Oh Carol

You missed some things this year:
I cruised the coast of Norway, hiked in the south of France and the Lake District and then we started having a pandemic. I was so lucky to get those trips in.
The whole world turned. Lockdown and a shiny new vocabulary. A never ending list of ill thought out fuck ups from the government.
My Big Plan for this year was to follow Bruce and The Chicks on tour all round the world, well the US, Canada and Europe.
I grew vegetables.
Quizzes, endless quizzes.
Video chats.
Walking, walking, walking.
Hand washing, cleaning, anti bac, masks and open windows.
I fell back in love with Natalie Maines.
I fell back into music, this house is rocking.
I’m trying to find out which foods are giving me bowel problems, it’s a slow process and a dull diet while I do this, 2 months already. The good news is I don’t have bowel or ovarian cancer. I didn’t sleep for 2 weeks waiting to find out. My go to anxiety response.
I rediscovered my libido, it is only permitted to travel in my imagination.
We had our 12th wedding anniversary. I celebrated that one on my own because of you being dead, and Covid restrictions.
Bruce put out a brilliant new album.
You didn’t show up for your 60th birthday either.
I’m exercising at last.
We got locked down again.
I got Phil to make and fit really nice cupboard doors in my bedroom.
The Americans voted Trump out and I cried with relief.
This long long year is not yet over.

Bruce Springsteen Ghosts

To have and to hold

11th October is my/our 12th wedding anniversary. It’s the second one without Carol.
I don’t feel married any more.

It was a very happy day back in 2008. It took us a long time to get to that day from 9th July 1994 when Carol proposed marriage to me.
Of course it wasn’t actually possible then. I remember telling my mum how much I wanted to marry Carol. Partly I was trying to annoy my mum but she didn’t rise to me needling her. They only met a couple of times and it wasn’t like they were ever really going to be best buddies so I didn’t facilitate it any further. Looking back, we spent lots more time with Carol’s mum and dad than we did with my mum. I do regret that.
My mum died less than 2 months after Carol’s first brain haemorrhage back in 2000, my first annus horribilis.

The right for gay people to marry became law in December 2005. We didn’t jump in straight away, unlike Elton and David. Carol was still suffering from the repercussions of the brain haemorrhage, there were anger issues and I didn’t want to take the big step until they were under control. We did however start living together in December 2003, I’d begun my job at Bradford in the November and we lived in a couple of rented places before we bought the house I’m in now. I’ve only just realised that my time at Bradford and Carol and me living together were concurrent, start to end. Sort of makes me hate Bradford University all over again. I know that’s not rational.
Carol did some work on the anger, did some therapy and we took the plunge.

It was a great day, I had a sore jaw from grinning all day. We married in Huddersfield Registry Office surrounded by our families and friends. We played The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba when we came in, a piece from Gluck’s Orfeo (Carol’s choice! we also played some from this opera at the funeral), Bruce’s My Love Will Not Let You Down (mine) and finished up with The Dam Busters (because we used to play it in the car on holidays). Our friends took a variety of roles, Chris and Dave were witnesses, Liz was the ring bearer, Tracey gave out the order of service, Jason took photos and Neil made the cake.
What on earth were we wearing that day!

Afterwards we came home in the dark and Carol managed to pull the door of the car boot onto my nose so I jumped around in the road screaming with pain for a bit. Took some painkillers and whisky and presented myself with 2 black eyes when my cousins came to lunch the next day.
I’m sad when I look at our wedding photos because we only had 20 guests and so many of them have died, Liz B, Denys, Joyce, Chris, Mandy and then Carol. My friends at work used to joke that they didn’t want to be my friends because all my friends got ill and died. They weren’t being horrible, it was simply gallows humour of which I do a fair bit myself. They were really supportive, loving and kind when it was all going on.

Being married was fine, very little changed, we both continued to be rabidly independent. Carol still lived upstairs and me down. We met up for meals and TV watching, we took holidays together in cottages all around the UK. We also took separate holidays and had separate social lives. Now, I wish we hadn’t hived ourselves off so much.
Having a formal status made all the administrative formalities very easy when Carol died. When C was in hospital I didn’t have to keep explaining who I was (mostly). So very different from the hospital experience with the first brain haemorrhage and the medics’ refusal to give me any information at all. Thankfully Muriel and Allen, Carol’s parents, did.

