That moment when…


I did try, I really did. When I was a teenager. It just didn’t work out.

James Fenimore Cooper’s masterpiece, “The Last of the Mohicans”, failed to thrill my soul. It was dense, old-fashioned language, made all the harder by not being dense, old-fashioned British English. As a witty individual once said of the UK and the US, we are two nations divided by a common language.

As a teenager I tried to read a few classic American novels. “To kill a mockingbird” was the best of them. I understood class and race in my British way, and racism is pretty much racism whatever the language.  I simply did not understand “Catcher in the Rye” as I knew nothing about American colleges or culture. We were not so very Americanised in the 1970s, and teenagers still talked about takeaways, films and wardrobes (with or without magical lands), rather than take-outs, movies and closets. Also we drank tea much more seriously than coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have it in for America. It’s just different. I believe Americans are as bemused by our quaint customs as we are by their tendency to eat with their fingers. To be fair to them, most primates do that. Meanwhile, over this side of the alleged Pond, we not only eschew digitally aided digestion, but have enhanced the gustatory gadgets to such an extent that you can end up with more knives and forks per place setting than there are place settings at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. And apparently using them correctly matters. Well, it may do to some people, but I’m a slob and as long as I start from the outside and work inwards, and can tell a fish knife from a butter knife, I feel I have done my duty to the God-given right and established order.

So there I was, in blissful ignorance of Mohicans, first, last or otherwise. At least, beyond the eponymous punk hairstyle that is, which looked amazing, but my hair would never have allowed it, being all floppy and suchlike. It won’t hold a perm, let alone behave for mere styling gel. It’s a problem alright. Oh the trauma!

Then they invented Daniel Day Lewis and I was made aware of certain key plot elements. One was that he looked awfully pretty running in slow motion. Oh yes. Although I’m not sure if that was in the book.

The other was that I shared a moment of heartbreak with Hawkeye.

If you are unaware of that twist, dear reader, then look away now. It’s the bit at the end, where Chingachgook, the Mohican Chief, mourns the loss of his biological son, and declares that he is now the last of the Mohicans. At which point his adopted son, Hawkeye, breaks his heart; because this is proof that he was never quite a true Mohican even to Chingachgook, no matter how hard he tried. He was alien, outcast, Other.

At least that is my understanding of the story. It may not be true, but bear with me, because this is what I identify with, having had a similar moment in my early childhood.

Let me take you back to the 1960s and the suburbs west of London.

My grandmother was a central figure in my early years. She died when I was 10 but until then she had lived with us and effectively been a mother figure (my own mother being rather ambiguous about motherhood, to put it kindly).  I adored her. I was her special baby. Sometimes she got confused and thought I actually was her little girl, my auntie Win, who had died when she was 7.

Sometimes, if I woke her up during her afternoon nap by breathing too loudly or dropping a teddy, she would stare at me in a confused way.

“Win!” she would say, a little bemused. “Winnie, is that you?”

“No, Grandma,” my heartless little self replied. “I’m EBL. Winnie died.”

“Oh yes,” she would say, and go rather quiet.

“You’ve got me, Grandma,” I would add.

“Oh yes,” she would say again, and give me a hug so I couldn’t see her cry. But I did.

Grandma knew all sorts of things, like how many beans make five and what happened to Don’t Care. She also knew lots of good songs to sing. She had grown up in Holloway, North London, and had a cheery London accent. At Christmas she got tiddly on advocaat, and had to be taken up to bed, singing happily. She taught me all sorts of old songs, probably sung in Music Halls and certainly down the pub if someone would play the tune on the piano, many of them dating back to the 1914-18 war: Little Brown Jug, It’s a long way to Tipperary, Pack up your troubles, the Hokey Cokey, My Old Man, Cockles and Mussels, When father papered the parlour….

She also sang “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner” and I sang along, because it has a nice tune.

“Oh no, poppet,” she said. “You can’t sing that.”

“Why not?” I squeaked, bottom lip starting to jut out.

