Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Those Spaces

29th February 2012 Wednesday

Licking out the chocolate brownie bowl isn’t a job I want to share. The pussy cat thinks he’d like to join in but I won’t let him too near. The sun is pouring into the kitchen. I open the patio doors and we sit on the warm concrete step, my finger smearing up the sweet goo, his nose sniffing the rim of the bowl. I notice the first daffodil has come out in the pot by the back door. I find myself thinking about re-planting the beds in the garden, feeling the sun on my face. And remembering the strands of a life I used to have.

Wondering how to fill those spaces that used to be full of my father.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Taps and Walls

28th February 2012 Tuesday

Tonight my supper is mostly pink. Smoked salmon pate sandwiches - this morning’s trials for Friday’s thanksgiving - gulp-fuls of strawberry yogurt ( Yeo Valley Organic for which I have a weakness) and six ice cold cherries. My husband is eating his sandwiches in the car on his way to Dartmoor - I have asked him to give me feedback on the filling. I think it may need a bit more black pepper.

This afternoon I leave my coaching session feeling lighter - carrying two images to help me with my overwhelm and my resistance .......

When I feel full up, right to the top of my skull, and panicky with so much to do - I could just turn on the taps in the soles of my feet - let a bit out, make space inside. They are big brass taps - very easy to open and close.

When my wall of resistance is at it’s highest and strongest I could reach up and take out one NO brick and see if there is a YES on the other side. I could take the hand my husband is offering and walk beside him for a while instead of dragging my feet, looking over my shoulder in case there is something better behind.

I can’t really lose now - since I thought I’d lost everything already. Opening my taps - letting out fear - making room for trust..... one drip at a time.

Monday, 27 February 2012

No-one ToTell

27th February 2012 Monday

Already I’m in countdown mode to Friday. Crossing things off the list. On automatic.

Order the centrepiece flowers for the church - a posy or an oval shape?

Phone the church secretary to make sure we can get into the building at 8am on the day with the food.

Buy something to wear.

Make the sesame cheese biscuits.

Write something more for the tribute.

But I don’t know what to say.

I just keep thinking how when it’s all over and everyone has gone home - there won’t be anybody to tell about it. I won’t be able to draw up a chair next to my father and say to him

‘Wasn’t that an amazing day. Do you know what so-and-so said about you? Imagine so-and-so coming all that way.’

And he’d look at me in wonderment and laugh and shake his head and say,

‘I don’t believe it.’

But his eyes would be shining and I know he’d be really really pleased. And the next day he’d sit down at his desk and start writing about it.

And then I wouldn’t need to - because I don’t think I can.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Unfired Clay Pot

26th February 2012 Sunday

Some things I noticed today ......

A row of new opened daffodils on a grassy bank - lit up by the sun. Did spring slip in under the radar and I didn’t register it - my eyes looking somewhere else?

How thin the pussy cat is. How he eats more if I crouch down beside him and whisper encouragement in his ear.

How hard it is to change my mind and not feel guilty.

How porous my skin feels - I’m an unfired clay pot - how quickly I get full up with talking and listening - new ideas washing inside me, leaking out - I can’t hold them - I’m already floundering.

How finishing a book - one you have been embroiled in for snatched hours in the day and deep into the night - is like the end of a love affair.

How you can’t disguise the taste of a scone that has been in the freezer for weeks - slightly stale - even if you smother it in strawberry jam and clotted cream.

How much I want to linger in my husband’s arms when he hugs me, eyes tight shut, and not let my face feel the sun.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Numb and Intimate

24th February 2012 Friday

I should have eaten breakfast because I can’t eat lunch - what with my mouth full of novacaine - my lips all fat, my nose all numb and my eyes watering. Even trying to drink water is hopeless as most of it ends up on my jumper. The dentist said it would wear off in three hours. Part of me likes the feeling of being drugged, numb - only I wish it extended to my heart.

Five hours later we are having our NHS couples councelling session. I mumble my way through it with my floppy lip. Our two lovely therapists recommend my husband has some individual sessions first as his issues seem to be deep and intractable - we never get to us in the time we have. They offer support to help us do more stuff together - like going for walks, cooking together - being intimate. My husband says I only do stuff with him because I’m being nice to him. He doesn’t think it counts - being willing even when you don’t feel like it.

