Wednesday, 29 December 2010

the straw that broke the camels back

straw or almost anyway. I have been considering the last four weeks. which brought me to consider the last three years - which brought me to almost screaming point once I looked at everything back to back. I am wondering how exactly one knows when a nervous breakdown is imminent. Maybe one doesn't realise one is having one at all? Perhaps once you constantly feel like screaming, crying or hiding, battering people with ones handbag, you're there already…

I appear to be living in 'interesting times'. Purportedly a Chinese curse. Christmas is definitely NOT a good time in our house. My diagnosis 3 years ago was just after Christmas. The FH's mum got ill at Christmas and died in the February - then I lost my contract last Christmas because I couldn't go to Portugal as I needed a scan [yeah, I know…sucks right?]. Self same scan [yes, you guessed it - just before Christmas] found 'something'. We spent a torturous month of December into January wondering if I had a recurrence, until, thankfully, I had the laparoscopy and was pronounced clear. THAT seemed a miracle. Probably it was. And I am grateful for it.

This Christmas my father died. And possibly, this is starting to sound like a great big self pitying whinge. But to be honest , I am merely trying to get my head around such a never ending [for me] catalogue of disasters…big things, little things…one after the other. I start to feel like the losing boxer in the ring - the one who simply falls all over the place bleeding from the nose and looking confused. Is the expression punch drunk? maybe. That's how I feel. We are exhausted with it all.

Today was absolutely a perfect microcosm of our lives right now. The ABS on the car is playing up - the windscreen washer won't work, the extractor hood over the cooker has exploded, the Wild Things smash something every single day [we are getting a very 'minimalist' look here at home]…

And, last Thursday 23rd my pc blue screened. Fffftzzz….the end. Called Dell, whom I have a 'next day service' warranty with [thanks Pete!]. they didn't come the next day - they came today!! Almost a week later. And when they came, they brought the wrong drivers…the wrong drivers?!? WTF!?? So I am still without a machine, and that's with two new clients to do work for. I lost 2 hours of Chalet bashing wages to come home for the technician and that happens?

I started work at 7.00. I was NOT amused. I raced back to do a bit more bashing after the Dell catastrophe…I had a hair appointment at 1.30. Raced onto the dual carriageway from the Salt Mine and what ho! Stuck in a traffic jam for 40 minutes [usually an 8 minute trip]. ABS lights flashing madly on the dash. Washers not working. Screen covered in salt. Joy.

Had my hair chopped off eventually. Hoorah. One success. It does look rather nice too - thanks to the FH and his Christmas day dishwashing attack - all the money he earned, he gave me to have my hair done. darling man. Blessings that keep one sane.

Raced home [again!!] - got on the phone to Dell. Having stewed away under all that peroxide at the hairdressers I had my shouting down pat. Very merrily raised total HELL with the delightfully polite Indian fellow I was transferred to [yes, I was being DIFFICULT - as in, demanding a decent service!!]. Every time he said 'but…' I said 'DO NOT BUT..' and carried on regardless - it was interesting to say the least, and surprisingly, they are following my rather sharply issued commands…well, we'll see if they do anyway. 'Come tomorrow after 3.00'. 'Call me and tell me exactly WHAT they intend to do to recompense me for 3 days lost wages'…I want an extension of my warranty - and told him he better NOT call me unless he is going to give me one…one that is actually honoured!

Grr. Tomorrow they are coming AGAIN. This time, I am going to lock the technician in the house until my bloody computer is working!!

Soon I have my check up. Tomorrow I need to book in for my bloods. A 6 month gap has made me VERY nervous. Can you tell?


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

and last [for today!] but certainly not least

DSC_0117On Saturday I woke up to my iPhone meeping at me. Telling me to go to my Justgiving page immediately [what is it with phones that they're so bossy?!]. And, slave to technology that I am, I did.

Woop! A person called Sarah donated £100.00 [ONE HUNDRED POUNDS!!!] to my Justgiving fund!! I almost fell out of the bed!  Specs flying and kittens shoved off onto the floor!

Sarah - thank you so much. I wish I could get in touch, but you didn't leave your email on Justgiving. Please get in touch if you want to - I know you are going through treatment. Just make a comment on the blog or add me on Facebook? Or not - as you choose.

