30 October 2008


The next morning on 6 September at breakfast-time we got a call from the hospital to say that Greg had been transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. He had developed a chest infection and they were also worried about his neurological state, so they wanted to monitor him more closely. We couldn't understand where this had suddenly come from. The night before we had left him reasonably fine, apart from being unable to walk and withdrawing from alcohol. Kay and I visited him straight away. He was not a pretty sight. He was in a single bed bay with a nurse specifically assigned to him watching over him 24-hours round the clock. His chest was heaving visibly and he was obviously having difficulty breathing. He had an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. There were lines and tubes going in to him for antibiotics, glucose, insulin and saline. He had ECG pads all over him attached to a heart/blood pressure monitor. He was catheterised. None of that particularly phased Kay or me.....we are made of strong stuff and have always had an interest in things medical anyway.

However, what was more distressing was his state of mind. He was clearly very agitated. He seemed to know who we were, because he called me by name to come over to him, while I was still trying to discuss with the nurse the reasoning behind moving him to ICU. He was convinced there was a television in the room and wanted me to turn it off. Despite us telling him there was no television, he became very agitated and insisted I hand him the remote control. There was nothing in the room that resembled a television, except a window on the dividing wall between his bay and the neighbouring patient's bay, so the nurse went and closed the Venetian blinds to that window, hoping that would satisfy him. But still he insisted there was a television there that he needed to turn off. It became very evident he was hallucinating and such was his distress that he tried to get out of bed to turn it off himself, tugging the lines and tubes that he was attached to. In the end, after several failed attempts to reason with him, either assuring him there was no television there, or humouring him by pretending to switch an invisible one off, the nurse gave him a sedative and he slumped instantly into restful sleep.

Shortly thereafter a team of doctors passed by and I was told by a senior-looking doctor that they were monitoring his neurological state. His apparent agitation might be to do with the drugs he was on, or the fact that patients often get distressed in hospital, particularly in ICU, or it may be to do with the alcohol withdrawal. Time would tell. Meanwhile they were giving him antibiotics for the chest infection. I had assumed he had bronchitis, as he had had it often before, being a smoker. Nobody corrected me otherwise.

I visited him in ICU for a whole week thereafter. For most of that time, he seemed sedated. He barely opened his eyes, when I used to arrive. He would manage a few words, but his speech was very slurred, then he would drift into sleep again. He always had an oxygen mask on too, though his breathing seemed more relaxed and regular. It was only after he had been in ICU for a week and then been transferred to one of the medical wards that I discovered he had been suffering from aspiration pneumonia - a type of pneumonia contracted by inhaling liquid, such as when a drink or vomit goes down the wrong way, ends up in the lungs and attracts bacteria. It transpired he had vomited that first night in hospital before he was transferred to ICU and that had caused the pneumonia. The pneumonia had made him very ill indeed. After all, some people die from it and, before antibiotics, that was generally the outcome. Greg was very weak anyway from the alcohol damage and, it would seem, he was now fighting for his life.

26 October 2008


On 5 September 2008, Greg was due to have the angiogram and angioplasty. We were told to report to the hospital at 7.30 am, so that they could prepare him and wean him off the alcohol for a few hours before the actual procedure was done in the afternoon. I had briefed Greg the night before that he should make an attempt to wash himself, perhaps have a shower and do his hair and body all in one go. Very drunk, as usual, he had shouted at me to leave him alone, so I was not hopeful that he would do anything at all. I also asked him to be awake by 6am so that we could eat, dress and be ready to leave the house at 6.50 am for the drive to the hospital. He had nodded his assent to that.

6 am When I came down for breakfast that morning, he was lying asleep on the kitchen floor with the dining chair lying on top of him, as if he and the chair had fallen over in one combined piece. I removed the chair, shook him gently to wake him and told him it was time to get up. He mumbled at me to leave him alone as he wanted to carry on sleeping. His feet were black, the toes still bleeding through the bandages, his clothes were stained and he smelled. It was evident he had not had a wash the night before and we were far too short of time to do anything major now. Still talking to him to make him wake up, I hastily filled a bowl with water and grabbed a cloth and tried to wash his top half down, as I knew that would be where the angioplasty entry-point would be.... I was keen to sanitise that area at the very least. He was still in a drowsy state and kept fighting me off. I tried to take off one set of clothes to replace them with clean ones, but again he fought me off saying he was cold.

6.40am. The clock was ticking away and I could see we were only about 10 minutes off our scheduled departure time, but he was still not dressed, nor had he had anything to eat. (The procedure notes had strictly advised a light breakfast beforehand. Not that Greg ever eats breakfast. He hardly has anything for lunch or supper either.) I managed to persuade him to consider a boiled egg and toasted soldiers before we left and to my surprise he agreed, but when I set it on the table, he still lay on the floor dozing in his old clothes. By now my blood pressure was rising.

