18 May 2018

The Internet: the worst and the best

It's been three weeks since I last posted. A combination of being elsewhere and being in a bad place, if you see what I mean.

The elsewhere was in Brighton, where I took up role of Nurse Addy to help a good friend who had broken her leg. She lives in a tall Victorian house, with her bedroom right up in the attic -  rather like Rapunzel's Tower - and the kitchen way down two flights on the ground. Not very good when you have a broken leg (note to self, as I have six half levels broken by five flights of stairs).  It kept me fit doing up and down with things for her or helping her slowly and painfully down to get some fresh air in her garden.  

Whilst I was away I was victim to an Internet troll. I won't go into details, but it upset me greatly and, as always when I have stress, it went straight to my stomach. I have spent the last two weeks nursing a sore tummy.  These trolls think they can hide behind their computers and say what the hell they like. That is the down side of the internet.  Fortunately,  now I can say I am nearly over that and in full fighting fit mode (and probably full fighting mode with regard to the troll, whereas the last two weeks felt like the end of the World).

Kay meanwhile has literally been at the end of the World in Patagonia and is now in Santiago slowly making her way north along the west coast of South America. Thanks to the internet I have been able to keep in daily touch with her, so the internet certainly does have its good side as well as its bad.

27 April 2018

A tale of teeth and more teeth

It's been a strange few weeks since I last wrote and I've had little time to even think about blogging or reading yours.

Image result for tooth extraction
courtesy of medhalt.com
First there was my tooth. Or rather lack of it. I'd been on a hospital waiting list since last June to have an upper molar removed. My dentist was not keen to do it as the root went through a sinus cavity, so had referred me to the local hospital. However, as with all things non-emergency these days, I'd been waiting all this time to have it removed. The day finally came in mid March. It was not an easy extraction and the tooth crumbled as it was being pulled, so the young doctor (not actually sure he shouldn't still have been at secondary school by the look of him) had a job digging it out. They have to warn you about the worst case scenario and I was not a little disconcerted that I might get "communication" which is apparently when a hole appears between the nose and mouth and your cup of tea or coffee comes down your nose as you drink it!  I was almost out of the door at that point before I signed on the dotted line, but slightly reassured that it only happens in 1% of cases. Hoping to be among the other 99%, I was to avoid nose blowing or sneezing for a good two weeks. It's amazing, when told this, how you suddenly have a strong urge to sneeze every five minutes. That urge was constant for at least the first three weeks.

The first week was excruciating. I had to gargle with salt water washes four times daily and eat mushy baby food. After a week, I could gradually go on to harder food and stop the mouth washes.   However, after a week, my mouth was still very painful and I could feel sharp lumps on the ridge of my gum which I thought might be ulcers. I suffered for a second week before approaching the hospital again to ask if they could possibly have a look. I was a bit nervous to appear a right wimp, but I couldn't go back to my usual dentist as he had in the meantime retired since I last saw him in June, so technically I no longer had a dentist. It turns out I'd got something called "dry socket". It's where a blood clot, that should have formed immediately after the extraction to fill the hole, comes away leaving the bones and nerves exposed. They were surprised I'd held on so long. It usually happens to smokers or women on the pill. I'm not guilty of either, so goodness knows why it happened to me. They dressed the wound and said I was about two weeks behind in the healing process. The sharp lump I could feel was bone poking through the gum where the jaw had fractured with the force of the extraction. Not to worry, I was told it would heal in a few months and go back to normal eventually. After five weeks of mushy food, I am gradually returning to adult food again and pain-wise where I should have been three weeks ago. The human body is certainly a wonderful thing.

