Well, my good intentions on the blogging front didn’t quite work out last year, did they? Funnily enough, something seemed to derail things during the Summer and I just never seemed to find the time (or the motivation) for any more of my usual rambling.
Now, nearly six months on and at the beginning of another year, maybe it’s time to pop back in here, take the covers off the furniture and do a bit of dusting. So to speak. Not that I can guarantee any kind of steady stream of literary gems in the future. In fact, it’s probably most likely that I’ll just fall back into my old routine of posting some random bit of pointless verbiage once every couple of months. But, you never know – maybe this year is the year when I finally get my blogging act together and find something to write about on a regular basis.
Hark! Are those flying piggies I hear?
Anyway, if nothing else, I can at least take this chance to wish everyone out there a healthy, happy and prosperous 2013. Well, unless you happen to use a different calendar, in which case please have a healthy, happy and prosperous whatever-it-is-when-it-comes-around.
It’s been a busy few weeks round here. You can probably tell that by the traditional absence of anything new here on the blog. Slowly and surely, the gaps between posts get a bit longer and a bit longer, until I’m back to my old ways of posting some long rambling missive about once every three or four months.
This time, it’s only been about six weeks though and I’m back because I’m afraid I have some sad news to share.
A week ago, the carers who help to look after my mother arrived at her house in the morning to find her very unwell and very short of breath. They immediately contacted the local urgent care service, who arranged for an ambulance to pick Mum up and deliver her to the Accident and Emergency Department at Darlington Memorial Hospital. They also called me to let me know what was happening and I found myself back on the old merry-go-round of mad dashes and daily visits to and from the hospital – but this time to see Mum, rather than Dad.
Over the weekend, she was in a bad way and the doctors were very worried. On the positive side, they knew what was wrong – Mum was obviously suffering from an infection and had come down with aspiration pneumonia. This kind of thing is a well-known area of concern for patients who are suffering from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), since the condition usually leads to problems with the muscles in the throat and, therefore, difficulties with swallowing correctly or with clearing the airways as and when something does go the wrong way. For someone like my Mum, who has lived with this nasty, debilitating disease for something like 15 or 16 years since her first diagnosis (thus making her one of the longest known surviving PSP patients) swallowing problems become a big deal. In fact, it’s pretty remarkable that, but for occasional relatively minor choking incidents, she hasn’t actually had any major pneumonia problems (or similar infections) before. So, as I said, it was pretty easy for the doctors to work out what was going on when she was taken in.
On the negative side, the things that made it all the more worrying were that the infection didn’t seem to be responding to antibiotics and, even if it did, my Mum’s throat and chest weren’t strong enough to allow her to clear the fluids that were building up in and around her lungs. Lots of rather serious discussions had to be had about treatment plans and options over the weekend and I found myself once again living through the same kind of thing that happened with my father several times during the course of the last couple of years. I’ll say one thing, it may get easier to understand and appreciate the importance of those conversations when you’ve been through them a few times already, but it doesn’t make the whole process any less difficult or painful.
Still, the doctors came up with a treatment plan that made complete sense and which I agreed with fully and we waited to see what the passing days would bring. She remained very unwell until Monday, but by Tuesday things had picked up slightly and she was more settled. When Glenda and I called in to see her last night, the infection markers in her blood had more or less returned to normal (give or take one test result that was still on the high side) and, although she was still suffering from breathlessness due to the fluid build-up in her chest, she appeared to be rather more comfortable than she had been since being admitted last Thursday. We all knew that we weren’t out of the woods yet by any means, but all of us (including the nursing and medical teams) felt that things were looking more positive than they had thus far and that she might be able to recover after all.
Which made the phone call at around twenty to one this morning a bit more surprising than it might otherwise have been. A very nice staff nurse spoke to me and told me that my Mum had passed away in her sleep just a short time before. They had checked on her a little earlier and she was sleeping fairly comfortably and showing no signs of distress. About half an hour or so later, while passing the room and quickly checking on her again, they noticed that she had simply slipped away from this world. No stress, no drama, no suffering, just a quiet and peaceful passing.
