An Unspoken Eulogy – December 31st 2016

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My brother-in-law died.

We knew it would happen we just didn’t know the how and when of it.  He had battled with bi-polar for more than thirty years and then, about five years ago, they discovered that he had early dementia too.  Two devastating diagnoses, but add to that the discovery that there was also COPD and osteoporosis to contend with and you see the odds stacked against him.  FYI; knowing it will happen does not make it any easier, I already knew this from when I had watched helplessly as my brother died from heart disease some twenty-odd years earlier.  As it turns out, the COPD and dementia didn’t get him directly, but the osteoporosis was the catalyst that drew his life to a premature end.  You see, he had a fall that resulted in two fractured vertebrae that lead to sepsis, other infections, an aggravation of the COPD, dementia and bi-polar and ultimately the realisation that he could no longer fight off the effects of the combined illnesses.  Not that I’m saying he went without a fight, because that is not true; he battled valiantly until he succumbed.

I hadn’t been able to visit him in those last days.  I was full of stinking, filthy cold germs – the common cold prevented me from saying goodbye and seeing him for that one last time.  I learned of his passing by way of a text message from my sister.  My heart broke the moment I read it.  It broke for him, my sister and my two darling nieces and then, rather selfishly, it broke for me.  This was the passing of a person who had been a major figure in my life for more years than my brother and for more years than both of my parents; I had known him since I was about five or six years old and here I was at nearly fifty coming to terms with the fact that he was gone.  My mind flooded with memories of him from across the years; predominantly the good, hilarious and ridiculous memories rather than the times when his bi-polar made him someone else for a while.  The memories entwined and became an accidental eulogy.  This eulogy will remain unspoken, but I needed to express it, so here it is – therapy for me and perhaps a grain of an idea that may spur a reader into action ‘at this time of the rolling year’ as Mr Dickens so eloquently put it.

If I had to sum Tim up with one word, that word would be spectacular.  He could be spectacularly impulsive, obsessive, infuriating, and down-right annoying, but in an instant be spectacularly funny, outrageous and hilarious.  He could be spectacularly outraged about something, but in the next moment be laughing spectacularly and already moving on to his next spectacular adventure, venture, caper etc.  And boy did he have a spectacular laugh!  I remember one Christmas when I was a child getting a radio/cassette player off my parents and Tim of course helped me make some hilarious recordings that involved mainly puerile humour such as ridiculous voices, flatulence noises, burping and the uttering of rude words that would leave us laughing spectacularly and gasping for air.  He was spectacular in most things that he did, even if it wasn’t obvious at the time and he could even make something like the heating of a can of cream of tomato soup spectacular.  I have so many memories of his spectacular nature and behaviour, but I am aware that I cannot share them all or this blog would become a thing of epic proportions, so I will cherry pick just a few precious nuggets.

There was the time he decided it would be a good idea for him to take me out for ice cream; sounds fine and pretty ordinary, but I was not a great traveller and I could get carsick just walking near a stationary vehicle – we’re not talking about a little vom here that could be easily captured in a bag or other suitable receptacle, we are talking vast amounts of projectile vomit that any possessed person would be proud of.  My mother dressed me in my best dress, gave Tim strict instruction as to what and what not to do or allow me to do and packed me off with a supply of toilet tissue and plastic bags.  I can’t actually remember where we ended up; I just remember feeling very, very ill.  After a short while out of the car when it was deemed the vom threat had subsided, Tim thought it would be great if we had some ice cream and then a game of Frisbee near some fountains.  Cutting to the chase, I ate my body weight in ice cream, ran all over playing Frisbee and inevitably ended up in the fountain in my best dress.  The journey home is a complete blank for me, I just remember arriving home in a dishevelled state and standing drenched next to Tim as my mother tore us both new bottom holes.  Then Tim started laughing that spectacular laugh, and suddenly the mood lifted my mother realised her scolding was pointless and life went on.

I recall Tim getting a boat at some point; he had a unique connection with the sea and everything to do with it, (Tim, along with three good friends, were responsible for bringing surfing to the north east coast of dear old Blighty and there were countless times when he would call at my parents’ house to take me to the beach to check the surf) and he decided it was vital that he had a boat – this became an obsession.  So he got a boat and started to lovingly ‘do it up’.  The painting began and as it was approaching the end of its paint make-over Tim stepped back to admire the work and launched a mug of coffee all over the fresh, wet paint… The language he used to express his feelings at this disaster was spectacular, but then after a few moments when the hilarity of the situation hit him, he laughed his spectacular laugh and smiled his spectacular smile and life went on.

Tim also had a spectacular way of letting it be known what he thought of the latest offerings from music artists.  Tim loved to listen to music; spectacularly loud music.  This often had his neighbours asking him to turn it down a little, particularly when he lived in a block of flats overlooking his beloved sea, the walls were like paper and I swear that dropping a pin could sound like rolling thunder.  I recall on more than one occasion when he had waited patiently for a new album to be released and eagerly collected it from the little tobacconists at the top of the Square in the town – The Token Shop where one went for just about anything, but it was always known as a tobacconists. Upon getting the album home it would be placed on the turntable, the volume would be cranked up and it would get its first airing.  This was fine in the majority of instances, but if the musical offering did not meet Tim’s exacting standards it didn’t matter who you were in the music industry and it didn’t matter how many awards and accolades you had received, that album was subjected to one of Tim’s spectacular expletive-laden, faux music critic rants and then spectacularly launched Frisbee-esque from the balcony of his flat out over the road and down the cliff side into oblivion, and life went on.

