20 February 2018

Where there's muck, there's brass

You might have noticed I've been a bit quiet of late. And then again, maybe you haven't. I've been busy. Very busy. And a bit stressed with it. I've just come up for air, before diving back under again.

Clearing away a person's life can be arduous, depending on the person, I suppose. I wouldn't describe my mother as a hoarder, far from it, but she knew how to fill a one-bedroom apartment with a lot of stuff which now falls to me to dispose of. To be fair, until four years ago she had a four-bedroom house with large garden and had to compress all of that into a one bedroom retirement apartment, when she moved closer to me.  She tried to hang on to as much as she could during the move, the consequence being that a lot was shoved into cupboards, wardrobes, under the bed and any space she could find to house it all. I have been painstakingly going through it all over the last six weeks or so, as I have written about before

Personal items were divided into keep, throw away or donate to charity. The same applied to furniture. With the best will in the world, I just cannot keep much of mum's furniture - my own house groans with enough as it is and, moreover,  I plan to downsize myself at some point when I get too frail to manage a 6-storey house on my own. So I approached a charity to donate most of the items to them. It's all good quality stuff but "vintage",  or antique even, as my mother was old school and hung on to things all her life and looked after them. However, herein hangs the tale - some of the soft furnishings do not have the up-to-date fire regulation labels so the charities are not able to accept them. They rejected a perfectly good double bed with four drawers underneath, an excellent two-seater sofa-bed, two plush armchairs the size of Narnia and 4 tapestry dining chairs. No fire regulation labels of any kind, you see, let alone up-to-date ones.

My headache began to form. How to get rid of it all? Bearing in mind, I am 67 years of age, widowed and with no muscly men (indeed no men at all)  in the family  to assist me, I approached the local council, as they advertise bulk refuse collections from home. For a cost of anything between £20 and £30 per item they would collect them for me. But (there's always a but) I had to put them on the kerbside for them to collect. Mum's flat is on the first floor and there's only a minuscule lift in the block. If four people stand in the lift at the same time, they get to know one another intimately. The only option is to take it down a flight of fifteen stairs. Picture how I might single-handedly get a double bed from the first floor to the kerbside. Let alone an armchair or two the size of Narnia. Everyone else in the block is elderly - it's a retirement settlement - so no help to be had there. When I put this to the man at the council, his reply was "well, we can't help you, then".

In desperation I turned to the internet and googled house clearance firms. There was a local one so I approached them. To remove five items of furniture and dispose of it on the local council dump, they quoted me £425 plus VAT. That works out at £100 an item - to throw it away! Needless to say, I told them where to go (and it wasn't exactly to the council dump). The old adage, where there's muck, there's brass springs to mind. Not that it's muck. It's all good stuff.  I've had a few sleepless nights since, chewing it over and over in my head, but have now come up with a plan. With a man. And a van. He's quoted me £200 and that includes removal of a few bits of furniture back to my house as well.  Problem sorted.

07 February 2018

Reunited at last

Last Thursday saw Kay and me carrying out my mother's wishes. She and my father were in love all their married life and joined at the hip, so, when my father died in 2001, my mother was hopelessly lost without him. Not a day went by since, when she didn't yearn for him to be still alive and with her. I promised her that, when the time came, her ashes would lie alongside his. Last week, Kay and I took my mother's ashes down to the crematorium on the south coast and did just that. It was emotional to see the very last remains of my mother go, but at the same time uplifting that she and my father were at last reunited after seventeen years to the very day since my father died.

While we were down on the south coast, Kay and I took the opportunity to have a few days' break - a much needed one for me, as the last six months had been horrendous and unrelenting. We booked into a lovely hotel on the seafront. Our room had two balconies and had views of the pier in one direction and Beachy Head in the other. 

On our second day there, Beachy Head beckoned and we walked six miles in blustery icy wind up and down the undulating chalk hills,

past the Belle Tout lighthouse which was moved 56 yards some years ago as it was too close to the edge of the cliff. It won't be long before it is too close to the eroding cliff again.

Just to the centre right of the last picture you can see a grey-roof building at Birling Gap, just before the start of the Seven Sisters,  where we stopped for a welcoming cheese scone and hot chocolate, before walking back the way we had come.  When we got back to the hotel, Kay's face was sore with windburn and I couldn't feel my hands, but I think it did us good to blow away some cobwebs.

The next day the rain was non-stop, so we dived into the shopping precinct and had a shopathon. Far too much was spent on things we didn't really need but had to have! The evenings were spent trying out the local authentic Italian and Thai restaurants. It was just what I needed. We made one last stop on the fourth day to say a wistful goodbye to my mother (and father) again, before heading back to London.

I'm now back to clearing my mother's flat again and trying to find a home for it all - be it with charity shops or in my house. I think I already need another holiday...........


24 January 2018

Clearing Out

The days of January are flying by. We're almost one twelfth of the way through 2018 already. I've had little time to stand still and contemplate my navel.  It's been a busy month.

Following the death of my mother and the Christmas season, I have been on an upward spiral of activity. There is so much paperwork to do announcing my mother's death, or the transfer of utility or financial accounts over to me, or the application for the necessary probate. Telephone calls, emails, letters, bills and forms have suffocated me on a daily basis. In addition to that, I have been clearing out a lifetime's collection of clothes, documents, ornaments and other possessions from my mother's retirement flat. You would imagine a one-bedroom, one-living room flat would be a piece of cake to empty. Not a bit! Because of the compactness of it, every available space has been filled with what once used to be in a four-bedroom house. I have already filled something like twelve bin bags of clothes, bedding and ornaments to give to charity and that's just from the bedroom!  

Kay came to help me last weekend. Sifting through every shelf or drawer or cupboard has brought gasps of amazement from both of us. One old battered suitcase tied up with a bit of string revealed many birth or death certificates dating back to 1865. There were 

Victorian death announcements rimmed in black with carved out weeping angels. Photographs of my grandfather in a huge crowd of colleagues (male only) circa 1920 taken at the bank where he worked. A letter written by my mother to my grandmother on the day I was born. Such a treasure trove of things. Too many to list here.

