Advice to a young person on a train

Coming out to catch a train in the early evening and a warm autumn sun washes over me. Delightful reminder of summer days but a toned down version which makes me want to walk in the sunshine not the shade. The gentle heat feels like a warm blanket, rather than the fierce blow torch of last week. A reminder that summer is nearly gone and we need to relish all this sunshine.

Get on a packed train with my stick and a row full of teenagers and people in their early twenties. There’s no way I can stand all the way back, so I’m just about to ask one of them to give me their seat when an older woman offers me hers which I accept gratefully.

Not one of them looks up during the whole journey. I know life seems endlessly full of promise at that age, but every day is so precious, every warm autumn sun to be relished.

Young people – look up from your phones!


Old skills

Today has been a planning day for some training I’m helping with. We have a problem finding a venue so I turn on the old skills and we find one in an hour or so and go and check it out. Then we plan the day itself.

I realise that years of planning and production mean that I’m very good at this lark, I anticipate and understand the pitfalls, see potential difficulties before they cause trouble, oil the wheels of the various relationships that need to run smoothly.

It’s immensely satisfying and a skill I take for granted. I’m working with someone who hasn’t done much of this before and is a very fast learner; it’s great to hand on the skills.

Have to walk more than usual to inspect the potential venue, teach a class and then do some shopping. So by the end of the shop I have to sit for a while on the halt and lame seats at the exit. Interesting place to watch the flow of human shoppers. I gather my strength and make it back home for a well-earned snack and nap. Strange time to eat avocado and a banana, but regular meal times have pretty much disappeared these days. I eat when I’m hungry, which is almost never at meal times. Apart from breakfast of course, which is the quid pro quo for hauling myself out of bed.

So the old skills are still there ready and waiting to be useful. And when they emerge, a glimpse of the old me briefly sees the light of day. There’s comfort and delight in that as well as a twinge of sorrow.

Water of life

I wake more lightly once Monday is done. To find that there is no water, so can’t shower, drink tea or anything else that normally gets me going. I use baby wipes to clean my hands and face. Make some calls and the workmen who are restoring the building swear it’s nothing to do with them, but the water mysteriously comes on twenty minutes later.

More than the relief of being able to take a shower and brew a cuppa is the realisation how I take clean water out of the tap for granted. It’s just there, when I want it, no questions asked. My day is disrupted without it – but imagine never having access to clean water, never mind at the turn of a tap.

I resolve to spend the day grateful for this water of life.

Monday morning again

Why are Mondays so hard? Wake up feeling a fog of yuk with various aches and pains. I’ve a meeting at 12 and at 9 am that feels impossible. Rouse myself, navigate the gloop to breakfast and medication, back to bed for an hour of quiet whining. Or not so quiet as the workmen are about painting the outside of the building, so there’s a man sanding my window two feet away (curtain closed, don’t want to give the poor man a heart attack, I’m not a sight to be seen first thing).

I have a praetorian guard these days since an episode earlier in the year when I was found unconscious by the lovely boys in blue. Four friends take it in turns each week. I have to text them by 12 or the SAS get called. Text this week’s guard.

Promise of coffee gets me out of bed again for shower and painkillers which kick in twenty minutes later. It takes a good two hours for me to feel something resembling human.

Tidy up a bit and look at my emails. My lovely guard has sent me a pic of a cat in uniform reporting for duty and it makes me laugh. The water just got a little warmer.FullSizeRender.jpg

Crossing the road

Went to church today and was treated like a leper. Don’t normally make the 10.30 service any more as it’s hard to get up and about and over there in time. God and I haven’t exactly been best buddies in the last months. But today I woke up in good time so got myself there, I was hoping it would remind me of happier days when this was my regular worshipping community.

I used to think of the woman in question, who ironically is a member of the welcoming ministry, as a friend. We’d meet up for coffee regularly and chat. She’s been one of the few people who’ve been distant since I’ve been ill. I haven’t seen her in six months.

So I got to church and she couldn’t look me in the eye, just shuffled her newsletters and said a very unwelcoming sotto voce hello. I was dumbstruck, which doesn’t happen very often. Nearly turned on my heels and left. So this was what crossing the road to avoid talking to someone actually looked like.

Then another member of the congregation spotted me and gave me a warm welcome. The service itself was lovely though very poignant – the first line of the first hymn, “when you cross the barren desert” certainly resonated.

Her reaction really made me think about why it’s so hard to walk with people in trouble, whether emotionally or physically. It’s not as though what I’ve got is infectious, but for some reason she just couldn’t bear to look at me or interact at all. I’m hoping I’ve never done that to anyone as it feels dreadful.

Then I realised although it felt very personal, of course it’s not about me, but some problem of hers. Think the welcoming committee needs a word though.

Expiry date

Just ordering some train tickets and other stuff online and have to key in my bank card expiry date. Makes me laugh. Will I expire before my bank card in 2018? More than likely.

Wonder how much it would change our lives if we knew our expiry dates for certain. Watching people in the station yesterday, so busy busy busy with their lives. How would they change if the clock were ticking? Which of course it always is, though we generally put it to the back of our minds.

But when your clock is ticking very loudly, as it will with serious illness, what difference does it make to carping the diem? It turns out, surprisingly, not much at all. You’re caught in a contradiction, wanting to squeeze as much joy out of life as possible while subject to the restrictions that illness puts upon you.

The joy and sadness do have a particular intensity, but mostly you just try and get through the days one at a time, till the card expires.

Living in the present tense

Wake up and realise that the early part of the day is now reduced to whatever LCD (lowest common denominator) on the list of my health problems is shouting loudest. Today with the rainy weather, it’s my joints and my back, other days the digestion, the  emotional bleakness, the seeming inability to get going at all. It’s hard to remember that the LCD is not me in any real sense and will pass once I’m up and about. Or if not pass, just be a background hum to the day.

The power of the LCD is that it keeps you firmly in the aches and pains of the present, the day ahead stretches unpleasantly. And I realise that living this way mirrors the way Mum is with her dementia, completely in the present. So lunch finished five minutes before might as well be in the pre-history of the dinosaurs, the afternoon activities as unimaginable as 3016. I find it hard to remember that just like yesterday, the LCD will pass and I will segue into what resembles a more normal day. Unlike Mum, the future is only too clear – so I must make the very best of the present, which is hard when the LCD is shouting in my ear.

So today I set off for lunch with one of my oldest and wisest friends. We were meeting in his club (that’s just the way we lefties roll these days) so I had to wear something reasonably smart. Tried on various work jackets but I’ve shrunk so look like I’m wearing a blazer three sizes too big on my first day at secondary school. Don’t really need to do smart nowadays but I find an acceptable compromise.

In the lift to the restaurant, there’s a marvellous notice informing men that given the tropical heat the strict dress code has been relaxed to Planter’s Orders – no jacket and tie but a long-sleeved shirt which may be neatly rolled to below the elbow.

We spend a happy three hours catching up on news, flitting from serious to gossip to hilarity, the way old friends can. His concern for me is touching but never sentimental.

Then I call in to the London Library to dip into my intellectual gene pool. Spend a happy couple of hours in the reading room and then wandering the stacks. Finished the afternoon at Marks and Spencer; I ask one of the assistants if he could pick up a box of eggs which is too low for me to reach. He smiles and then leads me to the front of a very long queue.  It seems the stick has its advantages.

It turns out that today, life in the present tense wasn’t so bad. Note to self for tomorrow morning.