Monday, 30 June 2014

Lime Skin and All

At Dunster Castle (NT) in North Somerset.

 Late Saturday morning we leave Exeter in torrential rain and head to the north coast. The road hugs the winding River Exe most of the way, huge beech and sycamore trees spread their branches overhead so it feels like travelling through long green tunnels - with the headlights on.

I expected we'd have to eat our picnic in the car but as we follow another river through the lovely gardens at Dunster Castle the sky clears, we find a bench with a view and the sun shines on our plastic boxes of tuna salad and last night's left over roast sweet potatoes.

I prefer to take food with us when we go out for the day now. Or eat at home. Eating in restaurants or cafes isn't as much fun as it used to be..... too stressful for my husband.....waiting for the food to arrive.....not always sure what he's ordered...the portions too big or too small ....or not very nice......too noisy to talk....nothing to talk about......hard to concentrate....easier to go to the loo....

And usually I could make a much more delicious meal at home.....

This afternoon, before our  EFT appointment in Sidmouth we have lunch in a corner cafe. I skim the menu and point out something I think my husband would like - Chill Squid - and tell him he's had something similar at Wagamammas.

He reads the description and asks

What's a Lyme Regis?

I think quickly - maybe the squid is local - caught in Lyme Regis...

Well, Lyme Regis is a place...

No it says here, Chill Sauce with Lyme Regis.

I read what he's reading and it says Chilli Sauce with Lime Wedges.

 I explain about a lime being like a lemon and you squeeze it onto the squid......

The plates of food arrive - my husband says he's never had squid before. I say it just looks different because the legs are cut in fat circles....but it's too complicated to go into the anatomy of a squid. After a while I notice he's been chewing for a long time.

Is it tough - the squid?

No he says. It's the lime.

He's eating a whole wedge - skin and all.

You don't have to eat the whole thing, I say. 

But I like it, he says.

There are probably much worse things he could do in a today I'm just grateful for the harmlessness of a lime - skin and all.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Scaffolding of Love

Staying out of the way of  our cleaner at home, this afternoon my husband and I donned hard hats ( red plastic) and waterproof  gillets ( luminous yellow) and climbed up the 8 stages of a scaffolding tower ( wobbly handrails - I dare not look up or down  - only at my feet) in order to enter the  giant scaffolding tent covering the renovations at Castle Drogo - ( early 20th century home of Julius Drewe - founder of Home and Colonial Stores - designed by Edwin Lutyens) on the edges of Dartmoor....

Later we descended into the Castle's secret garden also designed by Lutyens... 

and wandered past the herbaceous borders,

in a sparkly downpour of rain.

The  Basil and Pecan Nut Pesto ( lots of garlic and lemon and wholegrain mustard instead of parmesan cheese)  I whizzed up for supper tonight - picking huge leaves from the four pots of basil on the windowsill in the kitchen - one of them a gift, the others my husband rescued from the snails chomping at them in the greenhouse at the allotment.


We had dollops of it with grilled asparagus spears, steamed purple pakchoi, roasted sweet potatoes,  corn on the cob and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, watching Andy Murray on the TV slice his way through his opponent in his 3rd tennis match at Wimbledon.


Cobweb on hanging basket begonia in the garden this evening....

Tonight I feel shored up inside my own scaffolding tent by all the dear people who are climbing out to the far edges of their love to support me and my husband..... as we ascend the wobbly tower of how to live with this slow step at a time....

 You can find out more about  Castle Drogo here.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

In A Twisted Knot

The pouring rain most of today keeps me indoors...doing admin  jobs in between half watching tennis matches on the TV.....

 and thinking about acceptance and how you do it - really and truely.

In his UTube talk called The Grace of Honesty, Matt Kahn says something like this...

The capability of being honest is the willingness to accept what has occurred which includes feelings and thoughts  - however unflattering - of yourself and another person....

When you accept what has been previously judged - that is the activity of forgiveness.....

I am in a twisted knot of despair and loathing about my husband's increasing social disinhibition.... especially when he's not with me....I could start with accepting/loving the part of me that feels so much shame...that feels so small and powerless and raging...

and I could also find out/get some advice about how other people manage in my position...starting with my lovely contact at Devon Carers Support.

You can find Matt Kahn at 

The Grace of Honesty - Matt Kahn/

The Grace of Honesty - Matt Kahn/

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Be Your Note

The weather is breaking....this last week's long heat leaving me....rain coming in on the wind tomorrow.

I have a coffee with a friend whose husband has the same condition as mine. Her's lives in a care home now. He doesn't speak. He doesn't know her. The path she travelled with him could be my likely future.

My husband doesn't want lunch when he comes from walking with a friend by the river. Says he doesn't feel well and sleeps long into the sultry afternoon while I pick red currants at the allotment and weed round the onions..... while our gardener drowns out the wild anxious thoughts in my head with his chain saw and his strimmer - flinging brown dry grass and weeds across the beds of wilting lettuces and climbing beans.