But thank you - it's always amazing when people one doesn't even know do something so kind. And every single penny goes to research into women's cancers - bring it on!! :)

Thank you Sarah, and sending you LOTS of positive thoughts. I hope your treatment is going well and that you will come out the other side as fit and fat as I have.  I know you can.

and now for something cheerful

DSC_0051 months ago we decided that we couldn't really afford to do our normal 'Christmas Thing'. The normal 'Christmas Thing' involves me buying things all year, spending [with great delight!] a small fortune on gifts, wrap and ribbon etc etc and then 10 hours wrapping everything in coordinating colours while the FH writes the gift tags [matching ones!]. T'was not to be in 2010! Instead, we bought tickets to the ballet for the Childerbeasts and that was their gift. And tickets for us too, in order to enjoy their enjoyment if you see what I mean? For everyone else? Well - lots of good wishes really.

So we went to see the Nutcracker Suite at the London Coliseum. It was a great trip. I, being a pain in the proverbial, was a tad picky about the performance, but it was very enjoyable - the Opera House just seemed too big for the cast for starters…

The Grand daughter loved it - and that made me really happy. We'd looked forward to it so much - it was really worth it to watch her little face light up. She informed me that it was a 'very posh' place and could she have an orange juice. We had 3 small glasses of Pinot, and the orange juice - it cost £20!! Oh well - at least the wine was good ;) All those Swarovski crystal covered tutus worked wonders on her child's outlook. So pretty! We banged heads 3 times during the performance, trying to discuss things in whispers :) So, we all loved the ballet.

London [and the whole of the UK] has had horrendous weather this last week or two. Snow [my nemesis] and freezing. It was -19° when we were wandering the slushy streets on Sunday evening. Poor Youngest Step Daughter had Wellies on - hello blue, painful and frozen feet! Ugh. The pubs wouldn't let us in, as we had the G'daughter in tow. But we found a fab Mexican restaurant in Covent Garden and ate more food in one go than I'd usually eat in a week! Thank you Martin for dinner - what a treat! Here's the FH, the Youngest Step Daughter and the G'daughter. Exhausting aren't they? All those cheery smiles bless them ;) The G'daughter will have teeth again soon! [we hope]


We went to the Hyde Park Christmas Market - lots of junk to buy there - all totally overpriced, but we wanted everything nonetheless heh heh. And so many wonderful smells and sights! Talking Moose heads too. Much to the FH's hilarity…




Then we bumbled off 'home' to the hotel, and got together for breakfast at a pub the next morning.

DSC_0055 On the way home [which we weren't actually certain we'd reach!], we stopped on Waterloo Bridge for some photos and almost got hypothermia. My feet were frozen after 10 steps - thank goodness for buses! Check out the Eye.


We arrived home after the LONGEST train trip EVER [stopped at EVERY station between Waterloo and Exeter - shriek!!] to ten inches of snow!! I have never actually seen this much snow in my life - startling to say the least. And extremely tedious! Thanks to Georgie for sitting the house and looking after the Wild Things…we dug the car out of the parking lot [ffft!!] and crawled home to open a bottle of the wine Mum and Dad gave us for Christmas - might as well start now? And a lovely wine it was too.

Well. That's Christmas done as far as we're concerned…the next week or so we are working every day…lets hope nothing else horrible happens eh?

and the beat goes on

on Tuesday we had the funeral. It was [as far as funerals go], really nice. A Humanist service, very calm, very dignified and peaceful. A tribute to Dad's life rather than a bewailing of his death. It seemed very personal. Mum was amazing - I don't know how she did it. I just kept wondering how I would be if it were the FH. And it made [and makes] me feel cold and sick inside. I was so glad he was there with me.

Ian, Dad's brother, spoke for us all and made a wonderful job of it. He chose the music [jazz - Dad's favourite] - and at the end of his words, which were lovely, he read this passage by Mary Frye:

"Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die."

Dad will always be 'the diamond glints on snow' - it's the beastly snow that killed him.

The final track Ian chose was Ella Fitzgerald's "Goodnight, My Love". Fitting. And Mum, my brothers, the family and I - we all said goodbye.


Then it seems, life must go on - and it's hard. Because it does. One feels as if one should be able to inform everyone that one is NOT in 'the mood'. For anything really. Where's a space to gather oneself? There isn't one. Christmas? Er - no. Not this year. Take that tree and stick it [in a bonfire]. Better yet, leave it in the ground to grow instead of chopping it down and killing it to suffer your ghastly attempts at stylish decoration…fffft.

I think the idea of a mourning band is a good one - perhaps wearing one would stop people from constantly expecting one to be jolly all the bloody time. People are impatient for one to 'get back to normal'. Even people who know what's happened ask "what's wrong with you?" - and to the people who don't know, it's so tempting to say…but would be cruel, as they don't REALLY expect you to tell them something awful has happened. Or want you to. I never understand why they actually bother to ask. As you'll notice - I'm a tad peeved right now. The last 3 years have all been a bit much - and this seemed the final straw.