Tim often had good ideas.  Unfortunately they were good ideas that had flaws.  Like the time he took me to the beach to teach me to surf.  I was a kid and he was like a giant so imagine how ridiculous I looked in his spare wet suit with the arms and legs rolled up.  Of course it didn’t fit and would never fit; Tim was tall and willowy and I was a short, skinny kid, but it was fine because at least I had a wet suit on.  He duly dragged me out into the surf and fastened the Velcro of the board leash around my ankle, and then we laughed for a while because the leash came straight off over my foot as it was far too big for me.  Undeterred he gave me my first surfing lesson and oddly I felt completely safe because what could go wrong?  Sure I couldn’t swim, but that didn’t matter because Tim was there and Tim would always keep me safe, no matter what.  So my first and only, lesson drew to an end when we both felt too cold and the surf had become too much for a novice, in an ill-fitting wet suit on an over-sized board with no swimming abilities whatsoever.  So we went home, got dried and warm, listened to loud music, and life went on.

One last memory I want to share to further illustrate how spectacular Tim was relates to a time when I was older.  I worked with him for a while in his family business delivering milk to customers doorsteps in all weathers and at ungodly hours of the night and day.  Most of the time we would go about our work in good humour, but sometimes we would fall out and there would be an argument. There were some pretty spectacular arguments as I recall, but they happened and then they were over and life went on.  On one particular occasion we had completed most of our delivery round calls and Tim had suggested that we go down to the beach to have a coffee and check out the surf.  So we headed to the bottom prom, parked up the van looking out over the beach to the sea and cracked open the coffee thermos.  After we’d had our coffee Tim decided to re-stack some of the crates on the back of the van so that we could head off to the final calls for the day then drop everything off at the dairy quickly so that he could hit the surf.  I’m not sure if the thought of hitting the surf later put him ‘off his game’ but as we ascended the steep, tightly winding hill back up to the town, the crates shifted, lurched, wobbled and finally spewed violently all over the road. Traffic coming up behind us ground to a halt, as did the traffic coming down.  As all of this was unfolding things seemed to happen in slo-mo. There was nothing we could do to prevent or minimise it, it happened. The glass was everywhere.  Tim leapt from the van, waving frantically to oncoming traffic to stop and then he launched into me, in the middle of the road in spectacular fashion.  Well I wasn’t having any of it and so I retaliated using my full arsenal of swears along with some insults that I made up in the heat of the argument.  Then we both silently seethed as we swept glass off the road with borrowed brushes.  We still weren’t talking when we finished the task and re-entered the van to move on and complete our deliveries.  The silence didn’t last for long though as Tim yelled out a spectacular string of expletives and then started laughing his spectacular laugh until he had to pull over as he was laughing so hard he couldn’t see.  We regained our composure, swore and laughed at each other again and life went on.

So Tim was quite simply, spectacular; in every single way.  He loved adventure and laughter and life and mischief and he loved my sister and his two daughters spectacularly.  To draw my ramble of random memories to a conclusion I would say this:

A certain major mobile ‘phone service provider has had an advertising campaign that centred around the life transformations experienced by a cat who decided to ‘be more dog’.  Well I would say this:  Be more Tim.  Grasp chances, laugh, love and live as spectacularly as Tim did.

And to end this unspoken eulogy?  Not a passage from the Bible or a fusty old prayer; but a paraphrased excerpt from a movie script.  When I read these words in my head I hear Tim’s voice and not that of the brilliant actor – Robin Williams – who first delivered these lines.  I hear Tim because they are so relevant and apt to him:

I don’t have very much time these days so I’ll make it quick. Like my life.

Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting.

And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day… make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.

 Yes Tim, you were spectacular, and although I feel sorrow that I didn’t get to say that one last goodbye, I feel more sorrow for those folks that didn’t get a chance to know you. Wonderful, spectacular you!    

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The Ghost(s) of Christmas Past.

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I love Christmas; always have and probably always will. I love it, even though it’s changed. For me it’s not about the hype, the over expensive gifts and all the commercial trashiness; for me it’s about the feelings, emotions and memories. Of course I love to receive gifts and I’m always grateful for anything that I get, regardless of the cost. It doesn’t matter if it costs a few pence or £100 to me, it is the fact that someone thought of me and thought enough of me to get me a gift.

My love of Christmas means that I think of it regardless of the time of year. For example, I’ve found myself listening to carols and Christmas songs in the middle of summer, when I’ve been concentrating on a challenging or intricate work project, when I’ve needed to relax or when I’ve felt down/fed up and I’ve needed a little lift. So it wasn’t surprising to me when just a few weeks ago, on a warm late summer Sunday I sat reminiscing with my parents and brother about past Christmases that we shared; Christmases from my childhood. I spoke of the Christmases when we were growing up when we would put up the battered 1960s tinsel Christmas tree. Recalling the excitement of getting the big brown box of decorations down out of the high cupboard in the hall. As I was recounting the details my mind filled with images of the box (which is now one of my most treasured possessions) and its glittering, sparkling and incredibly fragile contents. I also saw clearly the strings of ancient fairy lights, battered tinsel and the gaudy paper chains and folding tissue decorations that when opened up became bells, snowmen and Santas that we would hang from the sitting room ceiling in the bungalow where I grew up. The memories were so vivid that I could actually smell Christmas. The unique smell of Christmases past; the mix of fir tree, Christmas food, old decorations, new gifts, candles, Christmas cake and a multitude of other fragrances that blended so beautifully; a smell that doesn’t seem to happen anymore.

I recalled how I was fortunate that almost every year of my childhood I was allowed to help decorate the huge Christmas tree at the infant school where my dad worked as a caretaker. Even now as I’m writing this, I’m smiling as the memories swim around my head and seem to run effortlessly down through my arms and fingers to appear as words on the page. The huge tree would arrive at the end of November and was usually erected in the vast assembly hall in the school. It was always huge and just so magnificently beautiful; about 20 feet tall and lush and fresh from the forest. I loved the beautiful decorations, fairy lights, tinsel and Angel hair. What was also nice was that when the school closed for the Christmas holiday, the headmistress would always gift the tree to us. So we would ‘un-decorate’ it, carefully packing away each item we removed for another year. Once everything was removed, my papa would then lay the tree down, measure 8 feet or so from the tip and cut it. He would then carefully transport it on a trolley to our home, re-erect it in a bucket of sand in the corner of the sitting room and we would decorate it. I reminisced about some of the funny moments over the years; the time mum had hidden the presents that had arrived from an aunt and uncle who lived away, only to forget about them and their hiding place until they were rediscovered some years later. I fondly recalled the times that my papa had dressed as Santa. We always knew it wasn’t the real Santa and that it was our beloved dad because apart from the fact that ‘our’ Santa was wearing dad’s distinctive spectacles he was also wearing dad’s slippers! The memories flowed freely, I laughed out loud and then wept like a child.

