Retroladytyping …

Should this have happened?

EuropeThe Referendum, that is …

For what it’s worth, after a few days of feeling totally confused, shell-shocked and angry – my thoughts on the Referendum:

We pay our MPs to know as much as possible about issues, then vote in Parliament, according to what they think is best, once they know the facts. I am angry because we lay people should never have been put in this position. Of course we can have opinions, even very strong opinions, but it’s like being asked to make a decision about our medical treatment. We can find out as much as we can, make an informed and educated choice, based on consultation with experts and our own feelings, but we are usually fairly content to trust in the expertise of clinicians. The difference in that case is that, hopefully, those experts do not deliberately withold information or lie (apparently now a synonym for “extrapolate” – having just seen Ian Duncan Smith’s defence of the false promise of £350m for the NHS).

The whole system of Parliament needs examining. It’s totally ridiculous, for example, that someone can be in charge of Health today, then Education tomorrow – a decision which seems to be based on who is in favour with the Prime Minister. Surely that means decisions are made which will further their careers, rather than what they think is best for the electorate. Arguably it’s not their fault; they work within a system which actively encourages self-interest.

We need MPs who know what they are talking about, give us the information we need, even if we disagree with them, but the ultimate decision should be able to be safely left to them. Is it naive to hope for a little bit of honour and integrity?

We are now in a complete and utter mess, dominated by strong personalities who can’t be trusted to sort it out, because they are more interested in their own image, than doing the best for the country. Both our major parties are in disarray, unsurprisingly and I am very worried for the future. The door is wide open for those who can appeal to the insecurity being felt by the electorate, irrespective of their extreme and/or populist views.

Representative, well-informed and unbiased democracy – that’s what I want.  Is that a hopeless dream?

dreamAs I was about to post this, a friend made me aware of this article on the Independent website.  At best it’s interesting reading;  at worst it just adds to the muddle and confusion surrounding this issue.–bJhqBql0VZ


To run or not to run, that is the question … and does it matter?

Running or walking

Last Sunday, I took part in a sponsored event for the Alzheimer’s Society,  Blue-Forget-Me-Not-Flower-Wallpapers-1 which, as some of you will know, is a cause very dear to my heart.  The Cheltenham Challenge has several options, catering for all abilities – walking or running anything from 5k to an Ultra-Marathon.  I, with my friend Liz, opted to do 10K.  We did it last year and raised over £300.  On that occasion we both walked more or less the whole way, as we don’t see each other too often and had a lot of chatting to do!  I know, I know … that’s not the point, but still …maybe we should be sponsored per word.

This time, however, with PBs to beat, we decided to run as much as we possibly could, without having to call on the first-aiders.  The route follows Cheltenham Racecourse, then out onto cross-country (very muddy) tracks and fields, over stiles, through fields and over streams via slippery single track bridges,  as well as more accessible, hard-surfaced country lanes.  It became apparent very soon  that Liz’s fitness levels were way in excess of mine.  Before we had even ventured off  the racecourse, I was struggling … oh dear.

The dilemma was whether to continue to struggle, to hold Liz up, who was itching to run on or, as I felt at that point, just  give up and cry.  Liz felt that she should stick with me, despite me saying she should go at her own pace.  I didn’t want to hold her up and for her to feel she needed to stay with me.  It was absolutely fine with me for her to run on, and I would have felt guilty if I’d held her up.  Eventually we agreed that she would run on, but would increase her sponsorship of me, while I went at my own, somewhat slower pace.  That was fine with me and, I’m sure, was fine with the Alzheimer’s Society.

So,  we continued … I didn’t see her again till the end.  I walked, quickly, but I did walk most of it.  My  self-imposed challenge was to run the downhill and harder surface sections, which I more or less did, finishing about 10 minutes behind Liz, and fuelled by handfuls of jelly beans.  I don’t eat them at any other time, but they’re rocket fuel when facing yet another muddy track and seeing the 10K direction arrow pointing away from the Finish line clearly visible, so near yet so far away.  Having said that, it was lovely to be in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside with time to look around and appreciate the views.  There were also some beautiful houses en route, which gave me definite location envy.  I  began to contemplate whether it was feasible to sell our house and maybe buy a small shed, with a view,   in that area.  Yes, it is slightly out of our price range.  It’s seriously posh round there.

The Challenge, as I said, consisted of several options and so various levels of athletic ability:  from me and others like me, to elite runners who were taking on the Ultra-Marathon.  At one stage I overheard a couple discussing whether to run the whole 36 miles – that must have been the Ultra-Marathoners – 36 miles!!!!!  That’s insane.

Despite those various challenges and abilities, the atmosphere was one of ‘we’re all here for the same purpose – to do what we can to the best of our ability.’  That was very clear throughout the whole event, from the warm-up, where elite runners mingled and chatted with the Sunday strugglers (i.e. the likes of me)  to the finish line and the collection of medals and finishers t-shirts.