6.50 am The time we should be leaving the house. The egg lay uneaten on the table and he still lay unclothed and asleep on the floor. By some superhuman effort, I managed to pull him up, dress him like some lanky overgrown baby and with the help of Kay, who had now appeared in the kitchen, we managed to get him up onto a dining chair. I was still rushing back and forth making sure we had the hospital appointment letter and all the other things he would need for the procedure to go ahead. I felt like a character in a zany cartoon film.

7.10 am. The minute-hand of the clock edged towards 7.10am and we were late. I knew the drive to the hospital and the almost manic hunt for one of the £2-per-hour hospital parking places would make it impossible for us to make the 7.30am deadline. There are only about 30 parking spaces for the entire hospital in a tiny courtyard and they are always full. After that there is meter-parking around the busy side streets, but they would be too far away for Greg to stagger to the hospital. I was getting frantic. Kay helped me to stand Greg up from the dining chair and slowly walk him to the stairs for the climb to the front door (our kitchen is in the basement). His balance was not good and he seemed unable to support himself. He was confused and had to be reminded where we were going. He seemed to have completely forgotten that he was even having the angioplasty. At the foot of the stairs he went to raise his foot onto the first step and could not find the strength to pull his weight up. I tried to push, Kay tried to pull, but he could not put his weight on his foot. He collapsed on the step and could move no further.

7.15 am. I tried to phone the hospital to say we might be a bit late (understatement of the year), but the appointment letter only had a general number for the office which of course would not be open till 9am. Hurriedly opening the telephone directory, I could not see the small print for the hospital switchboard number without my glasses, which of course were nowhere to be seen.

At this point I was tearing my hair out. I decided to ring the Emergency Services and ask for an ambulance as there was no way we could move Greg in any direction now....like a rag doll, there was no strength in his legs and we could still not manoeuvre him up or down the stairs.
I checked with the 999 service to see whether I was wasting their time, but they seemed genuine about the fact that we deserved an emergency call-out. Kay meanwhile headed for school on the bus, as I knew she would be better off at school. She looked relieved that she did not have to stay with me.The ambulance crew arrived pretty quickly soon after that and agreed to take Greg to A & E at the hospital we needed to be at. They wrapped him up in a blanket, carried him up the stairs in a chair-trolley and out into the ambulance. They did all the necessary emergency checks in the ambulance and then we set off for the hospital, with me leaving about 5 minutes ahead of them to get a parking space.

7.55am. Greg arrived at the hospital in the ambulance, just after I had parked the car and had found the entrance to A&E. The casualty staff looked generally perplexed, when they examined him. The sight of his toenails seemed to put even the strongest of them off. It amused me how these people can deal with all the blood and guts of A&E, yet still get their stomach wrenched at the sight of a torn toenail. As for his legs and general state, they did all sorts of tests. He did not seem to respond to any of the usual reflex tests and could often not feel anything at all as they asked him whether he could feel them twiddling his toes up and down. He did not jerk when they banged his knees. In short, he seemed dead from the waist down. Shortly after arrival, I had sprinted up to the ward where he was going to have his procedure done to tell them why we were delayed and that he was in A&E. The lady doctor who was about to perform the angiogram/angioplasty visited him shortly thereafter in A&E to say she would in the circumstances delay the procedure for another week to give him time to recuperate from whatever was wrong with him. Blood tests were done. More waiting for the results. A&E were on the verge of sending him home, but I pointed out that our house has lots of stairs and that, if he could not walk, there might be a slight problem with that. Fortunately a team of physiotherapists and social workers called by and eventually decided to admit him to a ward and keep him there while they did tests on his legs to see if he had something called peripheral neuropathy - nerve damage to the extremities caused by diabetes and alcohol consumption.

12.30pm. I saw him settled into a ward. He was insisting that he wanted to go home, but I was firm and told him there was no way I could cope with him at home if he was unable to stand or walk. His reply was that "we would manage".
"Yes", I thought, "and by we you mean me!"

1.00 pm
Having spent 5 hours altogether at the hospital, I left in a frazzled state for home. In all that time I had not even had a chance to have a coffee. My head felt as if it had been whizzing around in a spin-drier. I was also concerned about Snoopy, who hates being left for even an hour let alone five, so I imagined I would be going to home to chewed matchwood instead of furniture. Fortunately Snoopy decided to support me by being good that day.

6.00pm. I then visited again with Kay. I felt as if I had been at the hospital all day. The parking ticket meter once again greedily devoured more money - that day I spent over £15 in all on hospital parking. Greg was even more desperate to get home, as, you may remember, he hates hospitals with a passion. He was agitated but at the same time, barely acknowledged we were there.
Kay and I didn't hang around that evening. We were so thankful to get rid of him for a while and get a bit of peace and quiet. We walked out into the fresh air and sighed a deep sigh. What a day, that had been !!

20 October 2008

On the floor

We are now coming very close to the point in my story, when I shall eventually catch up with the present day.....