‘Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks’

 Andrew Guzaldo

Why, you may wonder, would reminiscing with my family about joyful times be so unusual and leave me so upset? Well the fact is, I was alone in the house. My husband was out (and Christmas is not his ‘thing’ anyway), my sister lives 150 miles away and my parents and brother died years ago. So I have nobody nearby who shares these memories with me; good, beautiful, bittersweet memories that need to be recalled and recounted from time to time to refresh them and keep them alive. So here some of them are, aired and shared, but I’ll still recount more with my parents and my brother when I’m alone and yearning for the Christmases that used to be; when I’m missing the close-knit family Christmases with their sights, sounds and smells… When I’m missing my family even more than I already do every day.

It’s not you, it’s me…

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I’m conscious that I haven’t posted anything for a while.  I’m so fickle, but (as I’ve already unashamedly confessed) I’m very selfish when it comes to blogging.  I’m also a little frugal too.  So my lack of online activity is definitely me and nothing at all to do with you.

To make amends I offer you the following ramblings; direct to you from my over-filled, tired and ever-so-slightly unhinged mind.  So grab a cup of tea, coffee or whatever, cop a comfy squat and let yourself momentarily forget all the important, clever and wonderful stuff that you have to deal with all the time and let my mindless drivel provide you with a little diversion.

I have in the past been ‘easily led’.  Nothing heinous, criminal or bad, but some stuff was risky and, dare I say, some of it may be considered risqué.  Never anything dreadful though (I don’t think!).

I’ve acknowledged this trait, and I’ve worked on it; I’m not so bad now.  You’ll notice I’ve used the term ‘trait’ rather than weakness.  Weakness is viewed in such a damning and negative light, but actually it’s all relative; just as one man’s meat is another man’s poison, so one person’s weakness can be considered another person’s strength.  It’s a lot to do with personal outlook and the acceptance that we are all different – being wise enough and rounded enough to accept folk as they are without feeling the need to de-construct them or change them to make them ‘fit’ into what is considered to be ‘normal’ or ‘normality’… Putting it bluntly; it’s about not being a douchebag.

Anyway, I digress.  So let me get back to my ‘trait’, which I actually view not in the negative (i.e. the aforementioned ‘weakness’), but as ‘an opportunity for improvement’.  See, suddenly it sounds positive; all hail the power of spin!

My ‘opportunity for improvement’ is a work in progress, but I am pleased to report that I have indeed made progress.  I would now be less inclined to hurl myself into the freezing cold sea, at night, whilst fully clothed, during the stormy winter months despite knowing that I can’t swim, to play a game of ‘let’s see how many pier legs away from safety can we get between massive freezing cold, potentially killer waves’.

That said though, I have also made progress in a different way too.  There was a chance that I would take the improvement process to its extreme and perfect ‘not being easily led’ at the expense of excitement, happiness, fun, adventure and the like.  Thankfully I recognised that there needs to be a balance; so I will never achieve a state of ‘not being easily led’, but I’m glad of it.  If I were to have perfected ‘not being easily led’ I would have missed out: I would have missed my  first live gig (Bryan Adams, Gateshead Stadium, early 1990s), my first trip abroad and all subsequent gigs, trips abroad and a whole heap of other firsts, experiences and mini-adventures.

Conversely, I have also been ‘too cautious’ in some situations, and let me tell you this is far, far worse than being ‘easily led’.  Yes, I’ve been too cautious and I’ve missed some opportunities, but I refuse to view these as regrets – life is way too short for self-pity and regret.  They are at best, lessons learned, and at worst ‘what were you thinking?’ moments.  Time for a quick inspirational quote here:

“Never regret anything, because at one time it was exactly what you wanted.” – Unknown.

Balance is the key here, and I don’t want you to think for a moment that I’ve achieved balance… no way!! But I can say that these days my scales are more often than not balanced and as a result I am less likely to wash up dead on a beach somewhere and more likely to be found revelling in the afterglow of another ‘first’ or another gig etc.  Some might say that this is the shedding of naivety and the coming of maturity, but if I’m forced to describe or label it to suit my own personal situation, then I would say it is more about common sense and self-preservation!

As already mentioned, balance is key; so if you identify yourself as being ‘easily led’ or ‘too cautious’ then I would suggest that you momentarily step back (metaphorically speaking) from whatever it is, take a moment to evaluate the situation and then consider the best and worst case scenarios and then make your considered decision.  You, like I, may never achieve balance and you will always still have some ‘oh crap!’ moments, but you will also have the ‘oh wow, awesome!’ moments to counteract them.

I leave you with another quote, uttered by someone far more eloquent than I:

“Normality is a paved road; it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it”. – Vincent Van Gogh.

The Great Choux Pastry Disaster of 2016.

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fileWhen I decided to start blogging again I thought that I would pretty much do what I did when I used to blog a few years back, and so when I set this up I mentioned in my ‘About’ page that there would be some recipes from time to time.  So I’m coming good on that promise with this post, well sort of anyway.

From time to time I get the urge to bake; normally it will be something sweet, but not always.  In May 2016 I decided that I wanted to make some chocolate éclairs; something I haven’t made since the 80s.  I saw a picture of some that one of my friends had shared on Facebook and that was it; I HAD to make éclairs.  I rooted around in the cupboard for my trusty and rather ancient recipe book (my mother bought it for me when I was at school in the early 80s and it has been my go-to book since then); once I had it I set about pulling together the ingredients with a Joe Swanson ‘let’s do this!’ attitude.  I followed the recipe faithfully and happily went about the task at hand; after all, what could go wrong?  It worked perfectly fine the last time I made them around 30 freakin’ years ago!

