Pets Make a Home a Home

Amazing what pets can do. And I’m not talking about high fives, playing dead or catching burglars, though the last is pretty impressive too. I mean what they can do for us, for our well-being and happiness.

Take Romeo. The manager of the shop where Romeo is the resident mouser is something of a tough guy, yet in a few short weeks Romeo has captured his heart. He comes when he’s called (Romeo, not the manager). “Does your cat do that?” the manager asks me. “Not usually,” I answer truthfully, omitting to say that MasterB is my shadow when we are outside and amuses my neighbours the way he follows me about. The manager gives me a smile that is both pitying and superior.

A week ago Romeo arrived home limping and crying. Much consternation and he was taken to the vet. The manager missed him dreadfully. No pretty tabby with tail aloft greeting him when he arrived at work each day. After a couple of days absence, MasterB realised his persecutor was no longer around and returned to the garden with renewed enthusiasm. Today he was looking out of the sitting room window and started meowing and looking round at me. I joined him and saw Romeo in the loading bay at the back of the shop. MasterB has refused all invitation to go out.

Good for my health

Good for my health

Later I learned that MasterB’s alarm was raised within minutes of Romeo’s return. I am glad to see he isn’t limping, and I am hoping his extremities have been removed and that he will gradually lose his urge to dominate our garden and poo in high places. I’m getting a bit fed up with sluicing it away with buckets of water.

Last night there was the second of two programmes about puppies. I watched with MasterB. He really did watch, face tilted up to the screen. “Shall we have one?” I asked him. He turned to look at me. I can’t say his look held enthusiasm. “Not here,” I explained. “We could move; you could have a cat flap and your own garden. No Romeo.” Still unimpressed. “One like that,” I persevered as a German Shepherd with ears to die for came on the screen. He yawned. Continue reading

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30th April 2016, Captain’s Log

My watch strap has broken. OK, not exactly the end of the world, but very annoying, and a reminder of how much I rely on being able to glance at my wrist and know what time it is. A bit more annoying as I only bought the watch strap a week ago. I'm thinking about my bed and wondering if !MasterB will settle. He's not exactly had a lot of exercise today, though earlier this evening we played for a while and then I turned all the lights out so he could sit on my knee and look out at the ducks swimming beside us and the geese flying overhead. Celia may come tomorrow, and if she does, she has offered to look in my flat for his harness and bring it with her.

 

It's cool now after a warm, sunny day. Well, warm after the winds that were gusting first thing had calmed down. Cosy on das Boot, I had woken feeling too warm. That was the second time I woke. The first time was when Himself was vocally reminding me he had not had enough to eat. I did, for a nanosecond consider getting up then. It was as dawn was breaking, and I understand that otters are swimming the river then. If it had been a simple matter of strolling down to the river bank, being immediately rewarded by the sight of frolicking otters and then returning to bed, I'd have done it. But I think it's more of a wait in the cold light of a new day and hope.

 

I heard a cuckoo this afternoon. It seems to me I always hear my first cuckoo of the year when I am at the marina. I had to leave das Boot to get a newspaper. The nearest newsagents is at Burwell. I have been there lots of times. Somewhere I read that it is the largest village in East Anglia. Until today I had thought I knew its extent. But I decided on a different route back, turning left instead of right, then a series of right turns to bring me back to a familiar road, and Burwell stretched away and far beyond where I thought its boundaries lay. I passed a building advertising freshly laid eggs and homemade chutneys. I noted it for times when the hen lady has run out of eggs.

 

My morning drive took me through Reach where I dropped off several bags of used cat litter and found the recycling bank. At the Organic Farm I bought tomato plants and a second hand copy of a Len Deighton novel I read in the 80s, a bunch of yellow tulips that had been reduced to 50p because they were already open. They opened further in the warmth of the car, and are now boldly splendid in the blue and white striped vase Mother bought from the Oxfam shop. It was intended as a present, but she started using it, as indeed she did all the other things she bought that day. At the time I was puzzled. In retrospect, I realise it was one of the signs of her entry to dementia.

 

I was wearing Aunt's body warmer, and realised I was in the local uniform of the horsey community. There's a fair at Reach every May Day Bank Holiday, and the death defying rides, tooth rotting sweet stalls and all the rest of the paraphernalia is being set up.