Every thing is assigned to  one of three piles........... to keep, to give to charity or to throw away. I have tried to limit what we keep, as my house cannot take much more. My daughter has already said she would like some bits of furniture for the day she eventually moves into her own house, so I have to find room temporarily for those items in our garage or cellar. Obviously precious things, heirlooms or  sentimental things are kept but where to put them in my house? So I spend mornings at my mother's flat sifting and then afternoons back at my house, trying to shoe-horn them into a space here. The charity pile is enormous. The twelve bin bags in the bedroom are soon to be joined by even more when we start tackling the lounge and kitchen next week.

I feel guilty that I am disposing of more than I am keeping. I can feel my mother whispering at the back of my head as I assign yet something else to the charity or rubbish pile. "Sorry, mum" I say to the empty room around me. "I just can't possibly take this." It was beginning to bug me quite a bit the other day. When I drove back onto my forecourt and lugged several bags of "keep" stuff out of the car, I looked across to the front door. There lay a six-inch long white feather on the mat. There is a theory that when a loved one dies, the sign of a feather is a message from them, reassuring you. I have written about it before here. My logical side tells me it is a load of hokum. There's a perfectly good  explanation - a white pigeon or magpie probably flew over the house and jettisoned a feather as it did so. My weaker side likes to think it was mum saying "Don't worry, I perfectly understand. You cannot keep everything."

12 January 2018

30th anniversary.

Today is a special anniversary of major proportions. We moved into this house 30 years ago. That's almost half my lifetime spent in the same house in the same street in the same part of London. I really cannot believe three decades have passed since we moved in.

In 1987, Greg and I decided to up-size our home. We were at that time living in a two-bedroom  apartment (well actually a maisonette for those who know what one is) just a few streets away from where I live now. We wanted more room. The second bedroom was filling up with all sorts of stuff you don't know where to put and we we wanted even more room. We also wanted to start a family. We were both in good jobs and could afford the extra mortgage, so we went for it. 

We looked around and found this crazy modern house on six levels. I've written about it before here. From the outside it looks as if it is on 3 levels, but because the front of the house is higher than the back of the house and the staircase winds its way though the middle, there are six half-levels with mostly just one room on each level. We fell in love with it. It needed a lot doing to it, as the previous resident was an elderly lady with dementia who had a penchant for throwing cups of coffee at the walls or soiling her bedroom carpet. The live-in carer obviously didn't think much of housework and the grime all over the kitchen tiles was so thick, you needed a chisel to remove it. But this did not put us off and it meant we could get it at a reasonable price, albeit with a 16% interest mortgage. (It makes me laugh at talk of young people not being able to get on the housing ladder nowadays with mortgages as low as 0.5%. They don't know the half of it.) 

The view from the windows was amazing, considering we were in the heart of London, and we were young and full of ideas how to turn it from its Cinderella state into the Princess of Town Houses. It had what we called the "oooh" factor, as it was an unusual layout and shape. (Now it has more of an "aaaargh" factor as my aging knees negotiate all those stairs, particularly if I climb to the top of the house, only too late to realise that what I needed to bring up is still 5 flights below! Carrying the vacuum cleaner around is no joke either.)

We made an offer and waited six long months to move in, as buying and selling was made more complicated by others in the chain. In that time of waiting, we experienced the great storm of 1987, when many trees in the area were blown out of the ground, including some in the street where we planned to move to. Fortunately our house managed to stand upright all through that. After all, we didn't want to add bricklaying to the long list of renovations we planned to do ourselves.

On 12 January 1988 we moved in and were in heaven. Our plans were to do up the house quickly and move on, making a profit. We started on the kitchen, chiseling out all that grime and putting a new one in all by ourselves. But life got in the way. Both our jobs were quite demanding and we had little time to devote to the renovation. By the time, we could, I  found I was pregnant and moving on got put on the shelf. As Kay grew up, it made sense for us to stay put. She was an only child. I'd had her when I was forty and we didn't want to risk a brother or sister for her, as I was quite a museum piece for having had a child at forty in the first place. Nowadays that is not so unusual, but then it was. "Elderly Primagravida" I think they called me, which did not sound in the slightest bit flattering. The communal gardens that belonged to the settlement of town houses was ideal because Kay could play with other neighbouring children, so had friends on tap: far better than if we moved to a conventional property where she would be all alone in her own back garden. So we stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

Then, of course, the whole saga of Greg and his alcoholism blew up in our faces when he retired in 2004. From then on, we clung on by our fingernails to some semblance of normality while the whole boat rocked precariously towards his death in 2010. Since then (and it's getting on for 8 years), I have rattled around in this big house finding comfort from its familiarity, the kindness of long-standing neighbours and every pavement in the surrounding streets. I have watched old houses in the area being demolished,  new developments being built and umpteen other changes, but have never felt the desire to move away. Although we are in a quiet (almost village-like) part of London, we are but fifteen minutes by train from Central London in one direction and fifteen minutes by car in the opposite direction to the borders of the Kent countryside. I have the best of both worlds. Why would I want to move?

But thirty years has crept up on me. That's half my life. THAT is definitely scary. Even scarier is the fact that the renovations are still not complete. At the very least I have two bathrooms to modernise, as they are still stuck in a 1960s time warp. Maybe this year is the year to get those renovations finished.

08 January 2018

De-clogging and de-stressing

I recently read an article somewhere that one cause of stress can be to have emails clogging up your inbox. Now whilst I cannot honestly say I lay awake at night horrified by visions of endless emails, it is a fact that I do have a lot of emails clogging up my inbox. They are all opened, but I have just let them build up over the years and never got around to deleting them. Like I said, they've been around for "years". 

Some go back to 2010. They were emails sent or received around the time of Greg's death, so I was loathe to delete them for sentimental reasons. From then on the emails have mounted up, be it from friends, relatives, companies I've ordered things from, companies I haven't ordered things from, or spam. I reckon they must run into thousands. I've never quite felt like spending an hour or twenty-four going through them individually to see what ought to be kept or what I could delete. To be fair, I neither had the time nor had I lost the will to live.

