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Sunday, 5 July 2020

Death. There's a lot of it about.

A lot of it about
There's a lot of it about.


A young plumber came to mend a leak in the kitchen after my husband Alan died in 2016.  "Death," he said with a shake of his head, as if this was unreasonable, "there's a lot of it about."

I don't think he had experienced many losses, I don't think that dying had happened in his world, and so when he heard of other peoples' experiences, it seemed that death was just getting a bit above itself.  Slow down, he seemed to imply, just one at a time and in an orderly fashion. 

We all know that death is a part of life, that death doesn't follow a protocol, that death will do what it wants when it wants.  We all know that it happens, and though we know theoretically we will have to die one day too, we don't really believe it.  Not really. And yet, people we know die. Even people we love go, and sometimes, family members pass on and so, yes, there is a lot of it about.  I remember when my partner Steve was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, saying we will beat this, and somehow, because I loved him I thought we would.  It was inconceivable that such a thing as love could be bested by such a thing as death.  Light and dark, I thought then.  Light always wins.  But Steve did die, and watching him fade away despite my love and despite it being unfair, changed my world for ever.  In a way, I had to grow up.  I had to experience something beyond my comprehension in order to show me a deeper more profound version of this life.  Steve's death was the single most traumatic event of my life, and probably still is.  I was thrown into a grief and confusion that marked the beginning of the rest of my life, and my decision to work with endings and dyings in the way that I do.  That grief was so mind altering, so hard to bear, that all my understandings of this world had to change.  But it also unlocked my gift, and though I did not want that gift and would have thrown it back if I could have in the beginning, I am grateful for it now.  I often say that Steve came, gave my my job to do, and left.  

So now, deaths.  What good are they?  I absolutely do not know, but the thing is, they happen twenty four hours a day seven days a week.  Making or finding meaning in them, is an ongoing process for most of us.  I have seen many deaths through illness, I have experience of suicide deaths, and I have personally experienced miscarriage.  However, there are many, many ways for us to die. Here is a list to be going on with. 

Illness, suicide, murder, accident, miscarriage, abortion, war, execution, euthanasia, act of God                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
Most of these I have no experience of, and though I accept that death is a given, such things as
Help. Don't make me do it.
execution, war and murder really scare me.  Perhaps it isn't the fact of death so much as the manner of dying.  Murder, war and execution seem to involve cruelty and suffering from the hands of other people that is entirely avoidable, man made and inhumane.  And yet, what I have been trying to do is, where I come across it, to make the manner of dying more calm, more loving and more acceptable.  I have a terrible fear of visiting a death row, an execution, and hope to goodness I never have to do that - it is indescribably unlikely in my little life here in Bognor Regis, but I have learned that the world is utterly unpredictable and just because you fear something does not mean you are safe from it.  Though I imagine I am safe from this.  But you never know. Help. 


Over the years, I have learned to occupy very little space in the room of a dying person.  I remember when I began learning about how people go and what they do, and what I should do, feeling that I should be doing something, I should somehow be indispensable.  It was up to me whether they died well or not. I worried that I could fail at this, and that everyone would see that I was a fraud and did not know what I was doing.  (I did not know what I was doing in those days, absolute fact.) I knew there was a place for people like me, who were drawn to make a small difference to the dying process, but I had no idea how.  For some reason, I felt I ought to know instinctively and that it was all about me making them feel better.  It was about me doing a good job.  It was about me.

Fast forward and this is how I see it now.  Unlearning the above was a valuable part of the process.  It is not about me, and I do not have to get anything right.  I just have to do my best and if it is not what is needed, I can leave.  Mainly, the dying are doing their own thing.  Our job, if we can, is to create a harmonious and loving place for them to do that.  And often we don't have a choice about where that is.  It could be anywhere.  (When I am asked where I would like to die, which I sometimes am, I say I have no intention of dying at all.  But if I have to do it, and as a well person I chose a nice meadow in the sunshine, I may at the time prefer a hospital with all the right equipment.  I may not want to die in a tea shop having afternoon tea because it will be messy, though right now I think it would be a lovely way to go.  My point is we don't know, we can only guess.  And fate may mean we have little choice anyway).  If it isn't about me at all, then I am relieved of the burden of success and failure, and I am relieved of my ego.  It is not all about the dying person either.  It is about all of the people in the room.  If others are there, they bring their energies and beliefs into the mix.  If someone is struggling, they need support.  If the dying person is struggling, they need support. If no one is struggling, then the family or friends there will manage.  They dying person will manage.  Where someone like me comes in, is to support whoever needs it.  When someone is dying whether over a long time or a short, difficult questions will come up.  Unwelcome emotions will arise.  We may have profound conversations and we may have some wonderful, enlightening moments.  We may be unable to resolve old hurts, and we may argue and fight.  We may do a mixture and all other things in between.  And if for example, the illness changes the dying person's personality, then the whole dying process may be unpredictable and difficult.  A man I knew of with a brain tumour became very aggressive and took over the ward.  The police had to be called.  I don't recognise this person, his wife said, this is not him.  A few days later, he died.  And the moment of death, that moment many of us feel we have to witness for our loved ones, may just happen when we are not looking.  The moment of death, that last breath, may well be so silent that no one notices it.  

I held my mother, and my father, and my husband as they died. Steve died just before I got there, and my brother Dominic died when I left the room.  It was really lovely to be there for Mum, Dad and Alan's last breath and a bit sad I wasn't there to witness Steve and Dominic, but because it is not, actually, about me, I can let that go.  People die when they die.  I thought Dominic was actually dying a few days before he did, and I told him to let go and go when he was ready.  I was convinced he was on his way, and after a while, when he didn't go, I felt a bit foolish and went and had a cup of tea.  Sorry, Dom, I said.  When he did go, a few days later, it was on his own terms and in his own time, and it was when he was alone.  

Here is an account of how dying involves loved ones too.  

As a volunteer on the local hospice wards, one of my roles was as a patient companion when there were no family or friends for a dying person.  One afternoon I overheard an exasperated lady talking about how her neighbour's husband was deeply reluctant to come and see his wife, ever, and now she was actually dying.  I jolly well made him get into the car, she said, and forced him.  He's outside her room now, she said angrily, not going in.  I give up. 

 I remember thinking that he must be very frightened and being angry with him won't help.  I was worried and went looking for him.  I found him sitting on his own looking terrified, lost and small on a chair near his wife's room.  I began talking with him, and he talked about everything and anything that he could, but not ever about his wife, dying in the room next to him.  After a while, I said to him that I knew his wife, and that I had had many good conversations with her.  Would you mind, I asked him, if I went and said goodbye to her?  After a pause, he said that he would take me to her.  And he got up and  walked into her room.  Surprised but delighted, I followed. "Hello dear," he said and bent over her. "It's your favourite husband.  I have Antonia here who wants to say goodbye to you."  With that, he walked around her to the chair beside her bed on the other side, and sat down.  I said goodbye to her gently and thanked her, noticing that the husband who had been so afraid, was now sitting and holding his wife's hand.  I left the room, and she died a little while later, her husband with her.  All he had needed was someone to be kind to him. 

Was the angry neighbour right to force the husband into the hospice?  Was the ending a good one?  In the end, she was instrumental in helping the husband to overcome some very deep fears, but what if he had remained panicking, alone, outside her room and missed her death?  We just cannot know.  What I understood from this experience is that the dying wife was fine, all that could be done for her was being done.  It was the husband that needed the helping hand.  It was, for a while, only about him.  It was a happy ending in that all things came together, the wife died with the husband holding her hand, and he no longer isolated and afraid.  