 

Back at the marina, Ian was working on his boat. He and his wife Jackie have become people I look forward to seeing when I come east. They are warm, unpretentious, generous. True to form, Ian checked out the engine of das Boot. I have been worried as when we ran it a few weeks back no water came through, meaning it wasn't sucking up water from the river to cool the engine. He fixed it in a trice. The pump needed to be primed. Phew.

 

I spent the rest of the day being alternately active and lazy. I finished listening to a not very good story while digging horrible muck out of the window frames. I sat in the sunny fore cabin and read the paper. I considered the filthy exterior of the port side of the boat and wished I had got the water pump and hose out after lunch. Hence the plans for tomorrow morning if it's warm enough.

 

Unusually for me I have taken hardly any photographs, though I have my good camera and all my lenses. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next time. I don't know how many more seasons I shall have das Boot, but if I can manage it, I shall be here quite a lot this summer.

Wonderful Words

Some great reading this week. At the weekend I finished Penelope Lively’s Ammonites and Leaping Fish, A Life in Time. It’s a memoir, but being Penelope Lively she bypasses all the clichés. It’s a social history as well as her history; beautifully written which is a given with her as an author, and absorbing. It’s perceptive, observant, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. There is a little impatience with the ageing process but never self-pity. The only time Penelope Lively has disappointed me was Spiderweb, which I think was written not long after her husband Jack’s death, so might be forgiven as a potboiler.

I won’t go into all the structure of Ammonites and Leaping Fish. There are lots of reviews you could read. I rather like this one. But this is how the book begins:

This is not quite a memoir. Rather, it is the view from old age. And a view of old age itself, this place at which we arrive with a certain surprise – ambushed, or so it can seem. One of the few advantages of age is that you can report on it with a certain authority; you are a native now, and know what goes on here.

I borrowed my copy from the library, but there is so much in it that I want to return to it will soon be on my shelves. Continue reading

For Lee the Boilerman

I’ve been having ‘phone problems. My mobile has decded not to communicate with the SD card. Neither will it communicate with my laptop. It says it is full when I know it is not.

The shop around the corner where they rescued the contents of a defunct memory stick a few months ago did their best.

A trip to an EE store in High Street Ken confirmed my fears: my mobile had lost the plot.

Back at the corner shop, they offered me two mobile ‘phones, both second hand. One was the same make and model as my wandering ‘phone. The other was an i-Phone 5. After some deliberation, I opted for the latter.

While they were swapping over my SIM and sorting out the bits and bobs, a man came in with a frozen ‘phone. I learned his name was Lee. Lee had evidently been trying for some time to get the ‘phone to work properly. The shop staff worked their magic and in less time than it takes to tell, his ‘phone was communicative once more.

The counter at the shop is small. You cannot be unaware of your fellow customers’ needs. Thus Lee advised me to get a stronger case, and endorsed the screen cover. He looks a bit shocked when I said my i-Pad has a military, sandstorm proof cover.

“My mother had dementia,” I said,”She picked at the tabs so much it isn’t sand storm proof any longer.”

His father, who is only sixty-five, is showing early signs of dementia.

Bloody hell. Continue reading

Dementia Revisited

Home from book club and I am tired, but my mind is alert and I know if I go to bed now, I am going to be wakeful, eyes shut against the darkness while my thoughts rebel against sleep.

The book we discussed was Elizabeth is Missing. A remarkable first novel from a a young women who seems to have garnered uncanny insights into the minds of those living with dementia.

Obviously it triggered lots of personal responses. I am not the only member of the book club who has (had) a close and dear relative with dementia. Without Michèle to keep us on the straight and narrow and keep the discussion to the literary merit of the book, the conversation was wide ranging, anecdotal and personal.

Initially, I didn’t think I could read this book. The first few pages brought back clearly and painfully the dealings with outside bodies when we were trying to manage Mother’s dementia. So I bought an audio version and largely listened to it. That seemed to give the words space, and allow my thoughts to range freely.

