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 things||Good 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.|
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 manThe Chicks, written by Patty Griffin
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Monday 24th August
Staying at Newfield Hall near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Nice big country house. Mark and Owen jointly manage the house. Yes, I think so. I arrived a bit after 3.30 so once I’d checked in I went for a walk round the garden. Then branched out and went along the road, up through a field of cows (and one rather large bull) to find a tumulus. Not a madly exciting bulge in the ground but it was there. Back through the field but unfortunately Big Bull and his coterie had moved to exactly where I needed to go so luckily I’d spotted another gate and got out onto the road without having to barge through them all.
For dinner I had watermelon salad, a small portion of risotto and a fruit salad washed down with some Sauvignon. I’m doing gluten free to see if that will help some issues I’m currently having.
Tuesday 25th August
It was a bit of a mad idea but seeing as the weather was dreadful I decided to go through with it. Drove up to Hadrian’s Wall because it’s nearer from here than it is from home and finally went to Vindolanda fort and museum. Well worth the long drives each way. I didn’t go to Vindolanda when I walked Hadrian’s Wall because I knew it would need a good bit of time plus it’s some way from the wall and would have extended my day by miles as well as hours. It was all done well for Covid apart from the 3 people without masks. It was terribly wet when I was walking around the excavations and I got wetter when I put the brolly up so on entering the museum, my specs steamed up and I couldn’t see a thing for ages. After Vindolanda I drove to Allen Banks and Staward Gorge (Nat Trust) mainly because Dave said he and Carol had been there and that she had liked it. I reckon part of why she liked it was because her dad’s name was Allen and spelt that way. I liked it too, the River Allen was in full spate so I did a short walk and having dried out from the first wetting, I got another one.
I’m so emotional at the moment, thank god I’m not with anyone. I’ve got Natalie Maines and The Chicks songs whirling around my head constantly, even when I wake up in the middle of the night. Which is fine, her voice is pulling me all sorts of ways. Such a vocal range and agility. Listen to their interpretation of Dylan’s Mississippi, a great song but he manages to mangle his own song. Bob mumbles a tuneless dirge, Natalie soars to heaven and beyond. Sex, emotion, politics, passion, love. All the things I love about Bruce are here as well.
Dinner was spicy cauli, a huge salad and then vanilla ice cream, with a glass of Pinot. Chatted with fellow guests and laughed.
Wednesday 26th August
Picked up D who was patiently waiting for a bus and we drove to Malham where I easily parked the car in the car park. He trotted off to do a long walk. I walked to Janet’s Foss and then up to Gordale Scar, both quite busy but enough room for us all to spread out. The map shows a path up the side of the waterfall so I’d thought this might be something I could do, however it is about 35 years since I was last here and I’d forgotten a) how steep it is and b) how wet it is. And currently extremely wet thanks to the endless downpours. Instead I went up Malham Lings and Broad Scars, where there wasn’t anybody else so a nice peaceful lunch on a bit of limestone pavement. Back down Trougate, a quick peek at Malham Cove and down to the village. Not a long walk but I felt pretty tired and lots of bits were aching. I’m not exactly in full health at the moment but trying to build up my fitness levels. Back to the car park which was over full, into the car, drove about 100m and then waited in a traffic jam for half an hour because the road into the village was rammed and it’s only just wide enough for 2 cars to pass. Some total twat had parked such that they created a log jam. The police were moving us all past this one car that was sticking out into the road.
Dinner of spicy meatballs, huge boring salad and fruit salad, with a glass of Sauvignon.
Thursday 27th August
Today I drove to Fountains Abbey which is about an hour from the house. Had an espresso in the visitor centre before setting off to look round. I don’t remember there being a visitor centre when I was last here but apparently it was very new then. That was on 9th July 1994. I looked round the abbey and walked through the water park. The homoerotic statues may have inspired Carol to propose to me that day. Unusual for me that I couldn’t locate exactly where the proposal had taken place and I guess it doesn’t really matter. It was a hot sunny July day then and I was blinded by love and lust. 26 years later it was humid and overcast. I saw quite a lot of deer as I walked round the deer park. Had my lunch on an old bridge with not a soul around. I like how easy it is to get away from the crowds. Walking back to the car park the rain came on heavily (much earlier than forecast). Drove back along the really high B road through Pateley Bridge feeling a bit James Herriot. Fortunately no beasts needed my attention.
It was good that this visit to Fountains Abbey was not marred by being badly beaten up in a homophobic attack in Ripon afterwards. I didn’t actually go to Ripon to test that out. I looked up the names of our attackers recently and they are still knocking about in the town.
Dinner of beetroot and goat’s cheese, veg stew with potato on top and lots of green veg, ice cream and a glass of pinot. I can’t be arsed to get into drinking wine now it looks like beer is off the menu.
Chatted to C and M in the main hall sitting at a sensible distance from each other and we got reminded (almost told off) that we should have been wearing masks because we were in a public area drinking our wine. You don’t have to wear a mask in the bar where you sit quite close to each other. This is so stupid.
Still washing myself in Natalie Maines’ voice and the Chicks’ harmonies. I don’t normally play the same tunes over and over and over but it’s some sort of cathartic thing I feel compelled to do. When I’m not actively listening the tunes keep running around my head in a massive continuous ear-worm that’s been going on for weeks and weeks.
Anyway I need to see them live and up close, possibly even more than I do Bruce. I’ve seen Bruce 17 times already and whilst my love for him is undiminished after 35 years, these days it’s his early performances I listen to, when he was at his peak. He said on his radio show during lockdown that he wants to get out playing again when it’s safe to do so but I doubt if and when that happens that it’ll be the 4 hour marathon shows. I think those legendary times have passed. Bruce and Patti are shielding because he’s 71 in a few weeks and Patti has health issues.
Natalie Maines has said she’s not leaving home so it’s a long wait ahead for any of it. It took huge courage for the then Dixie Chicks to play live in Dallas in 2003 after receiving a threat that specifically said “you (Natalie) will be shot dead in Dallas”.
Not Ready to Make Nice: Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, Emily Robison, Dan Wilson
“I know you said
Why can’t you just get over it?
It turned my whole world around
And I kinda like it”
It was round about then that I got hooked on them, the Shut Up and Sing movie is well worth a watch. I love how bolshy Natalie is and she has an immaculate kitchen which she claims to clean herself. This is contrasted with Bruce’s house which usually seems a bit messy. Also Patti said she can’t get into their shared recording studio on the farm because he’s always in it (great, where’s the album, Bruce?) but why oh why do these multi millionaires not have 2 recording studios so she can get on with her own tunes? I’ve been reading far too much celebrity crap.
Friday 28th August
Had a nice breakfast of yoghurt and fruit compote then smoked haddock and poached egg. Drove to Settle by a very high single track road. Looked about and then decided to go home because it was raining again.