Diary

Steps

 

Late evening, on January 12th, 2018, we metaphorically linked arms and tentatively stepped forwards together. Together but significantly separate. We stayed this way until after the funeral, when we each found others to take our arm; what stayed the same was our steadfast eye on the future. What changed was our dependence on each other.

I watched with pride, as they rolled on with their lives and I congratulated myself on my avoidance of self-pitying rhetoric. But here’s the thing; whilst they were striding through their grief with quiet stumbles, I stayed on my safe path, too self-conscious to venture out.

The past 6 weeks, though, have taught me much; from fulfilling life-changing ambitions to embracing family and from saying ‘yes’ to things that I thought should be ‘no’ to exploring roads I’ve never been on. I feel as if I have firmly stepped off my safe path into the forward flowing traffic of life.

Down days are still aplenty but as I approach the new academic year, I feel hopeful for the first time in almost 2 years.

 

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Assignment 1

Writing Skills

Just a Girl with her Airedale

I close my eyes, take a deep breath in… and feel the chilly air invade my nostrils, catch the back of my throat before I exhale warmth into the now driving rain. My loose, shoulder-length hair loops round and whips my eyes, causing my moist eyelids to flicker – R.E.M – that moment before you sleep, when dreams fill your subconscious mind.

The rain is lighter now, smoothing my face like a million fingers, massaging harder as the wind gets up. I smile contentedly, as the roar of an aeroplane, an ascending aeroplane, briefly disturbs the silence and I recall that we are somewhere near Bristol Airport. My mind drifts to my dad, who, for so long, worked at British Aerospace. We would watch Concord as children because he worked on it, the nose actually. Another sound, lower down…

Oddly, it’s dogs barking. I cannot tell if they are distressed or not. Django isn’t pulling at the lead so I guess they are content. Paul mentioned earlier that there’s a kennels at the bottom of the valley, so not so odd. Smells are difficult to deduce; my nose feels cold with each inhalation – does cold air have a scent, I wonder? Cold air that was recently so hot.

The damp bench penetrates my red, woollen shawl, causing a little numbness. But it’s a wide bench and feels safe and secure. I can feel Django on the end of his lead, secured by my foot, wandering gently around, his Velcro-like paws making a dull thud through the grass. Paul, too, is chatting quietly to me, expecting nothing in return. Sorry it’s raining. You can usually see the sea over there… Another deep breathe as slowly I bring myself back to wakefulness; all invisible sounds, scents and feelings implode as my eyes open. I look to where he’s looking; Oh yeah, you definitely cannot see the sea.

Still smiling, I watch the grey-black clouds move like hot-air balloons through the sky. Django is sat skew-whiff, his back right leg sticking out at a 45° angle and gently panting, barely audible. The tops of the trees a myriad of greens spread out, it seems, just below my feet. They stretch forwards as far as I can physically see. It’s beautiful, silent aside from the occasional plane overhead. Dogs have stopped barking; rain has diminished. All that is left is fresh silence, two friends and an Airedale. I’m just a girl with her Airedale. It’s a perfect moment in time.

The silence is broken by distant thunder, the magic continues with the most incredible spears of rain. Feck this! I take a moment to cast one last look over this astonishing place, hold my hands out to catch a few drops before we beat a hasty retreat back through the woods.


Dream; Past – Present

I can feel the coolness of ceramic tiles beneath my feet as I run my hands along the length of worktop as if I were playing a piano. This is not a kitchen where friends and family gather together, with wine and crudités, no, this is a kitchen of hope. I can see what it will be; smell what it will be; wait, what’s that yellow pipe down there? My auntie Sue stands by my side, younger than when I last saw her. She’s wearing a pair of bell-bottom jeans and, like me, no shoes. ‘Yellow pipes were all the rage in the ‘70s!’ she says, and starts strumming her guitar.

Sue morphs into my husband, Nigel. He’s talking but I cannot hear anything. We’re in the front room now, standing next to a huge window. I squint my eyes, lean over, strain to hear what he’s saying – no words, just him, smiling down on me, and as I move closer, I already know he isn’t there. I look out of the window. I’m sure I saw something outside but, no, there’s nothing…

I feel tense: I’ve forgotten something important. What is it? I’m in a different front room. It has an old, brown patterned carpet that smells of damp. In the corner stands an old TV, with a chunky knob you have to turn to change channels. I turn and am immediately in a tiny bathroom. I know it leads to a bedroom. ‘I know this place within another place.’ I’m on top of an oak bedstead, wearing a cardigan I knitted when I was 17. Only I’m older but it isn’t.