Dad died three weeks ago today.  It feels as if eighty eight years have gone in the blink of an eye, and here we are already three weeks into his eternity.  Every time someone I love dies, I get lost in the not knowing.  Same now with Dad.  Where did he go?  I don't know.  Why didn't he wait to die here like I had planned?  I don't know.  Why did he have to suffer cruel and avoidable isolation and loss from us, and then die on a stretcher?  I don't know.  What does it all mean?  I don't know.

It is up to me to make my own sense of this.  I am not grief stricken.  Dad was dying for a long time with Alzheimer's and Dementia.  I had years to say goodbye, and now that I have said it, I feel alongside the sadness of losing him, a feeling of freedom and expansion.  I miss him, but I feel lighter.  He has done it.  He has gone, shooting off on the tails of a radiant, blazing star, up to Heaven where everyone is cracking open the red wine, waiting for him to join the party.  There is nothing more for him to do here, no dying no death no waiting.  No living.  He has gone to join his friends and family and I have waved him goodbye.   I will plod on down here, living and doing my best but I still have it all to come.  I have no idea when it will be, how it will be or where it will be.   One thing I do know, other people have not paused in their dying because Dad has gone.  Hey ho.  There's a lot of it about.

Still happening. 

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Saturday, 20 June 2020

A world wide panic and a father's death. How has it come to this.

Dressed as a smurf, for my father's dying.
Before I begin, I want to state that the home looking after our father was one of the very best.  It was never their choice to isolate and keep people apart.  They did not want to do that but they had to follow the rules.  Their care and kindness makes our father's death easier to accept because we trusted each one of the carers, staff and nurses.  This is not about them.  They remain the shining lights in dark situation, and I imagine there are many like them all over the country, doing the best they can in impossible situations.

Dad died last week.  I should have known it, I should have seen it coming but I refused to do so.  I thought I could keep him here with me at my house until I was ready for him to go.  Things did not go as I had planned, and I rushed at the last minute to his nursing home to sit with him as he was dying and told him to wait, he was supposed to come to my house where everything was set up for him, to die with us, with family.  Dad did not do that, he could not, and I saw how we can never anticipate our reactions to a death, nor how it will go.  Dad showed me that the dying he was doing was something I had no part of, despite my wish to be involved.  It had nothing to do with love, loyalty, relationships or me.  It was part of the grander scheme of things, far beyond my understanding, and rightly so.  It was simply Dad's time to go, he had done all the work for it, he had arrived at his exit point, and who knows what forces were there to bring him light, and peace and courage.  Who knows?  I felt my brother Dominic with me all that day, perhaps Dominic came and helped Dad leave.  He would have gone like a shot if that were true.  My and my brothers' task was to witness, accept, love and release.  As if it were up to us to release!  We needed to let him go for our own sake, because he was going whatever anyone said.  Our part was to love him, thank him and stand back from the process. 

Last week, the care home that had looked after Dad so well called me.  He is now palliative, they said, and you can come in for one hour.  I went, and I saw our father looking as people do when they are on the last leg of their journey.  He was unconscious, mostly.  His face had fallen into itself but his hands remained the same.  I held his hand, a warm, comforting hand, and felt it close round mine so tightly that I had to prise his fingers loose for comfort.  He did not wake, he did not say anything, but his hand on mine was strong and told me he knew I was with him.  The tight hand hold lasted a minute, before his hand fell away.  He had no more energy. 

In order to see him, I wore a gown, an apron, a mask and gloves. 

Psalm 15, his favourite, the
gentelman's psalm, he called it.
No one had been allowed to see him for three months and now, I had my hour, in a disguise that if he could have seen it, would have upset his Alzheimer's mind.  He had been a magical, imperfect, kind and private father.  He was creative, intellectual, eccentric and witty.  He was educated, curious and loved poetry.  At his school, he said, instead of writing lines in detention when the boys were being punished, they had to learn a poem and recite it.   This spoke to his creative, artistic soul, and he
began a love affair with poetry then.  I never asked him if he was often in detention in order to be given this access to poetry, and I do not know.  One of the wonderful things we all did as his illness progressed over the years, was to read him poetry which would spark his memory, and he would mouth the lines as we read them.

Here I was, then, having my hour with our father.  My brothers were not allowed to come, just one person. They had to be satisfied with my account of the visit.  My hour.

There is something deeply wrong with a system that finds it acceptable to keep the elderly, the vulnerable, secluded in fear behind a wall of protocol.  There is a deep injustice in this draconian effort to prevent death at all costs, from people who have no rights to disagree.  The wall of  isolation that kept my brothers and me from any contact with our father creates in our hearts anxiety, guilt, fear and anger.  How can we tell an old man with Alzheimer's that we have not forgotten him?  When our actions tell him that we have. How can we make peace with our old father who cannot understand why he is alone and where all the poetry has gone?  He would not complain, and never did.  He gave us the benefit of the doubt when our pre-Covid visits were sometimes far and few between.  But there was always the choice to make it up to him, we knew we could come to him and spend more time with him when we could.  And we did.  And suddenly, we were gone.  That was it.  The message was, you're on your own Dad.  Everyone around him disappeared behind blue gowns, blue hats, face masks and plastic gloves.  It was dangerous to go into the rooms in the home without proper reason, and there was supposed to be no touching, no contact and no connection.  Everyone was a risk, everyone was at risk, and in order to protect the home, the staff, the visitors, fortresses of fear were set up.  The bleakness is worth it, we were told, in order to protect us.  The unspoken side of this was, all these people locked behind this fortress of fear are a different kind of collateral damage.  They won't die of Covid 19, not if we can help it, but they will die of other things anyway and unfortunately, they will have to do it alone and be part of the fall out of this madness.  Can't be helped.  Rules is rules.

One of the seemingly hopeless
Face Time calls. 
The result of this cruelty, this hysteria, this dysfunction is that we who lost our loved ones carry a complicated grief and a terrible burden of guilt.  There are millions of us, families who had let their loved ones go as if into a war zone and were powerless to tell them it was not our choice.  Absolutely powerless to be anywhere near, and some of our people were left for months without the light of comfort and relationship from those who knew them best.  Like our father, he is just one, left to be a statistic in the worldwide fear of a pandemic.  He is just one person claimed by this massive tsunami of reactive panic and fear and not actually killed by the virus we are so sure is swirling around longing for us to touch each other and leap with lethal vengeance into our bodies.  He is just one person who was left without understanding it, in a room that no one could come into without a jolly good reason, and silence from the people to whom he belonged. His sisters.  His friends.  His family.  His remaining children, my brothers and me.  His beloved youngest son, our most wonderful brother Dominic, died in 2016.

On leaving the home after that first visit, with such anger and resentment for whoever makes these decisions to isolate and terrify people into mass overreaction, I decided to take our father out to die at home with me. My brothers and I put things into place and a date was arranged for a private ambulance to transport Dad to my house.  The room Dad was to come to was downstairs with doors opening into the garden with all the flowers and colours that heal our failing souls.  Everyone, the home, the district nurses, the carers, the GPs were on board.  They understood and helped make this happen within days.  All was ready, our father would not be isolated in a room without us any more.  And then the home called.  He may not make it, they said, and you can come now.  So I, unwilling to concede defeat at this late stage, called everyone involved and arranged, by a miracle, on a Sunday, a private ambulance to come that afternoon and bring him here.  He will be here, I said to myself.  I will make it happen. The carers, a palliative care nurse friend and her husband, a priest, were on hand to be here and make him comfortable so he could do his dying here with me.  With us.  My brothers were coming, my daughter was coming, his sisters and his friends would know he was here, all would be well.

