Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Bit of Time Off

Flowers from my elder son this morning - a lovely surprise in the middle of many surprises, not all so lovely.

I have never received so much attention within a relatively short space of time. I feel surrounded by well-wishers and supported by offers of help. I fear that it could become addictive, 'Look at me, I'm poorly.'
No, probably not.
I concentrate on getting all the paperwork in place, cutting the hedges and the lawn, tidying the shed (again), taking all that old roofing felt to the tip, not being the least bit poorly.
But I will be taking a bit of time off as I have to go into hospital at the end of this week to have my spleen removed.

Spleens are valuable and interesting things.
 I know that now.
 I didn't know before, but now I feel very attached to mine and don't really want to lose it. It has served me well and invisibly for 74 years, sorting out my blood balance and protecting me from infections.
Dear old spleen. I am sad to be parting from it.

The circumstances of our parting are to be as civilised as possible because I'm booked in to a nearby private hospital as a National Health patient.
Thank you, National Health Service.
This happened because the shortest waiting list was here, and the NHS needs to reduce its waiting lists and times.
I am grateful for the care and courtesy that has been shown to me through several potentially undignified pre-surgical assessments. There is not a hint of age discrimination (which I think could even justifiably happen when one has used up the three score years and ten).

So for a while I will be away from blogging. The private rooms have wifi, and I have a Tablet for e-mails, but not for writing anything more on a tiny keyboard and a morphine drip.
Bad idea.
I must not bid on eBay, either.
Anything could happen on the morphine drip, never mind the tiny keyboard.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Letter to a Grand-Daughter - Bye Bye Babyhood!

Dear Small Grand-Daughter,
There's a twinge of sadness in bidding farewell to your babyhood, and a high level of joy in greeting your
all-singing, all-dancing, walking, talking, climbing, splashing, laughing, yelling, gleeful, totally interactive toddler-hood.

It all happened so quickly.
One minute you were lying on a sheepskin, sucking your toes, and the next you're mastering light-switches and door knobs........ and I'm not even going to mention mobile phones and touch-screens.

I have always respected your self-awareness, and now it's even more apparent. You assess what you can do, and then you do it carefully. A month ago you took some hesitant sideways steps, crablike, in my house.
How we applauded, and how you joined in the applause, knowing achievement when you felt it in the strengthening knees and spine.
Then you took your time, developed your skills. Now you march about, turning, carrying things, stamping in puddles, confident and skilled. But when you approach the steps down into the kitchen, or out of the front door you go into careful reverse-crawling mode.
Wise child.

Knowledgeable child.
How do you know so much?
How do you know that a cartoon giraffe in a book is the same animal as a giraffe photograph in another book? You've never seen a real giraffe, and it might be quite a shock when you do.
I know the theories of concept formation, and I must have witnessed it happening before in your father and his brother, but somehow, in you, it seems even more magical, more powerful.
Oh, the power of grand-parenthood, when somebody thinks you're wonderful.
Which you are.
Never doubt it.

You pick up my ultra-special silver pen (which no one else is allowed to touch) and you draw a spirited abstract in my ultra-special One-Sketch-a-Day book ( which, need I say it, no one else would be allowed to do). You draw in lively fashion but within the small confines of the space for the day. You study it for a moment, then give me back my pen. You take the pen again to check that you have clicked it off and then point out my ultra-special pen case, making sure I put it away properly.
You are sixteen months old.

Then we go outside and examine some very stale water in some discarded plant pots. Everything is interesting, everything is worthy of detailed examination.
You throw the water about a bit, you plunge your arm in and get soaked, you stamp in the water on the path. You shout and jig about because you are in need of music, a bit more entertainment.

We go back inside and after a brief skirmish over washing, you have a snack. Blueberries eaten one at a time, biscuits picked to bits and thrown to the cat, milk drunk boldly and gluggingly from a two handled mug, like a Tudor serving wench. You roar with laughter at my jokes, you screech with delight at the other cat who pushes his way through the cat flap. You struggle to get out of your restraining seat. You want to get through the cat-flap yourself.
I know you.
You are sixteen months old and many people think you're wonderful.
Which you are.
Always remember that,

With love from Grandma.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


                  Limbo as portrayed by Hieronymus Bosch - not very much peaceful waiting going on here.

It's that dance that involves shuffling under a pole held low and horizontally.
It's one of the frenzied images of morality produced by Hieronymus Bosch.
Most appallingly, it's the place where the Roman Catholic Church taught that unredeemed souls bearing the weight of original sin went until they could be admitted to heaven......a vast waiting room of unbaptised babies, crying in the darkness.
It's a state of waiting.
It's where I am at the moment.

It's an unexpectedly peaceful place for someone who is used to a fair degree of choice and control. I'm waiting to be told what degree of surgery I need and when. The decisions will be made by people I don't know, but in whom I must have the most profound degree of trust.