Back in the front room with the smelly carpet; an old Philips record player sits under the window. I know straightaway that it’s broken; all the wires to the speakers are missing because my brother, Ben, took them for his hi-fi in 1986.

Back in the bedroom, on the edge of the bed. I look over at the tallboy in the corner. Oh my God! It’s in the drawer; I’ve left the baby in the drawer! As I think it, it is. The drawer is open and lying amongst the linen is a baby boy. All smiles and gurgles, it lifts it’s arms out towards me. I hold him; hug him to my chest; plant small kisses on his head.

*

A dream about a new home isn’t unusual for somebody who has been through what I have been through – I have wondered whether moving would be the best thing for me, but I love my home and I know in time the memories that are so painful now will be consoling later. The new home in my dream was soulless; promising a view but giving none and although Nigel was there, I couldn’t hear him. I ‘hear’ him all the time here… The kitchen didn’t belong to that house, but to this one. Everything else was Victoria Terrace, our first home. It was condemned and pulled down a week after we left…

The baby was a baby Nige, saying, ‘Look, when you need to move on, I’m coming with you… Always.’

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Thought of the Day

Thoughts…

“It’s lonely. The evenings, you know? That time when historically you’d chat about the day, make plans for the weekend, year, life… Now I’m mainly just flitting from laptop to iPad, TV to puppy with a glass of something on the arm of the sofa…

It will get better – I just need to learn to live with it….”

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Diary

Keep On Moving

“Shall we go camping?”

“We should you know! My ancestors are from Trevethin, Pontypool, Newport… Maybe Nantyglo at some point.”

“Trevethin is a shit heap. Let’s just go to Pembrokeshire!”

“True. Okay.”

“Feckin’ ace!”

Before you judge, my friend’s Welsh and from Newport – he’s as offended as you!

Paul’s an old friend of Nigel’s and since I met him (on a plane to Barcelona) we have all got on well. He and his wife have a cool pub in Bristol and Nige and I would spend the occasional Sunday evening there, not to mention the Hallowe’en parties… So when I lost Nige, Paul was instantly there. He helped me with the order of service and read an emotional eulogy at the funeral. Isn’t it amazing how friends, when the need occurs, can become like family?

Anyway, I digress. The above messages were exchanged some weeks ago but finally, after much to-ing and fro-ing, I booked us into The Celtic Camp Site, near St Davids. Paul gave it his seal of approval and, well I thought the pictures looked nice!


Wednesday, 8th August

We left Bristol just before 10 – the traffic from Bath wasn’t great. Although I had the Sat Nav on, I really didn’t need it. Paul’s travelled almost to the exact spot week in, week out for years. I must say, it was rather lovely having a bloke in the van, chatting away. The fact he could direct me flawlessly too was a real bonus! As I’ve said many times, I do struggle with female chit-chat and so the journey to Pembrokeshire was wonderfully refreshing.

We got to the campsite around lunchtime – maybe a bit later. The site was stunning; the most incredible view of the coast, peppered with rural landscape and rugged coves: just beautiful…

We chose a spot on the edge (retrospectively, I think we should have moved up to higher ground – that’s where the view was at its best). With the hedge on one side of Paul’s wee tent, and Wendy on the other, at least the wind was reduced a little. Obviously, Django and I were fine. In our solid VW!

As I sorted out Wendy and strategically placed the fairy lights, windbreak, stove and flag pole; Paul started to sort out his ‘caterpillar’ tent.

“At the pub, they all wanted me to do a time-lapse video of me putting up the tent. They think I’ll be really bad at it…” 

He was but there isn’t any proof. You’ll just have to take my word for it!

