Who’s that boy?

I was born with a female body. Before I was 10, I prayed for a penis. My father was a Church of England rector so this was the obvious thing to do. It was so disappointing that my prayers were not answered. I have never been a girl or a woman. Right from when I was little. Of course back then in the 60s I had no idea what was possible.

Sexuality was a different issue and yes I was gay from fairly early on, certainly had to hide that at my all girls’ school, a girls’ school which accepted boys in the sixth form just as I reached the 6th form. For a time we only had one boy who is still my friend now. I had plenty of male lovers, some of them were also gay. Then I settled into being gay, I’ve never been comfortable with the word lesbian. In terms of sexuality now, I don’t really care anymore, what’s more important to me is what is in a person’s heart.

Carol was a godsend because we were both able to be who we wanted to be. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t doing that before just it was an intense connection and a lot of the attraction between us. We used to go to The Mineshaft club (gay men’s leather club) in Manchester and no-one batted an eye, well we were quite shocked at the poor standard of dancing! We were good, so good we were beaten up for being gay boys. That was a tough one, for instance, on 9th July 1994, Carol proposed to me. Of course we couldn’t get married then so it was a long engagement. We were deliriously happy that day and the scummy boys in Ripon couldn’t deal with that so they rained on our parade big time. We got stoned as in hit by stones, outside Carol’s flat in Salford as well. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been beaten up.

This is wrong on several points – the landlord and the customers of the Golden Lion made no attempt to help us whatsoever which is why we had to get out of there to get to the B&B which was on the same street; the 2 attackers were together all the time so were jointly complicit in what they did; flattering as it is, we were aged 36 and 33 which is not exactly young though I don’t really know when young stops!; we were not cross dressers; we were Gays (with a capital G) and homosexuals; we were not women.

For the sake of ease in my working life, I passed as a gay female. That’s what it felt like. I was always out as gay and that served me well, I was able to contribute to changes in my workplaces that ended up making policies better for everybody not just gays.

It was only during the last few years at work that I had the privilege to work with 2 men who totally got me being a boy. That was so good and healthy and it really mattered when the people I loved were sick and dying, that I had a tiny piece of space where I could be me.

I never had the guts to undertake any surgery or drug therapies, I’m terrified of that and have huge admiration for those that do follow that path. I have always been a boy, even now at 62, daft though that may sound to some. Now that I’m not a person who menstruates I’m even more of a boy. I so hated the monthly reminder that I wasn’t quite who I wanted to be.

I do not accept anybody else’s definitions of who I am. Last year an old friend refused to accept what I was saying about myself. This was quite soon after Carol had died and it was inappropriate because I think newly bereaved people need a bit of care and consideration. Not to say that they need to be agreed with on everything but just choose the battles you want to have with them carefully. It mattered because this person was denying the whole structure of my relationship with Carol and how and why it worked for us. It’s nearly 18 months now since Carol died and I’m a lot stronger and I tell you I will fight back now.

Sometimes I get quite confused with all the terminology being banded around and have to look very basic things up. I had no idea what doxxing was (a breach of privacy). That’s why I thought I’d put this into my own words. On one level I just want to be Jak without any labels but then I think about all the trans people who are denied basic rights, who are murdered every day and we have speak out. I’m transgender, genderqueer. I’m Jak.

Under the dam 2

Having looked much more closely at the OS map, I worked out where Scammonden Cotton Spinning Mill was most likely to be. It is in fact a clear outline on the map but not named. I decided to continue my quest today. The map showed several footpaths that would get me from my side of the valley to the other side, all on one of my regular walks up to the M62.

The first path I investigated was so overgrown with brambles it wasn’t a goer so I reported it to the Ramblers using their Pathwatch app. This enables me to take a photo and it automatically sends them the grid reference. The Ramblers pass all this on to the local council and it saves me trying to find out how to do that with Calderdale and works for any local authority. I took the next path along which went through the same landowner’s property, always a bit nerve wracking even if completely legal. The path was not maintained, lots of overhanging branches, long wet grass, a dodgy stile and then lots of bog. I turned back. I considered taking the next possible path but this went through a very neat farm and I decided against it.

I carried on to the access path that gets you underneath the motorway via a tunnel (I don’t like the tunnel even though it’s not very long and you can see the other end). It’s a short cut to get to the Scammonden reservoir path, Chris and I used to do it on our bikes, it’s on Bike Route 68. Avoiding the tunnel I set off down the side of the dam. It is enormous and I did worry slightly having watched a movie last week called San Andreas which featured the collapse of the Hoover Dam! I then followed a track from the weir which went along the stream and whilst it isn’t a public right of way it very quickly (after 150 metres) got me to a footbridge across the brook and a proper marked footpath. The path mostly follows the water until you come to the mill after another 200 metres. It’s not far along into the wood. I found the mill a bit creepy and didn’t want to stay once I’d located it. I didn’t continue along the path because it would take me to the horrible farm with the barking dog I’d found yesterday so I retraced my steps but then went up and out of the clough along what would have been an access road to the mill which then met the new access tracks for Scammonden Dam. Back across the top of the dam amongst all the crap strewn out of vehicles and then home the usual way. Lots more traffic on the motorway today.

I was out for about 2 and a half hours, walked about 7.5 km and missed the rain. I reported the blocked path and added a photo of the mill to Geograph so other people won’t have so much hassle trying to find it. Grid reference SE 05523 17091.

It’s not totally wrong but is not to any known scale which doesn’t help. Also there aren’t any stunted oaks in Clock Face wood. There are no oaks anywhere in our locality that I’ve seen. I miss oak trees.
Scammonden Dam with M62 on top
Huge, spot the 2 people
A mysterious water building
Scammonden Cotton Spinning Mill
Scammonden Cotton Spinning Mill
M62 back in business

Under the dam

The other day, one of my nice neighbours told me about a walk to Scammonden cotton spinning mill. It was built but never saw any active use and is now a ruin in some woods near to Scammonden dam. The hamlet of Scammonden was flooded to create Scammonden reservoir which was built at the same time as the M62 running along the top of the dam. The reservoir filled up in 1969 and the motorway was opened in 1970. The reservoir has good paths around it and is often busy so I haven’t tried walking there during lockdown.

I decided to make the most of the dry morning and to do a longer walk and try to find the mill. The only slight problem being that my neighbour gave me a very rough idea of where it was. I looked online and found a hand drawn map which is not to scale making this quite a challenge.

