September 22, 2013
I received a text an hour ago from a friend and ex colleague. She and her 3 siblings are at the nursing home tonight that her father only agreed to go to on Tuesday after his consultant impressed upon him how poor his prognosis was. He’d been given 4 to 10 weeks. The last few months he had bounced between hospital and home refusing help, despite suffering from a terminal illness for nearly 3 years.
My friend now has to wait, and watch.
I’ve experienced, I think, more than would be considered a fair share of bereavement, from age 8 onwards, first grandpa (mum’s Dad) then my own Dad, who died when I was 9 years old.
I don’t want to list them all, but have had both the waiting and watching: a dreadful day when my brother, who had seemed to defeat so many odds, eventually developed a pneumonia 21 years ago; and the sudden shock bereavement 8 years ago when several days after the event it was discovered that my relatively healthy Mum had died alone at home.
I’ve lost close friends, and stayed late in a hospital room one night, washing the hands of a friend I knew I would never see again, who died early the following morning.
I am overwhelmed with sadness. When my Mum died, it was too much. My grief was so raw people physically recoiled from it, and I think my attempts to shield them contributed to the huge stress reaction that tipped into the reactive depression I struggled with for the next 3 years. (I couldn’t return to work for nearly 9 months).
When my friend lost her partner a couple of years after my Mum died, she apologised to me for what she now thought were her failings “I thought I understood what you were going through. I had no idea.”
I think I said something pithy in reply, along the lines of it being a club you really don’t want your friends to join.
We were subsequently both able to support another friend who cared for her terminally ill Mum, and could see she too had no clue of the bleak finality once someone has breathed their last breath. The way you don’t want to say out loud what has happened, as if it is that which makes it true. The pain of the necessary repeated retelling, and dealing with others’ responses. I remember thinking I can’t tell and attempt to explain the unexplainable to one more person. How you wake up every morning (if you can sleep – I couldn’t for three and a half months – despite pills) and then have to re-remember all over again. How you cry until you have no tears left, through dehydration, then you have a drink, and the tear ducts, replenished, start to function again.
If you’ve never been bereaved before, I’m not sure you can comprehend what the reality of death means. I’m not sure I know, even now, with my wealth of experience which is quite frankly an embarrassment of riches.
I heard something on the radio this weekend where someone said they were told the colours do get brighter again in time, and I was cross, because when my brother died I remember thinking that everything was in fact in sharper focus. The world was the same, but had just shifted slightly on its axis, and looked brighter, as if freshly washed, but had moved maybe a centimetre or two to the right.
I thought I was going to (A Level stylee) compare and contrast the sudden death versus the watching and waiting with a chance to say what you need to, but let’s not kid ourselves. Death is pants, in whatever form it chooses to visit.
But oh how I wish I hadn’t been snippy with my Mum the last time I saw her.
And if you’re wondering (if you’d noticed at all) why I haven’t got a new cat yet, my three, who all died in the last year, were my Mum’s cats, and survived the week locked in the house, two of them without access to any food or water, before we discovered my Mum’s body.
And everytime I cuddled them, it was a link to my Mum. When they milled around my feet when I came in from work I could hear her talking to them, promising she would feed them once she’d put her shopping away, and when littlest cat scrambled up to my neck I could see him do the same to her, when she was standing in the kitchen, talking on the phone.
And I stroked his fur, and saw her hand stroking him.
Funny, the things you remember.
July 24, 2013
I am spending a lot of time thinking about things.
Maybe I need to do more things.
October 2, 2011
I’ve known for a long time that there are as a very minimum two sides to every story. If you ask more than one person “what just happened?” you will invariably get as many versions as the people you ask. Similar facts may be recalled and recounted, but people can never be truly objective and their own perceptions, prejudices and level of awareness/attention being paid at the time means that quite key facts can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. What may be for example, a quite key piece of evidence, may be overlooked by many people: either forgotten, or dismissed as unimportant or even irrelevant to the story that is in essence only forming as the person speaks.