*

For our first walk, Paul took us onto the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path to Abereiddy. Django bounced effortlessly along the pathway, occasionally making my bum go a bit tight as he bounded up to the precipice! But, overall, it was an easy stroll. We came out by some beautiful cottages and then wound our way down a narrow road, to Abereiddy Bay Beach. It was packed; huge vehicles trying to negotiate the bend at the bottom of the road (forcing us onto the grass verge), only to be told there was no room in the car park. So back up the way they came… So glad we walked! Once we got onto the beach, tranquility descended. It’s odd, isn’t it, how tranquil life can be, even when amongst a crowd of people.

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Back at the camp site I cooked us some haloumi. We ate pretty much everything we had brought with us for the whole trip… and drank all the wine! Still, it had to be done; conversation was had, tears and laughter flowed naturally and it just felt perfect.


Thursday, 9th August

As usual, Django and I were awake by about 5.30… It just always happens that way. Anyway, we laid in for an hour, until we saw Paul poking his head out of his cocoon-like tent. It was about 6.30. We needed a plan for breakfast. I needed a coffee!

The brilliant thing about having a tent is that your pitch is saved; which means you can drive your VW camper away… Well, that’s a first for me!

“They’ll be lots of places to get breakfast in St Davids.”

Just four miles up the road, and definitely on my ‘bucket list’, St Davids was the obvious choice for coffee.

We didn’t end up with the best coffee but we did drink it whilst looking at the best view. Paul took me down to see the famous St Davids Cathedral and the ruins of St Davids Bishop’s Palace. Wow! Just, really didn’t expect to see anything so grand and as magisterial as that – breathtaking. I vow to revisit and go inside…

Next; we found a friendly hotel that served breakfast to non-residents and was dog-friendly – perfect. We sat there for quite some time, watching the Friday market set up and soaking in the hub-bub that is everyday life in beautiful St Davids.

Back to the van, via Oriel y Parc; an ecological visitors centre by the carpark. Again, I’d have liked to have stayed longer but Paul wanted to take us on another coastal walk. This time, through Solva and into Manorbier and time was marching on.

*

On to Solva then. There didn’t appear to be much there, if I’m honest, but the high street was incredibly pretty and I do like me a pretty high street!

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*

The road to Manorbier was brilliant; lots of windy lanes, narrow roads and stunning sea views. Then, as you come into the town, you’re faced with the most incredible castle. Today, though, we were focused on walking. So I parked up and we set off on a 4km Coastal Path Walk to Swanlake Bay. It looked much worse than it was – you could see people like ants winding their way ahead and it felt for the world that you would never get there. But, yeah, not too tricky at all. I worried a little about Django as it was hot and he was panting a fair amount.

“There’s fresh water for dogs at the beach. You’ll see…”

After a tiring hike up, came the precarious stroll down. Django was perfect – not once landing me on my arse! As we came down to the entrance onto the beach, there was a pile of rubbish. Amongst the rubbish were four plastic milk cartons, full of fresh water:

“FRESH WATER FOR THE DOGGIES!!!

HAVE A WONDERFUL DAY 🙂 “

Paul told me that it’s from a guy who also collects up all the rubbish, and then when there’s a pile, he takes it to the tip. I looked up to the top of the cliff,

“How on earth does he do that?” I asked.

“No idea…”

We sat on the beach for a while, I was particularly enjoying the view of a young guy bouncing naked into the waves. If I had my costume (and the courage), I’d have jumped in too! Paul, however, decided that maybe he wouldn’t take a dip after all, ha, ha! Anyway, we only had an hour left on the car so we set off back, filling Django up with more water before we started.

*

On our way back to the camp site, we stopped off at St Davids for food; a mash-up of veggie burgers, Pringles and Black Olive Hummus… Perfect with the two bottles of Italian wine and four bottles of Welsh ale! As we sat eating, drinking and chatting, the wind continued to battle with the windbreak and flag pole – the windbreak gave up pretty damn quickly. So I decided to rescue the flag pole before it did the same. Then we retired to comfort of the van, finishing the wine and our chat. Django was shattered – until I tried to get a picture of Paul for the van, that is… Such a diva!

By half 10, we were done in. Paul crawled into his tent and Django and I fell asleep. That’s the benefit of the Welsh sea air!