“Because you aren’t a Londoner,” she said patiently. “You weren’t born in London.”

Well, she had it right. I was born Elsewhere, literally beyond the pale of our great metropolis.

“But I’ve been to London, Grandma.”

She wasn’t swayed. I was not a Londoner, and that was that.

She did still love me, but we were not the same. There was a barrier made of time and place and history.

Seeing that moment in the film (or “movie”, if you will), I felt it again, and was overcome that a writer who lived 250 years ago in a foreign land could describe my heartbreak. We shared a common humanity. I learned we are all the same in other ways, even those of us not born in London.

Have you had that kind of moment, in a story, that made it more real than real life?

To all of you, wherever you were born, we may still share our broken hearts.




One of the changes I have made over recent months is to try and engage in more of my hobbies. The death of my mother just before Christmas means that I have finally reached that point in life, apparently always far off until it landed with a thump at my feet, when I am foot loose and fancy free. No more children at home, no more dependent elderly relatives. Just me and Sigoth at home, wearing slippers and drinking wine and wondering what has happened; not in a demented way I hasten to add. Just a curious and slightly baffled way, as the peace of our lives emerges from the chaos of family and planning for the future. It seems the future has arrived.

Naturally I wondered what would happen if I prodded it.

One of the things I decided to try was to go on a course called “The Seasons of the Spirit” which looked at life and faith through the lenses of the seasons: renewal, light, death, frozen, change, hope and so on.  We did all kinds of creative activities including painting with closed eyes, collage, scrap-book, lectio divina,  and so on. Most of the time we held to silence, and it became very powerful.

For me the highlight was the poetry that was shared. In particular a verse from a poem by George Herbert called “The Flower”.

Who would have thought my shriveled heart

Could have recovered greenness? It was gone

Quite underground; as flowers depart

To see their mother-root, when they have blown,

Where they together

All the hard weather,

Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

This particular verse considered the withering of flowers in late Autumn or Winter, yet recognised that they would return in the Spring, refreshed by a hiatus building up their strength and nourishing themselves hidden away from the world.

Oh, this was for me! Feeling like I would never be able to shine again, that all my juices had been poured out in caring for that tired old woman and those exuberant young Offspringses, all of whom needed that energy from me and were given it with joy (even if it didn’t look that way at the time as I grumped and snarled along, too tired to turn the corners of my mouth upwards, too tired to share my happiness at seeing the children grow or hearing my mother singing to herself, relaxed and secure. Just too tired).

So I have been nourishing my soul at its root for a little while now and have put by some stores of sustenance and provender for the coming days. Perhaps by the time of the anniversary of my mother’s death, a few days before the Winter Solstice when the world turns from the fruits of the Holly to the shoots of the Ivy, then I will be able to say that I am at last renewed, a Green Woman – or at least a Green Bag Lady.

Yet never a green pizza delivery boy.

Of course, you don’t overcome 30 years of effort in 30 days or even weeks. I shall give myself time to grow into my season. But my heart is indeed recovering greenness.

May your hearts find the Green Within.


Newborn Knitting

EBL returns trailing clouds of glory, to assuage your hunger for tidings of her adventures. At least, that is the dream I had last night. Alternatively, it seemed like a nice time to drop by and say hello, share a quick cuppa and even a couple of quicker tales of existence beneath the heels of oppression (or “work” as They like to call it). As if I can have my being validated by something as boring as a payslip, a piece of paper which purports to evidence the transfer of zeros and digits across the ether from an employer’s bank account to my bank account. It’s only when I raid the hole-in-the-wall that I ever get to hold a fraction of those alleged numerals in my hands, the majority of them flying straight back out into the ether and across to other alleged accounts belonging to energy companies, the council, the mortgage lender, insurance companies and so on. Honestly, it’s a scam.

