Wednesday, 23 January 2013

"What will you do now?"

"What will you do now with the gift of your left life?"

Such a lovely evocative line from a Carol Ann Duffy poem.  She has such a spare way with words and chooses and places them so beautifully.

And reading this made me think about my own left life, the children having grown and flown the nest, busy with their own lives, and my mother having recently died.  This has been a time of great change for me and a chance to reflect, reassess where I am, where I want to be, what I will do now.  What really matters.

I have loved being a mother.  For me, it has been the best thing in my life and, now that I find myself only a small part of my children's lives, it is hard to find something meaningful to fill the huge space they have left behind in mine.  I could spend hours listing the things I miss about having my sons living at home with me.  Not that I would want them at home all the time now that they are young adults - they need to have their own lives and I need to have mine.  Nor has it always been easy; far from it! Yet somehow the only time I really feel whole again, and at peace, is when they are here with me, chatting and laughing in the kitchen while I cook at meal for us all, bake a cake I know they like, feel the warmth of that primeval relationship we only ever have with the people to whom we have given birth.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Let it Snow

Snow and icy conditions certainly make cocooning the most inviting option and tomorrow I am planning a satisfying session of marmalade making and bread baking, having spent most of today tramping cross country to the lovely foodie pub in the next village for a bowl of hot, spicy soup while thawing out by the fire and reading the newspapers.

With schools closed across the country, I was thinking of the heavy snowfall in South Yorkshire where I grew up, during the severe winter of 1963.  At least a foot of snow fell overnight but, nevertheless, we got up before first light as usual, dressed in our freezing cold bedrooms, breakfasted and went out into the thick snow well wrapped up against the biting cold and waited patiently at the bus stop for the first of the two buses I took every day across the city to reach my Catholic convent school; a journey of over 6 miles.  Amazingly it arrived eventually. Those were tougher times and people just carried on regardless.  We didn't get far however as the bus got stuck on the first of the many hills we had to negotiate on the journey and, delighted, we returned home for a day of snowballing and snowman making with mugs of hot chocolate by the coal fire.

The reckoning came the next day by which time, amazingly, the roads had been cleared and transport was back to normal, despite the heavy snow still lying in drifts all around.  The nuns kept us under a strict regime of humiliation and tongue lashings and we lived in daily dread of being singled out, annihilated by an icy look, seared by a harsh word, made to stand isolated in front of the class for a sharp character assassination.  The survival strategy was simply to keep our heads down, not to be noticed.  So, each girl who did not make it into school the day before, and there were many as we came from miles around, had to stand up and explain to the class exactly the circumstances that prevented her from making the epic journey.  The feeling was that we should have walked to school, even if it took us all day.  I still remember how, a very shy child, I was quaking in my shoes, waiting for my turn to justify my awful transgression!

Saturday, 5 January 2013


I have always hated hospitals.  My initiation was the birth of my first baby which was so traumatic and unsympathetically handled that I resolved to have my next baby (as soon as I could contemplate such an idea) at home.  Despite all the pressure I did just that and had a very peaceful and stressfree experience, although I did panic a bit when the midwife admitted that the gas and air had run out. 

It wasn't until my mother became ill last year that I was reintroduced to them.  She was admitted to hospital last Christmas with pneumonia and to my horror, I discovered that everything I had read in the newspapers was true.  My partner and I nursed her through the worst of her illness as the nurses seemed too busy to do anything much for her other than pump her full of antibiotics and tick boxes on a chart.  Delirious and suffering with dementia she was completely unable to fend for herself and had a terrible fall from her (too high) bed one night in her unsupervised cubicle just after we left, splitting her head open and needing stitches.  She was discharged looking as though she had been badly beaten up, though thankfully the antibiotics had done their job.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I attended an outpatient appointment for an assessment on a painful knee.  Although it had been excruciating intially, things had settled down and I felt well and was walking confidently, just wanting a diagnosis and a treatment plan.  The humourless lady physiotherapist insisted that we discuss only the presenting symptom and didn't ask about my history of back problems at all, proceeding to manhandle my leg in order to confirm her diagnosis.  I left in a great deal of pain, limping and wincing with a trapped sciatic nerve.

Is it really acceptable, I wonder, for patients to leave hospital in a worse condition than when they arrived?    Whatever happened to empathy, caring and the concept of healing?