Friday, 10th August

We awoke at about 5am to rain! It’s always then that you need to pee… I walked the endless walk up to the toilets between the storm, leaving Django in the dry. Shortly after I got back, Paul emerged from his wind-battered tent – honestly, I’m impressed it was still standing! Tired, we tried to catch a few more zzzs, but the heavens opened and so Django and I sat in the van, watching Paul’s little tent get battered by the incessant wind and rain.

As soon as the rain stopped we packed up the site. It really didn’t take that long and by the time we were sat in the breakfast room (with everyone else), the weather was brighter and there was even a rainbow in the sky. After two beautiful, sunny days, it seemed the perfect time to go home.

*

So that was Pembrokeshire. Well, a bit of it anyway. Such a beautiful place and certainly somewhere I’d love to revisit. Maybe next time I’ll bring a Bell tent; I loved being able to leave the camp site and I think a freestanding tent – as opposed to a drive-away awning – is a little more flexible. Hmm, I’m seriously getting into this camping malarkey!

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Diary

Keep On Moving

“If you want, I’ll have Grace for a couple of days in the holidays…”

“Really? That would be amazing!”

Then up popped an opportunity I felt was too good to miss; The Secret Camp Out at Stockton, where I took Gemma for the Vintage Nostalgia Show. I checked out the details and booked it up – just Django, Grace and me in Wendy; a chance to figure out this little conundrum that is Grace and to enter her world for just a couple of days. I felt, as an auntie, that it was the very least I could do.

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The marquee where everything was centred… That’s Wendy, in the background.

With little preparation (as usual), I headed off to Sherborne on Friday morning. I knew Grace was anxious and to be honest, so was I. It’s been quite some time since I spent more than a few hours with a 9 year old! Traffic was light so I got there at a good time, before 10, I think. Noush was up with Ben, who had kept her and Seb awake most of the night. Seb had left for work, leaving a scene that took me right back to the time when Harry and Gabe were little. You know, that too-little-sleep-too-much-to-do-and-it’s-the-summer-bloody-holidays feeling. Yeah, you all remember! So, like a good fairy Godmother, I swooped up Grace, put her into the van and left my tired niece to take her equally tired toddler back to bed… I knew right then that this was going to be one of the most worthwhile things I’d done to date. It felt good to be giving back.

We chatted non-stop as we drove: Grace missed nothing; naming all the cars behind, beside and in front of us, mentioning when I was sneaking over the speed limit and pointing out how far we had to go… It was like having another sat-nav in the van! She joined me in a little, ‘Woop-woop!’ when we arrived and was just as indecisive as me when it came to choosing a pitch. We settled for shade and a woodland backdrop, a fair distance from the Portaloos which bothered only me,

“I need a wee Grace, do you?”

“Yeah, but I’m not weeing in there…”

“Okay, so where are you going to wee?”

“In the woods.”

and she did.

She stood outside the portaloo, comfortably holding onto Django whilst I had a pee. Nothing I could say would convince her to enter the coffin-like plastic loo, and I was fine with that. Anyway, it’s cool to pee in the woods!

On our first walk about, we came across Michelle who has a vintage and hairdressing company called Popellas. This weekend she was offering hair braiding and silk extensions. Grace was drawn to her pretty bell tent, with all it’s colour and nomadic feel and I watched as she pushed herself forward to speak to Michelle, who was very chilled out and smiley. Django and I held back, only stepping in to ask about prices and when she’d be ready to do something in Grace’s hair. She told us to pop back in an hour, giving her time to set up. A happy Grace left, smiling and chatting about what she could have done.

Back at the van, Grace broke out her snacks – all healthy stuff, no fizzy drinks or additive-laden sweets. As I drank mocktails from Morrisons, Grace drank fresh apple juice. We chatted about school, bullies, family – the usual. She doesn’t miss anything; picks up on all the negativity that goes on around her from the occasional eye-roll to the unjust telling off – nothing is missed.

Except all the positives…

Grace doesn’t trust positive comments or actions. But sitting in Michelle’s bell tent, having beautiful silks put into her hair, well, look…

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“Can we go back to the hair place now?”
“Okay, let’s see if she’s ready.”

This girl, right then, melted my heart.