I walked down my road and onto a footpath which was delightful, almost a hollow way in parts and sprinkled with bluebells, a bit gone over but great now that I know they’re there for next year. Down to a brook, across a footbridge and onto Hey Lane. Some smart houses with manicured gardens there in a converted mill complex, but not the cotton spinning mill I was looking for. Up Hey Lane and then I took a track off to the right. Before long I was passing through a mucky farmyard that looked like something out of James Herriot. On to another farm, a crude sign saying “private keep out”, a large barking dog and a public right of way padlocked up. For once, I wasn’t at all frightened by the dog but I decided not to continue (it would have meant climbing the padlocked gate) and retraced my steps. I continued up Hey Lane which is a very pretty narrow lane running higher up alongside old woodland, with a brook and waterfalls. Marred by the litter and fly tipping as I neared the motorway. I looked along the water to see if the mill was in sight but nothing showed up and I felt I wasn’t quite in the right place. There was another footpath I wanted to try but even though it is illegal to close a public right of way I decided to observe the request of the land owner not to use the path at the moment. I don’t want to annoy anyone if they feel that strongly about it.

I got up to the motorway and was surprised that the road continued underneath it. I went under to look at the motorway from the far side and there was a wide open gate leading straight onto the westbound carriageway! I went back under the way I’d come and looked from the north side where there was a matching gate which was shut. As I looked across to the open gate, a car zoomed off the carriageway and through the gateway! I was taking some photos of the motorway when an unmarked police car came to where I was to open the gate to go onto the eastbound carriageway. I told them I’d just seen a car go through the opposite gate and they laughed and said it was them!!

That reminded me of when Chris and I returned to our flat on City Road in Bristol. There were some dodgy looking men outside the entrance and a police officer in uniform was standing on the corner so I went up to him and said those people hanging about our door look very suspicious. It turned out they were plain clothes officers raiding the flat below ours!

I went back down Hey Lane and took quite a long route back to my house. It was fun seeing my house from across the valley. I saw very few people and didn’t get rained on. I did about 9 km and was out for 2 and a half hours. I didn’t find the mill but am going to give it a go from the other side of the valley. It was lovely finding new places to explore.

Viral diary 3

Sunday 5th April

The first case of AIDS in the UK was in 1981. We called it the virus. By 1996, 12,000 people in the UK, mainly gay men, including my first lover, had died of AIDS. In 1996 the death rate started to slow down thanks to antiretroviral treatments that made it possible to live with AIDS instead of die with it. It took 15 years because the fact was that in the 80s it was gay men who took the hit. There was little energy to find any effective treatments. It took years of campaigning and protest to get governments to take it/us seriously.

Globally 32 million people have died of AIDS by the end of 2018.

The red ribbon became the symbol for World AIDS Day. Ribbons then appeared for any charitable cause you care to think of.

Rainbows used to be a sign for gayness. Now they are a sign that children draw to show support during lockdown.

Sunday 12th April Easter Day

On Friday I got the car’s MOT. A boring story. The guy who tested it used gloves and covers and said he had been all over it. I cleaned all the inside and started washing the outside. A man came along and said “are you connected to the lovely lady who died?” Yes, she was my wife. He sat down on the wall. “Were you her wife too?” I agreed and managed not to splutter. He then chattered on about O’Hooley and Tidow and Gentleman Jack with enthusiasm. Edward was a funny old bugger but meant me no harm and knew a lot about Carol and is yet another of her contacts I had no idea about.

The blue tit nesting box had rotted so I took it down. The blue tits came by and sort of poked at the place it had been. I ordered a new box which arrived very quickly and I put it up straight away. Within 2 hours, the tits were settling into their new home. This was important to me because Carol loved birds and was very knowledgeable about them. I had put up a bird table at the back so she could see them from her kitchen. I recently took this down because of a rat problem. I’m continuing to feed the birds using squirrel proof feeders at the side of the house near the nesting box.

Last Sunday I was walking a route Carol had told me about years ago but I’d never done it. It’s the wildest bit I can get to with ease from the house. Some great views including a long stretch of the M62 and you can see 4 reservoirs on the walk. On the way back I saw a person walking to the right at a staggered junction about 50m ahead of me. When I got to the junction there was nobody there, I even checked behind a wall because it was a clear line of sight in all directions but not a soul around. I decided it was Carol saying told you it was a great walk. In fact I’ve now walked it with variations every day for the last week, making it a bit longer each time.

The other day I came across a cyclist who was having a sit down at a the highest point of the route and I said hello to him when I was almost on top of him, he nearly jumped out of his skin and said oh fuck! On today’s walk I came up behind some people on the soft moss at almost the same spot and they didn’t hear me so I said good morning so as not to frighten them when I was about 10m away, however it didn’t really work. The man said keep safe, happy Easter, take care, good girl to me! And then repeated it all! I think these are people who are unused to being out in the wilds.

Tuesday 14th April

I’ve been feeling very grumpy. Can’t quite pin it down, guess a mix of bereavement and lockdown. I’m fed up with saying hello to every single person on my daily walk, fed up with some of those people (2 yesterday) not having any comprehension of what 2m is (it’s just under 6′ 7″ so a lot more than people think). Fed up with being cheerful, fed up with it doing summer one day and back to winter the next. This time last year I was still lying down with broken leg, still hobbling on the crutches and counting every single day of my isolation. However, people did come and visit and take me to pub lunches and even stay with me and take me out. I’ve had a year to get used to living alone and find I don’t really mind it. So shut up about it because it will at some point change. Fed up that Carol and Chris didn’t give me any Easter eggs.

Been thinking about Carol’s family, Allen and Muriel her mum and dad. Carol, Paul and the other brother were all adopted. Allen died in 2004 when it was very cold before we moved into our own house. Muriel died some time after we’d moved in. In that period in between we used to go over to Timperley and take Muriel out to pub lunches. We always spent Christmas with the Bibbys. In the whole time Carol and I were together, I only met the other brother 3 times, once at Christmas and at the parents’ funerals. He and Paul still see each other occasionally but he never even acknowledged to Paul that Carol had died. Carol really hated him and I don’t know why but it must have been something unforgivable. My guess is that he bullied her but I don’t know that for sure.

