baby in his arms and says he’s afraid he’ll drop him. He says he wishes my mother could be here to hold him too. My sister says how radiant they all look - the glowing new parents and their beautiful son. She shines too, when she cradles him.

When we arrive at the church hall it’s buzzing with the voices of the family and the squeals and laughing of their toddlers and babies. It’s two years since I’ve seen some of them. Over lunch all my cousins and their partners find a way to come and talk to me and they are generous and warm in their sympathy and understanding. My husband remembers them but not always their names.

Later I talk to the daughter and also the husband of my cousin who has Alzheimer’s, who is only a few years older than me. I’m deeply touched by his courage and openness, living with the daily reminder of his loss of her as she was - and creating another kind of life together.

But I didn’t feel brave today - just bogged down in feeling sorry for myself. And ashamed that I couldn’t or wouldn’t shake it off.

We stay up late and watch The Shawshank Redemption. As I usually do, I close my eyes in the violent bits, and stuff my fingers in my ears. But they filter through - the sickening thuds - and this time I think that the price they paid to finally escape to the world beyond the prison walls was too high. I wonder what price is my freedom.

Matching Socks

11th June 2011 On Saturday - about Friday

Yesterday I felt the whisper of courage in my ear. I shared lunch with two gorgeous women - a bright and fresh Greek salad platter on a wooden board, and a huge chocolate brownie to follow. Our talking took us deep into our lives and I didn’t notice the rain falling on the lavender bushes outside till it was time to go. It was their listening that fed my heart.

Nearly home and a shower of hail stones clattered on the bonnet of the car bouncing up onto the windscreen. Ice balls zinging from the sky in June - as unexpected as a disease biting into the cells of my husband’s brain.

I just had time to put the kettle on and wipe the smears from the glass topped table in the sitting room before my councellor friend arrived. She reminded me that in our last session I was exhausted by trying to keep everyone alive - my father, my husband and the cat.

I said ,‘Well, my father is better, the pussy cat is better and I am trying not to rescue my husband from his fear and loss. Trying not to come up with solutions - to make me feel better at least.’

The other morning I was sorting socks in the bedroom. He came in and said,

‘I’ve made the one phone call I had to and now I have nothing to do.’

I noticed the familiar clutch in my stomach, a spurt of anger and hopelessness. I could think of a dozen things he could do.

I said instead,

‘That must be tough’.

‘It is,’ he said, ‘ is this what it’s going to be like from now on?’

‘I don’t know,’ I said and carried on matching the different coloured toes of his socks into pairs.

He went back upstairs and a little later I heard him talking on the phone.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Iridescent Eyes

9th June 2011 Thursday

We leave the house at 7.30 this morning in car convoy - my husband following me to the garage of the lovely mechanic who fixed my brakes last time my car needed some TLC. I can’t remember the exact address and we wander around the industrial estate for a while till it all comes back to me. We leave my husband’s car and instead of going straight home I say, let’s have breakfast in town and go to the farmers’ market.

Some of the stall holders are still unpacking their wares. We bump into a dear friend who I always look out for as she’s usually there behind a table laden with gorgeous breads and cakes. At the plant stall she shows us an exquisite lily - white, pink trimmed and waxy and I’m drawn to a rose bush with one one opening bud - deep cherry red in the centre, the petals fading from blush to white at their edges.

We buy eggs and broccoli and radishes. But the scent of the rose bush stays in my mind. We walk past the stall again.

‘I’ll buy it for you,’ says my husband.

I want to know its name.

It’s called Nostalgia,’ says the woman who owns the stall. ‘It’s a hybrid tea rose. The grower sprays it with “Roseclear”, the only thing that works, because in the South West roses are prone to black spot, mildew and aphids.’

My husband carries it back to the car and I think about where to plant it in the garden. I wonder if it will survive if I don’t spray it - which I don’t want to do as we never use chemicals on our plants. I ponder on the price of beauty while we share breakfast - coffee and a warm cheese straw for me and a raspberry and white chocolate muffin for him.

Much, much later at the end of my day, we sit in a big circle of fifteen lovely people in the house of dear friends where the air always resonates with love. I let their blessings and the haunting sound of sitar and Indian voices stream through me. Just before we leave I sit with our friend from the market this morning. She says, ‘I have something for you,‘ and she gives me a small peacock feather, shimmering lime green fronds, iridescent turquoise eye. I know she has been reading my blog. She says I remind her of the colours of a peacock and my writing is beautiful.