A lovely man, our Dad
I made it to the home.  My oldest brother Ralph waited outside, my younger brother John was on his way, two hours away.  I had to wear an extra piece of equipment now, on top of my gown, my gloves and my mask.  I had a blue hat.  He is not breathing well, the nurses said, and I went in to see him.  I took the mask and gloves off.  His breathing was rasping, his face was sunk and his eyes were in another realm.  Hold on, I told him, hold on.  You are coming home with me. I called my daughter on Face Time, and she spoke to him.  The ambulance arrived, his breathing slowed to a gasp, and I said to the staff, get my brothers.  In no time, my brothers came with their gowns half on and no time to put on hats or gloves.  Dad was on the stretcher beside his bed, ready for transport, and it was obvious he was not going to stay.  None of us wore a mask, they got in the way of us from telling him we loved him. The ambulance crew, the staff, all melted away, closed the door, and left us to hold our father strapped on the stretcher, beside his bed, as he took a few halting breaths, let out a long sigh, and died.  Bless the staff and ambulance crew for that.  It just shows, they do not like this situation any more than I do, and they gave us those final important moments alone.

Later, when we left him, back in his bed, I put a sprig of foliage from the plant in his room, onto his pillow.  I always put a flower, or a symbol of love, on the pillow of someone who dies when I am there. With my husband Alan, there were no plants in his room so I put his model aeroplanes onto the pillow.  For a treasured old lady I was looking after, I covered her pillow with fresh lavender that she loved.  For Dad, I broke a piece of greenery from a pot plant in his room, and put it on his pillow.  Bye, Dad, we said, and no one cried as we left him alone again, and went outside into the sun. Later, alone in our own homes, we cried.

Here is my conclusion. 

We forget that life is unpredictable, and so is death.  Especially death. It is in our nature to want to understand things, to be in charge of things, and we do whatever we can to make a dying make sense to us.  Our father's death was caught up in a worldwide panic.  I do not say pandemic, I say panic.  It is beyond our control.  His dying was in the end, as beautiful as it could be.  It was not what we had wanted and it was not what I had organised and there, in that sentence, is the truth about death.  It is not what we wanted, not what I had organised.  Bringing Dad home would have been perfect.  It would have helped all of us no end, giving him a suitable send off.  It was not though, in the end, about us.  Our father left when he did because that was his story and he had to leave when he was ready, on his terms, not ours.  And if he was to have died in a soft hospital bed in my dining room, with the doors opening onto the garden and the breeze blowing and the birds singing, I would have loved that.  But it is not relevant, in the end, to what was happening to him.  In the end, we were with him.  His three remaining children were holding him, looking like giant smurfs in our blue costumes, as he took his last breath.  We made it.  That, in the end was what we all wanted.  He did not die alone, though it was on a stretcher beside his bed.  The final moments were with us, together, and that is all of our gifts to each other.  His to us, and ours to him.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

The templates of our lives

The revelation

I had an insight the other evening, as I drove home down the country roads here in West Sussex.  I was leaving an late volunteering shift at our local hospice, and thought - so many of us feel we don't fit in.  So many of us suspect that other people have the answers to life, and that we do not.  It makes us feel vulnerable, it makes us doubt ourselves.  Most of the time we say to ourselves that yes - it is those other people who have it right and yes, we are wrong.  We have it wrong.  It takes courage and life experience to realise that we are barking up the wrong tree.  What suits others does not have to suit us.  And perhaps, there isn't just one right way, but many, and we have not found ours yet.

But if we don't feel we belong, it makes sense for us to think that other people, all of whom may look as if they are having a great time and belonging all over the place, they must have the answer.  It takes time, experience and self knowledge to realise that those others may feel as out of it as we do.  And we don't know if they feel they aren't getting it right, they don't let on.  In which case, maybe other people imagine we have the answers, and have our lives sorted.  Oh it gets complicated.  We just do not know.  But we feel, and feel very strongly.  And often, we feel very badly about ourselves. 

The insight that I received on the way home from the hospice that evening was that we think that there is a template.  A template of a correct way of being, and that we have to fit into it.  The template holds it all together, we feel, and if we fit ourselves into it we will be safe.  We will be one of those belonging, comfortable, enviable people that surround us.  We will feel good about ourselves, because somehow, we will be right.  We will be safe, and all will be well.

I imagined this template as a flat, person shape, made of light with a grid pattern inside. Each of us wants to lay down the image of ourselves onto it but only very few of us fit.  Our arms are too long, our legs too short, our shape all wrong.  Instead of the fit being perfect like those children's toy shapes that slot perfectly into the correct hole, we lay our image down and we are all over the place.  We do not fit.  What is wrong?  The template, or us?  So we look at this mismatch and blame ourselves for being wrong, and keep it to ourselves that we don't fit.  No one must know, we would be so ashamed.  We keep trying.  One day, we say, we will manage to fit our own image onto this perfect template of life, and then all will have been worth while.  And then I wondered about the template at all.  We all have one, a template to show us what we think we should be, how things should work, and what is right.  There is probably a general template in our culture about what is right and wrong, about how to proceed in our society, general rules of behaviour and expectations, and what not to do.  That template is big enough for us to fit ourselves into it, and flexible enough for it to mould itself around us, so that on the whole, we know what is expected.

The difficulty is the other template that we aspire to, that we believe is the right one to be in, the one
that try as we might, we cannot ever quite fit.  The one that we use to make ourselves feel bad about ourselves.  The one that we feel would make everything better if only we could lay our image down onto it and find a perfect match.  Oh dear.  And if we can't do this, we blame ourselves and feel we are the odd ones, and that something is secretly wrong with us.  We keep quiet about it because we feel ashamed.  And we just keep plodding on, trying to fit ourselves into the template we have for ourselves, the one that never quite works.

Everyone else has it right

The revolution.  

What if we realised our template was unrealistic, and threw it out?  What if we got fed up of not ever fitting into it, got rid of it, and created one that was tailor made for us?  Can we do that?  Yes.  There comes a time in life when we think, oh to hell with things.  What is all this struggle for anyway?  We lose patience with the lifestyle we aren't quite having, with the narrative in our heads that tells us we are not good enough, with the longing for things that are just too much trouble to get, and we rebel.  Damn it, we say, where am I in all this?  What do I really like doing?  And we are shocked to realise that we do not like pleasing people all the time in case they a) notice we feel inferior b) might give us something we think we need c) we might miss out d) we really don't know how not to.  We are stunned and relieved to admit we like lying around in shell suits on our days off eating cheesy chips and drinking orange squash.  We don't want to improve our minds with Tolstoy, we want to read Agatha Raisin.  We do not like doing good and neighbourly things for everyone all the time, even though everyone else thinks we are fabulous.  In fact we hate it and we would rather watch Great British Bake Off on telly every time.  Oh lord.  Perhaps our template needs to be more personal, more creative, less driven by other people.  What if everyone laughs at me, we may think at first.  What if I put on weight, and what if I don't get promotion, and what if all those other people (who we believe do fit the template we are struggling with) do really well and everyone loves them, and what if I just stop caring?  Well, what if?  If these things bind you (mustn't put on weight, mustn't miss the promotion, fear everyone else will do better than you etc), and make you unhappy, and never change, then they aren't for you.  One door closes, they say, and another opens.  Time to make your own personal template for your life, and have it fit you so well, and be so flexible and forgiving, you do not know why you didn't do this before.

