Remembrance

 

Maple tree, Clun

“It has been said ‘Time heals all Wounds.’ I don’t agree. The wounds remain.  In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens.  But it is never gone.” Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It’s been a long while since my last post to FEC-THis. Summer has come and gone, Halloween and Guy Fawkes too.  My country remains perplexed by the decision of the majority of its people to say goodbye to the EU. The same confusion now looks set to grip the US. The catalyst may be different but the root cause seems similar and all the while, pestilence, war, famine and death continue to spread their wares throughout the globe. Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday, a day when we remember those who have sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom. Over the years many millions have sacrificed yet our freedom remains fragile and we continue to live in troubled times.

It’s good to remember but sometimes it’s good to forget.  Or at least try.

So much has happened since I last wrote here, some of it good, some of it not so good. Pre-cancer levels of health and wellness continue to elude me. Simple things like opening jars or bottle tops are more challenging than they might otherwise have been.  Running, climbing (stairs, steep paths, hills) and dancing are all possible in my head but  unimaginably taxing in reality. Reading, reasoning, analysis and deduction take effort when not so long ago they were entirely effortless.

Life is full of compromises and treating cancer to secure more days on Earth has, at least for me, meant sacrificing many things that came easily before.

Being sad or mad about all of this seems the most natural course of action but those emotions take a lot of energy and no amount of rage or sorrow has ever been able to change the past.  Like the deciduous trees shaking off leaves in readiness for winter, weaving rich carpets of amber, bronze and gold, the last few months have been a time of  reintegration. Time to be in the moment, no past and no future, no wraiths from yesterday or castles in the air of some mythical tomorrow. The trauma that was, the scars that are and whatever might light the way or lurk in darkness along the road ahead, none of it matters. It is what it is, no more and no less.

I began this journey because I needed to save my life, but I wasn’t saving it for me. Putting food on the table and a fire in the hearth for those who depend on me has always been the driver. Four years on, I finally realise my overwhelming sense of duty and responsibility for others is nothing short of a Herculean task – one that my tango with cancer leaves me ill-equipped to complete. So I’ve decided Herculean is not for me, whether that’s capturing the Cretan Bull, bringing back the Mares of Diomedes or simply being the person everyone expects to make everything alright.  In an earlier life this decision would’ve left me riddled with guilt, and plagued with thoughts of failure and defeat. Today it brings a gentle air of comfort, long-awaited tranquility and reprieve.

This weekend I’m remembering all those who sacrificed for my freedom and how very grateful to them I’ll always be. In a small and quiet way I’m also remembering myself.

 

 

 

 

While I was away…

My writing habits have been random approaching completely erratic over the last few months of 2013, so much so that my friend Diane at Dglassme’s blog noticed I hadn’t been around much lately.

Image credit: “safe” – © 2007 Paul Keller – made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic

I started a new job 80 miles from home and although I wasn’t travelling every day I was soon spending very long days at work. It was all a little surreal and in truth paradoxical because I do my homework as far as new jobs are concerned and normally have a very good idea of what I’m letting myself in for.  There’s no point being sentient if we don’t learn from experience! Working in Information Technology within non-technology organisations is challenging for three very common reasons:

  • IT is often seen as a cost and not appreciated for its intrinsic value in all we do. From on-line applications to processing invoices, air conditioning to making phone calls, there’s no technology-free zone these days. Under-investing causes the same kind of pain as failing to go to the dentist. Teeth rotten beyond minor fillings need root canals, crowns or implants and if you’ve ever had a tooth in that condition you’ll know it’s excruciating in every sense of the word, including the time and expense of repairs!
  • IT people (and I’m one of them) sometimes find it difficult to explain the complexities of designing, building, testing, deploying and maintaining systems (that work) to non-IT people. Assumptions are made, pressure is applied, short-cuts are taken and before you can say Bolognese there’s a pile of very over-cooked spaghetti that no-one (even the IT people) can easily unravel. Everyone knows it doesn’t look or taste good but some poor person still has to consume it.
  • There’s a lot of snake oil. Some vendors will sell non-IT management whatever it is they want to hear, even if that happens to be unavailable until software version 99.9 (and they’re supplying v2.0). Another jolly wheeze is forgetting the complexities (and cost) of integration, data migration, security and business continuity, all of which deserve at least a nanosecond of thought when attempting to deal with the aforementioned over-cooked spaghetti.

As an IT person who has been in the industry a while, come across all the above on more than one occasion and then been gifted the opportunity to sort it out (have you ever tried untangling over-cooked spaghetti and reforming it into a non-toxic gourmet meal that looks and tastes good?!) I ask questions about the environment I’m coming in to. I try to assess how much bad pasta needs to be consumed, who is consuming it and how sick it’s making them.  I evaluate how much time, effort and elbow-grease I need to devote because I want to improve things without becoming another casualty of discombobulated pasta! This time I didn’t expect a spaghetti mountain of Mount Etna-esque proportions. I believed I’d find something more like Capri – composed of a mixture of old and new, perhaps rocky in places but generally solid, well maintained and inhabited by people who were happy in their daily lives.

