Monday, 30 April 2012
Saturday, 28 April 2012
Friday, 27 April 2012
Thursday, 26 April 2012
Wednesday, 25 April 2012
Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Monday, 23 April 2012
Thursday, 19 April 2012
19th April 2012 Thursday
The last remaining contents of my father’s room are piled up in the outdoor studio at my sister’s farm. My turn to go through them before they go to charity. I feel unsettled seeing it all again - his clothes in suitcases, his nail scissors, his glasses. I take a few books of poetry, his dictionary, the Oxford Book of Quotations - well thumbed. I don’t want anything else.
Except a tiny teddy bear, three inches tall, seated, with brown glass eyes and a narrow red ribbon round its neck. It was a gift to him from my mother on his 21st birthday. I’ve known him all my life - this bear. Even as a child I knew he was precious to my parents - being so long lived and long loved - somehow deserving of respect.
Now he is sitting on my desk next to a black and white photo of my mother. I’m just being his guardian, keeping an eye on him till it’s time for him to go to another generation - a great-grandchild maybe. I notice he has one little arm slightly raised in the air as if in permanent salute. Or waving goodbye.
Wednesday, 18 April 2012
18th April 2012 Wednesday
The nice woman in Neal’s Yard makes up a special cream with six different essential oils dropped into it for my husband’s sore skin. He’s had a reaction to the steroid cream the dermatologist prescribed for the eczema on the side of his head. Now the top of his ear is inflamed. I buy him a soothing balm meant for babies’ skin, a big pot of rose scented body lotion for me and some other bottles. I spend so much that she gives me a free calico bag with double handles to carry it all in.
Wind and rain swirl round the garden - can’t seem to get warm - our salad lunch doesn’t satisfy me. I stir a spoonful of coconut oil into a cup of hot vegetable bouillion for a quick soup. Later I find myself prowling in the kitchen, opening cupboards, the fridge, looking for something to fill me up, warm me, even though I’m not really hungry. I make up a liquid version of Halva - mix a dollop of tahini with a scoop of creamy honey - it does the trick for a little while. Then I feel empty again.
Tonight in the dark of the cinema we dip into a box of salty popcorn. The film is in Norwegian with subtitles which we didn’t realise or we wouldn’t have come. My husband can’t read them fast enough so misses most of the plot. I miss it too because I’m looking away or down at the popcorn to avoid the blood and gore on the screen. ‘Don’t bother to explain it to me,’ says my husband in the car on the way home. Not sure I could anyway.
Pasta for supper - farfalle with red pepper sauce, wild garlic, smoked salmon and spinach.
Usually ultimate comfort food but now my jeans feel too tight, and I have a gnawing space inside me which I know isn’t pasta shaped.
At least my skin will be perfumed with roses tonight.
Tuesday, 17 April 2012
17th April 2012 Tuesday
Too tired to write anything elegant tonight. My ordinary, not-doing-very-much day doesn’t justify this kind of weariness. I wonder if there is something going on in the heavens - a sort of energy turmoil in the ether buffeting our psyches...... Or I could just still be knackered after too much socialising for too many consecutive days.
I strip the beds after our weekend visitors. Load the washing machine with towels, stuff the duvets back into their storage bags, put back the ironing board and my rebounder into the room where they usually live, carry my mile high in-trays downstairs again - settling the house back into its habitual disorder.
I start going through all the receipts for my father’s thanksgivings, adding up the cost of lemons and napkins, loaves of bread and sparkling water, remembering the feeling of those days after he died, wanting him back.
Over lunch of grilled salmon, sweet potato, coconut, and white sprouting broccoli squeak, we open our diaries and block out some walking together days, some gallery visiting days, some DIY shopping days - pencilling in intimacy. We decide allotment days are weather dependent as the rain slashes at the patio doors.
Afternoon tea with a dear friend in her cosy sitting room, full of clear light and her kindness. She misses my husband who was her financial advisor, misses his big hugs and his efficiency, his acumen. She explains to him what a Living Will is and what autistic means. He gives her a long laughing hug when we leave.
Later on we aren’t very hungry so he poaches the eggs and I make a pan of chopped ruby chard mixed up with a tin of sweetcorn, lots of garlic and parsley, drizzled with a tahini sauce - an instant supper in ten minutes.
While I'm talking on the phone to my big sister, who has just celebrated the triumph of her ruby wedding anniversary, the pussy cat throws up his supper on the glass topped table in the sitting room. At least this time it wasn’t on the carpet or the bed or a white rug so I don’t have to put the washing machine on again. Something to be grateful for.