I find this extremely interesting because in this increasingly sophisticated world a great deal is expected of us in the two extremes of caution and trust.
Nearly every time I switch on the computer there's someone having a go at getting some money from me.
I often answer my telephone to someone who wants to help me claim the money owing to me through mis-sold insurance, or otherwise help me with all sorts of problems I may not even realise I have (and this is despite the Caller Preference system). There was a particularly nasty one the other day purporting to be following up an accident to a member of my family. Nasty, nasty stuff, and of course I don't trust any of it.

But then I go into a room where an unknown person operates a clever bit of machinery that apparently can see inside me. If that had happened to my grandmother she would have no more believed it than I believe I've bought an insurance policy without realising.

I meet a charming man who will cut me open and take out some bits. I say, "Thank you", and trust him to do exactly what he says. How illogical might that seem?
How illogical might it seem to put one's life in the hands of someone we have never met, will never meet, but who will hurtle us up in the air for several thousand feet and drop us down again on the other side of the world? Yet many hundreds of us do it every day
Life is dangerous, and we all have to accept the risks every time we take a step. Being born is the most dangerous thing we can ever do. Assessing risk is one of the most sophisticated things we have to do, whether it be crossing the road or eating prawns.

Then there is the situation where you can do nothing or very little, For me, this situation called limbo is a good place where I can take stock, tidy the drawers, do the paper-work, generally Be Prepared and have complete trust in others. We all need the occasional jolt when we realise we are not omnipotent and that our control of life is a fairly thin veneer.
There is no Hieronymus Bosch-type howling in the darkness going on here. There's a relaxing time pottering in the garden when the sun shines (and it DID, yesterday), admiring the daffodils nodding in the cold drizzle when it doesn't.
Limbo is all right.

Rhossili Beach, the Gower, Wales, added for Frances, who finds Mr. Bosch's Limbo a bit too much!

Sunday, 2 February 2014


The mention of bad or rather bizarre taxidermy in the comments of my previous blog posting seems to have triggered a flood of memories, not just from me.
Zhoen kindly directed me to the right source.

Walter Potter was the man who had the skill and imagination to make tiny frilly knickers for tiny dead and stuffed kittens to wear under their wedding clothes as he created his complex, highly detailed scenes of Victorian life.

I remember seeing some of these ( to me) magical creations when I was about eight years old. The images stayed with me, and I yearned to possess a miniature school-room full of tiny rabbits, all with their even tinier slates and chalks.
I wonder now if I realised they were dead, preserved creatures, or if I saw them as wonderful little toys. After all, there were very few toys in Post-War Britain, so these detailed dioramas must have seemed as enchanting then as when they were created in Victorian times.

Looking at them again now I am filled with a different type of wonder. What a leap of imagination to go from stuffing your own pet canary to creating a drinking scene of stuffed rats, a complex kittens' wedding, and a guinea-pigs' cricket match. What an awful awful lot of little deaths it took to create each scene. And how each scene has been appreciated and remembered - in so many different ways.
Once seen, never forgotten, for whatever reasons.
No wonder Damien Hurst wanted to buy the entire collection when it was dispersed.

There's more about Walter Potter's taxidermy here, but note that the exhibition is over.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A Bit Shaken, not Stirred.

An example of very bad taxidermy, but something of how I'm feeling . The wildlife at the bottom of my garden looks a great deal happier than this sad example, but I feel that he represents me, about to eat humble pie.
In my previous post about waiting rooms I was somewhat scathing about the National Health Service.
I apologise, as humbly as the appearance of this unfortunate fox!

Several family members have needed a lot of support and medical care in the last year, and now it's my turn.
I've been in a few more waiting rooms and, although the magazines may not always have been up to scratch, the care and the speed of its delivery have been wonderful.

Within three weeks of finally admitting that I was feeling unwell I have been scanned and X-rayed and blood-tested and booked in with a Consultant Surgeon at a privately-run hospital - all on the National Health Service. I can't believe the speed, efficiency and kindness of all concerned.

I am also very grateful to my neighbour's cat, Agatha, who triggered a quite impressive asthma attack for me. I  have a degree of allergy to cats but I don't have asthma, or at least I didn't before that happened. So I thought I should go to my G.P.and ask for some Ventolin before I made my next visit to son and daughter-in-law who have two cats. For once I stopped myself from saying I was fine when he asked how I was feeling. After all, I usually only go for flu jabs, and when you're seventy-four you're likely to feel somewhat frayed around the edges.
Aren't you?
But for Agatha I would not have gone to the doctor, and I would have continued to feel awful, thinking it was only to be expected after my last birthday.