Well it didn’t work.  In fact it was an unmitigated disaster.  The pastry (or dough depending on where you are in the world) was too runny… F*#K! with a capital F!  I was determined that I wasn’t just going to bin it and a) start again from scratch (far too wasteful for a tightwad like me!) or b) bin it and retire to bed in floods of tears vowing to never attempt to bake again, so I resorted to my trusted and ever reliable friend Google*.  I confess I‘ve typed some pretty bizarre queries into Google (and prior to the mighty rise of Google – Lycos**) over the years, but this was right up there in terms of wackiness.  However, after reading the first few suggestions I settled on one that gave me a fix to try, but they followed up by saying if it didn’t work then just bin it and start again; when did we become such a wasteful bunch?  Anyhoo!  I followed their suggested fix, and whilst it improved the consistency it still wasn’t stiff enough.  Oh please! You lot with the dirty minds. Yes you lot over there at the back of the Internet, stop giggling like school kids just because I said it wasn’t stiff enough! Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, my still too runny choux pastry.  Because the pastry/dough was too runny it would not hold form to create the long thin torpedoes that are required for éclairs, but I hadn’t come this far and used this much butter etc. to admit defeat, so I proceeded to pipe out the mixture onto the baking sheet in dollops – I improvised… Instead of éclairs I would make Elephant’s Feet (choux buns).  I’ll be honest now; the mix was still too runny even for these, and poured out of the improvised piping bag (a freezer bag with a corner cut off) like molten lava.  I pressed on, undeterred by this latest setback and quickly shoved the tray into the pre-heated oven; out of sight, out of mind as it were.

I wandered away to share my woes with my friends on Facebook, taking care not to divulge too much, leaving my creations to do what they would in the oven.  I then proceeded to clear away and wash up the pots, pans and utensils I’d used ensuring that there would be no sign of my choux pastry shenanigans when my husband returned home later on in the evening.  This was my equivalent of burying the bodies.  Part way through the tidying I happened to glance at the oven to check what horror might be unfolding in there.  Imagine my shock when I saw some beautifully risen Elephants Feet starting to colour up nicely.  Sure they were a little on the large size (damn it, they were freakin’ huge!), but despite being of epic proportions they seemed to be doing just fine and dandy.  I checked them after the required baking time, but decided that as they were rather large that I would perhaps leave them a little longer, but I kept a close eye on them from this point forward.

The time came when I felt that they would probably be ready, so I extracted them from the oven and tried to gently flick them off the tray onto a cooling rack only to find that they were firmly welded to said tray – cue minor meltdown (go ahead, add any expletive here you like, because chances are I said it at some point during the ensuing rant).  I would not come this far only to be scuppered at this late stage… Failure was NOT an option.  At this point in the proceedings I could have had a massive hissy fit, but in true Hollywood, tough guy, blockbuster fashion, I raised myself to my full height, puffed out my chest and went into ‘this time it’s personal’ mode launching forth toward the offending choux mountains with a fish slice and a palette knife… I wrestled with them, declaring that they would leave the tray, because we were going to be eating Elephant’s Feet later; it wasn’t pretty, but after several sweary minutes I was left with some rather dishevelled looking choux buns on a wire cooling rack and a baking tray that I wanted to launch like a Frisbee down the garden (I didn’t launch it though, I regained my composure and carefully washed it, dried it and returned it to the ‘tin cupboard’).  I wish I could say that no buns were harmed during the making of this dessert, but I can’t, it was sheer carnage.

I waited (impatiently) for the buns to cool so that I could fill them with the fresh cream that I had eagerly prepared.  After what seemed like an age they were cool enough to fill.  They looked even worse after I’d stuffed them with the cream, but this old trooper would not be beaten and remembered the old trick of dousing them in icing sugar.  The addition of the icing sugar was the key to success (maybe success is a bit of a stretch, but I’m claiming it anyway).  They were transformed from car crash cakes to something that you could get away with so long as they weren’t scrutinised too closely.  I declare icing sugar as being the cosmetic surgery of the cake world! I carefully arranged them on plates (multiple plates were used as there was no way these were going to fit on just one), and waited for my husband to get home so that I could get him to try them.  Finally my husband arrived home and I thrust the largest choux bun at him and smiled sweetly.  He managed half of it before admitting defeat and stating that he would eat the rest the next day.  They might have looked dreadful, but they tasted divine so I will be attempting to make choux based desserts in the future, but I will perhaps use smaller eggs next time, I’m convinced that that was the problem – the eggs were too big.

So here’s the recipe I used, just in case you’re inspired to have a go yourselves:

Ingredients

50g butter, 150ml water, 100g plain flour and 3 lightly beaten, medium eggs

Method

a)  Place the water in a sturdy, non-stick pan, add the butter and melt over a gentle heat, then bring to the boil. (Ensure the water is boiling before adding the flour or you will end up with a thin pastry/dough).

b)  Remove from the heat and stir in the flour.

c)  Return to the heat, stirring until the mixture forms a ball in the middle of the pan.

d)  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and allow it to cool.

e)  Thoroughly beat the eggs into the cooled mixture a little at a time, preferably with an electric whisk or failing that a wooden spoon.

f) Pipe or spoon out your mixture (depending on what you are making) onto a greased and watered baking tray/sheet (after thoroughly greasing the tray/sheet, hold it under a gently running cold tap and small beads of water will sit on the tray – this moisture will create steam during the cooking process which helps the mixture to rise).

g) Bake in a pre-heated oven, 220°C, 425°F, Gas Mark 7 (reduce the temperature as per the manufacturer’s suggestion for fan assisted ovens) for about 20 minutes.

 *Other search engines are available

**What happened to Lycos?  It was there one minute and gone the next.  Ah Lycos; halcyon days!     

Always look on the bright side.