But of course, we trundle on. We smile and laugh and hold conversations that seem utterly meaningless [and quite often are]…and we cry when no-one can see us.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


and this is what I wrote. But I couldn't stand at the funeral and say it - I would have been a snivelling wreck. As it was I barely managed to hold myself together.


"Funny - today, Dad feels more 'here' than he has for a while for me. Because we are all here because of him. He'd hate that. Too much attention. He wasn't an attention seeking person.

The trouble with Dad was that he was always wandering off. So for us, it is almost as if he is just 'away'…in Ethiopia. Uganda. South Africa. Abu Dhabi. For months at a time sometimes. And he wasn't exactly 'Mr Noisy'. He was a quiet person. A hard working man. It wasn't that he didn't talk a lot; [he did if the subject took his fancy - you couldn't shut him up!] but he wasn't loud. He was very intelligent and he was obsessive about the English language being pronounced and spelt correctly - so I am definitely using spell and grammar check after I type this! I remember him always correcting me when I was younger [and when I was not so young!]. It was a norm in our conversation. He had a perfect grasp of the tongue. I grew grateful for it in latter years, as it made me an excellent proof reader and copy writer. Thanks Dad - all that nagging paid off. Especially the 'rough terrain' vehicle thing - which, having only read the words, I always pronounced as 'rough ter-ee-an'…heh heh - [much to Dad's horror]. By the way, the vehicle in question was Pete's Action Man vehicle!

I remember him giving us our 'places' during the earthquakes in Papua New Guinea. One to hold the fridge, one the carving etc. And I recall him fighting a huge spider with a broom - and the beastly thing would NOT die - the rest of us hid behind a door fainting away as he battled it in his safari shorts, long socks and Caterpillar boots. It kept running up the handle at him! But he prevailed - as Dad's always do…arriving to rescue us when the school bus got stuck in the middle of a rapidly flooding river…taking splinters out - and it didn't hurt…

I recall his massive reel to reel tape of the Beatles - everyone would sit around having a drink and chatting, with the White Album blaring away in the background…and I remember David, the baby at the time, cutting his teeth on empty beer cans, while the Dad's sat around waffling and the Mum's did 'stuff' [like provide food and more beer and control the kids].

Dad was always there to ask things of. Unless it was a domestic - then he's just do the 'ask your Mum' thing. And Mum would say 'ask your Dad'… But if it was a question about something important, well, we didn't ever have an Encyclopaedia Britannica - we didn't need one - we had Dad. And Dad didn't have Google. He just knew stuff.

He was well read, well educated, kind. He was not a complicated man. He was a great Dad. We had everything we ever really wanted - the bikes at Christmas, the holidays, the swimming pool, the pet dog…we travelled, and it made us brave - we had an idyllic childhood spent all over the world - thanks Dad. And thanks Mum - a great team. And an enviable marriage, through good times and hard times. I hope mine lasts as long. 50 years it would have been. Congratulations.

You'll always be in my heart - you always have been; why would that change now?


You see? I did it.

Here's Dad on Pete's chopper - Christmas was always more fun in Africa…it was WARM!!


Monday, 13 December 2010

my eulogy for my father

this last week, I've had many poems and amazing pieces of prose and poetry sent to me - they were all touching. Heart rending even.  They were all beautifully written. But…they were all about someone else, for someone else and written by someone else.

I write a lot of stuff. And now I want to write [and say] something that I feel about the person I knew and loved. My Dad. And my God it's hard. And to compound the issue, I want to speak from both mine and my brothers hearts. Please - pass me a larger stone to push up the hill?

So hard not to fall back on the old adages. So hard not to be trite. But I will try anyway. Forgive me if it's not very entertaining.

This evening I will try to do this - I NEED to do it - but I am still not sure I'll be able to speak at the funeral. No matter how much I want to…thank goodness Dad's brother Ian is doing this for us anyway.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

the wild things

I saw this today and almost fell over laughing - must be funny, I haven't felt like laughing all week. In fact I am a miserable unmotivated Blot on the Landscape right now…so, here's something to cheer us up.