The battered old safe in the photo is a good metaphor for the last three months of 2013. I’ve been locked inside it, banging my head against it and trying to work out how to fix it.  It didn’t take long to establish exactly how it came to be on its way to hell in a hand-basket and a very dear friend of mine recently joked that his experience elsewhere isn’t dissimilar.  What we both know (and resign ourselves to) is that it takes longer (and costs more) to refurbish and re-install than it does to let things slip into a state of disrepair.

No matter how much you dislike the dentist, regular check-ups really are in your own interest.

Recently I broke out of the safe and despite the dereliction I’m encouraged. Signs of life remain. Those green things aren’t more mouldy spaghetti, they’re seeds and they’re growing in spite of a very barren landscape. Nature always finds a way to rebuild and restore given the right conditions. Fortunately I’m good with seeds; I plant them, tend to their needs and they grow.  Rarely do I find myself surrounded by weeds because nurturing the seedlings helps them all become tall poppies. There is no sight more beautiful than a field of resplendent poppies and it certainly beats a Gordian knot of over-cooked pasta!

Breaking out of the safe reminded me that I have many gardens to attend and neglecting them, whether intentional or not, leads to dereliction.  Dereliction – of gardens, people, past-times or well-being – is something that weighs heavy on my soul. I’m at home with chaos, have built a career from resolving it, but I choose not to live with it 24 hours per day any more.  Sitting here in the winter sunlight I am reminded that balance in all my various commitments matters to me.  The derelict safe is in balance with its derelict environment but dereliction isn’t welcome in my life, now or in future. I and my various gardens are beginning to flourish so sad as it may be, I cannot let the demands of one previously neglected environment overshadow the needs of all the others.  I hope to untangle the spaghetti (for everyone’s sake) and I’d love to grow a new field of gloriously tall poppies but it has to happen alongside and not at the expense of the many other gardens I enjoy.

Tall Poppy

Yuletide Gratitude & Thankfulness

It’s the season of goodwill and all around me friends and family are scurrying to get ready for Christmas.  Although a number of us hold no strong religious convictions we preserve many of the customs handed down from generation to generation. As well as giving gifts we decorate our homes with fir trees, holly, ivy and mistletoe, a practice that pre-dates Christianity.

The ancient Celts cut mistletoe and placed sprigs above their doorways offering protection from bad weather and evil spirits. The mistletoe festival and crowning a mistletoe queen still takes place in my local village.  The ancients believed mistletoe was sacred and used it as a cure for many illnesses (please don’t eat it, it’s poisonous). To them it represented peace, friendship and fertility. Bringing greenery into the home at Yuletide also served as a reminder that once the winter solstice had passed the sun would return and crops would grow.

To live in a fertile land where food is plentiful is a blessing but I haven’t lost sight that I am fortunate to be able to feed my family. Although we live in a modern society there are many here who are hungry, cannot afford both food and accommodation, or whose families rely on food banks to ensure they can eat one meal per day.  As well as hungry people there are hungry animals, abandoned or neglected due to circumstance or spitefulness.  Eating is something many of us take for granted. When you’ve been hungry and had no money for food you realise being able to buy produce is something to be thankful for.

My country is largely peaceful and for that I am grateful too. There are incidents, more violence and intolerance than I would want, but most of us feel safe in our homes and out on the streets. The various Governments of my country engage in warfare from time to time though this is rarely done with the support of all citizens. The sanctity of life is important, yet perhaps we only realise how important when looking death straight in the face? Once you understand that time and old age are not givens as I and anyone affected by a critical illness soon learns, your perspective changes. Life is not something to be wasted over power struggles, land disputes or disparate beliefs.  I am grateful for every second of my life, the ups and downs, the quiet solitude, the time with family and friends. Much has changed in the past 2 years and there is no doubt life is harder, more uncertain and sometimes frustrating. Yet I am not regularly faced with procedures I have no choice in, made sick as part of the process of getting better or mentally confined in the land of the lab rat. I am thankful that those days are gone, that I am largely intact and still have hold of a reasonable chunk of physical and cognitive ability

I am grateful for those who are dear to me, whether nearby or far away, for the friends I’ve known since school and my virtual friends who have offered so much support. I am thankful that my son is showing signs of improvement and the depths of his depression are not as all-consuming as they were in summer.  I am glad we trust each other enough to talk about the problems and seek help. My Dad is simply amazing and if people were paid based on the goodness in their hearts he would be the best paid man on the planet. I am glad we are so close and have the ability to find strength in adversity.

