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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.

Northbound on the Hurtigruten January 2020

Friday 10th January

Got up at 5. A sniffer next to me on first flight to Copenhagen. Whilst sitting on the plane about to take off for Bergen I saw my suitcase on the luggage wagon approaching the hold. Good. It’s a lovely colour, turquoise.

Weather dull in Manchester, drizzly in Copenhagen and gorgeous over southern Norway. Snowy, icy rivers, lakes and mountains.

Arrived Bergen, straight onto bus to Hurtigruten terminal. Lovely clean roads and streets, so relaxing. Quite a slow check in queue because only one operator. Then another wait to embark. Eventually got on boat. My cabin is aft and my porthole looks onto the muster area. I’m next to the life equipment. That’s all my nautical lingo done.
I attended a safety demo about how to get into the thermal suit and then add the bouyancy aid.

I have a tea and coffee package included which means as many as I like all through the voyage. Off to dinner for a hot and cold buffet, all very nice, lots of salads. I pretty much had a little of everything. And a beer at £7.70 so not quite as bad as expected.

My cabin is a good size for one person. I think 2 would find it a bit tight. It’s definitely better than when Chris and I came to Norway in early September 2004. We had a disappointing cruise, tiny cabin, no room to move in the shower room and no space between the beds. Poor Chris was seasick, she was not a good sailor despite her love of water. Then we got to Bergen and loved it, we loved the fjords and all the places we stopped at just not the cruising itself. The next time we came was late April 2013 for Bruce. We went to Bergen by train from Oslo first and we really loved that trip. Plus Bruce sang just for us.
So this is my first time to Bergen by air and now I am at sea on a nice boat, not too big and not crowded, enough seats and places with WiFi.

My angels are with me, Chris who wanted to do the Hurtigruten boat trip, Carol who just liked the idea of a litter free country and beautiful scenery (she would have preferred I called her a ghost, given her desire to see one!) and me because I don’t want to be at home on Tuesday.

I attended an introduction to the boat with the manager and el capitan rocked up.
We left a bit late because the lift was being repaired. The lights went off at dinner and later in my cabin. The wireless is new today so the instructions didn’t work.

Cabin review

On this day a year ago we waited for Liz to join us before Carol’s life support was removed. I guess we made the decision to take it off the day before. Once all the tubes were out Carol was instantly more comfortable, unconscious and waving. She was paralyzed down her right side but her left hand was making up for it by waving, waving, waving. It was endearing and funny amidst the awfulness.

Leaving Bergen
I know it’s blurry but I liked the blurring on the sea

Saturday 11th January

On this day a year ago the bastards I used to work for forced me to take my redundancy papers by hand to HR. Liz and I had spent the night with Carol in the ICU so I had to leave her to drive to Bradford very early and fart around with the photocopier. Steve then took the paperwork in and did the by hand bit. I drove back to Leeds thankful that it was rush hour so the traffic was not at all rushing.

It took a while to settle to the rhythm of the ship. I quite like the rolling. My suitcase escaped noisily from the cupboard in the night. There’s a bit of vibration when we pull into ports but mainly it’s quiet.

164 people on board so the ship is comfortable and not crowded. Germans, French, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans plus assorted Scandinavians and Europeans.

After a long breakfast of fruit then some cheese and salad, chatting to 2 gay men, Philippe (French) and Alistair, who both live in Australia, I togged up well and set off into Ålesund. Chris and I came here on the cruise of doom. We stopped somewhere else and took the bus much to the consternation of our fellow passengers, the cruise staff said it wasn’t possible so we defied their nonsense and got the bus. I can’t remember much else other than we were glad to escape from them all. We had a coffee.

Today I went straight up Aksla viewpoint which is 418 steps. It was extremely windy so I held on to the rail. The cafe at the top was shut. Terrific views even on such a wet day. Back down I did the Art Nouveau circuit. Bumped into David and Jackie from Hong Kong. I went and dripped in Raccoon coffee shop, excellent coffee.

Lunch of salads with delicious salmon followed by a small plate of hot veggie pasta and a cheese and grain mix followed by berry compote. Getting more than my 5 a day.

Watched a Northern Lights film. Docked at Molde, quick whiz round with Lynn and Jan from Kent. Still wet.

Dinner of slither of salty cod with tiny veg, salty lamb in mustard sauce with tiny potatoes, tiny cinnamon apple with ice cream. Too much salt for my no salt diet. Sitting with Glenda from NZ, Jan and Marj from Oz and Martin from Switzerland.

The MS Nordlys passed us to lots of tooting, must be terrible for the neighbours.

MS Lofoten passing us
Art Nouveau in Âlesund
The MS Vesterålen
Sea view

Sunday 12th January

£2.76 for each hot drink. I’m on at least 8 a day so the hot drinks package is excellent.

After breakfast with the boys, we docked at Trondheim, I walked into town. Noticeably colder here and the pavements were slippery in places. After my leg experience I am very cautious on slippery surfaces. A nice walk round the town, not raining and some light. After passing the old church and the cathedral, I crossed the old bridge to Bakklandet old warehouse area and went in the first good looking coffee shop, probably also old. A&P were in it too. An excellent espresso then back to the ship for lunch of salmon salad plate, hot plate, caramel dessert with berries, cheese and crackers.