They gave me the option of going straight down there and seeing her on the ward, rather than waiting until today to see her in the hospital’s chapel of rest, so Glenda and I got ready and headed down there straight away. We got there at around 1:30 a.m. and found my mother laid peacefully on the bed, with a lot of the lines of pain and stress already disappearing from her face. The PSP can’t make things any worse for her now, she has finally escaped from it in the only way that PSP patients ever can escape. Out of the darkness at last…
…to title this post “You know…” but even I think that would have been pushing it.
It would also appear that I have started to fall back into my old slovenly ways of leaving this blog to lie fallow for extended periods of time. Or at least a month in this particular case.
However, I do have an excuse, honest! As Glenda has already reported on her blog, we’ve been away on holiday, grabbing ourselves a bit of welcome (and much needed) R&R.
The astute amongst you will already have noted that we obviously had Internet access while away on our travels (otherwise how did Glenda manage to update her blog all the time, eh?) So why was I persistently conspicuous by my absence?
Well, I did have the best of intentions and meant to do a bit of blogifying as well. I really did! But I kept getting distracted by sitting watching the sea and the birds and the weather and the passing CalMac ferry and the sea again and more birds and…
And then I got distracted by reading books and magazines and stuff.
And then I got distracted by going out with Glenda and visiting lovely places like Ullapool, Gairloch, Poolewe and a couple of nice local beaches that we found that were ideal for walking and kite-flying and even plodging (on one of the amazingly scorching days during the second week).
And, before I knew it, we were on the way home.
And, before I had the chance to get used to that, we were on the way back again to rescue a wedding ring.
And then we really were home and settling back into the old routine at work.
So, before I knew it, we found ourselves here today, a whole month out from my last meaningless ramblings in blog-land.
It’s also a bit of a weird day for me. As regular followers of this blog and Glenda’s will know, the last two or three years have had their rough moments for us. We’ve had our fair share of personal losses and troublesome times. Which is why the holiday was important to us both. It’s a while since we had any time off that was purely and simply “holiday”. Most of our trips abroad in the last few years were business-related and, even though we usually promised ourselves that we would take an extra few days to have a break, we never really ended up doing it. There was always too much going on back home – both at the office and in terms of taking care of my parents – that we couldn’t really afford the extra time away. So holidays sort of went on the back burner.
Which is why this latest trip was so welcome and, as it turned out, so wonderful. I think it gave us both a chance to slow down a bit and come to terms with some of the stuff that has happened in the last couple of years. And that’s important. In fact, if there is one lesson that I have learned in my life, it is that we all need some time to reflect upon and deal with all the stuff that modern life throws at us. And one of the best ways to do that – perhaps the very best of all – is to get away from it all to somewhere beautiful and peaceful where you can just slow down, take it easy for a while and find the time to gather all your thoughts and feelings and work your way through them. I think it is Socrates who is credited with the saying “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Of course, that was probably referring as much to questioning and examining the world around you as it does to examining your own internal world. But it applies equally well to both. Clever bloke, Socrates.
Anyway, today is slightly funny for me as it would have been my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 81 today. And it’s just over eight months since I held his hand and soothed his brow as he died.
I miss him.
But I have such wonderful memories of a wonderful man. I have been so lucky in my life and, for all the occasional hardships and sadnesses that we all face, I know that I have been and continue to be blessed in so many ways. And having the chance to sit in a nice house for a couple of weeks, looking out towards an occasionally wild, but always beautiful, North Atlantic while gathering my thoughts and putting them into some kind of order was, indeed, a blessing. I’m very grateful for it.
And for any of you out there who are going through hard times at the moment – or are just coming to the end of them – just remember to give yourself some time and space to get it all straight again. You can do it. You just need to give yourself a chance.
