Paradise Lost

There’s something about that song that always makes me think of being back there, in that particular time and place, driving around to find a quiet, private spot and parking up so particularly situated on the cusp of everything, ripe and ready for love. The spectacular sensation of surging hormones, heart beating hard and blood-flow burgeoning with typical teenage overkill. I remember the perfect potency of promise and feeling so powerfully alive at the burning urgency of it all…

Before the responsibility of pregnancy got in the way, before the adult realities of married life for two people so clearly unsuited and the sheer drudgery of perpetual poverty dragged me down and divorce divided us so definitively. Yet that song reminds me I was young and uncomplicated once, I yearned and loved and lusted freely along with the best of them. It reminds me with every note played and sentiment sung it is not our song, and never was; rather it is decidedly my song claimed in retrospect, long after you had left my life. Mine alone to carry with me always…

My female experience of paradise by the dashboard light ended not too much differently than Meatloaf’s testosterone-charged version, and all these decades later the thrumming rock music still brings back heated memories of my youthful desire and the oh-so-meaningful tongue-in-cheek lyrics still sear my sated soul, making me smile and shake my head at the fateful inevitability of it all.

I am growing old now and have moved on in life so far beyond every expectation. But watch me still play my song so unapologetically at teenage volume levels and you’ll see my eyes flash with the remembered brilliance of passion personified, the nascent climax of young love, a million sparkling fireworks exploding so suddenly across a long-lost landscape before fading away, limping so silently and softly into the scent-soiled night…

Fandango’s Story Starter

Not Thick, just Less Able…

When we were young judgemental kids growing up we were always cheerily quick to point out someone else’s inability to do or understand something we found relatively easy, and as kids do, we would scornfully label them as being ‘thick’.

Mum always remonstrated with us not to be so hurtful with regard to the inabilities of others, and that if someone was struggling with something it’s not nice to call them ‘thick’, as it’s not their fault they were simply ‘less able’ than others. We had it frequently drummed into us – it’s not ‘thick’, it’s ‘less able’…

So of course me and my sister and brother took this edict as gospel and ran with it in the extreme, having ‘less able’ soup with a ‘less able’ slice of bread and the like, driving mum nuts with our complete exclusion of the word ‘thick’ from our childhood vocabulary in all contexts, regardless…

Even now, in our late fifties, any one of us can still break into a childish grin with a wicked glint in our eye at the mere mention of ‘less able’ foodstuffs… 🙂

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: A phrase you grew up with

April A-Z: T is for Ticking

Ooh, but I do love a ticking clock – thankfully so does my husband! With individual smartphones taking over all things time-related these days it seems so many people don’t even have communal clock-face clocks in their homes any more, or if they do they prefer something battery operated, maybe even silent. We certainly have a couple of retro-style battery wall clocks ourselves – one in the kitchen and one in the dining room, and both of those have a pleasant quiet ticking sound. But I grew up with those old-fashioned proper clockwork clocks you had to wind up regularly, and personally I still love to hear a mechanically ticking clock.

We have an old Art Deco style mantel clock in the living room that you wind with a big brass key – we bought it second-hand in a charity shop – and it not only ticks loudly but it chimes, too, although the chime mechanism can be switched off (with a little lever) if you really don’t like it. My paternal grandparents had a huge mahogany grandfather clock in their hall with a really deep, resonant tick that seemed to be the heartbeat of the house. Maybe that’s why I find ticking clocks so reassuring, to me they’re the living heartbeat of the house, so I find the perpetual rhythm comforting… residual memories of being in the womb, perhaps?

Life events have conspired to pull me away from blogging over the last couple of months, and the idea of taking part in this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge seems like a good way to try to get back into the habit of reading and posting regularly. Originally I thought of just using any old random words to go with the particular letter of the day, but realistically without a clear theme to work towards I’m not sure I’d be able to keep my focus for a full month… So instead I’ve opted for a relatively simple, if slightly self-indulgent work-around: This year I’ll be posting 26 things about me, nothing too taxing to write about yet still fulfilling the brief!