Bimbled about on board, sun and dry ish so stayed out a while, found a spot with shelter from the wind and hot air on my legs! Drank tea in several different lounges. The further up we go, the fewer hours of light.

Dinner thin vegetable soup, poached salmon on mash with fennel and roast veg, berries with soured milk dessert, all very good.

Attended talk by the hotel manager which was informative on the mechanics of how Hurtigruten run the ships.

More wet
The old church in Trondheim
Trondheim cathedral
Bakklandet area
Bakklandet
Great coffee shop
Bakklandet
Tricky entrance
Bakklandet
Munkholmen (Monk’s Island) near Trondheim

Monday 13th January

Breakfast, then we docked at Ørnes, ice on deck. Watched the loading/unloading. Nice spot.

Midday almost dark!

On the way to Bodø

Arrived Bodø at 12.40, Inger picked me up in the red Nissan. 5 minutes later we were at her home with Steve who had come home for lunch to see me. Bouncy little dog, Rosy and later big fluffy cat. Lovely home and good soup and great to see them both. It’s about 16 years since we had the App Soc Psy reunion.
2 hours was a bit too short so I will simply have to return! Very impressed they’ve been together for 46 years.

Back on the boat. Read my Patrick Gale. Vegetarian dinner this evening. Beets with goats’ cheese, mushroom burger with bell pepper sauce, lingon berries with oaty cream and a flower on top. All quite tasty, but the oaty cream was a bit strange and overall there wasn’t enough quantity.

Talked with G over dinner, she is the same age as me and a year further into her widowhood. Other widows totally get it. And also parents whose children have died. I’m not saying they’re the same thing.

Tried to disembark at Stamsund but they wouldn’t let me off the ship because it was rolling too much. Those returning had to jump on carefully gauging the right moment. Reminded me of doing this with my car going from Islay to Jura. Chris was driving and did it perfectly.

Farewells to Philippe and Alistair, lovely boys who made me laugh. They are off at Svolvaer and then to further adventures with dogs.

Alistair had found a recommendation in Lonely Planet for the Styrhuset pub, the oldest in Svolvaer. So I trotted about on the grit and ice, turned out it was pretty much next door to the Hurtigruten terminal. I knew I remembered the name from the year before last. Anyway it was not old either externally or internally. It reminded me of a 1980s gay bar but sadly lacking the customers. It was the sort of bar Carol would have loved. I had a beer and slithered back to the boat.

The boat stopped at the Trollfjord in the dark, no spotlights. They dished out hot sweet tea with a tiny tot of rum in a souvenir mug. Then they turned the music off and we took in the view as our eyes adjusted. Magical spot. Water flat as a pond.

Ørnes
Ørnes
At sea
More at sea
Inger
Steve with fluffy cat, they weren’t actually doing this when I was there!
Return to Svolvaer
Svolvaer
The old bar, Styrhuset!

Tuesday 14th January

Carol up a mountain in Naxos
Chris and Carol in Milton Keynes before going to see Bruce

This is the day at last. I drank some Jura whisky to take away the taste of the tea. Carol didn’t die until 5.45 in the evening so now it’s time to sleep. I need to get this day done. I’ve almost learnt that it’s possible to introduce myself to people without saying as the first thing that Carol is dead.

After breakfast we docked at Finnsnes, a nice little place. Much colder up here.

I deliberately missed the crossing the Arctic circle ceremony. Involves getting ice down your neck and castor oil, horrible ideas.

Lunch then out at Tromsø where it was only light for a hour and a half.

With my grippers on I walked over thick ice to the Polar museum in the dark at 2.30, that’s 1.30 UK time. Took them off for the museum. Exhibits were a lot about seal and polar bear killing. I found them upsetting and not very respectful. Next was a floor about Roald Amundsen, then one about Fridtjof Nansen. Interesting because Chris and I went on the actual Fram ship in Oslo.

I wanted to look round the shops but the grippers are not good on hard floors because they damage them. By then I was getting tired and scratchy and irritable because too many layers, too hot. Wanted a beer but settled for a nice coffee.

It was seafood buffet night so I had cauliflower soup, salmon with veg and rice and a little reindeer with potato followed by small spoons of 3 desserts.

Sat up with Marj and Jan laughing away about snores and farts. Just what the doctor ordered.

A funny day. Not marked it as such except for photos and Bruce and music on Facebook. I finished the L’Occitane perfume Carol gave me and wore my Born to Run shirt.

Drinking whisky.

Finnsnes
Finnsnes
Gisund bridge
Tromsø
Polarmuseet (Polar museum) Tromsø

Wednesday 15th January

Docked Havøysund. Stepped out briefly, dark, cold and windy. It was so windy this morning I thought the deck door would take my arm off.

Timetable today is packed. It would be possible to eat breakfast up to 9.45 and start lunch at 10.30! I got up early to try to have a longer gap between meals. Especially as I have to do the late sitting for dinner today.

It turned out the trip for those going to the North Cape, a whole 2 km away got cancelled because the North Cape complex was snowed in. This reverted the lunch times for everyone.