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I don’t want this blog to seem whiney or like the bleating of a person wallowing in self-pity. It is just a person expressing how they feel – venting and genuinely trying to work things out.

I’ve experienced some ‘turbulence’ during my life, but then again doesn’t everyone? My siblings and I were brought up to just get on with things, don’t make a fuss and be thankful for, and make the best of what you have.  One of my mum’s favourite sayings was; “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with it – there’s no use crying over spilt milk, there are people far worse off than you!”  This wisdom has served me well over the years and it has made me appear to be almost constantly upbeat.  They have been countless occasions over the years where people have asked me how I stay so upbeat, how I can always find the positive in a situation, how I can always make them smile or feel better when things aren’t as great as they could be. On one such occasion I was actually asked what I was on, and could I get some for the enquirer!  The only answer I have to these questions is that I always try to think about things from a practical view point, I look to see if a problem can be broken down (as often when we face challenge we start to see a number of smaller problems as one massive pain-in-the-ass problem) and I always try to remember that there is always someone worse off than me.  I have been described as pragmatic in my approach; well yes I guess I am.

But here’s where I fess up… Sometimes I don’t feel like being positive and upbeat; and it is physically, psychologically and emotionally impossible to always be the cheerful, upbeat perky one that everyone turns to when they are feeling down, they have a problem or some other trial.  So I’m coming clean here; sometimes when people have been offloading their cares and concerns to me, I’ve been sympathetic towards them, I have gone out of my way to understand them without judging, I’ve gone out of my way to try to make them feel better (if only temporarily) and I’ve gone out of my way to make them smile or laugh, but all the while I have been crying inside because I’m dealing with something myself that they have no idea about because I’ve kept it hidden inside for fear of being viewed as miserable, selfish or full of self-pity.

So who does ‘the perky, upbeat one’ turn to when they are sad, worried or in any way troubled? I’ve tried religion – that didn’t work for me.  I’ve tried drinking – that didn’t work for me either.  So what’s the answer?

I’m going through a tough patch at the moment; yes, I’m feeling down about things, yes, I’m worried sick about things, but as always I hear my mother’s voice in my head reminding me that there are people far worse off than me.  To be honest that normally helps me snap back into positive mode and ‘man up’ as it were, but at the moment it isn’t helping a jot.  I constantly think through and think through and re-think through my situation, searching for a quick fix or a permanent solution, but there isn’t one.  One of the things that this situation has highlighted for me is my isolation.  I live in a wonderful place, in a house that I thought I would only ever dream about, but this is not my home, I don’t have friends or family here (I have some acquaintances, some very dear acquaintances, but not on a level where I could go to them and pour my heart out to them) so no support mechanism and I have previously described my situation as ‘gilded cage syndrome’.  There is no one here that I can offload to, no one who can be MY ‘perky, upbeat one’.  I am, therefore, resigned to the fact that I have to continue to seek and strive for a solution, quietly, and privately, shed my tears and try to tame my worries and concerns in isolation.

I would reiterate and emphasise that I haven’t written and posted this blog as a means of looking for pity – I’m no drama queen, but I have written it in the hope that by expressing how I feel it might improve the way I’m feeling; therapy if you will (and yes, before anyone feels duty bound to point it out to me, I confess, unashamedly, that this is a selfish act on my part).  I would also hope that anyone who happens upon it might read it and identify their own ‘perky, upbeat one’ and perhaps be mindful that their ‘perky, upbeat one’ will have times when they are feeling less than fabulous because they are quietly and secretly dealing with some tough stuff whilst still projecting positivity.  And hopefully it may actually encourage some people to be someone’s ‘perky, upbeat one’.

Back on September 11th 2014, shortly before heading to bed, I wrote a post on Facebook after I had reflected on what had been a physically and emotionally tiring day, and I’d like to draw this blog to a close with part of that post:

‘Let’s all endeavour to be nicer and kinder to each other and all of our other fellow planet dwellers. We don’t know what battles we are each fighting and enduring behind the scenes, so let’s be less judgemental and more supportive – what is a trivial bump to one is a seemingly insurmountable mountain to another.’

A fresh pair of eyes.

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I’ve been short sighted for much of my adult life, not dreadfully so, but enough to merit the wearing of prescription spectacles and contact lenses.  I learned in my 20s that I had cataracts; this was more of a revelation for the Opticians than it was for me.  Sure I was young and this is considered ‘an older person’s’ condition, but sometimes  you can’t help being in the minority.

Early development of cataracts didn’t faze me; my father was diagnosed and operated on in his forties, when I was just a child.  Later his brother also had his operated on in middle-age and my sister was in her forties too when hers got to the operable stage.  So it came as no surprise to me, when in my mid-forties I started to see (literally) a marked deterioration in my eyesight.  It got harder and harder to read labels on food, washing instructions on clothes and the like.  Also, night driving started to become problematic; the glare was awful and painful making night driving stressful and terrifying.

I had a routine eye examination and sight test in October 2013; I did better than my Optician had expected.  She was frustrated that I had done so well as it meant that despite the fact that my right cataract was now noticeable and she could see how I was struggling, she couldn’t refer me for surgery.  That’s my grim determination to do well in a test for you!!  I really struggled to see, but I was determined to do my best when actually I should have just admitted that I was really winging it.  My Optician said that she would like me to come back again in six months, but she said that she didn’t for a minute think I would make it that long and that she suspected I would be back much sooner – she should have put money on that!  I got through the rest of 2013, but by Christmas I knew that I would need to go back to my Optician imminently.  January and February 2014 were awful and by March I had booked to see my Optician again.  My eyesight had deteriorated rapidly and was starting to cause problems.  Not being able to see clearly also affected my mood – I became frustrated due to struggling to see and this made me cranky, depressed and sometimes unpleasant to be with.  I wonder if anyone actually referred to me as ‘that bad tempered old bag that squints and sighs a lot’, because I am more than aware that this is indeed a fairly accurate description of me at that time.

