CHRISTMAS EVE – THAT GREAT BRITISH TRADITION; A CLIFF TOP WALK IN THE RAIN FOLLOWED BY MULLED WINE AND LUNCH AT THE BEACH HUT.
THE OTHER GREAT CHRISTMAS EVE TRADITION IS THE MORNING PHONE CALL… WHICH STARTS WITH ‘BAD NEWS..’ AMIDST ALL THE COVID TESTING, BOOSTING AND WAITING TO BE TRICKED BY THE PM INTO A LAST MINUTE LOCKDOWN, THERE ARE OTHER WINTER LURGIES LURKING. NOW WE ARE DEFERRING CHRISTMAS FOR A FEW DAYS UNTIL TEAM H HAVE NEGATIVE PCR RESULTS AND FEEL BETTER.
IT’S STILL RAINING BUT WE’VE HAD A GOOD DAY, GOOD LUNCH, FACETIMED, WATCHED ‘ARTHUR CHRISTMAS’ AND EVERYBODY GOT MORE LEGO…
I HOPE YOU ALL HAD A PLEASANT DAY WHATEVER YOU PLANNED OR HAD TO REARRANGE…
Whether you consider it started at the twelfth stroke of midnight, first of January 2020, or a year later, I think we can all agree the third decade of the Twenty First Century has not started well. But even if we have lost loved ones, friends or fellow bloggers, life inevitably goes on, though ‘normal life’ still seems a long way off. My life took an unexpected turn a few weeks ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer; treatable and curable, so at my age ( not that I’m that old… ) can’t complain! It IS tragic when young mothers get the more aggressive forms of breast cancer, it is tragic when any young person or child has cancer, life is not fair and none of us know the rules of the game…
In the space of a few weeks I have entered the system, had all sorts of tests and my operation brought forward. The NHS has come up trumps, but it is true that breast cancer has had a lot more attention and research devoted to it than other cancers. It is also true that if you have other undiagnosed chronic conditions you are not funnelled so swiftly and kindly onto a pathway.
Many of us have tests of various sorts over the years with all the wonderful magic waves, magnetism, ultra sound that exist these days, then feel a bit guilty when it turns out nothing is wrong, you were just anaemic or it was just a pain, nothing serious. Then one day the atomic super scanner does find something; to say it’s unexpected is not true. I have lived with cancer all my life, brought up on the stories of my grandmother, who died of bowel cancer at 56 when I was little; the only grandchild she would get to meet. My grandfather had died suddenly the year before, also 56. A short time before, he had been saying how good life was, with lovely little me and my grandmother returning from hospital after a ‘successful’ operation. Family legend has it that Grandma ‘gave up’ after losing her husband; the reality was that there was no cure for bowel cancer then. But it is true that my mother walked into her mother’s bedroom one day when she was undressing and saw lumps on her body. She was shocked that her mother had not told them or gone back to the doctor. I seem to have always known this story with its vivid image of cancer bursting out all over the place.
Few modern women can be unaware of cancer, expecting or fearing our wombs, ovaries or breasts to be invaded at any moment, not to mention all the other parts of our bodies. I am not a doctor or scientist, but the simplest explanation I have read is that it would be a surprise if people and other creatures did not get cancer; our bodies are a mass of living cells designed to constantly reproduce, sometimes they go awry. When my aunt in her seventies sailed through her mastectomy I said I would never be afraid of having one; my mother had a mastectomy in her nineties and took it in her stride, living long enough to die of old age. With my father dying of leukaemia and my sister surviving cancer a long time ago I have glibly assumed it was just a matter of when, not if I would get cancer. Humans are living long enough to increase our chances of succumbing; there are no magic bullets because there are a multitude of cancers, lots of people get better or have a long remission, others don’t. I have no more right to survival than anyone else, only to not cause my family any more stress after losing their father nine months ago. The Game of Life is strange; a local friend has just had a mastectomy and my old school friend was having breast surgery the day before I got my diagnosis, I am certainly not alone.
Warning Cancer Joke
Doctor: ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you the tumour is malignant.’
Patient: ‘Oh thank goodness, I was worried it was cancer.’