Upon arrival in Honningsvåg I went to find the Honni cafe but despite an open door and lights on, was not serving coffee. I went to the very good museum and learnt about the Nazi occupation and destruction of the town. Also a good Sami exhibit.

I found another cafe with no proper coffee, another slightly strange place so I had a quick drink, no espresso today.

I had a late lunch on the boat then watched a film about the North Cape peninsula.

I was nearly ready for my snowmobile trip, long John’s and various other layers on when there was a call to reception. The trip was cancelled because a car accompanies the snowmobiles on the road and the snow plough was busy clearing snow in the mountains and not where we would be. I was a bit relieved as it was cold and snowing quite a lot then. Instead I did my packing.

At about 5pm I was standing up and the boat appeared to run into something. There was a loud bang and I fell into the mirror. Titanic!

Dinner was celery soup, Arctic char, choc mousse, berry sorbet and soft meringue. I had a Trollfjord beer. It was fun to be with the dinner crew after all. I would have missed them if I’d gone on the snowmobile trip.

Chatted with Marj and Jan. Early to bed, no aurora. Lots and lots of roll and roll. I don’t get queasy but just can’t sleep. Did eventually.

Havøysund
Honningsvåg
Honningsvåg

Thursday 16th January

Breakfast with the girls. Vacated cabin. Sat in front lounge. One moment full dark, the next dawn. Started to see sunlight bouncing off the edge of the world so the light will soon be back. Arrived Kirkenes, located suitcase, located airport bus. 20 minutes drive in the countryside to tiny airport. It has 4 gates, numbered 21-24!
Farted about with luggage, farted about with electronic baggage check in.
Delay leaving supposedly while they got the bags on and removed the something and the mice! So curious as to what the something was. Runway sweeping and de-icing. ICE IT WAS ICE! Tired is my excuse!
A blizzard before we set off. Short runway.
Flight 1/3. Kirkenes to Oslo. Middle seat, both sides hogging arm rest. Right wearing thick wool making me itch, left synthetic making me hot.
Oslo to Copenhagen was easy. Sat with a man in the wrong seat but he was moved so I was able to stretch out. Only an hour, got in early, just as well because it was a long way to the gate, nearly 15 minutes walk.
Copenhagen to Manchester. One of the cabin crew walked down the aisle bent over saying “seat belts” reminiscent of Two Soups! Why is there always a group of tossers on every flight to Manchester?

I waited for the suitcase to come round the carousel but it had decided to stop over in Copenhagen. I reported this to Global Baggage Solutions and filled in a form by hand. The boy then typed this into his computer. He said the case was trolling about in Copenhagen and would return the next day.

Kirkenes
Bye bye boaty
It really was this colour, from the bus on the way to the airport

Friday 17th January

I waited all day for the suitcase, received 7 emails about it. Found out the boy had mistyped my postcode and not typed in my village so pretty much no chance of the case ever reaching me. I sorted that bit out. Despite it having arrived in Manchester at 9.30 am, it took until 8.30 pm to get to me. It came home very grubby and with one lock and zip opened. However all the contents are ok. Meanwhile I have no fresh veg because of having to stay home all day.

Nearly a year

Three

The light has gone out big time. My chosen family all gone in just over 2 years. When my dad died, of course I was sad, but not devastated, I loved him but he was always quite remote to me. Mum’s death was different because then I became an orphan and it opened a rift elsewhere that is still gaping. My grief at that time was compounded by Carol being ill from her first brain haemorrhage just a month before mum died. Chris was there for all of that. Carol was there for me during Chris’s illness and death.

Those first few months of this year I was mad. I can barely remember them now thank god. Two people stand out for sticking with me like superglue, they picked me up and carried me. I would not have got through without Paul and Liz. I still have days where I don’t know how or if or why. Lots of friends and family did lovely things when I needed them and are still being amazing. Don’t stop.

Waiting for Bruce, Manchester

Two

Carol died just 2 years after Chris. Chris now 3 years dead. Often the sheer knife twisting of pain is about them both together. I don’t believe in an afterlife although Carol did but I do think of them not wanting me to hurt so much. It doesn’t stop. Carol told me to live for her. That’s given me some solace. They both loved me so much and I them.

One

Becoming a single person has been interesting. I haven’t really ever been single. Not exactly serial monogamy but almost. I’ve hardly ever lived on my own and when I did I still had a partner. It’s ok some of the time. It is nice not having to compromise and making my own decisions has been powerful. I do feel better for not living in a state of constant anxiety. That started the moment Chris got ill in 2014. Physically I feel better but I still eat too much, don’t sleep that well and don’t exercise enough but I am doing some of it right some of the time! I do get to chat and laugh a little and my friends are good at supplying hugs. However loneliness is pants. I would like to touch and hold someone occasionally. I had some good advice to accept all invitations and then decide what I do or don’t want to continue doing. Mostly I did want to do things. Doing is good. Festering not good. It’s been a dance where you have to learn the steps but no-one’s told you what they are. There are oceans of difference between going for a meal in a restaurant or going away on holiday on your own when there’s someone at home to come back to and when the house is empty on your return. And I’m still open to offers.