…this is the third consecutive post on this blog that I have started with the title “You know…”
I really need to try harder when it comes to thinking of titles.
How’s about “The Little Mower That Thought It Could…”
No, seriously, I mean it. I’ve had an interesting sort of day. I don’t know whether anyone has noticed, but the weather has been a bit poor lately. The odd spot of rain and all that? Yes, that’s what I mean.
Anyway, one of the practical upshots of our soggy April was that I never really got the chance to get out in the garden and mow the lawn.
There’s a lot of lawn.
And this is the time of year when it really starts to get the bit between its teeth (metaphorically speaking) and gets down to some serious growing.
It was getting rather long. There’s an old joke about an overgrown garden being so bad that you find an old Japanese soldier living in there who doesn’t know that World War II has finished. In our case, we were way past that point – one corner was like Jurassic Park, while I’m sure I caught a brief glimpse of a Predator in another one and that there was a small colony of N’avi over by the conifers. Even with a self-propelled, petrol-powered mower, it took a few hours. Even with the mower set to its longest cut, I kept having to stop to clean all the grass cuttings out from the side vent and under the deck. In the longer patches, I was even reduced to a method of mowing that consisted of moving forward about three or four feet, at which point the engine would start to die owing to all the grass clogging up the cutting deck, so I would then lift the mower slightly and move back a couple of feet to allow the deck to clear itself so that I could take another run at it.
Having started this seemingly Sisyphean task around mid-morning, there really were times when I thought I wouldn’t have it finished until sundown. As it was, I finally cut the last bit and put the mower away sometime between four and five o’clock. Although, to be fair, there was a short lunch-break and a short mid-afternoon pause for a cuppa along the way.
Still, at least it’s done now. Unfortunately, the way that the stuff in our garden grows, I’m probably going to have to do it all over again within the next week or so. Mind you, at least I should be able to set the mower to a shorter cut next time and give myself more breathing space in the future. That’s always assuming, of course, that the poor little mower has survived the experience – I’m half expecting to find it dead and defunct the next time I go to use it. I think today might just have been a bit too much for it. It nearly was for me…!
…I bet you thought that I’d gone back to my bad old ways didn’t you? Yeah, I’d managed the whole “Seven Posts in Seven Days” thing and I’d even managed to tag another little blogule on the end of that but then, without any warning, an eerie (yet strangely familiar) silence descends. Nothing, zip, zilch, nada, nary-a-peep for over two weeks.
Well, I’m still here and have been meaning to give the old keyboard an airing for the last week or so, but I’ve just been too busy running around doing other things. In no particular order, we have:
Helping to take care of Glenda. (Followers of her blog will know that she has been a little poorly of late, although it’s good to report that she’s beginning to feel a little better now.)
Keeping things all ship-shape, Bristol-fashion and running smoothly at Chocolate Baroque, even in the absence of the aforementioned Glenda. (A not inconsiderable task, but one in which I am skilfully aided and abetted by one or two folks along the way, without whom I would be in the unenviable, and probably quantum-mechanical, position of actually being up several different creeks simultaneously, but without the requisite number of paddles to manage all of them.)
