Drink tea, eat parkin, and be merry, for tomorrow there may be trouble at t’mill.
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: EBL4Aging.com, 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.
Can 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.
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:
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.
Alive and well, my dears.
Lots of knitting, a little embroidery and a weekend of meditation at the local Buddhist Centre have conspired to keep us apart.
Here is some of my stitchery to prove it is no lie. The cultivation of a mind of love defies my camera however, so please take my word for it.
Firstly I attended a beginner’s embroidery course in Kendal and produced this. I used to embroider as a child but have not picked up a needle since, so this was fun.
I also finished the jumper I wrote about the other day – the Drops Garn pattern. I am quite pleased with it and intend to present it to Offspring in Question over Easter weekend.
How have you been?
Well my dears, here’s a strange to-do! The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that in my last post I included a photo of my legendary toothpick knitting challenge. To be fair I didn’t think many of you would look at it closely, but that just teaches me a lesson, good and proper.
It happened like this.
The day after I posted my whinge abut DPNs, I had to go across to Head Office for a Very Important Meeting. Naturally I sprang from my bed in the grey and chilly dawn, as eager as a squirrel after acorns, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I bustled in and out of hallways and showers and kitchens configuring breakfast, clothing and toiletries (not necessarily in that order). Within the hour I was booted, suited and ready to go, and so I went. Most importantly I took with me my briefcase containing my knitting, along with some papers, tickets for the train and my phone.
The morning train to Leeds is a proper caution, packed with giggling schoolchildren from the kinds of families that can afford to send their children miles away to schools where the teachers may or may not have chins. Apparently commuting form the age of 11 makes a man of you; a very tired man, it must be said, but such is life. Then there are the grey-haired 30-somethings who toil in the industrial heartlands of York, wrangling whippets and wrestling puddings for a fiver a go. In addition the keen observer may note bespectacled academics heading for Leeds and the one and only EBL.
I found my seat and started to knit. There’s no mobile signal so emails and phone calls are out of the question. Knittingis the only answer, as in so many scenarios. The lack of signal doesn’t stop the kiddies trying, and we all enjoy being lulled by the endless rounds of “Benedict? Benedict? Can you hear me?” which punctuate the carriage air in tones of constant amazement, as if the Howardian Hills only arrived last night and the phones have always worked before.
The other thing punctuating the air that morning, or perhaps I should say glutinating (as in making it glutinous), was a perfume. Somebody, probably a female, was wearing a year’s supply of Rose Garden Extreme, and generously sharing it with the rest of us. I can only assume she, or possibly he, let us not make gendered assumptions, had had an unfortunate incident before leaving home and not had time to rectify the damage.
Anyway, I was breathing through my mouth and trying to think of fresh air and open skies, when a voice enquired hesitantly:
“Do you write that blog?”
I ignored it, obviously, because who would respond to that kind of a question at 7.32 in the morning? A nutter. That’s who.
The voice repeated its interrogation, adding “I saw your knitting. I recognised the wool marker and stitch counter.”
Well, that made it alright then.
I looked up to meet the eyes of a mousy individual in a dark wool coat and carrying a rather bedraggled back-pack. She leaned across the table and added “I really liked your post.”
Obviously an individual of sophistication and distinction was concealed by an outwardly anodyne appearance, and not the murderous serial killer I had initially assumed.
Apparently she lived not too far from me, and worked at one of the hotels just outside Leeds as a catering manager. I vaguely recognised her form other commuting days; the crowd is pretty much the same year in, year out. We had a very pleasant time swapping tales of stitches, websites and TV shows we both enjoyed, although I struggled to forgive her for “Call the Midwife” and I suspect she was confounded by my passion for “Waking the Dead”. We both agreed on the wonderful “Wolf Hall” though, as does anyone sane. It’s fiction, get over it.
It was rather strange meeting someone who effectively knew more about me than I did about them. I admit I felt a little vulnerable. I mean, I don’t use my birth-certified name here, in case you wondered, but I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to work it out if you wanted. Some of you do in fact know me in the human world anyway. Nevertheless I felt a ambushed, bamboozled, embarrassed and quite stressed.
In short my fanfollowerstalker and I chatted until we got to Garforth, when inexplicably my new found friend had to depart. Does anyone get off at Garforth when heading west? Really? Why?
That was when I knew I had fallen asleep and it was time to wake up and face the day. It was like that moment in “Dallas” – which I never watched, but even I have heard about.
It turned out I had no fanfollwerstalker after all. I felt some relief but also a little piece of my heart broke. How contrary!
Suppose you were suddenly famous (or else, remember the time just before you became famous). How would you cope when the first person come sup and asks for an autograph, metaphorically or literally?
I recently changed my working hours so that I now work four long days and have Mondays off. It’s marvellous – although my workday evenings are now compressed into the following: stretch – eat – speak briefly to Sigoth – sleep. Usually I take the Monday to do jobs that need attention, which may be anything from sorting out a bill to (more commonly) catching up on jobs I have agreed to do for my local Quaker meeting. Sigoth also uses Monday for his Quaker jobs and so the days formerly known as “Monday” are now called “Quakerday” in EBL Towers. However, this weekend we spent much of Saturday and Sunday being Quakerly, so this Monday I am taking time out officially to do Leisure.
As a result I can proudly announce that today I shall be mostly knitting with toothpicks.
Well, that’s what it feels like. Youngest Offspring has requested a jumper and so that is what he will receive if it kills me. The one he wants is this one:
The thing is it requires 3mm double pointed needles for the rib.
Now, I love circular knitting. No seams to sew up. But I am not happy using double pointed needles (DPNs). It’s like wrestling with half an octopus that has porcupine in its family tree, an octopine as it were. It’s scratchy and jabby and catches in my own sleeves and requires my fingers to bend in inhuman directions. Doing such digital gymnastics with the slender 3mm variety feels like a nightmare involving a speed-eating competition at the kind of Chinese restaurant where they won’t give you knives and forks even when you ask nicely and admit you are an inadequate human.
This is what I am working with.
See what I mean?
Now I know that some of you out there will be massively competent at DPN-whispering. I admit I am slightly less likely to twist the first row and produce a Mobius Strip using them instead of a circular needle. I admit they look cool and entitle the user to claim a minimum of + 3 Knitting Ability at a Knitting Master’s Convention. Yet with all that admittedness, it’s still enough to drive a body to crochet, where only one needle is involved; although somehow that’s almost as bad. As George Orwell said, two needles good, four needles (or, alternatively, one) bad.
Suffice it to say I am most keenly anticipating finishing the rib of the second sleeve and bidding the toothpicks farewell.
Do you have this kind of love-hate relationship with your hobbies? After all I am supposed to be doing this for fun, but there are parts of the process (and I find this is true of most of my other hobbies as well) which really make my heart sink.