Friday 28 March 2014

100 books to read in your lifetime

....according to Amazon!

Of these, I have read:

Angela's Ashes
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Great Expectations
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
In Cold Blood
Kitchen Confidential
Life After Life
On The Road
Pride And Prejudice
The Catcher in the Rye
The House At Pooh Corner
The Lord of the Rings
The Road
The Wind in the Willows
Valley of the Dolls

and I've listened to the audio book of 1984, does that count???

How about you?

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Margaret ~ a short story

I've written on this blog before about my mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about five years ago, though my father says that the signs were there for some time before that.   I went to visit her last weekend, and decided to write this story.  It's all fiction, though obviously some of it is taken from my knowledge about the progression of the illness. I hope it will be of interest to anyone with a loved one in similar circumstances.

Mum and me in her care home, in 2014. 


I find it’s best to make a joke of it.  I know Richard’s concerned.  I am, too, but I don’t want to worry him.  He’s always been such a worrier, my husband.
I thought I was managing to hide it pretty well, but I got caught out one morning when we were in Cornwall.  Richard asked me what I would like to do that day.  We were on holiday, you see.
I said, “I’d like to go to St Ives.” 
Richard said, “What, again?”
I didn’t know what he meant.  I had no recollection of the day before - which we had, apparently, spent in St Ives.  Richard showed me some of the pictures he’d taken on that clever new camera of his, the one where you can see the photos as you take them.  They did jog my memory a bit, but I pretended to remember more than I did.
Paul and Vicky make jokes about it and say things like “Mum’s getting senile”, but Richard has stopped being amused by this.  For me, it’s frustrating, and sometimes a little frightening.  I think it’s just my age; at seventy-eight I can’t expect my mind to be as sharp as it was when I was fifty.  
Richard’s still is, though.
Something awful happened today.  Paul came round to 'keep an eye on me' while Richard went to watch a cricket match, and when I tried to make him a cup of tea I couldn’t remember how to do it.  My mind was a complete blank.  I was so confused and upset that I just went back through to the living room and blurted it out.  I said, “I don't know how to make a cup of tea."  Paul was very sweet and said it was nothing to worry about.  He forgot things all the time, too, everyone did, he said, but I made him promise not to tell his father. 
I fell over a few days ago.  I’m not sure how many; I’m in hospital and the time tends to blur when you’re lying in bed, doesn't it?  I’m not even sure how or why I fell.  I must have been in the kitchen, looking out at the back garden, because the last thing I remember is the daffodils; they’ve just come out, you see.  The next thing I knew there were paramedics everywhere, all yellow and bright.  Like the daffodils.

The doctors and nurses say I can go home when they’ve done some tests.  I'm not telling them about what happened earlier.  Or it might have been yesterday, I'm not sure.  Paul came to see me, and I didn’t know who he was.  I was a having a nap, and I could hear him saying, “Mum, mum, it’s Paul,” and I thought, don’t be silly, you’re a big tall grown up man, my Paul is only a little boy.  I think I might have actually said it, too.  Then he laughed and I recognised his face.
Everything's all mushed up in my head.  I imagine that’s something to do with the medication they’re giving me.  I hurt my back when I fell.  I forget about it, until I try to move. 
Richard’s taking me to see a specialist.  I suppose that means being poked around and taking more tablets.  I have pills for my blood pressure, for my heart, for my cholesterol and goodness knows what else, and now I’ll get some for my daft brain.  I asked Richard how I was supposed to remember to take them.  We laughed about that.  He’s been taking charge of my medication for some time, now.  Doles me them out each morning at breakfast.  He takes charge of most things round the house nowadays.  Now I come to think of it I haven’t cooked a meal for a while.   Vicky told me I went out to sit in the garden and let some eggs boil dry.  I don't remember.  She said I ruined the saucepan.  Still, anyone could forget something like that.
The specialist says I have Alzheimer’s disease.  Maybe I have.  I think I’ve just got Being-Seventy-Eight disease.  I said that, and Richard told me I'm seventy-nine.
Some mornings I wake up and I'm not sure where I am.  I don't tell anyone, though.  I behave normally - but then I go and ruin it by not knowing it's Christmas next week, like I did this morning.

