The Great British Bank Holiday

Well, my dears, what an exceptional weekend we have just experienced. Someone must have mentioned to Spring that it was a Bank Holiday in the UK and she got her vibe on. Most of the population was too stunned to cope, I am sure, but in EBL Towers we did manage tea on the lawn with home-made scones.

Admittedly, there were some challenges.

The first challenge was how to present tea to my mother, who has a very restricted diet thanks to various medical issues. She has age-related diabetes, so is not allowed treats. Naturally, I ignore this when it suits me but I didn’t want her to stuff down too many scones in case of complications. I decided to compromise by pre-buttering an assortment and regulating her intake.

The big debate in Cream Tea circles (these are not the same thing as Crop Circles, I can assure you), for those unfamiliar with the English Cream tea, is about where the cream goes. Firstly, to be clear, it goes on the scone and not in the sacred brew itself. That is understood by all civilised people, I think. However, there are the two schools of thought: Devonian or Kernowian. The main issue at hand is whether the jam goes on top of the cream or vice versa.

The next challenge, however, was the fact we had no cream. I know! How very unprepared we were. The weather has been a total surprise, what with it being a Bank Holiday and all. We expected monsoons, as usual, despite the Met Office alleging warm weather. I had hot chocolate ready at hand.

Well, we had no cream, and due to the diabetes issue already mentioned, I was against the concept of jam. However, I was also faced with the immutable opposition of Sigoth to scones with sultanas embedded. I need not tell you, I am sure, that what is left after that is a sorry lack of taste. Faced with another challenge I decided to improvise.

As fortune would have it the garden had yielded almost 4 lbs of rhubarb to Sigoth’s knife, and it was freshly stewed in the kitchen. Naturally it made sense to pop some into the scones along with some ginger, and voila – flavour!

Time for a quick stock take: tea in pot, scones (pre-buttered), chairs and table arranged, tray laid out with cups and milk, kettle boiled. Something was missing…

Oh yes, the mother.

I escorted her out across the uneven lawn to a chair in the shade, and she wolfed down a scone before Sigoth had properly taken his seat. Luckily I had counted them and we both grabbed out allotted portions before she lunged for more. She can still strike with the speed of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on amphetamine when there is cake or cake-related product involved.

Regular readers will know my mother is demented. Conversations are on 30 second loops, but can be enlivened by a judicious drip feed of comments which then get lodged into the cycle of topics and add a little variety. After we had confirmed about a dozen times that yes, it is a nice garden, and yes, it is lovely for a Bank Holiday, and that it does take about half an hour to get all the grass cut, and yes, the sky is a lovely bright blue, and yes, the birds are lovely to listen to, I dripped a new idea.

“It must have been busy at the seaside,” I said.

Mother agreed. We went round the cycle again, and then as if by magic, the seaside cropped up.

“It must be busy at the seaside,” she said. We said, yes, it must, wouldn’t want to get caught in all that traffic.

Reassured she was taking on new suggestions, I dripped in the fact that the daffodils were still out.

“I like daffodils,” she agreed. “They’re a lovely, bright yellow.”

Sadly they did not reappear, although the seaside traffic did make it into the mix again.

Finally, in our wimpy, blonde, English way we decided that was quite enough sunshine thank you, and all staggered back indoors. No point in giving the poor old girl sunstroke on her first dose of Vitamin D since last year.

Anyway, Sigoth had promised me rhubarb crumble for the evening, and I didn’t want to jeopardise that.

I hope your holiday (if you were lucky enough to have one) was warm, and happy, and delicious. I hope you were not caught in the seaside traffic, and that you too enjoyed the bright, blue skies and birdsong or whatever your equivalent pleasures might be.


The Mind Unravelling

This weeks Rarasaur has prompted us to post about Saudade.

Saudade is a Portuguese word that describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something/someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.

It has been a trying couple of weeks and somehow picking up Rara’s latest prompt for the Promptless felt only too right. Some of my difficulties lately have been dealing with my mother.  I have mentioned before that she has dementia – vascular dementia in fact. Of course, she is getting worse. That is the inevitable reality. My feelings about this are mixed, because while it means trying to care for an irritating, demanding, sometimes slightly smelly and always confused old lady, at the same time I look at her and remember the mother-that-was.