What I miss about our marriage are the kisses, hugs and cuddles, the useful suggestions, the useless suggestions, the ideas, the companionship, the Victoria Wood and Julian and Sandy quotes for nearly every occasion, the massive technical ineptitude, the offbeat slanted view of life, the ability to drink an endless amount of tea, the intelligence, the unflinching support, the bravery, the loyalty, the love.

Going back to where I started, cursed by the sodding pandemic because I want to move on. It’s not that I’ve stopped loving Carol but I need to forge my own path. I’m thinking about moving my wedding ring to a different finger but right at this moment in time I can’t actually get it off, my knuckle has got bigger. Need to get my hands really cold or mess about with butter etc. It isn’t about saying that I’m available although that might be something for the future (not going to live with anyone ever again thank you, I have the t shirt) but more that I’m not defining myself in relation to someone else. Carol and Chris will always be a huge part of how I’ve got to be where I am. Always and forever.
I’ve often heard people say “it’s what so and so would have wanted….” etc. Well, how the hell do we know? All I know is that Carol loved me and that love for me did not have any jealousies in it at all. So on that basis I reckon Carol would have wanted me to live my life to the full. Doing full is a little challenging during a pandemic. I’m working on it.

I do wonder what Carol would think about my renewed blonde obsession, but actually that’s been there for a very long time. So glad that all the Nordic and Scandi TV series are full of blondes!

I’m getting back into music in a big way, playing it loud, singing it loud, crying with it, dancing to it. It’s been like a tap I can’t and don’t want to turn off, making me happy, sad, and full of life. I’m waking up with tunes in my head, following me round all day long, even in the night. For months now.
And it helps me to say some things I haven’t so much put into words.

To Carol (Bruce, master of delayed gratification)
To me
Bruce has travelled with me for the last 35 years as we’ve weathered the storms of life, the passions, divorce and deaths. Here he honours the big loves of his band, Clarence who died in 2011 and Danny in 2008, this one hits the nail for me and my big loves, Carol and Chris: Ghosts.

Ghosts running through the night

Our spirits filled with light

I need, need you by my side

Your love and I’m alive

Bruce Springsteen

Right back at ya.
Peace and love.

Outside the Registry Office with Mandy to the side and Kate behind my head
This looks like everybody.
Neil, Tracey, Liz W, Liz B, Dave, Denis, Mandy, Paul, Carol, Sophy, Matthew, Joyce, Jo, Jak, Ariel, Del, Margeret (just the hair showing), Vic, Chris, Kate, Jason, Howard
Cake by Neil
Dave and Chris the witnesses and bookends. Carol’s shirt, OMG!
What awful trousers (mine), Carol’s look quite good on me now!



This or that?

Not long ago I mentioned to a friend that I didn’t know what my purpose in life was anymore and he suggested that maybe I didn’t need to have one.
I’ve chewed this over but keep returning to wanting a reason, it’s not enough when going to the tip is the highlight of the day.
I’m reminded of being a teenager and having no idea of what I wanted to do with my life then and it’s much the same now. I’m clear about what I don’t want to do. This year’s plans all involved travel. I feel stuck, haven’t done any clearing up after Carol in my house since August 2019. Stasis versus a desire for excitement and activity.
I do want a purpose, I don’t want to drift, I want to use my rediscovered confidence. I like that I don’t have to make compromises and that my life is entirely mine to do with as I wish. It’s a powerful heady mix.
I’m a little bit fitter, a tiny bit thinner and have improved posture. Working towards something, but what it is still eludes me.

Another friend told me about a widower who had moved house in the year since his partner died. I’m not ready for that yet, not while I’m in this state of inertia.