There were times when I thought I’d never get that t-shirt; I often felt like crying, my legs hurt, my back hurt, I had a blister on one toe, I’d been bitten by some small, annoying insect, my trainers were wet and muddy and I was sneezing from running through fields of grass. In addition, my specs kept slipping down my nose because of the sweat (not perspiration or lady-glow – I was definitely sweating.)  I was a sorry state:  red-faced and disappointed with my efforts.

While I was struggling,   small incidents boosted me immensely – the small boy about 1km from the finish, who high-fived everyone as they ran past, from tall, long-legged elite runners to doddery old ladies like me; also the family who stood outside their house with a home-made banner, shouting encouragement – again to everyone, irrespective of their ability.  Thank you to the small boy and that family.

However, I was most motivated and encouraged   by a group of runners who clearly were very fit and fast, as well as young and long-legged and seemingly ready to do the whole distance again,  who shouted “well done” and “keep going” as they whizzed past.  They didn’t need to do that; they could have just overtaken without a word, while being justifiably  annoyed by someone like me being in their way, but they didn’t.  That meant so much.  Thank you speedy runners.  You gave me the incentive to keep going, to run the last few hundred metres and to jump into the air, arms aloft as I crossed the finishing line (and grabbed another handful of jellybeans).

Thank you also to the man, unknown to either Liz or I, who, while we were having our lunch, saw  our medals and donated £10 to the Alzheimer’s Society.  What a lovely gesture.  Thank you, whoever you are.  We raised almost £200, through sponsorship from friends, colleagues and family,  which made all the effort, blisters, pain and nearly tears,  worthwhile.

Thank you all of you, including  our sponsors and to Liz for increasing her sponsorship, so I could have a walk/run in the beautiful countryside without feeling pressured to push myself further and faster than I felt was possible, or sensible.

Incidentally, Liz and I both gained new PBs for the 10K.  (The times are a secret between us and the electronic chips on our race numbers), but we each made our minds up that next year we’ll probably stick to the 5K … or maybe not … the t-shirts and shorts are now washed, the trainers are clean, so maybe, just maybe, if we start training now, we could tackle the Ultra-Marathon … hmmm …  Meanwhile, we’ve both just signed up for a 7k Memory Walk for the Alzheimer’s Society in Bath, in September.






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Magic kisses



magic kisses

Before I get into this post properly, I’ll just say that I’m not writing it so anyone can say anything supportive or reassuring – please don’t; I know the natural response is to say I did my best, but …

Over the past week or so, I’ve had a problem dropping off to sleep … nothing significant, just that I’ve been full of cold, so breathing while lying down has been a challenge.   During the wee small hours, when I was reluctantly awake, I remembered my mum’s magic kisses …

When we three were children and had problems sleeping, we would request, and be given, magic kisses.  These were gentle, barely a touch with her lips, on each eyelid.  The magic was that, once bestowed, we would have to keep our eyes closed till morning.  It worked.  It really did.  My mum had magic powers.  (I’ve mentioned those powers in an earlier post, in relation to her cures-all- ills cakes.)

Some of you will know that Mum died two and a bit years ago, after a struggle with dementia.  She was ill for quite a while before I was strong enough to recognise that and to stop coming up with ‘normal’ reasons for her behaviour, distress and confusion.  In my defence (and that of my two siblings), we did not know much about dementia; in fact we knew next to nothing and what we did know was based purely on hearsay and anecdotal evidence.    We thought it was a natural process of ageing (Mum was 87 when she died) and  meant increasing absent-mindedness.  If only.  We put her  symptoms down to that and her profound deafness – another problem which we didn’t properly address due to differences of opinion with our father.  It was more comfortable for us all to do that.  Once a child always a child maybe, but that’s no excuse.

There were also several major family issues and  history which confused us and meant that we were unable to detach ourselves enough from those and our memories to deal with Mum’s increasing distress.  I wish that I (I won’t speak for my siblings)  had behaved like the grown woman I was, but old feelings were never far below the surface.  I allowed mine to affect how I dealt with a very adult and even frightening situation, in which the balance of power had, or should have, been reversed.    I wish I hadn’t.   I wish I had been stronger.  I would now be able to advise others to do just that, to accept the dramatic changes in family dynamics, but I couldn’t do it myself.  I should have.

I now know that a great deal of Mum’s distress, and the horrific events surrounding her being sectioned could have been avoided.  That long 7 months while she was incarcerated in a secure unit, where she was distraught, hallucinating and clearly extremely frightened, alternating with being seemingly catatonic due to the drugs she needed to keep her safe, might have been avoided.  I, as the so-called ‘sensible one’ of the three,  (the mysterious ‘everyone’ said so; therefore it must have been true) should have taken responsibility and done something before her illness manifested itself so  that there was no safe alternative to her being sectioned with all the horrors that entailed for everyone involved.