Over the weekend I had a quite a few hours to kill while I avoided Kay, who has taken up residence in either the lounge or the kitchen on a whim as she revises for a big exam on Tuesday to become a Member of the Royal College of Physicians and get the initials MRCP after her name. Trying to give her peace and quiet to revise meant I had to hunker down somewhere else in the house and not make noise. So I escaped to the study for a whole weekend and sat in front of the laptop. Having killed an hour or two on blogs, facebook, BBC news, the weather, Rightmove (what's my house worth?), ebay (what can I sell?) and a few other websites I frequent, I then got bored. Then I remembered that article and it got me thinking, so I decided to make a start. All part of my "new year and new me" project.

I've already deleted anything further back than 2013. I've kept a few out of sentimentality or necessity or usefulness for the future, but I've deleted thousands already. I've also deleted the TRASH folder too, so they are gone, never to return. Tomorrow I'll start on 2013 and, who knows, I might just have a mere handful of recent ones left in my inbox by the end of the week.  I persuaded myself that in all those years I have never gone back to look at  those past emails, so what's the point of keeping them? Answers on a postcard (or email perhaps).

02 January 2018

New Year

Well, it's a new year, a new number to get used to when writing the date or a cheque. 2018. It seems like only yesterday we were welcoming in a new millennium. Where have the last eighteen years gone?

Normally I feel all discombobulated at the beginning of a new year. I compare the passing of a year to climbing a mountain.  In January, we start at the foothills where the vegetation is lush and slowly make the ascent into February, March, April and so on. By December, after a lot of hard effort, we finally get to the snowy peak and regard the world from on high. But come New Year's Eve, we fall off the cliff edge, falling falling falling..........until we reach the ground, there at the foothills once more to start the arduous climb into January.

I felt like that again yesterday. But there is a difference this year. Not only am I in the foothills again, but instead of the same familiar path I have trodden for the last few years, there is a fork and another path to take. A path up a completely different mountain. For the last four years I have dedicated my time to caring for my mother and put my own life on hold. For the last 6 months it has been a daily preoccupation, so much so that I was really living my mother's life and not mine.  I would have not wanted it any other way, but now she is no longer here, I must make a new life for me. Follow new pursuits, make new friends, maybe even travel and explore new things.

With that in mind, I spent new year down in Brighton with my two closest friends. We sat by a roaring fire while the rain lashed down outside. We ate too much, drank too much and chatted well into the wee small hours of New Year. It was just what I needed. Even my friend's cat agreed it was the best place to be.

And so I start January with optimism that this will be a better year. A year to reinvent myself and explore. Who knows where this will lead me? A Happy New Year to you all.

20 December 2017

Bah, humbug.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. So goes the song. Usually in the Alcoholic Daze household, it's looking pretty festive by now. I love Christmas.  I'm like an overgrown kid and go mad, decorating everything that doesn't move - shelves, banisters and walls - with holly, reindeer or baubles. Even the front door - which DOES move - gets an advent wreath plonked on it. I go to town with pre-Christmas food shopping, storing such things as the cake, stollen and chocolates in drawers ready for the big day.  Cards have all been sent out in the first week of December and presents are usually long bought by now and already wrapped. I usually can't wait for the big day to come. As I say, I'm an overgrown kid at heart.

The key to this post is usually. This year is different.  I feel almost guilty for daring to enjoy myself. With my mother's death only four weeks ago and her funeral only last week, it doesn't seem right to enjoy or celebrate. As I drive around the neighbourhood, the houses all lit up, the shops brimming with tinsel and choirs yelling out carols, it makes me feel like shouting out "Do you realise my mother has just died!"  I don't want to ruin other people's joy, but it is hard for me to feel it this year. Fresh grieving at this time of year is hard. People keep telling me Mum would have wanted me to carry on as usual and wouldn't want me to be sad. I cannot think of a single Christmas in the last 26 years when she has not celebrated with us, so it is going to seem very strange indeed that she is not here this year for the first time. 

I come from a very small family. I have no brothers or sisters, no cousins and, now, no parents or husband. Kay is all I have as a remaining relative. Whereas for the last seven years, since Greg's death, there has been my mother, Kay and me, now there is just Kay and me. Christmas Day is going to look very different this year with just two of us. We shall do our best to enjoy it, just relaxing and watching wall-to-wall films on TV, eating a bit too much and drinking a bit too much, but the feeling of guilt will be hard to push away.

Kay and I went to our local church's annual carol/nativity service last Sunday. There is nothing like it anywhere and the church is always packed to the rafters, often with standing room only. And, believe me, it is an enormous church.  At the beginning, the church is plunged into darkness and the nativity is enacted by adults who wander with candles or lanterns  as Shepherds or Wise Men  through the congregation as the nativity scene unfolds at the front. The choir sings haunting classical pieces relevant to every stage of the story.  By the end everyone in the congregation has lit their candles and the church is bathed in light and the smell of candlewax (or singed hair). It is a very emotional service. Somehow, that lifted my spirits - enough for Kay and me to be digging out a few things now from the cellar to decorate the house a little.

I hope you all have the type of Christmas you love and wish you all the best for 2018. It will be a new year and new beginnings for me, now I am no longer a carer for my mother.

13 December 2017


Who knew that organising a funeral could be so exhausting? Well, I did it seven years ago for my husband, but this one for my mother has seemed twice as time-consuming, but maybe I'm getting older or this time it was not for my "spouse", which makes everything more complicated.

For the last three weeks I have been beetling away organising, organising and, well, organising.  What with appointing the funeral directors, planning the Order of Service, liaising with the vicar (my mother was low-key religious, but religious nonetheless), making our own Order of Service programmes and printing them, ordering flowers, organising food for the reception afterwards, informing people and inviting them. ... The list goes on.

In tandem with that I was informing utilities and banks, building societies and Uncle Tom Cobley that my mother was dead. Then there was probate. Ah, probate. A word I have heard but never bothered to define. It seems to manage anyone's financial affairs, you need probate. And before you can seek a grant of probate, you need to fill in an inheritance tax form, even if you don't actually need one. And before you can get that, you have to have certified proof of the deceased's financial situation on the date of death from all of the financial institutions involved including property valuations from a bona fide estate agent. That list goes on too.

