Posts Tagged ‘ death ’

Crisis? What Crisis?

I’m 43 years old. Blimey.When did that happen? In my head I’m still just a flibberty-gibbet, a teen angel, a babe in arms. But I’m not; I’m 43. Bloody hell. When I got caught smoking at school, aged 15, I had to take a letter home to my parents. I recall being terrified about my parents’ reaction, and dreaded the sound of them coming up the stairs on their return home from work to confront me – yet also recall, really vividly, that in the midst of my telling off all I was thinking was how OLD they looked, with their disappointed faces and angry folded arms. And how superior I was, with my youth and brilliance.

They would have been at least five years younger than I am now, so God knows how my kids see me when I’m laying down the law. Youngest inexplicably thinks I’m 29. He has no idea about age; he thinks his granny (70) is 43.

So, like it or not, I’m officially middle aged. The least I can do to mark such a momentous event is to take up hang-gliding, take a lover, or take a dive into insanity. I have no desire to do any of these.

I’m writing this in a French forest, at a picnic table outside our holiday home in a Yelloh! village an hour and a half’s train ride from Paris, in the complete darkness, drunk on wine and contentment, while my beautiful family sleeps and snores feet away. The thrum of busy insect life is occasionally punctuated by a scurrying beast or the incredibly loud thwack of acorn against roof. It is amazing here; a place of complete and utter tranquility. I am at peace.

It was not always thus. Three years ago, approaching my 40th birthday, I did go a tad insane. For people who have read my blog for a while, or who know me, this was proper off the rails – for a couple of weeks I was barely able to get the kids to school of a morning, let alone be much good for owt. (By the way, I’m not from Yorkshire, but it does seem to be my default setting when merry to get all “owt” and “twas” and “twat”.)

But – and it took a while admittedly, and needed the support of my ace family  – I got through it. I still have my moments of stress and anxiety, but mostly I am totally sane. (Hahaha-hahaha-hahaha *runs like loon around holiday park dressed in nothing but a figleaf and elf ears*)

The last three months have tested my sanity to the max. I have taken on a trying new role (part time, they said – part time, my arse) combined with looking after the kids, house and family stuff, and trying to drum up a bit of business of the PR variety. If I was going to lose it, I probably would have by now. Admittedly, I’ve come close once or twice. Only two weeks ago I was so caught up with juggling work demands, childcare, general household responsibility and a million other things that, in the midst of rowing with my 10 year old, I drove off after filling up with petrol at my local petrol station without paying. Thankfully a nice policeman and the garage manager trusted in my innate honesty and recognised my misdemeanour for the absolute mindblock that it was, and let me off.

Other than that blot, I have generally remained calm and collected in the face of considerable pressure. Now, finally, three years on, I feel a corner has been turned, a hurdle cleared, a lesson learned. It seems I can cope after all; I am not destined for the loony bin just yet.

I can, it seems, do a job that I am falling in love with, despite its excessive demands on my time and brain power, while also caring for and spending quality time with my kids and family. Friendships have definitely suffered along the way, but I’m desperately planning to make amends on that score over the next few months. Generally, though, I feel I have survived a tough few months and things can now only get better.

So, now what? What have you got planned now, middle age?

As increasing numbers of friends and acquaintances face up to illness and disability, to loss and pain, it’s obvious that becoming middle aged brings increasing vulnerability to the rigours of being a mere mortal. I used to feel I was immune, infallible, that somehow I was one of the chosen ones who would not succumb to such boring rituals as getting ill or bereavement. I don’t feel like that any more. It’s a shame, losing that carefree notion of a carefree life, but there it is.

Middle aged suggests midway. If that’s true, that means I will pop off this mortal coil at about 86. Now, that actually sounds like a fair deal, speaking from my 43 year old berth. I’m pretty damn sure that when I’m 85 it will be a less attractive proposition. However, I also know too many people who have breathed their last long before getting close to middle age. It is something to celebrate you know, getting this far intact!

Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips had it about right when he sang “Do you realise everyone you know, one day, will die…” I mean, it’s hardly a revelation is it, yet we all block it out, and avoid thinking about it – but we are all DOOMED.

Time really does go fast; and it is hard to make the good times last. All we can do is appreciate every drop of goodness, every day of happiness. We can watch the sun set every night, until the day we die, but only if we also remember that the sun going down is just an illusion, caused by the Earth spinning round.