My mother was not the greatest in the world. She made quite a hash of mothering in fact. However, she’s not a bad person and she deserves some respect, the same as anyone.

This week I had a Big Meeting with the managers from the carers’ company that looks after her and gets her up in the morning. They get her washed and dressed, and give her breakfast and drugs. Later they come and give her lunch and more drugs. They are patient and well-meaning, but they also get things wrong sometimes. We have now agreed some new rules for my mother’s care, which I hope will get over those last few glitches. One of the things I said I would do is write down a mini-biography of my mother to help the carers know more about her and try to prompt her to reminisce.

These are some of the better memories that I have left for the carers to use as prompts.

  1. She is a genuine Cockney and proud of it. She was born within the sound of Bow Bells, although the family moved away when she was quite little.
  2. She was a miracle baby, who was born weighing only a couple of pounds. They wrapped her in cotton wool, quite literally, and she was fed milk from the ink dropper of a fountain pen. Her Dad held her in the palm of his hand, she was so tiny.
  3. She is also very proud of her Dad, who was an Inspector in the Metropolitan Police. He had a white horse she used to pet in the stables.
  4. DON’T MENTION THE WAR. She finds it a frightening memory. If she talks about the sanitised version it’s fine but don’t ask about the Blitz. She got very upset when we went to the War Weekend at Pickering and we had to bring her home.
  5. On the other hand, Forties music and fashion are popular. She likes Glenn Miller and The Andrews Sisters (but never Vera Lynn – see (3) above). She used to like to jitterbug with American soldiers in dance halls. She got thrown out once for it.
  6. Other music she likes include: Perry Como, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, James Last. Easy listening kind of music.
  7. She was a star pupil at the Pitman’s Secretarial College with advanced qualifications in typing and shorthand. She was very good at it.
  8. She married Bert in 1957 and he died in 1992, very suddenly. She only has one child.
  9. She worked as a PA at Petters where they built Hawker Siddeley aircraft engines, then at Siemans.
  10. She has been to Canada to visit relatives near Montreal a few times. They are dead now, sadly, but the trips were happy memories.
  11. After retiring she worked at the chemist near home for Mr Patel. She really enjoyed working there and meeting people. Particularly she liked teasing the young men who came to buy condoms.
  12. Her hobbies were knitting, embroidery and reading. She has some knitting with her now but I am not sure she would be quite safe with embroidery kit. Obviously she also gets books from the library. She likes family sagas best – Maeve Binchy, Catherine Cookson, that kind of thing.

There were sadder memories I didn’t leave for the carers as there is no point in trying to remind my mother about them.

  1. She was sent to a convent school where the nuns told her she was stupid and put her in a corner with a dunce’s hat.
  2. Her parents rowed and separated.
  3. Her mother died in her arms a few days before her 16th birthday.
  4. Her father remarried and she had a step-mother she disliked immensely and a step-brother she didn’t get on with.
  5. Her cousin, whom she was very close to, was shot down over the Med in 1942 and never found.
  6. Just as she was about to be married Dad was involved in a massive accident which left him disabled. Their entire future was rewritten. The wedding was delayed by years while he recovered.
  7. I am named after her best friend, who died of cancer at the age of 21.
  8. She had a miscarriage and lost her second baby; I am an only child.

My mother is not coming back.

The thing is, now that she is mentally absent, I have no family to share these memories with. Sigoth has a large and lovely family and they are the ones my children have known the best. I have happy memories of my family when I was young but no one else remembers those things now. I miss our own traditions – London working class traditions – singing the songs performed later by Chas ‘n’ Dave, doing the hokey cokey, mincing up the Sunday roast on Monday for Shepherd’s Pie, making jam, shelling peas, helping out in Dad’s shop….

I have many happy memories and I am nostalgic for my childhood, but I can’t share it with my mother any more. Neither can she talk about her childhood because she has forgotten it too. I know more about her childhood than she does now because she has unwound too far.

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of ‘the artist’ and the all-sufficiency of ‘art’ and ‘beauty’ and ‘love,’ back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermude, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time–back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
Thomas Wolfe: You Can’t Go Home Again

The memories, happy or sad, are only mine now, for just a little while longer.


