Jars of memories

Snow in London and the papers are full of photos of happy children sledging, beautiful panoramas of the countryside and all the other usual cliches of winter. But none of the hundreds of thousands of people who look out of the window or listen to the weather forecast with sinking hearts.

If you’re frail or elderly or  seriously ill, you dread the snow, it feels like a fast track to A and E. I did go out to do a shop yesterday and there was no snow left on the ground but my steps were so tentative nonetheless and I was even more aware of every wet leaf and crack in the pavement.

Back home safely and decided to have some tea and toast. Hunted around my shelves and found a jar of apricot jam that Mum and I made a couple of years ago when she was still at home and I was looking after her. She’d labelled the jam and I remember a happy afternoon with her making it. This is the last pot. I opened it and it smelt of summer, spread on toast it was delicious with an additional kick of kir. I often add a slosh of spirits to jam, but this was a very generous glug. A poignant reminder of all the cooking we did together in that kitchen and how that too has ended. And further back, all the preserving done with Dad, who loved having buckets of pickled onions, bottles of ginger ale, marmalade, chutney and preserves all round the house.

So if you have any family, friends or neighbours who are frail, remember to think of them in this cold weather. And maybe take them the odd jar of jam to warm the cockles.


Sleep Olympics

Let’s just say that if sleep were an Olympic event, I’d be gold medal material. After I came back from a lovely few days with Mum, a pal invited me to dinner. We haven’t seen each other for months, he’s looking after his very elderly and frail mother and still working full time. If I didn’t go, it would be months again before we got the chance.

But it’s the other side of London, so tube is the only option, with two changes. I haven’t taken the tube more than a couple of times this whole year, seems to me to be virus and germ heaven.

We had a lovely evening together and caught up as old friends do when they haven’t seen each other, like taking up a piece of knitting. You know the pattern and the stitches and it all flows wonderfully.

The next day I felt a bit feverish, so spent most of the day in bed apart from a quick sortie to a coffee shop. On Monday woke with the only too familiar sense of exhaustion. The sort of tiredness that has you arguing with yourself to make it to the bathroom.

And that has pretty much been the week, sleeping all night and waking briefly in the morning to go to the loo and have plenty of water, before collapsing back into bed. One day I woke at….7pm, not having eaten all day.

Each day sees a bit of improvement, the last couple of days I’ve been up around 5, taken a shower and cooked myself a proper meal. I’m digging deep into my freezer for all those delicious left overs. Turns out they make a reasonable, though eclectic mix. Tonight was meatballs, spinach, haricot beans in tomato sauce with mashed potato.

The thing with a serious illness is that your immune system is banjaxed. So what would have taken me a day or two of moaning and feeling sorry for myself when I was well, now spreads itself across the week. With the additional extra of feeling that this is how it is going to be for ever.

But my immune system is slowly fighting back and the non- stop sleeping means I look well. Though I won’t be responsible for my actions against the first person who says that.

Words and meaning

It’s the way you say it.
Into town for a coffee, bitterly cold. I need to acknowledge that winter is really here and kit myself with the full rig of hat, gloves and thermals. The sun is deceptive and I walk so slowly these days with my stick that I can practically here the icicles forming.
Walking past an Indian restaurant, they’re advertising a new chicken dish – ‘drenched in onions and throbbing with spices’. I think about how easy it is to get English completely wrong.
Into the coffee shop and an elderly man opens the door. We both have sticks, but his natural courtesy trumps my reluctance to go through the door first. He gives me a big smile and encourages me through in a very broad local accent.
The cafe is full of toddlers with hacking coughs. I get that Mums want to go out for a bit of relief but my immune system is twitching like crazy. One of those coughs would lay me low for weeks. The young woman who serves me says, “there you are sweetie”.  I seem to have joined the ranks of the seriously patronised.
Decide not to take offence, but that’s a slippery slope.