My brother had been the  ‘naughty one’ while we were growing up; my sister was very much our baby sister, so I should have been able to take charge.  They have both since  fervently denied that I should feel any more responsible than they  do, but I do.    In fact my brother is seemingly philosophical about Mum’s illness:  it’s happened; it’s past and no point dwelling on the circumstances.  All we can do is learn, realise we did our best and move on.  I wish I could be like that.

Once events had taken their catastrophic turn, we were all equally involved and played to our strengths; my brother dealt with the administrative side (there is a great deal of that); I mostly did hospital visits.  He visited too, but some of Mum’s symptoms and the ways in which her distress manifested itself were extremely difficult for a son to witness.   He did more than his fair share by visiting my father who, by this time, was thoroughly confused, understandably, by the turn events had taken and whose behaviour was consequently difficult to deal with.  I couldn’t; my brother did. Family dynamics and history prevented me.  My sister supported us all especially  when we called for help, even though she lives in a different part of the country.

Thankfully, and largely due to help from a wonderful Community Psychiatric Nurse, Mum’s final few months were spent in a lovely, caring and understanding environment.  Vicky (the CPN) supported us through the process of finding a Nursing Home, where Mum was given the love and respect she deserved, even though she was probably, by then, sadly unaware.  I  eavesdropped shamelessly when the staff were carrying out personal care for Mum and their attitude was always one of complete respect; they maintained her dignity; they showed tenderness and understanding.  They were incredible people.

On my part, however, no amount of visiting Mum, caring, feeding her, comforting her while she was sectioned and after, explaining her needs to those caring for her,  attempting, and mostly failing, to deal with her distress will make up for not being there when she really needed help.   I still feel responsible for how my mother experienced the last few years of her life.   I always will.  Yes, I did what I could at the time, but her extreme distress could and should have been avoided.  Things did not need to get to that point.  If only I had been able to detach myself enough to do what I would now advise anyone else to do.  Recognise there is a problem; disregard family dynamics; ask for help; make a fuss until someone professional listens and that help is given.  There is no cure; there is no treatment, but events don’t have to follow the path they did for my Mum.  There is, however, I have since learned, ways of mediating the dreadful effects of dementia, so that the extreme distress and fear experienced by my Mum can be avoided to some extent at least.  Mum could have been one of the old ladies enjoying being in the sunny garden at the Nursing Home, laughing at the antics of staff playing rounders, as others were one day when we visited.  Mum was in bed, unable to speak or respond at all.  Again … if only.

Just to compound that feeling of not doing what I should have done,  and arguably far, far worse,  I made the wrong decision about my priorities, not quite realising, after a conversation with her Nursing Home, that the 7th January 2014, two days before her 88th birthday,  would be the day she died.  I visited the day before with flowers and cards.   It was convenient; it was a Sunday and after all, I reasoned, Mum wouldn’t know the difference.  Monday 7th  was the first day back at work after Christmas and I didn’t really want to go back; I also didn’t want to ‘use’ my Mum as an excuse for not going back on that first day.

Consequently,   I was not there, even though I’d said I definitely would be.  I didn’t read between the lines of the   telephone call before I left for work.  I questioned my motives and priorities instead and I shouldn’t have.  I should have gone with my gut reaction and been with my Mum when she needed me.  She had been with me, but when she needed magic kisses there were none.  She wasn’t alone; a wonderful Care Assistant was with her and she described how Mum had been when she died  when I went to be with her having had the worst phone call of my life, while I was at work getting my priorities wrong.   She stayed after her shift ended to ask me how I wanted her to be dressed and took the trouble to phone me that evening to say how beautiful Mum had looked when she was taken to the Chapel of Rest.  She didn’t; I know she didn’t; she hadn’t for quite a while which is the harsh reality of dementia,  but it was still lovely of the Care Assistant to reassure me that all was as well as it could be.

Despite all the efforts of that kind, caring person, I will never get that day back.  No amount of  visiting during the time leading up to that day, or too late chats with someone else,  will ever make up for that omission and faulty decision-making.  Hindsight … if only again.

However, despite all that, it struck me while I was struggling to sleep, that it has recently become possible, sometimes even effortless,  to remember happy times, times when having my Mum made me feel safe, warm, comforted and able to experience her magic powers.  Those moments happen without trying and usually when my defences are down, as they were in the early hours. It’s taken a while, but that initial rawness and ongoing guilt is beginning to take a back seat.  I know it won’t always be a straightforward process, but, at last, there is hope.  I will always have regrets, of course I will, but they won’t change anything.  The only thing which can change is how I deal with them.  They are beginning, just beginning, to take their place in the recesses of my mind, while other feelings, memories and gratefulness to the staff at that Nursing Home float to the surface.