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Lockdown reflections

This third lockdown has been a lot harder for me. I’ve seen just two people who are friends, I’ve seen a lot of passers by and neighbours but whilst those conversations are pleasant enough, they aren’t people with whom I can really talk about the big stuff. We had a week of extreme sub zero temperatures when it wore me out just trying to counter the cold. The cold set off my herpes so that was horrible for a couple of weeks. I managed to fall out with a friend and yet again with my brother. That stopped me from being able to write until now.

It’s been the longest year ever since 23rd March 2020. I have spent by far the largest part of it entirely on my own. I got out/get out as and when we were/are allowed to and I did take a couple of trips last summer and I did see family and friends then.

I haven’t had any human touch since 15th March 2020 and now I don’t know how I can do that again. It will surely be like opening up a dam. Whoever that first hug is with needs to bring a bucket.

There have been lots of positives through all of it, my house is looking a lot better inside and out. Every week I meet up on Skype with some ex colleagues and that’s been something I look forward to. I’ve had video chats with friends of course, thank god video conferencing more or less works now as opposed to when I was first using it back in about 1996. I remember chatting to a guy in the US from my flat in Salford, the video on my screen was a tiny little box about 2 cm square, surprisingly it did actually work, that was in the days of dial up modems and when you had to leave the computer overnight to download a browser and if you were lucky the line hadn’t hung up when you looked the next morning. For anyone who wants to remember here is the sound of the dial up modem! The good old days of the web in black and white.

I’ve had madnesses and obsessions. Music has been massive but ultimately it’s probably one of things that has kept me sane. I like how that doesn’t even sound logical. Carol would be calling me out for not being logical. I can sort of play some tunes on the guitar now but am reaching a point where I need some proper Zoom lessons. I still wake up in the night with tunes going round in my head. It’s ok. I’ve found lots of new music and that’s been great.

It’s coming up to my 3rd birthday without Carol, she’s only been dead 2 years so that in itself is a bit weird.
This is the stupidity of what I did on my 61st birthday, less than 2 months after Carol died. Because I’d been made redundant as she died I missed out on my usual first aid at work update course. I enrolled on an outdoor first aid course, which I needed to have in order to continue to work teaching navigation.
I packed my bag and drove to my B&B in Llanberis. When I unpacked I realised the bag with all my outdoor kit was not in the car. I drove all the way back home, collected the bag and then drove all the way back to the B&B. A total of about 8 hours driving. I was so ashamed of how foolish I’d been I don’t think I told anyone. The actual course went fine and I passed. On the birthday itself I wandered round some National Trust places.
Last year I was on a hiking holiday in the Lake District and that too finished up on my birthday and I spent the day wandering around National Trust places and had a nice meal in Grasmere. There was no paracetamol to be had in Ambleside. I’ve looked back at a blog post from this time last year and can see how scared I was of what lay ahead. Thank god I didn’t know about 125,000 dead and the never ending parade of disasters. But now, I’ve had my first vaccine jab and maybe I can start to think about doing the things I wanted to do last year for 2022. I’m cautious as my no. 1 priority is to remain alive. At least we don’t have to hear the monstrous #45 hurting our heads every day anymore.
This year for the birthday, I’ve booked parking at the Nat Trust at Nostell Priory, it’s not exactly local but since we have no definition of what local means or how far it extends that’s what I’m doing, walking somewhere different. Then on my way home I’m picking up a meal from my favourite local restaurant, The Moorcock. I’ve got a bottle of bubbly to go with it.
Maybe next year I will have a birthday with other people before I go travelling…..

My 2020 in photos

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

The best, the worst

My friend Liz did a list of the good and bad stuff that’s happened to her in 2020 and the good by far outweighed the bad. She said she wanted to see other people’s lists so here is mine.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Bad thingsGood things
Global pandemic, millions dead, millions sick.Went to the far top of Norway in January and saw my old friends Inger and Steve in Bodø. We were at uni together in the late 70s, we hadn’t met up for about 20 years!
Contemptible never ending series of cock ups and mismanagement from our despicable, uncaring government made up of self serving greedy bastards.Made some new friends including new online friends.
My friend lost both her parents within days of each other to Covid.Went to the Alpes Maritimes to be loved by my friends in February. Great walks.
Friends getting sick with Covid.Went to the Lake District for my birthday a bit before lockdown started. There was a shortage of paracetamol in Ambleside but stacks of loo paper in Booths in Windermere.
Friends sick with other awful illnesses.Grew veg for the first time properly in the garden. Hit and miss but it was nice eating my produce.
Had to remove this one as don’t want to be sued.The blue tits nested in the box they demanded I put up. The babies fledged and I hope the jay didn’t get any of them. The only time I saw the jay was when the babies were about to leave the box.
Some bouts of depression.Walked a lot and then some more.
Did more exercise.
Not done the travels I planned. I was about to “set wing to wing”.Started to like myself again, enjoying living on my own in my lovely house with a great view. I’m very lucky.
I have routines and like looking after myself.
Nearly lost the plot waiting for results of 2 tests for cancer (negative).Because of IBS, had a better diet and lost some weight.