Incidentally, I'm a cat-magnet. Cats love me, want to sit on me, rub round me, tell me I'm wonderful. I like them too, but if  I touch them I get swollen eyes and a streaming nose. Are they doing it out of a sort of perversity? Is it because I don't make much eye-contact and leave them to do their own thing? Or am I just genuinely irresistible? To cats, I mean.

Anyway, thank you, Agatha,
And thank you NHS for all that has happened so far, and in anticipation for all that is to come.

Agatha, in Guardian mode.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Waiting......with fish.

A hiatus for me, as I have to sit in three different waiting rooms on three consecutive days.
But always plenty to do, luckily.
I can do my daily drawing, now in its third year of endeavour,
I can eaves-drop, shamelessly.

Today's waiting room is the dentists'. An elderly couple, who are probably younger than I am, notice me drawing the aquarium and begin a furtive conversation:
She: Why do you think they have fish-tanks in the dentists'?
(pause for thought)
He: I expect it's to do with healthy eating.
She: What are you on about....healthy eating?
(pause for more thought)
He: Well, you know. Better to eat fish than meat, isn't it?
She: Oh, I see.
Longer pause.
She: I wonder why they don't have them in the doctors' then.
He: No one's going to tell me what to eat.

I think briefly of the complications of catching and preparing a plate full of neon tetras. Then I think of whitebait, and how much I like it with brown bread and salty butter. I try to compare the cost of a plate of fried neon tetras compared with a plate of whitebait.
Well, it passes the time even if unsatisfactorily.

I finish my drawing and decide to look at a magazine. The magazines at the dentists' are new and glossy, those in the hospitals are dog-eared and out of date. I decide that the magazine quality is an indicator of private practice (the dentist) as opposed to National Health Service.

I choose a magazine devoted to up-market country-style living. There are subtle mono-chrome adverts for hand-built kitchens zooming off into the middle distance over hand-crafted marble floors. There are sludge-grey bespoke conservatories ready to be attached to Georgian mansions; some of them can be designed to contain swimming pools. There are cashmere throws and amusing sculptures made from willow twigs, bedrooms with white painted floors and great rosewood wardrobes groaning with brocades and velvets.
There is little connection with the sort of country living more familiar to me, which involves a lot of mud and the smell of diesel and damp Barbour jackets dripping over the Aga. Waxed cotton and wet wool steaming, as opposed to those chunky candles fragranced with cinnamon. Magazine kitchen tables have glossy pyramids of polished fruits and a tumbling arrangement of out-of-season flowers, as opposed to peelings waiting to be taken to the compost when the rain stops,  plus last weekend's newspapers and all that unsolicited mail for thermal vests and cheaper insurance waiting to be recycled..

Other magazines available have less appeal, golf, motor-sport, financial matters.
So I return to the fish. They seem busy, darting around their little world. I wonder about their attention span, their memory. Perhaps life seems constantly new and fresh, full of surprise, possibly full of delight, or possibly full of threat and anxiety.
It's hard to tell with fish. They don't give much away.
Angel fish might be easier to catch and cook. They would fit neatly on toast.

Ah well, tomorrow the tattered day-old newspapers, the posters asking me if I am obese, the many offers of help to stop smoking, the dehydrated potted palms and the endless conversations about the iniquity of parking charges, that's if you can find a parking place to start with.
Always  plenty to do.

Next day.

A surprise this morning, a very smart hospital waiting room with a very smart aquarium - big black and white fish cruising dreamily between dark volcanic rocks.
Apologies NHS, you too have been reading the right magazines (and only £2 for a parking space. I could have stayed for four hours, watching the fish for that price).

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christmas Greetings.

Here you are, Zhoen, you've shown us yours, so I'll show you mine.

A little tree, for Little E, so it has to be unbreakable, uneatable and  mostly unreachable. There's another, much bigger version in the hall with lots of bling and flashing lights and decorations old and even older. Things made more than thirty years ago at playgroups, and things from Little E's Great-Great Grandmama. All the traditions in one fell swoop. The coming of new light in the form of Grand-daughter, and light from the memories of time and people long past.
The year has turned. It is the time for candles in the darkness, and peace at the end of a difficult period.

I haven't had the decorations out for what feels like a very long time.
Last year I had four Christmas and New Year celebrations in different parts of the world, and the year before that my son and daughter-in-law hosted the whole event. In previous years it was a time marked by sadness after my husband's accident on Christmas Eve, and for many years prior to that things were very tricky at Christmas. They always are when you live in a churchyard.
My husband worked in the church, and on Christmas Eve he usually worked right through the night, finally emerging from the vestry in time for Christmas dinner and wanting nothing but a hot bath and a long sleep.

Spare a thought for those who work at Christmas, in whatever capacity.

But this year........well, Grand-daughter likes a bit of bling and sparkle and she shall have it!
So will the rest of us.
And so may you all have sparkle and joy in whatever form you need.

A very Happy Christmas to you all.