I visited a dying lady recently, and noticed pencils and a pad on a table near her chair.  I asked if she liked to draw, and she was silent for a long time.  Maybe the question upset her, I thought, and prepared to leave her in peace.  But she spoke and replied that she had not used her art stuff since the 12 September.  That was the day she received her diagnosis, and was given a short time to live.  She stopped wanting to draw on that day.  But she said that for the first time she can remember, she is content.  She is happy.  No one in her family understands it, she said, but all of the pain and difficulties in her quite traumatic life, have gone.  Who would have known, she said, when my life was so hard as a child, and I was looking for any kind of happiness, that I would get it when I have a terminal diagnosis, and I cannot move.  She said that she had been trying in all the wrong places, with all the wrong people, all of her life.  She had been homeless, in prison, and had felt driven to find answers and to fight.  And now, like a paradox, with everything taken from her, she has found peace and a sense of who she is, and every day she is grateful.  She doesn't know how it happened, but it has.  And now, she says, she knows who she is.  She's sorted her funeral, her will, found a God that speaks to her, and she has found peace.  It was after this conversation, driving home, that I had my insight.  She has found, created, got, the right template for who she is.  She no longer needs the old one. 

Ditch the template! 

The realisation

I had an unrealistic template for most of my life.  As a child I felt I didn't belong, and that there was a proper way to do things that bypassed me completely.  I didn't understand why I had to try to be someone else. Who I was, I felt, was not quite acceptable.  I hated this, I felt trapped and restricted and wrong but I had to find a way to adapt.  Of course, I rebelled, and was torn between trying not very well to please everyone and trying to assert my real self.  I realise now that my real self was perfectly fine. I was a fairy, a free thinking, alternative, creative non conformist little dumpling but my mother wanted a well behaved, tennis playing, clean and tidy obedient little girl.  My poor dear mother.  She had struggled all of her life with rejection and invisibility and in a sad twist of fate, in trying to prevent me from ever having to suffer as she had, created for me exactly the same experiences. 

On the journey back home from the hospice the other night, when I had the idea about templates in our lives, I saw clearly the template my mother had created for me, and how it had never, ever been right.  I saw her own template for herself and how damaged that had been; how little kindness and expectations she had for herself.  Though I had given up the imposed template successfully over the years, some of the fear of rejection and being unseen and unheard remains. 

I don't want to wait until I am dying to find peace.  I had the image of this person shaped hole, with a grid inside, that I had taken from my mother, and how I had never wanted to lie myself down on it, had always fought against it.  I had never thought of it all like this before.  Now, I imagined myself lifting off of this wrong template and creating a new one, where I could lie myself down in it and feel at home, have it fit me, and feel safe and contained by something supportive and affirmative and light.  I can give up all this stuff that doesn't work, I don't have to deal with it a moment longer.  I am creating a new template where I do belong, and where being a dumpy fairy is a good thing. 

Peace at last.

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Monday, 25 May 2020

New Artist Extraordinaire YouTube Channel.

Everygrandma.  New YouTube channel, move over Russell Brand.
I know.  I asked one of my son's friends if old ladies can have YouTube channels, and instead of being shocked that I called myself an old lady, he replied that anyone could have one. 

I do already have a channel, with very little on it.  There is a smattering of stuff from a long time ago, and a five minute video I made of my mother as she was dying and of her actual death back in 2015.  Mother's video has gone mental and has had 427,521 views and 556 comments so far, and is growing daily.  I have 671 subscribers because of this one video and I am paralysed with fear because there is nothing else for anyone to watch, at all, and yet these kind people have subscribed to a one hit wonder channel.  They thought they were going to see great things, and they have not.  I want to apologise to them all for being a YouTube fake, and for not making anything else.  I look at my channel from time to time to feel awful about all the lovely new comments and views, with no idea how to follow up.  What on earth do I do after a video of mum dying?  I am, after all, just a grandma from Bognor Regis who does painting and stuff. 

And then, I thought, that is the follow up!  

There is Everyman, and Everywoman and now there is Everygrandma.   

The real thing.  So excited, branded to
match my website.  Matchy matchy. 
I will take a deep breath, own my YouTube channel, and start a new online weekly posting from the studio.   That is, after all, where the A Graceful Death exhibition was created, is stored now and where I am currently working on the Addicts and Those Who Love Them paintings.  There is so much creativity, thinking, doing, listening to reggae, and letting the muse flow in the studio.  People come to talk about life, death, love in there.  And of course, I am in the middle of painting things that are interesting to watch as they take shape.  I always show paintings when they are done, and never when they are at the painting by numbers or the kindergarten let me do a masterpiece stage.  My pride has up until now been too tender for anyone to see quite how awful the first few attempts at doing a new painting are.  I have not wanted you to know I work very hard at getting it right, getting it wrong so often that I sometimes wonder if I should get a real job.  Sometimes, I have finally painted a likeness that is terribly good, and I am pleased.  When I come back to it, expecting to twiddle a few flicks of paint and finish it with a fanfare, I notice that the eyes are too far apart and that the whole structure of the face has been thrown out of kilter.  I have that little discussion with myself that says, well, no one will notice, I can get away with it - but I know that I will re do the whole face, from scratch.  I will just have to do it.  It is always much better when it is done, but oh, for that short while, I think, no one will notice.  Don't make me do it all again when it is so nearly finished.  

This is the kind of stuff that I will show you.  I will let you all see the wonky drawings, the out of place ears,  the arms that are far to big for the body, the way the painting looks great except that it doesn't look like the person I am painting. I will have to admit that it needs re doing, I won't be able to get away with leaving it. It will be such a new venture, this YouTube channel.  I have already done the first video and will get it ready for Tuesday for when the newsletter goes out too.  In this first video, I had no idea what I would say, and surprised myself by talking about how my USP (unique selling point) is that I have no training whatsoever for any of the work that I do.  I work best on the job, and I say that I do not like to be restricted by rules.  Lord!  This first video seems to be a confessional.  It is true though, I do not even have any art qualifications.  (And I do not like rules very much).  I did not go to art school, I went to University instead and did a degree in Art History.  I felt that what creativity I had would be lost if I went to an art school, it was best to let it be and not dissipate it.  I felt it was both very fragile and as old as time itself.  I wanted to let it grow with me, and now, look.  I am a grandma in a studio in Bognor Regis with my very own YouTube channel.  Move over Russell Brand.  

Because my life is so much more than painting, I aim to include the under the radar work I do too.  I will talk about encounters with people who face the ending their lives, people who are living with illness and how it fits into the world in which we live.  There are many stories about these meetings, these times spent passing through someone's life, and of the things we all give and receive in each encounter.  It is linked to the artwork that I do, and so there will be a place for it in the studio.  Even if it wasn't, I would still speak about it, it is so interesting.  And I would like to show the people who visit the studio, and hear them speak.  People from Arun Exact, perhaps, the peer led relapse prevention project run by Ian J Doctor, coming to talk about being in the Addicts And Those Who Love Them Exhibition.  Chats with friends Gill and Marie with whom I run sessions for anyone dealing with loss, loss of any kind, including grief, and perhaps because creativity happens all the time everywhere, I will show the beautiful garden and the work Chris, who looks after the it, does in there, the furniture painting and creating that my lodger Mark is doing in his workshop in his space in the garden, and the piano music that my son likes to play when the mood takes him.  