I believe in magic

I’m sorry, my dears, but EBL feels whiny today so this will be a post of brevity in order to spare you my complaining. It’s enough that my family suffer without inflicting it upon other innocents too.

InsteadShawl I will show you the knitting I completed over Easter, because I think they were good and cheerful things and they make me feel better.

Firstly I finished a shawl I was trying out in super chunky wool. I scaled it up from an Aran pattern and it worked pretty well. The most fun, as so often in life, was adding the tassels.


TheFair isle jumper second was a fair isle jumper, which was an exercise in the style of knitting, as I am still building up a head of steam to produce the Sarah Lund jumper later this year. It turned out pretty OK, and I am now working on a chunky Norwegian style jumper, in part to get my tension right. I like this style of knitting but it takes more concentration.


To relax I am working on a cotton scarf, using a pattern from Stolen Hearts, Vintage Souls. It’s pretty, but I find I am not fond of knitting in cotton. It’s basically coloured string.

However, I proved today that such knitting is truly magical. This is going to refer obliquely to my complaininess, but be not afraid. I want to tell you about it because it made me laugh too.

Yesterday I had to take mother for a spirometry check-up. It’s traumatic for all concerned because she can’t follow the instructions due to her dementia, and she gets very anxious being somewhere strange and she can’t remember why she is there so gets more anxious the longer we stay. Anyway, on top of all that we had to wait for about 40 minutes because they were running late in clinic. It was the dictionary definition of stressful.

Today, as it happens, I had to go back for a blood test myself. Shoulder pain, boring. But to pre-empt the inevitable delays and waiting I took my knitting.

“We won’t have to wait if I take it,” I told Sigoth, “they don’t like it if you get settled with some knitting to keep you busy.”

And so we arrived a little early, because traffic was quiet, and sat down. Out popped the nurse straight away and within a few minutes we were heading back home with me laughing like a drain most of the way.

If the NHS introduced targets for completing rows, I reckon it would transform patient care within a week.


That forgiveness thing

See, I had a bad day today and I need to forgive someone and I don’t feel I can. I feel they put my mother at risk when they had a responsibility to step in.

I can make up reasons for their actions. But I can’t absolve them. They were tired. They were under pressure. They had to clean up a lot of mess. They don’t get paid enough to put up with it. They think I am there when I am not.

None of that makes it OK.

Suddenly all the nice words and well-meaning thoughts dissolve and I shout and swear and cry because some idiot left my mother when she needed care.

Fortunately there’s no harm done, and mother is fine. But they didn’t know that.

So already I am going back on my fine sentiments and not forgiving. I managed to forgive myself the other day – it was hard. I can forgive other people for being annoying, or for being unkind to me, or for all sorts of things. When they mess with my family I just see red. It’s the Rubicon and they have not only paddled at the edges, they have waded the full width ad climbed out on the far bank.

I will hold them accountable for their actions, and report it. I will tell the company not to send that carer again. I could do all those things and forgive as well. But I am not sure I will. I think I will fail to let it go.

And why? Holding to account is about expecting people to take responsibility, and does not rule out forgiveness. But I am not forgiving.

I am thinking of Kozo’s post about fear as the cause of suffering, and I can see what is happening here. I can understand, in my head, that it is my fear of failure as a daughter that is driving my inability to forgive. In a way I am not forgiving myself, because I feel I should be providing the care, even though I would be terrible at it, and my mother and I would both be unhappy.  I understand, but my heart cannot feel it is true.

One day I’ll get there. Not today.

And yet, and still, and just because, namaste.

Daily Prompt: Playlist of the Week

Tell us how your week went by putting together a playlist of  five songs that represent it.

Well my dears, I haven’t had time to tell you about my week, which included a cataract operation, a decision on The Project and Mother’s day dinner with my mother. So obviously the Daily Prompt felt that it needed to remind me to do so.

Fit the First:

On Wednesday I went across to Head Office in Leeds ahead of my operation because I knew I would have to avoid travelling for some time after it. The train was, as ever, crowded and a little late. It is ever thus.