I’ve been wondering about why I have the music of The Chicks so much in my head over the last few months and not Brucey boy. He’s had something to say to keep me going over the last 35 years and I’ve felt in sync with him. He released Western Stars last year and it’s ok but I don’t play it very much.
A few people I’ve met/know have talked about the pain of divorce, which I also know about and how it’s not the same as widowhood and no it isn’t. But the pain is just as real, at least with death there is a distinct ending.
This may be why the latest album Gaslighter resonates for me, it’s all about divorce and the raw pain is there for all to hear.
At the moment a lot of the tunes in The Chicks’ back catalogue are speaking to me very loudly. Also the fan page on Facebook is really friendly and welcoming!

So what to do, the bloody virus is not abating, the world’s in turmoil and I’m stuck in my house, often horribly lonely and now quite a lot bored. I will at least consider any suggestions anyone wants to make.

Long Way Round
It’s been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down
And I’m getting’ it back on the road now….
Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me, I can still be found
Taking the long way
Taking the long way around
Truth No.2
You don’t like the sound of the truth
Coming from my mouth
You say that I lack the proof
Well baby that might be so
I might get to the end of my life
Find out everyone was lying
I don’t think that I’m afraid anymore say that I would rather die trying
Ready to Run
Ready, ready, ready, ready, ready to run
All I’m ready to do is have some fun
What’s all this talk about love
Mississippi
Well my ship’s been split to splinters
It’s sinking fast
I’m drowning in the poison
Got no future
Got no past
But my eye line’s not moving, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothing but affection for those who’ve sailed with me

Malham

Monday 24th August

Staying at Newfield Hall near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Nice big country house. Mark and Owen jointly manage the house. Yes, I think so. I arrived a bit after 3.30 so once I’d checked in I went for a walk round the garden. Then branched out and went along the road, up through a field of cows (and one rather large bull) to find a tumulus. Not a madly exciting bulge in the ground but it was there. Back through the field but unfortunately Big Bull and his coterie had moved to exactly where I needed to go so luckily I’d spotted another gate and got out onto the road without having to barge through them all.

For dinner I had watermelon salad, a small portion of risotto and a fruit salad washed down with some Sauvignon. I’m doing gluten free to see if that will help some issues I’m currently having.

Tuesday 25th August

It was a bit of a mad idea but seeing as the weather was dreadful I decided to go through with it. Drove up to Hadrian’s Wall because it’s nearer from here than it is from home and finally went to Vindolanda fort and museum. Well worth the long drives each way. I didn’t go to Vindolanda when I walked Hadrian’s Wall because I knew it would need a good bit of time plus it’s some way from the wall and would have extended my day by miles as well as hours. It was all done well for Covid apart from the 3 people without masks. It was terribly wet when I was walking around the excavations and I got wetter when I put the brolly up so on entering the museum, my specs steamed up and I couldn’t see a thing for ages. After Vindolanda I drove to Allen Banks and Staward Gorge (Nat Trust) mainly because Dave said he and Carol had been there and that she had liked it. I reckon part of why she liked it was because her dad’s name was Allen and spelt that way. I liked it too, the River Allen was in full spate so I did a short walk and having dried out from the first wetting, I got another one.

I’m so emotional at the moment, thank god I’m not with anyone. I’ve got Natalie Maines and The Chicks songs whirling around my head constantly, even when I wake up in the middle of the night. Which is fine, her voice is pulling me all sorts of ways. Such a vocal range and agility. Listen to their interpretation of Dylan’s Mississippi, a great song but he manages to mangle his own song. Bob mumbles a tuneless dirge, Natalie soars to heaven and beyond. Sex, emotion, politics, passion, love. All the things I love about Bruce are here as well.

Dinner was spicy cauli, a huge salad and then vanilla ice cream, with a glass of Pinot. Chatted with fellow guests and laughed.

