It’s been a while

It’s been months since I last posted here; sad to say the blog was just one part of my normal life I slowly withdrew from over the weeks and months – even my own bookgroup I set up years ago and other regular activities just slowly stopped, I had neither the energy or desire to take part in them or anything else. It was a bad several months ending an awful year, frankly, and left me emotionally exhausted. Lost a couple of friends, lost the second of my lovely furry companions, my darling old kitty Cassie (leaving the flat feeling terribly empty) and there was the constant worry as we waited for a date for dad’s much needed heart surgery. And when that finally came in mid November it didn’t go as smoothly as planned, not by a long shot. A five hour or so operation, delicate, complex but still relatively routine for the specialist cardiac surgeons, two or three days in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), couple of weeks in the general ward then home to recuperate over a few months as you build up your strength again.

That is how it normally goes, but there’s always the one in so many thousand where it doesn’t work so well. And after all our stress and strain over the last year and worrying and hospital visits and waiting for surgery and fretting about it didn’t we get the short straw, just because obviously it hadn’t been a hard enough time already. More work was needed and my dad was out for a full week before I got to see him so much as barely open an eye, a week of travelling hours back and forth to the other side of the country to the specialist hospital and worrying and waiting before I even got to see him slightly awake. Weeks more before I heard my dad speak to me for the first time in weeks. What would have been mum’s birthday came and went, never an easy emotional time for either of us at any time, under these circumstances that date took a sledgehammer to the morale and had a bad effect on dad too.

We soldiered on, Christmas, New Year and my birthday on Hogmanay came and went and were depressing, sad, empty non events, dad still very ill and in intensive care after weeks of care, me pretty much on my own. A friend was kind enough to give me a lift through on Christmas Day so I could visit him, relatives visiting him dropped me off at the family home where I spent a miserable five or six hours on my own in an empty house waiting on my return lift back with my friend. I’ve never been in our family home alone at Christmas, it was terribly upsetting and with everything else going on it pitched me further into a very dark place. Thank goodness for calls from others like my wider family to cheer me up as I sat at home alone. Oh, wait, no there wasn’t a single bloody call. Not a one. Just because Christmas Day hadn’t been miserable and lonely enough already. And the dark thoughts swarmed around – get used to it, this is probably how Christmas will be when you are older. That time of year can be hard for a lot of folk and this time it really broke me; a similarly miserable birthday and New Year added to it. Really felt like giving up, but had to keep going.

Eventually by mid January my dad was well enough (barely) to go home and fortunately as I work mostly online I could take my laptop and work from back home – not ideal but do-able on a short term, so I moved back home to Smallsville for the best part of a month, worked as best I could trying to do a full work day from home while helping dad as best I could, doing the housework, cooking, shopping, talking to health folks, arguing with one particular batch of bloody idiots who demanded he come in for regular tests when he could barely make it down the stairs. Was pretty bloody tired out by all of this, but worth it as dad improved hugely, from being very tired and unable to do much to being able to do more, do stuff for himself, get around, got his appetite back and as his strength returned his morale got so much better, it was good to see after the long, long bloody road we had to stagger down. Could have used a good long break after all those months, especially as I had no real holiday for the last year – I had one week off for the Film Fest in June as usual but on the first day dad was taken into hospital with his heart attack, so that wasn’t much of a break as I was back and forth to hospital (still got to see a few of the films but my heart wasn’t in it) and I saved most of my remaining holiday days for when the surgery happened knowing I’d need them, but with the much longer stay I used up far more than I thought I would.

