Saturday 30 March 2019

The last farewell

Goodbye Mum.


I had, like most people, been dreading the funeral.
Everything had been prepared - plot chosen, flowers ordered, words written, music decided on, catering arranged (thank you Ysanne and Greta), people invited . . . but the actual reality of seeing the person in a coffin, or rather just the coffin and imagining the person - Mother - inside, is a very different thing to all the more straight forward and mostly unemotional organisational stuff.
The day arrived, bright and sunny, and from the moment I stepped onto the gravel drive of the woodland burial ground I knew it was going to be a joyous occasion - of course tinged with much sadness, but it was impossible to feel really gloomy surrounded by so much springtime beauty.
At this particular burial ground the service was conducted in a little thatched barn - led by (thankfully, the funeral director had suggested using 'a professional' to 'glue it all together') Rob, a particularly eloquent, thoughtful and humorous celebrant - and included part of Mum's choir singing Mozart, Mark playing Ravel, Delius and his own piece dedicated to her - The Periwinkle Waltz; my poem, and words from old friends.
After the service, we walked up to the grave - a plot I had chosen as it had views of distant hills and magnificent oak trees - Rob spoke, birds sang and it was all just perfect.
Oddly, I didn't sob - I normally howl at all funerals, even at people's I hardly know. It just all seemed rather remote to me. I think probably as I'd sort of said my goodbyes after her first stroke and she became a different person; then followed all the years as she went slowly downhill which was fairly distressing. The last few weeks - see a few posts back - were utterly awful as she struggled on in hospital. Maybe that's why it was a relief to know she was finally resting in a beautiful wild-flowered place that I would visit with many happy memories of her from earlier years.


Up on Win Green Hill. A poem for Mum.

I wonder if within time’s fabric, certain memories still exist
Not just in my mind but in a sort of actual time
Do we still walk up on Win Green Hill? 
Where larks dive in a never-ending sky?
Or swim in Hampstead’s placid ponds
And clamber over rocks in Kimmeridge Bay, 
And after, drink tea in the ex-post-office café?
Do we brush through the ferns in Epping Forest?
Smell the summer roses in Regents Park 
And observe the waves from the Isle of Sark?
Watch Star Trek in black and white
Listen to our three records at Seymour Court
Pick raspberries at Greenhill Close
And stroke the nose of the neighbour’s horse
I think we do
The nocturnal house at London Zoo
The dark and mossy Highgate Woods
Its oak trees’ first springtime buds
The sand and sea at Canford Cliffs
Salty skin and tired limbs
The pause halfway up to observe
A brave scabious nodding flower
A darting lizard 
Old Harry Rocks
The Isle of Wight
The opal sea.
These treasured living memories.

Thursday 21 March 2019

Stop Brexit

The planet is falling apart. We need to stick together to find BIG solutions to BIG problems.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Birthday walk

We nearly didn't as the sky was uniform grey and rain approaching. But we did - quite a long one directly from the house and no car involved. Think I am going to start a series of 'deep topography' walks taking in the landscape surrounding our house and town. There is always so much to discover, appreciate and re-appreciate just in the familiar territory.
Today, I was drawn to look closely at lichen - what weird and wonderful stuff - the wikipedia definition:
A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship.

Also on the walk we nearly tripped over a large oblong slab of stone with names and dates engraved within the fissured granite surface. I vaguely recalled someone telling me years ago that there was such a thing on top of the hill crest from Limoux to the next village but I couldn't recall more than. that.
We were enlightened a little later by an elderly man driving on the back road to Limoux who stopped to admire the hounds. Apart from obviously being impressed that we had done the longish circuit he asked whether we had seen the stone slab - dedication to Jean de Brunhoff's great grandmother, (he being the author of Baba the Elephant). Ah . . . that's what it was . . .

We arrived back in Limoux just in time to witness the Arago Carnaval group's very, very strange 'theme' - each group present on the morning of their 'sorti' a mini theatre production of a few minutes - something usually political or something referring to local happenings; occasionally cultural, almost always bawdy with lots of sexual references, fake breasts/backsides, fresh fish, leeks, nuns' habits, men dressed as prostitutes . . . etc.
This particular theme with live Star Wars soundtrack played by the carnaval musicians (mostly brass and percussion) involved the unearthing of some sort of space ship? out of which appeared a very small and curvy woman with nowt on her top half except a few strings of beads, a masked man and the dummy of a baby . . . err. I asked various people if they had a clue to which they said, "beh . . . non."
Anyway, it seemed to go down well and everyone disappeared into cafés to drink pastis. We went home to make lunch and celebrate the rest of Mark's birthday and drink tea.


