Friday, 29 June 2012

Dragonfly Wings

29th June 2012 Friday
I’m sitting with my sisters  in a huge, half empty, souless hall in the Pavilions conference centre in Plymouth. There is a giant screen in front of us - the words of a hymn scrolling down it.  There’s a semi circle of unlit candles on a table on a raised platform. A man in a dog collar is conducting us with a mircophone.This is a thanksgiving service for the famiies of  methodist ministers who have died in the last year. Our father is on the end of a list of sixty two people in the printed brochure. His half page obituary is in another brochure.
Apart from the dog collars you’d think you were attending a Labour Party Conference.
The lunch at the big round tables beforehand is terrible. The people are kind and friendly. Our father was a big fish in this Methodist world - a big controversial fish. I feel remote -  like a fish out of water here. Just happy to sit between my sisters - a row of dragonflies in our bright summer jackets - hovering, batting our wings - here but not here - honouring our father in this place where he isn’t.
Echoing him where he lives  - in our hearts.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Jam and Tennis

27th June 2012 Wednesday
Today I didn’t leave the house. I got tired of the drama in my head.  I took deep breaths. I prayed. I cried. I made lots of phone calls to the CAB, to the secretary of our neurologist, to Age UK, to my sisters. I roasted beetroots and red onions for lunch.
Then I made jam. From last year’s fruit in the freezer. Six jars of strawberry and redcurrant -  dark ruby red. Ten jars of Victoria plum  - a strange murky brown - could be mistaken for chutney but sweetly fragrant -  catapulting me back to last summer -  the tree at the allotment its branches dripping with heavy rose blushed plums. 
Because I was stirring  jam I couldn’t watch the tennis. But I had the TV on in the sitting room so I could hear the cracking sound of balls on racquets and the crowds cheering.....taking me back and back to all those Wimbledons I’ve absorbed since I was twelve years old. 

A comforting summer ritual that never changes - when everything else is wobbly, shifting, uncertain...... 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Mopping up Tribunal Ink

26th June 2012 - Tuesday
The letter arrives with the date for my husband’s tribunal. Much sooner than I expected. Our appointement for advice from the specialist at the CAB will be too late. Specific and named fear seeps into my world like knocking a bottle of black ink across white blotting paper.
The table is covered with sheaves of papers going back to July 2010. My husband and I argue about what to do. We disagree about the advice we have already been given and what it means. I want to pull out of it. He wants to go ahead - asks me to get more ‘evidence’ from the GP and his neurologist. I know I’m sitting on a volcano of anger.
Neil Gaiman in his  commencement speech to graduates at the University of the Arts  in New York said when times are tough you should  ‘make good art’. In my world that translates as ‘make good food’. So this is tonight’s recipe to mop up ink and flying red sparks....
Chop broccoli, courgette, carrot, red onion, curly kale and mushroom.
Saute with fresh ginger and garlic and a handful of curry leaves in a dollop of coconut oil. 
Add a little vegetable bouillion dissolved in water.
When still bright and tender stir in soy sauce, a chunk of creamed coconut block, toasted sesame oil and a squeeze of lime juice.
Serve with garlicky tahini sauce and a thick sprinkle of pumpkin seeds or cashew nuts.

And a  deep side dish of forgiveness.
You can see Neil Gaiman’s inspirational speech at

Monday, 25 June 2012

Fair Trade

25th June 2012 
I return a pair of lilac linen trousers to Laura Ashely. I’ve lost the receipt, they have gone down in price since last week so I lose £9 and can only have a credit for 28 days. I thought the trousers would be suitable for my nephew’s wedding in August but they aren’t. I start looking for something else in M & S. Nothing. So I buy a turquoise swimming costume instead to replace my old one which has gone all stiff in the straps and saggy at the waist. I hardly ever go swimming now so it’s just in case.....
I meet up with my lovely support woman from Devon Carers for a coffee. She gives me the name of a lawyer to talk to about my husband’s tribunal. She says it’s vital to get the appeal right. I feel panicky. I keep trying to forget about it but it’s hanging over me like a bad smell all the time. At least my fear that I’ve somehow done something wrong is what’s hanging over me....but that’s not new.
I notice I haven’t been practising my Mindfulness Meditation and decide it’s alright - judging myself is probably worse than not doing it.. Maybe I could take my fear and criticism back to the very expensive shop where I bought them and not bother with a refund..... trade them in for love and laughter instead.....