Meanwhile Kay and her boyfriend were sending me daily photos and updates about their holiday and keeping me happy that they were safe and well. It almost felt like I was on holiday with them. They had spent a few weeks in Thailand, a week in Cambodia and two weeks in Vietnam. In Vietnam they had started down in the south in Ho Chi Minh City. As they were flying out of Hanoi back to London, they needed to gradually work their way north to Hanoi. About four days before the end of their holiday they were about 80 miles from Hanoi staying on Monkey Island. The clue is in the name. The place has a colony of monkeys that tourists come far and wide to see. Tourist boats call in, tourists jump off, photograph monkeys and leave by boat. The monkeys must get sick of it unless of course they get thrown bananas. There is one hotel on the island and Kay and boyfriend booked in for three nights. On their first day, they went off in search of monkeys. Clambering over a rocky promontory complete with fallen trees and ditches, they came down onto another beach and saw some monkeys playing in the trees. Kay was filming them from a good distance. One monkey was on the beach playing with an old discarded shirt, wrapping it round its head and having a whale of a time. Kay still kept her distance, taking the occasional photo. Just as they were about to leave, a second monkey came out of the forest behind the beach and started attacking the first monkey. They wrestled for the shirt and the fight got very nasty indeed. As Kay and friend were walking away back to the promontory, the two monkeys abandoned their fight with one another and decided it was better to join up and fight the humans instead. Kay said it was difficult to gain a distance because the terrain was rough and not easy for them to hurry whereas the monkeys were able to bound over obstacles and gain on them.  The next thing was that one leapt onto Kay's back and sunk its teeth into her upper arm. Kay managed to get down to the sea edge and bathe her arm in salt water. Once over the promontory again,  a nearby cafe just happened to have some iodine under the counter (funny that!)
and she was able to bathe the wound in iodine. However unable to get definitive confirmation whether the monkeys were rabid, the pair had to cut short their idyllic stay on the island and head for Hanoi earlier than planned to get rabies boosters. Thank God for travel insurance as those shots cost over 200 US$.  

Kay came home for all of five days last week, as planned, to dump thin hot-weather clothes, grab some cold-weather  trekking clothes and head off to South America, where the next three-month leg of her adventure continues.  As an anxious mum, I'd factored all sorts of disasters into her trip - theft, murder, shark attack, falling off a cliff whilst trying to get a good photo and maybe a car accident, but getting bitten by a rabid monkey was well off my radar. I sincerely hope that's the last of the disasters.

09 April 2018

My Imaginary journey

Kay's almost at the end of the first leg of her travels. I can't believe there's only another eight days before she's home again . When she set off on 7 March, it seemed a long way away, but, thanks to Whatsapp, Internet and Skype,  she has kept in touch almost on a daily basis. She knows what a worrier I am. As a widow and an only child with no other close family such as cousins, she's my one and only in the world now, so I think I can be allowed to worry when she's on the other side of the world. I've been able to follow her flights on Flight Radar and literally take-off and land with her. I've been able to look up on the internet the hotels or hostels she has stayed in, or google the towns to see what they look like. She tells me what she has done that day or what she is planning for the next. It's been nice to hear from her regularly, as I feel I am experiencing the holiday through her.

She spent almost three weeks in Thailand, playing with elephants,
learning how to cook Thai style, visiting zillions of temples, luxuriating on a paradise island and "slumming" it in backpacker hostels. "Slumming" is the wrong word as I would have happily stayed in any of the ones she stayed at - they're not the same basic places we called hostels in the 1970s or 1980s. A couple even had their own pool. She moved on to Cambodia for about ten days visiting more temples and the Killing Fields (or the Cambodian equivalent of Auschwitz). The latter obviously had a great effect on her, because we had a 45-minute skype conversation about it the following day. 

She's now in Vietnam. Having experienced the crazy bike world of Ho Chi Minh City (it's always going to be Saigon to me) or exploring the VietCong tunnels.  She's now in a coastal resort in a quaint little town (a sort of Vietnamese Lyme Regis) where there are hundreds of tailors who will whip up a suit or a dress or even a handbag overnight to your specification and choice of cloth or leather. Kay is in seventh heaven and has bought several dresses and bags. How on earth she is going to cram them into an already bursting rucksack remains to be seen, unless she jettisons a lot of toiletries overboard first. 

Eight more days in Vietnam and then she is on her way home. I can't wait to see her. Although, if I blink, she will be gone again. She's home for a few days and then she's off on the next leg of her travels. I'd better start researching that on the internet for my next imaginary journey.

25 March 2018

This little piggy went to market

Well, my mum's retirement flat is now on the market, thanks to this little piggy, who worked her hooves off to empty the flat and part-decorate it ready for the sale. All that is now needed is for the blimmin thing to sell. According to the estate agent, this is not a good time. Is it ever? I have never found moving house anything other than stressful. Buyers or vendor change their minds and drop out like flies. Mortgages are unobtainable or surveys spread gloom and doom. I have never met anyone who didn't have problems of one sort or another. The last time Greg and I moved it was so stressful we never moved again - that was thirty years ago and I still don't feel tempted to try it again!

Fortunately with this case, I have nothing to buy, so can sit back and wait, but I'm sure I'll have some tales to tell before it sells.