That was not what was on my mind though. I was thinking about how we actually need another stop, like we used to have, to help all the harried commuters who live on the outskirts of York at Wigginton and Haxby. Every now and then they talk about restoring the station at Haxby which was torn out during the Beeching Evisceration of the railways on the 1960s. Flanders and Swann wrote a song about it at the time, called “Slow Train”. It’s very sad and sweet, rather different from most of their songs.

No-one departs, no-one arrives,
From Selby to Goole,
From St. Erth to St. Ives,
They all passed out of our lives

Fit the Second:

On Thursday I went to hospital for the cataract operation, the second of the two. Being Britain this was done under the auspices of the NHS, which meant I had a long wait between eye one and eye two, and then sat in a dingy room with five beds which was designed for four beds, surrounded by curtains which had a cheerful logo on about “Clean Hands Saves Lives” . The logo bothered me. I’m sure it should have said “Clean Hands Save Lives” but I suppose grammar has been cut to make savings. Sigoth couldn’t wait with me because there was no room for visitors so he went into town for the afternoon and came back about tea time to collect me.

In another bed an 85 year old woman was being sent home to manage on her own. She was blind, although the surgeon hoped to have given her some sight back, but she had no one with her. She will have to manage eye drops for four weeks. Eye drops are tricky beasts to wrangle. I dread to think what it is like to do them when you are 85 and mostly blind. Social care is also being cut along with grammar and ethics.

The surgeon was a delightful Dutch gentleman, fairly young and rather stressed because the 85 year old had blood pressure above 200 and he needed to operate on her first so she could get home before the transport system stopped at 5.30. Transport has been cut so it only runs during office hours regardless of what time you wake up from anaesthetics.

He gazed at me and said “Amazing! I’ve never seen anyone with Minus 24 before!” He was referring to my eyesight, in case you were wondering. I am used to it. It’s why I am having surgery. What it means is that they all pay attention and do a good job because it interests them.

They gave me a general anaesthetic and when I woke up the eye patch I was wearing made things a bit blurry, but I could see the surgeon smiling. Cue Jimmy Cliff and God Bless the NHS!

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright) bright (bright) sunshinin’ day

Fit the Third:

On Saturday I woke up, took off the eye patch and I could see. I could read the clock. I could see the knots in the ceiling beams. I could read the crossword clues to Sigoth. I could see the pattern on the curtains and on the duvet cover, and the veins in my hand. I could see the photos on the wall and the dust on the dressing table and the shadows to eh birds against the curtains as they flew past the window.

Really, I love science, and I love medicine and I loved that consultant for taking time out ina  really busy afternoon to run through the formula for the lens change three times to make sure he got he it as good as he could.

I have to praise you
I have to praise you like I should

Fit the Fourth:

On Sunday it was Mothers’ Day and we took my mother to the local pub for Sunday lunch. She enjoyed herself but couldn’t remember where we were going for the less than one minute drive (it less than ¼ mile from the house) or read the menu. She had fun though and I let her have a Knickerbocker Glory despite the diabetes.

We’ll build the world of our own that no one else can share
All our sorrows will leave far behind the stairs
And I know you will find there’ll be peace of mind
And we’ll live in a world of our own

Fit the Fifth:

Later on Sunday the Offspring who loves locally decided not to call me, but came over instead with a beautiful card. I was able to read it and I was so happy to see her and get the card and to Skype other Offspringses and I felt so blessed.

It was a cold day with snow on the wind. The weather forecast was grim so we stayed inside and lit a fire and drank tea. We have a song we sing when it’s cold. We nicked the tune from Lennon & Macca.

All you need is gloves!” we carol. “Gloves is all you need!


I haven’t even mentioned that I rang into a tele-conference on Friday to approve go ahead for The Project, so was feeling very chipper about that too.But I did. It’s been an amazing few days.

Next Wednesday I am back at the hospital to have a suture removed. They might need an entire opera for that.


She ain’t heavy, she’s my mother

To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

Excuse two posts in one day. I am not trying to melt your blog reader. It’s just been a thoughtful 48 hours.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day. We were catching up after Christmas and sharing our tales of family derring-do. I told her about mother’s deteriorating state and we reflected on the description of dementia as “living in the moment”.