This is JUST what goes on in our house ALL the time at the moment…the Wild Things are causing havoc…and wrecking the joint. 


and I daresay this is what the Christmas Tree would be like as far as Bear is concerned…hmm, perhaps give it a miss this year. Or get the video camera out in preparation for the flying baubles, flying cats and demented FH. He isn't taking very kindly to the Random Shredding of Stuff.

and this is just hilarious. Thank you Simon Tofield

Thursday, 9 December 2010

thank you

People have been sending so many lovely messages, cards and poems to our family. It's hard to read them without crying, and harder to answer them in any sensible fashion - thank you doesn't seem to be enough sometimes. It feels like it gets worn out after you say it 20 times.

But thank you - I know I speak for our whole family here. Thanks for friends, thanks for family - and thanks everyone who has sent support and messages. And mostly, thanks for being there.


This is from a friend in Portugal - a beautiful poem. I wish I had the strength to read it at Dad's funeral, but I know I won't. So I'll just post it here instead.


"There is no death! The stars go down
To rise upon some other shore,
And bright in heaven's jewelled crown
They shine forevermore.

There is no death! The forest leaves
Convert to life the viewless air;
The rocks disorganize to feed
The hungry moss they bear.

There is no death! The dust we tread
Shall change, beneath the summer showers
To golden grain, or mellowed fruit,
Or rainbow-tinted flowers.

poem from FranciscaThere is no death! The leaves may fall,
And flowers may fade and pass away--
They only wait, through wintry hours,
The warm, sweet breath of May.

There is no death! The choicest gifts
That heaven hath kindly lent to earth
Are ever first to seek again
The country of their birth.

And all things that for growth or joy
Are worthy of our love or care,
Whose loss has left us desolate,
Are safely garnered there.

Though life becomes a desert waste,
We know it's fairest, sweetest flowers,
Transplanted into Paradise,
Adorn immortal bowers.

The voice of birdlike melody
That we have missed and mourned so long,
Now mingles with the angel choir
In everlasting song.

There is no death! Although we grieve
When beautiful, familiar forms
That we have learned to love are torn
From our embracing arms--

Although with bowed and breaking heart,
With sable garb and silent tread,
We bear their senseless dust to rest,
And say that they are "dead,"

They are not dead! They have but passed
Beyond the mists that blind us here
Into the new and larger life
Of that serener sphere.

They have but dropped their robe of clay
To put their shining raiment on;
They have not wandered far away--
They are not "lost nor "gone."

Though disenthralled and glorified
They still are here and love us yet;
The dear ones they have left behind
They never can forget.

And sometimes, when our hearts grow faint
Amid temptations fierce and deep,
Or when the wildly raging waves
Of grief or passion sweep,

We feel upon our fevered brow
Their gentle touch, their breath of balm;
Their arms enfold us, and our hearts
Grow comforted and calm.

And ever near us, though unseen,
The dear, immortal spirits tread--
For all the boundless universe
Is Life--there are no dead!"

- John Luckey McCreery

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

goodbye dad

dad My father died very suddenly last week [was it last week already?]. Thursday 2nd December. Five days before his 72nd birthday. He wasn’t sickly. He was fine. He took good care. He'd been for his check up the day before and jovially informed Mum that he would live until he was 90. And I hadn’t spoken to him in a while. Now I regret that so much that there’s a big pain in the middle of me which won’t go away.

On Thursday he decided to go out and sweep the snow off the path so Mum wouldn't slip. Had his lunch, pottered off outside - and the next thing Mum found him lying dead on the path. Paramedics, air ambulance…no-one could help. He was gone. Ischemic heart disease apparently. Personally, I blame the snow. Always hated the damn stuff, now I loath it with a personal passion.

There’s never enough time. Time to talk. Call, write a letter or an email. Visit. Either we’re working, sleeping…something…there’s always an ‘important’ reason to put off that quick contact until tomorrow. Or later. That quick action that says we care has to wait while we do all the things that seem so absolutely dire. And aren't - not really…

And then it’s too late. Now it’s too late. And I am left with plenty of time for regretting.

Dad, like most Dads…is in hardly any photos as he took them. Mostly with people's heads chopped off…but here he is with Mum. This is in South Africa.


When someone dies - we all make time. We all get together, go to the funeral of the person who we didn’t make time to see or talk to when they were alive. We do this without consideration or thought. We will drive through snow and storms or whatever it takes. We will leave work and pets and worries. Because we want and need to. We want to honour them, say goodbye to them.

We need to talk about the person who died and remember all the good things about them. And maybe discuss the irritating things too - but they are also the things that made you love that person. So they are gentle gibes. We laugh about those foibles over bendy egg and cress sandwiches at the wake. Emotions are raw and we perhaps say the things that in other situations, we wouldn’t. Or couldn’t. But should. We really should. We really really should.