So for three weeks  I have been on an administrative treadmill. The funeral was yesterday. All my planning came to a successful head and I was complimented on what a lovely service and wake it was. It was fair to say by last night I was well and truly pooped, cream-crackered, with the stuffing taken out of me. Once home, I fell asleep on the sofa at 7pm for Christ's sake. That is so not me.

There is still much to do to wind up my mother's affairs, but I guess the pace will be a tad slower. To be fair, it is also helping to distract me. For the last six months I had been visiting my poorly mother on a daily basis, so it has been a considerable adjustment not to be doing that all of a sudden. It's probably just as well I have something to distract me until I find my feet again.


22 November 2017

In peace at last

16 August 1923 - 22 November 2017

Almost 67 years to the day (less a week) since we were first introduced to each other, we have parted. A great mum, a lovely grandmother , who will be sadly missed and dearly loved. Rest in peace. Pain-free at last.

20 November 2017

Stop the world, I want to get off

You've probably missed me over the last few weeks (and then again, probably not). I have neither posted nor managed to read your blogs. It has seemed like a few weeks of hell. I've only just managed to raise my head for a few seconds, before I bob down again. So here goes. 

Mum continues to hang on by a thread. Having been in hospital for eight weeks, she was transferred two weeks ago to an extremely nice nursing home for end-of-life palliative care. The gangrene in her leg is moving fast covering her entire ankle and now moving down her heel to her foot. The skin is black and the flesh is being eaten alive. Her pain levels have been astronomical and the only way to control it is to knock her out with so many opiates that she can now neither register when we visit or eat or drink or talk. It is so sad to watch her decline in so few weeks when ten weeks ago she was living independently. She won't be here by Christmas. On the good side the nursing home is amazing. I had been told I would not have to pay the exorbitant fees but that it would be funded by the NHS as she is at the end of life and the care is palliative. The home is one of the best (believe me I saw quite a few which were ghastly) and more like a hotel. The staff are so caring and seem to like their jobs. The food (not that mum eats) is served on trays with lace doilies. When I get decrepit, that's where I want to end up. Here are photos of her room (not that she can appreciate it in her drowsy state)

and the view from her room

Beyond the trees is a  field with horses grazing which is a very calming scene indeed. 

Apart from the daily visits to see her, not that she really sees me, I have been blessed with two other major problems. Three weeks ago, I had my central heating system serviced by a large company in this area and for the first time in 30 years, my boiler failed its test. The engineer disconnected my heating and slapped a sticker with "DANGER. DO NOT USE" on the boiler. After a phone call to the head office, it was only then they cheerily told me they could not install a new boiler for another five weeks, as they are so busy. I pleaded and cajoled but was told I would have to join a very large queue. The removal of the old boiler will be on 30 November and the re-siting of the new one to conform to modern regulations will be on 1 December, so in all we shall have had five weeks without heating, just as temperatures plummeted to near zero. I have had to go out and buy three electrical heaters (I've never had the need for them up to now as I had efficient central heating) but as a lot of my house is open plan the heat doesn't stay in one room. I've found four layers of clothing works far better, with a hot-water bottle and pyjama bottoms tucked into socks at night. God, I look sexy.

Don't think that is the end of my woes. To add extra stupidity to my chaotic life, I decided to have most of my windows replaced. I had used this double-glazing company in the past and had been satisfied with the quality and the price, but this time disaster decided to strike. The team of two they sent to do the job were a cross between Laurel and Hardy and the Hammer House of Horror. They attacked the old windows with frenzy, almost severed my telephone connection, hacked out chunks of plaster which they either covered with new plaster of concealed with  strips of PVC, took the paint off my stair banisters as they carried frames upstairs and then put in this hideous window in one of our  bathrooms. 
The window itself is the size of a microwave oven, so not very big at all, but the hideous hinges and rings and rings of PVC surrounding it, make it look more like a submarine hatch. The view is of the fitter's leg outside on my flat roof as he wields even more PVC strips.  Happy I aint. I'm at war with the company, refusing the final tranche of payment and they have promised to come and inspect, except they failed to turn up on Friday when they said they would and failed to turn up again today when it was rescheduled.

Any one of those problems would have had me tear my hair out, but all three together have rendered me a gibbering wreck. Hence my silence over the last few weeks. I'm off to rock myself quietly in a corner of a freezing cold room. I may be gone some time....

26 October 2017

Bad bad news

I've been saying it enough times to people over the last few months but now a professional has told me the same. It somehow has more gravity and is more of a shock. 

My mother is dying.

Mum has been in hospital for 6 weeks now and we had not managed to see a doctor older than 25 years in all that time. The young girl looked out of her depth most of the time every time we asked for an update and gave airy-fairy unsatisfactory answers to our questions. Finally after much pushing Kay and I managed to get an appointment with the consultant on Tuesday and the news was not good. 

Mum is dying.

The arterial narrowings in her abdomen and legs have caused poor blood flow to her lower legs.  The huge postcard-size ulcer or wound on her leg is never going to heal, because oxygenated blood cannot get to it. Now she has infections in it and similarly the antibiotics cannot reach the wound. This means Mum has a permanent leg infection. The wound is getting bigger and bigger and turning the leg gangrene. The toxins building up are making her confused. 

She also appears to be losing blood somewhere internally (from her low blood count) but to find out where would involve uncomfortable tests which for a 94-year-old very frail patient would be horrible. So they are giving her blood transfusions as well as fluids as her blood pressure has crashed.

She is so weak that the physiotherapists have given up trying to get her to stand let alone walk. She is bed-bound. So going home is never going to be an option as she cannot even get from a chair to a commode now let alone to the bathroom.