It’s been a busy month and really this post is no more than another place-holder to let WordPress know I am still alive. And a chance to say thank you to all my dear new readers who have decided to follow me this month. Clearly you will not be expecting an actual post, so I hope the shock is not too much for you.

neonatal knitted squares

I thought I might go with a knitty theme this time around. I have been knitting again, as the British summer has not been so overwhelmingly hot as to prevent me. I did a little work on a jumper – more of that in due course when there is something worth showing – but more importantly I discovered a brilliant scheme at Leeds  Hospital neonatal unit. They use knitted squares to help mother-infant bonding. Because parents can’t hold and bond with their very poorly babies, the staff lie the babies in incubators on a knitted square, and get the mother to wear another one next to her skin. When she visits they swap the squares. This comforts the baby and also amazingly helps mothers to express milk as well as learn their baby’s scent. Fabulous!

There’s more info on their public Facebook page for anyone else who fancies giving it a go!

Calling all knitters! Have you heard about our Neonatal Units’ bonding square project? One knitted square of…

Posted by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust on Sunday, 2 August 2015

Obviously this makes me think of my mother quite a lot. I was a premature baby and my mother didn’t get the kind of support now available, which may well explain our rather strained relationship. A knitted square or two might have been a benefit to us both. She was, however, a keen knitter of squares herdelf; in her case to make blankets for the chilly elderly. For those interested I did write about it once.

In other news I have had laser treatment on my right eye so can now see again well enough to read, knit more than a square, type, and generally participate in humanity. This may or may not be a Good Thing.

Sigoth and I are contemplating some changes in our home arrangements, and are trying to finish the last bits of decorating and furniture moving so we can make better use of the living space now that we are Home Alone. We have been poring over the bills, changing energy suppliers, cancelling superfluous subscriptions and generally getting Affairs in Better Order. There’s a first time for anything.

Meanwhile I hope you are well and finding good things that make you happy. Tell me more, if you feel so moved. It would be good to catch up.



bst failed

Well my dears, I suppose it’s time to run a blog post up the pole and see if anyone salutes it. I haven’t been writing, as some of you have kindly spotted, and one reason has been that I have been feeling sluggish.

Not lethargic, although that has also been the case. Just lately I seem to have run out of energy to do more than gaze vacantly at Hugh Laurie in “House” on Netflix. I don’t mean that’s a bad thing at all. Who doesn’t love every Sherlock Holmes spin off going? At this rate I might even watch Elementary, which someone has recommended to me and in most cases her word is as good as a promise. I find her judgement in matters of televisual entertainment sound and reliable. Just – Lucy Liu; in this instance, why? To be fair that was also my friend’s initial reaction, apparently, but she said she got over it.

My other favourite Sherlock-wannabe, Dr Who, is off the air for now too so I am driven, my dears, simply driven, to Hugh. Life could be worse.

So, in summary, EBL is somewhat lethargic, and enjoys a bit of Laurie as much as a bit of Fry in a QI context. But that is another story, best saved for a Friday evening after a few glugs of Merlot.

The sluggishness though has been of an altogether different variety. I have literally felt as if I was turning into a slug; I was positively sliming around the house in a veritable misery of hayfever until recently when the British Summer broke in its traditional celebration of the start of school holidays, and we have been shivering under Arctic blasts and torrential downpours, and drinking hot chocolate huddled under chunky blankets while gazing at Hugh Laurie.

Sorry, he does keep on turning up unexpectedly. Perhaps he should play Columbo? “Just one more thing, EBL…”

Where was I? Sluggish, yes.

So there I was for several weeks, being positively glutinous. Mucus, my dears, of significant proportions from multiple outlets. Boxes of tissues threw themselves into the fray and laid down their leaves for the greater good. Sigoth protested that as we had a new carpet coming he would prefer it if I didn’t enter the living room until Autumn in order to protect our investment. He’s firm but fair on such matters.

I am in no doubt that other sufferers gave thanks to the gods of rain with me when the temperature plummeted and the heavens wept. I haven’t had a bout of hayfever this bad for some years. I’ll let the ladies into a secret; I hadn’t had a bout at all since the menopause. My dears, yet another fantastic side effect as far as I am concerned. EBL and Mature Age are Best Mates, it’s official. I’m thinking of setting up a new website:, except people might think it was about living off roadkill and berries, which would never do.