Much later we sit and watch the tennis on TV while my husband eats his plate of salad lunch and cheese scone and I wait for a call from the doctor. She says it's unlikely my husband's pains in his chest and right shoulder are related to his new anti-depressants but to come in and be checked if they continue.

I lose my appetite for crisps and pecan nuts and squares of dark chocolate watching the tennis instead.....and feel unsettled and far away from the sound of my own note  -  Rumi's poem which so inspired me long ago this morning.


God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
a passion, a longing-pain.

Remember the lips
where the wind-breath originated,
and let your note be clear.
Don't try to end it .
BE Your Note. 

I'll show you how it's enough.
Go up on the roof at night
in the city of the soul.
Let Everyone climb on their roofs
and sing their notes!
Sing loud!


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Heat of my Shame

The tiny fishing village of Beer, Devon.

It's hot as Africa this afternoon walking for a little way along the South West Coastal Path at Beer - the grass dry brown in places and my feet getting all dusty in my fitflops.

My husband checks his watch and we turn back after our agreed ten minutes there and ten minutes back walk.

He buys us locally-made ice creams - strawberry and stem ginger - from a kiosk on the sea front. When he says something shockingly inappropriate to the young girl serving us, I want to die of shame.

I know it's the disease....not his fault....don't want to upset him....I explain why it's not good, trying not to be tight-lipped and shouty.....don't think he'll remember I talk about something else....put Fidelio into the CD player in the car and we sing along to Beethoven's glorious music, with the windows wound down, and all of summer blowing onto our faces....cooling the heat of my shame.

Monday, 23 June 2014

More Than One Way To Grow A Tomato

Saturday lunch  -with our family's African childhood friends - grilled asparagus salad with the first new sugar snaps and feathery fennel from the farmers' market,

 and roasted vegetable and tomato tart( a bit over-cooked) and chunky avocado salsa with loads of basil tossed with the very last of the divine bottle of lemon olive oil I brought back from NZ - very sad to finish it.

The Lemon Almond and Polenta cake -( thank you, Nigel Slater - I used  a combination of two of your recipes for this one) and think it's better than the River Cafe recipe I've made for years....especially with the addition of the orange, lemon and honey syrup you drizzle over it when it's still warm out of the oven.
On Sunday we took the slab of left over cake to welcome home our friends who have recently returned from NZ and moved into a new house and still have no furniture ...or cups .... so we toasted them with pink elderflower fizz in plastic picnic glasses, sitting on the grass in their new garden.

Buckfast Abbey very close to our friends' new home. It has been recently renovated and cleaned and gleaming inside and out....

stained glass window inside....

and a stained glass panel - part of a collection of modern art set in the lovely peaceful gardens surrounding the Abbey.

I wanted to put my arms around this, and rest my head on its cool whiteness....

One of the gardens is laid out with a huge variety of different lavenders ...I picked a bunch of lavender just like this one at the allotment this evening.

 I envied their sweet peas already in flower....I planted 8 straggly pot-bound specimens at the allotment tonight - they have been sitting on the shelf by the back door for days ...just couldn't get myself together to go down and get them in the ground...I wanted to watch the tennis at Wimbledon this afternoon....and anyway it was far too hot....

I fell in love with the ballerina skirt petals of this open rose holding a bowl of light.

My book of Flower Spirits by Melanie Eclare says that Sea Holly carries a message of self-acceptance.....that it's acceptable to reveal our prickly edges.....not to hide them....

The more vulnerable and open we can be about who we are, the more we reflect the perfection of the Sea Holly and the softer we will become on ourselves.

I'm reading a long and very comprehensive report about dementia which was recommend to me by our neurologist. It's written by an Australian, John R Hodges, called Younger Onset Dementia - A Practical Guide. I'm picking out the bits that apply to Semantic Dementia. I read some of it at the beginning when my husband was first diagnosed but I was so heart thumpingly terrified then that I couldn't take it in ....and couldn't believe any of of it was true .....he wasn't that bad ....these things wouldn't happen to him -  apart from losing his vocabulary, things like disinhibition, rigid thinking, reduced drive/motivation, giving up hobbies, emotional roller coaster of moods.....

But they are.

In the section on Practical Tips for Improving Everyday Life one of the points is 

Avoid conflict between you and the person with dementia.

At the allotment tonight my husband says he's finished watering. I say the tomatoes are still dry. He says they shouldn't have too much water ( or soil by the looks of the shallow pots they are in). I say they are drooping and should have more water. He says please don't ....but I do - water them.

Later on I think I bullied him, bringing out all my prickly edges...although it goes against all my limited gardening instincts, maybe he's right ......maybe he knows more about tomatoes than I do....although he doesn't grow them in the way my father used to....maybe there's more than one way to grow a tomato....

