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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Reflective

Friends

That girl I told you about, Gemma who I took to the Vintage Nostalgia Festival? She broke my heart today…

Not in the way you’re thinking; she suffered a bereavement at the start of the week and I saw her for the first time this morning. That’s what broke my heart today…

Caught up in grief (I know that feeling), single minded (I know that feeling) and loved by many, she is still my little potty-mouthed friend and talking to her today – well, I glimpsed a little of what she dealt with with me. And it’s tough.

Thank-you-4

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Reflective, Thought of the Day

Monday Mourning

Sitting on the aged, brown, faux-leather seats on the first floor of the Pulteney Practice this morning, awaiting my blood test. “Deep breathes, Lise…” Holding back tears as I picture Nige sat beside me; remembering our sad little conversations from the numerous appointments we had there.

A long drive into work was very much needed.

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Diary

Keep On Moving

“Hey, Lise. Was wondering if you fancy going away with us? Just for a night sometime…”

“Absolutely! You give me some dates, I’ll book something up.”

Jo gave me two dates and I chose the closest. Friends recommended Castle Farm Campsite, on the Somerset Levels in Wedmore and so I booked it up.

I have worked with Jo for more years than I care to remember; she has been a presence in my life forever, it seems. Yet the only times we’ve got together socially have been end of term drinks, the occasional wedding and, recently, Nigel’s funeral. Her husband, Chris, is our ever-efficient, slightly eccentric, caretaker… Though I never really knew him well, he was the only one from work to reply to my ‘explanation’ email, back in 2016; expressing his utter disbelief and sorrow at Nigel’s prognosis – that meant everything to me, at that particular time. It’s something that I’ll never forget. Since then, and on my first few days back at work, I sought him out as a reassuring face. Jo, too, for her quiet support at the funeral. It’s the little things guys, always remember that…

Jo and Chris are dog lovers. They have three rescue mutts and I’m pretty sure they’d have more if ever another was in need of a home! I got to theirs at 11ish so we could introduce Django to Lika. It could not have gone better – right then; dog chosen, time to go.

mapservI followed Chris all the way – via the ‘scenic route’ that men seem to prefer more often than not! However, ‘scenic’ was indeed what it was. You forget (well, I forget) how truly beautiful Somerset is. It’s right on my doorstep and takes your breathe clean away. The clear, blue, endless sky certainly helped, as did the breeze flowing through my open windows.

On arrival, I trundled down, with Django, to the farmhouse. I received such a warm welcome by the owner – another Jo – and her trio of collies! We parked up, Chris busied himself with the awning and Jo and I sat in the sunshine and chilled. Django and Lika – well, check them out! They were bloody brilliant…

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For those who are familiar with my short trips away, you’ll know how I struggle with the loneliness and emotional instability. What was lovely about this trip was having company – a couple who have known me (quirks and all) for long enough to understand my ramblings and the life experience to empathise with my situation. And I never expected that. I never expected to be sat out, looking over at Glastonbury Tor with Jo and Chris from work, talking about life, death and watching the alpacas amble around nonchalantly. In truth, it probably never would have happened if Nige were here, but I can say that about almost everything these days; from getting Django to letting my hair go grey – and that’s perfectly fine. I embrace it all equally.

*

It’s a cool time of year to discuss work, with our new positions for the next academic year confirmed and so we did! Obviously it’s only cool because we’re both happy with our ‘lot’… so I guess it actually had the potential of being rather awkward… Macaroni was ate, wine and beer was drunk and laughs were aplenty – could it get better? Well, yes!

“Is that the moon rising over there?!”

Our view was of Glastonbury Tor: stunning in itself. But as the sun went down, a red, moody shape appeared to the left of the Tor. Chris asked the question and Jo and I duly looked. I think we both said,

“Bloody hell, that’s incredible!”

The family in the neighbouring tent woke their small children and everyone else seemed transfixed by the lunar spectacle. I am always in awe of the moon. I cannot wrap my head around the notion that we all see it. Everybody.

“And we all see the same side – that’s what I can’t wrap my head around!”

Jo added. I know we see it at different times but just check out the internet on these occasions where the moon is super or otherwise: the world over, photos are posted. If ever you needed reminding that we are all one, then it is during these beautiful moments.

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36575587_2189694267934751_6809462251699830784_nAfter saying goodnight, at around 11.30, Django and I took up our usual tussle for the best spot in the bed. I decided to open my Wild Hare beer and check out the TV. I dismissed the football and chose “Sex and Drugs and Rock n Roll” with Andy Serkis instead. I had my last wee at about 1.45am and fell asleep.

*

Django woke me up at 6.20am – about right, I thought. Only, as I walked him around the field, I realised it was actually 5.20… Ah well, a lie-in is only a lie-in when you know it’s a lie-in, right? Back to bed, up at 7ish to start packing bits away.

Jo and Chris, being that their van is very much more luxurious than mine, rose at about 8 or 9 I think – instantly forgiven as they had the breakfast! Chris went for a run whilst Jo and I enjoyed coffee and croissants. See, we absolutely know how to camp! Next the long, awaited trip to see the Sea Harrier! Oh my goodness, what a stunner… Of course, I blame my dad for my obsession with planes…

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Awesome, right?!

I have to thank Jo for the wonderful shot of me in the Harrier… Pretty damn awesome.

*

“Thank you for the last 24 hours!”

And so we left – almost precisely 24 hours after we’d left Bath. We wended our way through the stunning villages and countryside. Briefly stopped for an ice-cream at Chew Valley Lakes and said ‘cheerio’… Odd because I’ll see them both tomorrow at work. But precious because we’ll have the past 24 hours in common.

*

As usual, I cried buckets as I followed Jo and Chris in their mobile-home. I talked out my emotions aloud and came to the sad conclusion that I just don’t enjoy anything. At the Kiefer Sutherland gig earlier in the week, I willed it to end, so I could chalk it up as another experience done. And I do that with my trips away. All of them. I know that at some point I will genuinely have a wonderful time, but enjoyment is hard to come by at present. That isn’t to say I don’t get anything from it; I truly do, I move further along that road of grief for starters. But uncomplicated ‘enjoyment’ is something I aspire to and with every journey I’m getting closer… I promise. Thank you so, so much Jo, for opening the door on this weekend – I loved every minute! xxx

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