Dealing with horrible, piddly-widdly, dribbly, soaking wet, pouring rainy, damnably awful weather. Yes folks, our recent bout of meteorological cussedness resulted in one or two unfortunate incidents, such as the roof at Choc Baroque HQ springing a small leak (now fixed) and myself having to drive through several not-insignificant bits of flooded road on my way hither and yon during the course of my normal day-to-day activities. The driving through floods thing wouldn’t be so bad normally, as I drive one of those hideous, gas-guzzling, environment-devouring 4×4 beasties. Now, yes, I know that such vehicles are often frowned upon nowadays, but for all its lack of green credentials, it does still have something going for it when you live out in the countryside in an area that sees a good few feet of snow at some point during most winters. Not to mention if you also have to carry lots of big and heavy things back and forth on a fairly regular basis, sometimes have to cross fields or muddy tracks here and there and, as already mentioned, may need to navigate various bits of flooded roadway whenever the English weather decides to drop an extra load of raindrops on your head. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that one of the flooded patches decided to wreak its revenge on me by ripping most of the assorted plastic protective panels from the underbody of my dear old tank, things with it would be spiffing at the mo. However, having now found out that replacing these delightfully feeble bits of plastic junk may cost me something around six hundred quid, while the assorted car parts that they are supposed to protect tend to be made out of fairly huge chunks of iron and steel, etc. and are, to my thinking, much less likely to come to any serious harm than the stupid panels that supposedly “protect” them, I do find myself pondering somewhat on the mentality of car designers and the shady business practices associated with putting expensive bits of frangible plastic in places where they may become thoroughly and irreparably franged. So to speak.
Enough grumbling about car manufacturers though. The other major activity that has kept me far from my blogging responsibilities has been the airing of my other keyboards – specifically, the ones that I use when carrying out my musical duties with The Blind Boys of Richmond and TS Junction. By some strange alignment of the stars, I found myself with a four week period (from the last week of March, through until the weekend before last) during which I was playing no less than three gigs (one with the Blind Boys and two with TSJ), plus the associated rehearsals with each band in the meantime. This hectic bit of the rock ‘n’ roll life culminated in a spell of twelve or so days during which, between rehearsals and gigs, I actually found myself playing on six different afternoons or evenings. After that, I really did need to have a bit of a lie-down in a darkened room for a while. I’m only just recovering now…
And that, m’lud, is why I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks. When I’m fully recovered, I’ll let you know how the gigs went and even post some photos of the flooding, I promise.
I think that little blogging challenge thing that I did last week might have worked. Here we are only a couple of days on and I’ve already got the urge to put pen to paper again. Or keyboard to electrons or something.
Let me tell you about Monday…
Monday was a funny sort of day. I didn’t feel too well for most of the first half of it to be honest and, although I would like to say that it was all self-inflicted following a weekend of frenetic partying and wild living, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve reached that stage where the only “wild living” that I do tends to be the occasional moments of rock ‘n’ roll excess when playing a gig. And, even then, the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll excess” is just a massively overstated way of saying “perhaps a pint of Thrutchmettles Old Furtler or Snozzlingtons Fiery Weasel or something during the first half”.
Anyhoo… Having started the day feeling under the weather and, as a result, staying resolutely under the duvet for as long as unreasonably possible, it finally reached the point where I had to raise myself from my intermittent slumbers and face the world. This was partly because I had to pop down the office to do a bit of power and network recabling (following our slight relocation and rearrangement of various things on Friday) but mainly because I had to be at a TSJ rehearsal on Monday night.
So, cables duly cabled, power duly powed and network duly nettled, I returned home, loaded my assorted musical accoutrements into the car and headed for the rehearsal rooms in Stockton where we practise strutting our stuff. Overall, it was a pretty good session, even allowing for the fact that our drummer couldn’t make it that night, so we were playing without the usual assortment of beautifully executed booms, thuds, crashes and tinkles that he normally provides. A fair bit of fun was had by all along the way and 10 p.m. or thereabouts saw me climbing back into the car and heading for home. So far so good.
When I got back, I found Glenda still up and about watching a film, so I made myself a sandwich, grabbed a cup of tea and settled down to do a bit of web-surfing and assorted email checking before bed. This seemed like a good and sensible plan and I was already thinking fond thoughts of climbing back under the duvet once again and trying to recapture some of the more bizarre and peculiar dreams from my nice long lie-in earlier in the day.