Carol’s best mate was Dave and Dave’s mother Joyce spoke at our wedding, she said she had her daughter Liz, another daughter in Carol and yet another with me. Joyce and I clicked immediately when we met. Joyce had another son, Peter who had died at an early age. Her Liz died at a young age too, a year and a bit after our wedding. Joyce lived into her 90s and was hale and hearty all her life until the last few months. Carol and I used to go over to Altrincham to see her, sometimes take her out for pub lunches. We’d go over for our birthdays and hers and Easter and Christmas.

Joyce died in June 2016

Chris died in October 2016

Mandy died in Octboer 2017

Carol died in January 2019

Swamped by death, today the coronavirus death toll (the official one that doesn’t count all the people dying at home or in care homes) has reached 12,000. From 1 to 12,000 between 5th March and 14th April.

I’m reading the book that Carol was reading when she died – The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald. I had given it to her at Christmas so she hadn’t got very far with it, she only had it for a few days. I know where she had got to because she had marked her page with a photo I’d taken when we were on holiday on the Applecross peninsula, it’s looking across to Dun Can on the Isle of Raasay which is a perfect volcano from that angle. I’m glad she was reading that particular book because it fictionalises M. R. James who was one of her favourite writers and it’s set in Cambridge where Carol studied as well. I think she would have felt at home with it. Carol had read quite a few of Penelope Fitzgerald’s novels and I’m pleased to find a new writer to read. It was a happy holiday we had in October 2011, we both loved it there so much that we returned to that area. I loved the skies.

Viral Diary 2

Just before lockdown

In The Stand, Stephen King wrote of a killer flu that wipes out most of the world. Here’s a synopsis.

One man escapes from a biological weapon facility after an accident, carrying with him the deadly virus known as Captain Tripps, a rapidly mutating flu that – in the ensuing weeks – wipes out most of the world’s population. In the aftermath, survivors choose between following an elderly black woman to Boulder or the dark man, Randall Flagg, who has set up his command post in Las Vegas. The two factions prepare for a confrontation between the forces of good and evil.

https://stephenking.com/library/novel/stand_the.html

Parallels are rife. The virus came with a friendly name. We joked about Corona lager and the My Sharona song. King doesn’t suggest that the dark man has hoarded bog rolls and pasta but we are seeing hideous amounts of greed and selfishness. We are also seeing incredible acts of kindness and ingenuity. Locally pubs and restaurants are working out ways of delivering food and drink, showing flexibility,versatility and a huge desire to help out. Neighbours are being neighbourly. Our NHS workers are being amazing and the big pull on services has not even happened yet. And those of us who look to the future are scared.

I haven’t done panic buying but I have thought ahead and stocked up on yeast, batteries, candles, gas for the camping stoves. I’ve reverted to Sodastream because I like sparkling water and I’m ordering some home brew beer kits. This is for the apocalypse. If that happens will I even want to survive? At least I’ll be able to see, stay hydrated and roll around drunk.

Before the apocalypse, there are still boxes to sort through, then there’s the decorating, and grouting the wet room. I have various gardening and outdoor tasks. Now I’m almost looking forward to doing all these tedious tasks and even washing the car.

Numbers will be restricted at funerals. When we went through HIV/AIDS we didn’t have to do that, and we could touch our friends with that virus, which we also called The Virus. The lack of touch is going to break hearts.

Sunday 29th March

On 31st December 2018 I was living with Carol with whom I had spent 25 passionate, funny, stimulating, fiery and sometimes very tough years. I was also a person with an interesting job working with lovely people who had provided me with endless amounts of support during the whole time Chris was sick, her death and afterwards.

Just weeks later, I had none of that. On January 14th 2019 I became a widower and at the end of the month was made redundant from my job of over 15 years.

Straight away I had to learn how to live on my own, how to leave the house and how to return to its emptiness. At first there was a lot to do, I didn’t want to be reminded of illness. I started clearing cupboards, doing the jobs that had been put on hold whilst we dealt with illness, redecorating.

I had to learn how to amuse myself. I watched a lot of TV, especially when I was laid up for 6 weeks with my leg in plaster. I started getting back into cooking. I started doing the things I had to put on hold while Carol needed my attention.

I started going out, both with friends and on my own. Travelling on my own. These are the things I really miss right now. I’d only just got going again. All the stuff people are having to get used to now, I’ve already done all that. I know how to entertain myself. I spend a lot of time on my own. I’m getting pretty irritated with people suddenly discovering crafts, TV, books, DIY.

At no point have I remained in my pyjamas. I’ve showered and got dressed every day. OK 2 days while I waited for the giant leg plastic bag to arrive I had to do a strip wash and also while my boiler was not working properly all through January.

Routine has been vital. I wake up, lie in bed with a cup of tea. Bit of breakfast, go to the gym. Thankfully 6 months in the gym has made me stronger so now it’s time in the garden digging, shifting the log piles… I go for a walk every day. Usually I try to do something I think of as work every day, could be clearing Carol’s stuff or dealing with one of my parents’ boxes. I eat nice food and then evening is TV. I do domestic tasks, ironing, cleaning, laundry on Saturdays. One beer on a Saturday.

I’m lucky because all this stuff you’re all having to learn now, I did that last year. Which day is it today? Who knows? I don’t mean to be mean, it’s hard having to adjust to major change. I know. I haven’t actually finished grieving. They say you never do but my parents have been dead for 30 years (dad) and 20 years (mum) and I no longer actively grieve for them. I miss them every now and then but they are certainly not crowding my thoughts every day. Whereas Carol and Chris do. Except the corona virus has kicked them into the long grass temporarily while we all concentrate on surviving.

Counting my blessings

16th March, my young neighbour M who has goats in the field adjoining my house, texted to offer assistance if I was self isolating. It made me wonder if she thought I was over 70 but aside from that, very grateful to know that people are so kind and will help me if I need it.

All along, D continues to check in and we arranged a distanced chat while sat on a wall for 10 minutes.

30th March, P, who is a bit older than me, knocked on the window to see if I was ok. I like P, she is very direct and we laugh about absurdities. I see her as a bit of a matriarch. We’ve only got to chat with each other since Carol died.