She also says, ‘I don’t know why you have been given this circumstance. Maybe all you can do is to enjoy and accept the bright moments, the iridescent beauty of them.’

This is one of those dawning moments. So many people have said such astonishingly wonderful and encouraging words to me about this blog that because of them and their loving hearts I am beginning to write myself into view. Without spraying away the mildew.

How can I not reflect back all their love when I have so many iridescent eyes in the shining fan of my open peacock tail - which is also theirs?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


8th June 2011 Wednesday

We have seen him in the photos - our six day old great nephew - and he looks beautiful. But I wasn’t prepared for the tiny perfection of him, the lightness of him, the miniatureness of him - his fingernails, his nose, his ears all there all in the right place, dainty as a pixie. My nephew who is newly radiant, puts him in my arms - Hold his head - he says. His eyes are closed, he just makes little wrinkles with his nose and mouth, lifts one elfin hand to his silk cheek and continues his sleep. There is a palpable peacefulness about him. I am entranced.

When I hand him back to his mother for a moment I feel bereft, empty handed.

How can you bear to let him go?” I ask her.

I can’t’, she says.‘Everything has changed now. I have all I want.’

Driving home my husband says, ‘They are a family now.’

We didn’t do that - make our own family. So I’ll never know what’s that’s like. Maybe I have something else to give birth to now. Maybe it’s me.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Magic Meals

7th June 2011 - Tuesday

When I ask my nephew what they’d like us to bring when we come and visit the baby tomorrow he says,

Eco disposable nappies, shower gel, flapjack and meals for the freezer.

When I tell my friend I bought nappies today she looks at me in horror and wonders if it’s me or my husband who has become incontinent overnight.

No, it’s for the baby, I say, and we double up laughing.

I start cooking in the afternoon and it reminds me of the kind of food I used to make when I had my own business selling frozen vegetarian meals in foil containers which I delivered all over London in my powder blue VW beetle in the 1980s. I called myself Magic Meals then. Today I soak pearl barley and split lentils, grate parmesan cheese, chop veggies and cup up bacon and haddock and stir my bubbling pots on the stove, conjuring savoury aromas.

By 8pm the garden is in shade but the kitchen is ablaze with late sunshine pouring in through the windows and the open doors and the plastic roof, showing up smeary marks on the glass and grubby cabinet doors. No time to clean now. I still have to wash up and filter the second batch of elderflower cordial - made with the right sugar this time - into bottles, and de-cant the contents of the pans into containers to cool before I can freeze them.

When my husband comes home - I thought he was at Gi-gong but he said he didn’t feel like it, he dropped in to say a prayer at the Cathedral and went for a drive instead - we sit on the sofa and eat bowls of wild mushroom risotto for supper. There is still plenty left to take to the parents of our great nephew tomorrow. He won’t be ready to eat coconut lentil dahl or Provencal fish stew or bacon and barley bake for a while yet.

I was so busy today I didn't remember the kingfisher very often - just caught a glimpse of him flashing through the garden and gave my husband an extra long hug.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Wolves, The Pigeons The Candle and the Kingfisher

6th June 201

My friend, who is also my councellor and midwife - birthing me on my journey out of my narrow canal of darkness into the light - says,

Close your eyes. Take a breath and what do you see?

I see a small candle, a flickering flame. I see wolves. In the dark. A pack of them. On a hill. Yapping, pacing, teeth-bared. Frightening.

I wait. I see now they are howling at the moon, a terrible throat ripping sound. Female wolves crying for their lost babies. Like me - only my loss is my husband and his lost words, tearing at me. I enter the circle of wolves, nudge close to their soft coats and I howl at the moon too. I see their grieving open wounds from throat to belly, their blood draining to the earth. I feel the blood from my wound, like theirs, seeping, pouring, down and deep into the ground below me, unceasing. Irretrievable.

The male wolves lie low in the night. Tails straight. Keeping watch at the base of the hill. Waiting.

What now? says my midwife. What do you need?

I need some light. A fire in the darkness. Bigger than a candle. A fire to burn on and on into the dawn, into the daylight. To dry me out.

And what do you feel?

I feel my heart fluttering in my chest. Something trapped there. A pigeon. No, a flock of pigeons - hundreds of pigeons taking flight - soaring. And the last one - not a pigeon - but a tiny kingfisher. Speeding away, flashing in sunlight, skimming the surface of the river - turquoise and burnt amber orange - joy riding the sky.

And what does the kingfisher mean to you?

Beauty. Freedom. Lightness of being. The possibility of happiness.

And what is the candle like now?