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Small Flying Rocks

24th June 2012  Sunday
My husband says it’s not very hot for central summer - he means mid summer but I think that’s what we’ll call in now. He’s invented another word for semantic dementia which I ilke much better - Semantia. It sounds more like a country of high mountains and cold lakes rather than a disease.
This afternoon we walk along the far beach at Sidmouth with the tide washing in over my toes. The red ochre cliffs tower above us like cracked castle ramparts. I think they look precarious in parts with streams of water wearing away grooves in the rock face. Suddenly we hear a deep throated rumbling and watch as a hail of red stones and dust career down onto the sand from the very top of the cliffs in front of us. People start running but by pure chance there is no - one directly in the path of the bouncing rocks and in seconds it’s as if nothing happened at all.
Later we sit on the pebbles at the other end of the beach licking double scoop ice cream chocolate dippped waffle cones - blackcurrant and clotted cream for me and walnut fudge for him. The air smells of seaweed and fried fish and chips, the sun feels hot on the side of my face, seagulls swoop and shriek across the waves. 
I’m glad we missed the little land slip today. I realise a part of me is always on hold now, listening for the rumble, waiting for the avalanche to crush me - while I get used to the stings of small flying rocks.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Wooden Soul Spoon

22nd June 2012 Friday
The hob blows a fuse in the middle of my cooking demo. Luckily the cooker still works  so I bake the sweet potato bubble and squeak without the squeak, turn the sesame stir fry into a courgette salad with a very improvised ginger and coconut dressing and we can only look longingly into the pan of raw chopped up broccoli, curly kale and peas waiting for their fried garlic sauce which will never happen.....
My friends are wonderful  - they see the funny side and make helpful suggestions and even find me an electrician who comes and fixes the cooker. Which is fortunate because I find it almost impossible to imagine even a day without the comfort of a wooden spoon in my hand -  stirring a pan of something hot and savoury on top of the hob. Swirling my heart and soul together.....keeping trouble at bay.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

My Solstice

21st June 2012 
Mid-summer Solstice......
Rained all day.....
Clean, fresh and tasty Gado Gado ( Indonesian salad with eggs and spicy peanut sauce) in fab Veggie restaurant in Illminster called F;East with two gorgeous women...
Cleaned out  all the crumbs at the bottom of the saucepan drawer......
Collected the pussy cat from the vet......bad news - more lymphomas - he’ll have to have intravenous chemo injections with possible side effects.....he’s  very quiet tonight.....
Feel flat and tired and disconnected in spite of lovely deeksha evening..... 
Just want to escape into my cookery books and drool over photos of  Hugh’s 'River Cottage Veg.'......
Haven’t really prepared my “Playing With Veg” cooking morning tomorrow with two dear friends......hoping the veggies will talk to me in the night....

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Elderflower Nectar and Being on the Sofa

20th June 2012 Wednesday

There are two big bags of lacy pink elderflower heads in the fridge -picked at the allotment on Sunday - waiting for the citric acid so I can make cordial - rose pink nectar, perfume of the gods.
It used to be that clients came to the house to consult my husband on all things financial, green and ethical. He wore smart clothes, made them cups of tea and sat in the biggest chair in the sitting room while they sat on the sofa with all the papers on the table in front of them. He gave them advice and wrote the reports and received the money. And they loved him.
Today it was our turn. A lovely man came from the same company that my husband used to work for. He wore a brown suit, sat in the biggest chair and we sat on the sofa with cups of tea. And he talked to us about our financial situation and if we should start planning for long term care for my husband.....I only cried once and only a little bit. It’s such a relief to have someone else on our case -  mostly for my benefit as my husband understands it all anyway. He just can’t read the papers and the reports and isn’t sure what CGT is.  But he says it’ll all be alright whatever happens. 
After two and a half hours my head is thumping and we escape to Honiton for lunch at The Boston Tea Party. We sit in their sunny garden and dip fat sweet potato chips into a little cup of mayonnaise. Honiton is full of my father. We call in to visit two of his friends - take back some classical music CDs they lent him. They show us the long sloping path up to their front door with a hand rail fixed to the wall. My father was so grateful for the support he said them, “When I’m gone you can call it Merfyn’s Way.” Which they do - and so that’s how they remember him every day.
We drive back to Exeter to start the search for citric acid which has so far been futile. It seems everyone is worshipping at the altar of the elderflower gods this month.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Money Mysteries