Back home in Edinburgh and slowly trying to get myself back into my regular life – months have gone past since I last went to my own book group so I’m planning to get back starting with this month’s upcoming meeting, and go and enjoy the regular Edinburgh Literary Salon, already been back to my first event at the Tales of One City readings, felt nice to get back to going to functions and events and talks again, even got friend who has similarly been running back and forth from Edinburgh to Glasgow to help with ill relatives out for her birthday (took her to the new patisserie on the Bridges for a treat, delicious, then a nice wander round the galleries too). Hopefully we continue on the upward curve this year, I think we bloody deserve it. May even start thinking about visiting the cat rescue folk at some point and see about taking in some new kitties. Let’s see …

Happy birthday, mum

mum and dad at NMS

I’m trying very hard not to think how today I should be hearing my mother’s delighted voice, so happy with the flowers I always got her for her birthday. What mum doesn’t like getting flowers from her wee boy, even if that wee boy is a little larger these days? Passage of time doesn’t really make it any easier – the old addage of time healing all wounds is a fiction. You find yourself distracted increasingly by the day to day of mundane life but you never forget and the pain never really leaves you, especially when you didn’t just lose someone but had them taken from you so suddenly. And of course certain dates are harder to bear than others – like the birthday of a loved one you lost, anniversaries, the date you lost them on. And Christmas doesn’t bloody help either. It should be mum’s birthday today, then Christmas, then my birthday, then New Year and each of those dates hammers in the fact that she isn’t here with us where she should be and it’s oh so bloody hard for me and I know even harder for my dear dad. Happy birthday, mum, we love you so much and miss you more than I can put into words.

me and mum and dad at NMS

That evil day

Sad to say but today marks the third anniversary of my wonderful mum being so suddenly ripped away from us, just like that. How can it be three years already? How can you have been gone three year, mum? I’ve been doing my best to try not to dwell on it all day, not helped by losing my lovely wee Dizzy cat earlier just this week and my gorgeous big Pandora puss a few weeks back – my furry girls have been a very important part in keeping me going and keeping my morale up since this vile day burned itself into my life and twisted the way I view the world ever after and losing them just makes it that bit harder to deal with it. If indeed you ever really do deal with this kind of thing, I don’t think most of us do, we get buried into the complexities of everyday life so it lies at the back of our minds rather than dominating it as it did when fresh, but we never really deal with, never really accept it.

Dad was through with my Uncle Evan today, they often make use of their free bus passes to go galavanting around Scotland each week so today they came through to Edinburgh and as it was windy and rainy we went off to go around the National Museum of Scotland – amazingly my uncle had never been to it. As luck would have it we caught the last few days of the Lighthouses exhibition they had on – I had been meaning to go along to it for ages and clean forgot about it with recent events, so it was good to catch it before it ended, fascinating history. Among the exhibits were several huge Fresnel lenses, which have always fascinated me since I was a boy (and indeed lighthouses too, always amazed me how they could build such things in the teeth of huge waves and storms), beautiful engineering in light and glass to pierce the dark night. I think it did dad and I both good to be out and about on this day, helped us a bit and hey, I even got an interesting photo out of it – if you look closely you can even see both me and dad reflected in this gigantic representation of the prism:

reflections and refractions 01

Anniversary

Today should be mum and dad’s anniversary. It’s peculiar and quite depressing how a date once wrapped in happier memories becomes a slow, heavy weight on your heart as time goes on. Switched on the TV to try and distract myself a bit and what’s on but a Buffy repeat and it just happens to be the one where she is coping with the sudden death of her mother. Oh thank you, universe, that’s really what I needed to see this morning. Couple of things I can do later so I think I will take myself out to do something. I love you both so much, mum and dad, always.

Dad in the City Art Centre

Out and about for Glasgow’s Doors Open Day at the weekend with dad, who decided to sit down and have a breather while I wandered up the stairs in the City Art Centre on Sauchiehall Street, which has a lovely ‘inside-outside’ feel to its courtyard, with the external walls of old buildings making the atrium which is covered but flooded with natural light, even on overcast days. I went up the open stairs to take a few pics and leaning over the rail to look down spotted dad, who looked up towards me just as I was taking a pic; quite pleased with this one.