Wednesday 26th August

Picked up D who was patiently waiting for a bus and we drove to Malham where I easily parked the car in the car park. He trotted off to do a long walk. I walked to Janet’s Foss and then up to Gordale Scar, both quite busy but enough room for us all to spread out. The map shows a path up the side of the waterfall so I’d thought this might be something I could do, however it is about 35 years since I was last here and I’d forgotten a) how steep it is and b) how wet it is. And currently extremely wet thanks to the endless downpours. Instead I went up Malham Lings and Broad Scars, where there wasn’t anybody else so a nice peaceful lunch on a bit of limestone pavement. Back down Trougate, a quick peek at Malham Cove and down to the village. Not a long walk but I felt pretty tired and lots of bits were aching. I’m not exactly in full health at the moment but trying to build up my fitness levels. Back to the car park which was over full, into the car, drove about 100m and then waited in a traffic jam for half an hour because the road into the village was rammed and it’s only just wide enough for 2 cars to pass. Some total twat had parked such that they created a log jam. The police were moving us all past this one car that was sticking out into the road.

Dinner of spicy meatballs, huge boring salad and fruit salad, with a glass of Sauvignon.

Thursday 27th August

Today I drove to Fountains Abbey which is about an hour from the house. Had an espresso in the visitor centre before setting off to look round. I don’t remember there being a visitor centre when I was last here but apparently it was very new then. That was on 9th July 1994. I looked round the abbey and walked through the water park. The homoerotic statues may have inspired Carol to propose to me that day. Unusual for me that I couldn’t locate exactly where the proposal had taken place and I guess it doesn’t really matter. It was a hot sunny July day then and I was blinded by love and lust. 26 years later it was humid and overcast. I saw quite a lot of deer as I walked round the deer park. Had my lunch on an old bridge with not a soul around. I like how easy it is to get away from the crowds. Walking back to the car park the rain came on heavily (much earlier than forecast). Drove back along the really high B road through Pateley Bridge feeling a bit James Herriot. Fortunately no beasts needed my attention.
It was good that this visit to Fountains Abbey was not marred by being badly beaten up in a homophobic attack in Ripon afterwards. I didn’t actually go to Ripon to test that out. I looked up the names of our attackers recently and they are still knocking about in the town.
Dinner of beetroot and goat’s cheese, veg stew with potato on top and lots of green veg, ice cream and a glass of pinot. I can’t be arsed to get into drinking wine now it looks like beer is off the menu.
Chatted to C and M in the main hall sitting at a sensible distance from each other and we got reminded (almost told off) that we should have been wearing masks because we were in a public area drinking our wine. You don’t have to wear a mask in the bar where you sit quite close to each other. This is so stupid.

Still washing myself in Natalie Maines’ voice and the Chicks’ harmonies. I don’t normally play the same tunes over and over and over but it’s some sort of cathartic thing I feel compelled to do. When I’m not actively listening the tunes keep running around my head in a massive continuous ear-worm that’s been going on for weeks and weeks.
Anyway I need to see them live and up close, possibly even more than I do Bruce. I’ve seen Bruce 17 times already and whilst my love for him is undiminished after 35 years, these days it’s his early performances I listen to, when he was at his peak. He said on his radio show during lockdown that he wants to get out playing again when it’s safe to do so but I doubt if and when that happens that it’ll be the 4 hour marathon shows. I think those legendary times have passed. Bruce and Patti are shielding because he’s 71 in a few weeks and Patti has health issues.
Natalie Maines has said she’s not leaving home so it’s a long wait ahead for any of it. It took huge courage for the then Dixie Chicks to play live in Dallas in 2003 after receiving a threat that specifically said “you (Natalie) will be shot dead in Dallas”.


“I know you said
Why can’t you just get over it?
It turned my whole world around
And I kinda like it”

Not Ready to Make Nice: Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, Emily Robison, Dan Wilson

It was round about then that I got hooked on them, the Shut Up and Sing movie is well worth a watch. I love how bolshy Natalie is and she has an immaculate kitchen which she claims to clean herself. This is contrasted with Bruce’s house which usually seems a bit messy. Also Patti said she can’t get into their shared recording studio on the farm because he’s always in it (great, where’s the album, Bruce?) but why oh why do these multi millionaires not have 2 recording studios so she can get on with her own tunes? I’ve been reading far too much celebrity crap.

Friday 28th August

Had a nice breakfast of yoghurt and fruit compote then smoked haddock and poached egg. Drove to Settle by a very high single track road. Looked about and then decided to go home because it was raining again.