Image result for for sale
courtesy of zillow.com

20 March 2018

Rollercoaster Ride

Poor old Ant's in the news again.  It's no surprise to me. Addiction is a roller-coaster. One minute you're down in the depths and the next minute you've recovered and on a high again. Being in the public eye makes it a thousand times worse, I am sure, but it is no different to the ordinary man in the street really. Every one including the addict hopes rehab will solve the problem, but it's not usually the case. Nine in ten people will succumb to the demon again. Up, down, up, down.

It does not make Ant or any other addict a bad person. They would give anything not to be like that. It's an illness, a mental illness, that they don't have a lot of control over, although many who have never been in that situation will disagree. I am sure he will be mortified that a  young child's life was put in danger. Many's the time Greg wanted to go out in the car to get more whisky, whilst ten times over the drink-drive limit. Instead I "enabled" him by doing the driving myself to get his supplies. It did not sit easily with me that I was fueling his addiction. But his addiction meant that I could not have someone's life endangered or on my conscience. 

12 March 2018

Keeping mum

I mentioned in my last post that Kay is away for six weeks. That is only half true. She's away for five months.  Five months of discovering the world and its beauty for her. Five nail-biting, grey-hair-turning months for me. When does being a mum ever involve less worrying? I bite my lips and keep mum while she enthuses about what she is going to do, offering the odd bit of helpful advice about avoiding crocodiles and sheer precipices.

Last August Kay took a year out of her career ladder. She'd done the two foundation years after university, needed to cement her training as a young doctor. The next stage was to sign up to two years' Core Medical Training - placements in hospital that would lead to her becoming a Registrar. But she's younger than the majority of her cohort and she wanted to see the world. So............ she took a  year out.

First she worked as a locum for the last seven months in hospitals in London and Kent, earning far more as a locum than she would as permanent staff, AND she moved back to live with me. Both those moves enabled her to save vast sums of money which she squirreled away to fund her travels for the remaining five months. Last Wednesday her adventure began.

She is doing what a lot of youngsters do these days - backpacking around Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.  In my 1960s head these are war zones. Places to avoid. It's like a future generation getting excited about a fortnight  in Afghanistan or Syria. The world is a much smaller place, now it has cheaper flights and internet. But it doesn't stop me worrying. Thankfully Whatsapp, Messenger and Skype keep us linked. But it doesn't stop me worrying. I worry for England. She's with her boyfriend, but, even so, did I mention I worry for England?

She's home for a mere few days in April before Phase 2 of her travels - to South America.   I guess I'm going to need a shed-load of hair dye by then. Those hairs are turning grey by the second.

gray hair dying
Picture from HTV.com

09 March 2018

Slumming it

When dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a student, I stayed in youth hostels around Europe, which were pretty basic. The dorms were like prison cells with bunk beds so hard and decor limited to bed and cupboard. You shared with strangers and had gruel for breakfast. You showered communally.  They were not attractive in the slightest. It's hard to think of it now, but I used to hitch-hike too as far afield as Vienna.  I wouldn't recommend that now, but students in those days were made of strong stuff, the world was a different place, and we coped.

Kay and boyfriend departed from Heathrow two days ago for Bangkok on a two decker Airbus, every luxury at their fingertips.  They're on a six-week backpacking tour of Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam. This is the room they've got in a hostel for the next five days in Bangkok. Ok, it's a bit minimalist, but has TV and attractive lighting AND an ensuite shower. AND privacy. Oh my word, what we would have given for that in my day.

28 February 2018

Snow joke!

I had to pop into Central London this morning for a hospital test booked weeks ago. I sure know how to pick my days. It would be the morning after the worst snowfall in London for years. Public transport up the creek and I had to be there by 10.30 am. Worse still, I  hadn't been allowed to eat since yesterday lunchtime. I was so weak and so hungry I could have eaten my head. I had to negotiate the snowy pavements in freezing cold temperatures, hang around for delayed trains and then buses. Fortunately I made the appointment on time. As I was leaving it decided to snow in blizzard proportions.  I stupidly thought I'd snap a stunning photo of Westminster in a blizzard from inside the bus,  but there was total white-out until my bus got over Lambeth Bridge and I was able to take this rather pathetic photo instead. Ironically the nurse that put a cannula into my arm was from Russia. She thought it hilarious that so little snow could bring a capital city down to a standstill. She's used to far more dramatic stuff.

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.