slow lane life 3

slow lane life 3

Friday, 28 September 2018

Some months later....

Occasionally, I receive a sweet email from a blog reader asking if all is well, as I haven't posted anything on this blog for a long time. 

Indeed I haven't, nor have I always responded properly to the enquirers, so today I'll attempt to put this right.

Firstly, thank you to those of you who still keep an eye on me, and take the trouble to wonder where I've gone. I'm touched that you do this, when you are so poorly rewarded, and sorry that you had to ask.

It's been a challenging and unusual year so far. Suzi, the friend whom I have mentioned in earlier posts, whose cancer diagnosis in February 2017 caused so much heartache, died in July this year, and I wanted to write about her final days. I wrote several draft posts, and abandoned each one. I was looking for a way of commemorating her, but also to help me to understand what they meant to me, to The Gardener, and to our friendship with her.

But this proved surprisingly difficult to do. Was this to be a post about her, a memorial of how we met seven years ago and became unlikely friends, or was it about me, and how I became unexpectedly drawn into the last stages of her life? It feels like it should be more of an account of her last days, and how we had drawn closer than ever envisaged.

I had gone to visit her for a couple of days, and ended up staying with her, at her request, through her final month of life. She lived alone, although she had many friends, but her independent spirit and sense of privacy had stopped her from exposing her fears, her increasing weakness and the ravages of cancer to almost every one of them. She presented a positive, cheerful face to the world, carried on working in the job that she loved, going out for meals and shopping trips, and hid the grim realities even when she had emergency admissions to hospital, refusing visitors and communicating mostly through that most misleading medium, texting. And as a result, no one really understood that she was approaching the end of her life and deteriorating rapidly.

But she let us know, and witness, her true state of mind and body; she called our home her safe place, and was able to be her real self here, brave and unflinching at times, but also terrified and openly vulnerable. Other than nursing staff, I was the only person permitted to to see and assist with her ever-increasing dressings. Eventually she was no longer able to travel to stay with us, so we went to her, and at her request, I stayed on, while The Gardener returned home to hold the fort.

The team of wonderful District Nurses, who called twice daily to change her dressings and monitor her condition, welcomed me into their midst, relieved that someone could remain with her at night and look after her sensibly. They relied on me to be watchful and realistic, and in turn sensitively supported me as well as Suzi. I learned surprising things about myself; I could cope unflinchingly with messy physical situations, and Suzi learned that she could accept physical help without relinquishing independence or autonomy. We recognised that we loved each other more than we had really acknowledged before. 

That month, during the heatwave, was an extraordinary experience for us both. Suzi allowed herself to be looked after, and I felt privileged to be allowed to do so. She said she loved how I didn't need to talk all the time, or expect her to talk; she understood what many people don't, namely the value of silence, of reflection. Although she was still rather keen on background pop radio, which is always a sore trial to me, she learned to turn it off, along with the audible alerts on her phone, when she needed to rest. 

At one point, knowing that her time was short, I summoned The Gardener, who, ever practical, helped with the conversation that she had always avoided, sorting out her will and her funeral wishes, which until then had existed only in her own head. Together, we sorted her affairs, worked discreetly and successfully at reconciling her with her family, and had astonishingly frank conversations about death and dying, all matters that she had put off or avoided as she clung on to life and a determination to live it as fully as possible.

I stayed with Suzi. The tiny daily outings in the car petered out. And slowly, slowly, this feisty, stubborn, strong-willed woman began to let go, to surrender to the inevitable, quietly and with her habitual  dignity. As she slept more, relied on pain relief more, ate less and began to inhabit a smaller, more immediate world of physical care, all that seemed to matter was having a reassuring presence to fetch and carry, watch and wait, hold her hand and not be afraid.

We lived quietly and just waited. And then the day came when she felt ready for the hospice, and within a couple of days had slipped away as she had hoped, quietly and surrounded by friends and family.

I look back at those last days, hot sunshine flooding her tranquil apartment in a converted mill,  with its trees, its quiet pond and its wildlife, as almost a magical time; people said to me repeatedly after her death that it must have been emotionally difficult for me to undertake these end of life tasks. 

But that is not how it seemed to me, then or now; I feel privileged, in a way that is hard to articulate, to have helped ease a dear friend through those days to slip away quietly with few of her worst fears realised. So many deaths are unexpected, or in a hospital setting, where we can feel helpless or excluded, and I appreciated very profoundly being trusted to stay to the end. 