And more irreverent thoughts…
Daughter on phone trying to sort out my iPhone account… Me: ‘Just tell him I can’t sort out my phone cos I’m a widow and I’ve got cancer’– Yay, now I have two reasons for not doing things…
Yes there are plenty of positives. I can’t go to the camera club AGM as I’m isolating ready to go into hospital on Friday – oh hang on, roadmap delayed, AGM will be on Zoom, I can go…
Our family has a tradition of feeling guilty, about pretty much everything and now a weight of guilt has been lifted off my shoulders. I can hold my head up high and look others in the eye. No longer feeling guilty for going around being healthy while others have so many medical burdens to bear.
How lucky that my younger son and his fiancée have given up their rented home and are moving in with me this week as part of their plan to be in a better situation to buy their own place. Their planned seaside break next week has turned into being carers, not so lucky for them…
My NHS daughter will be organising her brothers and the NHS as she did last year; as she is a physiotherapist she will make sure I do my exercises.
It has rained a great deal, summer solstice was a wash out, but at least my garden won’t need watering for a little while because…
As I am having lymph nodes taken out as well there will be lots of things I can’t do with my right side like gardening, cooking, housework… More importantly maybe I won’t be able to type much – good excuse for blogging being erratic, though perhaps I’ll post lots of pictures.
To go with my garden pictures here’s my favourite happy garden tune ‘English Country Gardens’, an old folk song arranged for the piano by Australian Percy Grainger and played with gusto in this original recording.
In one of my previous incarnations I was walking home from the bus stop after a late shift. When I turned the corner and approached our quiet cul-de-sac I was surprised and a little alarmed to see two suspicious characters lurking on either corner, their cigarettes a tiny glow in the dark night. Dressed in black leather jackets they looked like East European gangsters. What could I do except look straight ahead, pretend I hadn’t noticed them and head for my house.
Then a voice said ‘Hi Mum.’
It was my fifteen year old son with his friend, who was waiting to be picked up by his mother. Their leather jackets were the ones the friend’s mother had ordered from her Littlewoods catalogue.
You don’t have to be female for groups of more than one strapping teenager to look threatening. Hanging around with mates and walking aimlessly in town is what teenagers do. Some may show off to their mates by calling out to hapless passers by, most are harmless. Real gangs armed with knives or selling drugs are more likely to be harming other young men.
The males that women have been complaining about recently … and for centuries … are those who don’t just hang about, but call out abusive remarks, follow lone women, slow their cars down or touch them in crowded tube trains. And of course far worse.
For many of us these perpetrators appear to be a totally different species from all the men in our lives. From our dads who made our pet cages to boyfriends, brothers, sons and work mates who fix our cars and washing machines, give us lifts, husbands who are lifelong companions; why would we want to hate men? It is a truth not often acknowledged that many of us preferred men teachers and male bosses. Women are not a united single species any more than men are and what girl hasn’t dreaded working with the bitch in the office or feared the nasty nurse on the maternity ward?
Little girls who have no reason to fear men adore them, batting their eyelids innocently when the firemen come to visit their playgroup, clutching the hand of their friend’s dad. When we visited my friend’s parents once, my little girl said to the mother ‘I like your Daddy!’
I once read an article by a woman who said she was thrilled when her first baby was a boy, because although she couldn’t be a man, at least she had given birth to one. Though it is the man that determines the sex of the baby, some women still feel proud if they manage to present their husband with a son. Perhaps there are simpler reasons why many women are secretly hoping or delighted when they have a boy first; maybe they always wanted a big brother or working with children has endeared them to little boys. Little boys are adorable and though they may hit their younger siblings and the other children at nursery and may not turn out quite as angelic as those choir boys that we all love, they are not often insidiously nasty and spiteful to each other as little girls can be.
Liking men and enjoying their company does not mean we assume they are superior, it just means it would be a dull world if we were all the same. It will be a sad day ( maybe it is already ) when men and women can no longer have a laugh at work, fearful of crossing the ever moving boundaries. When women would rather suffer a back injury than gracefully accept help with something heavy from the chap next door. When girls consider sewing a button on a male friend’s shirt as an insult rather than just being helpful.