Then Trillian arrived. Which is not such a big deal under normal circumstances, aside from introducing some extra furry, squee-ing cuteness into the room. However, on this occasion, she did not arrive on her own. She arrived, with a bit of a run, a dash, a bang and a bash, accompanied by a new friend in the shape of a live mouse that she had caught out in the garden somewhere and decided to introduce to the rest of the family. This, in itself, would not have been so bad had she kept a closer eye on her new little buddy. But that wasn’t to be and, before we knew it, the mouse was on the run, closely followed by Trillian, who was closely followed by Glenda. Meanwhile, I stood there in the middle of the room saying “Huh? Eh? What? Oh bugger!”
The next couple of hours were an interesting frenzied time of furniture moving and dashing back and forth, all the while trying to keep an eye on the small, brown blur that was belting hither and yon across the room, hiding under dressers and bookcases, climbing curtains and generally causing a degree of hurly-burly and generalised chaos far in excess of its diminutive stature. Trillian, meanwhile, having provided the ball and blown the whistle for the start of the whole game (so to speak) obviously felt that she had done her bit to prevent our lives becoming too boring and was spending most of the time sitting under the table watching the hilarious floor show. Once or twice, she did trot over and join in for a short while, but in each case our little visitor managed to escape her clutches relatively unscathed. He (or she) also escaped Glenda’s clutches relatively unscathed since, although Glenda did just about manage to grab the mouse on two separate occasions, in both cases the dratted thing got away at the last minute.
I say “relatively unscathed” there because, by around 1:25 a.m. (yes, twenty-five past one in the morning folks) we finally admitted defeat and accepted that we weren’t likely to catch the little blighter. In fact, we were no longer even sure where the aforementioned little blighter had gone since we’d lost sight of it about a quarter of an hour earlier. So, working on the assumption (or, at least, the hope) that it was still in the living room somewhere, we sealed the room off as best we could and called it a night.
The following morning, we let Trillian into the room first and, although she did the whole “alert cat” bit and dashed off to one or two different points in the room, there was still no sign of the mouse. We sealed the room again during the day while we were at work and resumed our mouse-hunting activities last night, all to no avail. Our new resident had either found some convenient exit point and scarpered at the first opportunity or he/she had disappeared off into the house somewhere. Or possibly, following all the excitement and one or two swipes from the fine assortment of paring knives that Trillian keeps secreted in her paws, the poor little thing had found a quiet corner in which to give up the ghost and expire in peace. We may never know.
One thing is for sure though – I’ll never be able to think of the line “There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose!” in quite the same way ever again.
I’ve actually managed to blog every day for a week. OK, so a couple of the postings were a bit on the short side and, to be honest, probably only count as a bit of filler to ensure that I at least wrote something that day, but let’s face it, this is me we’re talking about. Given my past history, I need all the breaks I can get!
Today has been a relatively easy sort of day, with Sunday lunch at a local pub followed by a three or four mile walk home over the fields and country lanes. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and today was the day to try it. Our friends Lesley and David came over and the four of us piled in the car and drove over to the pub. After lunch Glenda and Lesley drove home, while David and I put on our coats and walking boots and headed off on foot. It was a nice little hike, partly following public footpaths over fields and through woods and partly walking along minor roads and single-track country lanes – including one particular lane that now seems to be disused and is slowly becoming overgrown with grass, nettles, thistles and a huge number of rabbit warrens.
The only slight blots on the walking landscape were the little uphill stretch along the side of one field that left me realising just how unfit I have become in recent years and the rather unpleasant driving, drizzly rain that decided to grace us with its presence for about ten or fifteen minutes, just as we came out onto a nice exposed ridge of land where it could really smack us right in the face and punish us for our temerity in wanting to go for a walk in the country. Still, if you fancy walking around in the UK at just about any time of year, you’ve got to be ready to take a bit of rough with the smooth, so I can’t really complain too much.
So I’m now feeling smug on two counts – managed the blogging challenge thing and also managed to fit in a bit of exercise to help walk off a rather nice Sunday lunch. Who’s a lucky boy then?
