29 April 2014

Old Age Pensioner

Greg would have been 65 today. He would have been officially retired today (although he took early retirement ten years ago on health grounds). It was a retirement we both looked forward to, although he always had a premonition he would not make it to sixty. Well, his dad died aged 57 of a massive heart attack whilst in a swimming pool so Greg always assumed all his life that he'd go in a similar way. It's true, Greg did have heart trouble for the last five years of his life with all the factors against him (heredity, smoking, diet and stressful job), but ironically enough his heart was the strongest part of him in the end. It was the alcoholism that killed him. Every other major organ failed, but that heart just kept on ticking to the very last of his sixtieth year.

At the height of that crazy roller-coaster of alcoholism (detox and short periods of sobriety followed by even longer ones of alcoholism), I could not wait for a time to come when I would be free from him and the alcohol and have peace back in my life. Yet, four years on, I miss him. I know now, it was not HIM I wanted gone but the alcoholism. But I also understand now that he had no control over it. It controlled him. He was depressed and I was too wrapped up in dealing with the alcoholism on a daily basis (throwing out pails of water from a sinking boat) to talk to him kindly and get him to see what he was doing to himself. I would either snap at him or ignore him as I tried to keep up with the practicalities of our life - running the household, dealing with financial matters and the care of our daughter, while he just drank and drank into oblivion. In the end stage of his alcoholism, he either shouted or passed out. I hoovered round him, talked over him and went out without him. Physically and mentally, he was a broken shell of the man I had married. Time is a great leveller. It has put things in perspective and made me see things now from a different angle. Sadly he's not here to see his official retirement or to enjoy the years ahead with me. His choice in a way, but I also know he tried to change, but simply didn't have the willpower to do it.

I often wonder what he would have done in his retirement, if he had not chosen to drink himself to death. Maybe a little freelance work, visits abroad to widen his horizons or catch up with colleagues. Long walks. Lazy pub lunches in the countryside. Visiting friends and relatives. Writing one of the many ideas he had for a book. The thing is, I don't actually know. I'll never know now. Nor will he. That's what I find sad.

21 April 2014

Teenage binge-drinking

You might have been forgiven for missing this programme  (https://www.itv.com/itvplayer/tonight/series-19/episode-11-britain-s-young-drinkers-tonightwhich ) which was quietly slipped into the TV schedules just before Easter on Maundy Thursday.  It was not exactly well advertised and not exactly fun-viewing on the evening leading up to the long Easter weekend. But definitely well worth seeing.

For me, its contents were nothing new. I know enough from Kay and her friends about the format teenage nights out after school or at uni take. The pre-drinks at home where vast quantities of alcohol are drunk to get you well in the mood before you go out, including drinking games with forfeits and dares. Then afterwards the actual night out in clubs and bars, where the drinks are on ridiculously low offers (particularly midweek to draw the punters in). A pound a shot or 12 for £10. It doesn't take much maths to work out they're going to be well over their recommended daily intake of units within the first couple of hours, let alone by 4am when they start to roll home.

When you are young, nothing touches you, nothing fazes you. You can't imagine being old, infirm, riddled with cancer or affected by liver disease. That's for oldies or someone else. Smoking/taking drugs/drinking alcohol can look cool and win brownie points with your mates. Which is why this programme helped to confront some of the youngsters about the dangers of excess drinking. How one evening's drinking can definitely impair the liver.  Whether they'll actually learn from it is another thing, but while the drinks are easily available and as cheap as chips, you can't blame them for experimenting. The liver is a marvellous organ which has the ability like no other human organ to recover from damage. But there comes a time after repeated damage when it can no longer recover and will go into serious decline and failure.

The government are not keen to raise alcohol prices or limit availability because they rely on the taxes it brings in. Others will recite freedom of choice as a reason to keep the status quo. It's down to us as adults to guide our kids, explain the dangers and just hope they wont be another statistic. Liver damage has increased 40% in the last decade and more so in the younger generation, whereas it was always regarded as an older person's disease. Concerns over your fluffy four-year-old grazing their knee are swapped for concerns your equally fluffy 14-year-old will be drinking cider behind the bike-shed or your adult 24-year-old might be drinking 28 shots of Jaegermeister bombs or vodka in one night. Fortunately Kay is reasonably sensible and has watched her father die of alcoholic liver disease. Not a pretty sight. But even she is under peer-pressure and has admitted that being the only sober or semi-sober one in a whole group of zombies on a night out is not that much fun, so on rare occasions she sometimes pushes the limits.

Meanwhile, it's been lovely having Kay home for Easter, although it hasn't been long enough by far. Because she is still on hospital placements, it has meant she could only get a week off for Easter. With a day at either end taken up with her driving down each way, we have effectively only had from Good Friday until tomorrow, but it has been lovely. Girlie shopping trips to Bluewater, lazy evenings chewing the cud, good wholesome home cooking, catching up with London friends. Absolute bliss.

01 April 2014

Mothers' Day and April Fools

I had to laugh at an article in today's newspaper about chickens laying square eggs. Of course it was an April Fools' Day item, but it reminded me so much of when Greg and I lived in Germany and he did a whole 30-minute April Fools' Day programme in 1978 for the radio station he was working for. In one of the items, I pretended to be a German farmer and spoke English in a very heavy Germanic accent while Greg interviewed me. I had found a way to grow square tomatoes that were so much easier to slice to fit in sandwiches. It was all we could do to keep a straight face while the item was being recorded for transmission. A cousin of Greg's was listening to the broadcast over in England when it was finally aired and actually believed it was for real.

I have just had a lovely weekend up north with Kay. I had gone up not just because it was Mothers' Day but because Kay was appearing in concert in the local choir. They sang with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and one piece was particularly commissioned by them from a modern composer, so it was a World premiere of the piece. I was so proud to see her singing with such a prestigious ensemble. Here is the view from my seat!

The auditorium was more packed than this photos shows. I did not want to take pictures while the concert was in full swing, so just took them before everyone was seated. Kay's in the choir behind the orchestra.

On Mothers' Day Sunday itself, we took a trip to Knaresborough, a place I have heard so much about but have never visited I was pleasantly surprised. Such a picturesque village. It was a shame it was shrouded in mist the whole day and the sun did try its hardest to poke through, but never quite succeeded. Here's one of my favourites.....

I was out of breath by the time I climbed up here!