Too Pure to be Pink

Ah, how many times in my life have I watched Grease since first seeing it in 1978 at the Regal Cinema in Nairn, closed long ago? Every time the opening credits roll it takes me straight back to that place, to that time, to that teenage world of hopes and dreams.

It’s always been one of my favourite movies – I know it’s cheesy and ridiculously unbelievable but I remember so well being part of a group of giggly schoolgirls who took a bus together from the village where we lived through to the nearest town just to go to the cinema to see that particular movie, we had such a great time and I have such fun memories of it all, so for various reasons it always hold a special place in my heart.

Grease was on TV again today, so of course I had to watch it and sing along with every song as if I was 15 years old again… Back then everyone wanted to be Sandy, who was definitely too pure to be pink, but secretly I always felt drawn to Rizzo’s more rebellious nature…Quiet little people-pleasing me who would never say boo to a goose and would certainly never dream of rebelling against doing exactly what was expected of me – well at that stage in my life, anyway!

And now? Well perhaps at 15 I too might have been considered too pure to be pink, but by 18 I was pregnant and getting married (yes, in that order!) so maybe more of Rizzo rubbed off on me than I’d thought… 🙂

Limbo…

For the past five years my elderly dad, dealing desperately with the ongoing difficulties of vascular dementia, has experienced an ever-moving mix of three potential states of being – fully aware of existing in the here and now along with the rest of us, stuck happily in some time-warp parallel universe where for him the past is strangely superimposed onto the present, or suspended scarily in an unfathomable limbo…

When dad was first diagnosed with dementia, of course he was mainly present in the present but with the odd random serious lapse of memory that was certainly more than one step beyond common-or-garden forgetfulness. The first real sign of dad’s depth of confusion came a few days after he returned from his brother-in law’s funeral. Dad was chatting to us about people he’d seen there who he hadn’t seen for ages when he suddenly said – I think I’ll give Ian a call to see how he’s doing. We couldn’t get dad to understand that it had been Ian’s funeral he’d been at to see all those people from his past in the first place…

And then dad started doing the occasional odd thing in place of the everyday thing he’d been doing for years. Like when making a cup of tea, dad would have the cup sitting on the counter upside down but not understand why he couldn’t put anything in the cup. Or worse, he melted the plastic bottom of three electric kettles before we finally stopped him trying to do things in the kitchen. On two occasions dad had filled the kettle then sat it on the hob to boil – the acrid smell of melting plastic had brought my mum running. And on the third occasion dad filled the kettle, balanced it on top of the toaster, and switched the toaster on.

Dad’s dementia is the vascular type, brought on by several small strokes, so as well as cognitive difficulties dad also has worsening mobility issues. In the past he has forgotten how to walk when half way across a room, standing precariously, leaning on two walking sticks and unable to move further because he doesn’t know what to do next. He has forgotten where he was in the process of walking to the bathroom, confused and bewildered and agitated because he needed to go to the loo but couldn’t find his way through the family home he’d lived in for 40-odd years. And we soon found that when dad was in a more lucid frame of mind again, he consistently forgot that he had been unable to do these things. When he was lucid he wouldn’t believe that he’d been so incapacitated, in his mind he was still fine which was so frustrating for him.

It was almost more difficult in the early days when dad was far more aware of his surroundings and what was going on in his brain. In a sense it has become easier as the dementia progresses and dad is spending less and less time in the here and now. We get the occasional glimpse of grounded reality but on the whole these days much of dad’s day is spent reliving random memories of his past in real time, often including people and places long gone. Knowing his family history we can join him there, and have perfectly enjoyable conversations that leave dad feeling visibly content. The other day dad was convinced I was his sister Edith, not his daughter Ruth, so we were chatting happily about going to visit an uncle and aunt along the coast. Everyone dad mentioned has been dead for years but his memories are so real they carry him through.

