After a month of not posting here, I was planning to write about a wonderful day Celia and I spent in Margate last weekend. The prospect of five years of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, the abandonment of safety nets for vulnerable refugees, the exclusion of Parliament from the final Brexit arrangements, all these combined with the worst cold and cough I have had in years meant I was, and to an extent remain, low in spirits.
But the wonderful day will have to wait.
Today we are a neighbourhood in shock and mourning. An elderly, frail neighbour died in a house fire this morning. Two weeks ago, her neighbour who lived in the property across the road died in her sleep. I can’t say I knew either woman well. The one who died today I would nod hello to, she sometimes nodded back. I had noted her decline over the last few years and knew friends of mine who live next door were supporting her. The manner of her death is the stuff of nightmares. Continue reading
Shocked tonight to learn that Jeremy Hardy has died from cancer. For those of you outside the UK his name probably means nothing, but he was a stalwart of Radio 4’s News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. A truly funny man who was intelligent, left wing, compassionate. His politics didn’t always agree with mine, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier. Here he is on the News Quiz several years ago talking about gay marriage:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2Qhcq65Ob4 Continue reading
I wrote quite a lot about Billie when I visited Melbourne nearly two years ago. I told my friend Vicki to warn Billie I’d be relying on her for canine comfort as I’d be missing MasterB. She’s not a cuddlesome dog, said Vicki. But in the wayward manner of pets who like to prove their owners wrong, Billie decided immediately I was someone she’d like to cuddle her, and our bond was established. She was elderly then, her gait a bit wobbly, and made me think of a refined lady who’d had a bit too much Sherry but was still game for a knees up. Continue reading
As it turned out, by the end of yesterday evening it wasn’t Cat’s life and death I was thinking about, but my Aunt Ella’s. I got the call around 10.30 to say she had died earlier in the evening. An expected death, but not expected quite this soon. Tonight I spoke to her husband, my Uncle Bill, Mother’s favourite sibling and the last one surviving. He’ll be 97 in the autumn. I don’t know how old Aunt Ella was, but I’m guessing around the same.
We spoke the other night after I had spent some time over the weekend with his daughter-in-law who was in London for a few days. It was she who told me Ella had widespread cancer and the doctors were talking about weeks, at the most, months. Yesterday afternoon I sent this picture to her of her then infant husband with his mother Ella.
Mother and Son
For someone with little religious faith and none at all in saints as people able to intercede from beyond the veil on our behalf, I am quite demanding of Edward the Confessor whose tomb lies at the heart of Westminster Abbey. Continue reading
I'm enjoying a cup of coffee in the Linen Hall Library where Fiona and arranged to meet. But I am alone. Moments after leaving Cousin I found a message on my 'phone saying that Jake, the family Westie whose arrival in the McSpec household a few years ago when he was adopted by them brought such joy, is seriously ill and Fiona was dashing to the vet with him. Ominously, she said she did not expect to be bringing him home. I do hope she's wrong, and that Jake, whose health has not been great, can be put on the road to recovery and exerting his grumpy charms again. I have never met him, but he sounds a great wee character, and the Internet has secured him fans beyond his home.
The death of a pet is always hard, the anticipated death equally so. Those awful heart lurching moments of mixed fear, love and anxiety; dreading the vet's verdict even as you hope for a miracle. When we came back from Homeplace last night we watched the second part of The Secret Life of Dogs. For any of you reading this who struggle to understand friends' and neighbours' love and respect for their pets, do watch it, as you may begin to get an inkling of what immensely rich and wonderful relationships you are missing.
Lovely Linda sent me a link to a song on YouTube that she thought might bring me comfort.
It didn’t. It was a rather syrupy ballad of the type that makes my skin crawl. The lyrics were over sentimental, and to my mind, downright creepy. Check them out for yourselves if you can face it. The song is called Windows in Heaven and is sung by Michael English. I’d never heard of him, but if you like Daniel O’Donnell, as Mother and thousands of others quite unaccountably did and do, you’ll probably like this chap too.
I think Linda thought I’d like it as it has references to Mary, the BVM one presumes rather than my aunt, looking down at us from the aforementioned windows.
Instead it gave me the somewhat unsavoury image of the dead being involved in some mass surveillance scheme of the living on behalf of the Almighty, and, if things in heaven are in any way like here below, and according to the song there are windows so the inference is there, it could even have been outsourced to a private company, or the afterlife’s equivalent of GCHQ. A sort of celestial 1984. Continue reading
I should be in bed. I should be asleep. It's late and I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow. But today I got the message I have been expecting; A has died. Maybe I shall give her full name later, but for tonight, just enjoy this poem by her, one I liked the moment she handed it to me to read sometime in the early 90s. My copy still has the creases where I folded it into eight.
I hope it gives you a flavour of her eye, of her humour. Continue reading
Just over a week ago I was mentally congratulating myself on having got through the winter with no more than a few sniffles.
As spring sunshine turned skies blue and my neighbours socialised in their gardens, I was wrapped in my quilt, the light filtered through the half closed shutters, my temperature risen and my head pounding.
It’s amazing how quickly things fall apart. I can easily understand how people are reduced to eating sardines out of the can; leaving the washing up; allowing laundry, cleaning, everything to slip. Illness, physical or mental throws us off balance, upsets our routines, our systems; reveals the chaos that lies just beneath the surface.
I had to work on Saturday and again on Sunday morning. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I was very glad to get home and into bed. There I stayed for two and a half days with some breaks lying on the sofa or letting MasterB in and out.
At least it provided some precious reading time when I wasn’t sleeping. I read Helen Macdonald’s sublime and extraordinary H is for Hawk which won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction last year. After her father died, she decided to train a goshawk. Continue reading