Dear Carol

A viral diary part 1

You simply would not believe what’s happened in the year and 2 months since you went away. Your death was a bit of a shock to say the least and even though we both knew you were more likely to go before me, it was still so fast and so sudden when it happened. After the funeral, we called it a celebration of life, I went crazy, I didn’t know what I was doing, I rushed round like a demented pootle (Victoria Wood). I booked 4 holidays on top of the one that was already booked before you died. Then I managed to break my leg and even though you might not have been able to help a great deal physically I did miss your support. I had to cancel 3 of the trips. I expect you would have told me off as well.

After I got back on my feet literally, Paul was here often and he fixed all the windows and then I made the front door nice. Really should have done that years ago. You didn’t need to worry about Paul, he and I are good friends, I hope you did know that. We have looked after each other well. I made some changes to your bathroom and it’s now brighter with colour, turquoise of course and I think it looks well. I think you would actually quite like it even if you wouldn’t have done what I did! I also finally got hold of the piece of land next to ours, something else we should have done but hey ho, it’s ours now.

After I’d rehabilitated my leg/ankle I took some holidays, went to Switzerland on the train, came home for a week and then flew out to Poland for hiking (mad dates in the bookings). Liz and Ariel and I spent a week in Northumberland for your birthday and Chris’s death day. On the first day of that trip I got run over by a car, it wasn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds but I was cross with myself for not paying enough attention and for causing Liz, Ariel and the driver a lot of worry. I didn’t even hurt myself thanks to Dr. Marten boots which totally protected my foot while the car was sitting on it. Of course it was the same leg!

This year I went cruising in Norway in January, hiking with Liz and Mel in France in February and I’ve just come back from my birthday week hiking with HF in Coniston. You were so kind to encourage me to do that and even though I no longer want to lead walks with them, they are a good way for me to go hiking with reasonably ok people and have nice food and stay in interesting houses.

It’s been pretty crap without you, it’s a whole new life and I’ve had to get used to being on my own a lot. A real lot. I still see my lovely friends and some I see more than I imagined and that’s been brilliant. I’m slowly building something that feels like a bit of a life. Getting out, lots of walking, going to the pictures, the theatre, art exhibitions, gigs. All that stuff we were going to do. I realised that we’d not really had a social life for a long time before you died, yes we did occasional things but going out was a big deal for us. So I’m not going to find staying home that difficult really.

I got back from the Lake District on my birthday, 13th March. During that week the panic buying had started. No paracetamol in Ambleside but plenty of bog roll in Booths. That was only a week ago. Cliff managed to get home from South America, just. I started cancelling/postponing events and visits ahead of the government telling us to. The council gym closed early on. Now the schools and pubs are shut and supermarkets are rationing. These are terrible times and I am scared. I’m glad you and Chris aren’t here. This bloody virus would kill you both off. I wish we hadn’t read Stephen King’s The Stand because I am fearful. The armed services are already on stand by to help out. I don’t have a problem with that, I would far rather the essential work gets done.

I keep thinking it’s like the war, well it isn’t because the UK population is 20.34 million more than it was in 1939. That’s a lot more people to be total arsewipes. They didn’t have supermarkets, the internet or mobile phones then. They didn’t even have TV because it was suspended for the duration, there were only 20,000 sets when they did that. Do you remember when we had power cuts and we played “In the blackout”? Well I’ve started Digging for Britain. Actually just digging for me. I don’t want to starve. I guess it’s a positive thing to do. I don’t know what war feels like. This might be close in terms of restriction of movement. I reckon you would be appalled by the selfishness that some are displaying and hopefully cheered by the neighbourliness and kindness that’s going on in our village. I did feel ancient when my young neighbour offered to help out if or when I isolate myself. Our dads fought for freedom in WW2, yours was the only survivor when his plane crashed into a mountain in Portugal and mine walked the entire length of Italy. I think our hardships today are not in that league. That war killed 85 million people, 3% of the then global population. We’ll see.

We have a whole new lexicon we didn’t know only 3 months ago. Already the shorthand is such that we’re all talking about the same thing and barely need to name it. We are doing self isolating, surely isolating is enough? We’re also doing social distancing except we’re not because some tossers don’t think it’s important. They will change their minds in just 2 weeks’ time. We’re all in the same boat except we’re not because some are being selfish and greedy and those who already didn’t have much are losing out. We no longer say “take care” now it’s “stay safe”.

I’m not sleeping well, I worry about living alone and the security of the house. I’ve lost a lot of weight in a very short amount of time. That’s fine, I was bored with how heavy I’d got. I have felt suicidal many many times over the past year but I’m still here. I know when to call my friends. Much as I would love to be reunited with you and Chris I don’t believe that’s what happens. Besides, which versions of yourselves would it be? The anxiety is very like when Chris got sick and we knew it was serious but we didn’t know what it was. Even when we did, it didn’t make it any better did it? I’m worried for my loved ones who have underlying conditions or are significantly older and have less resistance.

I was going to try to write this as a comic piece but that’s been a big fail. I still think of you in the ICU unconscious but waving your left hand, that was so funny and very camp. Conducting the orchestra.

I found out things about you that I didn’t know. I didn’t know that you had been smoking since forever. I’ve started clearing the Methodist graveyard in the village on nice days, well I’ve only been once so far but I will do more so long as we’re allowed to go out. Debbie told me that it was your special spot to go for a fag! It’s lovely that something drew me there. I’m sorry I nagged you about the fags. When I’ve cleared it more I’ll leave some of your ashes there.

Now then, the domestics. I thought you were cleaning the rubber seal of the washing machine. I was horrified to discover that it was full of black mould and it took me several months to get rid of it completely. Next, when I bought the new vacuum cleaner because Henry got too heavy for you, you told me that you couldn’t work the controls on it, the new one. So I thought you were just using the cordless vac. I decided to check the filters on the new vac only to find that you had been using it so much that the bag had exploded inside it. Anyway that’s all sorted now. Litter picking, well I do a bit when it annoys me, definitely not as much as you would like. If the world ever returns to a semblance of normality then I’m sure I’ll get back on it.

People are wondering how they’ll cope but I can assure them they will find things to do, your death combined with redundancy threw me hard into a completely different life and I found out I’m resilient. I have routines, I read books, watch movies and walk. Resilient doesn’t mean I haven’t cried every day for missing you. People are worried about isolating. I did see folks when I broke my leg and I did go out for pub lunches but there were lots of days when I didn’t see anyone at all and I had to keep going. I’ve been out for a short walk today, the easterly wind is biting, but I haven’t seen anyone for a chat. I neither want to get the virus nor to share it and that means not seeing people. That’s hard but we can do it.