Michelle’s daughter, Ella and her friend, Amber, took Grace under their wing – as far under as she would allow. All the time she was with them I could see her guarded looks – never trusting them but seeming to have fun all the same. It gave me a chance to sit with Django and Michelle and have a good old chin-wag about life and festivals, vintage and VW camper vans – quite heavenly actually.

Dinner was crumpets from an Airstream Caravan that was having problems sorting out their generator. When we finally got our order (crumpets with beans and cheese for me and whipped cream and strawberries for Grace) an hour or so later, we were given a free muffin too. Grace said, “That’s for you Lizzie!” I told her it was all hers, and she gasped and said, “Thank you very much…” Around about this time she started missing her mum, dad and Ben. She told me every time there was a lull in the conversation,

“I know,” I said, “But that’s why we go away Grace, so that we learn to appreciate what we have at home…”

First Night

Grace talked a lot about walking home, she looked at Google Maps on her tablet so she could plot a route and then asked how she would unlock the van… I possibly slept with one eye open!

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In the morning we ate our cereal bars and I left her in bed while I sought out a coffee – hideous instant rubbish! The day ahead was a daunting one for me. Never have I been so long without being able to indulge in my grief; you know, a tear here, a rant there. Grabbing a moment to myself in the guise of getting water or finding coffee was a life-saver. No, a soul-saver. Meanwhile, Grace was still missing her mum, dad and Ben. Thankfully, there were activities planned for the kids on site.

First: pebble painting. Everything happened in the marquee so I watched as she joined other kids at the table. I was getting used to her quizzical looks at others and reluctant chat. One girl said, confidently,

“I know everyone here… All the children anyway!”

To which Grace replied,

“Well, do you know me?”

That told her.

Next up: Tug Of War. As the War started, I gave Grace the iPad and asked her to take pictures, which she did – loads. Then she brought it back to me and went back out. Next thing I know, she’s on one end of the rope and there’s a girl called Poppy on the other! I put down my Boondogger, grabbed the iPad and rushed outside just in time…

To see her win! She was over the moon ❤

Next activity: Clay Making. We were a little late to this as I’d decided to take down the awning and pack away a few bits so as we had less to do in the morning. Anyway, Grace found a place at the table and told me she was going to make a pot. Half an hour later:

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“It’s a man, Duck-taped to a bed!”

I do think it’s fabulous and does trick you into thinking that Grace has a peculiar imagination but here’s the thing; when I dug deeper, I realised that the strips of clay were to hold the person in place whilst it dried. So actually her model was of a man in bed. Later, ‘someone’ stood on her model. Someone with the same shoe imprint as Grace – but definitely not Grace. Of course.

For our last dinner there, I bought her burger and chips. She loved it but then, she’s very grateful for everything you do for her though I honestly don’t think she knows quite how to deal with it, other than to say, ‘Thank you very much…’ So we’ll just have to keep doing nice things for Grace and cut out the eye-rolls!

Last Night

I was so tired, I drifted off before Grace. She was tired though, after an evening of looking at photos and talking about family – from current aunties to ancient ancestors. For the first time that weekend I felt her mind finally empty. It was a matter of seconds really, and then she was asleep.

We set off for home earlier than I had planned, due partly to Grace needing to be back with her mum, dad and Ben and partly because I needed to cry; scream and rant. You know, the usual.

*

If you haven’t caught on, then let me explain a little. Grace has something called morbid autism. It really needs no explanation here but if you wish to know more, then click on the link. Comorbidity isn’t something I’ve worked with though many of the autistic children I’ve cared for have had a fascination for death, pain – anything negative really, so loving Grace and accepting Grace is, for me, the easiest thing in the world.

She is still the bit of crazy in all of us and that makes her forever magical.

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Short Story

Dream; Past – Present

I can feel the coolness of ceramic tiles beneath my bare feet as I run my hands along the length of the steel worktop as if I were playing a piano. As my eyes wonder around the neglected room, a feeling of warmth softens them; this is not a kitchen where friends and family gather together, with glasses of wine and small bowls of olives strategically placed above nose-height of the family dog, partaking in even smaller talk. No, this is a kitchen of hope. I can see what it will be; smell what it will be; absolutely know that it will be perfect. At the forefront of my mind right now though, is, ‘What’s that yellow pipe down there for?’ My auntie Sue is standing at my shoulder, much younger than when I last saw her. She has on a pair of bell-bottom jeans with huge flowers embroidered down one side. Like me, she is wearing no shoes. Like me, she’s wearing a broad smile upon her face; ‘Yellow pipes were all the rage in the ‘70s!’ she tells me.

