Thursday, 24 July 2014

Letter to a Granddaughter - The Joy of Telephones






Dear Small Granddaughter,
We don't see each other very often, so now you have decided to telephone me.
Quite often, if you can get away with it.
"Annie, Annie, Annie!" you say (you can't say Granny, and I like 'Annie').
"Hello, hello, hello," I say. "What do you want me to sing?"
"Baa."
I sing 'Baa baa black sheep', and it meets with approval.
"More!"
I sing 'Humpty Dumpty', 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', 'Jack and Jill Went up the Hill', 'Oh, The Grand Old Duke of York.'
Each rendition meets with huge approval, a demand for an encore.
I never realised that I was so skilled vocally. I have never played to such an enthusiastic audience, never received such totally admiring, uncritical approval.

I divert into a slightly dubious song about a baby who behaves rather stupidly in his bath-tub (he drinks the water, eats the soap and tries to eat the bath-tub but it won't go down his throat.) He is taken away by a lady with an alligator purse, probably from the NSPCC.
"Where did that come from?" asks your father.
"It's one of those deeply traditional tales, probably by the Brothers Grimm", I say, but you are already calling for an encore.

When there is a brief lull I tell your father that we should be using Skype, as you are showing me toys and teaching me the difference between blue and yellow in between songs.
"Oh no!" he says."If she thinks she can see you by pressing a few buttons we'll never get her off the lap-top".

Thank you, Little E. for making me feel like the most desirable, entertaining person on the planet.

With love from Annie.



Sunday, 20 July 2014

Testosterone Rules.





It's always a mistake to sing the praises of the peace and solitude of my garden. The last time I did it I went out the following morning to discover that the badgers had trashed the strawberry bed in an attempt to dig out a bumblebees' nest. This time it's to be painfully aware of the start of the property-development project taking place next door.

First to arrive are the machines, a small, agile digger and a shiny yellow dumper truck. My three year old neighbour from over the road is thrilled.
Next to go are the fences which have ensured my privacy for the last twenty years or more.
Then comes the testosterone - buckets of it. The Earth-Moving team, then the Fencing team. The machines are switched on, as is the radio.
There are about seven men in a small garden. It's very hot, so there are lots of tattoos on display. Then they shout to each other over the noises of the machines and the radio. A lot of what they shout starts and finishes with, 'F***'. Not so good for the three year old neighbour.

The agile digger swings around, occasionally bashing into my unprotected garden plants.
I go out to confront one of the Fencing team who is lopping at a beautiful little acer - my beautiful little acer.
I tell him he has no right to do that. He says he has to, and chops a bit more just to make the point.

A huge lorry with hoist and grabber makes frequent roaring appearances at the front of my house to remove debris.
The digger is used as a hammer to pound at the concrete on the driveway. My house shakes.
The 'F***ing' continues.
Welcome to the world of property development.

22nd July.

Two of the workmen apologised for the foul language, saying they realised I was a lady.
Perhaps they even read the blog?

Friday, 11 July 2014

How to get Lost in a Small Space.




I sit in the garden with my eyes closed.
I hear the breeze rattling the bamboo leaves. I feel it lifting, cooling, while the sun makes hot patterns on my eyelids. When I concentrate I can hear the air.
There are distant voices, distant traffic, machinery cutting something some way away. People are going to buy things, keep appointments, look at things they might want to buy, meet and talk to one another, work in a myriad ways.

A wren chirrs. It's probably annoyed because I'm near its flight path.
A blackbird proclaims loudly about something very dangerous, probably me again.
High above me a buzzard mews, above the trivial fuss, circling, spiralling, riding the air. I resist the temptation to open my eyes because I know what I will see.

A sudden crescendo of sound - like an aviary erupting in joy or panic or both - as the children from the local school troop past on the other side of the house, more or less in crocodile formation, more or less pleased to be going out to swim or to run about in a competitive way. There are screams and shouts.

I do not need to open my eyes.
This space, this garden is printed on my cortex, etched into every part of me. I could probably weed it with my eyes closed, which is sort-of comforting when I think of my declining sense and sensibilities.
With my eyes closed I can be lost.

There's a muddle of memory, ancient and modern.
There's small granddaughter, picking her careful way through plants as tall as she is in order to get to her swing and the raspberries.
There's a magical evening with a son playing classical guitar as the light fades.
There's an equally magical time with other son, in the darkness, watching for shooting stars and seeing them - lots of them.
I can see a great collage of happy times; my husband, deep in conversation with his nephew, a group of friends drinking sherry through Cadbury's finger biscuits (used as drinking straws - worth trying!). Friends and family, good wine, cucumber sandwiches and scones, and yes, there is honey still for tea.

I am here, and I stay here while my body sorts itself out.
There is nowhere else that I would want to be.

So many memories, so many people loved and missed.
And then coming back.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Please Turn Over.



The Greater Spotted Ladybird appears in the garden. Summer has come and I'm here to appreciate it all.
But I'm also thinking of having Please Turn Over tattooed on my back, and Do Not Resuscitate on the front because I've been given the realisation that I am no longer invincible, and that when you get to three score years and fourteen things can go wrong and can't always be put right. Ageing is not something that you recover from, but something that you must acknowledge and accept with a strong dose of realism.
Nine weeks after surgery and I have learned a lot. I begin to emerge, battered, scarred and humbled from a series of unexpected events.

Life will not be the same, for a variety of complex reasons, but as my recent weeks have been so full of waiting rooms and appointments relating to health matters I don't want to write about that.
What I want to write about is the overwhelming kindness and support from so many people.

I am not good at asking for help, and I haven't had to ask.
In hospital I was touched by the kindness of people who knew the exact angle to bend a drinking straw, and who made time, one long and painful weekend, to come and sit with me and tell me their stories. I was touched by the thoughtfulness of a lady in the kitchen who made tiny pots of jelly in the hope that I might be allowed to eat them, and the nurse who was determined to find some pain control that worked.
I was made to feel a great success for being able to sit up, stand up and walk. I was assured that I was doing so well, so much better than most people, being brave and determined. Brilliant in fact. (Also rubbish - I was a mess, but it's still very powerful to be made to feel good, especially in one's most fragile moments.)

Then I came home, and people appeared and told me what they were going to do - make me a drink, change my compression socks, weed the garden, put me in the car and take me up the hills (and bring me back again!), do some shopping, escort me to my many appointments, bring a meal and share it with me.
Sons and wife and partner have travelled considerable distances and cut lawns and vines and hedges, moved heavy things, made me smile and reinforced the message that life goes on.
Grand-daughter has come and sat on my lap, reading books very carefully and then danced and pranced and run around and made me laugh.
Fellow bloggers have expressed concerns and sent kind thoughts, and one has the specialised ability to be very, very supportive (you know who you are, especially Zhoen). And I have not been able to respond, but still the kindness and thoughtfulness has poured in. I am very grateful.

I begin to emerge, accepting that life has changed and I must change with it, acknowledging the things I can no longer do, and getting on with what I can and must do. The tattoo, or at least the clear recording of my wishes is important. But even more important has been the realisation and acceptance of the kindness and thoughtfulness that surrounds me.
I am a lucky old person.

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




                  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!