She is in so much pain, they are drugging her up to the eyeballs with a strong cocktail of opiates and other painkillers. Ninety per cent of the time when I visit (which is every day) she is in a deep sleep and no amount of shaking or yelling in her ear will rouse her. Her lunch lies untouched at her bedside. I sit and write text messages on my phone while she sleeps and then I go home again. On her more wakeful episodes she talks in a whisper and comes out with weird stuff. On Monday she asked me what time my husband Greg was coming home from work that day. He's been dead seven years. It was like a knife through my heart.

The hospital have said she does not have long. From what they say it might be a matter of a few months, but obviously they cannot say for sure. To me she looks like she will barely manage it through the next few weeks. They want to move her to a nursing home to get more palliative round-the-clock medical care. This is now being arranged. Although I have guessed this all along, hearing it from someone else's mouth as a definite fact is hard to take. This is my mum. WAS my Mum. IS my Mum.

As if that news was not bad enough, on the same day, my best friend rang to tell me her husband died the night before of a heart attack. I have known him over 40 years. She was my best pal at university and my bridesmaid. By association he became a good friend too. He was fit and healthy and had not been ill until Monday night. At 73 he was not particularly old.  He was taken ill suddenly and died in A&E. It has been such a shock I cannot get it out out of my mind. 

What with the news of my Mum too, Tuesday was the worst day imaginable.

22 October 2017

Nightmare or Halloween?

Mum is STILL in hospital, just completing her fifth week and commencing her sixth. She exists in a nightmare world - half true and half made-up.

The half made-up nightmare is explained by the strong cocktail of painkillers she is on.  She tells me quite confidentially that the patient in the bed opposite arrived last night through the ceiling, so if I hear a bump from above, it's another one arriving. I swallow hard, trying to stem the tears I feel coming into my eyes. That is not the mum I know. The one who, five weeks ago devoured the BBC News Channel for entertainment and read the newspaper cover to cover. Some days I cannot rouse her at all and spend an hour of my visiting time just watching her sleep. A few days ago, when a nurse was administering some more oral opiates, she asked mum to confirm her date of birth and mum could not remember it. Who forgets their date of birth? My mum is currently a basket-case. Her eyes show very little consciousness behind them even when they are open. She will be in mid-sentence and either drift off to sleep or get easily distracted into silence, if a nurse walks by, and forget her thread of conversation. She speaks slowly, barely audible, as if conversation is an effort and as if she would prefer to return to her twilight world.

The half-true nightmare is that to date she has not improved at all, but got far worse. The infection in her leg (although it could be anywhere for all we have been told) rages on and the pain is still not under control. Until she is medically fit, the hospital do not want to discharge her, either to her home or to a half-way rehab care home. In five weeks we have not seen or been contacted by a consultant once. As my mother is hard of hearing and in a world of her own, you would think they would contact the relatives to discuss the plan. There is a consultant, I am told, but they have yet to make themselves known to me and I have tried to contact them without success. The day-to-day running of the ward is left to two juniors fresh out of university and definitely both under the age of 25. They looked overwhelmed, when I approach them for updates, and naively experiment on the patients including my mother. I have tried to be patient and let them get their practice in, but after five weeks I am losing patience (and they are in danger of losing patients), as I watch them struggling to cope. My mother is now so institutionalised and confined to her bed/chair/bed/chair that she cannot now stand up from her chair on her own even to use the commode. They now need to use a hoist to move her about. What a difference five weeks make when she was living independently in her own flat and getting around, albeit slowly behind a zimmer frame. She has deteriorated 100% both physically and mentally in the space of 35 days.

I have expressed my concerns repeatedly over the last few weeks. The infection has not gone and the pain is still there at the expense of her being almost unconscious or confused the whole time. Every time I express concern, they do not listen, but instead bump up the levels of painkillers, making her even more senseless.  I feel the anger in me rising. Enough is enough. I want some answers and real solutions. Time to knock some heads together methinks and demand to see someone over the age of 25 to sort this out!

10 October 2017

La-la land

Mum is in her fourth week in hospital. Every day I make the exhausting journey there and back to provide some sort of familiarity. Little did we know when she was admitted on 17 September that she would be in for so long. They are still fighting the infection  and the pain. She's on her third type of antibiotic and swallowing a cocktail of painkillers.  She has been poked and prodded with needles for all manner of tests and x-rayed a few times, all to no avail and no nearer to a cure or care plan. She is in a ward for the elderly and most of them, as far as I can tell,  have lost their marbles. Purely because of the unfamiliarity of the place, the pain and the infection, my mother is slowly joining them. She doesn't always realise she is in hospital. If she leaves her room to go for tests, she thinks she is being taken to another part of London, when in reality her bed has just been wheeled downstairs.  Sometimes her ramblings make no sense at all. The mum I took to A&E four weeks ago is not the same woman. She's worse. This is a woman who, four weeks ago, was reading the newspapers and hungrily devouring the news on TV.

I seek advice and an update on mum's progress from the young junior doctor  who sits at the nurse's station glued to her computer screen. I might add she is the only doctor I am able to approach, because the consultants keep well out of sight on the wards during visiting times. The young doctor, fresh out of uni, looks like a rabbit in headlights every time I enquire about mum's progress. A few days ago she attempted to put a cannula in mum's arm, spent a good half hour, preparing, feeling for bulbous veins, bathing the arm in antiseptic and feeling for veins again. Each time she inserted the needle, mum shot six feet into the air and screamed with the pain and the doctor had to admit defeat after two attempts. A nurse came along and did the procedure painlessly in 2 minutes. 

Before every meal (breakfast, lunch and supper) they test her blood sugar. A  needle prick in the end of the finger to draw blood which is then measured for blood sugar levels. They always come back within the normal range. Quite why this is necessary over a period of at least a week is questionable. Mum is not, and never has been, diabetic. They could surely establish that in a few days of finger pricking tests, but, no, the relentless finger pricking continues.

My mother is 94 and should be enjoying her last days. The leg ulcer is already causing immense pain, so quite why she needs to be subjected to more with pointless tests which get us no further, I don't know.  I am worried she is becoming institutionalised and may have transgressed into a la-la world from which she will never return.

25 September 2017

A turn for the worse.