Yesterday Maureen and I went up Stoodley Pike, oh god I remember the first time I went up there, trying to keep up with Chris, she was so strong and fit in 1990. Still my thoughts are you and Chris. Now the virus. The virus actually pushed you out for a bit. Anyway I posted a photo or 2 on Facebook and then next thing, Kellan has written a skit on Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Jak
(Apologies to Kate Bush)

Out on the wild, windy moors
In the bitter wind with Maureen
You had a special hat, like my fleecy coat,
So warm, so toasty
Corona Vee
Was it all I see
Wash my hands in Basin Stone
Then go back home

Bojo on the television
Bumbling on like mini moron
I need go back to Stoodly Pike
On my Boris bike
Boris bike Boris bike

Radice, it’s me, easterly
Come home now,
So coal coaal cold
And the pubs close at midnight

Ginger Jak, did you pack, wear a Mack
Coming home now
Be bold bold bold
God the world’s look real shite

Radice, we see, happy be
Striding home now
Hug n hold
Waving in at your window

Kellan Farshéa

Coniston March 2020

Monday 9th

Set off in the dry but the rain arrived heavily as I reached Ambleside. Had to make an emergency purchase of waterproof trousers because I discovered yesterday that I’m too fat for my old ones. Checked into a nice room in the Counting House at HF Holidays Monk Coniston. This house was once owned by Beatrix Potter and now by the National Trust who lease it to HF.

The first person I met was the first person I met here last July and to whom I took a violent dislike. Bollocks. For dinner I had veg quiche, salmon and veg, fruit salad. And a bottle of Coniston lager. I sat next to a Gove voter but the whole table agreed we wouldn’t talk politics. Jackie gave us a talk on red squirrels. I listened to The Archers who clearly think that what we need when there is a worldwide health crisis, is a traumatic storyline with multiple repercussions for most of the inhabitants of Ambridge. No dark humour now about Kenton concealing that he had run over Eccles the peacock.

Monk Coniston side entrance from The Counting House
Painting by Bertram Potter, Beatrix’s brother

Tuesday 10th

Lots of rain. Clambered into the vast waterproof trousers. All onto the bus. A short drive and 4 of us plus Dave the leader got off. We walked about 14 km in wind and rain and some respites of dry. From the A593 to Colwith Force in full spate, to Skelwith Force, Loughrigg Tarn, Grasmere lake, Rydal Water and Rydal cave then to Ambleside. I’d walked some of this with Carol in June 2012.  Hot chocolate (horrible) and the bus back. Lovely hot shower. Dinner of broccoli and Stilton soup, veg risotto and ice cream. Total sugar fail day. After dinner I played skittles and surprised myself by being very good at it. Last played 10 pin bowling when I was 16! I can see myself playing bowls in years to come!! A good day but more Tories. I was completely unable to hold back my views on the shower of shite they’ve given us. Mostly wet with some windy blasts.

Herdwick sheep
Sugar beet
Grasmere
Rydal Cave

Wednesday 11th

On the bus a short way. 11 of us plus Geoff the leader for the intermediate level walk today. The first part we had done a bit of yesterday. We climbed up a bit to Lingmoor Fell to look over Elterwater to one side and Grasmere to the other. We got just below Silver How (I got Carol to the summit in 2012) then we dropped down into Chapel Stile passing the place we had stayed in. Hard to think of how well she had been then just before dialysis kicked in. Along the valley to Dungeon Ghyll for beer then bus. Nice chats today. Mostly windy with some cold wet blasts. For dinner I had avocado and feta salad, boeuf bourguignon, fruit salad. We then had the HF inter house quiz. The team I was in did ok. One woman turned out to be a big Bruce fan.

Thursday 12th

In bus to Water Yeat. To Beacon Fell. Across the Blawith Fells to Torver. Windy but dry. Into the Wilson pub at Torver for soup and a sandwich paid by HF, A pub Carol and I visited in 2015. The pub has great loos! Interesting design using big slabs of slate and wood. Andrew bought me a birthday juice. Outside again to walk along Coniston Water to Coniston. A heavy shower as we reached the village. Into cafe where Audrey and Norie kindly bought me a coffee and A shared her cake. Back to the house. Quite a long walking day. Mostly dry. Dinner fresh fig salad, lamb with veg, choc mousse. Pre birthday lager. Quiz and chat. Starting to feel scared about the incompetence of our so called leaders (not the HF walk leaders).

At Beacon Tarn
Coniston Water
Coniston Hall, now owned by the National Trust

Friday 13th

Farewells to all my new friends. Drove to Wray Castle (National Trust), “this is not like most National Trust properties, there are no paintings or furniture”. An interesting building, one of the guides took me onto the roof (not normally accessible). I listened to a couple of guides telling the history of the place and how Beatrix Potter’s family had taken the castle as a summer let and she had met Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust during that time. I took a stroll to the boathouse and jetty and along the lake a little. Then into Grasmere where I knew not to go to the deli because I had a horrible coffee there previously so instead I tried the Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio. They do a Scandi food theme so I had an open sandwich which was really nice. Walked up to Allan Bank (more National Trust), “this is not like most National Trust properties, there are no paintings or furniture”. There were in fact some hideous ginormous paintings of the 3 people most connected with the house – Wordsworth, Coleridge and Rawnsley. I can’t think of Wordsworth and Coleridge without thinking of the Wordsmiths of Gorsemere which is one of the funniest radio programmes ever, Sue Limb, brilliant. Coleric is always under the influence and chasing after anything that breathes. Available on Audible. There’s not much to see in the house so I went for a walk round the grounds. The house is in a lovely location with views of lakes and mountains. Then I set off for home, calling in at Booths in Windermere where there wasn’t any panic buying. I got 18 loo rolls on a BOGOF promotion and got home without any problems during the Friday rush hour.