Monday, 16 April 2012
16th April 2012 Monday
I’ve been thinking about how do you accept things - I mean really, without a little nagging doubt in the corner of your mind that it could be different - if only.....
On Saturday we walked with my husband’s little family along the beach at Salcombe Regis, skimming flat pebbles across the waves, picking up paper light crab shells, on our way to scavenge chunks of salmon pink calcite from the rockfall - a slice of cliff strata that we found last week - strewn across the beach like layers of Neopolitan ice cream.
We just have time to hack off a few pieces of the stuff before the rain descends, turns into stinging hail and drenches us to the skin in minutes. It’s a long, steep and muddy climb back up to the car, the thunder cracking overhead.
I hate this, says our ten year old nephew, I’m completely soaked.
Well, there’s nothing you can do about it, says his father, so stop whingeing.
It’s horrid being this wet, isn’t it? I say to our boy. I hate it too, and I’m freezing cold. We all look like drowned rats.
I’m as wet as a rat’s nose, he says. We try and find as many words as possible for being drenched and his sister, who is seven, says,
I can’t feel your hand because mine is red raw wet.
It’s true when you are wet you are wet and can’t be anything else. Wanting to be dry when you are wet is hell. But holding someone’s hand in the storm helps a lot.
Today a dear friend walked with me into the raging torrent of my own making - the one where I thought if I waited long enough my husband would become a man like my father. Which is a bit like wanting it to rain from the sun. But she helped me climb out of the water in the end, so happy that my husband isn’t anything like my father and whatever happens with his brain it won’t change my love for him. However soaked I get along the way.
Thursday, 12 April 2012
12th April 2012 Thursday
Might just possibly have discovered the best cream tea ever.
This afternoon we drive north towards Somerset and Exmoor following a silver streak of river, a white mountain range of clouds above us, bowed heads of daffodils in the hedgerows, blackthorn in full speckled blossom and lambs sprayed in every field like cotton wool balls.
We meet up with my sister and her husband and pay a visit to a new art gallery - Number 41 - owned by some friends in Watchet, - a medieval building lovingly restored, brick by brick, its gleaming white interior and slate floor a perfect foil for the brightness of the pictures and ceramics.
And then on to Binham Grange at Old Cleeve and THE cream tea. We sit in a beautiful walled garden, blankets over our knees - mine anyway. The tea is hot and fragrant, the cups deep and elegant, the scones tender and oven warm, the strawberries in the jam are whole glistening rubies and the scoops of clotted cream drip like liquid silk from our knives. I find it best not to talk and eat at the same time careful not to miss the joy of every mouthful. And glad we only had a small salad for lunch.
And could it be that the this new pulse of happiness, of hope, threading through my day is because I remembered that my husband isn’t his disability? And that I never stopped loving him. I just got horribly diverted into the woods of fear. And forgot that a rainbow can appear at any time in the sky of my heart.
Wednesday, 11 April 2012
11th April 2012 Wednesday
Some little irritations and some big things today -
My husband has changed our internet provider - now sending my emails is horribly slow and he can’t send them at all.....
The hard skin around my finger nails has cracked and split - tiny slits which sting
all the time like lemon juice in cuts.....
The grease mark on my new dress which I thought I’d washed out this morning is still there like a bad penny......
The waitress who serves us coffee is so apologetic and self effacing when she hasn’t done anything wrong that I want to shake her....
The pussy cat is sick on the bed, on the stairs, on the sitting room carpet and on the kitchen floor - which I step on in my socks.....
The good thing, the best thing....the hour and a half session we had this morning with our lovely clinical psychologist who can take the temperature or our relationship, recognise our symptoms at this point in our journey and offer us the kind of medicine that is easy to swallow. And practical things to do.... and things to unlearn - like bringing fear of the future into the present. We leave his office lighter with hopefulness.
But I thought it might be a good day because early this morning....
I hear rain on the window,
lift the curtain to one side.
I see a rainbow,
half arched brilliance
for ten seconds.
Count it holding my breath,
then it’s gone
along with the sun.
Back into grey smudge.
But still I drank it in
for those tiny moments -
of bright hope.
Shoring up my day
Tuesday, 10 April 2012
10th April 2012 Tuesday
You are right. It does make a difference - it looks so much better, says my husband.