My mother has got worse. A week ago, I went in - as I do every day - to prepare her lunch and found her floppy, confused, shaking like a leaf and not at all like my mum. I dialed 999 and an ambulance crew arrived in ten minutes. She was whisked off to A&E where we spent ten hours!  Yep, you read right - TEN HOURS. In the first few hours, she was undressed, put in a gown, bloods taken, a catheter put in and then we more or less sat in a cubicle for a few more hours waiting and waiting and waiting. I studied the scratches and gouges on the walls and got  to know them intimately. Mum writhed on the trolley in agony.  We then saw an A&E doctor at about the  3-hour stage. The blood results finally  came back, showing a severe infection - but where? More waiting. Then after about nine hours one of the ward doctors came down to assess whether she was ill enough to be admitted. She was. But first a chest x-ray, which thankfully was all-clear. Finally after ten hours (and not a drop or morsel past our lips) she was taken up to a ward, where she has been for the last week.

The infection is coming from the nasty leg ulcer she has had since May. Back in May it was the size of a grape, then grew to a kiwi, then a peach. It had been more or less peach-sized for weeks, but now with the infection it is the size of a postcard! It is not healing as her leg artery is blocked meaning blood cannot get down to heal the ulcer. It is virtually eating away her lower leg and is quite an horrendous sight.  District nurses have been dressing it three times a week but now the hospital has left it exposed for it to dry out and thus stop the moist warm conditions that bacteria thrive on. The infection would explain my mother's quite dramatic decline over the last few weeks when even making a cup of tea was too much effort for her and she has been eating less and less of the meals I have prepared for her. Thankfully over the last week the infection is losing and the IV antibiotics are winning. However the excruciating pain she has been in since November (which we recently found out is caused by the arterial blockage) is still driving her crazy and she cannot get any rest. The hospital are experimenting with new drugs to try to lower the pain, but so far nothing has worked, even morphine. Even amputation has been considered by the doctors but, we are told,  is really too risky for a 94-year-old. We wait and wait with bated breath.

18 September 2017

Bone weary

I am tired. The sort of tired that, when you open your eyes first thing in the morning, you would happily close them again for a few more hours' sleep. I force myself out of bed and into the onslaught of the waking day. I am pushing the boundaries of sleep in both directions. I often do not get to bed until 2am and am up again at 7am. No wonder I am tired. I am caring for an aged parent on the one hand and an adult child on the other, both having time clocks on the opposite end of the spectrum.

As I heralded in my last post, Kay has moved back home with me for six months to save money for a big trip of a lifetime to Asia and South America next year. It is lovely having her home again and (so far) we have not torn one another's hair out or thrown a vase at the wall. We have not had this much lovely girlie time together in years. However she is working as a locum doctor, often on late night shifts in a different part of London, so by the time she gets home it is near midnight or, as in the case of last night, 2am. Silly as it may sound, I cannot rest until I know she is home safely. When she was in Yorkshire or Maidstone, I had no idea what time she came home, so I slept peacefully in ignorance. But now she is home with me again, I cannot rest until I hear her car pull up and the click of the front door. Then I can sleep.

On the other end of the spectrum, my 94-year-old mother is getting frailer. She now weighs only 7 stone, but her legs are enormous, swollen with fluid like tree trunks. A huge ulcer, which is the size of a plump peach, on her right leg is not healing. It will never heal, we are told, as the blood supply to it is very poor. She has stenosis, or in other words narrowings of the arteries in her pelvis and leg. It's just an old-age thing. Furring up of the arteries. One day the narrowings will close completely and the blood flow to her leg will stop altogether. Presumably that means gangrene. We have already been told amputation is the only real option to help her leg pain, but how is a 94-year-old, who can barely move, supposed to cope with an amputation or a prosthesis? The outlook is bleak. My mother has visibly deteriorated in the last six months. Back in April, she was coming with me to the local hypermarket to do a big shop and pushing a trolley up and down the aisles all by herself. Today she can barely lift herself out of her armchair and walk across the room to get to the bathroom. She sleeps all night in her armchair because she cannot get any rest from the relentless pain in her leg if she sleeps with them flat out in bed. She only gets relief if her feet are down on the floor. The armchair has become her home - day in, day out, night in, night out. The less she gets about, the less she is able to.   A vicious circle.

She needs to be woken up early, as she has daily appointments in the mornings that require her to be up and dressed....regular visits from the district nurses who dress her leg ulcer, appointments at hospitals, surgeries, you name it. Because of her medication for the pain, she sleeps quite deeply and so needs me to telephone her early at 7am and at regular intervals thereafter to make sure she is awake.  For the last ten weeks, I have visited every day at about 11am to make her lunch and prepare a supper to put in the fridge. Sometimes I get there to discover she is still undressed, having dozed off again after my last telephone call. Sometimes I find her eating her breakfast at 11.30am just as I arrive to cook her lunch. I feel as if I am in the middle of a nightmare world where strange things happen. As an only child and a widow, I have nobody else to call on to help. It's me or complete strangers and she's dismissed the idea of the latter. Living with me is not an option. My house is on 6 storeys with too many stairs. She would be incarcerated in one room - my bedroom, as it is the only room with a bathroom on the same level.

I'm so run-down, I've even had a gum infection (the first one in my life ever)  with a swollen cheek that made me look like a lop-sided hamster and pain I didn't know was possible. Occasionally, I am so battered by the relentless early starts and late nights, that I nod off after my lunch. I try not to, as I don't want to waste the precious hours when I could be doing something for me.  I guess I'm just going to have to find some bigger matchsticks.....

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05 September 2017

Happy chaos

Bags bursting with contents lie strewn across my hallway. A full-length mirror is propped precariously up against the hall wall. A pile of four pillows and duvet are unceremoniously dumped in a corner. A crate of kitchen utensils are balanced on my dining chair.  In the lounge a bag containing two (now defunct) laptops lies on the floor. There are jauntily stacked piles of DVDs and CDs here and there on the floor. The kitchen cupboards are bulging with two of everything - gravy granules, flour, jam, herbs sauces, rice, pasta, teabags, coffee.  Absolute chaos reigns. The interior of my house looks like a cyclone has hit it.  The reason?  Kay has moved back home and brought with her eight years' worth of gathered essentials (and non-essentials) of independent living to merge back into my house. 