Wray Castle
Wray Castle
Windermere
From Allan Bank
Allan Bank House

The last few days have been good because I met some lovely people and had great chats while out walking. Also laughs. Today I felt weepy most of the day. I’ve got used to everywhere I go near home or in the Calder Valley being full of memories of things I’ve done with Carol and Chris. The Lake District is also full of both of them, walks, hills, lakes, cafes, pubs, restaurants, you name it. Carol rarely remembered anywhere we’d been. Whereas I’ve always been able to say which table we sat at and who sat where, going back years and years. I can’t not remember. A year ago I felt cast adrift. Now I feel shipwrecked, broken, shattered. Still alive but in pieces that have tumbled and spilt. We are all at a very strange period of time because of Covid 19 and Corona virus. As I walked about in the sun this morning in the loveliness of the Lake District it felt like the lull before the storm.

Litter and blood

Today I sorted through the Litter Files. Carol was good on minutiae. She got several small grants over the years for the Barkisland Big Tidy Up group, grants from the council mainly but also local businesses and one from Greggs! There were records of every meeting, every grant application and every single item of expenditure, complete with receipt. Carol never told me much about what she was doing and so it was good to see everything she had achieved and I am proud of her. I wish she had said a bit more at the time.

Then the notebooks detailing every bit of litter from here to Halifax and every interaction with litter pickers and with the council. The last notebook she’d used during 2017 was full of indecipherable scribbles and some small drops of blood. Her writing had been pretty clear in the early days but in the last part of her life it got very scratchy, mainly because she was writing while she was falling asleep.

As for the blood, well we did a lot of blood with arterial bleeds at the closing part of a dialysis session. You have to stop the bleeding from both the arterial and the venous sites where the needles have been inserted. Sometimes she would be too tired and sleepy to work to stop the flow so I would attend and hold the special blood stopper pad down hard. Sometimes an arterial bleed was occurring before I got there and then Carol would be fussing about not getting blood on the carpet, the carpet behind a door and down some steps so quite a challenge even for her though I suppose if she waved her arm around with the door open she could have managed it.

My next job would be to clear up the blood from the floor, the wall and anywhere else, later I would have to put some paint on the wall. Even though it was messy I quite liked having a part in her treatment and she trusted me to do it.

It’s probable that Carol was taking litter notes while dialysing, it’s also possible that the blood drops weren’t from an arterial bleed and were just from her bleeding fingers. The cocktail of drugs gave her lots of painful split finger problems and they would bleed too.

The notebook brought it all back. I certainly don’t miss the hassle of haemodialysis but it bought us some time, some of it was stressful but some of it was normal and loving and definitely better than no time at all.

Alpes Maritimes February 2020

Friday 7th February

Got up at 2.45! Ice on car. M62 closed so a long detour. Met Bridget as planned. Flight from Liverpool smooth, a short delay before we left. Sat next to nice man, Carl and wife Linda. Norway was my last holiday as a citizen of the EU and France my first trip as a non EU citizen, no difficulties entering France. We walked from Nice Terminal 2 to T1 to the Hotel Campanile, busy roads with a heavy bag, did not enjoy, stashed bags. Walked into Nice along the prom in the sun. Café for salmon salad lunch, yum. Around city and bought a belt. Watched a drug deal. Onto the tram, back to T1, walked back to the hotel, collected bags, walked back to T1, tram to next stop. Onto the bus at Grand Arénas to Roquebiliere. An hour and a bit later Mel picked us up. Henk and Margreet here too. A reunion as we all met here in Berthemont les Bains with Space Between (Mel and Liz) 2 years ago. A delicious dinner thanks to Liz.

Grissini – aubergine puree with pomegranate raita
Burrata with tomato – sun dried tomato dressing
Blue cheese polenta – walnut sauce – garlicky cabbage
Chestnut and marscapone dessert with meringue and citrus sorbet

Tiddly om pom pom in Nice
Lots of fab old buildings in Nice
Nice style

Saturday 8th February

Out in the minibus with Mel to La Colmiane. It felt like we walked a good way. I struggled with ascents, felt weak and terribly tired. A lovely sunny day. The ground was very dry, no rain here for weeks. Very little snow. What there is is icy because of thaw freeze. I walked into an overhanging branch because I was looking where I was putting my feet, nearly knocked myself out. Burst into tears instead. We walked nearly to the Vacherie Anduébis. Reached about 1700m of height so 200m of ascent with some more ups and downs. Walked about 11km. Chinese style dinner. Very good indeed.

Chinese spring rolls – with sweet chilli sauce
Ramen noodle soup
Nasi Goreng
Pineapple with ginger syrup

Sunday 9th February

To Bairols in the minibus for about 1.25 hours. Bairols is at 850m. A lovely walk contouring round the mountains. Then 300m of ascent to lunch on a small plateau. Down a bit then up for 215m. I just can’t do the ascents, every step was a huge effort. We came back the same way including another 120m of up but over such a distance it wasn’t noticeable. We did 17km. Back at 7pm in the dark. Dinner excellent.

Socca – chick pea pancakes – Nice speciality – gluten free and vegan
Caesar salad
Spinach and chickpea stew with veggie dumplings
Red fruit fool with honey crisp

All very yummy, we were hungry having eaten all our supplies but not Bridget’s year old chocolate and the bears’ biscuits.

Bairols

Monday 10th February

Stayed at home day to rest my pathetic legs. Ankle ok after a sleep. Chatted with Liz, then went for a walk up round the village in the afternoon. Warm sun but very windy. Dinner amazing!

Pea/mint dip with pesto bread sticks
Celeriac soup
Risotto galette with taleggio cheese and salad
Chocolate flapjacks with orange segments

Tuesday 11th February

My mum’s 103rd birthday. Today Liz joined us. We drove to Belvedere and on up to the Gordolasque valley. Our route climbed about 400m through the forest and out to a clearing where a mobile mast was being erected. We continued a bit further to Le Crouset. Underfoot was icy and dangerous so we wore Pogu grippers and stamped in to get good grip. After lunch down off the east side to reach the road and back up another 100m to the van. Into Belvedere where we were invited into Dugald and Andrew’s home with a fabulous view. They have golden eagles regularly in sight from their veranda. They very kindly gave us tea and yummy scones with homemade Mirabelle jam. Off again to Carrefour then home. Curry dinner heaven.

Black pepper papadoms with raita and pickles
Vegetable pakora
Potato curry with coconut & vegetable lentil curry
Blood orange sorbet with orange curacao

Beer for me and Henk! Coffee.

