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.

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.