Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Missing Sweetness

31st August 2011 Wednesday

The pear and green tomatillo chutney won’t thicken up. I’ve been boiling it for hours even though the recipe says only one hour. The whole house smells of vinegar now - not my favourite aroma. I dip my spoon into the saucepan - it tastes pungent and garlicky and also very sweet. We have been on a restricted sugar and fruit diet for over a week now - all part of a cleansing/healing plan for my husband. So I’m joining in. I felt cross and deprived at first but now I’m coping without sweetness by overeating roasted almonds and salted pistachio nuts.

I notice that it’s not really the taste of cake and ice cream and chocolate and wine that I miss. It’s the sense of occasion I associate with them, the sense of a treat, a reward for being good, of looking forward to pudding, of going out for a meal, of cooking for the people I love - they all seem to include the luxury of sweetness. Or just reaching for an apple in the fruit bowl as I pass by without thinking. A second helping of green beans, however delicious, doesn’t really hit that spot.

But it's just another change to get used to - another thought to re-think.

Today I sat with two gorgeous women at our kitchen table sharing an almost exclusive vegetable lunch funded mostly from the allotment - a hot mustardy dressed potato, runner bean and courgette salad, roasted tomato quarters and warm sliced beetroots. I felt so nourished by the sweetness of their company that I didn’t mind saying no to the beautiful pale plums from my sister’s garden.

And I know there is a big bag of pistachio nuts in the cupboard if I need them later on.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Two Husbands

30th August 2011 Tuesday

On my desk I’m burning a rose scented stick of incense - a gift from my brother who was here with his partner - visiting from a sacred island off the coast of Fiji. And the stub of a candle in a tiny coffee cup, reminding me of Christmas. From my upstairs study I can hear the rhythmic chanting of football crowds in Exeter stadium a few streets away. I’m feeling unsure, nervous about blogging again after a week - how to pick up dropped stitches in my knitting. Maybe I don’t need to fill in the holes but just plunge in.

On Sunday, I sat with my husband on a bench in Killerton Woods, an oak tree, its leaves flecked with crisp yellow, towering above us. As we talked I realised that I have two husbands.

The warm-fleshed one beside me, his thigh touching mine, who is looking at the clouds and listening to me from inside his heart. And the other husband who visits me sometimes, who lives inside my head, the one I made up. He is self motivating, a man who has a dream and a plan and a drive, a man, who although he loves me, loves his dream even more and it’s that desire to see it grow in the world that pulls him out of bed every morning. And brings him home to me every night, smiling.

A fantasy man. If I was married to him I wouldn’t be me. And as we sit there on the bench in the evening sunshine I kick fantasy man up into the oak tree, curtailing all visiting rights for now.

So today I’m deeply grateful for the real husband who sits beside me in the office of the Wonderful Clinical Psychologist - the one I want to hug. My husband says,

I want to know what I’m here for. And I failed at everything I thought I wanted in the past.

He wants to make his dream come true. I give fantasy man a wave as he passes by.

The WCP says,

Have you tried Mindfulness Meditation? Look up Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I want to kiss him this time. I cry a bit instead and he pushes the box of tissues closer to my hand. And says it’s normal to be emotional when you have had your life turned upside down.

Afterwards I take the hand of my dreaming, artist husband, and we walk by a wide river estuary, stopping to watch the seagulls squabbling on the shining mud flats.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Mini Break

23rd August 2011

I’m taking a mini break from blogging. Nothing wrong - just tired and too busy. And afraid of being tedious on the page.

The hole in my leg is slowly healing. Manuka honey and homeopathy working their magic.

My father is ‘raging against the dying of the light’.

The pussy cat is still sick sometimes but I’ve stopped worrying about him.

My husband is taking the pills - the iodine and krill oil and Vitamin D. His heart is softening and he is attentive to me and feeling his way into a not-working life. He’s upset about losing his words. But not as upset as I am.

My life is rich and nourished by dear and loving family and friends. I feel so blessed in this.

The apples will need picking soon - they are already blushing red and bending their branches. Autumn is whispering in the wings.

I will be back.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Water Skiing

21st August 2011

I’m sitting on the edge of the bed rubbing hand cream into the dry skin on my shins. My husband is lying with his head on a wooden neck roller.

‘Are you alright?’ he asks.


‘Out of ten?’

Two’, I find myself saying without thinking about it.

‘I thought so,’ he says.

How about you?’ I ask him.

‘Seven or eight,’ he says.

