Had a tumble in the kitchen yesterday; one minute I was upright, next I was flat on my face on the floor swearing mildly. Not sure how it happened, think I caught my foot in something and was carrying too much. I did have my phone with me, but no need to call anyone.
I have a long history of falling and it’s not a good one. Have fallen twice and broken my ankle very badly, once coming out of a restaurant with no drink taken, I stepped off the pavement and missed the step and next thing I knew, was lying in the road. With friends who took me to hospital. The second time with Mum, in the wilds of nowhere in Spain, I was just thinking life was getting back to normal as it had been a hard old twelve months, when I lost my footing and keeled over. Mum had to go and find a farmer, who bounced us down the hill in his van while I held on to my ankle. The Spanish medics were kind and efficient and the stitching was admired when I got back to the UK -‘ beautiful embroidery’.
I also went through a phase of falling and wrenching my already damaged knee badly. So I’m really careful when I’m out and about, particularly as I now use a stick. I keep my eyes locked on the pavement for wonky flagstones and just don’t go out at all if there’s ice or snow.
But indoors I let my guard down and falling in the kitchen surprised me. No serious damage, just feeling a bit foolish and stiff and lots of spectacular bruising. Should I let my friends know or keep it to myself? Decided to let my lovely guards (four of them take it in turns to be texted every morning that I’m still alive) in on the secret – as I will see some of them this week and they will notice the bruises.
They all shower me with love and concern and I realise yet again how lucky I am. One suggestion even makes me laugh – a cotton wool and plastic wrapping onesie.
Big decision today. I try and be as kind as I can in life, both to friends and strangers. It’s a habit that makes the world turn more smoothly. I can’t do much about the international situation, but I can do something about how I react to everyone I meet.
But I’ve realised I need to be kinder to myself. Seems obvious doesn’t it, but it really isn’t. Talking to my good friend at lunch today, we realised we were both brought up in a tradition of ‘just get on with it.’ Our lives are immeasurably easier than our ancestors, who had very few choices and learned early on that life was hard and dealt you pretty rough hands. So you just got on with it.
We lead different lives but have inherited the just get on with it philosophy, which has stood us in good stead in many ways. But when the car crashes of life hit you, as they inevitably will, that outlook doesn’t leave much emotional wriggle room.
I’m stuck between two contradictory positions : the grief and loss of my old life, before I became seriously ill and the desire to get as much joy out of what time is left to me. I’ve been hurtling between them like a badly directed pinball. Now I realise that both things are true, but is it possible to live a ‘both …and life’ without succumbing to the ‘just get on with it’ mentality?
Seems to me that kindness may be the key. I imagined today what I would say to someone who told me the story of my past twelve months or so. They would be drowning in sympathetic ‘poor yous’ . I would never accuse them of wallowing in self-pity, a feeling I often get myself. The words ‘just get on with it’ would never pass my lips.
So I’m going to practise what I preach and be as kind to myself as I can.
Met a very old friend for lunch today – we used to work together so a glorious mix of catching up and gossip. Was going to take the tube but was shocked by how cold it was and was too stiff to walk very far, let alone attempt two escalators and four sets of stairs. So took a luxurious cab.
Delicious ravioli stuffed with pine nuts and ricotta and slathered in a lemon butter sauce. Followed by two cups of coffee. Buy some caponata siciliana for another day as I leave. Have at you clean living varlets.
Decide to take the bus home and it travels past shops whose doors I shall never darken. Largely because I don’t understand their names – Fossil – sells clothes not things picked up on the beach; Cocktails and Brunch Dreams -makes my brain gawp; as does a shop selling incoherent sayings on jackets and a young woman sitting outside with ‘I’m busy – call me later’ painted on hers. When did pom-poms on woollen hats become a thing?
Get home semi-freddo and decide to take the slogan of the restaurant to heart.
Greedy for Life. Oh yes.
Well as near normal as it gets these days. Energy levels are slowly creeping up, I’m wary of doing too much though as the reserves are very depleted. But most of my friends are back from their trips abroad or have recovered from the viruses that kept them away (thanks for not sharing).
So I brave public transport to go to an exhibition and then lunch with my cultural pal. In my head the walk from the museum to lunch was a marathon, in reality it took us ten minutes. I’m still not too steady on my pins though as have done hardly any exercise for a month and it shows. Realised as we were leaving lunch that I used to work with someone sitting at a nearby table. She glanced at me and looked away, seeming not to recognise me. I didn’t want to interrupt her conversation or tell her the long saga of the past year.
