My 2020 in photos

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

The best, the worst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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