It reminded me of things I had forgotten; how Mother, the world’s biggest declutterer and tidyupper – you only had to leave a cup of coffee on a coaster for a moment for it to be whisked away, so that when you went to take another sip the cup was already washed up and restored to its place in the cupboard – turned hoarder and lax washerupper; how she wrapped odd items in tissues, napkins; how she disappeared her glasses and other objects – we once realised she was walking about with a knife up her sleeve; how none of these things made her stupid. She was often confused, lost and frightened; trying to make sense of a world which had suddenly and inexplicably become alien, but she could still have moments of startling clarity, moments when I would look into her eyes and see the woman who was my competent, industrious, capable mother. Continue reading

Poems for My Mum, Heroic Women and a Brattish Cat

Celia came for coffee this morning and stayed for lunch. That was, I hasten to add, at my invitation and I was delighted she accepted.

She came to read poetry.

Today, Mother would have been 95. I have emailed people to ask them to celebrate her life by reading a poem aloud to someone else, to enjoy some shared reading, just as she and I did. I’ve had some lovely responses. Now it’s time to ask you.

It doesn’t have to be today; spin in out – make December the shared reading month, or 2015 the shared reading year – it may be decades since you sat back and listened to someone read to you, or maybe it’s something you do every day. For many of us, it’s something associated with childhood, something we don’t do with other adults. Yet for something so simple, it is immensely powerful and helps us to connect with each other.

I think this  photo is from the day I started taking reading aloud to my mother seriously. I flipped back through the posts on this blog, and found what I had written. If you are curious, click here, and you can read it too.

Mum 2nd June 2010

Mum 2nd June 2010


Continue reading

Anniversary Days

It’s a year since I wrote this post.
I am so glad I was blogging a lot then. Now it is the anniversary of Mother’s last weeks and by reading back, I can follow the trajectory of those days; my visit in mid April and then the call to say she was dying; the five days leading up to her death. Afterwards.
Octavia and I were talking yesterday about the power of first anniversaries. Why does it feel so important that this month, day by day, I follow, relive, what happened then? The waiting for the inevitable; the knowledge that each time I left her might be the last time I saw her alive. Dementia robbed her of so much, but she was still recognisably my mother. Still someone I loved, with whom the connection was strong. So often those living with dementia are spoken about as though they no longer exist; no longer have rights; no longer have claims to be as human as us.
In the current issue of of the reader there’s a poem written by a woman about her mother who has dementia. It’s warm, celebratory, about the person not the illness. Continue reading

Dogs and Dementia

I had no intention of posting today. It has been busy and I am behind with things. But I got a message from the Alzheimer’s Society and noticed one of the threads was to do with dogs. I have banged on many times about how visits from dogs brightened Mother’s day.
No signs of dementia when she was patting and admiring dogs big and small. One of my favourite pictures is of her with Sophie the German Shepherd. Just look at that smile! Continue reading

Poetry

Poetry. It gets under your skin. Says the things you don’t know you could say; didn’t know how to say. Let’s the feeling flesh out the words as they strip you to your bones.

Poetry. Its riches rediscovered because of Mother’s dementia; the way we found to communicate still when conversation was impossible. The way I could tell her over and over I loved her and she understood. Poetry was where she still had a place in this world. And now she is out of it, where the world still articulates her.

Mother introduced me to poetry. She wasn’t much of one for novels. Not enough time. She liked her scriptures and the psalms; and language. Radio 4 was her university. I was attending poetry group before Mother declined, but the intensity and the thrill of poetry was rekindled by those last years when I would read to her, poem after poem while she held my hand and listened with a tuned ear. Smiled. Squeezed my fingers to the beat of the words. Her passport to a still place in a world that pushed her off balance into fear and anxiety time and time again.

Continue reading

Aunt Online

Again yesterday I found a journey by car heart wrenching. I drove from the marina to visit Aunt. Each turn in the road a reminder of those days driving to and from Mother. I had thought I was beginning to scab over. These journeys tell me that there is a lot of healing yet to go. It’s not a bad thing. More a reality check.
At Aunt’s, where she had soup ready, we played with tablets and smart phones. Her wonderful cleaner, Linda, was there. She seldom emails, leaving it to the men in her family. So we had a three way message sending session. Linda, to her delight, realised how easy it is to send photos. Aunt received two pictures of her cat Charlie in various sleeping poses.
Aunt became pretty proficient at turning the tablet on and off, finding her email, opening it. Seeing the picture. I sent her some of MasterB and some from my ‘phone of mother in the last days. She finds typing laborious, not being familiar with keyboards. I suggested she could acknowledge emails with a smiley face. She liked that idea. She just needs to do the eyes before the mouth, and we’ll have lift off. Continue reading