Wandering round Waitrose later we break all our diet rules and choose a picnic supper - a long crusty baguette, mature cheddar cheese, baby tomatoes, olives and crisps - molten chocolate puddings and chocolate custard. When my lips finally start tingling and I can swallow and chew again we eat in front of the TV, watching Doctor Who, the scrabble board set up on the table for afterwards.

An intimate thing to do.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Still Feeling Hungry

23rd February 2012 Thursday

Sitting in The Boston Tea Party cafe in Honiton High Street with a dear friend - on the table between us mugs of hot chocolate, a crumbly flapjack, our note pads and pens.We are talking sandwich fillings - egg mayonnaise, brie and cranberry, smoked salmon; we are talking cake decorations - cape gooseberries and lemons; we are talking quantities and table cloths and napkins. We are talking food for the Thanksgiving, next Friday. For maybe a hundred people. From where we are sitting in the window of the cafe I can see the house where my father used to live on the other side of the road.

I’m so grateful to my friend who is doing the lion’s share of this, who knows all about catering for big numbers - for all these people who are coming - some of them a very long way - to honour my father. I want to make sure they don’t go away still hungry - these people who love my father. Getting all busy and bogged down in detail I’ve lost sight of him these last days. On Friday it won’t be the sandwiches they will remember.

Tonight, sitting in a circle of precious people, feeling their tenderness, feeling the love in the music, I’m unravelled again, at a loss ......something about an empty space behind me - no solid wall to lean against......and now no more kingfisher cards coming in the post with my name on the envelope written in black ink. In the familiar, sloping hand writing I’ve know all my life. Still feeling hungry for his words.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Shrove Wednesday

22nd February 2012 Wednesday

I just had a spat with my husband. I made him wrong about putting up shelves. Said he wasn’t any good at it. But he’d say that was a matter of opinion. I need to apologise but I’m still feeling cross. A Course in Miracles says,

All anger is nothing more than an attempt to make someone feel guilty.

I’m probably feeling angry about lots of other, bigger things but it just leaks out into the little things instead.

When we arrived at the cinema tonight to seeThe Artist, it was booked up except for the first two rows - which I don’t see the point of sitting in, getting neck ache. So we went home - feeling like when the person next to you unwraps the last prize in pass-the-parcel.

I forgot it was Shrove Tuesday yesterday - didn’t make pancakes. My little niece on the phone says,

Never mind you can have Shrove Wednesday instead.

I like her thinking - it’s never too late to make pancakes. I forgot about making marmalade though. I hope I haven’t left it too late and all the Seville oranges have flown off the shelves.They are only in the shops for a few weeks at this time of year.

I suppose I could make lemon marmalade instead.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Last Will and Testament

21st February 2012 Tuesday

10 am My sister and I are waiting in a room lined with floor to ceiling bookcases full of huge old books, all the same buff colour, with tattered spines dating back to the 1850s. We are at the Law Courts in Exeter, here to sign papers for the probate of my father’s estate. When it’s our turn we each have to hold a copy of the bible, read a square laminated sheet of paper -

I swear by Almighty God that this is my name and handwriting......

and confirm that we have seen the last will and testament of my father.

The words sound so final - like a felled oak tree crashing to the ground.

We decide the occasion requires some kind of marking. How to celebrate this marvellous legacy which our parents will be leaving us - their four children? We choose Carluccios and toast them all with tiny cups of velvet hot chocolate and sharp lemon tarts. And then go our separate ways, heads down into the cold, cutting wind.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Cooking Me

18th February 2012 Saturday

Keeping busy today keeps me rooted - so when I’m ambushed by tears - cleaning the bathroom, whisking egg whites, watering the plants, talking on the phone, chopping leeks - they don’t stop me..... I just let them come and do the next thing on my list.

The kitchen was a good place for me today - a healing place - often with a wooden spoon in my hand. Stirring up left over butternut squash and cabbage - making bubble and squeak for lunch with slivers of pale brown trout, beating up egg yolks and sugar and folding in glossy dark chocolate for birthday cake, rubbing butter into flour, adding roasted hazelnuts for an apple and apricot crumble, frying onion and garlic for risotto tomorrow. Cooking - bringing me back to myself - mending me.

Now I must check the weather forecast for Liverpool where it could be snowing - going up there tomorrow for two nights with my sister to visit a dear friend. The apple crumble is a gift for her.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Meanwhile The world Goes On

17th February 2012 Friday

Because I’m weary and because my heart is too sad tonight I’ll let Mary Oliver say it for me in WILD GEESE. I love this poem - it sustains me - it feels like a prayer and a blessing too.....