19th June 2012 Tuesday
It’s still light and bright outside when I go to bed with a cup of vegetable bouillion and my laptop.  Feeling headachy and blocked up with the cold I brought back with me from Wales.
Probably something to do with spending the day trying to understand our finances. My husband explains it all perfectly but it’s wonderful to have my sister there asking all the  right questions - so when the time comes - the time when he may not know the difference between an annuity and an ISA  - then it won’t just be me who has to remember. And there is still the mystery of a regular payment of £32  - but he does’t know what it’s for..... 
After my sister leaves I sit for a little while in the garden and feel the sun on the tops of my feet - burning my skin, burning out my terror of being poor, of being left alone. It’s nearly the longest day of the year......

Monday, 18 June 2012

A Whine

18th June 2012 Monday
The thing is...... if you didn’t create your own family and so you can’t be a grandma and your parents are dead, and your husband is fucking off into dementia, your pussy cat is on chemo, and you didn’t create meaningful work, what is a girl supposed to do now? Or rather a nearly sixty year old woman.
No replies please. I know the answer. Sorry, Michael of the Slum Drummers in Kibera.....I  can't find it in me to be grateful tonight.....

Mind you, if you haven't tried roasting small beetroots with wedges of sweet green garlic, in a swamp of olive oil all tucked up with leathery bay leaves and fresh thyme  - then you should......

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Dropped Stitches

7th June 2012 Thursday
Our lovely South African vet says it’s a miracle. He can’t feel the lump in the pussy cat’s abdomen that was there before. He says it’s very unusual for it to disappear so quickly. But  he has to keep taking the tablets or it’ll come back. I think our pussy cat has his own plans. Tonight he’s at the cattery sleeping on a heated pad. At least I hope he’s sleeping in this howling gale, tearing branches off the trees.
On the way back from dropping off the pussy cat in Honiton I drive past the entrance to the grave yard where my parents are buried. I haven’t been there since 18th January. At the grave next to theirs are six floral displays  -  recent fresh flowers  - and an eight foot long word - GRANDAD - made of hundreds of white carnation heads. I stand with an umbrella over my parents simple oak cross which is stark black in the rain. I throw away the six dead roses in the pincushion vase and pull up a buttercup sprawling across the concrete plinth. I hate thinking about them in the ground under my feet even though I know that’s not where they are. 
Tomorrow we are leaving for Wales for a family holiday - gathering in the same beautiful house by the sea that we did at this time last year. A different combination of us this time - some of us were missing then and some of us are missing now. After that holiday my niece who is a poet, wrote wonderful words for us - she gave it a title - For my extraordinary family on the auspicious occasion of uncertainty. 
The first lines are -  

A prayer for this family
As we gather on a Welsh hillside
That we will stay woven together like a bright rug,
Knotted tight in places, loosened with wear and care in others.
I always cry when I read it. And tonight I feel the knots in our family are loosening, feeling their empty spaces like dropped stitches falling through my open arms. Loving them all so much, uncertain how to welcome new life.....

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Cake and Clay

6th June 2012 Wednesday
Lovely shared pre-birthday lunch for my sister at a friend's house - we are three round a table laid out with a bounty of salads and stuffed peppers, grilled asparagus, walnut bread, apricot and cherries  and vases of wild flowers.
Just being in their company, being heard and accepted and laughing a lot ,soothes my anxious heart and I leave feeling calmer and lighter. When I’ve baked another cake - with all the ingredients - roasted ground almonds this time - I feel more in control of preparations for going on our family holiday on Friday. I’m cooking for eleven people on Saturday and I don’t want to forget anything.
My husband comes home with a big smile on his face. The gallery at Otterton Mill have accepted five of his ceramic models. I feel a bit smug as I suggested four of them which are some of his  more realistic creatures but still with his own wonderful quirkyness about them. He says they put on a hundred percent mark-up at the gallery so the price has to double. He thinks no one will buy them at that price. But I think they will. It feels like a new opening for him - a confidence boost.
You don’t need words in your fingers. His clay creatures speak for themselves. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

