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

This or that?

Not long ago I mentioned to a friend that I didn’t know what my purpose in life was anymore and he suggested that maybe I didn’t need to have one.
I’ve chewed this over but keep returning to wanting a reason, it’s not enough when going to the tip is the highlight of the day.
I’m reminded of being a teenager and having no idea of what I wanted to do with my life then and it’s much the same now. I’m clear about what I don’t want to do. This year’s plans all involved travel. I feel stuck, haven’t done any clearing up after Carol in my house since August 2019. Stasis versus a desire for excitement and activity.
I do want a purpose, I don’t want to drift, I want to use my rediscovered confidence. I like that I don’t have to make compromises and that my life is entirely mine to do with as I wish. It’s a powerful heady mix.
I’m a little bit fitter, a tiny bit thinner and have improved posture. Working towards something, but what it is still eludes me.

Another friend told me about a widower who had moved house in the year since his partner died. I’m not ready for that yet, not while I’m in this state of inertia.

I’ve been wondering about why I have the music of The Chicks so much in my head over the last few months and not Brucey boy. He’s had something to say to keep me going over the last 35 years and I’ve felt in sync with him. He released Western Stars last year and it’s ok but I don’t play it very much.
A few people I’ve met/know have talked about the pain of divorce, which I also know about and how it’s not the same as widowhood and no it isn’t. But the pain is just as real, at least with death there is a distinct ending.
This may be why the latest album Gaslighter resonates for me, it’s all about divorce and the raw pain is there for all to hear.
At the moment a lot of the tunes in The Chicks’ back catalogue are speaking to me very loudly. Also the fan page on Facebook is really friendly and welcoming!

So what to do, the bloody virus is not abating, the world’s in turmoil and I’m stuck in my house, often horribly lonely and now quite a lot bored. I will at least consider any suggestions anyone wants to make.

Long Way Round
It’s been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down
And I’m getting’ it back on the road now….
Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me, I can still be found
Taking the long way
Taking the long way around
Truth No.2
You don’t like the sound of the truth
Coming from my mouth
You say that I lack the proof
Well baby that might be so
I might get to the end of my life
Find out everyone was lying
I don’t think that I’m afraid anymore say that I would rather die trying
Ready to Run
Ready, ready, ready, ready, ready to run
All I’m ready to do is have some fun
What’s all this talk about love
Mississippi
Well my ship’s been split to splinters
It’s sinking fast
I’m drowning in the poison
Got no future
Got no past
But my eye line’s not moving, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothing but affection for those who’ve sailed with me

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.