It is hard to believe that it has been eight years since my one and only child, Kay, left home to go to university up in Yorkshire. Ever  since that tear-stained day, she has lived away from home - predominantly six years at uni in Yorkshire, for one year working in Maidstone and for the last year in another part of London close to the hospital where she works.  Six months after she left home, Greg, my husband died, and I have been rattling around this big house for over seven years on my own. Until now. She has come home and I must adapt to sharing my home once more.

A few weeks ago, Kay finished her two years - first in Maidstone and then in London -  as a foundation doctor or houseman, as it used to be called. That is the period between graduating from medical school as a young doctor and starting to specialise, gaining experience in different disciplines. She now has to start three years of core training in an area she wants to specialise in.  As yet, she is still not 100% certain what that will be, but does not have to commit at this stage, as she will have more placements in various fields to narrow her choice down further.

However, she is young compared to her peers.  First she is the baby of her year, as her birthday comes at the end of the academic year (July) here in the UK. Also she got into medical school straight from school, whereas many applicants for medicine fail to get in first time and go off to do another degree first before trying to get into medical school again. Kay is currently 26, whereas many of her peers are in their late 20s or even 30s. Therefore she has decided she can afford to take a belated gap year to see a bit more of the world, while she still can, before she gets sucked into the career ladder.

Her aim is to work as a locum doctor for the next six months to squirrel away enough money to fund the ensuing six months of travel. She and her boyfriend aim to visit various parts of Asia and then go on to cover  large parts of South America. By living at home, she can save the £800 per month she has been paying for one room in a flat-share in central London for the past year. As a locum, she is not tied to one particular hospital as she was before, so can travel in any direction from my house to a variety of hospitals on an ad hoc basis.

It is lovely for me to have some company at home and it is great for her not to have to worry about shopping or cooking or the laundry. Don't get me wrong, she has offered to do all three, but she is busy with her work (and has a big exam to do in the next few days as part of her membership to the Royal College of Physicians) and I am quite happy to have someone to look after, so it suits us both. Someone jokingly said they wondered who would crack first. It won't be me, I am certain.

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14 August 2017

The other side

Following on from my last post on Passchendaele, I thought it only fair to mention that my paternal grandfather was on the other side in the First World War. I am a mongrel, being half German, a quarter English, an eighth Irish and an eighth French. No wonder I am confused.

My paternal grandfather was born in Berlin and, like my maternal grandfather, also enlisted early on in the war. He fought for a time in France, where he was shot in the leg and then, after he had recuperated, he was sent to the Russian front which was notoriously freezing and conditions were unbearable. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery. Ironic really, as he went on after the war to marry a girl with Jewish connections (he was Lutheran) and in 1939 they were forced to flee for their lives and settle here in England, some number of months after their two teenage sons (one of them my father) had already come here with the Kindertransport.

 My German grandfather in exact centre front row.

When my mother and father got together in the Second World War, announced their engagement and introduced both sets of parents to one another, my two grandfathers amicably shook hands and joked "I bet you were the b*****r that shot my leg/eye".  It was good that they could be so forgiving, given the extent of their injuries. It does however highlight the futility of war - human beings but for the grace of God on opposite sides ordered to kill one another. We haven't learned the lesson of the last hundred years - war still goes on all over the world at any given time and will continue to do so alarmingly, if Kim Jong-Un and Trump get too trigger-happy.

08 August 2017


I remember my maternal grandfather very well. My parents and I lived in the upper storey of my grandparents' house until I was eight and after that we moved a few miles away, but still visited him and my grandmother regularly. At least once a week. He died when I was 26, so, yes, I guess I remember him well.

When I was old enough to study French at school, he would boast that he too could speak French. It was just the odd word, but he liked to show off, throwing words like "oeuf" and "petit dejeuner" and "boeuf, s'il vous plait, madame" at me, as if it made him fluent. I subsequently discovered it was a handful of words he had picked up from his First World War days in France and Belgium, when trying to order food in villages, as the soldiers passed through.

As a child (and female at that) I was not particularly interested in what he had done in the war. Come to think of it, he was none too keen to regale us with stories, as I think it was all rather painful and horrific. There was no such thing as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in those days and precious little in the way of counselling. People just had to man up and cope the best they could. I did pick up that he had terrible pain in his legs from the shrapnel wounds and when the shrapnel moved around he would suffer from terrible headaches. He used to shout a lot when that happened. My childhood chattering and running about on the floor upstairs used to make his headaches worse apparently. As a small child, I was fascinated with his glass eye. I never quite cottoned on which eye to focus on, when I spoke to him,  not really understanding that the glass one would not actually see anything.

The little I do know was that he fought at Mons, Ypres, the Somme and at Passchendaele. He was in the Royal Artillery and had a black horse called Smiler that pulled the gun carriages. It was at Passchendaele in 1917 that my grandfather was badly wounded in the leg and lost his eye. Not only that but, in the same explosion, Smiler was fatally hit and that upset my grandfather more than anything. My grandfather was brought back to England to be nursed and his eye apparently ended up in Northampton Museum. That was the end of the war for him.

It is exactly one hundred years since that battle at Passchendaele.  My mother still has his medals and some excellent needlework he did while recovering in hospital. As I think of him now,  I so wish I had asked my grandfather more about his experiences. As always, we leave these things far too late.

01 August 2017

When Pain just isn't Fair

Mum is in immense pain. The driving-you-demented kind of pain. Think of a pain and multiply it by one hundred. THAT kind of pain and I am tearing my hair out trying to help her.

It all started last year. Back in May 2016 at the ripe old age of nearly 93 she had a knee replacement operation on the right knee. She was booted out of hospital after a few days and then went on to have a week's respite care before going home. The knee more or less behaved itself for a few months, but by November, she was getting intense pains up and down her right leg from her knee to her ankle. In addition to that she had swollen legs (on both sides) so that her ankle and shins were the same thickness as her thigh. I won't bore you with the minute detail, except to say the diagnosis changed from DVT to cellulitis to arthritis each time we saw anyone for help.