But none of this takes away the fear. Why some men see a broken down car and worried female driver, a woman walking home from her late shift at the hospital or a very drunk girl losing her friends and attempting to walk home as an obvious opportunity to rape and murder them remains a complete mystery. It doesn’t feel helpful that crime dramas are so often about young pretty women being kidnapped and murdered, but that is not a cause; terrible crimes were being committed long before cinema and television were invented.
We still have to remember all the times we have walked our dog round the park, chatting to male dog owners who don’t try and molest us or say anything inappropriate. Recall that time your windscreen smashed on a deserted road and the truck driver kindly stopped to help without bundling you into his cab. Remember those times you went on dates with guys who turned out to be very boring or at least not interesting enough to want to see again, but who saw you safely home and accepted your invented polite excuses for not arranging another date and didn’t turn into a stalker.
We shouldn’t have to, but perhaps girls will always have to learn to develop their instincts as to who the bad guys are and sadly that will not always work. But it will be a long time yet before we figure out how a sweet little boy might turn into a monster scarier than our worst nightmares. In the meantime let us stay united as humans who respect and look after each other.
Warning: If you want to avoid the topic of death and dark humour read no further.
Covid has completely changed the way we do funerals; whatever your faith or traditions most funerals involved an open invitation to attend, with numbers kept manageable merely by the short notice, travel involved or the health of elderly relatives. Equally important were the refreshments afterwards, whether a cup of tea back at the house or a big booze up at the deceased’s local, it was a chance to catch up with long lost relatives and reminisce about the dearly departed. At present, funerals seem very bleak.
In between the death of my mother and husband I heard of the sudden death of a friend I hadn’t seen for ages; the game of death was being played out at speed. I was sent a link for the funeral at the crematorium and logged in successfully on time. I thought I had missed it as I saw the coffin disappear through the curtains and cleaners appear to dust and spray. Crematoriums work on a strict half hourly in and out schedule; the notes with the link warned with words to the effect that if you accidentally zoomed in on the wrong funeral you must close your eyes. The one camera revealed only the backs of my friend’s mourners as they entered to Elvis Presley singing ‘Love Me Tender’. It was hard to work out who the tiny group of mourners might be until the immediate family sat down at the front; it did feel bleak. A woman introduced herself as someone official and spoke on behalf of the family, but when my friend’s son got up and spoke very amusingly and movingly the bleakness was gone. The memories came back and the official lady rounded everything up with dignified words and The Lord’s Prayer – ‘proper version’ from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Everyone filed out to more Elvis.
Cyberspouse had always been adamant he did not want a funeral. His one wish, decided years ago, was to bequeath his body to science and he had filled in all the forms. Our part was to call the hot line to Southampton University Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences as soon as possible. Once a year they have a service for families of donors so we would be doing something. Cyberspouse knew there was no guarantee of acceptance, in normal times they might have enough bodies. Plan B was cremation and we could do what we liked with his ashes! Sadly we were not surprised when it turned out Covid had wrecked Plan A; they weren’t accepting any bodies.
Two days after Cyberspouse’s death my daughter and I were at our local Co Op funeral parlour chatting to a very nice lady who was totally unfazed by our instructions for no funeral; we would have a ‘direct cremation’ with a courier delivering the ashes. A pleasant surprise was that she was composing a mini biography, tapping away at the computer as we offered snippets, so that the staff ‘caring’ for him would see a real person who had had a life. The few times I have been involved in organising funerals there always seem to be amusing moments. She said he would be dressed in a white robe; daughter and I looked at each other ‘No way!’ As he liked casual wear we agreed he should be left in the shorts and T shirt he had worn most of the hot summer.
A few weeks later I was told when the ashes would be delivered. A man in black stood on the doorstep and I could not see how he had arrived. I peeped out the window after he left and saw him open the boot of an ordinary car; the boot was full of smart grey paper carriers with large grey tubs, identical to what he had just given me – at least he wasn’t in a white van doubling up with Amazon deliveries. What will we do with the ashes? I have some ideas, but getting family together or traveling to places all seems so difficult with Covid and we have all heard stories of ashes kept on the mantlepiece…
Does it matter if you don’t have a funeral? At a funeral you can write something and read it out and you probably have flowers. I will be writing more blogs, I wrote a piece for our camera club, of which Cyberspouse had been chairman a few years ago and the house was full of flowers, more appreciated than their short life at a funeral. I have kept the flowers topped up – easier than visiting the cemetery. We had to explain to everyone there would be no funeral, but how many would have been allowed to come with the Covid situation? We carried out his wishes. Unless you own an ancestral estate you do have to get official involvement in taking care of the body of your loved one, but it seems you don’t have to have a funeral.