August 2008 - Once I had taken my mother back home again and returned to London, Kay and I fell back into our routine. Kay had various things to do in preparation for her return to school
and I was getting the house back to normal after a summer spent mostly away from it or with house guests. Greg carried on as usual in his own little world. But I was beginning to notice he was getting quite confused. For instance, before Kay had returned from her trip, he had been convinced he had seen her going upstairs to her room. On another occasion, he had rung his sister in the night at 2am, thinking it was 2pm. She was not best pleased to be roused from a deep sleep. The most vivid example of his confusion was when he had told me a friend had phoned and was coming to stay but could not remember when. When I asked him to ring the friend back and confirm the date and time of arrival, so I could make a bed up and buy enough food in, the friend said they had not even phoned him recently, let alone said they would be visiting. This was concerning me, but I put it down to the alcohol. A small part of me wondered whether he was showing signs of early dementia. His grandfather had had senile dementia in his seventies, but Greg is only 59, so I hoped he was too young for that yet. As the time for his angioplasty drew nearer, I just hoped and prayed that when it came to it, the hospital would keep him in afterwards. They were aware of his drink problem, but were still prepared to go ahead with the angioplasty, as he physically needed it to be done. But I wondered what would happen if he was forced to abstain from drinking for a few hours while they did the procedure and whether he would start to get withdrawal symptoms while he was there. The whole reason for continuing the drinking was because Greg was terrified of the withdrawal symptoms. In which case, I felt sure the hospital would then step in to do something.

Meanwhile, I began increasingly to find Greg sleeping on the kitchen or lounge floor, when I came down for breakfast in the morning. He was now hardly making it as far as the bedroom at all. He would be lying there on the hard floor, fully dressed but with no covers over him at all. Sometimes his head would be on the dog's day bed in the kitchen; at other times he would have no support for his head save for something hard like the floor or a shoe. When he did move about, he stumbled or fell against furniture. He was covered in bruises.

On 4 September, the day before the angioplasty, I came down to find him lying on the lounge floor. I was getting used to discovering him like this in the mornings. I tried to wake him and get him to at least lie on the sofa, but he became angry and refused to move. So I left him there, while I went out for my monthly meeting at the Alcoholic Advisory Centre (AAC).
I was away from home for about three hours in all, but when I got home, Greg was still asleep on the lounge floor, exactly where I had left him. I briefly checked on him and then made myself a sandwich for lunch, putting on the TV in the kitchen to watch the News. After a few minutes I heard Greg rousing in the lounge , making a move followed by a thud and a shout of frustration as he fell. I rushed into the lounge and found him sprawled in a heap on the floor. He ordered me to help him up. As I did so, I noticed he had torn off two very long toenails and they were hanging on by a thread with blood gushing everywhere. I helped him onto the sofa, but he was totally unaware of what he had done to his toenails, until I pointed them out to him. He asked me to pull the nails off, as it was impossible to leave them flapping about. I was not sure whether that was the best thing to do, so warned him that it would hurt, but he insisted, so shutting my eyes tightly and gingerly feeling for the nails, I yanked them off quickly, expecting him to scream the place down. He was so drunk and devoid of any feeling that he did not even murmur. I ran about gathering antiseptic as well as suitable bandages to bind his toes up. Within minutes of doing that, Greg fell instantly into a drunken sleep again on the sofa, leaving me shaking with the enormity of what had just happened.

16 October 2008

My Dad

A lot of Kay's friends are turning 18 at the moment and she has been busy several evenings this week making birthday cakes to take into school for them the next day. She has decorated them herself too and made a wonderful job of customising each one for their recipient. Her classmates have been very impressed and have commented how good she is. Which is all rather appropriate because we reckon her grandfather (my father) must have been watching over her and guiding her.

My dear old Dad would have been 85 today, if leukaemia had not struck him down suddenly nearly eight years ago. He had a reasonable innings, I suppose, and considerably more than he would have had, if the nasty Mr Hitler had had his way. My Dad was born in Berlin on 16 October 1923. Because of the post 1914-18 Depression in Germany, my pregnant grandmother had been unable to maintain a nutritious diet. So my father was born with rickets and could not walk until he was six years old. My grandfather came from good old Prussian stock and was a Lutheran, a protestant faith into which my father and his older (by three years) brother were christened and confirmed. But my grandmother came from Jewish parents, who did not want to force Judaism on their children, so much so that my grandmother never even set foot in a synagogue. Maybe my great-grandparents saw which way the wind was blowing. Who knows? But sadly, when it came to Mr Hitler's cleansing programme, any hint of Judaism in the family going back, I believe, six generations meant you were branded a Jew, whether you practised it or not. For my father and his older brother, despite being christened and confirmed, it meant not being able to join the Hitler Youth. Not that they wanted to, mind you, but not to join made you stand out, because everyone was rushing like lemmings to be a part of it. My father was singled out at school when he did not wear the Hitler Youth uniform on special celebration days. It did not however exclude him from being made to write euphoric school essays about Hitler on the Fuehrer's birthday or when he made his big speeches at Nuremberg.