It’s burning with a strong flame. No flickering.

If you put that candle in your heart, what part of you would it be?

It would be the part that remembers to shine. All of me. Kingfisher bright.

It would be Love.

I have two cards of kingfishers on my desk from my father, who knows about love and how to share it. Who showed me the kingfisher in my heart. Ready to fly now.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Centre Cannot Hold

5th June 2011 Sunday

After our ‘Course in Miracles’ morning, seven women, talking, sharing, laughing and learning; and our feast of a lunch - carrot, apple and cashew soup, olive bread, quinoa broad bean salad, green salad, potato salad, followed by black grapes and chocolate brownies - we sit in my car in a lay-by - my sisters and I - for a few minutes before they have to leave.

They ask me ‘How is it for you - really?’

I say I’m alright and of course I am - really - but my centre is wobbly. I know it’s not like being in The Great War - I just looked up that phrase

‘Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold’

from Yeats’s poem, but it describes my world today.

Most of my life I have been pursuing safety and certainty, looking to root myself somehow, somewhere, to feel at home in my skin - pointlessly as it turns out - searching in the wrong place. Now it seems is the time to start another journey - to walk with uncertainty by my side - a wolf snapping at flies in the air but not eating me. I could choose my companions - willingness and trust instead of fear and loneliness.

After today and all the loving kindness showered on me by these dear women I can see a good place to start this journey is to make my husband right. Instead of wrong. About everything. And to ask for the grace to give up my own certainty that I always know best. As a wise person once said,

Would you rather be right or happy?’

I’m so so grateful that I have another tomorrow to find out.

Now my husband is calling me for supper - his wonderful poached eggs on toast.

A Gazebo for a Daschund

4th June 2011 Saturday

Listening to the radio this morning at breakfast - the interviewer, talking about pet accessories, says,

‘You are talking to a man who once bought a gazebo for a Daschund.’

My husband says, ‘I have no idea what that sentence means’.

In the night the heads of elderflowers and sliced lemons steeping in their sugar syrup turn into a deep pink sloppy gloop. I still follow the recipe, and pour ladle after ladle into a bowl draped with a hot j-cloth and squeeze as much as I can through the mesh with my hands. It feels like milking a soft leaking heart. The liquid that seeps out is the colour of clear pink rose petals. What’s left is a mass of tiny pale stars clinging to the cloth. Although it’s more like thick syrup than cordial it tastes like the perfume of a hot summer’s day and it makes enough to fill three empty wine bottles.

I take two of them to share for supper at my sister’s. My newly retired but still working elder sister, her daughter and her two longtime friends who feel like dear family members now, are visiting for the weekend. We arrive to the smell of asparagus risotto being lovingly stirred on the stove by my nearly Italian niece and her Italian friend. She is the one who taught her, and now me, that the risotto is ready when you stir it with the wooden spoon and it’s ‘come un’onda’ - like a wave. We laugh when I remind her and she stirs the pale creamy sea in the pan but says it’s not making waves today. Still, when we sit down later, after glasses of gin and tonic and pink elderflower champagne, the risotto tastes perfect - like love on a summer’s night.

We leave early - for me - because my husband has been working on the allotment all day. And because it is very tiring for him to follow conversations now, which could be full of words like gazebo or daschund, which trip him up and leave him on the edge. His world leaking into the dark.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Hot and Bitter

3rd June 2011 - Friday

I am hot as a volcano core all day, swallowing tears. More cards from clients for my husband. One of them makes us both cry. I know their names. My husband says,

I don’t know who they are.

I boil up 2 kilos of sugar and pour it over of thirty pink elderflower heads that I picked last week, along with sliced lemons, their pared zest and a spoon of citric acid - Sophie Grigson’s recipe for Elderflower Cordial. I don’t have that much sugar in the house so I use some jam sugar that I find at the back of the cupboard. But I think I’m going to end up with Elderflower jelly tomorrow.

The last asparagus spears from the allotment - I grill them and we eat them with boiled eggs and bitter lettuce leaves while the sun scorches the garden. My husband says he’ll take me to the dentist as he doesn’t have anything to do. I say lets go for a walk afterwards - but it must be somewhere shady.

We wander round the ancient hill fort at Blackbury Camp where the bluebells are all green budded now and the oak and beech trees tower above us like a cathedral dome. It’s totally deserted and so hot even the birds are silent. It feels like a magical oasis. I lie down on a long flat log in dappled shade and nearly fall asleep. But my husband is restless so we walk away and the gap of our differences widens between us with every step.