Meeting new people has been quite weird because the main things people use to oil the wheels are where do you live? are you working? I’ve felt the urge to tell people that I’m widowed and redundant and then worry that it’s all too much for them. That’s without going down the path of multiple bereavements, I’ve barely mentioned Mandy in all of this. I’m not sure how to navigate this part of social interactions, I know I don’t need to tell everyone everything but it’s the most important thing about me right now. Facebook has been a very kind environment for me. I used to think honesty was all that mattered, it is still important when done with kindness. Kindness is now at the top of my list. The kindness of strangers, the man who said he was 4 years into widowhood and only just beginning to feel ok.

A pint of beer and a new tattoo

I’m celebrating my love for you with a pint of beer and a new tattoo

Billy Bragg

I don’t know what my new rituals are. It was nearly half my life with these 2 people who filled my world. Both Carol and I and Chris and I had various things we did through the year for anniversaries and birthdays and holidays. The hole is still so very large. I want to reach a place where I’m completely comfortable with being alone and enjoying it. I get a bit fed up with myself feeling so sad all the time. Someone said it was good that I’m doing a lot and getting out and about. I’m doing that so that I don’t have to be with myself. I still do a lot of the things I used to do. Still get up pretty early. Have routines. Watch a lot more telly. Get scared. Worry about what if I get sick. I want to travel. I want to see Bruce all round the world. I want to wake up in the mountains, by the sea. Espresso. Lager. Toast. New things are eating fish and drinking decaf coffee, ground of course.

Three; past present future; Chris Carol Jak

One, two, three things for the new year from me to you

  1. Get a pension and get it as early as you possibly can.
  2. Never go to sleep on an argument, ever.
  3. When you part from them, always tell them that you love them. Always.

Keswick November 2019

Friday 21st

Nice easy journey. Nowhere to park near my B&B. Cold room. Lots of rules including no visitors so this put paid to Cath and me doing web things on the laptop.

I booked a table at Merienda restaurant. Walked the whole 5 minutes into town. I’d thought Keswick in winter would be nice and quiet. But no, it was a living hell. Christmas lights switch on, people shuffling along when not at a standstill, swaying to a choir singing Status Quo songs at great electronic volume. How could that possibly be good?

Merienda was a haven of peace despite the racket outside. I had baked trout which was excellent. And a Moretti beer. Popped back to the B&B stopping briefly in the rain to chat with a woman who said “Hello, the Titanic was hit by a burger!” I managed not to roar with laughing, we had a short chat about the programme at the cinema and off I went. Returned a little while later to meet Cath at the Square Orange and drink another beer. I’d last been to the Square Orange with Chris in April 2014, that was our last mountain adventure together. The Titanic burger woman was in the bar.

Saturday 22nd

Smoked salmon and scrambled egg for breakfast. Asked about the woman we’d met last night, it turns out she is a much loved local character called Mary and often engages people in conversation for hours at a time. I’d been fairly assertive with her. The locals look out and after her.

Attended a workshop on weather with 2 men from the Met Office. Boy oh boy this was hard work. So what I learnt is that everything brings about rain in the end. And there is a line called the snow line above which there is a 50% chance of snow. Tuna for lunch, that’s 3 fishy meals on the trot.

Christmas dinner, I went veggie. Nice nut roast. Then some beer. Back to my B&B to find a parking spot next to it. My room much warmer so glad that I asked them to sort it, they had to fill up the pressure, something I’m very familiar with doing!

Sunday 23rd

Latrigg

Contours only workshop. Into Chris Ensoll‘s car for 10 minutes. First half hour was guidance on how to move on steep slopes, really useful advice on how to be more efficient moving. The maps have nothing else on them except contours and grid lines so you can tell which way is north.

Great day in the Newlands valley finding tiny gaps between the crags to climb up and up. We ended up overlooking Cat Bells which was the last mountain that Chris and I climbed together. Still so much in my heart. My best buddy. So many adventures, she trusted me and we always got back down ok. A few months earlier before illness came to fuck us all over we’d climbed Sheffield Pike and ended up getting down in the dark but she still forgave me. It wasn’t her last mountain but it was the last one that was a lot of fun. Cat Bells in April 2014 had been pretty awful although I couldn’t really say that at the time. She’d had to stop every 10 metres or so because she had no breath to get up there but she wouldn’t accept the get out of jail free cards I offered. Such a tough stubborn old girl! Of course I’m glad she did it because she must have been worried about what was starting to go wrong.

I learnt I’m really not too bad at navigating after all. Saw Cath before we both departed for home. Back via Tebay services.

Cat Bells

Northumberland October 2019

Friday 25th

Rain. Rain. Huge rain. It took Liz and Ariel 5 and a half hours to reach me from the Forest of Dean. I watched TV turning the heating off and back on as their journey time increased. A pit stop and a transfer of interesting luggage (an axe and a bag seemingly full of footwear) from one Skoda Yeti to another and we were off into a wet time warp where for at least half the journey Google Maps told us it would take 3 hours and 22 minutes. If only. 5 soggy hours later we reached Church Cottage in Kyloe. Our landlords had kindly unpacked our Sainsbury’s delivery for us and left us a bottle of organic prosecco. Cheers.