And now, I am going to post the video of my mother's dying.  It is very beautiful, loving and tasteful.  It shows her after she dies, so you can chose if you want to watch. It is kind, and mum has a peaceful and holy death.  It is this channel that will post updates from my studio and creative world.  The first one is up now, so please do watch it.  And subscribe.  The video is here

My newsletter comes out every two weeks, with updates on my creative work and listening and support encounters.  To subscribe, please go to

Please be aware that this loving video shows my mother after she is dead.  Click on the link not the photo.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

What yells the hell out of me and what gives me joy.

Yelling the hell (Covid rage)
Finding joy, (being nice)

When my children were little in the nineteen nineties, one of them misheard "annoying the hell out of me" as "yelling the hell out of me", and that became the go to phrase for annoyance.  I still use it, as you can see.

Staying at home like this has begun to focus my mind on details.  Not world details, not political or health details, but details in my house.  I am able to pin point things that annoy me and things that give me happiness in a way that, in the old days, someone may have asked me if I had not better things to be doing with my time.  I am noticing things in total strangers, when I am out, that make me tut in frustration.  I have become passive aggressive in the supermarket and I am not the only one.

I experienced a stand off only last week over blueberries.  As I stood to look for raspberries, a tall, brusque man in face mask and gloves behind me tutted and cleared his throat. As I had not moved for about two seconds, he called to me very loudly and with suppressed violence, that excuse me, he needed some blueberries please.  I leapt out of the way, apologising, thinking I had been looming over not only the raspberries, but all the blueberries too and how selfish - only to see that the blueberries were more than six feet behind me and I didn't have to move at all, it was all just a power trip. Annoyed, I wanted to attack his trolley with my trolley and pretend it was an accident. I wanted to think of something precise and cutting to say, but I didn't.  I wanted to lick all the blueberry packs so he couldn't have any, and to ping his face mask.  I just had to walk on and hope that he had forgotten his card and had to go home and queue up again.  The point is, I don't normally care if someone is like this, there are always reasons why they are, but right now when I am much more aware of what yells the hell out of me, I take it all personally.  Poor man, he's probably telling his wife right now that there was such a nice lady in the supermarket looking at raspberries and that they had a friendly and polite exchange.  He probably told her, with a tear in his eye, that this Covid business is bringing the best out in us.

For this blog, I am going to tell you what is yelling the hell out of me, and what is not.  Normally a very nice patient person, with lots of good things to say about everyone, I am finding the shadow side of my personality.  I am judgemental, cross, impatient and weary.  I am unable to think about too much beyond what I am going to eat next.
Doves fly from my hands etc

And then, I am filled with peace, understanding and compassion.  Doves fly from my hands.  I smile and do nice things like paint my garden furniture blue.  It is all just a temporary test for the human race, I say kindly, to whoever will listen.  On line.  Love and connection will win through.

What yells the hell out of me.

Here are just a few.

  1. Things are not in the right order on my tables.  Oh.  You may know this one.  I need order, I
    Oh my, who left the letters
    there.  WHO? 
    need things to be where I left them and this pen, this jar of matches, this fan are all in the wrong places.  It's too much.  I can't do anything if the jar of matches is here it needs to be there.  This is possibly about control.  I wake in my house, I go to sleep in my house.  Outside there is a teeny tiny invisible virus that wants us to snuggle up close so it can jump into our bodies and kill us.  We are all washing our hands in our homes, staying away from everyone we love, and we can't see this threat.  One wrong move, we think, and it will fly through the air to us and we will never see it coming.  So I control the tiny things I can control in my world  - and the bloody jar of matches is too far to the right on this table.  Damn these matches. And all the other things that look messy and out of place, like the fruit bowl on the kitchen table.  It doesn't go under the flowers it goes here, and if it gets moved, I am going back to bed.
  2. I can't see my grandchildren. How many of us are in this boat? I can see them on FaceTime but it is not the same.  I fear they will forget me, and I will turn up eventually with little chocolate bunnies in my pockets for them, and they will cry because they don't like the new funny lady who wants to watch telly with them and knows their names.  I will end up eating the chocolate bunnies all by myself watching C Beebies with the grand children playing happily next door with their mummy and daddy.  I miss their little ways, their excitement when we go to the beach, and all their stories and constant chatter about everything.  I miss cuddling up with them at the end of a busy day and reading stories.  Obviously their mummy and daddy do not feel this way, they would like a month on a cruise liner far out to sea with no children or WiFi.  They have been eyeball to eyeball with the children for over six weeks now. 
  3. Everyone is talking about Covid 19.  I have been in my house for ages without my friends, family or colleagues.  I want to talk about me.
  4. Masks and gloves.  I have mask and glove rage.  My own feeling is that masks do not stop you
    Just off to change a car wheel.
    getting the virus, as much as staying away from people and washing your hands.  Masks look like a fear response and make me annoyed.  Gloves, well, if you wear gloves and then answer your phone, touch all the food in the shop, and touch your face taking off your mask, then you are not as safe as you imagined.  In the hospice, we put on fresh gloves and an apron each time we go into someone's room, and remove them on the way out and wash our hands.  If I forget something and have to go back in at once, I still have to re glove and re apron.  Leaving the ward, I have to remove the face mask and get a fresh one when coming back in.  Forgive me if you love face masks and gloves.  I think they are very effective, if used properly. But I hate them in supermarkets and cars and walking the dog.  
  5. The push to look busy.  I resent, and resist, all encouragement to get busy online, doing courses, offering courses, and attending webinars.  I do not want a routine and I don't want to hear about how well other people are managing with their successful routines.  I certainly don't want to get lots of posts from shiny young thin women telling me to up my marketing and it's time to join them online to learn how to network, get and keep more clients, keep myself slim and be a much better person.  The pressure to achieve makes me want to sit in my old pyjamas and eat peanut butter from the jar.  I do want to achieve, I would love to be thin and have people beat a path to my door to have a bit of what I have, but they didn't before, and I am dealing with so much change here in my home and my family (who I can't see), that to be focusing on being glossy and successful and completely unaffected and in control, makes me cross.  Go away, I say to the posts.  I bet you didn't look like that first thing this morning, and I bet you have down days too.  I bet, too, that your dog ate all the smarties you had hoarded for later when no one was looking, and now you are as depressed as the rest of us.  (We aren't all depressed, but we are sometimes on and off.  People on social media who look like they can't wait for dawn so that they can do their yoga upside down in size ten leotards, and smile with delight as they brush their already white teeth before taking a few thousand pounds online with the courses they offer while fending off the fan mail, make me very resentful. Normally a very nice person, I wish for these poor people to fall down a manhole.  Onto a nice feather mattress.  I am not advocating violence)