He’s tying struts across the line of canes he’s put in for the beans. I’m doubled over in the leek bed. The pile of weeds on the path is growing into a mountain. They come up so easily after all this rain and now the sun is hot on my neck. It’s very satisfying making space around the roots - each leek standing tall in it’s black earth duvet. Then it’s the turn of the rhubarb and the artichokes and the raspberries.
Later we hack away at the waving buddleia branches which have shot into the sky like rockets. We forget the time, stay too long and miss the appointment with the loft ladder man who came to fix the trap door latch. But I don’t mind.
It felt good to keep following the weeds creeping into the rows of beds - leading me on and on deeper into my mission to bring light and air to those plants which will be feeding us all summer long. Especially with my husband pulling away on the other side of the blackcurrant bushes - making his own mountain of weeds.
Monday, 9 April 2012
9th April 2012 Easter Monday
Just one thing......
At the allotment today my husband shows me all the little seedlings he’s planted and the strong pink rhubarb stems. All I see are the weeds - sprouting between the leeks, surging over the radishes, clambering through the carpets on the pathways, strangling the raspberry canes. I see neglect. I’m shocked.
What has he been doing all this time? Why is he being miserable at home when he could be out here weeding? I thought he loved the allotment.
I open my mouth and say it. And make both of us miserable. My pictures, my expectations, my way - the right way. I wonder what it must be like to always have someone making you wrong. Hell I imagine. I know - I do it all the time to myself.
So I always have the choice to see weeds or rhubarb. To look with eyes of fear or eyes of love. And I could practise counting to ten before I open my mouth.
May not have any internet connection tomorrow.....
Saturday, 7 April 2012
7th April 2012 Easter Saturday
Been sitting here a long time now - deleting every sentence I write. It’s nearly midnight - the house is mouse quiet. I’m getting cold. Feel poisoned by a glass of wine I drank earlier and didn’t want. Mistake to think I’m keeping my husband company in this dangerous habit.
These are some of the questions my husband asks today.
What does negate mean? (as in once you label me you negate me)
Who’s Ted Heath? Jeremy Paxman? Freddie Mercury?
The Jungle Book - what’s that?
Anything I can do to help?
Is moo a word?
The answers float down into the air of the same black hole where the questions came from - dissolving like dust. Sometimes I let them wash through me - just hiccups bubbling in the river of my day - remembering to be patient. Today I feel like a hard block of parmesan being slowly shaved with a knife, left salty raw with a helpless rage I can only swallow down. Much more damaging - to both of us - than a glass of wine.
Friday, 6 April 2012
6th April 2012 Good Friday
Even though I can see the sun, bright behind the curtains, I stay in bed till late, enthralled by my book - Pure by Andrew Miller. It’s set in pre revolutionary France - 1780s - the story of an engineer charged with digging up the cemetery of a church in the centre of Paris. The smell was polluting the city.
It sounds morbid but I’m so transported that I find it hard to bring myself back to our Good Friday task of digging out the compost bin which we haven’t done for 2 years. It’s rich black soil now full of brindling worms, broken egg shells and avocado pips. It smells a bit though - mostly of rotting vegetables. At least we don’t have to deal with putrid old bones.....
I think my husband finds my sensitivity to smell tiresome sometimes. I can detect the acrid varnish he sprays on his ceramics even at the bottom of the garden. So bringing the pieces into the house is a problem for me. But this is where they live.
Compromise - it’s such a finely judged art. One I’m not very good at. At least my husband would agree with me on that.
Thursday, 5 April 2012
5th April 2012 Thursday
The roads around the cafe where I’m meeting two dear friends for lunch are clotted with Easter holiday traffic. The car parks are full. I queue for a space and have to run to be on time. The wind is icy, sharp with rain spots. But my plate of Buffalo Mozzarella - a torn white heart in a choppy pool of Aubergine Caponata with a slab of sour dough bread is a treat. We share chocolate brownie and carrot cake afterwards, cut into threes.
My heart goes out to my friend whose father is in hospital - she’s crossing that uncertain terrain of making decisions about his care - what happens when he comes out? I remember the weight of those feelings. And now I’m on the other side of that place, across the river, in the foothills of another landscape. Without signposts.
So I take my cold to bed with a book and look up recipes for Caponata - a sweet and sour vegetable stew of tomatoes and aubergines, celery and parsley from the hot hills of Sicily. Then I’ll do what I always do to find my way back out of the shadows - cook something.