The problem is that as long as we know that person is ‘there’, somewhere, we think that there will always be time to get in touch. To say we love them. We forget about mortality. We are complacent.

For me this is unforgiveable in myself. I, of anyone, should know better than to think that life just goes on. I thought I’d learnt a lot these past three years, but patently I didn’t learn enough. I failed.

I didn’t see my Dad a lot. I didn’t talk to him a lot. But I thought he’d always be there. And I always knew if I needed him, or Mum, they WERE there. No matter what. And now I miss him. Because I know he's out of reach forever?

I remember him reading Rudyard Kipling to me, O Best Beloved. They have always been my favourite stories - I can't wait to read them to Grace. And carrying me about on his shoulders. And making the best fried bread EVER for breakfast.

Giving me away at my first wedding [we went in the posh car together - what fun!] - helping me with a biology project where I really wanted to get a 'real' arm from the local ‘Dead People Place’ [I was only 12 - I had no idea what mortuaries really were]. We used card and string instead.

And when he stopped taking sugar in his coffee, I was so impressed [I was about 14], that I did too. He was an artist - he was my inspiration to go to art school. He did a brilliant pencil sketch of our Malamute that I recall vividly. And he made those string pictures with the little nails on painted black board.

I saw the Malamute sketch today at Mum's on the wall. He always wore a St Christopher medal. I saw that today too and I nearly broke down crying. I wanted to steal it. It's one of the things I remember him always having. Just that, his wedding ring and his watch. But always the St Christopher medal. Dad took masses of photographs [his father, Grampy, was a photographer]…slide shows were always good. We have lots of photos he took, as my brother has been archiving them. All our travels all over the world are down to Dad. And recorded in pictures by him.


He was a bit bonkers - here he is with his brother Ian at his 70th birthday lunch - I have no idea why he's pulling that nutty face! He could sew; he always fixed my school shoes. I remember how his glasses would have to go to the end of his nose so he could look over them - sort of through his eyebrows. I remember him rescuing me when I sleepwalked right out of the house. On and on and round and round my mind goes...the Beach Boys on 8 track all the way to Cape Town. Letting me light his cigarettes when he was driving [as he knew I was a sneaky smoker ;) ].

This really reminds me of Dad - got to Get Around…plus, check out the guy on the right - that's real 'Dad dancing' ;)


I keep feeling surreally ok - as if it hasn’t happened. It can’t have happened. Dad has always worked away, so we are used to him being gone for months at a time sometimes. Then it’s like a brick hitting the back of my heart, and I can’t stop crying. I keep thinking of my Mum. I can’t begin to imagine how she feels. They’ve been married for almost 50 years. They were. Married almost 50 years. March would have been their anniversary.

It was Dad’s birthday yesterday. Mum has all these books she picked out for him. And she bought him cigarettes even though she HATES smoking…a treat. For Dad.


Here we all are on Mothers Day. Can't imagine what the FH is up to here! So now I have learnt a new lesson. Do not prevaricate. Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today - I was looking forward to calling Dad on his birthday. Birthdays. Always a phone call at the very least. My card was always sent at the last minute because I am useless at the post office. I had the card. One of those big fancy things. I ripped it up in a rage. It’s not like I have another Dad to send it to. I know Dad is sitting up there [with his crossword] telling me to stop being such a drama queen. I know he's somewhere, because yesterday [his birthday] should have been awful, but a whole lot of good things happened - I don't really believe in coincidence. I'm sure it was him.

well, I can’t. Stop being a drama queen. I am so sad. For me. For my poor mum. For my brothers.

Mum... P... D... I do love you all so much. I just never take time to say so....well, I’m saying so now.

And here we all are. A '70s pic. This was so funny. Dad was fuming with Mum and I, as we had one of those laughing/giggling attacks that you just can't stop…as you can see, Mum is almost crying!


Today we went to register the death - I wanted to scream. The registrar was so utterly impersonal, she took so long…she was a total 'jobs worthy'. Mum was chatting and trying to be friendly and brave and cheerful and this woman was just like a block. I lost it when she asked if Mum would mind 'answering some statistical questions'. WTF?? My mum just lost her husband and lifelong friend - why the hell should she answer anything more than she needs? I have a problem with form filling when I'm upset, and it was a miracle we left without me doing something awful. My mum looked so forlorn, and this stupid woman was asking unnecessary questions?? grr.

But leave we did. Calmly. And it took all I had not to burst out crying all day. But I can now. I am dreading the funeral on Tuesday - I don't think I'll be able to hold it together. But really, one has to. Doesn't one?