What gives me joy

Here is a small selection -
  1.  The mornings.  I sleep under a wide open window, and I cannot wait for the first birds to
    sing.  When the dawn comes, I feel happy that a new day is here and that soon I can have a pot of tea.  As the days are longer, the light comes early, and because there is a lock down, I do not have to get up.  I can stay there in bed and it will not matter.  There is so much time ahead to enjoy the morning.  My options are - make the tea and have it in bed, or on the pink sofa where the doors open onto the garden, or on the red sofa where I do all my thinking.  And then, I can listen to the news (only for a small while, it gets very samey), read a book or listen to Audible.  Or I can just sit and think.  I am a morning person, and love this time when the day is so new.  And because the whole world has been put on hold, there is no thing I should be doing instead.  I can simply have my whole morning, and I love it. 
  2. My garden.  I may feel about my garden now, the same way that I felt about my children when
    Smurf blue garden furniture
    they were tiny.  I love my garden.  It is a riot, a jumble, a mass of colour, of different leaf shapes, flowers, of plants that have come from somewhere and ended up here.  I have hollyhocks in my front garden that I did not plant.  I have poppies, foxgloves, wisteria and  honesty that I did not plant.  They came by themselves and found a home in my garden.  Many other plants and flowers were planted by Chris, who walks over from his house round the corner, and does all the work.  I simply enjoy.  And I do enjoy.  I have painted all my wooden garden furniture blue, and I sit on blue seats having tea from a blue table, and breathe in the beauty and feel transformed. I love my children too, just to reassure you.  They are grown now and even more wonderful than ever.  They too are a riot.
  3. FBI Files and other police documentaries.  I am not sure if this should be a guilty secret or not.  I love fast car chases on police documentaries, and driving a police car at top speed through a built up area with blue lights should be on my bucket list.  I am those police drivers when I watch them.  FBI Files is an American show, a docudrama of old cases and the FBI always wins against the odds.  Each show is just under an hour, so you get your money's worth.  And oh those Agents are so slick.  So confident, and the baddies do not, in the end, stand a chance against the genius of the system.  During this lock down, there is much time for indulgence.  In fact, I think it is essential to indulge, and I have loved my times on the sofa with the FBI and all the UK police forces that I can find.  (Indulge within reason.  I do not suggest a serial killer should indulge in serial killing during this time.)
  4. Eating.  I cannot get over how delightful it is that there is a kitchen in my house, dedicated to food.  I am in there a great deal, planning what to eat next and having a snack while I do so.  
  5. Time.  Time has changed.  I do not have to achieve anything for anyone, there are no deadlines and I cannot do face to face visits.  There is nothing to prove.  It wouldn't matter if I didn't do the things I do, and I am at home in my house most of the time.  So I can experience the mornings.  During the days I can sit and think if I want to, and potter around both house and garden following a whim.  I have never had time to do this before without pressure - all my events and things are postponed till whenever - and so I have time to simply watch it, time, go by.  I am finding a lot of healing in spending time letting go, it has made me realise  how much I waste it by avoiding noticing it.  It is nice, time is, it is there whether I like it or not, and so I have made it my friend and am getting to know it a bit while I can. 

The things that yell the hell out of me are less noble than the things that give me joy.  This time here in my house has been frustrating, tedious, constricting and difficult.  It has also been peaceful, revealing,  joyful and surprising.  We all have different experiences of this Corona time.  It is truly awful for some.  It is relentless, unyielding, frightening for others.  It is also just right for some people, they love the freedom to be at home doing their own thing without having to see anyone else.  I am making the most of it, there are good days and bad days, but being an optimist I am managing. 

If you love face masks, gloves, blueberries, webinars, yoga and any of the things I may have been a bit rude about, I am really sorry.  Don't take it personally, it is not you, I am just experiencing Covid Fury from weeks of isolation and navel gazing. 

Longing to see these little angels again.  On their way to post a letter to me. 

Monday, 27 April 2020

The Corona Fairy. Just born this way.

The original inspiration for Disney's Tinkabell
When I was a little girl, I believed - I knew - I was a fairy.  I thought it was obvious, and that everyone else knew and agreed.  I reacted with a passion to colours and patterns, I could see things in the light and all I wanted to do was live under flowers and fly with wings that sparkled.  Fairies wore light gossamer dresses, and were beautiful.  Being a very human child, I was solid, roughly square in shape, with straight white blonde hair that stuck out in all directions and was gathered into a ribbon on top of my head.  At one point, I found some old net curtains in my mother's sewing box, and wore them.  My mother was truly beautiful in real life, and had high standards; she and her sisters made me wonderful pretty dresses that had puffed sleeves, little flowers sewn into the fabric, and white lace and ribbons.  I was dressed so very beautifully and yet, I had a mind that did not touch my mother's world.  The net curtains were what I wanted, and so, I wore them over my pretty dresses and thought I was the most beautiful fairy in the world.
Many knees on each leg

It is worth mentioning that I was not thin, nor light, nor fey.  I was fat, loved food and pretty things in a very solid, uncomplicated and hefty way.  I was one hell of a fairy.

I drew all the time.  I made things, I painted things and lived in a wonderful magical world.  And though life got in the way many times as I grew up, I found great solace in accessing this fairy place where I could express myself and surround myself with colour and beauty.   Even in the times as a young mother when life was very hard and I was lost to myself, I painted pictures in my kitchen and kept little corners of my life for art.  As with all these things, there were times when I could not create, when left with small children after a divorce, and they were the hardest times of all.  It is when we lose something so fundamental to who we are, that we learn its value.

However, we all know that I came through those times.  What always helped when life was not easy was this creative place which thrived on beauty, magic, colour, shape, stories, patterns and my own inner world.  It is as if I have one foot in the real world, and the other in a world of my own making.  Much of my life has been learning how to honour both worlds, and to bring them harmoniously together so that I can live in both, access both, and use both to be the best that I can.  The hardest for me was to find my way in the real world.  It was too easy to escape to the other, but life has shown me that in order to be or do anything, I have to be here on this earth, and love it.  Not always easy, or successful, but so valuable when it works. 

Here we are then, in a lock down in a global pandemic, all of us, living a new version of our lives in our homes.  Some of us have more time than ever, some do not.  Each of us has to find resources from deep inside to find our ways through these days.  I do not know how you are managing, I hope you are finding ways to cope.  I have good days and bad days here, and find that it is my mind that creates how time feels.  It has taken a while for me to accept that my days are mostly restricted to whatever I decide to do in them.  It really is up to me.  The house and garden do not change and time is neutral. There are days I want to escape, there are days I feel ready to achieve great things and there are days when I feel I might as well put one foot in front of the other so to speak, and see where the days lead.  All of these days are valuable, all of them make a bigger picture, and all of them give me insights into where my mind is on that particular day.

I knew at the beginning of this time of isolation, that I could indulge in play.  But it is hard to play when one has been so worthy and all one does is so very deep and meaningful.  What a thing to realise.  All that I do is fine, it is what I do, but the notion that play would be indulgent and that I ought to be able to do it now that I have some time, is a little telling. It is a mindset that say, Play!  Now!  You have time and you must honour it!  Be creative and spontaneous!

Painted plant pots
Whatever hard things this social isolation and distancing has brought for us all, whatever losses we have to bear, for me at least, there is this place I was born with that I can go to, which is creativity.  The place that responds to colour and shape, that sees things in the light, that escapes into the stars and plays with the fairies. The place that made me wear net curtains over my chocolate stained pretty dresses with puff sleeves and frills, the place that made the hard times more bearable, the place that in the years when it was gone, left such a bleak space in my life.  It is time to notice it again, and let it out, so that I can play.