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

© Mary Oliver

Thursday, 16 February 2012

You Do Not Have To Be Good

16th February 2012 Thursday

Some lines from Mary Oliver’s poem The Wild Geese drum in my head like a tattoo....

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

The morning is overcast, dull grey. After shopping for what seems like forever, after taking the car for it’s MOT, after making lunch, after writing emails..... I stop being good. I make a cup of tea, break off four squares of dark chocolate, go upstairs, sneak under the duvet and start a new book with the pussy cat heavy as guilt on my tummy. My book is The Help by Katheryn Stockett. From the first sentence I’m hooked.When my husband comes home I say I haven’t made supper so he climbs into bed beside me and we stay there till it’s time to go to our Deeksha meditation group.

Where all the love in the room and the beauty of the music unhinges me and I fall into a wide aching cavern inside me - listening for my father - hearing only whispers of him, echoing down the years.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Can You Walk on Flat Ground?

15th February 2012 Wednesday

8.30 am We are sitting on hard chairs in the waiting room. My husband is wearing a hospital gown and his shoes. There are children’s books on the table. My husband is reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I’m reading Jack and the Beanstalk. He has been called back for a pelvic Xray. They discovered some cancer in the polyp they took out a month ago. The consultant says he’s lucky in wasn’t in the bowel wall. This is just to check it isn’t anywhere else.

When he comes back from the Xray he has a canula in his arm which I can’t bear to look at. I hate needles. He had a reaction to the contrast they injected beforehand and felt very sick. The doctor says it happens to about one in a hundred people. We can’t go home till they are sure it isn’t an allergic reaction. A nurse brings him a cup of tea and two digestive biscuits.

At home there's a letter in the post from the hospital saying he has been referred by the optician for further tests. He says, ‘what’s the optician?

3.30 pm Another waiting room. This time a medical assessment by the Department of Work and Pensions. They want to know how his condition affects his every day life and if it warrants his benefits. The doctor who interviews us asks endless questions from a standard form like,

Can you walk on flat ground?’

‘Do you ever go shopping by yourself?

‘Have you got hearing aids?’ To which I my husband replies ‘Not at the moment.’

I want to scream with boredom and frustration. Why doesn’t he ask,

‘How does it affect your everyday life if when you read you stumble over every noun in a sentence, if you don’t recognise the person who leaves you a message on your answer-phone, if you look at an aubergine but you don’t know if it’s an aubergine or an artichoke or an asparagus?'

What it does is to make you feel small and frightened and angry. And dependent. But the department of works and pensions hasn’t got a category for that.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Tap Root and TLC

14th February 2012 Tuesday

I forgot it was Valentine’s day till I noticed the date writing this blog last night - so not too late to make a card for my husband. I found a photo he took of me in a hammock on a holiday in Turkey - smiling, relaxed - and stuck it on front of a blank card. I remembered that a few moments after he took that photo I realised I was being bitten to bits by red ants living in the woven rope of the hammock. I thought how the camera only captures one side of the story but makes it look like all of it.

This morning I search for my father in the hundreds of photos - black and white, faded or kodak colour - in shoe boxes and albums and fat padded envelopes which hold the story of his life in pictures. But I can’t find him there - even though I smile back at him - in the ones where he’s laughing. I don’t know where he is now. When I remember him it’s not in one place or one time - it’s more a feeling of him which resides in the whole of me - like a cell memory, like a tap root in the earth. Dug up now - exposed to the light.

All afternoon and tonight I am showered with TLC - tea and hugs and phone calls and emails - dear friends reminding me I’m not alone - that the place to start a journey is where you happen to be - not from outside the post office two miles down the road - even if the view is better from there.

So when my husband says tuna when he means tenor I can just take the next breath and laugh instead of crying - a tiny step along the road of this is how it is now.

Monday, 13 February 2012

At The Jobcentre

13th February 2012

I have been called for an interview at the Jobcentre. If your partner is claiming unemployment benefit - which my husband is - they want to help you to go back to work.

I feel nervous about it - I don’t think in all my life I have ever been inside a Jobcentre. I arrive hot and sweaty and five minutes late. I couldn’t find it even though I’d checked the address on Google before I left. I discovered I’d walked right past it on the other side of the road. It’s light and bright inside with carpets on the floor - all open plan with individual desk stations and waiting areas with comfy seats.