We’ve had a lovely day walking with dear companions deep into the Blackdown hills in Somerset. It’s only the thoughts in my head which are dragging me down. Letting myself disappear down the drain like one of my husband's lost words.

I remember learning to water ski when I was eleven or twelve - the exhilaration, the pounding joy in my solar plexus when I crossed the wake for the first time without falling off. At the moment I’m half submerged in that water, clinging on to the rope, the outboard engine of the boat roaring in my ears as I’m yanked through the white wave, my skis gone. But not letting go - not drowning either.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Avocados and All of It

20th August 2011 Saturday

Some Good Moments from Today in spite of my grumpiness......

Sitting in a steamy cafe with dear friends, the rain pouring down outside, for brunch of boiled eggs and soldiers. My husband asks what are soldiers and laughs when the they arrive on my plate - sticks of buttered granary bread.

Talking to my sister on the phone - the husband of my niece has been evacuated from Syria - I’m so happy they will be visiting us next weekend.

My husband is upset - he rang me from Sainsbury’s this afternoon -

What did you ask me to get - not aubergines, not artichokes - what was it?’

‘Avocados,’ I say.

When he comes home I decide to stop hoovering and cleaning the loos and sit with him in the bedroom. I ask him what else he is upset about apart from forgetting the word for avocado. He tells me about his clay models - his distress about the lizard that broke, his worry about the money, not being able to hear the conversation in the cafe, not knowing how to contribute any more, not knowing how to support me - somehow take away my stress. I listen and feel hopeless about being able to change. Then we give each other some deeksha blessing and he says he feels better.

I carry on hoovering and I don’t feel any better. Except I’m glad he does.

Sharing how it is - my tearfulness, my grumpiness, my resistance, - with dear friends over the dinner table - knowing they accept me anyway - and in their loving company I feel less disconnected and stuck. They really like my Portuguese fish stew with the chermula and the redcurrant and blackberry tart with blackcurrant parfait for afters.

Later when they have gone home and we are clearing away the dishes I discover the bowl of roasted vegetables - red peppers and onions and aubergines - all melting sweet and garlicky - still keeping warm in the oven. I’m mortified I forgot to serve them. Then I realise I can take them tomorrow for the lunch to share after the village walk. And the redcurrant tart as well as we hardly ate any of it.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Harvest Sun

18th August 2011 Thursday


We leave London at dusk and drive west into a huge sky painting the clouds shell pink and gold with the brush of the melting harvest sun. We don’t stop once. The car steams up with Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio, at full choral volume. My husband sings along at the rousing bits and all the way home I let my tiredness leak away and think about the dear people we have stayed with these last few days. And I feel full up with friendship and talking and a wonderful birthday Mezze meal - still tasting the sweet smokiness of a triumphant Babaganoush in my memory.


Wake up to drizzling rain and cold feet. And thudding pneumatic drills in the street outside our windows. All day I can’t shake the feeling of bleakness in my bones. I buy huge orange tomatoes in the market called Brandy Wine. And take back a cardigan I bought last week which is a muddy caramel pink and which looked a pale burnt ochre in the shop. And definitely doesn’t suit me. I put the heating on to dry the damp washing draped around the house. We have a mushy avocado salad for lunch which leaves me cold inside. Across the table my husband looks miserable. He says he’s feeling incompetent at the allotment - the pear laden tree falling down.

At my father’s I find a nearly full bottle of eye drops in the waste paper bin. He couldn’t see that it wasn’t empty. He says he’s forgetting things more and more as well.

He says, ‘ Everything is a bit fuzzy. I want to shake my head to make it all clear.’

I say, ‘Do you mean fuzzy in your eyes or in your head?’

Both’, he says, and we laugh. There isn’t really anything we can do about it.

Tonight I finally warm up in the company of a dear circle of friends and the magical sound of the Moola Mantra melts me like yesterday’s harvest sun, sinking into my bones.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Gifts of Many Plums

13th August 2011 Saturday

When I arrive at my father’s this afternoon he says,

Don’t sit down. I want you to peel me some of those Victoria plums you brought me.’

I’m so happy to find him a fruit that he likes, that isn’t too sour, that grew on the allotment. And there is an endless supply of them in our shed. They are very beautiful - long oval orbs, dusty pink skin verging on mauve, pale yellow flesh inside, warm and perfumed. But when I hand over bagfuls to the neighbours I advise caution as some of them - the biggest and prettiest - are hiding tiny, wriggling, pink caterpillars. They make a maze of gritty brown grooves in the meat of the plum spoiling the pleasure of that first luscious bite. I am well warned though and today I cut out all the bad bits and ended up with three kilos for the freezer. For that day in the hazy future when I’ll have time to make plum jam.