      I don’t know what I’m doing in this house.  I want to go home.  I told Richard I wanted to go home but he says we live here.  He’s lying, because he wants to keep watching that silly television programme instead of taking me home.  I might just go on my own, I don’t need him to take me.

Such a big fuss.  I was on my way home, or so I thought, and the next minute the vicar was sitting me down on a bench in the churchyard and ringing up my husband, who came to collect me.  Richard said that if I want to go somewhere I must tell him, and that he'd been worried out of his mind when he couldn't find me.  But when I ask him to take me home he says we live here.
I know my house.  I can see Mother in the garden hanging out the washing, and I played with my dolls there when I was a little girl.  I had an old tea set, and I used to play tea parties with them.  
Paul came to see me.  I asked him to take me home to that house, but he said I haven’t lived there for fifty years.  I said, "Oh."  I didn't know what else to say.  I don't understand.  Sometimes I feel so confused I want to cry, because I don't know why I'm like this, and people keep telling me what's in my own head.  I can understand why my son uses bad language at times, honestly.  
Richard must have gone to work because he’s sent this other man to look after me.  He’s very nice but I wish Richard would come back.  The other man says he’s Richard, but he must think I’m daft.  This man has grey hair, and not very much of it, either, and he’s old and portly, whereas my husband is slim, dark, young, and rather dashing.

Sometimes I don’t know if I’m awake or asleep.  It’s not unpleasant, but it’s odd.  I think about things that have happened in the past, and then something invades those thoughts – one of the people in this house asking me if I want lunch, or another bloody cup of tea – and I can’t tell if I’ve just been asleep and have woken up, or if I was awake before and this bit is the dream.  I like it best when Richard is here, or when my mind empties.  When that happens, I see sky and sea, stretching out into the unknown.  It looks like a nice unknown. 
Richard is here today.  He says he’s never been away, and will never leave me.  He promised.   That made me feel warm and safe.  He shows me photographs of when we we got married, and when Paul and Vicky were children.  I do like looking at them, but I wish he wouldn’t keep glancing at me to gauge my reaction. 
Vicky came today.  She had some children with her.  They're my grandchildren, apparently.  News to me.  Vicky said, "Well, they grow up so fast."
Richard takes me to this place called a 'Day Centre', but doesn't tell me what it's for.  They make me write down things like my name and where I live.  It's tiring because I find writing hard these days.  The people have names like Gavin and Becky on badges on their chests, and talk to me as if I'm stupid.  It all seems rather pointless.

I don’t know where Richard is.  I haven’t seen him for ages.  The other man is always here, looking after me.  I don’t know who he is, exactly, but I have a feeling his name is Alan.  He’s very kind but I wish Richard would come back.  I wish someone would tell me where he is.
I got a letter today from my sister in Canada.  I didn’t know I had a sister in Canada.   
Alan is watching something on television, like he does most nights.  It’s boring and silly, so I just close my eyes and think of the sky and sea.  The sea sparkles in the sunlight.  The water is clear, and calm, gently rippling.  It’s beautiful, so peaceful.  I could just spread my wings and fly over it into the distance.  
     Alan is hoping I won't ask him to take me home again, I can tell.  

I fell over again.  Lots of people got me into an ambulance, and now I’m in hospital.  Richard comes to see me.  I told him I loved him, and that made him cry, the silly old sausage.
The nurses give me pills and I drift in and out of sleep.  I wish they’d stop fussing round and just let me drift.  There is one nurse who is very bossy, like that horrible prefect in the sixth form.  Constance Markham, that was her name.  Anyway, I threw my hairbrush at her today when she was trying to make me get up and ‘do my physio’, whatever the heck that means.  Serves her right.  Stupid woman.
Richard arrived again, with a pretty, smiling woman who says she is my daughter.  Very funny.  Vicky's only five.  When they went away I closed my eyes and watched the light in the smooth, bright sky, and heard the soft ripple of the waves.