One day in 1938, my father, aged 14, was away visiting one of his aunts, when the SS officers came to take him away. As he was not at home, they took my (then) 17-year-old uncle instead to a nearby concentration camp where he spent 3 months, was tattooed and watched all kinds of atrocities. My grandparents (for some reason the Gestapo did not take them as well) had the foresight to sell off all their possessions to free him again, as it was possible before WW2 to buy your freedom if you could prove that you had a definite passage out of Germany. The family managed to escape to Britain with the help of English Quakers, first the children with the Kindertransport in March and a few months later, my grandparents. Many of the aunts, uncles and cousins were less fortunate and shortly thereafter were taken to concentration camps, where no more was heard of them.

My father, now in England, was placed in digs on a farm (still at the tender age of 14 without his parents or brother anywhere close by) to help out with all manner of work, earning a few pence at the weekend by scrubbing out the stables or the farmhouse, so that he could afford to buy personal things like shaving cream or toothpaste. He could only speak a few words of English which didn't even amount to a sentence. Slowly he built up his vocabulary, after befriending a young man in the village who spoke a little German. After war with Germany broke out in 1939, he was then interned on the Isle of Man for six months while the British government went into his paperwork to check he was not a German spy. When he was given the all-clear, he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture clearing the land to feed the nation. That is how he met my mum, a Land Army girl, about three years later in 1942. My post on 26 July tells how he was pulling out trees with a chain and a tractor and she stumbled over the chain. He helped her up and they started dating. He loved opera and introduced my mother to a different opera showing in London each week with his hard-earned money. They were married in 1947. Times were hard and they had to live apart for the first three years, as they were unable to get even a room together, let alone a flat or house in post-war bombed-out London. Their work dictated that she live with her parents in South London during the week, while he lived with his parents (having meanwhile met up with them again) in North London. They got together at weekends, when they could. There were no such things as social benefits or hand-outs, particularly so, because he was an immigrant... .nowadays it is quite the reverse. So he worked hard for his living and managed to get on the housing ladder and save for a mortgage. He was naturalised as a British citizen and was always proud to be British. He wanted to do his best to settle down here and give thanks to Britain for saving his life.

A few years after the war, Dad took a course in food science and baking and ended up being a chef patissier or pastry chef. Looking at the prima donna celebrity chefs these days, I reckon he would have deserved to be up there with them (by that I do not mean he was a prima donna, but was the best at his job), but in his day, chefs were poorly paid and worked long hours and did not get the celebrity status they do now. He worked for some pretty big London hotels and finally ended up being the patisserie manager of a very high-class grocery establishment in London well-known all over the world as THE Grocer to the Royal Household. In 1960, he made one of the many wedding cakes for the marriage of Princess Margaret to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. He was often asked to send out pastries to the Queen Mother. He later went on to make the desserts for all kinds of high government functions, including those where the Queen and other Heads of State were present. He even once had to go to 10 Downing Street and go through that famous door to make desserts for a function there and regularly worked in the kitchens at Hampton Court, where Prime Minister Harold Wilson insisted on holding his state functions. When he took early retirement aged 62 because of a heart condition, he was still in great demand and would still often do the odd bit of work for friends and family, such as making wedding or birthday cakes.

At one point in his life he had also taught cake-making and decorating at evening school and had many appreciative students - mainly women. They adored him, though he never strayed away from home and always stayed faithful to my mum, and to this day we still receive fan mail from these women at Christmas. Because of his continental upbringing, he would always wear a jacket, collar and tie, even when the temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and over. He was a sort of Captain von Trappe figure - always very reserved, courteous, well-turned out and charming. I never saw him drunk. He might have had the occasional Guinness at Christmas, but even that was a rare sight. He was the sort of guy who had many friends, but yearned for a quiet life at home. The Nazi era had affected him badly. He was not keen to give details of his past to anyone and he refused to take any compensation from the German government for what they had done to him and his family, when he later had the opportunity to claim it. He saw it as blood money. He was terrified of fire, because he had grown up seeing books and synagogues burned, and always made a point of unplugging any electrical appliances before he went to bed. He was happy so long as he was safe in his home, with his wife and child, and much later he was happy to spend time with his one and only grandchild, whom he spoiled rotten. He excelled at (and won prizes for) everything he turned his hands to - be it ploughing or bread-making. An Austrian princess who visited that famous grocery store once told him his Viennese Sachertorte was better than the ones she could buy in Vienna. In latter years, as a hobby, he made the most beautiful, intricate dolls-house furniture for Kay . .. tiny inlaid marquetry tables or cabinets with drawers and glass-doors or even a miniscule television with knobs and dials.

Sadly in 1997 he was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukaemia (CLL), but it was a type that was relatively kind and would not snuff him out. He bore the regular blood transfusions and bone marrow tests with fortitude and I never heard him complain. Then at Christmas 2000 he suddenly started to feel very ill indeed and could not even manage to eat the festive meal without feeling sick. He struggled on for a few weeks until mid-January when he was due to see his consultant haematologist. Further tests were done and it was found that he had developed the more aggressive form - acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) - in addition to the CLL . We were told it was so rare to have two different forms of leukaemia at the same time. He was told he was too ill for chemotherapy and had a matter of weeks or months to live. In fact he died a mere ten days later on 1 February 2001. We were devastated.