Dad in City Art Centre

City Art Centre 7

birthdays

Its my birthday today, my age clicking over in time with the ending of the year. I’ve never cared much for my birthday, always feels sort of squeezed in there as everyone darts around getting ready for New Year and this year I can be bothered even less with it. Dad warned me that my card was one mum picked up ages ago – she had the habit of seeing something she thought perfect for someone for a birthday, Christmas etc and she’d get it then and put it aside, often months and months in advance (or even years – one of my cousins doesn’t know it but she had put aside a certain something for her to be given on an upcoming special occasion, its just sitting there ready). So I opened the card today and there it is signed love mum and dad. And I felt as if someone hit me in the chest with a sledgehammer and that was me out of it for quite a while. I’d much rather have it than not, of course, but it was still bloody hard and I was struggling already (birthday is bad enough but New Year is often depressing at the best of times). The last birthday card I will ever have signed by both my wonderful parents. Goodbye 2008 – you started so well, with the promise of a trip to Paris and I was very happy. Then you became the worst year of my life and I don’t even remember half of it going past because even when I think I am functioning okay I don’t think I am and am still running on autopilot a lot of the time. Go away 2008, you’re not welcome here anymore, although somehow I doubt 2009 will make me feel any better. I no longer want the future.

Christmas

Its been a pretty mixed Christmas for me and dad this year, as you can imagine. The normal opening of the presents on Christmas morning was pretty subdued without mum being there. Even little things like signing Christmas cards had been especially hard for my dad; I knew that before he said, as soon as I opened my card from him the other week there I felt a terrible pang because I knew right away how much it would have hurt him to be signing those cards from him and not from him and mum. Life is full of once absolutely normal activities and rituals like signing cards that are now tipped with barbs which dig in and remind us sharply of our loss and its worse for my dear dad. We took up Christmas wreaths to the cemetery for mum and also to her brother, the Comrade, which was terribly hard.

I know some folks say don’t put yourselves through the wringer like that, but its impossible not to go. We did our best though and dad made a huge effort in the kitchen, with my cousin and her hubby over for dinner as they usually are. Obviously not on a par with the cooking and baking mum created (which was outstanding) but we did our best and had a good meal and a decent afternoon and evening drinking and chatting away. Very mixed day, as I say, it wasn’t all sadness, we had good moments, but everyday there’s something which gets us and at this time of year its far more pronounced.

Christmas

I don’t think I have ever looked forward to a Christmas less than I do this year, it drives further home the stark fact that mum isn’t there with us. Its not hard to see why so many people suffer depression at this time of year.

One hour to go

One single hour to go before I am no longer a thirtysomething. End of the year and end of my thirties, hello being a funky fortysomething. Thank goodness for my creamy Celtic complexion and youthful exuberance – with those most folks think I look only 39 and a bit… Nah, that’s not true, it seems to surprise a lot of folks who didn’t think I was that age yet, although of course they may all just be being polite, but frankly I’m taking it the positive way. Bottle of champers chilling nicely for the birthday breakfast as we speak, any excuse… Anyway, champagne for breakfast is something everyone should indulge themselves in from time to time and if you can’t do it on your birthday then when the hell can you? First time I ever had champagne at breakfast was way back in the mid 1980s in a hotel in Aachen in Germany and its kind of become a birthday ritual these days and why not? Got to live a little, especially at my age 🙂

Dad continues to be on the mend – he seems a bit more tired than before, but that’s pretty understandable between the lethargy having to spend several days in a hospital bed can impart and the shock to the old system. He’s pretty upbeat and the final scans were clear (although he will go back in sometime in the next month or two for some routine further checks to make sure) but I think it has rattled him a little more than he lets on. We had a good Christmas together, the pair of us took every excuse to sit and watch the Wallace and Gromit repeats on the BBC while my mum tutted at us about enjoy cartoons at ‘our ages’, although by the time they were halfway through we heard barely suppressed sniggers coming from her direction, then out and out laughs from the woman who claims animation is for kids and not funny… Mind you that’s not bad going, it took us from the early video days (Betamax no less) to just a few years back to persuade her that Blazing Saddles was a comedy masterpiece (she finally gets it).