I Have Music In Me

5th June 2012 Tuesday
This is how it is here on the second bank holiday of the Queen’s diamond Jubilee.....
I wake with an acid stomach -  the thought of my day which is ordinary and easy fills me with dread.  The pussy cat squeaks for breakfast so I can’t stay under the duvet.
I read my lesson for the day in A Course in Miracles. I love the language but despair of ever going a few seconds beyond my guilt.   My husband chops up rhubarb while I get dressed.
I’m horrible to him while we walk up and down the aisles at Sainsbury’s. He pushes the trolley too slowly. I feel sick at the check out at the size of the receipt. Back home we unpack the bags. He says he doesn’t know where the crisps live. In the cupboard he opens twenty times a day.
He walks in the rain while I start cooking for when we go to Wales. By mistake I leave out most of the ground almonds in the chocolate cake I make. I’ll have to make another one.
The pussy cat digs up the pansies I planted yesterday. I cut some holly branches and lay them over the border but don’t think it’ll deter him.
Later I watch on iplayer the film Gary Barlow made of the song he recorded for the Queen’s Jubilee. It’s moving and beautiful. I can’t get them out of my head -  the African faces of the children outside Nairobi - their clear sweet voices and the young blind man, Michael, who plays in the Slum Drummers of Kibera one of the biggest and worst slum townships in Africa. He says, 
I have music in me. And no matter what you are going through, you have to stay strong , you don’t have to break down and give up, you have to keep focussing on what you want to do. 
I wasn’t going to blog tonight. I wanted to give up. Thank you, Michael, for the music in you which blasts out the smallness and the pettiness in me.....reminds me there is a song in me too....if you can I can...

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Filling The Hungry Gap

3rd June 2012 Sunday
This morning we follow a marked trail through a pine forest, rain drops dripping through scented branches. No plastic flags - red white and blue -  in sight. I’m distracted  - my mind keeps veering off to the ant’s nest I discovered yesterday in a big container on the patio. The pot is disintegrating and we need to move the ants. I don’t want to kill them. Their intricate pattern of tunnels, some lined with strings of white eggs - a thousand seed pearls in the black soil -  is a work of art.
In the end we do destroy their home, scoop them out with a spade and fill three bags of anty compost which my husband wheels down to the allotment. I plant up some big pots with pink daisies, trailing begonias, lobelia and pansies but the cold wind brings in the rain so I abandon the task which I find unreasonably stressful. I wish my mother was with me to help me decide what combinations to plant. I always seem to buy too many of some things and not enough of others. Meanwhile the slugs are having a field day on the zinnias and the pussy cat is peeing on the little geraniums.
I only have half an hour to make supper before a dear friend arrives. Luckily I know the flavour of the veggies will speak for themselves and will only need a scrunch of salt and a glug of olive oil just before serving.  A supper to celebrate the end of the ‘Hungry Gap’ - Cornish new potatoes  - earthy white pebbles. A bunch of carrots - slim as ladies’ fingers. A fistful of broad beans - tender emeralds. Young spinach - flat, wilted spear heads. And a whole bulb of sliced green garlic spicing up a fresh tomato sauce I found in the freezer. All perfect companions for chunky cod fillets, baked in paper with lemon and marjoram.
Followed by a square plate of ice cold cherries - my first this year.
Later we wave our friend goodbye and when I say to my husband that I need chocolate he offers to go and buy me some. To try and fill my own hungry gap - which feels more like an endless ants tunnel. But sometimes you need chocolate to temper the salt of sorrow.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Black and Gold

1st June 2012 Friday
A dear friend describes her vision for me - a black wall -  two clear lines of gold light defining a door way - the light behind the door which I could push open - any time soon.
Black and gold like the ears of the Egyptian god Anubis. My husband has recently made a beautiful clay model of him for a dear friend’s birthday. He’s sleek, serene and majestic.  In Egyptian mythology he accompanies souls on their journeys through the underworld.
Today I practised a little bit - in the darkness of my underworld - letting in a shaft of light when I changed my mind about something. I wasn’t sure I wanted my husband to see a series of films about bereavement - films made by people who had lost or were losing loved ones they had cared for for many years.  I was afraid he would be upset.
Then I saw how much I try and protect him, and how that can become control.  So we watched the films together, along  with the people who made the films, and their friends and supporters, people who share something of their experience. People like us. They were moving and sad and uplifting and courageous. 

Nothing to be afraid of when you listen with the black and gold ears of love.