Equally people can have different versions of the timeline of actions within an incident. E.g. asking “who hit who first?” may provoke fierce debate amongst a group of witnesses. Especially when there are threats and a situation is escalating, some people will remember verbal details of an attack keenly, others are literally only waiting for the first blow and will recount with confident relish “x struck y, but only after y waved a fist” with no reliable memory of what was said beforehand (e.g. provocation – which may well be mitigation when considering someone’s actions.)
So effectively there’s my truth, your truth, and of course the “absolute” truth* – the essential facts, stripped bare of relative opinion and subjective colour.
This “what clown on a unicycle” experiment http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/what-clown-on-a-unicycle-studying-cell-phone-distraction/ is a classic and humorous example of how even an unusual event can remain unnoticed by someone distracted by other things. Even when prompted 75% of cell phone users remained oblivious to a clown riding a unicycle through a square as they walked through it and it is only when shown a video of how close they passed to it realise quite how distracted they have been.
All of this is in the context of recent events – and hasn’t even addressed the issue of the reliability or otherwise of memory when asked to recall the detail of particular events after a period of time has passed.
I’ve noticed(!) however that some people have a higher level of alertness, or consciousness, that means they effortlessly notice a lot of detail without even trying, or seeming to pay that much attention – perhaps they just have a better ability to recall events? I like to imagine their memory banks as an example of the ultimate perfectly-indexed and cross-referenced filing system – with the ability to take in, filter and process rapidly a huge amount of information about the world around them without even breaking their stride – available for instant recall when required.
Friends tell me I have a great memory, as I can produce random facts across a most diverse range of topics (not sport though – not good at sport) – but I attribute this “skill” to being a voracious reader (and avid listener of BBC Radio 4!) Instead I perceive my memory banks to be more like a rather messy desk with drawers overflowing with bits of important paper jumbled up with post-it notes of my thoughts about them (and hey – it’s all important) and whilst I can generally place my metaphorical hand on the required fact immediately I’m usually also quietly muttering to myself “I know there’s something else about this somewhere”. So whilst I notice, file and cross reference all manner of facts, thoughts and indeed the minutiae of everyday life, I may not quite have the level of instant recall for everything that I would always like. But it’s there. All of it. Trust me. I’m just not quite so useful for pub quizzes as I’d like to be because I’ll often remember just after the answer sheet has been handed in.
So how does this relate to relationships? And truth?
Well firstly – I don’t believe people should ever become involved in other people’s relationships (unless of course someone is at risk of harm.) Relationships are hard enough without external interference. I always respect the privacy and indeed the choices made by others, as I value my own privacy and right to make my own choices.
I accept that everyone has their own truth. Their own versions of what actually happened, and when. And that’s ok.
But when people become involved and state facts without checking the other side of the story (however uninterested they may be in hearing it) in order to gather the evidence in order to then make an informed (if still subjective) opinion – well then it can be a problem, and they also run the risk of looking extremely foolish. If something that should be private is to become public then perhaps all the facts should be known.
I’m quite a verbal person who often understands things (too) literally – but this also means I do remember exchanges almost verbatim. And I really don’t like what could be perceived as threats, bullying, or injustice. Considering, however, I like to think that not only would I notice a clown riding a unicycle** but also most likely the colour of the flower in his buttonhole, the number of times he circuits the square and pretty much most of the other people’s reactions to him as I pass by, I’m pretty confident of my own truth. And I can provide the post-it notes to prove it. :)
*(For a very brief summary of the meaning of truth including Plato’s with reference to the ideal and real:
**which let’s face it is not something one sees every day – mores the pity. (Unless you’re scared of clowns. I’m neutral towards clowns – thank you for asking.)
September 28, 2011
First life lost when my father died.
Second one when I found out who he really was.
Third one when my brother died. That actually broke my heart – I felt it crack right down the middle, and pressed my forehead against the cold hard glass of the hospital window to try to move the pain from my heart to my head. It healed, slowly – but left a scar.
When a close friend died, another bit of me went with her.