My mother has still not got over it after nearly eight years. She misses him dreadfully and still cries for him. They were so in love and were two perfect halves of a whole. As an only child, I adored him and put him on a pedestal. He was loving and loveable. I miss him dreadfully. Today he would have been 85 years old. So when I saw Kay this week icing those beautiful birthday cakes so perfectly for her friends, I believe he must have been watching over her and guiding her hand. Maybe he was sitting on a cloud hoping there was a cake for him today. I would give anything for him to be here to eat it.

Happy Birthday Dad.

14 October 2008

While Kay was away

The run-up to Kay's expedition to Central America in July 2008 totally passed Greg by. He showed no interest whatsoever in anything we needed to do to prepare for the trip .....not the inoculations, the foreign exchange, the kit list, the travel advice. He stayed in his cocoon, watching TV, drinking, smoking and sleeping, while we shopped, scoured websites and packed. Even on her day of departure it was all he could do to turn his head in her direction to say goodbye. Not, I think, because he was disinterested in her. More, that everything was turned in on him. It was all he could do to exist. In the past he had been a wonderful father........ changing nappies; rocking her back to sleep in the middle of the night when she cried out; reading stories to her; taking her regularly to the cinema; or even once taking her single-handedly on a trip to Disneyland Paris, while I stayed behind to visit my dying father. Nowadays he was too self-absorbed to notice what she was doing.

Kay left for her expedition with a tearful farewell, leaving Greg and me truly on our own for the first time in ages. But far from it being a romantic time to be alone with one another, I could not bear to even be there. He was in the kitchen/diner, permanently drunk. I was in the lounge, watching TV on my own or in a separate bedroom sleeping on my own. Just like landlady and lodger. There was no hope in hell of behaving like two excited parents on their own without the kids for a while.

A few days later, Greg had an appointment to see a vascular consultant. This was a follow-up appointment from his previous hospitalisation in 2006 when they had decided the blood-flow to his legs was not good. They were monitoring it to see whether they needed to do some sort of surgery, but they had asked Greg to give up smoking first . The appointments were at annual intervals to see if he had achieved that. Of course he had not, but this time the consultant could see the blood supply in his legs was very bad. Apart from the fact his feet looked purple most of the time, he was now having extreme difficulty walking any short distance at all. It was decided he would need to have to have an angiogram to see where there were blockages in the leg arteries and possibly an angioplasty to widen the arteries with stents. A date of 5 September was booked for the procedure to be done.

Meanwhile, I was beginning to see clearly what life would be like next year once Kay leaves home for university. I have always known what it would be like, but without Kay physically here for a month, it brought it home even more. I knew I would not be able to continue living with him. I told him out loud what I had been thinking for ages, partly hoping that the realisation of what his drinking was doing to us all would somehow make him stop. But he kept saying that I was being over-dramatic and he refused to believe we would split up. He said we went back a long way and we could not throw that away. I told him in no uncertain terms that once Kay had left for university, I would be off too, as I could not take much more of his drinking.

I had had Kay at the age of 40. I had had an executive career beforehand, but gave it all up willingly when Kay was born, as I wanted to enjoy being with her - after all I had waited so long for her. But it meant I was now financially dependent on Greg. Without any personal income, I could not find alternative accommodation until Kay had left the nest. Once that had happened, I would be able to move sixty miles or so away to live with my ailing mother, who was more than pleased at the idea of me moving in, as she is getting very frail. To push home the point, I told Greg I had decided I would spend a couple of the following weeks with my mother, helping her with some of her big household chores, such as hacking back the undergrowth in her garden and washing curtains. He would need to get used to the idea and my being away would be good practice.

When I left to visit my mother, I hid 15 bottles of whisky and 400 cigarettes all over the house, making a list for myself of where they were hidden so I could remember to tell him each day where to find the next bottle and packet of cigarettes. I also made up or bought freezer-packs of ready meals so that he could take one out and microwave it. But of course, I was forgetting one thing.... Greg 's appetite had gone to nothing again. He only had the appetite for whisky and nothing else. After two heavenly weeks away, I returned home together with my mother. I wanted her to be with us when Kay returned from her big trip and to hear all the tales Kay had to tell. Mum's birthday was also on the day before Kay's return, so I did not want her to be on her own for that either. She was visibly shocked at Greg's appearance. He had gone downhill even more during that fortnight. He looked so thin. If he wandered around with hardly any clothes on, his skin hung on his frame in pleats. He looked like a little old man.
He had not eaten a single meal I had left in the freezer for him but all 15 bottles of the whisky were empty and all cigarettes gone. On my first day back home, I had to buy more of both, as he was always desperate not to go into withdrawal at any cost.