Merens horses

Wednesday 12th February

South along wiggly mountain road with a variety of barriers between us and the vertiginous drops, either 3 courses of stones, 2 courses, 1 course or none at all. I’ve been along here at least twice before but still find the road alarming. Busied myself with the phone. Walked about a kilometre before starting to rise. Reached the Col de Lobe (wolf). We achieved nearly 500m of ascent quite quickly to gain the Cime de Roccasierra at 1520m with a couple of short scrambles. Fabulous views. We saw wood anenomes which were briefly wooden enemies. Along to a wide col and back on the other side of the mountain, returning to the Col de Lobe. Back to the minibus, eyes averted until Lantosque where we stopped for beer. Dinner delicious.

  • Beetroot/kidney bean and feta nibble
  • Tapenade with nan bread
  • Linguine with local tomato sauce
  • Tiramisu
Nearly at Cime de Roccasierra
Henk, Bridget, Margreet and Mel

Thursday 13th February

Walked from Liz and Mel’s house up through the village and then up and up for about 450m. Interesting to see the village from the high sides of the surrounding mountains. We swung round to a deserted hamlet called Les Crottes. Lunch there. Down of course. Turned off again to investigate the village’s canal irrigation system of which Mel is the head chef, a position he’s been elected to. The system consists of pipes and channels which take water from 2 high river downfalls and distribute it to every house in the village. We went back up a bit and along the pipes and channels. The pipe is about a foot wide and the channel about 18 inches. Alongside there is sometimes a concrete ledge which varies from 6″ to 12″ width. All with huge drops off to the side. One section had an iron rope to hold. We went along towards the first river on the right but had to turn back due to overhanging foliage. There’s a lot of work for Mel and his team to do to keep the channels clear. We then walked along to the next river which we had to cross, me mostly on my bum. Next a section requiring good balance on the 6″ ledge. Next we had to crawl on our hands and knees under a large overhanging rock. After the assault course it was a breeze trotting along next to the pipes. We came out near the baths. Stopped in at the fromagerie for some cheese. Last lovely dinner with Mel and Liz.

  • Mahammra – walnut and smoked chili dip – roast parsnip dip and dosai
  • Minestrone soup 
  • Cous cous with falafel/sweet corn sauce and lamb’s lettuce
  • Rhubarb and ginger ice cream

Farewell to Henk and Margreet.

La Zourciére taken from a very long way away high up the mountain

Friday 14th February

Up about 5. Farewell to Liz. Mel drove Bridget and me back to Roquebiliere in the dark. It was exciting to see the dawn from the bus as we approached Nice down the valley and the gorge of the Vésubie. Tram from Grand Arénas to T2 of the airport. Everything went well although there were long queues because the automatic baggage roller wasn’t working. Flight went fine and I got home about 2pm after doing a bit of shopping at Tesco in Prestwich. Carol and I used to shop there a long time ago. I still can’t cope with Carol not being at home to greet me one way or another.

Huge thanks to Mel and Liz of Space Between. As you can see we ate vegetarian all week, Liz is a fantastic inventive cook. Mel is a fantastic mountain leader and I enjoyed pushing myself a little bit. A lovely break with good company.

Death cleaning

I’ve got a lot of experience of doing this and I want to try to get my own house in order so that those who have to do my death cleaning don’t get too hard or long winded a job to do.

When mum died in 2000, it coincided with Carol being in hospital having had a brain haemorrhage the month before and the subsequent brain surgery. She was very poorly indeed and managed to contract an e coli infection just to add to the mix. Carol was in Salford Hope and Oldham hospitals. She was in Oldham when mum died. I went straight to Suffolk the moment I heard, the news very kindly and carefully delivered to me by my lovely boss, Clem.

Because mum’s landlord was the Church of England Clergy Pensions Board, they very generously gave us 2 weeks to get out of the house. My brother was about as useful as a chocolate teapot so I ended up clearing the house, he did work with me on the funeral. Her house was a 3 bed modern house but mum still lived with lots of dad’s things from when he died 10 and a bit years before. It was a big job with the pressure from the CoECPB adding their stress and wanting the central heating system draining. Wait till I tell you the story about disconnecting the phone!

Mum only had 2 pianos by this time, lots of heavy old furniture and a stair lift. It was also a lovely in other circumstances hot July. I hired a transit van and spent my days going to the tip, to charity shops. I slept in mum’s bed. Some people came and took away a piano that mum had bequeathed to them and they never even thanked us for it, can you believe it, getting something worth thousands of pounds and no f***ing thanks.

I got it all done. I had my laptop and a daily list. I worked hard. I was very hot most of the time. We got through the funeral, Chris was a rock. Carol couldn’t be even though she wanted to be, it was unimaginable that Carol deal with any of it, she could hardly walk.

On the last day before handing the keys in, the brother had turned up for once. We got the central heating drained as requested and the last job was to disconnect the phone. I’d already rung BT and they’d said to ring when we were leaving. It turned out that my mum hadn’t ever the changed the account name from my dad’s to hers when he died. BT would only close the account on the say so of the account holder! I actually had to say “do you want me to go and dig him up?”!! It got sorted eventually and I did complain but don’t remember getting any recompense for the hassle and distress. I drove back north to Chris’s house with mum’s cat Kedi singing in the transit van for the whole 5 hours.

I then moved into Chris’s attic a few weeks later because whilst all my mum’s and Carol’s stuff was going on, my flat in Salford had sold and I had nowhere to live. I decided at this point to stop smoking. I’ve never looked back on that decision, 20 years ago this coming September.

The next clearance was my maiden aunt, my dad’s sister, who I didn’t particularly like and who didn’t particularly like me. She had been a very active woman, she’d worked in GCHQ, she flew planes and drove round in an orange MG. A character. Iona did some voluntary work in a monastery, to change the clock in the library she had got onto a chair which she put on a table and then fell off and had a stroke. She spent some time in hospital, then in a residential home while we, the brother, Iona’s solicitor friend and I tried to get her to understand that she wasn’t going to be driving the car home and wasn’t in fact going to be going home. It wasn’t easy and sometimes she thought I was my mum and she was basically suffering from brain damage.