Cornwall and Glos.

Saturday

An uneventful long journey from Yorkshire to Cornwall. I got up early, left before 7 and did the drive in 4 chunks stopping every 2 hours. Frankley services at 9 were quiet but Sedgemoor services at lunchtime were hell. I had a short last stop in a lay by and arrived in St. Ives at 3.30. I miss the games Carol and I used to play on long journeys.

I’m staying with HF Holidays in their house, Chy Morvah, it’s just up from the town. It has a nice garden and my room has a sea view. Once settled in I booked some activities for Friday.

HF excel at organisation so dealing with covid control was no exception.

I had to get away. I’m sure everyone feels the need for a change. I needed some time away from the house full of Carol. There’s the luxury of being well fed and I don’t have to prepare it.

The last time I came to Cornwall was about 33 years ago with Chris when we were young and in love.

Korev lager, local and delicious. After an extensive dinner, soup, veg roll, veg Dhansak, choc torte, I wandered down to the town, smells of fried food, young drunks and girls in tiny shorts. I needed to see where the Hepworth gallery was, even though it’s shut. Vivid memories of being there with Chris.

The garden at Chy Morvah
From my window
From my window

Sunday

Haddock and poached egg for breakfast, yum. Bimbled about a bit then drove to Morvah and turned off to park up. My walk took me to Men-an-Tol which may have something to do with the man and his 7 wives. One legend is that if a woman passed through the stone 7 times she would become pregnant. Next Men Scryfa, a stone with writing on it, “Rialobranus son of Cunovalus”, as to who they are it’s a lot of conjecture, anyway it’s a very old stone! Onto The Nine Maidens, of which there are 11 stones! The stones form a stone row not a stone circle although when you are there it looks like a circle. Then to the Ding Dong tin mine engine which is much more recent, even in a couple of hundred years, we’ve managed to change the name from Ting Tong. I wondered if it was to do with the noise it made, turns out it’s to do with the church bell ringing to call the men to work. I sat here for my lunch. There was a couple sitting eating their lunch and that’s about all I can tell you because I was very keen to get photos of the mine tower against the blue blue sky. It turned out this was Gary from my Romanian holiday back in 2016! He realised it really was me when I posted some photos on Facebook later in the day! This was also the holiday where I met Karin, Julia and Sue. Two months after Romania I was at Gatwick flying out to see a man in Gothenburg and Gary was also in the airport so we had a beer together. It’s strange how our paths keep crossing although this one was a miss. I passed a lot of young brown boy cows on the path who stood and looked at me then all ran off terrified. The last bit of the walk was to the Lanyon Quoit which is a neolithic burial chamber, very fine, with a huge capstone.
Returning to the car I drove past a turn to Madron chapel and well. Trotted off to look, the well is a muddy puddle with offerings of ribbons, scarves and clothing dangling in the branches of the trees, some have been there a very long time and they look really horrible. The chapel was quite peaceful in contrast, deep in the woods. I went and had a look at Kelynack where Chris and I had camped. Drove back along the lanes full of moronic drivers. So many big vehicles in the narrow lanes.

Lushington’s IPA, very nice. Dinner was pate, sea bass in a dill and caper sauce then crème brûlée for pudding. Except it had not had a blow torch on it so just crème, it was also supposed to have fresh berries but these were not present.

Men-an-Tol
Men Scryfa
Ding Dong Mine
The Nine (or so) Maidens
Ding Dong!
Lanyon Quoit
Through Ding Dong looking at Little Galver
Lanyon Quoit

Monday

Tired and a bit out of sorts. I drove to Morrisons in Penzance to fill the tank. I put 1.36l of unleaded into the diesel tank. Thank goodness I was looking at the gauge and didn’t fill it up entirely. I picked the hose on the left which at Sainsbury’s where I usually refill, is the diesel hose. A chap behind me said it would be ok because such a small amount. My tank holds 69 litres so 1.36 is a relatively small fraction of the total. I checked online and what I read confirmed that it would probably be ok despite the car manual saying I had basically broken the engine. It is worse to do it the other way round however, which is why a diesel hose won’t fit in an unleaded tank hole but not possible of course to make an unleaded one not fit a diesel. I can think of a way of sorting it so it would never happen either way, perhaps I should patent it. It took forever to sort because I had to queue to pay for the unleaded, then fill up with diesel and had to queue to pay for that. After all that I thought I would go in Morrisons and pick up a couple of bits I needed. Wearing my mask I started what turned out to be a full day of sneezing, so snot dribbled down my face in the mask, horrid. This was my first foray into a supermarket since the middle of March and I will revert to online delivery shopping when I get home.