I am thankful to prepare for another Christmas, to decorate the tree, wrap gifts and listen to cheesey songs. I’m grateful to have time with my family, drink tea and eat toast in a warm house surrounded by cats while a storm is raging outside. I’m thankful for the chance to experience 2014, wake each day and watch the seasons change. I am grateful for my humanity and my commitment to improve things for those around me in any way I can. We may walk this path only once so I’m going to make the most of each minute. I hope like me, you’ll find a way to celebrate the good things in your lives and give thanks for the time you have.

The Eating Evils

The Eating Evils

My son is a sporty, healthy teenager. He’s much taller than me, has been for years and he’s much, much fitter. He used to rugby-tackle me in the garden when he was 12. If he attempted that now he’d knock me right off my feet.    I’ve tried over the years to teach him about the relationship between nutrition and wellness, the basic food groups, healthy and not so healthy choices – for food and life in general.  When he went to university I set him up with some easy student recipes and the culinary essentials to put together an edible meal.  He didn’t come home with scurvy this summer so some of these teachings seem to have paid off.

At home, I’ve  tended to enjoy cooking but I never follow recipes – why follow when you can create? Using a bunch of raw ingredients to rustle up something fresh, delicious and healthy  (with the exception of the ever popular Bristol five pepper duck breast followed by raspberry mascarpone cheesecake) has been high on my agenda.  Recommended levels of fruit and vegetables made it into most of our meals and I’m pleased to say in spite of recipe rebellion,  I’ve never food-poisoned anyone. But at present I can’t cook and if my son was eating the rubbish I’ve been eating lately I’d be very disappointed.

My desire for all things fresh and healthy has been replaced by no appetite at all. I could easily go days, probably weeks without eating. Any appetite I manage to muster is for random, often disgusting concoctions that make Heston Blumenthal look tame.  At the less offensive end of the scale there’s jelly. Fruit jelly. Maybe I’m developing a penchant for all things slimey (see fecthis.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/still-loving-life-as-i-slowly-start-to-fall-apart/).  I sincerely hope not because I don’t want to fall in love with a politician or anyone from HM Revenue and Customs.  Sausages: I’ve always avoided these unless they were of reputable origin, low-fat and gristle-free. I ought to be avoiding them now because I myself am 0.08% pig thanks to this summer’s adventures. I find there are few things more anti-social than cannibalism but if I suddenly crave half a sausage sandwich any hope of social pleasantries is replaced by wanton pork-lust. I know, eating my cousins plumbs the depths of depravity. It’s wrong. But on the rare occasion that I feel hungry I may be unable to resist my porcine relatives. At least it’s not more slime.  Ginger: If this was an illegal substance I’d have a habit I couldn’t afford. I don’t care what form it takes – cake, tablet, beer (non alcoholic, alcohol and me don’t see eye to eye these days), chews, bread, pudding, biscuits. Or in it’s purest, most heady form…. crystallised.  If I need to eat and the only edible option is ginger then I eat ginger.  At least this one has some health benefit unlike the sausage-sandwich-and-jelly-deluxe-combo-meal.

I’m not proud of my unsavoury and frankly disturbing eating habits. I want to eat my normal diet – fresh berries, fruits and nuts. I can’t. I just can’t face them and if I try I regret it for days and have to revert to soda water and flat diet coke. No-one grows up big and strong on that combination! But just in case my son is reading and thinks ‘oh happy days, an end to Mom’s vegetable crusades’ it doesn’t.   Somehow I will overcome the eating evils, escape from cauliflower isn’t that easy.

What dreams may come

I think it’s easy, when you’re forced to step away from ‘normal’ everyday life, to slide into a world without dreams. It’s easy to get swept along on a tide of things that just ‘have to happen’ instead of thinking proactively about the future and owning that destination, wherever it might be.   In some cases, like my own, the professionals even suggest it; stop planning, don’t look forward, just take each day as it comes.

But is that advice really helpful? Does it offer hope or encouragement? Is it healthy to be confined, physically and mentally, in an insalubrious cul-de-sac at the Earth end of the space-time continuum?

To me at least this seems a very unnatural way to live. If I’d always lived rooted to the here and now I’d have had found myself saddled with situations I know I couldn’t have endured for ten minutes, let alone forever.  Whenever I reach a point where everyday is broadly similar – get up, eat, commute, work (the same work day in day out),  go home, eat, sleep,  start all over again – my soul cries out for a change, for something to break-up the mindless monotony of a life on cruise control.  Call me weird but I  just don’t see much fun constantly cruising at  80 kph on a poker-straight road to nowhere. The drive to dust.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m not suited to a life on cruise control gently motoring along life’s highways with no crashes, detours or speed traps to throw me off course. For me, twisting mountain paths, crazy dirt tracks, being lost then found again in sweeping fields of golden corn holds so much more appeal!   I’m sure in part this stems from the innate curiosity that’s surged through me all my life. A thirst for knowledge,  awareness and self-development that’s driven me to be extremely demanding of myself (and sometimes others) on numerous occasions over many years.  But I think there’s more to it than unbridled curiosity. A planet-sized nosey streak isn’t the only culprit.