Saturday 26th

Great to see our views across to Lindisfarne. We went shopping in Berwick. I managed to get run over by a car. My foot was trapped under its front wheel for a while but I came away completely unscathed, not even any bruising. I frightened myself and my friends and the driver for which I am truly sorry. I didn’t look before I crossed the road the second time because when I’d crossed it first I looked both ways, saw cars only going one way, saw cars parked facing the same way so made an incorrect assumption. I was lucky the driver was going slowly and that I was wearing new Doc Martens that are very rigid. Of course it was my left foot. But remarkably there is no damage. I have wanted to be dead but I don’t actually want to die. Not yet, not until I’ve finished sorting out the stuff in my house. And not then either. It was a salutary reminder that all it takes is one microsecond of inattention. I am walking around with so many dead loved ones I’m not that surprised it happened. After calming down from my idiocy we went to Cheswick and walked by the sea. Liz and I managed to walk in an area containing unexploded ordnance and quicksand! Back to gigli made by A. Yum. Started watching The Laundromat film with Meryl Streep about the Panama Papers.

Sunday 27th

My foot is none the worse. Remarkable boot. Not even a mark on the boot. From Craster we walked along by the sea to Dunstanburgh castle. At Greymare rock we sent Carol’s ashes off into the sea. A seal joined us while the crashing waves took the ashes away. Called in at Howick Hall for the slowest tea ever and an incorrectly delivered order then walked around the gardens. Back home along the lanes as the sun descended. Liz produced borscht, scrummy. We finished watching the Laundromat. Good movie.

Monday 28th

Ariel and I walked a good part of the way up The Cheviot but decided not to try the summit as it was very boggy and cold on the dark side. Instead we stayed in the sun to descend and bimbled about in some woods. We got back to Liz, a blazing fire, delicious kedgeree and a really rubbish film, Call Me By My Name which Netflix told us included “strong sex”. Only if you are a peach. It was very boring IMO.

Liz took this lovely photo of the steps near our cottage

Tuesday 29th

Billy Shiel’s boat from Seahouses around the Farne Islands. Good weather, a bit of bouncing on the waves, a lot of birds and a huge lot of seals, all sizes and ages. Only £15 for 90 minutes. Fab. Pit stop at the Ship Inn. To Ros Castle, a short steep climb for 360 views. Descended to magnificent burnt orange sunset. I made the green Thai curry, possibly the first time I’ve really cooked for other people since Carol died, and I enjoyed it. We tried to watch Capote movie but Liz and I fell asleep. Lovely day.

Wednesday 30th

We drove to Lindisfarne across the causeway. Straight into Pilgrims’ Coffee which sold nice coffee but was short on competent staff. Up to the castle for a good look round including a history talk. Around Gertrude Jekyll’s garden, over to the priory, the parish church and back to the car to get across the causeway before the tide came in. Home for lunch, then A and I went out for walks in different directions. I stayed out until dark. Dinner and another terrible movie, Roma.

Thursday 31st

We did our own things during the day. I went to Lowick and bought bread, then to Doddington. I did a circular walk to find a hill fort, a stone circle and a cup and ring stone. The paths were very overgrown with bracken and gorse and indistinct for most of the walk. I had to micro navigate using a mix of old and new tools all the way round. I found everything, well I found the hill fort easily enough, I wasn’t sure about the cup and ring marks because I didn’t really know what I was looking for. The stone circle (rems of) only had a solitary stone in a swamp of bracken. There may have been more but I didn’t want to do any more bracken than I had to. I got back to the cottage. We dined out at The Black Bull in Lowick 2 miles away. We all had really nice dinners. Back at the cottage we moved away from awful films and played Bananagram, Liz was very good and I was delighted to have been able to use the word buggery.

Liz and Ariel saw this hare on their walk

Friday 1st November

We set off to have a look at Kielder Forest, as we drove we talked about coffee at the observatory. But unlucky for us the road was being resurfaced just at that point so we couldn’t get there. Instead we had a look in the Alpnhaus (why no ‘e’?) where there is a swish B&B and an Alpine shop, all feeling pretty remote. We carried on to Corbridge where we stopped for our coffee, by this time it was well into the afternoon. Eventually we rocked up at The Moorcock in Norland which is on my doorstep and ate very well in the pub. I can’t rate this place highly enough. Then back to mine to recover from yet another mammoth journey.

Snowdonia October 2019

Monday 14th

I booked this short break when Carol was still alive. Arrived at Craflwyn Hall mid afternoon, staying in the stables again, a different stall from the last time I was there. That time I sustained an injury to my elbow and Carol looked after me from a distance, sorted out a GP appointment for me. Dinner was tapas which I enjoyed but some of the other guests didn’t. Some people are so gobby! Entertainment was a word square game. The team I was in won.

Tuesday 15th

Drove to Trawsfynydd which is mostly known for its ex nuclear power station. It was opened in 1965 after 6 years of building. Remained in operation until 1991. It will take 100 years to decommission. Just above it is Tomen y Mur Roman fort and small amphitheatre which was built in the first century and in operation for at least a hundred years and is still very evident on the ground but a hell of a lot less poisonous. After climbing the Norman motte and bimbling about I drove south from Talsarnau up tiny roads with green down the middle and branches hitting the car, out and in for a gate, continuing until the road stopped. Walked roughly 3 km along a fairly good level path, soggy and squelchy in places, to reach Bryn Cader Faner stone circle which was a delight. Back the same way. This time I met a farm truck and a van coming up so I had to reverse quite a way. The evening entertainment was Benjie and Mev who are local birds of prey experts, not a C&W duo. They were knowledgeable and interesting.