The day of my appointment arrived, and before I even entered the examination room my Optician greeted me at the desk and told me that she could see the cataract.  We entered the consulting room and she promptly started to fill out the referral paperwork before we even got to any of the tests.  Once she’d done all the checks she said she would get the referral underway, but she needed my GP’s details… I wasn’t registered with a GP; I hadn’t got around to doing that.  So I was sent away with strict instructions to get registered and give my GP’s details to her as soon as possible.  Once I’d registered with a GP and passed on the details to my Optician, I thought I would have to wait ages before anything happened, but surprisingly not long after I received a letter from the hospital advising me that I had been referred and that I would be called for an examination soon.  Soon, on this occasion, really was soon!  My pre-op examination was on June 17th; on July 29th I received my surgery date… August 12th! However, I received a ‘phone call on August 6th whilst at work.  It was the hospital asking if I would be able to come in sooner as they had a cancellation, I asked them how soon was soon… tomorrow!! I cleared it with my boss and it was full steam ahead.  I was excited and apprehensive about the surgery, but so desperate to have it done, so this was an added bonus.

 I arrived at the hospital at 8.30am and after being admitted, having three lots of drops and a quick check of my eyes by the consultant I was taken to the prep room, laid on a trolley (with a stupid hat on my head) and given more drops and an injection into the bottom of my eye.  Then after a brief chat with the consultant I was wheeled into the theatre, introduced to the rest of the attending team and asked what music I would like to listen to during my surgery (FYI, I asked for ClassicFM – it’s my fave!).  So, with ClassicFM playing soothingly in the background, surgery commenced and after about 20 minutes or so it was done.  I couldn’t believe it.  I honestly felt nothing and I was so relaxed that the time seemed to just fly by.  I thanked the Consultant and the team; I was so thrilled I also told them that they rocked! I was taken by trolley to the recovery room, my blood pressure etc. was checked again and I was dispensed with some drops that I would need to instil for the next couple of weeks or so and then I was guided into the ‘sitting room’ and given a cup of tea.  I sat for about 10 minutes and then they came and asked me how I felt and told me I could call for my lift to come and take me home.  I rang my husband and said I was ready, I don’t think he was expecting my call so soon, but he arrived about 10 minutes later.  I arrived home at about 10.30am, a little sickly and woozy, but home and happy.  My eyesight improved rapidly, and I couldn’t believe the difference; everything was so defined, so crisp and oh my colours!  I could not believe the colours; so bright and vibrant. Grass was so green and I could see individual blades, not just a mass of green!

The only downside of the surgery was the fact that once my ‘bad eye’ had been done, my eye previously referred to as ‘the good one’ was now not so good and I could see the cataract; frustrating to say the least. So I saw things anew and could not wait until they called me to have my other cataract removed.  This all went down pretty much the same as the first time and by March 2015 both eyes were cataract free and my world was brighter, bolder and even more beautiful than I had realised.  Although I have always appreciated my eyes I now realise just how precious they are.  My world is different – sure I still wear reading glasses, but everything else I see, I see without a frame around it; I see it in full glorious colour.

These short operations brought the world back to me and I will be forever grateful for the care and expertise of the Consultant and supporting team, and whilst my eyesight hadn’t been great, even at its worst I was still able to function.  It makes me so sad then to know that there are people in other countries, those less developed than mine, that are almost completely blind and therefore handicapped by the same condition.  It pains me that for a few pounds the same operations can be done and these less fortunate folk can have their sight restored. With that said; may I ask that if you’re thinking of making a charitable donation (as a gift for someone or for yourself), or perhaps your company is seeking to make a charitable donation or maybe you’re writing your will and want to leave something to charity as your legacy to the world, please would you consider one of the charities that supports this kind of work?  They collect money so that Doctors can travel to these less developed countries and provide medicines or operations to treat curable blindness.  Shockingly some of these treatments are as little as 7p a year and surgery can be as little as £30 (costs correct at 31.05.2016). I know that every day there are appeals for numerous, worthy charities, but if you could spare a little something to help someone see again, work again and enjoy life, you would be truly giving a precious gift.

P.S.  The image above is not of some distant, mysterious planet; thanks to the miracle that is retinal photography, it is in fact a post op pic of one of my eyes.  I know I’m biased, but I think that it’s beautiful.  So beautiful that I would love to have this, and the one I have of my other eye, printed onto canvas and hung on my wall… Perhaps I’m a little weird (the good weird though, not the creepy, bad person weird).

Life: It’s not all about Champagne and roses.

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What would you do if you won the lottery jackpot?  I’ve been asked that and pondered on it numerous times over the years, and although my response has evolved somewhat, it is not so different from my original answer.

Of course there’s the no-brainer stuff; paying off debts, credit, loans and mortgages and buying me and my husband a nice, flashy car each and a big house in the place that I came from.  After that it would be a case of making sure that my sister, brother-in-law, my two beautiful nieces and my dearest friends and my God-daughters are treated to something nice.  There would be donations to some chosen charities, but beyond that I would definitely be winging it.

Sure, I’ve seen the media stories of the folks that have won massive amounts of money and have claimed that it made no difference to them, or, was the best thing ever or was the worst thing ever, but to be honest I think that says a lot about them and not much about the actual privilege of suddenly finding yourself in a position where you are financially comfortable and financially able to be a little more ethical and charitable.  I remember at least one winner fessing up to having gone back to work after a short spell away because they were bored… BORED‽‽  This person had won a serious amount of money and yet they were bored! I may not be wealthy, as I type this I am unemployed and panicking about how I’m going to meet my financial obligations this month (and beyond), but I consider myself rich beyond measure in comparison to that person, because I have a loving husband, family, friends and, importantly, an imagination.  Seriously that person must have zero imagination if they can’t find something to keep them occupied and stimulated whilst having no money worries due to the massive multi-million pound bank balance that they have.  They had the means to do good things, enjoy good things but instead they went back to the routine; why would you?