Monday 11 March 2019

Night night, mind the bugs don't bite

It's what Mum used to say.
I can recall the slanting triangle of light in my dark room as the door closed and sleep beckoned.
I've been saying it to her for the last two weeks as she has lain in a hospital bed, death beckoning.

I suppose I've never really dwelt on what the actual end of her life would be like - not perhaps something any of us care to spend much, if any, time thinking about.
I got the call over two weeks ago from her nursing home. 'She's had a stroke and the ambulance is coming'. I booked a flight and arrived at the hospital on a drizzly early evening, to find she was no longer responsive to voice or touch - as far as it was possible to know.
Mum was made of tough stuff. That, I never doubted, but I never would have imagined that she could have survived for eleven days once fluids were stopped. Yes. They do this. I'd always thought that once Palliative Care is decided on that the person is made comfortable and just fluids are given intravenously. But, no. Everything stops and it's just a matter of time . . . and in Mum's case, a very long time.
My cousin, and wonderful human being and retired nurse, came in every day and shook her head in disbelief at Mum hanging on. One of the things she could never understand in all her nursing career, and I totally agree with this, is why people cannot be helped to go when nothing else can be done. Apparently, if Mum had been moaning and thrashing about, they would have been able to inject a little opiate-help into her system but because she was deemed to be 'peaceful' nothing could be offered. As it was, I had to endure her dreadfully slow decline each day, hoping desperately that she wasn't aware of anything, other than earlier on perhaps, some of my heartfelt words of thanks to her for being an amazing mother, happy recollections, poetry readings and the touch of my hand in hers.

So, this morning at 4.00 am, I felt nothing other than relief to hear the voice of a kindly ward sister informing me that she had passed on. Of course, the reality will hit, but for the moment I'm just glad to be able to arrange the funeral for her - a willow coffin in the very beautiful woodland burial ground which oddly and happily is just very close to where she was born and lived for most of her life.
Yesterday, feeling at some very low point, I decided to take the afternoon off from the hospital and went to Bournemouth to look at the sea. I walked along the cliff path, felt the very blustery wind, observed the zipping clouds and gazed at the green restless sea; after which I had a cream tea in the wonderful old Miramar hotel looking out over their lawns and sea view. It seemed a fitting way to honour Mother as the sea and cream teas figured very highly on her list of favourite things.
Afterwards, I returned to the hospital and sat for a couple of hours talking to her and reading before leaving with the words at the top of this post. Did I know it might be the last time? Maybe. Maybe she had finally realised it was time to go.


Eight years of voyaging backwards and forwards to two different nursing homes. Good times and sad times; time spent with Mum on wheelchair walks along the river, trips to the sea, around town and museums; time spent with my lovely and generous cousins who have put me up and cared for me over these years; time exploring this beautiful bit of Dorset where I lived as an adolescent.
The end of an era.
Goodbye Mum.

Thursday 7 March 2019

Serious shit

We are in it.

While travelling from France to the UK recently, I was struck more strongly than before - possibly as I my trip concerned absolutely nothing of frivolity (refer to next post when it eventually appears) - of how current human life seems to revolve around shopping and acquiring stuff. And most of it being plastic-centred.
Stansted's airport's shopping maze just said it all really with an unintended pre-apocalyptic message. I bought a banana encased in its own wrapping and travelled on, noting the Central Line had been entirely taken over by Apple's latest marketing strategy, and eventually arrived at my destination.


I stood in Boots yesterday after going in search of toothpaste (nothing at all available in a metal tube, of course) and felt very frightened by the shelves, aisles and displays of mostly totally unnecessary products. I've felt this sort of creeping worry for years but yesterday it was more of a looming awareness of some unpleasant end of the way we choose to exist, and not as far off as most of us might think.

Below, an extract from, The Mad Dog Café, part three of a trilogy I wrote back in 2013, in part concerning the state of play regarding overconsumption. Cameron has gone to stay with his hoarder parents and sister in Scotland.