He was now taking to sleeping a lot of the time. Either on the sofa or sometimes on the floor - in the kitchen or the lounge. It seemed like he could not be bothered even to climb the stairs to bed. He was not washing; his hair was long and unkempt; he was not shaving and his beard was dishevelled; his clothes were the same old ones, covered in stains and creases. He stank. The soles of his feet were black and his toenails so long. He really was a sight. I had to take him for a pre-surgical assessment at the hospital in preparation for the angioplasty in two weeks' time. I felt so embarrassed to walk alongside him. He clung on to me for support as he could not walk unaided from the car to the main entrance. Once inside, he then demanded that I find a wheelchair to take him to the relevant department, as he could barely stagger.

When Kay returned in mid-August from her expedition, she was naturally pleased to see us all, though disappointed that Greg had not changed. I think in her absence she had hoped for a miracle. Although she was jet-lagged and had also gone without a decent sleep the night before, she was bursting to tell us her stories. My mother and I listened enthralled by her tales, but Greg just dozed on the sofa and would occasionally open one eye to focus on her and then doze off again. She also showed us her digital photos on the computer - all 600 of them- but Greg declined to have a look, saying he would look at them later.
In the middle of all this, Kay also opened the envelope containing her AS results which was waiting unopened for her return. She was pleased to have got As in all of them with the exception of Chemistry, for which she had got a C. She was disappointed, as the universities insist on an A-grade for the course she wants, but she stoically accepted that she would need to resit Chemistry at a later date.

To this day, Greg has not seen the photos, nor heard her account of the trip, nor taken on board her AS results. Kay said she was not bothered, but I could see it hurt her. She chose to shut herself off from him. I did too. It was the best way to cope with the inevitable disappointment, when he showed no interest.

11 October 2008


This morning I have just done a three-hour work-out and am now collapsing in front of the computer to have a bit of a breather. There was much arm-bending, touching the floor, weight-lifting and stretching. I had a quick 10-minute coffee break in the middle and then resumed arm-bending, touching the floor, lifting and stretching. It is good to have the occasional work-out, though I fear now my back is protesting slightly, but the garden looks a lot better for it. The shrubs are now neatly clipped into shape, the beds are looking clean and leaf-free (for the moment until the trees finish shedding their load next month) and the paths clear of debris. My work-out will continue after lunch when I heave heavy bags of garden waste off to the local tip for it to be placed on the giant compost heap. But despite all this I feel great. There's nothing more therapeutic than tidying up the garden for winter in the warm October sunshine which we have enjoyed in London today.

09 October 2008

Counselling for me

Around about this time in May, the Alcoholic Advisory Centre (AAC), where Greg went for counselling, contacted me. They were considering starting sessions for people like me who live with alcoholics and wondered if I might like to come along to an introductory meeting to plan what people wanted from these meetings and when/ how often to hold them etc. Various people in my circle of friends and relatives had suggested I should attend Al-Anon to help me, but I had not had the opportunity or time to attend Al-Anon meetings. I had felt a bit guilty about this and had decided that, as I already knew the AAC and had taken Greg there frequently for his counselling, I might try there first. Also things at home were becoming difficult to control or manage and I needed some advice. Ironically, at this same time, Greg had stopped going there because his one-to-one counsellor was leaving the AAC to live abroad and the AAC suggested, as they were cutting back on resources, that Greg attend group meetings instead, which of course did not appeal to Greg in the slightest.

My first meeting with the AAC was in June 2008. There were about six different people there including myself, plus the organisers. It became quite clear from an early point in the meeting that I was different from all the others. The alcoholics in their families were their children....twenty-somethings who still lived at home but went out on the town at weekends and rolled home drunk on an irregular basis. The advice from the AAC was to be firm and set boundaries such as not to allow the drunk back in the home until they sobered up. The parents should maintain that it was the parent's home and their sons or daughters must observe their rules and their standards. This meant tough love and sending their sons and daughters away from the front door, when they were drunk....even if it meant them sleeping rough overnight. When I told my story, it was evident that this advice could not apply. For a start it was my husband who was the alcoholic and therefore I could not ban him from his own home. Secondly he was already in the home all day every day. Drunk all the time. Not just occasionally at weekends. Nor was there any time of the day when he was sober and I could reason with him. There was no advice for that. The organisers conceded it was a difficult case to handle. All I could do, they said, was to persuade him to come to the AAC for his own counselling meetings, which, as I mentioned above, he would not do, now that his one-to-one counselling had stopped.

Together with the other families, I helped to shape up further meetings to decide how often we should meet (once a month), on what day (first Thursday of the month), what time, how long, and the sort of topics we would like to cover (visits from GPs or doctors at hospitals; experts from carers' organisations; talks on rehab and what it entails; advice on how to deal with given situations etc). There was even a suggestion that they might arrange day-trips to the seaside or theatre visits to give us a bit of social respite. Since then, there have been three meetings at the AAC and sadly the numbers have dwindled to such an extent that last week I was the only one there. It was a bit embarrassing really. The organisers have decided to stop these meetings now, because they do not really have the resources (and I suspect because the uptake has been poor).