To relax I went to Carn Euny down tiny roads with huge high hedges, sticking my head out of the window to see round corners. The roads then got even tinier. At the place I parked Google maps wanted me to continue driving down a footpath which at its narrowest was a foot wide! Carn Euny is an Iron Age settlement consisting of 7 linked huts. It has an amazing underground chamber, a fogou and a tunnel. Not for tall people. Really good. From there I walked to Carn Brea at 198m. It’s the most westerly hill in England. Huge 180°+ views and across to Lands End. Lunch on the top. Returned to Chy Morvah, walked into St. Ives to get anti histamines, really busy and did not feel safe with all the hordes of idiots. Betty Stog’s bitter, ok, too many caramel notes for me. Dinner was nachos, a meal in itself, chicken with wild mushrooms and pasta, huge portion, couldn’t eat it all, ice cream.

This holiday feels like a lot to do with Chris. She and I went to Boscastle, Tintagel, St. Ives, Kelynack, Land’s End, The Lizard, Gorran, Plymouth doing a mixture of camping and youth hostels. It was the days when you still had to do chores. I remember eating fish in Plymouth and spending the entire night going to and fro the loo to chuck up. I don’t suppose anybody in the dorm got any sleep either. We did more than one trip here, coming from Bristol.

From my window
Sky above Morrisons’ car park
Fogou at Carn Euny
Tunnel at Carn Euny
Cornish pony
Cairn near Carn Euny
From my window
From my window

Tuesday

Still feeling terribly tired. Off out to Chysauster ancient village looked after by English Heritage. Locked despite being all outdoors. Then to the Merry Maidens to see what they were up to. They were quite well behaved but my enjoyment was lessened by the 2 men chanting, singing, whistling, praying and rolling around in the middle of the circle. It was very difficult to get any photos without these tossers in them and they spoilt it for me. I drove a few hundred metres up the road to look at an old Celtic cross. It’s almost obliterated by vegetation now. Walked a footpath along a field edge which then continued across a field of barley, shutup Sting, to a have a good line of sight to a fab standing stone. No-one about at all to disturb my peace. Then to Trengwainton Gardens (Nat Trust) to meet up with Gerry and Hilary and Bobby the old dog. Lovely shady exotic garden to walk round plus very pleasant well organised tea room in the orchard. Well organised until they forgot my lunch but it was nice when it arrived. Back to Doom Bar beer. Minty watermelon salad, squash and chilli risotto, fresh fruit salad.

The Merry Maidens without irritating hippies
Old cross
Standing stone in the field of barley
Field of barley
At Trengwainton Gardens
Trengwainton House
Bobby the dog, Gerry and Hilary

Wednesday

Drove to Carnewas NT car park on the north Cornwall coast along from Newquay. Walked along eastwards passing Bedruthan Steps to Porthcothan beach and had my lunch looking at the sea. Walked back along a lower path. Hot walking. The car park was quiet when I arrived at 10 but heaving when I left at 2.30. Ice cream from the Nat Trust. Back to the house for Korev lager from St. Austell brewery. Korean fried cauli, broccoli salad, fresh fruit salad.