As her Executor, I stayed on in her rented flat until her beloved cat could be re-homed with a friend as Suzi had intended, and the family could clear her possessions. It was very painful to let him go, and that was when I really felt the impact of her loss, weeping in the empty flat and feeling utterly bereft. 

I was oddly reluctant to leave the mill after a month of a most intense yet uplifting experience there, but after Suzi's well-attended funeral was over, The Gardener and I came home, to mourn and miss her, to accept that we would not be seeing her again, but to know that we would never forget her.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Looking forward

Goodbye 2017. 

Looking back, 2017 has been an abysmal year in far too many ways, and I for one am very relieved that it's coming to a close. I've felt knocked sideways by it at times.

Let's hope that the coming year is brighter, better, kinder, more caring, more thoughtful, more optimistic, but if it isn't, I will do all I can to make this happen in my own life, in little ways perhaps, but as a counterbalance to the bewildering and frightening world out there.

In line with this, I think I'm going to rest my blog for now; I've found it increasingly difficult to find much to say that isn't despondent and doom-laden. It has begun to feel like hard work to avoid every post becoming a written form of that usually-cheerful neighbour popping round unexpectedly "just to say hello" then surprising you by bursting into tears all over you.

I'll keep the cats' blog going, because there are updates - be warned, some sad ones - to post there, and the cats themselves are a source of comfort regardless, for those of us who like that sort of thing!

I wish you all health, happiness, hope, peace and love (yes! especially peace and love!) in 2018.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

It's that time again!

Yes, that time already. Time is speeding up; the familiar markers of the year have rushed through at an alarming rate. No sooner has the Summer Solstice been and gone but the family birthdays fly past, then my own, and all of a sudden the Winter Solstice is upon us too. And then Christmas arrives and my usual uncertainty as to what day of the week it is gets worse than ever.

Anyway, it's here, as is the family. The house is a chaotic mess and full of toys, noise, laundry and ridiculous amounts of food. We will be one person more this year; our friend who is seriously sick has refused to accept the barely-credible bad behaviour of her own adult children for a moment longer, and has agreed to spend Christmas with us, where she knows she is loved. She is making the long drive this afternoon. We will be bursting at the seams, but who cares. Loving kindness is the best gift of all, I think.

Baby E is no longer a baby, but a talkative toddler in love with us all, including the dog ("Hallo, Foshie!" innumerable times a day) and the cats ("Cootie gone!" - as Scooter flees from his enthusiastic advances). We are all in love with him too, despite the occasional mega-strop, and highly amused by him. He orders us about - we usually obey, although Flossie is largely oblivious to his stern instructions to sit, eat, not eat, or how his toys are "Mine! Not Foshie!" We walk on beaches, gaze in wonder on our local steam trains, and have intense conversations about diggers....

I hope this season will prove to be festive for you too; after the general ghastliness of this past year, we must all be wishing for a calmer, saner, more loving year to come, but also bracing ourselves for whatever lies ahead.

Wishing you all warmth and love and kindness; Happy Christmas and see you in 2018!

Friday, 27 October 2017


Am embarrassing conversation this morning about how I'd thought the clocks were going back last night? It being Sunday and all.....

Except it's Friday today. 

Still feels like Sunday to me.... I think my life needs to get a bit more eventful.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

What we did on our holidays

We went to Cornwall.

We'd returned from our last London trip tired and incubating colds, and in my usual way, I had the From Hell version, which is only just clearing up now. I seem incapable of getting a mere cold, or slight sniffles, or a sore-throaty coldish feeling; invariably I get the full sorry works, the Death-Take-Me-Now, eight boxes of tissues, Day Nurse overdosing, gruesome sound effects and the antisocial visible/audible mega-germiness that lasts for ages.

The Gardener had it too, but fought it off manfully. But with my hopes of being better for our mini-holiday cruelly dashed,  I decided to carry on as normal - after all, I would feel just as ill at home, instead of being able to visit the tiny coves, golden sands and turquoise waters whilst honking and coughing and needing to sit down for a bit at rather regular intervals. And I'm so glad I did, because we had a lovely time.

We took Flossie, having booked a dog-friendly airbnb self-catering cottage. Flossie was in heaven; she had us, her familiar bed, toys, ball and bowl, and new beaches to explore. 