I have only recently also started to attend Al-Anon. I am not entirely certain it is my cup of tea. I was told by the very nice Al-Anon meeting leader, the minute I walked through the door, that not everyone takes to Al-Anon and I should give it at least six meetings before I decide. I think I had made my mind up within the first twenty minutes that it was not for me, but I shall persevere, just in case. To be honest I was looking for practical help and advice - what to do when in a middle of a nightmare situation, when an emergency call-out doctor cannot even be bothered to open his mouth let alone help me, or when a desperate visit to a hospital results in them sending Greg home again without addressing the problem. My impression is that Al-Anon seems to be more a cross between a battered wives' refuge (they were ALL tired-looking women at my particular group meeting) and a bible study group (lots of ten-commandment-like mantras and prayers to a "higher power"). There is no advice or practical help. One by one the women - all partners of an alcoholic - sit around telling their stories, while the rest of us sit in silence and are not allowed to comment. All the stories are very sad and make me want to cry but at other times, I get the overwhelming feeling that I am taking part in a French and Saunders sitcom and want to laugh out loud. A lot of the women have been coming for years and seem to find it helps them tremendously but, to be honest, I feel I get just as much relief from writing my blog. Everyone has their own unique way of relieving the pressure. I shall persevere, but at present I feel my time is better used elsewhere and my blog is more cathartic.

06 October 2008

Telling the school

I was very nervous. I was not comfortable about sharing my private life with the school, particularly to tell them that Kay's father was an alcoholic. It was quite something for me to think it privately: a whole different ballgame to admit it to others. It meant it was real; not a figment of my imagination. Not a nightmare, even. I wondered whether it would make things better for Kay, if the teachers knew, or worse. Would they laugh at her? Pick on her? Pity her? The overriding factor here was surely that THEY thought Kay was not putting in the hours for her A-level work and I wanted to put them straight about why. Not Kay's fault at all. Far from it. I must not lose sight of that. That is what gave me the courage to walk up the entrance steps to the reception and ask to see Mrs Richards, the Head of Sixth Form, with whom I had an appointment. When she appeared, she led me up to her office, chatting as she did so about the fact that the exam season had just started and the school was extra-quiet. Her demeanour also suggested she was not quite sure what my visit was about, as I had not mentioned it in my request for a meeting . Her body language seemed to suggest I might be there to complain about something. I was so nervous, I suppose my body language was saying that I was not looking forward to speaking to her at all. Once inside her office, we sat down and she looked quizzically at me to begin.

I blurted it all out. I had made notes (I'm a great one for lists - I am renowned for them) and I worked my way through the points I had listed. I quickly gave her the background to the last few years. I said I was worried about the effect of Greg's behaviour on Kay's work, about the wrong impression Kay's performance might give the teachers and how it might affect her chances of doing the course she wanted at university. Kay had only ever wanted to do one thing as a career since she was very small and Greg stood in the way of that. I could not forgive him or myself for standing by and doing nothing to stop him, if Kay was not given a fair chance to achieve her dream. My voice ended up getting a bit wobbly and I inevitably ended up crying. I tried not to, but certain bits of my story always set me off. Mrs Richards was very sympathetic. She reassured me I was not the first parent or probably the last to have come to her over this sort of thing. She said she would mention the problem to the teachers who taught Kay and make sure they took this into consideration. She would also mention it to the Head who ought to be kept informed in case she somehow unwittingly put her foot in things when talking to Kay. She also suggested that Kay talk to a counsellor who comes to the school once a week, as this would surely help her.

All in all, as we ended the meeting and returned to the reception some 45 minutes after I had arrived, I felt a lot better about what I had done. In fact, I almost wished I had done it much sooner in the school year, so that the staff would have had more of an inkling. But I also felt very guilty.
About betraying Greg. About what he would say, if he knew what I had done. Not that I was going to tell him yet. Not until after Kay's exams, at least, as I did not want to make things even worse until they were out of the way.

That afternoon, I met Kay from school and we went to the park and sat on the grass. She had known I was going to see Mrs Richards and wanted to know how I had got on. When I had relayed how the meeting went, Kay lay back on the grass and visibly relaxed. Both she and I were pleased that our secret was out in the open now. We felt a great weight had been lifted from our shoulders.We didn't have to pretend any more or watch what we said. Kay now vowed to tell her close circle of friends that evening, as they were meeting up for a girlie night out at a restaurant. I knew that she needed to open up and confide in them, because bottling things up had not been good for her either. Up to now I had always asked her to keep it secret, as people might not understand and because I felt it would betray Greg or destroy our privacy. But things had gone beyond that now. It was about our self-preservation.