Wednesday, 4 April 2012
4th April 2012 Wednesday
Suddenly it’s cold again after days of sunshine. I’m awash with hot drinks - lemon tea and Barley Cup and vegetable bouillion - trying and get warm from the inside.
It rains on our way down to Plymouth. Not enough to help the farmers but enough to keep my tulips alive. We have a lovely house warming supper with my dear nephew and his fiancee in their new home.They show us the patio garden, the bright modern rooms, full of love and their future, their two sleek cats prancing ahead of us up the stairs. Later I have a peek at the bridesmaids’ dresses and her wedding shoes and his suit.
And then I remember how it was for us - at the beginning - in the months before we got married......and what it felt like to be excited about the future - planning for happiness.
Tuesday, 3 April 2012
3rd April 2012 Tuesday
‘I could weep,’ says the man on the phone. He is an old friend of my father’s. He’s having a battle with someone about the translation of The New Testament into the African language of Ch’ila in which he is an expert. He wants the name of a contact that I haven’t got.
I try and imagine his world and this Bible translation war he’s having which is causing him so much grief. How his attachment to a particular outcome is the source of his pain....how my attachment to being right is the source of mine. One of my attachments anyway.
Tonight I am hot and cold and head-achey. My throat is sore and my nose won’t stop running. Feeling hopeless about blogging. Worried about the pussy cat who is still being sick. I hoped the homeopathic remedies I’ve been giving him would help. I can’t bear to see him suffering. And I’m fed up with cleaning vomit off the carpets.
Today I’ve been sorting out my wardrobes and drawers with my wonderful de-clutterer sister. Three black bin bags are crouching in the bedroom, heavy with all the clothes mistakes I’ve made over the years.....letting them go to the charity shop now.
My husband asks me if I want dry water. He means still water. If I think about his deep well of lost words I could weep. No battle to win here.
Monday, 2 April 2012
2nd April 2012 Monday
We celebrate my husband’s delayed birthday in the company of dear friends and family at The Old Mill in Lyme Regis - stuffing ourselves with soft boiled eggs and lashings of toast - slices cut from giant crusty loaves still warm from the oven - and homemade strawberry and raspberry jam and peanut butter from white glazed bowls in the middle of the long wooden table - every mouthful a breakfast taste explosion.
I’m not hungry all day after that so we have a late supper. I’m craving veggies. My husband brings home long leeks and the first rose pink stems of rhubarb from the allotment. I cook up a golden rooty mash of parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes and Crown Prince squash, and stir in the soft fried leeks and the chopped wild garlic leaves that we collected yesterday, walking in sun dappled beech woods. We eat it with the purple tinged leaves of Russian kale, the bright pink stems of ruby chard and a slim slab of Alaskan salmon.
While it’s cooking I pull out the hose and water the parched pots of nearly-out tulips on the patio. The daffodils are already dying off, pale paper heads drooping, turning to the ground. There is one pointy bud on the magnolia tree beginning to unfurl the perfume of its deep magenta petals.
Spring offering itself up to the air of the garden while I have been busy with a kind of dying, shedding skins of loss.
Sunday, 1 April 2012
Sunday 1st April 2012
I wake with stiff aching legs. Must be all that charging up escalators in the Underground, yesterday carrying big bags of biscuits and paper cups and 200 napkins. And racing the wrong way up City Road looking for Wesley’s Chapel. In my heeled boots. Panicking about running out of time. Arriving with less than half an hour to spare, my dress sticking to my back, my face beetroot shiny.
Hurtling down the stairs to the kitchen, ripping open packet after packet of Extremely Chocolatey Biscuits and chucking them on horrible plastic platters. Then discovering that half my wonderful family have already cut up the cakes, laid them out in beautiful lines and organised the tables and the teas. Then the rest of the family arrive and do cheese straw platter arranging and cover everything in plastic bin liners.
Minutes later we are sitting in the full church - then the service begins...... Although I don’t recognise my father in this ornate Victorian building full of stained glass and ritual, I do find him in the words and the poetry of the people who stand up and speak about him with love and gratitude. And in the hearts of all his friends who are sitting in the pews. Which are extremely hard.
Much, much later when it’s all over, we leave the Tongans setting up their food in the hall and stand in a family huddle at Paddington station waiting for our respective trains, dipping into the foil wrapped parcels of left over biscuits in the bags at our feet......taking comfort in extreme chocolate.
Which doesn’t really fill the empty Pa - shaped space in my heart.