My mother told me that though her father died suddenly, too young, they still found themselves bursting into laughter when the funeral director left their home; he had been so ridiculously sombre and Dickensian.
When we took my uncle to arrange my aunt’s funeral the chap who showed us in was straight out of a Dickens novel, gaunt and dressed in black. But he showed us into an office to talk to an ordinary bloke who went through the plans then finished up with a flourish ‘… and this coffin comes with a special offer this week, a free shroud.’
When I got a letter back from the Co Op a few days after our visit, it came with a free book mark impregnated with flower seeds! Rather amusing considering what even this most basic of their services had cost!
When my mother planned her funeral five years ago, she could never have imagined it would be streamed live across the world, but the service itself went as well as she had planned, despite Covid. As Western Australia has dealt well with the pandemic the limit was sixty people in Mum’s own church; how many of us could summon that many people to our funeral, especially at the age of 94 when many of one’s friends have already departed. Mum was also the last of her generation in our immediate family.
On the tenth of August my daughter and I were up ready to watch the funeral on her lap top at 4am British Summer Time, 11 am in Perth. The link failed just as my sister started reading the piece I had written and reconnected in time to see my brother reading his piece. Luckily the recording worked perfectly and we were able to watch that later.
This was a warm Christian funeral with the priest who knew her well, who had been visiting her in her last weeks; a sad, but happy event. Mum had been ready to go for a while. Five weeks previously my sister thought it was the final weekend. I had already talked to her on the phone not long before, laughing and putting the world to rights. She knew I would be widowed soon and would have willingly swapped places with Cyberspouse. Having outlived my father by 24 years she had been in the same situation, also with plenty of support from the rest of the family. We laughed at her memory of the mountains of paperwork they had to sort out; carefully preserved by Dad, dating back to our arrival in Australia in 1964. Mum’s hearing and mind were in fine fettle up to the end. On the ‘last weekend’ I manged to Facetime with her and my sister, a very different experience from those forced to do that with relatives dying of Covid, isolated in intensive care.
Our mother had chosen to go into a care home five years ago and made new friends, took up knitting again and started new hobbies such as card making. She had a room with its own little terrace where everyone could visit including my sister’s dog. Recently she had to move into the higher care unit, but was still watching the evening news. The care home had Covid rules and restrictions, but never went into lockdown, Mum could still have visits. After the ‘last weekend’ Mum felt peckish and carried on for those next five weeks!
It was a sad day for staff and her friends at the care home when she finally left; two of her friends there said she was the best friend they ever had.
When my mother planned her funeral five years ago she could never have imagined the service at her local church would be streamed live across the world. Covid has changed how we deal with death, before and after. Mum had outlived my father by twenty four years, at 94 she was happy and ready to go. She was the same age as The Queen and David Attenborough, who are still hale and hearty, but that’s the game of life.
I wrote my first Game of Life blog in November 2018; here is part of what I wrote.
We have to leave Summertown, the days of being recycled teenagers are over. There is a very real possibility that Cyberspouse will be outlived by the Duke of Edinburgh and my mother.
Cyberspouse outlived my mother by just over a month, he has been outlived by the Duke of Edinburgh. In this Covid world those with terminal illnesses are among the many who have been isolating and shielded at home, not to cheat death, but to have it on their terms. Cyberspouse achieved his aim of never going near a hospital again; happy sleeping a lot and just doing what he felt like doing. For most of those six months we were on our own, though with various medical teams at the other end of the phone. You can read about our life in lockdown here.
Covid restrictions eased in August and we soon needed to make up our own rules so family could come and help. It was only in the last fortnight that the district nurses and Marie Curie nurses parachuted in; they were marvellous and worthy of their own blog.