"You'll live here?"
    Andrea nodded. "Yes. It's fine, a room will do - somewhere I can shut myself off from everything and the parents. They're happy about it, someone in the house to help as they get older, and no overheads for me."
    "It sounds a good arrangement," said Cameron, shuddering at the thought. "What are you going to study?"
    "Philosophy and economics. I’d already done an Open University degree a couple of years back when I was beginning to question my blind faith. What happened rather clarified my thoughts."
    "Will you look for a job?"
    "Maybe something part time, but there's really no point."
    "No point?"
   "Cameron. Go back to your life and live it to the full, while you can."
   "Meaning what exactly?"
    Andrea looked at him with her large grey eyes, brow furrowed. "Don't you ever wonder where we are, us, the human race? Don't you feel everything has accelerated far too quickly?"
     "Well, yes I do, but we are rather cut off from what most people would think of as normal life. I suppose I don't dwell on it too much, we're so busy with the restaurant and everything, the kids . . . "
    "You should perhaps dwell on it. Just think about Kirkaldy for example – six supermarkets, six! in this relatively small town. Each supermarket is stuffed to the hilt with food, but not just food – choice. Choice. It's an evil word. We've come to expect choice of everything and the manufacturers use that, more and more, and more choice of things we don't need. Do you remember that first Sainsbury's?"
    "Not really, no."
    "Well, I'm older than you . . . Mother used to take me there when it first opened. I can just recall the yogurt section, there was one, or perhaps two brands, and they offered plain, strawberry and toffee, that was it!" How much choice do we need?" 
    "None really, we just make our own yogurt and add things to it."
    "Exactly. That's what people used to do. But it's most worrying when you start thinking about it on a large scale. Kirkcaldy. Six supermarkets, each with a yogurt aisle five yards long – Fife with a population of around three hundred and sixty thousand, shopping in probably thirty supermarkets each with five yard long yogurt aisles. Scotland, how many supermarkets, how many shoppers, how much yogurt?"
    "And that's just yogurt," reflected Cameron.
    "Yes," Andrea continued, "think of everything else apart from food. Cheap jewellery, televisions, toys, toiletries; mountains of plastic in each supermarket or electronics store in each town. The way the goods are produced, the water used, the pollution, the conditions people live in who make most of this stuff. The planet can't support this. Children need to be taught about real life, earth, plants, skills that have been forgotten, while there's still a chance."
    "You think it's too late."
    "We got lost somewhere. We reached the point and moved beyond it."
    "You mean it's all downhill from now?"
    "I think so."
    "So, when was the point we should have slowed down."
    "I often wonder about that. Probably before computers really took hold, perhaps in the mid-seventies."
    "We'd still be stuck with shag-pile carpets and terrible fashion."
    "It's not a joke, Cameron, our governments can't even unite to stop the production of plastic bags let alone nuclear warheads. Something is coming . . . look at the weather, how long ago did we see the sun here? Cameron, go back, grow your garden, teach your children, make something for a different future."
    "What are you going to do?"
    "Learn, write, teach perhaps, make a small difference if I can. I'll look after the parents, I don't have other responsibilities like you do." 
    "I said I'd help them clear things out, do some alterations."
    "It's not that easy, it would take months and they don't really want change. I'm fine in that room and they have money to do repairs, I'll deal with it. Go home."
    "We'll keep in touch, Andrea. It's so stupid that we never have done."
    "I've changed and I don't blame you for not wanting to know the old me. Yes, keep in touch, if you like."
    Cameron stood up, cold from sitting too long in the chilled room.
    "Come and visit."
    "No, I don't think so." She smiled a little, stood up and went towards the door with a pile of plates, an odd figure; a school teacher from the nineteen-twenties in her long dress and bobbed grey hair. 
    "Goodbye, Cameron."  
    Cameron went upstairs to the bathroom pausing on the way to look in the box room.  It could have been a monastery chamber with its white walls and single bed; the upside-down metal cross on the wall made it less likely however. On another wall hung a print of an apocalyptic John Martin painting, the menacing clouds and crashing sea, strident against the plain paintwork. 
    Under the window lurked a small desk covered with papers and books. Cameron glanced at the titles: World Economics. What is Faith? Panglossery versus Pessimism, Back to the Land, The Road. 
    A large semi-dismembered bible lay on the left of the desk, its pages scattered, some Sellotaped to the wall, paragraphs circled in red. 
    He left the room, suddenly aware of trespassing into a life, a life that should have been known to him, but was not. 
    He closed the door quietly, and went down the corridor to the bathroom. The light bulb had gone; Cameron peed in the semi-darkness, the room's cluttered contents lit up intermittently by a guttering street lamp. 
    He moved through the wreckage and looked out of the window. The rain still hammered down, the black silhouettes of the trees waving wildly.
    Andrea was right. He would go back, tomorrow, early; the parents probably wouldn't even notice.