Daily bread

The market is a fifteen minute walk away along the seafront and through the park. It’s where one of my aunts lives, a working class neighbourhood I’ve been coming to for years. Can’t manage her six flights of stairs  anymore, hence the hotel.

The market is delightful and I find myself wishing for the hundredth time I had the same at home.  Small, local producers with exquisite fruit and veg, not expensive. You go to the stalls wih the longer queues, run by wizened farmers who’ve been up since dawn, picking this wonderful produce.

It’s lovely to be quietly on my own, I’ll see relatives most days, but my aunt in particular is what Mum calls a word windmill. She never stops talking, often rehashing old arguments with other relatives.

She also reminds me that uncalled for advice on serious illness is not just an English province. The French version has a different twist. When I tell her there are lots of things I can no longer eat, she suggests I wash my hands more and chew my food thoroughly. Genius! I know it comes from a kind place and is partly the inability to deal with serious illness, the desire to fix it, find a magic solution. So I heroically manage not to roll my eyes.

 

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Humans on holiday

The human race on holiday is a strange beast. At Gatwick, it seems I’ve become invisible, even with the stick, people try and walk through me. What are the chances? I stop and give them the beady eye and they return to being normal people.

The man detailed to give me assistance to the plane is Hungarian. I don’t much like the wheelchair, but it’s better than the miles of corridors. He tells me he also speaks Rumanian, he grew up on the border and when he was a teenager ran for his life into Hungary with soldiers shooting at him. He’s a lovely man and tells me there will soon be no young people left in Hungary as there are no jobs. His pay here is low but enough to live on. He insists on seeing me to my seat.

The passenger next to me is another  kettle of fish. He spends most of the journey telling me about how rich he is, his job as an oil magnate, his house ‘in the back of Chelsea’, his farm, how he usually spends the summer in Saint Tropez….I murmur politely, trying to finish the crossword and his conversation gets more and more grandiose.  He goes quiet for a bit, then tells me his young daughter is in hospital in France and they don’t know what’s wrong. I suddenly understand that he’s trying to bet all his wealth for his daughter’s health and feel immensely sorry for him. I try to sound more impressed at all his wordly goods, his companies and flights to Australia. It’s the only thing he has to hang on to.

My room at the hotel is splendid, the same one Mum and I had about ten years ago with a balcony. I wake up and have a cuppa in bright sunshine, brought the travelling kettle with me.

Down to breakfast at the civilised hour of 9.45. The stick becomes an ally, it keeps falling over and people rush to pick it up and chat. I borrow a plate to  eat my other meals. The room has a fridge so time to go to the market. for some supplies.

 

Resurfacing

I used to be able to swim a whole 25 metres underwater on only one breath. Took a bit of training over one summer in the south of France in a wonderful municipal pool. I’d swim a kilometre (that’s forty lengths) every evening and at one point I challenged myself to do a whole length underwater.

At first I’d take a deep breath, push off and after four strokes or so, I’d panic that I was running out of air and come back up to the surface. Gradually I got fitter and learned that I could do the whole thirteen strokes on one breath. When I had the confidence to slow right down, I seemed to flow with the water.

I’m resurfacing now, after a period of exhaustion, in that same panic at not having enough air in my lungs. I’m certainly not as fit as I was then, but the lesson is the same.

Slow down and take a deep breath.

Days like these

One  of the many infuriating things about serious illness is the lack of control over stuff you used to take for granted. Like how you will feel day to day. Mornings are never great; no more leaping out of bed to greet the new day, though if I’m perfectly honest it was never one of my best times.

I have good days and bad days, my illness has a good cop bad cop personality. On good days I can get one or two things done, eat well, go for a decent walk, read etc. Bad days are a huge effort of will to accomplish very much at all.