Regular visitors to Glenda’s blog will know that this ball of tri-coloured furry delightfulness:
A few weeks ago, we discovered one of her little secrets. Now, to provide a bit of background to the tale, it needs to be said that Glenda is quite fond of cherries. I can’t stand them myself, but Glenda likes them and, on occasion, will have a small bowl of them sitting around in the kitchen or living room somewhere to provide a suitably cherrytastic snack as and when required.
Just such a bowl was sitting on the coffee table in our living room a while ago. As is often the case, it contained several cherries (and one or two discarded cherry stones too, but we’ll ignore those for the moment). One morning, I came downstairs to find the following:
Item: one cherry. Location: on the floor just beside the coffee table.
I also noticed this:
Item: Another cherry. Location: on the floor next to my laptop, about three or four feet from the coffee table.
As if that weren’t enough, I also found this:
Item: Yet another cherry. Location: in the hall, just outside the door to my music room, approximate distance from coffee table about 15 yards (through a doorway and up a couple of small steps).
There were others, for which I sadly have no photographic evidence to hand. One on the rug in front of the fireplace (about six feet from the coffee table), another one in the living room doorway (about ten feet from the coffee table), one over by one of the bookcases (about seven feet from the coffee table) and even, as we discovered later when moving the furniture around a bit, two under the sofa.
Meanwhile, back in the bowl on the coffee table, was a cherry. Just one. A solitary, lonely little globule of cherryness. (Oh, and the cherry stones that I mentioned earlier.)
Obviously, these are not just cherries. These are fun-filled, fully-tested, certified and Trillian-approved cat toys.
We have since seen her steal a cherry from another bowl and make off with it, carrying it delicately by holding the tip of its stalk between her teeth and letting the fruit dangle and bumble around in front of her as she trots away. We’ve even seen her holding a cherry like that and taking playful swipes at it with her paws at the same time. It’s cute. In fact, it’s very cute. In LOLspeak, it might even be described as “kyoot!”. Or possibly even “head-asplodingly kyooooooooooot!!!!! Splort!”
(If you haven’t yet encountered icanhascheezburger.com, just humour me – smile and nod graciously while moving away slightly and waiting for the men in white coats once again.)
Fortunately for me, although I don’t like cherries, Trillian has had the kindness to ensure that I don’t feel all left out of her games. I’ve seen her doing something similar with grapes too and I love those.
Well, not really a tradition as such, but something that has sort of happened over the years anyway.
Bank Holidays, such as Christmas or Easter, have been a time to do all the little jobs at work that you can’t do during normal working weeks. Like rearranging warehouse shelves or installing new computers or moving assorted bits of furniture from A to B via C, D, E, F and Q.
Last year, for the first time in ages, we didn’t spend Christmas doing any of those things. We went home just before the big day and didn’t return to the office until the New Year was a few days old. And it was delightful and wonderful not to spend our Christmas hols working on some project or other.
However, we obviously must have felt that we had missed out on something by having our proper Christmas hols. We’ve just spent most of today down at the office rearranging furniture, moving shelves and shifting printers and computers around.
We’ve already made an arrangement with the men in white coats. They’re coming to pick us up later.
I’ve already mentioned the weather once this week, but just have to refer to it again tonight.
A mere two days ago, I was rather amazed and taken aback to be stuck in the middle of a monstrous snowstorm while on my way to a band rehearsal, this being just 48 hours or so after I had been out and about enjoying glorious sunshine at the weekend.
This afternoon, as I sauntered across to the sorting office with today’s postbags, I was equally amazed and taken aback to be once again enjoying utterly glorious sunshine. Not only that, but the sky was a beautiful blue and, from horizon to horizon as far as the eye could see, there wasn’t even a single cloud.
Right about now, I really can’t help but wonder what tomorrow will bring. I’m hoping for a short, sharp shower of Easter eggs I suppose, but that’s probably too much of a long shot even for this week…