Trains, tears and plum cobbler


Back down to see Mum, which means getting up at the crack of dawn. I’m up and out of the house showered, dressed, packed in under an hour. I can still do it if I have to, but not like the old days.

The train carriage fills with half a dozen middled aged and very loud Germans, who hold  chats on loudspeaker with various friends at home and laugh like drains. It would be fine in a nightclub but on an early train the volume control is just all wrong. There’s no malice in them, so the rest of the carriage does the tight-lipped protest. They don’t get it of course, any Brit would have left the train at the next station and curled up in a foetal position of embarrassment. We all exhale when they get off and meet one another’s eyes with a nod that speaks  volumes.

They are replaced by six women singers who practise sotto voce their various harmonies. We are delighted and would happily have them singing at full volume after the noisy Germans. They are surprised that no one objects.

I still cry when we go through the familiar stations of home. A pheasant reminds me of Dad driving me in the autumn mists to catch the train to uni, of the species I used to count on the early train to work (deer,pheasant, hares, rabbits etc) of the great story Mum used to tell of the young French teacher who ran over a pheasant and took it home to the very English people she was lodging with. Who gave the bird a proper burial in the garden complete with a rousing version of Jerusalem. I always loved it when Mum told this tale to French relatives, who would laugh incredulously.

Mum is on fine form, we have a delicious meal which she manages to eat herself. B  at our table decides to turn the plum cobbler and custard ( which Mum wouldn’t have touched when she was well, but now devours) into a sandwich with her paper napkin as the bread.

It’s strangely lovely to be back on planet dementia.


Beware the slippery leaf

Going out after even two days in bed feels like rejoining the human race in slow motion. With a stick every wet leaf feels like a siren call to A and E, everyone else bustles about at warp speed, while I creep along avoiding leaves.

I bump into someone I know who tells me how well I’m looking (maybe ask don’t tell?) and wants to have coffee next week. When I tell him I’m off to see Mum, he comments that I go down there a lot. I haven’t the patience to explain, so simply say that she’s not going to be around for much longer and every visit is precious. I realise I may have been over harsh by his reaction, oh well.

A bit of shopping then a coffee and croissant as a pausing manoeuvre. Feels very odd to have the ‘real world’ humming around me, conversations and people with things to do and people to see. Not quite rejoined the human race yet.

But a glorious piece of hake from the market should see me right this evening.


Had a few busy days and then a few very rough days in bed. The rough days are unpredictable, I wake up feeling so tired I have to bargain myself to the loo, have a glass of water, then fall back into bed and sleep for hours. The unpredictability is the most difficult thing; mornings are usually difficult but the rough days can’t be argued with. The day just disappears in sleep and listening to the radio. I usually manage to get up in the late afternoon and rustle up some simple nosh.

But these last two days I haven’t even managed to get out of the house to buy the paper or have a shower. Just lots of water and sleep.

Looked at my emails this morning and a close pal wonders if she’s offended me as I haven’t replied to her email. I write back reassuringly, hard to write emails when you are face down in bed.

I have a cleaner now but cancelled her on Thursday. She rang this morning to see if she could come tomorrow and suggested ten o’clock.  No way even on a good day that I could be ready by then. She suggests eleven and I hesitate. She doesn’t know that I’m seriously ill, just that I spent time in hospital and now walk with a stick.

Perhaps I should tell her, though I recoil from the pity party that usually follows. I agree to eleven and she says eleven in the incredulous voice of the seriously well.

Italian food fight

Breakfast in a b and b throws up many odd companions. I’m not at my most sociable before noon. This morning a huntin, shootin, fishin, Brexiteer Mason took the shredded wheat. I was opposed to almost every word that came out of his mouth but in a fascinated what will he say next kind of way. He was pleasant enough, just assumed everyone in the world agreed with him.

Mum is frailer since I last saw her, she’s been having trouble swallowing. But she perks up with my encouragement and eats a series of small meals. She need assistance with getting the food to her mouth, although she loves yoghurt so much, she spooned it in herself at a rate of knots.

This afternoon was an Italian food fight, also known as making pizza. Mum’s neighbour M didn’t want to share her tomato paste and cheese and even attempted to snaffle Mum’s pizza base, she got the beady eye from long years of teaching and I realised where I get it from.