At other times, though, dad seems to lose his visual and experiential link to the past, but at the same time cannot quite reconnect fully with the present. These are the days where dad just looks lost within himself. He’s neither here nor there, stuck in limbo, and you can see the confusion in his eyes, traced on his furrowed brow. His speech loses its clarity, slurring a little, and often the wrong words come out so communication loses its vibrancy and leaves dad feeling even more lost. He says sometimes he hears my voice and knows I am talking to him but cannot quite understand what I’m saying, everything just sounds jumbled in his head. He looks intently into my eyes trying to make sense of everything but then soon he looks away, despondent.

It’s a horrible situation for him to be in but in spite of all of this, on the whole I find dad is still very much dad. Somehow deep down he has retained some of his dry sense of humour, which always fills me with such an overwhelming feeling of warmth and love. I asked him the other day how he had slept the night before, and he said with the merest hint of a wry smile – With my eyes shut! Oh, how many times over my lifetime I’ve heard that same response, and how wonderful to hear it now. I’m not in denial, I do know that dad’s mind is slowly disintegrating, but personally I prefer to focus on what we can still share together rather than on what has been lost between us.

Dementia really focuses me on the importance of spending whatever time I can with dad, while he’s still with us, while he still knows us. So I visit him, and sit with him, and chat with him. I hold his hand, and hug him and let him feel the familial security of the father-daughter bond that has always been so strong between us. We are where we are in life, but he’s still my dad and I love him as much today as I always have done… ❤

Christmas Decorations I Have Known…

I’m not really one to over-do Christmas decorations – I do have a twinkling tree bedecked with tinsel and ornaments and lights and topped with this cute little fairy, and I like to add a bit of extra festive frippery to the fireplace – well, across the top of the mantelpiece, to be exact. Most of our Christmas decorations in this house have been collected one by one (or group by group) over the years and part of the fun when putting them all together each Christmas is remembering the where and when and how and why we bought them, or were given them, or made them ourselves for that matter!

I remember us buying this little fairy one year after Christmas, in the sales – she was sitting all alone in a sea of random leftover tree ornaments at knock-down prices but still she was smiling, so we paid 50p for her and took her home with us and have loved her ever since. At the time we lived in a small flat so didn’t even have the room to put up a proper tree, instead we just decorated the sideboard with the odd personally-chosen ornament or two, a practice which of course expanded every year as we built up our very own collection of bargain basement Christmas remnants so that today we have a unique festive family of ornamental misfits that seems to suit us very well.

So I suppose looking back over the years, many of my favourite festive memories are linked to the individual Christmas decorations I have known and loved at any given time. Every Christmas my sister still hangs a small red plaited fabric wreath I made for her decades ago, even before her children were born. My youngest daughter still hangs the larger green version we used to have ourselves when she was growing up. In fact she also still has the green candles shaped like Christmas trees from her childhood I bought one year and didn’t ever have the heart to burn. They’ve faded a bit in colour, but have now become part of her family tradition, taking over from ours.

The Christmas decorations I remember from my childhood in the 1960s were mostly made from coloured crepe paper, concertinaed bells and baubles and long magical chains that unfurled to festoon the ceiling like the trim on a frothy petticoat. We always had a real tree, too, that stood precariously propped up in a bucket and smelled of pine resin and shed little needles all over the carpet for the duration. On the tree there were very fragile glass baubles and more robust plastic versions that shimmered and shone, along with multi-coloured fairy lights and feathery silvery tinsel. We had a fairy for the top of the tree then, too, with plastic head and arms and body and painted hair and a long white lacy dress and stiffened underskirt that covered her lack of legs!

I know many people choose to change their Christmas decorations along with their room decor, or go for particular fashionable colour themes, but I must admit I’m not one of them. Much of my modest collection tends to stay the same year after year. Most are traditional white or red or green or silver or gold or combinations thereof, and they don’t so much match as go together in a kind of eclectic, organic mish-mash of memories that make me smile. Some things inevitably come and go, depending on circumstance, and some things stay the course. And I kind of like it that way, it’s less about aiming for a perfect ideal and more about simply making the most of what is in front of me and loving the reality of the result regardless :-).