Then it occurred to me that she probably literally didn’t recognise me because I’m not the same person I was when she last saw me a couple of years ago. Physically, mentally or spiritually I now inhabit a different universe. It’s not that I’m in disguise, rather that I have shed my old life, like a snakeskin. The new one is not so bright and shiny of course.
A trip to a new library follows, recommended by a pal, which has a wonderful crime section. There’s nothing quite like entering a new library, with all its potential hours of happy reading waiting quietly, invitingly. I take out more books than is wise, given my balance, but the bus stop home is just outside.
And the rest of the week is filled with daily assignations with friends – coffees, films and lunches. The lifeblood of my new existence.
It’s life Jim, but not as we used to know it.
Mornings don’t belong to me any more. I wake around nine, get up to take my tablets , text the guardian of the week that I’m still alive, have some breakfast and then feel that if I don’t go back to bed, I might just put my head down in my empty bowl of cereal and fall asleep right there.
I’ve never been much of a morning person anyway, but since this last bout of bronchitis, I can’t get going at all much before midday. Rather like the old Hillman Imp my Mum drove when I was a kid at primary school, which needed very judicious use of the choke in winter to start at all and keep going. I remember one glorious day when it stalled on the way to school and no amount of choke would get it going again. Glorious for us, because we were late (children of teachers never late) for school and had to get a push from sympathetic motorists to get going again.
By twelve I lie in bed, with the sun pouring in the window, gathering wisps of energy to get up and dressed. Decided today that I really needed to get out and have some human contact. Many of my friends are either abroad or have come down with some virus of their own and are generously not sharing, so my usual daily encounters with one friend or another have been largely curtailed. I like my own company but I’m now bored, rather than lonely.
I buy some fish in the market, get some veg and fruit and stop off for coffee and a cake on the way home, partly to rest and partly for the buzz of other humans. Bump into some friends and we have more coffee and chat. One of them insists on kindly helping me home with the shopping and I feel that I’ve rejoined the human race again.
Odd things seen in the last couple of days : elderly man standing on a street corner in the sun reading a book, another man in shorts and walking shoes.
Yesterday I went to a citizenship ceremony, swearing in and welcoming new citizens to this country. It’s the first time I’ve been and it was for a woman from Iran I’ve been helping with her English. She was a refugee and had to leave her family behind, now she will have a British passport, ‘I will be safe’, she said when she told me the news.
There were about thirty people becoming citizens in the council chamber, most had come with friends or family. A rich blend of people holding up their right hand in front of a large portrait of the Queen. But first we had a speech from a councillor about the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen, very welcoming. Then the national anthem – we all stood up of course and it was as moving as I’ve ever heard it.
Afterwards there were refreshments. Choosing between tea and coffee, one of the new citizens said with a smile, ‘one thing I’ve learned is never choose the coffee’ which showed how quickly he’d adapted to his new country.
Congratulations and delight were the order of the day, made me realise again how great it is to be free and living in this wonderful country. And then we all left and the sun was shining, the sky was blue and we went for lunch.
Plumber finally came today to fix the boiler, it keeps cutting out and at the moment I really need to keep warm. It takes a while and he does a thorough job, ‘getting to know the boiler’ as he puts it and its own individual idiosyncrasies.
He asks me lots of questions and calls me by my first name, which is fine by me. He’s Irish and so is my first name and the way he pronounces it makes me feel quite emotional. It can’t just be all the medication I’m taking or the exhaustion left over from the bronchitis, despite sleeping almost constantly.
Most people mispronounce my name. My French family never even tried to get it right, they just shortened it to something vaguely French sounding. Mum couldn’t pronounce it properly either, so she made an affectionate diminutive. I’ve got used to it, but hearing someone pronounce it properly for the first time in ages and doing it so normally, tears at the heartstrings. Reminds me of my lovely Irish grandfather who’d sing my name to me – I was named for one of his sisters who died young. My nan, who was Cornish, shortened it to another diminutive, which other people sometimes use and hurtles me back to time with her, cooking or playing cards.
Turns out it’s not just my name but a whole repository of memories. And I really love hearing it as it should be pronounced.