My mother is happy. She doesn’t remember anything from a few minutes ago: who she saw, what they said, how long since she saw them, even who they were. She sits and sings and hums, Sometimes she knits or looks at a book or newspaper, but without absorbing the text. The same brief newspaper story and photograph will absorb her all day.

My mother is happy. She lives in the moment. All she is aware of is what is happening now. You might say it is a consummation devoutly to be wished (you might not, of course, your prerogative).

There is currently a vogue for something called mindfulness, or “living in the moment”. You can read about it in an article from 2008 in Psychology Today.

This is not quite what my mother experiences, but it is akin. She is happier than she has been for some time, no longer lonely or missing lost friends, or dad. She has no worries. We all might wish for such inner peace.

However, her inability to remember what is happening causes severe stress when she is out of her usual environment. I took her for an eye check-up at the hospital before Christmas. It was a long visit because of a computer meltdown. The whole time she was unsure where she was or why and kept asking. The only thing reassuring was that I was with her, so she assumed things were under control.  I was not worried so she was not. I had to hide my impatience so as not to concern her.

Then is started to get dark outside and that did worry her. She was pretty sure she shouldn’t be out at night. It was only 4 pm but no matter how many times I showed her the clock, she forgot.

The end result of all the stress, and then the excitement of Christmas, was probably another vascular incident (the only way we know is when she suddenly gets worse) so she is now even more shrunken in on herself. She no longer reminisces about her childhood (we finished with married life and family about a year ago – she is unwinding before my eyes).

There is a critical difference between the dementia sufferer’s living in the moment, and the meditative one. Do not be fooled, my friends, by facile and trivial comparison, by the similarity of phrase and word. One is about seeing a world in a grain of sand; the other is about losing the world one grain at a time until all those falling grains trigger an avalanche and you are buried under their catastrophe.

I hope you will allow me to be honest with you about this. Or rather I hope you will allow me to be honest and not despise me utterly. My mother died a time ago and I have her husk living in my house. Watching her crumble is occasionally unspeakably distressing and a part of me wishes it were over. I don’t know who this woman is, and I don’t really want her here. Often I don’t think she knows me either. When she calls me “love”, I am her daughter; when she calls me “dear” I think I am probably a carer. I don’t have the courage to ask her. All I do is keep her alive, breathing and humming and reading the same paragraph endlessly. Some days my heart could break for both of us.

Some days though she is comparatively alert and then there is a flash of the woman who was thrown out of the dance hall for jitterbugging with GIs, or who topped her class at Pitman’s College, or who won the Christmas Raffle at work and spent half of her winnings buying me a book which turned out to be my favourite book of all time. Those days are more seldom now, but still they can shine out.

We never know which way life will take us. Clearly this weekend has taken me down some shady paths by reflective waters. Tomorrow I hope to step back out into the full light of day.


In harness

Today I finally bit the bullet and went back to work.

I like my job. It’s unfashionable to say so, but EBL has never been knowingly fashionable. I may once have sported a trendy outfit in error, but I gave it straight to the charity shop so it doesn’t count.

I like my job because I have a Nice Boss who said “Take the week off!” when I mentioned to her about how tired I was from Christmas and mother and so on. The Nice Boss also has a mother, if you catch my drift, and knows very well how tiring it can be, having a mother. Mothers can be tiring, they surely can.

As a mother myself, I am obviously the Exception that Proves the Rule. Apart from flirting with purple in my twilight years (and thanks to a lovely Offspring I am now the proud owner of a new purple dressing gown to lounge about in, in a purple haze. It makes me very cuddly, on the outside at least.) As a mother, I am always delightful and fun and a pleasure to be with and I usually remember the names of the Offspring, although not always.

I genuinely forgot Youngest Offspring’s name one day and called him Stephen. His name is not now, and never has been, Stephen; it doesn’t even begin with S. So I had to ‘fess up that he had an Evil Twin whom we had hidden from him all his life, and who lived in the loft. That was what he could hear moving about at night, not mice as previously indicated, and it explained who stole the odd socks, pens, and chocolate cereal. He should stop blaming Sigoth for any and all of those things. At once.