Weekly Prompt: Festive Memories

A Lost Cause

Where have you been?‘ asked dad when I saw him yesterday…

My 85-year-old dad has been in hospital for the last two weeks, after a fall at home and a bang on the head. Dad has poor mobility due to four strokes over the space of several years, and has vascular dementia. I’ve gone up to the hospital to see him most days, but sadly he doesn’t always remember things. Like where he is or how long he’s been there, or what time it is, or what day, or what year, or what decade for that matter. Or in particular when anyone last visited him.

There are still restrictions and limitations on hospital visiting due to Covid, so there’s nothing straightforward about booking a fixed appointment slot in the ward to ensure that only one visitor per room is in attendance at any one time – and as dad is in a six-bedded room, that means sharing all available individual slots with a potential five other visitors on a first come, first served basis. Additionally, each patient is only allowed two designated visitors for the entirety of their stay – so for my dad, that’s my mum and me.

But of course dad doesn’t really comprehend the intricacies of any of this – not long-term Covid restrictions, not his being in hospital, not his dementia, not why things have to be the way they are for him right now. Dad doesn’t always remember when I visit – I mean, he knows at the time I’m there, but generally he doesn’t retain that information even to the next day. It’s the same when mum is there with him, he doesn’t always remember when she visits, either. Inevitably that hurts, makes it all so much harder to cope with.

I try to remain positive but to be perfectly honest I’m growing weary of constantly juggling work and buses and visiting slots, and I feel guilty that I’m finding it all so stressful. I mean, he’s my dad, and I do want to see him as regularly as I can to make sure he’s OK, but yet… Some days I go up and dad gives me a big smile when he sees me, and that makes it all worthwhile. He is usually happy in the moment, and for dad, the moment is often all he has. But on days like yesterday it feels like a lost cause…

For whatever reason, dad was not in a good place yesterday. Quiet, uncommunicative, not partaking in anything much when it comes to social interaction but easily distracted by watching the comings and goings of staff in the ward. ‘Where have you been?‘ is pretty much all I got from him yesterday, accusatory, as if I was failing him somehow. And perhaps I am. So I just sat patiently with him for my allotted hour, simply keeping him company, trying to engage him in conversation but mostly passing the time in silence, and then I got ready to leave.

Where are you going?‘ asked dad as I stood up, and I told him I had to go home now, because my visiting time was up but I’d be back again tomorrow… I gave him a hug as usual and as I turned back to wave at him I saw the confusion in his eyes, the puzzlement, the struggle for him to make sense of it all… So I sat on the bus going home with tears in my eyes, knowing there is no easy answer to any of this, there is no quick fix, no positive prognosis to look forward to… No real hope of salvation.

Dad has vascular dementia, and the harsh reality is he will have good days and bad days but there can be no getting better, only a slow downwards progression towards… what? Who knows… ❤ 😦

My Weekly Smile: Raigmore Hospital

It’s been a while since I’ve participated in the Weekly Smile, and yeah I know, a boring, un-beautiful hospital building doesn’t seem much to smile about, but I have some very fond memories of this place.

Although this particular building isn’t actually that old – it was built in the late 1980s – there had been another Raigmore Hospital on a different part of the site long before this one. The original Raigmore Hospital was a wartime construction made up of several individual one-storey brick-built ward blocks that were still actually in use when I gave birth to my three children in the early 1980s, all born there in the original maternity block not too far away.

Looking around now I’m not quite sure exactly where the original ward blocks were sited – under the present staff accommodation perhaps, or underneath the new ambulance base, or under the extension to the car park, all behind where I’m standing to take this shot (at the bus stop, waiting for my bus home)? To be honest the surrounding landscape has all changed so much (and been built on) since then I can’t really get my bearings any more…

Anyway, suffice to say I’ve visited this particular hospital building many times over the last 30 years – visiting at various times my maternal grandmother, my mum, and of course my dad – and I’ve been both an inpatient and an outpatient here myself, including most recently having my hip X-Ray in the radiology department last Friday.