I’m in another place now.  Alan says it’s because he can’t look after me properly since my fall.  I need proper medical care, he says.  I thought, but you don’t need to look after me, my husband will do that.  I couldn’t get the words out, though.  I want to go home.
There are people here who all wear bright green t-shirts.  There’s a big jolly one who makes me laugh.  She’s called Bernice.  There are others, but I like Bernice best.  There are lots of other people, too.  I don't know who they are.  I hope I can go home soon. 
Richard comes to see me at last.  Other people do, too, but I don’t know who they all are.  A pretty woman came and she was very sweet, and kissed me, and talked about her childhood as if she thought I would know about it too, but I don't know who she was.  I asked her to tell me and she looked as if she was going to cry.  I shut my eyes.
The ladies help me to get into bed at night, and put my nightie on.  One of them says "I see you've been playing hide and seek with your slippers again, Margaret!"  I haven't got a clue what she means.  I think she's Polish. 

This is a nice place.  I have a private room.  I can’t always find it, though.  I look in a drawer to see if the room I'm in is mine but I’m not sure if the things I find belong to me or not.  Bernice comes in and I try to ask if it's my room, but she just said, “come on, now, lovie, we’ll get you a cup of tea in a minute,” so I must have said it wrong.  I take the things out of the drawer anyway, and hide them under my cardigan so I can look at them later. 

Alan gives me birthday cards.  I didn't know it was my birthday.  If I close my eyes I can see birthday pictures but they're in winter, and outside the window the sun is shining.  He says I'm eighty-one.  I ask if Richard will be here soon, and he says he is Richard.  He shows me pictures of us together, and I realise how silly I am.  I feel embarrassed. Of course.  Alan is Richard.  
In the chair by the window I look out and at first I see the garden, but when I close my eyes I see the soft, pale blue, rippling waves, so clear, and I want to float off on them, to the light on the horizon.  

It appears to be Christmas.  Don't know what I'm supposed to do.  Alan is here.  I expect Richard will pick me up soon to take me home.
I can see daffodils.  Alan holds my hand and tells me I can’t go home yet because I’m ‘incontinent’.  Bloody ridiculous.  I’ll wait until Richard gets here.  At the other end of the room I see Vicky, my daughter.  I thought she lived in Canada.  She laughs and says no, she lives only a few miles away.  It’s lovely to see her.  She talks to me for a bit about when she was a little girl, but then I close my eyes and see the sea and the lovely light in the sky.

Sometimes I can’t get out of my chair, and I hate it.  I’d like to shout for Bernice or Richard but I never know if they’re here.  I tried to shout just now, but when I opened my mouth the words sounded all mixed up.  Then this silly woman walked past and I threw a biscuit at her. 

When I close my eyes and see the sky I feel at peace.  If I try to move, my body doesn’t work.  Even my mouth won’t work, and talking takes so much effort.  I can hear what people say to me but mostly they say things I don’t know about.  I think I used to know things and do things, but I can't remember what; it's all gone.  At the end of the sea is the still, calm sky.  I’m getting closer to it now, as if I’m sailing towards it.  It makes me happy.   

My limbs are stiff and weak.  They don’t seem to work much at all now.  People help me get from one place to another.  I can hear but I can’t understand, I want to tell people things  but I don't know the words.  Although I know I must be sailing because I'm on the water, I can't see the boat; I'm just floating.  When I am on the water heading to the bright light, my limbs don't feel stiff, and I think that if I tried to open my mouth I would be able to sing.

I'm happy when Richard is with me, holding my hand.  That makes me feel safe and loved.  I'm happy when I'm on the clear blue water, floating towards that beautiful bright light.  The people in this place (I think it's some sort of hotel) help me to do things.  Eat, change, go to the lavatory - it's all a blur, really. There is one big lady who smiles a lot and makes me laugh, but I don't know her name.   I hear her say to the pretty woman who comes to see me, "don't worry, your Mum's got the memory of a goldfish these days.  I know, I know, it's tragic, love."  I realise the pretty woman is my daughter, but I can't remember her name.  I think I might have a son, too, but I don't know who he is.  Never mind.  Those biscuits look nice.  
Each time I close my eyes I'm moving nearer and nearer the edge of the sea, and when I get there I will be happy and at peace.  Swimming like a goldfish, maybe.
I hear a noise.  I open my eyes and look up.  It's Richard, waking me up and smiling at me.
"Do you want a cup of tea?" he asks me.  
I want to tell him that I'd prefer some of the pink milky stuff they've been giving me lately, because it's sweet and smooth and tastes of strawberries like the ones we used to pick in the fields, Gerald and June and me, before the war.  Gerald used to be sick from eating too many, and Mummy would say he was a gannet.  I can see his red stained mouth now, and it makes me smile.  No, I don't want tea, I want the nice pink milky stuff, but my mouth won't say the words.  It doesn't matter.  I smile at Richard.  I love him.  As long as he comes to see me and holds my hand, that's all that matters.