In March the GP referred us to an orthopaedic consultant, or at least that was the plan. By July we had not heard a bean from anyone.  Meanwhile in May she suddenly developed a leg ulcer the size of a kiwi fruit which looks black and yellow and frankly deadly. District nurses have been coming in to dress it twice a week and each time tut and murmur about it getting bigger and not responding to treatment. 

The deadly leg ulcer

In early July, my mother fell out of bed (asleep!!) four times on almost consecutive nights within the space of a week. Her panic alarm system called an ambulance each time and I was woken by a shrill telephone call in the wee small hours to attend too. Each time she was scooped off the floor and (surprisingly) had broken nothing. Her observations (pulse, GCS, blood pressure, blood sugar etc) were all fine, so the ambulances left without her. However, it would seem after the last fall she had done some damage to her ribs and was getting pain there too. There's not a lot you can do about cracked or broken ribs, except take painkillers. I puzzled hard and long as to why she had suddenly started to fall out of bed at such alarming regularity when I discovered she had been hanging her throbbing leg out of the side of the bed to get some relief and in her sleep had just slid out behind it. In a heap. On the floor.

Two full-length parallel bed rails were commissioned pretty smartly via occupational health at social services. But it seems the rails can only be raised and lowered if you are outside the bed. My mother lives on her own, has no carers and is fiercely independent. How on earth is she supposed to get out of bed if the rails can only be lowered from the outside? The compromise has been to only have one rail up on the side of the double bed she sleeps on and to build a bank of pillows on the other side to stop her rolling out that side, where the rail is down.

However the pain is so excruciating that the latest development is that she cannot get more than an hour's sleep in bed before she is getting up to move to her very deep old-fashioned armchair, as she finds hanging her legs down is more comfortable. She's spent the last three weeks sleeping in that armchair.

Painkillers do nothing at all. We've worked our way up from paracetamol to codeine to tramadol to morphine patches and back down again - nothing works and the higher you go, the more woozy and dizzy she becomes, so more at risk of falls. Two weeks ago we saw a private orthopaedic consultant (we were fast-tracked to a private one by the GP as the wait for an NHS one had gone over 3 months) and their view is that my mother has both vascular problems and neuropathic/nerve ones too, each requiring different contradictory treatment. For the vascular problems and the swelling, you need to raise legs, but for the neuropathic pain, my mother finds it easier to let legs hang down. It would seem the pain may be attributable to a trapped nerve caused by the knee replacement operation, although the jury is still out on that one.

My mother has now been prescribed pregabalin - a drug primary used for epilepsy but with useful application for nerve pain. (We scared ourselves half to death just reading the leaflet that came with it and were very nervous about starting it.) The side effects can be horrendous.  Not only that,  the drug has to be taken in steps to allow the body to acclimatise, so you start on a low dose and build up gradually over about a month. First one tablet at night, then one in the morning too, then two at night, then two in the morning too and so on. We are halfway along that course and still there is not the slightest improvement to the pain, yet spectacularly my mother is slowly losing her marbles. One of the side effects is confusion and, boy, is she confused. We spent a good part of yesterday morning discussing something in great detail over the space of two hours, only for her to ask me a question as I was leaving, which showed not a single sentence of it had gone in at all. I'm not sure if it is the pain or the drugs or dramatically sudden onset of dementia.

My life is not my own at all at the moment. I have been going in every day mid-morning to make her coffee, deal with problems, cook her lunch, wash up, make supper to leave in the fridge, administer pills and
leave her with a cup of tea, before I crawl home at 3-ish, somewhat disheartened by the physical and more alarming mental state of her.  She is in so much pain and we seem to be getting nowhere fast. She talks of Why Me? and I'm past my sell-by date and she is already telling me what to take of her personal effects, as I may not be around much longer. She has suffered with arthritis and back pain for a good deal of her life but this is different. The district nurse this morning said she will chase something up which has been outstanding and we are planning yet again to badger the GP (currently on annual leave).  Nobody deserves to be in that much pain, but we seem to be getting nowhere fast at the moment.

25 July 2017

Worried about somebody else's drinking?

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Alcohol dependency is a condition that over a million people deal with in the UK. In fact, the NHS estimates that 9% of men and 4% of women in the UK are dependent on alcohol. However most don’t seek help.

It's usually a good piece of advice that if somebody's drinking is causing a problem with others, then it is a sure sign they are an alcoholic. Far too often the drinker is in denial. What? I don't have a problem with drinking. I can control what I drink. I know how much I can safely have before I stop. I can still hold a job down without any problems. I provide for my family etc etc etc. 

If truth be told, it is better to ask those around the drinker whether it is a problem. The wife/husband/partner,  the kids, the work colleagues will all tell a different story. Angry outbursts, fights, hangovers, sickness, poor work quality, struggling to cope with what little money is left once the rest has been spent on drinking - that's what they see. Sometimes the families prefer to remain in denial too, as to admit their loved one is an alcoholic comes at a huge cost - which can involve separation, divorce, moving house, coping on reduced finances, kids going into care - situations which are all traumatic in their own right. Sometimes it is better to pretend everything is fine, until it is not and more than likely until it is too late.

The Priory Group (one of the many useful contacts listed on the top of my blog) is a UK independent provider of alcohol rehabilitation and support services and is committed to helping people overcome their addiction to alcohol and start their journey towards recovery. Their consultants treat people from all walks of life – often it is those you least expect who are struggling. They have just launched a campaign based on helping people to spot the signs of alcohol addiction, should they be worried about a partner’s, friend’s or relative’s drinking. This is the link to start their interactive web page. If you are worried about somebody else's drinking (or even your own), don't leave it too late to seek help.  If the drinking continues unchecked, remind yourself in the PROGNOSIS tab at the top of my blog of the physical changes you can expect to happen. Your body is a temple, but there is only so much it can take, before irreversible damage sets in.

The Temple of Bel in the historical city of Palmyra, Syria on August 4, 2010. ─ Reuters/File