Last time I had a hug was on March 15th, it was a good one with Cath.Pre lockdown visit from Ian, who I’ve known since childhood, was a real tonic.
Not had any overnight visitors.I got my guest bedroom all set up to receive overnighters. One day they will be able to come.
Had to cancel short break in January 2021 to Wales. This was so that I would not be at home for 2nd anniversary of Carol’s death. Was going to meet up with my cousins. It is what it is.Saw my very good friends Liz and Tracey and my cousins Sophy and Jo.
Video calls and phone calls with old friends.
The love and support of friends and family has been central to this year and to keeping me sane. You know who you are and I love you.
Had to cancel other trips in October as well.My house and garden are much improved thanks to work done by contractors and by me.
I know my neighbours a little bit more.

Had a memory lane holiday in Cornwall and a short walking break in North Yorkshire, all a bit Covid weird but good to get out and meet people.

Continued to enjoy occasional blog post writing, helps me to work through things. Each post is crafted over several days, weeks sometimes. Some lovely feedback about my posts.
It will very soon be just 2 years since Carol died. I am coping, not seeing lots of people is ok, it’s allowed me time for reflection.
I miss the 2 loves of my life more than words can say, every single day.

Continued to enjoy taking photos. Having the time to take photos makes a huge difference.
Music has come back into my life in a big big big way. Playing it, singing it, dancing to it. Starting to learn to play the guitar (this will take a while which is good because it looks like being confined to barracks is going to go on for some time yet).

Bruce at 71 is sexier than ever and singing in what he calls his current voice which is not the same but ok in a new way. He put out an album, Letter to You which is really good and he sang along with fellow New Jersey songwriter, Jack Antonoff on brilliant Bleachers’ track chinatown. Happy music. Bruce has been doing a regular DJ slot and plays some epic tracks. Listen to it direct from the US not the watered down BBC version.

Natalie, oh Natalie. I was in love with Natalie back when the Dixie Chicks first released Wide Open Spaces in 1998. I remember seeing the videos and had the CDs. Then she and sisters Martie and Emily were vilified and threatened with being shot because Natalie had the balls to criticise Bush on the eve of war in 2003. And she did it in London which incensed the good ol’ bad ol’ boys even more.
At the beginning of 2020 a new album and a tour were coming and my interest was getting perked up again. Gaslighter eventually got released a bit later than planned. It’s an excellent album produced by Jack Antonoff. Do not mess with those chicks! I love this track which is a love song to Natalie’s boys Young Man.
When Natalie sings her voice inspires very intense emotions in me, both on her own and in the harmonies with Martie and Emily and with other singers.
In my view, Natalie’s also very hot but that’s actually second to what her voice does to me.

Natalie posted an impassioned entreaty on Instagram re staying at home to which I responded equally passionately. She liked my comment and made my day! She manages her own account and doesn’t post very often so extra exciting!
I came out as trans. Not done anything about it but not planning to do more than live my life as the boy I am, breasts and all. The breasts have annoyed me for years but no way am I having surgery.
Sexuality, no change there then, as Carol would say, “so long as they’re breathing”. Pansexual despite all the kitchenware jokes.
Looking forward to wearing more hats and showing off my legs in 2021. Peace and love.

Letting go

Soon after Carol died I wrote of feeling that I’d been cast adrift. I thought of myself on a raft in an ocean of tears with no sight of land and exposed to all the vicissitudes of weather. I later watched Sarah Outen’s film Home of pretty much exactly that, except she was in an enclosed vessel but some of her rollercoaster of emotions as she fought for her life rowing across the Pacific during a dreadful storm reflected where I was emotionally during the first year. She survived and so did I.

That first year I cocooned myself in a protective bubble, not out of choice, it was just how it was. In a daze, I went through the motions of walking and talking. Sometimes people told me things and I couldn’t remember them a moment later. I’m so sorry if that was you. When I encountered new people the first thing I told them was that Carol had died. Mostly they were fine about this and mostly very kind. One or two recoiled from the impact. But I made a new friend, well I call her a friend, we only conversed for a matter of minutes after I’d blurted out my widowhood. Sarah was widowed 3 weeks before me. We became Facebook friends and I’ve learnt from her as we watch each other sometimes stumbling and reaching for a handle to grab hold of as we work out our new lives. Her man Tony was also a renegade, a wild and beautiful man.
During that first year I’d done a few ritualistic scatterings of ashes, making meaning by going to places that Carol loved. There are ashes at Dove Stones reservoir (not in the res itself) alongside those of her very good friends Joyce and Liz, mother and daughter; Esthwaite Water, which we both loved; in the mountains at Llanymawddwy; near Dunstanburgh Castle, and in the new top garden of my home.