There has been plenty of dark humour along the way. Cyberspouse was always adamant he did not want a funeral, very handy as traditional funerals are difficult or impossible with Covid.
Anyone dealing with cancer or illness reading this, don’t let it scare you; every case is different. Friends much older than us, sending sympathy cards, have had cancer and other dices with death years ago… open heart surgeries, body parts removed and they are still here, that’s the game of life.
Colin Campbell Gogerty 24th January 1952 – 2nd September 2020
Since the start of the pandemic many people have found themselves being carers for the first time; isolated with granny, uncle’s paid carers not able to visit or caring for Covid survivors in the family. Happily most people seem to have risen to the challenge, but it takes real skill to become a Careless Carer.
Some of you may have become carers without even realising it…
HOW TO RECOGNISE IF YOU ARE A CARER
You are a carer if you are busy gardening and a cup of coffee does not appear at the back door.
You are a carer if you yell DOORBELL! And nobody goes to answer the front door.
Ditto if you yell PHONE! And nobody goes to pick up the landline or the mobile phone left upstairs.
WHAT WILL A NORMAL DAY BE LIKE FOR A CARELESS CARER?
Take water, the wrong tablets and a cup of tea to the special person, who will remind you they always have coffee in the morning. Tell them you will be back in ten minutes to help them shower.
Now it’s time for you to have a quick cuppa ready for a busy day – take your time and check all the social media on your phone, share some Facebook Covid jokes, go in the garden and take a few pictures for Instagram, phone friend to tell them how busy you are… forget to turn shower on to warm up…
It’s important to answer the phone promptly, it could be a medical person to ask how things are and tell you no one can come to visit. Or it could be a friend and now is your chance to be properly careless, have a good chat, maybe they are lonely, fed up or hating working from home, discuss last night’s drama on television. Can you believe the time and you haven’t even got breakfast ready yet… then you remember you left your caree in the shower!
Ask the precious one what they would like for breakfast, even though it’s nearly lunchtime and forget what they said by the time you get in the kitchen.
Forgetting is a key attribute of the Careless Carer and the opportunities are infinite;
Forget to turn on the radio or television
Forget to turn off the radio or television
Forget to open/close curtains, windows, doors.
Forget to bring or put within reach glasses, newspaper, book, TV controls, mobile phone, ipad and the cup of coffee you forgot to make an hour ago.
If you have any sense you will probably have used the world wide pandemic to avoid socialising at all, thankful to avoid seeing your partner’s friends, your in-laws or your children and grandchildren. If you had any friends of your own, you probably have none left by now.
However, if you still feel the need for the occasional human company how do you work out who you can see and under what conditions? Government advice changes twice daily, whichever country you are living in, so the best policy is to not let anyone inside your house, this has the advantage of not having to do any cleaning or tidying up.
A picnic in the garden is ideal, especially if they bring their own food and drink. The thoughtful host provides welcoming signs, you can probably nick one from somewhere.
Don’t worry if it rains, you can use all those large Amazon boxes left over from your Compulsive Covid Comfort buying, ideal for making Wendy houses, though perhaps the over twelves might not be so enthusiastic.
Before you phone or message your visitors remember to keep up the pretence that you still cannot leave home, at all, for the rest of the year, despite what Boris may have said about August 1st. Your visitors are sure to ask if they can bring anything, take full advantage of this; today’s newspaper, your favourite chocolate you couldn’t get in your Tesco shop, the milk you forgot to put on your Tesco order and yes a bottle of wine would be much appreciated. Every guest is bound to say, when you ask how much you owe them, ‘Oh don’t worry.’ Added to the money you have saved by not going out, eating out etc, you should be making a profit by now.
Cassie logged off her computer with relief, another work week at an end. She rotated her shoulders and stretched her back, longing to get out on her bike; she smiled to herself, it was like being a child again, out on your bike when you have done your homework and chores.
It wasn’t quite the freedom of childhood, she mused as she pedalled and picked up speed. The roads were quieter, but there was the added hazard of pedestrians suddenly darting across the road to avoid other walkers. Quiet lanes and cycle paths were busier than they used to be and passing other cyclists or overtaking while keeping a distance was awkward. She wondered where James rode, she had never spotted him among the other cyclists out and about. Perhaps they wouldn’t even recognise each other in their safety helmets.