My family is still sleeping. The forest is still alive with rustling and creaking and scuttling. I feel like I am the only person awake in the whole of France. A candle burns fiercely beside me, my glass of wine stays resolutely filled up, as if by some magic hand (mine, if truth be told) and the air is still. The stars are shining bright in an arc over my head. It’s a beautiful evening, still warm enough for me to be sat here on the laptop outdoors at the midnight hour. I could be in paradise. I’m not, it’s only France, but I’ve got everything I need right here, within feet of me. But most of all, right now, today, I may be middle aged but I’ve also got peace of mind and a happy heart. Who could wish for more?

 

 

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Black and white and red all over

 

 

 

Tree shadow, white wall and scooter boy

Well, what a week or so that was. It started with a job interview and ended with a canalside walk in the sunshine.

Before I get started, I warn you that I fear this is going to be one of those revelatory blogs. I’ve been drinking coffee with the odd drambuie liqueur, don’t feel like bed, do feel like chatting. Everyone else in my family is asleep. The laptop and this blog will have to suffice.

So, I’ll roll back 10 days to a job interview – my first proper one for a decade or so. I worried about what to wear, what to say, what to do with my hands.

The interview was held in the building where, as a young wannabe reporter 20 years or more earlier, I had turned up to try to land a place on one of the country’s best training courses. The sliding doors were still in place. Behind the desk was the same receptionist. And greeting me at the interview was someone who had worked alongside me all those years ago. He was the boss now. I couldn’t help joking about something that had happened two decades earlier. He didn’t laugh.

Anyway, the interview resulted in a job offer. It wasn’t exactly my dream job, but over the course of the next few days I got to really like the idea. In fact, I decided it was not just a job I wanted; it was the only thing I needed to make my life complete.

In fact, I decided the only thing stopping me accepting the job was my family circumstances. Curse them. For a few days I felt resentful and bitter. My ambition was being thwarted by my kids, without them even knowing about it. I’m ashamed to say I think I was even a bit mean to them as a result – older son would certainly argue I was a bit strict when on Thursday I banned him from riding his bike for a week for “being sullen”.

It took a while to work this out of my system. Even on Friday I was still in two minds about what to do. I knew there were genuine practical difficulties that would be extremely tough to overcome. The job would involve a two hour round trip every day. My hubby works over an hour away, and we have no family living nearby.

In fact there were more good reasons for turning it down than accepting it. Top of the list was the fact that I’d only wanted a part time position, which was not on the table.

Then I learned some terrible news and some worse news.

Someone I know and like (I’m reluctant to call her a friend only because we know each other purely in a professional capacity, but I know she is someone I’d like to have as a friend) was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is young and fit and gorgeous. It is a cruel and horrid disease.

The news has made me more determined than ever to do my little tiny bit to help find a cure or prevent more women (and men) suffering. I’m proud to be “walking the walk” by taking part in the London Moonwalk in May, with all money raised supporting breast cancer charities and hospitals. It’s a 26 mile night walk. I am halfway through my training regime and woefully under prepared but this recent news has made me more determined than ever to knuckle down. After all, a few blisters and aching bones are nothing compared to what cancer sufferers have to put up with. Feel free to support my efforts if you can…http://www.walkthewalkfundraising.org/blister_sisters

Then on Friday night I had a really vivid, bad dream. I woke up feeling really sad; at some point in my dream someone close to me died. I didn’t know who or how but it was a thought which stayed with me when I woke. I remember I posted a status update to this effect on my Facebook page on Saturday morning.

Two hours later my mum called to tell me my dad’s lovely cousin, Rachel (known as Ray), had died that morning. Ray had been hospitalised with a serious bout of pneumonia and pleurisy before Christmas. We exchanged emails and commented to each other on Facebook, keeping up a regular dialogue. She had suffered a lot in recent years with illnesses, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, but remained positive, upbeat and smiling throughout. She was the chronicler of my dad’s family history, the keeper of the flame…and suddenly, that morning, she was gone.

It is a terribly selfish thing to say, but her death helped me to see sense; to see the future I really wanted for myself and my family. This is nothing to do with sacrificing my own ambitions for my kids – I am horribly ambitious in some ways and determined to achieve success in my own right. But not at the expense of all the things that already make sense in my life; of all the things that already work well; and most of all of the precious time I get to spend with people who really matter.

So, I’ve turned the job down. It was never going to work; and the moment I pressed the send button on the email about my decision I felt relieved, rather than regretful.

Along the way between interview and today the muddy waters that have been swirling around me for months have suddenly cleared. For the first time in ages I realise what I want and how I’m going to try to achieve it. So thanks to everyone whose comments of support helped me along the way…you did help, enormously.