Wednesday 16th

Car free day. Walked from the house straight up the hill behind, which is the lower slopes of Yr Aran, a sub peak of Snowdon. A nice mountain walk without going very high. Passed old mine. Some boggy bits. Eventually joined up with the Watkin path. Stopped in Caffi Gwynant for a coffee and a scone. Walked back to the house along the east side of Llyn Dinas on a very good well made path. Only one heavy shower early on. Sunny mostly. Unfortunately the best photos of the walk past Llyn Dinas were corrupted. Another very irritating woman staying here. I’m getting good at walking away. Entertainment was the quiz. My team came second. There are 31 guests in the house, some of whom are Brexiteers, some think it’s ok to make “jokes” about sexual violence, one thinks bereavement is the same as divorce and at least 7 who are decent human beings with respect for others and a developed sense of right and wrong. I have trouble with those who lack self awareness. I don’t expect everyone to be emotionally tip top all the time but I do think people could develop their interpersonal skills before letting themselves out of the house. My best shirt is wasted on them.

Thursday 17th

Leisurely breakfast. Heavy rain expected so I drove quite a way to a National Trust property, Plas yn Rhiw. I’ve really had my money’s worth out of the NT membership fee this year, at least twice over, if not more. Makes up for the years when all I did was park the car. It was a nice little house previously owned by the 3 Keating sisters who were an interesting bunch and rebuilt this house in a stunning location looking out across the bay. Then the rain came, on and off. Had my lunch in the car. Went and looked out over to Bardsey island. Through a torrential downpour to Betws y Coed to see if there were any outdoor kit bargains, there weren’t. The rain settled in heavily. The mental and emotional toll of grief is obvious but I hadn’t even considered the physical aspects, the sapping of energy, lethargy, continued poor sleep, fatigue, reduced muscle strength, low stamina. I am working on all of these. Feels like slow progress. At least my left leg muscles match the right leg, 6 months later.

Friday 18th

To Llannymawddwy through more downpours. However they more or less stopped as I parked up. This is a place Carol and I went to several times (misnamed by me as Pennant in that blog post) when we used to stay at Llanfechain. Carol liked it because we could be in the mountains without having to actually climb one. It’s a gentle walk up to a col, about 100m of up to 1 km of length. We never saw anyone else and I didn’t today. We last went there in March 2015, after getting our civil partnership upgrade. I buried some more of Carol’s ashes at the col overlooking the east valley. It’s such a lovely spot, with valleys east and west. Constant sound of tumbling waterfalls. Back at the car, the rain came on again. I decided it would be ok to do the mountain road and it was though I was cautious through the flooded bits. The really scary bit of road has had big new barriers put up which I was grateful for. Round Lake Vyrnwy and then to Oswestry to get some veg. On the spur of the moment I stopped at Chirk Castle, knocking up yet another National Trust property visited this year. I got wet because I’d failed to take my brolly. It took a long time to get home because of the terrible weather.

Wedding anniversary

I drove over to Near Sawrey, it’s near to Hawkshead. I stayed in Belle Green B&B. Carol and I had stayed there I think 4 times before, definitely 3 times. The last time was the day the EU referendum was announced. Ann and Steve were very welcoming and I felt safe. I went and had a meal in the Tower Bank Arms, it was nice being out in the very dark.

Over breakfast I had a chat with Sally, a visitor from Wisconsin. We hit it off instantly, she’s a photographer with a keen Beatrix Potter interest. I told her about the “behind the scenes” tour I’d booked at Hill Top in the afternoon.

I walked down to Esthwaite Water and selected a spot for Carol’s ashes that didn’t have much obvious footfall but was still overlooking the water. She and I loved this place, we never saw anyone there when we went, it’s such a beautiful spot. I buried the ashes and spoke these words, feeling slightly foolish so did it quietly.

Give me a drink. You know I have always wanted to get married, not for always, but just for once in my life I wanted to live out my love for a man like they did. I suppose you think I mean I want to walk down the aisle in white with my friends watching, but that’s not it, that’s not what this feeling is to do with. Or not all of it, because of course I would love to do that. But that’s easy to laugh at. What I want is to hold his hand in public. And what I want then is to hold his hand in front of the television for several evenings a week, and if you don’t understand that, if you don’t know what that feeling is, if you don’t know why it’s like that then you know nothing, nothing, nothing.

Neil Bartlett, from Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall

Our wedding was just right for us. We didn’t go mad. Our clothes were a bit odd, it was one of those times fashion wise when there wasn’t much around for gender queers, it was all a bit baggy trousers.

Those ruddy broken pots!!

I know I grinned all day long, so much my face hurt. In the morning, Carol gave me a card and these tickets that she’d kept for 14 years.

So when it came to her funeral, I knew exactly which poem to read (W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues). We managed 10 years of marriage and 26 of being together.

