Northumberland October 2019

Friday 25th

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

Saturday 26th

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

Sunday 27th

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

Monday 28th

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

Liz took this lovely photo of the steps near our cottage

Tuesday 29th

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

Wednesday 30th

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

Thursday 31st

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

Liz and Ariel saw this hare on their walk

Friday 1st November

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

Snowdonia October 2019

Monday 14th

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

Tuesday 15th

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

Wednesday 16th

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

Thursday 17th

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

Friday 18th

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

Wedding anniversary

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

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

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

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

Neil Bartlett, from Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall

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

Those ruddy broken pots!!

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

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

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

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

Dave Royle

Dave died the day the Manchester bomb went off (15th June 1996). I was in the bath in my 6th floor flat in Salford. The bath literally wobbled from side to side. I asked Carol what had happened and she said “there was a gust of wind”. Not a leaf was moving outside.

Dave had been caught up in the Harrods bomb and I think he died pretty much around the time the Manchester bomb went off. One of his books was called “A Controlled Explosion“.

When I met Dave he was firing on all cylinders, fired up and fiery. In 1976 we both rocked up to West Suffolk College of Further Education or Bury Tech, with friends Jo and Tom. I was in awe of them because they were already a very established couple then and they really really are today.

Dave and I had an intense short fling. We were both hot for each other. Lots of fireworks. We played Joni Mitchell’s Hejira and Abba’s Knowing me, knowing you. I didn’t know what a Dancing Queen was but I was about to find out. I was heartbroken on the other Queen’s Silver Jubilee to find out Dave didn’t want to continue with our affair, I thought my world had come to an end. The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen was not to be played at Bury Corn Exchange that year because they were banned. In the Tech we were spinning Steve Miller Fly like an Eagle and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

We remained friends, we wandered round Bury, drinking beer, sometimes with Rodney and others from the Tech. We had a brief, very brief spell with the Liberal party. He bought me tiny China cups from a junk shop and I still have them. Dave was tall, handsome and slightly bandy legged. I was a long haired hippy with a maroon cord jacket, jeans and cowboy boots, not even sure how to do a halfway house to queer. I wanted boys and I wanted girls.

One time, in Great Livermere, we entered the unoccupied vicarage (which had once been home to M. R. James, ghost story writer and of whom I was later to find that Carol was a great devotee). I got hit on the nose by a jack in the box disguised as a tin of cigars.

After Tech, Dave set off for Cambridge to continue with his love of English and wanting to write. He introduced me to the 451 club on Newmarket Road. I saw drag queens for the first time plus the rowers on the floor for The Gap Band’s Oops Upside Your Head (I didn’t want to get on the floor then, let alone at any time after). By this time it was obvious what Dave was wanting and getting.

We’d meet up at Christmas, Pat and Ken, Dave and Helen’s parents always so welcoming to me. Dave would grumble away in the background, always wanting something more, something else. After Dave died Pat and Ken continued to invite me to their home until they themselves died. I miss them too.

During the Cambridge years, Dave and I took a trip to Ireland. We hitchhiked, got drunk, picked up a stray dog, got soaked many times and had an experience with Dermot near Shannon airport, nylon sheets, and masses of generosity to complete strangers. On the way back, we were extensively searched and questioned by border controls because it was the day that Mountbatten was murdered, 27th August 1979. Dave later wrote up this trip into a novel called I Smell Burning. It was his last book and we tried unsuccessfully to get it published. It took a while to convert Dave’s Amstrad floppy disks to that printer paper on a reel with holes down the sides then from that to regular A4. Once on that I scanned it all in and then had usable files, however I had to use optical character recognition to tidy them up as they’d got a bit scrambled in all the conversions. Eventually I got it onto Kindle. It hasn’t made any money but it’s there.

Dave went to London to pursue his dreams, writing for magazines, proper writing, and politicking and having sex all over the place. I’d gone to uni in Cardiff and was having lots of sex with guys and then with girls. We drifted apart. Our meetups became much more occasional.

It must have been ’94 or early ’95 when I got the phone call from him. I knew what he was going to say before he said it.

I spent a weekend with Dave a few months before he died. He’d said to me way back when that he didn’t want to have anything wrong with his brain. So that’s what AIDS did for him, a bloody bomb in his head. That weekend he was seriously out of control, partly AIDS, partly fear. He was funny, he was awful. He was beautiful, he was scared.