And so to that canalside walk earlier today. It was a simple stroll in the winter sunshine. The sky was a beautiful clear blue, like a Mediterranean sea. Trees were reflected in the still canal. I walked hand in hand with my lovely family, feeling the rays on my face. My heart was smiling. A corner had been turned.

White Blue

The Silence of the Cows. (or Worst. Job. Ever)

I recently won a competition. There was no prize, beyond the satisfaction that I was the hands-down winner.

I don’t win much, so I was pretty chuffed. Never mind that the contest was to find who, out of eight women, could officially claim to have had the worst job. Ever.

Back in 1985 I was in the middle of my first year studying A-levels at Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology. For personal reasons I won’t go into, I decided to abandon my studies and get a “proper job”. In those days Thatcher’s Government had recently launched the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). Critics claimed it was a cheap form of child exploitation, with little in the way of meaningful training.

I need say nothing about that other than to say that during my six months as a YTS trainee I learned how to type. And I saw more of life (and death) than I cared for. Enough of the real world to know I just wasn’t ready for it (certainly not in exchange for £25 a week).

My first placement was in a hospital. Why this was I’m still not sure (In my YTS interview I’d definitely told them I wanted to be a journalist. Or a novelist. Or a UN peacekeeper. But definitely not a nurse.) Anyway, I rolled up to Shrewsbury’s Copthorne Hospital to take up my post as a Ward Clerk.

My job was to take care of the admin for two surgical wards, making sure notes were filed correctly, admission and discharge sheets filled in, reports compiled and phone calls answered. It soon became apparent that the job also involved lots of additional tasks – making tea, chatting to patients, fetching and emptying bedpans. Before I knew it I was even taking temperatures and pulses and filling in medical forms. All this as a completely untrained school leaver.

Anyway, I loved most of the patients and they seemed to like me. I got to see people at their most vulnerable and anxious, and hopefully my little smiling face and teenage banter brought them some comfort. I got careers advice galore from the patients, mostly of the “go back to college” sort.

Thankfully most of the patients made it home. A few did not. I found this very difficult to deal with, particularly as not once did I receive any advice or support. Death was dealt with practically and efficiently and was not dwelt on. I found each death shocking. I realised one sweet old lady had died when I went to fill her water jug at the start of a shift. She’d been telling me the day before how much she was looking forward to going home to her grandchildren.

It was a part of the job I hated. But it did not make this my worst. job. ever. That came at my next placement.

I’d obviously done a good job as a clerk, so I was sent off to ABP, the local abattoir, to help administer the transport depot.

I should say at this point that I had become a vegetarian months earlier, after reading a famous series of articles in The Times supplements about factory farming of chickens.

The transport depot was attached to the main factory, which in turn was situated on the outskirts of Shrewsbury, amid rolling green pastures. Every day hundreds of cows and sheep were brought in by lorry to graze briefly in the fields before being herded to their deaths.

I tried to stay oblivious to the carnage going on mere yards away, instead focusing on my task, which was to ensure delivery drivers could feasibly make it to and between various Tesco depots all over the country within very strict timescales. I got to know the UK motorway system intimately.

On my first day I was taken to the dining hall for lunch. En route I was shown around the packing area, where burly lads and lasses boxed up joints and steaks, ready for shipment. Inside the canteen, men in blood spattered overalls tucked into roast lamb and beef stew. It was enough to make my tummy do somersaults.

Worst of all was the sound of the cows in the fields. As soon as a herd started to trundle towards the slaughterhouse, bellowing would break out. It is hard to describe, but to simultaneously hear dozens of cows begin a low moo-ing left me in no doubt that they knew what was coming.

I didn’t last long at ABP. The last straw came when my boss kindly offered me a guided tour of the factory, with the bonus that I could select my own lamb in the field, then follow him/her through slaughter, gutting, butchering and packing – and then I could even take him/her home. I think mum was a bit cross I turned down the offer.

I saw the light and decided soon after to return to my A-levels, and then on to university.

Since then I’ve done lots of things as a journalist that were emotionally difficult; I’ve witnessed death firsthand, I’ve visited the scenes of innumerable tragedies and had to interview people in the midst of terrible tragedy. But those cows moo-ing. Still brings me out in a cold sweat to think about it.

Worst. job. ever. Anyone beat that?

PS: Due to the fact that I’ve spent all day quarantined in my bedroom, I have no today picture to share with you. I could have shared my sick bowl, or box of pills and remedies, or my unmade bed in the style of Tracey Emin, but I just didn’t have the energy. Hope to resume normal service soon. Bloody flu. Euurggh.