2020 arrived. I passed the first anniversary of Carol’s death somewhere on a boat off the coast of Norway. I do still tell people that Carol has died but it’s not the first thing and it’s not every single person I meet.
As this year moved to Spring, I started to feel as if I was ready to pop my head up and enjoy the sun on my body. I felt excitement and a readiness to throw myself back into living instead of enduring. Well that was crap timing! As we veered towards Lockdown 1.0 I had a fair bit of self pity around the restrictions as well as panic. I surprised myself by finding that it was possible to survive that as well. I have been extremely careful. There is only me to look after me, at least physically. Mentally my friends and family have been fantastic. I did it without putting on loads of weight or turning into an alcoholic. I’m actually very lucky to be on my own and have not been forced to work at home cooped up with a partner or indeed any other person. Some friends are spending all day working online and are living with the same person all the time and it’s not necessarily that easy. Some have entered into difficult life phases by becoming carers and I know how achingly grinding that is. I have a lovely house and garden with a great view and I’m on the edge of a pleasant village with mostly pleasant neighbours.

I had a nice summer, took a couple of holidays, saw some friends and family, in our new restricted, contactless ways. I went a bit manic for a month or so, felt really high, euphoric even. Thankfully it wasn’t followed by a deep low. I’ve had some short periods of depression but now am much more levelled out and for the most part feel pretty good.

As we approached Lockdown 2.0 I began to put more effort into exercising and started doing weight training. As part of looking after my bones, I joined the gym last July and had been doing that 3x a week religiously. Then nothing at all since March except for walking. I now do a short fast walk most mornings followed by a 10 minute all body workout with Kelly on YouTube. I’ve started to lose a bit of poundage which makes me feel quite perky.

As part of letting go or my death cleaning 2.0, I’ve been looking at objects that I’ve carried around with me all my life and reevaluating them. Some of them are not surviving the cut. I took my wedding ring off and this does not mean that I’ve stopped loving Carol but I’m not married to a dead person. It was the right time for me to do that. It also does not mean that I’m available although I might be. Taking the ring off was a relief, a freeing up. It’s a chunky ring and is now round my neck on a chunky chain most of the time.
I’ve got back into sorting out the house. All the work needing contractors ended up in November, it all should have happened months earlier. I’ve got new bedroom cupboards and have painted the room. I’ve got a better patio and 2 new sets of steps to my garden areas. The ceiling in my sitting room has finally been fixed after 8 months of looking at a piece of cardboard! There’s still quite a big schedule of redecorating which initially I was planning to pay someone to do but I really like having something to do and it’s given me some routine. I think Carol would be pleased with the house improvements.

My grief is not there all the time, well it is but often I can put it to the back, sometimes it gnaws away at me. So the last week I have cried a lot, mostly listening to music but it’s not all the time and I’m learning to understand and control my emotions. I’m ok, despite sodding Covid, despite being on my own most of the time. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed my own company. I do miss people and I miss physical contact. I miss Carol and Chris taking the piss out of me for being a dork. The other day I looked at an old photo in a book, of a man and a woman together. It said the woman was 5’7″ tall but she only came up to in between his elbow and shoulder. Therefore he would be roughly 6’7″ if not taller. Then I realised she was sitting down and I could hear Chris and Carol laughing at me.

I’m enjoying finding myself again. I’ve taken up new pursuits, albeit online. I’m singing, dancing, learning an instrument. I want to throw myself at the world. But there’s a pandemic. So yes I will take the vaccine as soon as I possibly can. I want a ticket to freedom. I want to drive, to walk the west coast of the Americas, to do the New Jersey Springsteen tour, to swim in the ocean, drink tequila as the sun goes down. I want connection. I want music. I’m so glad music has returned, it’s like a drug that takes me inside and outside myself. I wake up with tunes in my head. Feel like I’m in love, in lust. And it’s all ok. Letting go and starting to live.
It took a while to understand
The beauty of just letting go

This song, written by Patty Griffin, was on The Chicks’ second album, Fly. Patty Griffin is an astute singer songwriter and The Chicks have recorded and performed several of her songs. It’s about a failed relationship, however some of the sentiments work for me.

Ain’t no talkin’ to this man
Ain’t no pretty other side
Ain’t no way to understand the stupid words of pride
It would take an acrobat and I already tried all that
I’m gonna let him fly, mmm

Things can move at such a pace
The second hand just waved goodbye
You know the light has left his face
But you can’t recall just where or why
So there was really nothing to it
I just went and cut right through it
I said I’m gonna let him fly
Oh yeah

There’s no mercy in a live wire
No rest at all in freedom
Choices we are given
It’s no choice at all
The proof is in the fire
You touch before it moves away, yeah
But you must always know
How long to stay and when to go

And there ain’t no talkin’ to this man
He’s been trying to tell me so
It took a while to understand
The beauty of just letting go
Cause it would take an acrobat n’
I already tried all that
I’m gonna let him fly, fly whoa
I’m gonna let him fly, fly
I’m gonna let him fly, fly

The Chicks, written by Patty Griffin

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