After my own private ritual, I walked to Far Sawrey along the road and then cut up through an old wood and across some fields. Then back to Near Sawrey in a circuit. Sally and I met up again at Hill Top for the tour which was nice because it wasn’t as madly crowded as when Chris and I went there a few years ago.

I headed for home, stopping briefly for a scone at Claife Viewing Station, then over on the Windermere Ferry. The last time I did the ferry, they’d taken off the man who collected the money and replaced him with ticket machines that were completely incomprehensible and slowed down the whole process so much it created enormous queues and frustration. I wrote a letter of protest it made me so cross. Now the machines have gone and the man has returned to take the money off the passengers. Win!!

Poland September 2019

Saturday 7th

Travel all easy with easyJet from Manchester to Krakow. Made a new friend, Vicky on the flight. Eventually found the driver who took Cathy, Richard and me from the airport to the Vienna House Easy hotel. We missed the briefing but Remi the leader left us some notes. Had a Zywiec beer in the bar. Beer was ok, a bit gassy and I’m already that way inclined! Krakow is nice and dark, I like that, reminds me of the 70s. The driver took us through what looked like the fun part of the city.

From the hotel room

Sunday 8th

Fabulous breakfast! I woke very early but didn’t hear drunken Graham and his partner who woke up the rest of our corridor so I was clearly fast asleep at that point. We are a group of 8. Plus Remi. Stowed our bags and went off for a walking tour of Krakow with Kasia, she was very good. A marathon was taking place so we dodged around it. Got cash and had lunch in a veggie and vegan cafe. Falafels, bulgur wheat, salad and mineral water for £5. Nice food but slow service. Returned to the hotel to collect 2 of the party who had already been round the city. Into a large minibus, I guess that makes it a maxibus. An hour and a half later we arrived in Zawoja to the Hotel Jawor. Straight out to hike up a little hill, very humid. Out to a local restaurant. I had beef goulash with pancake. This was a fried potato cake with a small amount of beef. It was tasty. Shared a side order of vegetables with Cathy. Bottle of beer. Whole lot for £7. I can see I’ll be ordering lots of sides of veg. Walked back in the dark. Very little going on here. Walked total of 12 km.

Monday 9th

An eclectic breakfast. I’m finding the language hard so glad we have Remi the tour leader, nothing here is dual language, oh except for last night’s menu. Anna our mountain guide for today rocked up, lovely woman who works as a midwife with premature babies. Maxibus arrived (from Krakow) and took us a whole 15 minutes up the road to an entrance to the national park. It was damp and misty and no views but the route had been adjusted to avoid the risk of lightning. Walked to a mountain hut where we lunched. I had fried egg with 2 large scoops of mashed potatoes, lots of fresh herbs on them and a bucket load of sauerkraut. Couldn’t eat it all. Everything costs so little here that at first you think great, but then there is an uncomfortable feeling that you are not paying enough. Massive contrast with a couple of weeks ago in Switzerland. Then we trotted down all the way back to the hotel. Started to rain again but not as heavily as it is doing now. We saw 5 fire salamanders, I’ve never seen one before. Lovely. Dinner in the hotel was great. I had chicken with mashed potato which had a pea purée on top, ok mushy peas but so sweet and fresh plus salad. Then apple pie and ice cream. This was enough for an entire family and delicious. I had a beer which Remi recommended. Also good. Beer only comes in half litres so one is plenty. Stair rods, I’d forgotten about them but here they are still in fashion. Walked total of 11 km.

Tuesday 10th

We packed up and left the hotel. We drove for about an hour south east into the Tatras to meet Justyna, today’s guide. From Siwa Polana we got on a little motor bus, called a train but not a train, hard seats, for a few kilometres. Then on foot up into the mountains, crossing quite fast flowing rivers which we helped each other over, guide did not check we were ok. Some of it was hard work and slippery and on which I was very careful. The high point was a col at 1459m so we climbed about 450m. From there down to a mountain hut for our lunch at Hali Ornak. Hard going down and then the hut was completely rammed. Sunny day, easy for people with pushchairs to reach from the other side. We queued for loos and food. I had a sausage with mustard and stale bread. Left the hut on an easy wide flat path following the roaring river. A quick nose into a gorgeous gorge then back on track to a shepherd selling smoked sheep’s cheese for 50p, actually pulling it off the fire, the guide set off before I had finished. We passed the sheep who were being milked. Our guide went fast a lot of the time, and then set off again soon after the slower ones had caught up which is not the way to do it IMO. So most of the day felt like a rush, no time to drink, blow nose, take photos. We got to the minibus that was waiting for us. The driver took us to Hotel Bel Ami in Zakopane. This was said to be a tired hotel but my room is less tired than the last place which had a mouldy shower, non draining washbasin and a cracked loo and something nibbled me in the night. Bel Ami has no mould or cracks and the water drains away. The shower fitting is loose and so is a fine balance to get it right and I had to move the fridge so it sticks out into the room in order to plug it in. But I have a balcony with a view and the room is ok. Wifi is pants. Out to dinner in fab resto, Barowo Zohylina, with people in traditional dress, a folk band and stuffed creatures (less good). Excellent food. I had pierogi (dumplings), mine were deep fried, like samosas without the spices. Shared a housewife salad (chicken) with Cathy. Good beer. Walked total of 14 km. Mountain kilometres.