Thursday 6 March 2014

After 4 years the dust doesn't get any thicker......

When I moved to Norfolk with my ex-husband, in 2000, we had people to stay with us practically every weekend for the first year - family members, and the friends we'd left behind.  After a while, I noticed one very handy result of this: it made me keep the house clean and tidy.

Actually, my husband did ALL the hoovering ... ha!

Now, 14 years later, living in a different town with a different husband, I am Ms Antisocial, with the result that (yippee!) we hardly ever get people coming round to interrupt us from mooching round the house in horrendous leezurewear and leaving the washing up until the morning.

No-one will know if I couldn't be bothered to clean the kitchen floor, if the pile of ironing hasn't been put away yet, if the coffee table is covered with ... let me just take a look ... three arty dishes containing miscellaneous stuff, several pairs of glasses outside their cases, one open book, four closed ones, my iPad, handcream, and several pieces of equipment for keeping my hair out of my eyes.  

What's your attitude towards all this?  I don't think that housework has so much to do with the time available to do it in, as how important it is to us.  I don't like living in a pigsty, so when a room gets to a certain standard of messiness I clear it up.  I don't mind stuff all over the place, as long as there are some clear surfaces and it's not dirty.  But I'll probably look at the top of the chest of drawers in the bedroom and think "hmm, must tidy that up" for about 5 days before I actually do it.

But I'm a WRIT-OR!  I am far too creative to bog myself down with this mundanity!  That was a joke, by the way.  I used to have a friend whose house was much dirtier than mine - I stayed there for six months once, and used to find all sorts of horrors in the vegetable rack.  She loved me staying there because she'd come home from keeping a class of thirty in control all afternoon, to find polished tables and clean ashtrays - well, I was working in a bar at the time, it was force of habit!   She had this fridge magnet that said 'Dumb women have immaculate homes', which I found slightly moronic, as it implied that in order to have a tidy house you had to be a bit thick, or that all ditzy birds were houseproud - perhaps it was just worded badly! Although the 'I'm too creative' thing was a joke, I must say that writing always comes before hoovering.  On the rare occasions we have people round, or to stay, I tend to think, oh good, at least it means I have to clean the house.  My husband is the type of person who would happily keep not-clearing-up until the floors were covered with stuff and he actually had to climb over things, but I get to a point when I think, no, this is pissing me off!

My mother kept an immaculate house.  And, oh fridge magnet writer, she wasn't dumb at all - she was an 'A' level French teacher, completed the Telegraph cryptic every day, and taught herself Italian in her seventies.  She once described my house as 'charmingly Bohemian', which was her way of saying I lived in a pigsty - by her standards, I suppose I did (do)!  I think that possibly I still feel guilty about not doing enough housework, though I'm getting there when it comes to shrugging it off, but those memories of her going ape-shit at me for not tidying my bedroom remain!  Mum was much too bright to spend all her time on the upkeep of an inanimate object, but I think that was partly a generational thing.  She did give me a very good piece of advice, once, and it's one upon which I even remember to act, now and then: the key to having a tidy house is never leaving the room empty handed.  There's always something in the room that should be in another, isn't there?  The newspaper that needs chucking out, the coffee mug on the shelf under my writing desk, the pile of underwear on the sofa that needs to find its way into the dressing table drawers.....

When it's all done, I love it.  So why don't I keep it that way?  It's because if I have half an hour before dinner, I won't think, ooh, just time to clean the bathroom - I'll go on Twitter or answer an email or .... start writing a blog post about why I can't much be bothered with housework.......