I watch my grandchildren play.  They are totally in the moment and they have no self doubt.  They have something to do, and they do it.  There is no judgement in their play, and when they are playing, which they do all day long, they simply give it all their attention and focus.  This is play.  For me to decide to play, I have to put down my Shoulds and Oughts, I have to make a pact with myself, that the world will not end if I do not do this worthy thing here, or if I do not read up on that worthy self improving thing there.  I have to change my mind and say, it does not matter about these other things!  It does not matter if what you do when playing is any good, or finished, or even recognisable, it simply matters that you go into your creative space, have a look around, and play.

My new friends, the plants and flowers.
My creative play started with the garden.  I planted new flowers and then began to notice what was already there.  Every day, I looked at the plants until I felt I knew them. Nothing happened, nothing was created, but there was joy in observing.  There was a pride in the growing,
changing and moving on of these plants. I became friends with my garden, I felt part of the growing.  There are many flowers and plants in my garden.  It is a free for all with what is in there, and hollyhocks have self seeded everywhere.   And fox gloves, and honesty, and even wisteria.  I have honeysuckle, peonies, roses, fuchsia and ferns.  I have daisies and dandelions, and sweet peas.  And now, thanks to friends at Arun Exact, I have beetroot, cauliflower, sprouts, herbs, tomatoes and
beans.  My lodgers Mark and Kate have made a kitchen garden with them, and we are all as proud as new parents with our teeny sprouting vegetables.  Arun Exact is a peer led relapse prevention service, working with clients in huge greenhouses learning how to grow food and make things from it.  They are doing good work, and are to be admired and supported in every way.  I am joining them as an artist when the world lets us out again.

My studio, everything from

a paper guillotine to pink 
feathers and glitter
Inside my studio in the garden, I have paints, varnishes, wood, canvas, glitter, feathers, materials, papers, paints, pens, books and a million other things.  Including a little heated gun that picks up treated little glass bling stones and glues them direct onto surfaces.  Oh and I have a wood saw, a guillotine to cut paper and a sander.  It is an Aladdin's cave.  But what I am doing in there is working hard on my worthy and wonderful exhibition on Addiction.  I have not glued a rhinestone onto anything for ages.  I have not written in ink on the walls, nor painted furniture for the sake of it for such a long time.  I have not had time.  In fact, it was never time, it was that I did not want to go into the creative garden, in case I never came out.  And there was the dreadful suspicion that I had forgotten how to play.

During this lock down I can and do work on the exhibition, from time to time.  But there is no deadline for it any more, and there is space for other things.

I began by painting my bedside cabinets blue.  That was fun, just blue, no decorations.  The blue is perfect, and I painted them in the sunshine in the garden and when they were varnished and complete, I put them into my bedroom where every time to go in, I admire them.  Then the beads on green flip flops given to me by my dear friend Bette, had all come off.  I had them by the door for a year thinking that one day I will do something about them.  Last week, I did.  I sat in my studio, removed the old beads and glued more sequins and stones from my hoard onto the flip flops and now, they are mended.  Fab.  They catch the sunlight when I wear them, they are the real thing.  I had forgotten the feeling that today, now, later, I can paint a flower pot.  Or sand another table and decorate it.  Or draw, write and post some stories to the grandbabies George aged four and Arthur aged two, all of which I have now done.
A green bee and ladybird table

Disney's Tinkerbell, the fairy in the film Peter Pan, scatters fairy dust when she moves.  This is how I feel when I am happy in my world.  I am not always happy in my world, and I am not tiny, yellow and able to fly.  But the freedom to simply live in the moment with paints, colours, ideas and
motivation to see where it all goes and what happens, that is the fairy dust.  That is where Tinkerbell and I are alike.  When I am not happy in my world, which, being a human like the rest of us, is often, the fairy dust is still there, I just cannot see it.

Detail of the table now in my bathroom
 The creative play, the fairy dust, covers all manner of things.  I have ordered cheap cotton skirts in brilliant colours so that I can wear them all alone in my house.  I have made each room here lovely so that I can sit and experience it.  I have the time after all, and, time is neutral.  It is we who give it meaning. I am learning to let go and give myself permission to experience pleasure and joy, and I am noticing colour, shape, magic and light.  I can sit in the garden and watch everything growing and just doing its thing.  I can sit and read, I can day dream.  And nothing happens, no one minds, and the world does not notice.  For the moment, I can do this, I am feeling peace and healing.  There is plenty out there that will demand my attention and focus when all this is over and we are back in our public world again.

But the gift of this time, for me, in amongst all the hard things of life, is the reminder that my creative world, my fairy dust other world that is so fundamental to anything I decide to do, does not go away and in all the madness of the lives we all live, is only a sprinkle of fairy dust away.

Which is the real Tinkerbell?  I know I can't always tell.  

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Monday, 13 April 2020

Birds yelling in my garden, and books on Listening and Sex

Actual birds from my garden in Bognor

I had no idea that birds were so loud.  I can hear them now that the traffic and aeroplanes have stopped and my busy schedule, from before the lock down, has released its hold on me.   I sat in my garden yesterday for some quiet time, and became aware that the birds were not just singing, they were yelling, from tree to tree, roof top to roof top and having a rare old time.  It was a lovely sound, I simply had not been aware of it before.  It was not the quiet time that I had expected, but it was very lovely and so instead of having a ponder, I listened to the birds instead.  Hard not to.  They were like the young people we hear about that gather around an off licence and have loud banter and set off fire works.

I have woken up about an hour before dawn too, to hear a bird clearing it's throat to give a little tweet into the darkness as a kind of warning shot across the bow.  I've been ready for ages, it says.  Just saying.

A few minutes ago I went into the garden to eat eggs on toast.  Another thing that I have noticed is that food tastes much better when there is so little else to do.  The house is clean, the garden is clean, I have changed all the beds and there's nothing I want to explore on YouTube.  I even had my allocated walk early this morning and as there is nowhere else we can go right now, my mind turns to meals.  Food.  What to have next.  Food has become a dear friend to me in these days of social distancing and isolation, in a way that it was not before.  It used to be like an annoying family member that I loved and couldn't do without but wished would go and bother someone else.  Now, when I have had to narrow my focus and enjoy what is in the house with me, food and I have become close.  I am planning what to eat, cooking it, and enjoying it.  Then it leaves me alone.  That is so much better than when it was like the annoying family member and kept pestering me to notice it and play. I would then snack, and graze, and eat and not give it much attention mainly because I was so busy with the outside world, and doing my thing.  I mean, a month or so ago, I had an exhibition to create and an opening night in May.  I had the Dead Good Day festival to do, and a jolly old twenty six mile hike to do for Macmillan.  With food trying to take over all of my attention then, eating could become fraught.  It was a bit of a battle.

So in the garden just now, sitting and loving my fried eggs on toast, I noticed the birds having a lull.  How amazing, I thought, perhaps they have run out of things to say to each other.  Perhaps they are all having a bit of a rest before shouting about who they are and where they live and what is for their dinner, later this afternoon.  Life, in this lock down, is amazing.  There is so much to notice, and so much to enjoy.  I can almost hear the plants growing and the ferns unfurling.  I can see how fast the foxgloves and the honesty is growing and within no time at all, the flower beds are chucking up the greenery, the new bulbs, the new flowers and buds as if they are fed up with them in the earth, and need to get them out.  And of course we have had sunshine.  So I have felt, with the world outside locked up and put away, that from time to time, it's not so bad at home after all.