My father wants to talk about last night - he tried every single dish of the Middle Eastern Mezze meal I made for the birthday supper - and pronounced the babaganoush( although he can’t remember its name) and grilled halloumi cheese as his favourites. And the potatoes baked in salt with whole roasted garlic. And the beetroot with tatziki. And the honey mascapone cream on the carrot walnut cake.

But mostly he wants to remember his great grandson who he saw again for the second time last night and who he calls Little Snooks. I can feel the weight of him in my arms now - the back of his silk head against my shoulder and the delight he brings to the face of my sister when his blue blue eyes latch onto hers and he smiles a smile to capture your heart forever.

Now my husband is calling me - the bath is ready. I still haven’t packed. We are going away for four days tomorrow - visiting friends and family in Brighton and London. Bearing gifts of many plums.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

In Another Country

11th August 2011 Thursday

Today I took a journey in my kitchen to the Middle East and the Mediterranean - to Greece, Spain, Lebanon and Morocco. I searched all my cookery books - ‘Moro’ by Sam and Sam Clark, ‘Arabesque’ by Claudia Roden, ‘Cranks Fast Food’ by Nadine Abensur, for recipes to make with the bagfuls of aubergines and tomatoes, courgettes and spinach that I bought in the market this morning. To conjure up the flavour of desert and palm tree, of hot blue skies and wild thyme hillsides, I spiked my dishes with cinnamon and mint, garlic and tahini, parsley and cumin, yoghurt and lemon. I burnt the skins of peppers, crushed chickpeas and whirred up minced lamb with garlic and coriander.

This foreign expedition is a combined birthday supper tomorrow for my nephew and his wife. I have been over ambitious though and now I’ve run out of time. I wanted to make Arab flat breads and Gazpacho - I wanted to make all of the recipes in all of my books - they look so enticing and delicious in the photographs. And possible too on a warm summer’s evening with all the doors and windows open in my suburban kitchen in Devon - the red roses and the white jasmine climbing the fences - glowing in the dusk.

All day I have been distracting myself from the shed at the bottom of the garden - stacked high with trays and trays of ripe Victoria plums - calling out to be eaten. Or cooked or given away. Demanding my attention. Which is elsewhere - in another country.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

An Open Book

9th August 2011 Tuesday

Sitting with a dear friend and a cup of tea - she asks me what I think the hole in my leg is about. I find my self crying. So then I know what it’s about. It isn’t finished yet - feeling bereft, feeling sad for those lost things - the way it used to be with my husband, the way it won’t be now.

It’s not as if I keep looking back with regrets or looking forward with fear. It just feels like I’m floundering in a deep well fed by an underground river that keeps flowing and I can’t stop it. And I think I should. Stop it now. Stop all this grieving. Especially as my husband seems to be happy. It seems churlish somehow. As if he’s sailing on and I’m holding him back by still drowning in the river.

But the hole in my leg is open wide and weeping. No hiding it. So being open - opening up my heart - all the mess of it - instead of keeping it to myself - which has been my habit - seems to be the way I’m choosing to heal. However long that takes. Being an open book and letting you read me.

And today sitting with my friend, her voice like an a Tibetan singing bowl piercing my heart, I feel all the sadness of the world flow through me like a cresting wave and then break into a flood of emerald green light. Filling me up with the colour of love.

In the bath tonight my husband says,

‘Are you blogging about the plums and the blueberries?’

(The wheelbarrow full we picked at the allotment yesterday).

‘No’, I say, ‘I’m writing about the hole in my leg.’

Is it getting better?’

‘Yes, I think it is,’ I say, remembering the pulse of the emerald green light.

‘And I’ll write about the plums tomorrow.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Honey for Fear

8th August 2011 Monday

Yesterday I Googled Manuka Honey and ordered a medicinal tube - it is reputed to have wonderful healing properties for deep wounds and ulcers that won’t heal. Like the one on my leg. This morning at the clinic when my lovely nurse removes the dressing she says the hole - which turned heart shaped, and then diamond shaped as it opened up - is still a bit mucky.

I say I want to try Manuka honey.

She says, ‘Oh yes good idea, we use that here.’

And she squeezes some dark sticky goo into the cavity. Now I feel hopeful that it will clear up. So long as I keep letting out all the other gunk. I like the idea of bee sweetness as an antidote to fear and anger.