Mum’s death – gosh that hit me hard. The circumstances; the shock; the date unknown – the cause unknown.
Depression – nearly killed me.
And now ?
September 28, 2011
I am going on holidays tomorrow.* I bet when I say holidays you think of sun, sea and….drinks ;-) by the pool? Nah uh, not for me! Nope and no siree. I’m going to Scotland.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of Greek/Canary/Balearic Island holidays in the past. I’ve even been to Fiji (ooh get me) as part of a whirlwind round the world trip (3 weeks from start to finish but that’s another blog story. Which incidentally, includes an astronaut anecdote but….not telling that one today!)
I’m going to Scotland. That’s as precise as it gets. I’m going on a road trip – and if you do like driving and you haven’t driven in the Highlands – you have no idea what you are missing! Well – you probably do – put it this way the roads are the stuff of which expensive car-advertising-executive’s dreams are made of. Sorry, I digress – as will my journey most likely – but I do hope we make it all the way up to the tippetty-top again (as my friend called Cape Wrath when we got there last year.)
I’d normally combine a trip so far north with a hillwalking weekend as we did last year in Ullapool – and the guys I normally walk with are running an event in gorgeous Gairloch (hence the timing) but I haven’t been able to walk so much this year as I normally do – for a variety of reasons including redundancy and a second severe sciatica – which basically means my walking fitness isn’t up to much currently, and certainly not up to Scottish walking. But it will come back – and I will be scaling peaks again I’m sure.
So this is a purely drink in the scenery of the west coast, Sutherland and hopefully we’ll make it across to the nature reserve on Handa Island this time (was unavoidably detained last year chatting to Old Willy, the 80 year old “son of the gamekeeper of the Old Duke of Westminster” who had been taken out by an old friend (jazz musician) who he’d met when they were both sent away to school at 10 or 11, and his stunningly exotic wife, in the pub on the ferry slipway at Kylesku. Willy taught us how to eat the langoustines that were served whole skewered on a metal blade that descended like a dagger – what an ice-breaker huh? and he and his friend told us tales from their youth including their school days and playing in the rugged scenery surrounding us, including the obligatory monster (Nessie) “fish that got away” on one of their countless fishing trips.
So we dallied, after our late lunch, having already travelled up the loch to see the highest waterfall in Scotland, (incidentally that’s a must-do trip too – not least due to the larger-than-life character who provides the entertainment/commentary on the boat, whilst his sons steer and blush with shame at their dad’s risque jokes. He has both a wicked but gentle sense of humour and an obvious love for and intimate (not in THAT way) knowledge of his environment. He’s also called Willy….and joined us in the pub delightedly exclaiming when he saw the other Willy – “girls – you know that house at the top end of the loch – this man was born there!” He was known as young Willy – a mere whippersnapper in his 70s. And that’s as exciting as the Scottish willies bit of my story gets – though I did get old Willy’s number so result. I think. He wanted me to go and be his housekeeper – well I think that’s what he was offering!
A lovely afternoon, but it meant we didn’t get across to the cove to get the ferry to Handa until a quarter to 5, and the last boat was already on its way back. So we sat at the edge of the land where it sloped down to the small pebbled beach, and watched the world go by as the last rays of the sun warmed our faces. Two black and white dogs, belonging to a fisherman who was busy chatting, came and invited me to play by dropping various bits of driftwood at my feet which I threw repeatedly into the sparkling sea for them, and we also had a very long tug of war session with some of that blue fishing rope that seems to end up on most beaches now. The dogs won by the way.
Meanwhile a French woman who was camping nearby managed to barter with a fisherman for some fresh mackerel to cook on her camp fire, by suggesting she swap them for a couple of bottles of wine. “I hope it’s good” he muttered drily as she turned to get the promised bottles, and she was most indignant as she replied “Je suis Francais, c’est bon – naturellement!”