The young woman on the other side of the desk who talks to me is sweet and sympathetic and says there is no pressure to sign on at all - especially in the light of our circumstances. Instead she gives me some forms and booklets to take away about Disability Living Allowance and about being a carer. She is so lovely I want to hug her. I thought I would have to start looking for work as a cleaner - or on the tills at Tescos. But I imagine I wouldn’t even qualify for that - my neighbour’s university graduate son can’t even get a job at Tescos.......

I haven’t looked at the Disability Living Allowance forms yet. All day my husband has been in mouldering depression. He says he doesn’t recognise his life anymore - with so many yawning gaps in it. Ones that money can’t fill.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Just One More Kiss

12th February 2012 Sunday

I love my pyjamas at the moment - Marks and Spencer’s soft, warm and lacy at the neck but not my colour - steel grey. And the long woolly socks I wear in bed. I don’t want to take them off in the morning, I can’t wait to put them back on as early as possible at night. They mean I don’t have to be responsible any more today, they mean I’m safe, I don’t need to relate to anyone, I can curl up into the darkness and go under cover - till I have to put on my dressed persona again and mask all this raw grief with denim and jumpers and mascara.

I did get dressed to make lunch. A leek and mushroom risotto - my husband is on a diet so it wasn’t quite as delicious without the creamy sting of parmesan stirred in at the end and that long glug of white wine splashed in at the sofrito stage. Made do with lots of chopped parsley instead and some grilled fillets of lightly smoked salmon for saltiness. We were going to go for a walk afterwards but my husband said he wanted to lie down after his stint at the allotment. It was nearly dark when he woke so we didn’t go.

Tonight my brother’s email about how it is for him without our father unstitches me. He feels so far away in Holland and alone with it all. There was so much separation in our family, so much wrenching apart - going back generations. I suppose dying is the ultimate separation - in this life anyway.

I understand about eternal life - it’s just that tonight there isn’t any room in me for understanding when I’m aching for just one more kiss on my cheek from my father - just one more Pa hug before he leaves.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


11th February 2012 Saturday

We crunch through ice crusted puddles and skid on red mud - following a path by the River Otter. It’s running fast today, a murky chalky colour flecked with a gobs of foam which collect in a network of branches overhanging the water - like spittle in mouth corners. Black cawing crows gather in the roof tops of giant naked trees lining the river bank. In spite of a pale sun the air is cold and I keep my gloves on.

Later we have fish and chips, a frittata and salad in the cafe. We don’t talk much. Everything, everywhere reminds me of my father - of times we spent here, things he said, the smell of his coat, his big warm hands, choking on his food, his crinkly smile. Being alive.

I never once felt this dragging tiredness in South Africa. My sister says we are all in delayed mourning. Mine has taken up residence in my chest - a three week old cough that won’t go away - still scratchy and raw - spitting out of me every now and again like the squawk of one of those black crows.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Baskets and Cups

10th February 2012

Home for three days now. If I close my eyes I can conjure that other place, that other country which inhabited me for more than two weeks. I can still feel the hot wind flinging white sand into my skin, the rolling sea breaker churning me into its surf like an egg in boiling water, the red black dust clinging to my toes after walking in a graveyard graced with arching blue gum trees. Africa - my other home.

I felt tumbled in the basket of my siblings while we journeyed back into the Africa of our childhoods - and talking about him, discovered we all knew a different father - holding the handle of our basket - and weaving another - his own. For days we tried to capture him in words - to write a tribute to him - something to read at his Thanksgiving service - but how do you squash all that exuberant life into ten minutes?

Something else on my mind......My husband in our freezing kitchen half an hour after we arrive home from Heathrow.

Let’s have some tea, I say.

He puts the kettle on. The cat weaves between us, unsettled, mewing. I start opening the pile of post. I notice my husband standing in the middle of the kitchen, looking puzzled.

What are you looking for? I say.

The cups, he says. Where do we keep the cups?

I point at the cupboard. He opens the one next to it. And then the right one - and takes the cups out.

I carry on opening the post but my skin is tingling. This is new. A seismic shift just happened - in a tiny question. He’s only supposed to ask me Who? or What? What is about meaning - which I know he’s losing. Where is about location. Like where the cups live. What if the time comes when he doesn’t know where he is?

Who will I be then?