Two slices of pizza cut up went down a treat, Mum’s lost a lot of weight recently, so constant snacks on the agenda.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen half a dozen people with varying degrees of dementia covered happily in tomato paste and grated cheese.


It’s been three weeks since my last post,  re-entry after a delightful holiday in France has been particularly difficult this time. I hadn’t been to France on holiday since I’ve been seriously ill and coming back to London has felt unbearably poignant.

September has always had a joyous, beginning of the year feel to it. But now I’ve had to give up my uni job and there are no new students to challenge, mentor and  delight in. Mum’s health is deteriorating fast. I returned to a battery of tests, which turned out positive, but reminded me (as if I needed it) of my parlous state of health. I’ve felt like running away, back to holiday mode, unable to settle.

And then this morning I was jolted back into London life, quite literally. Getting a cab to the station, the driver was a brake abruptly, hoot, accelerate, go the long way round merchant. I got out feeling quite seasick. Went to buy a coffee for the train, having worked out that I could manage stick, suitcase and coffee if I had a bag for the coffee. The woman in the shop seemed outraged that I wanted a paper bag, “just for a coffee?” she snapped. I held my ground with the steely gaze I used on recalcitrant students. “Yes, please.”

Re-entry complete. Welcome home.

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s been a wonderful holiday, ten days watering my French side, visited relatives, caught up on all the family feuds, been fed royally by the family and friends and not spoken a word of English. It’s by the sea, so plenty of wonderful fish, oysters and mussels and lovely to drop off to sleep and wake to the sound of the sea.

In France you never leave a relative or friend, without a gift of some sort. This visit has included books from the reading  crew, including a new discovery, the wonderful Fred Vargas.  My aunt yesterday was shocked that I picnic in my hotel room in the evening, having had a good family lunch and a hotel breakfast. So she insisted on giving me half a melon and a strawberry yoghurt. She wanted to cook up some mussels for me, I had a hard time resisting.

I love the neighbourhood, this year I’m staying in a hotel as I can’ t make the six flights of stairs of my nearest aunt. But I know the neighbourhood well. The postman nods, the woman in the bakery knows the bread I like, the butcher has proper ‘ready meals’ of  salads and cooked dishes. I have a slice of ham and grated carrot waiting for me later and a proper quiche for lunch on the plane tomorrow.

But as ever I’m trapped in the should I stay or should I go narrative. I don’t get to speak French much anymore  except when I visit Mum in her nursing home. I play out the fantasy life in my head,   I could write here and live quite happily.

By chance the hospital calls to remind me of an important appointment on Monday.  Ah yes, I’m still seriously ill. I’ve managed quite well here, being careful of what I’ve eaten and walking as much as I can these days.

So of course I’ll get on the plane and enjoy the life I have back home, with all my friends and family there.

But a big part of me will stay right here.


Tribal tapestry

Visiting relatives I haven’t seen for a couple of years, due to my not being able to travel. Attitudes to health vary so widely between the Uk and France. In the Uk we tend to underplay our symptoms with codes that everyone understands. So if someone says ‘my ticker is playing up a bit’ you know to keep the defibrillator on standby. In France, everyone is an expert and full disclosure an imperative. Reveal any symptoms at all, from a headache to a gammy leg and they will not only give you unsolicited advice, but also something from their wildly overstocked medicine cabinet to tide you over while they get the phone number of the best consultant, who is a personal friend of their plumber’s second cousin.

I tend to underplay but having not seen then for a couple of years, I’m under the microscopic scrutiny. Everything from my eating and drinking habits, my tablets to the frequency and detailed production of my visits to the loo. Heads are shaken, amateur advice is freely available, references made to relatives up and down the family tree who might have displayed a similar symptom one Wedenesday fifty years ago.

Like everything else, health is tribal. We’ve been in touch by phone, but when I was exhausted and very seriously ill, I couldn’t face the tribal inquisition. So I’m getting the full treatment now, every day with a different relative. I’m excused for the lack of phone calls, but my entrails are thoroughly examined. And I know the phone lines will be red hot, comparing notes.

There’s no point in adopting the understated Uk approach. So I give them full gory details and they lap it up.  It comes from a place of kindness and concern. And also to sew me firmly back into the tribal tapestry.