02 October 2008

Living the Nightmare

By May 2008, Greg was impossible to live with. He was back to all the old tricks again...not washing, dressing in clothes that were so shabby and unwashed. Sometimes he did not even bother to undress at night, but would fall into bed with his clothes on and then just get up and spend the next day or even the next week in the same old clothes, slopping food stains down the front as the week wore on. If I dared to say anything about his appearance, he just snapped at me. He walked in bare feet, out in the garden, around the house. The soles of his feet were as hard as shoe leather and black as soot. Although I had moved back into the marital bedroom after his detox, I moved back out again to the spare room. Again the dog voted to follow me. Once more, Greg spent the entire day on the dining chairs in the kitchen watching TV from breakfast till the early morning, falling in and out of sleep - whilst on the dining chair. He wanted me to administer his medicines, as he could not otherwise be bothered, yet he had diabetes, a heart condition, vascular problems in his legs, high blood pressure, ex-gastric ulcer and an increasingly ailing liver. His GP was disgusted with him and said he must try to reduce his alcohol intake or he would surely be dead soon at the rate he was going. He didn't seem to care. Nothing stopped him. Not the thought of leaving me a widow or Kay fatherless. Not even the thought of doing something with his life.

I contacted Matt at the Alcoholic Advisory Centre and asked what he could do to help. Basically his reply was not very helpful. Without Greg's agreement, they could not apply for another detox session and in any case, they could only fund one session per person per year. It seemed nobody really wanted to take control and help.

At this point Kay was beginning to prepare for her AS exams. She had already had a chemistry mock exam. The night before, Greg had been particularly difficult. He had been shouting and ranting all through the evening. No matter how much we appealed to him that Kay had an important test the next day, he shouted even louder. He had followed us from room to room, when we tried to get away from him, as he always wants the last word. It meant Kay had had no peace to study that evening and she had sat the test without having the opportunity to revise. Her grade was considerably lower than expected and the teacher had not been pleased with her. She came home really upset as Chemistry is very important to her future career choice and I could see that Greg's behaviour was not only impinging on our home life, but could adversely affect Kay's life and career forever. I could not allow that to happen.

A few days later, on a Saturday, he was again very agitated and shouted loudly. Very manic. His whole behaviour was totally unacceptable and Kay and I decided to leave the house mid-morning to get a bit of peace. We ended up going to the nearest shopping centre to do a bit of retail therapy. When we came home again after lunchtime, he picked up where he had left off, as if we had not been away. Our heads were spinning and our chests vibrating with the noise. I could stand it no longer. This was unreasonable behaviour. We could not be expected to put up with this on a continuing basis. People get divorces for "unreasonable behaviour", don't they? I reached for the phone and dialled the number for the emergency doctor. I explained the situation and said that I had reason to believe he was on the verge of insanity. The telephonist said the doctor would call me back. When he did, he asked me if my husband was aware I had phoned. If not, I should tell him, as it was only fair not to surprise him when the doctor arrived. Fair point. Except, when I told Greg, he flew off the handle even more at my "stupidity". How
dare I call out a doctor. To make matters worse, the doctor took two hours to arrive, by which time Greg had deliberately sobered a little and had time to stew on what I had done. The doctor was a little man in stature and evidently not sure what to do. He came into the kitchen and sat at the dining table alongside Greg, while I sat opposite. Surprisingly he did not have much of an air of authority about him, but just sat quietly looking from one to the other of us, expecting us to lead the conversation. I began that I had called him out because my husband was an alcoholic and had been shouting and shrieking so much,my daughter was trying to study, we were unable to appeal to his good nature to be quiet, surely this was unreasonable etc etc. Greg discounted this, summoning up every ounce of sweet reason that he could. He said he was so sorry the poor doctor had been dragged into this. God only knows, doctors were so busy and their time so precious enough, without being called in to deal with a mere domestic disagreement. The doctor sat there without saying a word, obviously wishing he could be beamed up somewhere else. I have never felt so alone in a room of people before. I might just as well not have been there.

At the end of all this, the doctor rose from his seat and headed in haste for the front door. As he did so, he threw over his shoulder the only comment he was to make during his entire visit... namely that if I had any concerns I should speak to our GP on Monday. For the meantime, there was nothing he could do. He was out of the front door as fast as his little legs would carry him and away into his car. Greg of course then poured himself a stiff whisky and preceded to rant and rave at me for having stooped so low, as to call out a doctor. He went on and on, following Kay and me around the house, as we went from room to room to get away from him. After a couple of hours of this, Kay and I could stand it no more. We ran to the car, before Greg could catch up with us, and I drove to the park. We just walked and walked around the lake for a couple of hours until it grew darker and they were closing the park gates. We felt so downhearted. There seemed to be nowhere we could turn for help. When we got home again, Greg was asleep on the dining chair. The whisky bottle was empty.

It was then that I decided we had to do something to help Kay with her studying, particularly as it was coming up to exam-time. I was going to have to tell the school. I had tried to keep this whole nightmare under wraps. Nobody outside the immediate family or my best friends knew about it, but in fairness to Kay, I could not suppress it any more. The school would need to know. I also decided to turn to blogging to relieve some of the pressure building up within me. My blog was born.