I think that I would perhaps seek to start a business of some description, perhaps fund a social enterprise start-up, that way I could share the wealth and help others who seek something different from the daily grind of work that serves to keep their heads above water whilst ensuring that the fat-cat bosses and esteemed board members drink Champagne as they select their next luxury car, yacht or foreign home.  I’m not delusional and I’m not a rebellious, confrontational ne’er-do-well either, I’m just someone who after almost fifty years on this planet has finally realised what really matters to her.  I’ve been fortunate to have some satisfying and sensibly paid jobs over the years. Conversely, I have also worked for some poor payers, bullies and complete shysters, that whilst I wish no ill will, had better hope they don’t burst into flames whilst in my presence as I would be disinclined to urinate on them, karma will take care of them – I pay them little remembrance other than chalking the experience down as valuable lessons and examples of the human being that I don’t want to ever be.

So what else would a person like me, who has boldly claimed to have a good imagination, do with a shed load of money?  Well apart from the stuff stated above, I would want to take time to enjoy life more, perhaps travel a little, maybe visit distant family and friends.  I would like guilt-free time to enjoy reading again and time to listen to music – maybe learning to play an instrument would be a thing to do too.  Whilst there would likely be some Champagne sloshing around, for me it would be the simpler things that matter, the time spent with family and friends sloshing said Champagne around, walks in the forests and on the beach, homemade meals, laughter and watched sunsets and sunrises.  I’d tend a wild and colourful garden filled with a myriad of fragrances from beautiful, traditional flowers and earthy herbs, drinking tea on the terrace or cracking open a beer (or six) when the weather is warm.  I’d like to be able to learn to knit and crochet, to start sewing again and oh to be able to bake; bake cakes, puddings, scones and make healthy, hearty soups and stews.  To have another dog, yes I know that when my last fur baby died I vowed I would never put myself through that again, the agony of losing what was the closest I’ll ever come to having a child did unimaginable damage to my already fractured heart, but with the passage of time comes the realisation and wisdom for a dog lover, that actually life without a dog is not complete, it can be good but never great.

Not for me is the pampered, spoilt and frankly wasted lifestyles that some of those previous lottery winners have followed, not for me the endless parties with expensive Champagne and equally expensive food, nor the multiple cosmetic surgeries to have something enlarged, something reduced, something tucked or indeed entirely removed from its rightful place and not for me the missed opportunities, because I would not be THAT person… I would not be all up in y’grill with my wealth as that serves no purpose; it has no long term benefit to anyone.  So if I ever win the lottery jackpot (which at the moment is highly unlikely as I don’t have any money to buy any tickets!) you may not even notice other than perhaps that I had given up work, gone into business, got a nice car and got a kick-ass swanky garden.

I’ve known some very wealthy people over the years, their money earned or inherited.  Some of them have been complete cockwombles, flouting their wealth in the most uncouth and trashy manner; they are testaments to the fact that you can have money, but it doesn’t automatically mean you have any class.  But then there have been others that have just been regular Joes and Joannas but with wealth.  The one’s that still take budget holidays, still like to bag a bargain when out shopping, those that have the posh house(s) with a variety of tastefully expensive motor vehicles but that don’t act like bigshots, that don’t push their wealth out there when you haven’t a bean in your wallet and no clue where the next penny is coming from.  They know how to have fun and how to not take life too seriously; they know how to spend their money and time wisely and with integrity.  Should I suddenly become wealthy, then I would aspire to be like the latter rather than the former, after all, who wants to deliberately be a cockwomble?

So I guess what I’m trying to say here is that for me a lottery jackpot win would bring financial security, but the biggest gain for me from such a win would be time.  Time to do all the things that I haven’t done, but would like to.  Time to do the things that I love, but don’t have time to. Truly, it is not all about Champagne and roses, it’s about time – enjoying it, spending it and living it, although I’m not entirely ruling out the possibility that there may also be some Champagne and some roses from time to time.

Desperately Seeking Mother.

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I was 26 when my mum died.  I was at work when I received the call.  Of course they tried not to tell me over the ‘phone, but me, being me, queried until they had no choice but to tell me that she had gone.  I’d held it together until that point, then suddenly the ‘phone was red hot and I no longer wanted it in my hand.  The hysterical tears started to pour, no wailing or sobbing, just tears that would not stop.  I retreated into a bubble whilst my colleague took over the ‘phone call and rallied around me to provide comfort and coffee until I started to regain some sense of the here and now.

I didn’t see my mum anymore, I didn’t visit her at the chapel of rest, I really didn’t want to see one of the most important and influential people in my life without life.  I had no desire to see someone who was once so lively, vibrant, strong and exuberant so prematurely silent, still and cold.

I remember eventually arriving at the little bungalow she shared with my dad; I remember very little other than asking dad what had happened.  I also remember what he told me about the ordinariness and speed of my mum’s last moments.  What was clear was that the day had started just as any other and in just a few seconds death had visited unannounced and uninvited and life for those left behind changed forever.  I heard and understood what had happened, but I actually didn’t understand what had happened – I know that in that one sentence I am contradicting myself but that is honestly how I felt.  The thoughts going through my head at hundreds of miles per minute created this contradiction.  My thoughts formed themselves into numerous questions, too many to catalogue here.  They were partly (and acceptably) selfish – what would I do without my mum? There were of course worried thoughts that were entirely not selfish – what would happen to dad?  How would he cope without mum? Another question was; why has this happened, have we not suffered enough?  This question stemmed from the fact that it had been less than twelve months since my brother had died – I, we, were still coming to terms with that passing and yet here we were suddenly having to come to terms with the departure of another key figure. It wasn’t and isn’t fair.

Just four years later my beloved dad also grew tired and left us one morning.  All the feelings of injustice reignited.  I did see my dad.  When I arrived at the bungalow he was still there, the ambulance had not yet arrived to carry my daddy away to the chapel of rest.  He was there along with the two policemen who had attended, as is the norm when there is an unexpected death.  I went into his bedroom and he was there in his bed.  He looked as though he was just sleeping, I wrestled with the urge to grab hold of him and shake him vigorously begging him to wake up.  Instead I just took hold of his hand and held it asking him out loud what I was supposed to do now?