The cottage was in the middle of nowhere, and a sat-nav nightmare without the detailed directions provided by our lovely host, but in reality very usefully positioned to reach just about everywhere, and near enough to Truro to shop at Waitrose. (Well, self-catering and feeling unwell provide the perfect excuse to stock up on ready meals and puddings, and, despite its hefty prices, I do love Waitrose for its over-the-top, sometimes pretentious, choices. We compensated for our extravagance by taking sandwiches for our lunches.)

Our cottage was simple, cosy and comfortable, utterly silent at night, and perfect for a total collapse at the end of a busy day.

There was practically no internet, which challenged The Gardener somewhat, but I didn't mind at all. The books were of the usual holiday sort, except for a rather riveting book on alpaca-keeping. I looked at the three resident alpacas with new-found respect after reading the following:

"Fighting teeth"! Who knew? I was, and remain, particularly amused by this.

Alpacas may be docile, but they are not necessarily biddable.

The main purpose of our mini-holiday was for The Gardener to see a special garden for the first time. I had visited twice over many years, and was interested in its development. Flossie loved the woodland walk before we wandered through the formal and kitchen gardens.

We were in The Lost Gardens of Heligan, which The Gardener loved, having read Tim Smit's original book about this remarkable find and its dedicated 25-years-and-counting restoration. Our early start, repeated each day, meant that the crowds built up just as we were ready to leave. The gentle autumnal weather turned to summer each afternoon, golden light and beautiful colours.

We visited St Ives, busy, tourist-filled, and quite charming.

Fortuitously, we visited on the weekend that the new extension to the Tate Gallery opened, after 18 months' closure; admission was free, and as early arrivals, we did not need to queue, although we were relieved to escape an hour later as the throng poured in after us and the noise, crowding and heat became unbearable. 

A choir sang in the new gallery and then processed in two solemn lines throughout the building. Impossible to describe, I wish I had videoed them; after a few minutes, during which they seemed to be following us everywhere, their wordless song became curiously trying to the nerves; perhaps my cold was exerting undue pressure on my tolerance of noise.

The new extension is a beautiful space, lit only from above. See HERE for more. 

Some of the visitors were rather exquisite too; beautiful clothes and jewellery, easier to observe in the crush than some of the art. 

In the shop, instead of queuing for the cafe with its wonderful view, we bought a print of John Wells' Sea Bird Forms. This and a car full of sand would be our holiday souvenir.

When we emerged, the queues stretched a long way down the street.

And so we walked up onto the headland and quietly watched the waves for a long time.

On other days we visited the picturesque little villages like Mevagissey and Mousehole (pron. Mowzle), the latter sacked by the Spaniards in 1595, the entire village being burned except for one house, still standing. Squire Keigwin appears to have been the only man to resist the Spanish soldiers, and was killed, but State Papers of the time HERE were highly critical of Mousehole's and other villages' lack of resistance. Fascinating to read and see what an immense risk to England the Spanish were at this time.

We enjoyed the seaweed and late sunlight at lovely Sennen Cove:

Labradors seem not to mind slithery, sandy, aromatic stick-substitutes like seaweed in their mouths.... She would have brought it home if we hadn't distracted her.

We went on a little way to Land's End and watched the sun set.

Where The Gardener had a rant about the commercialisation of the area; if you want to gaze unimpeded across the seas you have to enter a rather tacky-looking retail area - The Gardener has very strong views about private (restrictive) ownership of our island coastline. I am familiar with this refrain.... Had he been around in 1932, he would undoubtedly have supported the mass trespass that was later to stiffen the backbone of the Ramblers Association.

We looked out over Newquay's surfers, and decided against the hundreds of steps down to the sand. We marvelled instead at the learners in Mawgan Porth; its beach perfect for some ball-chasing by Flossie.

Surfing is another watery pastime that holds no appeal for me, who can feel panicky when a rubber glove refuses to come off easily - the idea of squeezing myself in and out of a wetsuit is frankly horrifying.

We tottered down yet more steep hills, our knees protesting by this time, to delightful little Port Isaac. I had not watched the tv series Doc Martin, so some of this lovely village was lost on me, but it was filled with fans. Flossie charged exuberantly into the harbour and swam rather too far out for my liking, but by this time she had come to expect at least one enthusiastic swim a day, and there was no stopping her.

We ran out of time. We plan to return in the Spring, to revisit some places, and to see St Michael's Mount, the Minack Theatre and the Telegraph Museum. I hope to be more clued up by then as to the area's local history, too. 

Flossie knows all the best bathing spots, and exactly where she left her seaweed sticks.