I played with the dogs and looked at the water, and watched for the dolphins and whales that I’d read often passed through the narrow channel between the mainland and island, and in my normal curious way wandered over to observe as the fisherman returned with the French woman and, after trying in vain to communicate how to prepare the fish (she’d perfected a blank expression at this point with a most excellent expressive Gallic shrug of total incomprehension) proceeded to gut the fish in the water with a blade like a Turkish scimitar. He opened the stomach to show the fish’s last meal – and I saw the perfect tiny crabs and fish slipping in his fingers and thought of the bird within a bird within a bird roasts that were produced for feasts in times gone by.
Last year when we travelled up to Gairloch I subjected my friend to the hair-raising toe-curling (including for me as the driver) hair-pin bends to the highest road in the UK, the “pass of the cattle”, promising stunning views across to Skye and the Hebrides at the top – but we had thick mist. So I sulked at the steel point plate showing the directions of various peaks on a clear day and pointed vainly through the damp clinging mist saying – “over there’s Askival – on Rum” in a Ted Rogers “look at what you could have won stylee. We had an early lunch at the Applecross inn. Excellent scallops. And stopped at the not as remote as it looked on the tellybox croft Monty Hall made his home for 6 months in his first series. Once in Gairloch we managed a trip out on a rib during a weather window thinking we were lucky; however there were no whales to be watched, and the return trip degenerated into an endurance test as the weather had turned unexpectedly and nastily so that despite our survival suits we were all drenched when we finally made it safely back to harbour.
Of course a month earlier when I’d travelled on alone after a week of walking on Skye with a group, I’d had glorious breakfast views at the pass of the cattle, and been out on the rib and saw minke whales! And I’d been lucky enough to see a red squirrel cross the road – entertainingly just before passing the “red squirrel crossing” warning sign on the road to Ullapool.
Oldshoremore beach was simply breathtaking, and I still intend to make it up to Sandwood Bay. Although maybe just not this time – as it is a 4 mile walk in.
So – despite previous disappointments my friend is keen to go again – to try and experience more of the glorious wildlife and scenery knowing I’ve repeatedly come back full of tales and adventure stories – I normally like a couple of Scottish fixes to restore and renew my soul but haven’t been up this year. And despite my friend not seeing the whales last time, we did see seals from the cliff top after we walked out along the top of Smoo Cave just past the glorious small but perfectly formed beach at Durness. The underground boat trip in the caves wasn’t running as they were flooded. However the cliff top was carpeted with orchids and the nosy seals kept us company for half an hour.
On the spur of the moment on our last night decided to bomb it back down from Durness to Gairloch (managing in just over 3 hours a journey which had taken us 3 days to meander on the way up) to join another walking buddy who had gone on from the weekend in Ullapool to camp and explore on her own. We stopped just half an hour from Gairloch to take pictures of the most glorious sunset and a red deer hind with two calves grazing maybe 30 yards from the edge of the road – well it would have been rude not to!
After checking into the hostel we quick changed and met our friend Ele in the pub near her campsite and then drove down to the Old Inn for last night drinks and live music. We sang our hearts out to the songs played by the poor chap with the guitar (who really didn’t know what had hit him – but in my defence he did ask for requests).
Waking at 5 (not sleeping too well at the best of times it wasn’t rocket science that the top bunk of a dorm room with snorers wouldn’t be that conducive) we were on the road for 6 – and after a last quick scout round the harbour for the elusive otter I know lives there, headed south. To break up our mammoth journey I called in at the Loch of the Lowes just outside Dunkeld – and despite the osprey chicks having now fledged, the two surviving chicks were still hanging around the nest and we had great views of them sitting looking rather miserable, and extremely bedraggled. Apparently once fledged the mum leaves them and dad takes over responsibility for teaching them to fish. I approve. Wholeheartedly. :-) We had breakfast in Howies and then headed on South – about 11 hours driving in total with one more stop at the services just north of Ferrybridge when the waves of exhaustion meant I needed to nap.
It was strange to have someone with me as I often do a lot of my exploring in Scotland alone after leaving a walking group, but it was quite lovely to share such stunning views and experiences with a friend – who since I helped focus and train the binoculars on the squawking osprey chicks for the first time has subsequently become a bit of a birder themselves. Still – if you’re going to start – start big….. And apparently – I do give good tourguide! ;-)
* I started this last Wednesday, the night before I left for my most recent trip….but never quite got round to publishing it! But I am a completer finisher – so better late than never!