Ton of food was guzzled of course, all homemade – can’t beat yer mum’s cooking! My veggie main course this year was a delicious herb-stuffed pinenut roast in red wine sauce (again homemade). Mum’s meringue nests, cream, fresh fruit and some ice cream from the bloody excellent Equi’s (one of the best ice cream emporiums in Scotland) for dessert (although my cousins opted for the traditional Christmas pudding instead), all washed down with a bottle of Saint Joe. My mum couldn’t resist buying this bottle when she saw the name on it, although I don’t actually answer to that name to anyone except her and a couple of family members as I have hated my full name for as long as I can remember and prefer just Joe; anyone else using the full name will find themselves being ignored…


(Saint Joseph, the patron saint of mixing good chocolate and red wine)

As ever we all collapsed after dinner feeling as if we had swallowed a (delicious) cannonball, full, full, full… I always look forward to enjoying mum’s cooking at Christmas, but getting dad home on Christmas Eve made it particularly special. I could see him through a window as I was walking up to the house and boy was that a nice sight. We’re still trying to get him to take it easy, but mum and dad have been out a bit in the last few days and in fact they took me out for an early birthday treat lunch this weekend, which was good, off to the Bridge Inn at Ratho, which is a spot I first found years back when I used to cycle a lot and Brendan and I cycled out the canal towpath several miles out of Edinburgh, saw the village, the old humpbacked bridge and the canalside pub and thought we had earned a pint, found out they did food and that was it (incidentally Brendan’s 40th was a couple of weeks back – the party had a loose theme of dead rock stars and one guy came as Kurt Cobain; when he turned round he had fake blood and brains on the back of his head).

The menu was a bit disappointing – the veggie options were extremely poor which was annoying as we’ve eaten there many times and they usually had a number of options (I once had gorgeous hot peppers stuffed with fresh cream cheese from one of the local farms, shame they don’t do it anymore) so it was irritating to see a new menu that was so limited on the veggie front – most places tend to add more vegetarian options rather than reducing them. Still, I picked out a couple of simple items and enjoyed them with a decent beer from the Atlas brewery and it meant having more time to spend with the folks which is never bad.

Xmas in Edinburgh

Inside Jenners in Edinburgh this evening, a little Xmas shopping with my mum and dad who were through visiting (off for some nice food as well, poor mum with her arm in a sling still).

We could hear music but weren’t sure where it was coming from. Beautiful bit of acoustic guitar, lovely golden chords. As we walked round we spotted the musician playing away, just sitting in front of the clothing department. I liked the two mannequins on the upper right, they look almost like they are leaning forward to listen to him.

The open air Xmas Fair and German market are now open in Princes Street Gardens and the Mound right next to the Royal Scottish Academy. All sorts of lovely things on offer and hot food, mulled wine, Gluhwein… I love when this comes to town, the people, the atmosphere, the light, the smell of food and spiced wines all make such a magnificent contrast with the long, cold, dark winter nights of Scotland.

I wonder if this is the same tilting swing I snapped back during the summer at Fringe Sunday?

Roll up, roll up, all the fun of the fair!!!

Christmas

Apologies for the gap between posts, but I’ve been busy with last minute Xmas shopping, then back off to the outskirts of Glasgow for a nice time at my parents. While there I also took the opportunity to visit my dear uncle – known to most of the family as ‘the Comrade’; he’s old school socialist with a human face and has proudly worn this alternative moniker I dubbed him with many moons ago.