I’ll just wait while you work that one out.


So now that I am somewhat less slimy, and my fingers aren’t skidding quite so much on the keys, I thought I would drop a line and see how the hell you all are?

Posts may continue slow for the time being as I am still waiting for my eye to be lasered into submission. I had an eye test last Friday and actually couldn’t see the board, let alone read that big letter at the top. But I should be all better on 10th August or thereabouts when they clear the membrane which has grown over the lens and I will be binocular again.

At which point I will see Hugh even more clearly.

Your homework this time is to tell me the best Sherlock Holmes, or SH-spin off, that you know.  Basil Rathbone Jeremy Brett, Dominic Bandersnatch? Dr Who, House, steam-punk crazy Robert Downey Jr? And if you don’t know any, then go away and do some research. It will be good for you.


Remembrance of things past

MaypoleCan I still do it? Write a blog post? I wasn’t sure before today and I had got to the stage where I didn’t feel able to. I had meandered past Too-Busy, cantered over Too-Tired and ended up at Too-Difficult which, as some of you may know, is on the borders of Deep Despair.

It can feel a long way back from there, but I dragged myself to this point Here, now, this page. It has taken me several days to finish it, and frankly I don’t know it was worth it as I read it back. I merely hope to unjam a blocked channel of communication, rather than win a Nobel Prize for being brilliant.

Nothing, as in no one thing, has been wrong. I just didn’t want to write anything, and that’s OK. Until the day I did want to write something and found myself in a very strange country indeed. Still, that was then and it seems this is now, and my fingers make increasingly confident contact with the keyboard, from stuttering to staccato in only 96 hours or so..

It has been a strange experience. I have always found that writing was soothing to my soul and yet lately, it has seemed a chore. Words have been coming less easily as I experiment with new activities that involve hands and eyes but not so much speech and reading (not in English anyway!). I feel different and it’s quite disorienting.

Hopefully EBL 2.0 will turn out to be reasonably interesting anyway. I don’t want to spend my time being bored by some old biddy who knits and cackles to herself. I was hoping that might wait another decade or three, if I’m honest. I’m all for cackling and knitting in their right time and place, and getting some practice in has been welcome. I just don’t want to do only that.

I’m assuming this is Grief having a bit of a giggle at my expense. Go on, then. I don’t mind. Everyone needs a laugh, and certainly I am no stranger to providing it for friends and colleagues. I don’t work in IT for nothing you know. Almost 30 years the laughing-stock, woman and girl. There are jokes, you know, and probably a web-site. We’re an easy target because IT is ridiculous and we become so by association. That and the speaking Martian thing.

Changes have certainly been afoot in EBL Towers, thanks for asking. Building work. Decorating. Garden improvements. Turf and fireplace removals. New fireplace, new flowers, new paint and an almost new chimney. It turned out the cracks in the plaster were due to the fact the chimney was being held up by a 200 year old piece of wood wedged in where some stone had been removed. The Ancestors were Bodgers too, it seems.

And I have been having some fun as well. Courses. Events. Translations. Dressing up. Eating, drinking and being quite merry. Knitting. Embroidering. Meditation. Quakerly volunteering. Making soup. Calligraphy. And work, of course, always work, for which I am both grateful and resentful.

Now here I am again, with no expectation about keeping a regular blogging habit like I used to. We shall see, my dears, we shall see.

Anyway, more importantly, how are you all? You have been in my mind if not my blogspace. Let me know before you go.

And as they are alleged to say in Ireland:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face.

May the rain fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the hollow of her hand.



dementia poem

So – just to bring you up to speed, or remind you, or let you know: my mother died just before Christmas. Don’t worry, you don’t need to feel sorry. She was old and sick and had a poor quality of life despite the best efforts of a number of people; it was her time. She believed in life after death and was ready to go and be with her family again.

I am going to tell you about her dying and her living with dementia Don’t read it if you might get upset.