From a very early age I had dreams, lots and lots of dreams. Some were small, simple, silly. Others were intricate, interwoven and held together by the flimsiest filaments of imaginary gossamer.  Other still were nightmares, horrors lurking in the recesses waiting to cut my heart out or bury me alive.  I’ve always dreamt vividly, actively and passionately and even now, I’d rather risk dreaming a nightmare than dreaming of nothing at all.

Because what are we if we live without dreams?

Cat woman on the hill

My son calls me the cat woman on the hill, it’s a term of endearment as well as factually accurate. We live on a high hill overlooking seven counties.  It’s a breath-taking vista on a clear day if you enjoy rural landscapes.  On misty/rainy days we’re up in the clouds so can’t see further than 100 metres, sometimes less. Anything remaining visible looks supernatural and eerie, jutting at random from the murky greyness. In the winter we get snow, often whole drifts wrapping the countryside in a pristine blanket of loveliness. It’s a great place to live with plenty to be inspired by as the seasons change. I love it here.

We (well mostly I) also have cats.  I once joked that I would be happy living with a cat of every colour.  I’ve made a reasonable attempt at this objective, adopting strays, re-homing unwanted kittens and purchasing a Norwegian Forest cat. My ‘official’ cats include tortoiseshell, white, ginger, blue, dark brown, black and grey/white/ginger mix.  As well as official residents, there are unofficial residents including a fat marmalade cat, fluffy tortoiseshell and big black with bushy tail. I’ve no idea who they belong to but they seem to enjoy visiting.  Because I’m happy adopting cats of unknown origin my son sometimes calls me the mad cat woman on the hill; it’s still a term of endearment. And anyone who has ever lived in a rural area will know cats are essential when it comes to keeping rats and mice at bay. These little critters do a lot of damage to garden sheds, garages and car engines. I don’t like the cats killing them and finding bits of rat is not my favourite past-time, but it’s more natural than using poison. And mice/rats can smell cats so tend not to come too near.

It’s sometimes said that cats are unfriendly, capricious and detached.  I like them because they’re curious, affectionate (mine would rather have human attention than food) and graceful.  They’re also engaging, playful and they cuddle up to you in a knowing kind of way when you’re feeling a bit ropey.  One of the downsides of my current situation is that they can’t cuddle up to me because I can’t afford to pick up an accidental scratch.  So my cats and I gaze at each other through the conservatory doors and touch paws either side of the glass.  I’m sure it’s as confusing for them as it is for me. Fortunately they seem pretty tolerant and it looks as though they’ll wait around for playtime until I’m well again. In the interim they have Zub to keep them amused (though he doesn’t enjoy rat clean-up duty either).

I’m not sure I ever intended to be the cat woman on the hill – mad or otherwise – but I’m glad I am. I’m glad I’ve given a warm home to these fascinating felines.  They ask very little of me but provide a good deal of comfort, pleasure and amusement albeit with the occasional unwanted rat-tail thrown in for good measure. I can’t wait until we’re on the same side of the glass again 🙂

Cat woman/mad cat woman/winter here

Image credits: comicvine.com, bebo.com, piacasweb.google.com

 

How come my legs are still hirsute?

Chemotherapy, especially the chemotherapy I’m having is meant to make all your hair fall out.  It’s done a pretty good job in most places over the last 3 weeks. I’ll save a fortune on shampoo, conditioner, mousse, sculpting wax and hairspray.  There’s also a lot less epilation and general pruning to take care of.  It doesn’t take anywhere near as long to get ready in the morning and there’s a lot less daily maintenance to attend to.  I feel sad that my hairdresser will be worse off for a few months but last time I saw her I left her a big tip, to make up for all the six-weekly trims we’ll both miss out on.

So how come my legs are still hirsute?

Why do they insist on sprouting when everything else has well and truly gone into hiding?  Is this one of life’s many mysteries or does it serve to remind me that whilst the rest of my hair is shedding like the Autumn leaves my stubborn legs will continue producing excessive stubble?  And if I’m destined to continue growing leg hair, should I leave it there in the hope it might inspire the rest of my ginger locks to stand proud instead of giving up so soon?  How long does leg hair actually get when you leave it unhindered for months on end?  Is it something like this?

Image credit: thehiddenfact.com

The human body is a truly remarkable and thoroughly unpredicatable thing – at least mine seems to be that way.  Goodness knows what else is going to happen!