If only that could soothe all the deep wounds and burning rage in Tottenham tonight.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Nadir and Zenith

7th August 2011 Sunday

The eye drop angel turns out to be my dear sister. She manages to explain to my father how to use the blue plastic contraption that holds the bottle that he has to squeeze into his eye. But when my husband and I visit him this afternoon for a game of scrabble both the little bottles are empty except for two drops. One for now and one for tomorrow.

This morning we walk along wide gravel paths through a forest of ramrod pine trees. My husband always notices the clouds whenever we are out walking. He says,

‘Aren’t they beautiful?’

He says it a lot. We stop and gaze at the sky which today is rolling grey smudged over glimpses of blue and cotton wool white.

He says he is happier than he has ever been. More real. More emotional. That clouds and music and animals touch his heart. That he doesn’t mind really about losing his vocabulary. That you don’t need words to feel the beauty of the world.

‘But you do need them to communicate,’ I say. ‘ To share it.’

When we leave my father this evening he says that the late afternoon is usually the nadir of his day. But today our game of scrabble made it into the zenith for him.

Later I ask my husband if he knows what they mean - those words - nadir and zenith.

He says, ‘Why would I?

Because he used to.

But he knows he made my father happy. And he enjoyed the game - he won it with a huge score. He doesn’t need to know that canny means cunning or spume means froth. It’s only me feeling lonely now racketing around in the rooms of my big useless vocabulary. Which isn't that big - only a cupboard really compared to the palace that my husband used to live in. So now I'm downsizing it, choosing the words I think he’ll recognise. So I won’t have to stop and explain. My everyday nadir.

But he’s right - there are lots of ways of saying I love you. Without words. And anyway his heart is as big as the sky. I don't need to translate that.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A Single Step

6th August 2011 Saturday

I wake early - my head a kaleidoscope of worrying - the sick pussy cat, my father’s eye drops, a friend in crisis, the husband of my niece in Syria, what to do with the feast of blackberries in the fridge.....

We treat ourselves to croissants and blackcurrant jam for breakfast. The morning is already slipping through my fingers - unused. We make non urgent plans - to clean, to shop, to allot, to cook, to garden. I feel tearful and glued to the chair with apathy. My husband makes it easy for me. He holds my hands across the table and says he’ll go Sainsbury’s and we don’t have to pick all the plums till tomorrow and we can’t garden because it’s raining. And then I find I can stand up and start loading the washing machine. I think about that phrase - ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.

Sometimes doing the next thing in front of my face can hoick me out of my resistance. But sometimes it makes it stronger. I wonder what it would be like if I didn’t try and resist my resistance and just stayed with it - sat at the table a bit longer and allowed inspiration to bubble up - like forgotten happiness.

Later the sun filters through the clouds and I take my secateurs into the garden and start hacking at the thatch of ivy clawing its way up the wall and into the gutters. I marvel at its tenacity, the strength of its tiny fibrous rope roots. The voracity of its life force - considering the impoverished soil it lives in, how far it stretches. How far it is from home.

My Teacher

5th August 2011 Friday

When I come downstairs this morning I’m sure I can smell cat spray in the pussy cat’s area in the kitchen. Maybe that black tom is back. I clean everything down including the cat flap and the boot rack and the walls and units. I can still smell it. Then I see them - right by the back door - the two pots of purple basil my husband brought back from the allotment the other day. I laugh and push my nose into the leaves - and there it is - a strong smell of cat pee...

We are out all day - walking and talking with a new friend along the coastal path high above the sea at Brixham.

We don’t get home till nearly seven. No pussy cat to greet us. He hasn’t touched his food. I search the house. Call him in the garden. I start to worry. Then I have an idea. I check the cat flap. It’s locked. I must have slipped the catch closed when I cleaned it this morning. I open the front door and there he is. He has been shut out all day. I am mortified. He eats a bit of tuna and then he is sick. Four times. But I think it’s his ongoing stomach thing and not because he couldn’t get in the house. Not because he’s cross with me.

He’s sleeping now. He’s endlessly patient and forgiving. He is my teacher.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Not Being There

4th August 2011 Thursday

I don’t want to ring my father too early in case he has gone back to bed. I leave it till 8.30am.

He says,

‘I just put my hand out to the phone to call you and you rang me.’

He can’t get the plastic eye drop contraption to work. It’s supposed to make it easier to get the drops in his eye. He says it’s empty. I know it’s not. I say use the other bottle, the second one. He says he can’t get the top off.

I say,

I’ll come over - give me forty five minutes.’

I’m not dressed yet - didn’t sleep well last night.