Another visit to planet dementia

Have been ill, of which more later. Also having tech problems with blog, now resolved so these posts are from last week.
Back on planet dementia.
Down to see Mum again for a few days. Lovely cab to the station with a smart, chatty driver, not the usual right wing ideologue. We talked fitness, dementia, royal engagement, London history. Cheered up the day no end. He helped me out of the cab and took my arm and said ‘Love to Mum.’ Realise how much difference a single person can make to the world and resolve to be the same to others.
The train down passes my Mum’s old home station and stops in front of the supermarket where I did our weekly shop. Unlikely I shall ever go there again. Still makes me cry, from an unfathomable well of grief that will never run dry.
Mum pleased to see me and we have lunch. Would like to take her outside but freezing cold. We sit and look at the paper and do the crossword. At supper time Mum laps up her soup. the lady next to her talks incoherently. Mum reverts to the French countryside vocabulary of her peasant childhood and asks me if the lady is mad. I tell her she just has memory problems. She nods sagely and says, ‘ ah yes that will come to us all’. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
J deconstructs her sandwiches – takes the crusts off, takes the filling out, eats the filling, then the bread.
G asks me if I’ve always been an elf. I say I’m not sure I sure. He shakes his head. Maybe it’s the red jumper. Or could be the pointy ears.

Relative values

Visiting relatives and friends with dementia is not for the fainthearted. Some cope by not visiting at all or come and pretend all is well, trying to drag their loved ones back into the normal world. So husband or wife says something odd and they contradict. W was asking his wife for some money for when he leaves and she says that he can’t leave and if he gets better, he can jolly well come home. She’s in denial about his mental and physical state. She tells him to get up and when he struggles, whacks him with her umbrella.

C’s husband comes every day, but leaves before meals when she refuses to eat. She whacked me with a cushion today twice, but not at all her fault.

D holds my hand and kisses it repeatedly. When her brother arrives, she clings to him and they spend the afternoon clutching each other. He sits there quietly weeping.

L comes and visits her mum sporadically,  trying to chivvy her back into her old self. It doesn’t work of course, just causes them both more distress.

Mum smiles broadly at me all day and tells me she feels the world is safe when I’m here. When I ask her how come, she shrugs her shoulders in the way only a French woman can and says, ‘it’s magic.’


Custard apple

You never forget your first custard apple. It’s such a contradiction in terms, a fruit that looks like a cross between a squished apple and a green mango. Open it up and it has black seeds, but the yellowish green flesh tastes exactly like stewed apple and custard. The first mouthful is a surprise and you keep tasting, not quite believing.

I saw some at the greengrocer this morning on my way to visit Mum and thought of our holiday in Madeira when we gorged on them,  after visiting the Christmas market in Funchal which was such a riot of colour that it hurt our eyes.

A pear on the road in front of me made me look up, beside the supermarket car park was a valiant pear tree. None of them reachable unfortunately.

Fruit hits the memory like snatches of song. Melons, peaches and nectarines from my French  childhood summers that were so perfectly ripe that we used to eat them in silent appreciation, quite something for our very chatty family.

Mum still loves fruit, I imagine it takes her back too. New arrival B sits next to us at supper. He seems clearheaded and makes normal conversation. Then he tries to eat his pizza with a spoon and my heart lurches.  I point him towards his knife and fork and he says, ” it’s all a learning curve.”

Ain’t that the truth B.

A good customer

Today I went to the pharmacy to get a new rubber end for my stick, the official name is a ferule. I’d bought one elsewhere a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t quite the right size and had already worn through to the metal, making walking dangerous.

The pharmacist found the right one and fitted it for me. He refused payment and generously said,”You’re a good customer.”

It’s only since I’ve been ill that this is now my designated pharmacy, to make getting my numerous prescriptions from the Gp as smooth as possible. So I never run out of essential medicines that are keeping me alive. Two years ago I rarely set foot in any pharmacy and had never heard the term ‘designated pharmacy’.

I was very touched by the pharmacist’s generosity. But Lord, what I wouldn’t give not to be a good customer.