But only one route to peace - beginning with accepting myself, loving myself - especially the very prickly bits........ 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

It Would Be Perfect If.....

Flowers of my African childhood - also found all over the world.....

Frangipani -  Botanical Gardens in Singapore,

also in Singapore....but I don't remember this deep rose pink variety in Zambia.

Frangipani - Madeira - we had a tree like this in the  front garden of the house in Lusaka where I grew up.

A bowlful of Frangipani flowers in the centre of the table in the restaurant in Madeira with the bottle of champagne we drank on the night of our 25th wedding anniversary.

Lantana - Portugal - I can conjure up the hot peppery perfume of the leaves in my memory in an instant.

Hibiscus - South Africa - in the garden of my grandfather's house in Knysna - which we revisited in January 2012 - in the weeks after my father died.

Hibiscus  - Madiera - we had a huge hedge of this starting at the back door of our house .....I remember my first pussy cat climbing up inside its branches...

 In the kitchen tonight - the last flower on the hibiscus plant -  a birthday present from 2 dear friends a couple of years ago...and the Lemon Almond and Honey cake I baked this afternoon.

The cake is for lunch on Saturday for a bit of an African childhood  re-union. My big sister is coming to stay for the weekend and we have invited two old friends - two sisters whom we grew up, went to school with, who lived in the same road as us and whose lives have been entwined with our family's for ever...even though one now lives in Canada and the other in Zimbabwe.

So I was thinking about them, and our connection while I cooked my cake in the kitchen with the doors and windows wide open onto the garden - the sun baking down on the grass and on the begonias and geraniums in their pots.

And I was thinking how much I love this summer - this almost African heat which always lies dormant in my bones and which wakes me up, zinging as lemon zest, on a day like today.

And I was thinking how perfect it was - this moment in the sun-filled kitchen feeling alive, baking my cake....and then I thought,

It would be perfect if my husband wasn't ill.

But I know that's not true....I want to find a way to be happy....with all of it. Nelson Mandela's prison cell didn't stop him....

And this Rumi quote keeps coming to me...

"Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' doesn't make sense any more."

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

No Matter What

The tide is right out this evening when we stroll along The Goat Walk at Topsham, long the top of the repaired harbour wall which was so damaged in last winter's storms.

The sun's rays fanning through the clouds feel like an invincible a benediction....a sign of   lightness and purity - no matter what.......

My husband doesn't go to his  afternoon ceramics class - he says, quite rightly, 

I can make my own decisions and I'm not going.

Then I find that place inside me where I can let him be....let my pictures melt away....let it be his business.

And my business is to spend the hot  afternoon in the company of a dear friend in the peacefulness of her sitting room, looking out onto her gloriously blooming courtyard garden, blessed by statues of Buddhas.... the doors open to let in the air and any passing grandchildren home from school.

 She says she has always been able to be herself - a gift lesson from her mother.....I want to be like her when I'm 82 -  full of wisdom and humour, curiosity and gentleness and just being matter what.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

White Hot/Baby Blackbird/Falling Apart

We are walking in the garden 'rooms' of the NT's Lytes Cary Manor House - dating from the thirteenth century  - deep in rural Somerset.

The sun is white hot....white foxgloves were all the rage at Chelsea this year apparently....

I love all varieties of daisy -  their open, trusting confidence - don't know what this one is ....

We leave the gardens and enter the estate taking a wide cut grass path towards the river...past a whole  planted field of this tall spindly-stemmed pale blue flax flower...

and a field of  green wheat or maybe it's barley....

and this froth of cow parsley ( wild carrot?) everywhere...

along the river bank.

Back in the gardens, while we are looking for a bench to have our picnic, we find this fledgling blackbird in the grass by a yew hedge.....I don't want to get too close - she looks stunned, frightened...maybe she fell from the nest....tried to fly too soon....winded herself and now she's stuck....

The pale sunset beauty of this rose

is like the sky tonight over our house.

I feel like the baby blackbird now....  stunned, at a loss and stuck in the pictures I made and grew attached to and wanted to be about how it could be with my husband....

Last week he returned to his Tuesday evening ceramics class and made a clay model of a  special dog. This evening when his teacher rings 15 minutes after the class started...... my first thought is that he hasn't arrived, he's had an accident ..... Instead she says he's on his way home....his dog has dried out...he didn't want to do anything else....she blames herself somehow.....says how much everyone likes him and the weird and wonderful things he much he was like his old self last week.....

And all I can see are those long yawning empty hours and days and nights to help him fill them.... when one by one all the things he used to love fall away....lost in the mire of his own self criticism....falling through the places where his brain cells used to be....needing me to love him ( and me) even more .....not less when my pictures fall apart.