N is for Never Giving Up

At the moment, life for us is pretty much take each day at a time. My father is still currently with us and obviously we are hoping this continues for as long as possible, providing he is still getting something out of life. We have been very blessed in recent days and weeks that when we have been in to see him pretty much every day there has been something to laugh about, and/or he has enjoyed and ice cream or been happy watching a DVD (he liked ‘Dunkirk’ a lot, and I’m very happy he has been able to see it, albeit on the tiny screen of the portable DVD player that he bought himself after his stay in hospital in 2011 and had entirely forgotten about until I came across it while looking for something entirely different; it has been a definite Godsend). When we left him today he was in the midst of binging on ‘Sharpe’, engrossed in the antics of a youthful Sean Bean as the dodgy eponymous anti-hero. We had thought that the entire box set would keep him happy for quite a while but we’re now looking for more of the same to keep him from getting bored.

What is happening is terribly sad, and we are just about manging to juggle other commitments -both to work and where we can to ourselves. But ultimately, we know this is for a season only, and likely not a long one, so we are taking every positive and building on those as preparation for the times that are inevitable and coming. We all have many things to be thankful for. As well as the joy of seeing him smile, and the opportunity to say what needs to be said – most which we have now ticked the boxes both ways so I won’t ever be hit by the ‘I wish I had told him…’ scenario, we have been blessed by sharing some special moments; he had an oasis of feeling well over Christmas, a final time at home; we have shared both his birthday and mine, with cake. Outside of visiting we have had time to walk around parts of the North East that have brought back memories of my childhood for me and introduced the Lovely Wife to some of the things that I have talked about in the past or have had impact on my development and thus given her valuable insights I think into certain aspects of weirdness in my character. In particular it was interesting for me to visit old holiday haunts such as the windswept coast at Blyth, where my grandmother had a caravan and therefore I was packed off for several October half terms. The caravan site is gone now; as have the bookshops I used to delight in, and the newsagent where I found to my surprise and delight a copy of issue 3 of Doctor Who Weekly (my eight-year-old self – this was 1979 – had no idea such a thing existed, and I’ve still got a subscription to the magazine in its current form) has at some point become a hairdressing salon. And when trying to find the Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men sculpture in nearby Ridley Park (no one knows why, they were just there) I was downhearted to not find them anywhere. But I was not giving up and when I noticed someone in the Friends of Ridley Park building, a polite knock and inquiry delivered the desired result. The rather grotesque ‘sculptures’ that I remembered as a child were in fact safe and well inside the very building for safe keeping and brought out for charity events. So not all of my childhood is entirely limited to my own head it seems. And, another justification for never giving up


M is for Mother

My mother passed away in 2009, and as my family health issues continue I found myself thinking of her again and the part that she played in my upbringing. My mother was a woman of some resolve and tough as old boots, but managed to hide it most of the time – and thus avoid familial conflicts which otherwise might have made the inevitable family get togethers at the very least, edgy affairs. Many times it is clear to me looking back that she bit her tongue and acquiesced, especially in relation to elder members of the family, as frankly she could see it was not worth making a point about it.

Most of the time she was spot on about that.

Mum and Dad were inseparable and they meant the world to one another. My Mum could always get what she wanted out of my Dad but had the most graceful way of doing it. Normally, anything out the ordinary routine would normally be met with a flat ‘no’ from Dad. There would be no argument; but the question would be raised again a bit later, in a slightly different way, at a different type of time. By now the answer would be more of the ‘I’ll think about it’ kind of space. A little later we would progress through subsequent stages of ‘maybe’, ‘yes’ before becoming his idea in the first place. Of course, my Dad was certainly aware of this process and I suspect they both enjoyed the game. After all they were both used to my Mum’s favourite comment on the statement of who was in charge in relation to household – she was clear that this was my Dad. He was the ‘Head of the House’, clearly. However, my Mum was clear that if Dad was the Head, then she was the Neck. And, as she went on, the Neck turns the head whichever way it wants.

Mum was practical and sensible through my childhood (except where fizzy wine was concerned, which in the day was at best a bottle of Lambrusco or if we were lucky, Asti Spumante, on Christmas or on holiday, and thus a rare occurrence – my Mum never really got a handle on alcohol and treated it much as she would lemonade, with rapid and hilarious results). Once they were no longer having to pay for my education and as her health began to fail she took the opportunity to travel a little to see me and to destinations such as the Channel Islands, leaving my Dad to fend for himself (the family joke as to what he ate in those periods being mostly pork pie and cold beans out of the tin was, unfortunately, quite accurate). She was a huge present giver – not big, expensive things, but large numbers of small things, often bought via catalogue after she became housebound. So many things in fact that she managed to forget what she had bought everyone for Christmas and random things would reappear during the year, hidden and forgotten about in draws and cupboards.

She never complained, and yet was the perfect complainant – if anything was ever wrong or needed fixed both Dad and I would hand the phone to her and she would work her magic, with such opening gambits as ‘I’m sure this is my mistake, but…’ which inevitably would end in the desired result.

Mum was a superb judge of character and often made scarily accurate predictions about people she had just met. For this reason, I was delighted when she took to the, as then, Lovely Girlfriend straight away. I think for me that approval was very important but I need not have worried. It came without coaxing and heartfelt.

Through the difficult times that we are living through now, memories of my Mum are the kind of support that I need, as I try to be for my Dad what he was for her, a loving support to end of her life.