September 4, 2011
I originally thought I was flotsom, just keeping my head above water, surviving the storm of us, and searching for land.
I realise now I’m your jetsam, not lost but deliberately discarded by your thoughtless hand,
If I sink i worry there is no marker bouy for me, no hope of salvage, no laggan destiny.
So derelict I would be. Unreclaimable. Invisible. Forgotten.
How very convenient.
September 4, 2011
(your) Toxic words (have given me)
(your) Toxic promises (proved to be)
The honeyed sweetness lazily dripping from your fingertips onto my tongue, I tasted, licked and swallowed your hidden poison greedily; ingesting you willingly; unknowingly complicit in our ultimate demise.
September 2, 2011
Makers and Fakers
Givers and Takers
All human life is found here.
Carers and Sharers
Hiders and Seekers
of truth, also those who will lie.
Lovers and Haters
Supporters and Slaters
The Bold and the mad and the shy
Flotsam and Jetsam
Lagan and Derelict
All types of wreck, which am I?
Reclaim me, defame me,
Embrace me, debase me
But never deny me, for I
Know the truth of the world,
And how it unfurled!
Hear my voice in the wind as I cry.
August 19, 2011
I once* posted a list describing England in a series of tweets to someone I have never met (as is the nature of twitter) who is/was far from home…sure you can imagine – church bells on Sunday, cats on windowsills in the rain, post office queues, toasted teacakes, robins at Christmas….
Probably a little twee and sentimental (despite girls with tattoos being in there too) but the context was to remind him where I live (was teeting outside normal timezones due to insomnia so he was understandably confused) tease him a little with some cultural reference points (Eurovision nil points) and evoke a fondness for home. I think he liked ’em – he favourited them…**
Now however I would struggle to sound so fond of this nation.
Now I would instead be listing home corrupt and hypocritical leaders criticising the social unrest which is merely a manisfestation of our fractured society, that is at least in part attributable to the examples they set by their own greed and subsequent lack of punishment. (Draws breath at length of that ranty sentence!)
Our democratically elected leaders who say we should obey the rule of law, then tell the law deliverers to throw the rule book out of the window for sentencing/remand etc…
A PM who posited that everyone deserves a second chance rather than admit he made a mistake in the appointment of Andy Coulson, yet first time offenders are being given the “throw away the key” response.
A generation who grew up believing Gordon Gekko’s mantra “greed is good” that rode the crest of the consumerism wave and have no understanding of the immense gulf that has opened up between the rich and poor, is now condemning many people with no opportunities, to significant social harm which risks further disenfranchising those that already appear to have no stake in the concept of society.
So now we have had talk of introducing curfews, that old faithful National service, and a US cop adviser who thinks our police should be armed.
I don’t know what the answers are – but I don’t pretend to. I do know I want things to get better, but am concerned that knee jerk reactions are only going to make things worse. For us all.
NB This post drafted last week originally ended here. I withheld publishing it – really doubt my opinion adds much but am delighted that others with whom I share similar views and concerns have been so amazingly eloquent – and a much more balanced approach to the debate has emerged. Published now for my personal record to remind me of my feelings during these strange times.
Pleased to say things have calmed down in many ways. The rioting has (so far) not recurred. Voices airing concern and caution regarding the apparent disparity in sentencing are at least being given a forum. The government however is still struggling to find the right soundbite that the media likes enough to promote it to become the #tag for their position. And this – at least – amuses me.
*Shocked to realise this was in February. This year. A mere 6 months ago.
**If you want to read the tweets check out Gaham @Brainrotting’s favourites cos tho I’ve tried I can’t screen grab them for here. #Notsotechy
August 19, 2011
Twitter Twitter go away,
Come again another day,
Some times there’s too much to say*
And no-one reads it anyway.
*In 140 characters