I was warned by everyone to brace myself for his appearance, because he has deteriorated so much even since my previous visit two week ago. One of my cousins up visiting from the Deep South of England (land of thatched cottages) hadn’t seen him for many months, certainly not since the Big C came back with a vengeance and was so shocked she couldn’t stay long in his room. I can’t blame her for that – he’s wasting away before our eyes and growing weaker every day; frankly I was surprised he was still there, I had the horrible feeling that my previous visit would prove to be the last time I saw him alive. That’s a bloody horrible feeling – worse for my Canadian uncle over to visit his dying brother and knowing full well that it would be the last week he would get to spend with him.

So I braced myself and did my best not to let it show when I was with him, or round my poor mother who is fighting to stay together to help my aunt look after her husband, my mother’s big brother. Again we managed to swap jokes and share some laughs (the sense of humour must be up there with love as our finest defence mechanism), despite his voice growing weaker and fainter, as if every faculty is slowly winding down for him now, except his eyes which still shine. Lord knows what is keeping him going – he always was a tall, broad built, strong man with a good constitution; it is what helped him fight this awful disease the first time round, but now it is as much a liability since it is prolonging the inevitable. Part of me likes to think that he tried his level best to hold on through the holidays so as not to ruin Xmas for the family. Sheer speculation I know, but it would be very much in keeping with his selfless attitude and since no-one can prove such conjecture either way I choose to think it.

So I did manage to keep it together and spent some good time with the Comrade over my days back home. Between those visits, being around my beloved parents and seeing so more of my cousins and aunts than I have in ages (perhaps a positive aspect to all of this) I managed to keep it together, although I did fall apart in the car as my Dad drove me home after Xmas. We were just talking about it and the damned thing up and overwhelmed me, the sheer unfairness of this happening to such a good man. As regular readers know I’m not religious, but the Comrade is a devout Catholic (his absence at the special Xmas Eve mass finally drove it home to my poor aunt that his days were really coming to an end). If I hadn’t lost faith in any god decades ago I would now – he’s a good man, never missed mass in his life, did good work for the church… What sort of reward is this for any god to show to such a faithful follower? I know, life simply isn’t fair and bad things happen to good people, it rains on the just and the unjust, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it and it still doesn’t make it right. Naturally I keep such observations to myself – not really the time or place to air them around my uncle, aunt or mother (watching what this does to her is as hurtful as the thought of losing the Comrade).

Despite this we actually had some good times over Christmas. Spending time with my folks is always good (I am a very, very lucky boy in that respect). My mother’s home cooking was the highlight of course and naturally I did my best to eat absolutely everything she put out on the table until it felt like I’d swallowed a cannonball. Main veggie course for me was a gorgeous terrine of wild mushrooms, two types of cheese, two types of nuts and spiced potatoes, with an accompanying (and also home-made of course) spicy tomato sauce. My mum’s cooking skills are matched only by her baking skills (she is the official maker of cakes to the family) and her meringues crunched delicately under my spoon…mmmmmmm……

My birthday arrives tomorrow, on Hogmanay when I will be – ahem – years old, although I’m not especially in a birthday or New Years kind of mood really. Will try and post something slightly less depressing later on – its hard to talk about this stuff but equally hard not to talk about it, if you know what I mean. Hopefully go for a complete subject change when I next post (actually I wasn’t even going to write what I did today, but it just kind of came out and I feel a little better for that. I know all too many of you have loved ones who have endured or fallen to cancer as well, so you know where I’m coming from) – perhaps it is that time to do a review of the year (the one just ending, not next year; I would review 2006 for you now but I promised the Time Lords I wouldn’t monkey around with causality anymore)? Pick a few best of an worst of movies and books from the last twelve months, maybe some events – anyone wanting to add their own best or worst ofs for 2005 feel free to post (on which note I apologise for having to make the Woolamaloo comments non-anonymous, but I was getting some awful hate comments from some right-wing neo-nazi thugs for an earlier posting, and, as always with nasty folk, posted behind the cowardly ‘anonymous’ mask, so I had to withdraw that facility – apologies to the majority who used it for constructive purposes).