Some years later I started tracing my family history.  Initially, my research consisted of asking my big sister what she knew, asking her to share her memories and supplementing them with things that I recalled.  The flaw with this is that I have to know what to ask about… epic fail!  The trail went cold after a short while and my research was left whilst I got on with the business of life. I can’t tell you why I recommenced my research a few years later; I think perhaps it happened accidently as a result of boredom and access to the web! Having access to the web made a massive difference and it opened up a world of information to me.  As a result of this I’ve learnt many things about my family.  Some of my discoveries have been revelatory, some poignant, and have inevitably left me with questions that can now never be answered since these three key people left.

As part of building my family history I have gathered certificates; births and marriages, but as yet I have not collected any death certificates.  The reason for me collecting these certificates is that it provides me with something tangible in respect of those family members of whom I have no memories or photographs.

And so to the photographs, and the reason for my choice of title for this blog:

I’ve searched for pictures of my mum, dad and brother from a time not long before their passing.  I’m frustrated that there are very few, and of the few that are in existence there are hardly any that genuinely show those people that I miss with my every breath and my every waking moment.  They are blurred, have key parts missing – like heads! It’s fair to say that we are not a family of photographic talent.  In the case of the pictures that I have of my mum, in most instances she is either scowling or pulling a ridiculous face.  My mum didn’t like having her picture taken (I think that this is perhaps where my own dislike of having my photograph taken stems).  What has become apparent to me is that my mum had perhaps not always been so averse to having her photograph taken.  I say this as during my search for photographs I have seen so many of her when she was younger.  I see photographs with her posing, smiling, laughing and having fun.  I see a beautiful young woman who had experienced such hardship, had lived through the war and who had met and married her prince.  This happy-go-lucky girl was my mother grabbing every opportunity to finally have fun before she became a loving, caring wife and mother.  The mother I remember was a strong and determined soul who battled ill health, juggled being a mother and wife and kept us fed, clothed and abundantly loved when there was very little money.  One thing I can categorically state is that despite her personal hardships and the lack of money we never, ever went without.

So yes, I was, am, desperately seeking my mother, but perhaps I have already found her.  Perhaps the iffy photographs with the scowls and weird facial expressions do genuinely reflect my mother.  One thing I am certain of is I see my mother in my sister, I hear it in her voice, in her tone, in her facial expressions even in her body language.  I see it also in her bravery, her determination, her indomitable spirit and flair.

Of late I’ve also seen my mother in another place too.  I’ve seen her in my mirror.  I have my father’s colouring (pale skin and very dark hair), but I have a look of my mother.  I’ve also heard her when I have spoken.  There’s a meme circulating on social media sites that says, ‘Sometimes I open my mouth and my mother comes out’; this is perfectly apt and I always smile when I see it.  There’s another inspiring quote that has recently come into my social media timeline:

Your Mother is always with you.  She’s the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street, she’s the smell of certain foods you remember, flowers you pick, the fragrance of life itself. She’s the cool hand on your brow when you’re not feeling well; she’s your breath in the air on a cold winter’s day.  She is the sound of the rain that lulls you to sleep, the colors of a rainbow, she is Christmas morning.  Your mother lives inside your laughter. She’s the place you came from, your first home, and she’s the map you follow with every step you take. She’s your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy, but nothing on earth can separate you.  Not time, not space…not even death. — Unknown

So I have desperately sought my mother, only to find that she has been there all the time.  She was all of those ‘firsts’, but she was also my first teacher – I hope that she is proud of her youngest pupil.

Blog #1

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Well I’ve taken my time over starting to blog again.  I dabbled a few years ago, had my own website and stuff, but then life got in the way.

Something had to give, and that something was my website, blogs and everything else that entailed.  The website/blog wasn’t the only casualty of my life shift, there were also books, ornaments, some of the vintage pieces that I’d started to gather, they went (usually after a rather tearful goodbye) and those that remained were boxed up and stored away waiting for the day when I can release them from their cardboard prisons and again gaze upon them with happy eyes.

Just lately, life has again thrown me a curved ball and I’ve found myself with a little time on my hands.  Having time on my hands is a bit dangerous.  When I have time on my hands I tend to find my mind running riot, I think up wonderful craft projects (most of which don’t even get out of my head), I panic about the future, I scrutinize and analyse the past and generally I end up a mess due to my overactive brain.  I don’t sleep properly.  I’m not the world’s best sleeper by any stretch of the imagination, but since a complex, incurable condition took hold of me my sleep pattern is best described as ‘erratic’, So having time on my hands is quite literally a headache for me.

One of the myriad of thoughts that has been skipping with gay abandon around my head for a few months was the whole idea of blogging again.  So during the early hours of this morning, when sleep left my head and a cluster headache of epic proportions took its place, I decided that today was the day that I would start blogging again.  I guess in my befuddled, early hours state I somehow thought that having somewhere to release some of my thoughts might actually alleviate my headache.  Ridiculous I know, but when I’m gripped by one of these headaches (fondly referred to as ‘Bastard Headache’ amongst many other expletive laden pet names) I clutch at any straw, ridiculous or otherwise, to try to find some relief.

So here it is, my first blog.  If you’ve stopped by the page entitled ‘About’ you will see there that I’ve alluded to what might be included in blog form over time.  You’ll also see that I’ve not alluded, but emphatically and categorically stated that there will be errors and it won’t be pretty. So if you’re one of those unpleasant characters that has nothing better to do with their time than criticise and correct others then you can just sod off right now, because frankly you’re sad and I don’t need your negativity hanging around my little piece of the www like an uncouth, spotty youth on a suburban street corner.

Update: I still have the headache, but I feel better about having finally blogged again… Yay for me!