Archive for May, 2017

Unwritten Tales

May 24, 2017

I am distracted as I pull books from shelves, wipe fine dust from their jackets with the back of my sleeve; every book tells a story, a tale quite separate from the one writ within its covers.

Babar the Elephants describes sitting at my paternal grandmother’s knee on a farm far away, listening as she read, wondering that none of the elephants I’d ever seen ever wore suits or bore luggage in their trunks.

Dr Seuss rattles with rhymes that we chanted then giggled as we demanded Green Eggs and Ham for breakfast.

A dozen books on Irish mythology, gifted by my maternal Granny in a bid to stick some proper identity to a barefooted wild child with hair as pale as straw and skin the colour of toast. A dozen more to describe lives in India where she lived, and which she loved.

And hundreds gifted to my children by Mum. Hundreds. Whole collections by the same author, whomever was current favourite – Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Anthony Horowitz – books to illustrate a newly adopted hobby – sewing, cooking, playing the guitar. I want to cry when I pluck these from shelves and stare as their titles swim. I want to cry for lost years, for babies grown up, for a home once filled with noise and energy and now full of silence.

And I want to weep for the bitter irony that my beautiful mother bestowed upon my children her love of words and reading only to lose the same to illness.

I heap piles of the children’s clothes onto the floor and whatsapp images, ‘what do you want?’ I ask. There is halfhearted interest.

Days later, I photograph the bookshelves, ‘let me know what you want me to keep’, I ask. There is an immediate outcry, ‘not the books’, wails Amelia, ‘anything but the books’.

And I know what she means. I will dust them off and pack them up.

For their stories.

For the ones we cannot read.

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Beautiful Broken Brains

May 19, 2017

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When Mum had her stroke, there was a scramble to learn. To learn about the anatomy of her brain so I understood where this injury had occurred and how it had manifested. To learn about how the trauma had affected her sight (not the same as just closing my right eye, I discovered; her field of vision was much more compromised than that), to learn a new vernacular that included words I’d never used before – occipital, hemianopia, alexia.

I resorted to hack mode: consulting with Google in the wee hours of deepest, inkiest nights. I sat with her therapists to observe how they conducted lessons that might bring back her words, prompt language she grappled with to the forth, teach her how to read.  And all that meant engaging with professionals who peppered their conversation with big words and complicated science that I struggled to make real sense of: real meaningful, ‘stand in my shoes’ sense, especially given sleep deprivation and the general hurlyburly that comes with trying to catch up with shock and change.

I wish I had seen Lotje Sodderland’s film months ago.

A beautiful, vital 34 year old, London living Lotje survived a huge stroke that tore through her brain in much the same was as Mum’s did, ripping up well worn routes, blazing a new, chaotic pathway through blinking neurons so that the fallout was catastrophic and confusing.

She catalogued her recovery in default medium  – the one she’d used for years: film, video diaries, art. And the end product is an extraordinary illustration of the after effects of her stroke on her vision, her words, her battling to make sense of things, to bring some order to this new life.

I implore you to watch it, to learn as a layperson what stroke can mean. I implore you to watch it to witness grace and courage as Lotje battles on, a fabulous smile firmly in place on her lovely face.  I implore you to watch it because like Mum, Lotje had a stroke for no reason. Unprovoked. It can happen to anybody; there was forty years between them.

Are you ever Too Old?

May 16, 2017

When you’re twenty you’re invincible. Fit. Beautiful. Fast. When you’re twenty, you’re going to live forever.

Three decades later, you tiptoe around life, careful not to trip, mindful of stepping on landmines. Three decades later and you’re aware of every ache, every anomaly.

An anomaly sees me explaining my symptoms to a London cardio. ‘It feels’, I say, ‘as if a big moth is trapped somewhere between my throat and my sternum’. He straps me to a monitor which I must wear for a week, shows me the button I must  punch every time the moth stretches its wings to fly, every time it flutters.  I do as I am told and when I return I am wired to more lines and instructed to ride a bicycle, hard, up a virtual hill which grows steeper by the minute. I do. I pedal until I can pedal no more, until my breathing is so laboured I can barely speak.

‘As I suspected’, says the cardio when he pronounces his findings, ‘ectopic heartbeats’. And perfectly normal.   If I’d had them at 20, I’d have been living too hard, too fast, too eternally confident that I was going to live forever that I wouldn’t have noticed. Thirty years later and I move at a more sedate, cautious speed, slow enough that I feel the blips.

I cannot decide whether my growing sense of mortality is because I mind that the years are racing by – mind not for the lines which etch themselves into my face but for the slipping of time when there is still so much to do – or because I need to be here to shadow my children, to be there to catch the fallout when they need me to be there to catch it.

I toy with a new project, ‘am I too old’, I ask Ant, ‘to start something new?’

‘You’re never too old’, he says.

I must live, it seems, mindful that my physiology is a little frayed at the edges, but with the confidence I’m going to live until I’m 100.

There’s still time.

Protect my Bubble

May 1, 2017

 

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England is warm so that cherry blossom rains down in sunshine and breathy gusts, and tulips nod huge heads sleepily and blue skies are laced with white ribbons of jet stream. I shop with Hat. We buy her a new laptop. I know about youthful haste and cracked screens, ‘insure it’, I urge. She purchases the plan recommended by the instore team: Protect my bubble.

And then England is cold and I train it down to London and from my window watch rape seedoil fields of yellow so brilliant they throw their light to a low slung, grey bellied sky so that it is reflected back a neon glow. I wrap tight in a city I have loved for as long as I have known it, for its colour and pace and heady human soup, a mix of glorious international flavour and I steal a day with my oldest friend in the world. We drink wine in the pub and as she leaves she reminds me to pick up my glasses and I giggle at the gathering years and wonder at the glorious ballast that come with knowing a person for so long that each time you see them you pick up the thread of the conversation you last left.

And then it is the weekend and Ant is here and we gather our children to us – I as a hen, clucking and pulling her chicks in beneath outspread wings –  in a cottage that we make our own for a brief, rare, special few days and we walk and we talk and we laugh – god we laugh. We prepare dinners together, too many of us squeezed into a kitchen too small and not once do I worry that too many chefs will spoil the broth.  We curl close on a sofa and watch a movie. We walk in a wood that a kind neighbour in the village recommends as I buy armfuls of Sunday papers – ‘we live in the house opposite’, he says, ‘oh lord’, I gasp, ‘I hope we haven’t been too loud?’. Not at all he laughs and he tells me about the bluebells in a forest, ‘there’s a sign on the gate, NO ACCESS, just ignore it and bore on through’. I laugh and we do and the lilacblue of the flowers is insanely lovely. We order pints in a pub warm with a fire and laugh some more.  Loud. Long.

And I think, protect this bubble, protect my bubble, so that I might hold it to my fingertips and admire the light and the colour and the delicate preciousness that must always pop with the nudge of time.

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