After Dave died, some of Dave’s long term friends and his family kept up a June picnic on Hampstead Heath for 10 years. We’d scattered his ashes there in a place that gave him pleasure on a very windy day, some of us getting eyefuls and mouthfuls of Dave. What’s new pussycat?

Dave wrote:

Maybe, a short story in Oranges and Lemons 1987

Pleasing the Punters 1990

Pictures of Sand, a short story in Fabulous Tricks 1992, which he co-edited

A Controlled Explosion 1993

I Smell Burning probably written in 1995

Mandy Spry 6th June 1961 – 9th October 2017

In the pub! With a pint of Landlord.

At 20 Mandy was drop dead gorgeous, and that didn’t change. I first met Mandy in Staveley Road in Bradford along with Bee and Deb. Mandy lived nearby in Ivanhoe Road and they were all students at Bradford Uni. The early 80s, Bradford was dark and wet, living under the shadow of the Yorkshire ripper with a curfew on women which we rallied against. We spent our time lolling about on sofas without legs, rushing into taxis to go to pubs and clubs – the Bavaria, Manningham and Oak Lane pubs, ingesting dodgy substances and dancing our socks off all night, literally on more than one occasion. Mandy had bleached blonde hair, black leather jacket, DMs and skin tight stripey trousers on her long long legs. An absolute stunner with an obsession for Stevie Nicks!

Pengorof, Rhandirmwyn

Backdrop of Simple Minds, Talking Heads, Queen and David Bowie, the Human League, Clint Eastwood and General Saint, the Specials, the Selecter, the Beat, UB40 as well as Fleetwood Mac.

Mandy moved to Brixton, we chased her latest heartthrobs at the Ace of Clubs, slept on her futon, worried about the bullet hole in the window.

Mandy supported me as I left a disastrous relationship, with mud bath therapy at Weston-super-Mare, not in a spa, just by the sea with real mud. I got together with Chris and Mandy joined us for parties in Wales. Chris and I motorbiked to Coombe Martin and we met up with Mandy and her mum, Anne. After dark we went high above the sea and barbecued mackerel we’d caught that day, so good, and drunk again. Mandy went from working with Dale Spender to restoring and creating furniture in Leeds and then to ranging the countryside and becoming a bat expert. There were times when we drifted from each other but then really reconnected about 17 years ago. It was never a friendship that meant we had to be in each other’s pockets but one that could be picked up and continued from where we had left off.

Mandy, Annette and Ros settled into West Hey Head Farm, Mandy left countryside services in Leeds and trained to do remedial massage. As I was getting into hiking and mountaineering, Mandy got into first river kayaking and then sea kayaking. We pursued our outdoor passions and shared our adventures over walks which always included a pub meal and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. The Top Brink was a regular venue, along with the Robin Hood in Cragg Vale, and the Robin Hood in Pecket Well long before Mandy moved there.

Helping me with belaying to get through my Mountain Leader award

After Mandy’s first occurrence of cancer, she asked me to walk with her to help build up her strength. We walked a lot at Hardcastle Crags, with Heddy, and it worked. We walked in everything, often in the dark. I loved that she didn’t let the weather stop her. And so we continued, all through the recurrence and the treatments. We walked round Withens Clough reservoir in the dark, the only time I ever saw her very angry about the cards she had been played. She had just been told she had a year to live. Well she outdid that prophesy and outdid it in style, deciding what she wanted to do with her time, who she wanted in her life and organising her affairs.

At mine and Carol’s wedding reception 2008

I feel privileged to have had a part in Mandy’s life, that she trusted me and had a clear picture of what she wanted me to do. She always listened very well and came up with constructive ideas of how to approach problems, in a safe place where we could share our fears and tears. Her support stretched over our interwoven lives over a great long time. She was so loving and generous with her time for me when my soulmate Chris (one of the donkey care team) was dying.  One of the things Mandy said then was that people who were dying totally had the right to choose what they do in the limited time they have left. It seems such an obvious thing to say but at that time of Chris’s illness it was a major issue. Mandy knew then that she would be doing this for herself in the not so distant future. She was very aware of her own mortality and wanting to get the most out of the time she had.

Mandy gave me so much, from her knowledge of plants and the natural world, her remedial massage skills, her practical skills, but most of all, her unconditional love and support. Paddle on, my love.

Dignity in Dying