The end result of that revelation was that he occasionally feels sorry for Stephen and lets him out to play. Every time he is too annoying he pulls a face and says, “But I’m Stephen, mwahahahaha!”.

You might not be surprised to learn that Youngest Offspring, if he survives that long, will be 20 in the spring. At that point all my beloved teens will be 20-somethings. Eldest Offspring will be 29 in the summer. The others fall in between (hence Eldest and Youngest. Do keep up!)

We have been a little economical with the actualité, on occasions, with regards to our Offspring. When Eldest Offspring, who bore the brunt of it but then grassed us up to the younger siblings, was pre-school, we told him the ice cream van was actually a nice music van which drove around playing tunes. Because he only saw ice cream vans parked up to serve ice creams, and so not playing Da Tunes, he fell for it and only found out when he started school. It’s true that we are Slut Parents From Hell™.

In an effort to save humanity the Offspringses have rejected our values, as Offspringses often do, and grown up to be decent, honest and honourable. Oh, the shame.

But today I ignored Nice Boss and logged in anyway because I have to travel on Monday and wanted to Get to Grips with Things before that happened and I couldn’t catch up at all. I think it was worth it. I have spoken to lots of people, mostly about the joys of the Eurostar and the fireworks from New Year, and sorted out training for the team, more or less, and printed off what I need for Monday. I’m shattered. I thought the week would never end. I can’t be expected to work at this pace all the time.

More importantly I arranged the annual service for the boiler, the Aga and the chimneys, which we have every year even though the last time for all of them was in January 2011 because that’s how good I am at prevaricating! In fact I have been so good at it that the Aga engineer has emigrated to Australia and I had to find a new one. Really, all he had to do was say he was too busy. It seems a bit extreme.

Obviously going back to work has meant I can sort those things out. Doing them in the holidays just wasn’t cricket.

I hope your Friday has been productive and you are ready for Real Life to resume.



Toasty New Year

As we all know, God not only invented the world in six days, but also invented the Venerable Bede, who in turn invented the calendar.

It is thanks to Bede, and not the Mayans, that in the West we have the method of measuring time in terms of the Christian Era, or Year of our Lord (Anno Domini). The main bone of contention in Bede’s time was how to calculate Easter, but that all got sorted out thankfully by the nice lady Abbess at Whitby, just down the road from EBL Towers. This was fortunate because otherwise how would we know when to put chocolate eggs in the shops? (The answer, by the way, is on Boxing Day. A shop in town had Easter Bunnies on its shelves when I popped in for some items on 27th December. I was unable to restrain my staire. The woman serving looked rather weary of it and I suppose she had endured the same from every other customer that morning. What I should have done, my dears, was to summon the manager and give her a quick lesson on appropriate shop display and how not to irritate the hell out of fragile post-celebratory customers.)

Come on EBL, stop blathering about Easter when it is a glorious new day in a new year!

What I really wanted to do was start this year with a lung-clearing, heart-stopping, brain-exploding rant. I know, I know, it’s not like your mild-mannered EBL to let rip in this fashion. But really – carers! What are they thinking?

Today being a Bank Holiday there were no carers available to get mother up and dressed. Not a problem, as it is a Bank Holiday, so I am home and can do it myself. It did mean I had to make sure I didn’t oversleep this morning as there was medication to administer on a strict schedule, but that was not a problem, not for good old EBL and faithful Sigoth.

We saw the New Year in down at the pub with friends and neighbours, as planned, and had a jolly nice time including counting down with Big Ben on the telly and singing Auld Lang Syne enthusiastically and tunelessly. The walk back home, all of 3 minutes, was dark and muddy, but the night was glorious as the rain had finally cleared and Orion was posing in his belt and the sky was a dark tent of diamonds and pearls sheltering us kindly. We relaxed back home with a cryptic crossword from the book of Daily Telegraph Crosswords which Santa kindly provided me in my stocking, and then slept like peaceful little lambs.

Up I jumped in the sunny rays of the 2013 morning, bright and eager (once Sigoth had provided tea to kick-start my system), and pleased the weather has finally improved. Oh my dears, it has been such a soggy Christmas, positively a catastrophe for many. Offspring Who Lives in Town has had a friend sleeping on the settee for days, having been flooded out of her flat not once, but twice, in December.