Coast near Bedruthan Steps
Coast near Bedruthan Steps
Coast near Bedruthan Steps
I love these walls
Coast near Bedruthan Steps
Coast near Bedruthan Steps
Wall

Thursday

To The Lizard where I parked up on The Green. Because I get out early, I am getting good car parking spots. I trolled off to the east and did a short circuit on the coast path with a lot of ups and downs. At the cove there was a man walking a sheep on a lead, as well as a small dog. They were going very slowly. Passed the new lifeboat station, a sea navigational feature, the coastwatch box (made me think of Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn), a large hotel, the lighthouse with its massive fog horns. I walked over to some rocks just below the lighthouse and remembered standing there with Chris all those years ago. I could see that the Lizard point itself was very busy with people so I didn’t go there and went back up to the village because by then it had done one huge downpour and another one looked like it was coming on. Drove past HMS Culdrose which is enclosed by well over 2 miles of razor wire and Goonhilly Earth Station. Early back to the house and managed to park the car without any issues. This is a real problem this week, because we are all on self guided walking so most people have arrived in cars rather than by public transport. The house is only supposed to be 50% full but actually there are 48 people staying here and the capacity is 70-80. Slightly annoyed and will take this up with HF as one of my main reasons for coming was the reduced number of guests. They run 2 sittings for breakfast and dinner which works ok, I’m on the earlies at 7.30 a.m. and 6.30 p.m.

Coast near The Lizard
Church at Church Cove (closed)
I remember standing here with Chris as if it was yesterday
The Lizard lighthouse
Big whoppers
The old lifeboat station

Friday

More chaos with the ruddy parking. This morning I was blocked in by 2 cars. Only one driver, Mr Passat, had helpfully put his phone number in the window (on my suggestion when he blocked me in previously). The manager said I should have sorted it out the night before which was not particularly helpful when I had a timed ticket for my outing. He was busy doing the 2nd breakfast sitting so gave me the room number for Mr VW GTI. I spoke to Mrs VW GTI, she said Mr would move his car. It took me nearly 20 minutes to round up the 2 drivers at the same time and while Mr Passat was actually quite nice, Mr VW GTI came out with a horrid face on. I drove for an hour to The Lost Gardens of Heligan including a section of road where the hedges were as tall as the top of the lamp posts ie double decker bus height, of course this was on the narrowest bit of the narrow road. The Lost Gardens were nice and it was easy to walk round without being near anyone. I had a coffee which took 20 minutes of queuing despite being only the 3rd customer in the queue. Ate my sandwich in the car park and then drove another hour to Marazion and parked up. Walked across the sand to the causeway and stumbled round the Terraced Gardens. They were lovely but we all had to walk really slowly because everyone was taking photos. I had a bit of banter with a couple of gay men which was nice. Then I sat on the grass and finally went to the top of St. Michael’s Mount to the Castle which I was told was operating at 10% of its capacity. Well if I heard that correctly it must be hell on earth at 100%. So many children running round like puppies in no coherent direction making such a lot of noise. Next time for Cornwall it will not be in the school holidays. It’s my own fault for being desperate to get away. I walked round very quickly and just took in the views. By this time I was far too tired to listen to volunteers telling me important historical facts. I did too much all in one day and should have learnt that by now. I used to know not to do that. It started to rain heavily as I got back to the car. Lushington beer. Dinner was goat’s cheese with beetroot, bean stew with pastry on top and some veg, fresh fruit salad with a dollop of ice cream. I am seriously going to work at getting rid of my spare tyre and getting a bit fitter. I’m glad I came away and hope I can have some more trips this year. I had some interesting chats with a couple of nice people and some laughs too.

Puppies crawling over everything
St. Michael’s Mount
Wren
Heligan
Heligan
St. Michael’s Mount
St. Michael’s Mount

Saturday

I drove to the Forest of Dean and got physically distanced with Liz, Ariel, Tracey, Jason and Laurie. Had a lovely time eating in the carport with tablecloths and candles and then went for a walk in the forest and saw Deadly Nightshade.

Deadly nightshade
Towards the estuary
Forest posers
Two lovelies

Sunday

Lovely lazy morning watching Liz empty the amazing Klover heating machine. Drove further on to Sophy’s for more r&r. So good to see friends and family. So important.

Monday

Another lazy morning! Well over 5 hours to do the usual 3.5 hours home because the M6 was closed and then had another accident further up. Nothing like a massive traffic jam to let you know lockdown is over.

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.