Once we’d got her safely in the residential home, we decided to start clearing her rented house, fortunately rented from a very nice kind man who was extremely helpful. Surprise, my brother was again pretty useless. However my cousin Sophy, who was no blood relation of my aunt, lived nearby and between us, over what felt like months of weekends, we cleared Iona’s little house which was rammed to the gills and totally totally filthy. We needed biohazard suits. There were moments of hilarity, the clothes which were more suited to a drag queen, the photos which confirmed my suspicions about her single status being related to her sexual preferences. Although sexual is not a word I can equate with my aunt. Iona was very concerned that we get the valuable rug out of the loft. I did all the things you’re not supposed to do with a table and a chair (the very things that Iona had done which led to the fall which gave her the stroke) and hefted myself into the loft space. It was easy to see that the only item related to a rug was a roll of pink foam backed carpet. At least I got the relatively small amount of rubbish out of the loft. I didn’t fall down either.

Chris left Todmorden for Borth in April 2014 and never returned. She had fully intended to do so but the onset of illness was so rapid she never got well enough to travel that sort of distance again, other than to the National Amyloidosis Centre in London. Chris owned her house in Tod and first moved into her friend’s house, then to a flat in the same house, then to a rented flat of her own and finally to a rented bungalow of her own. So many moves because she needed accommodation to fit her changing abilities and worsening condition.

She moved into the bungalow in December 2015/January 2016. She knew she wasn’t going to get better and at some point she decided that I could clear the Todmorden house and get the contents to her and then get that house on the market. She lived long enough to know that the house was going to sell. Nancy and I worked on clearing the Tod house together. Chris was also not great on the cleaning side of things but nowhere near as bad as my aunt! And when it came down to it it didn’t take that long to do. We had a few tip runs and we sold some furniture then the rest went down to Borth in a removal van. We then arranged for a full clean, sorted some minor electrics and plumbing and got the house redecorated from top to bottom. Then it was ready to go on the market and it was bought by a lesbian couple who were delighted that Chris had been the previous owner.

When Chris died in October 2016, Andy, Gerry, Kate and I cleared the little bungalow which now had all the stuff Chris had been shifting around Borth, all the stuff from the Tod house and a huge amount of dialysis supplies. 60 boxes of it. I rang Baxters the suppliers to ask them to come and take it away. They kept stalling me. In the end I said that either they come and take it away or we would destroy the supplies, they said that’s all they were going to do anyway because once these valuable medical things have left the depot they cannot be reused. Some things we were able to recycle via the local health visitors.

Peritoneal dialysis is a less invasive treatment than haemo but because it’s done 3x a day for half an hour a time, it needs lots and lots of dialysate fluid. Having lived with a renal clinic in my home I know this stuff rather too well, Carol did haemodialysis which is 3x a week for 5 hours each time. Gerry and I spent a mad number of hours with me breaking down the boxes, him breaking down the plastic bladders of fluid and sending them down the toilet (this is fine, this is where it is supposed to go). We did 600 bags of fluid. We put all the plastic and cardboard out for the recycling and congratulations to Ceredigion council because they took the lot. I did complain to Baxters and they apologised.

Carol had done a lot of sorting and hadn’t hoarded much at all compared with all the other people I’d done death cleaning for. Apart from books and her NHS files and the litter files. But these were all pretty organised. I burnt the paperwork, I even bought a garden incinerator to do the job. I sold a good lot of the books and took lots of things to charity.

Carol’s death has been an opportunity for me to rationalise living in what is now a big house for one person. I’ve organised my bed linen, towels, kitchen equipment, some of the books. There’s still a bit to do. I kept busy sorting things apart from the time my leg was in plaster up until the end of last August and then I just stopped and haven’t resumed until now.

Paul emptied out my loft space over the summer, so I also have 12 boxes or so of my family papers to go through. You could argue that as I haven’t seen inside the boxes for 14 plus years, that it can all be chucked out fairly easily, however I do want to check through it as I can see there are letters from my grandmother and my mother.

When mum, Chris and Carol died, the first things to get rid of were the medical bits. I personally didn’t want to be reminded of their frailties. Carol had a renal unit with plumbing and electrics in 2/3 of what is now the house bathroom. She had a shed outside for her supplies. All of this went early on and I had the bathroom slightly remodelled and decorated.

I got shot of Carol’s clothes early on because she had a lot of battered old clothes, and some nice ones but being so thin, none of them were going to fit me. I also got rid of the personal hygiene things quite quickly.

Carol had her own kitchenette, she didn’t actually do cooking but she heated up nicely! I think I’ve borrowed that from Graham Norton. She had a Baby Belling, kettle, toaster and sink. I dealt with Carol’s food, a lot of which went to the food bank as it was all in date. She and I had totally different tastes so there wasn’t much I ate apart from her Christmas chocolate. Then I got rid of her knackered old fridge and freezer and Paul took the plumbing out and this room was redecorated. When Carol set it up as a kitchen she always wanted it to be easy to take down when we moved to the next house and it was. Obviously we never got to do that move. It’s now my outdoor kit room. I’ve got a spare toaster and kettle for when mine give up the ghost.

I turned Carol’s bedroom into a guest bedroom, easy peasy. This also got a bit of paint.

I bought new lampshades and brought colour, turquoise blue, what else! into the accessories around the house. I got myself a new bed and a new sofa to replace the ancient ones I had.

I like being tidy and organised. I’ve got boxes of photos from Chris, from Carol, my own. These will take a long time to go through and to digitise some of them. I recently got rid of my filing cabinet, I only need to keep some of the papers. I’m soon going to be stopping my OU work and that can then all go. It’s feeling therapeutic and because I’m doing things at the right time and speed for me I’m not chucking things out and regretting it.

I look forward to a time when everything is where I want it to be and I know what I’ve got and where it is. There is more decorating to do and I will be happy when I’ve worked out which pictures to put on the walls. This whole project will have an end and there will be good systems in place to make things easier for my death cleaners.

I have a will, a power of attorney (so that if I lose my mental capacity tomorrow, my attorney can then make sure my bills are paid etc.) and an Advance Decision. Both Chris and Carol had Advance Decisions which are legally binding documents and certainly in Carol’s case, this was a key document that determined how we reached the end of her life according to her wishes. Chris died very quickly within 24 hours of a stroke and it was not really needed although her medical advisors were fully aware that she had it. I hope if you’ve read through to here that you can see the sense of providing for your loved ones and not putting your head in the sand! I haven’t always been able to look the harsh realities of life head on but I’ve learnt to do it and I believe it’s part of loving. Shit happens but we can make it as smooth to deal with as possible and I thank both Chris and Carol for being so brave and strong.