Anyway, off I went to raise mother from her bed and feed and drug her.

Mother, of course, was unaware it was New Year, but was pleased to see the sunshine this morning and got into the spirit of wishing me Happy New Year endlessly once I prompted her. It was a kind thought, but inevitably one that spun round her head with giddy abandon and no sign of stopping until replaced by something else.

I persuaded her out of her snug cocoon and started setting out the clothes for the day, including one of her new blouses. New Year wishes started to make way for how pretty the blouse is, which is also true no matter how many times she says it.  Meanwhile I rummaged for knickers in the chest of drawers, then in the wardrobe, then in the spare drawers in the spare bedroom, just in case. There were none in any drawer in any room. Even when I looked three or four times. I checked the washing machine which contained clean but wet apparel of every kind. As mother was safe upstairs, I got heated on the topic of carers who don’t think very hard about what will be required tomorrow and how long it takes to dry things in an English winter.

The only option was to shower and dress mother sans culottes which caused her some considerable anxiety. All the way down the stairs she kept telling me about it and I kept explaining that she needed to wait a few minutes while I dried something in the tumble dryer. It was a tense and stressful few minutes for both of us, but eventually she had toasty warm undies to slip into and she was happy. The consolation of dementia is that she will hopefully have forgotten it by now. The rest of her clothes are drying as I write, so tomorrow the carers will not be faced with the same problem. Whoever came yesterday was clearly not the sharpest tool in the box. Actually it’s hard to rant about them because I couldn’t do this every day for an endless stream of other people’s relatives.

It reminded me though of when I was little. Mother had a similar challenge in the winter when laundry refused to dry in the cold, dank days of November. We had a covered area outside the back door of the kitchen where there was a washing line and coal cellar and space for bikes. In the worst weather that was where we hung the essentials to dry, out of the rain but still in fresh air. November air may be fresh, although it is open to debate, but it is also cold and damp, and clothes tend not to dry even under shelter.

The next stage was then to put the really essential essentials on the airer by the boiler overnight. The kitchen had a small coal-fired boiler for heating water and allegedly to supply the radiators. My parents had a very modern house, built in the mid-1950s, with parquet floors I polished by tying dusters to my feet and skating up and down, and with real radiators for central heating. Sadly the boiler was far too small to make the radiators work, but the water was hot most of the time and the kitchen was always cosy.

No matter how warm and embracing the boiler was, sometimes it couldn’t manage to dry the essential essentials by morning. School hours wait for no parent, and faced with damp knickers and a child half-clad my mother did the only thing left to her and grilled my underwear. In the cooker. She removed the grill pan first, otherwise I would have smelled of good Danish bacon.

Toasty knickers. A great start to the day, let me tell you.


And so that was Christmas….

…What have you done?

At EBL Towers we enjoyed a quiet and peaceful holiday with plenty of good cheer, good food and good relaxation with good gaming, music and knitting. I fed the Offspiringses in bulk to make up for the fact they can’t afford food the rest of the year, and can report a successful increase of a couple of pounds for one and all. I can only hope you had what you wanted too. It’s all a big green tick here.

On Saturday the village enjoyed a surprise birthday party for one of the villagers. There was lots of shushing and giggling as we waited for the grand entrance, and then many glasses of wine to drink and a rather tasty buffet to eat while we listened to our local boy band of extremely talented yoof playing all kinds of songs for every taste (from Beatles to Adele via a Death Metal cover, Lou Reed and Coldplay. We enjoy an eclectic taste in music in these parts.)

Another year over and a new one just begun

As usual Sigoth and I plan to wander down to the local pub and see in the New Year with neighbours. All the Offspingses will be out and about with their friends, which will save me a fortune in rounds at the bar. We might even run to a second glass of something nice while we wait for the chimes of big Ben.