I also worked here too, as a physiotherapy assistant a good 20 years ago – I loved that job, there was a real family atmosphere in the workplace. Being back in the familiar wards visiting dad over this past week or so has brought back a lot of memories of the wonderful camaraderie between the staff and has definitely made me smile – plus I know dad is being well looked after.

And best of all, all six of my grandchildren were born here in this hospital – although actually the new maternity unit is just out of shot to the left. Twice this week I’ve seen beaming new parents carefully leaving the hospital with their precious newborns, and it’s reminded me how all of life passes through the doors of our hospitals, our National Health Service taking good care of us free at the point of need, cradle to grave…

My last smile for today’s post comes in the shape of a stained glass window and access door combination sited in the main hospital corridor – it’s called The Four Seasons and sits at the top of the T-junction between the Outpatient Departments and the Inpatient Wards… so bright and cheerfully lit up by the daylight coming in from the courtyard behind it 🙂

Squirrelly Share Your World

What was the very first popular song you remember taking a liking to?

‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ by Nancy Sinatra, circa 1966, when I would have been three years old… Are you ready boots?

Are you one of those people who get queasy at the sight of blood, or could you watch an open heart surgery?

I’ve never watched open heart surgery, but while working as a Physiotherapy Assistant in the past have been present in an operating theatre to watch both a knee replacement and a hip replacement (on two different patients). The idea was that I would assist in the pre-op phase for these patients, watch the actual operations take place, and then assist with the post-op rehabilitation afterwards. It was a fascinating opportunity, watching live surgery is absolutely amazing!

Who or what do you feel is lurking right behind you, just waiting to ambush you and make your life a living hell?

That’s an easy one – my recurring depression. It’s shadowed me for years, sometimes rising up and overwhelming me completely but more often than not just waiting expectantly in the background, reminding me its enveloping darkness is never far away…

What is the gaudiest thing you have ever worn?

Depends on your definition of gaudy… I’ve never done bling or shiny fabrics, but in the late 1980s I did own an eye-catching pair of purple leopard print harem pants that I just adored and wore to death! OMG they were wonderful!

Fess up! What is something you did as a child that got you into big trouble?

When I was growing up we lived next to a railway bridge, and we used to play on the bridge a lot, daring each other to do ever more dangerous feats of bravery. I was once dared to walk along the outer edge of the bridge ledge across the tracks, holding on for dear life, which I did… But a railwayman saw me and he told my mum and dad, and not surprisingly I got absolute holy hell for that! Gives me palpitations to think about now, but I guess you do crazy shit when you’re young…

What are you looking forward to as the festive season approaches?

Nice food and drink, and spending time with my children and grandchildren.

Squirrelly Share Your World

Rock Buns

I decided to make some traditional rock buns this afternoon – I used to make them often when I was younger, but haven’t made any for years. Rock buns are a favourite family tea-time treat that have sadly gone out of fashion with today’s more sophisticated tastes. Proper childhood comfort food to cheer me up – a real blast from my baking past.

They’re so easy to make, and thankfully their rough-and-ready appearance (rock-like, hence the name) means neatness is never a requirement. I love the crumbly, crusty exterior and the spicy, fruity interior that together creates such a satisfyingly perfect accompaniment to a lovely cup of tea. If you’ve never had rock buns, they’re not quite as sweet and rich as cake, not quite as light and airy as bread, and in spite of their strange name are not quite as solidly slice-able in texture as a scone, either.

Happily it seems I’ve not lost my touch and these have turned out a treat – I’ve already had one (OK maybe two, just to make sure!) with my afternoon cuppa, and hopefully they’ll be a nice surprise for my husband when he gets home from work later tonight – yum! 🙂