I have been reading.  Yes.  BC (Before Covid) I was too busy to read.  I know.   I would spend ages watching FBI Files on the laptop, but was too busy to read.  The challenge of sitting and engaging in a book was too much.  I think perhaps I was anaesthetising myself, but that is a habit that is hard to break, and though a bit of numbing can be a very good thing, it has to be watched as it can take over.

I am not finding a need for numbing at the moment.  The world has taken the metaphorical phone off the hook, and all of us are on hold.  Most of us have had to relinquish overnight every plan or idea we had for anything outside our homes until further notice, we have had to let go of all the people who are not in our homes with us when the lock down order came, and we have had to accept a new reality that feels cartoon like in its absurdity.  What do you mean I can't go to work?  How come I can't see my father?  The whole concert is cancelled?  I can't even go outside or stand next to anyone?  What? And yet here we are.  Doing just that, and more.

After a few weeks of this isolation, I am feeling something close to relief.  Perhaps I was too frazzled before with so many things to do, so many directions to go in.  I thought I was doing fine, but I am astonished at the way I am now giving myself permission to do the things I had banished to the corners of my mind because I was so busy.  Things like sewing nice buttons on my jumper.  Planting in the garden.  Painting some furniture blue.  Making stories and drawings for the grandchildren and posting them. Talking online to my brothers. Painting my garden furniture and the garden fence blue.  (Job lot of blue paint.)

And of course reading. 

This leads me on to two wonderful books, both written by dear friends and both polar opposites to each other and their subject matter.  The first book is about listening, and the second is about sex.

Being Rock by Mandy Preece.
A guide to being there for yourself and others; redefining listening so we all feel heard. 

"I could laugh, cry, speak, or be silent and still he listened."

What is it like to really feel heard?  To know that someone is listening to you, allowing you to say all that you have to say in whatever way you need?  What is it like to know that someone will hold the space for you when the world my be crashing around you, or if you are facing the fearful unknown, or you are so angry that you don't know where to begin?

Mandy has spent years on an inpatient ward at her local Macmillan unit, listening to and being with people facing the end of their lives.  She has learned, through so much trial and error, how to not only listen to people, but to hear what they are both saying and not saying.  Her determination to offer the best of herself to honour the last times of those she listened to over the last ten years has resulted in this book of true wisdom, insight and techniques that we can all use to be with those that need someone to be there for them, to be a Rock for them.  And not just to end of life patients, but to each other, family members especially children and teenagers, friends, colleagues and strangers that may chose us to talk to.

Being someone's rock means standing firm, and silent, and still and strong for them while they speak.  We have all experienced someone throwing a statement at you, says Mandy, such as "I slept with my mate's wife." "I think I'm gay". "I'm an alcoholic". "My mum's dying" and we have no idea what to say.  This is what Mandy's book is about.  She says there is a way for us to respond, to simply be there for someone not in an insincere, sentimental or soppy way, but the real thing: being present, being alongside, so that someone feels heard.  It is and it isn't simple, she says. It took practice for her to discover her "beingness" so that she could be truly present for the people she was rocking.

I have known Mandy for years.  I have witnessed her struggle in the days when she knew she had a calling, a gift to offer, and yet it all felt so much like hard work.  When she started this work, Mandy read up about how to be a good listener, how to sit properly, and how to have the right facial expressions. She could not understand why it did not work and no one engaged with her.  Finally, she realised that she was trying too hard and that all that was needed, really, was to be herself and to make herself totally present for those she was with.  It worked.  And now, she has developed her willingness to be truly present as a listener into what she calls Being Rock, and into this beautiful book where we can all discover how to rock each other.

The contents of the book cover

  • Part 1 - rocking others.  In this section, we learn about presence, observing, reflecting, empathy, gremlins (that get in the way of our listening), inhibitors.  
  • In Part 2 - rocking ourselves, we learn about hearing ourselves, self-care and being heard.                     
It is truly the most down to earth, inspiring, exciting and enabling book about listening, hearing, being heard and being held that I have ever read.  I am so proud of Mandy.  Apart from being a rock herself, she absolutely rocks.  Here is a story Mandy shares in the book

Mandy Preece

"I was chatting to a terminally ill patient.  Every so often he 
would drop into the conversation that he realised he would soon 
be meeting his "Maker". On the third occasion, I reflected the 
word "Maker" back.  He didn't acknowledge what I'd said 
but carried on chatting.  When his family arrived, I got up to 
leave, he took my hand and said, "Can you come back 
tomorrow when my family aren't here?  I'd like to talk 
to you about that Maker thing"".

Mandy has received the Princess Royal Training Award for her communications training, and last year she was quite and utterly rightly awarded the NHS Unsung Volunteer of the Year.   I thoroughly recommend that you read this book.  You will be wiser for it.

Why Sex Doesn't Matter by Olivia Fane
Is Sex Natural?  Is Sex Dirty?  Is Sex Loving? Is Sex about Beauty?  Is Sex Political? 
Mench Publishing

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this funny, furious, well researched, personal and highly thoughtful book by another dear friend, Olivia.  It is controversial.  No doubt about that, and it will infuriate many, but it will hugely chime with others.  Olivia believes sex is highly overrated.  She thinks it is great fun, and very pleasurable, but that it has nothing to do with love.  Love, says Olivia, is entirely something else, and sex is biological.  It is, she says, a rather selfish act in that the doing of it, we think entirely of ourselves.  She has no problem with it being selfish, I think she means that it is not actually, in the nitty gritty of it, about the other person.

In the book, Olivia explores sex being all of the above - natural, dirty, loving, about beauty, political, and adds two more chapters, on whether sex is pleasurable, or profound.  I will quote a small bit here for you - get ready -

Olivia Fane
Those who revere sex might talk of a raw honesty between
the lovers, yet it's hard to think of a more dishonest activity.
To begin with, there's the adoption of a 'sexual persona' ...

... Equally, you have to pretend you have no inner life at all.  
No, you do not tell your potential lover about the death 
of a parent, or your anxieties about your daughter who is 
refusing to go to school.  You pretend that qua woman and 
qua man you are perfect and uncomplicated, and a pleasant 
relief from the previous partners, who were getting rather
suspiciously like real people and had to be ditched 
because the sex was losing its power.

No doubt about it, Olivia is debunking myths.  She is described as throwing a rational and unafraid light on the sexual act, and of never shying away from controversial truths and speaking her mind.  Yes.  That is totally Olivia and totally this book.  I was quite shocked at what my dear friend knows about sex now, from her research for this book.  And amused, because I can just see her taking her research very seriously and shocking a lot of people.   She has read and researched extensively, watched porn and talked to strangers, friends, family and those agreeing to be researched.  She has asked me too about what I think, and I know how insightful and searching are her questions. I have seen with others quite how unshockable she is, gaining huge respect and friendship from those who have been on the receiving end of her deep and witty investigations.

Olivia is a wonder.  Read the book.  She is very controversial and at the same time, deeply loving, loyal, generous of spirit and very, very clever.  She may annoy the pants off you, but you will not be bored for a minute and you may well agree with her.

This is Olivia's sixth book.  She and Mandy can both be found on Amazon and Olivia's book is in all larger bookstores, not that that means anything right now, because no one can go there.  Try Amazon.

Mandy is here -

Olivia is here -

And now, the day is closing.  The birds are getting a bit tired, and some of them need an early night so that they can tweet before dawn and get in first before the others wake up.  I have read both books and since I am once more a reader of actual books, I must find another to while away my hours here.  That, and planning my breakfast.

Practising a bit of Acapella for tomorrow morning