My mother suffered from advanced dementia, and until last June had been living with us. As her mental condition and physical frailties worsened, it became increasingly apparent she was not safe to stay at home any more so we moved her to a local residential care home where they looked after her far better than I could manage with my intermittent checks between travelling away for work. I took it hard. I felt I failed her because I knew that it would have been the last thing she wanted. Fortunately she didn’t remember that, even though I did, and so she was very happy in her new home. Dementia can have some upsides to it.

When she moved in with us, we built a granny annexe and designed it for wheelchair access. We didn’t make it easy for dementia, for example by making the kitchenette logical. She moved in after Christmas and by Easter we knew something was badly wrong. Finally we had the diagnosis. It was May 2008.

I remember one day, fairly soon after the diagnosis, a mental health worker came to see her, and talked to her in that horrible high-pitched voice about doing some knitting. I had suggested something like that might help her come out of the shell she was constructing.

“Shall we do a little bit of knitting, dear? You’d like that wouldn’t you?”

Well, really! She was suffering from early stages of dementia, not a backwards toddler.

“No,” she said firmly. And set her mouth and turned the television on very loudly.

When the mental health worker told me that my mother was “uncooperative” and “difficult” I laughed at her and said if she had spoken to me in that tone of voice I’d have stuck the knitting needle through her eye. So I got a worse label and we never saw them again because my mother had “chosen not to accept help.” Idiots.

Dementia is a slow disease. We went through phases, and because she had vascular dementia they were often sudden and pronounced. Yesterday she knew how to turn on the television, today she had forgotten. Yesterday she knew all the grandchildren, today perhaps two of them. She wound backwards through her life, shedding people and places as she went; talking about me as a child, then about meeting my father, then about her parents, then settling on a loop asking about the weather every sentence because she remembered nothing more.

“Is it cold out?”

“A bit chilly, nice and sunny though.”

“Oh, that’s nice…is it cold out?”

And so on endlessly. I am not covered in glory here, least of all with my snapping and snarling at her stupid bloody questions.

The December before last she suffered some internal bleeding which wouldn’t stop because she was on warfarin to thin her blood (to reduce further strokes and memory loss). The doctor and I had a long and earnest conversation about which death was worse: bleeding out or stroke. I agreed bleeding out was worse and we took her off the tablets. She declined more rapidly.

Last December she developed problems in her foot associated with her diabetes and poor circulation (no blood thinners!) and eventually had to have a toe amputated. The disruption, operation and subsequent infection all proved too much and her lungs gave out soon after. She had pretty much everything wrong with her: asthma, emphysema, arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, heart arrhythmia, furred arteries, cataracts, deafness, stomach problems (as a side effect of medication) and, of course, vascular dementia. One of them had to get her in the end, although she eluded them nimbly until well into her 88th year.

Then my mother finally died. She didn’t quite want to, but she couldn’t find the strength any more. She wasn’t afraid or worried, because her horizons were too close for that. I sat with her, holding her hand, and Sigoth and various grandchildren waited with us. One moment she rattled a breath. Then nothing came after it.

We scattered her ashes a couple of weeks ago, on the day after her 88th birthday.

My mother’s death was not what I expected. Of course, my actual mother, the one I remember from childhood, vanished years ago, eaten by dementia almost before we even knew it was there. It crept up on us and her from the shadows. My family didn’t get dementia. We have heart attacks and strokes usually, or general immobility and decay from rheumatoid arthritis. We don’t have brains that melt. At least we didn’t until this time round, so I was unprepared for the symptoms and assumed my mother was being bloody-minded when she wanted me to do basic things like turn on the washing machine, because she had “forgotten how”.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I told her as she sat there with her list of jobs she wanted me and Sigoth to do on our precious Saturday off work, complaining that we never came to see her.

“She’s doing it to get attention,” I thought. Because sadly that was not an unlikely explanation; my mother was a needy individual only too often.

