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!



Malham

Monday 24th August

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

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

Tuesday 25th August

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

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

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

Wednesday 26th August

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

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

Thursday 27th August

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

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


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

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

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

Friday 28th August

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

Viral diary 3

Sunday 5th April

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

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

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

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

Sunday 12th April Easter Day

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 14th April

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

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

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

Joyce died in June 2016

Chris died in October 2016

Mandy died in Octboer 2017

Carol died in January 2019

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

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

Viral Diary 2

Just before lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 29th March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting my blessings

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

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

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

Dear Carol

A viral diary part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wuthering Jak
(Apologies to Kate Bush)

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

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

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

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

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

Kellan Farshéa

Coniston March 2020

Monday 9th

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

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

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

Tuesday 10th

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

Herdwick sheep
Sugar beet
Grasmere
Rydal Cave

Wednesday 11th

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

Thursday 12th

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

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

Friday 13th

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

Wray Castle
Wray Castle
Windermere
From Allan Bank
Allan Bank House

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

Litter and blood

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

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

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

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

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

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