Cassie braked suddenly as a child wobbled off its scooter onto the road in front of her. The seemingly unaccompanied child lay sprawled near the gutter with no sign of getting up. She glanced back up the road; the parents were chatting across a garden wall to someone standing at their front door, two more children were clambering on the wall. No one in the family had noticed anything amiss, if indeed this child of indeterminate sex and age actually belonged to them. What to do now? If Cassie helped it up she would be breaking the two metre rule of social distancing, but what if a car came speeding along? Delayed shock set in and the child suddenly started bawling. The parents looked up and came rushing along the pavement. Cassie’s relief was replaced by annoyance as they glared accusingly at her.
‘Lucky I managed to brake in time’ she stammered as she hopped back on her bike to distance herself.
James laughed as she related the story to him later, seated at the computer, glass of wine in hand. ‘Not a relaxing ride then.’ ‘No, I was really looking forward to blowing away the cobwebs, the week I’ve had. I almost wish we were back at the office, almost, not quite.’ ‘I think I would opt for returning to the office, at least you are in your own home. I feel like an overgrown school boy.’
For a moment Cassie felt a twinge of jealousy, imagining James at work, joking and flirting with the ladies of his department, probably younger and more interesting than her. She dismissed those thoughts and tried to be sympathetic. ‘But it can’t be easy for your mother either if she’s used to living by herself.’ ‘That was before lock down, how would she manage without me?’
Very well, thought Cassie. She was feeling more and more sympathy with the mother and irritation with James. Surely moving back home had not been his only option after the divorce. ‘Are you in your old bedroom?’ ‘No, no, thank goodness, this is Mum and Dad’s retirement home, downsize, nice quiet little town.’ ‘Quiet… that doesn’t sound like anywhere near here.’
James laughed. ‘I’m over the other side of the water, funny we don’t know where each other lives. Stuck over the other side of the water now, ferry hasn’t been running for weeks; I enjoyed that commute to work, bicycle on the boat.’
Cassie found herself feeling relieved. James was at a safe distance in more ways than one, at least while lock down continued. He would remain safely inside her computer screen, no decisions needed yet about whether to meet up. Those blue eyes could not lure her against her better judgement… into what she wasn’t sure… ‘So where did you grow up?’ she steered the conversation back onto safer ground, away from the present or his failed marriage. She sat back and sipped her wine, ready to enjoy one of his funny stories.
A state visit is when someone comes to your home, but you don’t recall inviting them. If you look out your front window and see lots of photographers you are sure to be having a state visit and you must be prepared.
On a state visit it is bad manners to wait till the doorbell rings, you must be outside ready to greet them; this is when you will need help from your family and colleagues. If the visitors have brought their whole family you must find an equal number of members of your own family who have not been insulted by the guests and do not have anything better to do, like go to work or look after the baby.
Each visitor must be greeted with sincere smiles, for the benefit of the cameras, and cheerful small talk. At this early stage of the meeting it is best to stick to the weather.
You will also need help indoors. Your guests may expect to stay in your home, you can get out of this by having renovations done on the house, but you cannot get out of giving them a good meal. If you are The Queen you are used to giving banquets and will have a few people to help, but if you don’t have a banqueting hall you just need to pull out the leaves on the dining table, buy a few candlesticks at the charity shop and you can get three bunches of flowers for a fiver at the greengrocers. Don’t forget to buy a few bottles of wine when you get the food shop.
The menu is important as it will feature in reports of the state visit. If you are The Queen you may have to take the great grandchildren’s pet hand reared lamb and roast it, but you can probably get away with a couple of chickens from Aldi.
Finally you will need felt pens and some recycled card to make place names for the table, but planning the seating is easy with these simple rules. Each person must sit next to someone of the opposite sex who they have never met before. Don’t forget to wear your best clothes and remind your family to be on their best behaviour and leave their mobile phones in the box at the door.
Good luck and don’t forget to record that television programme you were looking forward to watching in your pyjamas.