Of course, during this slow evolution into a new person she was aware of the changes and frightened, confused and angry in turns. Thanks to dementia, we were glad when she was finally so ill she didn’t know what was happening at all and so was not afraid of it.

We actually had it easy of course, if this kind of suffering is a competition. She didn’t wander, she didn’t get angry or aggressive, and she didn’t do too many dangerous things (apart from sticking the knife in the toaster and fusing the lights) because she became incredibly passive. As a responsible adult she had always preferred to be looked after, and my father had joyfully accepted the challenge. This attitude became more pronounced over time, so there were few “issues” as her condition worsened. By keeping her at home with us I was the best person to understand her fraying mind and predict what she would expect, so she was comfortable and rarely disoriented enough to become angry. She was described as an “easy” patient, because obviously the most important thing about someone with dementia is how much they disrupt the rest of us. As a result their behaviour garners them blame or praise for being bad or good.

I expected to feel sadness, guilt, relief, regret, possibly anger and even loneliness. I felt comfort and love, both of which were entirely unexpected. I felt that finally she did appreciate me – if only I had known that while she was alive! I didn’t feel as if I had let her down or done the wrong thing, despite the fact that for a number of years she had been letting everyone know my failings. She said some pretty terrible things at times, most of which I ignored as symptoms of mental imbalance, but some hit home and I carried with me. Some of them were deserved.

The final year was hard going, and in the end it was just waiting, some days with more patience than others, for her to die. I had plenty of time to be ready for the actual event. Every day I saw her was a small guilty disappointment; every time the phone rang, I wondered if this was it, the call, until one night at 3am it really was the beginning of the end.

My mother and I were not close. It helped as she declined, so that I did not feel such terrible loss; but it made continuing as her carer harder. Dementia gets you either way.

In contrast my father’s death was sudden and devastating. He died in 1992, just as I was home to tell my parents about the imminent arrival of Offspring Number 4. Dad was really pleased and excited; he liked children. That evening I took my mother out to a concert for her birthday present and when we got home my father was dead. He had had heart failure during the evening, after going to bed.

I was furious with him for leaving me to deal with the family he supported, which included my elderly aunt as well as my mother, to deal with a bankrupt business and a derelict shop property, to re-house my aunt, sell the shop, re-house my mother, sell her house and all while pregnant, working full time and having three other young children. Sigoth got me through it somehow, although we struggled at times under the pressure.

I’m not the kind of person who would do well in one of the caring professions. I get bored with other people’s problems. I get frustrated with slowness. I could be ready to rip the throat out of a doctor who talked down to my mother, but I didn’t want to spend time with her over a cup of tea repeating how warm it was or wasn’t outside. She didn’t remember if I sat with her or not anyway.

Meanwhile, my memories of my father are not sullied by him declining until I no longer wanted to see him. Dementia destroys other people’s memories of the living person and replaces them with doddering, shambling simulacra. It’s the Zombie Apocalypse.

Death isn’t noble, but sometimes it relieves and even pre-empts pain.

The final gift that dementia leaves us is fear. Every time I forget something, every time I have to check if I locked the door or turned off the light, every time I can’t recall a name or a film title or where I left my glasses, on each of those occasions a little voice now pops up and says cheerfully:

“Hi there! Are you getting dementia? Is it all going to happen to you?”


Am I going to drive my family mad and break their hearts and call them names and take so long to die that I turn into a stranger first, like some kind of alien shapeshifter?

Am I going to have carers who make jokes I don’t understand, often about me?

Will I forget to eat or drink and then be hungry and thirsty all the time?

Will I soil the bed and not understand what is happening?

But before I get that bad, will I experience those things anyway and yet still know what they mean and suffer terrible shame and humiliation and confusion?

Thanks for the memories, Dementia.

I want to be clear that every dementia journey, like every human, is unique and special. My mother’s, and my, experiences will have some similarities to others, and some quirks all our very own.

If ever anything taught us the Buddhist notion of patient acceptance, this is it. Or as a Christian might put it:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


Never give up, never surrender, and never blame yourself. It is what it is.