And then there are the ‘days like these’ when lifting my head from the pillow is like an Olympic sport. I get up and eat (have made sure I have a plentiful supply of the basics), make sure I have plenty of water and then mostly sleep and listen to the radio. This last week I’ve had four days when I’ve slept more than eighteen hours and not an ‘I quite fancy a nap’ sleep, but ‘if I don’t lie down, I’ll fall down.’ On those days I don’t go out for the paper, don’t get dressed, or even shower, just hunker down and wait for the next day.

It feels as though the days like these are a life sentence, but they do pass. I don’t exactly bounce back, but I have the energy to shower and go out.

And the upside is everyone tells me how well and rested I look.

 

 

 

 

 

Near death experience

I was due a visit to Mum in her nursing home and it coincided with her getting a very nasty infection, which left her burbling nonsense in French and very confused. She’d only just got over the vomiting virus which laid her (and me) low for a couple of weeks, so her immune system has taken a battering.

By the Wednesday, I was worried that she was going to die, so called in the parish priest to anoint her (give her the last rites). She kept her eyes closed but nodded at the prayers and even opened them to say the Notre Pere and receive Communion. She had a beatific smile all the way through.

It reminded me of being anointed in intensive care; I had the shorter version as I was knocking hard on the doors of eternity, but I remember it as being immensely comforting and a general feeling of ‘being ready to go’.

Thankfully the antibiotics kicked in with Mum and I realised she was getting better when helping her to eat a cheese sandwich, she refused the crusts. She’s never liked crusts.

A couple of days later, she was well enough for me to come home. I needed the rest; it took me a couple of days in bed to recover any bounce. I just don’t have the resilience I used to.

So Maman lives to eat custard another day.

Life as a rollercoaster

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks since my birthday, both very good and very bad. Not had the time or the energy to blog.

First week was taken up with a delightful few days in Northumberland with an old pal and his dog Eddie. We found a hotel that was both stick and dog friendly and it proved to be perfect. Just an odd breakfast arrangement – as soon as we arrived cold white and brown toast was plonked on the table. We ordered our breakfast which arrived almost immediately, as we were still eating our cereal. The young man stood there looking puzzled, so to put him out of his misery we let him put the plates down. Next morning we asked if we could have the (hot and wholemeal) toast with our cooked food, after we’d finished the cereal. Her politely agreed, giving us that “weird customer” look.

Northumberland is beautiful and we had glorious weather, while the rest of the country was under torrential rain. We relaxed, walked along the river, saw a kingfisher and a seal and had multiple cups of coffee in perfect cafes. Brilliant seafood on the quay at Amble, with the setting sun and diving swifts and cormorants.

And no visit to Northumberland would be complete without a visit to Barter Books in Alnwick . It used to be the railway station; the names of all who worked there from the nineteenth century onwards are inscribed on the wall. Now it’s the most wonderful second hand  bookshop, complete with cafe. The choice of books is astonishing, everything from ferrets to fountains as well as comprehensive fiction.

It’s also the originator of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ poster. Something that would come in very useful in the following weeks.

 

Great expectations (2)

It’s my birthday today and it has been a wonderful day. Got up and had breakfast and went back to sleep for a couple of hours before heading off for a massage. I go there regularly  and today had someone I’d not had before, a small delicate looking man. Turned out he had fingers made of steel and found every knot and twist in my shoulders and spine. I was so entranced that he had to say ‘hello’ twice to bring me back again.

Then a quick trip to a bookshop – emerging with only one book which is a record. Followed by a trip to a local cake shop for a blueberry brioche with the crossword. Looking forward to doing a bit of writing with a new gel pen and book a friend kindly gave me.

So a pretty much perfect day.

The odd thing is most people feel the need to ‘celebrate’ and if they know it’s my birthday, seem to think I should be doing more. Maybe involving balloons. So they ask me what I’m going to do. I find it easier to lie these days – meeting friends, going out later etc.

The real answer that I’m delighted to spend a whole day in my own company, thinking about the year that’s gone and the year ahead, seems to mystify many people.

One of the advantages of serious illness is that it allows you to do away with conventional manners. Just move along, nothing to see here but someone enjoying herself.