As the image of Sue morphs into the indistinct image of my husband, I catch my breath. He’s talking but I cannot hear anything. We’re in the front room now, standing in front of a huge picture window. I squint my eyes, lean my head over, strain to hear what he is saying – there’s no words, just those gorgeous eyes smiling down on me; protecting me, and as I move towards where he is standing, I already know he isn’t there. I look instead to the window. Funny, I’m sure I saw something outside but, no, there’s nothing…

I feel a massive sense of urgency: I’ve forgotten something. Oh no, it’s something important. What is it? What have I forgotten? I’m in a different room now, a different front room. It has an old, brown patterned carpet that smells of damp. In the corner stands a television. An old style TV, with a wooden surround and a chunky knob you have to turn to change channels. I heave a sigh, ‘Ahh, look at this! This can be redecorated for the boys.’ I turn on my heels and exit into a narrow passage and come face to face with a tiny bathroom. I know instantly that there’s a bedroom through the opposite door. There it is. ‘I know this place. This place within another place,’ I say this three times; I like how it sounds.

Sometime later I awake, stretch and smooth over the bedding on the 1930s oak bedstead. I’m wearing my old cardigan I knitted when I was 17. Only I’m older but it is not. I wrinkle up my nose as I notice the gaping holes between stitches, ‘I never was a knitter…’ I walk into the front room, the one with the smelly carpet. An old Philips record player sits under the window. I recognize it and know straightaway that it’s broken, that all the wires to the speakers are missing because my brother, Ben, took them for his hi-fi in 1986. The memory makes me laugh. But still there is a nagging doubt in the back of my mind: what have I forgotten? Husband; dead, son one, son two, that’s it – we’re all here, or where we should be at least. Son one, son two… Why is that bothering me?

Back in the bedroom, sat on the edge of the old oak bed. I look over at the tallboy in the corner. Oh my God! It’s in the drawer; I’ve left the baby in the drawer! As I think it, it is. The drawer is open and lying amongst the beautiful, crisp linen is the cutest baby. All smiles and gurgles, it lifts it’s chubby arms out towards me. I scoop him up in my arms, hug him to chest and plant small kisses on his head.

*

It’s 6.30am, my eyes snap open. Then they close as the mornings first tears fall. I listen to the radio for a while, compose myself, accept myself, tell myself it’s time to get up and walk the dog. But I’m thinking about my dream; ordering it in my head.

A dream about a new home isn’t unusual for somebody who has been through what I have been through – I have wondered whether moving would be the best thing for me, you know, new beginnings. But I think not. I love my home and I know in time the memories that are so painful now will be consoling later. I believe my dream was agreeing with me. The new home was soulless; it promised a view but really had none. The kitchen, that seemed to hook me in, didn’t belong to that house. It belongs to this house, the one I’m already in. The other living room and adjoining bedroom were from Victoria Terrace, the first little house Nige and I shared. It was condemned and pulled down a week after we left…

Aside from the physical aspects of the dream, there’s the symbolic. Although Nige was with me, in the front room, I couldn’t hear him; I ‘hear’ him all the time, in every room of our home. Once I leave, he’ll only be in my head and heart; I won’t be able to connect him to a new place. But within that place was a more familiar place – our first home together. Where we first loved and laughed and lived. Which is, quite literally not there anymore. What about the baby? Well, that’s easy; it was Nige, a baby Nige. We had many old photos of him in various drawers and cupboards. I probably still do. I think he was firmly placing himself in my heart; his way of saying, ‘Look, if you need to move on, then I’m coming with you… always.’

 

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Reflective

6360059718910849601607568229_Make_Change11As colleagues wearily count down the days, I quietly dread the fast-approaching, endless days of the Summer break. I was never a fan but now I am seriously concerned for myself…

So I have plans. Not many, but from small acorns… Keep an eye out for me and I’ll see you all on the other side! (September, obviously).

Countdown to Madness

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