And so this is Christmas, I hope you had fun
The near and the dear ones, the old and the young

Of course, there was also sadness during the holiday marked by the very obvious deterioration in mother. She failed to recognise the in-laws, and worse, the Offspringses. She had fun sitting with us though and sang “Que sera sera” quite a lot, even through Dr Who, which was irritating but we managed. I suppose that the difference felt more marked because I can compare how she was last Christmas, at a fixed point in time, to how she has been this year. Otherwise her good days and bad days simply pass by and I know in theory she is worsening but don’t really appreciate how much without a point of reference.

A very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear

Sigoth and I don’t do much about resolutions as we tend to think we should say what we mean and keep to it all the time. Last year we wanted to lose weight, as Sigoth was developing a middle age spread and I was very overweight from the lack of mobility due to feet failing to cooperate. As I had the feet fixed on 30 December, I decided to see in 2012 by trying to increase my activity levels and decrease my calorie levels. It has worked very well and we are both now where we should be. So hurrah for us.  This coming year we want to look at the life-work balance, all of which may be easier if Sigoth doesn’t find gainful employment before the end of March when his current job finishes.

I wish you peace and hope and joy and love, now and throughout all the years to come.


What’s that thing again?

I am amazed at how people find time to post to their blogs in the run up to seasonal festivities. While I am sure not all of you will be celebrating, and while it is possible some of you may be visiting elsewhere and therefore not in preparation meltdown, I am sure many of the posts I have been reading will have been crafted in the midst of chaos. I salute you!

I was interested to read the reflections of the immensely talented BottledWorder about when to write, and when not to write. This is not the same point as above regarding prioritising and finding time in the midst of other pressures. But I’ll contrive that segue anyway. Bear with me, my dears. You knew the dangers when you signed up for this mission.

BottledWorder was interested in the effect on writing of memory and immediacy. Some blogs I read are “of the moment” and others are more considered and so distant in time and experience. There is no right or wrong (there is no try, only do or do not!); my own writing is a shambles of both reflection and immediacy, depending on my mood, the weather, the state of the public transport system and whether there is an R in the month. On a good day I think of it as a jolly little pot luck offering, on bad days nothing more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I started this blogging journey to try and record memories. I have failed miserably in my original aim, which was to capture somewhere the stories of my family and childhood before senility deprives any potential grandchildren of the pleasure of hearing about the day Grandma got stuck in the toy box, or how I learned to walk. I can tell these stories to family and friends easily, but writing them didn’t work very well. Perhaps I should try again now I have had more practice.

However, then the spooky thing happened and the brilliant, sparkling FOG wrote about forgetting.

So where are we, or more importantly, am I (because it is all about me) left in the conversation about writing and not writing, expressing events in the now or mediating experience meaningfully, remembering or letting go of memories?

Having a demented parent has made me more anxious about my own forgetfulness and a blog seems even more than ever a perfect way to record events now, before I lose them. But for what purpose?

Watching my mother rewind her life, I see she is happy if absent. She seems to be vanishing down a long tunnel, fading into the distance, as I drive forward with my life, work, children. We are leaving her behind and moving on. I hold onto the knowledge she is happy because it matters. I am sure she is happy because she sings a favourite song all the time, and smiles. At this stage if she was unhappy she would cry or shout. Some days she is quite lucid but unaware of the other days. She doesn’t care. In a way I am jealous.

I can’t ask her about the past because the story is different every time, and rather than go off on a tangent about the nature of truth or reality, suffice it to say her memories are no longer fixed or certain. She answers questions or says things to fill conversational gaps or be helpful. It’s very creative really, just not reliable testimony.

If I end up like my mother, it won’t be a burden. She has shed those. But I will lose the chance to share memories, which I think are our immortality. We become the story told about us, and we try to influence it to our advantage. Other people may jump in and muddy the waters by sharing the information that the delightful, generous, upbeat, beautiful and generally gorgeous EBL is in fact a bad-tempered, bossy, interfering old biddy. Both those views have truth. It depends on the R in the month. And whether you do what I tell you.

So I think my memories are my future. So long as I share them, whether immediately as a record of experience or later as a reflection on learning from experience. How and what I share tells you about me as a human. Do not assume the description is a Universal Truth, or even that Universal Truth exists; everyone views the world differently both in the present and in memory – you have only to look at witness statements of events to see the evidence of that. What we say is about who we are as people, not about what “actually” happened.