Tonight I feel as hot and bitter as the purple mustard leaves he grows on the allotment.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


2nd June 2011 Thursday

A momentous day - he has arrived - our great nephew. The text with the news finally comes at 12.27 but I don’t get it till 2 pm while we are sitting outside under the sun umbrella after our sweet potato salad lunch. He’s 7lb 12oz - mother and baby safe and well. Tonight they send us a photo of him sleeping with his perfect minature fingers curled on a white blanket, a soft gingery down on his head. Not even a day old but it’s as if he has always been here - the first of the next generation - breathtaking in his beauty.

My father is so happy when I tell him this afternoon - I can see the tears in his eyes - a great grandson carrying his name into the future.

Some more firsts - the first really hot day of summer. I eat the first ripe strawberry at the allotment. I pick the first broad beans. For the first time we play scrabble outside on the patio after supper the air still warm at 9 pm. But not the first time my husband wins the game - even if he doesn’t know the meaning of some of the words he lays down.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


1st June 2011 Wednesday

10 am - In the hospital waiting room I read a text from my niece in law - her baby has started his journey into the world. I think of her while I’m lying on the plastic couch, the doctor injecting my leg with anesthetic. It hurts a lot and I take deep breaths. But I know - even though I haven’t done it - that having a baby must hurt much more than this.

The doctor is young, red haired and freckled with alabaster white skin. She is the same doctor who took out the BSC on my father’s ear several years ago While she cuts out the small round carcinoma on my shin, I keep my eyes fixed on the ceiling and she tells me about her recent holiday in Croatia. How they are still repairing the bombed buildings in Dubrovnik, trying to match ancient roof tiles in the old part of the city even though it’s sixteen years since the end of the war. I feel her tugging stitches in my leg. Sewing me up.

Afterwards the nurse says I should rest today, keep my leg elevated. When I get home the house is echoey empty. Just a row of coloured pens neatly placed on the table and a hand written note on my pillow from our sweet nine year old nephew. I strip the beds and put on a load of washing. My husband is in Bristol all day so I make myself lunch from left overs - tomato tart from last night and bitter lettuce leaves. And I dig into the bowl of chocolate fudge sauce hardened in the fridge to the consistency of thick honey. Three spoonfuls is enough. I feel wobbly and tearful.

Now my leg is throbbing sore. I’m not supposed to get the dressing wet but I’ll find a way to have a bath. No news yet about the baby. I’m trusting all is well and keep thinking about this new little being who is coming to join our family. This could be day one of his life.

Peacock Shimmering

31st May 2011 Tuesday

While the family queue for pedal boat rides at Woodlands Leisure Park, I take five minutes out and sit alone in the sun on a picnic bench outside a cafe, with a bottle of water, watching the half term holiday world go past. I hear the mournful shriek of a peacock splitting the air long before I see it. Then suddenly it’s walking directly, purposefully, towards my bench trailing long turquoise tail feathers. It stop inches away, turns its back to me and displays, raising the shaking fan of its tail into the sky - a huge shimmering arc of underwater fishes, glinting in the sun. I follow it with my camera and it seems oblivious as I take photo after photo while it preens its glorious sea green feathers and cocks its head - certain sure of its role as king of the park.

I can’t help feeling it chose me today, alone, briefly, at my picnic bench, to say,

Look at you. Let’s see the colors of you. It’s easy - just open your arms. And shimmer. - even when you think you are waiting in the wings.’

Waiting in the Wings

30th May 2011 Bank Holiday Monday

12.30 pm I turn the oven off. The chicken is perfectly cooked in its heavy Le Creuset pot, lemon stuffed, fragrant with melting onions and garlic, spiked with rosemary. The potatoes are rough edged, crisp brown roasted. Gravy made, carrots and spring greens chopped and waiting for boiling water. The meringues are crumby chewy, fruit salad chilled, cream whipped. But our visitors are stuck in traffic at Stonehenge. Nothing to do but wait.

3.15 Suddenly the house is full of children’s squeals, little shoes in the hall, a clear plastic football, raincoats and suitcases and soft cuddly toys. And so it begins - a switch flicks in my solar plexus and my life goes into standby mode, waiting in the wings, while my heart flows out to these dear people, tired or hurting or bouncing with delight. We become Auntie Trish and Uncle Bobble for a few precious days. Luckily no one seems to notice that the chicken is a bit dry.

The pussy cat slinks under our bed, his tail low, his eyes wide, and stays there till late into the night when unfamiliar voices are finally stilled.