Wednesday 11th

My ankle and leg were a bit sore after yesterday’s walk so I decided not to go out with the group today. Had to sign a release form. Today’s walk was the longest and possibly quite hard, they had to get up and have breakfast at 6 too. So I had a lie in. Breakfast not great, instant coffee! I set off about 8.30 for the Tatra museum, quiet in the town. Had a not great coffee then went round the museum. Some set pieces of rustic interiors, some stuffed animals, a lot of rocks. Next to the Wladyslaw Hasior gallery. Interesting artist, at first I felt uncomfortable then got his sense of humour. Steampunk before it was invented. Back to hotel for a freshen up then out to veggie cafe. Had beetroot burgers in mushroom sauce with salads. Ok, sauce not quite right with the beetroot. Looked in the outdoor gear shops for bargains but don’t need anything. Back to hotel to change footwear and out again to Art Gallery at Oksza villa close to hotel. Nice leisurely day and have walked a good few kilometres but slowly and have also rested leg. Met up with the gang again. Out to Barowo Zohylina Niznio restaurant with a traditional band, this time embellished with dancers. A lively meal. Much vodka on the next table. I had potato cakes with fried potatoes and carrot salad followed by tinned fruit salad and ice cream. First course disappointing because I misordered and second because not fresh. A poor day overall for food but the restaurant was fun. 10 km.

Thursday 12th

Packed up and off by minibus to a crossing over the river Dunajec. After I’d used both the men’s and the women’s loos Louise and I did some mime and acquired our lifejackets which Remi had insisted upon. Onto the wooden raft with 8 Poles and 2 punters who punted us along the river for a couple of hours. Some slightly faster bits but a lovely gentle way to travel. A short walk to the “mountain” hut where I had a sandwich I’d made and I bought an apple pie and ice cream. Yum. Soon back to sugar free and salt free. The rest of our party turned up an hour later having walked the same route. A hot walk along the river and through the town of Szczawnica and up to Hotel Polaris which despite being an ex communist hotel is in a good location with lots of trees around. It’s been refurbished so isn’t grey. The loo wasn’t working in my room but a chap came up quickly and sorted it. He said he had been many times to do that so just as well it’s only one night here! Apart from that I like this hotel the most. Out to the bier Keller for pre dinner beer. Then across the square to smart restaurant, Cafe Helenka. Had large piece of local quiche with sausage and cheese in it and salad followed by crème brulée with mini meringues. And 50 cl beer. Fortunately only a short walk back up the very steep hill. 5 km.

Friday 13th

We walked down the hill and along the river to a 3 minute ferry. First to Sokolica at 747m. Along interesting paths with some exposure but in the main with good handrails up the very steep parts. A popular area and a good lot of people out walking. I managed to keep up well and felt both my strength and my stamina returning. After a lunch break we carried on to 982m at the Three Crowns, a high point we had seen from the raft the day before. This was reached by a metal staircase with handrails that popped you out at a tiny platform with great views and a siege of flying ants, late here, we’ve already had ours. It was a tight fit on the platform so a quick photo and then off again because people came up behind, good however that up and down walkers were segregated. Felt like a good achievement for me and gave me back my confidence. Then down all the way to Kroscienko. Ice cream. Late minibus to Krakow. Quick shower and flooding of bathroom and out on foot to Kogel Mogel restaurant. Cabbage and truffles. Apple pie. Wheat beer. Very good food, very slow service. Getting up soon. Over 15 km.

Saturday 14th

Up at 5. This is 4am in UK. Cathy and I got straight onto the tour coach which quickly collected another 50 from various hotels. We arrived Auschwitz about 7.30. If you visit you may not eat or smoke and you are limited to a small size of bag, no rucksacks, belongings are security scanned. It would have been helpful to have had this information in advance and not just as we got off the bus. Time for a wee, then issued with headset, receiver and guide. Then we were divided up into smaller groups. The guide was the granddaughter of a local man who had died in Auschwitz. The first tour was around the Auschwitz complex. You walk round at a speed which means you don’t have time to read the displays of e.g. written evidence of the crimes. Many of the displays are harrowing, demonstrating the mechanisation of genocide. Returned the audio kit and there was enough time for a coffee in a restaurant just across the road, we were the only customers. Back onto the coach to drive the short distance to Birkenau. What is staggering is the immensity of the site. We viewed wooden huts, the selection area, the blown up gas chambers, the Soviet built memorial. We don’t have the words to express how awful it was but we must never forget especially these days when there are revisionists and the far right is growing in strength. Returned to Krakow near the main square. After putting my head in the cathedral and hearing the bugler I walked to the Jewish quarter and wandered around. Made my way back to the hotel bumping into Louise and Richard searching for an entrance to the botanical gardens. I tried to find a bakery and did find 2 but both shut. Over 11km. Remi appeared to say goodbye to those of us getting the airport transfer. Once at the airport I managed not to see any of the others again and didn’t get to say goodbye to them, for which I was sad. The flight was fine and I got home close to midnight, a very long day indeed. 2 days later I’m still tired. Over 11 km. I lasted an hour at home before missing Carol kicked in.