Driving to Honiton I try and think of who can help him with the eye drops. I’m not sure if it’s in the remit of the housekeeper - who would be perfect as she is kind and competent - and on the premises. But anyway she’s on holiday.

When I arrive I find his wonderful cleaner is there and she has told him how to work the eye drop contraption - ‘ tilt your head right back’ - and she has successfully unscrewed the top off the second tiny bottle.

She is the angel for today.

I ring him again later. He says all the liquid has leaked out of the eye drop bottle and he’s going to order some more from the pharmacy. I wonder what he did. I ring my sister and she says she will go in the morning and help him with the drops. But he is supposed to do it four times a day. Put one drop in at a time. The miniscule bottles are to last for four weeks.

It would take me one second to do it. But I’m not there. So I’m praying for an angel.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Cataract Day

3rd August 2011 Wednesday

Now the sky is bruised with aubergine purple clouds and a hot wind is blowing through the house. I hope the rain is coming. It has been sweltering all day.

This morning my sister and I wheel my father through the doors of Axminster hospital and into the theatre where we leave him to be prepped for his cataract operation. He says he feels like a parcel being delivered. We have three hours before we can collect him - an unexpected treat. I feel the sun burning the back of my neck as we walk the short distance into the town.

The heat reminds us of our holiday coming up in South Africa next January and we sift through the rails of sale clothes in a department store searching for flimsy cotton tops - imagining it will be even hotter then than it is today. Nothing fits. So we cross the road to Hugh’s River Cottage Canteen and order char grilled pepper and courgette bruschettas for lunch and chat to a family of South Africans sitting at the next table. We ask them the best place to eat in Knysna where we’ll be going and they say we won’t recognise it if we haven’t been there for nearly fifty years.

My father is cheerful but tired when we take him home - his left eye covered with a clear plastic shield - to distinguish him from a pirate. He mustn’t remove it for four hours. I want to stay and help him - drip the tricky eye drops in, but he won’t let us. We leave him with a tray of cream cheese sandwiches, tomato slices and avocado pear dribbled with Lea and Perrin’s sauce. And instructions to keep his head up and to press his buzzer in the night if he’s worried.

I lie on the bed with my throbbing leg up against the wall and think about what’s in the fridge for supper. My husband comes back from the allotment with two pots of purple basil, a young stripey courgette, some yellow cherry tomatoes and perfumed bunch of frilly sweet peas. So I decide to make my own version of bruschettas with half a toasted ciabatta loaf smothered in buttery, garlicky, lemony, prawns and all the allotment bounty chopped up and tumbled in olive oil.

We eat them on our laps with the scent of sweet peas mingling with the smell of sauted prawns and the pussy cat leaps up on the sofa beside me, shaking rain drops from his fur like a wet dog. I wish my father was here beside me too and not alone in his room with a sore eye, awake in bed listening to the rain dripping from the window sills.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Getting to the Big Stuff

2nd August 2011 Tuesday

We have been away for a few days in hot wide Wiltshire, walking through chalky downs and vistas of wheat fields and circles of standing stones. We stayed with a dear friend in a borrowed farmhouse - soft deep beds, pristine white towels - chickens to feed, silky eared whippets to stroke, a swimming pool to cool off in, lunch of salmon and salad, strawberries and cream to eat in the shade of an arching white buddleia. And feeling so cherished in her company.

I write this with my leg up on a stool. The small black hole in my shin has turned into a suppurating cavern. I love the nurse at the clinic who has been treating me. She is calm and warm and professional and listens to me. And says she’ll talk to the surgeon who did my operation. I trust her totally. She is also lean limbed and suntanned and wears high strappy sandals and short glamourous dresses. She packs the hole with iodine cream.

The lovely homeopath I consulted this morning says,

‘Take it easy. You have an open wound to heal. That takes up a lot of your energy.’

She also says she will send me remedies for unexpressed anger and being over-responsible for everyone in my life and something for my knackered adrenals.

Later when I’m in the roaring town she rings on the mobile and asks if I have a pace maker or a hip replacement as the remedy she is going to subscribe is to eject unwanted stuff from the body. Which could also eject good stuff. That is a powerful remedy.

I’ve been thinking about ejecting those smouldering feelings. Practising on the small stuff. Like doing some ranting and raving on cushions about the neighbours’ children who scream and shout on and on and on all day in their garden. And their parents allow it. And about my father’s doctor who took him off his diuretic and now he’s all wobbly and breathless.

And then maybe I’ll get to the big stuff - about losing my husband.